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Campaign Creation => Homebrews => Topic started by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 09:58:14 PM



Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 09:58:14 PM
The Cadaverous Earth

Note: Dispirited by that Wall O' Text?

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A glossary of terms is available here (http://www.thecbg.org/index.php/topic,78017.0.html).
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless--they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought--and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails--men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd.

-   Lord Byron, from 'Darkness'

'Earth'¦ a dim place, ancient beyond knowledge.  Once it was a tall world of cloudy mountains and bright rivers, and the sun was a white blazing ball.  Ages of rain and wind have beaten and rounded the granite, and the sun is feeble and red.  The continents have sunk and risen.  A million cities have lifted towers, have fallen to dust.  In place of the old peoples a few thousand strange souls live.  There is evil on Earth, evil distilled by time'¦ Earth is dying and in its twilight'¦'

- Jack Vance, from The Dying Earth

Memory

The adventurer is old, grizzled, with dark scars and hair turned prematurely gray.  Pistols hang from his belt in leather holsters, and a notched sword leans against the wall, pitted with use, spattered with old stains.  His eyes are hardened from a lifetime in the wastes.  He draws in a mouthful of smoke from his carved wooden pipe and fills his mind with memories.

He has seen a gruesome myriad of sights, gazed upon vistas of mutilated grandeur, hunted hideous and sometimes eerily beautiful monstrosities across the thousand twisted landscapes of the Slaughter-lands, conversed with corpses and things whose ancestors might once have been men.  The Twilight Cities, those vast monuments that reared to stab at the rent and mottled skies, were the most stunning and the most horrifying, in their sheer density of life and death - ramshackle Lophius with its briny canals and its many malformed little gods; Erebh, poised over the pit, at the end of the world; Marainein with its thousand faded towers and its leprous god-king; Crepuscle with its carnival confusion of peoples and its bustling thoroughfares; the crazed clockwork and quivering spires of Skein; Moroi with its great tree and its blighted slums, teeming with the mad; the winding market-streets of Macellaria, ancient beyond reckoning, air thick with the cloy of blood and perfume; the black silence and discordant laughter of Somnambulon; the grim,  alien hive of Dolmen with buildings like stony cobwebs.  He has tasted each of them in turn and wandered far beyond their walls, from the shores the Fevered Ocean to the wailing rupture of the Suppuration.

His career was long, full of violence and strangeness.  With a shade who fought in a suit of enamelled armour and a pair of witches, lovers, whose books brimmed with dark sigils - a catalogue of death, each eldritch vivisection or evisceration more exotic than the last - the mercenary had plundered the tombs of the Gengrymar, wiped out in the harrowflux plagues in the final centuries of the Desiccation, before turning to the cliffside mansions of the Uzull along the Serrated Coast, their bejewelled cities long claimed by the tides, leaving only a few seaweed-clad spires and derelict palaces along the broken shores, their marble façades yellowed and eroded.  After one of the hexers was snatched by a roaming xsur - carried off to some distant eyrie to have her bones added to the barbed, leathery creature's nest - and the other was devoured by a predatory fungus on the outskirts of the southern fens, he and the shade had traveled north, joined the caravan of some blind seeress on her way to the Gaunt City.

They'd trekked through the mutable randomness of the Tallow Plains evading the aggressive, feral architecture, grown wild in that fragmented space, haggling with the half-mad nomads of the region and repelling the occasional waxborn before arriving, at last, at the iron-clad and glyph-etched gates of the city, a place of asylums and vampire machines.  He and the shade had parted and he'd headed north with a band of pilgrims bound for the Shrine of Sighing Winds.

On their way they'd passed through a village with huts fashioned from manskin and human bones, ruled by merciless ghilan elders grown corpulent with the flesh of their mortal tribe's sacrifices, sitting in the dark of their macabre hall and gnawing on the remnants of their periodic carrion feasts.  Later, aboard a clockwork train heading towards Skein, he'd helped defend their carriage from a group of brigands armed with kukri knives and flintlocks and poisoned scimitars, cruel-faced men in the employ of Red Gregory himself, a gunslinger warlord and a living legend.  At the Shrine, awed by the daeva that resided there, he'd briefly become a neophyte, shaved his head and devoted himself to the Mysteries of Shaaltelathiel, learned herbcraft and meditated in the whispering stone gardens for a few months before growing bored with asceticism.

Then, in the shadow of the Slouching-devil Mountains, he'd chased bounties in the narrow gorges and scabrous badlands of the foothills, fought off wolves with tentacled maws and screeching harpy-crows with cherubic human faces, delved into the dank tunnels built by gigantic and long-dead architects.  With a trio of hunters - a droll axeman with brooding eyes, a lilix pistolier, and a sarcastic swordsmen from the City of the Lamprey - he'd wandered eastwards towards the lands around the Sinew River, then north into Barrow Scrub.  Here, in one of the subterranean ruins of the defunct cestoid Imperium, a surreal maze like the bowels of some enormous nightmare-creature, they'd joined a party of zealous Striga-worshippers to eradicate a cult of the wormfolk and their foolish human followers who'd been gutting the kidnapped children of a nearby settlement, spilling blood on the foul altar of the Ravager Worm.  Later, pallid and weary with the sapping blanchphage of Etiolation, he'd glimpsed the petrified god itself, the great stone corpse of the god-leech Hirud - or so some claimed.

His travels brought him south, eventually, towards the frontier of Dour Erg.  In an impromptu duel over a hand of cards in some dilapidated saloon he'd killed three men in cold blood and fled the justice of the thugs who ran the town, was caught, escaped, nearly died of thirst before crawling through the Butcher's Gate of the Maggot City.  After recovering from his ordeal he became a thief, picking pockets and breaking into storehouses with a rookery of men and women in Resurrection Row. 

Later, jaded with such petty parasitism, he'd signed on with a Robber Guild and, for a time, worked with a callous ghul cutthroat-antiquarian and his hulking, stitch-work servitor, an obedient hunchbacked horror with piston-driven limbs and the grafted tail of a giant scorpion.  Together they'd plumbed the ruins of the Second Tsathii Republic, drowned in the Red Ravishing, and the old, shattered kingdoms of Voldanc, destroyed by the Scourge Armies during the Membrane Wars, their castle-cities of Scrutatos and Vertegrazze left to crumble slowly into dust.  Only the servants of the Voldanc masters remained, elementals bound to eternal servitude, endlessly repeating now meaningless chores in the empty manors of their creators, ignoring the mercenary and his companions as they gathered those few artefacts untouched by prior looters.  A pack of fetch had torn the ghul limb from limb on the lonely trail back to Macellaria, the murderfolk swarming over the grave-spawn's creation.  The adventurer ran into the glowering dusk and killed all that pursued him, clutching the grimoire of a court warlock to his chest.  He returned to thieving, took up with the leader of the rookery, an icy and ruthless woman who broke his heart and cast him out of the city.

He headed further south, back towards the swamps, fleeing love and death and memories, though all followed him as doggedly as Screamwood hounds.  He sought comfort first with the courtesans of Per-Bashti, then with the gods of the Driftwood District.  He became a priest again, this time to an aspirant insect-headed godling, but the deity's shrine was ransacked by rival fanatics and he returned to his former profession.

Briefly he ran with a swordsman-poet, a hagman outcast, and a warrior-monk, tracking down leechkin who'd succumbed to the thirst in the sweltering, demon-haunted murk of the swamps.  They dispersed when work grew infrequent and he joined the Pale Legion, a mercenary company based in Crepuscle drawn south by skirmishes between merchants selling to the zerda and the voracious mantid tribes of the Firesong Marches.  He fought in a dozen battles and rose to the rank of corporal before being discharged for drunkenness in the City of Red and Black.

He exhales.  The memories blur together, but one disjointed chapter of a long and bloody story...
Contents

Introduction
The Twilight Cities
The Slaughter-lands
Grave-Spawn
Inhumans
Oneiroi
Characters
Diseases
Gods and Religion
Witchcraft
Languages
The Occident
Moroi
Lophius
Macellaria
Blood, Bodies, Madness, and Monsters - Macellaria Adventure Outlines
Skein
Fiends, Flesh, Clockwork, and Corpses - Skein Adventure Outlines
Crepuscle (forthcoming)
Somnambulon (forthcoming)
Dolmen
Corsairs, Caverns, Drugs, and Demons - Lophius Adventure Outlines

Themes

Grotesquerie

Dead men shuffle alongside the living, while creatures once-human and otherwordly cavort in the shadows of twisted ornate towers or ruinous temples.  This is a world of casual cannibalism and mutilation, stalked by demons and predatory nightmares, by vampiric and unwholesome things.  Deformity and madness are commonplace, murder is a frequent necessity, and ugliness is everywhere.  Here are the irrational and chimerical oneiroi, the aberrant hagmen, the bizarre leechkin, the morbific shades, and the conniving, many-armed lilix.  An ungainly, repellant cestoid pulls a rickshaw through the streets of Lophius; a corsair king unfurls patchwork sails fashioned from flayed human faces; a demon spreads its clotted wings and shrieks in longing for its Hellish homeland.

But though it holds the capacity to repulse and disgust, the grotesque can also fascinate and compel.  There is a paradoxical beauty in ugliness, an aestheticism to the morbid and macabre.  A crumbling city can be beautiful, as can the scummed surface of a putrid lake, or the necrotic flesh of a rotting corpse.  There is a decadent glory in degeneration, liberation in damnation, apotheosis through degradation, and purity in filth.

Transformation

In the innermost chambers of Somnambulon, a pale and frightened Childe merges with an aeons-old parasite, offered up as the latest incarnation of an eternally recurrent entity.  In Dolmen a newly freed slave-woman has two pairs of bulbous red eyes tattooed on her forehead, her own eyelids fluttering with the heady pleasure of her liberation.  In the tissue-shops and glyph parlors of Macellaria men and women pay to be refashioned, their bodies cut and stitched and hexed, their flesh fused and inked and cauterized, grafted with alien appendages, with slabs of muscle, with bony plates, with arcane sigils.

Yet not all transformation is transcendental.  The Cadaverous Earth is a world poisoned with bizarre and virulent toxins.  A starving man who ate the flesh of the dead wakes up as a slit-eyed ghul; a miner descends from the Slouching-devil Mountains clutching an eldritch fossil with elongated and talon-tipped fingers, the left side of his face withered with Slow Plague.  Those that drink the Red Rain devolve into dark-eyed murderfolk, the grinning, malignant fetch; those that bathe in Lesion Sea degenerate into scaled and membranous icthoi; those that gaze into a gorgon's eyes are afflicted with the madness of the abyss.  The ancient words graven on the walls of Crepuscle's sprawling labyrinth spawn the babbling maze-born, while cacklegeists spread their horrifically infectious laughter and a hundred diseases wrack the teeming slums of the Twilight Cities.

Addiction and Appetite

Some lust for blood, some for coin, some for drugs or sex or youth or power or death. Witch-addicts daily inject themselves with the throbbing golden sap known as nectar, and daily they go mad in droves, or burn from the inside out from overdose.  Leechkin moan for blood from their rasping mouths or rampage through the southern swamps in thirsty rage, while lilix and wealthy ghilan libertines drink it from overflowing and antique chalices.  Hideous and gray-skinned eidolons garb themselves in youthful glamers sustained through the vitality of their prey, while demons sup on more abstract energies.

Everyone wants something.  Everyone must feed.  Even as it rots this world hungers and consumes.

Adventure

Adventurers come in many varieties.  One might play as an exiled baron of the Lords Revenant, a vampiric aristocrat possessed by an heirloom spirit; or a member of one of the Robber Guilds of Macellaria, a grizzled tomb raider contending with malevolencies and the elements in the Slaughter-lands, questing for lost technology; or a sneak from Lophius, some tattooed, moustachioed footpad or duelist dealing death with knife and pistol; or an arachnoid assassin, a male lilix courtier with a wit to match his deadliness; or a magister attended by a familiar leashed with a warded silver chain; or a half-mad witch-savant, an ichor-junkie hurling drug-fueled hexes; or even a misshapen graftpunk with stitches or inked sigils still raw from the augmentations of the tissue-shop or the glyph parlor.

Adventures tend to oscillate between survival in an unforgiving and hazardous wilderness and gritty urban intrigue.  Adventurers might loot haunted tomb-cities in the Slaughter-lands or mount expeditions to retrieve lost secrets from abandoned libraries where the dead walk.  They might pursue bounties on brigands and savage leechkin and nameless demons in the clotted swamplands of Lophius, or escort caravans for the Resin Merchants across the disconcerting amorphousness of the Tallow Plains where the waxborn roam.  They might become prospectors in the Slouching-devil Mountains in search of ur-fossils, or scholars seeking the lost poetic incantations of Vurlu, or street-fighters for hire in the chaotic markets of Macellaria, or perhaps gentleman burglars preying on the aristocracy of Somnambulon.  They could converse with sentient automata clothing themselves in flayed human skins, forge contracts with demons, hunt creatures born of the Suppuration, attend grand masques in alien spires, drink blood and whiskey with grave-spawn in riverside ghul-bars and saloons, battle nests of fettergeists in the undercity of Skein, or poach tenebrals in the shadowy hunting grounds of magister-princes.

The Quick, the Dead, and the Inhuman


The Cadaverous Earth is home to many sapient entities that aren't human.  Living humans are known as the quick; grave-spawn, the heliophobic undead of this world, make up nearly a third of its population, strains of creatures afflicted by eldritch parasites or psychic domination.  Then there are inhumans, "monstrous" and often bizarre creatures with sometimes bestial features.  A very few of this last group are "daevas" - immortals, ageless but distinct from the undead.  Finally there are the demons and the oneiroi, alien beings from beyond the Cadaverous Earth, visitors from the otherworldly Hells or manifestations of the Aether, nightmares made flesh.
Map

(http://img31.imageshack.us/img31/5477/cadaverousearthmap.png)


The map was very generously created (TWICE!) by Nomadic.

Note

Here is Light Dragon's excellent PDF (http://www.mediafire.com/?22ymndwy2yi) of the setting!  206 pages of my warped scribblings plus illustrations, maps, poetry, reviews, and contributions from other board members (with imaginations clearly as deranged and deviant as my own), committed to Adobe for the first time!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 09:59:07 PM
The Twilight Cities

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
and avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

- T.S. Eliot, from The Hollow Men

A Wanderer

For years the wanderer had known only silence and the banal umber endlessness of the vague wasteland.  He had been traveling so long that he'd forgotten where he'd started, or why.  At first he's invented a new reason each day, a banishment or exile or quest, but as time went on the past dwindled and his mind wandered along with him.  His was a grey existence, a world of blurred shadows, dust, and haze interrupted infrequently by a tombstone or a monolith or a meeting with some surreal creature.  The few human (or human-like) beings the vagabond had seen were reduced to distorted figures scrawled in his memory, grown faceless and sinister as remembrance slipped inevitably away and his brain became a mottled, inward-looking thing, lost in its own dark, delirious passages.  Only his most outlandish encounters had been burnt more vividly into his mind - these would take much longer to scab over and scar, or drown in the sewers of his subconscious.

Once he'd met a six-armed and carapace-plated man like a giant praying mantis, riding a wagon drawn by four mechanical horses that breathed smoke and flame.  The insect-man had tried to sell him oddities: a skull with bloodstone eyes, an embalmed foot, a fob-watch with too many hands, a live, bottled spider, a tiny gilt statuette of a winged infant.

Another time he'd crossed paths with a troupe of dancers, each tattooed in garish colours and garbed in diaphanous silks, cavorting and cartwheeling through the waste.  Their lips were sewn shut, each mouth stitched into a different expression; they wore jeweled masks that covered the top halves of their faces.

Yet another time he'd passed by a weeping chimera, a queasy, pitiful, raving monster that constantly changed its shape, flickering through different bodies like a fleshy kaleidoscope - now it had three limbs and a hairy visage, now a segmented tail, now a cluster of horns or extra eyes or wailing mouths, now a glistening chitin shell.

But mostly the waste was simply emptiness, flat and ceaseless and mute, carpeted with bones, with the remnants of past violence - a slaughter-land.  There was something of the desert to it, and of the library, and of a dull, meandering dream verging occasionally on a nightmare.  The sun and moon seemed only to rise and set out of habit.  To speak took great effort.  A desiccated limbo - a place of droning, half-heard echoes where time and size and sound seemed somehow soft, and moments ran together and dissolved.

And then, without warning, the City.

It crept up upon him wolfishly, like some huge, ineluctable predator - brooding on the horizon, like a robed stone colossus or a prowling monstrosity larger than the mind could hold.  The vagabond was overwhelmed by its defiance, its brute repudiation of the horizontal waste.  After the omnipresent flatness, the sudden appearance of such sublime, audacious verticality seemed obscene, even horrific.  Tears streamed down the wanderer's thin cheeks, and a sound cracked and then shattered the glassy silence, a fragile, eggshell sound, part sob and part laughter.  He was surprised to discover that it came from his own mouth.

Suspicions circled vulture-like in the musty air before swooping down to gnaw at him.  Was the City merely a mirage, the delusion of an unhinged mind?  He knew that he was mad, had long been mad, perhaps always.  He knew that his eyes were often untrustworthy, though never before had they conceived a vision of such lurid and convincing imagination.  Or was the City something more dangerous than a mere phantasm?  Was it was something subtler, more sinister - an illusion sent by cruel and whimsical deities to torment him, taunting him with the promise of civilization, of escape, of change, while always growing further away, forever just out of reach?  He looked around, suddenly terrified.  Had he finally died?  Was this the underworld, this City his punishment - an eternity of seeking, never to arrive?

Had he been dead for years?

As he carried onwards the City drew closer, assuaging his fears somewhat.  Detritus and ruins marked his approach: bent signs in dead languages, the rusting husks of ancient vehicles, more bones of humans and unlikely beasts, always more bones.  Here and there a solitary wall might emerge from the blasted ground, its edges jagged and burnt.

After another eternity of walking the wanderer found a road, a decaying path half subsumed by the wasteland, impossibly old.  The City grew larger with excruciating slowness, looming in the distance, quivering with waves of heat.  He was a pilgrim, and the City quickly became something sacred.  It was his God and his doom, though whether it would redeem or damn him he did not yet know; but as he came nearer a veil seemed to lift from his mind, a new clarity replacing the numbness of the desert.
   
He met others on the road, mostly solitary but a few in pairs or groups, heading in the opposite direction out into the emptiness behind him.  It seemed that he had met them before, or others like them, in dreams or perhaps in the far distance of his past.  A pretty, raven haired woman with a whirring mechanical arm traveled with a slimy beast with mouths on its palms whose toad-like skin blistered in the dry air; a man-thing shambled on clawed legs like a bird's, stitched crudely to his thighs; a melancholy figure in a dusty white cloak and cowl dragged an enormous iron sword along beside him, his face hidden beneath his hood.  There was a cart of corpses and a tattooed woman with a tentacled hand and a goggle-clad madman leaning on a copper staff, a gun-toting fox-man and a dyad of blue skinned imps and a yellow-eyed child who rode a chittering mechanical spider and smoked long, black cigarillos, puffing tendrils of smoke into the bruised twilight, a lumbering giant with iron skin plodding behind him.  Some of these fellow travelers spoke to him (or themselves) in alien tongues, though the wanderer never answered.
   
Shuddering machines appeared in the distance, and cracked domes like huge boils on some behemoth fleshscape.  After what seemed an aeon of walking the first plantations sprung up on either side of the road: rough, scrap-fashioned farms with withered crops and fields of fissured hardpan earth.  At first the farms were abandoned, the bones of livestock and farmers alike overgrown with weeds and fungi, houses with beams like fragile bones and black sockets for windows, with roofs collapsing under their own weight and walls torn apart by creepers, planks sloughing off into clouds of orange wood-dust.  Huge ravens and raven-like things infested these cadaverous places, picking at the dead.

Later, the plantations began to show signs of habitation, and leather-skinned farmhands would stare at the wanderer while they fed ugly pigs with matted hair or milked emaciated aurochs or queasy bovine-shaped darknesses.  Here the shadow of the City grew oppressive, and the sky swirled with a constant pall of smog.  He could make out the shapes of gargantuan chimneys, sprouting out from the main bulk of the towers, which now he could see were actually clusters, conglomerations of buildings piled atop each other without any apparent design or artistry.  The hiss of those great chimneys rose up from the City over the murmur of lowing cattle and the yowls of the feline things like hairless cats that haunted the hinterland in packs.  A thrumming beat like the tread of a million footsteps or the syncopation of a demoniac machine could be felt through the ground.

As the wanderer walked the road towards the City he began to delineate its details, its endless intricacies.  Towers thrust themselves skyward in a thousand needling points, spined skeletons of glass and grey stone.  Structures slumped rust-red and variegated, shimmering crimson in the sunlight; conglomerates were wreathed in smoke, all brass and brick and belching pipe.  Neon signs winked and domes of cracked marble gleamed wetly like broken skin.

Soon he came to the shanties.  They coalesced from the ruins and farmland in patchwork aggregations, coagulating out of the dust and debris and rising up in ramshackle layers - a mishmash second city of wood and rope and mud spreading out beneath its stony parent, tumorous and uninhibited.  At night the shanties wallowed in the buzzing artificial light of the towers and seethed with a rustic vitality.  Here and there a distant suggestion of movement in the City itself broke the statuesque stillness momentarily.

At night the City was ablaze with light.  The stars faded, consumed by its luminescence.  The sky glowed about the horizon, softening into twilight.
The Twilight Cities are incredibly ancient: even the youngest is built on ruins many millennia old.  Tombstones of sublime and faded ages long since decomposed by a series of half-forgotten cataclysms* and the gnawing erasures of time, only nine of the once-great metropolises remain inhabited, and even these are largely empty, their streets dusty and silent, their labyrinthine undercities crumbling and hollow.  They fall roughly into two broad types: some, like Dolmen and Somnambulon, are ruthlessly authoritarian, oppressive city-states, while others, like Macellaria and Lophius, are chaotic and unstable, held together with more occult codes and coherencies.  They writhe, devour, rut, seethe with moribund energy: putrid and hideous, like chancres on a diseased fleshscape.

The Twilight Cities cling to the fringe of the so-called Slaughter-lands, a wild waste where prowling clouds of sentient eldritch radiation cause the dead to walk, otherworldly horrors from the Membrane Wars lurk in dark lairs and ruins, and the Red Rains metamorphose those who sip of them into murderous doppelgangers of their former selves.  This is a world no longer merely dwindling, no longer dying, but rather become a great corpse peopled by maggots and worms, the fester-spawned parasites of a Cadaverous Earth.  Though some semblance of life and animation - even happiness - still lingers within the walls of the Twilight Cities, the world seems to hover on the very lip of the abyss, teetering on the edge of final destruction.

Yet even as the world spasms its last breath, sloughs free the shredded vestiges of history, bloats with corpse-gas and grins with the shriveling onset of rigor mortis, a phoenixian ember flickers in some black and cyclopean socket.  Pink new flesh squirms beneath the scabbed surface, and long-chained entities await the Great Unfettering.

* The Membrane Wars, the Pallid Decimation, the dementia epidemics, the Suppuration, the Red Ravishing, the Fecundity'¦

Somnambulon, The Sleepwalker's City

Thronged by a zombie proletariat condemned to brute psychic vassalage, Somnambulon is ruled by a ruthless clan of industrialist nobles, the so-called Lords Revenant.  Existing symbiotically with a cadre of numinous parasites (the zehrer) passed down from generation to generation, the nobility possess unnaturally long lives and a variety of eldritch abilities which they use alongside their advanced technological warmachine to maintain power.  Cutthroat mercantilists of the first order, the Lords Revenant enjoy the spoils of their success from their mausoleum-palaces, manses part temple, part tomb, part keep; sprawling about these ornate megaliths are the smoke-clotted factory districts, the vicious waterfront along the Sinew River, and the vast, rude, lawless shanties of the Unbound, a ragtag but defiantly lively lot whose music and carnival antics contrast harshly with the black grimness of the Lords and their shambolic subjects.

Crepuscle, The Mottled City, The City of Red and Black

Crepuscle lies at the intersection of the Radula and the Sinew Rivers, and as such is a major trading port, principally dealing with Skein, Moroi, and Somnambulon.  Its streets are colourful and pastiche, cosmopolitan in the extreme: here are soul-tinkers and mechanoapes and dyadic naghini, hagmen from the south, graft peddlers and arcanists and sigil-scribes, yapping zerda foxfolk seers, mantid costermongers, ghilan of every breed and quick humans of every race.  Justice is administered in stylized gladiatorial courts, wherein the defendant must defeat a pantheon of combatants (including the Blind Man, Guilt, and Reason) to secure his or her innocence.

Apart from its bustling markets Crepuscle is distinguished by its labyrinth, a huge maze at the center of the city which few dare enter despite the legends of unfathomable treasure and wisdom to be found within; its walls are scriven with runes in some long-forgotten language, a tongue which those who spend too long wandering the endless passages begin to inexplicably babble in.  These lost souls, the so-called mazeborn, are chained to the walls of shrines in the temples of the Gibbering Goddess, where robed neophytes record their rambling glossolalia, tending to the mutilated vocal cords and bloody tongues of their mad, decrepit charges.

Skein, City of Silk, The Clockwork City

A shuddering, iridescent carnival of a city, the snarled urban sprawl called Skein juts with a hundred gearborg spires against the bruised and hazy sky.  In the clockwork factories at the city's industrial center, a verdigris-riddled army of automaton limbs peel and unravel the delicate casements of silkworm moths.  The silk is cut and dyed and woven by a horde of arthritic and ink-spotted workers in the warrens of the Sepia, Indigo, and Damask Wards.  From here it is loaded by spidery iron cranes and hulking dock-laborers, muscles squirming with symbiotic grafts, onto submersibles equal parts gearwork and crustacean or leathery dirigibles.  These vessels clot the sluggish coils of the Radula River or ride on dry winds from the glowering Slouching-devil Mountains (winds that bring thunderstorms and murders of predatory imps and bouts of disturbing erotic nightmares).

The city's other boasts: a long tradition in the crafting of expensive (but efficient) automata and a mastery of the centuries old, carefully cultivated practice of demoniac husbandry.  Blurring the lines between puppets and puppeteers are the five supreme rulers of Skein, the Moth-Kings, wizened scholar-husks who traded flesh and memory and essence to arcane entities beyond human fathoming in the distant past, perhaps as far back as the Membrane Wars.  They brood in their shadowy, palatial spire, queasy shapes somewhere between men and corpses and diabolic phantoms; they rely on less overtly otherworldly mouthpieces to deliver their rare but irresistible commands.

Macellaria, City of Bodysnatchers, The Maggot City

The Skin Markets of Macellaria are famous across the Cadaverous Earth.  Guilds of tomb raiders and grave robbers of every stripe daily plunder the nearby Slaughter-lands and even the ruinous Hecatomb Cities of the deep waste, returning with the musty relics of bygone aeons - and with scores of bodies.  The relics are pawned in the scabrous little Curio Bazaars, but the bulk of goods traded in Macellaria take the form of carved bones, flayed flesh, blood, and bodies, though there are also large sections of the Markets dedicated to the trade of slaves or the solicitations of prostitutes.

Here also are the glyph parlors, the graft peddlers, and the tissue-shops, where libertines, mercenaries, thugs, and adventurers purchase flesh-hexes or augment themselves with extra limbs, poison glands, or squirming cosmetic tattoos.  Even the human citizens (a sizeable minority) are practicing cannibals, but the leechkin, the cestoids, the ghilan, and innumerable other grave-spawn depend on the city's grisly produce for subsistence.  One will also find mercantile agents of the Lords Revenant in search of fresh bodies for labor purposes.  Though superficially a liberal, even anarchic city, Macellaria is essentially ruled by a loose oligarchy composed of high-ranking members of the Robber Guilds and wealthy merchants.

Dolmen, City of Spiders

Xenophobic and isolationist in the extreme, the city of Dolmen is the domain of the lilix, spidery and matriarchal, ruling through a rigid caste-system.  Below the city are the vast breeding caves, where a near-blind, colourless race of subhumans are bred as livestock and slaves, to work new tunnels into the unyielding earth or be consumed in the gory meals of their mistresses.

Above these vast stone pens the city's core thrusts upwards in tiered levels, a bizarre geometric radiation of temples and armories and dwellings, trading halls and factories and torture-rooms.  Here the city's mortal gentry live a penumbral existence: chalky-skinned freedwomen dressed in black and red lace who tattoo extra eyes on their foreheads and keep cadres of male slaves.  At the center of the upper city are the harems, banquet halls, council Courts, and living quarters for the lilix themselves, where the males are kept as footmen, concubines, and bodyguards while the women drink marrow-wines and sanguine cordials.

Beyond the limits of the city is the foreigner's quarter, a trading hub and center of exchange where the normally unyielding web of etiquette, taboos, and laws is relaxed and the lilix reluctantly deal with outsiders; here the Sinew River flows down from its point of origin in the nearby Chelicerae Mountains.

Moroi, The Gaunt City, City of the Elder Tree

At the center of Moroi, towering over the baroque intricacy of its rambling streets, the Elder Tree claws at the sky with gnarled fingers.  Sublime, incomprehensibly huge, and old beyond all remembrance, the Elder Tree remains magnificent even as the Resin Merchants despoil its ancient grandeur.  The tree is penetrated, ravished, ensnared in a vampire-machine, a twisted complexity of tubes and gears and churning pipework that invades its withered bark and sucks the god-tree dry.  Two more of its brethren loom over the city like headstones, ossified and empty, the machinery entangling them turning slowly to rust.

The Resin Merchants of Moroi drain the Elder Tree of its puissant sap, the substance dubbed ichor or nectar: a potent arcane catalyst which, when ingested (usually via injection) infuses the user with eldritch energy.  Those with latent power are tracked down by the city's recruiters, chained and injected with heavy doses of the drug and converted into babbling living weapons, till they burn from the inside out or go mad completely.  Large amounts of the drug also finds it way into the marketplaces of Skein, Crepuscle, and Macellaria.

Lophius, The Corsair City, City of the Lamprey

Straddling the Maw, the swampy delta where the Gland River empties itself into the Sallow Seas, Lophius is a considerably younger city than its brethren to the north and east, though still centuries old.  Though predominantly human, Lophius teems with other creatures as well, many of them amphibious: leechkin, hagmen, and certain wetland strains of ghilan.  Though certainly a hub for commerce, Lophius became rich through piracy and other activities generally regarded as illicit in the other Twilight Cities, acting as a haven for thieves, smugglers, and corsairs; its only government is an informal kleptocracy comprised of whatever particular clan of cutthroats last seized power.

The other principle faction within Lophius is religious, as the city is a major point of pilgrimage.  Idols dredged from the fens by scavengers or from the briny depths by daring submariners are erected in the ramshackle shrines of the Driftwood District, attended by a priests with seaweed in their hair and shells for holy symbols; each upstart deity competes with the others for petitioners, a thousand bickering godlings in a maze of skeletal shipwrecks-cum-churches and barnacled wooden fanes.

Quite distinct from the carven deities of Lophius are the true gods of the swamp, nameless elemental demons of stagnation and wasting illness, brooding in the brackish waters.  These fey, muttering entities are kin to the mad, primordial beast-gods of salt and nacre that slumber in the deeps of the Sallow Seas.

Erebh, City of Abysm, City of Basalt Towers, City of the Fell Breath

Far to the south, beyond even the Shadowglass Steppes where the elementals wage their unfathomable wars, teetering precariously on the lip of the Great Rictus - Abysm, the Hungry Void, the World-Wound - lies Erebh, City of the Fell Breath, a place of narrow, rambling buildings perched on the edge of the chasm and spilling over, clinging to the cliff-face, windows shuttered against the endless, unplumbed black below.  Tall, basalt towers of unknown construction tower over the city - grim monoliths presiding like featureless sentinels, their doors sealed shut, their featureless walls presenting no clue as to their purpose.

The city's economy is centered around the mushroom farms that zigzag down the cliffsides, on the quarries of obsidian, onyx, and basalt, and on the alchemical gases collected by the miasma-harvesters.  Glowing crystals of eldritch power are mined from the lower depths by adventurous souls in scuttling or fluttering vessels like iron insects; these forays are dangerous, leading to frequent encounters with feral phetorii or the pale, abhuman gloomkind who haunt the lower reaches and raid the fungus farms.

Abysm itself is a subject of speculation, of wonder, of religious inspiration.  Scholars gaze upon it with their glyph-graved instruments; priests offer it sacrifices, hoping to appease whatever deity they claim resides in its fathomless depths - Apollyon the angel of destruction, or the Leering Beast, or Yaggathoth with her million flickering tongues.  Some claim that the jinni - the mystical vulnerae woundfolk - first emerged from the pit, others that the Great Rictus is a portal to one of the Hells, or a gateway to the prison of the Chained Ones.

Whether or not gods or demonkind truly reside in Abysm's deepest reaches, it is widely believed that something does - there are too many reports of gigantic appendages glimpsed in the black, or of glimmering, cyclopean eyes peering up from the darkness, to wholly discount such legendry.

Marainein, City of the Wasting God

Once one of many prosperous city-states of the Gloom Coast in the far south of the Cadaverous Earth, Mareinein is even more decrepit than the other Twilight Cities, its manses decaying, its monuments eroded, its once bustling marketplaces lethargic.  The thousand towers in their multitudinous colours have faded and peeled; the flames in the lighthouses have grown dim and sickly.

The city is ruled, nominally, by the being called Yzsch, more commonly known as the Wasting God - a once powerful entity worshipped as a deity incarnate, now grown leprous and diseased, confined to his prodigious temple-palace, babbling senile, nonsensical edicts, the rantings of a demented mind.  Unfathomably old, the decaying god is attended by a retinue of priests, the true rulers of Marainein, who 'interpret' his deranged ramblings as they please.  The priests of Yzsch attend the Wasting God with enamelled goblets, with which they catch the putrid excretions of his hideous sores.  From this rancid issue they derive a puissant alchemical elixir, a quasi-divine draught which endows them with unnaturally long life: the most powerful priests are many centuries old, some well over a thousand, though they scheme constantly against one another, employing eunuch assassins and esoteric curses in a brutal, baroque power-game.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:04:22 PM
The Slaughter-lands

The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what looked like eternity in all directions.

- Stephen King, from Gunslinger.

Just a Squall

It started with a smell in the air.  You could taste it on the wind - a metallic tang, like copper.  The sky began to dim.  A distant thunderclap echoed across the endless dusty plain.  Some thrice-damned fool gawping at the gathering darkness muttered that it looked like rain.

Then, in the distance, the mist.  Not normal fog, thick and gray or gray-green or sallow, nor black like smoke, nor the brown haze of a dust-storm, but red.  Abattoir red; a seething, roiling crimson.

We took cover as it drew closer, threw tarpaulins over the caravan, the damn horses neighing and pawing the hardpan.  Already you could hear it, that steady roar, pounding the desert, mingling with the crackle of the storm-clouds, getting nearer.  It churned the ground to viscous mud and the cracked, thirsty plains sighed like a lover and drank in the downpour.

And then it was upon us, out of clear sky, a torrent of it - the Red Rain.  It fell in dense sheets, covering everything with its sanguine slick, like some enormous beast had been slaughtered overtop us, or the godsdamned sky itself was bleeding.

Some idiot hireling we'd picked up back in Macellaria got caught out in the thick of it.  They say the change is supposed to be invisible, but I'd swear you could see something happen - a hunching of the shoulders, a sudden cruelness about the eyes, a smirk stealing across the thing's red-streaked face, mouth dribbling the stuff.  Every hand went to his gun, tore the fetch in half a dozen different directions, like a puppet being wrenched about, staggering in the muck, clutching his steaming guts and then falling in a twitching heap.  It lay there hissing for nearly a minute while we reloaded, crawling towards us with one hand cradling its entrails and its teeth bared and its eyes full of evil till someone put a bullet between them and spattered its brains out the back of its skull.

Like that'd been a cue the Rain let up, moved westwards.  We were lucky; we only had a squall.  Sometimes the Rain'll last for hours, even days.  They say during the Ravishing whole cities got drowned, streets swimming with red, those that survived the first downpour murdered by family and friends.  Puts it in perspective for you.

One lousy sellsword doesn't seem so bad.

Excerpt from Country of Bad Dreams

Five

They are in badlands.  Wastelands, broken lands.  A desert place of dust and demons, stranger things.  Ravaged-lands, Slaughter-lands.  There are five of them, the travelers, led by a scavenger prince, a king amongst thieves, a lord of tomb-robbers.  Hellsteeth, they call him; an affectation of such naked braggadocio it would be absurd were it not for the man's reputation.  Hard eyes peer from a weatherbeaten face, features like chiseled, porous rock-slabs, thin-lipped mouth fixed in a rigid line that twitches at the corners, the ghost of a smile.  He coughs, growls, presses onwards into the desolation.  Klet at first found it hard to reconcile the scope of legendry surrounding the man with the grizzled, leathery creature that leads them.  His incredulity has given way to a near-reverent awe.

The others are less illustrious.  There is Somija the hagman, androgynous and green-skinned.  His (her? its?) dreadlocks swing in the parched wind.  A hex purrs and pulses about its body, moistening, keeping the amphibious witch-warrior hydrated.  Once Klet saw it kill an errant fetch with no more than a glottal articulation that left the once-human an empty skin-sac, blue smoke leaking out of mouth and ears and nostrils.

Beside the hagman lumbers Yx, ponderous with muscle-grafts, his head comically undersized atop a gruesomely rippling physique, puckered with odd piercings, with ornate and sometimes quivering tattoos.  Huge, calloused fists curl and uncurl; massive boots stir up sallow clouds.  Yx prefers to kill with his bare hands.  No gentle giant, this one.

Then Oor-Kesh, the shade, an expert marksman, reeking of incense, an old and deadly thing.  Oor-Kesh has a man's body so Klet thinks of him as male.  Flesh tanned to a kind of dark ochre colour, dyed in places, stitched in others.  The grave-spawn moves mummified limbs as if directed by an unseen puppetmaster, but this jerking, staccato motion does not impair the thing's aim.  He tells esoteric or simply unwholesome jokes - What's the best time to eat human flesh?  When you're hungry! - and laughs an unnerving, withered laugh that sounds like a man choking.  Hellsteeth seems to respect the shade; they speak in dry murmurs to each other, nod knowingly.  Oor-Kesh must walk beneath a heavy black umbrella and garb itself in a black leather suit, or the sunlight will expel it from its host.

Klet is the most callow, a barely blooded youth, pugnacious and eager for notoriety.  His body is unaugmented.  He has only a vague understanding of their mission.  A gnawing fear eats at his innards, as mean and tightly coiled as a parasite.  He fights it with cheap rum and posturing and garrulous, pretended nonchalance, hefting his borrowed weapons with unearned bravado.  He strives desperately for the detached ennui of Hellsteeth, cultivates the man's seemingly effortless melancholy with fervent emulations, hoping to somehow mimic that unstudied calm.

They stay close together, these five, traveling along obscure roads, across the world which the Lamenters of the Weeping Lady call the Cadaverous Earth, leaving the bodies of abominations and unlikely predators in their wake.  They make their way deep into the Slaughter-lands, into a country of bad dreams.

Tallow Plains

For awhile they skirt the Tallow Plains, at the edge of the frontier.  The landscape is unstuck, moves in sudden eructations, mottled with feral architecture, with rogue topography gained some unfathomable sentience.

- Shift is weak here, Somija says with authority.  Pretty stable.

Klet blinks.  The Plains make him nauseous, buttes and mesas bubbling into one another, gentle hills oozing like quicksand.  Space here has grown viscous, malleable.  The mutancy of the place is retch-inducing.

They fight a waxborn.  It gibbers from many maws, speaks a polygot of curses from mouths human and hag and leechkin.  It ejaculates a babbling verse of nonsense-poetry from one pair of plump, manicured lips - Spiderwalking mudeater!/ Gloam-blooded shadowman!/ What kind of thing are you? - till the lips close and reopen as eyelids for a slitted, reptile orb.

Its limb rearrange themselves in a fluid analogue to the miscible scenery - scorpion-claw, taloned fingers, tentacle, bone-spur.  Its rotund belly (now, scaled, now feathered) dangles with ropy things that might be entrails or genitals or perhaps merely a nest of writhing tails.

They attack it with bullets, with fire-arrows, with a barrage of tissue-melting spells, dancing out of range of its windmilling, multifarious arms.  The waxborn's body cleaves and reforms beneath their assaults.  Finally Yx lobs a round bomb towards it, a dull-looking grenade that explodes in a yellowish blast.  The waxborn ignites, incandescent and flailing.  It smells like a kitchen-full of roasting meats.  Klet is sickened by his own salivation, until the smell of burning hair nearly makes him gag.  He suppresses the urge to vomit, terrified that his companions might think him weak.

They press on.  The light from the bloated morning sun warbles.

Still Growing

They pass through a tangled field that seems to sprout corpses like demented plants, or scarecrows.  The stench is horrible.  The earth is spattered with their secretions.

'- Body-farm, Hellsteeth comments.  Cultivar serfs.

- Surprised they're still growing, Oor-Kesh says.  He fondles a rotting limb and the owner twitches and moans.  The shade twirls his umbrella daintily, like a parasol, picks his way across the leprous field.

- They're alive?  Klet, who has grown up surrounded by the nightfolk, is aghast.

- They're wilting, says Hellsteeth, as if this explains things. - They're still healthy enough to reproduce.  He points out fetal saplings, making Klet shudder.

- The field'll be barren in a  few years.

- Didn't know they got this far north, Yx grunts.  The graftpunk is unperturbed by the foulness around them.  - Thought the Technocracy got pushed back by the cestoids.

- Could be just an outpost, says Hellsteeth.  Probably a Spire round here somewhere.

Klet is lost.  He is constantly bewildered by the depth of historical knowledge possessed by even the most brutish scavengers, like Yx.  Hiding his ignorance is difficult.  He suspects that sometimes they mock him in secret, speaking in a flurry of ancient names and battle sites as if in Alley-speak or some other cant-tongue, their references beyond him.

- There's nothing here, says Hellsteeth.  Smell'll attract things.  Let's keep moving.

The others grumble their agreement.  They move out, as the dusk begins its glowering descent, sky yellowing and then purpling like a bruise in reverse, deepening into black.

Beyond the moribund Twilight Cities, those last and lonely bastions of civilization persisting with idiot tenacity in this necrotic world, lie the yawning wilds of the Slaughter-lands, vast beyond all measure, a variegated waste peopled with nightmares and corpses, demons and inhuman things, bestial terrors and bastard gods and raving wraiths without names.  From the queasy rupture of the Suppuration to the stony husks of the Hecatomb Cities to the unhallowed battlefields of Etiolation the Slaughter-lands are thick with the dead, the alien, and the un-living.  On the fissured obsidian plains of the Shadowglass Steppes vitreous elementals battle clannish beings of clay and steam; lonely demons wander the Shatters, brooding amidst the shards of forgotten empires and pining for their Hells; bloodthirsty fetch and shambling haunts, the hungry grave-spawn of the Slaughter-lands, lurk in the corridors of ruined palaces or hunt along the stygian waters of Lesion Sea; strange beasts prowl the moist oases of the cancer-forest known as the Fecundity.

Yet for all their deadliness the Slaughter-lands are not without their riches.  The iron chests of once-terrible colossi echo with the beats of ingenious arcane heart-engines.  The mythic library of Gloam-Tor is said to hold within its near-endless archives arcane secrets and tomes of power written by the magi of elder aeons, though only accessible to those who bypass the tower's possessed clockwork guardians.  The skeletal commanders of now-broken armies piled in irreverent heaps still clutch runeswords and stranger weapons in their bony hands.  Glyph-scribed coins, eldritch stones, hexed relics, and mountains of jewels clot the treasure-vaults of mummified emperors.

Daily the plunderers come, the scavenger bands, ragtag parties armed with blades and bows and rude guns, eyes gleaming with greed.  Some stick to the fringe within sight of their sprawling homes, picking through the detritus left by less thorough looters.  Others are more adventurous, leading caravans into the deep waste, expeditions bristling with charms and weaponry.  The Robber Guildsmen of Macellaria are the best organized, but there are many others.  Gentlemen-adventurers of the Lords Revenant with zombie retinues set out from Somnambulon, contending with their rival Houses for the strangest or most powerful treasures.  Lilix males seek the favor of their matriarchs, driving subhuman slaves mewling in the unfamiliar sun before them into Barrow Scrub and the icy northern deserts to plumb frozen temples and tombs.  Hunters from Skein seek to capture rogue demons, returning to the Clockwork City with iron cages containing otherworldly monsters.  Freelancers aggregate in Crepuscle, Moroi, and Lophius, haphazard mercenary groups of quick, ghilan, hagmen, and half a hundred others.

Dour Erg

The largest single region of the Slaughter-lands, Dour Erg is a hard-baked, mean-spirited desert full of desiccated ghost-towns, angry spirits, and clutches of the fetch, or murderfolk.  Moistureless save for the dubious inseminations of the Red Rain, Dour Erg is an abandoned land given over to grave-spawn and empty buildings.  This is a place of blurred shadows, dust, and haze, interrupted infrequently by a tombstone or a monolith or a meeting with some surreal creature.  Gloam-Tor thrusts itself up from the cracked earth somewhere in Dour Erg, as do the ruins of Yutteril, Vertegrazze, and Scrutatos.

One might walk the streets of one of Dour Erg's many little ruins and stumble across an eyeless woman with a swarm of lampreys for her mouth or a pair of faceless children whose hands are crab's claws or a headless man with a mouth gaping hungrily on his belly - oneiroi who've stumbled across the Slaughter-lands from the far-off Suppuration.  Or perhaps one might encounter the husk-demon Zaa-Bul, a sentient swarm of maggots and flies inhabiting the bloated shell of a corpse; or the Muttering One, many-mouthed and perpetually cursing; or a nest of cacklegeists, grave-spawn with tongues shriveled and raw from ceaseless laughter.  There are things that look like men or might claim to be men lurking in the shadows of low dunes or broken buildings, eidolons and fetch and wild ghilan.  There are a few of the quick here, genuinely, nomads and barbarians grown leathered and weather-beaten by the bloated sun, but these people are elusive and unfriendly.

The Hecatomb Cities

In the deep waste of the Slaughter-lands are the so-called Hecatomb Cities: ruined metropolises that have been burnt nearly to the ground.  Once proud capitols of world-spanning empires now stand empty, their citadels scorched, their courtyards charred and their avenues strewn with ashes and blackened bones.  They lie to the east of Etiolation, south of the Shatters but north of Screamwood and Lesion Sea.

Unlike the other ruins dotting the Slaughter-lands, brought down by disasters or the whimpering depredations of history, the Hecatomb Cities were destroyed quite deliberately some time in the very distant past as mass-sacrifices, a great holocaust whose ultimate purpose has been lost.  Some suggest the sacrifice was an appeasement to black and insatiable gods, others that it formed part of some incomprehensible ritual.  A very few speak in whispers of the Fettering and its unspeakable cost.  Whatever the cause, the Hecatomb Cities were burnt with their citizenry trapped inside them, pharmakoi in a grandiose and utterly horrific orgy of flame and destruction.

Now only fuliginous smears remain: even the names of the cities have been eradicated.  Yet still, despite the thoroughness of their annihilation, the Hecatomb Cities still harbor a few glints of treasure.  Brave scavengers occasionally enter the Cities in search of these glimmers, indestructible relics that withstood the firestorms and the toll of millennia.  Few reemerge - most are claimed by the Cities, or something that now dwells within them'¦

The Shatters

A rust-red desert of dead machines and wandering terrors, the Shatters can be found north and east of Etiolation, in the deep waste.  The huge automata called the Behemoths slumber in the Shatters, their limbs broken, immensely prolix clockwork brains inert.  Engines of mass destruction said to have been used in the Membrane Wars, the Behemoths are incredibly ornate constructs complete with balconies, living quarters for crew, barracks, armouries, and a hundred other chambers.  They carried whole armies into battle while laying into enemy forces with their titanic guns, huge shoulder and chest-mounted cannons.  Now they molder, their baroque armour mottled with rust, their furnaces ashen.  Generations of scavengers have picked several clean, leaving only huge steel skeletons; others are more intact.  There are other machines half-buried in the Shatters, along with the Cullys and Suchol, sister-cities of bronze and chrome grown spotted with rust, their walls collapsed, machine gods broken or insane.  Berserk automata, swarms of the fetch, and a handful of bitter demons call these cities home, fallen places of smashed cogs and glyph-graved monoliths and maniacal deities of brass and steam, grown twisted and senile in the lightless gloom of the now-deserted temples.

Scoured by the Red Rain, the Shatters' few human inhabitants are either infected by the Rain or brutal barbarians, nomadic savages who strip the ruins of valuables and revere the Behemoths as the Dead Gods of the waste.

Etiolation


The great gray battlefield known as Etiolation is many miles wide, a huge swathe of the Slaughter-lands drained of all vitality.  Depleted even of colour, Etiolation is a mute, hazy graveyard heaped with countless bodies, all of them perfectly preserved - no insect, maggot, fungus, or vegetation grows in the silent barrenness, the plant-life that once thrived in the region blackened and lifeless.  The only creatures that stir are scavengers and bodysnatchers picking their way through the unnumbered dead and the slain themselves, former soldiers transformed into haunts by the clouds of eldritch energy that still plague the region, residues of some arcane cataclysm.  Legend says that these energies are the result of an ancient ritual that petrified the Ravager-Worm Hirud at the center of Etiolation; a huge stone figure with the semblance of a giant leech does rise up from the scores of bodies near the middle of the battleground, though if this is truly Hirud none can say for certain.  The sterility of Etiolation is usually blamed on the Worm itself, though which force slew the innumerable soldiers remains a mystery.

Those that enter Etiolation experience an immediate numbing, nauseous sensation.  Though they retain their essence and colour, explorers experience increasingly severe feelings of misery and apathy, and their colour eventually begins to fade away.  Plants wilt and die, flesh becomes unfeeling, and those who spend too long in Etiolation will eventually waste away, consumed with despair, their skin and clothing colourless, their minds without will, their voices silenced.  This sickness, known as blanchphage, can only be cured by removing the afflicted from Etiolation.

Despite its hazards, Etiolation is a very popular destination for those who venture into the Slaughter-lands.  Fresh bodies from Etiolation daily renew the Skin Markets of Macellaria, their weapons and armour pawned in the Curio Bazaars.  There are also numerous war-machines and other devices scattered amidst the carnage, drawing the attention of salvage gangs.  In addition to these secular pilgrims members of the Order of the Weeping Lady have been known to travel from the monasteries in the Chelicerae Mountains in order to behold the awesome sorrow of Etiolation and feel its creeping despair.

Flense Veldt

Plagued by haunts and oneiroi, Flense Veldt is the domain of the warlord Herruku the Flagellator, commander of a piecemeal army of barbarians, feral ghilan, and demoniac mercenaries - not to mention an elite platoon of the fetch, kept caged until needed in battle.  A cruel, effective raider of great ambitions, Hereku preys on caravans and adventuring parties in the Slaughter-lands, and has even ventured beyond the fringe into more civilized territory, harassing merchants of Crepuscle and Macellaria.

Lesion Sea

An inland sea fed by a tributary of the Radula River, Lesion Sea is a pestilential expanse of filthy water from which decaying towers and obelisks emerge, mossy headstones to civilizations long drowned in the murky depths.  Tainted with some flux or eldritch influence, Lesion Sea's waters warp those who drink of them, afflicting them with illness or wreaking more alarming changes on their forms, turning them into malformed chimerae, mutant, misshapen things that slip into the bubbling deep or wander the shores, multifarious and deformed.  Grave-spawn have been known to linger on the shores also, writhing on the embankments like ghosts from some mythological underworld.

The mysterious entity called Icthoi - whether ur-fish or water-demon none know - dwells in the gloom of Lesion Sea, along with the rough tribes of misshapen once-men metamorphosed by the water.

Screamwood

One of the few truly fertile regions remaining on the Cadaverous Earth and certainly the lushest part of the Slaughter-lands with the exception of the scattered oases of the Fecundity, Screamwood is nonetheless a shunned and avoided place.  An ominous forest of white trees with crimson sap, many of them carved with leering faces, Screamwood is home to the dreaded creatures called the blightings.  With a reputation for extreme sadism, the blightings put even the excesses of the lilix to shame: with tough, pale hides, oozing red eyes, jagged fingers, and fanged maws, blightings are vaguely humanoid but possess some characteristics of plants.  Dwelling in the roots of the largest trees, they are primitive but powerful, adept at hunting the shadowed arboreal corridors of Screamwood and ambushing their prey.  They breed and train a species of huge white wolves as mounts and hunting beasts, vicious albinos with horribly human hands and bony, hairless faces, fed on a diet of raw flesh.

The Shadowglass Steppes

Leagues of volcanic glass veined with cracks of livid magma, the Shadowglass Steppes consist of a series of shimmering obsidian plateaus interrupted by huge, splintered monoliths, calderas, and sluggish magma rivers.  The air is polluted with toxins and super-heated vapors; the ground boils with lava just beneath the surface, and eruptions are commonplace.  Though extremely inhospitable to humans, the Shadowglass Steppes are home to several sentient creatures, primarily clans of elementals.  Ranging from the slender, sharp-angled glass elementals to the squat, simple-minded clay elementals, the haughty, maniacal steam elementals, and the barely-sentient, thoughtlessly malignant magma elementals, these beings wage bizarre wars on the Steppes, contending for territory in a ceaseless exchange of advantages and allegiances too abstract and complex for even the lilix to fathom.

Barrow Scrub

A cold, scabrous badland at the northern edge of the Slaughter-lands near the Chelicerae Mountains, Barrow Scrub is a desolate and rugged region littered with extensive tombs, catacombs, and enigmatic monuments.  Inhabited by various barbarian tribes who make their homes in caves and desecrated crypts, Barrow Scrub is an unforgiving wilderness.  These savages are moon-worshipers and skinchangers who shun grave-spawn and shelter underground during the Red Rains that sweep the region intermittently.  They are very wary of the lilix of Dolmen who sometimes venture into Barrow Scrub, raiding barbarian shrines and villages for slaves.  The primitives fight a guerilla war against the spiderfolk, avoiding any direct conflict.

The demon Morr'ghu, called the Rancid Angel or Rot-shadow, sometimes roams the skies of Barrow Scrub - a gaunt, putrescent fiend with near-skeletal, leathery wings and a horned, skull-like visage whose shadow inflicts hideous sickness and whose blazing eyes can enflame with a glance.

Also in Barrow Scrub is an entrance to the subterranean city of Riqius-Erebu, requiring the would-be scavenger to navigate a maze of caves and hewn corridors in the bowels of the Chelicerae Mountains before reaching the chthonic maze that was once the capitol of the cestoid Imperium.

The Suppuration

Most of the various apocalypses that wracked the Cadaverous Earth in aeons past have dwindled into myth and legend, alluded to only in the footnotes of moldering texts or in the distorted narratives of jatayi fablers.  The lingering effects of such disasters still haunt the present - the Red Ravishing, when the earth flooded with blood, still persists in the Red Rains, the demoniac scourge-armies of the Membrane Wars have scattered across the land while old war-engines are slowly subsumed by rust, and a slew of plagues still recur with devastating frequency - but the origins of the world's current afflictions have largely been forgotten.  The Suppuration, however, cannot be so easily expunged from memory, as it continues to seep clots of destabilizing unreality, bearing new litters of alien monstrosities on the far side of the Slaughter-lands.

Few have seen the Suppuration itself (and returned with their sanity intact), but those who have describe an unimaginable chasm or wound, a reality sore dribbling unseemly accretions of the uncanny and whining with a kind of keening wail.  Though the exact nature of the Suppuration is far from understood, it seems evident that it is more than a mere dimensional orifice or portal like those used by invaders during the Membrane Wars.  Rather, the Suppuration seems to be a kind of chaotic womb, a cesspool of diseased imaginings.  The beings that emerge from the tempestuous swirl of the Suppuration are not demons or daevas, are not visitors from some otherworld or alternate plane, though such creatures do exist in abundance across the Cadaverous Earth.  Rather, the things that crawl and slither forth from the gushing lips of that ghastly birth canal, licking the pus of the Suppuration's afterbirth from their flickering forms, possess an unplaced but undeniable familiarity, made twisted by their hideousness.  They are like the nightmares of the world's collective subconscious, welling up through the rift in a shadowy, dissonant headbirth - the oneiroi.

A few scholars have suggested that the Suppuration is the result of widespread nectar overdose.  The collective channeling of thousands of witches over the centuries has worn a hole in the Aether, ripping open a rift to the collective unconscious; the dementia epidemics are another, less cataclysmic symptom of this mass-invocation.

The Fetch

At the end of the epoch known as the Aeon of Dust (dubbed The Desiccation by some historians) the Cadaverous Earth was inundated with an enormous flood called the Red Ravishing, a cataclysm whose origins and details are long lost but whose echoes still reverberate in the present.  Ushering in the current era, the Aeon of Putrefaction (or The Festering), the Red Ravishing was essentially a more pervasive and persistent incarnation of the Red Rains which still plague the world today, particularly in the Slaughter-lands: a downpour not of water but of a crimson liquid with at least the appearance of blood.  The Red Ravishing caused more than mere flooding, however - it gave birth to the sinister creatures called the fetch.

The fetch are the malevolent husks of those who drink the Red Rain.  Even a single drop, if imbibed, will provoke the transformation, an invisible and poorly understood process in which the victim's mind becomes corrupted, unhinged in some radical and almost invariably permanent fashion.  The Red Rain destroys any feelings of remorse, pity, kinship, love, affection, or conscience: it eradicates morality, obliterates the super-ego, unchains the inhibitions, and plunges the consciousness into a state of distortion, psychosis, and intense hatred for everyone around them.  Despite this fundamental psychic disordering, however, the fetch are not possessed by all-encompassing rage, at least not at first.  Although filled with dreadful sadistic hunger, the fetch are still fundamentally the same individuals they always were, and can speak, plan, and bide their time until opportunity presents itself.  They will 'masquerade' as their former selves, lulling their companions into a false sense of security and then turning on them when they least expect, slowly and torturously killing all living beings they can find while grinning with horrific pleasure.

The fetch are not grave-spawn (and indeed some grave-spawn and other creatures with psychic models intrinsically different than a human's are unaffected by the Red Rain); as such, they are subject to the same frailties and vulnerabilities previous to their metamorphosis.  Most fetch in the Slaughter-lands persist only a short while after the Rain that created them; after murdering their companions and any other living creatures nearby they become roving monstrosities, degenerating into ravenous, snarling killers and eventually resorting to auto-cannibalism and subsequent death by infection, blood-loss, or starvation.

The Fecundity

It grows; it spreads; it devours.  A deadly, ineluctable, terribly beautiful thing, the phenomenon known as the Fecundity is considered by some to herald a new dawn and by others to be the greatest single threat to the Twilight Cities.  The Fecundity is speculated by many to signify the death-knell of the world, the final blow that will consume it only to recreate it.  Only a very few ecologists - a dwindling field - have linked the Fecundity with the Red Rain.

The Fecundity manifests itself in dense, voracious, hyper-aggressive patches of vegetation which appear seemingly spontaneously, at random.  In actual fact it is the ultimate result of the Red Ravishing: after centuries of irrigation via the Red Rains, the Fecundity - the goal of the incredibly secretive group of arcanists who engineered the Ravishing over an Aeon ago - is finally manifesting.  Most outbreaks of the cancer-forest are strewn across the Slaughter-lands, but others have been sighted in the far Occident along the western edge of the Firesong Marches and along the Serrated Coast.

The Fecundity is qualitatively different than the withered southern swamps, the hellish Screamwood, or even the mutant jungles of the Bluebottle Archipelago where the snake-men dwell.  Its pristine emerald depths glisten with moisture, like the sweat of some ferocious, bestial thing; it swelters with intoxicating and primeval energy.  Enormous ferns and vast trees form a shadowy canopy, while the undergrowth below is thick with mushrooms and verdant creepers.  Huge ur-beasts and insects have been reported lurking in the deep forest, though the truth of such rumors is unknown.

The appearance of the Fecundity has helped to revitalize dying economies with an influx of lumber, fruit, and water.  Small towns and camps spring up alongside the oases, though these are quickly abandoned as the cancer-forest grows, uncontrolled and unrestrained.  Though it remains very thinly scattered across the Cadaverous Earth it is growing, and within a few decades may encroach on the Twilight Cities themselves.  Thus, while many have greeted the Fecundity as a blessing, others have expressed deep concern over its seemingly unstoppable spread.  Though it has been slowed through the deliberate introduction of disease, intentional forest fires, logging, and defoliation, the Fecundity always grows back.

A few have taken to actively worshiping the Fecundity.  These druidic Luddites scorn the Twilight Cities and choose to lead pseudo-tribal existences on the edges and even within the forest.  Most such groups go missing, claimed either by wild beasts or by the Fecundity itself.  The only 'humans' who appear to be able to survive in the Fecundity for any period of time are the fetch, though the link between the so-called murderfolk, the Red Rain, and the Fecundity has yet to be drawn.  Possibly the fetch were conceived by the architects of the Fecundity as a return to a kind of primitive purity for humanity - an atavistic regression into a race better suited than the corpulent and diseased men and women of the Twilight Cities, with their vices and their misguided technology, to survive in the new world.  Additionally the Fecundity, which normally devours humans as it does settlements - with crushing vines and grasping, quasi-sentient creepers, smothering boughs and invasive fungi - seems to ignore the fetch completely.

The apocalyptic Cult of the Great Unfettering (of which the Cult of Hirud, god-leech and Ravager-Worm, is a chapter), a clandestine society whose cells are embedded in all of the Twilight Cities, dismisses the Fecundity as a false rapture.  According to their cryptic codexes only the absolute power of the Chained Ones, the primordial sleepers, will repair the corruption that wracks the Cadaverous Earth.  Though recognizing that they too would be claimed in the cataclysmic and all-encompassing destruction that would accompany the Great Unfettering the cultists believe that following such a purge would come the Remaking, in which their souls would be reborn on a fresh, clean earth free from disease and evil, and that their own spirits would be purified.

To hasten the Unfettering the cultists scheme to unshackle the Chained Ones and to facilitate the purification: when the time comes they will step out from the shadows with steel and cleansing fire, to wipe away the stained and sinful inhabitants of this broken world and usher in a new and glorious era, unleashing their elemental colossi, their primordial saviors, embracing their own deaths and subsequent reincarnations.  All will be erased and washed away in an ecstatic inundation.  Only a few schism-sects of the Cult have welcomed the Fecundity, interpreting it as a harbinger of the Unfettering, a clearing-of-the-way, forerunning the final apocalypse; the rest disparage it as a false hope, insisting that the Fecundity would not succeed in restoring the Cadaverous Earth but rather would transform into a different sort of wasteland, verdurous but spiritually as barren as the Slaughter-lands.

Out of Character

How advanced or wide-spread to make the Fecundity is a decision the game-master should make before beginning a campaign.  In some campaigns the Fecundity might be just appearing and widely unknown, only a few scattered oases, the first shoots of new life; in others, it might already be encroaching on civilized lands, covering substantial portions of the Slaughter-lands (though probably still not yet subsuming the "bleak wasteland" feel): as the campaign progresses the Fecundity could continue its rampant growth and become a significant problem for the players.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:06:21 PM
Grave-Spawn
The Unmen, The Halfmen, The Nightfolk, The Undead

Grave-spawn are the animated corpses of the quick, or living, inhabitants of the Cadaverous Earth (a term usually applied to humans).  They come in numerous varieties, retaining varying degrees of intelligence or personality.  Ultimately, the designation "grave-spawn" is an inadequate blanket term used to describe a diverse array of undead creatures with varying physiologies.

Bricoleur


The bricoleur is a variety of relatively rare and unusual grave-spawn known for their intense devotion to aesthetics and their complete amorality: bricoleurs will do anything to advance their art, even if their actions directly contravene social or legal customs.  For the bricoleur, the aim of life is self-development, self-making, with the body as a canvas on which to display the outpouring of the soul.  Bricoleurs intensely resent any attempt to impinge on or restrict their so-called 'artistic freedom' but do welcome criticism concerning their art-bodies.

Even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, bricoleur aesthetics are macabre in the extreme.  The bricoleur itself is an amorphous parasite with limited mobility which many speculate is related at least distantly to the shade, though instead of a pool of liquid shadow bricoleurs are mottled, sanguineous beings equipped with numerous tendrils, which they can extend or retract at will.  Bricoleur bodies disguise and protect their protoplasmic consciousnesses, however.  Again like the shade, bricoleurs create bodies out of corpse-matter, but unlike the shade bricoleurs compose themselves out of mismatched or scavenged bits and pieces rather than whole corpses.  The shade squirms into a corpse's brain and assumes control of it: the bricoleur extends itself throughout a skeleton or cadaver and picks it apart, taking only those pieces it sees as aesthetically pleasing and abandoning the rest.  Bricoleurs prefer bones to flesh, because they are easier to work with.

Bricoleurs are rarely humanoid; if they are, their body is usually a caricature or parody of the human form, a kind of walking satire.  Usually bricoleurs cultivate fancifully shaped, outrageous bodies without any resemblances to other species.  One might harvest a dozen human legs, fuse them to a central torso with armor plates constructed out of hip-bones layered like scales.  Another might fuse spinal columns together to create a huge, serpentine body.  There is an upper limit on a bricoleur's size, but many bricoleurs can amass bodies much larger than those of most humanoids.  They frequently discard or rearrange parts of their bodies, constantly changing in shape.  Each bricoleur is unique, a pastiche of morbid components.  Scavenged tongues and lungs allow the bricoleur to speak; scavenged eyes allow it to see, though in its raw form it can sense vibrations and has incredible tactile sensitivity, allowing it to perceive textures and gradients.

Because of their intense artistic devotions bricoleurs sometimes have trouble integrating themselves into communities.  While most realize that their art is best served in the long run by maintaining positive relationships with other sentient beings - beings that can supply them with the raw materials for their art - a few radical bricoleurs become underground, predatory things, lurking in sewers and catacombs and the back-alleys of the Twilight Cities, stalking their carefully selected, fetishized prey before killing them and taking their bones.

Eidolons

Consumed by satyriasis, the insatiable incubi known as eidolons are a cambion race, an all-male breed of grave-spawn with the ability to drain youth and vitality in order to rejuvenate their physical bodies.  Narcissistic in the extreme, eidolons are tall, exquisitely handsome men with bloodless, alabaster complexions, green eyes, and shimmering black hair (frequently worn very long) that becomes grey and eventually white if the eidolon fails to feed.  Sunlight does not destroy them but it does strip them of their glamer, revealing their true bodies - twisted, malformed old men bloated with tumorous growths - and dispelling the aura of hypersexuality they usually emanate.

One of the few grave-spawn races regarded with near universal loathing, eidolons lead clandestine un-lives, blending in with the quick, often in the upper levels of mortal hierarchy.  Having infiltrated human society eidolons begin to feed on young men and women in order to sustain themselves.  Most are hundreds of years old, their true manifestations resembling walking corpses.  To forestall deterioration eidolons seduce beautiful youths and feed off their desire, beauty, and vitality through copulation.  In doing so, eidolons physically age their victims several years while restoring their own youth in the process.  Insufferably vain, eidolons find fresh prey frequently, lest their own beauty begin to ebb; eidolons who - perish the thought - discover silver hairs in their usually immaculate black manes immediately seek out a new victim, often coupling with the unfortunate individual until they are little more than a desiccated husk.  While rape can suffice to regenerate an eidolon's glamer, they consider the act vulgar and unsophisticated in the extreme.

Eidolons are aesthetes with a great appreciation for beauty.  Sadistic, self-serving sociopaths without conscience, they are adept at feigning passionate love for their prey and are usually highly accomplished poets, artists, or musicians, as well as being superb conversationalists and beings with exceptional taste for the finer things in life.  Eidolons reproduce by impregnating human women, siring male stillborn children who frequently kill their mothers during birth, then revivify as newly spawned eidolons.

Geists

Geists are manifestations of infection, a strain of dangerous and only pseudo-sentient grave-spawn who share a number of bizarre and highly communicable contagions.  Geists reproduce by spreading their particular contagion, transforming those infected into copies of themselves.  They tend to lurk in out-of-the-way areas where people once congregated but have later abandoned.  They display no real motivations, rather wandering more or less randomly, though they do make attempts to spread their virulent afflictions when they encounter uninfected individuals.  Their contagions affect only certain humanoids: demons, oneiroi, and animals are immune, as are some grave-spawn such as shades and zombies, though ghilan seem to be affected as readily as the quick.  There are several distinct types of geist, each with their own characteristics and physiology; some of the more common types, though by no means an exhaustive list, are detailed below.  All geists share the ability to hover a few feet above the ground, their feet almost brushing the floor; all also have eyes glazed milky white, save the blind sorrowgeists whose eyes  have been eaten away by acidic tears.

Gibbergeists and cacklegeists are amongst the most insidious of grave-spawn: merely hearing their insane babbling or laughter can lead to contamination.  Physically they resemble gaunt, decomposing, floating figures, often garbed in the tattered remnants of whatever clothing they once wore.  Their mouths and tongues have grown bloody from overuse, and their throats and chests pulse with black veins.  Gibbergeists and cacklegeists usually have long, frayed hair and curled, overgrown fingernails.  It is possible that cacklegeists originate in the tunnels of the Slouching-devil Mountains, originally created by the roving phenomenon called the Deep Laughter, a sinister echo that seems to wander the tunnels and afflict all who hear it.

Fettergeists are covered in writhing chains from head to foot, with only their faces (turned black from strangulation) and clawing hands revealed.  They can control their chains at will (or else the chains move with a life all their own) and will attempt to subsume their victims in these chains: if the target is overcome the chains detach from the geist and seem to propagate, slithering around their new host's body.  The previous geist retains their own chains and feeds the new geist with fresh links seemingly generated from the grave-spawn's own body.  The chains are all-invasive, forcing their way down a victim's throat and curling round their necks to throttle them.  Often fettergeists' limbs bend at strange angles, their bones shattered during the transformation.  A possibly related but less common variant of the fettergiest is the bramblegeist, covered in thorns and vines rather than chains (these fell spirits are found in the Screamwood and in the southern swamps).

Sorrowgeists are a strange breed of grave-spawn whose searing tears can transform any who taste them - pitifully sobbing horrors who lure victims to them with their plaintive cries only to seize their faces with cold, white hands and forcibly weep upon them.  Their cheeks are carved with hideous scars - their tears are acidic - and their eyes are eaten away; their bodies are pocked with burn-marks.  A few particularly zealous members of the Order of the Weeping Lady have been known to keep sorrowgeists bound in the lower levels of their temples as avatars of their patron: those who ascend to the highest levels of the Order expose themselves willingly to the geists in order to be transformed into the purest expression of grief.

Geists are even more reviled than eidolons and are much less crafty than the incubi; most are killed on sight.  A few have been known to be kept by crime-lords or similarly brutal individuals as punishments for traitors or enemies, sick pets kept in carefully designed cells to minimize the possibility of infection.  Outbreaks of geist infection are relatively uncommon in the Twilight Cities but can be very dangerous when they do occur; while it is possible to resist infection for a time, prolonged exposure will almost inevitably result in transformation.  Interestingly, geists tend to ignore other grave-spawn when live targets are present, and grave-spawn are much more resistant to geist infection than the quick.

While large areas of the Slaughter-lands have been overrun completely with geists the malignant creatures are for the most part kept (tenuously) contained underground in the Twilight Cities, dettered from venturing topside by sunlight, which they loathe (though they are not actually damaged by it, only disoriented).  Common defences against cacklegeists and gibbergeists include silencing or deafening hexes; fettergeists and bramblegeists must concentrate their efforts on a single individual, leaving them open to attacks; sorrowgeists must close in to infect their prey, meaning that they can be picked off at a distance.  Geists are not especially invulnerable, though they are unworried by pain.  As with plagues or inundations of the Red Rain, citizens of the Twilight Cities will torch thoroughly infected areas rather than risk an epidemic.  Since fires are very dangerous in urban centers, however, this tactic is used only when absolutely necessary; ideally, geists are herded into an abandoned building and simply locked in; the door will then be warded and marked as haunted.

Ghilan

The origins of the ghilan (singular: ghul) are clouded in mystery, remaining a subject of major scholarly speculation.  Some claim they were born during the Pallid Decimation, when (legend has it) the Ravager-Worm Hirud ruptured the world, the dead arose, and the earth was alight with funeral pyres; others claim they are the dilute offspring of some elder demon race.  Whatever their genesis, ghilan have become the principle grave-spawned race on the Cadaverous Earth, and can be found in all of the Twilight Cities.  They resemble the quick in most respects, but have chalky, leper-gray skin, sharp teeth, claw-like nails, and cat-slitted eyes.  Their 'life-spans' are theoretically unlimited, and few diseases affect them; though grave-spawn (or 'undead,' a term that has passed from the status of racial slur into a kind of quaint archaicism), they do not decompose, and they are far from the mindless zombies of Somnambulon or the hunger-obsessed shades of the Slaughter-lands.  Some grave-spawn live for hundreds of years, though most die of hunger, thirst, violence, or accident before they reach a hundred.  They are carnivorous creatures, ingesting only raw meat, and are shamelessly cannibalistic, eating both humans and other ghilan (they tend to dislike seafood and so find the flavor of leechkin or hagmen distasteful).  They can and do drink blood but do not depend on it as the leechkin do.

Ghul reproduction is surrounded by such a haze of mythology that their true method of procreation seems disappointingly mundane.  Like most grave-spawn, ghilan are the hosts to parasites, in this case to a strain that survives in necrotic human flesh.  Those that eat uncooked human meat infested with a ghul-worm or fluke may potentially be transformed from a normal human into a ghul.  The parasite essentially kills its host, then revivifies it after making several alterations, using the brief period of clinical death as a kind of liminal space, a cocoon-state in which the host is metamorphosed into a ghul.  The newly reborn ghul will be afflicted with moderate to complete amnesia but suffers no other damage apart from sterility - though rumors persist of half-ghul children, they are thought to be merely the imaginings of grotesque minds.  Sexual intercourse between ghilan and the quick remains possible and is quite common despite vague taboos surrounding such couplings.  Self-infection with a ghul-worm is not unheard of, but the invariable memory loss involving the change deters most who would seek to transcend death in this manner.

Ghilan culture resembles that of the quick closely.  On the whole, ghilan tend to be more solemn and ritualistic in contrast with the frenetic quick, who seem to the ghilan a loud and reckless breed (though many ghilan profess a certain nostalgia, only half remembered, for the heady, frenzied days of life).  They are a nocturnal race and abhor direct sunlight, though it does them no actual harm.  Because of their longevity many ghilan eventually obtain enough wealth and power to live relatively luxurious lives.  Some become decadent, macabre libertines who savor meals of the softest flesh, attend theaters, gambling halls, drug dens, and orgies with regularity, and spend their nights in hedonistic debauchery.  Others prefer a more staid living, becoming administrators, priests, and even monks - there are more than a few ghilan in the Order of the Weeping Lady, cloistered in the monasteries of the Chelicerae Mountains.  Many ghilan become converts of the Church of the Star-Gods, an institution with chapters in several of the Twilight Cities which worships the now ancient light of long-dead stars only now reaching the earth - stars that have long since expired, exploding or dwindling or merely transforming but leaving a ghost-light behind to travel across space for many years.  The Church believes that the stars are the pupa-state of deities, and that in their deaths they sublime beyond the material, apotheosizing into transcendental entities.

Ghostgrass

Ghostgrass is a type of vegetation found principally in the Mewling Moors east of the Gloom Coast, though some has crept up into the south-easterly Slaughter-lands. Drawing energy in part from the aether, ghostgrass is sometimes classified as a 'grave-spawn plant.' It is immune to many diseases and, most importantly, to the putrefying Rotmists common in the regions it flourishes. Arcane winds in the aether cause ghostgrass to rustle, producing a whispering noise that uncannily mimics the sound of voices: in particular, the voices of the dead. A group of individuals moving through ghostgrass will all hear distinct and different voices identical to those of departed loved ones. These voices begin by simply muttering familiar phrases or names, but gradually grow more and more disturbing, urging those near the ghostgrass to acts of extreme violence against their companions, or themselves, or else taunting an individual with shameful secrets. During eldritch 'gales' this murderous susurrus has been known to drive travelers quite mad, forcing them to set upon one another. In other cases it is merely unnerving. Witches seem especially susceptible. It is suspected that ghostgrass feeds on the dissipating life-energy ('soul') of dying creatures, and so encourages killing as a method of subtle predation.

Physically, ghostgrass is extremely pale, almost translucent; in moonlight it acquires an eerie greenish or bluish tinge, depending on subspecies. It is extremely hardy and difficult to kill, being highly resistant to toxins or physical damage. Fire is effective, but the damp of the Moors makes it difficult for flames to spread.  Interestingly, ghostgrass has great utility as an alchemical ingredient: when combined with other reagents it can be refined into an elixir which, when imbibed, produces temporary incorporeality in the drinker. When mixed with nectar from the Elder Tree and then injected by a witch, essence of ghostgrass greatly increases the efficacy of necromantic witchcraft.  It can also be smoked in its raw state, which likewise produces an interesting effect: the smoker becomes intensely aware of the life-force of surrounding creatures, discerning whether they are living, dead, grave-spawn, or near to death.  Overdoses can produce vivid hallucinations (generally taking the form of departed friends or enemies) and psychotic paranoia.

Haunts

The Slaughter-lands are subject to many extreme weather conditions - intense droughts beneath the searing desert sun, huge dust storms, and inundations of the Red Rain - but these are the mindless ravages of nature or ancient cataclysm.  The clouds of arcane radiation that roam the waste, or tempestas mali as scholars dub them, are a different phenomenon entirely.  Residues of whatever unfathomable battle created the sterile, colourless desert in the Slaughter-lands known as Etiolation, the clouds seem to possess some form of primitive consciousness, complete with a twisted, malevolent sense of humour: arcanists speculate that they may be a form of elemental with unusually long eldritch half-lives.  Whatever the case, the tempestas mali exhibit a variety of arcane effects, most prominently their ability to animate dead bodies to create the voracious variety of grave-spawn known as haunts.  Utterances, the psychic echoes of the slumbering beast-gods of the seas, have also been known to create haunts, though these are usually un-imprinted and thus non-violent.

The principle type of grave-spawn encountered in the Slaughter-lands, particularly around Etiolation (where corpses are plentiful), haunts are shambling and often psychotic, imprinted with whatever impulse their parent-cloud infuses them with - usually mindless and indiscriminate violence.  Physically they appear just as they did in life, save that their eyes glow eerily green and their bodies tend to be in some stage of decomposition.  Some gaunts are near-skeletal, though without any flesh or muscle to give them cohesion completely decomposed haunts will collapse into piles of bones.

Haunts are, essentially, similar to zombies, but seem to possess a greater capacity for independent thought than the drudge-workers of Somnambulon.  Zombies carry out specifically phrased orders relayed to them psychically via their symbiotic masters, the zehrer of the Lords Revenant: they will follow those instructions to the letter until their link to the hive-mind is severed.  Haunts are not issued instructions but rather broad, animal urges; while just as powerless to disobey these imperatives as zombies are to carry out orders, haunts retain (or perhaps rather are granted) a rudimentary consciousness beyond the mechanical register of their grave-spawn brethren in the Sleepwalker's City.

Mori

Though commonly believed to be the reanimated heads of decapitated murderers, the grave-spawn known as mori are actually a species of parasite that utilizes human heads much as hermit crabs adopt empty seashells. Physically vulnerable unless possessing a humanoid head, mori resemble naked brains, pinkish ganglia without obvious visual or aural sense organs. A clutch of flexible tendrils sprouts from beneath their central mass, allowing for locomotion and the manipulation of objects; these tendrils surround a beaked maw. Mori also possess the ability to levitate, and thus often appear almost jellyfish-like when hovering without their usual outer shell. Upon finding a humanoid corpse, mori break the mandibles and enter through the enlarged mouth, gnawing through the roof of the mouth to enter the brain cavity. From here they devour the brain and ensconce themselves, tucking their bodies into the cranium. The head then detaches and floats away, tentacles trailing beneath it like ropy entrails.

Though lungless, mori can shriek hideously, a powerful attack that literally freezes the blood of those that hear it, often killing or incapacitating them. The floating mori will hover over the heads of dead or crippled prey and thrust out a mass of tendrils from its host's broken jaws, as if sticking out a series of rubbery tongues. These flexible, questing tentacles are forced down the throat of the mori's victim in awful parody of a lover's kiss. Secreting a flesh-dissolving mucus, the tongues begin to digest the internal organs of the grave-spawn's prey, then scoop semi-liquid morsels of viscera up into the mori's beaked mouth (located at the base of the neck). Occasionally, a mori will lay its eggs in a hollowed out corpse.

For obvious reasons, mori are feared and greatly abhorred. Though they exhibit clear signs of intelligence they do not speak. They do sometimes form packs or larger flocks, called choruses or choirs respectively, which seem to have some variety of non-hierarchical, alien social structure. In the Twilight Cities they are considered dangerous pests and are often found lingering in catacombs or crypts, or in cemeteries. Nocturnal by nature like most grave-spawn, they dislike sunlight but do not seem to be actively harmed by it.

Shades

Shades are sentient parasites capable of possessing corpses to create grave-spawn.  Unlike the ghul-worm, which is essentially brainless, or a zehrer, which coexists symbiotically with a still-living mind, shades completely dominate their already dead hosts' bodies, though unlike zombies they are highly intelligent.

In their raw form shades look like pools of liquid shadow, capable of slithering and adhering to walls or ceilings; they enter a host through the mouth, then invade the creature's brain and skin.  Those possessed by shades walk stiffly, like demented puppets, fleshy marionettes being jerked by unseen strings; beneath their hosts' skins shades will pulsate and quiver with unnerving subcutaneous rhythms, covering their forms with rippling gooseflesh.  The eyes of a shade are clouded black.

Because shades possess only the dead, their hosts eventually decompose, requiring a shade to seek a new corpse to inhabit.  It is common to see shades preserving themselves with embalming oils and bandages; some have skins that have been tanned into a kind of leather, and others remove their host's now unneeded organs.  Like most grave-spawn shades are intolerant of sunlight, which forces them from their host bodies and causes them great pain.  As a result they are entirely nocturnal and usually live underground during the day.

Despite their unwholesome nature shades are quite civilized and coexist peacefully with other organisms in cities and settlements which tolerate grave-spawn, which includes most of the Cadaverous Earth.  They are very difficult to kill; only prolonged sunlight or extreme amounts of damage can disperse a shade in its true form, and shades can always find new bodies to inhabit if their host is destroyed.  As a result they can endure for centuries, watching generations of the quick grow up and die.  Because of their abilities shades make amazing spies and assassins: after killing a target a shade assassin can then enter the newly-dead corpse and impersonate their victim, though of course such a grisly disguise does not weather close inspection.

Zehrer

Symbiotic companions to the grave-spawn Lords Revenant of Somnambulon, the zehrer are a race of psychic overlords of likely otherworldly origin, quite possibly one of the demon dimensions that once intruded onto the Cadaverous Earth during the Membrane Wars.  Powerful entities with innate eldritch ability, the zehrer merge with their human hosts much like shades, though unlike that breed of grave-spawn they can only exist for any prolonged period within a quasi-"living" host rather than a mindless corpse.

The zehrer do not utterly dominate the minds of their chosen hosts, rather mingling their consciousness with that of their Lord of Lady.  So complete is this coupling of minds that the Revenants have become almost indistinguishable from the zehrer over the centuries. They prolong the natural life-spans of the Lords to up to a thousand years and also gift them with an arsenal of arcane talents.  Flight, pyrokinesis and telekinesis, telepathy (both with zehrer and with other sentient beings), preternaturally rapid healing and immunity to disease, incredible strength and agility, the capability to glimpse memories through drinking blood or eating flesh, sharpened senses, and millennia of experience are conferred to the host of the zehrer, who in return allows the parasite a body to dwell in and sustains the spirit.

Though possessing a great deal of individuality the zehrer are all bound within a hive-mind: they feel the experiences of other zehrer as dull resonances, sensing when one dies (an incredibly traumatic event), when one's host dies (considerably less so), and other extremities of emotion - as well as communicating telepathically across their communal psychic network.  In addition the zehrer hive-mind allows for the control of Somnambulon's zombies, puppets to the will of the Lord Revenants.  These psychic slaves are utterly denied their individuality and are completely overwhelmed by the instructions of the Lords, obeying any and all directions with total obedience.

The Lords Revenant are divided into thirteen Houses or Families which interbreed exclusively with one another, scorning petty taboos against incest as the narrow rules of small minds.  When one of the Revenants dies their body is carefully preserved with its zehrer still inside, whenever such preservation is possible.  One of the House's few young - usually the direct heir of the dead Revenant - is then chosen to receive the zehrer.  Designated a 'Childe,' this youth will be inducted into the zehrer hive-mind during a formal ritual wherein the zehrer transfers hosts, bringing with it the memories and experiences of all its previous hosts as well as its eldritch abilities.  The ordeal is very trying and physically 'kills' the Childe at the moment of their joining with the zehrer, much as a ghul is 'killed' by their own parasite only to be revivified as grave-spawn.

Zombies

The thralls of the Lords Revenant, zombies make up most of the citizenry of Somnambulon, a mute and uncomplaining workforce.  Most of those employed by the Lords are either purchased from slavers, seized as taxes from the Baronies over which the city-state holds sway, or bred in the eerie Nurseries, fortified installations somewhere between prisons and farms where silent, gray matrons hold sway and children are raised like cattle in a world without language until they are able-bodied.  When they are deemed fit for labor would-be zombies are herded into the Indoctrination Plants to be brought under the psychic control of a zehrer hive-mind.  The last vestiges of their individual consciousness are erased during the closely-guarded eldritch process in which they are mechanically, almost gently lulled into a sleep-like, mesmeric trance, at which point their minds become vulnerable to the hive-mind's domination.  Their bodies die and their minds are replaced with the unadulterated will of their overseers.

Zombies are the perfect workers.  They do not need to eat, drink, or sleep.  They do not require pay or rest.  They are incapable of independent thought and collapse into inert, brain-dead corpses if severed from the hive-mind.  The average zombie can work for several decades before decomposing past the point of utility.  They can be directed en masse through telepathic instruction.  They are relatively easy to produce in contrast with clockwork automata or fleshcrafted servitors.  They cannot rise up against their masters as the albino subhumans of Dolmen sometimes do (though such insurrections are always brutally quelled).  They cannot argue, organize, or oppose; they know only the will of their masters.

Zombie strengths are also their weaknesses.  They completely lack imagination, creativity, and memory.  They cannot be trained and ignore obvious threats to their safety unless instructed to avoid danger; many zombies lose limbs or sustain crippling injuries in the factories of the Sleepwalker's City.  Despite their relentlessness they make poor soldiers, suitable only for fodder and unwieldy rushes; they possess none of the subtlety of thought, the ability to improvise, essential to combat, lacking even the rudimentary impulses that dictate the hyper-aggression of haunts.  A small group of quick soldiers with swords or axes can make short work of a zombie platoon (firearms are less effective unless they destroy those parts of a zombie's brain linked to the hive-mind).  Zombies are merely marionettes; blunt instruments; cogs in a machine, bound to eternal drudgery.

It has been speculated that not all of a zombie's former consciousness is ever eradicated.  Some have suggested that behind a zombie's wide, staring eyes an imprisoned mind perpertually watches, its control usurped by the zehrer.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:07:37 PM
Inhumans

The category 'inhuman' loosely comprises those intelligent creatures indigenous to the Cadaverous Earth that are neither human nor grave-spawn.  Many resemble anthropomorphic animals: xenologists theorize that creatures such as the hagmen or leechkin may be the evolved forms of more primitive animal species.  Others have suggested that inhumans are in fact the descendants of true humans rather than animals, warped through eldritch experimentation or cataclysm.  Whatever the case, the creatures presented here all possess roughly the same mental capacity as humans, albeit sometimes with different psychic models and radically different cultures.

