Monday, 18 June 2018

Into the Gloom: Rules-Light Wilderness Survival

Survival in The Gloom.

During an expedition, one must survive The Gloom – not just the horrors within, but the mundane and prosaic threats of starvation, exposure and ever-present darkness. A character may only Long Rest within Gloamingen – meaning every expedition is essentially one adventuring day for the purposes of fifth edition rules. Short rests can be had in the wilderness is suitable shelter is found.

These rules are designed to be challenging and intense. The Gloom is not a nice place.

Travel in the Overworld

The world of The Gloom is divided into hexes. Travelling across a hex takes a day of travel, unless the hex represents some difficult terrain such as a swamp or mountain side. Each day of travel will cost each character, retainer or animal in the party 1 food and 1 water ration. Taking any action in a hex (scavenging for food, searching or investigating, taking a short rest) will cost an adventuring turn. If you use three adventuring turns in the same hex, time has passed and night has fallen once more – meaning another day’s rations are needed. If a dungeon or other landmark is entered and investigated, that will also cost an adventuring turn. Spending adventuring turns in a region or travelling through it will come with the risk of a random encounter native to that region. In travel or an adventuring turn, characters declare their actions from the DMs left around the table after sufficient bickering.

In the Darkest Dungeons
Should the characters encounter an adventuring location, play will then resume in initiative. Every turn within the dungeon will go in initiative order and all actions will be adjudicated thus. These are places of great danger, so extraneous time spent conversing, plotting or bickering may result in a random encounter check. Players may freely delay or pass their turn.

The Darkness and the Light
The Gloom is a place of perpetual darkness – in the ‘brilliance’ of midday the light level resembles twilight, requiring low-light vision or light. At night, The Gloom is as utterly dark as the recesses of the void, requiring dark vision, Devil’s Sight or an appropriate light source. Torches are a much needed currency in Gloamingen and players will expend a torch per adventuring turn for the party. The Gloom is capricious, however, and in the darkest night or recesses of a dungeon torches can give out unexpectedly – every round of initiative there is a small chance of the light being snuffed out. Characters whose vision is limited have disadvantage on everything requiring vision and are at considerable risk of sanity deterioration.

Food, Thirst and Starvation
Food can be gathered in the wilds with a suitable survival check – bearing in mind The Gloom is not teeming with easy sources of food so this may be more difficult than expected depending on the region.
Success is as follows:
Less than 16: Failure. You find nothing.
16-20: Moderate success. You find food with a complication. (Rotten, stumbled across predator, food is other adventuring party’s remains etc)
20+ Success: you find food (one ration number over 20, minimum one ration.)

Should the party run out of food and water, each day of starvation will have an effect equivalent to cumulative exhaustion (see PHB).

If an already exhausted creature suffers another effect that causes exhaustion, its current level of exhaustion increases by the amount specified in the effect’s description. This will also damage a character’s sanity.

The Weather
Weather and climate are ever-present threats in the Gloom. Every day or when travelling to a new hex, the DM will roll to determine the weather. Each hex will have a modifier to the weather (eg hexes in the extreme north will have a -8, making cold weather extremely likely.

-20C. Freezing. Risk of immediate character death when not in shelter or source of warmth.
-5C. It is bitterly cold. Characters need a source of warmth to rest successfully and risk death from exposure when not in shelter.
0-10. Whilst not exactly balmy, this weather does not threaten characters.
10-16   It is actively warm. Roll twice on the precipitation table for weather effects, combine or choose.
20oC+. It is as hot as The Gloom gets: a muggy, sultry heat. Strenuous activities (fighting, travel) face a constitution check or cause a level of exhaustion (CON 14). Players must consume twice as many water rations.

A torrential downpour, snowstorm or tropical storm. (See temperature). Bows have disadvantage as bowstrings are wet, visibility becomes 10”, survival checks are taken at disadvantage, all fire damage is halved, fire and torches go out and characters risk death from exposure.   Firearms may misfire.
Drizzle. The party needs to use twice as many torches per adventuring turn. Firearms may misfire.
As clear as a day gets in the Gloom.
A Gloom Mist. Visibility becomes 10”.
A Sunburst! Spirits are lifted, The Gloom recedes, visibility is perfect, sanity recovers: roll 3d6 Sanity Points recovery for each character.

