Friday, January 31, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Giant Eagle Eyrie and Spiral Seal

North of Soaring Eagle Village, the giant eagles used by the Eagle Scouts have made their home high up on a mountain. There is a path up there which their human riders can use, but it is really steep and dangerous for those not used to it. Parts are rough stairs hewn into the mountain side or reinforced with wooden planks. Other parts are little more than ropes on which climbers have to stand or hold fast to. Much of it is comparable to the path up Mt. Hua Shan in China, and each aspiring Eagle Scout has to get up there and bond with one of the giant eagles.

There is a 2 in 6 chance that if the PCs attempt to climb it, an Eagle Scout will come down the other direction. He won't allow them to pass without a very convincing reason, and a single person is more than enough to block the path. The eagles will, of course, be able to watch the path from afar and will do their own to discourage visitors - attacking them if they get violent, which will get very dangerous for the PCs unless they can fly on their own.

In a side valley southwest of Ghost Crab Village there is a series of menhirs arranged in a spiral pattern. Magical examination will reveal that this location functions as a magical seal against some powerful spirit entity straining it. This entity was imprisoned by local shamans many generations ago. The seal will be very hard to damage with natural means, but sufficiently ingenious PCs might be able to manage it. If so, the spirit will escape without tarrying and likely become a recurring villain / tool of the Wendigo Cult. If the PCs are not so dumb, the Wendigo Cult will eventually attempt to free the entity themselves.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related content can be found here.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Free and Wild - Mixing Transhumanism and the Cthulhu Mythos

"The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom."
- H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Quite a few people interpret the above quote as a prophecy of the End Times - the end of humanity. But maybe humanity doesn't die out - but instead transforms... transcends? Humanity as it currently exists may be doomed in the universe of the Cthulhu Mythos, but humanity was different from it was in the past and will be different in the future - especially since humanity will likely soon develop the power to change its very nature, thanks to Transhumanism in its many forms. Human genetic engineering, cybernetic implants, possibly even uploading of our very consciousness into computers - and, considering what it is possible in the Mythos universe, even transforming ourselves into energy beings.

No doubt Lovecraft would have been horrified. But then again, he was also horrified of Asian immigrants in New York City having a Rave. For us gamers I think this vision would be interesting to explore - of beings who aren't quite the same humans we are right now at the beginning of the 21st century, but still human enough to be recognizable to have human emotions and passions, before they transform into something utterly alien.

Currently I am of course preoccupied with another project, but this is nevertheless something I would love to explore and possibly publish one day. Here are some of my general development guidelines:
  • The setting would take place near the end of the 21st century or the early 22nd, to make much of Earth still recognizable.
  • The Cthulhu Mythos has become at least partially public. Various alien entities are known and discussed widely, even if their full implications are not understood. Given the information technology of the era, keeping such things truly secret would be impossible anyway.
  • A full range of Transhumanist technology should be explored, including some stuff that was created via repurposed Mythos technology.
  • The setting should have a fairly global scale, and not be Western-centric. Other nations will rise in prominence, and the West will decline somewhat. Each culture will pursue its own vision of the future.
  • Some Mythos factions - humans and otherwise - will make war on normal humanity, but these will not a global war for extinction like in Cthulhutech. Some will essentially function as terrorists, while other regions - especially those where known Great Old Ones dwell - have largely been abandoned. But it is possible to fight many Mythos creatures, and many humans and human governments are doing so reasonably successfully.
  • This will not be a "grimdark" setting. While stopping Mythos threats is always a worthwhile goal, and something that must be done, humanity won't be in danger of truly sudden extinction. There is a certain wistfulness in that unmodified humanity may die out at some point, however - but humanity's legacy will live on in its many children.

If I am to publish this as a setting. there is one decision I need to make early, however: Which system?

Submitting it as a Monograph for Call of Cthulhu would be the obvious choice, and it would have the added advantage of being able to use Cthulhu Mythos stuff from authors other than H.P. Lovecraft (whose works are in the public domain now). However, I am not sure how well the Call of Cthlhu rule system would handle transhumanist aspects of characters - and their payment scheme for monographs is somewhat strange, since it only covers printed books (50 cents per book) and doesn't cover PDFs at all.

Another RPG with more flexible licensing arrangements would make publishing easier, though it would limit me to Lovecraft's work. But which to choose? Level-and-class systems like the iterations of d20 are right out, as Transhumanism doesn't really fit well into them. There is Savage Worlds, but it has similar problems for characters diverging strongly from a heroic human norm. And there is FATE... but I don't really like FATE as a system.

Your thoughts?

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Draugr Island

The continent of Nardhome was discovered by explorers from the Norrfjell Wastes in the year 937. One of these explorers was one Lars Gunnarson, who sailed along the southern coast in order to explore the shorelines. Unfortunately, his ship ran aground at an island during a storm, and half of the crew was lost, including the captain. The others were shipwrecked and built a small burial mound for their leader, with the following inscription set in stone:
"Her ligger Lars Gunnarson, en modigere kaptein enn noen annen som har seilt de vestlige havene. Kan han finne hvile i haller av gudene."
(An English-Norwegian Google translation of: "Here lies Lars Gunnarson, a braver captain than any other who has sailed the Western oceans. May he find rest in the halls of the Gods.")

Then they attempted to reach the coast, but more died during the attempt and even more fell prey to the dangerous creatures who live in the region. A few were found by the Coastal Tribes and eventually married into them.

But the dead were not gone - they resented not being buried in their home in the Norrfjell Wastes in the Kjempenesfjord ("Giants' Fjord") and thus began to haunt the island they were on as draugr, rising in the night and shouting "Hjem! Jeg vil hjem!" ("Home! I want to go home!"). They will attack intruders, unless the intruders can convince them that they will indeed transport them back to Kjempenesfjord. The captain will be armed with a broadsword with the Accuracy +1 enchantment and a medium shield with the Deflect +1 enchantment. It is fairly easy to steal this during the day, but then he will stalk the fief during the night - even following them off the island. There are 12 other draugr on the island. None of them can be destroyed by chopping them to bits (as they will reform during the next night), but they can be destroyed by other means - the Final Rest spell will be effective if they are immobile, and burning will also be a possibility (though given their resistance to fire from being so water-logged, this may be difficult to do).

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

GURPS rules for Hex Travel and Exploration

Let me take a break from detailing the Cold Frontier to explain how I've modified the GURPS rules for travel so that they fit the "hexcrawl" approach of this campaign. Starting point were the rules for Hiking on page 351 of the GURPS Basic Set as well as the Pathfinder Sandbox Exploration Rules. The GURPS rules assume that a character under ideal conditions can march a distance of 10 miles times his Move - which is 5 for a "normal human", so normal, unencumbered humans can theoretically march up to 50 miles per day. This can be increased by 20% with a roll against the Hiking skill, but is reduced for encumbrance, difficult terrain, weather and so forth.

For my system, I started with the assumption that the characters spend 12 hours "on their feet", though minor breaks are included in this time. Whenever the characters start hiking - either because it is a new day or because the conditons are changing - they should first calculate their "theoretical" daily distance, based on terrain, weather, Hiking skill and so forth - but excluding any forced marches. Then they can look up on the following table how far they get in a certain number of hours - or conversely, how many hours they need to travel a certain distance.

If they do a forced march (i.e. attempt Extra Effort while hiking, see GURPS Basic Set p. 357), first calculate the "Miles per Day" without that bonus and then simply assume they continue to march beyond the first 12 hours until they have reached the maximum distance.

So, how far do they actually have to travel to get anywhere? Well, the hex fields used in the campaign are about 10.4 miles from side to side, which means they will have to travel about 10 miles to pass through a hex (even if their goal is not directly opposite to theirs):

It takes about 5 miles to get from a side to the center (or "any interesting location", for simplicity's sake) and vice versa. Finally, to properly "explore" a hex for the purposes of the campaign the characters need to travel about 20 miles, criss-crossing the area, until they can finish cartographing it. After doing this, they can choose to finish at any side of the hex, or in its center.

