Thursday, April 30, 2015

They Wait in Darkness/The Quiet City

from the first world and melted ice and made water. She taught us fire: and  how to restore the dead to life, the languages the stars speak to one another, the tongues of beasts and rocks and water, how to make metal from fire, and how to travel on the wind that moves between the stars. She made many strange things, fought many things and made weapons or wonders out of their bones.

Ix dreamed of a city and with fire and a mountain it was made to be. She set herself apart from the other gods. She made a home for us, taught us not to fear.

She dreamed of seven daughters, each of the seven made from things she loved best and with fire and a man that was also like a tiger, they were made to be.

There was:

the Spider Twins for the downy white and black spiders who embrace and play behind the sky

Snake Woman for the people who first made poetry

Star Mother for the light and the veil to separate this place from the next

Earth Sister who was deep and endless but troubled always by pain

Bird Daughter whose breath brought life and beauty to everything it touched

and a last daughter who is our mother and whom we cannot name but call Sadness

Ix gave to each daughter barges of black metal which find always the best way and whose skin cannot be pierced and whose sting might kill even Ix herself.

And then things came to pass which were bad and also good and we came to be where we are and we forgot our first home and the way back.

Ix is between death and life, her daughters dead or missing, her city a sepulchre beneath which she weeps eternal rivers of poison and forgetfulness. The rivers flow forever, into our own waters. They remind us of death and we die or go mad.

Her city and our first home, treasure trove, altar and throne of the best god, is lost to all but the dead and those unlucky enough to be invited.

There is some intercourse between the dead and the living. The dead want things (souls, weapons, help with things they’d rather not do themselves, like hurting one another directly) and promise the desperate living whatever they want in return. It rarely ends well.

They send letters, cold and blue, sealed with wax that feels like flesh and that burns away in a cerulean flame when touched by the intended recipient. They send birds, many birds, perhaps all birds are their messengers or at least their allies, or at least, the little, furtive ones and the big black ones. The birds may deliver letters or they whisper in sleeping ears with tickling beaks.

Quiet repose, mourning, the Grey Bazaar and waiting for Ix to rise from the Tomb of her Daughters.

in water and fire, her eyes like ships burning at sea, her fingers like brands, her teeth embers grinding sparks in the dark. She may be roused from her mourning by sufficient violence, good information on the weaknesses of her betrayer, the presentation of pieces of a black metal barge or the corpse of a tiger. She may react poorly to some or all of these things. She will likely soon return to mourning. In the interim, she may be compelled to rewrite anything, to remake whatever she likes, she is creation and madness all in one.

She is, for all intents and purposes, a lich, with the lair powers to match. She may only be harmed by weapons from the previous three worlds, so seek the tombs of the elemental gods or the dead creator angels to find something to harm her. As the creator of all magic, she is effectively immune to it. Her phylactery has been lost in the city. She doesn’t bother looking for it. It looks like a chip of molten metal, irradiating anyone within 30’ with mutagenic magic, melting and reforming them. It could be used to power a dirge walker forever or awaken a slumbering dwarven forge without extinguishing it.

Like Bilbo, lowly visitors to the city may find themselves in possession of the phylactery, wrapped in rune-covered lead as thing as paper.

All of them are intelligent. Many are arrogant. Fleshed dead use zombie stats (but move as humans) and the Old dead use skeleton’s stats(but move faster than humans and can climb sheer surfaces). City bureaucrats are Shadows and higher level officials are mummies or mummy lords. There are no liches other than Ix as necromancers are forbidden. Ixian generals are vampires, giant albino bats, always hungry, violent. The dead do not increase in number. They are all the original citizens of Ix. As such they predate many of the gods, let alone human beings. What they remember is unclear. Surely some remember everything and they are the most well regarded and powerful. They are also the most likely to suffer attacks, recriminations, censure and exile. Their memory is likely potent and can be translated into a spell of the last/highest two levels or into a kind of spell-key into vault-lands long forgotten, great graveyards of creation, ready for robbing if only you could get back out again and if only the terrible things waiting in the bad, failing geometry weren't waiting for prey like you, prey that could lead them back to your home and a new creation to unwind.

Most of the dead wear rubber masks with goggles and tubing that provides a mist of the Ixian river water. The masks bear the mark of the twinned, split tongue.