Anthropophagoi

Also known as the Headless, the anthropophagoi (singular: anthropophagus) are an insular, barbarian people who dwell along the Gloom Coast and in the Mewling Moors in the far south, though small, isolated tribes have been found in Dour Erg and the Firesong Marches. Doubtless the product of eldritch mishap or twisted design rather than the natural evolution, anthropophagoi have faces set in their torsos: eyes in place of nipples, huge mouths gaping on their bellies, and bony stumps where their necks and heads should be. Anthropophagoi do not possess either ears or noses, but seem to be able to smell with their tongues, and have internal auditory organs (not dissimilar to those of fish); their hearing, however, is quite poor. They communicate primarily through an elaborate sign language, though they do vocalize, notably producing extremely shrill and terrifying shrieks to dishearten their foes and signal the presence of prey to other anthropophagoi. Some slavers have learnt the anthropophagoi sign-language in order to sell the savage creatures captured slaves as food: anthropophagoi generally attack other humanoids on sight, but those scattered tribes in more northerly regions have been known to converse with outsiders.

Anthropophagoi are, of course, carnivorous beings, in particular savouring the flesh of other sapient organisms. Though not as demented as the sadistic fetch or leechkin possessed by the thirst, anthropophagoi know a near-boundless hunger, an insatiable ravenousness that drives them always to the hunt. Some scholars have suggested that this voraciousness is the product of the anthropophagoic habitat: dwelling as they do on the Mewling Moors, anthropophagoi are constantly exposed to the sanity-eroding ghostgrass of that region, and the plant matter is even incorporated into their diet as one of the sole vegetable components, used as a herb to crust their otherwise exclusively carnivorous meals. The substance also finds a use in certain rituals performed by anthropophagoic witch-doctors, who display an exceptional command of non-sentient grave-spawn (such as geists): indeed, Headless witch-doctors frequently assemble the gnawed skeletons of anthropophagoic victims into osseous servants, reanimated (and kept together) through witchcraft. Occasionally such creatures are used as cannon fodder during tribal wars.

A few rare individuals - usually criminals or wounded warriors left for dead on the battlefield - become members of non-anthropophagoi communities. Such exiles can even learn the languages of non-anthropophagoi, albeit with some difficulty, but the bad reputation of their species generally precedes them, problematizing communication. Occasionally one finds displaced individuals amongst groups of leechkin, cestoids, or other shunned races on the fringes or in the ghettos of the Twilight Cities, predominantly Erebh, Marainein, Lophius, and Macellaria. These solitary creatures are still very rare, however.

Cestoids

Possibly the ugliest living creatures on the Cadaverous Earth, cestoids resemble hybrids of giant centipedes and tapeworms, with long, segmented bodies, many legs, chitin exoskeletons, and soft underbellies.  Their 'heads' are little more than mouths, circular and many-fanged.  Ringing a cestoid's maw is a clutch of many-jointed, hairy limbs which they use to manipulate tools and shovel food (rotting flesh, preferably offal) into their mouths.  Their eyes are rudimentary, their vocalizations bestial; they communicate mostly through pheromones and touch, and can understand human speech.

Despite their monstrous appearances cestoids once ruled a vicious and expansive empire established by the hideous entity called Hirud the Ravager-Worm, a dark, animalistic god and possibly sire of the entire race.  For nearly a millennia after the Pallid Decimation the cestoids held power over much of the Cadaverous Earth, enslaving lesser races for their own purposes, ruling from the subterranean city of Riquis-Erebu, capitol of their Imperium.  They communicated their desires through human interpreters trained in comprehending their opaque language and devoured all who resisted them.  After Riquis-Erebu fell - brought down by an alliance of rebel states spearheaded by the Witch Army of Moroi during the height of that city's power - the Imperium collapsed and the cestoids were scattered.  Many were killed in a genocidal scouring campaign, hunted to near extinction.

Though still distrusted today, the remaining cestoids have reintegrated somewhat over the long ages as the world died and history withered.  They are a dwindling, pariah race tolerated in the Twilight Cities but pushed to the margins, usually underground.  They often dwell in sewers, or the maze-like tunnel systems that riddle most of the old cities, subsisting on garbage and filth.  Those few who rise above this degradation are usually merchants of some variety or mercenary warriors - cestoids are incredibly terrifying combatants, wielding numerous melee weapons at once, gnashing at enemies with their maws while blows bounce off their armoured hides.

Hagmen

The hermaphroditic hagmen predominate in the southern regions of the Cadaverous Earth.  Somewhat resembling anthropomorphic eels, hagmen are vermiform, with slimy, elongated tails, lacking legs.  Their upper bodies are more humanoid, including a pair of long, bony arms and vaguely human heads, albeit with vertical mouths with many teeth, beady eyes (though not blind, hagmen have poor eyesight), and whisker-like barbs; they often sport a mane of shaggy hair that looks like swampy vegetation, especially if a hagman submerges itself in water, a common hunting tactic.

Hagmen possess both testes and ovaries and so have interchangeable sexes; they have developed complex cultural gender constructs - unfathomable to most humans - that reflect their intersexed natures.  The name 'hagman' was chosen for its androgynous implications, but many hagmen consider the name crude.  Most 'civilized' hagmen can be found in cities such as Lophius, Crepuscle, and Macellaria, where they tend to congregate in amphibious ghetto districts with communal dwelling places somewhere between bathhouses and residences.  Other major structures include the hatcheries and temple-brothels, where hagmen that have chosen to become female ritualistically mate with males in honour of Myx, an aspect of the nebulous, multiply natured hagman deity representing fertility, lust, and creativity.  Hagmen have integrated into urban society as fishermen, agriculturalists (farming seaweed and marine livestock), submariners, amphibious warriors, dockworkers, artisans, and even scholars.

There are many less urbanized hagman communities, most of which conform to a tribal structure; these 'savage' hagmen are hunter-gatherers with some primitive farming techniques, and are known for their deep racial prejudice for the leechkin with whom they compete for territory and food.  The hagmen denounce the leechkin as the unclean spawn of an amorphous devil figure, a vampiric adversary-demon representing parasitism and degradation.  Vestiges of this race-hatred linger even in metropolitan centers, though many progressive hagmen and leechkin have learned to set aside their differences.

Apart from their prejudices, the hagmen of the Twilight Cities have inherited their tribal cousins' religious beliefs, albeit adapted to a less primeval cultural landscape.  They worship a monotheistic deity with a myriad of different aspects, and their system of arcana or witchcraft is integrated directly into their religion.  Each aspect of the Aeon-Worm (a rarely-used epithet of the gestalt of the hagman deity's personalities) is attended by a cult, with rituals and ceremonies tailored to the venerated aspect's portfolio.

Gorgons

There are very few gorgons left on the Cadaverous Earth, but they are long lived creatures and a few linger still.  Probably the descendents of an elder demoness who mingled her blood with that of humans, or perhaps the offspring of humans who slew and drank the demoness' blood, gorgons are daevas, immortals occupying an ontological schema fundamentally different than that of the quick, grave-spawn, or oneiroi: though they can be slain (a difficult but not impossible feat), they are living, breathing, ageless beings.

At first glance gorgons appear as impossibly beautiful women emanating unearthly sensuality and voluptuousness, veritably oozing with seductive charm.  Their skin is porcelain white, their lips and nails vivid green, their eyes shimmering black.  Crowning a gorgon's head, however, is a nest of entangled black serpents which burst from its scalp in hissing profusion, a writhing brood of venomous snakes moving as if with minds of their own.  Those who look too long into a gorgon's fathomless black eyes glimpse something illimitable and terrifying, some abyssal space beyond human comprehension: invariably such individuals are driven hopelessly mad, and some are actually paralyzed with fear and despair.  Gorgons usually wear veils to prevent those who look upon them from degenerating into gibbering madmen.  Those wishing to disguise themselves more thoroughly incorporate a full headdress to conceal their serpentine hair.

Gorgons often become the focus of snake-cults in primitive communities.  In urban locales they are usually well entrenched, installed as power-brokers of one variety or another, such as Nyssa in Lophius, matriarch of the Ophidian gang who rule the isle of Serpentside.  Their motivations are quite opaque, and gorgons often lead at least superficially epicurean lives, indulging their appetites while maintaining their power with ruthless intelligence.

Jatayi

The avian jatayi (singular: jatayu) are a dwindling race of fablers who roam the skies of the Cadaverous Earth.  Once many tribes of this species are said to have flown the skies: now only one tribe remains, a few hundred winged humanoids passing from settlement to settlement, singing for their suppers.  They shun the southern cliffs of the Serrated Coast where the sirae dwell, beings they condemn as degenerate abominations corrupted by malevolent forces - their notorious sing-song hex is seen by the jatayi as the embodiment of evil.  Physically jatayi resemble humans with enormous feathered wings emerging from their shoulder blades, similar in shape and colouration to a vulture's.  They also have avian eyes, allowing them to see at great distances and to detect ultraviolet light and magnetic fields ("the earthsong"), the perception of which influences the tribe's cyclic migratory patterns.  They are necrophagic, eating carrion they find in the waste and what food they can buy or earn in the towns and cities of other creatures.

Jatayi speak a dialect of Shambles that incorporates numerous bird-sounds such as clicks, chirps, and caws, as well as loanwords from a much older tongue, a secret, sung language known completely only by the tribe's small cadre of draconian elders.  Jatayi culture is oral; the jatayi possess incredible memories, though whether this trait is biological or wholly learned is unknown.  Whatever the case, all jatayi are vivid storytellers who incorporate elaborate dances, songs, and poems into complex mythological narratives that commonly take the form of plays, spoken tales, and more abstract performances.  These stories are governed by highly traditional structures but do allow for and encourage a measure of creative fluidity.  Transciribing a story is forbidden, however, as is learning any written language: jatayi are uniformly illiterate, save for a very few lonely outcasts found in odd corners of the world.  Because of their detritovorous diet jatayi are skilled scavengers as well as storytellers.

Jatayi lore holds that humans are the descendents of a kindred tribe who lost their wings after sacrificing themselves to preserve the greater race.  As a result they regard humans with a mixture of great respect and great pity, an attitude some humans find patronizing or chauvinistic.  Most human scholars hold that the jatayi may be the results of eldritch experimentation, a notion that revolts the jatayi themselves and which is considered blasphemous by the elders.  It is unknown how long the jatayi have existed, but their oral history contains legends that suggest they may considerably predate the Pallid Decimation, and perhaps even the Membrane Wars.

Jinni


The jinni - also called the vulnerae or woundfolk - are a strain of daeva said to have issued forth from a wound in the earth itself, released from an unfathomable oubliette with walls of stone, or perhaps of glyph-graven steel, or possibly of unthinkable and inhuman flesh; some say that this wound festered, and became the Suppuration (making the jinni forerunners or somehow kin to the oneiroi), others that the wound stands for an otherworldly portal (making the jinni demoniac), still others that the jinni are simply terrestrial troglodytes who were forced from their underground homeland in a mass-exodus by disaster or by some unknown, subterranean war.  Whether born of aether, Hell, or cavern-kingdom the mysterious jinni have scattered themselves across the Cadaverous Earth over the aeons, ageless but apparently infertile, banding together in loose clans of opaque organization.

Jinni skins are stained mottled shades of red, as if by gore; otherwise they resemble tall, powerfully built humans of androgynous sex.  Their crude features are scrawled across their faces like a child's depiction of a nightmare: slit-like mouths, miniscule black eyes, almost porcine nostrils.  Their flesh is hot to the touch, as if feverish, and through some quasi-eldritch means they can breathe gouts of sulphurous green flame.  Most have some degree of talent with witchcraft, particularly skinchanging: many jinni have been known to use the forms of hyena (carrion-jinni epseically), owls, bats, ibises, and jackals.

Some jinni have a taste for human flesh, particularly when partially decomposed; these macabre creatures have been dubbed carrion-jinni.  Most of the vulnerae dwell outside the Twilight Cities, reveling in the wild, lawless spaces of the world, but a few have spent centuries as decadents in the more cosmopolitan cities, such as Crepuscle.  They are an arrogant, haughty people, typically, considering themselves the natural superiors to all mortal creatures; their codes are very rigid and utterly incomprehensible to outsiders, who often find themselves in breach of jinni creeds without realizing their error, though they are still (inevitably) punished for transgressions with typical jinni ruthlessness.  However, jinni scorn the laws and codes of other species as beneath them, the rude artifices of lesser beings.  Jinni wisdom is legendary, because of their longevity, but they are a notoriously secretive race, guarding their histories jealously; occasionally certain parcels of information have been traded in exchange for land, weaponry, or large amounts of coin, but for the most part the jinni refuse to disclose share their knowledge with non-jinni.

Despite their reticence in divulging their racial history some details concerning the jinni Diaspora have been collected.  It seems clear that they have never been an excessively populous race, and the harsh toll of apocalypses that wracked the Cadaverous Earth during the Immolation and the Desiccation thinned their numbers harshly.  The imprecise documentation on the Membrane Wars suggests that the still powerful jinni clans fought as mercenaries in the conflict, though on which side is unclear; this titanic battle seems to have claimed many jinni lives, but also marks their peak of influence, with jinni commanders passing into the ever-glorious realm of myth, attaining true immortality.  Some encounters between demons and jinni have been noted, with the jinni frequently exhibiting fervent hostility, but others have spoken of less belligerent meetings.

During the cestoid Imperium they seem to have almost vanished, retreating into far corners of the world, realizing, perhaps, that they possessed insufficient strength to face the wormfolk head-on, but simultaneously refusing to bend the knee and submit to cestoid rule.

Leechkin

Leechkin illustration by Salacious Angel
(http://www.thecbg.org/e107_files/public/1225586146_816_FT56772_leechkin_.jpg)

Often deeply disturbing to humans first encountering them, leechkin are hairless humanoids with green or black skins, bloated torsos (which shrivel if the leechkin hasn't fed), and long, spindly limbs.  Their faces are rudimentary: leechkin have almost no neck, their ears are mere holes, and they have no mouths on their faces - only three pairs of small yellow eyes and a set of nostrils.  Instead, they possess two individual mouths on their palms, each resembling a lamprey's maw with many serrated teeth.  While hermaphroditic like the hagmen, leechkin do not possess the shifting mutability of gender of that species: instead they are essentially sexless, with individuals assuming the role of male or female in a temporary fashion during procreation (the 'male' grows a sperm-sac which the "female' consumes, impregnating 'herself').

Leechkin are haematophagic, consuming a diet entirely of blood.  While many creatures on the Cadaverous Earth are cannibals of necessity, the leechkin dependency on blood, like that of the lilix, has led to their demonization in other cultures, and leechkin are often regarded as unclean or monstrous, especially by the hagmen.  This conception is exacerbated by certain bands of tribal leechkin who after months without proper feeding succumb to a bloodthirsty psychopathy, degenerating into murderous animals.  It is not uncommon to find a steamboat drifting aimlessly in the southern swamps, its crew bloodless, covered in small red circles like gruesome love-bites.

While the bulk of the leechkin population dwells in the swamps themselves, some leechkin communities can be found in the Twilight Cities, particularly in Lophius.  The leechkin mindset is inherently parasitic, and leechkin culture denigrates the very idea of 'work,' scorning the lofty accomplishments of men as mere frivolity; thus, the bulk of urban leechkin are simply beggars seeking enough coin to purchase their next fix of blood.  As leechkin tend to be regarded as untrustworthy rogues, some find employment as enforcers, torturers, and other underworld figures, which hardly helps their species' reputation.

The leechkin religion is animistic, with shamans serving as healers and sorcerers.  The leechkin have some traffic with the nameless gods of the swamp, whom they seem to regard as avatars of the natural environment.

Lilix

Rulers of the city-state of Dolmen, the lilix are spiderfolk, a race of anthropomorphized arachnids, each possessing eight limbs and eight eyes.  Other than these obvious differences the lilix are essentially humans with grayish, sometimes hairy skins.  They are further distinguished by their ruthlessly matriarchal culture, their appetite for blood, and their capacity for artistic, political, and intellectual intricacy.  Those few lilix that live in cities other than Dolmen tend to be advisors, architects, artists, and spymasters.

The lilix political structure is a kind of gynocratic fascism, a caste system placing the pallid subhumans at the bottom (humans bred for centuries for slave labor), with human freedwomen and their male concubines above (a kind of lower middle class), then lilix males, the courtier caste, and finally lilix females, the queen caste.  The males tend to be taut and strong, bred as they are for their sexual appeal, their obedience, and their fighting ability.  Lilix females are leisured and so tend towards softness and roundness, with elder females achieving a heavily fetishized obesity.  A rigidly conceived and highly ritualized state religion closer to a dogmatic bureaucracy than a living faith codifies and attempts to legitimize the stratifications of Dolmen.  The holy texts of the religion are embedded in ancient tapestries reputed to be spun by the creed's central mother deity, an elder spider-goddess called Verlum.  The tapestries are hung in the inner sanctums of official temples; any reproduction or facsimile would instantly be declared blasphemous.  As such the all-female priesthood is able to keep the religion under firm state control, reserving the right to interpret the tapestries and so maintain power.

Like the primitive leechkin of the swamps the lilix are haematophagic, subsisting on the blood and liquefied bodies of humans and other creatures.  At a lilix feast all the food is liquid: bowls and sauciers of half-coagulate blood jellies, marrow juice, and pulped, runny meat, washed down with goblets of thinned arterial blood they drink like wine or xocolatl.  A carrion perfume cloys the upper levels of Dolmen, raw and coppery, mingling with the fecund pheromones of the lilix and the sour tang of the flesh-castings carpeting the black marble floors.

Mantids

Possibly distant relatives of the lilix, the mantids are not (as some portray them) a race of ravenous insectoid monsters.  Anatomically they are more human than insect, with green flesh of varying shades and an additional pair of arms that terminate in chitinous, scissor-like claws.  After entering puberty all mantids develop large wings that extend from their backs, allowing for limited flight.  Mantid faces are the most insect, with a pair of glistening mandibles - they are a carnivorous race - and bulbous compound eyes, usually a shade of vivid crimson; an extremely flexible neck means that they can also turn their heads one hundred and eighty degrees around.  Mantid compound eyesight, for whatever reason, endows the species with a natural talent for mechanical construction, particularly clockwork; while not nearly as comprehensive as the intuitive skills of a mechanoape, mantids make excellent technicians and toymakers.  Some speculate that mantids (along with the lilix) were bred through eldritch means by the cestoid Imperium as a slave-species of warrior-mechanists.  The mantids themselves notably reject this theory as typical human-chauvinism: where humans view mantids as hybrids of human and insect, mantids view humans as hybrids of mantid and ape.

Mantids dwell now in their greatest numbers in the Firesong Marches, a region they share with the gypsy foxfolk, the zerda.  Like the zerda they are predominantly nomadic, traveling in extended family caravans.  Many caravans spend long periods outside of the Marches, traveling between the Twilight Cities and selling their services as mercenaries, tinkers, and peddlers.  The warrior culture within mantid caravans is duel-oriented, with a combat style focused around use of the blade-like mantid limbs in addition to daggers, hand-crossbows, wheellock pistols (mantid wheellocks are comparable in quality even to those of Skein's artificers), and throwing stars.  A strict, honour-based code surrounds duelling practices, and only males become duellists; females tend to occupy the position of elder and priestess.  The mantid pantheon is variegated, with some deities appearing almost entirely insect, others more 'human'; serpents, foxes, and fire-spirits also figure prominently in their mythology.

Most mantids can manage at least a few phrases in Shambles, speaking with a sibilant, hissed accent.  Their native tongue is nearly impossible for humans to speak and sounds similar to Spiderchatter; it is sometimes derisively referred to as Bug-talk.  Though much is made of the carnivorous mantid diet, most mantid families engage in only periodic hunting, subsisting mostly through scavenging; they are also notably one of the few species of the Cadaverous Earth whose culture actively rejects cannibalism (though they have been known to consume dead zerda and other humanoids if necessary).

Mindgrub

A distant cousin of the ingurgitatrix, the creatures known as mindgrubs are one of the many biological weapons devised by the cestoids. Unlike their gluttony-inducing killer-tapeworm kin, mindgrubs are subtle and subversive, entering not through the mouth but through the ear. They proceed to burrow into their host's brain and erase the memories therein, sending out a mass of tendrils which colonize the creature's synapses and assert control. This process destroys one eardrum and usually damages the optic nerve of one eye as well, meaning that mindgrub hosts are always deaf in one ear and often partially or fully blind in one eye. At first few outward signs of the mindgrub are evident; over time the cranium of the host begins to swell and expand as the mindgrub grows. This growth is lopsided, as a mindgrub takes up residence in only one lobe of the brain.

As the mindgrub matures it becomes increasingly intelligent, forming its personality from the tattered remnants of its host's mind and the world around it. Originally, cestoid psychotheurges - wielders of the mysterious mental power all but vanished after the fall of the Imperium - controlled mindgrubs using some form of telepathic link; now no such psychic network exists, and the few remaining mindgrubs who finds hosts become solitary, sinister beings, often masquerading as normal individuals. While originally intended as little more than remote receivers or psychic conduits for their cestoid controllers, present-day mindgrubs can develop their psychic abilities considerably.

Naghini

A reptilian race strange even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, the naghini are dyadic: each 'individual' naghini consists of two conjoined twins, a bifurcating and double-headed pair who must share a single body.  Like hagmen naghini are vermiform, their lower bodies resembling the tail of an oversized snake, with colouration ranging from emerald green to vivid black and red to dusty brown, depending on tribe, caste, gender, age, and moiety.  Their upper bodies are pseudo-humanoid, dividing partway up the torso - each individual varies, with some specimens having mulitple arms or even two complete torsos fused at the waist and others merely sporting a pair of heads.  Their heads combine human and reptile features, with flat, scaled faces, fangs (sometimes poisonous), and narrow, slitted eyes.  Naghini predominate in the Bluebottle Archipelago and the more tropical regions south and east of Lophius, but some have wandered as far north as Crepuscle.

The complex naghini political structure is by no means uniform, and within the confines of the Twilight Cities their myriad distinctions are often shrugged off.  Roughly speaking, naghini are divided into large, racially segregated tribes, each with their own distinctive scale-patterns, gods, territory, and idiosyncratic customs.  Within each tribe are two moieties, sister-units who take it in generational turns to share tribal duties; most settlements are divided equally between the two moieties, though specialized moiety and caste specific settlements do exist.  Tribal duties are defined by the naghini caste system, which alternates between the moieties: the priestly caste, the builder caste, the hunter caste, the warrior caste, the artist caste, and the merchant caste are but a few.

Naghini reproduce in moiety-exclusive ritualistic orgies and raise their children communally, marking individuals at birth for their caste (determined via astrological alignment).  New caste-members will be fostered in the tribe's sister moiety, allowing them to learn their duties from the previous caste-members.  This keeps the two moieties tightly knit rather than dividing them.  Essentially the naghini practice a kind of rigid, tribal communism, stressing the union of binary halves both on the level of individuals and on the level of moiety.

The naghini religious structure mirrors their political one, with symmetrical sets of dualistic gods embodying dichotomized concepts.  Rather than stressing the differences or oppositions between such deities, however, the naghini religion encourages worshippers to see their gods as two halves of a single whole, a unified totality with two different faces.  The exception can be found in those renegade tribes that dedicate themselves to gorgon worship, shunned as infidels by the mainstream naghini populace.  Those naghini that do leave their tribal settlements often abandon their old gods for foreign ones, taking perverse delight in the monism or plurality found in other faiths.

Nereid

Sometimes called sea-gorgons, nereids are a race of immortals who dwell in aquatic locales; unlike their serpentine cousins (if indeed there is any relation between nereids and gorgons, which is far from certain), nereids never live peaceably with land-dwellers, though some are said to make occasional covenants with coastal hagman tribes and sirae flocks.  Physically they resemble shapely human maidens with eyes as changeable in colour as the sea - sometimes a murky greenish, sometimes a crystalline blue, sometimes lifeless grey, sometimes pitch black.  In place of hair a mass of suckered, flexible tentacles sprouts from their scalps.  They can change their skin tone at will; when on land they tend to adopt a human skin-tone, while in the sea their flesh becomes chameleonic, blending in with the waves and seafloor.  They also produce ink, which they can regurgitate in a jet.  Many are also skilled skinchangers who can become seals, sharks, large squids, or even schools of fish; some are also weather-witches, summoning storms or even small tsunamis.  This ink is highly prized by witches for use in glyph tattoos and scrolls, as it seems to increase the efficacy of hexes scriven with it.

Nereids are imperious creatures who delight in making humanoids their thralls.  Frequently they seduce or kidnap fisherfolk or simply seize drowning sailors, blinding them with a spray of vomited ink and taking them to hidden grottoes or watertight caves beneath the waves and there bestowing upon them the dread Caress: the nereid's tentacles embrace the victim's head, neck, and chest, wrapping around them and constricting.  The tentacles then secrete a mind-controlling substance, binding the nereid to her new slave; the arrangement is sealed with an awful kiss, filling the thrall's lungs and stomach with a salty gush of the creature's ink.  The thrall comes away covered with numerous round red marks sometimes mistaken for pox-scars - the wounds left by the nereid's tentacles.  Thralls attend to a nereid's needs: hunting, luring in new amusements, or otherwise waiting on the creature.  Nereids can leave the water but sicken and die if they remain on land for too long, so thralls conduct any business that requires a land presence.  Killing a nereid frees its thralls from servitude, causing the scars on their faces and necks to fade.

Nereids can also interbreed with humans.  The resulting hybrids are called cecaelia - misshapen creatures that appear as monstrous combinations of cephalopod and human.  Some have writhing tentacles in place of legs or arms; others have mantles instead of skulls, bulbous squid eyes, or beaked mouths; all are uniquely deformed, and the bastard race is universally sterile.  Most are amphibious, though they dislike being away from the water for lengthy periods, and may take sick if they do.  Unlike thralls cecaelia are not wholly bound to their mother's will, but they do tend to be fiercely loyal.  They are also mortal creatures rather than daevas, though they can live for several hundred years.

Though social creatures, nereids rarely get along well with one another, only occasionally forming covens or clusters.  The collective community of beings in the service of a nereid is called its Shoal.

Serqet

The horrifying daevas known as serqet - more colloquially called "scorpionmen" or "scorpionwomen" - are mostly dead, slain in ages past by warriors seeking to establish a reputation for themselves.  A few, however, still linger in dark burrows far beneath the earth, emerging only at night to hunt.  Most of the remaining scorpionfolk are found in the hot, southerly regions around Marainein, Erebh, and Lophius; at least three individual specimens have been sighted in the Firesong Marches.  Fortunately, serqet encounter one another very rarely and so do not often reproduce purebred offspring (sexual cannibalism is also not unheard-of, thinning the number of males even further); unfortunately, female serqet can reproduce asexually via parthenogenesis, spawning broods of monstrous scorpions which grow to the size of large horses.  These abominable vermin are carried on the back of their mother until their first moulting and defend her if she is attacked, so scorpionwomen are considered far more dangerous than scorpionmen.

Physically, serqet are terrifyingly large, towering at least thirty feet in height.  From the waist up they are identical to humans with tar-black skin; only their eyes, globular and glossy back, are arachnid.  Below the waist, serqet resemble enormous black scorpions complete with claws and stingers, with the human waist erupting from where the arachnid head should be.  Their preternaturally potent venom is instantly fatal to most species; even grave-spawn, who are immune to the vast majority of poisons, suffer excruciating pain and debilitating spasms when struck.  In addition, serqet are surrounded by an aura of fear - possibly chemical in nature, possibly eldritch - which causes most who look upon them to flee in panic.  As daevas they cannot die of old age or disease.  Their flesh is nearly as tough as the thick chitin plating their bodies.  They hate sunlight with an intensity matched only by shades; while it does not kill them it does seem to cause them physical pain.

Scorpionmen and '“women are highly intelligent but are also exceedingly antisocial and fiercely territorial.  They speak very rarely in an ancient tongue, though their progeny seem to somehow understand spoke commands in this forgotten language; a few rare serqet have learned other tongues.  Though like many daevas their origins are shrouded in obscurity, certain scholars believe that the serqet were created to serve guardians in bygone aeons.  This hypothesis is supported by the strange attachment some serqet exhibit for particular locales, such as ruinous temples or the treasure-vaults of some Sorcerer-Lords.  This would also explain the peculiar aura of fear they exude - a mechanism to deter those who would defile whatever space they were assigned to.  While most of the remaining scorpionfolk seem to have "gone feral" (probably because the locations they were assigned to no longer exist), a few rare individuals have formed new attachments to places - possibly, such areas remind them somehow of the locations they guarded in millennia-past.

Sheevra

The dwindling descendents of the city of Ker-Iz on the fabled Isle of Dusk off the Serrated Coast in the Fevered Ocean, the race known as the Sheevra has become diluted from centuries of human-Sheevra couplings, such that there are no pure-blooded Sheevra left, and those who do claim Sheevra ancestry look almost entirely human, betrayed only by their luminous green-gold eyes and a faint golden shimmer and pale glow to their skin, an attribute that has earned them the name of 'Tawny Folk.'  In millennia long past, the citadel-metropolis of Ker-Iz was the most beautiful city in the world, though its gates were shut to all but the Sheevra.  An aloof and secretive people driven by wild desires and intensely sybaritic impulses, the hedonistic Sheevra might have conquered the known world with their natural eldritch talents; even at its height the cestoid Imperium itself never penetrated the ensorcelled walls of Ker-Iz.  Some have suggested that the Sorcerer Kings of old are the progenitors of the Sheevra, having joined their lineage with demons, oneiroi, or some other manner of spirit.

Disgusted with the notion of conquest, the Sheevra preferred the pursuit of pleasure to power, indulging in every conceivable desire, and a few inconceivable to all but the Sheevra themselves.  Labour was unnecessary for them, for the race was and is gifted with extraordinary inborn arcane talent, their blood mingled with pure numina, whose glow gives them their distinctive sheen.  While disinterested in the scholarly witchcraft of humans and other species, the Sheevra's natural abilities allowed them to conjure the servants and resources they needed to live their luxurious, decadent lives.  All of this changed, however, when Ker-Iz was suddenly swallowed by the Fevered Ocean, pulled beneath the waves in a single cataclysmic surge that tore down the crystalline walls with their battlements of ethereal glass stronger than glyph-etched steel or ur-bone, flooded the winding, half-sentient streets, and toppled the iridescent towers.  The exact reason for this disaster is still a mystery, but most believe the destruction of Ker-Iz to be the work of the vengeful beast-gods punishing the Sheevra for some broken pact or other, ancient wrongdoing.  The jatayi fablers speak of crustacean abominations stalking the mutable streets and tentacled horrors tearing down buildings, of a molluscoid warlord and his barnacle-studded retinue rampaging through the Glass Gardens and shattering the columns of the Dreaming Dome whose oneiric gems have been scattered across the Earth.  The Shreeva fought back with now-forgotten Arts, their cavalry wheeling on the backs of sphinxes, mood-lances slinging bolts of sorrow, but in the end the city fell, claimed by the cold and merciless sea.

Now, the Sheevra are an all but extinct race.  Some few of the survivors forged a fell contract with a demoniac prince and transformed themselves into the first eidolons, or so the lore-keepers whisper.  The rest chose a life of vagabondage, becoming noble exiles - mercenaries and gutter-witches, sensual flaneurs, addicts, beggars with glittering eyes.  Restless and melancholy from birth for a homeland none of their remaining ilk can still remember, the Sheevra are both drawn to and repelled by the society of other sentient beings.  Though their bloodline has been corrupted the descendents of the Sheevra still live for several centuries, and some spend decades wandering alone or else secreted in solitary hermitages.  At other times Sheevra throw themselves into fresh debaucheries to fight back against their vague sorrow.

Waxborn

A mysterious race of daevas inhabiting the mutable chaos of the Tallow Plains, the waxborn are shapeshifters trapped in a state of constant flux, unable to achieve any coherency of form.  Their bodies flow constantly into new shapes, occasionally flickering with startling rapidity: flesh sloughs off to reveal chitin or scales beneath, which in turn molts to expose feathers or bone.  Their forms are never static, even for a moment.  Organs become transient things, constantly being rearranged: an eye might drift from some face-like protrusion down to a horn-plated chest, where it blinks and reopens as a fanged mouth, while a new socket opens on a shoulder or flank and gazes out with a slitted pupil.  Such are the regenerative capacities of the waxborn that they are almost impossible to destroy or even injure: wounds are subsumed by the shifting mass of limbs, skin, and other body parts.  The waxborn do not age, but they do reproduce in a peculiarly sinister manner.

Waxborn are not in fact singular creatures: they are composites, chimerae, pastiche, the fused bodies and consciousnesses of a variety of once individual creatures.  A waxborn will often attempt to engulf living creatures that it comes across, flesh slithering like a viscous liquid or malleable solid, pulling an organic organism inwards, covering them with its flowing, changing body.  If absorbed in this manner the features and body parts of the victim will then begin to appear amidst the palimpsest of shapes of the waxborn: an isolated ear or hand or leg for example, in the case of humanoids.  As it subsumes more living matter a waxborn grows, until it reaches a critical mass, roughly double the size of a human - a towering confusion of parts.  At this point the waxborn splits through a fission process, becoming two new, individual waxborn.

The waxborn consciousness is mysterious, made up of the individual minds of its constituent parts, a maddening melting-pot of competing, contradictory impulses, culled from different species and individuals.  This consciousness, though multiple and incoherent, is not wholly fragmented: the different processes and instincts congeal into a gestalt, great than the sum of its parts, guided by an urge to consume, to add more to itself.  Waxborn rarely speak, but when they do, they utilize a garbled mishmash of languages, wholly intelligible only to comprehensive linguists.  If they possess a culture it is opaque to outsiders; most are solitary, though some drift in pairs or packs.

Writhelings

Also called blattarians (as they term themselves), metamorphs, and soul-eaters, writhelings are sometimes considered grave-spawn because of their grotesque appearance, though in fact they are hideously alive.  In their true forms they appear as seething swarms of insects very similar to cockroaches, albeit with larger mandibles.  Writhelings are accomplished shapeshifters, however, and rarely assume their natural forms, preferring to counterfeit those of other beings.  Writhelings cannot simply adopt the form of any creature they wish, however: they choose from a repertoire of forms which they amass by devouring other beings alive.  Consuming a corpse is inadequate; a writheling's victim must die while being eaten for the writheling to later assume their semblance.  Writhelings are perfect mimics, however - there are no physical 'tells' or other indications that a being is actually a writheling.  However, as writhelings are actually a mass or swarm of creatures possessing a hive-mind as opposed to an individual entity, they have a tendency to refer to themselves in the plural rather than the singular.  While most of the time they are able to maintain their façade a flustered or inattentive writheling may slip up and expose itself by referring to itself as 'we,' though only a keen listener will pick up the error.
   
Writhelings do not reproduce in their natural forms but rather breed while transformed.  Offspring of one writheling and one non-writheling parent are full writhelings: though born in the semblance of their non-writheling parent they quickly discover their shapeshifting abilities, usually adopting their swarm shape six months to a year after birth.

Conspiracy theories abound as to the secret plots of writhelings abound.  Those who endorse such rumours often claim that many of the most powerful individuals in the Twilight Cities have been replaced by writheling doppelgangers working to bring the civilized world under their clandestine control.  Whether or not there is any truth to these stories, it is true that writhelings frequently devour and replicate the forms of those in positions of authority or luxury.  Because of these rumours, writhelings are shunned and actively persecuted, much as eidolons are.  Only in the cosmopolitan chaos of Crepuscle, the catacombs of Macellaria, and some of the more libertine districts of Lophius can writhelings openly display their true natures.

Zerda
Somewhat less intelligent than humans, though far more so than beasts, the miniature foxfolk called the zerda are native to the Firesong Marches, one of the many variegated desert regions of the Cadaverous Earth - a land where the jinni and the mantids roam, where witches with skin black as ink and staves of human skulls smoke their ornate hookahs and purr their strange hexes into the reddish dusk, to summon scarab-golems and bejeweled incubi and older entities that still linger in that barren, inhospitable place.  Physically the zerda resemble small, anthropomorphic foxes with oversized ears (to help cool themselves) and orange-brown fur.  They wear little clothing, though females occasionally garb themselves in colourful scarves, and both genders wear jewelry, particularly earrings, gleaned more often than not through commerce with the jinni.  Males usually carry at least one weapon, usually a long bone knife equivalent to a longsword to the small-statured creatures.

A nocturnal species, the zerda travel at night in gaudy, ramshackle caravans considerably larger than those of the mantids.  Though they use some wagons most of their homes are built atop the shells of huge desert tortoises, with which the zerda have a symbiotic relationship, being experts in their breeding and care.  The tortoises - a typical adult is several times larger than a large cow - are lumbering, docile creatures who trudge uncomplainingly through the Marches by night, while the zerda swarm atop and around them, employing rope ladders and carven handholds (etched into the very shells of the tortoises) to reach their mishmash, hastily assembled palanquins.

Zerda have a taste for trade, and some venture west into the Occident into the shanty-towns and markets of the Twilight Cities, selling everything from mantid firearms to bound fire-elementals trapped in gemstones by cunning foxfolk magi.  Though quick to flee if threatened they are vicious combatants, employing teeth and claws as well as their bone blades, with which some are exceptionally skilled.  They are ominvorous and are certainly not above the consumption of human flesh, though they are not generally speaking cannibals, leaving their dead as offerings to the gods of flame, sun, and sand that they revere, an elemental and ill-defined pantheon without formal priests or temples.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:08:26 PM
Bestiary


Banehulk

Also known as Plague Golems, the behemothic abominations known as Banehulks are fortunately extremely rare. Believed to be the perverse creations of the Poxbringers - rulers of the City of Creeping Flesh, a fell metropolis consumed by the shifting sands of the Firesong Marches many centuries ago - Banehulks are living laboratories, hosts for multifarious diseases. While many of the pestilences devised by the Poxbringers could be cultured in their vile cauldrons, others had to be inculcated in living flesh. Banehulks are thus infected with hundreds if not thousands of diseases: they are the walking embodiments of sickness. Though large in size by design the bodies of Banehulks grow rampantly and chaotically: while originally resembling tall, heavy-set humanoids, present-day Banehulks are now hideous, shambolic titans of immense size, distorted with tumorous aggregations and unlikely appendages, the appalling results of centuries of disease-inflicted mutancy. Their recuperative powers mean that their bulk ripples with constant degeneration and regeneration, presenting a horrific, shifting mass of diseased tissues.

Rumour has that in later days the Poxbringers unleashed Banehulks in battle against their foes, using them as war-machines, shock troops, and siege-breakers. Rage-inducing phages were introduced into the brains of the normally docile titans, transforming them from gentle giants into slavering monstrosities bent only on destruction. Fortunately the resulting conflicts greatly decreased the Banehulks' numbers. Those few that linger on are solitary creatures, shunned by all living beings. Bred to be ageless, Banehulks cannot be killed by the diseases that riddle their enormous, foetid bodies; the miasmic clouds of disease that swirl about them cause those beasts that venture too close to sicken and die, providing them with ample food-sources. Some remain locked in combat-mode, still feverish with the implanted desire to desolate their surroundings: these frenzied horrors can lay waste to whole settlements before being destroyed. Others seem to have overcome their battle-lust and become solitary hermits, or else seek to somehow end their perpetual suffering. The Poxbringers endowed Banehulks with supreme regenerative capabilities so that even the worst wounds heal very swiftly: while insufficient to fight off the tumult of infections that afflict them, this ability makes it very difficult for Banehulks to die. Fire is notably effective against them, and some Banehulks have journeyed to the volcanic magma-pools of the Shadowglass Steppes and thrown themselves in to end their agony; others have sought the briny embrace of the sea, drowning themselves in the Fevered Ocean. Most, however, live reclusive and lonely lives, when they aren't rampaging across the countryside laying waste to all they find.

Bloodwood Tree

Native to the fetid swamplands around Lophius, Bloodwood Trees, also called Cannibal Trees or Molekh-Trees, are a much-dreaded species of carnivorous plant distinguished by their pulsing crimson leaves and lashing tendrils, vines that they use to manoeuvre food - living or dead - into their slit-like maws, lined with barbs that act like teeth, tearing the tree's meat to shreds so that it can be more easily digested.  Bloodwood Trees do not, however, use their vines as their principle mode of predation, favouring a radically more disturbing method of securing prey which relies on their unique capability of absorbing a creature's genetic makeup.

Upon devouring a creature - preferably effective predators, such as humanoids - the Bloodwood Tree somehow 'reads' its body through the process of digestion.  It then uses gleaned information to produce a copy of its meal, a hybrid of plant and animal that begins as an embryonic bud on one of the tree's many limbs and gradually matures.  The Bloodwood Tree bears a kind of foetal fruit, its young developing inside hard, translucent cocoons until they grow too heavy and drop off.  The tree's children - perverse reincarnations of their 'parents,' but with reddish skins, bloodshot eyes, and feral dispositions - hatch from their chrysalises and immediately recognize the Bloodwood Tree that spawned them as their mother and mistress.  

Displaying remarkable intuitive abilities for such young creatures the tree's children immediately begin the hunt, tackling larger and larger prey as they grow in size, beginning with birds and rodents (which Bloodwood Trees only consume, scorning replication) and working their way up to larger prey, particularly members of their parent race.  After killing or subduing their victims the tree-children bring back their prizes to the Bloodwood Tree and present them for consumption.  In exchange, the Bloodwood Tree offers up a tendril which secretes a nutrient-rich, sap-like ichor consumed by the hungry offspring.  The bond between a Bloodwood Tree and its progeny is intimate, quite possibly even psychic; if a Bloodwood Tree is killed its offspring return to its remains, sing a brief and bestial song of lament, and then stand inert until they succumb to starvation.

Bloodwood Trees are highly prized by the leechkin, who have been known to swarm them, penetrate their bark, and suck up their bloody sap with relish.  Leechkin can smell Bloodwood Trees from a great distance and unless recently sated will enter a state of near-mindless hunger, drawn inexorably towards the delicious scent that the trees exude.

Changeling

Skilled mimics and pack-hunters, the horrific beings known as Changelings possess the ability to generate a unique glamer counterfeiting the form of an ordinary child.  The glamer includes aural elements; typically Changelings will call for help, counterfeiting the cries of lost, frightened children.  Usually a single Changeling will lure prey into dead ends or other tactically advantageous places while their brethren close in stealthily, cutting off paths of escape.

Having lured their would-be sustenance in, the Changeling functioning as bait casts off its glamer and reveals its true form.  The particulars of this form are dependent on the original being the Changeling metamorphosed from (see below).  When human young were the source species, Changelings  appear as a grotesque neonatal caricatures with a swollen, oversized heads, tiny black eyes, gaping mouths lined with dozens of teeth, a long, bony tail, and a gaunt, spindly-limbed body with clawed digits.  Other species are similarly distorted with exaggerated features and an array of natural weapons.  At the moment of horrific exposure the rest of the Changeling's pack descend upon those drawn into the trap.  The creatures usually sprint on all fours in an awful parody of an infant's crawl.  Changelings swarm over their victims en masse, tearing them apart with their vicious fangs and devouring even the bones.

Even more appalling than their predatory deceit is the Changeling reproductive method.  When Changelings encounter prepubescent individuals, they do not consume them on the spot.  Instead they take children back to their lairs where certain spawning pits are located: pools of black slime constituted out of certain secretions the Changelings generate.  The luckless children are thrown unceremoniously into these disgusting 'Wombs.'  Trapped in the gelatinous liquid, the children begin to metamorphose into new Changelings.  During the transformation the Changeling hive mind, a psychic link all members of a given brood share, is established: the child loses its free will and becomes psychically indistinguishable from its broodmates.  The only remnant of its original form is its glamer, which is derived directly from its previous appearance.

A common tactic for Changeling broods is to kidnap a number of children from a neighborhood and settlement without alerting the adults to their presence.  Having turned the children into new Changelings, the brood proceeds to use them as bait for the inevitable search parties organized to locate the missing children: the rest of the Changelings then descend on the searchers.

Fleshtree

Thought by some arcanobiologists to be related to the morbid Bloodwoods of the southern swamps and linked by others to the warped experiments of the Cultivar Technocracy or the fiendish Meatgardens of the Lords Revenant, the bizarre, unsettling beings known as fleshtrees are not plants at all but grotesque creatures of dubious intelligence usually encountered singly or in small 'copses,' or, more dangerously, in 'groves.' In place of bark, fleshtrees have sickeningly human-like skin; in place of branches, they have a series of fully mobile, brachiating humanoid arms, each with long, claw-like nails; in place of roots, a great mass of writhing, pallid tentacles. Covering the central trunk of the fleshtree are a number of 'knotholes': tiny, jawless mouths, round, like a lamprey's, that greedily consume almost anything thrust into them. Though omnivorous, flesthtrees exhibit a clear preference for protein, and go out of their way to devour meat rather than vegetable matter.

Lacking eyes, noses, or ears, fleshtrees seem to hunt primarily by sensing tremors along the ground, seeking out vibrations. They are also quite sensitive to changes in air currents: many an unwary bird or bat has been snared by the groping limbs of a fleshtree. Rib-like bones form the central trunk (which houses a variety of organs, including multiple hearts), while the creature's limbs possess extremely flexible, many-socketed joints. As a fleshtree grows it develops new 'branches' much as a normal tree might. Though fleshtrees sweat they produce no other waste-matter, using all of their energy to grow new limbs. They reproduce asexually: when a large enough branch of a fleshtree is removed it will eventually grow roots and become a new fleshtree. Periodically fleshetrees will pull off their own limbs to produce such saplings, even bringing their 'young' food in the early stages of growth. This disturbing practice has led many to speculate that fleshtrees are intelligent in some way, though they have no discernable brains, only crude nerve-bundles.

Though dangerous, fleshtrees are also highly useful. In some areas - particularly the hinterlands of Macellaria - small copses of fleshtrees are tended by enterprising individuals known as treeherds. Using percussive instruments they drive their copse from one location to another, always maintaining a safe distance, until ready to prune their gruesome livestock. At this point paralyzing drugs or hexes are used to temporarily subdue the fleshtrees, at which point limbs or other meat will be shorn off. This does little permanent damage to the fleshtree, which will eventually regenerate lost branches or roots with minimal scarring, though the creatures do seem to experience pain - their many mouths moan dully and whimper when limbs are being pruned. Treeherds will also typically collect blood during pruning. The resulting harvest is usually sold to the Skin Markets, to either be eaten by the city's grave-spawn or else utilized by its fleshcrafters in the tissue-shops.

Gorgefly

One of the most feared creatures of the Cadaverous Earth, the gorgefly is an enormous, bestial fiend resembling a horrific hybrid of obese giant and flesh-fly.  Similar to normal flies the gorgefly undergoes an extensive larval stage.  After hatching from an egg laid by an adult gorgefly in a suitably large carcass, the larva - a horse-size thing sometimes called a dire maggot - slowly develops, feeding off carrion and enlarging itself many times over: some gorgefly larva reach titanic sizes, often well over a hundred feet in length.  They are detritovores, feeding exclusively on carrion, including grave-spawn, who they differentiate easily from the quick; despite their taste for decomposing matter, however, dire maggots are not scrupulous in their diets and have been known to attack smaller living prey.  They are also powerful burrowers, tunnelling through soft earth as if through necrotic flesh.  Most live in the Slaughter-lands, feeding off old battlefields; a few have even been sighted in Etiolation, where they feast gorily until blanchphage cripples them with apathy.  A few have also found their way to Macellaria, where they must be dispatched by the Watchdogs.  Those that survive and grow to a critical size eventually moult and pupate into the adult gorgefly, sloughing off the husk of their maggot-stage and emerging, tenebrous and triumphant, from their larval husk.

Gorgefly imagos are considerably smaller than the largest dire-maggots, though still impressive in size.  Towering well over forty feet in height, gorgeflies appear as humanoid figures with oily, putrescent flesh, seemingly composed out of congealed carrion - a mass of greasy, reeking skin and muscle, mottled black and green, slick with malodorous slime; coarse hair juts from the creature's body, a corpulent, bloated form equipped with an extra pair of arms.  The gorgefly's head is a disturbing mixture of insect and human - bulbous compound eyes and a toothy human mouth, with two small, hairy limbs bristling from the jaw to help shovel food into the gorgefly's maw.  Emerging from the horror's back are a pair of massive, veined wings, much like a fly's, with a wingspan of nearly a hundred feet - usually these wings are kept partially folded, spread to their full span only when the gorgefly takes off.  With their wings fully spread gorgeflies are truly magnificent to behold, like titanic, gruesome seraphs surrounded by a filthy aura of smaller flies like vile cherubim and a writhing profusion of maggots squirming and rustling beneath its lesion-covered flesh.

Like the dire maggot imago gorgeflies feed on carrion of all sorts.  They also possess the ability to vomit forth a stream of eldritch fluid that rapidly decomposes anything it touches, greatly accelerating bacterial growth, decaying any organic matter that it contacts - the so-called "mortifying breath."  Those that escape the gorgefly's jaws but not its pestilential vomit are left gangrenous and mutilated.  Because of their ability to rapidly decay any living substance, gorgefly imagos do not hesitate to attack the quick - they simply putrefy them first.  Female gorgelfies, after glutting themselves on a particularly substantial feast, will lay fertilized eggs amongst the remains of their meal, ensuring a food source for the maggots that will hatch weeks later.

Gorgefly intelligence, lifespan, and population sizes are unknown.  They do seem to live comparatively much longer than regular flies, but seem to mate less frequently, keeping their numbers low (fortunately) - additionally, most dire maggots die before they can moult.  The presence of an adult gorgelfy is inevitably announced by the immense droning of their wings, a sound that strikes terror into the hearts of any that hear it.

Hellmould

A demoniac fungus, the organism known as Hellmould, or "Devil's Itch" was brought into the Cadaverous Earth by invaders during the Membrane Wars. For most demons it was a minor nuisance: Hellkind had long ago developed resistances to its more advanced stages. The fungus is highly communicable, however, so while its later forms no longer appeared in the Hells, the fungus itself was not eradicated completely. The creatures of this plane, of course, lack the resistances of the demons.

Hellmould infection occurs when spores penetrate the skin and begin flourishing beneath (like most fungi, it thrives in warm and humid conditions). Outwardly, this manifests as a slight crimson tinge to the skin, at first blotchy and light, later uniform and dark; it also itches intensely. As the fungus spreads to its victim's brain it generates powerful aphrodisiac chemicals keyed to its host's metabolism. Resultant amorous behaviour helps to spread Hellmould to other organisms. During the "libidinous phase" the host's skin will appear only slightly flushed and mottled.

The fungus continues to spread, colonizing and slowly consuming all of the internal organs, though without killing the host. Paranoid delusions, mood swings, irritability, and frenzied, violent outbursts at potential threats all accompany the later stage of infection. The Hellmould continues to slowly feed off the body of its host, and eventually a foetal organism, called a Mouldspawn or Mouldling, begins to develop within them.

In the final stages of infection a Hellmould host will be near-psychotic and a livid shade of deep red. At this point most of the host's internal organs will have been consumed and the being will be little more than a husk, though most individuals remain conscious, their brains still relatively intact. The Mouldspawn will proceed to erupt through its victim's skin, the flesh sloughing away to reveal a hideous profusion of fruiting bodies arranged in a form roughly shaped like that of the host. The Mouldspawn is a detritovore, devouring everything from rotting wood to carrion (including grave-spawn, who can also serve as hosts). It produces large numbers of spores which drift away on the wind to infect other organisms. Mouldspawn usually only live for a single week - two in the case of a larger creature - before collapsing into a decaying mass of spores.

Strangely enough, the caps of Hellmould toadstools, when detoxified by parboiling, can be used to make a drug known variously as Smoulder, Scarlet Bliss, or (in mystic circles) "Quarinah." Small amounts of the drug act as a powerful aphrodisiac and produce startling sexual and extremely vivid dreams. Overdoses cause exceedingly disturbing sexual and violent impulses.

Hellmould toadstools and Ghostgrass extract can be synthesized to form a powerful combat drug called Lyssa which induces frenzy while greatly increasing physical strength and tenacity. Habitual use leads to chronic night terrors (usually of sexual violation), permanent anger-control issues, and permanently crimson eyes, as the iris of a user turns red while Lyssa is in their system.

Ingurgitatrix

The ingurgitatrix is a vile species of parasitoid that makes its nest in the entrails of humanoid creatures.  Possibly some malign cousin of the tapeworm, the ingurgitatrix resembles a vaguely serpentine, cartilaginous worm with a small fanged maw at one end and rudimentary eyes on the other.  It possesses animal cunning and a level of predatory intelligence; rather than hatching inside the bowels of its victims (as the tapeworm does, or the ghul-worm) an ingurgitatrix must force its way down its host's throat, usually slithering through the mouths of sleeping victims.  It quickly makes its way tail first through the digestive tract where it installs itself comfortably, nestling in amongst the intestines; its thick, membranous hide protects it against stomach acids en route.

Once comfortable the ingurgitatrix begins secreting arcano-chemical substances into its host to induce appetite.  The host will be greatly invigorated and insatiably hungry, immediately seeking out as much food as they can and glutting themselves upon it.  If no food is available the victim will become greatly agitated and will attack other living creatures; unable to resist the fiend within the host will slough off social taboos and feast on former friends or family, as well as corpses and other typically detestable or repulsive substances.  As a last resort the host will resort to auto-cannibalism.

Whatever the case, the ingurgitatrix consumes all of the food its host ingests, quickly growing to prodigious size such that its victim's belly becomes distended as if pregnant.  Once it reaches its maximum size it bursts free, killing its host.  It then lays its eggs in the corpse of its former host, persisting long enough to watch them hatch before abruptly dying.  The newly hatched ingurgitatrixes consume the corpse and their parent before moving on to find hosts of their own.

Inguritatrixes were created by the cestoid Imperium as biological weapons, designed to decimate food supplies as well as military or civilian populations.  Now the hideous parasitoids roam free, though some are trapped and used for assassinations - slipped into a bedchamber through a window or under a door.

Marrowmoth

These large, bulbous insects look eerily beautiful from a distance with their expansive, sallow wings (veined with crimson) glowing in the moonlight, but their enthralling appearance belies their macabre natures.  Uninterested in flesh or vital organs, the carnivorous marrowmoth greatly prizes bone marrow, particularly red marrow.  Like the vampire bat marrowmoths seek out large creatures to prey on, especially when sleeping.  To extract sustenance they unfurl a powerful proboscis which they thrust deep into their prey's tissue, penetrating layers of skin and muscle to burrow directly into bone.  They then suck up the victim's marrow at a tremendous rate, detaching swiftly if their prey attempts to physically harm them.

Dangerous enough individually, marrowmoths often dwell in colonies, usually in hollow trees or in old tombs whose occupants they have despoiled.  Though usually these colonies are quite small, marrowmoths can swarm prey, quickly reducing them to hollowed-out, fleshy husks scored with puncture-wounds, their bone marrow sucked out like nectar.  When they can't find live prey marrowmoths subsist on carrion.  Marrowmoths can be deterred with certain pungent oils, but the best defense against them is a large, bright fire or strong eldritch light.  Like other moths marrowmoths have evolved to use the moon - an object which for all intents and purposes is optically infinite - to navigate and fly in a straight line.  A similarly luminous light source will attract marrowmoths, who mistake it for the moon; since the light source is not at ocular infinity, of course, they will fly directly towards it until they reach it, immolating them if the light is a fire.

Marrowmoth caterpillars are fat, glistening things that feed on rotting flesh.  Marrowmoths do not nurse their young but often lay their eggs in or near dead prey.  The cocoons of marrowmoths are hardy and durable.  Their silk, though not as smooth or shimmeringly beautiful as that of Skein, is highly prized for use as bow strings.

Piranha Rat

A malignant and ubiquitous species of rodent encountered across the Cadaverous Earth - most commonly in ancient sewer-systems and other urban environments - the piranha rat is a pest that becomes dangerous in large numbers.  Physically, piranha rats look like large, hairless rats with oversized heads and nimble, elongated limbs.  They are distinguished from other rats by their jaws and teeth: the piranha rat jaw is larger and more jutting than a normal rat's, and is filled with a row of interlocking, blade-like teeth.  Unlike their aquatic namesakes, whose legendary reputation for savagery is often exaggerated, piranha rats are efficient and bloodthirsty killers so gluttonous that they will literally eat themselves to death if given the chance.  They tend to travel in swarms, attacking any and all prey that they happen across: unlike piranhas or rats they are strictly carnivorous, and prefer living prey.  Packs unable to find enough food to sustain themselves will degenerate into cannibalism, devouring one another until most or all of the swarm is dead.

Shaik-toruch (Sand-rays)

Thought to be distant relatives of the xsur, the shaik-toruch - also called sand-rays - are a species of huge, cartilaginous creatures who roam the southern and eastern regions of the Cadaverous Earth such as the Firesong Marches, Dour Erg, and Flense Veldt, though rogue specimens have been spotted as far west as the Tallow Plains, drifting unperturbed over that eructating entropy with their characteristic placidity.  Like many beasts of Earth's gloaming aeons they are the warped result of unguided evolution, bioengineering, and eldritch experimentation.

Vaguely resembling a gigantic scaly ray swimming through air or loose earth instead of water, the batoid shaik-toruch can reach enormous sizes: some have wingspans well over fifty feet.  How exactly they achieve their remarkable buoyancy is not known; they appear to glide through the air, but also possess inflatable sacs on their underbellies, underneath their saw-shaped mouths, and may possess eldritch levitation abilities as well.  Perhaps the most distinctive features of the shaik-toruch, however, are the small, round orifices that line their backs alongside their spined vertebrae.  These sphincter-like openings (which can be clenched shut) lead to a series of organic chambers inside their bodies that form the dwellings and incubators for goreflies, a symbiotic species that breed and live inside shaik-toruch.

Goreflies - not to be confused with the considerably more terrible creatures known as gorgeflies - are a vicious, nocturnal species of blood-drinking insect somewhat similar to prodigiously oversized assassin bugs or kissing bugs.  During daylight hours they roost inside their shaik-toruch hosts, during which time the sand-ray contracts its orifices shut, sealing them inside.  As the sun sets these orifices dilate and the goreflies awaken and swarm out in search of prey.  Haematophagic, goreflies feed on land-animals (including humans), sometimes draining smaller prey dry; swarms of goreflies have been known to decimate human and zerda communities or herds of grazing animals, leaving a trail of desiccated husks in their wake.  On returning to their hosts at dawn the bloated goreflies regurgitate a portion of their meal into a central trough inside their shaik-toruch, supplementing the sand-ray's usual diet of carrion and smaller insects.  In return for this sustenance - and the protection goreflies provide shaik-toruch - sandrays offer goreflies shelter and a place to lay their eggs.  A unique chemical in shaik-toruch blood deters goreflies from feeding on their own host; as a result, sand-ray blood, when slathered on skin, can protect against gorefly attacks.

Like their gorefly symbionts shaik-toruch are predominantly nocturnal.  During the day they spend most of their time buried under the sand, emerging at night to search for food and release their goreflies.  Shaik-toruch are oviparous, laying their eggs in membranous sacs they bury in the waste, sometimes called 'jinni's purses.'

Themselves tranquil, dull-minded creatures, shaik-toruch have on occasion been domesticated by humans and other sapient beings (especially jinni and mantids) and used as mounts; mantids have been known to assemble elaborate palanquins atop their backs.  Typically the goreflies inside them have to be killed first - typically by sealing shut the sand-ray's orifices until the insects within starve to death.  Domesticated shaik-toruch have to have blood poured into their gorefly orifices to keep them properly hydrated and nourished.  The zerda both respect and fear the shaik-toruch with a near religious awe.  When a sandray is sighted approaching a zerda caravan freshly killed game and a cauldron of blood are left on a divergent path from the caravan's intended route so as to avoid confrontation.  Shaik-toruch teeth are used as ceremonial daggers by the foxfolk, preserved with oils and then carved with glyphs.

Because of their size and symbiotic protectors sand-rays are rarely bothered by predators, but humanoids have been known to hunt them, slathering themselves with shaik-toruch blood to ward off the goreflies; a single shaik-toruch can feed a settlement for weeks.  Like dire maggots shaik-toruch sometimes wander into Etiolation, glutting themselves on the bodies they find there until claimed by blanchphage.

Thanatosphinx

This breed of unusual beast dwells in the southern Slaughter-lands in regions such as the Mewling Moors, the Wraithwastes, and the Rancid Barrens, though some have been glimpsed as far west as the Firesong Marches and as far north as the southernmost regions of Dour Erg.  Unlike the sphinxes of myth, thanatosphinxes have the bodies of overlarge hyenas, the wings of enormous carrion crows, the tails of gigantic rats, and skull-like, disturbingly human heads with flesh stretched thinly over a gaunt, bony face.  These near-skeletal visages often lead those who encounter thanatosphinxes to mistakenly believe them grave-spawn (hence the prefix).  They do feast on necrotic flesh and, like putrevores, dire maggots, and other carrion-feeders, are drawn to grave-spawn by scent.  However, thanatosphinxes will not hesitate to kill living prey - they simply wait a few days for their victims to putrefy.

Thanatosphinxes are not simply ravenous beasts, however - they are reasonably intelligent, a fact which makes them all the more dangerous.  Though many incorrectly believe that thanatosphinxes collect riddles and will spare the lives of potential prey if they beat them at a riddle-game, the creatures do have an eccentric fondness for grotesque jokes and black humour and will spare prey who make them laugh.  Mere frivolity will not do: thanatosphinxes have an extremely gruesome sense of humour, and the jokes they find amusing must be of the most disgusting or macabre variety.  Because of this fondness for the obscene some claim that thanatosphinxes were created by Baubo, goddess of profanity, and indeed the thanatosphinx is sometimes adopted as an icon by Baubo-worshippers.

Warworm

Warworms are ancient constructs created in ages past by the cestoids for use in their extensive Imperial wars with other powers.  Most have been destroyed but a few of these armored hulks have been found nearly intact in the Shatters and in Etiolation, and others are scattered about the Cadaverous Earth, particularly in and around ruinous wormfolk cities.

Warworms vaguely resemble cestoids, with long, metameric bodies and hundreds of tiny legs.  Powered by eldritch batteries and puissant clockwork, these enormous machines were built to various specifications, some several hundred feet in length.  They were designed principally to carry troops, slaves, and military hardware, but also supplies; as such all have very thick armor plates like chitin, often etched with the alien glyphs of the cestoids, for whom symbol-magic was the dominant form of witchcraft.

Bristling from the front or 'face' of some warworms is a selection of weaponry, typically acid-spurting or incendiary cannons.  Others seem to be fitted with burrowing equipment likewise relying on powerful acids (stored in huge tanks within the warworm), or on front-mounted drills.  Behind this deadly façade is the cockpit, where either cestoids or as some speculate a race of specially bred pilot-slaves (possibly mantids) would be seated.  Then come the various segments of the warworm, some equipped with weapons themselves.  These segments are jointed and flexible, allowing a warworm some degree of maneuverability on a battlefield.

Today, warworms are rarely seen in operational condition, but occasionally gangs of scavenger-bandits restore them to roughly working order (often holding them together with spit and string) and harass small settlements with them.  At least one warworm was destroyed by a Watchdog at Macellaria, reputedly piloted by deranged wormfolk fanatics.  One warworm, Scuttling Eternity, has been rehabilitated by mantids and now roams the world, crewed by a mongrel band of nomads: mantids, zerda, humans, and renegades of various stripes, working principally as scrap-dealers.  Another inactive warworm forms the home of the hermit and mechanical savant Leopold Maximilian and his swarm of mechanoape companions and auatomaton pets.

Xsur

A thing all barbs, serrated fangs, and membranous wings, the xsur is a strange combination of bat, lizard, and manta ray.  A solitary beast by nature (occasionally forming mated pairs), xsur tend to haunt the western coasts, subsisting on seabirds, dolphins, and gullfolk; they tend to nest atop the tall pinnacles of rock found in the island chains of the Fevered Ocean, or in the upper levels of the rotting, organic palaces of the Cultivar Technocracy.  A few have been sighted further east, ranging as far as the frontier of the Slaughter-lands, though rarely into the waste itself.

Xsur anatomy is disturbing and complex.  Its bat-like, leathery wings are equipped with barbed talons, and a sinuous tail terminates in a sucker-like orifice with a radula within, lined with tiny, saw-like teeth.  A second organ sometimes mistaken for the xsur's mouth is positioned closer to its 'head,' near its beady, vestigial eyes: this toothless, puckering sphincter allows the xsur to echolocate and to emit a sound-wave inducing physical pain on all who hear it - a mewling, alien wail - while also attacking with its mouth-tipped tail, allowing it to feed without sacrificing its sonic weapon.  Occasionally sirae and xsur have been known to enter into bizarre acoustic duels, the xsur's screech pitted against the sirae's hypnotic hex, each trying to paralyse or lull the other.  A xsur's wings radiate out from a central torso, scaled and vaguely serpentine; two clumsy appendages allow it to manoeuvre on the ground, using its pinions as forelimbs.  These limbs also allow xsur to snatch up their prey and carry them beck to their nests to be properly devoured.  In practice most who encounter a xsur recall only a blur of wings, claws, and teeth.

Xsur lay eggs which they keep in nests fashioned principally from the bones of their prey, used like macabre twigs.  They feed their young the protein-rich marrow of these bones after they hatch, usually in broods of six or more (though only one or two xsur in a brood will likely survive to adulthood, succumbing to boilwinds, predators, or starvation first).

Oneiroi
Dreamspawn, Nightmare Seed, Aether-Progeny, The Suppuration's Children

Gobble and Slake

Gobble and Slake are a pair of incestuous twin lovers and wandering horrors who plague the Twilight Cities, having strayed across the Slaughter-lands to better satiate their voracious appetites.  Gobble is female, Slake male; both are humanoid creatures and in fact resemble normal humans very closely, save when about to feed.

Gobble appears as a tall, vivacious woman with violet, doe-like eyes, flushed creamy skin, buxom charms, and curly auburn hair.  She habitually wears a choker of some sort, usually a silk scarf bound round her neck: this disguises huge stretch marks on her throat.  Gobble can dislocate her jaw like a serpent, revealing a wolfish maw complete with huge fangs, a lolling purple tongue, and breath that reeks of dead flesh.  She possesses long, envenomed talons which paralyze her victims.

Slake is very similar to his sister, though gaunter and less ruddy, with a handsome porcelain complexion and dark red hair and eyes.  His lips are stained dark crimson, standing out against his sharp white face, and he moves his thin limbs like those of a preying mantis or hunting spider.  When the feed is upon him he opens his mouth to reveal a cartilaginous proboscis juddering like an obscene tongue from his head, which he uses to penetrate his prey and drain their blood.

Gobble and Slake are highly sophisticated entities and often pose as courtesans or society folk.  They delight in mesmerizing their prey with their beauty, independent of one another, then bringing their victims back to an agreed-on meeting place, at which time they exchange their conquests as morbid gifts.  Other times they share their food: Slake only sucks blood, while Gobble prizes raw meat, devouring those first drained by Slake.

The Goremother

The oneiroi called the Goremother - sometimes called Mother Carrion - is a grotesque amalgamation of woman and oversized crow. Tall and statuesque with a taut, scarred body (invariably unclothed) the Goremother is usually hunched over when on the ground, a tangled mane of long, black, knotted hair hanging round her face in ragged clumps. Her face has a savage beauty to it; her eyes are huge, black, and idiotic, and her full lips are usually smeared with blood, dribbling down over her neck and breasts. In place of arms the Goremother has enormous wings as of a crow or raven with filthy, matted feathers. She often uses these wings as a kind of cloak when she isn't flying.

Born of the Suppuration, the Goremother now hunts in the Slouching-devil Mountains and the badlands to the south. She constantly maintains a brood of monstrous progeny, a race of huge crows with human faces, much despised by the people of Skein; these she spawns by first coupling with mortal men, captive prey she mates with before devouring. Her squawking offspring clamour incessantly for food, and so the Goremother spends most of her time hunting. Usually she selects mountainous goats or other animals, but she particularly prizes human meat. Whatever her prey, the Goremother will usually fly high above the ground in search of victims before swooping down with a hideous wail and consuming them on the spot. Her belly glutted with a gross surfeit of food, the Goremother then returns to her eyrie in the mountains. To appease her whining, cacophonous children she retches up her half-digested last meal into their open mouths.

Unlike some oneiroi the Goremother is not a highly intelligent creature, though she compensates with a great deal of predatory cunning and intuition. She cannot speak more than a few words, and these she utters rarely - usually they are instructions and threats to her mates or cooing endearments she whispers to her brood, though she can also sing mellifluously, an ability she uses to lure some victims close to her. Once grown to maturity her harpy-crow children abandon their progenitor, haunting the hills and passes of the Slouching-devil Mountains and surrounds, subsisting principally on carrion but occasionally harassing travelers and prospectors.

Though some foolish hunters and adventurers have attempted to slay the Goremother, all have fallen before her considerable power. It is said that she can be mesmerized by mirrors or brightly shining objects and slain by penetrating her heart with a silver arrow fletched with one of the feathers of her own children.

Icelus

A sly, sinewy creature who has crept from the Suppuration across the jagged plains and deserts of the Slaughter-lands to prowl the murky wastes north of the swamplands, Icelus resembles a kind of satyr.  With blue-black flesh and long, coarse hair the colour of a new bruise Icelus blends into shadows easily, creeping about on two cloven feet, his barbed, vaguely leonine tail twitching, snapping scorpion-claws glimmering in the moonlight, under which he prefers to stalk the lonely landscapes of the frontier.  His most distinctive feature is his head, long and gaunt and menacing - a horse's head with black, abysmal eyes and an obscene pink tongue, lolling from a saw-toothed and slavering maw more like a shark's than an equine's, probing the air, tasting it, dribbling viscous black spittle, a corrosive poison that also drips from the oneiroi's tail-sting.

Like most oneiroi Icelus' intelligence is debatable.  It is a humourless and cunning creature known for its depraved lust and brutality.  It seems to kill for pleasure as well as for food, savouring the hunt, tormenting its victims before striking, slithering out of the shadows with those snickering, scissoring claws and that whip-like tail flickering as frenetic and eager as a cruel, excited cat's, twitching with unwholesome arousal.

Characters

Lucius and Tormbolge

Mercenary partners, adventurers, and occasional brigands, Lucius and Tormbolge can most often be found doing contract work in the ganglands of Lophius, scrapping in the Pulsetown pits of the Maggot City, or freebooting along the southern fringe.  Atypical amongst their rough kindred, the veritable armies of sellswords, hired guns and hexers, and other scum that roam from city to city in search of coin and blood, the pair are unforgettable: Lucius at first glance resembles a sickly nine year old boy, while Tormbolge towers seven feet tall with a prodigious girth to match his height.  Lucius is a ghul, having transformed when he was but a child; now slightly over two hundred, he has acquired a surfeit of combat experience to compensate for his size and slight frame.  He purchased Tormbolge from slavers and granted him his freedom after witnessing the huge man fight in a small-town circus, killing a cestoid with his bare hands.  A eunuch and a mute, Tormbolge grew up touring arenas and gladiatorial pits, becoming a peerless fighter, his body augmented by his masters with drug-secreting implants and ugly metal plates, fused to his flesh like chitin.  While Lucius favors knives Tormbolge wields a huge halberd in combat, though he is also an accomplished pugilist.

Though immune to the temptations of the flesh so many mercenaries expend their earnings on, the two are not without their vices.  Tormbolge has an insatiable appetite, particularly for seafood, savoring pickled lampreys and eels, caviar, and fried fish; he is also addicted to several drugs, including the intense stimulant thrum, although his body synthesizes most of the chemicals he craves.  Lucius has a fondness for fine cigars and is a compulsive gambler, regularly losing whole bagfuls of coin in card games and other contests.  A dreadful cheat with a talent for prestidigitation and a whole collection of loaded bone dice, Lucius has been banned from innumerable chance-houses and has a small bounty on his head in certain regions.  Priding himself on his wry wit and his quick fingers he is an infamous braggart and frequent pickpocket, often requiring Tormbolge to wrest him out of trouble he either talked or stole his way into.

Felix Rhadcuth

A hexer with tattooed arms who looks older than his thirty-seven years with his shock of prematurely whitened hair, Felix Rhadcuth hails from Moroi originally, but fled the city in years past when his name came up in the conscription lottery and the Chirurgeons came looking for him.  Since then he has traveled widely as an adventurer and mercenary witch and now lives in semi-retirement as a professor in Skein at the Collegia Tho-Lladrim, one of the five universities in that city's Viridian Ward, the so-called 'thinker's quarter.'  He spends most of his time marking term papers and teaching classes on advanced pan-demonological theory, known by the students for his rambling lectures on the fluctuations of aether-currents and the vital distinctions between a summoning circle, a triangle, and a hexagram.  In his spare time he plays Imbroglio, chain-smokes, drinks tea laced with rum or asherat petals, attends plays (only burlesque comedies) in the Saffron Ward, shoots nectar, performs a few eldritch experiments, and maintains a well-tended garden of carnivorous plants, which he feeds regularly.  He is also known to have underworld connections from his adventuring days, and can get his hands on certain arcane items that the authorities of Skein might disapprove of.  When he is drunk or deep in a nectar-trance he occasionally raves about a vague, unfulfilled love.

Physically Felix is striking, with bushy eyebrows and startling blue eyes, staring out from behind a gold-rimmed pince-nez; his face is pale and unlined, but his long, curly hair (usually worn in a loose ponytail) is completely white.  His left hand was lost years ago to a litter of wild piranha-rats in a dusty ruin in the Deep Waste; a clockwork prosthetic clicks and whirrs in its place, the silver fingers stained yellow from cigarettes.  He has many other scars all over his body, each of them with a story.  His familiar, Oriaxes, usually perches on his shoulder in the form of a crimson-furred, horned monkey with three rows of razor teeth and a barbed tail, the collar round its neck running to the gauntlet on Felix's wrist (though not nobility, Felix is afforded some formal status as a tenured professor).  The tattoos on Felix's arms were obtained in various places, including Macellaria's Hexwarren and a mystic in Shoi-Tann; they allow him to effect several eldritch manifestations if he activates them, mostly protective in nature, though one allows him to animate shadow-matter into a tenebral and another spontaneous generates a small swarm of poisonous insects which he can command through whistling (an old spell he found in a grimiore in Lophius' Crooked-Finger reputedly stolen from Gloam-Tor, though Felix himself snorted at the likelihood of the bookseller's claim).

Felix has been known to venture out of retirement on very rare occasions for research expeditions and the like, and to travel to retrieve artifacts integral to his experiments, usually texts; as such he is sometimes seen in the other Twilight Cities, accompanied by a hired escort and several researchers, in search of some footnote in an obscure folio or something similar.  He refuses to return to Moroi under any conditions, unwilling even now to risk conscription into the remnants of the Witch Army.

The Scarred Gentlemen

The trio known as the Scarred Gentlemen are the most notorious duellists and contract killers in Skein.  Rakes and villains of the first order, the Gentlemen take lodgings in The Jeweled Monstrance, a disreputable establishment in the Indigo Ward known as a fencing house and a thieves' haven.  In appearance the three are much alike.  All wear masks at once grotesque and beautiful, leering visages suggesting dark whimsy and fey, elfin cruelty, leaving only their lips - tinted yellow with madwine - visible; all dress in shabby-genteel clothing, frock coats and silk shirts with ruffled cravats and immaculately powdered wigs.  They habitually wear gloves and silk scarves round their necks as well, covering most of their bodies.  The little flesh they do expose is horrendously scarred, thus earning them their nicknames.  When they speak they do so in rasping, wounded voices.  There is little way to differentiate the three: they are of slightly different heights and builds, but all are long and lean.  Their eyes may be their most distinguishing features - one has venomous green, another tawny yellow, and a third has a mismatched pair of bruise-purple and reddish-brown.

The Scarred Gentlemen are reliable and efficient killers and have never failed to claim their mark, tracking their prey out of Skein if need be (though they rarely get far); only the assassins of the Shroud of the House of Shadows in Lophius are considered their superiors.  The Gentlemen are all incredibly competent fighters, preferring their braces of antique wheellock pistols hexed for accuracy when stealth isn't required and poisoned stiletto-knives or sabres when discretion is necessary, though they are also especially skilled with crossbows, rapiers, throwing daggers, and rifles.  Though some of their equipment bears glyphs none of the Gentlemen possess any overt augmentation and none seem to practice any witchcraft.  Though they cultivate a deliberate air of decadent nobility - especially through their masks - the three are certainly not magisters, lacking familiars; any pretension of bluebloodedness is pure illusion, though the Gentlemen command more respect amongst the syndicates of Skein than the magisters do.

The Gentlemen are known for their relentlessness and cunning.  Often they will watch a mark for days before executing their attack, carefully coordinating themselves to block off their target's every path of escape before closing in for the kill, three masked, terrifying figures converging with guns or blades at ready.  They are responsible for innumerable murders within and without the city limits, bringing down anyone from magisters to merchant princes to emissaries to religious officials.  Several vigilantes have tried to eliminate the Gentlemen without success; the City Watch, long on the take of the five syndicates, largely ingores the three, attempting only the most cursory of investigations.  The Scarred Gentlemen are incredibly expensive, however, spending most of their coin on liquor and other vices.

Vortenza

The most infamous gunfighter and bounty hunter of the north, the lilix woman Vortenza roams the frontier lands around the Sinew River and the foothills of the Slouching-devil Mountains, operating primarily out of Crepuscle, Skein, and the Unbound shanties of Somnambulon.  She is a renegade from Dolmen, having fled the claustrophobic dogma of the priest-queens, their sexist castes and restrictive preconceptions.  The second daughter of a powerful lilix theocrat (infanta-archoness of a second-tier diocese), Vortenza was destined for a luxurious if insipid life as a pawn in the elaborate and often ruthless political games of the matriarchy, the so-called 'Great Web', likely to grow fat, indolent, and callous.  Her elder sister was swiftly married to three obedient and carefully selected males; she herself was subsequently betrothed to her first would-be husband.  Rejecting the future set out before her Vortenza chose to leave the city secretly, knowing full well that her family would disown her completely and that if she ever returned to the City of Spiders he would be shunned as traitor to her caste, sex, and city.  The exact circumstances of her decision to leave have become the stuff of legend and speculation, as Vortenza herself prefers not to dwell on the particulars; embellishments often include a forbidden lover or a villainous betrothed.  Whatever the specifics, Vortenza lost her family name of Ysholob after becoming an outcast.

Life outside of the perfumed city chambers was not easy.  Her gender and race, which had privileged her even as they restricted her within Dolmen, now became disadvantageous in the extreme.  In human settlements she was either treated as monstrous or as freakishly appealing, a bizarre and hideous novelty.  It was after a period of aimless wandering and increasing desperation that Vortenza fell in with the vagabond Lao-Urc, a gunfighter-monk and a kind of tramp warrior who made his limited living bringing criminals to justice.  She became the monk's pupil, learning quickly under his tutelage.  The standard education she'd endured in Dolmen had taught her marksmanship as well as mathematics, theology, and rhetoric: the exclusively female officers in the military were trained in the use of multiple pistols in combat, and the techniques had long transcended their origins in battle to become sport.  Lao-Urc, impressed with the already well-honed techniques of his student, strove to teach Vortenza the Thirteen Precepts of the so-called 'Way of the Gun,' an ancient and much mythologized set of quasi-ascetic principles.  She learned quickly, and her spiderfolk anatomy allowed her to expand and extrapolate the forms her mentor taught her.  She swiftly surpassed Lao-Urc as a pistolier, developing an intricate style involving the use of up to six pistols simultaneously, allowing her to eliminate targets with astonishing rapidity.  Together the pair tracked down bandits, thieves, and monstrosities throughout the northern Occident and the fringe of the Slaughter-lands near Flense Veldt and Barrow Scrub, clearing out den after den of brigands until Lao-Urc was slain by a moon-crazed reaver in the cold hills of the Chelicerae Mountains, his head hewn in two by a hurled hatchet.  Vortenza's vengeance was swift and merciless, leaving none of the marauder's tribe alive.  Since the monk's death she has worked exclusively alone, becoming a living legend and a terror to behold in combat, a blur of limbs and blazing weaponry.

Physically, Vortenza is atypical for a lilix female, who tend towards voluptuousness.  She is thin and sinewy to the point of androgyny, and characteristically garbed in weather-stained furs and leathers allowing for great flexibility, as well as fingerless gloves and manskin boots.  She usually displays her six pistols and ammunition strapped to her compact, elegant torso.  Sometimes her weapons (and her species) are obscured by a tattered and bullet-holed black cloak, possibly once belonging to Lao-Urc, which she wears when traveling in colder climes.

Ezekiel Khaan

An eccentric (some would say deranged) witch who lives on the outskirts of Macellaria, Ezekiel Khaan is a wealthy and obsessive individual.  Outwardly he appears human, though rumors persist that he has forged infernal contracts or else preserved himself with alchemical treatments, unnaturally prolonging his life.  His physical semblance is chameleonic, to say the least.  Round and excited eyes peer out from his ageless face, often adorned with elaborately sculpted whiskers - Ezekiel is prone to growing long, gaudily dyed beards (usually blue, green, or violent orange) and then shaving them without warning.  He wears a shifting garment with sewn-in sigils that fluctuates in hue according to some inscrutable pattern, possibly its wearer's own whims, possibly at random.  A hunched familiar something like a hairless monkey and something like a giant toad, addressed by Ezekiel as 'the Primeval Warbler,' can constantly be found in the witch's company, usually perched on his shoulder and babbling obscure and nonsensical gibberish that sounds sometimes like poetry and sometimes like a complex mathematical theorem.

Ezekiel's manse is located on a hill southeast of the Eel's Gate, ringed by a tall, solid wall of writhing maggots, constantly squirming, erupting from the ground in a quivering profusion of pallid larval flesh.  The 'gate' of the manse only parts for welcome visitors, those who can prove that they have an appointment with Ezekiel to the demon gatekeeper Nybias - a tall, svelte figure with a beard of tentacles, a nest of red insectile eyes, and a barbed tail, habitually clad in a pristine white suit, Ezekiel's chosen livery, paid for his services rather than compelled into subjugation (though the terms of this arrangement are known only to Ezekiel and Nybias).  Most of these visitors are outlandish themselves: mysterious men and women with odd grafts or lurid garb, adventurers and scoundrels and fellow hexers with stitched servitors or chained familiars or hulking bodyguards armed with unwieldy weapons.  The manse itself is visible beyond the hideous living walls, a rambling and whimsically constructed edifice with many unlikely cupolas, spires, and wings, lavishly ornate and adorned with faceless statues like spindly mannequins, carved in animalistic and often sexual postures.  Few reliable descriptions of the manse's interior have emerged.  Reports have mentioned a mad chaos of clockwork and steam, furnaces and crucibles wreathed in sulphurous fumes, glass forests of beakers and test-tubes; an array of living furniture fashioned from monstrous limbs and skins; a room whose walls are covered in murmuring wallpaper that speaks with a thousand loquacious mouths.

Ezekiel's income is generated principally from his ingenious inventions and his alchemical concoctions, sold in the Hexwarren district of the City of Bodysnatchers.  The Splicing Guild considers the witch a threat to their business but have been unable to infiltrate his manse; they would pay a small fortune to any willing to do so and return with Ezekiel's secrets.

Old Gran Corpse

Old Gran Corpse is a ghul vagrant and mystic who lives on the streets of Moroi, wandering the alleyways of Wasp-Hole and Manikin-Slump.  No one knows exactly how old Old Gran Corpse actually is - she herself claims to have forgotten - but she has disjointed recollections of the Conflagration and even the dementia epidemics, which means she must be well over seven hundred at least, incredibly long-lived for a ghul of such poor economic status.

Physically Old Gran Corpse appears to be of late middle age, swathed perpetually in a scuffed, oversized leather jacket, with a crazed shock of iron gray hair and bright golden eyes, peering out from a haggard but vaguely cheerful visage.  A charm with the image of an unknown deity hangs around her neck on a piece of twine.  Like most street-people in Moroi Old Gran Corpse is an addict, both to nectar and to several other substances, predominantly alcohol and mind wrack; however, she seems to have developed an intense tolerance to most chemical and alchemical drugs or toxins.  While addled and sometimes visibly mad in a quiet, muttering sort  of way, Old Gran Corpse is much more coherent than many vagrants, and a few have suggested that her insanity may be an act, based on the ancient wisdom that gleams in her nectar-jaundiced eyes.

Subsisting primarily on rats, pigeons, and spiders, Old Gran Corpse makes a bare subsistence living for herself reading fortunes, primarily using a faded set of tarot cards.  She also interprets dreams, casts the bones, reads auguries in entrails, and has been known to dabble a as a soul tinker, channelling spirits from the aether with a few chalk glyphs scrawled on brick walls or cobbled streets.  She possesses several books of varying sizes which she stows in her enormous pockets, along with her cards, bones, and other oddments.

Mr. Rasp

A charismatic figure completely atypical for its race, the enigmatic Mr. Rasp is one of the few leechkin to have utterly transcended - or at any rate discarded - all vestiges of its native culture.  Though of course just as sexless as all members of its species Mr. Rasp has self-identified as male, perhaps as part of its ('his') overarching business strategy.  Certainly he cultivates an aura of ostentation and power virtually unknown amongst the leechkin: where most of his ilk go unclothed Mr. Rasp wears immaculately tailored suits, tunics of Skein-made silk, and shoes of the finest manskin leather (he also carries an immense gold pocketwatch, also of Skein manufacture).

Mr. Rasp is a merchant, and a very successful one.  Having risen from obscure origins in the City of the Lamprey, sired by a leechkin shaman, he clawed his way up from the gutters, quickly finding employ with a mongrel street-gang along the Street of Mists in Vespergate  He quickly proved himself capable and rose through the ranks with ruthless tenacity, becoming noted not only for his grim determination and a talent for persuasion but also, surprisingly, for his mathematical skills.  He worked for a time as an accountant and bookkeeper for one of Lophius' major gangs, eventually coming to handle the majority of the gang's financial interests. When his employers were slaughtered en masse by the ghilan gang called the Devourers Mr. Rasp fled Lophius by ship, at this time assuming his current moniker - allegedly inspired by the leader of the Devourers, the notorious grave-spawn gangster Mr. Gray.

Since his departure from Lophius Mr. Rasp has built a small financial empire based out of Macellaria, the City of Bodysnatchers, heading one of the Robber Guilds, the House of Crimson Shadows.  Now he dwells in a veritable palace in the old city, attended by a horde of servants, supping daily on fresh blood from enormous silver chalices.  He is seen frequently in the city streets, accompanied by four strikingly unique bodyguards - Yesheleb with his plethora of unlikely limbs and his fluid pugilism, the cloaked, mercenary thing that merely calls itself The Cowl, the lilix swordsman Illiszan, and red-masked Chaa-Ibl, witch-priestess of the Bloodletter -  and sometimes travels abroad for meetings with other important merchants, preferring to meet with people face to face - probably to intimidate them with his six-eyed, yellow stare.  He speaks polished Shambles, Jangle, Hagspeech, and even Hellspeak from his two palm-mouths, and has perfected a technique unknown amongst other leechkin for speaking in two distinct languages simultaneously.

Diseases

Blanchphage

Exposure to the great, desiccated battlefield of Etiolation leads to the inevitable contraction of this condition, a sapping, energy-draining affliction that sucks out vitality and colour from an individual, leaving them without pigmentation or will.  Blanchphage victims look like colourless husks, often becoming gaunt or emaciated as a result of their near complete loss of appetite.  Nihilistic despair and a depressed torpor - not violent or suicidal, but a paralyzing absence of willpower or interest - eventually overcomes even the hardiest of minds.  No cure is known, but most who manage to escape Etiolation before the final stages of the disease eventually recover.  Blanchphage does linger, however, even after departure from the battlefield: dissipation is not immediate.

Because of blanchphage, vegetation, fungi, detritovores, and all other living organisms are virtually absent from Etiolation.  This means that the scores of bodies in the battlefield never fully decay.  Some are animated by the temporus mali to become haunts, but most simply lie unblinking in the gray emptiness, skins dried-out and pallid, hair white and brittle.  Because of their preservation, however, these corpses have become a resource for the Twilight Cities, particularly Macellaria: their flesh is consumed, their limbs sold to the tissue shops, their bones carved into weapons and tools.