But these are only the base distances, which can increase if the group's navigator fails their Navigation (Land) skill roll. A Navigation roll needs to be done when the group enters a hex, with the following penalties:
  • Hex hasn't been explored yet: -2
  • Light rain/snow/fog: -2
  • Heavy rain/snow/fog: -4
If the Navigation roll is failed, the actual distance the group needs to travel is increased:
  • Base distance is 5 miles (center to side): +1 mile per two points of Margin of Failure.
  • Base distance is 10 miles (side to side): +1 mile per point of Margin of Failure.
  • Base distance is 20 miles (exploration): +2 miles per point of Margin of Failure.
On a critical failure, the group is also lost and end up at a random adjacent field after finishing their movement. Attempts at exploration automatically fail.

If the PCs have attempted to explore the hex, they can attempt a Cartography roll - unmodified if the Navigation roll was successful, and with a penalty equal to the Margin of Failure if it was not. If the Cartography roll succeeds, the hex counts as "explored". If it fails, the group has to explore it again, although both Navigator and Cartographer get a cumulative +2 bonus for each immediate further attempt. On a critical failure, the hex still counts as "unexplored" but the group doesn't realize this - and gets a further -3 penalty to future Navigation rolls in that hex (in addition to the -2 for "unexplored").

Monday, January 20, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Old Far Coast Enclave, Part I

Coastal Tribe legend states that long ago some of their own built large boats and journeyed far to the south where they discovered a new land - the continent known to the Flannish Cities as the Far Coast. There they built vast empires, and eventually trade links were established. One of these empires established a enclave on the shores of the Cold Frontier - to serve as an embassy for diplomacy, and as a place to conduct trade. When the Great Darkness struck, some but not all members of the enclave were able to flee to the oceans. There they convinced some of the other refugees to sail south with them, and they were never heard from again.

The ruins of the enclave remain, however. Which means it is time to detail our very first dungeon, and it's Aztec-themed to boot!

The spiritual heart of the enclave is a temple complex built into the volcano at the coast. The main building at the entrance is a flat-topped pyramid, with tunnels reaching through the side of the volcano until a chamber opens up to the caldera itself, overlooking the lava from high above. It is here that their priests carved out the hearts of their sacrifical victims and threw them into the volcano. A skull rack with the victims can be found nearby. A spirit lingers in these halls and whispers to trespassers that they, too, should sacrifice living beings in its name.

There is a ruined mansion - a minature "palace" - which served as the main embassy. There will be heavily damaged murals showing the generosity and bravery of the Far Coast people - sending boats full of food, doing battle near the White City against the abominations from the crater, meeting the court at the City On The Waters. The Far Coast people will always be depicted as taller and with more splendid clothing (adorned with feathers) than the natives. This will provide some more clues that something strange was going on in the far north

There are some hot springs next to the palace which are not in as pristine condition as at the First City Spa to the north, but they could still be restored to a decent bath without too much effort. There is also an old ball court which is now completely overgrown.

A female weeping ghost dressed in white haunts the ruins at night, lamenting the loss of her children.

Treasures the explorers can find include the following:
  • Sealed pottery containing dried beans, cocoa beans, grounded cocoa powder, maize, honey, or tobacco.
  • Ceremonial obsidian knife (with a +3 Accuracy enchantment limited to hitting the vitals, a +1 Puissance enchantment, and the Shatterproof enchantment) and bowl (for holding the heart).
  • Assorted jewelry.
  • A codex - an accordeon-like book made out of deerskin in a sealed container. Contains a number of Animal spells, with the pinnacle spell being Shapeshifting (Jaguar).
  • An ixiptla or "God Disguise" - an outfit (including headband, earrings etc.) representing one of the old Far Coast deities. The wearer will be able to invoke various magical powers but may find his personality subtle changed towards that of the deity while wearing the items.
That's it for a first, short brainstorming. As always, additional suggestions are welcome.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

[Urbis] Cold Frontier Session Log 01

Note: For the description of the characters, see here. For the inhabitants of the Trade Outpost, see here and here.

Jorune (April) 5th

<4,10> As the transport ship plows into the bay at dawn, the characters spot strange patches of green and blue fluorescence on the water. Lorrak decides to investigate, binding a rope around himself and handing the other end to Rraka Weisstatz before using an Apportation spell to lower himself to the water level with a bucket. Unfortunately, he miscalculates the speed of the ship and gets dunked into the icy cold water. Fortunately, he is retrieved quickly and gets a change of clothing, although the mystery of the glowing patches remains.

<4,9> As the ship docks, Rraka Weisstatz leaps over board, glad to be away from the water. A figure shambles towards her out of the early morning fogs, and she narrowly avoids being vomited on by the very drunk Factor Richard Byrne, the boss of the Trade Outpost. A short time later, Madug Kobrog (hobgoblin bouncer and general laborer) arrives and gets his boss back to his room. Then he returns with Jacob Krol (human hunter and laborer) as well as Gorog Khordukr (dwarven cook, mushroom farmer, and distiller of mushroom moonshine) who glares at them suspiciously, helping with unloading their stuff and stowing it into the outpost, as well as giving the explorers some brief orientation.

In the entrance they spot the notice by someone named Carolus Ashton, who wishes to pay for live or nearly intact snallygaster (600 sp), sasquatch (1000 sp), decapus (600 sp), or gryph (600 sp) specimens. In the bar, Lorrak immediately chats with the ever-smiling gnomish barkeep Gustav Grollbergen, while Pater Markus attempts to negotiate with Gorog about allowing his goblin cook Nob make use of the local kitchen - but the biggest concession he gets is that Nob may borrow some of Gorog's kitchen tools (which is already an enormous concession).

Then a woman shouts out from the top floor and asks about who let this goblin in here, whereupon the goblin races down the stairs again - followed shortly by Mary (human prostitute and seamstress) who berates Markus for bringing a goblin into this house. Markus charms her sufficiently that she is even willing to try a small sample of whatever Nob is cooking. A short time later Tessa (human prostitute and herbal gardener) arrives and greets the guests.

Lunch is served - mushrooms cooked by Gorog for most, something undefinable for Markus and Nob. Mary bravely tastes the goblin food, and then proclaims it to be "too exotic" for her tastes. Then Pale Beaver (a native hunter from Ghost Crab Village) comes down the stairs, greets everyone, and then gets himself a big helping of the goblin food which he eats with relish - although Mary quickly admonishes him to "eat with a spoon, like I showed you!". He then talks with the explorers, mentioning the four villages in the area (apart from Ghost Crab Village, also Stranded Whale Village, Soaring Eagle Village, and Blue Octopus Village), and telling them what he knows of the "Great Darkness". After questioning, he also tells them a bit about the various creatures on Ashton's list, which causes the PCs to decide against catching a sasquatch. But they do decide to buy some alcohol to catch a snallygaster, which they do after Byrne finally comes down again from his room, greets them properly, and opens the store for them. He also tells them that according to the official Company letters he has received, they can stay at the Trade Outpost free of charge (food included, which mainly means mushrooms), can store items there which they don't need at the moment, and can get other equipment at the store for "list prices" without the usual markup for this remote location.

After that, Pale Beaver leaves and the PCs discuss travel plans. Initially, most seem to favor following the river upstream all the way to the edge of the map, although this is protested by Rraka since "that's how the two previous expeditions met their ends!" In the afternoon, they also decide to use the local guard tower and binoculars to look around the area, and Rraka discovers "something glittering" at the top of a mountain to the southwest in field <3,9> that "isn't snow". They also discover that surrounding the trade outpost there are also ruins of a settlement - including a well-preserved 2 yard stone totem of a seal. After estimating that this might bring 1000 silver pieces or more at an auction back home, they decide to bring it into their compartment inside the Trade Outpost warehouse as their first "loot". They also discover a trap door in a secluded spot in the ruins, and deduce that that's probably the hidden mushroom farm operated by the dwarf.