Into the Gloom utilises a simplified system of encumbrance. Your character’s STRENGTH score determines their carrying capacity exactly, with each point of strength being equivalent to two Encumbrance Units. (A character with 14 strength can carry 28EU).  This measures not just weight but the general difficulty of carrying something and moving fluently. You must track your own encumbrance – if encumbered you are treated as heavily encumbered as per 5e rules:

“...your speed drops by 20 feet and you have disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution.”

1 Weight Unit
2 Weight Units
3 Weight Units.
A day’s food or water ration.
Three torches.
100sp in cash.
A handful of trinkets, garnets or other small treasure.

A one-handed weapon.
A shield.
A small curiosity or art object ie idol or painting.
A two-handed weapon.
A larger source of treasure ie a strongbox or candelabra.

Clothing/None = 0 EU
Light = 2 EU
Medium – 4 EU
Heavy = 6 EU

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Into the Gloom: Premise and Design Maxims


“There on the banks of this new continent – this GLOOM - has been disgorged our colonists. And what are they, these brave pioneers? Rogues, heretics, pick-pockets, dissidents, dreamers, rebels, outlaws, degenerates, beggars, whores, zealots, anarchists – the cursed and debased sweepings of an empire’s streets. With this ill-fated rabble we are to claim The Gloom? Preposterous!”

Design Maxims for Into the Gloom:
1) This is not cinema, the DM is not your friend, the dice fall where they fall. Should you fall with them, no one will batter an eyelid.
2) Gothic misery pervades. Hope is a currency made valuable by rarity.
3) There is no CR in Into the Gloom. If you seek deeper and further than is wise, you will not live long enough to grow wiser.
4) Players should fear the dark, the cold, hunger and thirst as much as they fear monsters. Torches and mules will be as valuable as vorpal swords.
5) Deadliness is fun. If you are ill-prepared, you die.
6) Players start at level 1. If you die, you start again at 1.
7) Resource management will be critical and built on easy-to-understand rules.
8) The ramshackle town of GLOAMINGEN is the only civilised place known on the continent, and it is barely civilised. 

The PREMISE of INTO THE GLOOM is simple:
Newly discovered in the Sea of Desolation is The GLOOM; a bizarre arcane distortion of near-permanent twilight or darkness which masks a whole continent. Whilst initially of little interest to the bean-counters of various empires, a few lost expeditions returned with untold wealth from some of the ruins in THE GLOOM. To this end, the major powers of several nations have shipped off the chaff from their streets in chains to the newly found town of GLOAMINGEN, that these less-than-savoury souls might plunder and pioneer this new world for them. 

CHARACTERS is INTO THE GLOOM are not heroes. They arrive in GLOAMINGEN in chains and in poverty. Most sell their bodies or find some small craft or artifice to ward off starvation, but the truly mad or foolhardy don rusty armour and a bent sword and stride off into THE GLOOM to seek their fortune or an end to their troubles.

As everything in GLOAMINGEN is imported, prices are very high and opportunities slim. But for a few brave and lucky souls, a fortune lies waiting in ancient catacombs and forgotten forests, dust-covered in ancient tombs just waiting for to be sought out...

How does INTO THE GLOOM differ?

Gameplay in Into the Gloom will be divided into stages. 
1) An EXPEDITION, in which a group of players will assemble and head beyond the borders of GLOAMINGEN and into the wilds and dungeons of THE GLOOM. This will be played out in session and will be a combination of wilderness survival, combat, diplomacy, risk management, dungeoneering resource management, grit, determination, creative thinking, acquisitiveness, mettle and panache.

2) A HAVEN turn, in which players will plot, prepare, purchase and plan. The HAVEN TURN will be played out over Facebook and will see players expand the wealth of their characters and their standing in GLOAMINGEN. For those who were unsuccessful in their EXPEDITION, the ever-present threat of GRINDING POVERTY will snap at their very heels. 

A Confession

So I've now been running a campaign continuously for over two years - my players have toppled tyrants and walked the planes, and have storied histories that transcend any game-summary or character sheet. Increasingly I grow less interested in the game-world: the endgame pieces are now all on the board and moving, the characters approach the awesome power of high level and are challenged only by lengthy combat with high-level foes. The mysteries are dragged kicking and screaming into the open, to be dispassionately discussed as tactics and stratagems.

How many dragons can you throw at a party before the thunder of wing-beats and a roar that makes mountains shudder is suddenly prosaic?
How many devils do they need to batter before Asmodeus becomes comic evil rather than cosmic evil?

