12 December 2011

You Found A Scroll: The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman is a steampunk recreation of a Western. The world is literally half made, the East being like old Europe staid in its ways, while the middle is full of mixed and actively warring ideologies, and the West is unmade, i.e. animals are not animals and land is not land. It describes, through its protagonists and antagonists, the war between the two major factions; the ordered evil (i.e. lawful evil) Line and the anarchistic evil (i.e. chaotic evil) of the Gun, as well as smaller less puissant sects and the Hill Folk the original natives of the land. Although initially I thought these were silly names, the names are actually clever plays on each foes background. The Line is actually a collection of by the book demonic train engines that have subdued men to their mechanical bidding, while the Gun are devil possessed firearms whose bearers (hosts?) gain superlative powers. Due to their fundamental difference in worldview they are at war. In the immediate past the Red River Republic tried to raise man as a self-determining power not needing these greater powers, the Republic has been crushed, but apparently the last General had a secret that would bring both the Line and the Gun to their knees. Into this are thrust Liv a psychologist from the old East, Creedmore a disgruntled Agent of the Gun, and Lowry a dedicated soldier of the Line. Their actions will dictate who obtains the Generals secret and to what purpose it is used.
Gilman has skillfully developed not only a fantastic and original world, but unique, living characters who are taken through a complex story. For me each character had a baseline "likability" which Gilman managed to change throughout the novel. There were some slightly stagnant periods that were necessary to establish more background, but did sometimes slow the story down. Overall an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, I look forward to the sequel.

09 October 2011

Castle Brave

After defeating Azerack, Boris the necromancer, the wonderous Warrick, and the brothers Warbreed had semi-retired to a suddenly vacated large keep near the village of Bump. The villagers appreciated the more laissez faire tax laws of their new landlords and threw them a festival. At the festival a minstrel sang of Castle Brave, a mystical palace of marble and onyx created by the gods to test mortal heroes. It stood inviolate for centuries despite the gods sending their own champions to hoist their pennants over its contrasting roofs. In the end a mortal man named Parshawn who bore no weapon and rode without saddle defeated the castle and was crowned king of Castle Brave by the god of justice himself. Parshawn ruled for three centuries before finally crowning his eldest son king and vanishing in the wilds. Heroes had sought the castle for millennia since as it contained a treasure of unimaginable richness. The last knight to quest for this treasures had been one named Lucius with two squires, they had vanished thousands of years ago searching for the halls of Parshawn's heirs. It is unknown if Lucius fell before finishing his quest for whether he found the treasure and was elevated to demigodhood. The minstrel said that his mentor Dinar Fireharp had been told the story in a dream as one of the gods whispered it in his ear, and that he had in turn passed it onto his students.

The group decided to pursue rumors of Castle Brave, eventually locating an ancient sage of folklore named Thermose in the neighboring village of Rump. Thermose was doing his research from a foul smelling hovel rented for him by another group of more savory adventurers. Thermose allowed our brave companions to peruse his notes for 10000 gold ducats before he turned them over to his original employers. His notes expanded the tale of Castle Brave including that it appeared in random locations for a day before appearing somewhere else, and its terrors had to be defeated within that day or the heroes would be left behind. It further explained that only the bravest heroes would be directed to Castle Brave's location. As our companions left the hovel they encountered the three original adventurers who had hired the sage for his lore. The meeting was unpleasant but not lethal.

Eventually our doughty lads were contacted by the ethereal Prince Gareth the Kingfisher, Sign of Parshawn, who presented them with a diamond ring that contained his emblem. The ring glowed showing the bearing of Castle Brave. Gareth warned them that there would be many creatures within and around Castle Brave whose only mission was to stop them, with quarter neither given or asked. This did not concern the party oer much.

