Tuesday, December 31, 2013

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Black Crystal Tree

Upon entering this area, especially sensitive people (in this campaign, the PC with the Weirdness Magnet disadvantage, but anyone with an inborn magical talent will do - and failing that, people with intense magical training) - will see strings of strange symbols in their dreams. By those knowledgeable in such matters, the symbols can be identified as Aklo - though when translated, they seem to be nothing more than strings of numbers, with occasional nonsensical letters interspersed with them.The symbols will get more numerous and more intense if the receiving dreamer sleeps closer to a certain mountaintop - possibly the highest mountain in the coastal range.

The emitter is a long, dark crystalline structure embedded within the very top of the mountain - a long rod from which smaller branches spread out in a fractal pattern, like a tree denuded of leaves but far more regular. This is, essentially, a Mothman "sensory station" which measures the weather, flow of magical energies, and a host of other signal information, all of which will be initially meaningless to the PCs. To detect any patterns within the noise it will be necessary to write down possibly hundreds of pages of data - and how to achieve that when the characters will only perceive the symbols in their dreams is left to their ingenuity. Eventually, they will be able to recognize a time/date stamp (based on the alien time system of the ancient Mothmen, of course), and with this basic marker further segments can be isolated and identified. With very careful study they will be able to detect powerful magical events elsewhere on Nardhome (and less powerful ones closer to the station) - for instance, the opening and closing of the various portals to different planets at the crater to the north will leave faint but detectable signals. However, this is best left to a dedicated group of clerks, cryptographers, and grad students once they have founded the colony.
rceive the data within their

Of course, they are not the only ones who have studied this station - the First City colonists established their own research outpost slightly below the mountaintop, which now serves as a shelter for a yeti who considers the mountain his home and protects it against any intruders.

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Lone Cabin

Numerous steep hills rise sharply from the sides of the river in this area. On one of those hills, just before a steep cliffside, is the cabin of "Old Gus" as everyone calls him - a lone prospector who has built his own makeshift mine into the hillside, and actually found a gold vein. Despite this valuable find he has managed to hold his claim against anyone who would wish to take it away (and there have been a few attempts). First of all, he owns two very large and very vicious guard dogs who defend his turf fiercely. Secondly, he has placed hidden bear traps, pitfalls, and other traps over all the approaches to his cabin (and the mine behind his cabin). Thirdly, he is prone to snipe at anyone who approaches despite the numerous warning signs (including one using the skull of a previous trespasser) with his crossbow. Fourthly, he is secretly a minor sorcerer which has given him an edge at a few occasions - but he won't use any obvious powers near other people unless it's a matter of life and death.

Old Gus is deeply paranoid, and he will consider anyone who approaches his cabin and his mine a threat, shooting without warning. The dogs will normally be kept outside the line of sight of people downhill, but released if intruders come too close (they are trained to avoid the traps). If they manage to disable Gus (or sneak in when he is visiting the Trade Outpost at random but rare intervals), they will find large stockpiles of supplies as well as survival and mining gear - and his not inconsiderable profits from the mine.

Ultimately, Gus is not a direct threat to anyone who doesn't approach his home, but his tendency to shoot first and ask questions not at all may cause problems at some point, especially when he shoots someone both important and innocent. As his mine is very close to the Trade Outpost, the PCs should have a clear incentive to integrate it into the colony somehow. How they do that is up to them - they can certainly attempt a hostile takeover (and ultimately, Gus is not much of a threat to an organized party with spellcasters), but that would also send a signal to other colonists. If they don't respect the property of old-timers, then whose property will they respect?

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Canyon of Faces

This canyon is noteworthy for the many faces - human and otherwise - carved into its rock formations. The faces are so weathered that it is hard to tell whether they are natural or just eroded that way. The wind, which seems to constantly blow through this canyon, produces an eerie humming when passing through the rock pillars. At night, swarms of bats will emerge from hidden caves to hunt in the surrounding countryside - as will numerous morlocks who dwell in communities far deeper beneath the surface. They raid the surface for food, and any player characters discovered in the area will certainly qualify for their purpose.

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Mound City Ruins

At a first glance and when viewed in broad daylight, this region seems to be a largely empty plain, with some minor scrubs growing in protected locations. A few small hills rise up in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing that's unusual are three circular patches with verdant vegetation, about 120 yards in diameter. If a character were to observe the site from the air, the situation would be different - changes in the vegetation and the surface show clear patterns, hinting of past roads and buildings - enough to make clear that this used to be an actual city, with many thousands of inhabitants. Furthermore, the circular patches of verdant vegetation are exactly circular, and not just approximating the shape.