I no longer think about my campaign in the shower.

When the world is at stake, I find I'm crazing something smaller and humbler: the tension of low-level player-characters in terrible danger. Combat that is quick and dirty rather than an onerous list of high-powered abilities and the lengthy explanation of riders. The dreadful arithmetic of 8d8 damage. The 'Gordian Knot' solutions that cover every character sheet which squeeze out the quick-thinking of low-level play. It has become a little tired, a little staid.

My "Say Yes" and "Rule of Cool" philosophy increasingly feels like fiat - like playing with kid's gloves. I've killed several characters this campaign, some brutally, but I increasingly feel like I'm not a DM, but a cheerleader for the player-characters. That they are teacher's pet.

I want to go for something a little scary and cruel. I want my players to feel fear again, to scan the battle-mat with feverish eyes. To lean in to monster descriptions. To wonder, and fear, and strive, as only a hungry Wizard with 9 hit points can.

So I'm working on a new project called Into the Gloom. Details to follow.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Origins of the Drow

 No coherent or comprehensive history has ever been penned for our subterranean cousins, the Drow, and it is unlikely in their world of darkness and desperation that it will ever be so.  On the scant occurrences when Drow have once more been seen by surface-dwellers they are oft dismissed as legend or mistaken identity – an influential school of Dameshti historiography dismisses the of possibility the existence of the Drow as myth.

And yet, miles beneath our lackadaisical wandering they live their lives of leanness and cold valour.

The origins of this mysterious people lie within Idrlyn the Ashborn’s conquest of Damesht, seventeen years after his initial subjugation of the human cities of the Western and Southern sides of the continent, when his war to subjugate the Ordning of Zunya was in full-swing. Crossing the mountains on campaign, he encountered a network of tunnels (believed to be the current Titanheart Mountains) of dazzling, labyrinthine complexity and chilling depth. Those scouts that returned from what is now known as the Underdark returned with stories of twisting tunnels, caverns vast as any palace, and horrors that crept and feasted in the forgotten world below. Tantalisingly, they uncovered that beneath the soil Idrlyn had claimed other nations existed. Whilst the Troglodytic peoples lacked even the rudimentary civilization of their human surface cousins, they had a clear intelligence and therefore the ability to benefit from Elven stewardship. Idrlyn selected from among his champions two thousand soldiers who would subjugate the peoples of the Underdark and bring their tribute to Damesht.

 To understand the change that this wrought on those plucky Elves, veterans of a decades-long campaign of conquest, is staggering. They had known only warfare on the surface, relying on their advantages in weaponry, cavalry and magical ordinance to shatter human and giant hosts. In the strangely linear world of the Underdark, such tactics were folly. Early in the Endeavour of the Underdark, the Elves cast aside their lances and slaughtered their stallions (for meat was worth an emperor’s ransom in such darkness). They left their filigreed armour unadmired in the dank caves they traversed. Their footmen and washerwomen were armed – their luxuriant muscle grew lean and cold and hard as they adapted to war in the endless darkness. After initial victories and adaptation, they realised a tantalising second truth: the Underdark was yet more vast and rich than they had ever imagined, and they might have the opportunity to plant the banner of the Ashborn in the very roots of the world. The troglodytes were easily vanquished, and still they descended: to strange blind nations of rat-men and goblins; twisted part-dwarves who devoted their lives to endless toil; an empire of silken warrens presided over by chittering half-man spiders. 

 Soon, the prospect of resupply became impossible. No regular contact could be made – there was no quarter master, and lamp-oil became a fevered dream. There was only the dizzying prospect of a conquest that would never end: The Endeavour of the Underdark.  The Drow blacked their faces with cave-dirt; abandoned eyesight for the more primal senses of smell and touch and proprioception. They grew lean on a diet of grubs and lichen and the guilty meat of their fallen dead.  It is said that in some deep cavern they realised the true price of being so far from the sun, and their beloved Emperor. They let their plunder fall into the Abyss: gold and silver and platinum tumbling to lie among guano and teeming, blind insects. Their newly conquered people descended from subject to slave to pack animal as the Drow wed desperation to victory and birthed a grim calculus of survival at any cost.