In the evening, after dinner, they suddenly hear a crash from the gate of the palisades surrounding the outpost. Rraka and As Saß swiftly move outside, the others in tow, to see a zombie dire bear and 10 human skeletons charging into their direction. The zombie bear is swiftly dispatched, and while the two are hacking through the skeletons, Lorrak casts a wide-area Create Flame spell to damage the skeletons further and Markus casts Turn Zombie which causes the remaining skeletons to flee.

Then a dark fog forms outside of the palisades and an eerie wailing comes out of the cloud. Of the explorers, all but Lorrak fail their Will rolls, and feel compelled to enter the cloud (accompanied by Madug and Gorog) and just stand there. Lorrak races back inside and gets his knives. Meanwhile, the zuvembie walks past all the captivated people, notices that Jacob (its true object of vengeance) isn't there, and in frustration smacks everyone in range with its club. This gives them another chance to recover their wits. Tasil is the first to recover and flees out of the cloud, holding his hand. Markus also recovers, just as Lorrak charges into the center of the black cloud with a Flame Jet. He had pinpointed the location of the creature exactly, but unfortunately it avoids his attack and hits As Saß, who recovers after the injury.

Then Markus casts Sunlight, dispelling a smaller segment in the center of the dark cloud, and they see the creature for what it is - a human skeleton with a dark blue light in its eyes. Lorrak attempts to wake Rraka by pulling her at her tail, but unfortunately Rraka still feels compelled to follow the zuvembie, dragging Lorrak into the darkness again. Lorrak manages to cast Apportation on Rraka without letting go of her, resulting in having a cat balloon of sorts hanging off the ground. As Saß, meanwhile, senses the creatures' presence with his vibration sense and quickly manages to dispatch it, dispelling the darkness and its hold over the others.

Lorrak examines the remains and notices that this "master skeleton" was apparently chewed upon by teeth - disturbingly human teeth. They discover that the creatures were coming from the northeast and investigate the trail in the morning. They also figure that this was likely part of what the "Great Darkness" was.

Jorune (April) 6th

As the morning dawns, Lorrak goes into the stables to milk his goat. As he is about to step outside, he notices that something is perched on the roof of the stables. Thinking quickly, he climbs his goat and charges outside. As he looks back, he notice some kind of humanoid/moth hybrid - a "moth man", if you will - sitting up there and glaring at him malevolently. He doesn't stop until he is inside the main building, still astride Betsy, and alerts the others to the creature. Which is gone, but Rraka does find some claw marks on the roof of the stables and Madug vaguely remembers the creatures from some stories Pale Beaver has told - this creature is allegedly a "harbinger of fate" and kidnaps people only to bring them back somewhere far away from their previous position.

In the morning they follow the trail for five miles but decide to abandon it after the trail heads into the mountains. Instead, they decide to start exploring their "home base" hex properly, which has the advantage that they can spend one more night at the Trade Outpost. On the way back they see a huge eagle flying above which is carrying a human rider, and at the outpost they learn that these eagle riders all come from a village to the west.

Jorune (April) 7th

They finish the surveying the next morning (and Lorrak finds a good location for an iron mine) and head south on the eastern side of the bay. That afternoon they spot a creature which has camouflaged itself as part of a tree. Tasil casts Create Servant to head along the trail before the rest of the group, and next to the tree the servant falls through the forest floor as if it wasn't there. As Saß, Markus, and Tasil take a closer look at the tree. Tasil learns via the Aura spell that the creature has some magical aptitude for illusions. Then Markus throws a Sunbolt at the tree. This is enough for the creature, which dispels the illusion of the fake forest floor (revealing a small natural hole in the ground in which the Servant is stuck and now brachiates from tree to tree with its many tentacles. The explorers correctly deduce that this must be a decapus and wonder how they are supposed to capture one... next time, as they don't think they have a chance of catching up to this one.

Jorune (April) 8th

The next morning, Lorrak (who has the last watch of the night) spots some blinking lights in the distance, which turns out to be glowing mice and toads (6 each) with butterfly wings squabbling over a polished stone. Lorrak gets Rraka, who can translate their Sylvan, and then bribes the groups by giving each a well-polished copper coin, whereupon the toads and mice squabble among each other who of them gets to keep the coin. Lorrak also spots the glowing patches on the ocean again and this time manages to examine the phenomenon in a cup, but beyond noticing that the glow seems to consist of lots of tiny glowing dots he learns nothing new. Finishing up with the exploration of this hex, they also stumble across large patches of well-tasting orange berries in a small side valley.

Jorune (April) 9th

Then they head northeast and notice quickly that there are an awful lot of owls in this area. They stumble across a patch of strange slime lurking below the forest cover, but after experimenting with how it reacts to a tree branch thrown on it (it engulfs the branch and then gradually sinks down again) they leave it alone.

In the evening they take shelter in the rain shadow of a rock spire. During the night Nob - who is taking the midnight watch - sees how a 3 yard tall owl chooses the spire to sit for a few hours, and Nob then waits terrified in his hideout until the owl flies away - near morning. The others notice that Nob didn't wake the others for their night watch shifts, and get him to tell the story.

Jorune (April) 10th

As they explore further, they come across a middle-aged native woman gathering herbs in the forest who doesn't speak their language but gestures them to stay away. As Rraka approaches anyway, tree branches and acorns start hurling into her direction. Tasil casts Aura on the woman and notices that she has magical aptitude but also suffers from a supernatural curse of some sort. She establishes telepathic communication with the woman (which transcends language barriers) and learns that the latter is a consequence of the former - "the spirits have given me great power, but there is often a price for these things". The explorers manage to trade some food for her herbs, and Lorrak notes what she explains about their uses.

Jorune (April) 11th

In the late hours of the night the Giant Owl is spotted again, this time carrying a seal in its claws while flying north. In the afternoon they come across the Giant Owl's resting spot. Tasil casts Aura on the creature as well and learns that the owl has some supernatural powers of perception, seeing somehow more of the world than normals human would. As they argue about what to do with the owl (if anything), the session comes to its end.

Game Master's Notes:

The game ended rather conveniently in one of the hexfields I had still detailed, but it is fairly clear what I need to do for the next session:
  • Detail the mountain hex <6,10> (which will likely be the next one the PCs will enter) as well as the volcano at <7,10> (as the PCs apparently want to follow the coast). Second highest priority is the island at <5,10> (assuming they can arrange passage somehow) and the mountain hexes at <5,8> and <7,8>. If I detail <5,7> and <7,7> I will have the whole southeastern corner of the map written up, which should be enough for the next session, no matter what they will do. As always, suggestions for what they might find there would be highly welcome.
  • Add more details to Ghost Crab Village - including a village map and hopefully some adventure plots or at least an encounter or two, since that's where they seem to be headed.
  • Come up with some legends and stories shared by the Coastal Tribes, especially regarding the Great Darkness.
  • Map and figure out the contents of the sunken ship near the village.
  • Come up with a Random Encounter Table for the Coast.
  • Give some thought for what kind of interesting stuff Lorrak might find with Naturalist and Prospecting rolls in the hexes.
Also I forgot to figure out in advance on which days the PCs actually encounter something - according to the Pathfinder Exploration Rules, the PCs should encounter a "monster" only on 61-100 on 1d100, not every day. Furthermore, I need to come up with some rule system for modeling the weather of the region - so far I've faked it, but it would be neat if I could create "weather forecasts" in advance.