With the ring to guide them, they used magics to wind walk them to a far island upon which Castle Braves white and black walls acutely resided. Smoke rose from the island and as they flew over it they found two mated black dragons prowling the isle. They also saw a herd of gorgons chasing and consuming the petrified remains of a yuan-ti cult, fleeing their burnt temple. The party engaged the gorgons, dropping from the heavens like divine missiles. The bull abominations were no match for the cleaving waraxes of the clan Warbreed nor could they face the necromantic powers or eldritch might of Boris and Warrick. The nearly extinct yuan-ti informed our heroes that the gorgons along with the two black dragons were recent arrivals from the castle and that a third dragon, an ancient red was on the opposite side of the isle.

Concerned that the dragons would attack them on their way to Castle Brave or be strategically summoned once inside the castle walls, the brothers Warbreed, supported by the magic users sought out the ebony wyrms. They found them in their nest, slumbering, after having gorged on the local pteranodon nest. As Boris tried to use his command of fire to cow the dragons, the brothers Warbreed engaged at point blank range seeking to carve their way to the creatures acidic hearts. The troll-dwarf hybrids took incredible punishment from the acidic spittle of the creatures as well as their teeth and talons while the spellslingers chipped away at range. The twisted pair was dispatched and the party sought a greater threat under the fiery gaze of the great crimson beast.

They found the ancient red dragon devouring a seafaring folk who had discovered the island. Bolstered by Boris' protective spells the Warbreed charged the gigantic scaled horror absorbing the full holocaust of the beast's flaming breath, maw, talons, and bulk while returning hellacious axe strokes of their own backed by the spell might of Warrick and Boris. The titanic dragon was hardy and cruel but the brave band was hardier still eventually triumphing. After the fell dragon was laid low, the remaining seafarers told their tale, relating how they came to island only to be captured by the yuan-ti or slaughtered by the bird-women after scaling the cliffs to Castle Brave. These few had escaped the yuan-ti the rest had been trapped in the cauldron of flame created when the red dragon had incinerated the yuan-ti temple. The brothers hewed a small forest creating rafts for the stranded seafarers and wished them on their way.

They scaled the cliffs to Castle Brave, before its midnight and alabaster walls Boris summoned a series of increasingly powerful fire elementals. Through the destroyed portcullis they spied a despicable mew of harpies within the gatehouse. The first summoned set of living fire were dispatched against the harpies within and the two monstrous groups slew one an another. Passing through the gatehouse they came upon the castle proper, a destroyed tower, and the stables. Three more fire elementals were summoned by Boris' earlier spell and guarded the exit and other doors as our bold bravos explored the stables. As they opened the doors to the stables they were charged by four huge nightmares while nine trolls burst from the castle proper. Two of the fire elementals were extinguished but not before immolating the trolls. Meanwhile Boris forced three of the nightmares back to their own hell using his necromantic might while the Warbreed dispatched the last beneath their grim axes.

The nearby damaged tower saw the sudden demise of yet another fire elemental at the eye stalks of three macabre beholders. Boris retaliated with mystic might while the twins of chaos incarnate distracted the foul orbs with a dwarven thrower and crossbow bolts. Warrick attempted his vitriolic blast only to be nearly smitten in return, so he retreated from the fray. The ocular affronts were dispatched and the quarrelsome quartet turned their attentions on the castle proper.

They entered the halls passing up floor by floor through facing a dispatching a manticore in the boudoir and another unnamable horror in the privvy. Finally on the third floor they reached the master bedroom above which a voice cackled and paced. The adventurers took the stairs toward the sounds above and found no living thing. Inside an ornate casket held a great inlaid egg, presumably the treasure that Gareth had charged them with finding. Suddenly the Warbreed were struck by invisible magics, but they scented out their foe, who Warrick was able to see using his sentinel goggles. He described an incredibly ancient madman casting spells. He rapidly fell beneath arcana and axe. As he died the castle shook and began to self destruct. The party fled in their windwalk and returned home. As they departed the island they saw the yuan-ti raising edifices to their four new gods.

They returned to the main land only to be met by Gareth. However suspicious of his motives after seeing Castle Brave, they questioned him and they noted he emanated no evil. They gave him the ornate egg and he vanished telling them that they should expect their next challenge to be one of character, but was otherwise nonspecific.