It is said that in a cavern they came across some discarded trinkets they had early thrown into the abyss – what had started as lighting their load had become something like a ritual: to cast out the imperfections; the fat and indolent trophies of the surface world. They looked around at the baubles and trinkets twinkling in the filth and laughed like mad-men at the irony of it at all.  They had filed their teeth and shattered the nerves of their body so that they could slide and climb and root through the earth, plucking strange bony fish from the occasional streams and eating them raw. They had drank the blood of spiderfolk and goblins for moisture; they had thrown aside ancient treasures to make room on their person for bone-shivs and cruel jabbing spears.  The flower of Elven chivalry had descended into the heart of the world and they had become monsters. They knew this and exulted: for were they now not the most fearsome horrors in the endless dark? They knew that when the Underfolk saw the flash of their knives and the cruel sinew of their bodies they grew cold with fear. They had honed themselves and become predators, not prey.

With time, even the memories of sunlight faded, as new generations were born in darkness. They had set out to plant the Swan-Banner in the depths of the Underdark and yet none among them could truly say what a swan was; and in the darkness the colours of the banner meant nothing, symbols meant nothing: there was only the Drow and their war against all. The written word was one conceit of civilization that was soon cast aside: a language for the sunborn. They threw aside their books, ancestry scrolls: and created a new, tactile tongue of feel: a Drow spellbook is more a sculpture than a book. They spoke of their fat, cowardly and weak cousins who cowered from the sun with baffled contempt: wo would choose to live so close to the tyrannical sun and its endless fire? They told legends of how the sunborn even built makeshift caves and warrens on the surface and cowered in them to escape the heat and pain and the madness of water that fell from the roof. The Drow shook their heads in solemn disbelief that anyone would choose such a life. The God of the Elves became meaningless, and their worship was quietly abandoned as a shameful reminder of descendent who spent their lives cowering from ‘weather’. Colour too was abandoned as they became accustomed to a life of grim chiaroscuro.

Their society retained its military structure and absolute insistence of discipline, and all other creatures were viewed as slaves or meat. The Drow rove the Underdark now seeking their lasting dominion, and exert a rough-and-tumble hegemony over a number of nations, who pay them tribute in goods and labour and flesh. For millennia in the depths they fought their strange wars over caverns and cliff-faces ignoring the surface just as no surface nations seeks to colonise the depths of the ocean or the endless skies. In the past few years however, Drow have been found lost and disorientated, nearer the surface. In their grating, fearful way they discuss a doom that hunts them in the darkness, and some few souls have even braved the tyranny of the sun to beg aid of the descendants of the Emperor who ordered their grim descent millennia ago.

Scribe Rogier. 

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

"I’ve given my party a powerful magical item and now my campaign is ruined."

I’ve given my party a powerful magical item and now my campaign is ruined.

This is one of those complaints that I see all over Internet forums and on Podcasts and in blogs – that they’ve given too much agency to their players and their players are gleefully shitting on the setting you’ve carefully constructed.

Traditional advice ranges from a mature discussion about campaign expectations (what did that ever solve?) to magical theft abetted by DM fiat to restore the apparent balance of power. These are solutions that go against then spirit of the game in my view, and I would advise simply that you embrace it and build it as a seed for future adventures.

If they have time travel, cool, your campaign is some kind of murder-centric Quantum Leap. If they’re immortal, rad, so are a tonne of other people. If they’ve set themselves up as kings, being a kind is not fucking easy.  In a world where the potential power level of a being ranges from Goblin to Godhead, there will always be challenges. (Whether D&D remains the system of choice is debatable).

If it’s a single player-character resource (you gave the party Barbarian a really powerful magic sword and now he’s wrecking everything and overshadowing the other players) that can be more difficult, but there are challenges that a magic sword can’t fix that a barbarian won’t be much good at.

Here are three examples of grossly overpowered things my players ended up with with potential game-breaking consequences:

A fucking castle.

My party – The Company of the Noose – are movers and shakers. They have an island fortress named Soltenpet and their own Warship named Destiny’s Edge and they’re not even level 10. They are upwardly mobile socially aspirant murderers. This comes complete with feudal rights over some unlucky peons and a small army of their own to command.

Now, this could elevate them beyond the petty concerns of dungeoneering, but for two things:

1) They’re obsessed with upgrading their castle.
Now, normally my story-focussed group are a bit beyond lucre as a motivation (despite that being the standard assumption of the whole game) but they’re obsessed with a paranoid desire to make themselves unassailable my building siege engines and holes. They have struck a deal with pirates to launder their ill-gotten gains through their ports, and are going to expand their dock accordingly. They’re seeking an arcanist to repair magical artefacts they’ve recovered. This has created a whole host of castle-related quests hunting monsters and plundering tombs and politicking with pirate-kings – standard fare.