Eyeblight

A bizarre disease even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, eyeblight, also called peacock syndrome, is a progressive and potentially debilitating contagion whose methods of transmission are sinister, to say the least.  Through some mysterious eldritch process eyeblight pathogens are transmitted not through air, spores, contaminated food or water, or even physical contact, but through eye contact.  The gaze alone appears to be insufficient: an eyeblight sufferer who merely looks upon another will not transmit the disease, but at the moment of contact, when the viewed returns the gaze, a pathway is made and the door for infection is opened.  The infection travels through the pupil and along the optic nerve into the victim's brain.
nce contracted, eyeblight symptoms can manifest anywhere, but they usually begin on the face, neck, or shoulders, spreading slowly down the victim's body. The disease causes the appearance of small cysts or lesions that grow rapidly over the course of a few days before suppurating, exposing


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:09:09 PM
Gods and Religion

A myriad of faiths compete for dominance in the Cadaverous Earth, from the harsh theocracy of the lilix to the loose pantheism of Lophius to the terrible cults of the Unfettering.  Many of these religions are contradictory or mutually exclusive, maintaining radically divergent philosophical and spiritual perspectives or enforcing different codes upon their practitioners.

Baubo

Goddess of obscenities, profanities, filth, drunkenness, joy, and abjection, Baubo is a very old deity whose origins are said to be rooted in the nascent aeons of human history.  Appearing as a naked, aging, obese woman, often riding a pig or hog and sometimes equipped with a rickety wooden ladder leaning against one fleshy shoulder, Baubo is not a mainstream goddess but is nonetheless a popular one.  Her 'scripture,' the so-called Principia Obscena, is an index of curse-words, dirty jokes, and lewd gestures, with long, lavishly illustrated appendixes dedicated to erotic instruction in unlikely sexual positions and pornographic psalms.

With a major temple in Crepuscle, two smaller ones in Lophius (in the Driftwood District) and Macellaria (at the border of Velveteen Circus and the Skin Markets), and a smattering of shrines across the Cadaverous Earth, Baubo has a substantial if somewhat fringe following.  It is more common to invoke her name or one of her innumerable curses than to pray formally to Baubo, but those who do dedicate themselves to her tend to truly revel in the indecency and repulsiveness of her rites, wanton ceremonies recorded in the Principia Obscena which frequently have orgiastic components and involve the consumption of unwholesome substances.

The Weeping Lady

Those who heed the Lament of the Weeping Lady and become members of the Mourning Flock cast aside their past lives in favor of sublime monastic asceticism.  Cloistering themselves in fortified and reclusive monasteries scattered across the Cadaverous Earth (with a particularly dense constellation in the Chelicerae Mountains) members of the Order of the Weeping Lady dedicate themselves to the funerary rites of the entire world, having pronounced it beyond salvation.  Their hymns are great dirges; their meditations, macabre and often nihilistic musings on the blank horror of oblivion.  Though some sects hold that in mourning the Cadaverous Earth - a term for the world that Order itself invented and continues to use - they will usher it and its residents into an afterworld or new paradise, most believe that existence itself will soon end, that the final eschatology is upon the world and that all that remains is to reflect on reality's tragic destruction.  They offer a swan-song: a final tribute.

The Weeping Lady herself is generally portrayed as a deathly white female figure constantly weeping crystalline tears, and is garbed in a black dress, sometimes tattered.  Rank within her Order is denoted through teardrop tattoos and minutiae of apparel, which consist of black, gray, and white robes and habits.  The Lady is connected to concepts such as fatality, endings, sadness, song, and linearity.

The Order sustains itself by conducting services such as funerary rights (burial, cremation, and more exotic funerals) for those that wish them, by collecting donations in their shrines, by selling relics, and by tending to graveyards and tombs.  Of course, many inhabitants of the Twilight Cities eat or sell their dead, which limits the funerary functionality of the Order.  They are widely believed to possess extensive stockpiles of wealth stored away in past centuries, though the truth of these mysterious funds are known only to the upper-level clergy members.

The Bloodletter

Revered by warriors, assassins, mercenaries, and similarly murderous folk, the entity known only as the Bloodletter is a mad and lustful battle-god.  Those who venerate the Bloodletter proffer the spilt blood of their enemies to their god in return for his divine aid in combat.  Legend has that once the Bloodletter was a mortal, but through the red self-baptism of carnage he ascended to godhood.  He appears as a brutishly muscled and hulking figure wearing a dented and red-plumed helmet.  His massive body is scarred and blood-spattered, and he wears piecemeal armour of metal or leather.  Often he is depicted wielding a great axe or sword, other times a pair of smoking pistols (in which guise he often swaps his helmet for a broad-brimmed hat).  Shrines to the Bloodletter are rare and his formal priesthood nearly non-existent, but nonetheless he remains a popular deity amongst superstitious men and women who make their business in killing, which describes a substantial portion of the world's ragtag and amoral population.

The Church of Striga holds that the Bloodletter is a perverse abomination, a devil spawned from the spurt of tainted blood that flowed from the punctured body of Hirud, who they claim Striga personally dispatched - as such he is occasionally identified as an avatar of Hirud.  For Striga, blood is sacred and should only be spilled as part of religious ceremony; for the Bloodletter, random bloodshed is encouraged, with obscenity or transgression linked to apotheosis.  Few individuals hold solely to the Bloodletter, recognizing him as a kind of divine lunatic; despite his universally recognized psychopathy he is thought by some to possess true divine power.

Like Melmoth the Wanderer the Bloodletter is sometimes conflated with the god-murderer Kain in esoteric texts.  Some claim the Bloodletter and the Wanderer are twins, others that they are dual aspects of a single deity.  He is associated with chaos or randomness, madness, war, battle, appetite, excess, brute strength, and uninhibited will.

Melmoth the Wanderer

Patron god of travelers, vagabonds, peddlers and other merchants, sailors, aeronauts, and kindred wanderers of every stripe, Melmoth has few formal temples apart from small roadside altars and shrines at the gates of the Twilight Cities.  Nonetheless he is a popular deity amongst those who spend any time traveling the vast and lawless wastes of the Cadaverous Earth.  Melmoth is a solitary and melancholy figure usually depicted as a robed man whose face is obscured by a cowl.  He is sometimes conflated with Kain, a legendary murderer marked by some long-forgotten elder power to forever wander the earth, though this connection is extremely archaic.  Some iconography of the deity depict him with two faces or with an oroborus ring.

Melmoth counts roads, winds, waves, doorways, circularity, stories, journeys, error, order and chaos-in-order, gnosis, eternity, rebirth, and the ecstatic sensation of pure wanderlust as part of his portfolio.  Those who believe in the Wanderer mutter prayers to him before setting out on a journey or when they arrive at a destination, leave coins at wayside shrines, and thank the deity if they evade trouble on the road.  He is invoked by those who are lost or unsure, who are physically or metaphysically confused.  Melmoth is opposed to concepts of mortality, finality, eschatology, or true purpose.

Particularly devout worshipers of Melmoth often claim to have met the god passing down the roadside.  They report an enigmatic encounter in which all feelings of burden are lightened and their sense of worry is resolved.  The see the purity of the road, an expression of a sublimely meaningless existential pattern, a grand cycle in which birth and death are mere punctuation marks, illusory moments of end or beginning on an unending series of paths.

Verlum

Bloated Spider-Goddess of the lilix, the matriarchal deity Verlum presides over the Twilight City of Dolmen, served by her all-female clergy.  Deriving their scriptures from an ancient tapestry purportedly woven by the Goddess herself, the priestesses administer law and justice through a theocratic system of authoritarian controls that make governmental and religious structures in the city virtually inextricable.  Only a few individuals are permitted to gaze upon the tapestry and interpret its meaning, ensuring that authority never leaves the spindly hands of the elder priestesses.

The Beast Gods

Nameless, innumerable, and inhuman, the ravenous Beast Gods of the deep are mythical beings said to half-slumber at the bottom of the ocean, awaiting the fulfillment of some unfathomable prophecy or mysterious celestial event before they awaken.  Sometimes identified as servitors or kindred to the Chained Ones or the swamp demons of the south, the Beast Gods are not formally worshipped save by the most depraved of corsairs.  Sailors do frequently give blood offerings to the Beast Gods, though many hold to Melmoth instead (or in addition).

The Beast Gods themselves are described variously as chimerae of crustacean, giant squid, and whale, and supposedly possess vast, animal intellects and enormous appetites.  The phenomena known as Utterances - ripples in the Aether confined to the Occidental Seas and Oceans - are often ascribed to the Beast Gods' half-slumbering groans, their sleepy rumblings.  While many deities are connected with an array of abstract concepts the Beast Gods are less metaphysically constructed, associated only with raw, monstrous power, elements of salt and water and polished nacre, with the basest, most essential impulses: breed, sleep, dream, devour.

Hirud

The god-leech and Ravager-Worm, instigator of the Pallid Decimation, patron of the cestoid Imperium and fabled source of Etiolation, the dark god Hirud is portrayed as a gargantuan parasite, a leech or worm or lamprey bent on sucking out the life from the world and devouring its essence to sate his (or its) diabolic thirst.  A forbidden deity, taboo in almost all cultures, Hirud is worshipped only by a few outlandish, underground cults, often with links to those who work towards the Great Unfettering - Hirud is identified in certain esoteric texts as one of the Chained Ones, the elemental beings who ended the Membrane Wars and were then bound at horrific cost, released from bondage before the rest of his siblings only to be petrified at the climax of the apocalyptic battle preserved in the cursed waste at the gray, desiccated heart of the Slaughter-lands.

The Star-Gods

Primarily worshiped by grave-spawn, the Star-Gods are deities composed of the light from dead stars that has only now reached the Cadaverous Earth, having traveled for millennia across the cold oblivion of space.  Those who worship the Star-Gods believe that this ghostly light is the final expression of the inchoate divine power potential in all stars.  Stars are larvae, the fiery eggs of deities not yet fully manifest.  Only through their death, through novae, can the deities pupate, transcending their flaming, material bodies and thus entering a purer, more perfect phase of existence.  This process is aligned with the transformation of the quick into grave-spawn, the transmutation of living clay into dust, a process considered a sacred blessing by those who hold to the Star-Gods.

The Gods themselves are thought to care little if at all for the denizens of Earth.  In contrast with the superstitious astrology of petty seers and gutter-witches those who believe in the Star-Gods are deistic at best, their reverence for starlight an abstract and largely metaphorical thing.  Certain chapters of the faith do believe in the Mysteries of Dead Light, that is, that within the Star-Gods' death-light are encoded secret revelations; to this end their astronomer-sacerdos continually compile stellar data and search for hidden patterns, in an attempt to decipher the Language of Stardust and so unravel the Mysteries.

The Leering God - by Ghostman

Certain nomadic tribes whose caravans ply the eastern portions of the treacherous Tallow Plains - those parts nearest the dreaded Slaughter-lands - have through the course of uncount generations worshiped an odd entity entrapped within a stone idol hidden in that wasteland. Dubbed the Leering Colossus or the Leering God, this obscure divinity is almost completely unknown outside the small cult that venerates it. Though it's origin and history is an enigma even to those with the most intimate familiarity with it, one thing seems certain: the Colossus is somehow able to resist the chaotic shifts of the Tallow Plains, never eroding nor disintegrating, and never drifting far from the Slaughter Lands. Physically, it appears as a gigantic statue of a humanoid, yet obviously inhuman figure, seated on a queer throne that looks curiously organic in shape.

Formed from unidentified red stone and possessing the sublime yet somewhat disturbing touch of mystique that is common to many ancient idols and fetishes, the cult image bears astoundingly lifelike features, with a definite suggestion of masculinity despite it's alien figure. The most striking feature is the vivid expression upon it's broad face, one that human tongues can only describe as a subtly perverse, yet strangely reassuring leer. This enigmatic idol is inhabited by a spiritual entity of eldritch power and intelligence. Though unmoving and lifeless, it is capable of communing with it's worshipers through prophetic dreams. True followers of the Leering Colossus are inexplicably able to locate it simply by treading the eastern Tallow Plains, as if they were fated to stumble upon it.

The cultists and the Colossus exist in a symbiotic relationship, willingly benefiting one another. When a caravan of the faithful stops by the object of their reverence, they set camp for the night and prepare for an elaborate ceremony. Under the leering gaze of the idol and the myriad stars of the naked sky, the eldritch din of tom-toms and reed pipes sets tone to an ecstatic ritual dance. Gradually it turns into a climactic orgy, the dancers casting off their clothes and all pretenses of restraint, giving in fully to the primal pleasures of the flesh. The Colossus feeds off the latent sexual energy thusly released, revitalizing itself - so teach the elderly mystics heading the informal cult hierarchy. Though this ritual is shamelessly debaucherous, it is never forced - every participant must act of their own will, lest the purity of the ceremony be tainted, invoking the wrathful aspect of the usually benevolent Leering God.

In return for the surges of vitality it craves, the Colossus bestows upon the faithful a blissful spell granting them visions that guide them on their journeys, forewarning of the many dangers upon their path. So it has been for many generations, and while the guidance of the Leering God is not infallible, the initiates of the cult have escaped many a certain doom thanks to their passionate tribute.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:09:57 PM
Witchcraft

Artistry

The thing in the vat regarded its creator with the vacuous stare of an infant. The fleshcrafter did not meet this dull, wet gaze but fiddled instead with the complex controls of a nearby console, tapping at keys and swearing beneath his breath. A moment later a hissing sound filled the large, domed chamber; and then fire erupted in the vat, and the creature screamed, flailing its limbs for a moment before the flame consumed it. Only a skeleton remained, charred and malformed, scraps of burnt flesh still clinging to the blackened bones. The witch sighed. Another failure - another day wasted.

Rowan Moray was not registered with the Splicing Guild near the Witch's Gate. He was a freelancer, and if the Guildsmen ever noticed him, they would burn his studio to the ground with him still in it.  That he ate into their profit margins was enough to invite their hostility; that he operated beyond the pale of Guild protocol and regulation, refusing their arbitrary restrictions and small-minded narrowness of scope.  Fortunately, his business was small-scale, a back alley tissue-shop on the outskirts of the Skin Markets near the border between Wormhive and Velveteen Circus in downtown Macellaria, far from the Guild Citadel in Hexwarren and its chambers of slick, echoing stone.

Rowan's studio was expansive and many-chambered. Space was far from precious in the City of Bodysnatchers: hundreds of rooms were deserted, whole streets and sectors inhabited only by rats and spiders. He had selected a three-leveled complex in a confusing block of musty streets, in the shadow of a Wormhive spire. A pair of bronze titans, sibling fire-bringers and obscure trickster gods, supported the arched entranceway, crowned with a buzzing neon sign: Body Modification - Grafts, Fleshsculpting & Augmentation. A narrow antechamber followed, lit with the sepia glow of a fitful, naked bulb; through a hexagonal door (magnetically sealed while the shop was closed) was the shop level, its high ceiling lost in darkness, its wares displayed under lamps filtered yellow or crimson, like exhibits in a museum or, perhaps, sideshow attractions - as befitting their grotesquerie.

One display case held a hand with seven fingers and bruise-purple flesh, with long talons black as obsidian, wires feeding it liquids or draining them out; beside it, another case held a mask of pale, living skin, a beautiful woman's visage placed over a mannequin head. In a larger tank a selection of newly-assembled creations bickered over a rat's carcass, while a two-headed snake with a pair of human faces hissed in its cage and uncoiled its iridescent, bifurcating body, a piece inspired by the naghini of the Bluebottle Archipelago. There was a selection of limbs and organic weapons, fangs and bony spurs and stinging tendrils. There were lungs that could breathe smoke or water, hearts that could beat faster, de-tox implants and glandular batteries of drugs - all perfectly preserved, kept alive through an ingenious system of tubes and electric stimulations. The lamplight shone through the thin layers of flesh, dappling the domino-tiled floor with sallow illumination.

He catered to two distinct demographics. The first was composed of street-level thugs and toughs looking for an advantage in a brawl or bar-fight - a bit of grafted muscle, an extra limb, steel claws and the like. Rowan considered this hack-work, the necessary toil to keep his establishment running - scum of the sort he dealt with paid in cash, and their jobs were quick, crude, and simple. This sort of augmentation would be ignored by even the most vigilant Guild agent: it was simply too commonplace, too ubiquitous, the work of common graft peddlers in back-alleys or Tatterdemalion Court.

The second clientele base he maintained was considerably smaller and a great deal more affluent, the sort that would attract the ire of his larger, more powerful competitors if discovered. This second class of customers - foreigners, aficionados, even some Fleshmongers looking to acquire some particular perversion on the cheap - ordered strictly by commission, and their requests took weeks if not months to complete. But these commissions, while invariably strange to the point of grotesquerie, were far from hack-work. They were, at least in Rowan's mind, his masterpieces - they were works of art.
Eldritch Theory

Witchcraft is the practice of imbuing a sigil, phrase, or other symbol with arcane power.  Words, glyphs, and incantations have no power in and of themselves: were I to simply scrawl the apotropaic Sigil of Arcane Abhorrence on my door, I would not ward off malignant eldritch creatures and spells, as that mark is intended.  Rather, a witch must empower or infuse his or her symbols with psychic potency, interpreting the symbol and understanding it as an object of artifice, a semiotic shadow - giving the symbol meaning.  This interpretive or critical act is at the core of witchcraft, thus allowing the shamanism of the leechkin, the ritualism of the hagmen, the sigil system of fleshcraft, the ornate mysticism of the lilix, the baroque incantatory nigromancy of Moroi, and other forms of arcana to all coexist: while all of these 'competing' systems utilize different symbols, they rely on the same mechanism to imbue those symbols with power.

The process - sometimes dubbed 'invocation' in technical terms - requires the mind to saturate itself in the chaotic juices of the collective unconscious, a kind of aether-realm from which all images emerge. The more complex the spell, the deeper the witch must penetrate this mindscape, and such sojourns are not without difficulties and hazards.  Only those with strong psychic potential who have trained their minds to withstand the whirling entropy of the aether can draw on it to cast the more powerful or intricate spells; those who attempt to channel eldritch energy into a sigil or phrase who lack the proper control or have taxed their abilities too vigorously may succumb to the nightmarish intoxications of the aether and lose their individual coherency.  These wretched souls become mad, dangerous things, channeling raw numina haphazardly.

Nectar

The puissant sap of the Elder Trees of Moroi quickens and catalyses invocation by breaking down barriers between the individual mind and the collective unconscious, allowing a witch to tap into the aether with much greater facility.  The sap itself, known as nectar or ichor, takes the form of a pale golden serum, and is usually injected.  It is highly addictive and can cause hallucinations, euphoria, night-terrors, and other side effects as well as supercharging a witch with numina.  Prolonged use, however, can eventually wear down all distinctions between an individual's mind and the aether, plunging the user into madness.

It has been speculated by arcane scholars that the dementia epidemics that contributed to the decline of Moroi during the middle of the Aeon of Dust may have been linked to the overuse of nectar.  The vast number of active witches in the city at the time may have created a cloud of psychic effluvia as a result of their mass channeling and invocation, resulting in the bouts of madness and dysfunction that debilitated the once-great city-state.  Although evidence is inconclusive, it has also been suggested that the Suppuration itself is in fact a larger-scale symptom of collective invocation, a kind of psychic bleed as the collective unconscious oozes into the material world - in other words, the practice of witchcraft may have worn away at the fabric between realities, perforating the aether and allowing it to intrude onto the physical.

Hexes

Hexes are spells that can be invoked through incantation.  Hexes can transform the caster or someone else, curse, augment, heal, or harm the witch or another individual, or evoke some effect on the environment.  Common battle-hexes include Eldred's Excellent Exsanguination (which boils the target's blood), Catskull's Green Corruption (which manifests a voracious fungus that devours the target from the inside out, then uses them as a grisly, mushroom-covered thrall), and Vorl's Black Dismemberment (which causes loss of limb), Morith's Nine Mortifications (a series of hexes that can numb, paralyze, maim, or cause complete muscle death), and the anonymous Withering Gaze (which hexes the eyes of the witch so that his or her stare has a desiccating effect, turning opponents to dust).  Hexes can also be employed in order to graft new limbs or flesh.

Glyphs

Also called sigils or wards, glyphs are ideograms physically inscribed on some surface, be it wood, stone, paper, metal, glass, bone, flesh (sometimes called a 'flesh-hex'), or a similar substance.  They tend to express permanent effects rather than ephemeral eldritch events.  For example, a hex might invoke a pair of leathery bat-wings or a gout of eldritch flame, but a glyph might bind a rogue shadow elemental into a lead phylactery, ward against poisons and toxins, or blind anyone who read it.  They are instrumental in controlling otherwise dangerous entities such as demons.  Glyphs of this sort are most commonly used in fleshcraft to bind spirits into dead flesh, revivifying it (for example, the servitors and Watchdogs of Macellaria), or in diabolism to protect a witch from a demon.  The magisters of Skein utilize silver collars etched with tiny sigils to keep fully manifested demons as pets, bodyguards, and servants (such bound demons are called familiars).

Demons


The word 'demon' signifies an otherworldly entity, an alien being foreign to the Cadaverous Earth.  Demons are sometimes confused with oneiroi (subconscious emanations in the Aether made manifest through the Suppuration) and daevas (indigenous immortals, though possibly with otherworldly lineage), largely due to their chimerical, nightmarish appearance.  Existing as they do on planes with fundamentally different rules, demons have bewildering physical forms and often possess shapeshifting abilities, choosing to appear in certain guises.  They also universally feed off non-corporeal substances: numina, 'souls,' vitality, pleasure, pain, fear, and the like.

 Demons can enter the Cadaverous Earth in several ways.  The overwhelming majority are summoned by mortal diabolists, conjured and then bound using glyphs of power and similar witchcraft, either trapped in a physical vessel or in an eldritch circle.  Some escape, overcoming or circumventing such wards and running wild; others are kept as familiars, the fiendish pets, bodyguards, servants, or concubines of accomplished spellcasters.  Most other demons are refugees or deserters from the near-forgotten Membrane Wars, a series of apocalyptic conflicts in the distant past in which demoniac forces invaded the Cadaverous Earth and were eventually repelled, the rifts they used for their incursion sealed.   These wretched creatures are trapped in this realm, unable to return to their Hells.

There are several distinct tribes or clades of demons, obsessively categorized by diabolists in their convoluted demonologies.  Lowest amongst them are the imps, otherworldly pests with little intelligence or power, small in size and in intelligence, often winged - miniature demons frequently kept as pets or familiars.  The bestial demons inhabiting the southlands and the Sallow Seas are utterly unfathomable, primordial creatures sometimes identified as elemental demigods or the like (some speculate they may not be otherworldly demons at all, but simply powerful idigenous spirits).  These beings - whose presence predates the Membrane Wars - are irrational and enigmatic, incapable of forming allegiances with mortals; their intelligence is hotly debated, with some maintaining that they possess sublime but glacial consciousness, others insisting that they are little more than terrifyingly puissant animals.  In contrast are the hierarchical, politically minded demons sometimes dubbed True Fiends or se'irim, their bodies variegated and mismatched, their minds prolix and cunning in the extreme.  Their power-structures are incredibly complex, with a confusion of Dukes, Archdukes, Marquises, Earls, and Princes vying against one another for position.  Finally there are the demons sometimes called mazikin, mutilated and horrific - Morr'ghu the Rot Angel, Ahema'at Heart-Ripper, Fornus the Flayed, Haagi the Twisted, and thousands of others, each a warped phantom.  Though they do not possess the incomprehensible, chaotic purity of mind of the demons of swamp and sea, their psyches are fragmented and wounded, murkier and less stable than the conniving, calculating consciousness of the se'irim.

The Membrane Wars and the Great Fettering

Though the details of the Membrane Wars are lost, their echoes can still be felt across the Cadaverous Earth.  Erupting climactically at the end of the blood-spattered Aeon of Immolation, the Wars were precipitated by a single arcane event, possibly even an accident.  It is unknown whether the witches who first tore open the world-pore were curious but naïve thaumaturge-scientists or crazed diabolists bent on unleashing the apocalypse that followed, but whoever they were they bore through the normally semi-permeable skin between planes, the eponymous Membranes, and ripped open a permanent portal to one of the terrifying Hell-dimensions.  The portal propagated, like a torn seam in fabric, unraveling normally immutable boundaries.  Sensing the relative weakness of the mortal inhabitants of the alien world that had suddenly manifested at their doorstep the demoniac forces of the Hells were quick to attack.  What followed was a brutal, centuries-long state of warfare in which demon-clans fought each other as well as mortal armies across the battlefields of the Cadaverous Earth, with a death toll of billions.

The end of the Membrane Wars is fraught with uncertainty, but a few speak of the Awakening and the subsequent Fettering.  It is speculated that the last great arcane civilizations of the ailing mortal world invoked latent elemental powers that had long slumbered deep within the earth, primordial guardian spirits of god-like power.  These wrathful, indigenous entities were terrible to behold, and brought their unfathomable power to bear on the scourge-armies of the Hells, killing hundreds of thousands, banishing thousands more back to their native dimensions, and scattering the rest across the earth before repairing the eldritch rifts that allowed the demons access to their world (though in the aftermath of the Membrane Wars the pores-between-worlds are still more easily breached through witchcraft).  But once awakened the sleepers could not easily be quieted.  Though they had been used as weapons, they proved double-edged, wreaking their own cataclysmic destruction upon the world to 'purge' it of its uncleanliness.  To prevent this all-encompassing desolation the sorcerers of the old world devised a ritual of unspeakable power, requiring some tremendous sacrifice, that would seal away the ravaging elemental entities they had unleashed.  Thus came about the Great Fettering in which the sublime world-spirits were chained, forced into exile and back into their endless slumber.

It is theoretically possible to undo the Great Fettering, to Unfetter the beings bound within the earth.  Some have speculated that Hirud, the Ravager Worm, the god-leech who gave rise to the Pallid Decimation and the cestoid Imperium, was one such entity, stopped only by the awesome spell that created the region of the Slaughter-lands called Etiolation.  The beast-gods of the sea are thought by some to be harbingers or servants of the dreaming elder-beings, as may certain daevas or other creatures of the Cadaverous Earth.

Languages

The closest thing the Cadaverous Earth has to a common tongue is Shambles, sometimes called Magpie, a pastiche language derived from half a dozen long-dead parent languages.  Spoken in all of the Twilight Cities but most commonly in Lophius, Macellaria, and Crepuscle, Shambles has a plethora of regional dialects.  It forms the basis for the trader's cant called Jangle, a stripped-down version of the tongue with added hand signals used by merchants during complicated transactions.  Jangle is practically the official language in the overwhelmingly commercial city of Crepuscle.  An encrypted, modified form of Shambles is used in Filchspeak (also called Alleyspeak), a thieves' cant also used in official parleys between gangs in Lophius.  A hand-sign based derivative of this cant used to communicate silently is called Flicker or Fingerspeak.  Shambles itself is a coarsely hybrid language with a rather mishmash grammar and morphology.

Almost all grave-spawn speak Shambles or the language native to their city of origin (usually doing so in half-whispers), but a near-defunct language called Corpserattle, rarely known as Morbis or the Carrion Tongue, is used by the aristocracy of Somnambulon and in all-ghul churches.  It is an eerie language to hear, raising hairs and causing gooseflesh, and is noted for its thirteen noun classes expressing various levels of animacy, life, death, and un-death.

Hextongue (sometimes called Witchtongue) is the language of Moroi and also of witchcraft and incantation, and so is used by arcane practioners, scholars, and intellectuals across the Cadaverous Earth.  It is derived from a number of archaic technical languages but can broadly be described as a hybrid of Shambles and Hellspeak, the demoniac language, from which it derives its alphabet.  Hellspeak is a 'fiendishly complex' and 'diabolically difficult' language, as many a smirking linguist will tell you.  In its true form it is spoken not only by demons but also by the magisters of Skein, and in a bastardized form by the common people of Skein.  A highly analytic language with incredibly ornate characters (forming the basis for most glyphs), Hellspeak has a kind of mechanical precision to it, with each word expressing a single concept (compare to Glatch, below, with its myriad declensions).

The hagmen of the south can learn human speech but suffer from a wet, thick accent due to their uniquely shaped mouths.  More commonly they speak Glatch, or Hagspeech, a guttural, fluid language which can be learned with difficulty by humans, though many find the more extreme uvular sounds impossible to reproduce correctly.  Glatch has a bewildering spectrum of genders and pronouns and has a highly agglutinative, polysynthetic morphology allowing for very long compounds words used to express very subtle concepts; it has eight declensions and six conjugations.  Glatch has a flowing, cursive script, with characters blending into one another.  Southern dialects of Shambles, such as the one spoken in Lophius, utilize many loanwards from Glatch.

The lilix can also learn human speech but invariably speaking with a clicking, sibilant accent quite unnerving to unaccustomed ears.  Their own language is a composed of a kind of chittering, quite incomprehensible to almost all humans.  Usually called Lilix or Spiderchatter, this language is highly unique and has many untranslatable concepts.  Tone and frequency are as important if not more so than the actual 'words,' long strings of almost indistinguishable syllables.  Divided brutally between masculine and feminine genders, Lilix also has well-defined systems of etiquette and hierarchized modes of address.  A radically simplified form of the language is used to command the human slaves of Dolmen - Chattelchatter.  This variant is usually used by visiting merchants (often via interpreter) to address the lilix, showing deference.  Forcing a lilix female to speak in Shambles is considered gravely insulting, as they deem that tongue uncouth and unsophisticated.

Leechkin have their own primitive language consisting largely of gestures and animalistic noises, called Leechdance.  In urban communities they use a mongrel smattering of tongues without regard to their respective languages, either incapable or unwilling to distinguish between languages.  The result is usually a garbled form of Shambles with phrases borrowed from Glatch, Hellspeak, Hextongue, or whatever other language was being spoken around them.

A myriad of minor languages can be heard across the Cadaverous Earth.  Serpentine is the language of the naghini, a hissing, sibilant language that can be mastered by humans; naghini can speak Shambles with relative ease, though they hiss 's' sounds excessively.  Zerda is the yapping quasi-language of the western foxfolk.  The cestoids have a bizarre, almost totally incomprehensible language based mostly on smell and motion, although during the time of the great cestoid Imperium there were a select few humans used as interpreters for the worm-lords.  Cestoids cannot produce anything resembling human speech, crippling their species socially in conjunction with their unseemly appearance.  Their bestial gargling, gesturing, and pheromone-based language is usually simply dubbed Cestoid by humans.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:12:15 PM
The Occident

The Slouching-devil Mountains

Jagged and brooding, the sinister crags of the Slouching-devil Mountains loom darkly on the horizon north of Skein, the City of Silk and Clockwork where the Moth-Kings reign.  Unlike the pinnacles of obsidian and basalt of the Chelicerae Mountains the Slouching-devil range is overwhelmingly sedimentary, composed prominently of limestone.  While a smattering of mines and quarries can be found near the base of the Mountains the greatest attraction for prospectors are the fossils bound within the ancient, weathered rock.  The foothills and valleys of the range are littered with camps, villages, and havens well-warded against the malevolencies that lurk in the shadowy defiles and caves.  These flash-in-the-pan settlements often dwindle in ghost-towns after a nearby area has been depleted of fossils.

The Fossils

The fossils of the Slouching-devil Mountains are mysterious in origin but seem to universally belong to some breed of huge beasts or giants who long ago dwelt in the region, perhaps the same beings who carved the vast tunnel networks into the Mountains' underside.  The ur-bones, black and glossy as ebony, possess the residues of some enigmatic eldritch energy: they are literally infused with numina, imbued with arcane radiation.  Those exposed to such bones for long periods of time can become subject to strange afflictions and metamorphoses, collectively called the Slow Plague due to its frequently delayed effects, which can range from abnormal growths to creeping transformations.

Many a prospector has stumbled down from the peaks with a bagful of ur-fossils and a nest of tentacles sprouting from his navel, or a whorl of tiny, starry lights beneath his skin, or irises permanently clouded black.  Others have their flesh gradually transmogrify into leather or slough away to reveal subcutaneous chitin beneath, or develop horny jags and tusks, or dissolve into a swarm of quivering maggots.  While the Slow Plague is not always deadly it is usually irreversible save through the interventions of fleshcraft, and those infected who fail to treat their condition sometimes devolve into inhuman, chaotic beasts.  Some whose exposure was limited may develop only minor, even benign manifestations of the Plague, though these individuals are sometimes shunned.  Fell winds sometimes blow south over Skein bringing storms and strange dreams; it has been speculated that they are charged with residual eldritch resonances of the Slouching-devil Mountains' fossils.

Despite the considerable hazards surrounding the collection of ur-fossils, they remain incredibly valuable objects for witchcraft, particularly in the creation of arcane constructs such as the six-legged steed of the infamous gunslinger and brigand-king Red Edward or the huge, misshapen Watchdogs of Macellaria.  Specialized witches can carve the bone and inscribe it with glyphs that channel and harness its latent puissance, diverting its otherwise chaotic, dangerous power and creating deadly hexed weapons or suits of armor such as the legendary blade Black Cruelty, the Dark Sisters (a pair of daggers wielded by the shade assassin Quiescence, a single nick from which causes instant death), or the Umbral Cuirass once worn by the long-dead hero Tyton the Revenger (reputedly buried with the fallen warrior in his lost tomb).  The (properly treated) fossils can primarily be found for sale in the marketplaces of the Crimson Ward in Skein, the Hexwarren district of Macellaria, and in Chimera Plaza in Crepuscle.

The Tunnels

Tunnels riddle the Slouching-devil Mountains, an entire network of cavernous halls, eviscerating the depths of the range in a mad confusion of intersecting byways and chambers, like the twisted entrails of some colossal god of stone.  At their center, some inscrutable eldritch machine slumbers, inert, protected by senile automata of impossibly ancient make.  All of the main tunnel entrances are surrounded by grotesquely carved, inhuman faces whose gaping mouths form archways in which cyclopean doorways are set.

Though many sections of the tunnels are shunned and dreaded for the dangerous creatures that lurk within, others are used by daring travelers to traverse the range rather than daring the high passes, where imps and the harpy-oneiroi known as the Goremother lurk.  Certain merchants from Skein traveling to Dolmen or Somnambulon sometimes utilize these passages, though invariably they bring heavy escorts.  Human bandits often make camps in the mountains and in the tunnels themselves, using the subterranean corridors as bases from which to launch their raids.  Periodically the Moth-Kings send army detachments of foot soldiers and war-trained familiars to deal with particularly troublesome brigands, and bounty hunters flock to the foothill settlements in search of coin.  Many of these blood-price bondsmen have become local legends: the slant-eyed Xar-Quy with his whips and bolas and patchwork coat, Sharp Jasper with his orange beard and his unlikely hexes, Usha the tattooed northern skinchanger, Oroch with his cursed axe, the lilix she-bravo Vortenza toting six pistols.

The mines along the lower hills of the Slouching-devil Mountains sometimes accidentally intrude on the older tunnels, allowing the chthonic things that lair in the Mountains' roots access to the excavations.  Most plentiful of these are the marrowgaunts, a species of spindly and shadow-skinned creatures that may be the remnants of humans who were trapped in the tunnels and succumbed to the Slow Plague, though some argue that the horned, leathery-fleshed things were once the servitors or slaves of whatever elder race built the tunnels in the first place.

Other beings who dwell in the stony darkness include the renegade elder demon Nisroch, who escaped servitude in Skein centuries ago; the quasi-sapient fungi of the Spore-Groves, a mythical forest of mushrooms fabled to lie somewhere below the Mountains in a series of caves beneath even the tunnels themselves; wandering geists; and an entity - or perhaps more properly phenomenon - known as the Deep Laughter, a sepulchral echo rumored to be the mad tittering of a deranged trickster god who destroyed the civilization that constructed tunnels.  The Laughter resounds seemingly at random throughout the caverns and can claim all that hear it for its own, transforming them into cacklegeists (it is possible that the Laughter is the sire of all such grave-spawn).  This is of course to say nothing of the many strange, often unique beasts that use the tunnels closer to the surface as dens or burrows, all of them normal animals mutated by the Slow Plague.

Settlements

Dozens of villages dot the rugged foothills of the Slouching-devil Mountains, many of them little more than glorified camps or rude clusters of wooden buildings, transient tent-towns and haphazard walled settlements.  A few have attained a greater degree of permanency, though all seem tiny in contrast with the immense Twilight Cities.  The largest of the mountainous settlements is Mulcatra, the end of the line for the Clockwork Rail that extends north and south from Skein.  An ugly, greasy, violent town dependent on various iron mines and stone quarries nearby, Mulcatra is known for its huge automaton laborers, steam-belching mechanical giants who haul raw rock and ore from the mines to the trains or assist in excavations.  Apart from the sooty dwellings and warehouses Mulcatra mostly consists of saloons and dice-halls.

East of Mulcatra where the Radula River flows out from the Mountains lies the town of Drollery-Bridge, named for the ancient, heavily ornamented bridge of white stone that spans the Radula.  Though built on an old ruin of the same white stone as the bridge, the rest of the town is architecturally incongruous, consisting of small buildings of wood and rough-hewn dull gray stone.  Apart from its huge waterwheel and its ruins, Drollery-Bridge is an unremarkable place, though rumors persist of catacombs that lie beneath its dirty streets, a honeycomb of chambers and corridors larger than the town itself, perhaps even extending to the huge tunnels below the Mountains.

Further north, nestled at the mouth of Hell's-teeth Pass, the trapper-town Shoi-Tann bristles up out of the scrofulous forest, its walls festooned with wards, a glorified haven and a hub for the petty commerce of the region - apart from the tunnels, Hell's-teeth pass serves as one of the only major navigable ways across the Slouching-devil Mountains.  Bounty hunters often use Shoi-Tann as a base of operations, scarred and dark-eyed men and women with a myriad of weapons.   Here alien pelts and unfamiliar skins are traded alongside nuggets of gold, ur-fossils, and scavenged tech plundered from the machines of the inner tunnels.  There is ubiquitous a reek of piss, leather, and cheap beer, emanating from the tanneries and alehouses, a stench unsuccessfully covered by the pungent, perfumed steam of the town's prominent bathhouses.

The settlement of Highspire can be found at an even greater altitude, a stopping-off point and refueling station for dirigibles crossing back and forth between Skein and Somnambulon.  Small and snowy, Highspire contains a smattering of inns, shops, and drinking holes for aeronauts and passengers.  It is well known for its gunsmith, Val Corvan, whose firearms have defended many a balloon from a murder of imps or harpy-crows.  Highspire is marked by the flock of bulbous leathery shapes constantly clustered above it.

Deep within the range, northeast of Mulcatra, seven hundred carven steps wind up from a ragged, impromptu settlement to the Shrine of the Sighing Wind, where the leonine, many-winged, human faced daeva Shaaltelathiel coos its sibilant riddle-prophecies.  Cared for by mute monks, the dove-feathered and soft-voiced creature - possibly the last of the shedim - sleeps for nearly twenty hours a day.  In exchange for offerings of milk and raw meat Shaaltelathiel bestows upon petitioners a single revelation, a cryptic poem murmured in an antique mode of High Cerulean, which must be translated using the Shrine's extensive library.  The temple itself is a beautiful and ancient structure smelling of incense and herbs from the alpine garden.  Many of its corridors are carved into the Slouching-devil Mountains themselves, though in their elegance and delicacy they are a far cry from the brutish, brooding tunnels that riddle the Mountains' bowels; carved stones trap the wind and turn it into ethereal, chaotic music that haunts the halls.  The 'town' at the base of the staircase is little more than a camp for petitioners, though there are some quasi-permanent buildings that sell provisions and supplies, and traders occasionally set up booths peddling talismans and charms to the superstitious, particularly white feathers they claim to belong to the daeva.

West of Shoi-Tann where the Mountains begin to curve towards the Serrated Coast and the Sea of Whispers the Baron Phtannoc, a Lord Revenant temporarily severed from the zehrer hive-mind of Somnambulon, waits out his century-long exile in the black spires of Castle Carnificus, a half-ruinous fortress that looks out over the bleak sublimity of the ocean.  Attended by a small retinue of zombie thralls, Phtannoc is rumored to traffic with the lunatic, half-slumbering entities of the deep, gods or elemental demons, though whether he seeks revenge or possesses some more obscure motive none know.

The Tallow Plains

A strange and dangerous region in the Occident of the Cadaverous Earth, north of the southern swamps and south of the Sinew River, the twisting badlands known as the Tallow Plains are afflicted with a phenomenon classified scientifically as 'topographic fluctuation-dissonance,' commonly known as the Shifting.  Some eldritch effect has rendered the Plains' local spatiality unstable in the extreme: essentially, the physical landscape has become transient, mobile, mutable - and perhaps intelligent.  Hills, buttes, gorges, bodies of water, vegetation - all melt and flow, roaming, reconfiguring the Plains constantly, never staying still.  A feature that might once have been located on the south bank of the Sinew might over time migrate towards the Twilight City of Moroi, itself moored in place only through arcane means.  The changes are visible: undulations and miscibilities quivering like heat-waves, making nonsense of the horizon.

The Shifting is not a tectonic phenomenon, not a series of gentle earthquakes.  Physical reality itself has lost its cohesion: the normal rules do not apply.  Compasses and celestial objects offer the only fixed lines along which to travel, and even these are of erratic utility.  Mapping the Tallow Plains is impossible, navigating them maddening, though daily caravans forge through the unstuck chaos, carting the precious drug called nectar - the puissant sap of the Elder Tree - to Crepuscle, Skein, and Macellaria.  These merchant expeditions must not only negotiate the changeable terrain, they must also fend off the Plains' inhabitants, the feral shapeshifters known as the waxborn.  A few deranged souls - humans, not waxborn - do manage to survive in the Tallow Plains.  These enigmatic nomads are highly valued as guides, well-versed as they are with the perpetually degenerating and reforming landscape.

There were once several great cities built on the Tallow Plains, but in the aftermath of the Shift they too have been rendered spatially mutable.  The result has been a discordant fragmentation of urban space: a street here, a tower there, sometimes so much as a market square or a dried-up canal.  These wild architectural splinters roam as surely as the other features of the landscape, solitary and uncoordinated, no longer part of a greater design but aloof, wandering.  Like the natural landscape, the fractured cities themselves are always visibly mutating: a window might melt slowly into a door, while a buttressed church oozes into a manor-house or a workshop, flagstones and fitted tiles running viscously into wooden planks with peeling paint.  Those few souls experienced in traveling through the Tallow Plains know many of these vagabond structures quite well: some are to be avoided, while others offer limited sanctuary.

The Serrated Coast


The huge far-western coastline of the Cadaverous Earth's last remaining supercontinent (if others exist they are long-lost to all but the most esoteric maps), the Serrated Coast stretches jaggedly from the oft-icy Sea of Whispers in the north to the humid Sallow Seas around Lophius: a multifarious vastness continually bordering the immense Fevered Ocean.  Though the southern city-states that once flourished along the coast as thriving commercial ports are long abandoned some maritime trade does persist: vessels from Crepuscle and Skein, mostly, and even some from the more distant cities of Somnambulon and Dolmen, cling to the coastline on the long, dangerous journey to Lophius far to the south, the last major, active sea-port.  As such, corsairs - increasingly tattered and ill-fed clans of them - still linger as well, particularly in amongst the southern archipelagos.  Despite this limited activity the region is nonetheless a ghost of its former self, littered with ruins, flotsam and jetsam of countless cultures that once dwelt here, now home only to xsur, sirae, and lonely things that sob and gnash their teeth in the night.

Ruins

Dozens of empty cities can be found along the coast.  Some of the oldest are those of the Uzull, claimed in ages past by the waves, leaving only a few barnacle-covered spires and rooftops emerging like stony fish from the water.  The Gengrymar and the Tsaathii Empire also once flourished to the south, old civilizations whose realms extended deep into the swamplands around Lophius; of particular note are whole systems of tombs carved by the Gengrymar into the southeastern cliffs, now become the lairs of gullfolk, yhlei, and worse.

Following the once jewel-like remnants of these southern cities the Serrated Coast segues into blurred chaos as it borders the Tallow Plains, where Shift has debilitated spatial consistency; though not as severely mutable as the Plains themselves the coast here is profoundly uneven, its contours flowing gradually into new shapes, the cities here dissected by topographic flux.  Ships give the coast here a wider birth: close to the shore the currents are as mad and nonsensical as the mutant landscape, and careless pilots have had their vessels torn in two by sudden perturbations in space.

Further north can be found a few pillars, graven with Hellspeak runes, that might once have been part of portal-complexes or infernal palaces of the aeons-old Hell-Dukes, one of the so-called Demon Dynasties that scholars speculate ruled swathes of the Cadaverous Earth during the otherworldly invasions of the Membrane Wars.  Those that dare decipher and speak the incantatory phrases etched on these old monuments rarely go unchanged by their utterances.  More intact (though sometimes marginally so) are the grotesque, decomposing edifices of the Cultivar Technocracy, whose vile living architecture has grown putrid over the centuries and now bakes like rotten seaweed in the sun, covered in weeping sores, chitin walls peeling and fibrous tissues atrophying.  Few can stand their stench, and old, warped things (beasts? servants? the Technocrats themselves?) still sometimes stalk the 'ruins,' growing savage and senile in the reeking dark; some have established breeding populations and venture beyond the coast to molest other corners of the world.

The Southern Swamps

Nameless and enormous, stretching from the shores of the Fevered Ocean and the Sallow Seas to the borders of the Firesong Marches, the southern swamps surrounding the Twilight City of Lophius are a dread place, laced with murky rivers and treacherous bogs.  Bloodwood groves, crazed leechkin, xenophobic hagmen, and hungry demons lurk in the blighted undergrowth.  Mossy ruins rise from the black and bubbling depths of hidden pools; hideous idols grin at the bottom of muddy lakes.  Most of the ruins are those of the Tsathii and the Gengrymar, though the cestoids also maintained a few Imperial forts in amongst the stagnant marshlands.  Many other ruins are those of unknown civilizations whose names and histories have been wholly obscured by time, subsumed by fungus, flooded by swamp-water.

Demons

Though demoniac entities can be found in all corners of the wastes, the brooding eaves and moist shadows of the swamps offer a haven to such creatures, who stalk the fens and the banks of the Gland in constant search of prey.  Elemental and unfathomable, of inscrutable intelligence, the swampland demons are brethren of the primal beast-gods of the sea and their lesser ilk; some say they are not otherworldly at all, but spirits of the Earth itself, stirred from some long repose in the apocalyptic dusk of the world.

The swamp-demons are mostly solitary beings.  When they encounter one another they sometimes fight, though usually they simply ignore one another.  They come in a wide variety of forms, but all are exceedingly inhuman, at least in their natural states: many have amorphous bodies, exoskeletons, or similarly aberrant physiologies.  A few have shapeshifting abilities and can assume different guises, often the forms of those they consumed, masquerading as beasts or humanoids.  Such doppelgangers are usually betrayed by a subtle squirming evident beneath the flesh of their simulacra.

Settlements

The swamps are in fact one of the more densely populated regions of the Cadaverous Earth, riddled with the settlements of the hagmen, with some naghini outposts in the southeast and a smattering of human towns as well.  Most of these are tiny villages, ragged bayou shanties or clusters of rude huts, but a few are considerably larger.

Apart from Lophius itself the largest human settlement in the swamps is Gryss, a violent, oily port along the Gland.   Skinks and tarantulas festoon the crumbling yellow walls of the place like living ornaments, and vibrant speckled mushrooms grow from every crack and crevice.  A much older city lies ruinous beneath the ramshackle wooden constructions of the modern town: here and there a glyph-carved flagstone stares up out of the lichen-covered ground, or an obelisk thrusts itself rain-worn and mossy from a street corner.  The younger town is rawer, greasier, sensual and ruthless.  Carved succubae leer from the corners of buildings, indicating brothels; shop windows display machete-swords and cruel kukris.  Witches smoke ornate hookahs on dilapidated patios and balconies peeling with strips of paint, while bravos and riverport scum swagger in and out of bars and gaming houses with knives and pistols openly displayed.  Most of the humans in Gryss are living, but grave-spawn are evident too, including a nest of eidolons scattered about the town who have long preyed on the populace, undetected.

The most important hagman settlement is concealed deep in the swamp, a secret city and a holy place - Naresch.  Built entirely below the surface of a scum-topped lake, Naresch is nowhere near the size of the Twilight Cities but it nonetheless represents one of the largest hagman settlements.  Here the hagman cults venerate their deity, while daily droves of pilgrims and refugees seeking sanctuary slip below the putrid surface of the lake and descend into the greenish murk of the sunken city.  The priests and priestesses sternly police Naresch, and any non-hagmen who enters is slain on the spot.

Leechkin

Unlike the hagmen, the leechkin do not build: their culture vilifies labour, holding the purity of the parasite as its strongest creed.  Instead they roam the swamps in tribal bands, each led by a shaman.  Sexless, the tribes are untroubled by gendered hierarchy; indeed, the leechkin know almost no elitism, save that they accept the wisdom of the shamans.  New shamans are chosen during infancy, preferably by the current shaman or one of its apprentices, in accordance with certain omens.  A leechkin child whose hand-mouths do not cry but only feeds, whose birth heralds the finding of a bloodwood tree or a similar feast of plenty, and who kills before its first birthday is considered eligible to become a shaman apprentice.  The shamans do not lead a tribe but do provide herbcraft, medical aid, and spiritual guidance to a band.  They also deal with any demons the tribe encounters during its travels, using rituals to either deter or attract the swamp-spirits as desired.

Leechkin tribes have no chiefs or leaders, selecting their routes by a process of nebulous democracy.  They are guided predominantly by the smell of prey or by natural landmarks such as rivers.  They have no formal laws, but disagreements are settled through the ritual of zull/wrogosh which few non-leechkin ever witness: the two contending leechkin approach one another and lay their hand-mouths on their opponents bodies simultaneously, then both begin to feed.  Whoever can drain his opponent faster is considered the victor: the first to tire of sucking or to fall unconscious or dead loses.

The leechkin actively hunt animals but will ignore humanoids unless driven into bloodthirsty psychosis from want of feeding.  They do skirmish with the hagmen, though they are rarely the aggressors and generally avoid hagmen territories unless something lures them in.

The Aurelian Tundra


The cold and haunted north of the Cadaverous Earth consists largely of the Aurelian Tundra or 'Golden Plain' so named for the near perpetual sunlight of its uppermost regions.  Beneath the midnight sun of the Tundra stretches a desert every bit as barren and desolate as the sun-baked vastness of the Slaughter-lands.  Subject to the warped, unstable energies of the Skyscar - a sickly, lurid aurora that shimmers with a ghastly luminescence over the frigid plateaus and gleaming glaciers - the north is a place of alien ruins and frozen mysteries.  As the swollen sun continues to bloat the glaciers slowly thaw, revealing long obscured secrets, the primordial monuments of now distant aeons.

Cities of the Golden Plain

Buried amidst snow drifts or tunnelled into the living rock, or else cloistered amongst the austere, angular mountains of the region (the Murmuring Mountains, so named for the weird winds that whistle through them) are the bizarre, gargantuan cities of the Golden Plains - forsaken places of ice and cyclopean towers, where naught but beasts and hungry spirits dwell.  Uncanny statues of inhuman creatures are here evident: the heroes of the long-forgotten Polyp Dominion before even the Cestoid Imperium, when humanity was enslaved by now extinct fungi-overlords, and of demoniac warlords who led their hordes through the ruptures where the Skyscar now glimmers, and of inscrutable elder gods.  Treasure-hunters occasionally venture into these abandoned cities in search of artefacts left over from the long defunct civilizations of the north, but few return.

Thawing Monstrosities

Deep within the heart of the northlands, encased in thick layers of ice, odd and strangely nebulous forms can be glimpsed, obfuscated by panes of frost.  Long sealed and occluded in their glacial tombs, these vague forms now begin slowly to thaw, as the huge and sickly sun overhead beats mercilessly down.  Long locked in stasis, the beings trapped within the ice begin to stir - for, despite their deathly cast, these entities have merely slumbered in a millennia-long hibernation.  They groan and flex their enigmatic, amorphous limbs, and blink with clustered eyes blinded by the searing white of the tundra, glowing with horrible brightness beneath the unsetting sun.  The true nature of these beasts remains mysterious.  Demons?  Daevas?  Servant-creatures of whatever alien architects dwelt in the ruinous cities of the tundra?

Whatever their origins, those creatures that have emerged from their icy tombs have proved themselves highly dangerous.  Men are found gorily disembowelled, or flensed of skin and muscle; others have had less comprehensible things done to them, their corpses found with their flesh liquefied or with rasping wounds as from barbed radula, or missing neat, bloodless chunks, cleanly removed to expose bone and viscera beneath.  Some who wander into the frozen waste return deranged and giddy with a lunatic fervour, until their brains burst and their skulls split open, giving birth to shadowy, mewling larvae.

The Skyscar


Glistening like a bloody gash across the bleached sky of the far north, the Skyscar is a dimensional weakness, a place where the space between spaces has been ruptured, where otherworldly and entropic realities are bleeding through.  It was here, possibly, that the original breach between the Earth and the Hells was made, the rift that began the Membrane Wars in antiquated aeons.  Though the breach has been patched - sutured - the Skyscar remains: a malignant, shimmering aurora from which Hellish energy seeps.

Demons can no longer cross physically through the Skyscar, but their essences swirl malevolently in the chill air, half-present and invisible, flickering in and out of quasi-existence.  Any who ventures into the Skyscar will be subjected to its soul-corroding fluctuations, will be assaulted by hungry spirits looking for doorways into the world.  Some of these demoniac entities manage to inveigle their way through the thinned boundaries of reality and into mortal vessels: these horrific beings are at first bound to the flesh of their hosts, gradually asserting more and more control until they can manifest completely, bursting free from their victims' fleshly husks like grotesque butterflies from chrysalises.

The Tundrafolk

A hard-bitten, grim-faced, weatherbeaten people, the tundrafolk of the Aurelian Plain are cold-toughened savages made brutal by the harshness of the north.  Fur-clad cannibals of a hundred bickering clans, they roam the blank, desolate places between the Skyscar and the Northern Baronies, the southern edges of the Aurelian Tundra, hunting aurochs, herding yaks, and descending in ragged hordes to raid the fortified settlements that dot the largely temperature north.  Skilled in the shamanistic arts of skinchanging, augury, and weather-whispering, the cunning, flesh-eating witches of these northern tundrafolk aid their warriors on their jaunts, summoning fog to hide their approach or blizzards to harass or delay enemy forces, or assuming the shapes of wolves and wolverines, running and fighting alongside human clansmen in battle.  They are skilled also with the elements of blood and ice; some worship the mad, dreaming gods of the sea, while others revere the abominations that roam the northernmost wastes.

Further north, clustered in peculiar communes along the icy coasts, lurk the crustacean philosophers called the Oorls, whose esoteric wisdom is cryptic but profound.  They crawl about in the glyph-etched shells of giant nautili, like hermit crabs, chittering to one another in their complex, staccato tongue.  A few half-mad scholars occasionally make the long pilgrimage to the Tundra to seek counsel with the Oorls, though few know of their existence at all.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:15:52 PM
Moroi
The Gaunt City, City of the Elder Tree

Inchoate

The celestial sap of the Elder Tree pulsed in his veins, filling him with eldritch light, a suffusion of divine nectar, throbbing in time to his heartbeat - primordial, transcendent, eternal.  Sketching an arcane character in the air with the articulated finger of his clockwork gauntlet - sigil scribed, twined with cabalistic wires feeding into his bloodstream - the aspiring witch Magnus Shacklebane muttered the invocation fervently, his eyes clouded with tenebrous puissance, the bloodstone in his right fist sizzling, scorching his leather glove.  Laboriously he pronounced the prolix syllables of the incantation, giving each torturous, convoluted phrase of the formula its proper weight, affecting the serpentine sibilance appropriate for the ritual.

The air before him shimmered.  Behind his square glasses Magnus' eyes widened, glowing with sepulchral light.  The distortion intensified as the adolescent witch continued the invocation, gesturing with his gauntlet and holding forth the bloodstone.  There was a queasy smell - brimstone, copper, burning blood, the syrupy reek of nectar.  A vague manifestation half-solidified: a grotesque but monstrously charismatic visage, at once gibberingly mad and unfathomably wise, its eyes sublime voids.  For one ephemeral moment those abyssal eyes stared back into Magnus' own; but then, as the bloodstone singed through his impskin glove to burn bare flesh, the would-be witch's tongue stumbled over a single whispered syllable.  The face flickered; the bloodstone slipped from Mangus' hand and fell to the floor, where it shattered into a thousand iridescent shards.  The face, only a hazy insinuation, melted into a wisp of red smoke.

Gaolor

The witch unlocked the door to the cellar and began his descent, one hand trailing along the decaying brick wall, the other grasping a glossy black taper for light.  Flesh-colored boots padded down the slime-slick stone steps.  In the candle's flicker the witch's face was thrown into unnerving chiaroscuro, its hard lines sharpened, violet-stained smirk made crueler, wolfish yellow eyes more predatory.  The trailing hand tapped at the crumbling brickwork with long, black nails.

At the bottom of the stairs the candlelight bloated to fill the high corners and skeletal vaulted curves of the basement with a swollen gothic glow.  A legion of shadows sprung forth from the dim recesses to cavort along the walls, caressing the grotesque marble gargoyles with lithe, black fingers.  The witch used his taper to light other candles about the room; the shadow-dancers withered and diminished.

In the center of the floor, surrounded by a chaos of scrawled inscriptions, engraved wards, and circles of red powder, the creature squatted in a cage of black iron, peering at the witch through the bars with coldly hateful eyes.  It stroked its wrist with a seven-fingered hand and hissed.

'Hello, Marquis Naberius,' the witch said, revealing a mouth full of sharp white teeth.  'I have questions for you.'

The creature shifted its weight in its cage before venturing forth into the light.  A huge black raven's head sat on a slender body with dark purple skin etched with livid orange tattoos, like lines of flame.  The lower half was coarse and hairy, with canine paws and tail.

'Music!'  The creature demanded, its voice welling with weird echoes, as if it were speaking across a long distance, or from deep underground.

'How ill-mannered of me,' the witch apologized.  'One moment, my good Marquis.'  He crossed the Court - careful not to break the protective markings on the floor - and withdrew a small wax cylinder from a pocket of his long coat, which he inserted into a polished phonograph.  A strange, haunting music something like a nocturne began to play, filling the room with spectral voices and the spindly plucking of strings.

'Ahhh'¦' The raven-headed thing sighed.  Its long digits traveled up and down one sinewy arm, lingering at the shoulder where black feathers segued into smooth humanoid flesh.

'And now then, my excellent '“'

'Hush!' The creature commanded, eyes squeezed shut, listening.  The witch's mouth twitched in irritation, but he allowed his captive several minutes to savor the lush macabre textures of the music.  While he waited he smoked a long cigarillo plucked with splendidly manicured fingers from an enameled ebony case.

Soon the air was filled with wraiths of pungent blue smoke.  The Marquis was making shadow-puppets on the wall, its fourteen spidery fingers contorted into fanciful configurations - lion, three-headed wolf, winged serpent, a man and woman copulating.  A tremor of disgust and, beneath, quiet fear traveled down the witch's spine.  He twirled a black ringlet of his wig, and reminded himself of the wards he'd placed, the sigils he'd spent days laboring over before binding the creature to a corporeal manifestation.  Were a stray rat to evade the clutches of his vermin-catching homunculi and break even one of the circles'¦ He dismissed his anxieties as the Marquis stirred.

'Very well,' it consented.  'Ask your precious questions, mortal.'


Demographics

Ghilan - 10%
Hagmen - 1%
Human - 87%
Other - 2%

Not including the inhabitants of The Boil.

Architecture

With the exception of the baroque homes in the Marble Quarter and the crystalline mass of the Glass Quarter the architecture of Moroi is bleak and industrial.  Even the heavily ornamented Ministry of Ambrosia, a huge secular cathedral, is austere in the extreme, consisting largely of brute concrete.  The sanatoria, factories, marketplaces, and towerblocks of the Gaunt City are built principally of brick or concrete, meshed incongruously with naked machinery - exposed pistons and gears, pneumatic pumps, smokestacks, iron grills, portcullises, catwalks, whirring clockwork instruments, furnaces and boilers.  Row upon row of claustrophobic, soot-stained tenements languish beneath palls of smoke, their walls scrawled with graffiti.  The streets are cobbled stone, overgrown with weeds, filled with steam rising from sewer-grates and the chimneys of chthonic workshops.

Fashion

Moroi's citizenry favour dark clothing with occasional bursts of vivid, psychedelic colour.  Top hats, bowler hats, berets, broad-brimmed hats, and bandanas are very common headgear.  Leather dusters, jackets, cloaks, and trenchcoats are worn by both men and women, as are frock coats or dark suits for slightly more wealthy men.  Women tend to wear corsets, black lace dresses, stockings, and long gloves (often fingerless fishnet gloves).  Chokers and spiked collars are worn by both sexes, and one occasionally sees black face-masks.  Footwear often takes the form of heavy black boots.  Many wear round glasses and sunglasses.

Amongst the lower classes studded leather vests are often worn, sometimes with brightly coloured shirts beneath.  Weapons are proudly displayed, usually long knives or firearms, and the wealthy tend to use swordcanes.  Tattoos and piercings are ubiquitous and often have minor eldritch properties.  Hair is worn quite long and is often spiked, dyed, and elaborately styled; dreadlocks are sometimes also worn.  Beards are common, particularly muttonchop sideburns and dyed, forked beards.  Makeup  and nail polish tends to be heavily applied by both sexes - usually black and white, though occasionally more vibrant.

The Three Arbours

Lacking the strictly demarcated wards of Skein, the islands of Lophius, or the tiered levels of Dolmen, Moroi is a rambling city, but three broad districts can be described from is otherwise bewildering chaos of streets. Called the Arbours, each has grown up around one of the Elder Trees, the mythic, gargantuan trees - sometimes invoked as living gods - from which the substance known as nectar is harvested. Only one remains living: the other two have been either drained dry or destroyed. Around their vast bulks Moroi has grown haphazardly, buildings clustered about the aeons-old trunks like worshippers, dwarfed by the Trees' immensity. Today the three Arbours are known as Ambery, Suckle-town, and The Boil.

Ambery

Beneath the spreading canopy of the last remaining Elder Tree lies Ambery, seat of the Resin Merchants and source of the nectar, the lifeblood of witchcraft across the Cadaverous Earth. Hulking stone structures somewhere between fortresses and secular cathedrals loom darkly in the shadow of wilting leaves, the many ministries and opulent palaces of the ichor-dealers. Ambery is divided into four quarters, the official bureaus of the ebbing elite.

Ambery is patrolled extensively by the city`s militia, who are altogether absent from The Boil and who make only cursory raids in Suckle-town save in Fat-Wolf-Furrow. Consisting of hardened mercenary warriors in black leather armour, the militia is supplemented by witches recruited by the Order of Chirurgeons and rendered susceptible to suggestion in the Iron Quarter`s laboratories, then pumped full of nectar. Collared and shackled, these witches are directed by expertly trained handlers, prodded into channelling eldritch power. There are other forms of surveillance in Ambery - nests of eyes that can manifest on the walls of hexed buildings, for example, allowing the Resin Merchants to keep a constant watch over their city.

The Aurelian Quarter

Containing the Elder Tree itself, the Aurelian quarter also houses the militia barracks, the colossal Ministry of Ambrosia - headquarters of the Resin Merchants - Moroi`s central marketplace, and the silo-fields where Moroi`s nectar supply is held. The Ministry is the most imposing and impressive structure in the district and indeed in all Moroi, a bulbous domed monstrosity of gilt, marble, concrete, and stone, festooned with wards and gargoyles and guarded by a small army. The marketplace is far less colourful than those of Macellaria or Crepuscle, dominated almost entirely by the huge queues leading up the Dispensaries, the official dealers of the Resin Merchants who sell nectar to the addicted populace. Dwarfing everything, however, is the Elder Tree itself, entangled with machinery, its nectar constantly siphoned from its aeons-old veins and pumped into the well-guarded silos. Slowly the Elder Tree wanes; its leaves grow paler, drier, its bark begins to rot; it withers and desiccates, even as the sucking proboscii that penetrate it suck more fervently at its ancient flesh.

The Marble Quarter

Arrayed on Canopy Hill beneath the huge leaves of the Elder Tree are the palaces of the Marble Quarter, lavish gated mansions sequestered away from the grime and grot of Suckle-town and the scream-haunted halls of the sanatoria. Here are manicured parklands and clean squares with brass statues or fountains, tree-lined avenues and rows of baroque homes, each walled with warded stones to deter intruders.

Moroi`s impressive library and its legendary University - divided into nine colleges, each with their own grandiose hall - can also be found in the Marble Quarter, bringing many traveling scholars to the district, hungry for knowledge.

The Iron Quarter

The imposing edifices of stone and black metal at the center of the Iron Quarter are Moroi's sanatoria, asylums for the city's veritable legions of madmen. Echoing with the screams and raving gibberish of the insane, the sanatoria are administered by the Order of Chirurgeons, an organization of surgeons and fleshcrafters known for their lurid experimentations. Sanctioned by the Resin Merchants, the Chirurgeons roam the streets of Suckle-town with warded cages seeking prime specimens of the insane, who they incarcerate in the sanatoria. Lobotomies, bloodletting, and electroshock therapies are the mildest of their methods, and those deemed incurable are condemned to become fodder for the High Chirurgeons' subterranean laboratories, the vats of eldritch liquid and the stained stone slabs where unlikely things are fashioned. The 'rehabilitated' patients, their minds dulled with drugs and surgery, their bodies warped with chemicals and exotic grafts, join bound witches and mercenaries as agents of the city militia. These creations are far from the servitors of Macellaria, those piecemeal vessels of stitched flesh, dead flesh made animate, nor are they zombies, the mindless psychic puppets of Somnambulon - rather, the thralls of the Chirurgeons are living men and women subjugated into docility and twisted into chimerical shapes, refashioned in accordance with often perverse aesthetics.

The Glass Quarter

The crystalline mass of the Glass Quarter comprises the many glasshouses of Moroi where the bulk of the city`s food is grown. Positioned as it is on the edge of the Tallow Plains, agriculture is limited in Moroi, and unlike cities such as Lophius, Crepuscle, and Skein, there are no major rivers allowing for fishing. As such the Gaunt City relies on the glasshouses to produce fresh fruit, grain, and vegetables; specially hexed lights provide the illumination, and susurrating wardens, all of them trained witches, tend the gardens, whispering spells of encouragement to the plants, causing them to grow to prodigious sizes.

Suckle-town

Become a flea-bitten and mongrel sprawl packed tightly with junkies, beggars, and criminals, the Arbour called Suckle-town clings to Ambery like a hungry cub to its mother's bruised teat. Its Elder Tree has long been exhausted, the sap within drained dry. Without the vital nectar the god-tree quickly withered and petrified, becoming a great and ruinous fossil. In the centuries since its death the wretched inhabitants of Suckle-town have invaded its once-sacred bark in a second ravishing, digging caves and tunnels into its marrow and pilfering bits of its rusted machinery to pawn for more nectar.

The sanatoria of Ambery are laughably, woefully inadequate to contain the hordes of the deranged in Suckle-town, afflicted either by the ichor itself or second-hand through one of the wide-spread endemics of insanity, little echoes of the dementia epidemics of long ago. Everyone is mad here, or at the very least unhinged, and the many ugly districts bear names only the mad might coin.

Corkscrew-Slough

A mushroom-covered maze reeking of mildew and rot, the damp district of Corkscrew-Slough is lined with opium dens, shadowmilk cafes, bars, and tawdry brothels lit with lurid paper lamps. Though nectar is the drug of choice for all of Moroi's residents, many of its libertine or simply desperate denizens are lured to other drugs and pleasures, seeking to sample new sensations or stave off misery for a few hours. Lethe-tea drinkers wander across the catwalks and intersecting stone bridges high above the streets like drowsy children or deranged tightrope walkers, blissfully amnesiac, tripping over the slumped, white-eyed bodies of mindwrack and asherat users, junkies strung out on jabber or buzzing with diluted doses of thrum or raving with lips stained sallow from madwine. The Phantasmagorian Bazaar, sometimes called the Market of Dreams, panders to Suckle-town's myriad addicts, ringed by the whorehouses and drug-dens - a rickety place where pallid men sell pouches of powder or glossy hallucinogenic eggs or phials of shimmering liquid. Moroi's small hagman population - only a few hundred - also make their homes in Corkscrew-Slough, dwelling in half-flooded basements and burrows.

Fat-Wolf-Furrow

The industrial section of Suckle-town and indeed the principle factory district of Moroi, Fat-Wolf-Furrow consists of block after block of warehouses and factories, a cauldron of vapours and noxious smoke, wreathing the steel girders and brickwork tumors and tangles of pipes with ghosts of smog. Here those goods not grown in the Glass Quarter of Ambery or imported from one of the other Twilight Cities are synthesized. The printing presses also run here, churning out cheap newspapers and books to feed Moroi's bibliophilia. Most of the factory workers also make their homes in the Furrow, though some trudge to the slums of Wasp-Hole and Abscess-Weft.

Abscess-Weft

The largest residential district in Moroi, Abscess-Weft is also the most destitute. Row after row of dilapidated tenements, shacks, and communal halls of ancient stone are packed with the poor, most of them quite mad. Mingling amongst them are predators and prostitutes and pedlars hawking cheap goods, coal and food and knives and drugs. Rogue eidolons unable to penetrate the exclusive upper crust of the Gaunt City are forced to feed on the damned of Abscess-Weft, and a hundred different diseases wrack the addicted populace - harrowflux, spectre-plague, and spontaneous dementia and others more mundane, syphilis and dysentery and malaria, tuberculosis and cholera and influenza. It is this slew of debilitations and infections that give the district its name, for they seem concentrated here in greater profusion than the rest of the city, a veritable encyclopaedia of illness.

Wasp-Hole

Arcane graffiti covers the brick walls of Wasp-Hole's intoxicant, falling-down architecture where gutter-witches and soul tinkers and a score of two-bit hexers with dull sparks of talent and a few syllables of spells crammed into their crania hawk stained manskin scrolls or henna sigils in back-alley glyph parlors. The petrified Tree hunkers hugely above the mean, piss-dappled and blood-smeared façades. Inside the rough-hewn corridors carved from the stony bark addicts and madmen wander or collapse in catatonic clumps, and the floor is carpeted with a glass patina of empty syringes still crusty with blood or pus. Over time the residents have built a whole network of rickety homes and shops in the branches of the dead tree, accessible via spiraling wooden steps and swaying bridges.  Also in Wasp-Hole are dozens of small bookstores and decomposing libraries heavy with must, their volumes slowly being devoured by worms.

While demon worshippers and those seeking their fortunes told flock to Grease-Welter, the patrons of Wasp-Hole are those seeking charms, warded items, spells, and similar ensorcellements. Alchemists peddle potions and curatives and aphrodisiacs from gargoyle-guarded shops; wiry bravoes with rudimentary witchcraft and veins dark with nectar sell their services for coin or ichor, eldritch mercenaries and thugs with enough puissance to invoke a crude sigil or channel some second-hand hex.

Manikin-Slump

Sordid and mangy in the extreme, the slums of Manikin-Slump are populated largely by Moroi's grave-spawn, a minority in the Gaunt City mostly consisting of ghilan. The slums here have windows shrouded black with tattered curtains; others are boarded up entirely or smeared with pitch or black paint. At night the grave-spawn come out, walking in lightless streets - whereas the rest of Moroi (save The Boil) is stained sepia by eldritch lampposts come dusk, Manikin-Slump remains gloomy; only the smattering of ghul-bars - small and thinly spread compared to the thick-on-the-ground cannibal eateries of Macellaria or Crepuscle - have any light at all, and this shed only by crimson-tinted lanterns. A few derelict shrines to stellar deities subsist with meagre congregations, muttering sermons in Corpserattle.

A murderer is on the loose in Manikin-Slump, killing only grave-spawn. Dubbed the Undertaker, this shadowy figure has yet to be seen, leaving taunting messages carved into the bodies of his victims. In the penny dreadfuls printed en masse in Fat-Wolf-Furrow he is portrayed as a masked, top-hatted aristocrat with a black cape and a swordcane, though the veracity of this image is dubious at best.

Grease-Welter

Though demonolatry is hardy as pervasive in Moroi as in Skein, where the magisters' estates contain whole breeding populations of hellspawn and a familiar is a mark of social status, the City of the Elder Tree has its share of infernal traffickers. The diabolists of Grease-Welter have erected have a hundred squalid shrines to discordian deities and demon-lords, worshipping pastiche idols of wood and flesh and rusted metal, scrap-fashioned effigies to whom they make unwholesome sacrifices of incense, salt, raw meat, blood and other bodily fluids. It is here one goes to attend profane congregations, to have entrails read or a demon truth-sayer interrogated, or to forge contracts with fiends in rundown temples and basement sanctums. Rising above the other wretched shrines is the Hall of Black Bile where the swollen creature Phelaegor is bound, chained with warded silver fetters in a vaulted tomb below the Hall's main chambers. An obese, gray-skinned, tusked demon with curled ram's horns and four elephantine arms - each shackled with a warded chain - Phelaegor can sleep for months but periodically awakes in a bestial rage, quieted only by still-living food. He supplies the members of his cult with certain substances drawn from his huge body and with spells and eldritch secrets culled from his alien mind in exchange for sacrifices.

The Boil

Unlike the ossified Elder Tree of Suckle-town, the charnel corpse that towers with blackened limbs over the ruinous Arbour dubbed The Boil was not merely drained dry. In the distant past some disaster caused the Tree to ignite, the nectar within boiling beneath the bark, splitting the Tree's flesh and spilling out into the streets in steaming gouts of eldritch vapour and seething golden liquid. This catastrophe, known as the Conflagration or the Boiling, laid waste to the part of Moroi now called The Boil. Fire swept the streets, burning homes and citizens; yet even after the eldritch flames had died and the last embers faded, The Boil remained a shunned, forbidden place. Strange creatures stirred in the cinders - perhaps the former residents, perhaps things invoked through the chaotic arcane tempest of the Conflagration itself. Those who ventured into the charred wreckage in hope of looting the ruins returned with stories of shifting streets, watching eyes, and unspeakable terrors lurking in the ashes - if they returned at all. It was as if the district itself assumed a kind of sentience, becoming a faceless but malevolent presence with vengeful appetites.

Today the Boil is walled off with stern battlements of brick and iron heavily warded to contain whatever entities, curses, or creatures were spawned in the fires. Only a handful of scavengers, universally deemed insane, dare enter The Boil, and most fall victim to whatever dwells within.

Blistermaze

The oozing walls of Blistermaze are afflicted with a roving pestilence, an architectural leprosy: patches of peeling plaster or crumbling brick will suddenly develop weeping sores and pustules that eventually worsen into membranous cysts. The cysts swell and grow, incubating the hideous denizens of Blistermaze: scuttling, quadruped beasts somewhere between degenerate humans, hairless dogs, and spiders, hunchbacked, mandibled, flesh-hungry creatures with tremendous agility and poisonous bites, the pox-dogs of Blistermaze. After having birthed a brood of these chittering monstrosities the cysts and pustules will rapidly close, scab, and heal, leaving only shredded castings and scars.

Manglespur

A tribe of humanoid things resembling naked, emaciated men and women from the neck down infest Manglespur; their heads are cut off halfway up their faces, just before their eyes, giving way to an incongruous and squirming array of tightly clustered insect limbs. Their appearance is often preceded by a roving mist, tainted slaughterhouse red and reeking of burnt flesh; this unearthly fog cloaks their arrival, allowing them to draw close to their prey on silent, spindly limbs. Doors have become gnashing mouths and the black sockets of windows are filled with watching eyes in the claustrophobic alleys of Manglespur. Here the Grasping Darkness oozes from building to building, a crawling death; here the bricks or flagstones can become cackling faces with cruel, biting teeth. Huge flapping things somewhere between birds and bats with rotting bodies and protruding bones nest in the attics and atop the roofs, fluttering their leathery feathers and cawing hideously.

Blackenburgh

The physical center of The Boil, Blackenburgh is a scorched, desolate ruin whose buildings are little more than burnt-out shells. The incinerated remains of the Elder Tree tower above the ruins, branches twisted, trunk warped, bark scalded. Ashes still rain upon Blackenburgh, stirred up by whispering winds that echo with the screams of the burning citizenry. A few globs of solidified metal melted during the Conflagration litter the ground, once parts of the machine that drained the Tree and whose possible malfunction is theorized to have precipitated the Boiling itself. Ashen wraiths speculated to be some form of soot elemental have congealed out of the destruction of Blackenburgh, ghostly manifestations of the Conflagration that are dispersed only with difficulty.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:22:50 PM
Lophius
The Corsair City, City of the Lamprey

Hubris

The sickly sky above Lophius glowered and spat, swollen rainclouds fit to burst, threatening to engulf the disjointed streets with a torrential downpour. The canals were already flooding, the mossy bridges of granite and marble lapped at by the murky waters, the feet of their decorative statues immersed. Out over the Sallow Seas distant thunder cackled, promising a storm. No ships would sail from the docks of Bile-Mire or Chainwater tonight, lest they join the wooden carcasses in the Driftwood District.

The Gland River battered the pillars of the Bridge of Bravoes, swirling about the huge statues supporting the ancient bridge before rushing out to the open sea. In the midst of the worsening downpour two men regarded each other while the crowds behind them jeered and shouted, humans shivering in the rain, hagmen turning their greenish faces upwards, exulting, black-clad ghilan mute and motionless.

'Draw steel, wormfood,' Iccelus sneered. The graftpunk moved with predatory grace, brandishing the glyph-etched rapier Red Laughter and an evil-looking dagger, crooked backwards in his off-hand. He twirled the curved knife and snarled taunts at his opponent. 'Corpse-fucker. Halfman. You should scuttle off to Bad-Fen where you belong, or go back to whatever hole you crawled out of.' There were cheers from the crowd. The young man's black eyes flashed as he walked forwards, blade held out before him, grafted muscles taut beneath tattooed flesh. 'You heard me. Haul your maggoty arse off or I'll send you back to the pit what spawned you.'

The other figure said nothing but favoured the youth with a sharp-toothed and yellowed grin. He removed his tinted spectacles and drew his sword from its scabbard with deliberate slowness, rasping the blade against the tough manskin sheath and assuming a creeping sidelong stance. A broad-brimmed black hat slouched across his features, shading his face and warding off the rain and the hateful sun; drops of water beaded on his brown leather outfit and pattered off the sewn-in steel disks. Behind the pale fighter were more of his ilk - gray-skinned, dour spectators with mocking amber eyes.

Iccelus' shaved head gleamed wetly. His many earrings jangled as he advanced, drunk with rage and fear. With a wordless howl he hurled his dagger; it spun through the air in a silvery arc, thudded into the living man's adversary. The ghul wrenched it from his chest with a smirk and licked the naked blade clean.

'Thrice-damned unman freak!' Iccelus' face contorted with a paroxysm of raw hate. He danced forward and lunged in a spasm of grafted muscle, his augmented calves writhing. Red Laughter darted out, impossibly fast, bathed in a crimson aura of eldritch energy - and then spun from its wielder's grasp, knocked aside by the ghul's own blade. It clattered on the flagstones of the bridge and shattered, the demoniac spirit bound within dissipating in a brief ghost of brimstone smoke. Its sigils, previously a blazing red, grew dull.

There was a shimmering blur as the grave-spawn duellist riposted, and Iccelus' shout of frustration turned to a choked gasp. He clawed at the sword now skewering his throat, gurgling; blood dribbled from his mouth. The ghul swordsman chuckled and wrenched his sword from the graftpunk's neck. Iccelus fell to the ground and lay still, the pool of blood spreading beneath him already being washed away by the rain. The crowd's yells died with the youth. They began to back away with suddenly fearful looks.

'Ah, the heady confidence of the young and the living,' the ghul rasped, his voice like snakeskin. He twitched his head and two of his men walked forward, seizing Iccelus' body by the ankles. 'Dinner's on me tonight, boys.'

Demographics

Ghilan - 22%
Hagmen - 24%
Human - 40%
Leechkin - 9%
Naghini - 2%
Other - 3%

Architecture

Starved for space on the cramped islands, the builders of Lophius have constructed the city in layers; as a previous level sinks into the swamp, another is built atop it.  The lowest levels of the city are either naked rock, slimy and barnacle studded, or foundations formed from now partially sunken ruins.  These early ruins are of fitted flagstone, pieced together without mortar - each piece unique, painstakingly carved and inserted.  Tiered stairs, triangular arches, mosaic courtyards, and bestial carvings characterize this first layer.  A layer above are newer (but still centuries-old) buildings.  These are baroque monstrosities of white and gold, cracked marble and mossy granite and chipping gilt, rococo and lavishly ornamented, crowded with statuettes, circular columns, rounded arches, intricate friezes, lurid basilicas, and opulent sculptures.  Finally there is a rude, recent layer of wooden and brick buildings.  The gantries and wrought-iron bridges of the lower level are supplanted by swaying rope-bridges and catwalks, the precision of the foundation layer and the overblown excesses of the middle layer replaced with glorified shacks and ramshackle, unornamented halls.

Fashion

Lophius is hot, so clothing tends to be light and loose.  White tunics and colourful doublets are the usual uniform, with loose pants tucked into high leather boots.  Broad-brimmed hats providing shade are frequently worn, as are bandanas.  Long, loose coats and jackets are popular, as colourful as possible, cut at knee or waist length.  By and large there are few gender differentiations in terms of clothing.  Hair is usually worn very long, and beards are popular, with both frequently being braided; dreadlocks are also quite popular.  Duellists (known as bravoes) wear long moustaches without beards which they shave as a sign of shame if they yield in a duel (it is considered an honour to die unshaven).  As in Macellaria most individuals go armed, usually with knife (or two, or six) and a slender sword or a pistol at the very least.  A few additional weapons are often secreted beneath clothing (such as stiletto knives or a holdout pistol).

Tattoos are more common in Lophius than in any other city, and usually denote family, gang or corsair affiliation.  Many incorporate glyphs and squirm, flicker, or transform beneath the skins of their bearers.  Most people also have at least two or three piercings, and some have innumerable piercings in their ears, noses, lips, eyebrows, nipples, navels, and every other place imaginable.  Henna is also worn very often, and decorative scarification (again, often with gang or pirate symbolism) is sometimes undertaken.  Attitudes towards nudity or partial nudity are also considerably more relaxed in Lophius than in the other Twilight Cities, often to better display tattoos, henna, piercings, or scars.  Other jewellery includes bangles, anklets, bracelets, bracers, chokers, necklaces, and rings, and sometimes jewellery incorporates shells or coral.  Particularly hardened individuals may display a necklace of ears or teeth, trophies from duels.

Leechkin Beggary

Of all the Twilight Cities, Lophius plays the greatest host to the leechkin, a race of slick-skinned, androgynous, haematophagic humanoids more commonly found in tribal groupings in the surrounding swamps.  A substantial population of leechkin, however, have since emigrated to the City of the Lamprey, shedding their traditional ways and embracing an urban lifestyle.  While a few individual leechkin have found employ within the anarchic city's nebulous, quasi-feudal hierarchy of gangs as mercenary fighters, hitmen, torturers, and enforcers, and a very small, highly unorthodox number have seen success in other arenas - such as the bizarre and strikingly well-spoken leechkin businessman Mr. Rasp - the vast majority of leechkin in Lophius are beggars.

It is a great error to think of the leechkin as stupid creatures, as animals, ruled wholly by their drives.  Indeed, leechkin intelligence has been demonstrated to be comparable to human intelligence.  However, save for a few freak cases, leechkin seem culturally - even, perhaps, biologically - incapable of proper ambition.  They covet little save blood, and have no compunction against begging for it, no sense of shame; work, and pride in that work, is alien to the typical leechkin mindset, sign of hubris and folly, of unnecessary and wasteful effort.  Thus the leechkin persist in Lophius: beseeching passersby in a mishmash polyglot of tongues, till some citizen throw them a few coins or, more commonly, obligingly offers their wrist to the hungry creature.

Yet the question inevitably arises: why give blood or coin to the leechkin at all?  The folk of Lophius, and indeed all of the Cadaverous Earth, are not noted for their sense of compassion; some scholars have even suggested that humanity is losing its charitable impulses altogether, as the result of a long process of acclimatization to the harshness of this dark and merciless world, so close to the end of things.  The answer is that the people of Lophius do not give out of charity: they do so out of fear.

Nearly one in ten sentient creatures in Lophius is leechkin.  It would be, to put it mildly, an enormous undertaking to drive the entire leechkin population out of the city by force, a project that would additionally require the cooperation of the city's many competitive factions, a thing unheard of in Lophius.  Leechkin who do not feed regularly quickly lose their fleshly paunch and shrivel up, becoming gaunt, emaciated creatures.  Additionally they become possessed with a psychopathic bloodlust which consumes their minds utterly, such that they can think of nothing but blood.  Leechkin reduced to this state will stalk and kill any they come across, sometimes in mobs; in the past, poorly-fed leechkin suffering from the crimson thirst have drained dozens and even hundreds dry before recovering their wits.  Thus the non-leechkin populace of Lophius is held at ransom by the city's beggars: give, and give generously, or suffer the consequences.

The Teeth

Most of old Lophius is submerged, stone corridors flooded, vaults and halls overgrown with barnacles and seaweed, temples and tombs and marketplaces haunted by lampreys, cuttlefish, and eels.  Only a few daring submariners, reckless men and women clad in steam-sealed suits and accompanied by hagmen guides, brave the treacherous underwater city, returning to the surface with briny treasures; the rest of Lophius' residents dwell on the Teeth, seven protrusions of rock and architecture which form the canal-ridden islands on which the new city is built.  The islands are named the Talon, Crucible, the Viper's Head, Crooked-Finger, Hunger Rock, Greenfang, and Murmur Isle.  The gangs of Lophius are not criminal per se: rather, they represent rough factions controlling a given section of the city through force and fear, protecting the district but extracting taxes from their citizenry as well.  Only Shellhome and parts of Crucible, Hunger Rock, and Murmur Isle are free from their presence.

Shellhome

The only district not located on an island, Shellhome is a suburban shantytown, a spatter of buildings clustered round the Brooding Bridge that leads to the Vespergate district on Greenfang.  Here fishermen lower wicker cages into the greenish waters, while their wives prepare meals of crayfish or terrapin in houses formed from the empty shells of some extinct lineage of colossal snails or nautilus.

Greenfang

The large island of Greenfang is crisscrossed with canals, and allows access to the rest of Lophius via three prominent bridges (not including the Brooding Bridge connecting Lophius to the mainland): the Iron Bridge (to Crucible's Foundries), Devil's Arch (to the Viper's Head's Coil), and the Bridge of Bravoes (to the Talon).  Water-taxis and gondolas are the predominant form of transportation, as opposed to the rickshaws and carriages prominent elsewhere in Lophius.

Vespergate

Past the Brooding Bridge - a huge, gargoyle-guarded edifice smeared with grime and covered in moss - lies Vespergate, the largest district on Greenfang and the entrance to Lophius, City of the Lamprey.  Foggy and crowded, Vespergate is one of the central residential districts of Lophius, principally inhabited by the quick, though leechkin beggars plead for blood and coin in the gutters and various other races can be seen, especially on the central Street of Mists, a winding avenue that runs from the Brooding Bridge to Devil's Arch.

Snailsump

The major hagman ghetto in Lophius is Snailsump, an amphibious district which merges with the Gland River.  Large hatchery towers loom above the communal dwellings and mud baths, while cultists do service to the divine aspects and temple prostitutes moan in the sacred pleasure-houses.  Stairways carved into the sides of canals lead to the underwater portions of the district, which includes the prominent submarine bay where many of Skein's submersibles dock.  The hagmen do not conform to the usual gang structure, rather being ruled by a cadre of elders, most of them religious leaders.

Bad-Fen

The less-moneyed grave-spawn district in Lophius, Bad-Fen is populated by ghilan, shades, and a few other miscellaneous undead not rich enough to afford the clifftop manses of Groanward but neither so poor as to seek refuge in the caves of Skullford on the Talon.  Ghul-bars are common here, and there is a small corpse-bazaar - nothing close to the Skin Markets of Macellaria, of course, but a sizeable marketplace nonetheless selling various bits and pieces for food and eldritch purposes.  Leechkin and cestoids (of which there are very few in Lophius) linger in this district as well.

   Most of the buildings are damp and mildewed, with a morbid, eerily quiet atmosphere punctuated only by the muttered half-whispers of ghul speech.  Two gangs contend the district: the grim all-shade gang called the Silent Ghosts - every member save a handful of 'speakers' has their lips sewn shut - and the ghilan gang the Devourers run by the so-called Mr. Gray from the ghul-bar The Sepulcher.