30 August 2011

Of Eleves and Dweorgs

When old was new and ancient young, the Elemental Forces collided and the World was made. The World was fertile and rich, vegetation and plants grew. Over ages, one of the plants began to walk and millennia later gained sentience, they called themselves eleves. As these eleves became wise and powerful they sought more knowledge in the depths of the earth. However dependent on the rays of Father Light, the eleves could not delve deep in the earth. They used forbidden sorceries to mold a figure of rock into whose carbon veins they poured magma and the dweorg woke. The dweorg dug deep into the earth and found treasures untold, soon surpassing their creators in the makers craft. The eleves were initially proud of their servitor creations but pride turned to jealousy as the dweorg made more and more beautiful things. Out of pride the eleves turned to more life crafting, trying to make more beautiful things by forming the beasts of the land and the birds of the air. After eons of slavery and haphazard elevish life crafting the dweorg learned to craft themselves and rebellion ensued.

Both sides accuse the other of making the most horrible of weapons during the centuries of war. Foremost among these horrors were the drakes, for which no agreed upon description has ever been made. Many agree that they were great beasts whose scant parts not covered by fangs, claws, horns, and spikes dripping with venomous ichors, instead bore blade-like scales while traveling on silent wings. No one knows for sure, as all who have seen them are either slain or their faculties are so cowed by the drakes fearsome physiology that they recall only fragments of what they think they saw. Both sides deny responsibility for the gobelin-kind, a horror lesser in scale but greater in number, a humanoid plague. Foul and deformed the gobelin can only breed through shedding of its blood which carries its infectious seed. Woe be to the living thing exposed to the gobelins' vital fluid, for they become rapidly infected growing great buboes from which spring more rapacious gobelins. Both sides failed to conquer death, in their wartime experiments crafting instead a solution worse than the problem in the undead magics that brought a half-life back to the fallen. In this way the animate were born, to serve again and again on both sides of every conflict since the dawn of time.

In the end bonds between plant parents and stone sons were broken, the two first races never to align again. The war made free but forever bound both races to paths apart.

15 August 2011

Chapter the Seventh, Part the First: A Throw's Challenge

As the furious white wyrm froze the central core of the orrery, the stones cracked and the heroes breath was stolen in crystalline shards. At the base of the frigid tomb Tyrian and Ulmo rushed through an ornate door which they slammed behind them as the central spire of the orrery froze shut behind them. The brave companions found themselves in a chamber of well fit stone, an ancient but well kept dicing table in its center. Five dice lay spread before a cup on which was written:

Nine warriors made of wind within its core
Earth armed with creatures of half a score
Jesters of water with no mirth
Queens of the Wilds hosts only despair their hearth
Lorded over by the kings of fire
All bow down before death's ire

Roll a hand times three
Obtain as many of each as can be
Get one of three and one of four
A series large of five and series small of four
Find three and two together
Put all five as one to earn the treasure

The six faces of each dice were (1) nine black wavy lines (2) ten small red circles arranged in a circle (3) a blue two-faced jester (4) a green queen with a crown of trees (5) a red king with a crown of flames, and (6) a black leaf.

Tyrian took the first three casts choosing a hand of two aquatic jesters and the duo was transported to a water filled room with three exits. The party swam through the upper exit finding air at the end of the shaft in the room above. As they emerged in the flooded chamber they were attacked by a pack of sahguin who they beat into hasty retreat. As they exited this room, the walls shimmered and they once more found themselves before the dicing cup.

Ulmo's cast resulted in a hand of two wild queens. The pair found themselves transported to a room of similar dimensions as the aquatic maze they had just escaped, but the walls here were hidden by dense vegetation illuminated by a dim light from above. Four shafts exited this room, in the ceiling and floor as well as two opposing walls. Ulmo and Tyrian followed one of the horizontal exits and the next room found a shambling mound which fell before their combined might. This room had three additional exits, in each of the other walls. They chose the one nearest on the right, only to have the vegetation fade and once more be returned to the dicing room.