2) Baddies have castles too.
This should be self-explanatory.

A maguffin that makes them immortal.

The Company recovered The Hourglass of Ages, a device which allows you to siphon life from one person into another. Capture enough hobos and orphans and you can live free from the vicissitudes of time. This is obviously much desired by various morally dubious personages. If they got it into their heads to flog it, the Kings and Emperors of the world would offer a pretty hefty price. Technically, this is an enormously powerful artefact, but a basic moral principle prevents them auctioning it off, and player characters don’t die of old age, so they can’t use it personally.

A really powerful magic sword

 My players were given Voidwalker, an epically powerful sword which was pretty obviously bad news.

Greatsword * 2d6
The sword is a single hilt of bone. The blade is not visible. When held aloft in darkness, a series of glowing runes are visible on the blade. In Infernal, they read: THE GREATEST WARRIOR FIGHTS AS THOUGH ALREADY DEAD. 
 On a critical, Voidwalker works as Power Word Kill unless the target has over 80hp.
Stillness: Once per day, the wielder of Voidwalker may use his move action to make an additional attack with Voidwalker.
Brightest Candle, Longest Shadow:  If the wielder of Voidwalker hits 0 hit-points, they may instead choose to stay standing at 1hp and gain a random curse. 

Arcana (22) Voidwalker is cursed and will compel the owner to accept any offer of a duel as though under the Geas spell. 

A History (25) will reveal Voidwalker to have been the sword of Musashi, who founded the Dameshti Swordfighting college that offers the swan-pendant for excellence in combat. Musashi was gifted Voidwalker by a representative of Dispater after triumphing in 66 duels to the death. A great reward would be offered if it was returned to the College. 

Vaina Moynen, our barbarian-fighter and resident killing machine, rampaged across every combat encounter using this thing. The avalanche of half-Orc, Reckless Attack criticals would decimate mooks in most encounters, and the party felt grossly outmatched as he sliced through most boss fights too.

This bred a touch of resentment, until an end-of-story-arc boss used the curse to force a single duel (the player obviously felt I’d never use that) to slaughter Vaina. When there’s an obviously powerful weapon, I always accommodate choices (ie a one-off nova ability with a trade off) as these make the weapons complicated. When Vaina was duelling, the players weren’t quite rooting for him…

Monday, 12 June 2017

That Old Time Religion Part 2: Cults

 Fifth Edition D&D’s published adventures are as fixated on Cults as a seventies Evangelist. This is obvious; Cult is a word rich in visceral associations: a religion dominated by secrecy, and arcane mysteries, and an esoteric cosmology. Somehow dirtier and naughtier. The Church of England is a religion. The Nation of Islam is a cult.

As with many WOTC creations, the effort to be inoffensive and to fit the assumptions of a million potential worlds have led to an inert blandness. The core question of a cult is of course, why worship that? WOTC’s adventures see people worshipping Dragons or ‘Elemental Evil’ but there’s very little indication of what exactly predisposes someone to this school of thought. We explain it with the easy crutch of mental illness: people joined Heaven’s Gate because they were crazy.

But there’s more to that. Some people join Cults for reason of status, or to belong to an elite society with connections despite nebulous objectives, be they Scientologist or Freemason or Young Conservatives. Others join because their life is otherwise empty: studies show people in fringe religions tend to leap from faith to faith with heady abandon. Some people, I think, rise a little, and grow to love their secret power. Other people stay for the virgin sacrifice – it takes all kinds.

I’ve tried to drill this flavour into the major cult in my setting, The Cult of the Ouroboros.

The principal cult for my setting will become very prominent in the next few sessions as my players infiltrate it . They’ve had numerous run-ins (even in the antediluvian days when this campaign was a one shot called North Corner) and I think they’ve come to believe that the Cult is made up of mighty wizards and vampires and liches and whatnot. They’ll soon learn that every faith has its bootlickers, and that a huge proportion of the Cult are in it to network (To some degree, The Cult of the Ouroboros is the golf club of The Last Day Dawned). I wonder how they’ll treat these people.