Chainwater

Greenfang's major dockland, Chainwater is a murky maze crowded with steamboats from Skein and Crepuscle, grim galleons from Somnambulon, and even the macabre vessels of the lilix, far from their northern berth in Dolmen.  It is comprised principally of warehouses, shipwrights, and offices, but the gang called the Chain-Warders is a major presence here, taking a docking fee from all ships and boats.  They contend with the Silent Ghosts of Bad-Fen and the Ophidians of the Viper's Head looking to expand onto Greenfang for territory.

Crooked-Finger

A tall pinnacle of stone and wood, Crooked-Finger rears up out of the water like some ancient obelisk, a monolithic spire with tiered layers, each a self-contained district.  The tiers bear fanciful names culled from some elder tongue, quite distinct from the usual naming conventions predominate in Lophius.  Built vertically rather than horizontally, Crooked-Finger spirals upwards through a series of stairways and ramps with gates separating the various wards, each marked with that ward's name.  The oldest, largest bridge in Lophius, the Elder Bridge, links Crooked-Finger to the Viper's Head in Serpentside.

Bregm

Bregm is an incredibly important district in Lophius, and the bottom tier of Crooked-Finger.  It contains the city's largest slave market, one of the cornerstones of the city's economy: captives brought in from raids from the Bluebottle Archipelago, the settlements of the Serrated Coast, the swamplands surrounding Lophius, and elsewhere are bartered in the myriad auction houses of Bregm, sold off by pock-marked and mean-smiled auctioneers to industrial overseers for use in the Foundries or the factory districts of other cities, to captains looking for cheap oarsmen, to leering fops as fancy-boys and girls, or to wealthy merchants as servants.  The gang called the Shacklers hold sway here, keeping a take from every auction house from the lowliest platform selling malformed laborers and old women to the high-scale bidding places where the clientele sip absinthe, madwine, blood, and sherry while eunuch warriors and voluptuous concubines are dearly purchased.

Skaumn

The pleasure district, Skaumn is filled with brothels, drug dens, and bars.  Most of the establishments here cater to the quick - the majority of ghul-bars can be found on Greenfang in the shabby district of Bad-Fen.  Run by the opportunistic pimp styling himself as the Vermillion Prince, Skaumn is a highly lucrative tier held tenaciously by the Crimson Cloaks, the Prince's gang of red-caped bravoes, foppish knife-fighters and pistoliers.  Unlike the pleasure houses of Per-Bashti, the brothels in Skaumn tend to be cheap and greasy, and the girls and boys who work there are treated poorly.  Nonetheless it is amongst the most popular wards in Lophius, often the first stop for sailors after docking in Chainwater or Bile-Mire.

Pelloch

Casinos and chance-houses of every sort line the winding streets of Pelloch, a profitable tier of Crooked-Finger held by the gang called the Drakes, led by a masked, mysterious woman calling herself Dame Fortune and renowned for her business sense, her velvet dresses, and her two bodyguards, a pair of sleek, androgynous fighters who wield razored war-fans.  Making her base of operations in The Laughing Eye chance-house, Dame Fortune keeps control of Pelloch ruthlessly and enforces strict rules against cheats: her enforcers maintain a very active presence in all establishments in Pelloch, preserving a high standard of fairness, unlike most of the other gambling places in Lophius such as the rough corsair card-halls of Bile-Mire on Crucible.

Pelloch is distinguished by its variety of games as well as by its fairness.  Here one can play games with hexed cards that can curse another player; games with sigil-scribed, multi-faceted dice; games where the board is composed of interlocking clockwork pieces; where the pieces are tiny homunculi, spattering the board with black blood; where players assume elemental positions, playing in partnerships and building chains of cards with names like the Gallows Tree and the Thorn-man; where the loser forfeits fingers or slaves or blood or more arcane properties.  Here are tea-houses where one can play the convoluted game of Imbroglio with ivory pieces, boxing clubs and knife-fighter's circles, and fighting pits where slaves are forced to fight crocodiles, swarms of spiders, or blood-crazed leechkin captured from the swamps (though these arenas do not compare to the pits of Macellaria's Pulsetown).

Chelke

The alchemist's tier, Chelke is held by a band of cutthroat-scholars called the Sons of the Peacock, witches and nectar-junkies who tattoo themselves with hundreds of colourful eyes.  Here are a smattering of glyph parlors and other tattooists, as well as booksellers and herbalists.  Most prominent are the nectar-dealers from Moroi, the alchemical shops, and the laboratories where various eldritch and technical thinkers live and work, making Chelke something of an intellectual's quarter.

The Viper's Head

The gang known as the Ophidians rule the Viper's Head, human toughs with scaly tattoos and sharpened teeth, led by the gorgon Nyssa and her lieutenant Shaar-Illys.  As human Ophidians rise in rank they undergo a series of ritual mutilations.  First they are shaved bald and receive full-body tattoos resembling snake scales; then their tongues are split, forking like serpents'; next their teeth are sharpened into fangs; and finally their ears are removed.  Many of the city's naghini are members of the gang.

Serpentside

Headquarters of the Ophidians, Serpentside is best known for its venom markets which deal in poisons and combat drugs.  Here casual hitmen and bravoes looking for the edge in a duel can purchase vials of demon-blood, shadowmilk harvested from tenebrals, madwine, 'thrum' from the Bluebottle Archipelago, jabber, mescaline, hundreds of snake venoms, and even bottles of the Red Rain. Clandestine sales of ichor are also conducted in Serpentside, daring the considerable wrath of the Resin Merchants.

The Coil

Renowned for its eateries, the Coil is accessible from Greenfang across Devil's Arch.  In the lavish and often expensive restaurants of the Coil one can sup on turtle soup, caviars, eel or lamprey pies, fried squid, raw oysters, and a hundred different types of fish, to name a few of the plethora of dishes to try.  The Coil is the largest commercial district in Lophius outside of Mandrake Market: a huge fish market does business here, hawkers selling the daily catches of Snailsump and Shellhome.

Crucible

The market island, Crucible is a broad, flat expanse dominated by the Foundries to the south and Mandrake Market to the north and east with the unkempt dockland called Bile-Mire along its western edge.  It is connected to Greenfang, Hunger Rock, and Murmur Isle to the south, west, and north respectively, and is one of the few islands without a major gang presence.

The Foundries

The principle industrial district of Lophius, the Foundries are a series of hulking factories and smaller workshops, seething with the smoldering orange glow of furnaces, clotting the air with thick black smoke.  Also serving as the gateway to Crucible from Greenfang (in Bad-Fen) via Iron Bridge, an ugly modern construction of girders and wrought iron constantly teeming with carriages and caravans, the Foundries are owned by merchant consortiums with links to the cartels of Macellaria and the vicious guilds of Crepuscle.

Bile-Mire

A ragged dock district, Bile-Mire consists of a series of large wharves jetties along the western side of Crucible, lined with seedy waterfront taverns and bloated warehouses.  Not for accident is Lophius called the Corsair's City: pirates and reavers of every clan and fleet dock regularly in Bile-Mire in between raids along the Serrated Coast, selling off slaves and treasure before returning to their bases in the Sallow Seas or the Fevered Ocean, hidden fortresses nestled amongst the darkness-shrouded Midnight Isles or the deadly maze of the Razor-Chain.

Mandrake Market

The central commercial district of Lophius is Mandrake Market, an eclectic confusion of winding streets and booths, with various streets dedicated to certain products - food, textiles, weaponry, jewelry, books, and countless other goods.  No one gang holds sway here, abiding instead by the loosely defined principles of Market Truce - there is no bloodshed in the market, and the well-heeled mercenary warriors who guard the streets will make swift work of offenders.

The Talon

Named for the huge ivory obelisk at its center in the district of Per-Bashti, the Talon is a medium-sized island noted for its glassworks and its flea-bitten residential district of Skullford.  The obelisk was probably once the tusk or claw of a great beast, though the rest of the creature is absent; carved into its white bulk are numerous winding corridors and chambers.

Shardwall

The glassblower's district, Shardwall is contended by the equally brutal Silversiders and Tainsiders, a pair of gangs who vie for control of the ward and thus the right to collect protection money from the profitable tradesmen of Shardwall.  Here one can purchase mirrors, silverware, pots, lamps, and all other sorts of glassware, including intricately crafted glass throwing knives and other weapons, fragile but deadly.

Per-Bashti

Headquarters of the Iron Tygers, Per-Bashti is a high class pleasure district quite distinct from the seedy brothel-ward of Skaumn on Crooked-Finger.  The Iron Tygers are a matriarchal gang based in the Talon itself.  Tattooing themselves with stripes, spots, and other markings and implanting barbed whiskers in their faces, the Tygers are loyal to the ex-corsair Mistress Jade.  The women who work the establishments of Per-Bashti are well compensated profession courtesans protected from abuse by the Tygers, and the district has become something of an enclave for battered women.

Skullford

The Bridge of Bravoes, infamous across the Cadaverous Earth as a notorious dueling site, links Skullford to Greenfang via Chainwater.  A plague-ridden sprawl of shacks, tenements, and dilapidated housing, Skullford is the dwelling place of the city's destitute.  Built atop barnacle-studded cliffs, Skullford is riddled with tunnels and catacombs, an intricate cave-system that was once a network of barrows, with individual tombs and entranceways carved into the cliffside and accessible via roughly hewn stone steps.  Those who do not live in the rickety structures of Skullford itself reside in these caves, alongside the city's impoverished grave-spawn, penniless creatures who cannot afford to dwell in Groanward or even the rougher district of Bad-Fen.  Some of these entities are amongst the less wholesome grave-spawn: thinning eidolons with shrunken faces and emaciated ghilan cutthroats.  There are also rumors of underwater tunnels through which daggols and other deep-dwellers are said to use to infiltrate the city for their own sinister ends.

Murmur Isle

A medium-sized island to the far north of Lophius, Murmur Isle is connected only to Crucible.  It contains three very important areas: the Driftwood District, the religious quarter of the City of the Lamprey and site of major pilgrimage, Gloomwell, location of the House of Shadows, and Groanward, the cliffside residential district of the city's grave-spawn.

The Driftwood District

Perhaps the most famous district in Lophius, the Driftwood District is accessible from Crucible's Mandrake Market via the Whisperbridge, a very long, very ornate bridge lit with candles at night by robed acolytes.  Named for its idiosyncratic architecture, the buildings in the Driftwood District are piecemeal conglomerations of scrap wood and metal thrown seemingly at random onto the skeletons of sunken ships, pulled from the depths and interred on the south side of Murmur Isle.  In contrast with the hubbub of nearby Mandrake Market, the Driftwood District is filled with mystic moans, men and women babbling in tongues, and ceremonial chants.  Stone idols pulled from the muck of the swamps or rescued from the briny depths are all interred in the wooden wasteland of the Driftwood District, each with their own candle-lit shrines attended by tiny priesthoods.  The District is a highly competitive environment in which the various micro-congregations contend for worshippers and thus tithes and donations.  Currently the most popular deities in the Driftwood District include the insectoid god called the Divine Mantis (attended by a mantid priest, of course) aboard the good ship Belligerence, the entity referred to as 'Waadjat' aboard the Mastication, and the turtle-god Draukyr aboard the Umbrageous Archon.

Gloomwell

Gloomwell is built at the base of the Black Stair, a small, narrow district between the rickety chaos of the Driftwood District and the macabre pomposity of Groanward.  Mostly consisting of housing for clergy and petitioners in the Driftwood District, Gloomwell is distinguished by the House of Shadows, a huge and imposing edifice carved from the obsidian cliffs atop which Groanward perches.  Presenting a menacing black façade, the House of Shadows is built mostly into the obsidian itself, consisting of a series of windowless corridors and cells.  It serves as the guildhouse of the Shroud, an organization of professional, deadly assassins who operate openly in Lophius.  Expensive in the extreme, the Shroud maintains a roster of expert killers, including the rogue lilix courtier Xaverius Mazzari, the notorious shade assassin known only as Quiescence, and the quick twin brothers Gaspar and Vetruvion.  Known only to induct a select few members, the Shroud are major power-brokers in Lophius and have been known to step into the tumult of shifting allegiances and betrayals if any one faction seizes too much control.  Their origins are highly secret, but rumors persist of demonic or grave-spawn founders, or that the Shroud are a cult dedicated to a death god, a twisted aspect of the goddess Striga, or a daeva of annihilation.

Groanward

The district of the dead, the Groanward is where the city's wealthier ghilan, shades, and other grave-spawn tend to congregate.  It is a somber district along the north side of Murmur Isle with austere stone houses overlooking the river and the Sallow Seas beyond, rambling manses and baroque façades built atop huge slabs of obsidian, battered with spray.  The Black Stair, a winding path cut into this foundation, leads up from the ramshackle Driftwood District and the eerie streets of Gloomwell below; the chants, choruses, and babbling voices gradually grow mute as one climbs the Black Stair into darkness - the grave-spawn need no light to see by and so the streets are perpetually dim.  Though there are a few shops and restaurants here catering to grave-spawn most of the ghul-bars in Lophius are located in Bad-Fen on Greenfang and the Skaumn tier of Crooked-Finger.  There is also a large cathedral in Groanward dedicated to the star-gods.

Hunger Rock

Hunger Rock is the smallest of the Teeth, and doesn't have any distinct districts; its most salient feature is its colossal lighthouse, now dimmed and dark.  Once a bright beacon lighting the way to Lophius, the lighthouse has fallen into disuse due to the presence of a mysterious and hungry spirit dubbed the Ravener, possibly some variety of swamp-demon that has chosen to haunt the island for its own incomprehensible reasons.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:28:00 PM
Macellaria
City of Bodysnatchers, The Maggot City

Brutality

Nhar's gauntleted first smashed for the final time into his opponent's mouth and applause burst into the air around him as if some intangible caul had been ripped asunder, inundating the arena with noise.  He stood there, allowing the after-fight euphoria to suffuse him, bolstered by the spectators' approval.  He let the steely glow in his eyes fade, ushered the unthinking animal part of himself, relieved and uncomplaining, back into its cage.  Below him the pulverized remnants of the other combatant twitched in an eerie dance macabre, thrumming its many limbs.  Its face was a pulpy, spurting ruin.

Nhar breathed deep, inhaled the heady smells of the Pulsetown pits: the sourness of cheap drink, the faint smolder of smoke from the Temple's chimneys, and beneath it all that omnipresent, primeval smell of blood, blood, blood, fresh and red and steaming in the arid air, the smell of birth and death and struggle, the quintessence of life, conflict, victory...  He spat triumphantly, a glob of saliva and his own blood spattering contemptuously into the spreading puddle saturating the sands.

His dripping fists unclenched.

Celerity

It was hot - hot like the world had caught a fever, was sweating it out in the quivering air.  Everything was twisted with that queasy, shimmery haze, like you were looking at the reflection of the world in a warped mirror.  People were black shapes like children's drawings, undulating, jerking in and out of focus, faceless and faintly menacing; buildings writhed and loomed out over the steaming street, looking somehow hungry, coiling and uncoiling as you drew nearer; the corpulent sun snarled down out of the bleached and raw-blue sky.  You couldn't think, in heat like that - your thoughts seemed to boil and your mind was like sludge, your memories flowing together wet and slippery as runny eggs, yolks popping in the heat, bursting in your brain, frothing out of your ears and nose and bubbling through your pores.  Time got thick and tarry; seconds stuck together.  Anything black burnt to touch.

High above a Hexwarren street a window shattered and rained down shards of glass even as a figure tore out of the hole like a bullet.  The thin, grinning man landed on heavy-booted feet and dashed down the street with uncanny quickness, almost too fast for the eye to follow.  In the slowed-down crawl of moments made viscous by the heat his hexed speed became a kind of violence, bruising the air with after-images as the man ducked around carriages and carts, weaving in and out of the motley crowd, round a whip-stitched servitor reeking of formaldehyde, a blind gutter witch who conjured a feeble dust-elemental before a crowd of gawkers, a ghul in a white suit buying books from a street-seller, shading himself from the sun with a frayed umbrella.  The running man grasped something tightly to his chest.

Half a breath after the building had spat the quick man out of its upper storey a blast of green, eldritch flame blew the rest of the wall away and spewed sulphurous smoke into the street.  A second figure emerged with a roar from the green pall, hulking and heavy, shoving passersby out of the way as he stomped after his quarry.  A huge man in a brown leather coat, his lips and hands singed from his spell, already growling some fresh incantation.

Round a corner, down a back-alley, over a rotting wooden fence, up a flight of worn stone steps - Cythos laughed as he wound his way deeper into Macellaria, revelling in his own agility.  Only have to make it to Resurrection Row.  He heard, vaguely, the pound of the bounty-hunter's footsteps behind him, an echoing boom as the thieftaker blew through the fence.  With simian dexterity Cythos swung up onto a low balcony and then shimmied up to the slate rooftop, digging grafted climbing-nails into the plaster and hauling himself up, then scurrying across the tiled expanse of roof and leaping to the next building.  He made it half a block before he heard the thud of his pursuer on the tiled roof behind him.  He glanced back but kept running; the hunter was moving fast, channelling as he made his huge, ungainly jumps between buildings.  Cythos ducked as the witch sent a swirling hex like a nest of effervescent serpents towards him; the spell struck a chimney and reduced it to a pile of corroded, molten slag.

Cythos jackknifed across a narrow alleyway and whipped out his pistol as the assassin gained on him.  Even as the end of the block drew closer the wiry thief squeezed off three shots, swore as a hastily invoked shield of force incinerated the bullets a few feet from his enemy's body.  Cythos skidded to a halt and scrambled down from the roofs, into Murrain Square, still, impossibly, holding the bundle to his chest; the imposing spires of the Fane of Dust rose up in the distance.  Graft pedlars scattered and clutched at their gruesome wares as Cythos ran across the square, followed closely by the giant man behind him.  A stray hex caught one merchant square in the chest, dissolving his flesh and leaving only a blackened skeleton behind.

Through the square, down another flight of steps, into a side-street - to a dead end.  Cythos swore, turned even as a massive fist hurtled towards his head.  He dodged, wrenching his neck to the side, felt the man's arm sail just past him.  He tumbled backwards and brought up his foot behind him, kicking the man in the chest, then spun round and jabbed two fingers into the brutish witch's eyes.  The assassin stumbled back, stunned, and Cythos brought up his pistol, emptied his last three shots into his would-be killer's face.

Breathing hard and wrinkling his nose at the stench of burning flesh Cythos quickly checked his assailant's body, cursed when he found the tattoo on the back of the man's hand - a black heart, wreathed in green fire.  He shivered.

'Well fuck me,' he whispered to his prize, the polished-black skull that stared up at him with empty sockets.  'You must be bleeding priceless for someone to hire the fucking Shroud to get you back.'

Drawing a cloak around him despite the heat he slunk out from the alley and dissolved into the chaos of the city, clinging to the cool and obfuscating shadows.
Demographics

Cestoid - 10%
Ghilan - 32%
Hagmen - 12%
Human - 33%
Leechkin - 6 %
Shades - 5%
Other - 2%

Architecture

Like most of the Twilight Cities Macellaria has a pastiche, variegated architecture.  The shanties and the crude houses of Resurrection Row are raw, unornamented structures of wooden planks, hastily mortared brick, wattle, and daub, small and poorly built habitations and businesses with rickety upper floors; often the windows are boarded up and holes or imperfections in the walls are patched with other material, such as scrap metal or plaster.  The rest of the city is considerably more opulent, the buildings that rise in clusters or sprawl in rambling warrens mixing arabesque domes, arches, and narrow towers with skeletal, buttressed halls and spiked spires.  Pinnacles and minarets rise up above bulbous cupolas; columned arcades overlook broad courtyards; stained glass, gargoyles, ribbed vaults, and ornate facades clash and mingle with quadrangles of glazed tile, gaudily coloured semi-domes, and tapering hexagonal monoliths.  Red sandstone is a common material for these older buildings, and many bear the remnants of frescoes or murals, now chipped and mutilated.  A layer of dust and grime adheres to the walls and the winding stone streets.

Fashion

Fashion in Macellaria is incredibly eclectic.  Many of its inhabitants are garbed in apocalyptic rags; boiled leathers and scavenger gear, dust-goggles and dusters are ubiquitous.  Most individuals in Macellaria have hand-me-down clothes inherited from hundreds of different cultures and time periods.   Very often outfits are formed out of scraps stitched together, tattered patchwork shirts and trousers, cloaks and coats, a bewildering array of colours and patterns.  Ancient military uniforms are the most common, totally depleted of their original symbolic meanings.  More morbidly, burial garb looted from old tombs forms a major part of most citizens' wardrobes.  People walk through the streets wearing loose-fitting shrouds, funerary masks, and dour, flowing robes.

More than any other city, the inhabitants of Macellaria modify themselves with fleshcraft.  Extra appendages are a frequent sight, and clothing modified to accommodate unusual anatomies is sold in the Curio Bazaars or in the streets of Hexwarren, outside of the tissue shops.  Often these augmentations are purely cosmetic, forming a part of fashion themselves; the most outlandish and ostentatious modifications are the most lauded.  Almost everyone in the city goes armed with scavenged weapons - unusual firearms, curved blades, exotic polearms, strange clockwork contraptions, combat gloves, and a diverse array of others.

The Watchdogs

The three colossi known as the Watchdogs (or just the Dogs) of Macellaria are huge, venerable creatures that guard the three gates of the walled inner city - the Witch's Gate, leading to Moroi, the Eel's Gate, leading to Lophius, and the Butcher's Gate, leading to the Slaughter-lands.  The Watchdogs were created four hundred years ago, commissioned by the Robber Guilds and the Rag-and-Bones cartels from the mad magister Orlando Petrifax, renegade of Skein and specialist in fleshcraft; though many of their constituent parts have been replaced over the centuries, they remain at the three gates of the Maggot City, motley sentinels easily capable of dispatching any wandering horror or band of mutant brigands that might dare approach Macellaria from the Slaughter-lands or elsewhere.  In times of war the Dogs have very rarely been unleashed upon the battlefield to aid in the destruction of some particularly malignant foe.

The Watchdogs are gigantic, only vaguely canine creatures formed from innumerable scraps of glyph-scribed, hairless flesh grafted irreverently atop the puissant bones of malformed dire-beasts or giants dug from the Slouching-devil Mountains.  Petrifax apparently conjoined these bones without respect for their previous owners' anatomy, resulting in strange, unwieldy configurations of limbs, odd protrusions, and unlikely skeletal structures: instead of arranging the bones in their original composition, Petrifax mixed and matched to his own bizarre design, crafting three roughly dog-like guardians.  As a result the Watchdogs are misshapen and monstrous, their deformed skeletons clothed in a grisly patchwork, a palimpsest of stitched skins.  Within their sigil covered bodies strange presences squirm and rustle, pressing against their fleshly prison - the animating spirits the magister bound within the Dogs' warded skin, to give his creations life.

The Dogs are chained to their gates but can wander a fair distance, though they are well trained and so spend most of their time dozing in the shade of the walls, the terrific stench of their breath and the sickening quantities of formaldehyde used to preserve their bodies assailing those who approach the gates of the Bodysnatcher's City.  They are fed every three days, glutted on huge bowls of raw meat - a spectacle which draws large crowds of visitors who haven't witnessed the Feeding before.  An elite unit of the city guard comprised of witches and beast-masters tends to the Watchdogs, called the Kennel Masters.

The Walls

The walls of the Maggot City are thick and extremely tall, built of ruddy stone with wooden battlements constantly being replaced along the top.  In addition to the gun emplacements, trebuchets, and soldiers who man the walls, Macellaria maintains a legion of specialized archers and crossbowmen.

The obscene number of bodies in the city attracts hordes of ravens, vultures, and crows to the City of Bodysnatchers, and were such carrion-feeders to descend upon the Skin Markets the city's economy would be devastated.  To ward off unwanted aerial intrusions a band of mercenary archers called the Black Arrows (after their fletching) defends the city walls (alongside a series of leering straw scarecrows, though these do considerably less to deter would-be scavengers).  Though these defenses are effective, many birds still enter the city limits, and there is an obelus reward for any crow corpse brought to the city bounty office in Resurrection Row.

Hexwarren (The Witch's Gate)

The arcane district of Macellaria is Hexwarren, by the western Witch's Gate.  A commercial district, Hexwarren is composed of glyph parlors, tissue-shops, alchemists, and booksellers.  Eldritch texts, scrolls, charms, amulets, pendants, talismans, potions, and all other sorts of arcane bric-a-brac can be purchased here, but most come to Hexwarren looking to augment themselves with biomechanical and bio-eldritch implants or purchase glyph-born servitors, fleshcrafted creatures like organic automata not dissimilar to the zombies of Somnambulon or the clockwork automata of Skein, though somewhat less pervasive.

In Hexwarren one might have an orison or sigil of power tattooed on a limb or torso, turning one's body into a living hex to poison or enflame with a touch, manipulate objects with pure thought, or conjure some transformative effect - scales, fur, wings, horns, fangs.  Toughs and mercenaries have slabs of muscle grafted to their bodies, while adventurers buy extra limbs from unlikely beasts.  The city's supply of nectar, the sap of the Elder Tree in Moroi, can be found in Hexwarren, and junkies clamor constantly at the few dealers, all agents of the Resin Merchants who sell the highly addictive drug at a greatly marked up price.

Hexwarren itself is a rambling, tangled district of stone and wood with many narrow streets and lanes, interspersed with larger plazas or quadrangles, notably Murrain Square (where various venoms and antitoxins are sold) and Tatterdemalion Court (where graft peddlers congregate).  Major buildings include the city's moldering but incredibly extensive library, the so-called Vellum Citadel; the glowering, gargoyle-encrusted Fane of Dust, an all-ghul temple dedicated to distant star-gods; and the small Academy of Witchcraft, where would-be spellcasters can seek professional training for exorbitant tuition rates.

Slimesquallor (The Eel's Gate)

The hagman ghetto of Slimesquallor smells of stagnant water and the mucus excretions of its occupants, sticky trails that leave the streets slick.  Here the architecture is mottled with fungus and moss, as a result of the dampness peculiar to the district; some hagman additions have also been erected next to the brown stone structures that make up the bulk of Macellaria.  The hagman buildings are coiled, undulating edifices with many pillars, open spaces, and large Courts rather than honeycombs of smaller rooms.  Apart from the enormous residential buildings there are hot mud-baths (distinct from the usual slimy pools hagmen bathe in), numerous shrines to the plethora of hagman god-aspects, and an indoor fish market.

Resurrection Row (The Butcher's Gate)

Resurrection Row is a rather ragged district named for its central street, a winding, crooked lane leading from the Butcher's Gate to the inner city.  A poor, shabby district, Resurrection Row is distinguished from the shanties only by its position within the walls of Macellaria and the old stone edifices which rear up above the tightly packed rows of tenement housing.  Though there are a few shops here, most bodysnatchers and tomb raiders returning with a haul from the Slaughter-lands make for the Curio Bazaars and the Skin Markets rather than lingering in this dilapidated district.  As a result of its impoverishment Resurrection Row has become a haven for thieves, pickpockets, and cutthroats, who gather in rookeries when they're not plying the markets or the back-alleys of Hexwarren, Pulsetown, and Velveteen Circus.  The city's bounty office is located in Resurrection Row, as well as a large number of warehouses and rough taverns, most of them geared towards the quick.

The Skin Markets

The Skin Markets reek of carrion and continuously bustle with thousands of merchants and customers, especially at night when the city's ghilan wake.  The Skin Markets are roughly divided into four huge, open-air Courts or atria, not including Velveteen Circus which is more properly a district in its own right.  The atria are bounded by huge, ancient buildings, the lower floors of which are occupied with shops and storerooms; passage between the market quadrants is achieved through a series of corridors accessible via tall, arched doorways.  The upper floors of the Market buildings are given over largely to the offices of the multifarious Rag-and-Bones cartels.  The atria themselves have a transient, constantly shifting architecture composed of booths, tents, stalls, and ramshackle wooden buildings, labyrinthine even to the initiated.

The first atrium is the Court-of-Flesh where whole bodies can be purchased, typically from large wagons piled high with the dead.  Flayed skins, leather, vellum, candles, and slaves are also for sale here.  Numerous eateries sell fried or boiled meat from various species, predominantly that of humans, pigs, dogs, and lizards, though a few booths sell bowls of mealworms, broth with noodles, and deep-fried spiders.  The chief buyers one sees in this atrium are quick humans and ghilan, with a smattering of hagmen and cestoids.  There are a few ghul-bars here, though fewer than the Court-of-Blood, and there is also usually an array of embalming fluids and preservatives available as well.

The second atrium is the Court-of-Bones.  Here are crates and wagons full of skeletons, but also carved bone trinkets, bone weapons (much more common than metal ones in the City of Bodysnatchers), bonemeal, and marrow.  The Court-of-Bones also has many fortune-tellers and gutter witches who cast the bones for a few coins, supposedly to glimpse the future.  Though there are fewer eateries in the Court-of-Bones than in the other atria there are several dice halls, notably Death's Gambit, The Reaper's Luck, and The Ribcage.

The Court-of-Blood is the third atrium, dealing exclusively with fluids.  It is common to see merchants here displaying several barrels full of liquid, variously labeled: 'arterial,' 'venous,' 'plasma,' etcetera.  Blood sausage and half-coagulate jellies (a lilix delicacy) can be purchased here.  The Maggot City's population of leechkin and lilix, though fairly small, can be found here in inordinate numbers. The Court-of-Blood contains numerous ghul-bars around its edges, taverns catering to ghilan serving hot and chilled blood (sometimes sweetened or with added alcohol) in skull cups, in addition to various foodstuffs; the best known of these are the establishments Sanguine Bliss and Porphyria.

Finally, the Court-of-Innards sells viscera, offal, and organs of all sorts.  Some graft peddlers do business here, though most of them are concentrated in Hexwarren; the fourth atrium deals mostly in raw materials for consumption and fleshcraft.  Pickled brains, hearts, and spleens are displayed in jars; bowls of freshly plucked eyes stare at passersby; barrels full of intestines glisten with briny preservatives.  Here one might snack on sweetbreads or a shish-kebab of eyes, sip chitterling stew or brain soup with head cheese, chew on boiled tongues, or munch on stuffed gizzards and kidney pies.  A crowd consisting of a large number of cestoids adds to the grotesquerie of the place.  Though most oracles do business in the Court-of-Bones, a few soothsayers look through piles of steaming organs in the Court-of-Innards to predict the future.

Velveteen Circus

The red-light district of Macellaria, Velveteen Circus is close to the Skin Markets, hovering near the edge of the Court-of-Blood.  Low class brothels and higher quality pleasure houses do business here, alongside opium dens, ghul-bars, taverns, and restaurants.  The brothels cater to both quick and grave-spawn, though the seedier places pay little heed to such niceties as living or undead.  The more expensive establishments cater to fetishes and peccadilloes, and many of the girls and boys have been modified in tissue-shops to better suit the often perverse preferences of the clientele - everything from full body tattoos and extra limbs, heads, and orifices to more surreal augmentations and mutilations, bestial xenografts, radical anatomical alterations, or grotesque enlargements.

The Curio Bazaars

Although named for the collections of relics and scavenged miscellanea found in its many pawn shops and junk-dealers, the Curio Bazaars comprise essentially all merchants not found in the Skin Markets or Hexwarren.  Interspersed with the shops selling lost technology and the detritus of the past are hawkers with carts of fruit, cabinet-makers, knife merchants, blacksmiths, armorers, clothiers, tanneries, and dozens of other businesses.  In the Curio Bazaars one might find a mangy ghul street-seller with a booth full of pocketwatches, or a booth with piles of porcelain and silverware, or an ancient idol of some chthonic deity inscribed with mantras in dead languages.  A shop window might display an impossibly old runesword, or mannequins garbed in silk dresses from Skein, or a selection of fresh produce, or the crown of a long dead sorcerer-king.  The Robber Guilds have their headquarters here, half a dozen prominent structures with a certain faded grandeur where the innumerable tomb raiders and scavengers who plumb the Slaughter-lands congregate.

Pulsetown

The main residential district for the quick in Macellaria, Pulsetown is louder and more energetic than the Worm-Hive, though smaller in size.  Apart from its sprawling housing blocks Pulsetown is distinguished by several prominent landmarks: the Temple of Striga, the fighting pits, and the Hollow Skull playhouse.

Striga is a goddess of blood, life, and vitality and has a congregation almost entirely of the quick.  She demands sacrifices, and the temple chimneys constantly smolder, the burnt offerings filling the sanctum with the aroma of cooking meat.  Cannibal funerary rites apotheosize members of the faith, and diluted blood is usually consumed at sermons.  The religion has strict dietary laws and other requirements and forbids the consumption of inhuman meat ('unclean').  Worshippers of Striga believe that the Red Ravishing was a kind of tribulation from the goddess, and that soon a day of judgment will come and the faithful - those 'pure of blood' - will ascend to become divine vampire-seraphs, ruling a newly ordered and revitalized earth.

The fighting pits are a series of small arenas close to the Skin Markets, dedicated to combat sports and other spectacles.  Gladiatorial competitions, beast-baiting, and other bloodsports are held in the pits, which draw large crowds of gamblers and simple spectators.  Macellaria's few cestoids of any wealth are all gladiators, deadly fighters who feast on their dead opponents.  The current Grand Champion of the pits is the five hundred year old shade gladiator called the Rotten King, a supremely skilled swordsman who has worn many different bodies over the course of his career.

The Hollow Skull playhouse is the largest and most popular playhouse in Macellaria, known especially for its revenge tragedies.  A huge domed structure converted into a theater, the Hollow Skull attracts the wealthy and the poor alike.  Many spend the day at the fighting pits before visiting the Hollow Skull in the evening, then heading to Velveteen Circus for a night of pleasure.

The Worm-Hive

The grave-spawn district of Macellaria, the Worm-Hive is a conglomeration of spires and tower-blocks that looms darkly above the seething Skin Markets.  Its many windows are universally shrouded with black curtains during the day, warding off the much-loathed sun while its residents slumber.  The lower levels are dedicated to ghul-bars, a smattering of shops, and cheap honeycombs of housing, each room a narrow cell.  The upper levels are progressively more lavish, and the towers of Worm-Hive are crowned with ornate manses often with attached chapels and courtyards.  A series of covered bridges link the spires together in dense, claustrophobic clusters.

Large portions of the Worm-Hive remain empty, whole spires given over to dust and cobwebs, though most have long been looted of anything of value.  Squatters and animals have moved in, and one of the spires is rumored to be infected with a cluster of gibbergeists, floating horrors who babble an eerie sing-song jinx incessantly; those who hear this twisted song can be lulled into a trance-like state in which they too may begin to babble, eventually degenerating into gibbergeists themselves.

The Catacombs

The catacombs of Macellaria are incredibly extensive and largely unexplored, but they are far from uninhabited.  Most of the city's cestoid population and its few leechkin make their homes underground, along with the poorer ghilan and other heliophobic grave-spawn such as shades, eidolons, haunts, and predatory geists.

The Maggot City's sewer system bleeds into the catacombs in numerous places, and the two are often indistinguishable.  Whole clans of wiry sewer-scavengers or toshers, equipped with lanterns and caged canaries, make a living plundering the sewers of lost valuables and accretions of coin, bones, and metal.  The sewers are hazardous, the air polluted, the tunnels sometimes flooding during the short rainy season; disease and even cave-ins are also major dangers.  In addition, the runoff and other waste pumped into the sewers from Hexwarren is tainted with a number of eldritch substances.  The result is a population of warped, unlikely creatures: quasi-sentient giant rats, monstrous fish-like things, and other, less recognizable beasts.

There are older, stranger things deep in the bowels of the city.  Rumors persist of shrines dedicated to Hirud dating back to the times of the cestoid Imperium; of rogue demons and renegade servitors, gruesome sigil-scribed horrors; of tribal, bloodthirsty men, skinchangers capable of transforming themselves into bats or hyenas or huge spiders.

The Shanties

In contrast with the grim stone structures of the city proper, the shanties of Macellaria are built of mud, wood, adobe, and brick, huddling close to the towering stone walls.  The shanties are low, unplanned, and filthy, consisting mostly of shacks, cheap alehouses and brothels, tanneries, and second rate shops.  Freelance tomb raiders and merchants deal here instead of the city proper, and the few black-market items banned in Macellaria itself can sometimes be found here.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:28:54 PM
Blood, Bodies, Madness, and Monsters
Adventure in the Maggot City

Out of Character

Here are some sample adventure outlines, set in Macellaria.  The first is a fairly typical dungeon crawl taking the adventurers out into the Slaughter-lands; the second deals with a mysterious plague; the third requires the players to recapture an escaped beast; and the fourth calls for them to investigate a series of grisly murders.  I'm a believer in offering multiple paths and options for players to create a feel of verisimilitude whenever possible.  These adventures could be presented one at a time, but introducing them simultaneously could allow for some interesting intersections and would highlight some of the ironic twists at their respective ends.  A lead the players pick up for one investigation may give them the answer to a different one.
Premises and Hooks

(1) A wealthy collector - one Ulric Valentine - has posted a contract at the Robber Guildhouse in the Curio Bazaar.  He is looking for a series of artifacts for his gallery in Skein's Viridian Quarter and so has contacted the Robbers in hopes of procuring it.  The items in question are the embalmed remains and canopic jars or phylacteries of the Priest-King Balgol.  They are reportedly interred in a necropolis somewhere in the vicinity of Yutteril, a ruin in Dour Erg.  The exact location of the necropolis is unknown.  All of this information is provided along with the contract.

Several groups have expressed interest in finding the artifacts and so claiming Valentine's three thousand obeloi reward.  The band called the Blacktongue Brothers, a trio of leather-clad witch scavengers with demonic pets and bad attitudes, have already set off with a caravan expedition, and the legendary scavenger Harrick Hellsteeth is reported to have mentioned an interest in the contract.  Anyone searching for the sarcophagus and jars will face some stiff competition.

If the players are Guildsmen they will hear about the contract through the Guild.  If they are freelancers they may find out about it through rumor and gossip in scavenger drinking holes and the like, or they may even witness the Blacktongue Brothers riding out via the Butcher's Gate in Resurrection Row, shooting off firearms and swearing vile oaths in Hextongue and Shambles to bring back the corpse and claim their prize.

(2) A sickness is sweeping Hexwarren, affecting only witches.  Hexers are being found afflicted by raving madness, wandering the alleyways and scrawling gibberish glyphs on walls.  The symptoms closely resemble nectar overdose.  Rumor has that the local Resin Merchants' nectar supply is tainted.  The dealers from Moroi are panicking, and their usually prosperous traffic with the drug is hurting.  They insist that the nectar is pure, but more and more witches are trying to go cold turkey on the drug, with varying levels of success.  The Resin Merchants might well reward someone handsomely who presents them with a cure for the mysterious illness.

Some are whispering of the return of the dreaded dementia epidemics that brought Moroi to it knees centuries ago.  Witchcraft is being practiced more sparingly and with greater caution in Macellaria, which is impacting the city's substantial fleshcraft-based economy.  The victims are being kept in the asylum ward of the basement levels of the Academy of Witchcraft, restrained and pacified with drugs, in the care of warders with arcane ability.

Any witch players may be interested in solving the mystery of the sickness simply for their own self-preservation.  They may hear rumors of a reward being offered by the Resin Merchants, though none has yet been posted in the bounty office or elsewhere.  Finally, they might encounter one of the victims themselves, some wild-eyed and jabbering witch wandering Hexwarren or a nearby district, alternatively crying, laughing hysterically, screaming, or simply muttering incessantly.  The witch may run away if followed, leading to a chase through the maze-like streets.

(3) A carnival has come to Macellaria, setting up shop in the shanties outside of the Witch's gate.  It features rickety mechanical rides, salty snacks, tattooists, acrobats, contests, a sideshow, and a menagerie - from which one of the many exotic beasts has escaped.  The carnival management, headed by the ringmaster Mr. Jarvis, is trying to keep the escape hushed up to prevent a panic, worried that the carnival might be driven out of town.  Simultaneously he is discretely inquiring in taverns in the Skin Markets, Resurrection Row, and other establishments catering to mercenaries: he is looking for professionals to recapture the beast, and will pay fifteen hundred obeloi for its return.

The players might be contacted by one of the carnival staff members, or they might be drawn to the carnival itself, a colourful and diverting setting with many contests with rewards.  There are archery and shooting competitions; a cage-wrestling match with 'Grull the Gargantuan,' a burly man reputed to be a savage from Barrow Scrub (no cestoids!); Imbroglio games with a clockwork automaton; riddling and fencing contests; fortune-telling with Kyra the Seeress; eating contests with live spiders.  Here also are the Syzygy Twins, one tattooed black, the other white; Glass Jack who eats ceramic vases and shards of crystal; Raq the Summoner, a skilled elementalist; motley-clad mimes with masked faces and sewn-shut lips; a sword-swallower, a fire-breather, a mantid, a mechanoape, a sketch artist, a knife-thrower, a lilix juggler, an array of stitched graftpunks with their every feature obscured with alien body parts.

The menagerie is full of truly bizarre if rather ill-treated creatures, tended by the Beastmaster Yagruch, a surly, moustachioed southlander.  An oneiroi called the Swan-Man peers through the bars on its elongated neck and snaps its serrated bill; a fetch paces back and forth in its cage and glowers murderously at spectators; a fish-thing from Lesion Sea swims in a tank of dirty water.  There is a giant crab from the Bluebottle Archipelago, a pair of cacklegiests in a soundproof glass box, a tusked, spiny creature equal parts wolf and boar from the Slouching-devil Mountains, a waxborn shapeshifter from the Tallow Plains, a carnivorous tree Yagruch claims to have grown from a seed from the Screamwood.  And an empty cage, aloof, covered with a black cloth'¦

(4) Someone or something is preying on streetwalkers in the rougher parts of Velveteen Circus.  The Circus pimps - the Fleshmongers - are getting agitated at the economic loss: many of the victims were expensively augmented.  Business is suffering as the girls are frightened, many refusing to ply their trade outside of secure brothels.  The Fleshmongers have posted a two thousand obeloi reward at the bounty office in Resurrection Row and have plastered wanted posters in the shanties, Skin Markets, and the fighting pits at Pulsetown.  The city authorities - a nebulous and corrupt force mostly consisting of mercenaries - have proved incapable of dealing with the murders.  Three women and an adolescent catamite have been killed so far, all of them completely exsanguinated, found in a pool of their own blood, their corpses utterly drained.

The manner of the prostitutes' deaths has led most to blame the city's leechkin population, exacerbating the usual racial distrust prevalent around the creatures.  Lynch mobs have raided the catacombs, rampaging through the tunnels with lanterns and knives, carving up any leechkin they find - seven have been slain so far in the tunnels, and another was publicly murdered in the Court-of-Blood.  All but a compassionate few cityfolk are refusing to give coins or blood to leechkin beggars.  The elder council of hagmen in Slimesquallor are urging a purge to 'cleanse the city' of these 'repulsive parasites.'

Other candidates for the murder persist - after all, there are many creatures besides the leechkin who are haematophagic (zehrer, ghilan and lilix drink blood even if they do not utterly subsist on it, and the notorious oneiroi Slake is purported to drain his victims dry).  Rumors that the bodies were mutilated as well as exsanguinated have led to claims that the murders are ritual killings, with many pointing to the Church of Striga (who disdain augmentations as impurities of form and are obsessed with blood) or rambling about cestoid cultists of Hirud operating from out of the catacombs.  Others have suggested that local merchants have taken to harvesting organs from streetwalkers for sale in the Court of Innards, though few give such talk any real credence. Most who don't pin the crimes on leechkin, however, insist that the killings must be the work of an eidolon due to the murders' sexual overtones.

The players might hear about the murders in a bar, saloon, brothel, or other establishment, or might overhear a snatch of conversation in the street.  They might see one of the wanted posters or find out about the killings at the bounty office.  If they already have a relationship with Macellaria's authorities or the Fleshmongers they may be contacted specifically and brought in to investigate.  If any of the players are leechkin they will be embroiled in the adventure almost without a choice, subject to harassment and violence wherever they go.  If all else fails the players can hear a gurgling scream in a back-alley and arrive a moment too late, finding the victim sprawled against a wall - although this scene is perhaps best reserved for later in the adventure.

Investigations

(1) Locating the necropolis will be the first challenge.  Good sources of information are the Vellum Citadel library in Hexwarren (a good place to introduce arc 2) and the Guild Archives, musty rows of shelves in the cobwebbed corridors below the Robber Guild headquarters.  Extensive research into the Balgol dynasty will yield a map or at least a description of the necropolis' location.  Known as Tza-Xellim, the necropolis is supposed to be close to the border of Etiolation several leagues northeast of Yutteril.  Tza-Xellim is huge, a sprawling graveyard city with countless tombs, monoliths, and ziggurat temples honouring the apotheosized Priest-Kings, all of them heavily warded to deter tomb-robbers.  Balgol's ziggurat can be found near the center of the necropolis, surrounded by a series of smaller mausoleums housing the Priest-King's dead servants and mistresses; it is marked by a pair of triple-headed eagle statues, the despot's personal symbol.

The players must now prepare for their journey into Dour Erg, which will take nearly a week by horse of llama.  They will need to have some means of transporting the body itself, which is encased in a heavy stone sarcophagus.  A wagon is a distinct possibility, though this could be expensive to buy or even rent and would slow the group down.  Eldritch means of transportation for the haul might be pursued in Hexwarren, though finding a witch willing to help them through arcane means might be more difficult than usual in wake of the recent sickness.  There are wheelwrights and stables in the shanties and in the Curio Bazaars.

The journey should not be easy.  The old roads through the Slaughter-lands have largely been subsumed or eroded, making navigation difficult.  While the details of the journey can be customized and changed on the fly, the adventurers should feel harassed and oppressed by the wasteland.

A dust-storm or the treacherous Red Rain may force them to find shelter in a nearby ghost-town.  Once inside the desiccated ruin they find that the place is infested with fetch or oneiroi - a man-shaped thing whose belly is split open, its intestines grotesque tentacles that grasp and strangle - a voluptuous woman with an insect head who climbs on walls and attacks with venomous mandibles - a skull-visaged specter with rotting wings.  There may, however, be old treasures moldering in the gloom, clockwork puzzle-boxes clutched by skeletons in grimy cellars or runeswords hung on walls to slowly rust.

A band of haunts that have wandered out of Etiolation might also attack the adventurers.  Walking corpses in broken armor clutching notched weapons, bleached of colour but preserved almost perfectly from decay, the haunts are the remains of soldiers animated by the prowling arcane resonances of the ancient battlefield, and they retain their war-like inclinations in undeath.  They will be difficult to distinguish from normal humans unless one draws close to them - at which time it will be too late to avoid the near mindless grave-spawn.

Or perhaps the adventurers will be ambushed by raiders, some gang of brigands attached to Hereku the Flagellator, bandits with rusty rifles and scimitars and dust-smeared robes riding reptilian dune-runners or misshapen horses.  They will lie in wait near an oasis or gorge in the badlands before attacking, fleeing quickly with what loot they can if repelled, returning again at night, vanishing into the desert if they sustain too many losses.

They may also encounter caravans of other scavengers or nomadic waste-dwellers, potential trading partners and allies.  Such folk will be hardened and wary of strangers, so the adventurers must prove themselves trustworthy or else face hostility.

(2) There are sixteen victims in total, all of them raving, kept in straightjackets in cramped, warded cells below the Academy of Witchcraft.  After stating their intentions the players will be led to the cells to view the mad witches.

Nine of the witches are men, six women, and all spout a constant stream of gibberish in various languages, save for one ghul witch who chewed his own tongue off.  One man with a matted mane of gray hair and needle-marks on his arms jabbers on about the Dragon and its black breath, undulating in his straightjacket like a dancer, or a snake being charmed.  A woman tattooed with eldritch sigils (all of which, under closer inspection, have been disempowered) mutters about the black filth.  Another witch with pierced ears and nose, broken spectacles, and a pair of small, lithe arms grafted to his chest screams incessantly about the hideous Tongue.  The ghul, provided with a piece of chalk to communicate, has covered the walls of his cell with drawings.  Some of these are garbled eldritch formulae which he has utterly failed to invoke, despite frequent attempts to do so.  Others are less coherent, scribbled words and scrawled pictograms.  One depicts a fearsome snake with a long, probing tentacle menacing a small, frightened stick figure.

If the players subject the witches to any test of arcane potential, they will find that all of the hexers can no longer channel numina.  It is as if their arcane talents have been stripped from them completely.  This is inconsistent with nectar-overdose, since junkies who overdose actually become dangerously powerful, channeling raw eldritch energy without regard to those around them, invoking hexes and even summoning demons with haphazard imprecision.  If nectar played a part in the plague of madness, it was not due to overdose.

(3) Once they have agreed to find the escaped creature Beastmaster Yagruch will admit to the players that he did not know exactly what it was - only that they found it in the southern swamps on their way north from a stint in Lophius, and that it drew large crowds along their tour.  He describes it as an amorphous, translucent blackish protoplasm with coils like a serpent and dark shapes that might be organs suspending in its fluidic body, a cluster of glossy eyes almost floating on its slick, membranous skin, and a writhing pseudopod tongue.  Despite numerous attempts to feed it Yagruch was unable to find anything to agree with its palate.  It would occasionally swallow live meat but would promptly spit these offerings out, and it would sometimes also attempt to devour inanimate objects, though again it would regurgitate them quickly.  Once it engulfed a talisman from a crewman's neck and refused to relinquish it, though they found it later on the floor of the cage in a puddle of black mucus.

The troupe had captured the beast in the wetlands, having found it preying on a leechkin shaman, engulfing the creature into its vaguely serpentine bulk.  While the creature was digesting the struggling shaman - who seemed to have been trying to hex or bind the beast based on the scrawled markings in the mud they found near the creature - Yagruch and his crew managed to capture it.  It vomited forth the shaman, who seemed dazed but otherwise unharmed by the ordeal.  The shaman gestured wildly and stumbled around, raving from its mouths; unable to interpret its speech, Yagruch had the creature shot, fearing it might be afflicted by the mad thirst and therefore potentially murderous.

Though its cage the beast was interred in was locked and warded the creature managed to squeeze its body between the bars, and the protective glyphs scribed into the metal were ineffective.  Closer inspection of the glyphs by a trained witch will show that they have been deactivated, their eldritch energy drained.  If the players track down the crewman with the talisman - a rakish youth with red hair and a crooked smile called Farle, mucking out the wolf-boar's cage - they will find that his charm has also been deactivated (it used to glow when rubbed, emitting a soft glow of light and supposedly warding against sickly miasmas; now it fails to function).  The cage has not been broken and the lock has not been tampered with.  There is a slick of tar-like fluid on the floor of the cage which if properly analyzed will be found to radiate residues of numina.  A careful inspection of the carnival grounds will reveal several more splotches of black mucus, which if followed eventually lead to a culvert in the city walls, too small and low for a human to enter - though perhaps not for the soft-bodied creature.

(4) The Fleshmongers have preserved and daguerreotyped the bodies, posting some of the sepia daguerreotypes in the bounty office.  The bodies themselves are being kept in the mortuary of a rundown hospital in Resurrection Row.  If the murders are not solved in another week they will be dismembered and sold for food or parts.

The first victim was named Zari Etcheye, a young courtesan found in an alley off Blackrose Street between an opium den and the ghul-bar and grave-spawn fleshpot Wormflesh near the western edge of Velveteen Circus, in a puddle of drying blood.  Like most prostitutes in Macellaria she was augmented, sporting an extra pair of oversized, absurdly lush breasts and implanted black talons, under which some skin can be found.  There are no marks on her body save for a small bite on her upper left breast, made with sharp teeth.  She did, however, bleed out of her eyes, nose, ears, and mouth, leaving crusted stains around those orifices, and her whole body is covered in smaller streaks of blood - as if she bled out of her pores.  Someone trained in xenoanatomy, fleshcraft, or a similar discipline might be able to identify the bite as definitively not belonging to a leechkin - the teeth are too large and the bite isn't circular enough.

The second victim was only known as Jabeela.  Like Zari she was augmented, with a feline tail and implanted whiskers in addition to leopard-print tattoos; she was wearing a cat-mask when she was found, now badly bloodstained - also like Zari, she bled out of her pores, mouth, eyes, and nose, splattering her corset and stockings.  Save for a few old bruises and her complete lack of blood she is unmarked - no bite marks, no sign of trauma.  She was found behind a hookah bar in the northern part of the Circus, five days after Zari was found.

The third victim was a boy of seventeen, Perek Curille, a transvestite with an augmented phallus and blood-smeared makeup found a week after Jabeela in an empty building, again in the westernmost part of Velveteen Circus.  His petticoats and frock are torn, frayed, and bloodstained, possibly suggesting a struggle, though not necessarily.  His manner of death was identical to the two previous victims.

The fourth body belongs to Shelkie Illdefonse, an older and unaugmented prostitute found in a small courtyard off Ganglion Avenue three days after Perek was found, lit by the red sputter of the sign of the pleasure house Crimson Joy.  Scrawled above her corpse in her blood are the words 'Ware the Worm!' which have been interpreted as the signature of her killer, variously ascribed to a leechkin or cultist of Hirud.  She was killed in the same manner as the others, but also sustained a wound on her breast, where her dress was ripped - a circular wound, like a vicious love-bite.  Anyone skilled at all in forensics will note that this wound did not bleed and thus must have been inflicted after her death, and that it appears to have been made with a knife rather than by teeth (the one responsible for the wound is in actual fact also the author of the gruesome note, and is not the murderer at all, though the players must deduce this themselves).

Based on an inspection of the bodies or daguerreotypes the players can deduce several important facts.  Firstly, whatever killed the streetwalkers was unlikely to be a haematophage, or if they were they were uninterested in drinking their victims' blood: the murder scenes were splattered with blood, and the victims appeared to have lost their blood via their mouths, ears, nostrils, and eyes.  As such any rituals or spells involving large quantities of blood can also be ruled out, doubly so since blood can easily be purchased in the Skin Markets.  Secondly, the victims were not killed through any kind of exterior physical trauma such as a bite, nor were they mutilated in any immediately obvious way, with the possible exception of Shelkie.  An autopsy reveals extensive desiccation and massive hemorrhaging of the internal organs.

Conclusions

(1) The final leg of this adventure should consist of two central elements: delving into Tza-Xellim and retrieving the artifacts, and contending with the Blacktongue Brothers, who will not easily give up their prize.

The necropolis should have a haunted, brooding quality.  At night it is grim and frightening; during the day the streets are defined in stark chiaroscuro, the sandy earth and pale flagstones contrasting with the darker stone of the buildings and the dense shadows thrown by the dwindling sun.  Tza-Xellim's walls are largely collapsed, and its obelisks have been eroded into deformed stumps.  A vast cemetery resembling a ruined city, Tza-Xellim is confusing to navigate: high bridges connect weather-worn obelisk-towers accessible via spiraling steps, huge monoliths packed tightly with the dead, while winding flagstone streets meander between low tombs and ziggurats.  There are statue gardens disfigured by dust-storms, arches and tunnels and musty quadrangles, and everywhere a charged, oppressive silence.  Buzzards black the sky, circling constantly.  Eyes watch from the harsh black gloom.

In the centuries since its construction many foul things have crept into the ruins.  A group of quasi-feral ghilan, nomads and brigands transformed into grave-spawn in the Slaughter-lands, inhabit the southern quadrant, gnawing on bones and mummified flesh and occasionally trading baubles and relics from some of the more poorly protected tombs with scavengers; they can lead the adventurers to Balgol's tomb for a price, if they describe the three-headed eagle statues.  Other inhabitants of the necropolis are less civilized.  Packs of hyenas roam the streets at night, yapping with maniac laughter, and mutant spiders with too many limbs and eyes lurk in many of the smaller tombs and passages, cracking open bones and sucking out their marrow for sustenance.  Worst of all are a brood of wild tenebrals attracted to the claustrophobic spaces of Tza-Xellim.  The shadow elementals can merge with the darkness and travel along it, impervious to attack, before suddenly manifesting, engulfing their prey with their flickering black bodies.

Balgol's tomb itself comprises a fairly large area, surrounded by a high wall.  The lesser tombs can be looted for minor valuables and contain few protections of any note, save perhaps for beasts that might have burrowed or broken into them and made them their lairs.  The central ziggurat - five-tiered and menacing - poses the true challenge.  The door itself is warded, as the adventurers' research should have revealed; the players must deal with the glyphs themselves - archaic pictograms that infect any who enter the ziggurat with a wasting, rotting illness - or hire a witch to counter-hex the door, or they must find some other way of circumventing the door or the wards (talismans that protect them against disease, for example).  Only grave-spawn can enter the ziggurat without fear: as the inscription above the door reads, the ziggurat is a 'House of the Dead.'  Note that the other ziggurats in Tza-Xellim are similarly warded and protected.

The interior of the ziggurat is labyrinthine, designed to deter intruders, turning them around and back on themselves.  In place of mechanical traps that could rust with time a guardian demon called Ahema'at was sealed in the ziggurat when it was erected.  Enraged and soul-starved after centuries of entombment, Ahema'at will stalk and then devour any foolish enough to enter the ziggurat; it appears as a massively muscled humanoid with a horned, reptilian visage and a second gaping mouth on its chest with many needle-like teeth, a maw into which it feeds the hearts of its victims.  Although mad from its long captivity Ahema'at could be bargained with, especially if the wards on the door have been deactivated, in which case it is free to leave the ziggurat. It may even bring the tomb-raiders through the maze if offered a suitable sacrifice or contract.  At the center of the ziggurat is the burial chamber itself, containing the sarcophagus and the canopic jars, as well as several valueless artifacts and a few jeweled cups and similar treasures that can be pawned in the Curio Bazaar.

After leaving the ziggurat the adventurers will be ambushed by the Blacktongue Brothers, either within Tza-Xellim itself or once they leave the necropolis.  The witch-scavengers will attempt to intimidate the players and threaten them with eldritch destruction unless they hand over the treasure.  The tomb-robbers must either talk or fight their way out of this predicament; if they opt for the latter, they will find the Brothers formidable foes skilled in witchcraft.

Alternatively, if they delayed too long in reaching Tza-Xellim, the players could find the ziggurat already looted, the wards on the door already deactivated.  They will find one of the Blacktongue Brothers dead, his heart ripped from his chest; Ahema'at has left the ziggurat and now hunts the ghilan of the southern quadrant.  The adventurers must catch up with the two remaining Blacktongue Brothers before they reach Macellaria if they want to steal the prize.  The ghilan, incidentally, will reward the players for slaying Ahema'at if the demon escapes.

(2)-(3) The strange 'sickness' afflicting witches is actually the work of the escaped creature from the carnival, one of the swamp demons of the south - the creature was sucking the shaman dry when the carnival found it.  Research may turn up a few references to numina-feeders like gelatinous black serpents, entities sometimes dubbed 'Aether-Worms' capable of drawing sustenance from glyphs and other arcane energy, including nectar and the eldritch potential of spellcasters, subsequently leaving the victim deranged by the unwholesome experience.  The escaped Worm has taken up residence under Hexwarren, venturing topside to snack on the city's witches and leaving them as wandering madmen.

The final portion of the adventure takes place in the catacombs below Macellaria.  Finding the Aether-Worm may be difficult, and the tunnels form something of a maze.  Here the players should encounter a variety of undercity denizens and hazards before tracking down their quarry.  Those below Hexwarren are particularly bizarre, filled with mutant creatures and homeless nectar-junkies willing to murder for a fix.  Toshers will greet adventurers with suspicion if not outright hostility, perceiving them as rivals and defending their turf with knives, cudgels, and crude firearms; some are also skinchangers.  Other encounters might include battles with rogue geists or ghilan cutthroats, a decaying eidolon looking to rejuvenate his glamer, psychopathic leechkin possessed by blood-madness, or simply sewer fauna - giant rats and spiders, poisonous fungi, and other troglodytic dangers.  Cave-ins, pockets of gas, floods, slippery catwalks, pitfalls, and the like will plague excursions into the catacombs.  This section of the adventure could be partly improvised or it could be rigidly mapped and plotted.  Occasional streaks of blackish mucus will eventually lead the adventurers to the Worm.

The catacombs should have a liminal, hybrid feel to them, like a cross between a dungeon and a city.  Drunks and junkies sprawl in gloomy corners while grave-spawn slumber, awaiting nightfall; mushrooms and molds devour the variegated, rat-holed architecture.  There are prostitutes, poison-sellers, hitmen, drug dealers, thugs, and thieves here, and also dwellings, rickety drinking establishments, and seedy subterranean markets.  Escaped slaves and fugitives - many of them with wanted posters at the bounty office - seek refuge in the depths.  Under Hexwarren are all manner of strange beings - swarms of hairless piranha-rats, mad servitors and other escaped necromantic experiments, glowing toads that vomit acid, mephitic vapors given elemental sentience, and even a few lone fetch, hiding beneath the city and preying on vagrants to sate their homicidal inclinations.

If the adventurers have not solved the string of deaths in Velveteen Circus (arc 4), then they should have an encounter with a group of hagmen - all males, all equipped with curved knives and barbed spears - hunting leechkin through the catacombs on a genocidal crusade.  They may encounter the hagmen already torturing a leechkin, and be faced with the dilemma of whether to involve themselves or pass on through the tunnels.

The Aether-Worm lairs in a cobweb-shrouded cluster of chambers deep in the catacombs, part of some long-abandoned fanum or shrine full of rusted candelabra, chipped gilt idols, the musty fingerbones of forgotten saints, and similar religious bric-a-brac.  The Worm itself may be slumbering contentedly in an eerie coiled heap, or digesting some vagrant witch.  Its bulk contains several eldritch artifacts not yet drained of their puissance.  Finding a way of capturing the Worm without killing it will be difficult, since the entity resist traditional forms of demon-binding and will eventually devour any glyph or incarceration spell. Slaying it provides an alternative, and if the players are able to prove the Worm was causing the sickness then the Resin Merchants may reward them for taking care of the beast.  It is strengthened by numina, however, so casting hexes on it will only augment its power; it must be killed with pure brute force.  However, they will forfeit their reward from Yagruch the Beastmaster if they kill the Aether-Worm.

(4) The true culprit behind the 'murders,' is, in fact, a sickness.  A venereal disease that wracked the Cadaverous Earth epidemically four hundred years ago at the beginning of the Festering (the Aeon of Putrefaction), the Sanguine Dissolution was once widespread and deadly.  Transmitted through blood or sexual contact the disease causes internal hemorrhaging and bleeding out of the orifices and pores.  Though for a while it caused untold devastation in major cities, the Sanguine Dissolution rapidly ran its course, mutating into progressively more virulent and aggressive forms which ironically inhibited outbreaks: while the initial incubation period was a month or more, allowing an infected individual to spread the disease, the Sanguine Dissolution became so deadly that the rapid onset of symptoms and then death (within minutes) ensured that it could not be spread before the infected succumbed.

The outbreak of the Sanguine Dissolution in Macellaria is the unwitting doing of one Darvik Tracynth, a ghul with a preference for living sexual partners.  A poor grave-spawn with unsteady employment - mostly as a cleaner, street-scavenger, or manual laborer - Darvik lives in the catacombs below Worm-Hive, venturing out at night to work, returning to his squalid chambers below the city streets come daybreak.  Before retiring, however, Darvik often wanders the streets, especially Velveteen Circus; unable to afford the rates of upscale courtesans or even the brothel workers of the district's seedier fleshpots, he resorts to streetwalkers.  Unknowingly, however, he recently contracted the Sanguine Dissolution after cutting himself on a very ancient and very rusted knife contaminated with the disease.  As a ghul Darvik is immune to the disease's effects - but he carries the Sanguine Dissolution in his body.  He does not know that he has been infecting prostitutes with the disease, though all have died within a few minutes of copulation.

There are several ways the adventurers might discover the truth behind the 'killings.'  Diligent research is certainly one avenue, and talking with prostitutes, madams, pimps, and even clientele in Velveteen Circus will reveal that most streetwalkers in the district are fairly desperate for custom and so will accept the money of grave-spawn and inhumans.  Specific rumors of Darvik - a ghul exclusively interested in the quick - can also be extracted.  Certainly any extensive investigation should allow the players to rule out most of the commonly assumed suspects (leechkin, eidolons, etc).  A scene in which the players stumble upon the dying body of another streetwalker is also a possibility, perhaps already engaged with another client - the investigators may jump to the false conclusion that he is the murderer.  The streetwalker might even write the beginning of a clue in her own blood before she dies - the word 'ghul,' for example - though she might bleed out before she can finish her message.  Darvik, of course, will be close by, probably on his way back to his dwelling.  He can be identified by the scratches on his back from Zari's long fingernails.

If the players are unable to solve the 'murders,' additional clues can be provided as more bodies are found.  Perhaps Darvik tears a piece of clothing near the scene of the 'crime,' or perhaps he is spotted by someone leaving the alley moments before the body is discovered - a tall, thin ghul in a shabby black coat and top hat, with his hands thrust into his pockets and a vaguely satisfied smile on his face.  Meanwhile, the violence against the leechkin will only escalate, with the hagman community rising up against them unless someone intervenes.

What the players will do if they do discover Darvik's affliction is up to them.  If they turn him in they will receive a reward, but the wretched ghul will plead with them, bribing them with what little coin and treasure he possesses, promising them favors, and even potentially trying to kill them out of fear.  He will swear to celibacy if he must, though whether the players trust his oath is another matter.  Finding a cure for the Sanguine Dissolution is another option, albeit a very challenging one - no cure has been recorded, and discovering it would be a separate adventure in and of itself.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 30, 2008, 10:32:24 PM

Out of Character

I felt the Cadaverous Earth needed a bit of reorganization, so I decided to reboot it.  The predominant new material is at the very beginning and the very end (an adventure, as Lord Vreeg requested on the original thread).

Feel free to post comments/criticisms/critiques/factoids about hallucinogenic mushrooms here.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 01, 2008, 07:35:46 PM

Out of Character

(http://Leechkin.jpg)

Here is the Leechkin image Vermillion drew - it's simply too perfect not to be included in the rebooted thread.

(http://../../e107_files/public/1225586146_816_FT56772_leechkin_.jpg) (http://../../e107_files/public/1225586146_816_FT56772_leechkin.jpg)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: SA on November 01, 2008, 07:59:25 PM
Perfect poem choice.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 02, 2008, 03:00:55 PM

Out of Character

Added a section on demons in the Witchcraft post.

Thanks, Vermillion.  Byron is one of my favorite poets and Darkness is one of my favorite poems - parts of it don't fit the Cadaverous Earth as well, but that particular section seemed evocative of the setting's tone.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 02, 2008, 03:01:28 PM
Skein
The City of Silk, The Clockwork City

Vanity

With its chitin-plated, iridescent walls, its nacreous floor, and the cavernous sweep of its ceiling, the great ballroom of magister Pyrach-Quin achieved a glistening resplendence. Lamps and tallow candles filled the room with a rich green gloom; lush, lively music echoed about the curving organic walls. The masked guests revolved around the ballroom in languid circles, or else lingered on the balconies outside.

Belphora sipped her drink and gazed at the crowd, taken aback by the strange spectacle. Beside the magistras she felt a grey and tawdry thing even in her best finery. Each had a dress more vivid and luxurious than the last, silk gowns cut in a hundred styles and dyed a vibrant myriad of colours, blood reds and midnight blues and soft ebon blacks, golds and greens and purples layered with lace and satin, bejeweled with sewn-in opals and pearls and carnelians. Many had necklines swooping lower than Belphora might have considered seemly, but the magistras wore them without shame, draping themselves with silver and enjoying the effect their naked flesh had on those around them. The men were equally magnificent in coats of red and black and dark green, with ivory buttons and ringleted curls - though they inspired self-consciousness rather than jealousy. And all of them had their familiars, monstrous and sometimes beautiful things somewhere between pets and status symbols.

Each was unique, sharing only the sigil-etched collars and silver chains with their brethren, led in elegant configurations around their owners during the dances, taking care not to entangle the dancers with their chains. A shadowy thing whose limbs blurred when it walked paced about its magister like a well-trained hound; a hulking, muscular creature with a ferret's head and crimson skin stood with its arms crossed beside its owner; an eyeless, gray-skinned demon whose fingernails were knives muttered from a mouth crowded with tusks; a plump imp with bulbous compound eyes and a baby's pudgy limbs fluttered on oversized dragonfly wings by its magistra's shoulder, whining and mewling until it was fed from a tray of sweetmeats.

'Some more wine, milady?' The voice was gentle and urbane, but Belphora nearly screamed when she turned to its owner, a tall, flayed figure whose face was a horned skull, holding out a silver pitcher in one skinless hand. A purple tongue flicked out from between the grinning teeth. She stuttered the beginning of a reply and the familiar's magister turned, eyes dark behind his half-mask.

'Fornus, you are scaring the young lady,' the man said. 'Behave yourself.' His familiar bowed demurely and turned away.

'No, no, it's all right.' Belphora could feel blood rushing to her face. 'I was just - startled.'

'I apologize for my demon. Some find his appearance alarming.' The magister was tall and spare, perhaps a bit older than she was, based on the silvering hair at his temples. 'You can call me Sorn. It's much easier to pronounce than my formal name.'

'Belphora. My father is Lord Vlesnk'¦ of the Northern Baronies.'

'Ah of course. You speak our tongue well.' He smiled as her blush deepened, his painted lips curling at the corners. 'Your father - a liegeman of the Revenants, yes? Have you seen the Sleepwalker's City?'

'Once. It was'¦ quiet. Not what I expected from a city so large.'

'Mmm. I trust you'll find Skein a bit livelier. Would you care to dance?'

She nodded shyly, then - abandoning her drink to Fornus - took Sorn's arm and let herself be led into the next dance. The familiar followed at a distance, a discrete if somewhat macabre shadow.

The dance was intricate; more than once Belphora nearly stumbled, but Sorn merely smiled and pulled her onwards, ignoring her missteps.

'You are here with your father's retinue?' His eyes - she saw now that they were dark green, rather than black as she'd thought at first - gleamed in the mask's sockets as he raised his arm to twirl her, placing one gloved hand in the small of her back to help turn her round.

'N-no'¦ he is conducting business. In the Saffron Ward, I think. We were given invitations, but '“'

'But your father disapproves of this sort of revelry. You are here without his permission.' Sorn chuckled and shook his head as she turned again. 'I suppose he thinks us a pack of debauchees, drinking madwine and corrupting innocent young women.'

She stammered and blushed again; Sorn laughed and pulled her back into position. 'Do not fret, Belphora. Your secret is safe with me.'

They crossed the room, turned again, switched positions, crossed back - and then the music stopped. The players took up a new tune, dark and heady - a nocturne. 'Shall we get some air?' Sorn gestured to an arched doorway where a sultry blue-haired magistra and her many-armed familiar chatted with a long-haired ghul in the black robes of a sacerdos. Belphora found herself obeying Sorn without thinking. Each time their eyes met she felt a strange sensation, a kind of pleasant drowning, as if her fears and anxieties were being washed away, or sucked from her body like bad blood by a leech. Suddenly she felt as bold as the magistras, shedding her worries like a shawl. How dare her father forbid her to come? She would not be treated like a child anymore, would not have to slink away like a thief, guilty and furtive. When Fornus handed her back her glass she drank deeply.

The doorway led to a curved balcony; the city spread itself below, glittering in the night, the factory Wards steaming, the gaudily lit pleasure districts alive with tiny milling figures, the occasional spurt of fireworks. They stood silently and drank in the midnight panorama, listening to the nocturne's velvet melodies. Out on the black surface of the Radula she could see the lights of distant ships. Behind the river rose mountains, craggy and sinister. Belphora shivered.

'The mountains have an ominous look to them,' she said, wrapping her arms about herself. Sorn placed a warm hand on her bare shoulder, caressed it almost imperceptibly; Belphora did not seem to notice.

'The Slouching-devil Mountains are often grim at night. They are full of monsters - but you are safe from them here.'

'They make me uneasy.'

'You should see the view from my own tower. It is taller than this one, and faces south - across the plains.' He drew back her hair with one strong, white hand, exposing her neck. Her eyes half closed; she found his voice hypnotic. Behind the, Fornus stood in the shadows - Belphora had forgotten him entirely. Sorn's voice was close to her ear; she could feel his breath on her neck. 'You cannot see the mountains at all. Would you like that, Belphora?'

Her eyes were closed, her head tilted; she murmured something, vaguely, and then his lips were on her neck.

Hours later as the night sky began to pale the man who called himself Sorn slipped from his bed and dressed quickly. He crossed his bedchamber to the large mirror in the corner and inspected himself, brushing out his long, black hair, checking meticulously for the mar of silver. He squinted at the arched window, where the first rays of sunlight were stealing over the city walls. Muttering curses he paced over to window to tug at the thick curtains; as he did so his hand was transfixed in a wan shaft of the early morning light. His eyes flickered momentarily to the gray and age-spotted claw that clutched the curtain; his brow wrinkled with vexation, and then he flung the curtains shut, blocking out the seeping dawn.

He stopped by the solar on his way to the undercroft to find Fornus gnawing at a lump of bone, its chains piled unceremoniously on the floor.

'I trust you had a rejuvenating night?' The demon said, turning its skeletal visage towards him. 'You certainly looked considerably improved. If you don't mind me saying you were starting to look a bit frayed around the edges.'

'You'll find what's left of her in my bedchamber,' Sorn replied, ignoring the jibe. 'She's unconscious. An old woman, to look at her, but you'll find her soul palatable enough, I'd wager. Make sure you're thorough. And have the servants clean up afterwards - she was eager at first but there was some mess towards the end.'

The creature nodded. Its purple tongue flicked out, licking sharp and yellow teeth.

Mimesis

Lichens writhed through its frame, colonizing its limbs, its crevices. Rust gnawed at exposed parts. It picked its way towards them with spidery marionette motion, one spindly limb at a time. With almost avian movements it cocked its head from side to side, unblinking eyes gleaming. It scuttled into the circle of flickering gaslight.

The automaton wore a ghastly mask of dirt-smeared skin stretched over its visage, its metal cheekbones poking through the scrap of flesh, its beady optics - the glossy black of an insect's - staring out from rents streaked with scabrous tears. The rest of its body was similarly garbed, its elongated limbs and torso fit with a flayed suit, a demented parody of the human form. Through the inevitable tears and rips, most prominent about the thing's joints, its brass and iron exoskeleton was visible; beneath the shredded outer layer inner mechanisms clicked and chittered with clockwork vitality. There was something pathetic about the hideous flesh-rags of the automaton, something tragic in its failed imitation, its wretched longing, its ultimate and unavoidable numbness. For a moment a glimmer of melancholy - alienated, desperate, human - flickered in the black depths of its eyes, the ephemeral suggestion of a soul.
Demographics

Demon - 7%
Human - 87%
Other - 6%

Not including automata.
 
Architecture

Using secrets torn from the minds of demoniac architect-cultivators captured during the now obscure Membrane Wars the denizens of Skein grew the city's hundred towers, huge organic edifices with walls of scintillating chitin.  Living things somewhere between alien trees and colossal crustaceans the towers are sustained through the clockwork machines integrated into their walls and curved corridors, complicated networks of tubing, pneumatic pipe, meshing gears, and coiled springs that constantly pump liquid sustenance into the towers, a fetid alchemical mixture cultured in automated laboratories.  Serving as the living places of Skein's nobility, the enigmatic Moth-Kings and the magisters, the towers stand as a testament to Skein's technological supremacy, its unsurpassed mastery of diabolism and mechanical innovation: only the witches of Moroi can challenge them in the arcane arts, and though the Lords Revenant command greater industrial prowess they lack the subtlety of craft possessed by Skein's technocrats.  The elaborate stone buildings of Skein mimic the towers' flowing curves and extrusions, achieving an aesthetic that many find disturbingly beautiful.  Most of the towers are clustered in the Violet, Viridian, Azure, and Saffron Wards, where the wealthier class lives.

On the east side of the Radula are the industrial Wards of the city.  Most lavish of these is the Copper Ward, a chrome-and-brass marvel of engineering.  The bulk of the east side, however, is taken up by ugly slums and brutal industrial wasteland.  The buildings here are low and nondescript, mottled with fungus and decay; no towers rise from the gloomy streets, though tendrils of cloying black smoke rise like wraiths over the slums of the Ebon Ward and the churning dyers' and cutters' workshops.

Fashion

Fashion is Skein is strictly stratified between the social classes.  The proletariat tend to wear very simple clothes - tunics and loose robes, usually white, grey, or brown.  Conical hats are common for those that work outdoors, while smaller cloth caps are worn by factory workers.  Hair tends to be cropped very close to the skull or tied back into a bun.  Buckled shoes and wooden sandals are common footwear.  Jewellery tends to be very spare, consisting of glass beads, wooden talismans, and copper rings or necklaces.  Earrings are common for both men and women, but tattoos are rare and usually indicate a foreigner.  Men usually go clean-shaven.

The nobility are distinguished first and foremost by the clothing.  Silk is the most common material for clothing, although velvet, fur, cloth-of-gold, lace, and satin are also worn.  In contrast with the dull colours of the lower classes the wealthy wear clothing in as vibrant and scintillating hues as possible, frequently with very ornate patterning and embroidering.  Silk shirts with leather vests, breeches, and high leather boots are common for men, often worn under a flaring knee-length coat.  For women, long gowns are the norm, often with low necklines and clinging fabrics (though gowns are usually still ankle-length).  Both sexes wear their hair long or else wear powdered wigs.  The upper class are also distinguished by their distinctive masks or veils of fine silk, which are always worn in public as a mark of status; they also wear large hats, often tricornes for men.  Magisters and magistra - the true nobility - and a few individuals of equivalent status all bear the traditional glyph-graven silver manacle around their wrist (usually the left) with a silver chain running from the shackle to the collar of his familiar, a demon he or she has summoned themselves.  Jewellery is often lavish and is worn by both men and women, often incorporating precious gems such as bloodstones, carnelians, opals, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies.  Young men always go clean-shaven, and older men very occasionally sport well-trimmed goatees.

The middle classes of Skein imitate the upper classes in terms of fashion, though none have familiars.  A few particularly wealthy merchants do wear masks, a habit which more conservative nobles take great affront to.  Middle class clothing tends to resemble the finery of the magisters but is more understated, with less jewellery and decoration.  Silk is worn as much as possible, but only the well-heeled can wear it everyday.

Showing one's face in public is considered indecent in Skein.  Those who don't wear masks wear simple gauze veils to hide their features.

The Violet Ward

Perched above the west bank of the Radula River with petal-strewn and ivy strangled balconies of wrought iron overlooking the traffic of the steamships and submersibles and paddle-wheeled water taxis are the bathhouses, shadowmilk cafes, saloons, and perfumed harems of the Violet Ward.  In contrast with the tawdry pleasure quarters of Velveteen Circus in Macellaria or Skaumn in Lophius, Skein's Violet Ward has a refined air to it.  The voluptuous, often exotic courtesans are expensive, as are the many recreational drugs available for consumption, all of them of the highest quality.  The establishments here are closer to private clubs than public shops, maintaining exclusive circles of only the most refined and socially elite clientele.   High stakes card games and banned bloodsports now forbidden in the coliseum can be found here, though only a select few would be granted access to them.  The highly popular nectar-dealers of Moroi's Resin Merchants have set up shop in the Violet Ward as well, turning the southern section of the district into a bustling drug-market.

The Viridian Ward

The philosopher's quarter, the Viridian Ward consists of libraries, art galleries, museums, teahouses, Imbroglio parlors (the intricate clockwork game is said to have been conceived in Skein), and carefully manicured gardens and hedge mazes through which the city's thinkers endlessly tread.  In the twelve towers that rise up from the clean, lavish streets magistra hold elaborate salons, where the city's finest thinkers congregate to sip sherry (or madwine at the more libertine gatherings) and discuss politics, metaphysics, demonology, xenobiology, and witchcraft, though in practice most salons consist primarily of gossip-mongering.

The Viridian Ward also contains the five Collegia Arcana et Mechanica, universities that specialize in witchcraft and engineering, though literature, philosophy, history, mathematics, astronomy, and biology are also taught.  The Collegia have small but incredibly lavish self-contained campuses including dormitories and residencies for the professors; they charge obscene tuition rates, ensuring that only the rich can gain entrance (though a very, very few with truly meteoric talent might secure one of the Collegia's highly prized scholarships).  Far surpassing the Academy of Witchcraft in Macellaria's Hexwarren, the Collegia are challenged only by the University of Moroi, and there only in witchcraft.  Many wealthier individuals from the other Twilight Cities send their sons and daughters to Skein to study at one of the Collegia, though foreign students are often met with scorn and hazing by the native brats, especially inhumans and grave-spawn.  The Collegia themselves have deep-seated rivalries, with students and faculty striving to outdo one another at every opportunity.  More than a few moonlit duels have been fought in the backstreets and courtyards of the Viridian Ward.

The Saffron Ward

A district of luxury shops, cafes, theatres, and opera houses, the Saffron Ward is popular amongst the magisters and magistra of Skein.  The masked noblemen can often be seen in their frock coats and hooped skirts perambulating the clean and well-lit streets, attended by eunuchs and clockwork automata and, of course, their familiars, beautiful horrors that can be pets or bodyguards or concubines, servants and symbols intertwined, their eyes blazing with rage at their forced servitude.  Boutiques, tailors, florists, joiners, artisans, artists, and merchants selling various high-quality goods can be found in the Saffron Ward.

Also in the Saffron Ward is the coliseum of Skein, an elliptical arena used principally for sporting competitions and races.   In past centuries the arena was used for gladiatorial combat but in recent years bloodsports such as those practiced in Macellaria and Lophius have been banned from the coliseum precincts.  Races generally involve augmented dogs and horses; while the upper-crust of Skein tend to scorn personal augmentation as disfiguring and coarse, they hold no such prejudice against fleshcraft with regards to animals.

The Azure Ward

The huge palace of the Moth-Kings towers over the Azure Ward, the largest of Skein's towers, a monolithic edifice of chitin and metal with innumerable offshoot-spires and extrusions, dwarfing the other towers of the district.  The five themselves are almost never seen; they remain closeted in their council chambers at all times, conversing only with the most powerful magister-princes of the city, and even then very rarely.  Most actual administration is carried out at the City Hall across from the palace, a more mundane but still imposing structure from which the twelve Stewards conduct Skein's affairs, from law and punishment to economic regulation to foreign policy.  The twelve are elected every decade by those with enough wealth and property to qualify for as eligible to vote.  They are checked by a largely puppet parliament likewise drawn from the nobility of Skein.

Many other civic buildings are found in the Azure Ward, including the imposing Watch headquarters, various regulatory institutions and guildhouses, and Skein's prominent courthouses, a whole complex of old stone buildings adorned with innumerable staring statues, the effigies of long-forgotten justicar-saints.

The Crimson Ward

One of Skein's larger trade districts, a substantial portion of Crimson Ward is dedicated to the sale of arms, armour, and ammunition (concentrated in the Brimstone Market, so named for the sulphurous smell of gunpowder), making it particularly popular with mercenaries and adventurers.  Some of the finest weapons on the Cadaverous Earth can be found here, from swords and axes smithed from the black bones of the Slouching-devil Mountains to intricate clockwork revolvers and crossbows to splayed volley-guns and hexed ordinance that can fire blasts of acid, flame, lightning, or transmogrifying energy.  Here also are shirts of chitin-mail, suits of gear-powered, glyph graven armour with servos at the joints, and vampiric carapace plate, a symbiotic organism that flows across the body and implants its roots into its host's veins before hardening into near impenetrable armour.

The Copper Ward

Filled with the whirr and tick of thousands of tiny gears the Copper Ward is the artificer's district of Skein, the center for the city's scientific community.  It also serves as the closest thing Skein has to a religious quarter - the atheistic (or at the very least deist) citizenry scorn religion, but in their fetishization of Reason they have infused empiricism with a mystic ornamentation and mythology all its own.  Brass statues mounted on the eaves or roofs of buildings sing mechanically recorded melodies; automaton guards and servants are caressed like angels; secular pilgrims gaze in awe at the innumerable clocktowers, the orrery in the temple-like Palace of Chimes, the mechanized statues in the Garden of Gears, and the sigil-scribed, eldritch calculating machine called the Sortilege Engine, from which priest-like attendants extract auguries from the chaos of cogs and pistons.

The Copper Ward is also the industrial center of Skein, containing both the silk-factories that form the city's economic lifeblood and the enormous sericulture-colonies, huge domed structures where silkworms are farmed.  The cocoons are transported from the colonies to the factories where they are unraveled, before being cut and dyed and then shipped out across the Cadaverous Earth.  The silk monopoly of Skein has lasted for hundreds of years, ensuring the city's survival as an economic power.  The North Station of the Clockwork Rail runs out of the Copper Ward and towards the Slouching-devil Mountains.

The Tangerine Ward

A commercial district, the Tangerine Ward deals largely in foodstuffs: fruit and wines from the western orchards, grain from the plains, game from the foothills to the north, fish and eels and freshwater crabs from the Radula.  There are more exotic dishes here, too - candied wasps and ants, ostrich eggs, imp-meat, caviar, calf's brains.  Blood and human flesh are banned in Skein: those few cestoids and ghilan who dwell in the city are forced to eat raw pork or else obtain their food illegally.

The Sepia Ward

The central dyers' district of Skein, the Sepia Ward squats on the east bank of the Radula.  In contrast with the beautiful architecture of marble, gilt, and chitin pervasive along the west-side of the city in the Saffron, Violet, Viridian, and Azure Wards, the buildings in the Sepia Ward and nearby districts are nakedly industrial.  Brick warehouses slouch against factories crowned by nests of belching smokestacks; cranes and scaffolds sprawl about towers not of chitin but of iron girders.  Slavery is technically illegal in Skein, but the workers who tend the vast factories are functionally chattel, owned in all but technicality by the noblemen and merchants who own the factories, paying their laborers a pitiful subsistence wage.

The Indigo Ward

The docklands of the Indigo Ward are greasy and tar-smeared, crowded with riverboats and steamships and submersibles.  Though the dyers' workshops of the Sepia Ward spill over into this district, the Indigo Ward consists mostly of ramshackle drinking establishments, shipwrights, foundries, and hostels.  The men and women here are either dockworkers or crewmen for the vessels that crowd the dark waters, roustabouts and overseers and barking captains, slaves from Macellaria and Lophius (though slavery is illegal in Skein, foreign slaves are tolerated for visitors), navigators and pilots and passengers.  The Indigo Ward and the section of the undercity below is a stronghold for Skein's criminal element, four ruthless crime syndicates who deal mostly in smuggling, slaves, murder-for-hire, and black-market commerce: the Nine-Eyes, the Brass Skulls, the Orchid-Eaters, and the Yellow Dragons (reputedly led by the maverick demon Prince Byleth).

The Damask Ward

The raw silk processed in the automaton factories of the Copper Ward is cut in the workshops of the Damask Ward.  The city's large Silk Market can also be found here, along with a string of streets full of artisans and curio-sellers, making it a very popular spot for visiting merchants, though large deals are usually conducted in private homes or clubs in the Saffron, Azure, or Violet Wards.  Huge blocks of warehouses, mostly containing crates of silk-bolts, can be found to the eastern edge of the Damask Ward.  The Clockwork Rail's Southern Station can be found near the Silk Market, a complex full of steam and ticking gears where the trains are rewound and filled with goods before departing the city.

The Ebon Ward

The great slum of Skein, the Ebon Ward overflows with a veritable army of bedraggled workers.  The buildings here are wretched tenements, endless and uniform, degenerating into a ragged maze of buildings near the edges, whole block rotting away.  Here along the fringe most of the city's small grave-spawn population dwell, shunned and reviled by the majority of Skein's human citizenry.  Only a very few visiting undead of considerable wealth or power are afforded any kind of respect within the city limits; most are treated with fear and disgust.  On the edge of the Ebon Ward amongst these haunted, half-abandoned city blocks is the city's prison, a windowless stone tower surrounded by a high wall and guarded by a small army of Watchmen.