What worked well are the rules for daily and hourly movement I came up which expanded on the rules in the GURPS Basic Set and adjusted them for hex grids - including one huge, handy chart which allowed me to quickly figure out how far the PCs would move in a certain time span, given the local terrain, weather, basic movement speed, and their own proficiency at hiking. Almost all the calculations were already done with this chart. I really need to translate them into English and post them here at some later point...

All in all, I think the first session went well - but it already becomes apparent that this kind of exploration campaign doesn't really provide natural "cliffhangers" that would increase the anticipation for the next session. I will need to detail the Wendigo Cult some more and come up with some more plotlines that encourage the PCs to seek out particular places and do something more than just exploring the area.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

[Urbis] Explorers of the Cold Frontier, Part I

Yesterday was the very first session of the Cold Frontier campaign, so let's have a first look at the player characters! Like I said, we are using GURPS for the campaign, so while I won't post the full character sheets here the descriptions will reflect that.

Lorrak is a half-gnome, half-halfling - the result of a botched attempt of a halfling archmage to reincarnate himself into a new body. Said archmage now haunts his dreams and serves as a teacher of all things supernatural, although Lorrak can tap into him once a day for a short-time power boost. So far, he has learned some Earth, Fire, Knowledge, and Movement spells, with some minor spells in the Food, Illusion, Light, Plant, and Water spells, and even one basic Necromancy spell (Death Vision). Among his more mundane abilities he is good at organizing things, and has a decent knowledge of surveying and cartography, as well as prospecting. His main combat tactics seem to involve wearing a shield and casting Flame Jet or Winged Knife. To keep up with the rest of the group, he rides a Siebenbund Riding Goat named "Betsy".

GURPS characters are also strongly defined by their Disadvantages, so let's have a look at those. He has a Sense of Duty to the group and to his family... which happens to be those Guldenbergs, who consider him to be an embarrassment. This also explains his Enemy (Watcher) disadvantage, which means that someone will spy on him and report his activities. Initially, this will be Gustav Grollbergen, the ever-smiling barkeeper from the Trade Outpost. Lorrak also has Xenophilia, which means he is interested in meeting strange new intelligent species and talking to them, at least initially assuming that they are non-hostile. On the other hand, he is also intolerant against halflings due to his... complicated family history. Finally, he has Weirdness Magnet, which means that if anything weird happens to the group it will happen to him first and foremost - resulting in his... Mothman connection.

Tasil is a half-elf con man/never-do-well who originally had a large inheritance but squandered it all and finally had to leave Dartmouth in a hurry over an affair with the wrong woman (whose husband objected). He talked his way into the expedition... it seemed like a good idea at the time. He is attractive, charismatic, has a beautiful voice, and really understands other people (the Empathy advantage). He is also a decent mage - specializing in illusion magic, but also having a good smattering of elemental and movement spells.

As for his Disadvantages, he is a Compulsive Gambler and party man, Curious, and has a Sense of Duty. He also suffers from Post-Combat Shakes - he isn't really suited to the rigors of the Wild yet (and slows the party down due to lack of Hiking skill).

Rraka Weisstatz ("White Paw") is a catfolk Holy Warrior of the Silver Lady. She is good at scouting, and she fights with her claws - which are magically enhanced thanks to her patron deity. As for her Disadvantages, she is Curious, Easy to Read (that is, very bad at bluffing or lying), a Light Sleeper, a Klutz, Colorblind, and eats about twice as much as a normal human, thanks in part to her Gigantism. Like all Catfolk, she is Impulsive, Lazy, and is afraid of open water. Finally, she has a Sense of Duty to the Faerie Courts of Avareen where she was raised, though this may eventually transfer to the group depending on how the conflicts of interest develop...

As Saß is a ranger of the nagaji snake folk who live in the far southwestern jungles on the other end of the world. His home clan was subjugated by the Far Shores Trading Company when they decided to build opium plantations there. As Saß decided to take revenge on the Company by infiltrating them from within, which none of his clan mates know - to them he is a traitor, and in fact some decided to pursue him to the ends of the world to punish him (the Enemy disadvantage). He is very deadly while wielding one sword in each hand, and can sense the area surrounding him with his snake-like tongue, allowing him to operate in complete darkness (though he cannot speak while doing so). His main problem during the trip are supplies - he is only able to digest raw meat.

Finally, Pater Markus is a hobgoblin priest of Argannon. He served as a chaplain with the Rotkappen, a famous hobgoblin mercenary unit. His spell selection is short, but useful - healing spells (of course) as well as Sunlight, Sunbolt, and Turn Zombie (all of which have seen use during the first session). In melee, he fights with a Dwarven War Staff which he can change between a Quarterstaff and a Three Section Staff configuration. Due to his military service he lacks an eye and has a bad back. He also still eats the same amount of food as in his active military days, despite being older and slower. From his old unit he also took a goblin sapper named Nob with him (an NPC Ally) who serves as his servant and cook (Nob excels at Goblin cuisine, which sadly isn't appreciated as much by others in the party). Nob prefers to shirk both work and danger whenever he can get away with it, and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Next: What have our heroes been up to in the first session?

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Tribal Meet and Burning Hills

South of Stone Totem Valley where several rivers meet there is a place where the Mammoth Tribe (who live west of the river) and the (whooly) Rhinoceros tribe (who live east) meet regularly during the first full moon of spring, summer, and fall to conduct trade, share information, arrange marriages, and conduct diplomacy. Members of other tribes - including the Coastal Tribes - also visit frequently in small groups.

In the far northern hills there is a region where smoke emits from many holes in the surface. The reason for this is a massive underground coal deposit that has caught fire, similar to Centralia, Pennsylvania. Several minor spirits of fire are attracted to this area and live there to this day. Coal is not quite as important as in our world since it is not used for power generation, but if extinguished it would still be economically useful for certain applications like the production of steel. How to extinguish this deposit is left to the ingenuity of the PCs, but magic certainly opens up all sorts of new options.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Trade Outpost, Part II

Continued from Part I.

One location found within the palisades of the Trade Outpost is a small shrine to Bucatar maintained by one Julius Kraus, formerly of the Nordwacht-Tempel in Nimdenthal. He is fairly old - 73 now - but like many priests of Bucatar refused a "comfortable" retirement but desired to live out his last years on the frontier. He is quite powerful - capable of casting ressurrection if needed (he has enough components for one casting of the spell under lock in a hidden compartment below the shrine), but rarely present as he constantly walks a circuit between the various miners and prospectors in the area. He suspects something is going on with all the disappearances as of late, and if he learns of the Wendigo Cult he will investigate - which will possibly kill him. He isn't at the Trade Outpost when the PCs arrive, but will become a strong supporter of their mission once he learns of it.

I've also mentioned a second prostitute working in the Trade Outpost. Her name is Mary (also in her late 20s), and she is rather more manipulative than Tessa, picking out people who she thinks are more likely to strike it rich or become famous and playing favorites. However, she also seems to have some upper class education (possibly from working as a maid for a patrician's family) and strives to bring a touch of class to the place, reacting negatively to swearing, drunkenness and the like. She has a sideline as a seamstress, fixing torn clothing for the prospectors and trappers.

We also need a bartender for the bar. This is Gustav Grollbergen, a relatively young gnome who claims that he came to Nardhome in the search of adventure. He is always smiling and always talkactive about the rumors, but there is something... off about him, and he gives an impression about being just a little bit too nosy and a little bit too oily. He is, in fact, an agent of the famous gnomish Guldenberg Family (the owners of the Gemeinschaftsbank, the most powerful financial institution in the Known Lands). He has been told that a very important but undefined opportunity will develop in Nardhome sometime in the next few years and that he is supposed to report on anything unusual (the Guldenberg family has determined this via oracles and divinations they have access to, but Gustav knows all about "need to know"). He has good training in espionage skills as well as some wizardly training to assist him with his intelligence gathering. Since he doesn't know what he is looking for, he pays attention to everything.