The dead are embarassed at the state of their bodies, are quick to take offense at looks of revulsion, often apply lots of makeup, graft on "new parts" or use a lot of cologne, which only makes things worse (any unmasked undead have reaction rolls at disadvantage).

All but the mummy lord-style dead have d8+their original (ie, in the MM) HD in HD. (vary die size by party size and relative difficulty of given dungeon or how close to the Tomb they are, with a d2 for lvl 1 stuff, d4 for level 3, d6 for level 5, etc.. Tomb stuff is level 15+).

But for the rare corpsekid, the dead know magic: odd hp is cleric spells, even are wizard. They know their HD in worth of Spell points and up to that level of spell.

As speaking (and noise) is verboten, they will write you things and expect you to do the same. They may try to trick you into signing a contract in this way.

They may also employ a talkingbird (leaving the room when doing so, returning later once the bird has relayed your message to it) or a slave, which they will execute for speaking later (maybe in front of you). They will threaten to report you for talking should you fail to act as they wish.

At any given moment, all of the below, but here is what’s most important
1. Turf wars between corpsekids (gang stuff. they’ll pay you with information if you help or poisons or minor magic items or just money)
2. a great deal of plotting to restore Ix (usually involving getting a heroic, high-level party of very arrogant NPCs, heroes of your realm, to attack her and so give the city an excuse to burn your home to ash)
3. a great deal of dubious research into ancient, weapon-languages, you hear muttering from behind curtains. Your eyes feel like they're boiling your skull, your tongue is like a lead nut (Save or fall unconscious, apply your Int bonus as a penalty to the save; restored to consciousness, you know a level 1 spell, but casting it may have terrible effects for any who speak your language… find the creators of the virus language weapon and kill them to release you from the curse)
4. an enormous amount of smuggling (50%: in or out: 1. magical items, 2. spell scrolls, 3. armor, 4. weapons, 5. slaves, 6: corpses of holy people/saints)
5. Black rites, the sacrifice of the living. Floorboards in some houses are like pulpy red blankets they have been soaked in blood for so long. (play up the moaning and the screaming. failure to act has a 4 in 6 chance of causing the rite to complete but backfire, making a sea of imps spill out of the room/house)
6. The dead are stockpiling spells and weapons of great power. The stockpile goes off. (fireworks, treat as a gate spell)
7. The dead can pierce any veils they want, they can pull down the heavens. Someone tripped something and part of existence will blink out in a few days unless you stop it. Probably no one else cares but you.
8-20. Someone wants someone else truly dead, turned to dust, deprived of Ix’s tears until they totally dessicate, tortured into insanity (Page 50 Vornheim, roll twice for whoever wants your help, and then for the victim)

Also: They have more weapons than they can catalog, they’ve been waiting so long they've forgotten when it was when they first died

And: there is lots of speaking (as long as no one is listening in)

On any given day, it is d20+4 days from a festival. Festivals usually involve a great number of dead in the streets and the Bazaar shutters its stalls.

1. fourteen innocents are taken from their homes or bought from necromancers in exchange for (cursed) knowledge, the innocents are made to wear iron masks in the shape of the faces of seven daughters. Each is stripped, made to dance and then devoured by the crowd. You recognize one.

2. a dragon is painted orange like a tiger, stabbed multiple times, hunted and killed. Many living are released into the streets, told if they kill the dragon, they are free. This is not true. You are in the streets or watch from a window.

3. large brass bells without clappers swing in silence. it is good luck to hang one of the living from your windows for the birds. You recognize a corpse.

4. one hundred and seven living are drowned for seven straight hours in the rivers below. They are your family, your village.

5. seventy-seven children are transformed into birds and let loose. one is your brother or sister or your child.

6. certain families are designated and the dead clamber into their homes, flaying the children before the parents before nailing their hands to the wall or to one another. you recognize a name on the list.

7. certain innocents are designated and the dead put on the flesh of the living and lay with the innocent, a process that invariably yields a mummified dolorous child (which may be raised to a Judge). you recognize one such family.

8. a long procession with much quiet pomp and melodramatic, silent film mourning  whereby seven silver (or silver and wood) coffins are laid before the Tomb, the living inside are left to starve. Their cries are familiar.

