Tuesday, December 31, 2013

[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.