When the PCs arrive, there is also a Coastal Tribe native named Pale Beaver. When the PCs enter the pub part of the Trade Outpost, he is currently passed out from drinking too much. He enjoys visiting the Trade Outpost during his hunting trips, drinking alcohol, eating the strange food, and spending time with the foreign women (as giving gifts to a woman if you are a guest in her house is customary, he sees nothing wrong with "paying" the prostitutes for spending time with them, and since he is polite and well-behaved he is a favorite among them). He also annoys Factor Byrne by constantly referring him as a woman, as Byrne "owns a house and stays at home. He does the same to Gorog (mildly annoyed), Madug (takes it in stride, since humans all have weird ideas about the supposed roles of men and women anyway), and Gustav (who keeps his opinions to himself), but not Jacob since Jacob frequently leaves the Outpost on hunting trips and is therefore obviously male. If approached in a friendly manner, he will gladly explain the basics of Coastal Tribe culture and may be amenable to being hired as a native guide for a time. He will insist in payment in metal tools, such as knives, metal arrow tips and so forth - he is familiar with money, but claims that Byrne doesn't give him as much for the money as he gives others (which is true).

There is also a shed maintained by Jacob Krol, the secret cannibal and Wendigo Cultist, where he keeps his taxidermy equipment as well as several stuffed animals he has prepared. It is free of any Suspicious Clues - Krol hasn't avoided discovery for so long by being sloppy in his crimes.

The area is also haunted - on the anniversaries (17th of Kort, in late summer) of the grisly drowning of the many villagers, the scene described in the previous post will replay itself. The villagers who were killed are visible as ghostly apparitions, though the rope/tongue or whatever it was that they were stuck to isn't.

Beyond that, let's go once again for the Random Nations Generator for further inspiration. Among the Major Personalities we get Alexis Carrel, a Noble-Prize winning biologist who was also very fond of eugenics, proposing gas chambers to dispose of the criminally, mentally, and biologically defective and suggesting that humanity be led by an "intellectual and hereditary biological aristocracy" who rigorously implemented eugenics (he had very kind words to say about the Nazis when they came to power). In Urbis terms, let's make that Carolus Ashton, a human wizard from Dartmouth who travels the Cold Frontier for biological specimins for his own research, accompanied by two assistants (both experienced hunters). He is especially interested in exotic animals of the region and will pay high prices for live or fresh speciment such as the snallygaster (500 sp), sasquatch (800 sp - not actually an animal, but he doesn't care), decapus (500 sp), and gryph (500 sp), with prices for other exotic animals being negotiable. He stresses that if the animals are slain they need to be kept cold or otherwise protected from decomposition, as rotted specimens are less valuable. It is fairly easy to negotiate a higher price if he is presented with a good specimin. He has rented his own shed where he dissects (or vivisects) specimens, keeps notes, and stores samples (within magically created ice which he renews whenever he visits). Not surprisingly, he is also a worshiper of Nyros, which does not exactly make him a pleasant person. He dismisses the Coastal Tribes as "inferior stock of humanity" and regards the Inland Tribes as "inbred throwbacks", though he won't go out of his way to act against either of them.

Most of the other results of the generator aren't really applicable for the Outpost, but one interesting result is Stack (Geology) - rock columns located just offshore. I think that's a great place for our zuvembie out for revenge against Jacob Krul to make its last stand - it can sing its song and all who hear it and fail their Will rolls must walk to her and possibly drown in the ocean.

I think that about wraps it up - so all that's left is to draw a map of the place!

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Stranded Whale Village

Next on our list of Coastal Tribe villages is Stranded Whale Village - so called because, according to legend, during a time of great hunger a whale heard the wailing of the tribesfolk and decided to beach itself, sacrificing itself so that the humans could eat. Not surprisingly, Whale is the most prominent totem (and the village are the most proficient whalers in the region), with the leader being Running Rain (male). Other common totems include Orca, Dolphin, Shark, Owl (due to proximity to Owl Mountain), Bat, Raven, and Eagle. The village has approximately 500 inhabitants.

Let's once again look at the Random Nations Generator. The first result for "Government" is Exilarchy. Hmmm... let's say that when the Great Darkness struck, most of the Natives decided to wait it out on the open oceans - but a few attempted a long and perilous journey to the Far Coast, to the south where their kin lived, to ask them for help. They never returned, but the senior shaman (currently Standing Beak, female) has the duty of organizing a great fire on the tip of the peninsula during the solstices and equinoxes in the hopes that this will lead the Lost home one day. As the Speaker for the Lost, he has a great deal of say in the local Council of Elders - he is thought to represent their wishes.

In the "Organizations" sections we get groups like the Illuminati and Majestic-12, which hints that rather more is going in this village than is first apparent. Perhaps the Speaker for the Lost functions as the leader of a "shadow government" for the local Coastal Tribes - a secret, invitation-only group which attempts to manipulate events from behind the scenes. Quite a few shamans will likely be members, as will be the leaders of the Skinwalker shapechangers who serve as their secret enforcing arm. And speaking of the Skinwalkers, Bat is worshiped as a totem here - so let's make the leader of the local Bat Lodge (Springing Ears, male) the leader of the Werebat Skinwalkers as well. So, how to call these Illuminati of the Coastal Tribes? I think "Hidden Fire Society" has a nice ring to it, since it connects to the actual signal fire of the village...

Among the "Major Personalities" we have P.T. Barnum and Figaro, which I interpret as the leader of the Raven Lodge ("Laughing Shadow", male) being a major showman and entertainer - not to mention a trickster, which the PCs will likely experience first hand. We also get Hashim ibn Hakim, also known as the "Veiled Prophet" - let's say that whenever Standing Beak takes on the role of the Speaker for the Lost, she wears a mask and even those who know about the person behind the mask never refer to her by that name while she fulfills that role. Quite possibly the mask is strongly magical and has enchantments of protection, concealment, and illusion.

Among "Major Political Issues" we get By their works shall ye know them, which is about religious groups reinterpreting reality to suit their own agenda. This one is obvious - the Speaker pretends to speak for the Lost and tolerates no defiance, but in reality speaks for the agenda of the Hidden Fire Society. Another result is Hanged Census worker had "Fed" on chest - perhaps the Hidden Fire Society is prone to carving their symbol into the corpses of those who offend them, and while everyone gets the message, nobody talks about the Society in public. I am thinking of the following symbol for them:
One of the "Major Products" of the village is Poison, which makes sense - poisons are very useful for controlling... problematic people. Obviously, the PCs might end up being one of their targets. On the flip side, expert proficiency with Homeopathic Medicine could establish the local shamans as the greatest healers of the region (especially if people come to them after being subjected to one of their slow-acting poison - nothing like being near the threshold of death for questioning some of your life choices).

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Ghost Crab Village

Now that the basics of Coastal Tribe culture and society have been established, I should start on developing some of their villages. Let's start with Ghost Crab Village, located to the east of the Trade Outpost. It is the most populous of the villages in the region, with a population of more than 900 villagers. Part of the reason is its great location at the mouth of a minor river, and another its access to exceptionally productive fishing ground. But another reason is that the village accepted the survivors of Green Seal village (where the Trade Outpost is now located). Thus, the primary Lodges of the village are Crab and Seal, with at least a minor Eagle lodge (as with all villages in the region). The Owl Totem is also likely, due to the proximity of Owl Mountain.

But what else might there be of interest here? For that, let us consult our old friend, the Random Nations Generator at the Arcana Wiki.