9. at numerous crossroads, demons are castigated with tongs made from celestial bones, the flesh ceremoniously disposed of, but secretly kept for occult purposes, likely for the manufacture of weapons. They name a relative or friend as soul-slaved. Won't you free them?

10. the laws are reviewed and voted upon (in this rare instance, speaking would be prohibited, but no one shows up, so the judges all just stand before the tomb in silence, waiting). Lawlessness reigns. Minor judgements will likely be forgotten. Anything that happens in this time is ignored.

You need an invitation. Normally, those have strings attached (the Dead of Ix want you to do something terrible). Silent black carriages drawn by black and rotten coursers (or by seemingly nothing at all) appear at the appointed time and place - it is always dark and there is always ample fog - and carry you along increasingly strange and dangerous avenues, careening around mountain paths. The carriages are silent as if enchanted with that spell and bear the split tongue, the mark of the Quiet City.

There is always a tunnel of some sort and inside there are no lights, some terrible twists and turns and jostling and gravity lets go for a few seconds - just enough to cause panic for a second or two - then gravity resumes and everything clatters to the cushions again. Light resumes and the carriage crawls out of some pit into the city. Again, there is no noise.

If you climbed the long tooth of the Tomb of Daughters you’d see a roughly circular walled city, hemmed in on all sides by clouds. There are no gates in or out and the wall curves in, its upper levels studded with blades. Jumbled stone and slate-roofed tenements huddle conspiratorially, could topple any moment. The city rises to a point with the Tomb at the tip. The older buildings around the Tomb are large, rectilinear, made from a single block and arrayed in curling motifs that resemble snakes or letters.

A labyrinth of cold grey stone, black-glass windows, thick wood doors banded with wrought iron. There are only two regular noises: the cool, arid wind and the sound of water flowing far below (the rivers of Ix flow from her weeping eyes and the waters of each are poisonous or toxic. They flow in unseen channels and feed the waters of the world, slowly diluting.). Occasionally, there is the faint shuffling of the undead.

There are a massive variety of birds and bird shit abounds and they provide a great deal of color and variety. None of the birds sing or make a noise and indeed all animals instinctively know to be silent.

Ferns and large, brilliant flowers grow from cracks in the stones and the few areas not cobbled over are damp and weedy. The plants have similar effects of the rivers (but with an advantage on the saving throw).

Except for the bazaar, the streets appear empty but for gangs of corpsekids or slinking necromancers and imps.

Corpsekids loiter in gangs, scramble over walls in ragged pants and petticoats. They look like rotting little kids, but treat them as ghouls. You can pay them to act as linkboys. They communicate in gestures. The wilder ones will whisper. They use litter as scrip, jewelry, weapons, spellbooks. They sometimes organize as families with a hoary, rotten Fagen for a father (ghasts).

Feet are wrapped in cloth to muffle noise, everything perfectly hinged (but for doors that must not be opened). There are no or few lights.

All of the doors into places are locked. If you are expected, you will be led to the place you are to go and will be let in.

The dead drink from the rivers and it works as something between formaldehyde and a healing tonic. They do not eat and they drink nothing else (unless it is a festival).

There are no embassies here but for the Elves, whose ambassador is a sort of fleshy coral and whose sole purpose is to spy on and help the dead for the Elves too wish for the living to be punished.

Is surprisingly small and spookily quiet. You can, however, get just about anything here. Like, let the players name whatever they want and it’s probably available. Planet crackers and god-murderers are probably “not here” but still available behind closed doors. The price is usually pre-lapsarian silver (heaven silver, angel tongue,  god lucre) or (maybe more easily) souls. Behind closed doors things grow terrible quickly.

See Vornheim page 50. Roll for as much information as you need.

It’s dark, dry, a little warm. Winds (sometimes strong) blow from room to room and cloth and paper scuttle about on these breezes. The dead usually repose against a wall or in stiff little bundles on the floor. Light is rare. Treat every building like a dungeon.

Moths are common and grow enormous. There is a certain house in which a moth with great psionic powers lives. She is like a dragon or a god and grants cleric spells of the trickery or knowledge domains. She longs for the usurpation of Ix and her dead, will replace her with even quieter fluttering of stranger, velveteen wings. Some moths are kept as mounts and when the dead go to war, they will ride moths whose pollen-wings drop spores that ruin the earth, eat through the ground for miles. Others devour dreams and minds (of the living, of course).