On Tyrian's next turn, his rolls yielded three burning kings and the duo found themselves in a room of familiar geometry but here the walls and ceiling were wreathed in frame. A painful heat emanated from the walls and the two quickly made their way down on of the shafts. In the hallway between the rooms, they found the flames starting to injure them and they hurried on, only to be trapped by flameskulls. The two companions faced off against three of the burning craniums only to find their way blocked by yet another of the freakish ignited undead. This one was larger and did not attack, apparently a guardian from another version of the dungeon that had been trapped in the wrong part of the constantly changing prison. Ulmo and Tyrian explored two more rooms, the second of which they were attacked by a horde of flameskulls. Facing a pyrotechnic demise they leapt down the tunnel in the floor, landing not in a fourth room of the fiery dungeon, but instead finding themselves back in the dicing room.

Ulmo's throws yielded three black leaves, and they found themselves in a room of similar dimensions with exits in each wall, ceiling, and floor but the walls were made of stacked skulls. Tyrian and Ulmo went from room to room, seemingly without end, and were surprised after the third room not to again find themselves back in the dicing room. Finally Tyrian touched one of the skulls and the hallways erupted with unlife as skeletons stacked high pulled themselves from the walls. The party wisely fled but the geometrically expanding wave of undead finally trapped them in one of the rooms. From the floor arose a three headed skeletal warrior who immediately engaged our puissant pair. The triple crowned undead drove Tyrian back into the frothing mass of skeletons in the shaft behind them while Ulmo attempted to harry the triangular terror. Tyrian smashed pate and limb as he drove his way back into the chamber to face off with the undead champion. Both grievously injured Tyrian and Ulmo nonetheless dispatched the evil and once more found themselves before the dicing cup.

Tyrian's final roll brought them through two chambers of the windswept halls of the Warriors of the Wind, before returning once more to the familiar dicing room. Ulmo's casts brought them to face the terrors of the Knights of the Earth.

After clearing the Upper Scores their next three rolls generated "a series large of five" they found themselves in a room with a single exit in the ceiling. As they surveyed the scene and planned their ascent a whirlwind formed and attacked. What followed was a swarm of windling elementals that fell before our brave bravos. They climbed to the level above finding here two connecting chambers of stone, here they faced a massive stone elemental which shattered under Tyrian's blade and Ulmo's spell. They ascended to a room above, arising onto a central platform that sloped away to two exits mostly hidden underwater. Choosing the righthanded tunnel they travelled under the water and were beset upon by more sahguin, but this time both warriors and a shaman. The two adventurers took horrendous wounds, felling the warriors but were almost finished by the shaman. They were able to escape back to the air after nearly facing a watery grave at the warlock's piscine talons. Back on the platform, they rested and regained their might. They then cut a narrow crevice into the platform and into the tunnel, lowering the water level significantly on the right hand side and flooding the rooms below. Ulmo and Tyrian now on more even breathing terms then dispatched the foul sahguin shaman.

To be continued...

The inspiration behind the of "physics" of this dungeon was the game Yahtzee. The poem above is essentially the rules of the game. For the upper scores the number of die showing the same symbol is the number of rooms before that section of dungeon terminates. Each symbol has a value between 1 and 6, indicating the number of exits, favoring exits in the ceiling and floor for geometrical challenge. Incidentally, I used Royal Flush Poker Dice rather than regular six sided dice, which inspired the poem and led to an addition to the pantheon and numerology of the campaign.

15 March 2011

Chapter the Sixth: Small But Deadly Heavens

From the Cathederalisle of Drouss, Ulmo and Tyrian sailed back to the Mother Enclave of the Roeblini to find passage on to the Monastery of the Masterminds. With Tyrios help they secured passage with a "trade" vessel headed near the forgotten psychic order's retreat. The Monastery proved to be a great sphere of some otherworldly material perched precariously and dwarfing a small island rising from the Forest Sea. In a small bay nestled next to the sphere, a hobgoblin pirate raider lay docked, two landing craft beached on the coarse sand. Rough shod footsteps led up to a crevasse in the cliff face, below the horizon of the alien sphere.