The Cult operates in a completely opposed way to the worshippers of The Iron Tyrant: their game is conspiracy, and they lure the wealthy and powerful with promises of everlasting life. Accruing a backlog of favours, they wield power in secret. When the Company clash with the Cult, a multitude of proxies can be tapped to make trouble. Killing some Vampire in the wilderness is one thing – but its less easy to fight your way out of being arrested for treason because the Cult has the ear of a powerful Duke.

 They see blasphemy as a simple extension of their principle aim: to conquer death. If this means killing the gods and toppling their thrones, so be it. 

Here’s the setting document for the Cult:

The Cult of Ouroboros

The Cult of Ouroboros is a strange collection of mystics, academics, necromancers, hermits, vampires, undead, cultists, aberrations, monks and bodhisattvas, connected by a singular purpose: the path of perfect immortality.

The final aim of a Cultist is true immortality: a perfect circle where a being can subsist completely on their own energies for all time, represented by a serpent eating its own tail.
Lesser forms of immortality – such as vampirism – are seen as imperfect due to their dependence on of consuming blood, or souls, or other miscellanea, to feed their immorality.

The Cult possesses little formal organisation, or doctrinal orthodoxy, and is seen more as a Path than a religion. To that end, members of the cult often form relationships with or worship other deities or patrons. Additionally, whilst a standard world-view of the Cult would see no intrinsic value in another mortal’s life, and believe wholeheartedly that establishing immortality of the truly great is worth any sacrifice, there are subsections of the Cult who live more harmoniously. Their unifying principle: to move towards perfect immortality, and aids others in the Cult. Whilst it has no leaders, it has a number of spiritual leaders or gurus who are considered further on the journey than their compatriots. To protect the organisation, many share their secrets with nobles and ruling classes who cover their activities.

The most prolific enemies of the Cult are servitors of The Raven Queen; The Morrigan; Chooser of the Slain, or the crusading knights of The Order of the Resplendent Star. 

Known members:

Beautiful Lathander
An incredibly vain and impious wizard from the Dameshti Collegia Aracanum. He was researching true immortality and its link to the Titans who once gave battle to the gods in the vast catacombs beneath North Corner. Aligning himself with Orcus, he used shape-shifting fiends to infiltrate the town and hordes of undead and a mercenary company known as The Red Tide to claim the catacombs for himself. Due to the actions of The Heroes of North Corner, his dominion of the catacombs was ended and he was vanquished at great cost to the town.

Nicodemus, The-Worm-That-Walks.
A vampire who had once aligned with factions among Loquista’s noble families and whose conspiracy had made him and his organisation the shadow government of the city-state: feeding as they pleased. He would eventually be overthrown by the actions of Teshei, a Rakshasa adventurer working with a company known as The Wandering Wolves. Teshei would soon exploit the power-vaccuum and wave of proscriptions and purges to place himself in control of the city, leaving the lingering matter of Nicodemus to reform in the sewers as a hideous Worm-That-Walks. Whilst he conspired with the Resistance and The Company of the Noose to gain vengeance against Teshei and his brood, he would be betrayed by The Company of the Noose and vanquished in the sewers, unmourned.

Arch Magi and Dean of the Loquistan College of magic, the esoteric occultist Cerelesta took little part in the day-to-day governance of the city despite her position in the Council of Ten and her relationship to the Despot Teshei. She conspired with the Company of the Noose to claim The Hourglass of Ages, but they later chose to assassinate her to precipitate civil war. Her connection to the wider cult is unknown.

Valakashanya, The First Vampire, Queen Under The Mountain.
The Company vanquished this foe on the rocky precipice of The Bleeding Mountain after adventuring to the heart of Zunia to cut her down. Delving into her lair, they saw only sad reminders of Valakshanya’s descent into madness as the millennia lay heavier and heavier on her brow.  Feral and mindless, no one will lament this last gasp of the antiquity of Damesht.

Ashoka, The Undying Monk.
About this foe, the Company know nothing.

Numines, The Broken Druid.
About this foe, the Company know nothing.

Koscheibog, Deathless Terror.
About this foe, the Company know nothing.

The Champion of Nerull

About this foe, the Company know nothing unless they metagame Phil.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

A Cosmology for The Last Day Dawned: Part 1: The Infant Demiurge

I have mixed feelings about cosmology in games. Most of the time, I think its irrelevant (your world was birthed from the skull of the dragon that ate the last universe? Pretty cool, but will it ever be relevant in a game session?) and a little self-indulgent. It is useful, I think, for establishing the tone of a setting. I also prefer that there be essentially conflicting verdicts in the world about how, why, and by whom the world was created.