Small alligators may be found in drawers or coptic jars, wrapped in papyrus (always a map and a spell scroll - using it for one prevents its use as the others [roll a d6-1 0 is nothing 1-5 are maps to something on Treasure tables A-E in the DMG or a scroll of the lowest possible level on that same table. The treasures are always guarded. Pull a dungeon map or make them revisit a dungeon in the city they’ve not yet visited). Cats are never kept.

Weapons and wealth lay around, casually discarded.

The stairs seem to go up and down forever with the exception that going down it gets cooler and damper and the dead are less frequent, in worse condition. Far below flow blind and toxic rivers and the dead send somnolent living slaves down to fetch the waters for they drink them to maintain their “life.”

All flow away from the city and move at great force. Drinking from them, Save or : 1. enfeeblement, 2. amnesia, 3. mutation, 4. death by desiccation. Immersing in them causes immediate amnesia. They feel incredible cold. Whatever long dark shapes move below the surface are always hungry. Don’t get in the water. Lights float in the distance in some of these river-ways, pointing to the old way stations by which one might be able to reach the throne of Ix and, perhaps, Ix herself.

That is closer in size to an elephant, its eyes are like fire and it looks like a living incarnation of a medieval artist’s rendition of a tiger (huge head, snub dog-ish nose, lolling tongue crazy teeth, bulging eyes, a tail like a club). It devours anything it finds, living or dead alike.  It licks everything clean. It breathes fire and climbs walls. It is one reason everyone locks their doors. It eschews the court rooms and the tomb but may occasionally be found outside the tomb, pawing to get in.

The dead claim to not fear it but might pay enormously for its removal (they might also kill you to avoid having to look like they were even thankful for its removal). It can be harmed by no weapon known, though the asura may have a method of forging such a weapon.

It was once Ix’s, and was wise, but is now insane and wild. The dead don’t like telling you this, but won’t deny it.

If it needs stats, it’s probably functionally the same as an ancient red dragon, but with the stated immunity. It has the same lair effects as an ancient red dragon and the same regional effects by replace “miles” by “a hundred feet.”

Laws are enforced by Judges and their staff of Shadows only insofar as the Judge determines guilt and a punishment and then sets a price on the enactment of that punishment and provides a corresponding bounty. You have to go report the crime to the Judge (there are no police) and pay a sum to fund the bounty. The courthouses likely have enormous treasure hordes, crawling with shadows. The law favors citizens (ie, the dead) over the living.

None of the dead actually carries out sentences as harming one of the dead is a terrible taboo (after all, each of the dead are ancient, part of an elect, first people), so the Judge places bounties on all the criminals. The living and (sometimes) a bored corpsekid will wander into a courtroom to check out the bounties. Much of the invitees to the city are being invited to enact some sort of justice...

At regular intervals there are courtrooms. These are more sturdy buildings with open archways and a statue by the door of a nearly shapeless woman weeping. Inside there will be a judge, at least twice your size, ancient, eyeless, tongueless. Its unctuous Shadow attendants will pay you for necromancer souls, demon wings and encourage you to check out the bounties, to enforce the rules and regulations of the City.

Judges are as mummy lords (with lair powers), but they wield twinkling black scimitars wreathed in a cool flame and should a judge stand to rise, the gravity in the room doubles, halving movement rates and reducing jumps to a skip. Armor becomes troublesome and anyone with a heart problem needs to make a Save or pass out. Every blow landed on a judge which successfully wounds it, increases gravity again: threefold (quarter movement rates), fourfold (Save or pass out). Fivefold gravity is a Save or die.

Judges are also highly touchy and imperious, quick to take deep offense, likely because they’ve spent so much time being fawned over by Shadows.