The Eastern Cemetery

Since cannibalism is illegal in Skein, the bodies of the dead are interred in the earth.   Most of the nobility prefer to house their dead in lavish crypts below the towers of the city proper, organic vaults with clockwork defenses and guardian demons.  The poor, on the other hand, bury their dead in the Eastern Cemetery, a huge, unkempt boneyard at the easternmost fringe of the city, sprawling larger than many of Skein's wards.  Here are rows and rows of wooden stakes and occasional gravestones, and a warren of tunnels in the decrepit hills of the cemetery where ghilan vagabonds lurk.  The Watch maintain quasi-regular patrols throughout the cemetery in order to deter grave-robbers and bodysnatchers, but the boneyard is vast and they are largely unable to deter the numerous squatters and corpse-eaters who live and feed amongst the barrow mounds.

The Sewers

Skein has a very extensive undercity, consisting mostly of an intricate sewer system.  The well-planned grid of the modern sewers overlays a much older and more chaotic network of tunnels underneath, now half-flooded and treacherous.  As in most of the Twilight Cities the underground is a haven for rejects and refugees - in the case of Skein, rogue automata and renegade demons that have escaped from their servitude, as well as grave-spawn and human vagrants and older, stranger things that wander the deeper corridors.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 02, 2008, 03:02:11 PM
Fiends, Flesh, Clockwork, and Corpses

Adventure in the City of Silk

Out of Character

Following are rough sketches of four adventures set in Skein, the City of Silk.  Unlike some of the other adventures posed many of the adventures set in Skein emphasize persuasion, subtlety, and social networking; the theme of enslavement recurs throughout.  The first adventure deals with the recapture of a rogue automaton turned serial killer; the second draws the players into the criminal politics of Skein using grave-robberies as a catalyst; the third takes the adventurers to the Slouching-devil Mountains to investigate a missing caravan and culminates in a raid on a nest of bizarre and troglodytic beings; and the fourth enacts a strange kidnapping involving dreams, giant cyborg insects, and a journey across the Slaughter-lands to the broken region called the Shatters.
Premises and Hooks

(1) A clockwork automaton fashioned by the artificers of the Copper Ward has somehow defied its gear-driven programming and gone rogue.  Built by the renowned craftsman Gerard Xasch - a professor at one of the Collegia in the Viridian Ward - the unusually advanced automaton codenamed MXVII turned on its master, decapitating the old witch and slashing three other technicians to ribbons with its murderous bladed arms before vanishing into the night.  Since its disappearance there have been a slew of grisly killings throughout the east-side - mostly factory workers and stevedores - that have been attributed to the deranged machine because of the long gashes found on the bodies, similar to those found on the corpses of the slain technicians.  Gruesome rumours have begun to proliferate: some say the bodies were not merely slashed but also horrendously mutilated, that the machine is taking trophies or buildings itself some hideous fleshly sibling out of scavenged parts.

Gerard's sole living apprentice and protege, the elegant noblewoman magistra Jeanne Phan-Luru, wants the automaton apprehended and returned, intact but deactivated.  She is offering a very substantial reward of two thousand Skein crowns to any who bring MXVII back relatively unharmed.  If the construct is damaged significantly buts its clockwork brain is intact she will only decrease the reward by five hundred crowns; if the brain is seriously damaged but the rest of the body is undamaged she will pay a thousand crowns; if presented with a mangled metal corpse she will merely sneer and shrug, tossing a small purse of perhaps two hundred crowns in lieu of a larger reward.  She can be found in her father's tower, one of the chitinous spires of Skein's magisters in amongst the Saffron Ward's perfumed streets.

Jeanne herself is a magistra of twenty-three, a thin, blond woman with a razor-edged stare, a cold disposition, and a stern porcelain half-mask set with orange stones.  She will be wearing a vivid dress of blood-red silk and black lace, with enormous flowing skirts and a plunging neckline; her ice-blond hair is adorned with an exotic green blossom.  Her familiar, a spindly thing somewhere between a raven, a spider, and a corporeal shadow lurks on her shoulder, its black wings folded and its crimson eyes gleaming, its collar-chain running from its neck to Jeanne's perfectly manicured fingers.  She will, during an audience with would-be adventurers, be writing a program for the Sortilege Engine (a project Gerard contributed to greatly) - she does not sully her hands with menial metalworking.  A pair of footmen in the red and black livery of the Phan-Luru family with wheellock revolvers and heavy halberds will attend the audience, held in Jeanne's study and workroom on the fourth floor of the spire, a chamber with shimmering living walls lined with bookshelves and esoteric machines, including a book-stand with scuttling metal legs.  If they agree to accept her mission, the adventurers will receive a letter bearing Jeanne's family seal (a double-headed raven) that will greatly aid information gathering throughout Skein.

The reward is widely publicized: posters are plastered to walls and pasted to lampposts, and stories of Jeanne's reward are circulating throughout the marketplaces and alehouses of the City of Silk.

(2) Bodysnatchers have been plundering the tombs of the wealthy in Skein.  Most citizens have been quick to blame the city's small grave-spawn population, who are well known to lurk about the Eastern Cemetery to dig up newly buried bodies to consume.  As a result gangs of rich brats, masked and armed with wheellocks and sabers, have taken to roaming the city limits, lynching unsuspecting ghilan and other nightfolk: several have been found strung up near the gates with obscenities and warnings carved into their grey flesh.  There have, in fact, been a rash of grave-robbery in the Eastern Cemetery as well: it has simply gone largely unnoticed by those with power.

While the bodies themselves appear to have been the targets, some of the vaults have also been stripped of valuables.  Heirlooms and funerary furnishings will have been absconded with.  Noble and merchant families will offer rewards for these stolen goods and for the apprehension of the grave-robbers (and the return of their dead relatives).  The City Watch, like the rest of the general populace, have assumed the bodysnatching to be the work of grave-spawn and have incarcerated a number of ghilan vagrants.  Their arrests have done nothing to prevent the grave-robberies, however.

Grave-spawn adventurers, already mistreated and sneered at (if not outright shunned) in Skein, will begin to feel directly threatened and may be attacked by one of these fop-gangs - a good active hook to draw them into the adventure.  Alternatively they might be contracted by the small Church of the Star-Gods, a dilapidated temple on the edge of the Ebon Ward, by the local sacerdos, Matron Giselle, a scrawny ghul woman with an iron-grey ponytail and an evangelical bent - she is a devout believer in the Mysteries of Dead Light.  They could also hear about one of the many rewards being offered for the return of jewellery or other artefacts buried with the dead.  Perhaps the Phan-Luru family have also been targeted by the grave-robbers - the perfect opportunity to introduce arc 1.

(3) A caravan expected to arrive in Skein has gone missing in the foothills of the Slouching-devil Mountains.  It was supposed to unload in Mulcatra, from which its cargo of fossils and rare minerals would be conveyed by rail to Skein; somewhere along the road from Shoi-Tann the caravan was lost.  The Hell's-teeth Merchant Company is looking for mercenaries to investigate the vanished caravan and reclaim the cargo.  They will pay the party five hundred crowns to investigate the caravan's disappearance, provided they bring back concrete information relating to its location, with a hefty bonus of one thousand crowns for the cargo's full return; in particular they are interested in a large claw or talon unearthed by lucky prospectors.

The Hell's-teeth Merchant Company headquarters can be found on the edge of the Crimson Ward; the sulphurous emanations of the Brimstone Market waft down the clamorous streets to the structure, a bulky edifice of mottled marble resembling some run-down palace more than a mercantile organization's base of operations.

(4) The professor of pan-demonological theory at Collegia Tho-Lladrim - none other than the white-haired ex-adventurer Felix Rhadcuth - is looking to hire a group of experienced explorers to retrieve a strange 'artefact' for him: the brain of an ancient sorceress, one Ulaaya the Unclean, reputedly preserved through elaborate arcane and technological means and interred within a lavishly crafted sanctum guarded by her now millennia-old servants.  Here she lives out a painstakingly programmed solipsistic dream, a phantasmagorical afterlife of her own devising fed into her withered grey-matter by a baroque machine she spent her final 'living' years crafting.  Felix would have the players remove Ulaaya's still-living mind, unharmed, from her sealed tomb so that he can literally pick her brains of eldritch secrets.  Being a man of modest means with limited funding from the university he is offering only seven hundred crowns for the brain's retrieval, but he possesses many warded items, some of them quite powerful, which he would be willing to trade for Ulaaya's brain.

Felix has a map leading to Ulaaya's fortress-tomb, a subterranean structure buried beneath the waste at the westernmost edge of the Shatters, a region of the Slaughter-lands where the iron skeletons of broken colossi form a jagged, rust-eaten skyline.  He has a little information on the layout, as well, gleaned from second-hand descriptions and bygone legends.  He also has a small scrap of a blueprint torn from the half-burned journal of an architect hired to construct the tomb itself that reveals some of the structure's layout.  He has tracked down references that suggest the tomb has been breached before by a party of looters from Macellaria perhaps three hundred years ago.  An scribbled account of the raiders' venture, possibly recorded by the sole surviving member, indicates the presence of bizarre hybrid creatures half flesh half machine, cultivated in vats and then modified with deadly technological enhancements, who patrol the old hallways like monstrous prison warders, devouring any who penetrate the inner vaults.

Since Felix has numerous contacts in the adventuring community (and a few in the criminal underworld) the players should hear about his request quite quickly, perhaps even in another city.  When they go to visit Felix (he keeps office hours in the Viridian Ward at the Collegia) they will find him tending to a large pitcher plant, feeding it small insects and watching enraptured as the plant digests them, while his familiar, Oriaxes, looks up some esoteric article or other in a spellbook's index, leafing through the yellowed pages with gnarled fingers.  Here some arrangement could be reached regarding payment: Felix assures the adventurers that the tomb will contain many other valuable objects, and if pressed will offer forth such artefacts as the Mask of Pharegos, which allows its wearer to vomit forth a profusion of fanged black beetles that will devour any the wearer directs them to (or perform other tasks), the possessed sword Shadow-Grin, which whispers coos of pleasure and wreathes itself in black flame when its serrated teeth taste blood, or a suit of demon-bone armour, stronger than steel or ur-fossil, etched with fell glyphs.

Felix also gives the adventurers a specially designed mechanical receptacle that will keep Ulaaya's brain alive while they transport her back to Skein.  Alternatively, the entire adventure can be moved to take place completely in Skein: Ulaaya's tomb could be deep in the undercity, and Felix himself might join the adventurers as they delve into the depths.  This way the adventure could also be tied into arc 1.

Investigations

(1)
A good first step in the investigation would be to examine the crime scenes and bodies.  The remains of the technicians are at the Collegia Shann-Irim; the other victims are at the morgue in the Eastern Cemetery out by the city limits, and will soon be buried in the unkempt graveyard.

The adventurers will have a difficult time getting into the inner sanctum of the Collegia without Jeanne's seal, but once they flash the letter the normally pompous university administrators will become much more pliable.  The bodies, located in a preparation room where they will be cleaned and embalmed before internment in the Collegia's crypts, have been sewn back together: stitch-marks reveal the locations of vicious slashes that dismembered, decapitated, and otherwise brutalized the technicians.  Other than these hideous wounds the bodies are untouched.

The bodies in the Eastern Cemetery morgue - a squalid, low building looking out over the endless rows of shabby graves - tell a different story.  These have been carefully killed with a single slash, leaving the bodies themselves almost completely intact.  Their skins, however, have been flayed off completely, leaving the victims' muscles totally bare.  The work is careful and precise.  All of the bodies were found washed up on the shores of the Radula; if not viewed very quickly they will be buried in the Cemetery after two days time, and will have to be exhumed for examination (again, Jeanne's seal will prove invaluable here).

Xasch's workshop, a mid-sized structure of marble and brass in the Copper Ward, is still a chaotic mess.  Blood stains the tiled floors, and the forest of glassware - beakers, test-tubes, and vats of alchemical liquids, some of them containing odd, vaguely demoniac growths - is in disarray.  Broken glass is everywhere, along with stray cogs and gears and other bits and pieces, tiny springs, pneumatic pistons, and more esoteric devices.  A nervous-looking assistant will show the adventurers around, navigating through the trashed laboratory (darting nervous glances at the still-operational automata that guard the doors or stand in corners, their functions less overt) towards a central hexagonal chamber where MXVII was kept.  Little can be found in the workshop of immediate use save for MXVII's blueprints, which will inform the adventurers of the automaton's vaguely humanoid form and (for those with suitably impressive technical skills) its vulnerability to extreme cold - the perfect method of immobilizing it without actively damaging its delicate clockwork brain or its perfectly sculpted metal body.  A journal reveals part of the automaton's purpose: it was intended as an assistant, capable of creative design and active participation in the construction of other automata, a trait unprecedented amongst automata.  There are also a few daguerrotypes of the construct from a variety of poses.

While the players continue their investigation the attacks can continue.  There are no known crime scenes, apart from Xasch's workshop: the bodies simply appear in the mornings, bobbing in the river.  A careful cross-referencing of the locations at which the bodies were found - information that can be gleaned from the City Watch's official reports - will reveal that all the flayed corpses were discovered floating near storm drain entrances, where excess floodwater is dumped into the river.  They might also track down relatives or coworkers of the victims and to get a better sense of where the crimes were committed: thorough searching of the back-alleys of the Ebon Ward, the docklands, or the factory districts will turn up bloodstains at or near manhole covers that lead down into the undercity.

(2) The adventurers could begin by examining the crime scenes.  As a way of tying the adventures together and further complicating them, some of the stolen bodies might include those of technicians, and even Gerard Xasch himself, stolen straight from the Collegia Shann-Irim; the flayed bodies of the Eastern Cemetery, however, would not be likely targets.  Those bodies that have been taken from the Eastern Cemetery will have been roughly exhumed from the rough, overgrown graves.  A close examination of these graves, or even better an interrogation of the grave-digger, will reveal that the majority of recently stolen corpses were still relatively fresh - buried only in the last fortnight.  Alternatively, the players might note the names on the robbed graves and use them to track down the families of the deceased, who are still in mourning of their lost loved ones: mostly factory workers who live in the slums of the Ebon Ward and work in the Sepia and Indigo Wards.

Those corpses taken from the wealthy were mostly robbed from mausoleums and vaults on noble estates both inside the city limits and in the surrounding hinterlands.  The defences of these tombs are intricate: clockwork locks and traps are implemented precisely to deter tomb raiders.  A careful inspection of the emptied vaults by anyone with lockpicking, locksmithing, or mechanical skills will reveal that the traps and locks were deactivated by professionals: only skilled thieves could have accomplished such burglaries, and the tool marks and broken lockpicks that would betray more amateur grave-robbers are notably absent.  Within the tombs themselves, funerary goods have been taken along with the bodies, though notably not the canopic jars in which the organs of the wealthy dead are interred: only the bodies themselves were taken.  Getting access to these mausoleums will be very difficult: the adventurers must either employ all of their persuasive capabilities or utilize some official seal, such as Lady Jeanne Phan-Luru's letter from arc 1 or an official City Watch warrant.  Forging or stealing such documentation could prove an adventure in and of itself.

Based on the crime scenes the players should be able to determine that the graves were robbed not by amateurs but by skilled professionals, and that they were more interested in fresh bodies than old ones.  Those with any knowledge of Skein burial practices, or those who converse with the owners of the vaults, will also realize that the bodies of the noble dead are embalmed: hence the canopic jars.  Thus, the grave-robbers are most interested in bodies whose decay has not yet progressed too far.  This would seem to count against the grave-spawn theory, since ghilan and the like actively prefer half-rotten meat and often savour organs in particular.  Most of the grave-spawn in Skein are vagrants and vagabonds or else very wealthy visitors, neither of which would be likely to possess high-calibre thieving skills or be particularly inclined to rob the vaults of the nobility.

Some of the funerary gods will eventually show up in a pawnshop called The Midden Heap in the Damask Ward owned by a curmudgeonly hunchback with a mechanical eye called Queros.  If asked as to who sold him the goods Queros will at first be reticent, but if properly intimidated or bribed he will reveal that a fence called Yorian sold him the goods, directly the adventurers to a tavern called The Foetid Crocodile in the Indigo Ward.  At night they can find Yorian with a prostitute in his lap and a tankard of ale in his hand, carousing; they may also see (and will certainly be seen by) Ngo-Shenn, a small-time con artist, pickpocket, and occasional cutthroat well known throughout the Skein underworld.  If interrogated properly or bribed - fifty crowns will suffice, though Yorian will demand more - the fence indicates a pair of thieves, Uri and Shai-Qor, as those who brought him the goods.  This pair of professional burglars have a long association with the Orchid-Eaters, one of the four prominent crime syndicates of the Clockwork City.  To track down the stolen bodies the players must investigate the Orchid-Eaters, but by this time they have already been noticed by the crime syndicate (if they're particularly perceptive the players will have noticed them noticing).

In truth, the Orchid-Eaters are using the bodies as troops in a turf-war with the Yellow Dragons waged largely in the undercity of Skein.  They have hired a witch native to Macellaria - one Namirizin, a specialist in fleshcraft and servitor-construction.  He has been reanimating the bodies with glyphs, transforming them into obedient servants, ideal as fodder in the turf-war, a conflict in which the Yellow Dragons had the edge due to the capabilities of their demoniac leader, Prince Byleth.  The more advanced a body's decay, the less suitable it is for reanimation: skeletons and mostly decomposed corpses simply lack structural stability and are far more fragile in combat.  Thus, the Orchid-Eaters dispatched grave-robbers to retrieve fresh bodies from the Eastern Cemetery; after demand exceeded supply, they turned to the vaults of the wealthy and the preserved corpses found therein.  Unfortunately, two of the thieves they hired - Uri and Shai-Qor - got greedy, snatching some of the other objects in these tombs and selling them to Yorian, who sold them to Queros.  Tracking down this pair of rogues is a good first step to locating the bodies themselves: Yorian will sell them out, again if properly motivated, indicating one of their safehouses, an abandoned mansion on the edge of the Ebon Ward.

(3) After securing their contract the adventurers must travel north towards the Slouching-devil Mountains.  The fastest but most expensive way (fifteen crowns at least) is via the Clockwork Rail, a train route leading through the orchard-lands and vineries of Skein's northern hinterlands and into the foothills, to the rowdy, dirty town of Mulcatra.  Alternatively they might take one of the winding roads that meander northwards into the moors and foothills: ill-tended and bandit-ridden paths that wind round mouldering barrows and the foundations of ruinous stone spires.  The regions here are littered with the bones of demoniac war-beasts grown green and mottled with vines and lichens.  Fortunately there are few dangers other than thieves and highwaymen along these paths, save for packs of wild and rabid dogs and some nameless, chameleonic horror, perhaps otherworldly in origin, said to prowl the desolate moors on moonless nights, preying on travelers.

Mulcatra itself is squalid, violent, and unpleasant, a town of thugs and bounty hunters.  From here the rail stops, giving way to an old highway zigzagging up into the glowering mountains.  Some distance into the foothills the adventurers will find the remnants of a battle: corpses strewn across the ancient road, some of them garbed in black cloaks and masks, others in the red and yellow livery of the Hell's-teeth Merchant Company, still others in less uniform garb - mercenary escorts hired by the Company to fend off bandits.  There is no sign of the caravan itself or any of its goods, but a set of wheel-tracks and hoofprints leads off the road and into the jagged, overgrown foothills.

The tracks winds through the foothills on what must have been an aggravatingly slow journey.  Here the players might be beset by some of the mutant beasts of the Slouching-devil Mountains, warped by the Slow Plague endemic in the region, the by-product of the eldritch radiation emanating from the fossils of the progenitor race that once dwelt under the mountains themselves.  The Goremother herself, an oneiroi spawned from the Suppuration, is often seen near the higher passes, occasionally descending from her eyrie to prey on the lowlands; her children, the foul harpy-crows, infest the region, a dangerous nuisance.  Eventually, the rough path leads up to a cavern-entrance, the camp of the bandits who ambushed the caravan and stole the goods inside.

(4) The journey to the tomb of Ulaaya the Unclean will, of course, be a dangerous one.  The first stretch - perhaps a week by horse, past the Sinew River and into Flense Veldt - will be the most uneventful, consisting of Skein's eastern hinterlands and then a chain of mostly agricultural settlements, giving way to parched plains country and meagre, twisted woodlands and bogs where feral imps, canopy-fiends, jaculi, and spiny, toad-like zhugg lurk, languishing on the edges of stagnant pools or perching amidst the gnarled and palsied boughs of malformed trees.  Past the murky flow of the Sinew the land becomes the drier and more nakedly inhospitable Veldt: a barren, patchy region of yellow and ochre grass interspersed with half-rotting cacti-forests, haunted by the brigands of Herreku the Flagellator.  The adventurers will likely face at least one band of the warlord's men, ruthless and likely starving gangs of motley warriors (quick and grave-spawn both) armed with shoddy flintlocks, spears, and ungainly crossbows; usually at least one member of such a group - usually an officer - is a petty witch able to channel a few basic hexes.  These bands are usually mounted and sometimes drag oneiroi, shackled fetch, or exotic battle-beats with them to unleash on their foes.  They generally carry little of value and will show no mercy, though they may take captives if the adventurers surrender (transporting the players to one of Herreku's camps to be enslaved, eaten, or even recruited).

They may encounter other creatures in the Veldt: wandering geists, carrion-jinni, fetch, dust elementals, rogue demons, and a few scattered tribes of (mostly peaceable) cockroach-like inhumans have been spotted on the plains.  As they near Etiolation they may find evidence of dire maggots - tunnels, for example - and might even face one of the hideous beasts; they might also battle small groups of haunts that have left Etiolation, pallid warriors still gripping the rusted husks of weapons.  Of course, the Red Rain is a constant threat in the Slaughter-lands.  Patches of the Fecundity can be scattered throughout the waste to punctuate the otherwise dry and dusty landscape.  Not all of these encounters need result in violence: jinn, demons, and inhumans can all be reasoned with or even traded with, and the warlord's men can be deterred through intimidation or other persuasion.  The party might also find scavengers from Crepuscle, demon-hunters returning to Skein with caged horrors, pilgrims in the Order of the Weeping Lady seeking to sing their lament in the pale emptiness of Etiolation, crazed nature-worshippers searching for the Fecundity, or lepers huddling amidst long-dead cities reduced to mossy flagstones and a few crumbling walls.

If they manage to make their way through Flense Veldt the party must next face the bleakness of Etiolation, unless they choose to skirt the dread battlefield and so add at least a week to their journey.  The waste is still filled with bodies, perfectly preserved - forces of natural decay are halted almost completely in Etiolation, where no fungi, fly, or detritovore can survive for long, leaving withered, desiccated mummies wholly intact.  Even sticking to the edges of Etiolation the adventurers will inevitably be inflicted with blanchphage.  Colours will begin to fade from their skin and clothing, and a feeling of apathy and cold numbness will steal over them.  Here they may find the tempestas mali and whole legions of haunts, some of whom they may have to flee from.

Beyond the grey vastness of Etiolation the adventurers will enter the Shatters, a region stained red with rust and scattered with the husks of dead machines.  It is here, amidst the brooding iron colossi, that the tomb of Ulaaya the Unclean can be found, carved into the cliff-face in a jagged canyon like a wound in the raw, necrotic earth.  A band of barbarians dwell in the canyon, sinewy men and women tanned dark bronze from the ember-red sun, wielding ancient guns like clubs, led by tattooed shamans.  They shun the tomb itself as a forbidden place and a den of devils, but might be bribed with treasure to lead the players to the entrance (a mishandling of an encounter with the primitives could easily end in bloodshed, however).

Conclusions

(1)
The undercity of Skein consists of a layer of relatively modern sewers and storm drains that connect to much older tunnels below.  Past the utilitarian grid of the city's plumbing lie rough-hewn passages favoured by smugglers and low-lives; below these one comes upon a convoluted snarl of ancient halls, cavernous chambers deep below the earth with gear-driven doors, filled with old and curious machines whose purposes have long been forgotten, given over to rust and cobwebs.  The inert sentinels that once kept these halls slump against the brass walls like abandoned marionettes, metal skeletons whose arcane batteries sputtered and died.  Lower down the halls are flooded, their sublime grandeur marred with verdigris.

The upper levels of the undercity are relatively safe, inhabited mostly by homeless, both human and grave-spawn.  For a few coins one of these desperate souls might tell the players about an encounter with the automaton - a glimpse, perhaps, of a spindly metal figure dragging a dead body down into the lower tunnels, its servos clicking like mad, mechanistic laughter.  A careful search of the upper tunnels will reveal recent bloodstains on the storm drain floors that lead down into the lower tunnels.  These are more dangerous: a population of fettergeists abounds below Skein, and the adventurers will almost certainly encounter at least one of the malignant grave-spawn.  They can follow the fresh bloodstains even deeper into the undercity to the old vaults below the city, and eventually to MXVII's den, a domed sanctum with grimy walls and flickering lights, its walls and ceiling etched with unintelligible arcane formulae.

If the players have not completed arc 2 yet, they should encounter evidence of a battle in the underworld between two of Skein's warring crime syndicates.  Bullet-ridden bodies might clot an intersection of tunnels: some of the bodies will have been mummified, and will be distinguished by the glyphs etched into their skins.  One or two may also have signet rings on their fingers and will be clad in the tattered remnants of funerary wrappings.

The lair of MXVII is a morbid spectacle.  Deactivated, ancient automata stand like mannequins about the chamber, each wearing a suit fashioned crudely from human skin; a work-table with blood-stained implements and scraps can be seen in the corner, atop which lies a half-flayed, headless cadaver.  MXVII itself stands before a cracked mirror, illuminated by an overhead gaslight.  It models one of the stitched suits for itself, admiring the tailoring and making periodic adjustment with its sharp claws.

MXVII has not, as rumours suggest, been building itself an organic sibling: it has been trying to refashion its own body, garbing itself in the skins of its victims in an effort to resemble a human being.  Its grotesque skin-suits constantly rip and tear, however, so ineffective are they in obscuring the metal body beneath.  As such the automaton is forced to find fresh flesh on a regular basis; it has taken to amassing a collection of extras, now displayed on the mannequins.  A flaw in its programming led it to invert its intended functionality.  Instead of designing new automata, it fixated on the human forms of those around it and developed a kind of anxiety surrounding its own body, a kind of body dysmorphic disorder.  Frustrated and despairing at its perceived freakishness it entered a psychotic state and slaughtered its creators in a mad rage.  After escaping its psychosis entered a new phase: now it would seek to alter its appearance, using human flesh as its medium of transformation.

Defeating MXVII will be difficult, especially if the adventurers refuse to damage the automaton.  As mentioned above, extreme cold - likely eldritch in nature - is the least risky option.  Others might include nets some extremely strong material (the automaton will simply slash through ropes), or some form of arcane containment.  If attacked directly the automaton's flesh-suit acts as armour, absorbing most blows until it falls apart.  It is unlikely that MXVII can be persuaded to return voluntarily, though particularly eloquent characters who come to understand the machine's psychosis might potentially be able to convince the automaton to ascend with them of its own accord.

2 Several events can transpire at this point.  If the players track down the two grave-robbers, Uri and Shai-Qor, they can investigate their safehouse, a dilapidated mansion on the edge of the Ebon Ward, where the ramshackle husks of buildings dwindle into the scrub beyond.  The thieves will likely be counting their newly-gotten money and will not be suspecting an attack: the adventurers can get the drop on them if they exercise sufficient stealth in approaching and navigating the creaky, rain-swollen corridors of the house.  The thieves will finger the Orchid-Eaters syndicate and can be persuaded to betray the location of one of their hideouts in the undercity.

At this point the players may feel a little over their heads, but if they're still determined to retrieve the bodies they can attempt to break into the Orchid-Eater hideout.  To provide them with additional motivation, the Orchid-Eaters, informed of the players' investigations by Ngo-Shenn, send an assassin to take care of them: a servitor, one of the mummified magisters themselves, flesh carved with glyphs for celerity and acrobatic ability, infused with a restless, bloodthirsty spirit by Namirizin.  If they dispatch this creature the Orchid-Eaters will send a succession of other hitmen after them, culminating in their contracting of the Scarred Gentlemen, a trio of infamous killers with pretensions of romantic nobility.

The endgame of this increasingly intricate web of events depends largely on the players' actions.  It may climax in a frenetic raid on the adventurers' parts on the Orchid-Eater hideout, a series of chambers on the middle layers of Skein's undercity in which Namirizin reanimates the stolen bodies.  It may lead to the players' alliance with the Yellow Dragons, who could contact them, realizing their common enemy.  Perhaps the most promising 'ending' to this arc might in fact be a stalemate, in which the Orchid-Eaters become long-term enemies of the players - all manner of other plots can be born out of the resulting conflict.

(3) The caverns are not overly large, but they are notably uninhabited.  A few blood spatters, some embers, shredded cots, and splinters of wood are all that seem to remain of the bandit camp; some of the caravan's cargo does remain, but the claw itself is gone.  Near the back of the caves, a mysterious, clearly unnatural passage can be discerned - one of many entrances to the tunnel-system of the Slouching-devil Mountains.  A red smear mars the threshold, indicating that whatever attacked the bandits dragged them into the tunnels.

The adventurers can follow the catacombs deep into the mountains.  Occasional bloodstains or severed limbs provide a meagre trail, but it is easy to get lost in the winding, echoing dark of these cyclopean halls.  Cacklegeists and the roaming Deep Laughter itself haunt the cobwebbed corridors; parts of the ancient machines of the elder race corrode in corners and odd chambers, some still tended by mysterious mechanical servants grown senile and sometimes berserk over the aeons.  Fell things dwell in the ruinous halls of the mountains: forgotten creatures and otherworldly monsters grown tired of the bleak sunlight of the Cadaverous Earth, to them an unfamiliar prison.  The voyage into the tunnels provides the perfect opportunity to introduce other subterranean adventures and side-treks.

If they follow the trail of blood of body parts through the labyrinth the players will eventually come upon the nest of marrowgaunts, the creatures that attacked the bandits, unsealing an old doorway and hungrily setting upon the sleeping brigands.  These vile creatures resemble hybrids of man and shadowy fiend, with oily, penumbral skins and recurved horns like those of an ibex, jutting from their ridged and eyeless faces.  The marrowguants have devoured the bandits (save perhaps for a few corpses and perhaps a half-mad man or two, raving himself raw in the black) and are currently savouring their newly acquired treasures, running their hands lovingly over the fossils, caressing them with disturbing sentiment.  The marrowgaunt queen - an enormous bloated creature, and the only female of the brood, who suckles half a hundred fresh-spawned young at her leathery teats - squats in the central breeding chamber: here the ur-fossil claw can be found, placed on a black slab of rock like a relic.  Clearly the marrowgaunts prize the fossils for some reason, but ultimately their culture is so alien as to be incomprehensible: they do not appear to possess any formal language or writing, yet clearly they are intelligent in some inscrutable way.  The players will leave with more questions than answers, if they leave at all.

(4) Ulaaya the Unclean's tomb, formerly her manse, should be a disturbing but fascinating place.  The first series of sealed doors have been breached: the bodies of the former tomb-raiders should be found scattered amongst the opening chambers, their skeletons badly dismembered and perhaps tooth-marked.  There are obscure and unsettling rooms - a chamber with a huge, roving eye, filmy with cataracts, set in a well-like vat of putrid liquid (used for scrying - skilled witches might even activate it, though its visions have dimmed over the millennia); a conservatory with enormous, vampiric flowers like pale lotuses that blush crimson when the feed using their fibrous psuedopods (the seeds of which, incidentally, Felix Rhadcuth will pay upwards of two hundred crowns for); a room with a black, iron-bound door standing apparently without purpose at its center, set with a gigantic lock and graven with red runes (a sealed portal to a Hell-dimension, the key to which has fortunately enough been lost, unless you wish to inflict the otherworldly horrors of a realm beyond even the diseased imaginings of the Cadaverous Earth upon your players); a pool of screaming liquid metal that flows with a thousand agonized faces.  The corridors are vaulted and echoing, sleek and strangely organic, chittering with a susurrus that might be clockwork or insects, pulsating with a curious, throbbing heat.  The doors resembled pinched sphincters like mouths puckered in distaste which dilate when the appropriate pressure-plate is depressed.  The inner chambers are locked and warded, and must be forced or dispelled in order for the would-be brain-thieves to proceed.

The patchwork warders of the tomb form the main challenge leading up to Ulaaya herself.  These vat-grown, biomechanoid creatures slither through the halls, monstrous hybrids of serpent, insect, man, and machine, with half a dozen arms (one pair equipped with scything metal claws), ophidian fangs, squirming coils, and steel armour.  These creatures are not immortal: they die periodically and are reclaimed by the tomb's cleaning constructs, taken to a recycling chamber in the inner sanctum where their carefully programmed clockwork brains are removed and cleaned while new bodies are grown in the chamber's spawning pits.  The adventurers can witness the foul births of some of the tomb's guardians if they penetrate the tomb's innermost chambers: the meat-husk creature is born, a vacant-eyed and lustreless shell whose basic organic brain is quickly extracted by the midwife-machines and replaced with the refurbished and rewound clockwork one; then the mewling newborn is fitted with its additional machine parts in a blur of blood, sinew, and whirring metal arms.  Mechanical or arcane traps should also be incorporated into the tomb as defences.

Ulaaya's chamber itself is protected by a pair of her grotesque footmen and by a locked, warded door that can only be unlocked and deactivated via a control chamber on a lower level of the tomb.  Here a many-limbed and corpulent surveillance-beast, a mass of bloated flesh and hammering pistons, operates the myriad gearworks and tends to the scrying lens scattered throughout the complex, monitoring corridors for intruders.  This obese, scuttling thing has been infused with greater intellect than most of the warders and thus might conceivably be reasoned with: its programming has grown slowly corrupt over the centuries, corroding such that the beast has become dissatisfied with its tedious task.  With some convincing (and someone who can speak Hextongue, the beast's only language) the creature could become an ally, showing the adventurers the proper methods of bypassing the final seals and deactivating the mechanical traps.  If they slay the beast they will be hard pressed to unlock the final door on their own - only someone with prodigious technical talents could hope to understand the bewildering array of dials, levers, and conduits, and any tampering with the machines is more likely to make matters worse, summoning additional warders and sealing off key sections of the tomb.

Once they penetrate the final door the adventurers will be confronted with Ulaaya's brain itself: wired into an amazingly complex machine, a mass of wires and churning gears.  Before they can detach the brain, however, Ulaaya will play her final trump, utilizing her arcane prowess to draw the players into her dream-world: a flash of eldritch light and the players are transported there.  Here they must defeat her phantasmal avatar and escape the sorceress's 'afterlife' in order to return to the real world.

Ulaaya's dream can be as surreal and insensible as you desire, and might take any number of bizarre forms.  One possibility is a grandly baroque fleshscape, a seething, breathing, pulsating edifice of flesh and bone and chitin.  The adventurers must wander labyrinths with walls like flayed muscles and courtyards with knotted ganglia instead of statues or fountains; they must delve into subcutaneous tunnels and avoid swamp-like pools of caustic fluids, fighting off parasites, climbing bony stairs through cavernous living chambers.  Ulaaya herself could take the form of a terribly beautiful titan garbed in some squirming organic dress, attended by oddly proportioned concubines of both sexes.  Although at first she will be enraged at the violation of her tomb, Ulaaya in truth has grown tired of her afterlife.  With careful convincing she could be persuaded to leave voluntarily.  Otherwise the players must defeat her and so break free from her dreamscape: from here they can transfer the brain to the device provided by Felix.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 02, 2008, 03:02:45 PM
Reserved for Crepuscle, the City of Red and Black.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 02, 2008, 03:03:13 PM
Somnambulon
The Sleepwalker's City
Demographics

Human - 15%
Zehrer (The Lords and Ladies Revenant) - 1%
Zombie - 80%
Other - 4%

Architecture

Somnambulon is a schizoid city.  Its central bulk is a brutally industrial conglomeration, a snarl of pipes and gears and brick, naked pistons and smouldering smokestacks and hissing steam-engines, narrow streets wreathed in the dense smog through which the zombie proles endlessly trudge.  Rising above this undifferentiated mass are the thirteen Manses of the so-called Families, the Houses of the Lords and Ladies Revenant: dour, buttressed, elaborately sculpted structures of bone-gray stone and glimmering stained glass, like monstrous cyclopean tombstones or the overgrown spires of some profane, sinister church.  They are well-fortified; they bristle with ancient guns, and their battlements are attended by dozens of dull-eyed but vigilant zombie guardians, standing sentinel shoulder to shoulder with an army of stony grotesques.

But beyond the city proper lie the gaudy, carnival mazes of the Shanties, the ragtag district known as Quickside or Patchwork where the Unbound dwell.  Against the banks of the Sinew lies the variegated Waterfront where the two cities mingle, the ugly warehouses and cranes of the Revenants mixed in with the slapdash wooden tatterdemalions of the quick.

Fashion

Fashion in Somnambulon is highly stratified.  While the zombie workers wear menial uniforms of dour grey, the Unbound revel in flamboyant and outlandish costumes of a bewildering variety of colours.  Rich fabrics imported from Skein are especially common in Quickside.  In contrast, the Insomnolent Guard typically wear dull grey armour with minimal ornamentation - typically only a device signifying rank and House.  The sinister Whispers wear their own armour of black leather, sometimes hexed to blend into the shadows or allow them to move without making a sound.  The Guard and Whispers are armed at all times, the former with finely made firearms, swords, and shields, the latter with precision pistols or rifles, wire garrottes, knives, and blowguns.

The Lords and Ladies Revenant themselves dress ostentatiously, though not colourfully.  Their clothes are extremely sumptuous but are usually shades of black, white, or grey, giving them a wraith-like appearance; a few more daring individuals garb themselves in dark purples, reds, and blues.  Lace, velvet, silk, and satin are common materials, as is fur.  The Lords favour long dark coats or cloaks and sometimes wear tall hats, while the Ladies prefer elaborate dresses with hooped skirts: it often takes several zombie retainers to get a Lady Revenant in and out of more formal costumes.  Corsets and petticoats are also common.  Side-arms are carried by both sexes - typically a concealed stiletto blade or a pocket pistol.

Nechromechanoids

Zombies are not the only thralls of the Lords and Ladies Revenant.  Working in unison, multiple Revenants can create more powerful grave-spawn under psychic control, beings often augmented with steam-driven machines.  Such of these servants are called Necromechanoids: horrific fusions of dead flesh and churning, diabolic machines.  They are few in number and costly to create, and tend to fill specialized roles; some are unique.  Perhaps most feared are the Juggernauts, enormous osseous abominations of bone and steel, almost insectile in appearance and bristling with weapons.

The Awakeners

A rebel group and secret society drawing its membership primarily from the inhabitants of the Northern Baronies, many of whose lords have sworn allegiance to the Revenants, the organization called the Awakeners opposes the rulers of Somnambulon and fight a guerrilla war against them.  Rumour has it that many prominent nobles, resentful of the lords and Ladies Revenant, are high-ranking members, paying lip service to their liege-lords while secretly plotting insurrection against them; many members keep their identities secret even during Awakener meetings.  Though rarely attacking the city itself, the Awakeners do ambush Somnambulon's agents and mount raids on Revenant outposts, Nurseries, and training grounds.  While their victories are small in the big scheme of things and they are mostly little more than an annoyance to the Lords, they nonetheless constitute one of the greatest threats to the continued rule of the Revenants.

The Thirteen Manses

The thirteen Houses or Families of the necrotic industrialists known as the Lords Revenant tower over the streets of Somnambulon, grim and gargoyle-encrusted edifices of impossibly ancient design resembling enormous cathedrals.  Zombie servants garbed in the finest silk, lace, and velvet with carefully preserved and perfumed skins attend to the every wish of the decadent grave-spawn aristocrats, joined through the hive-mind of zehrer parasites that all Lords and Ladies share, save the young Childes yet to be Bound and those few rejected as hosts, doomed to become Insomnolent Guards, or the drug-fuelled assassins known as Whispers.  Important rooms within each Manse include the Solar (the personal rooms of the House patriarch and matriarch) and Living Quarters, the Great Hall, the Binding Chamber, the Libraries, the Torture Galleries, and the Servant's Quarters.  All are elaborately decorated with fine albeit somewhat gloomy ornamental stonework, glass, gilt, and archaic tapestries and rugs.  Much of this finery, however, has grown shabby over the years.  Slowly the carpets fray and rot dryly; the goblets and silverware acquire reddish blemishes; the antique sabres rust in their scabbards.

The Manses are labyrinthine and very far from fully inhabited.  The halls are cold: the Revenants and their retainers are unworried by temperature.  The stained-glass windows filter sunlight, dappling the cavernous corridors with blood-red or jade-green light; passages wind throughout the huge stony towers like the twisted entrails of some unfathomable colossus, smelling of dust and mildew.  Below the lowest aboveground levels, networks of tunnels radiate outwards from the foundations, given over to a dungeon ecology of spiders, bats, rats, worms, and less wholesome things that lurk in the dark and long unexplored cells, forgotten by the Lords and their shambling subjects.

The Factories

The single largest industrial city on the Cadaverous Earth, Somnambulon consists mostly of factories.  Zombies fill the belching edifices in endless numbers, all but indistinct from the churning machines found within.  Thick pollution fills the streets, but zombies do not breathe and so are unaffected by the acrid fumes of the factories.  Those workers critically injured in the course of their duties are rarely tended to, rather sent to the Reclamation Vats to be broken down into biomass to be used as raw material for the various Necromechanoid creations of the Lords.

Zombies do not require food or rest, so there are no dwelling places, restaurants, or mess halls in the factory districts.  There are boroughs specializing in particular sorts of goods.  Various sections are controlled by the individual Families and jealously guarded.

The Shanties

The Shanties; Patchwork; Quickside: the domain of the living and the free dead in the Sleepwalker's City.  Apart from the Waterfront, the Shanties are the only place in Somnambulon inhabited by the Unbound (with the exception of those very few young Lords and Ladies not yet fused with a zehrer - and of course the Insomnolent Guard and the Whispers, the Revenant's living thralls).  The district is a chaotic one, built around a bustling central marketplace, the Square of Colours.  The items bought and sold here are not the soulless things vomited forth from the factories but hand-made artefacts: cups of blown glass, whittled bone knives, ceramic plates, carved idols, and an endless myriad of similarly unique goods.  Five rough streets radiate from the Square of Colours, the winding and uneven arteries of Quickside: the Street of Horns, the Street of Tar, the Street of Baubles, the Street of Flesh, and the Street of Spice.  Each is controlled by the largest gang on the street.  There is horrific violence here, and extreme decadence.  Gangs of costumed fops rape and steal and murder with whimsical amorality; to walk unarmed is to invite assault or worse.  There are brothels on every corner: whereas the other Twilight Cities tend to confine their pleasure-houses to a single district, the second-city of Somnambulon's Shanties does not yield to such niceties.

The Lords and Ladies tolerate Quickside with a kind of bemused indulgence, secure in the knowledge that they could crush and consume the district's inhabitants virtually at any time.  The quick are not openly hostile to the Lords, of course, however much they might resent them: like the Northern Barons and their sworn men, they are largely loyal if somewhat unwilling subjects.  Occasionally the Revenants kidnap Quicksiders for sport, setting them loose in the Slouching-devil Mountains to the west and then hunting them down like animals.  Others are employed as trading agents, or as artisans to create those few goods the Revenants do no manufacture on a mass level.

The Waterfront

While the Manses of Somnambulon are grandiose and the factories sublime in their perfect, mechanical efficacy, the Waterfront is a chaotic and messy place, tainted by the influence of outsiders.  Structures teeter over the banks of the Sinew on rickety pilings and metal girders, strung together with swaying rope bridges and slanting planks.  Foreign sailors mingle with the grey-fleshed zombie dock-workers, bringing their vices with them.  While the stern black galleons of the Lords Revenant (crewed by zombie oarsmen) daily leave the city bearing the processed spoils of Somnambulon to the other Twilight Cities - foodstuffs, textiles, machine parts, bullets, furniture, and all manner of other mass-produced bric-a-brac - they are joined by a veritable armada of gaudy alien vessels.  Chitinous submersibles from Skein; steamers from Lophius; the painted merchant cogs of Crepuscle; the twisted slave-ships of the lilix.

The warehouses of the Lords are huge, blocky buildings of brick, but apart from these squat structures and the skeletal machines used to move goods onto ships, the rest of the Waterfront consists of a roughly built, impromptu mess of wood and canvas.  Mixed in with the docks are the small fishing wharves where Unbound men and women haul crabs, eels, frogs, mud-sharks, or small fish from the murky river.

In many ways, the Shanties and the Waterfront are more or less contiguous, but technically the Waterfront lies within the city limits, and despite the influx of outsiders the dead still outnumber the quick three to one.

The Nurseries

Outside the city itself and scattered across the territory of the Revenants are the Nurseries, fortified complexes.  The Nurseries are administered by the Grey Matrons: a form of elevated zombie given augmented intellect by the Revenants, though still bound utterly to the will of the zehrer.  The Matrons oversee vast herds of the quick, predominantly children, feeding them through chutes and keeping them in their corrals.  These young humans are destined to become zombies in the service of the Revenants, and so are raised as livestock.  They are feral and utterly uneducated, without even the rudiments of formal language, though certain secret pidgin tongues inevitably evolve amongst the inmate-cattle.  Upon reaching maturity, those raised in the Nurseries are killed and revivified as zombies.

The Nurseries are sometimes the target of raids by members of the Awakeners.  While such raids occasionally liberate a few children from the clutches of the Matrons and their masters, most are quashed by the heard-hearted Insomnolent Guards stationed at all of the Nurseries, often backed up by small detachments of Necromechanoids.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on November 04, 2008, 09:44:01 AM
I enjoyed reading over the adventure you wrote up immensly: we share a tendency for creating memorable abberations that stick out in the PC's minds (and notes).

The carnival and the competition for the treasures were the things that stuck out for me.  Any carnival, any group of travelling curiosities in the strange and strained world Cadaverous world would be expected to be even stranger and more grotesque.  

The competition for the treasure hunters had one of your more illustrative escritoirial larkings...
[blockquote=Pilotgar]"If they are freelancers they may find out about it through rumor and gossip in scavenger drinking holes and the like, or they may even witness the Blacktongue Brothers riding out via the Butcher's Gate in Resurrection Row, shooting off firearms and swearing vile oaths in Hextongue and Shambles to bring back the corpse and claim their prize."[/blockquote]  

Note: The Power of Names

So few GMs really grasp this, the strength of consistency and the Power of Names.  Nothing does a better job of keeping the PCs 'in game' than having your own names for coinage, and the having a consistent gate seargeant on the night duties, and the gate names and the streets...


My only complaint is more due to my own sense of adventure design, perhaps.  I would have tied the facets together more, perhaps having some members of the circus also chasing treasure, and have Darvik's knife come from the lair of the Aether-worm.   I can't help it, I love tying stuff together.

But this is minor.  I loved the feel, and the grey lack of warmth.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 04, 2008, 12:43:48 PM

Out of Character

Thanks for the reply, Lord Vreeg!  The carnival was inspired by the circus in Perdido Street Station, although the individual attractions were my own inventions; I was definitely trying to go for the "even weirder than the normal weird," effect.

Quote

My only complaint is more due to my own sense of adventure design, perhaps. I would have tied the facets together more, perhaps having some members of the circus also chasing treasure, and have Darvik's knife come from the lair of the Aether-worm. I can't help it, I love tying stuff together.


Both of those suggestions would definitely tie things together better - the adventures do suffer from something of a lack of cohesion.  I think this is a double-edged sword: more cohesion yields a more satisfying, symmetrical narrative, but simultaneously might strain suspension of disbelief.  On the other hand I already have anthropomorphic hagfish, so "suspension of disbelief," might already be compromised...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 05, 2008, 08:18:46 PM
Dolmen

Cobweb City, City of Spiders

Piety

Far below the palaces of obsidian and black marble of the tower-city's upper tiers Talviir stirred from his rude repose in a lavishly carved niche, a forgotten sepulcher in the necropolitan slum of Chenzirr, Dolmen's lowest and poorest level.  It was almost like awakening in a cave, in some troglodytic warren.  Above him the early morning sky was dulled with a film of cobwebs and cables and brown smoke from the factories of Xelschemyr, a tier above.  The worn stone streets of Chenzirr were perpetually clad in shadow: from the city's high stone walls, from the tall, narrow buildings, from the spires that rose above, from the jagged Chelicerae Mountains that loomed oppressively behind the city.  Even at noon most of the district's light was artificial, derived from strings of lamps hung high above the streets or from the hellish glow of the cavernous furnaces below, visible through the occasional grates and spiral stairways leading to the slave-pens and flesh kitchens beneath the city.

Talviir stretched his seven limbs, his phantom arm (middle, left) itching, as it always did when he first arose.  It marked him as a spider-killer, a criminal.  Next to the ugly scar on his torso, his missing hand (upper, left) - taken for thieving in the opulent markets of Juszyryn - seemed a petty absence, a common stigma dwarfed by the enormous blasphemy that a missing arm signified.  Both mutilations placed him firmly in the bottom caste of the lilix, reserved for heretics, traitors, sexual deviants, and similar transgressors.  He was gholmuz.  Unsightly.  Abject.  Polluted One.  Shame-Bearer.  Few of the spiderfolk bore such a designation: the lilix were an aristocratic race who knew little of poverty, served as they were by swarms of human slaves.  Those who were truly poor were mostly outcasts like him, shunned from the higher levels.  If he wandered into the well-lit, luxurious dioceses of Malofneshee or even Illhillisz he would be beaten away by the liveried footmen of the matriarchs, or the masked neophyte guardswomen of Verlum's more impressive temples.

He moved now using only his legs; there were no priestesses or high-bloods in this part of the diocese, whose presence would force him to adopt the formal scuttling posture appropriate to his caste, emphasizing his shame, the awkwardness of his severed limb.  He looked about for something to scrounge, eight crimson eyes squinting in the thick grey gloom.

Though the city's intricate sewers deposited most of Dolmen's filth to be incinerated in some unseen oubliette or emptied into a subterranean river far below, much of the upper tiers' waste found its way to Chenzirr instead, sluiced through broken pipes to slosh into the gutters; as a result the entire tier was infested with rats and flies and similar creatures.  One such scavenger scurried down a side-alley - an albino rat, scrawny but large, creeping along in the narrow gap between two tall structures, tombs-cum-warehouses, grown shabby over the centuries of lilix occupation.  Talviir summoned as much speed as his aching body could muster and darted forwards, his remaining hands flickering out with nimbleness acquired from his former profession.  Gone were the days of sparring and shooting in the martial academies of Chaulaxna, teaching pupils - even women - the ways of blade and pistol; but some of his former agility remained, diminished through years of hard living.

Two of his hands closed about the rat, the others landing on the flagstone street to steady him.  The rodent squealed; he twisted its neck, merciless, and the rat went limp.  Famished he began his meal, sucking foul-tasting blood from the corpse.  Meager nourishment, but enough to sustain him.

As Talviir drank he noticed a huge, stray spider picking its way daintily across a massive, silvery web above him.  He threw the rat into the webbing; there wasn't much blood left, but the spider would turn its flesh and bones to fluid with its venomous enzymes, and Verlum would look favorably on such a sacrifice.  The goddess could be merciful, if you appeased her children - perhaps even to one such as him.
Demographics

Lilix - 61%
Human - 38%
Other - 1%

Architecture

Before it became the City of Spiders, Dolmen (whose current name means 'tomb') was the necropolis Llech-Urgol, also called Barrow City or the City of Crypts, final resting place of the aristocratic families of the Cromnites, whose descendents are said to be the marauders of the north-east scrub, a noble lineage reduced to savagery.  Escaped lilix slaves colonized the city, fleeing thralldom in the cestoid Imperium; Dolmen formed a base for the alliance that brought down the cestoids, spear-headed by the Witch Army of Moroi.

As such much of Dolmen's architecture reflects its original purpose.  The lower tiers of the city are grim and skeletal with buttressed mausoleums and vaulted chambers, many of them adorned with grotesque apotropes; crypts have been gutted and converted into housing, shops, and shrines.  Ancient halls carved with niches for the shrouded dead or piles of skulls - the remains of faithful servants, preserved alongside their masters - have been refashioned as marketplaces and warehouses. Above these dreary edifices are the fanciful structures of the lilix themselves, stone like spun spidersilk, built in the style of the so-called Cobweb-Baroque.  These buildings surmount and append the original necropolis, rising in tiers above it - the palatial homes, harems, banquet halls, and temples of the city's elites.  Below, in the troglodytic depths of the city, are the great cavern-pens of the lilix's albino slaves; mingling with these rough-hewn chambers are crypts of Llech-Urgol left unplundered.  Below even these are the city's sewers, which deposit Dolmen's waste into the subterranean reaches of the Chelicerae Mountains, to be consumed by the lonely cestoid tribes that still linger deep below amongst the shattered ruins of the old Imperium.

Fashion

In accordance with the precepts of the Great Web - the complex game of hierarchy, power, and manipulation that lilix savor - fashion in Dolmen is strictly stratified.  At the bottom of the hierarchy, human slaves are garbed in dull black clothes, often little more than a loincloth.  Freedwomen - those few exclusively female slaves that have gained their freedom through dint of especially god service (or simple whim) - are allowed to wear dresses of black and red lace, and have a pair of extra eyes (red, like those of the lilix) tattooed onto their foreheads as a marker of their liberty.  Paradoxically they are required to wear more clothing than slaves: whereas slaves are considered merely as sources of food and labor, freedwomen have attained a degree of individuality and some civil rights, even if they are still second-class citizens; since the human body is seen as unappealing by the lilix freedwomen are required to conceal themselves from the public view.

Lilix males generally wear official livery if they are footmen - black, silver, and red, often in velvets - and carry pistols or long, curved swords, or highly revealing, sexualized costumes of leather and transparent silk if they are concubines.  Upper-class males - courtiers - wear tight-fitting black hose and tunics or vests of black man-skin leather, usually with silver jewelry and accents.  Females wear elaborate outfits of black and red lace and leather, much like those of the freedwomen, though unlike the freedwomen they are allowed to wear silver signet rings (denoting rank) and other jewelry, often set with diamonds, rubies, and bloodstones.  They can display more flesh than freedwomen, reveling in their sensuality; often their garments emphasize their impressive bulk, as rotundity is considered highly appealing in lilix culture, particularly a well-rounded posterior or 'abdomen.'  Stockings, corsets, stiletto heeled boots, and translucent gowns are all common; military officers wear full-body leather suits, complete with six arms.  Official priestesses of Verlum also wear mask-like habits to signify their devotion.  Lilix armor and weapons are of steel, damascened with swirling gray and silver patterns.  Curves, jags, overlapping plates, and serrated edges are common, as are small bucklers, sword-catchers, and parrying daggers.  Curved swords and pistols are the favored weapons of lilix fighters.

The upper class wardrobe is very extensive, with females in particular sporting numerous outfits for different occasions.  Because of the inevitable overlap between secular and religious politics in Dolmen most noblewomen possess at the very miniumum a set of elaborate ecclesiastical robes, usually with a small mask or habit, and a substantially larger array of gowns for a variety of occasions.  Noble males tend to wear very little clothing within the manses of their wives - typically translucent garments of black silk cut to emphasize their musculature, which they work tirelessly to perfect.

Spiders

Spiders: sacred animal of the lilix, who are themselves called the spiderfolk, and worship the arachnid spinner-goddess Verlum.  In Dolmen, spider iconography predominates, suffusing every aspect of culture: religious, mathematical, martial, artistic, literary.  The elite gaurds of the gynocrat herself wear spidersilk armour; tapestries of spidersilk, meticulously dyed by subhuman slaves, adorn the palaces of the wealthy lilix noblewomen.  They are bred, through careful selection and through witchcraft, in caverns beneath the city - as war-beasts, as labourers, as pets.  Many of these specially bred spiders reach truly astonishing sizes, some nearly the size of a human - any larger and the spider's legs would collapse under its own weight.  Lilix legends still maintain that larger spiders once roamed the earth, primordial creatures of truly vast proportions.

There are innumerable breeds of spiders within Dolmen, all of them worshipped to one degree or another as the holy creatures of Verlum.  If a slave or freedwoman kills a spider, they are put to death; a lilix who kills one loses a limb.  Breaking their webs is not in itself a crime but it is considered a minor blasphemy against Verlum, and penitence is demanded after such a transgression at a temple to the spider-goddess.  As such wild spiders of various sizes are everywhere within the city, as are their webs.  Even some of the specially bred giant spiders have grown wild, establishing breeding populations in the city.  With no one to keep them in check these populations have grown rampant, feeding one each other and on morsels of blood doled out by the clergy of Verlum, or by any lilix hoping to incur the favour of the deity - giving food to a spider is the most common way of invoking the goddess' blessing.

Though spiders are sacred, some do valuable work for the lilix.  Only male spiders are used for industrial purposes, most commonly to repair damaged structures: many older buildings are shored up extensively with spidersilk additions.  Tapestries and similar ornaments, as well as armour, are also spun by male spiders, directed by expertly trained lilix mystics who use hexes to tap into the arachnids' primitive brains.  Male spiders are also used as war-beasts, bred for their size and ferocity.  Riding a spider is impractical in the extreme so they are never used for mounts, but they are released in hunting packs, often preceding a main lilix assault.  Because of their ability to scale walls easily they are the perfect shock troops to storm large fortifications, though they lack the discipline of slave-troops and tend to become utterly disorganized after the initial attack.

Female spiders are kept as pets by the lilix and the freedwomen of Dolmen.  Though larger spiders (dog-sized) are kept by some families as humans keep hounds (especially by poorer lilix looking for home security), most pet spiders are smaller, roughly the size of a human head.  They are encouraged to scuttle about the bodies of their owners but are often seen clinging motionless to a limb, their limbs and thoraxes caressed lovingly.  Venomous spiders of both sexes are occasionally used for assassination, placed in the room of a would-be target and then directed through eldritch means to attack.  If the target awakens they are placed in an exceedingly awkward position - either kill the spider and thus suffer the consequent penalty for their blasphemous actions, or attempt to escape without killing the spider, a potentially difficult prospect, especially if the cunning assassin has blocked their chamber door.

The Tiers and the Dioceses

Dolmen is unique amongst the Twilight Cities in that it was built almost entirely vertically rather than sprawling horizontally.  It rises in eight tiers in the shadow of the Chelicerae Mountains, the first three part of the original necropolis, the latter seven of solely lilix construction.  Each tier is divided into a number of dioceses: the diocese is the standard religious-administrative district of Dolmen, each being ruled by an infanta-archoness from a temple to Verlum doubling as a governmental center.  Most tiers have between four and eight dioceses, though Tier Four has seven dioceses, an unlucky number for the lilix (along with nine, or eight-plus-one in the lilix counting system).

The tiers are named after the eight letters of the Spiderchatter counting system, but here will generally be reffered to as Tiers One through Eight.

The Foreigner's Quarter

The exotic, vaguely taboo shanty-town of Dolmen, the Foreigner's Quarter is a large district just outside the huge gate to Tier One, the only entrance to the city.  A sprawling, dirty district, the Foreigner's Quarter includes the substantial docklands along the west bank of the Sinew River, which flows out from a valley deep in the Chelicerae Mountains; here the dark lilix galleons set sail for the other Twilight Cities, manned by albino oarsmen, carrying blood and slaves and weapons of damascened steel for trade.  Rough taverns with mostly non-lilix patrons line the waterfront, rough-and-tumble establishments selling ale and lethe-tea and madwine, where sailors come to gamble, drink, and wench.  Here also are brothels, shipwrights, and warehouses.

Further north and west from the river, closer to the city itself, the docklands give way to a slew of marketplaces.  Here almost anything can be bought or sold; unlike the strictly controlled markets of Tiers Two and Three the ramshackle mishmash of stalls and pavilions of the Foreigner's Quarter lacks any regulations at all.  Here the Resin Merchants have set up their outpost, selling nectar to the city's witches; non-human slaves, textiles, solid food, grafts, eldritch artifacts, forbidden texts, and a whole host of other goods can also be found here, provided one is patient enough to sift through the morass of junk, the chaos of buying and selling.

On the east side of the Sinew, can be found the small grave-spawn shanty of Shadowbank, a dreary, somber place of shuffling shades and ghilan, shunned by the lilix and regarded with suspicion by most of the human inhabitants.  Occasionally, marauders from Barrow Scrub, who revile all nightfolk, will raid the district, murdering many grave-spawn.  An ancient stone bridge built by the Cromnites connects Shadowbank with the rest of the Foreigner's Quarter; the Deadroad runs through both districts up to Dolmen, named before the colonization of the city by the lilix.

The Caverns

Nearly a third of Dolmen's population live underground, penned in like cattle in the gigantic caverns below the city, rough-hewn caves that intermingle with the half-forgotten catacombs of Llech-Urgol.  The city's human (or subhuman) slaves dwell here, muttering in Chattelchatter, a bastardized version of Spiderchatter, the complex lilix tongue.  As a race the slaves of Dolmen are barely human, having been bred in the darkness for many centuries for obedience and physical hardiness.  They are uniformly albinos, with chalky white skin and hair a few shades paler than that of the lilix themselves, with pale pink eyes (again, only a few shades paler than the crimson or violet eyes of the spiderfolk); they have little hair, and that which they do have is white.  The slaves have poor eyesight and find direct sunlight uncomfortable, but they do possess superlative stamina and endurance despite their abominable upbringing.  Most work in the factories of Tier Two; luckier slaves are placed in the households of the wealthy and so escape nightly imprisonment in the pens.  Still others are kept merely as livestock, to be slaughtered at a moment's notice, their delicious blood drained and the rest of their bodies pulverized and then melted into a boiling broth; huge, simmering cauldrons of the hideous mixture can also be found underground.

Above the pens themselves are a network of offices and living quarters occupied by the overseers, who tend to be lower class lilix, the second or third daughters of poorer merchant families, or those without talent for espionage, assassination, torture, art, or fighting - the traditional pursuits of the lilix.  The breeding chambers of lilix magi can also be found here, where chimerical war-beasts are bred through eldritch manipulation.

Tier One - Chenzirr

The first tier of Dolmen is predominantly a residential district, occupied largely by freedwomen.  Male widowers and lower-class families also make their homes here in the gutted crypts and funerary halls of the former necropolis.  Some of these are little more than slums, packed with families of poor lilix; as a whole, however, the lilix are a wealthy race, and few members of the species are truly impoverished.  There are eight dioceses in total, six of which are almost purely residential.

The city's mid-sized standing army is garrisoned mostly in Tier One in large barracks that were formerly mausoleums for dead servants.  Most of the army is male, though officers are usually female, with commanders drawn from the most influential families.  Official army brothels with male prostitutes are kept for the officers here, though on occasion regular soldiers are permitted patronage as well, homosexuality being fairly common amongst males, seen by the ruling authorities as  harmless, pointless, amusing, and even erotic (amongst women it is considered a perversion).

Tier Two - Xelschemyr

The mercantile hub of the city, Tier Two contains most of Dolmen's banks, moneychangers, marketplaces, and factories.  In general the second tier is cramped, smoky, and squalid.  There are few residences, since the factory workforce consist almost entirely of human slaves kept penned in the caverns when they aren't being flogged at the assembly lines by their pudgy, sadistic overseers.

The most prominent structure is the vast slave-market.  Subhuman cattle and laborers led up from the caverns below are prodded blinking and naked onto stony platforms to be auctioned off to factory owners, merchants, and nobles.  Also of note is the Sanguine Bazaar, where blood and liquid flesh can be purchased to sate the vampiric appetites of the lilix.  There are eight dioceses, each dedicated to a different area of trade.

Tier Three - Juszyryn

Luxury goods such as jewels, fine clothes, high-quality weaponry, poisons, furniture, spices, and gourmet drink can be found for sale in the upscale markets of Tier Three.  A world apart from the smoggy streets and filthy bazaars of Tier Two, Tier Three mingles the old-style tomb architecture of Llech-Urgol with lilix styles, particularly inchoate, prototypical versions of the aesthetic that would evolve into the refined Cobweb-Baroque mode popular amongst the higher tiers.  The original Cathedral of Verlum can be found here, the oldest temple of the spider-godess in the city, long since superseded by the larger temples of upper tiers, most notably the enormous structure that surmounts the whole city at the very pinnacle of Tier Eight.  It has eight dioceses; like Tier Two each specializes in a different commodity.

Tier Four - Nlezzeroth

Artisans, artists, philosophers, and high-class courtesans (male) work and live in the bohemian fourth tier, one of the most politically radical areas of Dolmen where upper-class lilix go to 'slum it' and experience a more liberal side of the usually draconian city.  Many taverns selling liquor-laced blood and other drinks do business here, some of them operated by males and freedwomen. Most infamous are the brothels, public harems of a significantly more high-class variety than the army whorehouses of Tier One; some are rumored to pander to more exotic tastes, containing human or even lilix female courtesans, though most lilix inclined to the sexually non-traditional must venture into the Foreigner's Quarter to satisfy their 'deviant' desires.  It is unique in Dolmen for having seven dioceses, odd numbers being unlucky in lilix numerology, particularly seven, which signifies mutilation or loss, and eight-plus-one (nine - the lilix number system is base eight), which signifies mutancy or abomination.  The seditious underground newspaper Twisted Weave is rumored to be published here behind some front business.

Tier Five - Illhillisz

Tier Five consist of the residences of well-heeled merchants and minor nobility, as well as the wealthiest freedwomen.  It has six dioceses, mostly comprised of rows of spacious townhouses with some larger manses as well, though none near the size of the enormous palaces of the highest tiers.  These homes are usually between four and six stories (sometimes as many as eight), incorporating a large bedroom on the top floor, a dining hall, kitchen, bathing room (quite large), larder, parlor, and slave's quarters; some also include a small harem, if the matriarch of the house has any concubines.

The Guild of Spies keeps its largest chapterhouse in Tier Five, and the Assassin's Guild has a chapterhouse here as well.  Unlike the Assassin's Guild the Guild of Spies generally do not take their members from the upper levels of nobility, although they do nonetheless insist on female membership.  Like the Assassin's Guild the Guild of Spies operates openly, its agents proving useful tools in the machinations of the Great Web.

Tier Six - Chaulaxna

Between the middle class residences and marketplaces of Tiers Four and Five and the opulent palaces of the upper tiers, Tier Six is dedicated mostly to academies and universities, with six dioceses, each dedicated to one of the six major areas of study or arts typical for upper class lilix to pursue: the mystic or eldritch arts (i.e. witchcraft), the fine arts (especially sewing), the martial arts, the scholarly arts (history, literature, anthropology, foreign languages), the political arts (including espionage, law, and torture), and the mercantile arts.  The six academies are, to a certain extent, rivals, as much a part of the Great Web as the other institutions of Dolmen.  All lilix of higher breeding attend one or several of the academies during their youth, except those who are trained by the Assassin's Guild.  Men of the courtier caste are admitted into the academies, but women of any caste can be admitted provided they pay the requisite tuition.

The Council Courts can be found in Tier Six, the judiciary structures of the lilix - imposing and grim, bereft of the usual ornamentation typical to upper-tier buildings.  Here criminals are tried and punished by vicious Inquisitors.  Adjoined to the Courts is the largest chapterhouse of the Torturer's Guild.  Unlike the Assassin's Guild or the Guild of Spies the Torturer's Guild takes male members (though the Inquisitors who oversee all trials are still exclusively female).  Guild operatives perform all official interrogations, punishments, mutilations, and executions, the lilix justice system generally dealing out dismemberments, branding, and exile rather than imprisonment.  Torturers can also be openly hired for private use.

Tier Seven - Mhalofneshee

Dedicated primarily to the homes of the wealthiest lilix, the seventh tier contains four dioceses.  Tier Seven contains twenty four massive palaces, each with their own private chapels, gardens, banquet halls, harems, and armories; male footmen and slaves throng the homes of the wealthy, where lushly garbed and heavy-limbed noblewomen roam their luxurious homes, dining on blood and liquefied flesh, attended by dozens of male concubines, husbands, and courtiers, interrupting their hedonistic pursuits only to pray to their goddess or play the political games of the city's elite, entangling themselves in the Great Web, each attempting to out-maneuver her rivals.

The Assassin's Guild, a formally recognized and official institution, has its largest chapterhouse on Tier Seven, a stable of highly-trained and incredibly expensive killers comparable in quality and efficiency to the dread Shroud of Lophius.  Almost all female lilix die of assassination, far more than from disease or warfare: this helps to keep the large families typical of the lilix in check and perpetuates the intricacies of the Great Web.  It is traditional for the ninth daughter of a noble family, or an illegitimate daughter (those bastards are almost never acknowledged as such), to be inducted into the Assassin's Guild, usually on her ninth birthday.  Men are never assassins, the male gender being considered adequate only as a blunt instrument (as soldiers or footmen, for example) or for sexual purposes.

Tier Eight - Zaamzscesoth

At the top of the city is the Cathedral of Verlum, a huge temple dedicated to the bloated spider-goddess herself, said to contain the scriptural tapestry of the mother-deity herself, spun from her sublime spinnerets to instruct her children - a jealously guarded artifact kept under lock and key by the ruthless, masked priestesses of the sanctum, ruled over of course by the High-Archoness and Gynocrat herself, the merciless and coldly beautiful Tatzel Schizom.  The Cathedral is a huge, ornate structure, the ultimate manifestation of the Cobweb-Baroque style: spires and minarets rising up from a central, circular structure, connected by slender gantries and bridges, and all of it draped in fine, elegant buttresses like strands of webbing.

The eighth tier has but a single diocese.  Apart from the Cathedral it contains various palaces for the elder priestesses, a series of smaller shrines to the goddess and the ascendant Gynocrats of the past, and numerous governmental and administrative structures.  The Cathedral Library is also prominent; though appended to the central temple via a large bridge this seven-towered structure is notable in its own right.  Though many of its manuscripts are essentially religious tracts, vast amounts of literature, political commentary, military theory, and arcane texts line its shelves, usually in scroll form.  Though not as comprehensive as the collection of scavenged texts in the Vellum Citadel in Macellaria or Moroi's arcane library, the Cathedral Library is nonetheless one of the largest collections of texts in the Cadaverous Earth.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Kindling on November 06, 2008, 06:50:32 AM
As usual, I'm loving your work. The adventure ideas were brilliant, I read and re-read them throughout the last couple of days. Are you planning on writing a similar set for each of the cities?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 06, 2008, 01:45:25 PM
Corsairs, Caverns, Drugs, and Demons
Adventure in the City of the Lamprey

Out of Character

The following adventures are all set at least partially in the city of Lophius, a den of vice and violence and religious frenzy.  Though varied in tone and approach the adventures are less about solving mysteries (though there are investigations) or surviving in a harsh environment as they are about swashbuckling action, persuasion and intimidation, and exploring a lush, colorful world of depravity and decadence.  Two of the adventures take the players outside of the city, one involving a voyage across the Sallow Seas to the Midnight Isles to steal back a clutch of eldritch gems, the other requiring a trip into the swamps to an overgrown ruin to retrieve an ancient puzzle-box.  The other two require the players to explore the city in depth, one exploring the intersections between the religious and secular elements of Lophius, the other involving the players in the gang turmoil that perpetually seethes in the narrow, bloody streets (and below them).  While the adventures outside of the city limits appear to be longer, those taking place within Lophius should drip with atmosphere and require extensive exploration.  Lophius' size and complexity should be made very clear: if the players proclaim that they 'want to go to Serpentside' they should not simply appear there.  They must either find their way themselves, navigating the confusing intricacy of streets and districts plagued by cutthroats and pickpockets, or hire a guide or rickshaw, which still entails a twisted journey through the city.  As such, walking around Lophius is something of an adventure in itself.  Small encounters should be improvised and details provided as abundantly as possible.
Premises and Hooks

(1) The infamous corsair Captain Flay, one of the elders of the pirate-clan of Mnemnoch - sometimes known as the Insatiable Thousand, the Moonchildren, or the Drinkers-of-Dark-Delights - has stolen an object of considerable value from Thay-Quorl-Haan, a merchant prince from Crepuscle.  Rather than making the laborious and time-consuming journey along the Radula and later the Gland River on his way to Lophius, Thay-Quorl-Haan opted to sail down the Sinew and out into the Fevered Ocean, a faster but more dangerous route.  With his large trading cog The Cenotaph and two freebooter frigates for escorts - the organic-clockwork vessel Broodsire, crewed by a pastiche crew of graftpunks and slaves, and the well-armed, steel-hulled, glyph-graven Bones of Adamant - Haan set out onto the storm-wracked seas, evading the notorious Boilwinds and other hazards with the aid of his augur, the weather-witch Beyth, a hunchbacked woman native to the Firesong Marches.

Careful to hug the Serrated Coast, the triad of ships made their way south without incident, until one night when a gibbous, pock-marked moon hung half-obscured by cloud in the sky and Captain Flay's flagship, the monstrous vessel Vivisection with its sails of human faces, materialized out of the night  and attacked.  Bones of Adamant was destroyed completely and both Broodsire and The Cenotaph suffered heavy damage before the pirates were repelled.  Unfortunately they had already stolen some of Haan's treasure, mostly shadowmilk and spices; but amongst their plunder was a clutch of arcane gems in a lacquered case, six lapis lazuli statuettes carved into fanciful forms: a six-legged basilisk, a naghini priestess, a scorpion with a human face, an anthropomorphic elephant, a seraph with insect wings, and a panther with a lotus-flower for a head.  Into these gemstones are bound six powerful elemental spirits which can be summoned using an incantation, properly invoked of course, inscribed in Hextongue on the bottom of each statue.

Thay-Quorl-Haan had an arrangement with a witch-savant in Lophius - Lartez Quillskins, a high-ranking Son of the Peacock of Chelke on Crooked Finger - to exchange the six statuettes for a very valuable spear, Shadowtongue, with a head of hexed ur-bone from the Slouching-devil Mountains, which he plans to sell to a dealer of eldritch antiquities back in Crepuscle.  Unfortunately, he can't make good on the deal, and the Sons of the Peacock are not known for their forgiving natures.  The witch certainly won't give him Shadowtongue and may decide to extract further compensation from the merchant simply to sate his frustration.  Understandably, Haan is panicking.  He needs someone to retrieve the six statuettes, and quickly, and is prepared to offer a thousand drachmi for each returned, for a total of six thousand drachmi (equal roughly to four thousand Macellaria obeloi).

The adventurers might hear about the merchant's job at any number of the drinking holes and dockside taverns in Lophius, or may run into Haan himself with his bodyguards, two huge tattooed barbarians from Barrow Scrub, Cromnos and Drell, and a lithe ghul gunfighter, Feilah, talking to uninterested thugs in some dive reeking of brine, tar, and strong liquor.  If they frequent pirate bars, such as those in Bile-Mire, they may hear rumors of the fight, told by greasy men with dreadlocks and earrings and ugly cutlasses over the hookah-pipe or pints of ale or cheap wine, stories of how Captain Flay lost his touch and let some flabby coin-pusher and his hirelings run him off.

(2) Many things other than money can be lost in the dim chance-houses of Pelloch, smoky halls where pirates and thieves and other gamblers the breadth of the Cadaverous Earth rub shoulders under the watchful eyes of Dame Fortune's Drakes, with their painted fingernails and porcelain masks and exotic weapons - poison-needled rings, punching daggers, bladed bracers, serrated sabres, venom-glands, curved double-swords.  The seventeen year-old rake and young magister who prefers only the name 'Gis' has lost his familiar in a high-stakes Imbroglio match: after betting away his entire allowance (supplied to him by his father, who he refuses to name lest he taint his family honour), his jewelled duelling pistol, and his rings, Gis recklessly continued playing in a desperate bid to win back some of his belongings and so put his ward-bound demon, the imp Botys, into the pot.  The small, rat-headed demoness was won in the final game by a hagman elder called Pelquefesch, the high-pontifex of Namoch in Lophius, an aspect whose portfolio includes concepts of death, luck, change, and transformation.

If he returns to Skein without his familiar Gis will be disowned and cast out into the world without support - he will have forfeited the right to call himself nobility.  He needs to retrieve his familiar somehow, but lacks funds to continue gambling and dares not try to steal Botys back.  Thus, he is looking very desperately for help.  Gis cannot offer an immediate monetary reward for the return of Botys simply because he gambled away all of his money, but he promises his eternal gratitude and a substantial reward (a thousand Skein crowns, equivalent to five thousand drachmi) which he will procure as soon as he returns to Skein and regains access to his father's funds; he also hints that he may find a place for anyone who serves him well in his family's personal retinue, if they wish it.  To locate likely individuals to aid his cause Gis has his men prowling mercenary dens and casinos, but he can also be introduced directly - a distraught-looking and disheveled wretch in stained finery, wringing his hands and muttering half-sobbed curses, attended by an imposing eunuch bodyguard with a huge scimitar.  He is staying at The Wanton Cuttlefish, a disreputable inn in Skaumn, also on Crooked Finger.

The adventurers can alternatively hear about Gis' misfortunes from other gamblers or similar folk.  Tales of the game between the stripling magister from Skein and Pelquefesch (himself an infamous gambler and Imbroglio player, a vice not forbidden him by his religious position) quickly become common gossip in Crooked Finger and elsewhere in Lophius.  It is worth noting that most gossip in Lophius is circulated via Filchspeak and even Flicker, while Gis babbles desperately in heavily accented Shambles (anyone who speaks Hellspeak will be greeted with profound relief).

(3) The tomb raider Gnomoth Zaum has returned from the swamps from an expedition, minus the half a dozen companions he set out with and without anything to show for his trouble.  He does, however, bring an account of fabulous treasure within a ruin deep within the fen.  Originally hired by a man calling himself Siahab - a shadowy figure reputedly from Moroi - to retrieve an intricate puzzle-box from a subterranean level of the dungeon, Gnomoth set out with several other adventurers, using a map supplied by their employer.  They found the ruins and delved within, but encountered a cadre of powerful guardians, ancient automata of clockwork and glyph-graven stone made animate.  The sentinels pulverized four of the explorers; another was claimed by a rotting phage in the swamp, and the last consumed by some tentacled demon that hounded them on their journey back to Lophius.

Unperturbed by the loss of his entire company, Gnomoth wants to assemble a second expedition and return to the ruins to retrieve both the puzzle box and the other treasures they reputedly found within, artifacts from an ancient and highly advanced culture - probably the Tsathii Empire of the early Aeon of Dust - that will fetch hundreds of drachmi with collectors.  To this end, he is plumbing Lophius in search of anyone daring enough to return to the ruin with him.

Gnomoth is a swarthy, charismatic individual with an exaggerated swagger and a handlebar moustache.  He carries a large blunderbuss but prefers his rapier, and is equipped with a collection of other exotic gear, such as alchemical glow-globes, a clear gemstone like an opal that glows green in the presence of those who wish him harm, a tiny lockpicking automaton of Skein make, a pair of goggles that perceive eldritch auras, and a selection of hexed ammunition.  He usually wears a crimson frock coat, a ruffled silk shirt, hose, and high boots of blue leather, and carries his rapier in an ebony swordcane.

(4) The numerous factions that form most of Lophius' secular political landscape - the gangs, the thief-clans, the pickpocket squads, the racketeers, the assassin consortiums, the dealers, the gambler-coteries, the freebooter bands - all are held together through a series of allegiances and fealties almost feudal in nature.  While the pirate-clans have their own hierarchies (tied to but distinct from the power structures of Lophius) and the Shroud maintains detachment and neutrality, the other groups are part of a shifting weft of oaths and betrayals.  There are several large, rival gangs which either openly oppose one another or at least maintain an uneasy peace, while most of the other, smaller gangs pay tribute to the larger ones.  While gang warfare is very common, it usually occurs between rivals sworn to these larger gangs - like the Iron Tygers, the gangs of Crooked Finger, or the Ophidians of Viper's Head - rather than between gangs sworn to the same overlord.  Occasionally, though, someone fails to pay tribute, or switches sides.  If retribution isn't swift, it can make the ruling gang seem weak.  Other vassal-gangs start eying the competition and whispering about how their masters are growing soft.  More than one major faction has been brought down through the petty betrayals of a few thugs or murderers, felled by their own complacency: the power structure, while intricate, is fragile.

The Ophidians of the Viper's Head have a problem.  One of their vassal-gangs, the White Scorpions, appear to have turned rogue.  They have failed to deliver their tribute to Nyssa in Serpentside for several weeks, and the gorgon is furious.  She has commanded Shaar-Illys, her naghini lieutenant, to have someone track the Scorpions down and make examples of them.  Unfortunately, the Shroud are refusing to intervene in this situation for their own opaque reasons - probably they believe the Ophidians too powerful, and do not wish to help them consolidate their hold.  Most of the Ophidian troops are held up in a three way turf-war with the Chain-Warders and Silent Ghosts in Greenfang, contesting the south side of the Chainwater docks.  As such, outsiders need to be brought in to deal with the Scorpions, and quickly.  Nyssa is offering three thousand drachmi for the heads of the gang, although she wants the leader, Morgan Sheb, alive, and will deduct five hundred drachmi from the reward if Morgan is killed.

Investigations

(1) Anyone who wants to retrieve the statuettes must first ascertain two things: who took them, and where to.  The first is relatively easy to uncover, thanks to the singular appearance of Vivisection.  Though Thay-Quorl-Haan does not know of Lord Flay he can describe the hideous sails, and the Mnemnoch Clan's most bloodthirsty captain is well-known in Lophius, especially amongst the city's many corsairs.  The location of the pirate's fortress may take some more digging, but asking the right people - especially in Bile-Mire - will eventually yield its whereabouts.  The Mnemnoch Clan makes its lairs on the Midnight Isles on the outer edge of the Fevered Ocean, near the northwestern edge of the Sallow Seas.  The Midnight Isles are known to be eternally covered in an eldritch night; they are said to be a place where men and things that were once men act as beasts, where those captured in raids are used to gratify perverse lusts, where the caverns echo with screams as the helpless are sacrificed to the dread beast-gods of the Deep.  Seven of the thirteen great pirate clans dwell in the Isles: the Mnemnoch Clan are situated on the Gnawed Isle, one of the larger islands of the chain, in a half-ruinous stronghold of basalt.

Having ascertained the location of the statuettes, the adventurers must find a captain crazy or desperate enough to take them to the Midnight Isles.  Fortunately, there are more than a few reckless or simply impoverished captains in Lophius.  Freebooters (sometime-corsairs not affiliated with the pirate-clans) might be hired, or even members of a rival clan - Clan Ysrasc is currently feuding with Clan Mnemnoch, for example, though an encounter with pirates of another clan might best be reserved for the journey itself.  A selection of vessels and crews is provided below; a substantial part of this adventure should revolve around selecting a ship and crew and planning and preparing for the voyage (unless the players already possess a ship).  Note that Broodsire is unavailable because of its heavy damage, although if it could be repaired in time its captain, the graftpunk Icuno, might agree to take the job.

Rabid John, the 'Mad Dog of the Sea,' a freebooter legend, might be daring enough to accept the mission, though he'd expect at least fifteen hundred drachmi just to take the players to the Isles, two thousand to help them storm the fortress, half of it upfront - he might be haggled down, especially if promised free pick of other treasure in the clan stronghold.  He owns the impressive if somewhat battered ship Evil Temper, a heavily patched though still formidable gunship, light enough for maneuverability but with a thick oak hull and an extensive battery of warded cannons.  The ship is austere and unornamented and bears many scars from previous encounters, much like its cantankerous, perpetually cursing crew.

Father Skelter of the steamship Gunpowder Saint is even more unhinged than Rabid John.  His somewhat unwieldy vessel resembles a floating cathedral, its cannons carved into vomiting gargoyles, its stern and pilot house fitted out with stained glass windows, its figurehead a grinning skeleton, its bulk a monstrous conglomeration of carved wood and sculpted black iron.  His crew are fanatics, attending a daily sermon in the chapel of the ship where Skelter drones on about the bloody will of his patron, the sacred reek of sulphur and the ecstasy of holy flame.  He can be hired for somewhat less than Rabid John - a thousand drachmi - if the job is presented correctly, but he must be promised proper bloodshed and may become a liability later in the adventure: he can get somewhat carried away in his zeal for wanton violence.

The Carrion Serpent docks in Chainwater, a yellowing bone-ship crafted from the skeleton of some colossal sea-beast, strung with hides and paddle-wheels and crude architectural extrusions.  The grave-spawn crew are mostly shades, muttering to each other in Corpserattle.  Captain Ull runs the boat with quiet authority, a figure who commands unquestionable respect even in his tattered black coat and slightly overblown tricorne hat.  Business-like and efficient, Ull is one of the most reliable captains in the City of the Lamprey but will charge adventurers twenty-five hundred drachmi for his services.

The good ship Troubled Dreamer docks in Bile-Mire, a ragged freebooter vessel that might once have been a dread galleon of Somnambulon, now barely recognizable beneath the patina of armour-plates, wooden planks, trophies, barnacles, flaking paint, and etched glyphs that covers its mottled bulk.  The zombies that once would have manned the sweeps have been replaced with slaves, though mostly Troubled Dreamer makes do with sails, crimson and pocked with holes.  Captain Faeros Llewin, a flamboyant and swashbuckling individual, is a figure both feared and ridiculed, with his outrageous forked beard (dyed blue and orange), his gaudy talismans, his colourful hexed tattoos, and his lurid bird-feather cape.  He will take the mission if it is described with sufficient verve and detail but demands seventeen hundred drachmi, at least at first.  Less reliable than the other captains but with a flare for style and a devious strategic mind, Captain Llewin is opportunistic and fickle (and somewhat cowardly) and may turn on the players if things go south.

Finally, the players might resort to someone like Captain Russet of the Supple Fiend, a small and poorly armed little frigate flying the scarlet flag of a freebooter.  Russet only charges five hundred drachmi and is willing to collect most of it after the job - he's desperate for custom, languishing in Bile-Mire and nursing his sorrows with his addled crew, spending his remaining coins on whores, bad ale, and lethe-tea.  Drunken, diseased, disorderly, and poorly disciplined, the Supple Fiend's crew will mutiny if things go badly much sooner than any of the other crews and are generally unreliable.

The above ships and crews are intended as examples only; more can be added or improvised as needed.  In order to secure passage aboard a vessel the players will probably have to earn some cash, unless they are already financially secure.  This is a good excuse to send them on odd jobs around the city or involve them in one of the other adventure arcs.

(2) Unfortunately, tracking down the familiar won't be easy.  Pelquefesch has no interest in keeping a pet imp, and will promptly sell the diminutive demon to one of the Sons of the Peacock, the arcane gang of the top tier of Crooked Finger, scholar-thugs and junkies.  The witch, Lartez Quillskins (the same individual who Thay-Quorl-Haan has a deal with in arc 1), in turn will pawn Botys off to Nya-of-the-Black-Lips, a shadowmancer in Serpentside.  She keeps the imp for study purposes and then sells it to one of the petty priests of the Driftwood District, where it will serve as a kind of mascot, a living ornament to one of the many godlings of that wooden waste, the leering bat-god 'Gromalech,' aboard the boat-temple Grinning Darkness.  The priest, Padre Demetrius, will have no interest in selling the imp - it attracts petitioners, and more petitioners means more donations.

The first stop for the adventurers should be Snailsump, the hagman ghetto on Greenfang.  The exoticism of this district should be emphasized: the coiled green-stone architecture, the ubiquitous fungi, the tall hatchery towers and ornate temple-brothels, the long, low mudbaths with their mist of humid, earthy steam.  Hagmen casually slip in and out of the canals, fishmongers hawk fresh catches, and submersibles, crude ironclads hissing steam and chitinous vessels from Skein, dock in the underwater bays.  After discovering Pelquefesch's identity (Gis cannot pronounce the hagman's name, but describes him as old and stern, with gray-green hair, and the elder is well-known on Crooked Finger and Greenfang), the players must seek out Nemoch's temple.  The mutable god-aspect is portrayed as a flickering, amorphous male hagman with extra limbs and faces, emphasizing his constant transformation.  The large, columned temple is attended by the cult of Nemoch, and gaining an audience with the elder-pontifex is no easy task.  He sleeps during much of the day and rises near dusk, breaking his fast on raw eels before officiating a service at gloaming before heading over to Crooked Finger or one of the other more opulent district of the Corsair's City.  Once the adventurers do secure an audience with Pelquefesch, they must take care not to offend the curmudgeonly elder.  If they find the hagman quickly enough, he may not yet have sold off Botys.  He will play Imbroglio - a game with five phases and a tiered, shifting board - for the creature at a place in Pelloch (a high-ceilinged tea-house with a huge clockwork board) or will sell it for twenty-five hundred drachmi.  However, if the adventurers dawdle in tracking the elder down (or if you just want to make them hunt some more and further explore the city), he will refer them to Lartez in Chelke.