The actual system of government has already been established, but let's take a look at them anyway. The first to come up is Authoritarianism - perhaps the leader of the Crab Lodge (the Random Native American Name Generator comes up with "Great Running Arrow" for his name) wants to take firmer control of the village than his role of Chieftain encompasses (which is supposed to cover only village defense, after all). Therefore he uses every excuse he can to hang around the local Council of Elders and speak his mind on issues without invitation. Two elders - Ugly Bow and Broken Bear, both retired members of the Crab Lodge - act as his supporters and mouthpieces in this. Opposing this is Silver Leaf, one of the elder village women who thinks that it would be better for all concerned if Walking Sky, the leader of the Seal Lodge, would take over the role of chieftain. Their reaction to the PCs depends on how they think they will fit into these schemes - either side would be happy if the PCs could make the other side look like fools.

A small village doesn't have much room for organizations. But let's see what we have on the list. First is Deep State, which hints that the conspiracy goes deeper than anyone has thought. Perhaps one of the shamans (Name: Sitting Shadow) is planning a secret takeover of the village and is manipulating a confrontation in order to do away with the "Old Guard". But that also means removing the two other senior shamans, "Crooked Fire" and "Laughing Oak", as they might figure out what is going on and stop her. PCs might serve as tools in this goal.

Next up is the False Face Society. The Wikipedia entry says: "During the main part of the ritual, the False Face members, wearing masks, go through houses in the community, driving away sickness, disease and evil spirits." This would obviously be the job of a shaman - but what if the shaman drops dead during the ceremony while the PCs are visiting? Now they have a murder mystery on their hands and must figure out who applied the poison (one of the followers of the plotting shaman who perhaps does not even remember that he has done this).

Among the Major Personalities we get Simon Magus - perhaps our scheming shaman plots to cast himself as the prophet of the Spirits? But if so, who is his Helen? Another personality is Rahab - implying that there is a woman who would be willing to sell her village out to the colonialists for money or favors, assuming that the PCs would actually be interested in that. Next up is Peter Francesco - let's thus make Walking Sky, the leader of the Seal Lodge, into a near-giant. Or giantess - let's make Walking Sky female sex (though again, male gender like all native hunters). If there is any major conflict going on involving Ghost Crab Village, Walking Sky will quickly become one of its legends. Quite possibly Great Running Arrow feels intimidated that the Seal Lodge is lead by such a powerful warrior, which might explain some of his behavior...

"Major exports" lists Truffles, which sounds interesting enough to keep as a village specialty. Another entry is Chocolate, which would be rather unusual for a subarctic region - but maybe the village has a number of large, ancient enchanted "flower pots" which allow the growing of cocoa trees? These hint at ancient trade links to the Far Coast, far to the south... Pre-industrial trade goods exist in the forms of dyes (from local shellfish) and candles (from whale blubber).

Moving on to Dangerous Creatures, we get Shadow People - possibly servants of the power-mad shaman - and the God Bear, implying someone has managed to tame a Dire Bear as the protector of the village.

In the History section we get Potemkin Village. Perhaps some mischievous but none-too-bright fairies once wanted to attack the village, but the local shamans got wind of it - so they told the villagers to build a fake "miniature village" to confuse the fairies. The plan worked, the faeries destroyed the fake village instead, and the village children maintain it to this day. After all, the fairies could return one day, and this keeps the kids out of trouble. A few actual fey creatures might even have chosen to live here.

Another History entry concerns the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, so maybe a trade ship ran aground here - still waiting at the bottom with some precious cargo the PCs could loot. As another entry is the Phoenix Lights, maybe the spirits of the sailors linger on and are visible on clear nights out on the bay.

The Geography section yields us Stone Run (among other, more inappropriate results), so maybe there is a stone field close to the land approach towards the village, which might help against invaders from that direction (since you can see them coming and have a clear line of fire). The Famous Locations section gives us the Badlands Guardian, which certainly feels appropriate - but maybe we can combine it with the Stone Run, so that its many boulders actually look like a face when seen from above. As another entry is Place of Power, maybe that Stone Run boosts certain native rituals, especially those which boost a warrior's prowess. That reminds me - Peter Franceso was found abandoned at the age of five. Perhaps Walking Sky was likewise found at a young age at the center of the Stone Run? That must have made her look like a gift from the Spirits and predestined her for being a great warrior - and further inflamed Great Running Arrow's jealousy...

Well, that should be enough detail on the village to make it memorable for the time being, so let's move on!

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

[Urbis] Maps of the Cold Frontier, Part II

Continued from Part I.

As the campaign starts in one week, it's time I came up with some more maps. First of all is, of course, the hex map the PCs need to fill out as they explore the region:

The coastline itself is known - but what is truly within each hex is left for the PCs to discover. Each hex is 12 miles from edge to edge and 10.4 miles from side to opposite side - so this grid represents roughly an area of 72x114 miles. And to give the PCs a better grasp of the larger geographical layout of the continent, I've prepared the following map:

In my original vision for the continent, I wanted to make it much larger, but for the purpose of this campaign I decided otherwise - this is already a very large region for exploration, and I wanted to give both the PCs and their rivals a chance to reach the heart of the continent, which is the circular crater shown on the map (a circle which is not included in the map I will send to the players).

As for the locations shown on the map, Agtura is the largest native settlement in the area - a city (pop.: 75,000 people) built on floating, magically enchanted ice. Landfall is where the original settlers from the Norrfjell Wastes and the Flannish Cities landed, and represents the largest colonial settlement (pop: 30,000 people) with many minor settlements radiating out from it.

In the modern age, trading companies based out of the major port towns of the Flannish Cities have established a number of trade outposts on the shores of the continent. All of them have outposts in both Landfall and Agtura, of course, but beyond that they are scattered far and wide. The PCs will, of course, start at Trade Outpost #5 of the Far Shores Trading Company, to the south of the crater. A smaller version of the hex grid has been added to this area for size comparison purposes.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

[Urbis] Coastal Tribes of the Cold Frontier, Part II

Continued from Part I.

"He has gone too far north."
- Coastal Tribe saying for describing someone who has gone mad.

One aspect of Coastal Tribe society I haven't mentioned before are their Hunting Lodges, which every man (again, male gender, not necessarily male sex) is expected to join upon reaching adulthood. Each lodge is dedicated to a specific totem, from which their members draw strength and inspiration - literally so in the case of veteran warriors, who can gain minor supernatural abilities from their primary totem (this is distinct from shamanism and its spells). The biggest lodge in a village is always the one the village is named after - thus, Ghost Crab Village will have the Crab Lodge (built in a large log cabin), which is the main gathering spot for warriors following the Crab Totem in the area. Most villages will also have one or more "guest lodges" - smaller log cabins for totems with fewer followers in the village but which often serves as a home away from home for visitors. Due to their vital role as scouts for the whole Cold Frontier, each village has an Eagle Lodge, and the village will always provide food for any visiting Great Eagle mount. The most experienced member of the biggest lodge in the village is almost always also the chieftain of the village, in charge of defending it from attacks.

Members of the same Lodge will try to stay in contact with each other even if they live in separate villages, which encourages long "hunting trips" (inlcuding sleepovers with the local women, as described in the previous post) and cements friendships and alliances between villages. Offending a member of one lodge is an excellent way of making enemies of the rest of the lodge, even in other villages, as gossip travels quickly.

Young males - that is, juveniles at the age of 12 or so who have chosen the male gender - decide which Hunting Lodge they want to join, although usually their elders will nudge them into the lodge best suited to their personalities. If the main lodge of that totem is in another village, they will be escorted there by veteran members. Each lodge has its own initiation rites, which often include some amount of risk. Outsiders who are perceived as male gender by the tribals and impress them with both politeness and bravery might be invited to initiate into one of the Hunting Lodges as well, whereupon they gain a group of allies but will be expected to aid them (and their villages) in turn. Though if they later accept a more sedentary job in the colony - such as that of governor - this might lead to awkward conversation later on. "Uhm... we have nothing against you, we think you are a great person, but we'd rather stay among men in the lodge, if it's all the same to you." For maximum effect, this line should be delivered by a female-sex lodge member...