Here is one such verdict.

The Infant Demiurge

For infinite kalpas, there was only Void and The Infant Demiurge. Both infinite. Demiurge dreamed of every dream that can be conceived, and was content with the majesty of this purpose. Void continued, unthinking, wrapping Demiurge like a blanket.

When Demiurge had dreamed every dream that could be conceived, he was dissatisfied.  Demiurge looked around Void, and her brow furrowed and her feet stamped and she struck at Void in a most unbecoming display. Demiurge howled and roared at empty Void; and was greeted with silence untainted by causation. The Infant Demiurge looked to her dreams and looked to Void, and began to ponder.

Thus Demiurge spent ten thousand kalpas erecting a palace for his imagination: a perfect labyrinth of inspiration: gardens and artworks and landmarks, all finely carved from the bones of the Void. The Void, uncaring, receded from this point of light. Demiurge grinned the madly satisfied grin of a toddler and called his new palace The Hundred Thousand Heavens. Licking her lips, she lay down to dream.

And found she could not.

Demiurge tossed and turned. Demiurge bit her lip. Demiurge ruefully stared at her ceiling of boundless and impossible beauty with a knowing, guilty frustration. Demiurge kicked the tiniest vase self-consciously, and shattered it. Emboldened, Demiurge kicked and shouted and punched and screeched so loud that even unfeeling Void felt the first feeling of concern. Thus was born EMPATHY.  Void fretted. Void frittered. Newly cognizant Void turned an infinite intelligence to the dilemma and found it wanting. For one kalpa, Demiurge shattered The Hundred Thousand Heavens, kicking down her palace with a bull’s abandon, and Void glumly whirred with ideas.

To dream a new dream, Void concluded, there be must new things. Frantically, she shared this wisdom with The Infant Demiurge,

The Infant Demiurge, eyes wide with wonder, picked a shattered fragment of Heaven, and breathed life into it, and set down her creation: The First Titan.  Demiurge watched with an appraising eye as The First Titan wandered the ruins of Heaven: inspecting a balustrade here; a shattered armoire there, a broken staircase further. Curiously, The First Titan started to build and produce and learn and be. With immense glee, Demiurge leapt across the ruins of Heaven and created a vast legion of Titans, who wandered the ruins of Heaven in an orgy of fecund creation. Demiurge’s eyelids fluttered, and she slept for ten thousand kalpas of blissful dreaming right there on the floor.

When she awoke, Void had receded too far to see, and Demiurge felt a pang of loneliness and panic. All around her were the creations of the Titans: worlds of fire and ice and rock and salt and dreams and terror and amber; and each teemed with the multiplicity of their inhabitants. Demiurge looked on the chaos that had unfolded in the ruins of heaven with a grim determination. Feeling into the void, she erected a new Heaven, with a mighty throne to appraise this confusing multiverse that had grown up like lichen on her perfect creation. As it teemed and roiled and grew, endlessly consuming Void to further its limitless creativity, Demiurge knew she must impose order somehow.

Thus Demiurge spoke the First Law, and its name was DEATH.
The thronging multitude was thus limited, as the older mortals were now age and die. Content, Demiurge nodded to herself.

But the Titans looked up at Demiurge on her mighty throne in her new heaven, and wept.

Demiurge beadily appraised the mortals who now feared the First Law. Eager to avoid DEATH, many turned to theft or murder or savagery and most unbecoming behaviour in the ruins of heaven. Demiurge’s eyes narrowed with purpose, and she spoke the Second Law, which is JUDGEMENT.

She raised up two tribes from the ruins of heaven, and set to them oversee the Laws.

The Titans saw the infinite cruelties of Hell. The Titans saw everywhere the erection of temples; the shackles of priesthood; the tyranny of the soul, and they were greatly angered. They whispered a few syllables of their song, Demiurge’s song, into the ears of ambitious mortals. These mortals, singing with the voice of god, tinkered with the foundations of all the worlds; and goaded each other endlessly to greater sacrilege and blasphemy, as they turned magic – the song of Demiurge – to their own purposes.

Some even looked at Demiurge dreaming on her mighty throne, and conceived of that most sovereign of sins.