Getting to Chelke takes some time, since Crooked Finger is essentially a tiered tower: to get to the Sons of the Peacock the players must pass through Bregm (the slave-seller's district), Skaumn (a pleasure district), and Pelloch (the casino district).  Though its very top levels are ragged most of the buildings in Chelke have a gaudy lavishness to them.  Merchants in the street will try to sell them nectar, scrolls, books, hexed bullets, beetles with painted wing-casings, knives carved from ur-bone (which may actually be cheap ebony counterfeits), shrunken heads with jewels for eyes, mummified fingers or whole hands, grotesque wooden masks, impskin cloaks, live tortoises and snakes, pickled lizard fetuses, foul-smelling amulets to ward off disease, dung, blood, red powder, colourful candles, alien limbs available for grafting in back-alley workshops, and any number of other articles of arcana.  Lartez himself can be found in a sordid drug den wedged between a glyph parlor and a bookshop selling pornography and eldritch grimoires.  He is strung out on nectar, his eyes filled with golden light, babbling disjointed incantations in a half-whisper - not a fatal overdose but enough to send him into a rapturous, near-oblivious state.  The witch himself is a scrawny, long-haired man with a split nose and long fingernails, his whole body tattooed with eyes (the mark of the Sons of the Peacock).  Two nude concubines lounge beside him on the bench, one a voluptuous redhead with her tongue removed and chains strung between her body-piercings (Shaal), the other a tawny, tattooed woman smoking using a jade cigarette holder (Glestra).  A hulking tough, Jakkin, with a shaved head and an extra pair of scaled, meaty arms grafted to his torso stands guard, twirling two pistols and a switchblade; when (inevitably) the players give up trying to talk to the drug-addled Lartez they will probably turn to either the concubines or Jakkin for information: either will direct them to Nya-of-the-Black-Lips in Serpenstide

A fortunate-teller and shadowmancer, Nya-of-the-Black-Lips runs a glyph parlor and tarot reading business above the shadowmilk cafe Cream of the Void in the Serpentside district of the the Viper's Head, an island ruthlessly ruled by the Ophidian gang (this is a good place to introduce arc 4).  Her shop is a somewhat rickety set of chambers accessible via a series of slick stone steps, its door lit with swamp-gas globes; inside, vellum scrolls nailed to the walls display various eldritch tattoos (some of them shifting subtly, squirming with subcutaneous motion), while cluttered work-benches and tables display tools, inks, several texts, and other arcane paraphernalia.  A worn red-leather chair and a round table set with a black tallow candle dominate the shop, where Nya-of-the-Black-Lips plies her trade; a frayed purple curtain covers the doorway leading to her private chambers.  She keeps a runty albino alligator as a sort of familiar - though there is nothing mystic in their connection, at least to meet the eye.  Nya herself is a large, pale woman with huge moist eyes ringed by dark mascara, and plump lips smeared with black lipstick.  She tries to sell the players her services and agrees to tell them who she sold the imp to if they purchase a flesh-hex or have their fortunes read.  She is not very susceptible to intimidation and will become stubborn if pressed, but she is good to her word and sends the adventurers on to Padre Demetrius if they patronize her shop.

If the primarily investigatory adventure starts to lag, an encounter with a band of thugs or thieves looking for easy marks should be engineered.  Lophius is far from a safe town, and those exploring its murky streets should be on their guard against ruffians and cutthroats.

(3) The journey through the swamps should not be without incident.  After setting out from Lophius the would-be plunderers must take a steamboat along the Gland northeast for two days before diverting into the swamp itself.  From here the ruin is a three day trek on foot through mosquito-ridden bog and dense undergrowth.

Numerous ships head north along the Gland, and booking passage on one is relatively easy.  While at the docks of Chainwater or even Bile-Mire either Thay-Quorl-Haan or Gis from adventures 1 and 2 can be introduced, combing dockside taverns in search of men.  Some of the captains listed above in arc 1 could also be hired to take the players north, but the larger ships are designed for sea-travel and cannot navigate the treacherous bayou waterways; chartering a ship specifically for this journey is also unnecessarily expensive, since so many ships head up the Gland anyway to trade with the other Twilight Cities, and booking passage on one would be much less costly.  Several example ships are listed below, along with their crews.

The Gentleman Caller
is a mid-sized trawler that has been used as a fishing vessel, a gunboat for river-pirates, a cargo ship, and finally as a passenger ship - although she still takes on freight, most of her custom comes from men and women looking to travel along the Gland.  The enigmatic Captain Vask and his well-disciplined crew run a tight ship with stringently enforced rules: there is as curfew, rough-housers, brawlers, or duelists will be put ashore (or tossed in the river for the leeches, piranhas, and alligators), along with stowaways and thieves.  The Gentleman Caller has a well-stocked saloon fitted out with fine silverware and expansive mirrors, and the bar serves high-quality drinks such as absinthe and sherry.  The standard rate is thirty drachmi per cabin, or fifty for a luxury cabin.

Lucidity is a small, somewhat rickety vessel captained by Baz 'The Skunk' Noland, a notorious smuggler who takes advantage of Lophius' relaxed, laissez-faire trade laws and runs weapons, drugs, spices, and various other cargo up to the other Twilight Cities, principally Skein and Crepuscle, evading tariffs, taxes, and restrictions and so turning a tidy profit.  A sinewy, rat-like man with a wispy moustache, scarred lips, a broad-brimmed hat, and an oversized revolver, Skunk charges twenty drachmi for a cabin aboard Lucidity but is also on the lookout for guards and will actually hire the players on for a drachma a day.

The steamer Jilted Lover is run by the fierce Captain Ka'ala, one of the few female Captains of any notoriety in Lophius.  Cutting a distinct figure with her runesword, her hawk (Dervish), and her glossy prosthetic eye, Ka'ala has a mostly female crew, and all men onboard know to respect them.  Ka'ala has been known to do a spot of freelance piracy on the river and by the coast and has made her share of enemies, making a voyage with her a somewhat risky proposition, though the players may not know it; nonetheless Jilted Lover can handle itself well in a fight with a similarly sized vessel, and its rooms are relatively comfortable, with a rate of twenty-five drachmi per cabin.

Setting out onto the Gland, the players should have emphasized to them the sweltering heat and humidity, the irritation of the mosquitoes, and the tedium of the murky swamp to either side.  A couple of small bayou shanty-towns, huts on stilts inhabited by ragged humans and ghilan, can be scattered down the river to punctuate the boredom of the journey, rough little places with cheap taverns or chance-houses where the boat will stop to take on lumber or drop off cargo.  Small hagman villages are also prominent along the Gland, less squalid though somewhat muddier places where somber, dark-eyed elders talk sternly in Glatch while hagman children slither and frolic and make faces at the passengers.  Most of these settlements should simply be passed by.  It may be a good idea to scope out one of these settlements to make for on the journey back, a place to hole up while the adventurers wait for a boat heading south back to the city.

At night, the boat could be attacked by a tribe of leechkin possessed by the blood-thirst.  Crazed, starving, naked humanoids with hissing hand-mouths and shimmering yellow eyes, the leechkin appear out of the water, clambering over the side and attacking any in sight.  The players may be the first to find their victims, sailors lying ashen-faced with hideous red circles covering their necks or faces.  The leechkin may well have a shaman or two with them, marked by daubs of crude paint, muttering and gesturing, flinging hexes designed to stun or subdue rather than kill - too much precious blood to waste.

Other encounters might include fights with human brigands who jam the river with logs and then attempt to hold up the boat, demanding that all valuables aboard be given over: rough, probably diseased men who've been living in the swamp for weeks but are made dangerous through desperation, clutching shoddy firearms or crossbows or rusted swords, spitting curses and scratching their bug-bites and sores, some of them sporting grafts or a bit of puissance.  While they probably aren't a match for well-equipped adventurers they may do some damage before they're taken care of.

Once they're put ashore the swamp should only become more oppressive.  Huge ur-tapirs, snakes, alligators, and panthers can all molest the adventurers.  While more swamp encounters can be placed here on the trek to the ruins, some can be saved for the journey back to Lophius.  As they draw closer to the ruins they can catch sight of flagstones peeking through the ferns, obelisks half-sunk in the black bogs, or crumbling walls overgrown with creepers.

(4) Shaar-Illys, the scarred and hard-bitten naghini second of the Ophidians, will brief the players in a backroom of a restaurant in the Coil, the doors guarded by earless, tattooed men with forked tongues and sharpened teeth wielding scimitars and huge flintlocks.  The White Scorpions are a Skullford gang on the Talon, which is primarily Iron Tyger territory.  Nyssa suspects that the Scorpions have defected and joined the Tygers, though this is speculation.  If they were killed for some reason, their bodies haven't been found yet, so the Ophidians are assuming they're traitors unless further evidence contradicts this theory.  Whatever the case, the White Scorpions are perceived as having gone rogue, and must be made an example of.

The gang make their layer in the cave-system below Skullford, a maze where the city's destitute dwell in communal squalor, fending off grave-spawn and predators, competing with each other for space.  The White Scorpions are basically a low-level gang of protection artists and thugs who squeeze what little can be extracted from the poor residents of Skullford, as well as dealing Ophidian-supplied drugs to the local populace.  They also occasionally make things difficult for the Tygers when called upon to and have some limited stakes in Shardwall.  Their den is supposed to be a set of rough-hewn chambers, always guarded, where they hole up on their downtime and stash their ill-gotten gains.

Conclusions

(1)
The voyage itself should be arduous: the players should not step onto the ship and then arrive at the Midnight Isles without at least a few encounters along the way.  Before setting off from Lophius most captains and crews will perform a ritual known as the Libation: all of those aboard must prick or cut themselves and allow one drop of blood to fall into the sea and another to stain the deck.  This is an offering to the beast-gods of the sea; only Father Skelter and Captain Ull will abstain from the ceremonial sacrifice, intended to appease the ravenous leviathans below and bring good luck to the voyage.

Storms, strong, winds, and doldrums pose fairly mundane hazards to any sea-voyage, testing the crew and the ship.  To makes things more dangerous a Boilwind can blow in from the northern Fevered Ocean, a scorching gale forcing all crew indoors and literally boiling the ocean and sending up clouds of searing steam; hiring a reliable weather-witch or augur (such as Beyth, Thay-Quorl-Haan's witch) can prevent such an occurrence, allowing the ship to avoid an oncoming Boilwind by detecting it and navigating round it, or in the case of a very powerful caster, calming the storm altogether.

The voyagers might also encounter an Utterance, a rippling echo through the Aether as one of the beast-gods stirs in its slumber deep beneath the sea.  Anyone with puissance will hear the Utterance in their head like a titanic, deafening roar a hundred times louder than a thunderclap (though of course it doesn't affect their ears, being a purely psychic phenomenon).  Anyone casting will almost certainly lose their invocation immediately, and may be stunned or may even seize or be rendered temporarily catatonic.  The Utterance will cause wild brine elementals to manifest, saltwater ondines which will stalk the ship through the sea like playful cats before materializing in flickering, wraith-like spray-bodies, gnawing on hulls and masts with idiot predation.  They can be deterred through force (though resistant to many types of attack) while in their fully manifested forms or can be dispersed via witchcraft.  Dead bodies may also rise as benign haunts for a time before collapsing again.

The ship might also be attacked by a band of sirae, or gullfolk, gray-feathered bird people with avian heads and talons.  The tribal primitives lair in aeries along the cliffs of the Serrated Coast and will venture out from their cave-homes with bone spears, knives, and bows, singing their cawing spellsong in a communal act of shamanistic witchcraft, a hypnotic hex designed to mesmerize or lull their prey before the gullfolk swoop down.  Fortunately the sirae can be routed after a few of them die, and their spellsong loses potency with the death of each singer.

Finally, the adventurers may encounter a pirate vessel, preferably from another clan, possibly even Clan Ysrasc.  Although this encounter may well end violently, escalating from threats to an all-out naval battle where ships trade cannon-shots and corsairs swing from ropes to board the players' vessel, it could also be diverted if the adventurers are savvy enough and knowledgeable of Clan politics.  If suitably persuaded a Ysrasc Captain could be convinced to join the adventurers and their crew in an assault on Captain Flay's fortress.

The Midnight Isles themselves are an ominous sight: a cloud of pitch darkness, hovering on the horizon.  Once inside the perimeter of the effect the sun will be blotted out and the sea will turn black; the only light sources are artificial ones.  Locating the Gnawed Isle within the darkness won't be easy if the adventurers didn't purchase a very reliable map of the area.  Several Mnemnoch patrols sweep the island ever few hours, on guard against rivals.  If they are careful, the players should be able to dock without being noticed in an out-of-the-way cove or bay just off the coast - again, research back in Lophius, particularly talking with corsairs who know the Isles, can prove invaluable here.

The Gnawed Isle is formed from the exposed edge of a caldera.  Nothing grows on the barren black rock due to the perpetual night.  Captain Flay's fortress is mostly situated in the natural caverns of the island, but two pinnacles of rock have been carved into towers (not by Clan Mnemnoch but by some much earlier, now forgotten builders), guarding the stone steps that lead up to the main entrance; riflemen keep watch here, sniping any who climb the steps without accompaniment.  A second major entrance is evident near the base of the cliffs, a great crack from out of which Vivisection sails.  There are two other entrances, one of them an underwater tunnel, the other a semi-secret sally port known only to a few pirates who have spent time on the Isles.  Without knowledge of the two other entrances, a stealthy approach becomes difficult at best.  The best bet for infiltration would be to wait for Vivisection and the rest of the fleet to leave and then attempt to swim in via the crack.  This is also the wisest approach for a direct assault, since only a skeleton guard is left while Captain Flay is out raiding: the feud with Clan Ysrasc, while venomous, is at something of a lull, and the Insatiable Thousand do not suspect an attack.  Even with the entire clan out pirating, however, a good hundred and fifty corsairs remain behind, along with at least one ship.  It is rare, however, for all four Clan Mnemnoch elders to be out at the same time; usually two or three are present in the fortress, meaning that between two and six hundred men can be found spread throughout the caverns, drinking, sleeping, carousing, and indulging their basest appetites.

Capturing a pirate and interrogating him isn't a bad idea.  There are few land patrols, but the sea patrols are relatively weak.  If they are decisive, the players could capture one of the Mnemnoch frigates quickly, take prisoners, then scuttle the ship.  A little coercion may be necessary on their part to ascertain the whereabouts of any secret entrances, but the crew of their vessel may prove helpful in this regard, supplying suggestions or even taking a more active role in the interrogation.  Another option might be to create a diversion in order to draw the bulk of the Clan's fleet out of the fortress, but persuading their Captain to stretch out his neck may be very difficult - money will probably have to change hands.

In any case, while gaining entrance to the fortress should be difficult, the caverns themselves should be even more challenging.  They are regularly patrolled by groups of two to five men, well armed, usually with firearms.  Fortunately the caves are quite vast and large sections are uninhabited.  Very few maps exist of the Gnawed Isle caves so the intruders will likely get quite lost if they don't keep track of their location.  An atmosphere of infernal gloom should permeate the stronghold; corridors echo with screams, and slaves are kept in impromptu cells and cages fashioned from steel bars (to which only a few wardens have keys).  Chambers in the caves are rarely specialized: while there are some storage rooms and a few areas aside for armories, cells, guard-rooms, and latrines, most rough chambers are amorphous.  Corsairs sleep, eat, and drink wherever they please, or use their captives to gratify their sadistic desires.  Scenes of casual torture, either implied or directly enacted according to taste, should be common.

The statuettes themselves are kept in the stronghold's shrine to the beast-gods, a large cavern adjacent to the elder's rooms and their extensive harems.  Though much of the pirates' booty is circulated at random throughout the cave system the most valuable items are kept in the temple area under the purview of the High Captains, the four elders of Clan Mnemnoch.  The shrine features a bizarre obsidian idol to a kraken-like entity, with a blood-stained altar set before it.  The statuettes are in their lacquered case, along with a collection of other treasures that should be tailored to reflect the party's wealth.  Coins from all of the Twilight Cities, the figureheads of captured boats, art objects, and obviously eldritch weapons or other artifacts are all kept here, watched carefully by at least half a dozen guards at all times.  The elders officiate dark rituals in the sanctum frequently, offering up their captives as sacrifices to the nebulous beast-gods of the deep.

As an added complication, some of the statuettes may be missing.  They can be scattered about the caves, or some might even have been sold.  Tracking them might be aided through the ship-logs of the elders or through an inventory of treasures kept in one of their chambers.  After procuring whatever treasure they can the players must make their escape and then return to Lophius, where Thay-Quorl-Haan eagerly awaits.  If they were delayed or took too long in securing the statuettes the merchant prince may have been murdered by Shroud assassins hired by Quillskins; they can then perform the trade themselves, if they wish, and thus come to possess the weapon Shadowtongue (of course they could already do a deal with Quillskins even if Haan is still alive, but doing so would be betraying the merchant and so earning his wrath).  If still alive, Haan will probably ask the players to accompany him to the deal in Chelke (he will pay them fifty drachmi apiece for the escort).

As an additional option, Quillskins can betray the players (or Haan) once he gets hold of the statuettes.  Eyes blazing with nectar, the witch will recite the incantations inscribed on the lapis lazuli gems and release the elementals bound within.  If the adventurers fail to kill him quickly, he will continue summoning the elementals until all six are released, making the combat progressively more difficult.  Whoever holds the statuette of an elemental can control it: the fight may turn into a struggle for possession of the carved gems.  While the elementals can be customized according to taste and party strength, varying their types will make for an interesting encounter.  Consider a set of shadow, glass, ash, wood, smoke, and moonlight elementals as a suitably variegated array.

(2) The Driftwood District is a bewildering place, and its maze-like qualities should be emphasized.  The boats and ships are multifarious and half decomposing, connected by a confusing array of bridges and walkways.  Further up the hill of Murmur Isle are Gloomwell and the Black Stair that winds up to the clifftop manses of the wealthy dead in Groanward, a somber backdrop.

Some time should be spent in the district itself in an attempt to actually find Grinning Darkness.  They will pass through throngs of pilgrims, some of them proffering sacrifices at the shrines of Striga, Kain, Belus, Melmoth the Wanderer, the Weeping Lady, and the Gibbering Goddess of Crepuscle, others to more exotic idols, some of them totemic, others merely grotesque - Waadjat, the Divine Mantis, Draukyr the turtle-god, Basatan the Lord of Crabs, Thoggu the Slimy, Ghisguth, Shuddegoth the Barnacle-God, as well as the bat-god Gromalech.  The air reeks of incense, burnt flesh, brine, and sweat, and chanting echoes off the worn wooden hulls.

Grinning Darkness is a very large and very old boat with three decks, each dedicated to a different deity.  On the first deck men with shaved heads and yellow robes prostrate themselves before a stone cuttlefish called Yob-Sut; on the second floor, a naked congregation sniff bowls of hallucinogenic green smoke (which fills the room, possibly affecting the players) and writhe before a pair of intertwined snakes, the godling Erze-Tsa; on the third is the shrine of Gromalech, where Padre Demetrius, a corpulent, barefooted man in black robes with a long braid of greasy black hair and a shaggy black beard raves his bizarre screeching sermons while Botys flutters on her leathery wings and chitters in Hellspeak, her chain tied to a hook on the wall beside the altar (itself set before a gray stone idol of a horned bat) in front of a small crowd.  The atmosphere is somewhere between a church and a sideshow, but when the collection plate is circulated it comes back piled with coins.

Demetrius is not easily separated from Botys.  Since purchasing her donations have been higher and petitioners more numerable.  Soon he will be able to afford a new shrine and attract an even larger congregation.  A very substantial offer, in the region of five thousand drachmi, might convince the priest to sell the familiar.  Otherwise, the adventurers will have to steal the imp or take her back by force.  If they opt for the former they will have to sneak past the Padre's guards, six toughs with similarly shaggy beards, hair, and robes who wield poisoned bone knives and guard the shrine, taking four hour shifts of three guards each.  If they decide to take the imp by violence they will also have to face the guards, as well as any worshipers in the shrine at the time.  More creative solutions - such as another trade - are also possible, but will depend on the resources of the players.  Incidentally, Gis' other articles - his rings and jeweled dueling wheel-lock, will turn up in Mandrake Market in a few days.

If they manage to steal, seize, or purchase Botys, the players must then collect payment from Gis.  This could be an adventure in and of itself, possibly requiring a sea-journey to Skein with the young nobleman.  They could get embroiled in the politics of the magisters and the Moth-Kings, drawn into the intrigue of the Clockwork City; or they could simply take their reward and leave, of course.  Unless further complications are desired, Gis is essentially good to his word and will pay the adventurers as soon as he can.  Over the course of the adventure they will hopefully have made some allies and enemies in Lophius, opening up the possibility of further adventures.

(3) The ruin is a fairly expansive series of structures that might be the remnant of a much larger complex, such as a city, but now the swamp has subsumed most of the buildings.  The ground is of fitted stone tile, but grass, reeds, water, and fungi cover the stones in a patina of vegetation and scum.  Walls and columns emerge from brackish pools, stars lead down into blackish-green water, and foliage consumes old statues and monoliths in snares of vines and moss.  Gnomoth leads the players through the surface ruins with confidence, remarking that the guardians were further inwards: he holds a map in front of him as he picks his way across the uneven ground, stepping over puddles and fallen pillars.  He eventually leads the players to a flight of worn stone steps that spiral down into the moist earth; he strikes a glow-globe and sets down the steps, urging the adventurers to follow.

Unfortunately for the duped players, Gnomoth has not been telling the whole truth.  In actual fact, his party easily defeated the clockwork guardians, which were all but consumed with rust, their arcane glyphs flickering feebly, most of their puissance drained.  The party was hired to find the puzzle-box for Siahab but they were also warned not to attempt to open it under any circumstances.  Overcome by his foolish bravado and flushed with success, however, Gnomoth played with the intricate controls on the surface of the box while the rest of the party slumbered.  He opened the box, releasing the fiend trapped inside - a demon, Cimaris, bound for thousands of years within the confines of the phylactery.  After manifesting the creature feasted on the souls of the other party members and then broke into Gnomoth's mind, subduing him to its horrible will.  It sent the adventurer, now a puppet to its will, back to Lophius to bring it more sustenance.  Once it has regained its strength it will leave the ruins and wreak its inconsolable wrath upon the world, so great is its rage at being trapped within the box.

The ruin itself is conspicuously devoid of challenges; Gnomoth leads the party on through the gloomy corridors with increasingly feverish excitement, snarling angrily at anyone who cautions greater care at navigating the apparently trap-filled and well-guarded dungeon.  Anyone paying careful attention to the walls, however, will notice a series of murals depicting the capture and entrapment of Cimaris, first depicting a three-headed creature rampaging across the countryside, then being pierced with spears and arrows, and finally being sucked into a tiny box.  The hieroglyphic captions, in the High Tsathii script, describe the spells used to bind the demon, although only a scholar of antiquities could read the writing without eldritch aid.

Upon reaching a large, domed chamber deep within the earth, the adventurers come upon the broken bodies of the clockwork guardians, before an arched stone doorway leading into blackness.  Gnomoth urges the players on into the portal; if pressed about the guardians, he will mutter that something else must have destroyed them, or perhaps they wound down after over-exerting their ancient gears in the fight.  What does it matter?  The treasure lies just beyond!

In fact, of course, Cimaris lies just beyond.  The demon resembles something between a serpentine hydra, a huge toad, and a madman's nightmare, lashing the air with three muscular tendrils each terminating in a slavering maw lined with rows of needlelike teeth.  Its skin is slimy and membranous, slick like a frog's, pale and spotted; its bulk is supported by three squat, almost elephantine legs.  Red eyes are arrayed around its body in a circular pattern, so that it can see in all directions at once.

The puzzle-box lies open on the floor.  Quick-thinking adventurers will seize it quickly, but only someone who has read the formulae on the walls (or is a very skilled witch already well-versed in the operation of Tsathii artifacts, or else a mathematical prodigy) can use the item to successfully suck Cimaris back in.  Gnomoth will burst into hideous laughter at the sight of the demon and abase himself, alternatively weeping and cackling, dancing away from attacks and cowering behind the demon's grotesque form.

It is unlikely that the players will be able to reason with the demon: only a very tempting bribe will stop it from attempting to devour them on the spot.  A fight with Cimaris will be difficult but not impossible, and good use of cover (the pillars that support the roof, for example) will aid in the creature's destruction - its dissolves into a puddle of greasy, brown mucus if destroyed.

There is some other treasure in the ruins, though nothing as extensive as Gnomoth described.  If the players return with the puzzle-box, Siahab will pay them five thousand drachmi, but this will be cut to only five hundred drachmi if the box obviously does not contain the demon (for example, if it is open).  If the players successfully con Siahab into buying the empty puzzle-box for its full price then the witch will be enraged once he attempts to open it - he was planning on conversing with the demon about the Tsathii amongst other things, and had a circle of protection prepared to keep the creature bound.  He will do all in his power to track the players down if they do manage to trick him.

(4) The White Scorpions can be found on the lower level of the caves below Skullford, the ragged slum of Lophius.  Finding their lair should be a substantial part of the adventure: the tunnels are bewildering, filled with the wretched and the monstrous.  Passages loop back on themselves or terminate in dead-ends, and others are flooded during high-tide, only becoming accessible at certain times of day.  Artificial light will be necessary to explore most of the caves.  Giant, aggressive barnacles with prehensile pseudopod tongues and huge crustaceans haunt the lowest levels, along with poisonous fungi - and deep-dwellers, with whom the White Scorpions ran afoul.

A tribe of the creatures known as the 'yhlei' has long dwelt in the lower reaches of the Talon island.  The servants of a horrific being they call Mother in their clicking, glottal tongue, the yhlei resemble grotesque hybrids of fish, frog, and human.  Yhlei have webbed hands and feet and often walk like quadrupeds, finned limbs and backs,  wide slits for mouths, and lumpy, hunchbacked bodies mottled blue and green and covered in mucus and symbiotic algae.  They are amphibious, absolutely zealous in their reverence of Mother, and unfathomable to human minds.  This particular tribe has captured the White Scorpions and plans to sacrifice them to Mother in a profane, unspeakable ritual deep within their cave-complex, which is only accessible during low tides unless the adventurers are amphibious (hagmen, leechkin, those with gill grafts or water-breathing hexes, or those with steam-sealed diving suits, clumsy but often well-armoured).

The White Scorpion lair is in complete disarray.  It is unguarded and splattered with blood, both red and greenish-yellow; objects are smashed and the curtains covering doorways ripped.  In the store-room, where the Scorpions kept their drug supply (mostly thrum) and tribute and equipment - coin, stolen goods, and weaponry - lies a dead yhlei, its body punctured in three places with bullet wounds.  It has been dead for quite some time.

A trail of blood-spots eventually leads the players deep into the caverns, until a certain point is reached where the tide will have flooded the tunnels and washed the blood away.  Here the adventurers must wait before descending into the usually submerged caves.  The various vagrants of the upper levels do know of the deep-dwellers' presence in the lower tunnels, speaking of the yhlei in frightened whispers: for a few coins, a bottle of beer, or some drugs, one of the half-mad bums might lead the players to the creatures` lair, if they are having trouble finding it on their own.

Once they start exploring the lowest levels of the caves, the adventurers should realize that the yhlei are not the only things making their homes in the caverns.  A group of rival deep-dwellers, the crustacean daggols, are competing with the horrible mermen for control of the lower caves.  The daggols, hulking, ogre-like things somewhere between lobsters and crayfish, have skirmished several times with the yhlei, and the aftermath of one of these battles should be the first thing the players find - yhlei snipped in half, daggol bodies pierced with huge spears, their carapaces split and seeping.  Although it is unlikely that the players will be able to communicate with the daggols and convince them to help them fight the yhlei, they may be able to lure the daggols into the yhlei lair and use the resulting combat as a diversion, slipping away to investigate the whereabouts of the White Scorpions.

The yhlei lair is essentially unfurnished, consisting of caves set aside for living quarters, breeding dens and hatcheries - rows and rows of eggs like frogspawn in a semi-viscous pool of liquid - and the temple area, where the Scorpions are being kept in cages made from human bones.  Several of them have already been sacrificed to Mother; the others are being fed raw fish and the remains of their own comrades, kept alive until it is their turn to be gutted under the serrated knife of the yhlei priestess.  Fortunately, Morgan Sheb is alive, though frightened out of his wits.

It is up to the players what to do with the Scorpions.  If they free them, Nyssa will be displeased at best and enraged at worst: she doesn`t care whether the gang defected or not, since the appearance of weakness is just as damning as if the gang actually turned traitor.  Certainly if they deliver her Morgan she will put the man`s head on public display after driving him mad with her gorgon`s gaze, unless convinced very persuasively otherwise.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Kindling on November 06, 2008, 05:41:15 PM
Yeah, I guess it is quite similar to PSS. Been a while since I've read it, so the associations didn't jump out straight away, but I see it now that you mention it. Not so bad, mind you. You could have picked far worse things to plagiarise, I mean, take inspiration from :P

I look forward to the adventure ideas for the other regions, and I think I'll start working on some hooks (fully-fleshed out adventures wouldn't suit, in my mind) for Knife's Edge. I think what you've done brings an already well-crafted setting to life, and I want to do the same.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 06, 2008, 07:09:30 PM

Out of Character

Thanks as always Kindling.  I think eventually I will write up some more adventures for the other cities/regions - and perhaps not steal so shamelessly from Perdido Street Station (carnivals, mysterious plagues, grotesque red-light district...).  Right now I'm starting work on Skein and Crepuscle, though I'm in the midst of term-paper month so updates may be slowish.

Quote

I think I'll start working on some hooks (fully-fleshed out adventures wouldn't suit, in my mind) for Knife's Edge.


I very much look forward to them!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 07, 2008, 08:25:38 PM

Out of Character

Responding to an older post:

 [blockquote=Llum]Whenever I think of this setting, I always get the picture of a bleak, gray wasteland. Can't help it, the two are tied together![/blockquote]

Bleak, gray wasteland pretty much sums up the Slaughter-lands half of the setting!  The other half would be the gigantic, more colourful cities, though of course they possess their own particular horror.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 07, 2008, 11:19:43 PM
What do I picture? How do I put it best? When I read these stories I envision a decrepit world festering with the boils of catastrophe and chaos. A realm falling apart, dead though it doesn't yet know it. Everything seems overly gaudy. Like a corpse touched up with makeup or an zombie clown. Like it refuses to acknowledge its sorry state and instead covers up with a false show of color and beauty. I don't know if that is what you were hoping for but that is the feeling it generates with me.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 08, 2008, 03:32:25 AM

Out of Character

Quote

What do I picture? How do I put it best? When I read these stories I envision a decrepit world festering with the boils of catastrophe and chaos. A realm falling apart, dead though it doesn't yet know it. Everything seems overly gaudy. Like a corpse touched up with makeup or an zombie clown. Like it refuses to acknowledge its sorry state and instead covers up with a false show of color and beauty. I don't know if that is what you were hoping for but that is the feeling it generates with me.


That's exactly the feel I'm going for, a combination of lurid energy and the extremely macabre, grotesques in a hideous masquerade...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on November 09, 2008, 04:07:46 PM

Steerpike


 

Out of Character

Responding to an older post:

 [blockquote=Llum]Whenever I think of this setting, I always get the picture of a bleak, gray wasteland. Can't help it, the two are tied together![/blockquote]

Bleak, gray wasteland pretty much sums up the Slaughter-lands half of the setting!  The other half would be the gigantic, more colourful cities, though of course they possess their own particular horror.



Ya, whenever I picture something, I'm never able to imagine cities, they tend to just slide off my mind unless I really focus on them. I remember thinking about your setting and remembered a book I read, Scar Night by Alan Campbell. It's somewhat similar to your work, in feel at least. Just wondering if you've ever read it.

Also just want to say that the Slouching Devil mountains are great, I really liked Highspire and the mention of some famous mercenaries. However I did have a question, since the fossils are poisonous (kinda magic radiation poisoning it seems), wouldn't just transporting them from the mountains to the towns be a huge hassle? And them just sitting in market, I guess depending on the range that could really cause a lot of havoc. I'm also wondering, when their made into items, weapons and what not, do they lose the radiation?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 09, 2008, 05:13:10 PM

Out of Character

Transporting the bones is a huge hassle - they're generally sheathed in warded metal and packing in an attempt to contain the Slow Plague.  Limited exposure rarely does much harm, though.

Ur-fossils are rarely if ever sold in their raw form in marketplaces.  When properly treated (carved with glyphs), the radiation gets "channeled" or redirected; its still there, but it no longer seeps off in random, chaotic, undirected ways, rather being harnessed to power a weapon/engine/construct/what-have-you.  So properly crafted items made from ur-fossils don't cause Slow Plague, but untreated, raw fossils do if one is exposed closely to them for long enough.

 

Quote

remember thinking about your setting and remembered a book I read, Scar Night by Alan Campbell. It's somewhat similar to your work, in feel at least. Just wondering if you've ever read it.


I have read Scar Night (though not yet its sequel, Iron Angel I believe its called...).  I liked some elements of it very much, particularly the  small, incredibly creepy section with the demons and the labyrinth, the underword sections, and the descriptions of urban space.  I quite liked the poisoner character and Carnival (who inspired the Goremother to some extent); the rest of the characters I found rather bland and one-dimensional.  I prefer Mieville, Peake, Lynch, Leiber, and Bishop to Campbell for urban fantasy, but I'm sure some bits were influenced by him.  The Talon district in Lophius steals from Scar Night quite directly, and the more gothic elements of some of the cities probably owe something to Deepgate, though New Crobuzon, Gormenghast, Ashamoil, and Camorr are probably there more than Campbell's city (at least, I have them more in mind than Deepgate).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 11, 2008, 09:11:52 PM

Out of Character

Naghini added to the Inhumans section - a more reclusive race than many of the others posted.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 13, 2008, 04:44:14 PM

Out of Character

Added an entry on zombies to the grave-spawn section.  Typical in some senses, though I'm erring very much on the side of worker/servant zombies as opposed to the brain-eating dead...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Wrexham3 on November 14, 2008, 01:45:09 PM
A truly brilliant setting, Steerpike.  I think you've created a new category of fantasy roleplaying - Visceral Barroque.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 14, 2008, 04:31:50 PM

Out of Character

Visceral Baroque - I love it!  Though I think you may be giving me too much credit; I'm very much emulating a lot of fantasy authors, and steampunk worlds with an urban gothic/baroque feel are getting quite common these days.  Not that Cadaverous Earth is a purely steampunk setting (though it borrows a few elements from steampunk)...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Wrexham3 on November 16, 2008, 12:03:26 PM

Steerpike


Out of Character

Visceral Baroque - I love it!  Though I think you may be giving me too much credit; I'm very much emulating a lot of fantasy authors, and steampunk worlds with an urban gothic/baroque feel are getting quite common these days.  Not that Cadaverous Earth is a purely steampunk setting (though it borrows a few elements from steampunk)...



I have'nt read that genre of literature, so I can't comment.  However, I can comment on the setting you've presented in your thread, and I thought it was genuinely breath-taking.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 17, 2008, 05:40:53 PM

Out of Character

Skein has been added to the first page.  It's sort of meant to be a cross between a Gigersque (http://www.fourth-level.com/images/andy/new/Landscape_XII.jpg) cityscape and  Restoration (http://www.angelo.edu/faculty/rprestia/1301/images/IN453Hogat.jpg) London (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/59/William_Hogarth_019.jpg/729px-William_Hogarth_019.jpg) with a touch of Imperial China and a lashing of Victorian steampunk.

I've also added demographic breakdowns for the various Twilight Cities posted so far, and a small vignette to the Slaughter-lands post near the beginning.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 18, 2008, 04:37:25 AM

Out of Character

A character added to the Characters section - Felix Rhadcuth, a professor, witch, junkie, and former adventurer.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 19, 2008, 06:45:38 PM

Out of Character

Added some short Architecture sections to each of the cities' entries to aid in their visualization.  Moroi is sort of 1984-style London, socialist brutalism and Victorian squallor; Lophius mingles Meosamerican temple architecture with Venetian baroque and something like  Five Fingers (http://privateerpress.com/images/ironkingdoms/5fingers_cover.jpg); and Baranauskas mixes straight-up gothic with a kind of Byzantine/Islamic style (I felt I'd already covered the style in Skein fairly well, though I added a few sentences about the industrial side of the Radula).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 20, 2008, 02:08:49 AM

Out of Character

Added a couple more characters from Skein, the "Scarred Gentlemen."


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 21, 2008, 01:37:20 PM

Out of Character

I added a section on the Membrane Wars and the Great Fettering to the Witchcraft post (for lack of a better place to post it) - I get the feeling this info has been long-awaited, and I hope it ilves up to expectations.  The Cadaverous Earth is in some ways "anti-history", in the sense that history kind of collapses and gets forgotten and dusted over in this world.  I very much want to leave a lot of things vague and only hinted at in the past of the world, to give the impression of terrible secrets and indescribable or unknowable events, but I recognize that some details are necessary - so voila.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: SilvercatMoonpaw on November 22, 2008, 05:03:13 PM
Hmmmm, you have an interesting way with the grotesque.  I have to ask, though, have you ever felt that maybe you've gone a bit too far for one setting?  It seems like this stuff would become simply squicky after a while at this saturation.  It's interesting as an artwork, but have you had anybody play in it long-term?

In some ways this reads more like it would be better as an alternate plane to the main non-grotesque setting, maybe as a gateway to someplace even worse.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on November 22, 2008, 07:20:48 PM
I just threw up a little in my mouth.

No, seriously. I pretty much agree with SilvercatMoonpaw's point-- I have to wonder if you haven't gone a little too far in trying to create a certain theme for this setting. Your writing is definitely quite good, so this criticism isn't mechanical at all. I do think you may have gone a bit overboard on the artfully archaic "thesaurus words" at times, but nowhere (at least that I could tell) did you actually misuse one, so I've got no real complaint there. The real complaint is in the content... there is a certain sameness in its pervasive, grotesque atmosphere.

I'm reminded of a kid in my 4th grade class. He, like many boys of that age, had a fascination with excretion and other bodily functions. However, for him, it was a fine art. While I am in no way making a comparison between your setting and the ramblings of a slightly mentally disturbed nine year old boy, I will say there is a certain similarity in the way you were both able to form a barrage of repulsive imagery into a coherent narrative. While your material is more compelling and more varied in its forms, it still has an undercurrent of those stories about the poop monster that ate Boogerville.

See, the other thing about Boogerville (and the Cadaverous Earth) is, it's pretty horrible to imagine for us, but how about if that's the only place you've ever lived? Let's look at things this way: though we like to gloss over this given our current modern attitudes about hygiene, things were pretty dirty back in medieval Earth, anyway, forget any sort of supernatural intervention. That said, even now, we eat and excrete, we get cuts that bleed and form into scabs, we occasionally suffer from some kind of embarrassing and repulsive skin condition, and all sorts of other biological processes that our transhuman descendants in however many centuries (if you will permit me a bit of futurism) may not be able to fathom how we ever endured such an unending cavalcade of ickyness. Point is-- it's all relative. In a world as utterly corrupted as yours, life would be, in the words of Hobbes, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," but that's how life was in a medieval slum, anyway. The people might not actually notice.

Oddly enough, to me, that means the greatest strength of the setting is also completely subverted by everything else you've done. I did enjoy your depictions of the undead (or Grave-Spawn, as you call them), and found them to be just about everything that undead should be. The ideas were much more unique than just shambling mindless corpses, and your occasional vampire or lich. Instead, you had sex-parasites, mind-controlling worms, and otherworldly psychic overlords. (You did have zombies, but you even managed to give them a unique spin)-- unfortunately, the problem is, this unique take on the undead sort of blends into the whole world and loses its character. The entire setting is rotting, decomposing, and such, so the undead don't really stand out. Instead, they're just another moribund mass among many in this decaying world. To me, that's a shame.

I like your writing. I really do. I wanted to like this setting, but, right now, it just pushes one point and pushes it way too hard, and I find that a significant point against it. As some sort of "evil mirror" of a more standard world, this place would do wonders. That way, it could be completely normal to the inhabitants, and yet the PC's-- who were new to it, just as we the readers are-- would be able to view it with the full shock and awe that such a cleverly twisted setting really deserves.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on November 22, 2008, 07:29:31 PM
Thank you for posting about the Membrane War, it was something I was looking forward too, didn't disappoint.

Now I had trouble picturing the Naghini, do they have two complete upper torsos that join at the "waist" to for the tail/legs?

Felix Rhadcuth was quite interesting, to me he seemed to have a large "Camorr" vibe to him, but maybe that's just because I'm currently rereading The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Now the main question I had was about the rarity of the various non-humans. It seems to me that the various races have roughly equal rarity, then the different gravespawn, then the Oneiroi and finally the Daevas. How rare exactly are the Daevas? You mention the Gorgons, of which there are multiples, and the winged man-faced lion Daeva oracle. Are they so truly rare that they become spectacles in themselves for simply appearing? Or is it something that wouldn't cause more then a small spark of interest?

Finally the Oneiroi seem to be the most hostile of all the creatures, more so then any other being. Is this true? Or just the specific Oneiroi presented? Or just in my head?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 22, 2008, 07:37:43 PM

Out of Character

Thanks so much for the detailed review, and thanks for not pulling your punches!  In terms of the ick factor, I can understand completely where you're coming from - and Hobbes definitely was an influence on the setting, for sure.  I'm inclined to be a bit unapolegetic about the extremity of the grotesquerie because I rather like Boogerville, and I'm partly aiming for the gross-out factor.

However what worries me is the word "sameness."  I'm striving to create a fairly diverse setting, unified in tone but not in content, and I'm worried that the setting might be failing in that regard.  I think I understand your point: you're saying that the darkness/rotting stuff is ubiquitous, and that plucks its sting, to a certain extent.  A gross undead monster is much ickier if its invading a comparatively "cleaner" world.

I think the dynamic of the mirror world is an interesting one, and worth exploring.  In a sense all roleplaying neccesiates a mirror world - our own, the mundane one from which we travel into other worlds via roleplaying.  I think what you're saying is that within the setting itself the grotesquerie gets undermined because it's so wide-spread, to the point of banality.

I think, in light of your criticism, that the Cadaverous Earth could do with an injection of a more gentle beauty here and there, not to dull its edge but, in fact, to sharpen it.  Alternatively it might be expanded quite vastly and placed in a cosmology alongside some other, less relentlessly icky worlds.

If I might ask you briefly a follow-up question: what do you make of the shedim at the Temple of Sighing Winds in the Slouching-devil Mountains (the last major post on the first page)?  I felt that that location, while not altogether incongruous with the rest of the setting, embodied a more kind of pastel, melancholic rather than all-out gloomy tone.  Would more along the same lines - shots, as it were, of melancholy, wilting beauty - improve the setting by generating a stronger sense of contrast  with the (admittedly incessant) gore and decomposition?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 22, 2008, 07:47:22 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Llum]Now I had trouble picturing the Naghini, do they have two complete upper torsos that join at the "waist" to for the tail/legs?[/blockquote]

Yep.  I considered giving them a single shared torso but decided that two torsos joined at the waist would be weirder, and it's basically a rule for myself in this setting that if presented with a choice between greater and lesser weirdness to always pick the stranger option if there are no other factors.

[blockquote=Llum]Now the main question I had was about the rarity of the various non-humans. It seems to me that the various races have roughly equal rarity, then the different gravespawn, then the Oneiroi and finally the Daevas. How rare exactly are the Daevas? You mention the Gorgons, of which there are multiples, and the winged man-faced lion Daeva oracle. Are they so truly rare that they become spectacles in themselves for simply appearing? Or is it something that wouldn't cause more then a small spark of interest?

Finally the Oneiroi seem to be the most hostile of all the creatures, more so then any other being. Is this true? Or just the specific Oneiroi presented? Or just in my head?[/blockquote]

I'd say the fetch are the most all-out hostile creatures - complete psychopaths.  The oneiroi are essentially deranged animals, even the intelligent ones - they're very predatory.  But unlike the fetch some of them might be reasoned with, potentially, or tamed.  But in essence the oneiroi are nightmares, and nightmares tend to be hostile.

Daevas are something I'm struggling with in this setting, somewhat.  I want them to be probably the rarest of all non-humans other, perhaps, than demons, with the exception of Skein's demonic population.  I'm planning on including more daevas - possibly some form of efreet creature in the same region as the zerda (foxfolk) and mantids (mantis-people), which will be a western desert distinct from the Slaughter-lands.

I'm thinking that humans are the most populous creatures, followed by most of the non-daeva inhumans, probably with hagmen and lilix as the largest group, and naghini and leechkin as the smallest group (largely tribal, mostly non-urbanized).  Grave-spawn as a "species" of their own would probably make up close to a third of the total population, while humans & inhumans would make up about 1/2.  The remainder would be daevas, demons, and oneiroi, although an accurate count on the oneiroi isn't really all that important, since they don't tend to dwell in the cities.

[blockquote=Silvercat Moonpaw]I have to ask, though, have you ever felt that maybe you've gone a bit too far for one setting? It seems like this stuff would become simply squicky after a while at this saturation. It's interesting as an artwork, but have you had anybody play in it long-term?[/blockquote]

I haven't played in the Cadaverous Earth yet, though bits and pieces of it have showed up in other games, many of them post-apocalyptic.  I do want a sense of saturation (or oversaturation) but I can see how the setting could go "too far" for some (just as, perhaps, some can't play, say, Gears of War for very long, or read too much Lovecraft or Poe in a single sitting, without getting grossed out by the harrowing darkness).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on November 22, 2008, 08:29:31 PM
I think you've interpreted my meaning correctly. I feel like you have created a setting that is unified in tone but not in content. I didn't mean to imply that there was a lack of variety in the world-- it's not so much that the world is full of the same kind of darkness and decay, it's that it's everywhere. Some parts more resemble terrible urban blight, others a Gigereseque alien hive, others a dissected corpse. You have done well in diversifying the imagery, but, though the areas are different in their content, they are not so different in their impact. As an example, I'm sure a village suffering an outbreak of some gruesome Ebola-like disease would not be out of place on the Cadaverous Earth. However, such places actually existed, too. The difference is one of contrast. What is a mile away? On our Earth, you might well encounter an unspoiled, beautiful forest, a perfectly idyllic location-- and if you emerged from this onto the previously mentioned village, it'd be all the more horrific because of the contrast.

In your setting, I feel like after a while, one corrupted landscape may give way to another, without any real impact on the part of the players or characters. The contrast is what is vital. It is some degree of contrast that I think this setting needs most, and I would very much encourage you to add. After all, how can we see darkness without some degree of brightness?

In some ways, I see a realm like this as the ideal "afterlife" for some other world. Granted, it'd take some changes, would relegate to a somewhat mythic status, and would make active adventuring more difficult, but then the contrast with whatever other world is already established. The idea of simple mortality is also removed-- one never dies, only becomes more and more corrupted by the horrors of the place. This, too, might be good, as a mere mortal's life expectancy in a world like this might be too short to really be able to experience all of its, um, delights. Note that I'm not sure how viable a suggestion this really is, but it's something I thought I'd throw out there.

To answer your last question, to be honest, the thing about the shedim didn't really give me as much of different sense as you seemed to be trying for. There was a different aura to it, I'll give you that, but the creature still had a sense that death was at hand-- sleeping so much, being so isolated, being possibly the last of its race, and whatnot. Perhaps I'm being unfairly wide in my interpretation of your "tone," but, to me it felt like it was the same tone, just one more "look and feel" to convey it with. (as I mentioned before, you were skillful in having many of those)

In order to make something really stand apart, I think you'd need some sort of completely unmitigated optimism. And that, unfortunately, may stand out so sharply that it becomes the real "ugliness" by the standards of this grotesque world.




Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 22, 2008, 08:35:57 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=sparkletwist]In order to make something really stand apart, I think you'd need some sort of completely unmitigated optimism. And that, unfortunately, may stand out so sharply that it becomes the real "ugliness" by the standards of this grotesque world.[/blockquote]

Hmm, I'm going to have to mull this one over carefully.  While I doubt full-plate wearing paladins are going to crusade across the Cadaverous Earth smiting evil and spreading goodness and cheer any time soon, the introduction of a "completely unmitigated optimistic" faction or element might be really interesting.  They probably would be regarded as freaks by most of the world's inhabitants, but the players might well relate to them more.  A group that maintains they are "the only ones who SEE!"

Quote

Some parts more resemble terrible urban blight, others a Gigereseque alien hive, others a dissected corpse. You have done well in diversifying the imagery, but, though the areas are different in their content, they are not so different in their impact.


Good - that was what was worrying me.  I can work on complicating and fleshing out impact, but I was concerned that the imagery might be getting too samey.

I don't think I'm going to relegate the Cadaverous Earth to an afterlife position or remove death from the setting.  I may, eventually, work it into a larger cosmology with several less diseased worlds (though not before developing it more).

I shall percolate.  Thanks again, for your review and prompt reply.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on November 22, 2008, 09:10:00 PM

Steerpike

While I doubt full-plate wearing paladins are going to crusade across the Cadaverous Earth smiting evil and spreading goodness and cheer any time soon, the introduction of a "completely unmitigated optimistic" faction or element might be really interesting. They probably would be regarded as freaks by most of the world's inhabitants, but the players might well relate to them more. A group that maintains they are "the only ones who SEE!"

Another option might be to assume that the current state of this world is a "problem to be solved," so to speak. The "optimistic" faction would then arrive with the goal of fixing the terrible ruin that seems to grip it.

After giving it some thought, this faction wouldn't necessarily have to detract from the bleak feel-- perhaps they carry out their goal in an immensely pragmatic, Machiavellian fashion, with a feel more along the lines of cold terraforming rather than any sort of "redemption." I envision something like ominous, mysterious gas-mask clad men showing up (Half Life Combine soldiers, or the like) and deciding to simply eradicate anything they don't like. This could also create an interesting disconnect in the minds of players-- they'd likely not connect the occasional beautiful, verdant landscape that did appear with the mysterious genocidal faction that turned out to have actually produced it. Just another random thought!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 22, 2008, 09:28:53 PM

Out of Character

Yes, that's along the lines of what I was thinking.

I was already planning on introducing a Cult of the Unfettering that supports the cataclysmic power unleashed by the sleeping gods who ended the Membrane Wars as a kind of "harsh medicine."  Hirud is the god-leech - the bloodletter - the physic/antidote.

Other groups might be less extreme but have a similar motivation, to cut away the corruption as surgeons do tumors.  I'm thinking many of these groups might be clandestine, cells of them infiltrating all of the Twilight Cities.  Desperate times and whatnot...

See this is exactly what I want from the Guild - constructive criticism that makes me THINK, that actively inspires me.  Already I feel like the development of the Cadaverous Earth has been rapidly accelerated... once I make a Review Badge, you're definitely getting one, sparkletwist.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 22, 2008, 10:55:56 PM
Sorry that I haven't really gone over your more recent stuff. Life has been a bit hectic. But anyways...

First thought of the day. Extending upon what sparkletwist said, perhaps you might have glades of "clean earth" so to speak. Hidden places where the rot has been pushed back by various forces. I can just imagine the look on the players faces. After months of trudging through death riddled marshes and the corrupted ruins inhabited by necromantic beings and blood phages they come across a pristine landscape with rich green trees and clean water. Off in the distance the warbles of a bird can be heard and their jaws just drop. Of course the next thing they probably do is go for their weapons (good ole PC mentality) since this place is too good to be true.

You could bring in several factions to this. Those that are creating these places, perhaps though it might be more of a thing. A strange being that eats rot and decay. Then perhaps a druidic sect that worships the being or the places it creates (or both) and actively searches out these new places (to worship at them or protect them or whatever else they might do). Then on the other end you have a more necromantic cult that feels these places are a stain on the world, that it is wrong to reverse the entropy.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 23, 2008, 12:17:34 AM

Out of Character

A phenomenon known as the Fecundity has been added to the Slaughter-lands post near the beginning.  I don't think it contradicts the feel of the Cadaverous Earth, but it does suggest a kind of hope.  It probably isn't what sparkletwist meant when she said that some unmitigated optimism was needed in the setting, but I try to resist absolutes whenever possible - the Fecundity is kind of a good thing, but it's also really, really bad depending on one's perspective.  Also in the same post is some info on the Cult of the Great Unfettering (in general they don't like the Fecundity - they think it's too little, too late) and the naive environmentalists who worship the Fecundity.  These additions are intended to add a sense of depth, to diversify in some way the "impacts" of the Cadaverous Earth.

Any thoughts or opinions are welcome.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on November 23, 2008, 11:08:34 AM
Steerpike, remind me again of the general opinion of technology.  There was some level of holy zeal to the idea of progress in some circles, right?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 23, 2008, 01:41:22 PM

Out of Character

There are some barbaric tribes in the Shatters that worship the Behemoths rusting there as Dead Gods, but the true technology worshipers would be the atheistic artificers of Skein.  Though on the surface they maintain a kind of cold, scientific dispassion and rationalism their zeal for progress, invention, and the artificial (mostly in the form of hyper-finely wrought clockwork, like the sort that forms an automaton's brain) has taken on more than a few religious aspects.  The artificers can mostly be found in Skein's Copper Ward, where they attend to these kind of "secular temples" based around orreries (The Palace of Chimes) and other grand machines and where robot angels sing in the street.

Also in the Shatters are two cities "ruled" by insane computing engines and their mad automaton henchmen.

In general, technology is regarded as a commodity and a means to an end.  While the "tech level" is roughly steampunk with a lot of crude biopunk elements (grafting, a partially arcane process), there's so much old technology hanging around - either eldritch or mechanical or both - that in actual fact the tech level is a lot higher, just no one knows how to duplicate the old stuff.  So you might find some gizmo in the Curio Bazaars of Baranauskas that was once the uber death-ray of some badass deathmarine from two Aeons ago or what-have-you, but no one could manufacture one for you.  I want to keep the futuristic elements relatively in tone with the other technology I've presented  - incredibly advanced clockwork, biological tech, and advanced arcane stuff - rather than characterizing it as typical "sci-fi" stuff with lasers and chrome; it's just that the old stuff was way more advanced than what can be produced now.

Probably the most powerful technological factions apart from Skein are the Resin Merchants of Moroi who use their vast machines to drain the Elder Tree (though how the machine works precisely they could no longer explain) and the Lords Revenant of Somnambulon, the most industrially successful group - most of Somnambulon consists of seemingly endless pseudo-automatated factories, worked by zombies, with only the shanties and the hive-manses standing apart.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 23, 2008, 06:38:44 PM

Out of Character

sparkletwist, Llum, Kindling,   and Lord Vreeg get review badges if they like, and so does Vermillion because he drew me a lovely leechkin:

 (http://img262.imageshack.us/img262/4018/cadaverousearthreviewbamd7.jpg) (http://www.thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?56772)

By the way, Llum, The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of my favorite fantasy novels.  Felix does have an air of Camorr about him, and Scott Lynch has definitely influenced the Cadaveruos Earth, espeically in bits of Skein and Lophius.

Because it probably got lost in the Tavern here's a quote from its wikipedia page describing Athtas, the world of Dark Sun:

Quote

"Once a blue planet teeming with life, Athas has since been stripped of its fertility by the use of corrupting magic known as Defiling, and the decay of its sun. It is a sun-burnt land forsaken by the gods, water, and hope. The natural resources have been depleted and a lack of metal has resulted in the use of wood, obsidian and bone for weapons, tools and common equipment. In such a harsh and unforgiving land, even the most mundane of creatures have developed psionic abilities in the constant struggle of survival of the fittest.

In such a world as Athas, a death by natural aging is considered to be a great achievement and an event worthy of celebrations."


I ws curious about what sparkletwist thought about it, because in some ways the tone is similar - whether Dark Sun could be criticized on the same grounds.  Obviously they're different settings, but I'm curious about how my setting is percievde as opposed to something in some ways also quite bleak... since sparkletwist isn't too familiar with Dark Sun, if anyone else (perhaps more familiar with Athas) could chime in on Dark Sun vs. The Cadaveruos Earth (and thematic separations between the two) that'd be great - the major one I can think of right now is the emphasis on undead and vampirism/cannibalism in the Cadaverous Earth, perhaps..


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on November 23, 2008, 09:44:07 PM
I read over the Dark Sun information on Wikipedia. While I don't think I know enough about it just from reading that to really compare and contrast it with CE, I did find it pretty interesting in its own right, so thanks for pointing me to it.

I will also say that looking into both Cadaverous Earth and Dark Sun have somewhat inspired me as to ways I could add various "decaying" aspects to my own setting-- new takes on monsters, ruins, and other stuff that is supposed to be creepy no matter where it is; so thank you for that, as well.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Acrimone on November 23, 2008, 11:00:41 PM
WOW.

I haven't even gotten a third of the way through, but this is breathtaking in its scope and extremely enjoyable to read (with one important caveat, below).   I've been typing my comments in MS Word as I've been reading through, and upon reflection I see that I'm somewhat echoing Sparkletwist's thoughts, so forgive the repetition.  Anyway, here are my thoughts.  They're mostly critical, as I only have time to write so much and criticism is almost always more useful than praise, especially when the author in question (you) clearly has some degree of confidence and doesn't need to be handled with kid gloves.

Style:
   Lush language is great'¦ but only if it highlights what is going on.  And in order to do that, the reader needs to know what is going on.  There is too much description of not enough information happening here.  The locquacious verbosity interferes with and inhibits the transmission and reception of clear, unfettered information in the minds of the readers, whether they glean the meanings of the exceptionally puissant vocabulary exemplars or not.

What Came Before:
   Clearly there was a lot going on here in this world before everything went to hell in a handbasket.  Does it matter what it is?  Are the things that are happening in this world a result of what came before?  Or has what came before simply yielded before the relentless assault of awfulness that has been wreaked upon it?  In other words, is there a connection between the past and the present, or is the present simply what has replaced the past?  That's something important for GMs, as it could be an entire campaign just to find out what the hell it was the ancient peoples did that caused the Suppuration, or whatnot.  (But see my comments on the Suppuration, below.)

The Twilight Cities:
   First, "Twilight" is a very apt name.  I think that captures everything you wanted it to: the fading of civilization, yes?
   Second, there seems to be a problem.  Of what are these cities the Twilight?  It doesn't seem that they really are centers of "civilization" so much.  This isn't a dying world, and these aren't the last bits of a dying world caught on the edge of the Slaughterlands.  These cities are already dead.  I'm down with Grotesquerie, but the fact is that there needs to be something against which to set it off or it loses its true power: revulsion.  There doesn't seem to be anything against which to set off the macabre nature of the Twilight Cities except the just-as-macabre-except-larger horrors of the Slaughterlands.
   Now lets talk a little about at least two of the individual cities.

Somnambulon:
   You might want to explain that the "Unbound" are so called because (and I'm guessing here based on subsequent material, but I think I'm right) they aren't enthralled by the hive mind of the Lords Revenant.
   What do the Lords think about these Unbound?  What purpose do they serve, and why haven't the Lords with their rather considerable hordes of servants simply converted the Unbound?

Crepuscle:
   Clearly this isn't a full description; it's just supposed to be the beginnings of an idea.  And it's a good one.  This is by far the most intruiguing of the cities precisely because it has some traces of normality to it that make the horror more compelling by contrast.

The Suppuration:

   First, I like the name.  That, too, gets across everything you want it to.  It oozes nasty "stuff."  It's perfect.
   So the Red Rains/Red Ravishing destroyed things environmentally, and the Fecundity seems to be doing its damndest to refresh the environmental degredation.  But the Suppuration is different: it isn't about destroying what's there, but about adding something entirely new and foreign to the mix '“ apparently the oneiroi.  This suggests that it has, as a cataclysm, a different source than the other unfortunances.  Is it happenstance that caused it?  Or is there someone or something trying to accomplish something by opening up this rift?  TELL ME I WANNA KNOW!

The Fecundity:

   It's strange, but the Fecundity is making me think of Naussica'¦ you know, with the poison forest creeping everywhere and all that.
   The Fecundity really seems to be the centerpiece of your theme, and it's puzzling because there is absolutely no mention of what it really is, what drives it, or where it comes from.  It's also not clear how the Fecundity is so dangerous.  To be sure, you have pointed out that there are monstrous, terrifying things lurking in its depths.  But you also seem to imply that the jungle (and it seems more jungle than forest) as a whole is somehow malevolent.  Are the plants sentient?  Are they the outcroppings of some malevolent sentience?  Is the jungle itself treacherous in some magical or non-magical way?   Or is it simply that the ecosystem has some sort of instinctive predatory nature?  That the fetch alone of men can live here suggests that there is something in the differences between normal folk and the fetch that can account for or neutralize whatever makes the jungle so dangerous'¦. And I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT IS!!!!!!  You seem to be going out of your way to make the differences between the Fetch and the normal folk (such as they are) primarily psychological.  Is the secret of the Fecundity's menace, then, something that attacks the mind?  Is it filled with some sort of terror or hopelessness?
   Also, you use the phrase "false rapture."  Are you meaning to appropriate the Christian metaphor of the Rapture here?  Or do you mean that there is (at least purported) joy to be found in the Fecundity and that the cultists deny this?

Eidolons
   Ah, here we are.  This is where things really get effective.  The reason that the Eidolons are so wonderful is that there is something at least seemingly "normal" about them.  (Indeed, they apparently can appear so normal that I wonder where in the Twilight Cities they don't stick out as unusual'¦)

The Quick:
   If you are going to have a category like "the quick", the way you use it in opposition to grave-spawn, you should probably capitalize it, especially in light of the fact that "the quick" in some of the sentences you write makes it sound like you're talking about Ghilan, that come in two varieties '“ the "slow" and "the quick".
   Also, you never really define this.  It becomes clear after a few uses that you are probably using this in opposition to grave spawn, but there's no reason to make your readers do all that extra work.

The Ghilan:
   I like the idea that these are sentient and almost normal '“ uh, except that they aren't.  Their having attitudes and preferences and such, more than anything you've written so far, gives me a sense of what makes puts the "Earth" in Cadaverous Earth.  It's important not to forget the other half of that name.
   It's also interesting that these are "mindless" parasites.  This suggests that the parasite isn't what's in control '“ it just interferes with and changes the person that existed before.  
   The parasitic involvement also makes me question why these are called "grave spawn."  What is the significance of that term?

The Zehrer:
   Nice.  I only have two questions.
   First, how do you pronounce this?
   Second, you say "So complete is this coupling of minds that the Revenants have become almost indistinguishable from the zehrer over the centuries."  To whom are they almost indistinguishable, and how aren't the entirely indistinguishable to these people?  Also, when there is a coupling like this, isn't some third entity what results, and if so, what is there to distinguish anyway?  You seem to be suggesting that some separate traces of the Zehrer and the Lord/Lady persist.  Is this what you mean to say?

Zombies:
   Are the zombies actually dead?

Lilix:
   I'm confused.  You say:  "(T)he lilix are spiderfolk, a race of anthropomorphized arachnids, each possessing eight limbs and eight eyes. Other than these obvious differences and a set of mandibles in lieu of a mouth the lilix are essentially humans with grayish, sometimes hairy skins."
   What is "essentially" human about any of this?  Isn't what makes humans "essentially" human having four limbs, two for walking and two for grasping, and having binocular vision with a mouth suitable for forming humanlike words?
   What is really missing here, I guess, is whether or not the eight limbs are four arms and four legs, four legs, six arms and two legs'¦ what do these limbs look like?  Do Lilix have feet?

Oneiroi:
   There are more than two, right?  I mean, the Suppuration oozes'¦. Somewhat continually I gather.  These two are just two that you happen to have documented, yes?

That's all for now.  I'll work on the rest later.  So much material... so little time.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 23, 2008, 11:47:21 PM

Out of Character

First of all, thanks Acrimone, that was an AWESOME review!

In terms of style, I know I can get carried away; I'm trying to imitiate peope like Lovecraft, Peake, and Mieville, who tend to use very lush, hypnogogic language which sometimes places poetry before meaning.  I can understand that this sometimes gets too much, and I do try to reign my language in a bit here and there.

Twilight: I'm going to fight a little on this one.  I'd contend that the cities aren't dead at all, but quite alive.  The Hecatomb cities or Cullys and Suchol, those are dead cities - ruins.  Undead doesn't equal dead.  And for all their nastiness, there's a kind of civilization to the Twilight Cities.  Crepuscle will be in some ways a little less horrifying, but frankly I don't find Baranauskas particularly bad.  Cannibalism is just a harsh necessity, and while there's cruelty in that city, it doesn't compare with the horrors of Somnambulon or Dolmen, the oppression of Skein, or the near-constant violence of Lophius, in my book.  The Twilight Cities may be ugly and horrible in places, macabre in many, but they're still hanging on there, on the edge of the True Night, staring out into their own doom (the Slaughter-lands, which while perhaps as horrifying, are much more barren).

Somnambulon: will get further treatment, and the Unbound will be explained - yes, they are those not bound to the hive-mind.

What Came Before: will depend on the focus of the GM.  mostly, the past is just a big, vague backdrop and disaster factory.  There are lots of dark hints about actions in the past cuasing consequences in the present (all of the major catastrophes, etc), but it all gets kind of blurred, and that's quite intentional.

The Fecundity: its still a little mysterious, but the huge beasts in the forest are one source of danger; the other is that the forest literally eats stuff.  You know Old Man Willow from LOTR?  Like that.  It could also destroy settlements, branches breaking walls apart, creepers tearing off roofs, fungus rotting wooden planks, etc.  Why the fetch?  They're awesome survivalists if given enough food.  The reason they die out is because of lack of food; they're basically aping Hobbes' "state of nature".  I may also have the Fecundity literally ignore the fetch in a way it doesn't with normal humans, since it recognizes them as its twisted children... thanks very much for pointing this one out.  And yeah, the rapture is an appropriation of the Christian one.

As for where it comes from, I thought that was somewhat hinted at... the Red Rain grows the fecundity, and the Red Rain was orchestrated through some unknown process by a group of arcanists (witches) like an Aeon ago.  The How of it is pretty much glossed over - insane magical ritual, basically, some kind of twisted cloud-seeding.

The Suppuration: see the Witchcraft post, under nectar.  I should probably clarify this in the Suppuration post.  The Suppuration is what happened when lots and lots of witches (mostly from Moroi) wore away at the collective unconscious, the aether.

Grave-spawn/Quick: yeah that probably needs clarification.  Quick means living (and usually the term aplies to humans, because it contrasts with grave-spawn who were overwhelmingly once human); grave-spawn are undead (the original binary is "the quick and the dead").  Ghilan (ghouls) are grave-spawn because the parasite kills and revivifies them, as vampires in other settings revivify; they retain their personality and "control" (contrast with say, shades) but lose their memories.  Zombies, too, are dead in this way.  But while zombies and shades can rot, ghilan (and zehrer) don't, again like vampires in other settings - they're more sustained.  

I'm not big on capital letters for races, because we don't capitalize bears or wolves or whatnot, and I want my races to feel more like scientific species.

Zehrer is a German word for devourer and a nachzehrer is also some sort of spirit in German mythology.  I honestly don't know exactly how to pronounce it.  The Revenants are used to refer to the human hosts of the zehrer.  The zehrer and the Revenants, their hosts, have essentially become one and the same race over the centuries, is what I mean by their complete mingling, their sequential generational mind-melding.

Lilix: Picture a human.  Add two pairs of arms from their torso.  Replace the mouth with manidbles and slap on some extra eyes.  That's a lilix: no chitin body, no particularly exotic coloration, no abdomen/head thing going on - a human with extra, arms eyes, and mandibles.  Contrast with, say, a cestoid and you'll see what I mean by essentially human.

Oneiroi: the three described are the only ones I've treated with detail; more are coming.  There are a lot of smaller references to individual oneiroi in the Slaughter-lands post and the Adventure in Baransukas post.

Again, thanks so much for the review!  I've already implemented some additions.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 24, 2008, 02:31:31 AM

Out of Character

I added a brief overview of the three major racial types (quick, grave-spawn, and inhumans), further differentiating oneiroi and demons. Hopefully this clears up any confusion surrounding the quick/grave-spawn.

I also have edited the Suppuration and Fecundity in light of Acrimone's review.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Acrimone on November 24, 2008, 11:56:38 AM
Do I lose all my brownie points if I call Lucius and Tormbolge "Fearfrhd and the Grey Monstrouser?"

Sorry.  Couldn't help myself.

(And I'm not implying anything about your writing process either... you may have no idea what I'm talking about.)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Acrimone on November 24, 2008, 12:45:41 PM
Characters:

This is easily my favourite section so far, though I still think that the sections on the Fecundity and the Suppuration probably tell the most about what your world is like.

The strength of this section (and I know I'm repeating myself) lies in the details of what these ghoulish, macabre personalities do on a day to day basis.  From my reading this is what has been missing from the account of this world so far.  The impression has largely been one of "There's no downtime for you because everything is always trying to kill you."  But the section on the characters describes them gambling, drinking, researching, etc.  These sections are so good that I'm going to shamelessly copy the technique, and put a "Characters" section (I've got hundreds of NPCs written up here and there) in the Calisenthe wiki.  

I have no criticism of this section at all (notwithstanding my previous jest about F&GM).  It is, for your purposes I believe, absolutely perfect.

Witchcraft: Love the name already.  It makes me want to read.

Eldritch Theory:  OK, I get this.  And I like it -- at least this kind of magic is a synthesis of some formal extension such as a rune or tatoo, and the infusion of intangible psychic power.  The sense I'm getting from this is that there is going to be something in the design of the rune/tatoo/etc. that makes it "fit" to receive the power, so that you can't put the psychic power for what would be a Rune of Ichorial Vomiting into the formal extended markings of what would be a Tatoo of Putrescent Ascension: the extension (physical form) has to match the psychic energy being used; meaning that while an unpowered rune is powerless (as you point out), it is not entirely superfluous: no other rune would do for the purpose.  If this isn't the impression you intended to convey, you should clarify things.

Now, you wrote something interesting -- I add emphasis to a few phrases:

#ff3300

of the collective unconscious[/color], a kind of aether-realm from which all images emerge. The more complex the spell, the deeper the witch must penetrate this mindscape, and such sojourns are not without difficulties and hazards. Only those with strong psychic potential who have trained their minds to withstand the whirling entropy of the aether can draw on it to cast the more powerful or intricate spells; those who attempt to channel eldritch energy into a sigil or phrase who lack the proper control or have taxed their abilities too vigorously may succumb to the nightmarish intoxications of the aether and lose their individual coherency. These wretched souls become mad, dangerous things, channeling raw numina haphazardly.
"of the collective unconscious"[/i] - Whose collective unconscious?  Is it just the landscape of consciousness, inhabited (or even created) by the sum total of all universal consciousness, big or small, short or tall, strong or weak?

"from which all images emerge" - Images of what?  The first time I read this I had this notion that everything real and tangible was in fact some sort of extended projection from the mindscape of the collective unconscious; in other words, that I here at my desk might be an "image" of the universal mindscape.  Then on second reading, I was thinking that maybe you were talking about ideas or concepts: all of our mental images emerge from this realm.  But the fact is, I'm not sure what you mean by this.  (But it certainly sounds interesting!)

I realize that this is nitpicking in the extreme, but that's what happens when you take the time to write something complex enough to actually be nitpicked.  

Nectar:  OK, things are starting to click into place about this world.  The reason this world is so fucked up, if you'll excuse my expression, is that it is, quite literally, a Nightmare world.  It is a world shaped (not created, but shaped) by people's (plural) nightmares (on a macro scale, not a micro manifestation scale), yes?  If that's the case, then saying that more explicitly (and sooner) would be an excellent idea.  You also say that getting lost in the aether causes madness.  I'm wondering two things about that.  First, does exposure to the aether of a certain degree always cause madness?  Or is that simply a reflection of the person in question's being weak (or insufficiently strong)?  In other words, can someone "hang out" in the aether (through nectar use or otherwise) but yet retain their sanity if they are strong enough in the will?  Which leads to my second question: is there something about nectar itself which erodes at the will, or at least erodes at one's ability to resist the madness of the aether?  In other words, one could theoretically resist the madness of the aether, but the amount of nectar one would need to take to test such resolve would ensure failure.  It really depends on what it means to "wear down the distinctions" between one's mind and the aether: does the granting of access to the aether by itself start eroding individuality?  Or is the eroding of individuality what grants access to the aether?

Hexes: If I'm reading this right, Hexes are just like runes or tatoos, but they use words.  (See Eldritch Theory comments, above.)  Because of the transitory nature of words, however, they are unsuitable for containing long-term energies.  Does this sound right?  (Sometimes it's best just for the reader to try to repeat back to you what he or she thinks your work says, so you can see if you're giving the wrong notion.  So I will be doing some of this.)

Glyphs: Uh, so anywhere I said "Runes" up above, we can substitute in "glyphs", right?

Demons and the Membrane Wars: Oh my.  First, I like this section.  A lot.  It's probably my third favorite section so far (though a lot of that probably has to do with my wondering for seven pages what the Membrane Wars were).  So now I'm coming to the conclusion that this world isn't JUST a "NIghtmare World" -- though it is that.  It's also quite literally Hell on Earth.

I'm suddenly getting an idea of what the big picture might look like.  I'm speculating here, and leaving the implications of your text entirely.  So please don't feel alarmed if I'm totally ass-wrong.  So someone fucks up, and Hell comes to Earth.  Bad stuff.  Now we have Hell on Earth.  It's so bad, in fact, that people (unconsciously) turn to their nightmares to save them.  So that doesn't go so well... the demons are brought under some degree of control, or are finally cordoned off to the swamps and seas, etc.  But now instead we have this problem emanating from the Aether, which I suspect is linked tot he Fecundity in some way.  (I'm coming around to the idea that the Fecundity is the Earth's actual response to the Membrane Wars -- instead of the collective consciousness of we unstable, unpredictable people putting forth something to challenge the demons, you have the INCREDIBLY stable consciousness of the planet just putting forth its "idea" of a cure, one yardacre at a time.)  

OK, enough speculation.  THat's not actually very useful for you.  Back to the review.

Languages:
This is nice and solid.  I was wondering if the Lilix were able to speak to other humans.

Final Thoughts for Now:
OK, so now I'm on to cities.  I'll post some more detailed thoughts on these in a bit.  I'm going to finish up this posting though, with this thought:  it seems that when you're painting "the big picture" you tend to (understandably) focus on the things that are bizarre and different.  Then when you get into the details, you are more forthcoming with the mundane and familiar.  The problem as I see it is that your descriptions of what is bizarre and different misrepresent the degree to which this world is bizarre and different.  In other words, you might want to consider a small bit of text such as the following, right up front:

"Most (or a plurality?) of the inhabitants of this world are simple people, working and living in an environment that is sometimes hostile, and often alien to what their genetic plain-hunting inheritance tells them life should be like.  But many others have been warped and shaped by the otherworldly forces that have, over the years, turned the world into a thinly-veiled, sometimes completely explicit, nightmare."

I offer this only by way of suggestion.  It's not particularly well-written, but I think it accomplishes what I'm talking about: some sense that "life goes on" even in the Cadaverous Earth.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 24, 2008, 01:13:50 PM

Out of Character

Characters: Thanks!  I'm glad they hit home... I want human characters in a grotesque, difficult world.  And Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were probably my foremost influence on Lucius and Tomrbolge, so your reference is perfect (and made me chuckle).

Witchcraft: Pretty much everything you said is bang on.  The idea of the Aether is still a little vague, but basically what I'm thinking could be explained through the following analogy.  Numina flows out of the aether, or "collective unconscious", shared by all thinking beings currently on the Cadaverous Earth (so, not demons in Hell, but everything else capable of dreaming... images are sort of meant to suggest the imagination, a kind of psuedo-Platonic world of forms, kinda maybe sorta; probably needs more work).  Imagine the numina like water and the aether like a vast sea.  Normally, to infuse (invoke) a hex/glyph with numina, the caster has to open his mind to the aether.  Trouble is, that's difficult.  Most only have a small "siphon" of puissance with which to pump numina from the aether/ocean.  Nectar expands your pipe, lets in more numina.  Unfortunately, more flow carries a greater risk of madness.  Imagine someone sucking on the siphon: it's OK if the pipe is small, but if its gets to big, you'll drown.  Hence, horrible horrible madness.  Your sanity/willpower plays a part, in terms of how much you can handle, and you'd probably build up a sort of mental tolerance after awhile, but overdose is frequent, so nectar use, while widespread, is risky.

The Supuration is a big 'ol leak in the pipe, spraying water everywhere, chaotically.

Your cosmology is close to what I'm imagining.  You've got Hell on earth (I want to sort of suggest that "Hell" is just what people call the other worlds - the "demons" have nothing to do with absolute evil, they're just really powerful alien beings); people turn to another force (in actual fact, elemental deities, think like the Titans or the Tarrasque, as well as the Great Old Ones) and do a big ritual to wake them up.  Unfortunately, though the Chained Ones kill and scatter the demons, they also keep on purifying, and humanity's next on the hit list.  So you torch the Hecatomb Cities and utter a spell of unspeakable power that somehow capitalizes on the Sacrifice, seal the elemental (not "evil") gods back in the earth, put them to sleep.  Unfortunately one gets out at some point (Hirud) and almost destroys the world (the Pallid Decimation).  There's a huge battle, and after a big arcane/military effort Hirud gets petrified at the center of Etiolation (he's the one responsible for the blanchphage, literally sucking the life and even colour out of the world).  Meanwhile at other points in history you've got some "terraformers" or somesuch who look at the world and decide it needs a new start, a reboot, back to the Gadren of Eden, the prehistoric Paradise.  Though they realize they won't be around to see it, they begin seeding the clouds of the world to cause the Red Ravishment and later the Red Rains.  This produces the Fecundity and the fetch, recreating the world in a Rousseau-esque state of nature (or that's the plan). However all this arcane tinkering isn't doing wonders for the aether, and SPPPLLLIIIIT yep there's the Suppuration!

Hope you enjoy the cities!

By the way, you've earned a review badge and then some!  (http://img262.imageshack.us/img262/4018/cadaverousearthreviewbamd7.jpg) (http://www.thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?56772)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on November 24, 2008, 05:30:15 PM

Steerpike

I want human characters in a grotesque, difficult world.  And Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were probably my foremost influence on Lucius and Tomrbolge


I didn't think of it at the time, but Lankhmar with its aura of corruption and nastiness lurking under the surface (both figuratively and literally, if you consider the rat population) seems to match the motif you've established in CE pretty well, doesn't it? Horrors like the Gods of Lankhmar certainly wouldn't be out of place either. The difference being, of course, Lankhmar seems to be more "typically medieval" (if cast in a slightly different light) where the urban blight spread by rampant industrialization, in some form or other, at least, seems to figure into the Cadaverous Earth.




Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 24, 2008, 05:45:45 PM

Out of Character

Lophius is meant to channel Lankhmar to some degree.  The carven idols of the Driftwood District mimic the Street of the Gods in Lankhmar, while the "nameless demons of the swamp" are the Gods of Lankhmar, and the "informal kleptocracy" or brutocracy of Lophius is sort of a slightly more anarchic version of Lankhmar or Scott Lynch's Camorr (Mieville's Armada was the other big influence on the city's factionalization).  Lophius is also less industrialized than the other Twilight Cities, with only one major industrial district (the Foundries on Lophius) but a lot of small marketplaces, pleasure districts, artisan's quarters like the glassblowers, gambler's districts, docklands, etc - a big den of vice, certainly, but not a desiccated industrial waste like Somnambulon or parts of Moroi (or Skein), nor an alien-hive.  It's meant to be quite exotic in places, with the numerous hagmen and leechkin, a bit carnival, Venetian, rowdy and boisterous and yes sometimes incredibly cruel and violent, but colourful and lively nonetheless (except for the grave-spawn ghettoes and Hunger Rock).  I think Lophuis may be the next city to get adventure treatment, to emphasize some of its vibrancy.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 24, 2008, 06:09:36 PM
I am loving the feel of the fecundity alot, it does truly give a huge heap of extra depth to the lands beyond the cities. On that note, I want to see more about the earth outside of the city area. The way things are talked about I take it that the cities are all in one area (correct me if I am wrong). Thus there could be other people struggling to survive on the other side of the festering planet. Both groups being completely unaware of one and other (and developing in different ways). So then, are there other realms beyond the cities? Other places of strange wilderness perhaps? I am just curious to learn about what might be beyond the current locale.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 24, 2008, 06:22:17 PM

Out of Character

The cities aren't exactly clumped but they occupy roughly the same east/west space (longtitude) but vary quite a bit in latitude, so Somnambulon and Dolmen are quite cold, whereas a Lophius or Baranauskas summer would be very hot at times.  There are going to be more "wilderness" areas - the Slouching-devil Mountains are one of them, but others that I plan to eventually flesh out more include the Tallow Plains near Moroi, the Firesong Marshes near Crepuscle, the Chelicerae Mountains near Dolmen, the southern swamps, the Bluebottle Archipelago, the Midnight Isles, the Razor Chain (also islands), and the Serrated Coast.  I'm also planning on incoporating an almost Tolkienian exodus via ship to the far west, where a few hope to find a less ravaged land, but any details of such a far-off continent would be very deliberately left vague and unrealized, so that while the emigrants might be going off to a better place, they might also all starve to death or get destroyed by storms on the Fevered Ocean a few months out.

There might be something beyond the Suppuration to the extreme east of the setting, but I haven't decided what yet, if anything.  Very few people make it that far and most would run into the Suppuration, which can't be easily navigated.  Perhaps once the Twilight Cities have been fully fleshed out along with the Slaughter-lands and wilderness areas I'll turn to the far east.  Any brilliant ideas (or random ones) as to what might lie beyond the Suppuration are welcome.

The setting does need a map at some point...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Cowd on November 24, 2008, 06:28:27 PM
I just stumbled onto this site and this is the first thread I click on. All I can say is excellent. Brilliant.

I haven't read most of your work yet but the first point of criticism raised already resonates with me (and is the only critique I can think of). The world could use a little more contrast, a clove of the sublime to enhance the taste of filth. I personally think, however, that paladins in shining armor would not fit at all in this setting. The sublime spice I mean is just something pure, innocent and optimistic. An idea just off the top of my head: beauty as ancient artifacts. Surviving relics from when the world was a kinder and gentler place. A sonata radiating warmth and suggesting spring. A marble sculpture, overgrown with entrails, capturing the beauty of the human form. An endearing little music box. A lush grove hidden deep in the darkest mountains. Some factions want to destroy these glimmers of hope, others to research them and tap their power. A few might even be overpowered by the curious feelings they invoke.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 24, 2008, 06:29:13 PM
Do you have any ideas/concepts as to how you would like things laid out. Perhaps a rough sketch of a map. I love map making and I would greatly enjoy sketching you up something if you would permit me the honor.

The mass exodus sounds interesting. I didn't see the things about the fevered ocean (perhaps I just missed them in my reading). What exactly is it? As to what's beyond I always viewed this as a whole world thing myself. Perhaps there are pockets of wholesome earth, but different areas just give themselves to different apocalyptic wounds. Perhaps the far west is one of the larger wholesome places. Perhaps it's just a myth and the survivors who made it have somehow scrounged out a living in an equally bleak but very different land.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 24, 2008, 06:31:40 PM

Out of Character

Some of the opulent buildings of the cities (once you read further down) are meant to suggest that, as is the Elder Tree, but you're absolutely right (and this seems to be the general opinion) that there needs to be some kind of greater contrast established.  Past/present and "Civilized"/Wild are the major dichotomies of the setting, so the idea of ancient beauty, now despoiled, could probably use greater emphasis.

I do very much want to stress that at least to me, beauty and grotesquerie aren't antithetical.  The "beautiful horrors" of the magisters of Skein, their homunculi, for example, are meant to evoke this - the vignette at the start of the Skein post gives some examples, such as a pudgy imp like a baby with compound eyes and scintillating emereld wings, a kind of insectiod cherub.  Horrifying?  Yes.  Grotesque?  Hell yes.  But maybe kinda beautiful too?  I hope so, at least from some angles.

Pringles/Nomadic, I may sketch up a rough map soon, and I'd feel honoured to have you make one for me.  Right now ithe geography's in my head mostly: the Serrated Coast to the west, ending in the swamps to the south and the mountainous regions of the north, with the Slouching-devil Mountains as more "westerly" and the Chelicerae Mountains a bit further northwards and to the east.  The Tallow Plains and the Firesong Marches (a big desert not part of the Slaughter-lands) are evident near the western part of the map; to the east are the Slaughter-land regions, roughly subdivided by Etiolation and framed in the extreme east by the Suppuration.  But I'll sketch something up soonish to give a better idea of where everything's located.

I've only made one reference to the Fevered Ocean.  It's the big western sea and the largest body of water mentioned so far, though I haven't talked too much about it.  It'll be inhabited by the "beast-gods of salt and nacre," and perhaps some Lovecraftian underwater civilizations but wouldn't figure too prominently except in a pirate-style campaign.

Oh and have a review badge if you'd like one, Dwarven Pringles!  (http://img262.imageshack.us/img262/4018/cadaverousearthreviewbamd7.jpg) (http://www.thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?56772)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 24, 2008, 07:31:31 PM

http://www.thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?56772

(http://img262.imageshack.us/img262/4018/cadaverousearthreviewbamd7.jpg)[/url][/ooc]


I shall wear it with pride (is it good for anything perhaps, like free dwarven ale?).

As to the fevered ocean, I actually would like to hear more about it. Are there any prominent civilizations that interact with the "surface dwellers"? Does it have any value to make sailing it worth the risks (perhaps its the quickest route between two major areas). Most importantly, are there sea turtles?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 24, 2008, 08:03:40 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Dwarven Pringles]...is it good for anything perhaps, like free dwarven ale?[/blockquote]
Madwine coolers.

I'll think on the Fevered Ocean.  I doubt it'll have anything approaching, say, Dystopia's cephalopods, but there might be some strange stuff down in the deep.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: SilvercatMoonpaw on November 24, 2008, 08:55:17 PM
Now I've gone back and taken a slower look at your initial city write-ups.  Note: I may give suggestions about how to use something, but that's just me adding to the totality of materials to choose from.

Somnambulon: One thing that strikes me about this name is that I can't quite figure out what it has to do with the city.  In fact Somnambulon seems the least of the cities to have an actual theme.  Are you planning to do more with this?  You know if you made your world an alternate plane to some other place The Sleepwalker's City suggests that maybe they get there in some sort of non-conscious way.  Maybe the reason the Unbound aren't so grim is that they're made of these people from the other world.

Crepuscle: Has a more defined character than Somnambulon, though it still lags somehow.  Does the variety of people there give it any unique cultures?

Skein: I wish I could give you a a good critique on this one, but I'm still kind of in awe of the mechanization and the Moth-Kings.  It keeps reminding me of something, but I can't think what.

Baranaukas: It's an Edge City, the gateway to adventure and the place where I'd think those people who have to live in hiding from the center of society come.  The trade in bodies give me the image of adventurers carrying back entire corpses instead of looting them, though dead bodies as treasure does make a kind of whacky sense when compared to mountains of gold.

Dolmen: I suppose this is what drow cities should have been like, complete with more interesting inhabitants.  The tiered structure reminds me of a parody of Minas Tirith and leads to this question: does refuse from one level get thrown on the lower?  What happens when it reaches the bottom?

Moroi: With the importance of psychoactive plants in religions I can believe that a god-tree would produce magic-giving sap.  Is there anything special living on the tree?  I'd think a giant tree would have giant tree parasites.

Lophius: Wow, your most religious place in the setting is like some bayou shantytown.  Maybe you should figure out how to work in chuuls so you can have crayfish-men.  I think they'd add to your lovely grotesquery.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 24, 2008, 10:05:04 PM

Out of Character

Thanks for the comments, Silvercat!

The Sleepwalking of Somnambulon is meant to connect with the idea that the zombies, shuffling and wide-eyed, are like sleepwalkers, especially once you realize that they might be conscious of their forced servitude, "trapped behind their own eyes" so to speak while their bodies rot and are reduced to mere tools (see the Zombies section of the Grave-spawn post for more detail).  Like the other cities Somnambulon will eventually recieve more treatment.