Another important aspects are the parties at the lodges. Parts will be recognizable to those familiar to frat parties, though there is usually less alcohol and rather more halluciogenic substances, which are frequently prepared for the lodge by the local shamans. Sweat lodges are also common. It is not uncommon for aspects of the lodges' totem to manifest and to praise or chastize individual members or just give advice or visions.

So, what are the long-term prospects of the Coastal Tribes? While the history of our own world would paint a depressing picture, the future history does not need to be a repeat of that. For starters, the diseases that ravaged the Native Americans won't be a problem here - they have survived Nardhome, a continent that birthed the God of Plagues, the first colonists from the Old World have already arrived more than three centuries ago, which means their accompanying diseases have already played themselves out, and the Coastal Tribes have their own magical healing to boot.

Some change is inevitable, and not all change is unwelcome - the Coastal Tribes have seen the usefulness of steel weapons and tools, and have begun to trade for them. How their relationship with the colony develops depends primarily on the actions of the player characters. Certainly, the PCs can exploit the natives, encroach on their territory, and steal their resources, resulting in conflicts in which they slowly wear down the Coastal Tribes until they have become weak and defeated - but they don't have to. If they take care to integrate them into their decisions - build new Hunting Lodges within the Colony, encourage veneration of the totems and give tribals positions of leadership and authority - then they might be able to form a new hybrid society that takes the best of both cultures. It will require intense, ongoing and difficult diplomacy not just with the natives but also with the colonists, who will likely be inclined to see them as "heathen savages" at first - but it will be possible.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

[Urbis] Aranea's Lair and First City Spa

In the mountains to the west, a lone aranea has made her home. The home itself is a small earthen hut with an overgrown wooden roof, and filled with all sorts of herbs and mysterious ingredients - a typical "witch's cottage". To visitors, the aranea will appear as a middle-aged native woman, and will be polite if she is treated polite in turn. She will offer tea for drink, but no food - the dessicated animal corpses that result from her own meals are chucked into a nearby ravine, and to visitors unaware of her own nature she will claim that she has just eaten and that she doesn't entertain visitors often. She is always interested in trading knowledge of magic - her main reason for coming this far south, away from her peers in the Northern Woodlands, as she serves as a teacher for local shamans and in turn has amassed considerable magical knowledge from them (the older shamans are generally aware of her true nature, but don't see her as a threat - which she isn't). Foreign spellcasters will fascinate her, and she will be especially interested in trading knowledge with them. Once the colony is established, she might very well move there.

The southwestern slopes of the inland volcano are dotted with numerous hot springs. The First City colony used these to establish a spa, creating several artificial basins filled with the hot, smelly water which are largely intact to this day. The Old Native civilization added their own sweat lodges to the facility, though these have largely crumbled into overgrown ruins. Today, the facilities are uninhabited except for a mated pair of mist drakes which use the concealments of the mists emerging from the hot water to stalk any intruders. There are also several still-active permanent programmed illusions left from the First Age - an elven woman at the entrance who introduces them in the language of the First City (similar to Elvish - something that will be of a lot of interest to scholars, since there are no known surviving examples of First City speech) as well has halfling servants explaining specific locations in the same language.

Note: A complete list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Bandersnatch Footprints and Werebear Den

Just to the west of the Trade Outpost there is a large rock outcropping overlooking the river valley. The Natives frequently use it as a lookout point, and the inhabitants of the Trade Outpost swear they see strange lights there in the night from time to time. Footprints (about 1 yard, with claws) of some gargantuan creature have been pressed into the very rock itself - these are the footprints of the mythical Bandersnatch. Not far from the lookout point is a secret cult site of the local chapter of the Wendigo Cult where they feast upon human victims during nights of the New Moon. Jacob Krol from the Trade Outpost attends whenever he can.

The Northern Woodlands are split apart by the river valley and its side canyons. The larger, western area is home to scattered groups of adlets who will fight any intruders. The smaller eastern part of the forests is much safer, as the adlets are kept away by a small group of werebears - about a dozen individuals. These all used to be members of the Inland Tribes, as members of the Coastal Tribes almost always join the Skinwalkers after contracting lycantropy. Unlike other forms of lycantropy, becoming a werebear does not make the victim sociopathic, but nevertheless they prefer to seperate themselves from other humans. Their den is located a small network of caves overlooking one of the side canyons of the river.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Trade Outpost, Part I

As the "home base" of the wilderness exploration arc and the seed of their later colony, the Trade Outpost - officially "Nardhome Company Outpost #5", though commonly known as "The Hole" - requires extra detail. At this stage, it is also very much a work in progress, and ideas for fleshing it out are highly welcome - I need "complete" this location by the 18th of January, when our campaign starts.

The Trade Outpost is built on the site of an Old Native settlement at the mouth of the river. As this settlement was already at the coast, it was simply reoccupied by the Coastal Tribes when they returned from the ocean, though at much diminuished numbers. For a while, Green Seal Village was the largest and most prosperous of the Coastal Tribe settlements in this part of the Cold Frontier, although their prosperity and better access to the northern plains meant that they had to deal with frequent raids by Inland Tribe raiders, leading to a series of fortifications and lookouts along the river. Several generations ago, most of the villagers were killed by entitites coming out of the oceans. The survivors' tales that circulate among the other villages are contradictory, but currently I am envisioning something like the story The Horror At Martin's Beach by H.P. Lovecraft. As a result, the Coastal Tribes were unwilling to resettle the area, leaving this prime real estate open to the construction of the Trade Depot by the Far Shores Trading Company.

A number of NPCs live in the outpost itself, in addition to the prospectors, trappers, and native visitors who frequently visit. The following is an incomplete list, and suggestions for further NPCs will be greatly appreciated.
  • Factor Richard Byrne (male, human, middle aged): The official leader of the Trade Outpost drinks himself into a stupor regularly because he resents having been sent to this post in the middle of nowhere. In fact, he is drunk when the PCs arrive, stumbling around the pier when they get off the ship and likely vomiting on the first character to confront him. He has a wife and three children back home in Dartmouth who refused to follow him to Nardhome and he frequently writes letters to headquarters in which he begs to be recalled. Whenever he is drunk he makes frequent allusions to various "scandals" which allegedly triggered his transferral to this outpost, but his stories will vary and he will refuse to comment on them when sober.
  • Madug Kobrog (male, hobgoblin, mid-twenties): The bouncer of the pub, doubling as guard and general laborer. He had to leave the Flannish Cities in a hurry due to some "misunderstanding". He misses genuine goblin food, the kind that you can only get back home.
  • Gorog Khordukr (dwarf, male, middle-aged): Raised as a member of the lowly farmer caste in the dwarven realm of Gol Grungor, he escaped by boat to the Flannish Cities to search for a better life. He has worked odd jobs ever since, and he never discusses his past. Eventually, he ended up in Nardhome, where he works as a cook (ask for his "house specials"...) and general repairman at the Trade Outpost. He has a side business of distilling whiskey... made from special dwarven mushrooms which he grows in an abandoned kiva in the ruins outside the Outpost. He his deeply paranoid about his mushrooms and his distilling process, believing others want to steal his recipes, and keeps both his distillery and the kiva under lock. The spirits of the kiva are talking to him in his dreams, but as he doesn't speak the native language Inquat he doesn't understand them.
  • Tessa (human, female, late twenties): One of the two prostitutes working the inn. She grew up on a farm in the Dartmouth Protectorate, but her parents died while she was still young and the farm was taken over by a rich plantation owner, leaving her destitute. She left for Dartmouth and drifted into a life of prostitution. There she befriended a young man who dreamed of making his fortune as a gold digger in Nardhome, and used her meager savings to get the two of them there - but he vanished into the wilderness before striking it rich, so she returned to prostitution to make ends meet. She found that she actually makes decent money here (prospectors and trappers tend to spend a lot after a long time in the wilderness) and plans to save up until she can buy a small farm - which might be in the new Colony, once it gets established. She also maintains a small herb garden as a source of side income.
  • Jacob Krol (human, male, middle aged): An immigrant from Torburg, Jacob is also secretly a cannibal who preyed on the poor and destitute of his city. Eventually he felt that staying in Torburg would be too risky, and somehow he felt drawn to Nardhome and moved there. Upon arrival, he quickly came across the Wendigo cult and was inducted as a member. He regularly partakes in their rites at the cult site to the west of the Trade Outpost, disgusing his absences as one of his frequent hunting trips, and he spies on all the coming and goings at the outpost, informing his fellow cult members via minor magics on which lone trappers and prospectors they might prey upon. His presence is what triggers the first major event of the campaign - one of his victims reanimates as a zuvembie and sends its undead minions to attack the outpost. If Jacob survives the assault, he will become a recurring villain. Until then, he plays the role of the affable, simple-minded hunter and laborer to the hilt. He is also in charge of preparing all the furs for export.
I'm also trying to figure out all the individual locations of the Trade Outpost. Again, this is an incomplete list and any help with fleshing out the details would be greatly appreciated.