At nightfall, the scene becomes different, as ghostly people and buildings start to shimmer into view. These recreate the scene of the city of old, with the inhabitants silently following their daily routines. A patient observer not frightened by the ghosts will be able to learn much about Old Native culture and their situation near the end - for example, by noticing that the people look malnourished and that their granaries are heavily guarded despite only containing minor amounts of maize. However, if disturbed (for instance by touching them), the ghosts will change their appearance into vengeful spirits with red eyes who resent the destruction of their illusion and will sniff out the area to detect the living. Moving away quickly is recommended, as this will eventually cause them to revert to their normal forms.

At approximately 1:30 am, after the ghosts have largely retreated into their home, an alarm heard only by the ghosts will sound. First, the ghosts will stare to the north, appearing to shout (again, without being heard by the PCs) and point. Then they will panic and attempt to run to the south. Eventually, one by one they are caught by whatever is coming from the north, and observers will see the ghosts transform from normally-dressed people into humanoid-shaped clouds which are sucked to the north at great speed,wirthing in agony. A few villagers (including the shamen and some of the village leaders and elders) also seem to be on the verge of this transformation, but in the end they are able to resist - but are then transformed into hunched parodies of the human form with claws and fangs which begin to feast on invisible things lying on the ground (at the locations of where the other inhabitants were sucked away - implying that they feast on the bodies which were left behind). Eventually, the whole scene fades away.

This is, of course, a replay of what happened when the Great Darkness of Coastal Tribe legend appeared - the souls of most inhabitants was sucked away into the God Chamber, while those strong-willed to resist were transformed into ghouls and similar undead creatures of hunger. The PCs might take note where people wearing jewelry fell or where potentially interesting artifacts are located - while the wooden loghouses have rotted away to nothing, if they dig into the ground at these locations, chances are good that they will find those artifacts buried in the ground.

Another type of artifact can be found at the very center of the three circular patches of vegetation. The First City colonists used magic items to magically fertilize their fields and boost the growth of crops - within a radius of 60 yards of where those items were planted into the ground. The Old Native civilization discovered some of these artifacts and used them for their own fields. This city was fortunate in that it managed to attain three of these items, boosting its status as the breadbasket of the region. To prevent other towns from stealing the source of their prosperity, they bound powerful spirits to the items (like they did with many sites they wanted to protect or keep off-limits). While the Natives are now gone, the spirits remain - and without the old rites that were used to venerate them, they are now quite mad.

One of them still favors actual crops within its circle, primarily maize but also various herbs. Local Inland Tribes have developed their own rites so that they can harvest some of the plants from time to time without retribution. The other two circles are just wild growths of vegetation. None of them like intruders, and especially not intruders who come close to the center. They will animate vegetative matter to attack such intruders and invoke other magical effects - though their energy reserves are limited and replenish slowly, so they prefer to scare intruders away instead of killing them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Valley of Fogs

In this remote part of the coastal mountains, the ground is shrouded with fog year round. Sometimes the fog thins out so that you can see the sun behind the clouds while at other times it thickens until you can no longer see your hand if you wave it before your face. Even in the winter the valley stays relatively warm and humid, thanks to the numerous geysers and hot springs dotting its sides.

This valley serves as a home and retreat for the sasquatch dwelling in the Cold Frontier. While their bands range far and wide, this is where they raise their young. In all likelihood they will quickly become aware of any intruders, but stay out of sight - though the explorers might hear their howls or wood knocks from time to time, or catch a whiff of their musky scent.

More problematic are the strange monsters prowling the valley, especially the phantom fungi. The sasquatch know enough about how to avoid them, but explorers will be stalked for hours until one of them gets separated from the rest. These invisible attackers should be especially terrifying when they suddenly strike out of the mists.

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Red Plateau

When the Prehuman Mothman civilization built the Black Pyramid housing the God Chamber, they needed lots of raw resources for this project. For this purpose they sheared off an entire mountaintop rich in ores and transported it to the crater to the north. While the edges have eroded somewhat, the plateau remains unnaturally flat to this day, hinting at its unnatural origin. Were the PCs to examine the plateau in detail, they would discover numerous iron ores reaching up to the surface, making this an excellent location for stripmining.

However, other details might distract them. The most noteworthy feature of the plateau is that every single plant growing on the plateu (mostly mosses, shrubs, and small birch trees) has a red tint in its leaves, bark, and so forth. Furthermore, at the center of the plateau there are a number of large wooden totems not commonly venerated by the Coastal Tribes, including Wolf, Bear, and Bat. They will also find a stone basin encrusted with blood. If they search the area carefully, they will find a hidden chamber with several Transformation Masks depicting the animal Totems above.