Crepuscle does kind of lag to me somehow, which is probably why I haven't epxanded it like some of the others yet, detailing its districts etc. I try to make every city have at least one "Big Thing" to keep it interesting: the Watchdogs and Skin Markets of Baranauskas, the Driftwood District of Lophius, the towers and automata of Skein, the lilix themselves in Dolmen, the zombies and palaces and Lords Revenant in Somnambulon.  The labyrinth in Crepuscle is sort of meant to fill that niche, but I think the city needs something more.  I'm slowly adding to a detailed writeup of Crepuscle that'll hopefully give it some more energy, though right at the moment I'm working on Lophius adventure seeds/outlines like those I wrote for Baranauskas...

Dolmen and the lilix do draw on the drow.  I like the idea of a "tiered sewer system," kind of like how in medieval cities refuse would just get tossed... when I write up the City of Spiders I'll remember this diea, thanks!

As for Moroi: wow, what a PERFECT idea with the parasites!  I need to think about this one and will probably add it soonish... I felt I needed something to make Ambery more interesting, and this could be it.  Later in the detailed description of Moroi I do expand on the Elder Trees.  There are three, but only one active; another is exhausted and petrified, and the third burnt down, and all of its remaining nectar boiled.  The resulting arcane reaction spawned a really twisted "haunted quatrer" of the city where only really reckless daredevil scavengers and the like enter.

With regards to Lophius and chuuls, I do think that the southern swamp will have various crustacean-y things.  Chuul are one of my favorite dnd monsters, and while I probably won't steal them whole, the idea of large, quasi-intelligent crustaceans is very appealing, and fits the setting well.  Possibly this will be one of the deep races that dwells in the Fevered Ocean.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 24, 2008, 11:08:47 PM
Quick question, what exactly is in the haunted quarter. Is there anything actually living there, or is it a true ghost town?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 25, 2008, 12:27:37 AM

Out of Character

From the main Moroi post on the first page, the "haunted quarter," known as The Boil:

The Boil

Unlike the ossified Elder Tree of Suckle-town, the charnel corpse that towers with blackened limbs over the ruinous Arbour dubbed The Boil was not merely drained dry. In the distant past some disaster caused the Tree to ignite, the nectar within boiling beneath the bark, splitting the Tree's flesh and spilling out into the streets in steaming gouts of eldritch vapour and seething golden liquid. This catastrophe, known as the Conflagration or the Boiling, laid waste to the part of Moroi now called The Boil. Fire swept the streets, burning homes and citizens; yet even after the eldritch flames had died and the last embers faded, The Boil remained a shunned, forbidden place. Strange creatures stirred in the cinders '“ perhaps the former residents, perhaps things invoked through the chaotic arcane tempest of the Conflagration itself. Those who ventured into the charred wreckage in hope of looting the ruins returned with stories of shifting streets, watching eyes, and unspeakable terrors lurking in the ashes '“ if they returned at all. It was as if the district itself assumed a kind of sentience, becoming a faceless but malevolent presence with vengeful appetites.

Today the Boil is walled off with stern battlements of brick and iron heavily warded to contain whatever entities, curses, or creatures were spawned in the fires. Only a handful of scavengers, universally deemed insane, dare enter The Boil, and most fall victim to whatever dwells within.

Blistermaze


The oozing walls of Blistermaze are afflicted with a roving pestilence, an architectural leprosy: patches of peeling plaster or crumbling brick will suddenly develop weeping sores and pustules that eventually worsen into membranous cysts. The cysts swell and grow, incubating the hideous denizens of Blistermaze: scuttling, quadruped beasts somewhere between degenerate humans, hairless dogs, and spiders, hunchbacked, mandibled, flesh-hungry creatures with tremendous agility and poisonous bites, the pox-dogs of Blistermaze. After having birthed a brood of these chittering monstrosities the cysts and pustules will rapidly close, scab, and heal, leaving only shredded castings and scars.

Manglespur

A tribe of humanoid things resembling naked, emaciated men and women from the neck down infest Manglespur; their heads are cut off halfway up their faces, just before their eyes, giving way to an incongruous and squirming array of tightly clustered insect limbs. Their appearance is often preceded by a roving mist, tainted slaughterhouse red and reeking of burnt flesh; this unearthly fog cloaks their arrival, allowing them to draw close to their prey on silent, spindly limbs. Doors have become gnashing mouths and the black sockets of windows are filled with watching eyes in the claustrophobic alleys of Manglespur. Here the Grasping Darkness oozes from building to building, a crawling death; here the bricks or flagstones can become cackling faces with cruel, biting teeth. Huge flapping things somewhere between birds and bats with rotting bodies and protruding bones nest in the attics and atop the roofs, fluttering their leathery feathers and cawing hideously.

Blackenburgh

The physical center of The Boil, Blackenburgh is a scorched, desolate ruin whose buildings are little more than burnt-out shells. The incinerated remains of the Elder Tree tower above the ruins, branches twisted, trunk warped, bark scalded. Ashes still rain upon Blackenburgh, stirred up by whispering winds that echo with the screams of the burning citizenry. A few globs of solidified metal melted during the Conflagration litter the ground, once parts of the machine that drained the Tree and whose possible malfunction is theorized to have precipitated the Boiling itself. Ashen wraiths speculated to be some form of soot elemental have congealed out of the destruction of Blackenburgh, ghostly manifestations of the Conflagration that are dispersed only with difficulty.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 25, 2008, 12:44:40 AM
Ah ok, I think the last time I read that you only had a small bit on it. Very curious. Most certainly a place most people wouldn't want to go.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on November 25, 2008, 09:36:22 AM
So is the whole boil within Moroi, or some of it?  How deep into the city?  Where there sewers under it that now lead out...and in?

How long ago did this happen?

Poisonous Pox-dogs of Blistermaze?  What a great wrench to add to the Necromancy Lexicon...consider that stolen.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 25, 2008, 12:47:39 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Lord Vreeg]So is the whole boil within Moroi, or some of it? How deep into the city? Where there sewers under it that now lead out...and in?

How long ago did this happen?[/blockquote]

The Boil is entirely within Moroi and takes up a little less than a third of the city.  It has been entirely walled off and warded to contain the horrors within.  The sewers have been bricked up when they enter the area below the Boil, though there might be forgotten entrances somewhere in the depths below the city.

I'm thinking the Conflagration/Boil happened a considerable time ago, but considerably less than some of the other disasters that have wracked the setting - perhaps a few hundred years rather than Aeons.  Time is kind of almost intentionally vague in this setting, although I may eventually work out a detailed timeline... part of the idea is that time and history kind of run together after long enough, as the world "moves on" as in The Dark Tower series.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 30, 2008, 06:33:15 PM

Out of Character

Gigantic update just posted near the bottom of the first page: the adventure outlines for Lophius.  I wanted to add it to the Lophius post, but it was too big to fit - it's over 9000 words, heh.  It's definitely a wall o' text, but hopefully an interesting one, and there are 4 separate arcs that can be read independently, though there are some connections between them.  This set of adventures owes more to Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Lovecraft then to  Perdido Street Station or From Hell... any and all feedback is very appreciated, and I'm quite willing to swap reviews if desired.

Here are some images I had in mind while writing:

 (http://features.cgsociety.org/newgallerycrits/g49/83149/83149_1173753004_large.jpg)
 (http://features.cgsociety.org/newgallerycrits/g54/52254/52254_1161650677_large.jpg)
 (http://features.cgsociety.org/newgallerycrits/g18/192618/192618_1127858919.jpg)
 


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on November 30, 2008, 08:04:02 PM
The new set of adventures was really good. Not as interconnected as the previous set, but good none-the-less, and I believe they each have a chance to chain to another adventure, so no problems there.

The last adventure with the deep-dwellers, screams Lovecraft to me, very cool. The crustacean people are great as well. I did have a question, how exactly can a barnacle be aggressive?

The first and third adventures are well done, I like how they easily incorporate possibilities for ship-to-ship battles. However the first adventure seemed like it could be potentially near-impossible. How long could a group of adventurers wade through hundreds of pirates?

Once again your descriptions are fantastic. The various ship captains and their crews were very intriguing. Not much I can say about the second adventure, I can see it being a bit tedious tracking down the imp to four separate places, getting the adventurers in the mood for a snatch-and-grab at the temple. The reward seems to be the best as well, a connection to the nobles in Skein would be quite good.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 30, 2008, 08:12:56 PM

Out of Character

Good points.  With the barnacles I was thinking nasty long tongues that actively seek out prey - I should probably clairfy that.

The "hundreds of pirates" thing is a problem, yes, and that's why stealth is the best bet, or recruiting the rest of the crew for the assault.  An ideal attack would be enacted when most of the clan is away.  Remember also that the pirates are scattered throughout a large cavern complex and are not all expecting battle.  Alarms aren't extensive either in the complex, so its quite possible that through a modicum of stealth the players could clear out a room at a time while evading larger groups.

The second might suffer from some tedium; it's the least action-oriented, certainly, but investigatory adventures are some groups' cup of tea, and the whole thing is designed primarily to acquaint the players well with the city.  I think a few encounters thrown in with some cutthroats or pickpockets would liven things up, at the GM's discretion.

Edit: clarified some things and added a couple of changes... thanks so much Llum for wading through the adventures, and so quickly!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 05, 2008, 06:58:55 PM

Out of Character

Added a vignette to Baranauskas, which was missing one.  It's a bit superficial perhaps, but that's what I get for watching Quantam of Solace and old episodes of Trigun over the same few days...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on December 07, 2008, 04:12:30 PM
[blockquote=NAVIGATEGAR]Eidolons

Consumed by satyriasis, the insatiable incubi known as eidolons are a cambion race, an all-male breed of grave-spawn with the ability to drain youth and vitality in order to rejuvenate their physical bodies. Narcissistic in the extreme, eidolons are tall, exquisitely handsome men with bloodless, alabaster complexions, green eyes, and shimmering black hair (frequently worn very long) that becomes grey and eventually white if the eidolon fails to feed. Sunlight does not destroy them but it does strip them of their glamer, revealing their true bodies '“ twisted, malformed old men bloated with tumorous growths '“ and dispelling the aura of hypersexuality they usually emanate.

One of the few grave-spawn races regarded with near universal loathing, eidolons lead clandestine un-lives, blending in with the quick, often in the upper levels of mortal hierarchy. Having infiltrated human society eidolons begin to feed on young men and women in order to sustain themselves. Most are hundreds of years old, their true manifestations resembling walking corpses. To forestall deterioration eidolons seduce beautiful youths and feed off their desire, beauty, and vitality through copulation. In doing so, eidolons physically age their victims several years while restoring their own youth in the process. Insufferably vain, eidolons find fresh prey frequently, lest their own beauty begin to ebb; eidolons who '“ perish the thought '“ discover silver hairs in their usually immaculate black manes immediately seek out a new victim, often coupling with the unfortunate individual until they are little more than a desiccated husk. While rape can suffice to regenerate an eidolon's glamer, they consider the act vulgar and unsophisticated in the extreme.

Eidolons are aesthetes with a great appreciation for beauty. Sadistic, self-serving sociopaths without conscience, they are adept at feigning passionate love for their prey and are usually highly accomplished poets, artists, or musicians, as well as being superb conversationalists and beings with exceptional taste for the finer things in life. Eidolons reproduce by impregnating human women, siring male stillborn children who frequently kill their mothers during birth, then revivify as newly spawned eidolons.[/blockquote]

what type of frequency here?  I get the feeling of rareness but with a reproduction mechanic that seems like there should be a fair number?  
I find these tremendous...I do have something I call 'social Vampyres', UNDEAD that hang out in cities pretending to still be peope...

By your definition, I spent years being an Eidolon...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 07, 2008, 05:11:26 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Vreeg]what type of frequency here? I get the feeling of rareness but with a reproduction mechanic that seems like there should be a fair number?[/blockquote]
I was thinking fairly rare, though good point about their reproductive capabilities.  If perhaps 1 in 10 people on the Cadaverous Earth are undead (probably around right, maybe even a bit conservative) then perhaps somewhere in the region of 1 in 100 might be an eidolon (the majority being made up of zombies and ghilan).  They tend to be attracted to wealthier circles and so are most concentrated in cities like Skein and Crepuscle, which have very elite upper crusts (they can't masquerade as Lords Revenant because they wouldn't be able to connect to the hive-mind shared by the Lords' zehrer).  Roughly though that would mean in any random sampling of a thousand people there'd be an eidolon somewhere.

I wanted to make them feel both like traditional incubi and like vampires of the Bram Stoker/Lestat persuasion - elegant, sophisticated, and predatory.  The whole de-aging thing was inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray and a mesoamerican mummy on Buffy who killed people to restore her youth; the sunlight-shows-them-as-they-really-are thing is a pretty blatant Pirates of the Caribbean ripoff.  Glad you liked them, I think they're a relatively unusual sort of "monster"; the short story at the opening of Skein is meant to showcase how one of them might operate (as well as to capture the decadent masquerade feel I want for the upper crust of the Clockwork City).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on December 07, 2008, 09:05:41 PM

Steerpike


Out of Character

[blockquote=Vreeg]what type of frequency here? I get the feeling of rareness but with a reproduction mechanic that seems like there should be a fair number?[/blockquote]
I was thinking fairly rare, though good point about their reproductive capabilities.  If perhaps 1 in 10 people on the Cadaverous Earth are undead (probably around right, maybe even a bit conservative) then perhaps somewhere in the region of 1 in 100 might be an eidolon (the majority being made up of zombies and ghilan).  They tend to be attracted to wealthier circles and so are most concentrated in cities like Skein and Crepuscle, which have very elite upper crusts (they can't masquerade as Lords Revenant because they wouldn't be able to connect to the hive-mind shared by the Lords' zehrer).  Roughly though that would mean in any random sampling of a thousand people there'd be an eidolon somewhere.

I wanted to make them feel both like traditional incubi and like vampires of the Bram Stoker/Lestat persuasion - elegant, sophisticated, and predatory.  The whole de-aging thing was inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray and a mesoamerican mummy on Buffy who killed people to restore her youth; the sunlight-shows-them-as-they-really-are thing is a pretty blatant Pirates of the Caribbean ripoff.  Glad you liked them, I think they're a relatively unusual sort of "monster"; the short story at the opening of Skein is meant to showcase how one of them might operate (as well as to capture the decadent masquerade feel I want for the upper crust of the Clockwork City).



Oh, with more undead infiltrating Igbar, this convinced me to create a Uncompyre out of one of the PC's decadent friends.  PC's are so wrapped up in themselves that someone they know changing sides will take eons to occur to them...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 10, 2008, 06:47:41 PM

Out of Character

Added an entry for geists in the grave-spawn post - a more monstrous form of undead, embodiments of mindless infection.  They are in some ways similar to the fetch, though perhaps a little more eerie.

I'm working on a map for the setting, albeit a roughly sketched one.

Love the sound of the Uncompyre, Vreeg.  That isn't the same guy that was once an investigator/adventurer in Igbar that you showed me, is it?  The one with the hobbyt associate?  I seem to recall him getting vamped...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on December 10, 2008, 08:55:59 PM
You mention oneiroi not being affected by geists but humanoids are. yet most of the oneiroi mentioned are vaguely humanoid. I'm sure you meant only the quick and ghilan but its a little strange.

The fettergeist are probably my favorite, really cool. The sorrowgeist war pretty neat as well.

Now you say the geists are extremely infectious, I was wondering why a almost Dawn of the Dead style super infection doesn't just explode and obliterate a city? The only theory I came up with was the large % of non-humanoids that are immune.

The geists also seem like a very good weapon to be used, maybe by the cestoids seeking to reclaim their empire or something. Fantastic stuff as usual.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on December 10, 2008, 08:58:45 PM
[blockquote=Steepike]Love the sound of the Uncompyre, Vreeg. That isn't the same guy that was once an investigator/adventurer in Igbar that you showed me, is it? The one with the hobbyt associate? I seem to recall him getting vamped...[/blockquote]

Well, he's already and Uncompyre.  But the PC's havwe a few high-falutin friends in the 'Grounds of Dismissal', and some of them are especially decadent.  Members of the Istar of Igbar, the old families.  Players so often think of themselves as the only thing that changes in a game, so they rarely think that something can happen to part of the 'backdrop'.  I will bge using your eidolon as a template, as being an Uncompyre will increase those tendencies.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 10, 2008, 09:21:31 PM

Out of Character

Oneiroi aren't affected because they're fundamentally very different beings than the quick/ghilan etc - they're more like psychic manifestations than true organic life.

It's possible to resist geist infection so outbreaks, while dangerous, can be contained with difficulty.

I edited the geist entry to reflect/refine this... thanks for spotting those problems, Llum!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 11, 2008, 01:51:28 AM

Out of Character

Added haunts to the grave-spawn posts.  I believe now that most of the major grave-spawn races I'd originally concieved of or alluded to in other sections of the setting have an entry in the grave-spawn post.

If anyone has any ideas for other undead ideas that haven't been included that would work with the setting, that'd be awesome... I want a real menagerie of the dead in this setting.  I am trying to avoid stereotypical undead (classic vampires, liches, ghosts, etc) and undead specific to other games/settings (like morhgs for example, though they would be so perfect in some ways...).  I'm also planning on keeping most if not all undead - indeed the vast majority of creatures in the Cadaverous Earth more generally - corporeal, in order to retain the setting's visceral qualities and to avoid any sense of whimsy or "spookiness" that seems to surround ethereal or incorporeal creatures.

Also, of course, critiques/comments are welcome.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 11, 2008, 06:45:08 PM

Out of Character

I finished a (very rough) sketch map of the setting:
(http://img341.imageshack.us/img341/4494/cadaverousearthmaprn8.jpg)

I don't intend this as a "complete" map.  I may add new regions or fiddle with the geography as the setting continues to develop.

Nomadic, some time ago you'd offered to sketch up a map of the setting - if you'd still like to do so, based on the above sketch, that'd be super awesome.   If not, cool, the map above serves at least to coordinate things geographically and give people an idea of how I see things being laid out.  If anyone spots any contradictions between the map/text do let me know.

Right now I'm finishing up my exam period but I'm planning on writing up the Serrated Coast or possibly the Firesong Marches or the Tallow Plains, western parts of the setting ("The Occident") that have only been mentioned in passing.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Loch Belthadd on December 11, 2008, 08:58:29 PM
To the east could be ancient husk cities that are almost completely abandoned and mabye have vauge signs of what the world once was. If you do put them in they could be another "semi-hope" place.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 11, 2008, 09:26:45 PM

Out of Character

In the far east, the deep waste (from the Slaughter-lands post, the 3rd post down):

The Hecatomb Cities

In the deep waste of the Slaughter-lands are the so-called Hecatomb Cities: ruined metropolises that have been burnt nearly to the ground. Once proud capitols of world-spanning empires now stand empty, their citadels scorched, their courtyards charred and their avenues strewn with ashes and blackened bones. They lie to the east of Etiolation, south of the Shatters but north of Screamwood and Lesion Sea.

Unlike the other ruins dotting the Slaughter-lands, brought down by disasters or the whimpering depredations of history, the Hecatomb Cities were destroyed quite deliberately some time in the very distant past as mass-sacrifices, a great holocaust whose ultimate purpose has been lost. Some suggest the sacrifice was an appeasement to black and insatiable gods, others that it formed part of some incomprehensible ritual. A very few speak in whispers of the Fettering and its unspeakable cost. Whatever the cause, the Hecatomb Cities were burnt with their citizenry trapped inside them, pharmakoi in a grandiose and utterly horrific orgy of flame and destruction.

Now only fuliginous smears remain: even the names of the cities have been eradicated. Yet still, despite the thoroughness of their annihilation, the Hecatomb Cities still harbor a few glints of treasure. Brave scavengers occasionally enter the Cities in search of these glimmers, indestructible relics that withstood the firestorms and the toll of millennia. Few reemerge '“ most are claimed by the Cities, or something that now dwells within them'¦

The Shatters

...There are other machines half-buried in the Shatters, along with the Cullys and Suchol, sister-cities of bronze and chrome grown spotted with rust, their walls collapsed, machine gods broken or insane. Berserk automata, swarms of the fetch, and a handful of bitter demons call these cities home, fallen places of smashed cogs and glyph-graved monoliths and maniacal deities of brass and steam, grown twisted and senile in the lightless gloom of the now-deserted temples.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on December 12, 2008, 12:32:43 AM
The Skyscar sounds very interesting. Just out of curiosity how large an area does that map represent? Maybe compared to a real world example, like would it be similar in size to Western Europe? Or would it represent an area more equivalent to the Americas?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 12, 2008, 12:54:44 AM

Out of Character

The Skyscar is going to be the kind of Northern Lights of the setting.

I hadn't completely decided how large an area tha map covers, but I was thinking the area presented might be roughly equivalent to North America in size.  If Lophius and the swamps are somewhere round Florida and New Orleans then Dolmen might be close to Montreal.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Loch Belthadd on December 12, 2008, 06:34:12 AM
x. Whoops!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 12, 2008, 02:21:08 PM

Out of Character

Heh no worries, there's a ridiculous amount of text posted and those cities aren't all that prominent.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on December 12, 2008, 03:36:20 PM

Steerpike


Out of Character

I finished a (very rough) sketch map of the setting:
(http://img341.imageshack.us/img341/4494/cadaverousearthmaprn8.jpg)

I don't intend this as a "complete" map.  I may add new regions or fiddle with the geography as the setting continues to develop.

Nomadic, some time ago you'd offered to sketch up a map of the setting - if you'd still like to do so, based on the above sketch, that'd be super awesome.   If not, cool, the map above serves at least to coordinate things geographically and give people an idea of how I see things being laid out.  If anyone spots any contradictions between the map/text do let me know.

Right now I'm finishing up my exam period but I'm planning on writing up the Serrated Coast or possibly the Firesong Marches or the Tallow Plains, western parts of the setting ("The Occident") that have only been mentioned in passing.



Sure would love to. The problem is that the image isn't working. It doesn't load on the page and when I go directly there the page times out. If that can be fixed I will see what I can do.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 12, 2008, 04:40:16 PM

Out of Character

Hopefully this one will be visible to everyone:
(http://img178.imageshack.us/img178/8629/cadaverousearthmapny0.jpg)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Moniker on December 12, 2008, 04:45:14 PM
I am just reading through this now. Suffice to say, this is right up my alley. I like what I am reading thus far!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on December 12, 2008, 05:04:22 PM

Steerpike


Out of Character

Hopefully this one will be visible to everyone:
(http://img178.imageshack.us/img178/8629/cadaverousearthmapny0.jpg)



It works... I will see what I can do with it.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 12, 2008, 05:16:09 PM

Out of Character

Only if you like, of course.  Thanks, though!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on December 12, 2008, 07:37:32 PM
Here you are, let me know what you think (and if I messed up anything). The text is all non-contour because that takes a fair bit of extra time. However if you want I can probably fix that.


(http://img53.imageshack.us/img53/8070/cadaverousearthmapty5.png)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 12, 2008, 09:07:35 PM

Out of Character

WOW thanks!  That's so perfect - I wanted a very brown/bleached looking map as opposed to a colorful one but didn't want to be picky, so perfect!  I like the non-contour text, it works very well... thanks Nomadic!  This is going on the front page.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on December 12, 2008, 09:12:08 PM
You are very welcome.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 14, 2008, 06:13:04 PM

Out of Character

I have a general question about setting presentation.  Do you guys think I should use spoiler tabs more extensively to compress the information presented here?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on December 14, 2008, 08:21:09 PM

Steerpike


Out of Character

I have a general question about setting presentation.  Do you guys think I should use spoiler tabs more extensively to compress the information presented here?



Nah, I like it the way it is. Spoiler tags make things more tedious. As it is your organization is pretty good.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on December 14, 2008, 11:03:23 PM
I'll second Nomadic's statement. I like spoiler tags, but your layout is perfectly good as it is now. Even if you did something like Polycarp! and made it all nice and spoilered, I don't think it would really add anything.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 15, 2008, 12:24:45 AM

Out of Character

Cool, thanks for the input guys.  I'll keep it as is.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on December 15, 2008, 10:04:07 AM

Nomadic


Here you are, let me know what you think (and if I messed up anything). The text is all non-contour because that takes a fair bit of extra time. However if you want I can probably fix that.


(http://img53.imageshack.us/img53/8070/cadaverousearthmapty5.png)


he is damn good, isn't he?  Hopefully, he'll move to Boston soon.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 16, 2008, 09:31:15 PM

Out of Character

Heh I found these song lyrics online - they're from a metal band I believe called Extipration.  The song is called "This Cadaver Earth" and shares more in common with the Cadaverous Earth than a similarity in name (I got it from this site (http://www.metal-archives.com/release.php?id=208558)):

"This Cadaver Earth
The day has come
Our planet is completely raped
All soil contaminated
All animals eradicated
No clean air, no fresh water
Death by radiation is near

Chorus:
We'll never learn
We'll never stop
This is what we deserve
This cadaver earth

Dissatisfaction with nature's gifts
Thoughtless exploitation of life
Devouring without hunger
Feeding the greed for more and more
Who said that this planet
Was meant to be our whore

Although we have brains
We never used them
Ignored history and wise people
More interested in consumption
And reproduction

Let´s hope we´ll never find another planet
To populate and destroy
That our destructive appetite
Is extirpated along with the human race
A better universe without decadent
And disruptive ape descendants"


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on December 16, 2008, 09:33:50 PM

Vreeg's Barolo


Nomadic


Here you are, let me know what you think (and if I messed up anything). The text is all non-contour because that takes a fair bit of extra time. However if you want I can probably fix that.


(http://img53.imageshack.us/img53/8070/cadaverousearthmapty5.png)


he is damn good, isn't he?  Hopefully, he'll move to Boston soon.



Nobody likes a kiss up :P


but I am not nobody and indeed such flattery will get you far.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on December 29, 2008, 05:36:11 PM

Out of Character

Added a section on Gods and Religion to the first page.  It's after the post on Oneiroi and Characters (now collapsed into a single section) and before the post on Witchcraft.  It's far from an exhaustive list but it does flesh out some hinted-at but not fully detailed religions/deities.  The Gibbering Goddess, Striga, some of the Driftwood Gods and similar deities will eventually get more treatment.

Happy holidays.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on January 16, 2009, 06:23:59 PM

Out of Character

Added a long vignette to the second post, i.e. the overview/primer of the Twilight Cities, detailing an approach to one of the cities (probably Baranauskas) told from the perspective of a nameless vagabond.  Several races and characters make cameos.

Incidentally, Somnambulon is now about half "done" (to the extent that the other Twilight Cities have been given treatment).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on January 17, 2009, 12:40:51 PM
I enjoyed almost all of this.  The one jar was the mention of 'Golgatha', a real-world referential.

I did enjoy the sense of age an implacablility of the cities, and using the vagabond as a vessel helped make the focus the city.  
Eyes have a lot to do here in this failing world.  Begogggled and jeweled, i notice a focus on the ocular.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on January 17, 2009, 02:34:04 PM

Out of Character

Thanks, I wasn't sure about that myself, so I took it out.

I think I have some kind of ocular fixation.  Eyes creep into my writing a lot, not entirely intentionlly.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Kindling on January 18, 2009, 04:44:20 PM
You know, I think this is the first setting someone online has homebrewed since I first saw Dystopia that I'm actually thinking of running a game in. And, moreover, I think it'd be better to run a game in than Dystopia - it's pastiche of various different gaudy and vividly dark elements comes together in a way that seems much more coherent. It may just be down to presentation, but I dunno... Either way I think next time I can find some poor wretches to let me master a game for them, they'll be starting out with your Lophius adventure hooks!

EDIT: This post is in no way meant to disparage Dystopia in any past or future incarnation. SA, if you don't know by now that I'm a fan of your work, you never will, haha. Just using it as a benchmark for comparison, y'see?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on January 18, 2009, 06:07:37 PM

Out of Character

Dystopia was a pretty substantial influence on the Cadaverous Earth, particularly in some of its imagery.  I think that CE aims lower than Dystopia: it doesn't capture the feel of unfathomably epic or arcane scope that seems to me inherent to Dystopia (the reality-transforming technologies, the quasi-abstract cosmology, and similarly mind-boggling stuff) but it does provide a lot of very nitty-gritty details about neighborhood composition, geography, etc.  I don't trust myself to work too much with abstract or intellectually radical forces in the same way that SA clearly can, so I tend to focus on the visceral and concrete and on pouring as much detail into the world as possible.  This might make a CE game easier to run; I think Dystopia asks more form its players and GM, though it might ultimately be more rewarding.

I'm really flattered that you consider the world play-worthy, Kindling!  If you do get a group together please let me know how it goes and what system you use.

EDIT: Btw, I think Knife's Edge, along with Dystopia (or SA's old gem "Vagrant Story") and the Jade Stage, would be my top choices to run a game in.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on January 19, 2009, 09:00:37 PM

Out of Character

Added a new creature to the Inhumans post: the waxborn.  I think they're probably one of the more horrifying of my creatures.  They're based partially off Chaos Beasts.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: SA on January 19, 2009, 09:37:39 PM
Steerpike, I swear to you, if you ever want to publish this setting for real I will kiss a gorgon for the opportunity to illustrate it.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on January 23, 2009, 02:51:39 AM

Out of Character

Heh that would be seriously awesome.  From what I've seen of your illustrations you're very talented.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on January 30, 2009, 06:58:21 PM

Out of Character

Added a new character to the Characters post (same post as the Oneiroi), near the bottom: Vortenza, a lilix gunslinger.  She's a good example, I hope, of how I imagine "heroes" to function in this setting.  I also thought it was about time to write up a character who wasn't human or once-human.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 03, 2009, 08:57:15 PM

Out of Character

Another smallish update - a storiette in the Witchcraft post.  I felt I'd emphasized the demon-summoning or diabolical aspects of witchcraft in the Cadaverous Earth moreso than the biopunk/"graftpunk" elements, so this vignette is focused on those aspects of "magic."  Vance's magicians' creations and Mieville's Remade are the major inspirations for the graftpunk stuff.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 05, 2009, 03:30:07 PM

Out of Character

Some random, self-indulgent auto-criticism...

I was thinking about Vreeg's comment about eyes and I realized how much I do use ocular imagery, I think generally to express some shift in identity.  Ghilan have cat-slitted eyes, linking them with the night and with a sort of feline grace; geists, milky white eyes, suggesting blindness, motivelessness; shades (and gorgons), black eyes indicating death, shadows, the abyss; eidolons and haunts, green eyes, an eerie or uncanny quality (and for the eidolons a seductive one); zombies have wide and staring eyes, suggesting lack of conscious thought; cestoids, only rudimentary eyes, signifying their alien-ness; hagmen have beady eyes, similarly making them other; leechkin eyes are mentioned to highlight the absence of their mouths on their faces (the mouth/hand conflation representing the leechkin priveleging of deed over thought when under the spell of the thirst); lilix have a profusion of eyes, indicating the spider link but also suggesting intricacy; freedwomen in Dolmen tattoo extra eyes to signify class; subhuman slaves in Dolmen are near-blind, emphasizing powerlessness; the 'violet, doe-like' eyes of Gobble and Slake suggest their outward show of innocence and their intoxicating effect; the Goremother's eyes are 'huge, black, and idiotic,' indicating her fundamentally animal nature; the Scarred Gentleman are distinguished from one another by their eyes.  Nectar also makes a witch's eyes glow golden, suggesting the arcane/numinous but also tree sap.  The Sons of the Peacock tattoo themselves with eyes, and as scholars this seems to link them to knowledge, seeing-into-things.  I'm always describing windows as eyes, usually empty sockets, to link empty ruins to skulls.  I think my use of eyes is probably linked to the whole 'window of the soul' thing, but it was slightly bizarre to realize how much of a motif I was constructing here '“ I was only pseudo-conscious of it at the time.  Eyes seem to show up a lot in the storiettes, too, like the staring infant's eyes of Rowan's creation in the recent vignette, or the glimpse of a soul in the eyes of the automaton in 'Mimesis' in the Skein post.  I was much more aware of creating patterns with things like blood (currency, impulse/instinct, animal urges) than with eyes.

EDIT: now I can't stop seeing them.  Skulls with carnelians or bloodstones in their sockets.   A "sudden cruelness about the eyes," to indicate a man's degeneration into one of the fetch.  An imp like a cherub with compound insect eyes.  The demon in "Inchoate" in the Moroi post that stares into the young witch's nectar-glowing eyes with a sublime and disturbing gaze, two voids.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 07, 2009, 02:42:02 AM

Out of Character

Another character added - Ezekiel Khaan, an eccentric witch who lives outside of Baranauskas and is kind of a macabre Willy Wonka figure, madcap and disturbed.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 14, 2009, 05:52:44 PM

Out of Character

Added a vignette to the opening, a rambling sort of chronicle of an adventurer's career.  Hopefully it serves as a nice sort of opening for the world.

EDIT: also added a bit on the Tallow Plains.  It's in the same post as the Slouching-devil Mountains.

I really need to put all this on the wiki...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 15, 2009, 04:34:33 PM

Out of Character

I was browsing TV Tropes and I came across a near-perfect description of what Cadaverous Earth essentially is: a Crapsack World (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CrapsackWorld) with  Black and Gray Morality (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlackAndGrayMorality?from=Main.BlackAndGreyMorality). The site also identifies the HL2 post-combine universe, the Warhammer 40K universe, Sin City, Sweeny Todd's London, Carnivale, Bladerunner's LA, and A Song of Ice and Fire as Crapsack worlds (most of which had some influence on the setting).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on February 15, 2009, 05:05:29 PM
I'm thinking I bring over a couple of bottles of wine and we make crapsack vignettes and create a beautiful disgust, trainwreck bloody perfection of chaos and form.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 15, 2009, 05:39:38 PM

Out of Character

I do like myself a good drunken trainwreck.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 01, 2009, 07:15:38 PM

Out of Character

Yet another character added - a ghul vagrant/mystic called Old Gran Corpse.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on March 01, 2009, 08:14:20 PM
[blockquote-DirectingGar](2) Many things other than money can be lost in the dim chance-houses of Pelloch, smoky halls where pirates and thieves and other gamblers the breadth of the Cadaverous Earth rub shoulders under the watchful eyes of Dame Fortune's Drakes, with their painted fingernails and porcelain masks and exotic weapons '“ poison-needled rings, punching daggers, bladed bracers, serrated sabres, venom-glands, curved double-swords. The seventeen year-old rake and young magister who prefers only the name 'Gis' has lost his homunculus in a high-stakes Imbroglio match: after betting away his entire allowance (supplied to him by his father, who he refuses to name lest he taint his family honour), his jewelled duelling pistol, and his rings, Gis recklessly continued playing in a desperate bid to win back some of his belongings and so put his ward-bound demon, the imp Botys, into the pot. The small, rat-headed demoness was won in the final game by a hagman elder called Pelquefesch, the high-pontifex of Namoch in Lophius, an aspect whose portfolio includes concepts of death, luck, change, and transformation.

If he returns to Skein without his homunculus Gis will be disowned and cast out into the world without support '“ he will have forfeited the right to call himself nobility. He needs to retrieve his homunculus somehow, but lacks funds to continue gambling and dares not try to steal Botys back. Thus, he is looking very desperately for help. Gis cannot offer an immediate monetary reward for the return of Botys simply because he gambled away all of his money, but he promises his eternal gratitude and a substantial reward (a thousand Skein crowns, equivalent to five thousand drachmi) which he will procure as soon as he returns to Skein and regains access to his father's funds; he also hints that he may find a place for anyone who serves him well in his family's personal retinue, if they wish it. To locate likely individuals to aid his cause Gis has his men prowling mercenary dens and casinos, but he can also be introduced directly '“ a distraught-looking and disheveled wretch in stained finery, wringing his hands and muttering half-sobbed curses, attended by an imposing eunuch bodyguard with a huge scimitar. He is staying at The Wanton Cuttlefish, a disreputable inn in Skaumn, also on Crooked Finger.[/blockquote]

I did love this.  I had a much more normal simialr situation, where the PC's had to deal with an inveterate gambler and his son. but I love the cadaverous touch.   Who takes care of the young man, wjo watches over him for his father?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 01, 2009, 08:29:36 PM

Out of Character

I was going for a kind of Laertes-in-France idea, the idea that this is the first time this young nobleman has been out in the world unsupervised, and the first thing he does is get into major trouble.  He has a retinue with him but he's the highest ranking one.  Thinking about it now perhaps it would make sense to have someone older there with him from his father's household, even if they aren't an authority figure.  But as I'd written it it was kind of a "rich kid in Vegas" sort of thing, where a spoiled brat is let off the lesh for the first time and gets in way over his head.

Perhaps an interesting complication to the plot would be to introduce a spy sent by the father to discretely watch over Gis, as Polonius does with Laertes.    The spy would have to be dealt with (bribed, assassinated, evaded, or whatever) which would add a totally different angle to the otherwise straightforward chain of deals...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 05, 2009, 03:03:52 PM

Out of Character

A new race posted that's been alluded to since the beginning but never completely explored - the mantids, in some ways CE's version of the thri-kreen (though, I hope, quite different).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 05, 2009, 03:29:44 PM
This is still definitely my favorite setting on this forum and one of the few that i have read rather extensively about. I've even shown this to many of my friends when i wanted to show them how awesome settings can potentially be.  Now, i don't actually have much criticism or commenting to give, but i thought i should at least provide you with some praise and encouragement even though you've plenty of that already :p
Oh, and it's annoying that you take all the good ideas ^^
Keep up the good work.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 05, 2009, 07:56:55 PM

Out of Character

Another insectile update - the gorgefly, the equivalent of a dragon for the Cadaverous Earth.  It's posted in a new section, the Bestiary, which is in the same post as the Oneiroi/Characters, right after the Inhumans post.

Thanks very much for the praise, Crow, and I'm glad you're enjoying CE!  Incidentally, most of my best ideas are pilfered or at least heavily influenced from other sources, including some settings on this board...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on March 06, 2009, 06:45:57 AM
I'm not sure what to think about the gorgefly. I love the dire maggot stage but the matured fly seems less impressive. This is the part that strikes me as odd (and not 'odd' in the Cadaverous Earth way):

Quote

They suck energy from the environment around them, vastly accelerating the process of decomposition, as if their very breath contained the essence of decay.

After the deliciously nasty feeding habits of the larvae, this seems surprisingly subtle.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 06, 2009, 01:15:23 PM

Out of Character

Hmm yeah.  The idea was to have a weird binary operating between the maggots/fly - the maggots eat the dead, the flies consume vitality itself, leaving the dead, which the maggots then eat, etc...

Anyone have suggestions about the adult stage of the gorgefly?  Perhaps instead of a giant fly, a sentient swarm of them that can form itself into various psuedo-solid shapes??  Something stranger but less subtle in its feeding patterns?  Any other ways to twist the adult stage?  Or is the idea of a giant fly just not cool enough?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on March 06, 2009, 02:48:45 PM
Maybe the adult gorgefly could be able to control swarms of little biting flies? This could even function as a kind of symbiotic relationship, where the swarms nest inside the giant fly and it can spit them out when attacking. These swarms of flies would then engulf any living creatures and kill them by sucking the life out of them. Or perhaps they literally suck blood/bodily fluids, leaving the victims as dried husks? They would then return to the maw of the gorgefly and regurgitate what they ate, thus feeding the big one.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 06, 2009, 07:39:19 PM

Out of Character

OK, totally revamped the gorgefly.  Now the imago stage is a cross between a Great Unclean One (http://www.forgeworld.co.uk/Chaos/nurgle/guop1.jpg) and a giant fly.  I think it's a lot more grotesque.  I tweaked the mortifaction stuff and incorporated your regurgitation suggestion in a sense, Ghostman.  Let me know what you think.

Also, have a review badge:  (http://img262.imageshack.us/img262/4018/cadaverousearthreviewbamd7.jpg) (http://www.thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?56772).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 06, 2009, 07:45:01 PM
Although i had no problems with the old gorgefly as such, this one is way cool. Only issue i might have is that this reminds me more of a CE pit fiend than a CE dragon (which i think you were aiming for at some point). On the other hand, it does have a breath weapon that beats any old gout of fire or lightning any day.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 06, 2009, 07:53:21 PM

Out of Character

The dragon connection wasn't vital: its still a big, dangerous, decay-oriented and fly-themed monster, which is what I wanted.  It also has the benefit of fitting more with the other insect/arachnid races, suggesting the possibility that they have some common origin point.  Perhaps gorgeflies were developed by the cestoids as living war machines, as mantids may have been as grunts/technicians and lilix as spies, assassins, and advisors?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 06, 2009, 08:20:32 PM

Out of Character

Added the piranha rat to the bestiary.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 07, 2009, 05:36:51 AM
If i had a use for a piranha rat i would want one. Anyway, are they by any chance inspired by naked mole rats?
And not that i usually care this much about realism, but wouldn't they go instinct quite quickly? Seems like they'll either just run around gorging themselves until they die or eat each other and then die.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on March 07, 2009, 06:40:45 AM
Love the new hybrid gorgefly. It's far more terrifying than the old one, and beats it's larval stage in grotesquery.

As for the piranha rats, I don't think they'd be in any danger to go extinct. There should be some survivors left after a pack goes cannibalistic, and a fast breeding cycle should bring their numbers up quickly.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 07, 2009, 09:03:29 AM
Hmm, like a constantly oscillating population.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 07, 2009, 02:02:35 PM

Out of Character

I read that actual piranhas do resort to cannibalism if pressed, which is why I included that aspect.  It would lead to some serious population instability.  I'm kind of imagining the rats almost like an old bioweapon released centuries ago that's sort of grown ubiquitous, like the headcrabs in Half-Life.  And yeah, naked mole rats - especially those in Fallout 3 - were an inspiration.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 07, 2009, 08:40:23 PM

Out of Character

A new race added to the Inhumans section - the jatayi, a tribe of vulture-like creatures only a few hundred strong who survive by telling stories, singing songs, and feeding on carrion.  They're influenced by Hindu mythology and by Mieville's garuda, particularly the librarian tribe.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 09, 2009, 11:49:11 PM
It is a nice setting.

It reminds me of China Mieville; a bit too dark for my personal taste if I were to adventure or involve myself in. But heavens, I might enjoy an "adventurous" romp through the world.

I see a significant difference between Mieville and Lovecraft's works from those of King and the World of Darkness literature. In the former, the world is so rich with wondrous things, that even though they are tarnished, they retain much interest. Also, there is a sense of searching, of at least an attempt to end the madness, to stop the crawling chaos.

In the World of Darkness, there is too much nihilism, regrettably. In Lovecraft and Mieville, the characters actually aren't that nihilistic- except perhaps for Bellis Coldwine... and even she has hope.

I think you may have left some possibility for hope, but I haven't read your literature in the green boxes; only the descritpion of the cities, countries, and races. Your comments, however, suggest that there isn't any hope for the world.

And like two critics in this thread who suggested that hope should exist, I'll petition for you to at least keep that in mind when considering creating more of the growing dread.

One constructive suggestion; in the description of the maze city:
"in some long-forgotten language, a tongue which those who spend too long wandering the endless passages begin to inexplicably babble in."

I love HP Lovecraft- and specifically his Dream Cycle and the Mountains of Madness. The Dream Cycle had a lot of overwriting though. But if I remember correctly, it had specificity. Saying "Some" makes the language seem like a throwaway, not menacing at all. Preciseness is better than wishy-washiness.

"in a long-forgotten language all writ in angles and chasm-opening groves, a tongue which those who spend too long wandering the endless passages begin to inexplicably babble in. The babbles grate on ears and pallets, ripping the vocal chords of the utterers until before long all they can do is squeak and gibber and cry with pain. The gibberers, called Mazeborn, cannot stop and do not stop until they die.

The Mazeborn who escape from the labyrinth are cleaned and clothed by the devoted of the Gibbering Goddess. Their vocal chords are daily healed, but the wretched creatures remain stranded, chained and straining at the walls of the temples of the Gibbering Goddess.

Some listen to the Mazeborn, and others, robed neophytes look to posterity and record the wretched ones' rambling glossolalia."

Best luck!
~ LD


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 10, 2009, 01:20:41 AM

Out of Character

Cool idea!  I'll definitely expand on the mazeborn in the Crepuscle post itself (when I get around to it).  But I love the vocal cord thing.

"Some" is meant to emphasize the age (near-forgottenness) of the language.  You may be right that it undermines the dread, but I want it to be vague rather than precise, as all old things tend to be in the setting - poorly understood and remembered piecemeal, if at all.  There are plenty of other dreadful moments, so I'm not too worried about sacrificing one to advance part of the atmosphere that isn't explicitly tied to the pervasive doom and gloom.

Hope is tricky to pin down.  People live and might attain a measure of happiness; but the world itself is bleak and often dreadful, greatly taxing those who remain optimistic.  Part of the idea is that the world is more repulsive to us than it is to those within it - they don't think twice about undead shuffling through the streets, for example.

The setting definitely does channel Mieville a lot, and I'm trying to avoid outright nihilism.  I want to potentially even hint at an "out of the ashes" arc to the world, though I haven't done much with that yet.

Thanks very much for the review, Light Dragon, and welcome to the boards!  I'm digesting your (fascinating) setting already...

Have a review badge, if you like:  (http://img262.imageshack.us/img262/4018/cadaverousearthreviewbamd7.jpg) (http://www.thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?56772).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 10, 2009, 09:07:42 PM
Ok. Good luck. I'm looking forward to the expansion of the ideas.
 
I miswrote one thing in my past Reply; "I may not adventure in this world, but I would be tempted to read a story set within it." and with that comment being said, I have just completed reading several of your tales.

The opening tale is remarkably executed, because it reads like your table of contents. It moves first though the cities, and the countries, the introduces the classes and the races and the monsters in a flavorful fashion.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on March 11, 2009, 01:23:56 PM
[blockquote=SP]Melmoth the Wanderer

Patron god of travelers, vagabonds, peddlers and other merchants, sailors, aeronauts, and kindred wanderers of every stripe, Melmoth has few formal temples apart from small roadside altars and shrines at the gates of the Twilight Cities. Nonetheless he is a popular deity amongst those who spend any time traveling the vast and lawless wastes of the Cadaverous Earth. Melmoth is a solitary and melancholy figure usually depicted as a robed man whose face is obscured by a cowl. He is sometimes conflated with Kain, a legendary murderer marked by some long-forgotten elder power to forever wander the earth, though this connection is extremely archaic. Some iconography of the deity depict him with two faces or with an oroborus ring.

Melmoth counts roads, winds, waves, doorways, circularity, stories, journeys, error, order and chaos-in-order, gnosis, eternity, rebirth, and the ecstatic sensation of pure wanderlust as part of his portfolio. Those who believe in the Wanderer mutter prayers to him before setting out on a journey or when they arrive at a destination, leave coins at wayside shrines, and thank the deity if they evade trouble on the road. He is invoked by those who are lost or unsure, who are physically or metaphysically confused. Melmoth is opposed to concepts of mortality, finality, eschatology, or true purpose.

Particularly devout worshipers of Melmoth often claim to have met the god passing down the roadside. They report an enigmatic encounter in which all feelings of burden are lightened and their sense of worry is resolved. The see the purity of the road, an expression of a sublimely meaningless existential pattern, a grand cycle in which birth and death are mere punctuation marks, illusory moments of end or beginning on an unending series of paths.[/blockquote]
I get the feeling that the priesthood is also nomadic and unsettled, and that their spellcraft and holy texts might reflect this bent.
I can also see Melmoth as being more a need-based, polytheistic worship, as opposed to a jealous 'worship me above all others' type.  Though the bits of philosophy strengthen it a bit, as does the large-scale chaos and finding chaos in order.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 11, 2009, 05:53:56 PM

Out of Character

That would make a lot of sense.  I should ass some more about priesthoods... thanks, Vreeg!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 11, 2009, 10:43:10 PM
Hmm.. I was reading over
Baranauskas, specificially this part

Quote

Red sandstone is a common material for these older buildings, and many bear the remnants of frescoes or murals, now chipped and mutilated. A layer of dust and grime adheres to the walls and the winding stone streets.
Also in Barrow Scrub is an entrance to the subterranean city of Riqius-Erebu, requiring the would-be scavenger to navigate a maze of caves and hewn corridors in the bowels of the Chelicerae Mountains before reaching the chthonic maze that was once the capitol of the cestoid Imperium.[/quote] Seem to come the closest to the idea of "dungeons."

Best,
~LD


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 12, 2009, 12:13:59 AM

Out of Character

Quite far down in the thread are some adventure outlines, some of which include dungeons (a cavern system, a ruin, an ancient necropolis...).  But I will definitely come up with more.  Any ideas?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 12, 2009, 12:46:42 AM
Yes! I read the first adventure (well the first 1-4) and I enjoyed it greatly. But as another commentator stated, while those are very exciting, it might be nice to also have a few short "adventure hooks."

I'm not sure this fits exactly (I may be mixing a few of your themes), but here's an idea:

Quote

Named for the huge ivory obelisk at its center in the district of Per-Bashti, the Talon is a medium-sized island noted for its glassworks and its flea-bitten residential district of Skullford. The obelisk was probably once the tusk or claw of a great beast, though the rest of the creature is absent; carved into its white bulk are numerous winding corridors and chambers.


Adventure Hooks
- The Deadman is awakening. Long ago, a being of malevolent hate was imprisoned within the obelisk. But recently, scratching and digging by countless Hagmen crawlers, looters, indigents, and squatters have disturbed the Hexmagic that kept the Deadman imprisoned. Day by day, parts of the deadman detach from where they had been sealed within the Obelisk, causing the structure to shake.

Mages of the city have tried to bind the Obelisk together with curative spells; Engineers have tried to support the building, but every day it leans more and more. Calls have gone out to evacuate the building, but there are many who will not leave.

Will you discover the horrid secret of the Obelisk's leaning before the Deadman escapes and destroys the city? You may find hints scrawled on the Obelisk's ivory walls, written in long-dead languages; you may hear children sing of the old fairy-tales, or encounter a drunken seer with the foresight. Once the dread is discovered, the Deadman must be stopped. Will a ritual end his emergence, or will the cicada-sleeping Deadman burst forth and bring with him nightmare.

---
Shoot. Ideally that would have been only one paragraph. Maybe you get the idea though?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 12, 2009, 12:54:10 AM

Out of Character

Sweeeet!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 12, 2009, 06:33:32 AM

Steerpike

The Shatters

... The huge automata called the Behemoths slumber in the Shatters, their limbs broken, immensely prolix clockwork brains inert. ... Generations of scavengers have picked several clean, leaving only huge steel skeletons; others are more intact....

Might just be me, but these would make for some cool alternative dungeons as well. And then of course there is Gloam-Tor which at least fills the loot criteria (if you can find it).

EDIT: question, btw, what races are considered available to players?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 14, 2009, 12:52:46 PM
In addition to my previous questions, i have two more:
1) Is the Suppuration directly inspired by the Scar from the novel of the same name?
2) Have you thought about expanding the world beyond the borders set on your map? Or is the world just completely broken aside from the Twilight Cities?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 14, 2009, 01:45:44 PM

Out of Character

I would leave the races available up to the GM's personal preferences.  If a player thought he could do justice to a cestoid or a leechkin and make that character individual and unique then I'd say go for it.

I was generally envisioning humans, ghilan, shades, hagmen, lilix, jatayi, naghini, mantids, and zerda as the central "playable" races.  High-powered campaigns might have gorgon, zerher, and demonic PCs, and particularly dark, mature games of a certain sort might have eidolon PCs.

The Suppuration is definitely inspired largely from the Scar, but also the Hellmouth in Buffy and the "Thinnies" of The Dark Tower.

There could be a world beyond the Twilight Cities, but its largely unknown.  Some despairing individuals have been known to set out in great ships across the Fevered Ocean in hopes of finding a better world.  Few if any have ventured beyond the Suppuration - I haven't thought much about that region much.  Perhaps an incredibly alien civilization, non-human and incomprehensible... the focus is definitely on the seven last cities.

Have a review badge, if you'd like one, by the way, if I haven't offered you one already: (http://img262.imageshack.us/img262/4018/cadaverousearthreviewbamd7.jpg) (http://www.thecbg.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?56772)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 14, 2009, 02:40:38 PM
You haven't so thank you :)
Does the map and the detailed locations stretch largely from pole to pole since you only comment on the western and eastern possibilites of an expanded universe? And although you obviously have planes are any of them traversable (in theory)? The tone of the setting would probably be better off if you can't travel planes, but have you thought about it?
And Naghini as playable??


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 14, 2009, 02:41:12 PM
...I'm certain I speak for all when I request that we're eagerly awaiting another installment! :)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 14, 2009, 03:24:44 PM

Out of Character

Naghini would, I think, be really fun to play.  Challenging, but fascinating... almost like playing two characters, or a character with multiple personalities.

Planar travel would be super hazardous. The "planes" of CE, at least thusfar explored, are the "Hell-dimensions."  These other dimensions are not Hellish in the same way that Christian cosmology has a Hell, or even the DnD cosmology; they are simply other planes that the inhabitants have branded Hells (and their inhabitants demons, which is just a different word for "otherworlder" or "extraplanar creature" in this setting).   That said, it might be possible to breach the membranes between worlds in a two-way fashion and explore some of a Hell-dimension - it just wouldn't be advisable, and would probably be quite difficult.

The northern reaches of the setting have yet to be detailed but there are going to be arctic-themed creatures, barbarians, and an eldritch aurora (the Skyscar).  The southern portions are mostly oceans and include the Bluebottle Archipelago where the naghini hail from.  Perhaps I'll think up some other large islands/small continents for these southern reaches.

It's term paper season so updates are slowish.  I'm currently 2000 words into the Skein adventure outlines, though, and have some unfinished material on Crepuscle and Somnambulon... hopefully I'll find time to do at least a mid-sized update soon.  Good to know people aren't tired of the setting!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on March 14, 2009, 05:42:38 PM
Not tiring.  Very much enjoying it.

I have a similar situation with the inhabitants of Celtricia calling any outside a demon,    


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 14, 2009, 07:05:56 PM

Quote

It's term paper season so updates are slowish. I'm currently 2000 words into the Skein adventure outlines, though, and have some unfinished material on Crepuscle and Somnambulon... hopefully I'll find time to do at least a mid-sized update soon. Good to know people aren't tired of the setting!

Okay, I'm looking forward to seeing what you have!

Good luck.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 19, 2009, 11:22:56 PM

Out of Character

As promised, the Skein adventure outlines have been posted (you can find them right after the description of Skein itself.  I'm proudest of the first and final adventures (arcs 1 and 4); the former is sort of Pinocchio meets The Silence of the Lambs and is one I've been wanting to do for a long time - in fact there are a couple of references to its "villain" scattered throughout the rest of the setting.  The latter is a kind of subverted dungeon crawl, where the item to be retrieved is alive...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 23, 2009, 12:45:58 AM
Glad to see the update!

Quote

with a clockwork eye called Queros.

How does it report the information back to his brain?

I like how 1 and 2 were integrated.

I've been considering the setting. If I were to run it, it seems a Cthulu or Hero system would be most appropriate. Somehow it doesn't seem like D20 would be the best system to simulate the skills. I have considered the White Wolf Storyteller System, but it seems that too much "modifications" would be need to be made to the skills there... a d100 system like Cthulu or Hero would probably be best. Also, in those systems it is more likely that the characters can die- thereby suiting a more "realistic" or gritty system.

I have not played Shadowrun so I cannot comment on its system.

...I think that covers all the major designed systems that would appear to be applicable to this project.

What do you think Steerpike? What would be the most suitable platform to run your game?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 23, 2009, 12:56:55 AM

Out of Character

Clockwork/cybernetics are kind of same/diff in CE... think the steampunk bionics of Thief or even Warhammer 40 000: as in this awesome video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQlXurcQ4tk), near the beginning, or  this one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGZA-KDy87Q) at 2:04.  Not terribly realistic physically, maybe, but aesthetically pleasing.  Think "clockwork" microchips with a wire infrastructure to convey electrical signals.  Or, as I'm inclined to do, stick your fingers in your ears and repeat "it's magic" over and over.

What system to use is a big question for me... I'm inclined towards FUDGE/FATE for its flexibility, but I'm not sure yet.  I have no experience with d100 systems but I know Cthulu has some detailed madness mechanics that might suit the setting well.  I think the whole thing could be converted to d20, but it would take a lot of effort.  I'm inclined more towards 3.5 than to 4E based on what little I've seen of the latter (its lack of Vanceian magic, for example).

EDIT: You convinced me that clockwork isn't the right term; I changed it to "mechanical."  Basically I just want clunkier and more nakedly mechanical technology with all its guts exposed rather than streamlined cybertech.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 23, 2009, 04:17:53 AM
Well, system-wise i think Unhallowed Metropolis could be worth considering seeing as the settings have some similarities. Then again, UnMet has pretty much become my universal answer to setting questions so just take it as a suggestion (i know you've looked at it).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 24, 2009, 12:45:06 AM

Out of Character

Is UnMet under the open gaming license or whanot?  Not that I'd particularly care for my own use, but if I was going to go to a lot of trouble to write up CE with a gaming system, I'd want to use something open source as it were, as I know FUDGE is...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 24, 2009, 01:00:45 AM
Re: The Mechanical Eye
-Interesting, thanks for the imagery!

Re: the System
- I can't say I'm too familiar with FATE/FUDGE, (or UnMet) I'll have to look them up.
- Do you really think Vancian magic would be best for your world? Perhaps a Mana based system might better fit its themes? (you would know better than I, though). Or something different, like a "sacrificial" system where players damage themselves or others to create spells?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 24, 2009, 01:18:57 AM

Out of Character

It might not be straight-up Vancian, maybe a hybrid of Vancian and mana/"numina"-based.  I was thinking something close to the Wheel of Time d20's channeling system, where overchanneling is possible but can lead to damage/madness.  I like the idea of discrete spells that are named much like Vance's spells.  The whole memory thing could be dropped, though, I suppose, its just that I want every spell to be built around specific formulae and glyphs and such rather than simply being a manifestation of arcane power; I want it to feel ritualistic and grounded in lines and characters.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Kindling on March 24, 2009, 06:50:57 AM
I think the idea of a kind of Sacrificial-Vancian spell system might work. Something with, as you say, clearly set spells, a la Vance, but where the spellcaster's level and/or willpower equivalent stat determines how many spells he or she can use, and how often, and how powerful they are, but that this amount of mana (or whatever equivalent name you may choose) is delibrately insufficient (maybe becoming closer to sufficient at higher character "levels"), forcing spellcasters to step outside the safe zone and take some kind of psychic damage as a result, in order to be properly effective... I see that as fitting quite well with the tone of the setting, as it leads to that kind of classic tampering-with-forces-beyond-mortal-understanding mentality, whereby in order to produce any significant magical effect without spending an unacceptable (to most PCS, anyway) amount of time carefully spacing it out so as not to get hurt, the spellcaster has to risk his or her sanity, or perhaps more....


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on March 24, 2009, 09:53:23 AM

Steerpike


Out of Character

It might not be straight-up Vancian, maybe a hybrid of Vancian and mana/"numina"-based.  I was thinking something close to the Wheel of Time d20's channeling system, where overchanneling is possible but can lead to damage/madness.  I like the idea of discrete spells that are named much like Vance's spells.  The whole memory thing could be dropped, though, I suppose, its just that I want every spell to be built around specific formulae and glyphs and such rather than simply being a manifestation of arcane power; I want it to feel ritualistic and grounded in lines and characters.


ok.  Discrete spell names and mana are not mutually exclusive at all.
Was the nectar the source of magic here, or am I having a different flashback?  I'm just asking again so that I can try to wrap my head around what the glyphs are doing...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 24, 2009, 10:52:16 AM

Out of Character

Witchcraft is all very muddled at the moment.

Basically, here's how I have it sketched out:

Lots of different groups of spellcasters have developed systems of glyphs, runes, sigils, incantations, or other symbols that describe and evoke magic.  These are akin to "magical languages" or scientific systems.  The idea is that these systems create a kind of "magical text" that can then be interpreted or "read."  It doesn't matter what the system/language is so long as its internally consistent and cohesive.  This is similar to the theory that scientific knowledge is never discovered but only described; that in a sense we create scientific knowledge, and various metaphors for it.

It's like in M. John Harrison's novel Light, in which various different engines can all produce FTL travel even though they assume competing and even contradictory systems of physics: some assume a Newtonian base, others run on quantum logic, others assume string theory, some that space is a foam and "waves" must be caught and ridden, some that its smooth and must be glided along, etc.  Even if that's nonsense in terms of real scientific knowledge, that's how magical systems work in CE.  They're all equally valid, in the same way that all languages are equally valid - its not possible to say, for example, that French is a "truer" language than Russian, anymore than you can say that Moroi's nigromancy is truer than leechkin shamanism.

What matters, then, is a set of symbols.  Some are spells (hexes) which use incantations; others are more ritualistic (wards) and use glyphs.

The next step is to invoke arcane energy into the set of symbols you've selected.  This involves channeling "numina" (mana, basically) from the aether, which is sort of the realm of the imagination or the collective unconscious (the Suppuration being a bleed from the aether into the physical world).  This is akin to giving the symbol meaning, interpreting it.  It doesn't have magical meaning until you've "read" it.

Nectar facilitates the channeling of numina.

Therefore as presented right now, witchcraft combines some basically Vancian concepts (forumlaic, systematic magic with discrete spells rather than sorcerous channeling of nameless magical energy; systems of magic must be learned and cannot simply be intuited) and a mana system (you need numina to power your symbols).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on March 24, 2009, 11:54:47 AM
OK.  will get a better look tonight.
(Psychology has this issue...many competing ways of viewing how the dynamic works...none are right, per se, they are just different)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 24, 2009, 01:10:38 PM

Out of Character

Wow I somehow missed Kindling's post... that suggestion is pretty much exactly in line with how I see magic as functioning.  You learn a set of spells as in Vance, but you can only channel so much numina, and attempting to channel too much leads to madness.  Nectar cataylzes channeling and makes it easier, but overdose is quite possible as well.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 24, 2009, 01:42:49 PM
Okay, Channeling too much leads to madness- that reminds me of how White Wolf has a sort of "point break" system in Mage.

IT seems like that would work well for your world!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 24, 2009, 02:28:21 PM
Maybe focus more on the aspects of mental fatigue and over-use rather than an expendable pool. So instead of being able to "run out" of numina, it just becomes progressively more dangerous.

EDIT: i think Iron Heroes did something like this; i'll look into it at some point if you don't have the book yourself.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 24, 2009, 03:34:09 PM

Out of Character

Hmm this is tricky; I keep rewriting this post with different ideas for mechanics.

The idea I want, I think, is that without nectar the risk of going mad is pretty slim.  You reach your mental threshold after a certain amount of numina has been channeled, and you can't normally exceed it.  It's like running out of breath.  Nectar would allow you not to alter your threshold but to transgress it, to run through the pain (and potentially rip your muscles).  Therefore you can keep channeling, or channel higher level spells, but you'd incur a risk of madness and debilitation.  No one has a personal numina pool: only the amount of numina they can channel from the aether.

In mechanical terms I envision a hybrid of Vancian/mana based magic.  You have to learn spells and memorize them (you can't fit an unlimited number of spells in your head, nor do you gain them organically or intuitively like a DnD sorcerer) but they don't disappear after casting as Vancian spells do.  Instead, what gets added up is a number of numina points leading up to your personal limit, which would be a function of mental endurance.  Nectar allows you to exceed that limit, but at your peril.  In practice, the more powerful spells would require much more numina than almost any caster could naturally provide.  Hence, nectar becomes vitally important to cast anything significant.  It also means that casting powerful spells is inherently dangerous.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 24, 2009, 03:56:15 PM

Out of Character

Added a creature to the Bestiary - the xsur, CE's take on the wyvern or the yrthak.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 24, 2009, 05:12:18 PM
Sufficiently alien i'd say. The sonic weapon does call up images of yrthaks although my mental image is decidedly more ray-like.
Any clues as to what the Cultivar Technocracy and the gullfolk are?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 24, 2009, 06:13:17 PM

Out of Character

The gullfolk (or sirae) have been mentioned once before, rather esoterically.  They're a race of vaguely harpy-like humanoids (gull heads and wings for arms) who dwell along the southern parts of the Serrated Coast and specialize in a song-based form of witchcraft to lull their prey into submission.  They're technologically primitive, tribal, and cantankerous, often attacking ships and travelers.  I'll probably give them a complete writeup at some point.

The Cultivar Technocracy is one of these innumerable little civilzations I'm trying to hint at... the idea was they made these massive living structures (similar to the magisters' towers in Skein) but then died out, leaving their edifices to die and then slowly decompose.  When I do a writeup for the Serrated Coast I'm going to go into them more fully.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 25, 2009, 03:45:20 PM
I think one of the things that really adds to your setting is that you hint at all this more or less strange stuff even when you haven't written anything up for it yet. Makes your setting seem extensive and sprawling and intriguing as it leaves a lot of questions answered. Sounds like you do this on purpose as well, which is quite clever.
Also, you use names and words to the same effect by picking extremely arcane words (hadn't even heard words like fecundity before). Helps giving it all an air of added mystery.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on March 27, 2009, 09:50:39 PM

Steerpike

The Cultivar Technocracy is one of these innumerable little civilzations I'm trying to hint at... the idea was they made these massive living structures (similar to the magisters' towers in Skein) but then died out, leaving their edifices to die and then slowly decompose. When I do a writeup for the Serrated Coast I'm going to go into them more fully.
(http://z.about.com/d/gospain/1/0/i/-/-/-/mini-107-0716_IMG.JPG)[/spoiler] Did you have those in mind when you wrote it?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 28, 2009, 02:52:48 AM

Out of Character

Hieronymous, yes (and Giger, and Dali).   The latter, no... but those are pretty sweet.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on March 29, 2009, 10:07:02 AM
I'm having trouble with Numina being the 'source' of power, or at least the only source of magical energy.

[blockquote=SP] Witch-addicts daily inject themselves with the throbbing golden sap known as nectar, and daily they go mad in droves, or burn from the inside out from overdose. Leechkin moan for blood from their rasping mouths or rampage through the southern swamps in thirsty rage, while lilix and wealthy ghilan libertines drink it from overflowing and antique chalices. Hideous and gray-skinned eidolons garb themselves in youthful glamers sustained through the vitality of their prey, while demons sup on more abstract energies.

Everyone wants something. Everyone must feed. Even as it rots this world hungers and consumes[/blockquote]
SO I have no problem with Blood magic/hunger being a another format/system/methodology for accessing Numina.  But I am getting a vibe for actual soul-stealing or life energy, which seems to be different from the 'collective unconsious' ideal of Numina.  And this also DOES seem to fit into the hideously attractive gestalt of CE.
The Souls/life energy COULD merely be a magnifier

Note: yummy

"Oh, honey, I used to try to cast that same 'PoisonGuard' without a sacrifice, and I was tired for DAYS, but once the Verlumite church taught me to add in a envenomed Mantid child killed in the ritual, I can cast it and still go sell some girls to the Witch-Army at night."
, or it could be it's own source, but your setting reeks of those willing to use the energy of others rather than their own.
Also, in reading your requirements for the system, and the hybrid nature of it, some of your major limitations are
    How many spells a creature can keep in their head

    How much Numina they can channell at once

 
How long do you intend to have it take to PUT a spell in a person's head? Will they have a spellbook with a lot more spells than they can use at once, and have to memorize them?  Or once they learn a spell, they don't forget it, but they can only cram so many in their head?  ANd what about scrolls or readiong from books?

And how fast does the ability to pull Numina recharge?  I have been using a formula lately that allows a good % to come back quickly, but the last 20% or so  comes back much slower.  DO you like it to be Vancian in that it all comes back after rest, or do you want to make the spell use more strategic?  Perhaps the use of nectar does not help the ability to recharge, so after casting more than you can naturally, not only do you risk mental damage, it takes longer to come back (unless the caster uses more nectar...risking even more damage...?)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 29, 2009, 11:11:18 AM
If we continue the language allegory, it seems like an obvious consequence that some languages are better at communicating a specific idea than others are. Just as there can be languages that have no pronouns or temporal conjugation, there can be magical traditions where the imbuing of a word takes a lot of time or where there is no way to say "mind". So you should probably consider what ideas each magical language is best at transmitting. Shamanism, for example, is probably a slow language, but also a fairly accurate one. Might also be one where the symbol has a capability of striking back at the caster if "the spirits" are angry.
Separate vancian spells clearly make the most sense for the system, and i think it makes the most sense to have them be non-scalable so that every spell is as specific an entity as possible. More numina doesn't make you able to "boost" your spells but rather makes you able to fire more of them off and continue for longer. This also meshes better with more visceral and violent systems where they don't use hit points. (those systems seem to fit the system best)
For incantations, would you load them with meaning (invoke them) before use, and then pronounce the words with their associated meaning later, or do you invoke at the same time as you cast? That is, is the difficult and dangerous part of the procedure part of preparation or casting? To have it all be one fluid process would probably be the easiest and most meaningful as nectar would be injected in battle/at time of casting instead of in the morning during preparation.
So within each language, every spell has an associated complexity (some words are easier in some languages than others). This complexity should probably have an associated cost and difficulty class of casting. Failures here would lead to either fatigue or insanity (temporary or chronic). Ingestion of nectar would increase all difficulty classes but also give you access to a bigger pool of numina to draw from. Alternatively it could reduce the DC but follow a different table for failures so that the failures are more dramatic and dangerous.
I do not think preparation in the vancian way makes sense. They don't store the spells or anything. They just know a set of "phrases" in their magical language, each one requiring some breath (numina) to say. Learning a new "phrase"/spell would take time and effort, all depending on the language, and would probably be factored into some kind of XP/advancement system. You could set the DC's slightly higher, though, and have the player ready a few spells by reading up on the theory and thus reducing the DC. So he has continous access to all his spells, but can only clearly remember the few he recently read about.
The spells are insanely dangerous as far as i can read, so i think that a non-nectar caster should only be able to cast a few of them (at least as far as combat hexes go). Glyphs should probably be a bit less costly. Are mages singularly devoted to their skill like in DnD where they can't wield weapons and do most everything through magic? Or is magic something that they only use on occasion when things get tight or it seems extraordinarily useful?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 29, 2009, 12:12:24 PM

Out of Character

Ooh, lots more fun with magic!  Thanks so much guys, for helping me start to really hammer this out...

My first responses: [blockquote=Vreeg]SO I have no problem with Blood magic/hunger being a another format/system/methodology for accessing Numina. But I am getting a vibe for actual soul-stealing or life energy, which seems to be different from the 'collective unconsious' ideal of Numina. And this also DOES seem to fit into the hideously attractive gestalt of CE.
The Souls/life energy COULD merely be a magnifier.
Also, in reading your requirements for the system, and the hybrid nature of it, some of your major limitations are

How many spells a creature can keep in their head


How much Numina they can channell at once


How long do you intend to have it take to PUT a spell in a person's head? Will they have a spellbook with a lot more spells than they can use at once, and have to memorize them? Or once they learn a spell, they don't forget it, but they can only cram so many in their head? And what about scrolls or readiong from books?[/blockquote]The passage you cited was intended as an overview of addiction in CE rather than one of witchcraft; blood wasn't originally intended as a spell ingredient.  Hence the soul-feeding is also not a spellcasting ingredient: demons just eat that kind of thing.  That said, I loved your hilarious aside about sacrifices, so I'm starting to reconsider the blood/power thing... it seems like I might be verging on Kindling's Knife's Edge if I do, but maybe I can tweak it more.  We'll see.

Casters would carry around a spellbook like DnD wizards, but can only fit so many hexes at once into their brains.  Its worth mentioning at this juncture that I envision a lot of magic as ritualistic, to use the 4E terminology - that is, slower and less combat-driven.  Memorizing would be handled similarly as in DnD.  Scrolls/reading is trickier.  I like the idea that for invocation to be effect you can't be reading from a script: you can't give meaning to words if you're just parroting them.  I like the idea of scrolls, however, which puts me in an awkward poisition re:the metaphysics of witchcraft.[blockquote=Vreeg]And how fast does the ability to pull Numina recharge? I have been using a formula lately that allows a good % to come back quickly, but the last 20% or so comes back much slower. DO you like it to be Vancian in that it all comes back after rest, or do you want to make the spell use more strategic? Perhaps the use of nectar does not help the ability to recharge, so after casting more than you can naturally, not only do you risk mental damage, it takes longer to come back (unless the caster uses more nectar...risking even more damage...?)[/blockquote]I almost like the idea, as I think Cataclysmic Crow suggested, that it doesn't have to recharge.  There's just a limit that every character has that they can't cast over, like a spell level, and nectar allows them to transgress it.

If I was to do a recharge rate it'd probably be tied to dreaming rather than sleep.  Dreams and the aether are definitely connected somehow in CE: the oneiroi are nightmares-made-flesh, and they emerge from an aether bleed.  So perhaps a caster needs to dream to recharge their numina-channeling abilities - if I went down that route.  [blockquote=Cataclysmic Crow] Posted:  Sun Mar 29 2009, 09:11AM
If we continue the language allegory, it seems like an obvious consequence that some languages are better at communicating a specific idea than others are. Just as there can be languages that have no pronouns or temporal conjugation, there can be magical traditions where the imbuing of a word takes a lot of time or where there is no way to say "mind". So you should probably consider what ideas each magical language is best at transmitting. Shamanism, for example, is probably a slow language, but also a fairly accurate one. Might also be one where the symbol has a capability of striking back at the caster if "the spirits" are angry. [/blockquote]This is brilliant!  I was thinking of something vaguely along the same lines, but hadn't tied it to the metaphysics... I like this idea a lot.  Very Sapir-Whorf.  [blockquote=ibid.]Separate vancian spells clearly make the most sense for the system, and i think it makes the most sense to have them be non-scalable so that every spell is as specific an entity as possible. More numina doesn't make you able to "boost" your spells but rather makes you able to fire more of them off and continue for longer. This also meshes better with more visceral and violent systems where they don't use hit points. (those systems seem to fit the system best) [/blockquote]A deadly system would definitely suit CE well in some respects.  I think CE players would have to be up for having their characters transformed/made mad/killed/diseased etc regularly.  Kind of like Cthulu players have to be wary of these things.  The problem is that this tends to discourage character development because no one wants to put energy into creating a chartacter.  The ideal middle ground, I suppose, is having a deadly system in which the PCs are very cautious, but still take enough risks to have fun. [blockquote=ibid.]For incantations, would you load them with meaning (invoke them) before use, and then pronounce the words with their associated meaning later, or do you invoke at the same time as you cast? That is, is the difficult and dangerous part of the procedure part of preparation or casting? To have it all be one fluid process would probably be the easiest and most meaningful as nectar would be injected in battle/at time of casting instead of in the morning during preparation.
[/blockquote]Its gets channeled during the casting, not the preparation.  With hexes, the "object" of invocation is the uttered word; with glyphs, a written letter.  Its never the pre-existing words on the page... except that maybe that's just what scrolls are!  Aha!  Problem solved![blockquote=ibid.]So within each language, every spell has an associated complexity (some words are easier in some languages than others). This complexity should probably have an associated cost and difficulty class of casting. Failures here would lead to either fatigue or insanity (temporary or chronic). Ingestion of nectar would increase all difficulty classes but also give you access to a bigger pool of numina to draw from. Alternatively it could reduce the DC but follow a different table for failures so that the failures are more dramatic and dangerous.
I do not think preparation in the vancian way makes sense. They don't store the spells or anything. They just know a set of "phrases" in their magical language, each one requiring some breath (numina) to say. Learning a new "phrase"/spell would take time and effort, all depending on the language, and would probably be factored into some kind of XP/advancement system. You could set the DC's slightly higher, though, and have the player ready a few spells by reading up on the theory and thus reducing the DC. So he has continous access to all his spells, but can only clearly remember the few he recently read about. [/blockquote]Yeah, something like this idea could work.  Basically what I want to take from Vance is: a) magic is a linguistic/mathematical system, b) memory is involved because in order to tap into that system, you need to have understood a spell, c) you can only memorize so many spells at once, and d) cool spell names.  I don't think its necessary to "burn" the spell out of your brain as Vance does after casting.  But if you try to memroize a new spell, over your limit of spells memorizable, you'd have to ditch an old one.  So somewhere between spontaneous and non-spontaneous casting, in DnD terms.[blockquote=ibid.]The spells are insanely dangerous as far as i can read, so i think that a non-nectar caster should only be able to cast a few of them (at least as far as combat hexes go). Glyphs should probably be a bit less costly. Are mages singularly devoted to their skill like in DnD where they can't wield weapons and do most everything through magic? Or is magic something that they only use on occasion when things get tight or it seems extraordinarily useful?[/blockquote]I'm imagining a pretty organic and probably classless system, so either style of magic-use could easily work.  If it was a classed sort of system it'd probably encourage mulit-classing heavily.  I don't think I'll enforce the spells/armour issue because that always seemed contrived, and because heavy armour doesn't real work in a world with so many gunpowder weapons (I know that bullets can sometimes be stopped by heavy armour, but basically heavy plate isn't around much in CE).

Thanks again, guys... this is really, really, helpful!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on March 29, 2009, 12:49:38 PM
You're saying that a visceral system has issues with players not being devoted enough to their character, but that mostly depends on focus. Games like UnMet (yeah, i keep on going on about it...) focus on the downfall of the character rather than his ascension. They either die a heroic death or live to see both experience points and corruption. It is an inevitablity that characters become more and more corrupt and will eventually die a violent death or go insane. This seems to be in line with the thoughts behind your system. This also makes for wildly imaginative characters as players aim for a specific type of corruption.
How pulp-ish are you envisioning CE? Have you taken a look at Iron Heroes? with some sinister modifications it *might* fit in a way.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 02, 2009, 09:05:14 PM

Out of Character

Two smallish updates.

One is a new god in the "Gods" section - Baubo, goddess of obscenity.  I filched her whole (I wonder if anyone knows from which pantheon, without looking it up??).

The other is in the Bestiary: the Bloodwood Tree, inspired by Kindling's Fleshingrove and the creepy tooth-tree in Life of Pi.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on April 03, 2009, 12:44:32 AM
Is she from Discworld?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 03, 2009, 01:52:14 AM

Out of Character

No, but great guess.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on April 03, 2009, 02:16:40 AM
I think i saw something similar to the bloodtree in a monster manual at some point as well; it also grew servant fruits. Just black plant-men who'd hunt for it. Your description of them as foetus' hanging from the branches, though, was infinitely more creepy than anything the MM could ever evoke.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 03, 2009, 11:49:15 AM

Out of Character

Hmm, now I want to find the DnD version... glad that the foetal fruit is creepier, though.

EDIT: found it - the orcwort (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/mm2_gallery/88268_620_97.jpg).  It's pretty cool, has a few major differences.  It produces black, orc-like servant-fruits, but it doesn't create copies in the same way that the Bloodwood does.  Its servants are also entirely vegetative rather than hybrids.  Similar ideas but different in execution.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on April 03, 2009, 12:57:55 PM
Greek mythology. Anything remotely messed up or obscene can be somehow tied to the Greeks.

The bloodwood tree is pretty cool though it brings rise to some questions.

1. If they constantly get swarmed by leechkin why aren't they nearly extinct? Or if they just eat 1-2 leechkin at a time, why isn't there some Great Bloodwood with an army of leechkin fruit minions ready to conquer the world? (Think evil Great Deku Tree)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 03, 2009, 01:09:45 PM

Out of Character

Yeah she's an obscure greek goddess, well done!

I like the evil Deku Tree thing... cool idea.  A cool adventure might feature a series of leechkin attacks that are pinned on a local village that has long been peaceable; in fact, the attacks were from tree-spawn leechkin, generated from a Bloodwood Tree that has been picking off members of the settlement one or two at a time.

Presumably the swamps are big enough that enough Bloodwoods survive swarming leechkin to create a semi-stable ecology.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on April 05, 2009, 12:03:44 AM

SP


Fettergeists are covered in writhing chains from head to foot, with only their faces (turned black from strangulation) and clawing hands revealed. They can control their chains at will (or else the chains move with a life all their own) and will attempt to subsume their victims in these chains: if the target is overcome the chains detach from the geist and seem to propagate, slithering around their new host's body. The previous geist retains their own chains and feeds the new geist with fresh links seemingly generated from the grave-spawn's own body. The chains are all-invasive, forcing their way down a victim's throat and curling round their necks to throttle them. Often fettergeists' limbs bend at strange angles, their bones shattered during the transformation. A possibly related but less common variant of the fettergiest is the bramblegeist, covered in thorns and vines rather than chains (these fell spirits are found in the Screamwood and in the southern swamps).

Sorrowgeists are a strange breed of grave-spawn whose searing tears can transform any who taste them - pitifully sobbing horrors who lure victims to them with their plaintive cries only to seize their faces with cold, white hands and forcibly weep upon them. Their cheeks are carved with hideous scars '“ their tears are acidic '“ and their eyes are eaten away; their bodies are pocked with burn-marks. A few particularly zealous members of the Order of the Weeping Lady have been known to keep sorrowgeists bound in the lower levels of their temples as avatars of their patron: those who ascend to the highest levels of the Order expose themselves willingly to the geists in order to be transformed into the purest expression of grief.


Very sad.

- I may have missed it, but why haven't the Geists' taken over yet?
- Is there any easy way to kill them?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 05, 2009, 03:35:52 AM

Out of Character

A few reasons...

1) Really, the geists (and the fetch, and the oneiroi, and the demons leftover from the Membrane Wars) have taken over the Cadaverous Earth  - probably around 99% of it.  Apart from a few isolated settlements the Twilight Cities are the only places left where civilization endures.

2) Infection isn't instant.  Exposure does not necessitate automatic transformation.

3) Like most diseases geist infections can be quarantined and contained.  The infection is not airborn.  Within the cities, geist activity is usually confined effectively to the lower levels of the undercities.  Geists aren't disciplined so they'd tend to wander upwards singly, and so most can be eliminated quickly before they spread their infections.  That said, geist outbreaks can occur, and they're very dangerous when they do.

4) Geists aren't invulnerable.  So far I wasn't planning on giving them any special weaknesses, but bullets would always work, as would hexes.  If anyone has any suggestions for geist weaknesses, that'd be awesome...

5) There are lots of ways to defend against geists.  For cacklegeists/gibbergeists, magical silence would basically neutralize them (or alternatively, a hex that'd deafen someone).  Sorrowgeists have to get in very close to infect others and so can be neutralized at a distance.  Fettergeist chains could be fought off, grappled, sundered, and otherwise deflected.  Armour would probably also help greatly against them.

EDIT: on further reflection, I decided to make other grave-spawn more resistant to geist infection.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on April 05, 2009, 02:07:42 PM
Thank you for the explanation.

Perhaps the Geists could be destroyed by the cleansing purge of fire? So, when a district is infected with geists, the city burns that district to the ground. Even though they get rid of the geists, they destroy hundreds of years of city. Through reading the words of the text, it sort of seemed difficult to actually defend against the Geists by any conventional fashion.

It might be useful to put how to defend against geists somewhere near the monsters' descriptions in the first post.

Best! ~LD.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 05, 2009, 02:32:55 PM

Out of Character

Good call.  I wrote up a paragraph on containing infection and slaying geists.  Thanks for the input!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on April 05, 2009, 02:39:01 PM

SP

While large areas of the Slaughter-lands have been overrun completely with geists the malignant creatures are for the most part kept (tenuously) contained underground in the Twilight Cities. Common defences against cacklegeists and gibbergeists include silencing or deafening hexes; fettergeists and bramblegeists must concentrate their efforts on a single individual, leaving them open to attacks; sorrowgeists must close in to infect their prey, meaning that they can be picked off at a distance. Geists are not especially invulnerable, though they are unworried by pain. As with plagues or inundations of the Red Rain, citizens of the Twilight Cities will torch thoroughly infected areas rather than risk an epidemic. Since fires are very dangerous in urban centers, however, this tactic is used only when absolutely necessary; ideally, geists are herded into an abandoned building and simply locked in; the door will then be warded and marked as haunted.

Oh, pretty neat. That clears up many questions. I like the idea of "haunted" buildings. So I guess Geists can't bash down doors, or smash open windows? Or are the windows all boarded up from the outside? Can people go mad if they sleep near a "haunted" building? (Ex: Hearing the wail of a cacklegeist AKA "Banshee") And why would locking up the geists be the preferable way of dealing with them instead of killing them with bullets, hexes, fire, or swords?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 05, 2009, 03:40:36 PM

Out of Character

I kind of think of geists as idiots, like zombies are usually presented.  They don't start smashing windows unless they get really riled up.  I imagine windows would be boarded up and the buildings would be selected to be as soundproof as possible in the case of cacklegeists/gibbergeists to prevent accidental infection.  I think geists would ideally be destroyed altogether but since its difficult to get close to them without risking infection, and lighting fires in the middle of cities is usually a very, very bad plan, locking them up would be the most preferable alternative to destroying them.

All grave-spawn don't like sunlight, which is one reason geists tend to stay underground and why they tend to be encountered either at night or in ghost-towns and the like in the Slaughter-lands, rather than simply roaming the desert.  They're not destroyed by sunlight, though - they just won't venture into it voluntarily if they can avoid it.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 05, 2009, 04:52:02 PM
(Removed)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 05, 2009, 04:53:24 PM

Out of Character

Added sections on Fashion to all of the Twilight Cities so far.  Basically, people from Moroi tend to dress somewhere between Victorian (http://www.austinchronicle.com/binary/de57/SweeneyTodd.jpg) Goths (http://images2.ggl.com/articles/5522/death.jpg) and punks (http://www.jkrweb.com/comics/images/Hellblazer1.jpg).  Those from Baranauskas dress in motley patchworks, old military uniforms, and typical post-apocalyptic scavenger duds (http://www.benjaminharlow.com/alloftheabove/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/mad-max-poster-1.jpg) - real ragamuffin types - plus they're all whacky  (http://www.dakkadakka.com/s/i/at/2008/12/Codex_Imperialis_001-15125822-500px.JPG)cyborgs (http://www.bookpalace.com/acatalog/Blanche4.jpg) anyway.  Those in Lophius dress like typical (http://i226.photobucket.com/albums/dd287/HOMEM-AZUL/John_Blanche_Vampire_Hunter.jpg) pirates (http://z.about.com/d/movies/1/0/E/T/O/pirates32007prev.jpg) and also tend to have lots and lots of tattoos (http://www.minnpost.com/client_files/alternate_images/1128/mp_main_wide_TattooConvention.jpg) and piercings.  In Skein, they dress more or less like Restoration libertines (http://www.independentcritics.com/images/libertine%20SPLASH.jpg), though the nobility all wear Venetian-style  (http://www.wallpaperbase.com/wallpapers/photography/carnival/carnival_1.jpg)masks (http://fc26.deviantart.com/fs14/f/2007/059/7/3/Venetian_masks__Three_Ladies_by_fabula_docet.jpg) and have a definite touch of Aubrey Beardsley (http://www.woostercollective.com/Aubrey_Beardsley_1894_Salome.jpg) exoticism to them.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on April 05, 2009, 07:56:48 PM
I never realized that the Cadaverous Earth was populated almost exclusively by Johnny Depps :P

Pretty interesting really helps picture how the people would look. It seemed to me that beards, long hair and headgear were very common being almost staples.

Now I can understand why everyone wants a good hat, I'm somewhat surprised about the hair thing, personally I had imagined a lot of people going with short hair. Being a barber doesn't seem like a sound career choice :p



Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 05, 2009, 08:40:51 PM

Out of Character

Haha wow I didn't even realize how many times I'd used him... that's awesome.

I figure since people had long hair more commonly in Europe's past, its not unreasonable to imagine the inhabitants of CE having a similar disposition towards it.  Notably the inhabitants of Baranauskas don't have long hair, nor do the working class (the majority) of people in Skein, who actually have more of a buzz cut thing going on (those who do have longer hair wear it in buns).  Its more common in Lophius and Moroi (pirates and addicts).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 06, 2009, 12:43:45 AM

Out of Character

Some more images (without Johnny Depp):

Moroi: Neo-Victorian (http://nadyalevphoto.com/St0len.jpg).

Skein: a masque (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/66/Pantheon_Masquerade.jpg), a magistra (http://www.virtualtravelog.net/entries/2003-06-Ada_Lovelace.jpg) (actually Ada Lovelace, Byron's daughter).