The main building:
  • Entrance hall: There is a "notice wall" to which people can glue their own notes (the outpost charges 1 silver for each notice, paper included). Many are on the lines of "You owe me money, you bastard!", "Have you seen XY?", "Tessa, I love you! Marry me!" and so forth, but others should be genuine adventure seeds. I could use some suggestions here - ideally I want to present the notice wall as a printed handout.
  • Pub: There is a wall with the stuffed heads of various animals the hunters brought in, the strangest-looking being probably that of a snallygaster. There are also all sorts of carved figurines and other wood carvings tucked into the various corners of the pub - the prospectors and trappers who stay during the long winter frequently take up carving as a hobby. Finally, there are three chess sets lying around - one of which was manufactured by professionals back in the Flannish Cities, but two are hand-made. All three have seen heavy use - again, something the trappers and prospectors occupy themselves with during the evenings.
  • The Factor's office, filled with a lot of paperwork. There is also a safe which contains money (partially in the form of bank notes), gold nuggets, and particularly sensitive papers. Only the Factor has the keys to the office and knows the combination.
  • Several guest rooms upstairs, as well as living rooms and the two rooms used by the prostitutes.
  • Supply store run by the Factor which also takes in furs and finds of precious metals. Behind it is a warehouse storing the furs as well as other supplies sold here. The Factor, Madug, and Jacob all have keys.
  • A distillery shed run by Gorog, who has the only key and won't let anyone in.
  • An outhouse, where the Weirdness Magnet will first encounter the Mothman (after having just used it).
  • A stable, for prospectors' ponies, as well as the goats and pigs kept by the Outpost.
  • A guard tower, used for spotting approaching enemies as well as sniping at them. Only staffed when danger is suspected - there just aren't enough people here, normally.
  • Wooden palisades surrounding the compound.
  • Gorog's mushroom kiva - outside of the actual compound, and secured by a newly installed, padlocked door.
  • Tessa's herb garden.
Any other suggestions?

Continued in Part II. Note: A full list of Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Stone Pillar and Drake Graveyard

The Inland Tribes have a custom of carrying "luck stones" which are supposed to absorb some of the bad luck of the wearers. These are then added to the numerous small, artificial stone pillars dotting the landscape, as adding them "earthes" the bad luck safely and confines it to the pillar. However, accidentally or deliberately toppling such a pillar of stones causes all the accumulated bad luck to transfer to the person who caused the collapse. The biggest stone pillar of them all, which has probably existed for more than a hundred years, stands in the plains north of the Coastal Mountains, and adding a stone to it is considered especially lucky... but no one wants to be the person causing its collapse, and it has begun to sway in strong winds as of late.

The rivers and the canyon lands are home to large numbers of drakes. Many of them die of violence, but those who feel old age approaching fly one last time to a remote valley in the northern forests where they land and wait for death. As a result, numerous drake skeletons are scattered across the valley, which might be worth a lot to the right collector.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Stone Totem Valley

Upriver, where the plains end and the canyon lands begin, there is a series of enormous stone totems 4-6 yards in height on both sides of the river. These were erected by the Old Native civilization and include many inland animals which are no longer commonly venerated by the Coastal Tribes. Several kivas are located in the cliff sides and are commonly used by aspiring shamans for vision quests and all tribes for communicating with the totem spirits, though these days members of the Inland Tribes visit more frequently.

If the PCs want to use the kivas and fast and meditate for them, they will work for them and the spirits will contact them - which may lead to initiation as shamans or totem warriors if the spirits find favor in their personality, though for that they must be willing to be true protectors of the land and its people.

It is possible and even likely to find tribals and even a shaman or two here. What's more, the Stone Totem Valley serves as neutral ground to the tribes - no violence may be done here, upon pain of curses by the totems.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - Jellyfish Bay and Owl Mountain

The bay leading to the Trade Outpost is frequently lit with fluorescent patches that move with the waves, ranging in color form green to yellow to orange. If the water is examined closely, this will turn out to be the work of innumerable tiny jellyfish which are attracted to the runoff from the river (in particular, all the magical nutrients from First City artifacts). These jellyfish are harmless, though they in turn attract numerous fish, which in turn will attract larger predators, and from time to time an observer might spot creatures like cecaelia in the depths. Whales are likewise common in the bay, feeding on the abundant krill.

To the east there is a mountain notable for its unusually high population of owls, whose hoots will likely keep explorers awake at night. Many of these owls specialize in preying on the fish of the nearby bay. Its most prominent resident is a giant owl, who is very knowledgeable about many events of the Cold Frontier, but unless the explorers have some way of understanding beast speech, there is little it will be able to tell them. Many of the local shamans do not have this problem, however, and frequently consult with the owl. When not hunting, it rests on top of a small rock spire. The area surrounding the rock is littered with seal bones (its primary prey). It will observe those who approach it quizzically, but otherwise wait for them to make the first move.

Note: A list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.

[Urbis] Locations of the Cold Frontier - The Crystal Mountain

A mountain close to the coast used to house one of the main defensive fortresses of the mothmen when they colonized the continent. Unfortunately, their enemies learned of the fortress' location deep inside the mountain, and used one of their most powerful weapons to destroy it and everyone inside of it. The hypergeometric shockwaves of the weapon hit the side of the mountain, causing parts of the rock to liquefy in geometric patterns and turn into a multitude of small crystals. The side of the mountain where the weapon struck is still largely denuded of vegetation even today, and careful examination will detect both the crystals and the fact that they emit a slight hum when struck with a hard object. Analysis by a competent thaumaturge will verify that these can be used as components for any sonic-based ritual magic or enchantments. While this is not necessarily the most popular field of magics, the sheer quantity of the crystals and the ease of their extraction will ensure that a mine at this location will be very profitable indeed.

Eventually, the miners will stumble across the hidden fortress. The mothmen and pretty much everything else inside were shredded by the weapon (though other monsters may have crept into the fortress from the local Underdark). However, careful examination of the ruins will discover a strange metallic cylinder 4 feet in length and one foot in diameter in what used to be the armory. Pressing the top and then twisting it will cause Aklo symbols to appear on it. These will turn out to be numbers, and the numbers will be lower the longer the cylinder was twisted. If the explorers do not twist and pull the top of the cylinder back, the numbers will count down to One and then release a swarm of self-replicating metallic insects which will devour any metal and anything organic within a radius of five miles. Extreme haste in evacuating the area is recommended.

Note: A complete list of all Urbis-related posts can be found here.