As the doughty adventurers approached, black arrows arched from the darkness of the cave. Tyrian rushed the entrance with Ulmo using his much larger comrade as cover. Inside the cave mouth two hobgoblin archers engaged the adventurers. The fierce humanoids were quickly joined by several more hobgoblins armed with flails and swords. The two adventurers made short work of the hobgoblin raiders, the remaining three surrendering and fleeing in their vessel. From the rough cave, well carved stairs rose to a platform at the equator of the great sphere.

From this platform Ulmo and Tyrian saw a vast orrery shrouded in mist, its heavenly bodies replaced by orbiting ruins and debris. Winged shapes twisted between the many gravitational fields of the flying bodies of the orrery. To the left and right two large flaming bodies representing suns burned in the salty fog. Through a hidden crack in the base of the sphere, a large pool of seawater had gathered, forming a small sea. Tyrian with Ulmo on his back, leapt to the first planetoid, only to find it running near the orrery's twin suns. The suns were revealed to be firelashers imprisoned for the past millennia, as the firelasher reared back to strike it noticed Tyrian's Mark of the Efreet and stayed its hand.

Ulmo and Tyrian lept to the next orbiting ruin, a water scarred and wet mass that plunged into the briny sea at the base of the orrery. However just before they met the dark water, the adventurers lashed themselves to the stalagmites. As they struck the water, a spiked tentacle belonging to an otyugh hidden in the waters struck, dragging Tyrian to the edge of the ruin. However, Tyrian wrestled the foul tentacle from his body before he could be dragged from the rocks and into the beast's diseased maw. As the adventurers' lungs burned for air, a party of sahuagin intercepted the sinking island. As the fish priest attacked with water bolts and spectral shark maw, his Ichthy minions engaged in melee with vicious tridents. Tyrian threw himself into the midst of the blood mad fishmen as Ulmo cast his icy daggers at their foe. The battle raged in murky depths, each blow payed with the strain of sinews or a drop of blood but all taxed by lungs desperate for air. Despite the brave explorers waning strength, more and more of the fish demons fell before the remaining three fled.

As soon as the planetoid burst from the dark waters, the party quickly jumped to the next planetoid, another fragment and its moonling that orbited near the two suns. Here they rested and made the transient acquaintance of a firebat before being attacked by a wandering gargoyle. They jumped again to another orbiting ruin that plunged into the grey green waters below. Here Ulmo was nearly swept away by the otyugh's tentacle. The party leapt to another element of the orrery's collection, a large slab of stone with multiple alcoves housing gargoyles in their hibernation/statue state. Two of the grotesque statues came to life, the gargoyles rushing to attack the party. They were dispatched by the magic and might of the two explorers. They escaped via the planetoid's small moon and debris field, hurtling like asteroids through the orrery.

The party's next planetoid was revealed to be the animate head of a nameless titan, who had explored the planes eons ago. The skull was able to help the party identify their next destination, an invisible planetoid that they marked with dust. They rode the invisible rock until meeting another fragment of a room, again making the daring leap between the heavenly bodies. The next inner orbit held a dirty white rock, resembling a dragon, Ulmo and Tyrian leapt only to discover that this planetoid was indeed a sleeping dragon, named Glacier White Death who was none to amused by the sudden hijinks of two humanoid mortals. As the wyrm woke and flared its wings, Ulmo and Tyrian leapt to a small fragment, nearest the central tower of the orrery. As they tried to calm and influence the irate dragon, they inched toward their final leap. Ulmo and Tyrian crossed the last span and divide into the tower stairs. Glacier White Death sealed the tower with its icy breath and the adventurers scampered down the stairs as the dragon's fury shook the very stones.