-not having an invitation is forbidden
-being where you are not is forbidden (“where you are not” is never defined, but works like pornography - everyone knows it when they see it)
-harming the dead is forbidden
-speaking in public is forbidden [assume that players talking to one another are characters talking to one another if they’re relaying information for their characters]
-speaking in the presence of the dead is deeply rude
-making noise at all, anywhere, is deeply rude
-only the dead may touch the rivers
-the living are always second-class to the dead
-the living are not to be consumed except during festivals
-littering and loitering is prohibited
-demons must be accompanied by an escort
-necromancers are to be executed on sight, their bodies or at least their souls returned to a court for processing and a reward commensurate to their crimes against eternity
-climbing things (rope of a certain length, hooks, crampons, etc) are forbidden
-lockpicks are forbidden
-everything is owned by Ix, the rivers describe her kingdom, and anything sold here is only really loaned by Ix until the death of its owner. Claiming to own anything is illegal, which is another reason why everyone locks their doors.

FIRST OFFENSE: exposure of the finger bone in one hand
SECOND OFFENSE: removal of the ligament in one leg joint
MAJOR OFFENSE OR THIRD OFFENSE: the tongue is largely cut free, pulled forward, split down the middle with eye side pinned to opposing sides of the chin
FINAL: burning to true death (for the dead) or flensing of all fat

attributions: unknown (grave at Berlin cemetery, WW1 gas mask), Harry O. Morris, Jr., Aurelien Fournier, Event Horizon, Marc Simonetti, Berserk, Giacomo Carmagnola

Thursday, April 16, 2015

WE STARVE (Elves for D&D that are not Tolkien Elves)

Before the black ships came, there was only the pale mother and there was not a grove in which we did not grow. Our stomachs full,  we sang to our mother and calmed her so she would not so keenly feel the loss of us.

We were so many we were tightly packed, we hung like fruits in the trees and we sometimes forget ourselves and made new forms with our neighbors.

And the sea breathed in and the sea breathed out and on its breath were new children of the mother, their bodies like sea foam or milk or fingernails and their digits like pink coral or blades of blue carragheen or rills of cilia proud like horns. The new children danced in our houses and found homes in our wombs and told us the secrets of the black sea and our knowledge became art and we found places we had never known. And we became more like the new children.

Then the black ships came and in their bellies were hairless apes and to their back was a sun.

And the sun was fearsome and savage and he gobbled up our mother and we knew day and night.

His light, it burns our tongues, our lips crack, the stomach is like a rattling, empty nut.

His light wilts the new children and they shrink and hide themselves in places far and dark.

Dead leaves dance in our houses, now, yes, and the song falters, the mother grows strange in her grief and we leave our homes for ages, we forget ourselves, the art becomes more like myth and we are looking, always looking for our new children. Now are the days of hunger.

They share some biology with the ghoul symbiote. There are similarities in form, a certain luminescence, a certain insect or fungal element.

They are always emaciated, nearly always in hiding. They avoid the sun and they seek caves are dark, wet earth. Where they sleep, the ground teems with insects.

The new children are precambrian nightmare creatures. Imagine house centipedes and amoeba and hallucigenia and other creatures whose form seem a mix of the recondite and familiar, like creatures designed using abandoned logic, but also terribly intelligent, messengers and theologians and intellectuals.

Many elves adopt some element of the new children in their appearance, likely from when they carried one in their womb.

Elves usually self-organize into two groups: wolves or myriapoda.

The wolves move in packs, wear armor, probably use weapons. They collect trophies, they stalk in the night and burn villages, sacrifice children or virgins, kill and hurt for the pleasure of destruction. They expose humans to their mother at her worst and she makes them beasts: they often keep werewolves on a leash and delight in making them fight to the death. They copulate frequently, joylessly and with no fruition.

The myriapoda usually congregate as choir or schola and are greater in number, usually deferring to a single teacher or ideal or ideal form. They stand for hours in the moonlight, becoming stranger, trying to find the words of a song, singing and stopping and starting again. Or else they dig or suss out places incompatible with our own, looking for their children. They live in the earth and they seek the new children. They make nothing that isn’t a tool for inquiry. Their art is science, their religion is their history. They are the least likely to attack a human outright but the most likely to do horrible, lasting things to a human.

Gender isn’t really a thing. Nipples, genitals are totally unnecessary and appear, if at all, as an affectation, probably wolf ritualized debasement. Their faces are both masculine and feminine, they have soft, curving buttocks and maybe some rounded hips, just enough that they could be women, could be men.