The truth is that this plateau is the central cult site of the Skinwalker Society, a secret group of natives who deliberately infect themselves with lycantrophy (or are recruited after they were accidentally infected) and control the more savage side effects with the help of friendly animal spirits (avoiding the overall personality changes of classical lycantrophy and granting them better control over their animal and hybrid forms). They see themselves as the secret protector of the Coastal Tribes and will eliminate problems quietly and efficiently. The red tint of the plateau is a side effect from their many rituals. During the nights, the animal spirits will patrol the plateau and chase down anyone who meddles with the totems and the transformation masks. Needless to say, during the nights of the full moon the plateau is a very dangerous place to be for any outsiders...

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Fungal Gardens

The First City civilization which colonized Nardhome excelled at magical biotechnology - they possibly created most of the known humanoid races and they certainly created all sorts of strange plant and animal hybrids. To create and nourish their menagerie, they also created a number of very powerful magic items, some of which were uncovered by the later Old Native civilization and used in their own communities. One such item was a cornucopia of sorts - a device that emitted a steady stream of a yellow nutritious sludge. The Old Native town fed their large herds of domestic animals with this device, but when the Great Darkness swept over the land the town and the device were abandoned. Their irrigation system broke down, and the area reverted into a swampland. However, while the device was soon covered by sediment, it still continued to produce the sludge which spread out and gives the small lakes dotting the swam a yellow color.

The spread-out sludge allows the swamp to be far more verdant than it would normally be, and a large number of fungoid creatures have moved out of the caverns in the hills to the north and settled here. Some of them, like vegepygmies, fungal creatures, and myceloids are sapient and have developed their own societies in the swamp, and they may help or hinder explorers, though all of them will protect their homes fiercely. There will be Fungal Creature versions of human Inland Tribals and adlets, and possibly even a marsh giant or two. They will be active during the warmer months, but during the winter they will enter a state of hibernation - they (and other ambulatory plant creatures) will bunch up and let a special type of fungus mat grow over them and form a "shell" that protects them from the cold outside. In the spring, this shell will be discarded, and many such shells can be found at that time before their components are absorbed by other life forms. Unfortunately, this also makes them defenseless against external predators, especially the marsh giants of the neighboring swamps.

Nonambulatory giant mushrooms also grow here, especially near the center of the swamp where the device is located - which is also where the Old Native ruins can be found. PCs might find a number of Old Native artifacts there, though most of useful stuff has probably been discovered by the fungal creatures and put to use. The center might serve as a neutral "meeting ground" between the various intelligent plant life of the area, and perhaps even has some plant spellcasters - certainly a druid and possibly even an old, self-taught wizard - specializing in plant magics, of course.

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Marsh Giant Lair and Mating Beach

,Deep in the interior of the Cold Frontier there lies a folorn and fetid swamp. This is the home of a tribe of marsh giants - a dozen individuals or so. Their surroundings are as vile as they are, including such monsters as Yellow Musk Creepers. In general, they don't stray far from home, periodically raiding the fungus fields in the next hex downriver. If they spot any Adlets to the north or members of the human Inland Tribes to the south they attempt to capture or kill them for food, but the former are usually too canny and fast to be caught while the latter know enough to stay away. In general, they spend their days sleeping, rutting, and eating whatever they can find, though sometimes they conduct religious ceremonies in which they abase themselves before disturbing idols and sacrifice sapient captives (before eating them). Their great fecundity is kept in check by their lack of regard for the welfare of their children and their habit of eating each other when they are particularly hungry. Initially, they are not much of a threat and easily avoided, but if the colony later expands into their area they will need to be dealt with.

Once every year at the beginning of fall the whole tribe goes on a long trek to the south, walking through the plains and the mountains until they reach the shore, 70 miles south of their homes, and devouring everything in their path that isn't smart enough to stay away - and the tribes certainly do know enough to keep away from both the route and the beach area the giants claim for this occasion. The nearby native villagers call this area the Mating Beach, for on the first full moon of autumn the Marsh Giants hold a ceremony in which they call giant aquatic creatures with the aid of ceremonial drums (fashioned out of hollowed-out trees). These protoplasmic entities which appear as shambling mounds of eyes, tentacles, and orifices of various kinds were originally created by the aboleths as brood factories for servitor life forms, and usually 3-4 will arrive when the giants call them and attempt to mate with anyone and anything they find. The Marsh Giants will do so willingly, while other nearby life forms might experience a mental blackout from the potent pheromones the creature emits, awakening later with no memories but being covered with minor cuts and bruises and all sorts of unspeakable substances (and torn clothing, in the case of sapient beings). The creature will later spawn its mutant offspring into the ocean, some of which might wash up on the beach, while impregnated land dwellers will give birth to tentacled things after an otherwise normal term of pregnancy.

Explorers coming across the Mating Beach at other times will find both the ceremonial drums and an idol - a moss-covered mound built out of branches, with two primitive humanoid "log figures" attached to it - one in a seeming embrace while the other lies half beneath the mound. Anyone foolish enough to play the drums during any other full moon night will be able to summon one of the creatures, though the local tribes have cautionary tales warning against this.