They may move quickly, fluidly or with difficulty, like marionette or as though they’re making concessions to gravity. The clamber around rocks and trees and through water without hindrance, leaping from one to the other, scrabbling through bushes, coming for you in a crazy, jagged spiral.

They are nocturnal, avoiding sunlight. Many live in caves or in soft earth into which they slip as if melting. They like moonlit water, old stones, forests, predatory animals, they speak all the languages of animals.

They peer from behind trees, wave or stand watching from distant moonlit shores. They climb trees and look down and hoot like owls or grit their teeth in anticipation.

Something about Elven biology is transmittable. Few survive the process, but hybrids wander the elven lands, changelings half-human in beautiful, sentient gowns of hands or wearing armor that grows from their bottom jaw instead of teeth.

Xataklik Knife Charismatic, Wise Elf 2d6+1, Spear, Light Armor
-Friendly to anyone touched by a New Child
-Mentor Void Breath
-Wants its New Child, in the meantime, it wanders with its pack, burning villagers on trees or making them fight to the death, eat each other
-it wears armor of leaves and fur (pelts with claws that move, the pelts cringing from human touch)
-has d6 lost children in its body at a time
-has a knife made from moonlight that ignores armor and causes massive, painless necrosis as fungal life spills from the wound, makes one a fungus-twisted werewolf instead of killing them
-Void Breath: breathe and move in vaccuum or water as normal
-alpha of a pack of wolves (4-6), each a 2d6 elf with spears, each with 1-2 twitching werewolves

The One of One Thousand Petals Intelligent, Wise Elf d8+4
-Friendly to anyone who approaches without hostility
-Mentor Moon Song
-Wants to keep digging, singing, to be at peace, though it isn’t sure how or what that might even mean
-face crowned by a multitude of fleshy petals like white-pink fronds, each petal bearing a mouth and several eyes (visible only when open and casting a spell), each petal being another elf, bound in a chorus with the One. Appears furred in mycelium like ermine. Gives the appearance of elegance and grace, but any rapid movement makes it totter awkwardly.
-SP: unlimited, can cast d4 random spells in a Turn, changing each Turn as petals blink open and shut.
-Is normally always singing and digging with its hands in the dirt or sand for a New Child
-if its singing stops, any human in hearing must make a Catastrophe roll or suffer from their Vulnerability as a temporary madness
-is especially susceptible to spells affecting the mind; was once quite knowledgeable, but is now just surface knowledge and perception, forgetting everything within hours

Lost Boy Dextrous, Strong Elf d6+3
-Friendly to anyone that promises to help it find Hungry Boy, but is impatient (frustrated in d4 days of looking)
-Mentor anything about mushrooms, navigating in the wilderness
-looks like a little boy but for its orange and black cordyceps mantle and crown
-calls giant myriapoda (like, big-as-a-house giant) to defend it or carry it away or punish those that have disappointed it

Hungry Boy Strong, Hardy Elf 2d4+4
-Friendly to only Lost Boy
-looks like a little boy but for its head, which is a weird, black, wet, mouth and little pink tongue, sort of like a kid’s drawing of a black hole.
-tries to bite and swallow - any successful attack requires a Catastrophe roll or be injured as it swallows a bit of you

The Gift of the New Flesh. Both a spell and a disease. Exposure is treated like an injury, with death or transformation in d4 days (Catastrophe roll to survive). On surviving, gain one of:

1-5. third membrane over eyes, resistant to void pressures
6-9. tympanum in chest or forehead
10-16. rill of pale, sensitive fungal appendages on random limb, head or torso (d6)
17-19.   softened teeth (can no longer eat meat or tough bread), resistance to the effect of hunger  
when in moonlight
20. translucent skin and re-roll your Trait and choose which to keep

-Those already enjoying the new flesh gain exposed to it’s effect again gain an advantage on the Catastrophe roll
-If the survive, they can choose, rather than roll the effect

Rot Grubs/Lost Children
-Catastrophe roll or be injured, death in a day unless the grub is cut out
-do not consume elves and elves either keep them as a sort of pet or else find them too tragic to look at

attributions: Arthur Acker, Zezhou Chen, Brian K. Ward, not sure on the last one (fan art for Tokyo Ghoul)

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