Baranauskas: a  graftpunk (http://scpaaa.bay.livefilestore.com/y1p_V5dl1UbbHjgOn6hIpacYB4p8CQU6BqlBjAiYJU3kkl7olJlEmwH9MI1Whrr7XHz8h5s74DahuI/john_blanche_warhammer_055), a servitor (http://www.marktedin.com/FullMagicJpegs/a06_ThrullToken.jpg).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on April 06, 2009, 05:53:25 AM
Seeing how you see, the setting becomes a little more into focus.  
What of the middle class?  i ask because while they are not the normal adventurers (but it is fun when they take that role) they are the backdrop of much of the world, and I wonder how they fit in.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 06, 2009, 05:28:56 PM

Out of Character

Good call.  I added a section for the middle class in Skein, where class is the most stratified.

Working on Crepuscle on and off.  It's exam period so updates may be slow... or possibly accelerate depending on how much I procrastinate.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 23, 2009, 05:25:18 PM

Out of Character

Not a major update (exams, plus I've been writing a longer fiction piece), but I did find this illustration I thought I'd share, that almost perfectly resembles how I imagine the lilix to look, except that she should have six arms:  link (http://www.at-43.com/images/stories/media/galleryconf/AR_001.jpg).  She's some sort of spider-elf from a predominantly french wargame called Confrontation (which looks pretty awesome... many of the minis would work really well for CE).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on April 24, 2009, 07:37:27 PM
Wow, that actually looks a lot more humanoid than I imagined them. :P


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: SA on April 24, 2009, 08:50:58 PM
I love how disturbingly, alienly sexy it is, which is very much how I imagine the lilix: the marriage of my arachnophobia and my S&M fetish.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on April 25, 2009, 02:15:09 AM

sparkletwist


Wow, that actually looks a lot more humanoid than I imagined them. :P


Yea I always imagined them to be a bit more like the depictions of arachne with a humanoid top and a spider bottom.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on April 25, 2009, 06:09:59 AM
My mind also had them look like some weird kind of spider-human hybrid.

EDIT: hmm, and then lilix are the elves of your campaign... interesting


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on April 25, 2009, 07:31:42 AM
Wow, they look pretty much what I thought they would look like (though I thought they were bald for some reason).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on April 25, 2009, 12:26:47 PM
Looks a lot like many of the girls (and some of the guys) we had at my days at the club.
Ah, the good old days.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 27, 2009, 01:36:17 AM

Out of Character

I like that most people imagined them as more monstrous... hopefully they're simultaneously creepier and more playable as more human-like creatures.  They are the closest thing to elves in CE, being based partially on drow - decadent, matriarchal, eerily graceful, alien, and aloof to the point of xenophobia...

I've been thinking more about Dolmen and I like the idea that originally the whole city was a huge necropolis that the lilix found and colonized, building their own cobweb-like structures atop - like spiders who discover a crypt and move in.  Some of the lower levels would still contain the ancient crypts/tombs/etc from the necropolis, perhaps with trapped/warded sections that still haven't been plundered.

I also want humans to still be a major demographic in the city, most prominently the freedwomen - only female slaves can be freed, gaining a pair of extra eyes tatooed on their foreheads as a sign of their liberty.  I think the whole subrace of humans for Dolmen will be albinos, with poor eyesights and very fair skins after centuries underground, with a kind of almost girmlock quality to them.

I'm also debating whether to have a competing ant-like race inhabiting the Chelicerae Mountains, who'd be religious fanatics whose theocracy approaches a hive-mind...

What do you guys think?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on April 27, 2009, 09:35:50 AM
...Hive-ants seem a little too cliche. If you go down that route I hope you are able to make it unique.

But I have faith that you will be able to make the race interesting; throughout everything you have done, your work has been great!

--
[On a slightly related note, I found this listing of Mieville's "Races of Bas-Lag" to be interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Races_of_Bas-Lag. I suppose you may have seen it before, but still, it provides good inspiration.]


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 27, 2009, 09:57:30 PM

Out of Character

Dolmen added (near the bottom of the first page); I'm not totally finished with it yet, and still have to write up a storiette for it.  I'm trying to go for a cross between Menzoberranzan and Byzantium, a very Machiavellian city with lots of intermingling of politics and religion.

Some visuals I had in mind for the architecture:

Gothic  (http://www.wga.hu/art/g/granet/crypt_sm.jpg)necropolis (http://www.bytom.pl/grafika/2007/12/28/1198793248/1198858276.jpg)

Hive  (http://www.john-howe.com/portfolio/gallery/data/media/21/The-Dark-Tower.jpg)City (http://wh40k.lexicanum.de/mediawiki/images/7/75/PalatineR.jpg)

...and the fashion:

lilix (http://img148.imageshack.us/img148/724/brom1gp.jpg)

mask (http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y29/psychfarey5150/Art/Brom/Brom--missmuffet1.jpg)

courtier (http://www.bromart.com/gallery/StinksofFetish/images/bloodritual1.jpg)

assassin (http://www.lineage2-online.com/gallery/albums/concept-art/org_pic_darkelf_1.jpg)

priestess (http://mythicmktg.fileburst.com/war/us/home/images/conceptart/CA0807_23.jpg)[blockquote=Light Dragon]On a slightly related note, I found this listing of Mieville's "Races of Bas-Lag" to be interesting: URL I suppose you may have seen it before, but still, it provides good inspiration.][/blockquote] Yeah I recently found a copy of the Bas-Lag Gazeteer, put out by Dragon a few years ago with 3.5 stats for msot of Mieville's races, plus a nice description of New Crobuzon... I really want to run a Bas-Lag game now.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on April 27, 2009, 10:04:02 PM
I thought the Lillix tended toward heavyness not being slim (yet curvy) like those pics? Or was I just mistaken?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 27, 2009, 10:08:00 PM

Out of Character

Lilix females do tend towards roundness/heaviness, but it was hard to find suitable pictures; those outfits do reflect the general feel of fetish I want the lilix to exude, though.  The men, however, are bred for a kind of pornstar physique, since they're mostly just sexual objects and soldiers for the lilix gynocracy.  Human slaves do all of the actual labor.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on April 27, 2009, 10:50:13 PM

Quote

Yeah I recently found a copy of the Bas-Lag Gazeteer, put out by Dragon a few years ago with 3.5 stats for msot of Mieville's races, plus a nice description of New Crobuzon... I really want to run a Bas-Lag game now.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on April 28, 2009, 12:54:19 AM

Quote

As such much of Dolmen's architecture reflects its original purpose. The lower tiers of the city are grim and skeletal with buttressed mausoleums and vaulted chambers, many of them adorned with grotesque apotropes; crypts have been gutted and converted into housing, shops, and shrines. Ancient halls carved with niches for the shrouded dead or piles of skulls '“ the remains of faithful servants, preserved alongside their masters '“ have been refashioned as marketplaces and warehouses. Above these dreary edifices are the fanciful structures of the lilix themselves, stone like spun spidersilk, built in the style of the so-called Cobweb-Baroque. These buildings surmount and append the original necropolis, rising in tiers above it '“ the palatial homes, harems, banquet halls, and temples of the city's elites. Below, in the troglodytic depths of the city, are the great cavern-pens of the lilix's albino slaves; mingling with these rough-hewn chambers are crypts of Llech-Urgol left unplundered. Below even these are the city's sewers, which deposit Dolmen's waste into the subterranean reaches of the Chelicerae Mountains, to be consumed b y the lonely cestoid tribes that still linger deep below amongst the shattered ruins of the old Imperium.
The seditious underground newspaper [/quote]
This part seemed to be omitted. I admit I am intrigued. Has Runagate-Rampant appeared here? ;)

Good Work!
~LD


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 28, 2009, 01:45:38 AM

Out of Character

Shoot, I was going to fill that in but forgot... damn.  And yeah, very RRish... (now fixed)

As for the silk thing, lilix don't have spinnarets, so they can't produce it in substantial quantities.  Ironically its the Moth-Kings of Skein who have the silk monopoly in the Cadaverous Earth.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on April 30, 2009, 02:16:35 AM

Out of Character

Added Spiderchatter names for the Tiers, since I felt they lacked the flavorful names of some of the other cities.  I'm trying to go for something between Lovecraft's Rhleyian and Drow... sort of unpronoucnable with too many s's, z's, and ch's.  Each tier is named after its respective number in Spiderchatter.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on May 01, 2009, 12:48:34 AM

Quote

As for the silk thing, lilix don't have spinnarets, so they can't produce it in substantial quantities. Ironically its the Moth-Kings of Skein who have the silk monopoly in the Cadaverous Earth.

Well what I was wondering is if a race worshiped spiders, why they would not have bred spiders which do have spinners that are strong enough to bridge the gap between the buildings? It would seem to make sense that they would be obsessed with spider-weave... especially if their towers are completely designed with spider art.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 01, 2009, 05:14:42 AM
Maybe they can't. And elements that pervade a culture don't have to be omnipresent. Spidersilk-everything seems to me to be overdoing it.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on May 03, 2009, 01:44:59 AM

Out of Character

Hmm good point about the specially bred spiders, I hadn't considered that.  The scripture of Verlum is a spider-silk tapestry, so maybe that'd be a good way to incorporate the silk - as a decorative material, and perhaps to shore up holes and do repairs.  Households could keep giant spiders as humans keep cats and dogs... as in this painting (http://www.ferretchick.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/lady-with-ermine.jpg).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on May 03, 2009, 07:02:08 PM
Sounds like a good solution Steerpike!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Kindling on May 04, 2009, 04:20:59 AM
Surely if they worship spiders, then making the spiders, specially bred or otherwise, do menial construction work for them would be pretty anathematic?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on May 04, 2009, 02:59:38 PM

Out of Character

Perhaps there are castes within the spiders, and/or only male spiders are permitted to do any sort of work, with female spiders being kept purely as pets.

I like the idea that spiders are sacred animals, not to be harmed, with strays just wandering the streets of Dolmen, susbsisting off blood donated by the clergy or those citizens wishing to curry the favgour of Verlum.

I'm going to have to write up a detailed entry on them, for sure.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on May 04, 2009, 03:43:14 PM

Out of Character

Added a section on spiders to Dolmen.  Thanks everyone for all the input!!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on May 04, 2009, 08:25:05 PM

Quote

      
Venomous spiders of both sexes are occasionally used for assassination, placed in the room of a would-be target and then directed through eldritch means to attack. If the target awakens they are placed in an exceedingly awkward position '“ either kill the spider and thus suffer the consequent penalty for their blasphemous actions, or attempt to escape without killing the spider, a potentially difficult prospect, especially if the cunning assassin has blocked their chamber door.

Cruelly amusing. :)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on May 04, 2009, 08:34:59 PM
The fashion part shows you at your visual best (I am NOT going to get into you ocular fetish again), though I found myself wanting a description of the fashions and conventions of the upper class to complete the picture.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on May 08, 2009, 07:14:58 PM

Out of Character

I added an opening vignette to Dolmen.  It's a little bit more character-driven (I hope) than some of the others, though like most its designed to evoke a sense of place first and foremost; it features a member of Dolmen's lilix underclass (not a slave), which hasn't recieved as much attention...

EDIT: I also addeda  little bit on upper class fashion, as Lord Vreeg requested.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 10, 2009, 03:14:39 PM
I was wondering, what are the limits of magic in your setting? What can you achieve?
And how many different schools of magic are there? (you are "slightly" Mieville-inspired, and as you are well aware he has a hell of a lot of different thaumaturgic and semi-thaumaturgic disciplines)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on May 11, 2009, 03:10:41 AM

Out of Character

Most individuals in CE would have trouble achieving really grandiose things (nothing in the region of a Wish spell, or a True Ressurection, for example - or planeswalking), but those sorts of things are probably theoretically possible.

For magic schools, I haven't totally decided yet, and will probably write up detailed school descriptions, but basically I was thinking something like these:

fleshcraft: grafting, animation/reanimation, some necromantic effects, etc - mostly for construct creation or augmentation, slow and ritual-based.

diabolism/demonaltry/demonism: demon-summoning and similar conjuration stuff, like circles of protection or binding - again mostly quite slow.

elementalism: simialr to Mieville's elementalism in some respects; conjuration, basically, or giving animacy to normally inanimate phenomena, rather than previously animate phenomena.

nigromancy: mostly offense hex-based witchcraft and curses; "black magic."

glyph-graving: mostly defensive glyph-based witchcraft.

shamanism: variants practiced by tribal individuals, with a smattering of healing/offensive spells and basically whatever'd be useful for a medicine man/elder figure.  Auguries and entrail reading a must.

mysticism: lilix system, mostly about divinations and voodoo-esque assassin witchcraft.

soul-tinkering: like fleshcraft, but less material.

gutter-witchcraft: the most common sort - petty magic and cobbled-together glyphs and hexes stolen from many sources.  Mongrel occultism.

I don't think these "schools" will be nearly as discrete as DnD schools but as in DnD, in pratice most witches would probably borrow from a number of traditions.  So a magister of Skein might specialize in diabolism but would probably know a handful of battle-hexes as well, perhaps...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 11, 2009, 10:48:42 AM
But these all rely on the basic hexcraft ideas right? (maybe except for demonalatry). Do you have anything that doesn't rely on those premises? Not that this isn't more than enough :p


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on May 11, 2009, 03:54:52 PM

Out of Character

Yeah, all witchcraft is based around the same basic mechanics - if The Dying Earth's magic is meant to be an extension of mathematics, The Cadaverous Earth's is meant to be an extension of semiotics.  You draw (or speak) an essentially arbitrary symbol, then infuse it with meaning, an act of reading concretized through the "invocation" process.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on May 12, 2009, 11:00:18 AM
yeah, i was just thinking you might have some lesser disciplines such as Mieville's subvocalurgy, the Hidden Moment, or crisis science.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on May 12, 2009, 04:34:15 PM

Steerpike


Out of Character

Yeah, all witchcraft is based around the same basic mechanics - if The Dying Earth's magic is meant to be an extension of matehmatics, The Cadaverous Earth's is meant to be an extension of semiotics.  You draw (or speak) an essentially arbitrary symbol, then infuse it with meaning, an act of reading concretized through the "invocation" process.


So to extend the metaphor, learning magic is more like learning an intricate and alien written alphabet/language?  And when you say it is essentially arbitrary, you are saying it that the invocation [or language) imparts the meaning and power?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on May 12, 2009, 04:57:51 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Cataclysmic Crow]yeah, i was just thinking you might have some lesser disciplines such as Mieville's subvocalurgy, the Hidden Moment, or crisis science.[/blockquote]Yeah, I should think up more of these.  Skinchanging comes to mind, which is just shapeshifting - I hadn't thought up all the details of this one yet, but maybe I'll make it grisly and ritualistic in some way.  I love the Hidden Moment stuff in Iron Council...[blockquote=Lord Vreeg]So to extend the metaphor, learning magic is more like learning an intricate and alien written alphabet/language? And when you say it is essentially arbitrary, you are saying it that the invocation [or language) imparts the meaning and power?[/blockquote]Learning witchcraft in CE is much like learning an alien language - or more accurately, learning a set of symbols and "formulae" or texts in a particular language (usually, but not always, Hextongue).  This language is arbitrary in the sense that there's nothing essential about the particular language that makes it "magic"; you're correct in asserting that it's the act of invocation (or interpretation) that imparts meaning and thus eldritch power.  The witch therefore corresponds both to a kind of author/poet figure, a speaker or utterer or writer who creates symbols, and to a reader or critic, who interprets those symbols and imbues them with meaning.  A glyph or spoken hex is the signifier, its arcane effect is the signified.

The words still "matter" in the same way that words "matter" when we read.  When we read Keat's Ode to a Nightingale, we're looking at a series of totally arbitrary marks on a piece of paper with no relation to a nightingale whatsoever; the word "nightingale" is not essentially tied to its signified.  If we all suddenly decided that the word nightingale didn't signify a bird but, in fact, an automobile, there's nothing about the word itself to prevent such a transference.  However, because we've agreed on a set of meanings, we still read Ode to a Nightingale as signifying a narrative about a nightingale (among other things).  We don't, for example, interpret it as a poem about a penguin (although, arguably, there's nothing to actually stop us from doing so).  We must, however, still perform an interpretive act to relate the arbitrary signs that comprise the poem into a sequence of meanings.  Invocation in CE just throws in the arcane energy of "numina" into the equation to give words a different sort of power.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 17, 2009, 12:23:32 AM
If you may humour me... I decided to experiment a bit writing like how I believe one of your albinos might think.

Kiss

Kiss
black... bitter... death... cold...
the spiderwalker moves with spindly legs
in and out and around the walls.
i watch and smile; a wolf-one crawls between my lip.

i climbed to the top, on web of silk
thin
emaciated i moved, 'gainst wall
i was in the caverns
often i looked up
wanting
like the spider
to climb

i was a spider
i scurried hence
had others squeeze
me
till i was thin

backs turned, i slithered up
chains fall loose when
flesh does sag

up i climb
hard to see
hard to sense

up i go
hear spiderchatter curse
up i go
hear humanslicer clang
up i go
like
a spider
so i climb
arch my back
hiss and tssssssiiikkk

then
i fall
black... bitter... death... cold...
until i wake,

now
i
lie
in
spider web
with
my breed.
covered

in
silken
cocoon
i
do
rest

close
my eyes
as
spider-mate
tucks
me in.
romance
this is.
i feel
her
kiss.

and
...
...
i
s
l
e
e
p
.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 17, 2009, 12:40:11 AM

Out of Character

Niiiiiice!  So creepy.  Really a poem as much as an interior monologue.  I think the second stanza, with its strange pining, is my favorite.

[blockquote=Crow]yeah, i was just thinking you might have some lesser disciplines such as Mieville's subvocalurgy, the Hidden Moment, or crisis science.[/blockquote]Xell is going to have a lot of stuff like this, I think.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 19, 2009, 05:10:04 PM

Out of Character

Added a section on Leechkin Beggary to Lophius, just beneath Fashion/Architecture.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 19, 2009, 05:42:13 PM

Out of Character

...And also a new character (also leechkin), Mr. Rasp, at the end of the Characters section.

EDIT: and added a minor race, the zerda, to the Inhumans section.  The closest thing CE has to a "cute" race.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 19, 2009, 07:17:00 PM
The more I read about the foxfolk, the more I want to read about the Jinni... from carrion-Jinni to others.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 19, 2009, 07:52:37 PM
>>"accompanied by four strikingly unique bodyguards,"
How unique? I'm interested.

"and has perfected a technique unknown amongst other leechkin for speaking in two distinct languages simultaneously."
Very interesting. Though I wonder how this would be useful? How does he practically use this? Translation perhaps is the only use I can see for it?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 19, 2009, 08:44:23 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Ligth Dragon]>>"accompanied by four strikingly unique bodyguards,"
How unique? I'm interested.[/blockquote]I added them in: "'“ Yesheleb with his plethora of unlikely limbs and his fluid pugilism, the cloaked, mercenary thing that merely calls itself The Cowl, the lilix swordsman Illiszan of Weave-Haven in Crepuscle, and red-masked Chaa-Ibl, witch-priestess of the Bloodletter '“".

The double-speech thing would be to address individuals speaking different languages simultaneously.  If you're meeting with a magister from Skein and a hagman priest simultaneously it'd probably come in handy, to save time at the very least.

As for the jinni, they'er still a little inchoate at the moment, but they're probably going to be a race of daeva.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 20, 2009, 08:08:00 AM
What kind of terrain is the Firesong Marches? You refer to it as a desert, which seems odd considering the name; is it simply a classical dune desert or does it also consist of more swampy elements?
How big are the Zerda? Are they ewok-sized, or are they just equivalent height to short humans/young adults?
Their turtle-culture reminds me of the Chelona turtles from Iron Council.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 20, 2009, 02:20:41 PM

Out of Character

Actually "marches" means boundary zone or border, whereas "marshes" means swamp/wetland.

Damn, I forgot about the Chelona... Mieville steals all the good ideas.

And zerda are quite small, halfling sort of size, so I guess roughly the size of an ewok.  They're not my absolutely favorite race, but they've been tehre since day one, and could be quite fun (and frustrating for PCs) to have in an adventure; also just good for adding more diversity to a cosmopolitan crowd for that whole Star Wars Cantina/Troll Market effect...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 20, 2009, 03:23:24 PM
Oh, my mistake...
Yeah, i know exactly what you are talking about with that Cantina feel. I have even had points in my own setting creation process where i have tried aiming for that. Although i might have digressed a bit at the moment; my city of Tatterdemalion was made expressly for this purpose though.
And the Zerda do sound... strange. They feel a bit out of place, yet not so much that it hurts the setting.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 20, 2009, 04:41:53 PM

Out of Character

Yeah they're not quite so centrally on the theme of death/decay/grotesquerie as the other races; they're not bloodusckers or anthropomorphic eels, or scions of a wormfolk empire, or undead.

On the other hand, it might be a good thing to have at least one or two races that aren't completely centered around degeneration and collapse, to give the world at least some variation from its single note of darkness...

Their first appearance was in a story I was writing whose world prefigures the Cadaverous Earth (it wasn't a dying earth, but it was a world that'd just been decimated by a demonic war).  Shades and tenebrals were the same thing in that world, and were hostile demonic forces kind of like the borg; there was a great scene, if I do so so myself, of a zerda getting possessed by one of them, so the zerda have their origins as a sort of comic-relief/Chew Toy (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheChewToy?from=Main.ChewToy).

Actually, I still have the passage I was talking about:

Excerpt

Despite Nechu's barked warnings and near-intuitive understanding of the desert, their journey to the necropolis was not without incident.  They entered the ruins of a desiccated manse, a few decaying walls and a row of broken columns, an obelisk reduced to a shapeless lump by sandstorms; Ilahna, sensing a node of memory in the once-palatial shell, lapsed into the trance-like state of chronoleurgic hypnosis, chasing echoes like fluttering bats in some unfathomable mnemonic cavern.  Suddenly Siril bristled, hooted with avian-feline precognition.'

The creatures stepped from black shadows cast by decrepit age-eaten walls, like shades of the manse's former inhabitants: four shriveled bodies jerking towards them, fleshy marionettes on unseen strings with blandly staring eyes and fingers curled into claws.  Three were once human, the fourth a foxfolk with matted fur.  Abyssal parasites pulsed with queasy rhythms beneath their host-puppets' necrotic gooseflesh, rippling subdermal presences.
   'Tenebrals!' Julian snapped with fearful recognition, his own extraplanar symbionts quivering under his skin as the listless horrors emerged from the gloom, treading with slow, exaggerated movements, ridiculously theatrical.  'Their hosts are dead - they're looking for new bodies!'

(there was a long, rather tedious fight scene here)

...Now the tenebrals counter-attacked: the closest began to ripple at a greater tempo, its slack mouth gaping open, jaw distended, till with a horrific spasm the thing vomited forth a gout of the demoniac shadow-stuff, a writhing projectile aimed at Uzrik.  Intuitively the northerner rolled to the side, snapping off another shot; the tenebral's living missile hit Nechu instead and immediately attached itself, smothering the foxfolk's terrified barks with choking tendrils.  The other host slumped to the ground but now the thing that once was Nechu turned with claws bared, leaping towards Eldred.  Siril pounced and tore Nechu's head from her body with a single swipe, hissing and withdrawing as the tenebral inside spurted out black and predatory.  Abruptly Ilahna snapped from her trance and screamed with sudden recognition.  Eldred, emptying the rest of his ammunition into the walking corpses, holstered his pistols and reached for his sword as the remaining tenebrals closed in.
.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 20, 2009, 06:34:27 PM

Quote

Ilahna, sensing a node of memory in the once-palatial shell, lapsed into the trance-like state of chronoleurgic hypnosis, chasing echoes like fluttering bats in some unfathomable mnemonic cavern. Suddenly Siril bristled, hooted with avian-feline precognition

You do like fancy words don't you? :p


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 20, 2009, 06:48:13 PM
I like the excerpt.

When writing, is the smorgasbord of unique words present in your head, or do you pause and open a thesaurus?

It seems that you are not only very good at imagining entire scenes in your head, but also are good at imagining them in a way that other human beings would not intuitively conceive.

I wonder how you would write a newspaper article reporting on something mundane, such as a musical concert, or a comedy show.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 20, 2009, 07:03:15 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Cataclysmic Crow]You do like fancy words don't you?[/blockquote]I blame Mieville, Lovecraft, and Mervyn Peake.  They pretty much converted me to the lush approach, and convinced me that so-called "purple prose" isn't necessarily a bad thing, the way that some claim.  Most of my tastes skew this way: I'll take a gnarly gothic cathedral over a streamlined, minimalist, post-modern  structure any day.[blockquote=Light Dragon]When writing, is the smorgasbord of unique words present in your head, or do you pause and open a thesaurus?[/blockquote]Mostly present.  I've used a thesaurus before, but I don't use one much anymore; I remember one story I wrote when I was about seventeen - a really awful piece of work, actually, though quite long - where I looked up just about every word roughly synonymous for "shadowy" and "ornate," and pretty much absorbed those words into my vocabulary straight from the thesaurus.  The aforementioned writers have certainly expanded my vocabulary, though... like, I certainly wouldn't have used the word "cyclopean" before reading Lovecraft, for example.

I tend to write a bit more sparingly about the mundane, but it probably gets suffused with bits of purple prose.  My travel journal from Italy, for example, contains lots of lines like these: "At this point the pull of so much ancient grandeur was becoming almost oppresive."


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 20, 2009, 07:58:53 PM
Thank you for the answer.

>>My travel journal from Italy, for example, contains lots of lines like these: "At this point the pull of so much ancient grandeur was becoming almost oppressive."

Oh that's sad. :o. I would have thought it would be difficult to tire of the Obelisks, the Mausoleums, the Capitoline Hill, the Colosseum, and St. Peter's. Rome is an amazing city. (But I suppose this discussion is off topic here.)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 20, 2009, 08:14:48 PM

Out of Character

Oh, I totally loved Rome - adored it.  That line is really the exception to the rule; there are always parts of every vacataion where you "hit the wall" or become momentarily jaded with things... that was a few days in, and I was trying to cram too many things into a single day, instead of organically deciding what to do or see.  I just thought it was a good line in terms of how I might describe something that does't have to do with post-apocalyptic fantasy weirdness.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 24, 2009, 04:29:55 PM

Out of Character

Added a brief bit about the Serrated Coast to te Occident section, and a very small storiette to Baranauskas.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 24, 2009, 05:58:03 PM

Out of Character

Also addded jinni; not sure if I'm happy with them.  They went through some other versions, and I think I like this one the best.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 24, 2009, 08:53:43 PM

Steerpike


The jinni '“ also called the vulnerae or woundfolk '“ are a strain of daeva said to have issued forth from a wound in the earth itself, released from an unfathomable oubliette with walls of stone, or perhaps of glyph-graven steel, or possibly of unthinkable and inhuman flesh; some say that this wound festered, and became the Suppuration (making the jinni forerunners or somehow kin to the oneiroi), others that the wound stands for an otherworldly portal (making the jinni demoniac), still others that the jinni are simply terrestrial troglodytes who were forced from their underground homeland in a mass-exodus by disaster or by some unknown, subterranean war. Whether born of aether, Hell, or cavern-kingdom the mysterious jinni have scattered themselves across the Cadaverous Earth over the aeons, ageless but apparently infertile, banding together in loose clans of opaque organization.

Jinni skins are stained shades of red, as if by gore; otherwise they resemble tall, powerfully built humans of androgynous sex. Their crude features are scrawled across their faces like a child's depiction of a nightmare: slit-like mouths, miniscule black eyes, almost porcine nostrils. Their flesh is hot to the touch, as if feverish, and through some quasi-eldritch means they can breathe gouts of sulphurous green flame. Most have some degree of talent with witchcraft.

Some jinni have a taste for human flesh, particularly when partially decomposed; these macabre creatures have been dubbed carrion-jinni. Most of the vulnerae dwell outside the Twilight Cities, reveling in the wild, lawless spaces of the world, but a few have spent centuries as decadents in the more cosmopolitan cities, such as Crepuscle. They are an arrogant, haughty people, typically, considering themselves the natural superiors to all mortal creatures; their codes are very rigid and utterly incomprehensible to outsiders, who often find themselves in breach of jinni creeds without realizing their error, though they are still (inevitably) punished for transgressions with typical jinni ruthlessness. However, jinni scorn the laws and codes of other species as beneath them, the rude artifices of lesser beings.


...Not at all what I was expecting.
Can they fly or float?

How does being ageless affect their society- that is, they should be some of the most knowledgeable and wise creatures of the world.

Has anything ever menaced their numbers?

It would seem that they started off strong (ex: 1,000,000) and have since dwindled- has that had much of an effect on the society?

Why was there never an age of the Jinni? Did the carrion-crawlers fight them off?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 24, 2009, 09:21:18 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Light Dragon]...Not at all what I was expecting.[/blockquote]Is this a bad thing?

As for your other points, I added this:

"Jinni wisdom is legendary, because of their longevity, but they are a notoriously secretive race, guarding their histories jealously; occasionally certain parcels of information have been traded in exchange for land, weaponry, or large amounts of coin, but for the most part the jinni refuse to disclose share their knowledge with non-jinni.

Despite their reticence in divulging their racial history some details concerning the jinni Diaspora have been collected.  It seems clear that they have never been an excessively populous race, and the harsh toll of apocalypses that wracked the Cadaverous Earth during the Immolation and the Desiccation thinned their numbers harshly.  The imprecise documentation on the Membrane Wars suggests that the still powerful jinni clans fought as mercenaries in the conflict, though on which side is unclear; this titanic battle seems to have claimed many jinni lives, but also marks their peak of influence, with jinni commanders passing into the ever-glorious realm of myth, attaining true immortality.  Some encounters between demons and jinni have been noted, with the jinni frequently exhibiting fervent hostility, but others have spoken of less belligerent meetings.

During the cestoid Imperium they seem to have almost vanished, retreating into far corners of the world, realizing, perhaps, that they possessed insufficient strength to face the wormfolk head-on, but simultaneously refusing to bend the knee and submit to cestoid rule."

They dont' float.  I wanted very much to avoid any trace of camp/kitsch or etherealness that's been attached so thoroughly to the "genie" archetype.  I still kept elements, I think: the imprisonment, the clannish mentality, the agelessness, the associations with fire, etc.

I did add a bit on jinni witchcraft (they focus on skinchanging).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 24, 2009, 09:29:22 PM
>>They dont' float. I wanted very much to avoid any trace of camp/kitsch or etherealness that's been attached so thoroughly to the "genie" archetype. I still kept elements, I think: the imprisonment, the clannish mentality, the agelessness, the associations with fire, etc.

Oh. Floating is something I associated with Genies, (as is blueness- the blood red was a bit of a shocker) but I fully understand why you left it out. You did a very good job incorporating the archetypal qualities.

I will admit, I was a little saddened reading the Genie writeup the first time; but you are probably aware that I tend to like camp/kitsch/happy things.

But I can recognize good writing and good art. With the addition of your most recent post, I get a better feel for why the Jinni exist and how they exist. They are fully consistent with your world's image.

I can sort of imagine the Jinni, thousands of years after the fact, looking at old cave-drawings made thousands of years ago and chuckling and chiding each other. "Hey Olum, you sure were a jerk back in the third millennia, weren't you- look at that picture of you throttling that cow."


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 25, 2009, 08:16:47 AM
well, if we consider genie to be both djinnies and efreeti (i seem to recall they are both mythological creatures and not just the works of WOTC; i might very well be wrong) then blood red should fit fine :)
Are the red spots and markings on their skin limited to a few places or is it more like a 50/50 between red color and skin or more?
When you mentioned them in the Zerda thread i was a bit anxious that Firesong would be turned into the home of all the weird semi-campy races; praying mantises, foxes and djinni living together or some such. But with the jinni writeup this imagined trifecta seems more balanced :)
How much do they use the flame breath? Is it a visual effect, or do they use it militarily? If so, is it more of an emergency weapon or could there be jinni flamebreather soldiers (or some such) who only fight with gouts of green flame?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 25, 2009, 11:18:19 AM

Out of Character

Jinni flame-breath could easily be used in combat.

The Firesong Marches are meant to have a slightly different flavor, but I definitely wanted to pull up at full-on cartoonishness.

And mantises as a camp race?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 26, 2009, 12:57:05 AM
No, not camp, sorry... I just didn't have the right word for it. But they do fall in the anthropomorph animal category and could easily fit in another setting as opposed to some of the others. That being said, i really like the mantids :p


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 26, 2009, 01:06:12 AM

Out of Character

BTW, I was imagining the skin-colour to be sort of mottled shades of red; maybe I'll tweak the description...

Glad you like the mantids, Crow!  I've always thought thri-keen were a cool race, but I wanted them to feel and look a bit difefrent from them (CE has a lot in common with Dark Sun in general, really).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 29, 2009, 05:40:41 PM

Out of Character

Posted a small storiette in the Slaughter-lands section, which I plan to gradually add to to make a longer story.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on July 01, 2009, 06:38:28 PM
The shade was the most interesting of the characters... It seems a bit dangerous for him to be walking around though, even with the parasol... what if it gets carelessly knocked aside during a battle?

(Seems like the shade is "living on the edge" -haha.)

I am looking forward to seeing the story expanded. It read well- like a Dark Tower story.

I expect at least one of the five will die rather early.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on July 01, 2009, 07:22:14 PM

SP

the cloaked, mercenary thing that merely calls itself The Cowl,

Also noting that I enjoy this description.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on July 03, 2009, 07:31:31 PM

Out of Character

Thanks, Light Dragon.  The umbrella thing is a bit precarious, granted.  Its only dreict sunlight that really screws up a shade, plus he wears a black leather suit, but its a defintie hazard.  The shade is a marksman, however, so ideally he'd take out enemies before they got close enough to mess with his umbrella.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on July 14, 2009, 07:56:35 PM

Out of Character

A couple of images I found on CG Society that really capture the atmosphere of Cadaverous Earth (they're done by a brilliant artist called Xueguo Yang whose profile is here (http://yangxueguo.cgsociety.org/gallery/555000/)).

An oneiroi. (http://features.cgsociety.org/newgallerycrits/g08/100708/100708_1096014112.jpg)

One of the temporus mali. (http://features.cgsociety.org/newgallerycrits/g08/100708/100708_1193533224_large.jpg)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on July 28, 2009, 04:33:14 PM

Out of Character

Update!

Added a new section, on Diseases.  It can be found under the Characters section, in the same post as the Bestiary and Oneiroi sections.  So far I've got three diseases written up, one of which has already been detailed (blanchphage).  The other two - harrowflux and spectra-plague - have been mentioned, but never described.  I'm quite proud of spectre-plague, which is still quite "visceral" despite its connotations of incorporeality (anyone who's read Fritz Leiber may recognize where I got my inspiration).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on July 28, 2009, 04:46:59 PM
Hmm, for some reason we both seem to have been in the disease writing mood today.
Blanchphage is neat, but i reckon it is mostly biological. Or will the colorloss spill over onto clothes and such if he changes to a fresh set after he exits?
Harrowflux is interesting vsiually, but hardly my favorite.
Spectre-plague, i agree, is pretty great :)
For added grimness you should perhaps let the transparency develop in a more scattered way; i.e. you see patches of flesh and organs in the otherwise transparent body. Can you see the flesh if you look close enough or is it as good as invisible? Reminds me of the Fades from a book called the Translated Man. I can imagine that some spectres would paint their skin.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on July 28, 2009, 05:09:13 PM

Out of Character

You can see all but the most advanced transparent flesh, much in the same way that a glass is transparent but still visible, though obviously flesh has much less of a sheen or shimmer than glass and so is considerably harder to discern.

Brilliant ideas, Crow.  I updated the entry.  Why didn't I think of body painting?

Also added that some individuals like to self-infect for perverse aesthetic reasons.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on August 04, 2009, 04:37:29 PM

Out of Character

My occular obsession continues.  A new disease added - eyeblight, inspired by the Greek monster Argus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argus_Panoptes):

Eyeblight

A bizarre disease even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, eyeblight, also called peacock syndrome, is a progressive and potentially debilitating contagion whose methods of transmission are sinister, to say the least. Through some mysterious eldritch process eyeblight pathogens are transmitted not through air, spores, contaminated food or water, or even physical contact, but through eye contact. The gaze alone appears to be insufficient: an eyeblight sufferer who merely looks upon another will not transmit the disease, but at the moment of contact, when the viewed returns the gaze, a pathway is made and the door for infection is opened. The infection travels through the pupil and along the optic nerve into the victim's brain.

Once contracted, eyeblight symptoms can manifest anywhere, but they usually begin on the face, neck, or shoulders, spreading slowly down the victim's body. The disease causes the appearance of small cysts or lesions that grow rapidly over the course of a few days before suppurating, exposing a fully grown and apparently operational eye, usually of the same type as that of the sufferer's normal eyes, complete with lids and eyelashes (though not eyebrows). The eye-lesions begin in small clusters and gradually spread, typically progressing down the arms, hands, back, and chest first, then to the victim's abdomen, legs, and feet. Newly grown optic nerves run from each lesion-cluster in dense cables up to the brain, where the infection began. This allows the sufferer to use all of the eyes at once. The experience of suddenly being able to see in many directions is incredibly disorienting, especially in the final stages.

There is no medicinal cure for eyeblight, and though surgery can remove the eye-lesions they inevitably grow back. As eyeblight runs its course the sufferer often finds it difficult to walk or holds objects because of the pressure on eyes on their soles or palms. Those who live with the condition eventually master the technique of closing all of their extra eyes, and keeping them closed, as desired. Some consider the disease a blessing in disguise because it allows them to see in ways they never would have otherwise been capable.

Extreme treatments for the disease include the intentional blinding of all the lesions of an eyeblight sufferer '“ an often painful but ultimately effective remedy. Eyeblight is never directly fatal, but secondary eye infections are not uncommon in eyeblight victims. Some have suggested that eyeblight may belong to the same family as harrowflux because of similar progression patterns, though the latter disease is considerably deadlier.

Eyeblight lesions are capable of spreading the disease.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on August 16, 2009, 01:48:29 PM
The Eyeblight is pretty interesting, though it raises a few questions.

Who is capable of being infected? What about Hagmen? Cestoids? Are Oneiroi immune like they're immune to Geists infection?

How does the Eyeblight interact with Geists? Can they be infected? Can someone catch Eyeblight then be turned into a Geist?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on August 16, 2009, 02:01:33 PM

Out of Character

You got me thinking about more rules for the disease, but that got too complex.  Anything with eyes can suffer from eyeblight.  So someone with eyebligth could get turned into a geist, and a geist could contract eyeblight.

Interesting where you might have been going with that though - there are a lot of smimilarities between gesit infection and eyeblight.  Were you suggesting I make eyeblight a kind of benign form of giest infection (thus providing immunity to other geist attacks for eyeblight sufferers - like a vaccine?).  That could be really cool, actually... I can picture them bringing in these guys with too many eyes to take care of their little gibbergeist problem.  So weird!

Never mind, geist infection and eyeblight are now going to be mutually exclusive!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on August 16, 2009, 03:21:33 PM

Out of Character

New grave-spawn - the bricoleur.  It's inspired by Mieville's familiar in Looking For Jake, Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the Capuchin Crypts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capuchin_Crypt) in Rome (which I visited a couple months ago):

Bricoleur

The bricoleur is a variety of relatively rare and unusual grave-spawn known for their intense devotion to aesthetics and their complete amorality: bricoleurs will do anything to advance their art, even if their actions directly contravene social or legal customs.  For the bricoleur, the aim of life is self-development, self-making, with the body as a canvas on which to display the outpouring of the soul.  Bricoleurs intensely resent any attempt to impinge on or restrict their so-called 'artistic freedom' but do welcome criticism concerning their art-bodies.

Even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, bricoleur aesthetics are macabre in the extreme.  The bricoleur itself is an amorphous parasite with limited mobility which many speculate is related at least distantly to the shade, though instead of a pool of liquid shadow bricoleurs are mottled, sanguineous beings equipped with numerous tendrils, which they can extend or retract at will.  Bricoleur bodies disguise and protect their protoplasmic consciousnesses, however.  Again like the shade, bricoleurs create bodies out of corpse-matter, but unlike the shade bricoleurs compose themselves out of mismatched or scavenged bits and pieces rather than whole corpses.  The shade squirms into a corpse's brain and assumes control of it: the bricoleur extends itself throughout a skeleton or cadaver and picks it apart, taking only those pieces it sees as aesthetically pleasing and abandoning the rest.  Bricoleurs prefer bones to flesh, because they are easier to work with.

Bricoleurs are rarely humanoid; if they are, their body is usually a caricature or parody of the human form, a kind of walking satire.  Usually bricoleurs cultivate fancifully shaped, outrageous bodies without any resemblances to other species.  One might harvest a dozen human legs, fuse them to a central torso with armor plates constructed out of hip-bones layered like scales.  Another might fuse spinal columns together to create a huge, serpentine body.  There is an upper limit on a bricoleur's size, but many bricoleurs can amass bodies much larger than those of most humanoids.  They frequently discard or rearrange parts of their bodies, constantly changing in shape.  Each bricoleur is unique, a pastiche of morbid components.  Scavenged tongues and lungs allow the bricoleur to speak; scavenged eyes allow it to see, though in its raw form it can sense vibrations and has incredible tactile sensitivity, allowing it to perceive textures and gradients.

Because of their intense artistic devotions bricoleurs sometimes have trouble integrating themselves into communities.  While most realize that their art is best served in the long run by maintaining positive relationships with other sentient beings '“ beings that can supply them with the raw materials for their art '“ a few radical bricoleurs become underground, predatory things, lurking in sewers and catacombs and the back-alleys of the Twilight Cities, stalking their carefully selected, fetishized prey before killing them and taking their bones.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on August 17, 2009, 09:04:01 PM
If geist infection and eyeblight are mutually exclusive, then why is that? Someone with eyeblight could never become a geist? And vice-versa?

Could a cure perhaps be extracted for one or the other- to immunize someone as you suggest above?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on August 18, 2009, 03:09:28 AM

Out of Character

Yeah, eyeblight is now actually a form of psuedo-benign geist infection.  Geists can't infect other geists, so eyeblight sufferes are immune to geist infection.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on August 20, 2009, 03:33:31 AM
I like the eyeblight. It has a sufficient bizarre eerieness. Can you cut the optic nerves surgically, or would they regrow as well? Could those with less control tape the eyes shut? I can imagine them growing growing on the footsole being very obnoxious...
I also went to the Kapuchin Crypts in Rome. Very neat place (if you put the fact that the walls are made of human bones somewhere in the back of your mind).
The Bricoleur seems like an interesting creature, enabling you to present players with strange skeletal forms while having good reason to do so. Reminded me slightly of the Tine corpse-gardens from the recently read the Year of Our War. How does the Bricoleur look when it is "manifested" in a bone sculpture? Can you see red threads wrapped around the bones? How does it fuse bones together (or does it just wrap them very tightly)? Can they speak? Do they on occasion use things besides bones? (e.g. wrapping their spinal snake in slimy intestines).    
The idea of obsessive serial killer bricoleurs is nice. Can imagine the weird bone creature stalking through the night, hiding in the shadows while watching a woman with a particularly exquisite hipbone.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on August 20, 2009, 04:34:11 AM

Out of Character

They can speak with stolen tongues and organs, and they hold together bones with their flexible bodies (so red threads/ooze).  They do occasionally incorporate other things than bones, principally eyes (to see with) and other organs, but since these materials decay they don't favor them.  Bricoleurs periodically go shopping for parts, replacing any degenerating organs.

Each bricoleur would look radically different.  The effect I'm imagining is a little bit like this image (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/libris_gallery/84740.jpg), though not generally as draconic.

It would be possible to tape shut eyeblight lesions, but nerve tissues for the eyes would regerenate as surely as the eyes themselves.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on August 24, 2009, 01:40:33 PM

Warworm

Warworms are ancient constructs created in ages past by the cestoids for use in their extensive Imperial wars with other powers.  Most have been destroyed but a few of these armored hulks have been found nearly intact in the Shatters and in Etiolation, and others are scattered about the Cadaverous Earth, particularly in and around ruinous wormfolk cities.

Warworms vaguely resemble cestoids, with long, metameric bodies and hundreds of tiny legs.  Powered by eldritch batteries and puissant clockwork, these enormous machines were built to various specifications, some several hundred feet in length.  They were designed principally to carry troops, slaves, and military hardware, but also supplies; as such all have very thick armor plates like chitin, often etched with the alien glyphs of the cestoids, for whom symbol-magic was the dominant form of witchcraft.

Bristling from the front or 'face' of  a warworm is a selection of weaponry, typically acid-spurting or incendiary cannons.  Some seem to be fitted with burrowing equipment likewise relying on powerful acids (stored in huge tanks within the warworm), or on front-mounted drills.  Behind this deadly façade is the cockpit, where either cestoids or as some speculate a race of specially bred pilot-slaves (possibly mantids) would be seated.  Then come the various segments of the warworm, some equipped with weapons themselves.  These segments are jointed and flexible, allowing a warworm some degree of maneuverability on a battlefield.

Today, warworms are rarely seen in operational condition, but occasionally gangs of scavenger-bandits restore them to roughly working order (often holding them together with spit and string) and harass small settlements with them.  At least one warworm was destroyed by a Watchdog at Baranauskas, reputedly piloted by deranged wormfolk fanatics.  One warworm, Scuttling Eternity, has been rehabilitated by mantids and now roams the world, crewed by a mongrel band of nomads: mantids, zerda, humans, and renegades of various stripes, working principally as scrap-dealers.  Another inactive warworm forms the home of the hermit and mechanical savant Leopold Maximilian and his swarm of mechanoape companions and auatomaton pets.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 20, 2009, 03:16:06 PM

Out of Character

Added to the Bestiary - another old cestoid weapon:

Ingurgitatrix

The ingurgitatrix is a vile species of parasitoid that makes its nest in the entrails of humanoid creatures.  Possibly some malign cousin of the tapeworm, the ingurgitatrix resembles a vaguely serpentine, cartilaginous worm with a small fanged maw at one end and rudimentary eyes on the other.  It possesses animal cunning and a level of predatory intelligence; rather than hatching inside the bowels of its victims (as the tapeworm does, or the ghul-worm) an ingurgitatrix must force its way down its host's throat, usually slithering through the mouths of sleeping victims.  It quickly makes its way tail first through the digestive tract where it installs itself comfortably, nestling in amongst the intestines; its thick, membranous hide protects it against stomach acids en route.

Once comfortable the ingurgitatrix begins secreting arcano-chemical substances into its host to induce appetite.  The host will be greatly invigorated and insatiably hungry, immediately seeking out as much food as they can and glutting themselves upon it.  If no food is available the victim will become greatly agitated and will attack other living creatures; unable to resist the fiend within the host will slough off social taboos and feast on former friends or family, as well as corpses and other typically detestable or repulsive substances.  As a last resort the host will resort to auto-cannibalism.

Whatever the case, the ingurgitatrix consumes all of the food its host ingests, quickly growing to prodigious size such that its victim's belly becomes distended as if pregnant.  Once it reaches its maximum size it bursts free, killing its host.  It then lays its eggs in the corpse of its former host, persisting long enough to watch them hatch before abruptly dying.  The newly hatched ingurgitatrixes consume the corpse and their parent before moving on to find hosts of their own.

Inguritatrixes were created by the cestoid Imperium as biological weapons, designed to decimate food supplies as well as military of civilian populations.  Now the hideous parasitoids roam free, though some are trapped and used for assassinations '“ slipped into a bedchamber through a window or under a door.
Working on bits of Somnambulon.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on September 21, 2009, 06:54:02 AM
Awesome. Just how big are these worms before entering a host? What about ways to get rid of them? Poisoning maybe? It a patient was forcibly restrained from eating anything long enough, could the parasite be starved or would it just munch on the innards to survive? What about willingly taking in other, less deadly parasites in hopes that they would attack this one?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 21, 2009, 07:09:44 AM

Out of Character

I'm imagining them as the size of a small snake (like a garter snake) upon entry.

Great ideas for getting rid of them... poison could work but the risk to the host would probably be large, if you're killing something of that size.  Starvation or surgery would be better options - particularly the starvation option, though I'm not sure about the ramifications of having a dead worm-like thing lodged in your colon, undigested (nothing good, I bet).  Sending other things in sounds insane, but maybe (you'd have to find some way of ensuring that they wouldn't immediately turn on the host).

Some sort of witchcraft strikes me as the most effective cure - something that would expel the ingurgitatrix from the host, probably.  Either that or surgery followed by eldritch healing.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on September 21, 2009, 11:44:19 AM
Reading the warworms entry I instantly recieved mental imagery of something awesome. They sound perfectly fearsome. I don't know if it's just me, but I would perhaps tone down the weaponry a bit and just let the hulking construct plow through enemy fortifications. Is it a purely mechanical entity, or is there some kind of bio-engineered organism involved? (that was my first thought, but rereading it it doesn't seem like it is the case).
Love the Ingurgatrix details; eyes and maw on opposed ends, the distended belly, auto-cannibalism, the name even. Reminds me (favorably) of the assassination scene from Star Wars II (the Clone Wars). Can imagine those small pests fitting into CE perfectly.
Your last paragraph on the warworms (Scuttling Eternity specifically) reminds me of Iron Council isntead.
How exactly is bio-engineering performed in your setting? Can you make a new species, or only modify an existing entity? Do you grow them in vats, or inject them with mutagens (or something else)? Is it a lost science?
 


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 21, 2009, 01:16:08 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Cataclysmic Crow]How exactly is bio-engineering performed in your setting? Can you make a new species, or only modify an existing entity? Do you grow them in vats, or inject them with mutagens (or something else)? Is it a lost science?[/blockquote] I'm imagining bio-engineering as a predominantly lost science in which species could be modified practically beyond recognition, with some crude vat-grown or pieced-together bio-constructs being viable in the present day.

The warworms are mechanical - I thought anything else would either resemble a giant cestoid/dire maggot too much.  I might tone down the weaponry.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 25, 2009, 10:48:29 AM

Out of Character

Some notes on the swamps around Lophius - not intended as an exhaustive description.  Has some info on leechkin culture.

The Southern Swamps

Nameless and enormous, stretching from the shores of the Fevered Ocean and the Sallow Seas to the borders of the Firesong Marches, the southern swamps surrounding the Twilight City of Lophius are a dread place, laced with murky rivers and treacherous bogs.  Bloodwood groves, crazed leechkin, xenophobic hagmen, and hungry demons lurk in the blighted undergrowth.  Mossy ruins rise from the black and bubbling depths of hidden pools; hideous idols grin at the bottom of muddy lakes.  Most of the ruins are those of the Tsathii and the Gengrymar, though the cestoids also maintained a few Imperial forts in amongst the stagnant marshlands.  Many other ruins are those of unknown civilizations whose names and histories have been wholly obscured by time, subsumed by fungus, flooded by swamp-water.

Demons

Though demoniac entities can be found in all corners of the wastes, the brooding eaves and moist shadows of the swamps offer a haven to such creatures, who stalk the fens and the banks of the Gland in constant search of prey.  Elemental and unfathomable, of inscrutable intelligence, the swampland demons are brethren of the primal beast-gods of the sea and their lesser ilk; some say they are not otherworldly at all, but spirits of the Earth itself, stirred from some long repose in the apocalyptic dusk of the world.

The swamp-demons are mostly solitary beings.  When they encounter one another they sometimes fight, though usually they simply ignore one another.  They come in a wide variety of forms, but all are exceedingly inhuman, at least in their natural states: many have amorphous bodies, exoskeletons, or similarly aberrant physiologies.  A few have shapeshifting abilities and can assume different guises, often the forms of those they consumed, masquerading as beasts or humanoids.  Such doppelgangers are usually betrayed by a subtle squirming evident beneath the flesh of their simulacra.

Settlements

The swamps are in fact one of the more densely populated regions of the Cadaverous Earth, riddled with the settlements of the hagmen, with some naghini outposts in the southeast and a smattering of human towns as well.  Most of these are tiny villages, ragged bayou shanties or clusters of rude huts, but a few are considerably larger.

Apart from Lophius itself the largest human settlement in the swamps is Gryss, a violent, oily port along the Gland.   Skinks and tarantulas festoon the crumbling yellow walls of the place like living ornaments, and vibrant speckled mushrooms grow from every crack and crevice.  A much older city lies ruinous beneath the ramshackle wooden constructions of the modern town: here and there a glyph-carved flagstone stares up out of the lichen-covered ground, or an obelisk thrusts itself rain-worn and mossy from a street corner.  The younger town is rawer, greasier, sensual and ruthless.  Carved succubae leer from the corners of buildings, indicating brothels; shop windows display machete-swords and cruel kukris.  Witches smoke ornate hookahs on dilapidated patios and balconies peeling with strips of paint, while bravos and riverport scum swagger in and out of bars and gaming houses with knives and pistols openly displayed.  Most of the humans in Gryss are living, but grave-spawn are evident too, including a nest of eidolons scattered about the town who have long preyed on the populace, undetected.

The most important hagman settlement is concealed deep in the swamp, a secret city and a holy place '“ Naresch.  Built entirely below the surface of a scum-topped lake, Naresch is nowhere near the size of the Twilight Cities but it nonetheless represents one of the largest hagman settlements.  Here the hagman cults venerate their deity, while daily droves of pilgrims and refugees seeking sanctuary slip below the putrid surface of the lake and descend into the greenish murk of the sunken city.  The priests and priestesses sternly police Naresch, and any non-hagmen who enters is slain on the spot.

Leechkin

Unlike the hagmen, the leechkin do not build: their culture vilifies labour, holding the purity of the parasite as its strongest creed.  Instead they roam the swamps in tribal bands, each led by a shaman.  Sexless, the tribes are untroubled by gendered hierarchy; indeed, the leechkin know almost no elitism, save that they accept the wisdom of the shamans.  New shamans are chosen during infancy, preferably by the current shaman or one of its apprentices, in accordance with certain omens.  A leechkin child whose hand-mouths do not cry but only feeds, whose birth heralds the finding of a bloodwood tree or a similar feast of plenty, and who kills before its first birthday is considered eligible to become a shaman apprentice.  The shamans do not lead a tribe but do provide herbcraft, medical aid, and spiritual guidance to a band.  They also deal with any demons the tribe encounters during its travels, using rituals to either deter or attract the swamp-spirits as desired.

Leechkin tribes have no chiefs or leaders, selecting their routes by a process of nebulous democracy.  They are guided predominantly by the smell of prey or by natural landmarks such as rivers.  They have no formal laws, but disagreements are settled through the ritual of zull-wrogosh which few non-leechkin ever witness: the two contending leechkin approach one another and lay their hand-mouths on their opponents bodies simultaneously, then both begin to feed.  Whoever can drain his opponent faster is considered the victor: the first to tire of sucking or to fall unconscious or dead loses.

The leechkin actively hunt animals but will ignore humanoids unless driven into bloodthirsty psychosis from want of feeding.  They do skirmish with the hagmen, though they are rarely the aggressors and generally avoid hagmen territories unless something lures them in.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 09, 2009, 10:09:45 AM

Marrowmoth

These large, bulbous insects look eerily beautiful from a distance with their expansive, sallow wings (veined with crimson) glowing in the moonlight, but their enthralling appearance belies their macabre natures.  Uninterested in flesh or vital organs, the carnivorous marrowmoth greatly prizes bone marrow, particularly red marrow.  Like the vampire bat marrowmoths seek out large creatures to prey on, especially when sleeping.  To extract sustenance they unfurl a powerful proboscis which they thrust deep into their prey's tissue, penetrating layers of skin and muscle to burrow directly into bone.  They then suck up the victim's marrow at a tremendous rate, detaching swiftly if their prey attempts to physically harm them.

Dangerous enough individually, marrowmoths often dwell in colonies, usually in hollow trees or in old tombs whose occupants they have despoiled.  Though usually these colonies are quite small, marrowmoths can swarm prey, quickly reducing them to hollowed-out, fleshy husks scored with puncture-wounds, their bone marrow sucked out like nectar.  When they can't find live prey marrowmoths subsist on carrion.  Marrowmoths can be deterred with certain pungent oils, but the best defense against them is a large, bright fire or strong eldritch light.  Like other moths marrowmoths have evolved to use the moon '“ an object which for all intents and purposes is optically infinite '“ to navigate and fly in a straight line.  A similarly luminous light source will attract marrowmoths, who mistake it for the moon; since the light source is not at ocular infinity, of course, they will fly directly towards it until they reach it, immolating them if the light is a fire.

Marrowmoth caterpillars are fat, glistening things that feed on rotting flesh.  Marrowmoths do not nurse their young but often lay their eggs in or near dead prey.  The cocoons of marrowmoths are hardy and durable.  Their silk, though not as smooth or shimmeringly beautiful as that of Skein, is highly prized for use as bow strings.

Out of Character

They were going to be called bonemoths but D&D beat me to the punch on that one.  Their bonemoths eat flesh, however, leaving the bones behind; I think mine are cooler, sucking marrow like nectar... sort of CE's take on the stirge.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 23, 2009, 04:36:10 PM

Out of Character

I've been thinking about adding some more cities to the setting, or possibly an entire new continent on the far side of the Fevered Ocean, and maybe even incorporating Abysm (my entry for the Octoberish Contest) into the Cadaverous Earth.  Some ideas for new cities:

- One or two port cities along the Serrated Coast for Skein/Crepuscle/Lophius to trade with and for the corsairs to plunder.

- A city built around the palace of a senile, dying, leprous god covered in hideous sores that weep divine pus, collected by his priesthood (the real rulers) and used to drastically extend their mortal lifespans in a gruesome twist on liches.

What do you guys think?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on October 23, 2009, 04:54:02 PM

Steerpike

A city built around the palace of a senile, dying, leprous god covered in hideous sores that weep divine pus, collected by his priesthood (the real rulers) and used to drastically extend their mortal lifespans in a gruesome twist on liches.

You know, there is a point that the usual level of CE nastiness starts to lose its punch, and you risk going so far over the top it starts to seem like self-parody. I'm just making that observation and I'm definitely not saying this is it-- honestly I don't think it is, but it is getting kind of close.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on October 23, 2009, 05:23:24 PM
I think that you are well-set with cities; what about more interesting terrain, forests, caverns, "dungeons", and/or geologic events.

Or perhaps pull a China Mieville and go investigate what lies in the sea and the oceans, or do more on Avian species and what lies skyward in the air?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 23, 2009, 05:51:37 PM

Out of Character

Not a bad idea there with the sky thing - there have been hints of stuff like that so far but nothing substantive.  Maybe more underground stuff, too.  Geological formations was partly why I was thinking of putting in Abysm... maybe I'll have to brainstorm some similar kinds of geological phenomena.  An Abysm-esque rift in the far south of the world dotted with ruinous cities, perhaps - maybe the chasm from which the jinni originally emerged, or so legend holds. [blockquote=sparkletwist]I'm just making that observation and I'm definitely not saying this is it-- honestly I don't think it is, but it is getting kind of close.[/blockquote]You could be right, here.  I might make this a smaller locale (rather than one of the Twilight Cities themselves), maybe one of the Midnight Islands (the islands which are plunged in eternal night, where corsairs lurk).  If it's more localized then perhaps it'll feel less potentially parodic.

I'm pondering one or two more cities on the coast, or maybe one on the coast and one elsewhere, simply for trading partners.  It struck me that as mapped there is probably not a huge deal of oceanic trade which makes oceanic piracy pretty tricky, which leaves the corsairs and Lophius (both of which I like a great deal) rather out to dry.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on October 23, 2009, 06:18:31 PM
>>An Abysm-esque rift in the far south of the world dotted with ruinous cities, perhaps - maybe the chasm from which the jinni originally emerged, or so legend holds.

That sounds good. Very Dwarf Fortress HFS-ish with the demons coming from the Rift.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on October 24, 2009, 10:56:09 AM

Steerpike


I'm pondering one or two more cities on the coast, or maybe one on the coast and one elsewhere, simply for trading partners.  It struck me that as mapped there is probably not a huge deal of oceanic trade which makes oceanic piracy pretty tricky, which leaves the corsairs and Lophius (both of which I like a great deal) rather out to dry.

Piracy can just as easily focus on coastal raiding, even sudden attacks on city ports. If there is more population on the coast than inland then this could be a good way to acquire large numbers of slaves. I'd really like to see how pirates in CE would turn out like. Especially if you can avoid associating them with undeath...

Another thing different from cities that you could add is strongholds. It figures that there could be places of particular importance out there in the dangerous wilderness, that would be worth the effort and risks of guarding. Sources of rare and valuable materials for example, or occult places enabling otherwise impossible feats of witchcraft.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on October 24, 2009, 01:32:32 PM
Also a question, will we see a CE mIRC game anytime in the future, Steerpike? Perhaps over thanksgiving if not sooner?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on October 24, 2009, 01:40:11 PM
Thanksgiving is in October ~~

Now as for Steepikes inquiries.

More cities are good. Nothing much else to that.

As for the whole dieases god and lich thing, sounds interesting, but reminds me faintly of Nurgle from Warhammer.

I was wondering if you've given anymore thought to the Skyscar, I think I remember you saying you were going to detail it out a bit more.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 24, 2009, 01:40:42 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Ghostman]I'd really like to see how pirates in CE would turn out like. Especially if you can avoid associating them with undeath..[/blockquote]I haven't written a ton on them but so far pirates in CE are mostly based in the Midnight Isles, and aren't particularly associated with undead (undead pirates having rather been done).  They do do grotesque things like sew human faces into their sails, and sacrifice slaves to the lunatic, primordial beast-gods of the deep, Cthuluesque horrors stirring in slumber.[blockquote=Light Dragon]Also a question, will we see a CE mIRC game anytime in the future, Steerpike? Perhaps over thanksgiving if not sooner?[/blockquote]As in a no-stats game or a fully fledged mIRC game?  I could see doing the former but if I was going to attempt the latter I'd probably have to wait for December. [blockquote=Llum]I was wondering if you've given anymore thought to the Skyscar, I think I remember you saying you were going to detail it out a bit more.[/blockquote]It was originally going to be a kind of dimensional gate-way where the Hells penetrated the mortal world, but that feels a little too similar to the Suppuration and to the aurora in Golden Compass, so instead I might change it to a kind of eldritch radiation not dissimilar to the temporis mali or the ur-bones(though more pervasive and covering a larger area)...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on October 24, 2009, 03:41:00 PM

Llum


Thanksgiving is in October ~~

Canadian Thanksgiving for Steerpike. :) On the 12th? But that has already passed. There's only one other Thanksgiving left this year.


But yes, I was thinking about a no stats theatre game.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 24, 2009, 03:47:02 PM

Out of Character

I'll certainly consider that... the challenge would be to find a scenario that would be fairly action-light, but I could probably figure something out.

In the long term I bet I could do justice to a pbp game... description is definitely my forte and pbp seems to incline towards evocative description more than other forms.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on October 24, 2009, 05:12:44 PM
From my experience, the only thing that is really difficult with chatroom games is the difficulty of establishing a battlemap and positioning players during combat.

If you have us do a diplomatic game, even one that might involve lots of rolling, or non-tactical positioning, I believe that could work just as well as a "no-stats" game. Either the internet dice rollers or the honor system would work for rolls. Or you could just establish a few adjectives and before-hand knowing you counterparts' adjectives and then just rock-paper-scissioring the combat resolutions yourself. (x is AMAZING at combat; y is GOOD at sneaking, etc.)

Whatever you decide should be interesting. I am looking forward to it.

---
RE: The swamps write-up on the previous page of this thread: I should have mentioned before, but that's the sort of writeup I was suggesting when I was suggesting detailing biomes. It was well done. I should have given you credit for that when I was positing forth my suggestions :)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on October 24, 2009, 06:04:13 PM
Just to throw it out there isomage has an incredibly useful/powerful dicebot.

Steepike

It was originally going to be a kind of dimensional gate-way where the Hells penetrated the mortal world, but that feels a little too similar to the Suppuration and to the aurora in Golden Compass, so instead I might change it to a kind of eldritch radiation not dissimilar to the temporis mali or the ur-bones(though more pervasive and covering a larger area)...


Hmmm, well if you don't want it to be similar to other things, why also make it a radiation type thing?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 24, 2009, 06:23:40 PM

Out of Character

I don't mind making it similar to stuff in CE, but I do to other things.  Then again, Mieville has done magical radiation fairly well with the Torque... what I'd do is come up with a very different effect for the "radiation" to have (i.e. wouldn't raise the dead or cause bizarre mutations as the other forms do).  I have some inchoate ideas but nothing specific, but this has got me thinking about the north in CE more generally, which could be a great area to detail more fully.  I'm imagining frozen monstrosities in the ice only now thawing, icy ruins in the tradition of At the Mountains of Madness (which I only just recently read), grim tundrafolk, and pervasive, reality-bending radiation from where an ancient civilization seared dimensional boundaries.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on October 24, 2009, 07:05:08 PM
>>I'm imagining frozen monstrosities in the ice only now thawing, icy ruins in the tradition of At the Mountains of Madness (which I only just recently read), grim tundrafolk, and pervasive, reality-bending radiation from where an ancient civilization seared dimensional boundaries.

I am very excited to read about your concept for the North. At the Mountains of Madness is perhaps my favorite Lovecraft tale. For other inspiration might I recommend the movie: John Carpenter's The Thing, Jack London's "To Build a Fire", and although it is set in a Jungle, the themes work - Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Re: Magical Radiation... isn't that sort of the effect that is supposed to be given off in Forgotten Realms by the dead magic zones? Perhaps your magical radiation could be anti-magical radiation... but less trite- in that anti-magical radiation also destroys souls that travel inside it- assuming that souls exist and are spiritual creations one could perceive them as a type of magic. Therefore, when one's soul is destroyed in an anti-magic zone... terrible things can happen to the remaining shell.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on October 24, 2009, 08:41:44 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Light Dragon]Therefore, when one's soul is destroyed in an anti-magic zone... terrible things can happen to the remaining shell.[/blockquote]This sounds quite like the fetch, but it's a cool concept.  Thanks!  And thanks for the other references.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on October 24, 2009, 10:42:13 PM
I forgot one more possibility. Perhaps this will be useful, perhaps it will not; But I am certain nonetheless you will enjoy it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vORsKyopHyM&feature=player_embedded#
Good luck.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 06, 2009, 12:59:32 PM
"Then, in the shadow of the Slouching-devil Mountains, he'd chased bounties in the narrow gorges and scabrous badlands of the foothills, fought off wolves with tentacled maws and screeching harpy-crows with cherubic human faces..."

"And what is THAT?! It's got tentacles for a face! It's a Cthulhu-dog!" - Gordon Freeman of Freeman's Mind (http://www.machinima.com/film/view&id=31902)

(http://img5.imageshack.us/img5/33/cthuludogw.jpg)

Out of Character

Just something I sketched while procrastinating this morning.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on November 06, 2009, 08:09:30 PM
It seems that tentacles would severely weaken the impact of any bite attack.

That being said, the drawing is very nice.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 06, 2009, 09:23:02 PM

Out of Character

They might secrete a paralytic venom.  And/or constrict (though they might need to be a little longer for that).  Or give the thing a brain-sucking mindflayer-type attack.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on November 06, 2009, 09:25:42 PM
Did you draw that?!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 06, 2009, 10:28:40 PM

Out of Character

I did... although I did use one of Brom's paintings as a reference.  I know it's quite different from the more cartoonish stuff in Goblin :p.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 06, 2009, 11:39:13 PM

The Aurelian Tundra

The cold and haunted north of the Cadaverous Earth consists largely of the Aurelian Tundra or 'Golden Plain' so named for the near perpetual sunlight of its uppermost regions.  Beneath the midnight sun of the Tundra stretches a desert every bit as barren and desolate as the sun-baked vastness of the Slaughter-lands.  Subject to the warped, unstable energies of the Skyscar '“ a sickly, lurid aurora that shimmers with a ghastly luminescence over the frigid plateaus and gleaming glaciers '“ the north is a place of alien ruins and frozen mysteries.  As the swollen sun continues to bloat the glaciers slowly thaw, revealing long obscured secrets, the primordial monuments of now distant aeons.

Cities of the Golden Plain

Buried amidst snow drifts or tunnelled into the living rock, or else cloistered amongst the austere, angular mountains of the region (the Murmuring Mountains, so named for the weird winds that whistle through them) are the bizarre, gargantuan cities of the Golden Plains '“ forsaken places of ice and cyclopean towers, where naught but beasts and hungry spirits dwell.  Uncanny statues of inhuman creatures are here evident: the heroes of the long-forgotten Polyp Dominion before even the Cestoid Imperium, when humanity was enslaved by now extinct fungi-overlords, and of demoniac warlords who led their hordes through the ruptures where the Skyscar now glimmers, and of inscrutable elder gods.  Treasure-hunters occasionally venture into these abandoned cities in search of artefacts left over from the long defunct civilizations of the north, but few return.

Thawing Monstrosities

Deep within the heart of the northlands, encased in thick layers of ice, odd and strangely nebulous forms can be glimpsed, obfuscated by panes of frost.  Long sealed and occluded in their glacial tombs, these vague forms now begin slowly to thaw, as the huge and sickly sun overhead beats mercilessly down.  Long locked in stasis, the beings trapped within the ice begin to stir '“ for, despite their deathly cast, these entities have merely slumbered in a millennia-long hibernation.  They groan and flex their enigmatic, amorphous limbs, and blink with clustered eyes blinded by the searing white of the tundra, glowing with horrible brightness beneath the unsetting sun.  The true nature of these beasts remains mysterious.  Demons?  Daevas?  Servant-creatures of whatever alien architects dwelt in the ruinous cities of the tundra?

Whatever their origins, those creatures that have emerged from their icy tombs have proved themselves highly dangerous.  Men are found gorily disembowelled, or flensed of skin and muscle; others have had less comprehensible things done to them, their corpses found with their flesh liquefied or with rasping wounds as from barbed radula, or missing neat, bloodless chunks, cleanly removed to expose bone and viscera beneath.  Some who wander into the frozen waste return deranged and giddy with a lunatic fervour, until their brains burst and their skulls split open, giving birth to shadowy, mewling larvae.

The Skyscar


Glistening like a bloody gash across the bleached sky of the far north, the Skyscar is a dimensional weakness, a place where the space between spaces has been ruptured, where otherworldly and entropic realities are bleeding through.  It was here, possibly, that the original breach between the Earth and the Hells was made, the rift that began the Membrane Wars in antiquated aeons.  Though the breach has been patched '“ sutured '“ the Skyscar remains: a malignant, shimmering aurora from which Hellish energy seeps.

Demons can no longer cross physically through the Skyscar, but their essences swirl malevolently in the chill air, half-present and invisible, flickering in and out of quasi-existence.  Any who ventures into the Skyscar will be subjected to its soul-corroding fluctuations, will be assaulted by hungry spirits looking for doorways into the world.  Some of these demoniac entities manage to inveigle their way through the thinned boundaries of reality and into mortal vessels: these horrific beings are at first bound to the flesh of their hosts, gradually asserting more and more control until they can manifest completely, bursting free from their victims' fleshly husks like grotesque butterflies from chrysalises.

The Tundrafolk

A hard-bitten, grim-faced, weatherbeaten people, the tundrafolk of the Aurelian Plain are cold-toughened savages made brutal by the harshness of the north.  Fur-clad cannibals of a hundred bickering clans, they roam the blank, desolate places between the Skyscar and the Northern Baronies, the southern edges of the Aurelian Tundra, hunting aurochs, herding yaks, and descending in ragged hordes to raid the fortified settlements that dot the largely temperature north.  Skilled in the shamanistic arts of skinchanging, augury, and weather-whispering, the cunning, flesh-eating witches of these northern tundrafolk aid their warriors on their jaunts, summoning fog to hide their approach or blizzards to harass or delay enemy forces, or assuming the shapes of wolves and wolverines, running and fighting alongside human clansmen in battle.  They are skilled also with the elements of blood and ice; some worship the mad, dreaming gods of the sea, while others revere the abominations that roam the northernmost wastes.

Further north, clustered in peculiar communes along the icy coasts, lurk the crustacean philosophers called the Oorls, whose esoteric wisdom is much coveted.  They crawl about in the glyph-etched shells of giant nautili, like hermit crabs, chittering to one another in their complex, staccato tongue.  A few half-mad scholars occasionally make the long pilgrimage to the Tundra to seek counsel with the Oorls, though few know of their existence at all.

Out of Character

I'm planning on perhaps putting Abysm (my entry for the Novemberish context) to the extreme south, so the borders of the world will then be clearly defined: the Suppuration to the east, the Skyscar to the north, Abysm to the south, and the Fevered Ocean to the west.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on November 07, 2009, 12:26:28 AM
Ah, the Polyp Dominion- that seems new, and fascinating.
I like this environment/area writeup.

Good work!

--
>>"heroes of the long-forgotten Polyp Dominion which before every the Cestoid Imperium, "
Minor grammar issue.

>>"Whatever their origins those creatures that have emerged from their icy tombs have proved themselves highly dangerous. "
Whatever their origins, those creatures that have emerged from their icy tombs have proved themselves highly dangerous.
(added comma... recommend change those to 'the' but I think I see what you're getting at with 'those')

It sounds very at the mountains of madness-esque.

The titles are also very evocative.

>>Further north, clustered in peculiar communes along the icy coasts, lurk the crustacean philosophers called the Oorls, whose esoteric wisdom is much coveted. They crawl about in the glyph-etched shells of giant nautili, like hermit crabs, chittering to one another in their complex, staccato tongue. A few half-mad scholars occasionally make the long pilgrimage to the Tundra to seek counsel with the Oorls, though few know of their existence at all

I like the crustacean philosophers. Lots of possibilities with them.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 07, 2009, 12:48:55 AM

Out of Character

Thank you very much for the response and the edits - they've been incorporated.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on November 07, 2009, 08:29:00 AM
Hmm, I'm not sure I like the Polyp Dominion. It feels like they are crowding the past a bit, now, with both the polyps and the cestoids in the coveted niche of "ancient monstrous long-dead empire".
Other than that I'm as always envious of your work. Some great ideas and an even greater execution of said concepts.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 07, 2009, 11:26:52 AM

Out of Character

The Polyps will not feature centrally - they're RIDICULOUSLY old, so there really aren't many remnants of their civilization left - only those sequestered in the Murmuring Mountains (which are, as Light Dragon points out, pretty damn close to the Mountains of Madness).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on November 08, 2009, 03:05:29 PM
Yeah, the thawing monstrosities and ancient cities is pretty damn close to Lovecraft's Mountains.
EDIT: in a good way to be sure.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 08, 2009, 03:20:33 PM

Out of Character

Yeah, I think what I'll do to help differentiate them more is to write up some very specific monsters distinct from Lovecraft's...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on November 09, 2009, 04:05:40 PM

Cataclysmic Crow

Hmm, I'm not sure I like the Polyp Dominion. It feels like they are crowding the past a bit, now, with both the polyps and the cestoids in the coveted niche of "ancient monstrous long-dead empire".

Steerpike

The Polyps will not feature centrally - they're RIDICULOUSLY old, so there really aren't many remnants of their civilization left

I personally kind of like the idea of one ancient monstrous long-dead empire coming to power by overthrowing an even more ancient, even more long-dead (and even more monstrous, who knows) empire. It kind of gives a continuity to the place, and also adds in some of the Lovecraftian vibe that humans are just pawns in the machinations of great, ancient forces that can barely understand, let alone do anything about.



Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on November 09, 2009, 04:53:20 PM
I don't think it's necessary to actually make any extra effort to differentiate it. It is unique in itself.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 15, 2009, 08:36:01 PM

Two New Cities

Erebh, City of Abysm, City of Basalt Towers, City of the Fell Breath

Far to the south, beyond even the Shadowglass Steppes where the elementals wage their unfathomable wars, teetering precariously on the lip of the Great Rictus '“ Abysm, the Hungry Void, the World-Wound '“ lies Erebh, City of the Fell Breath, a place of narrow, rambling buildings perched on the edge of the chasm and spilling over, clinging to the cliff-face, windows shuttered against the endless, unplumbed black below.  Tall, basalt towers of unknown construction tower over the city '“ grim monoliths presiding like featureless sentinels, their doors sealed shut, their featureless walls presenting no clue as to their purpose.

The city's economy is centered around the mushroom farms that zigzag down the cliffsides, on the quarries of obsidian, onyx, and basalt, and on the alchemical gases collected by the miasma-harvesters.  Glowing crystals of eldritch power are mined from the lower depths by adventurous souls in scuttling or fluttering vessels like iron insects; these forays are dangerous, leading to frequent encounters with feral phetorii or the pale, abhuman gloomkind who haunt the lower reaches and raid the fungus farms.

Abysm itself is a subject of speculation, of wonder, of religious inspiration.  Scholars gaze upon it with their glyph-graved instruments; priests offer it sacrifices, hoping to appease whatever deity they claim resides in its fathomless depths '“ Apollyon the angel of destruction, or the Leering Beast, or Yaggathoth with her million flickering tongues.  Some claim that the jinni '“ the mystical vulnerae woundfolk '“ first emerged from the pit, others that the Great Rictus is a portal to one of the Hells, or a gateway to the prison of the Chained Ones.

Whether or not gods or demonkind truly reside in Abysm's deepest reaches, it is widely believed that something does '“ there are too many reports of gigantic appendages glimpsed in the black, or of glimmering, cyclopean eyes peering up from the darkness, to wholly discount such legendry.

Marainein, City of the Wasting God

Once one of many prosperous city-states of the Gloom Coast in the far south of the Cadaverous Earth, Mareinein is even more decrepit than the other Twilight Cities, its manses decaying, its monuments eroded, its once bustling marketplaces lethargic.  The thousand towers in their multitudinous colours have faded and peeled; the flames in the lighthouses have grown dim and sickly.

The city is ruled, nominally, by the being called Yzsch, more commonly known as the Wasting God '“ a once powerful entity worshipped as a deity incarnate, now grown leprous and diseased, confined to his prodigious temple-palace, babbling senile, nonsensical edicts, the rantings of a demented mind.  Unfathomably old, the decaying god is attended by a retinue of priests, the true rulers of Marainein, who 'interpret' his deranged ramblings as they please.  The priests of Yzsch attend the Wasting God with enamelled goblets, with which they catch the putrid excretions of his hideous sores.  From this rancid issue they derive a puissant alchemical elixir, a quasi-divine draught which endows them with unnaturally long life: the most powerful priests are many centuries old, some well over a thousand, though they scheme constantly against one another, employing eunuch assassins and esoteric curses in a brutal, baroque power-game.

Out of Character

Both cities lie to the far south, beyond the Firesong Marches and the Shadowglass Steppes (off the map on the first page).

Preview -The Esurience

Also known as the World's Navel, the Sea's Gullet, the Eternal Maelstrom, and the Perpetual Tempest, the Esurience is an unending storm centered round a massive whirlpool in the center of the Fevered Ocean.  A constant play of lightning wreathes the cloud-blacked sky above the Esurience while an unceasing anticyclone many miles wide swirls above the maelstrom itself, which takes the form of a sublimely vast oceanic vortex.  The exact cause of the Esurience is unknown, but many believe that at its bottom is a hole in the ocean floor, perhaps even a portal to some other plane, through which the Fevered Ocean is slowly but inexorably leaking.  If this theory is correct then given a long enough timeline the Ocean will eventually be entirely drained.  This would, amongst other things, result in the death of most of the Earth's algae, which would severely impact the world's oxygen cycle.

The Esurience poses a tremendous navigational hazard for any ships attempting to cross the Fevered Ocean.  Sailing around it would greatly increase the length of a trans-oceanic voyage, and sailing through it is incredibly perilous.  As a result the Esurience has greatly discouraged overseas exploration to the west, barring the inhabitants of the Twilight Cities from any other continents or island chains which might lie beyond.  Legends persist, of course, of paradisiacal lands on the other side of the Fevered Ocean, and every few years a ship sets out from the Serrated Coast in hopes of reaching these fabled shores.  None have ever returned.

Out of Character

The Skyscar, the Suppuration, Abysm, and the Esurience now form the boundaries of the Cadaverous Earth - I rather like the idea of the world being bordered by these titanic pseudo-natural phenomena of relatively mysterious natures, otherwordly portals and psychic bleeds and huge pits that might lead to the Hells or to stranger places, zones where reality begins to ebb and chaos intrudes...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on November 16, 2009, 10:30:04 AM
How do you envision the transition between the Fevered Ocean and the Abysm?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on November 16, 2009, 01:19:59 PM
You got some great 'never-heard-before' words. Never heard of esurient before. Maybe it comes from you studying english :p
I love Marainein; mysterious, decrepit and decadent. I can see the poor citizens of the city following any of a number of nonsensical and twisted laws. Is it part of your plan to create more maritime trading hubs?
Erebh seems to be full of potential with its miasma and monstrous abysmal beings and woundfolk, gloomkind and phetorii (whatever all that is).
The Esurience is cool. I don't know if the whirlpool is a bit overkill; a storm is cool enough as is.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on November 16, 2009, 03:02:04 PM
Your eternal storm has a real life equivalent by the way (sort of). Might have been inspiration for you, or else it could become it: Catatumbo Lightning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catatumbo_lightning)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 16, 2009, 05:09:50 PM

Out of Character

[blockquote=Ghostman]How do you envision the transition between the Fevered Ocean and the Abysm?[/blockquote]I was thinking about this one and I'm torn between having a gap between the edge of Abysm and the shore, and having the sea spill over into Abysm, Scar-style.  I'm leaning towards the former, since the Esurience already empties the sea. [blockquote=Cataclysmic Crow]love Marainein; mysterious, decrepit and decadent. I can see the poor citizens of the city following any of a number of nonsensical and twisted laws. Is it part of your plan to create more maritime trading hubs?[/blockquote]Exactly - Marainein is intended as a southern maritime trading partner, and goods going to Erebh would probably travel through Marainein as well.

I wasn't familiar with the Catatumbo Lightning, although that's really cool... I was thinking more of the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on November 17, 2009, 02:58:55 PM

Steerpike


I was thinking about this one and I'm torn between having a gap between the edge of Abysm and the shore, and having the sea spill over into Abysm, Scar-style.  I'm leaning towards the former, since the Esurience already empties the sea.


What would this gap be? Something like a land bridge?

Maybe that corner could be perpetually covered in thick mist, so wide and dense that no glimpse of the sea could be seen from the Abysm and the horizon would be completely obscured when looked from the sea or land? You could state that ships sailing into the mist simply disappear and are never seen again - or perhaps they are sometimes found floating adrift with the crew and passangers inexplicably missing...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 17, 2009, 05:00:57 PM

Out of Character

Yeah - although it might quite wide.  Abysm does have another side in this setting, it's just rarely visited; Abysm also runs somewhat diagonally rather than horizontally east-west.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on November 17, 2009, 05:25:34 PM
You keep saying that the Skyscar acts as the northern border of the setting. How does that work? Isn't the Skyscar in the sky? How does it keep you from moving North?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 17, 2009, 07:19:01 PM

Out of Character

It doesn't actually inhibit travel physically but it does afflict travelers beneath it, leaving them susceptible to demoniac possession - a fairly major deterrent to exploration.  I also mean "border" in the sense that it's simply at the "top" of the setting.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 01, 2010, 09:15:04 AM

Out of Character

I added Ghostman's Leering God from the Suddenly, Cultists contest to the religion section.  Thanks, Ghostman!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 01, 2010, 09:55:48 PM

Out of Character

While starting a few notes for a potential CE campaign I came to a strange discovery: the word Baranauskas (the name of a my beloved City of Bodysnatchers) is actually a Lithuanian given name!  I have no idea where I got the name from originally; somehow I doubt it's coincidence.

Anyway, I could have just left it, but I have decided to change the name.

HENCEFORTH, BARANAUSKAS IS NO MORE!  BEHOLD: THE CITY OF MACELLARIA, CITY OF BODYSNATCHERS, THE MAGGOT CITY!

Macellaria is a bastardization of the Latin word for slaughter-house, and also is part of the scientific name of a screwworm.  So yeah, that fits a lot better!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on June 03, 2010, 03:25:00 PM

Steerpike


Out of Character

While starting a few notes for a potential CE campaign I came to a strange discovery: the word Baranauskas (the name of a my beloved City of Bodysnatchers) is actually a Lithuanian given name!  I have no idea where I got the name from originally; somehow I doubt it's coincidence.

Anyway, I could have just left it, but I have decided to change the name.

HENCEFORTH, BARANAUSKAS IS NO MORE!  BEHOLD: THE CITY OF MACELLARIA, CITY OF BODYSNATCHERS, THE MAGGOT CITY!

Macellaria is a bastardization of the Latin word for slaughter-house, and also is part of the scientific name of a screwworm.  So yeah, that fits a lot better!



Ok, that was funny.
I like the origin of the new name.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 07, 2010, 01:12:59 AM
I did kind of like Baranauskas, will be sad to see it go :P
But Macellaria sounds quite cool as well, especially considering its origin!
Although it sounds different from many of your other names or is that just me? Somewhat "softer".


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on June 07, 2010, 01:56:28 PM

Cataclysmic Crow


I did kind of like Baranauskas, will be sad to see it go :P
But Macellaria sounds quite cool as well, especially considering its origin!
Although it sounds different from many of your other names or is that just me? Somewhat "softer".



Sounds softer to me, but in a sickly diseased sort of way that makes it still fit. I love it.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 07, 2010, 04:59:57 PM

Out of Character

It sounds a little bit like a disease to me ("I came down with a nasty case of Macellaria") and also a bit like the word "laceration."


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: sparkletwist on June 07, 2010, 08:37:34 PM
I like Baranauskas more, personally, for whatever that's worth... probably not much. :D


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 07, 2010, 10:17:14 PM

Out of Character

Based on the sound alone I do as well - it's just a little odd that it happens to also be a real-world name.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 07, 2010, 10:26:41 PM
I would assume that most things do have a real world name equivalent- given the thousands of languages in existence.

I prefer to say the old name and I think it more conveyed a sense of intimidation; however, I prefer to write the new name. I do not think I would consistently be able to properly type the previous appellation.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on June 08, 2010, 03:19:37 AM
I was never happy with my original map. I did it too quickly and didn't put enough into it. So it's sat there bothering me for awhile. Now that I have the time I was finally able to fix my mistake and created a highly stylized map akin to the feel of CE. I also did a bit more research on various places and moved and changed labels to better fit the world. As a final twist I've given the map a realistic feel to it (I still have a flat version too if you want that). Hope you all like it (especially you Steerpike). I may go back and fix the text a bit since it isn't as readable as I'd hoped. You can clearly read each thing if you look at it but it still needs a little tweaking. Also the cities need a light outline not a dark since Lophius is hard to see.

(http://www.thecbg.org/e107_files/public/1275985176_438_FT56772_cadaverousearth.png)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on June 08, 2010, 03:28:34 AM
Here we go, here's the fixed version. Decided to just upload the flat one for that.

(http://www.thecbg.org/e107_files/public/1275985714_438_FT56772_cadaverousearthflat.png)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on June 08, 2010, 05:19:02 AM
Awesome map Nomadic :)

I think it successfully captures some of that rotten feel of the CE but doesn't go over the top with it.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 08, 2010, 09:22:54 AM
*JAW DROPS*

WOW.

Thank you Nomadic!  I'm greatly honored... that's incredible!  If I can ever repay the favour in some way, let me know!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on June 08, 2010, 11:38:48 AM

Steerpike


*JAW DROPS*

WOW.

Thank you Nomadic!  I'm greatly honored... that's incredible!  If I can ever repay the favour in some way, let me know!


Just keep working on this awesome setting :)

Oh, and switch out that ugly old map on the front page for the new one if you like it.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 08, 2010, 09:38:48 PM
Done!

I like the sickly tinge to the parchment, btw... good effect.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Hoers on June 08, 2010, 09:49:14 PM
Goodness, it's been a while since I last read any CE. I'll have to start over.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 08, 2010, 10:46:36 PM
Looks nice Nomadic! :)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 13, 2010, 10:42:28 AM
Some paragraphs have evaded your editing after you changed Baranauskas to Macellaria. Namely, there seems to be 4 occurrences of an even older name (or perhaps a misspelling): Baransauskas.
Should be fairly easy to track down the 4 of them for you.  


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 13, 2010, 11:33:02 AM
Thanks, Crow!  Fixed.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on June 13, 2010, 11:34:37 AM
Nom, that map makes me happy.  

Now I have to go kill some PCs for the sake of internal equilibrium.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on June 13, 2010, 12:39:37 PM

LordVreeg


Nom, that map makes me happy.  

Now I have to go kill some PCs for the sake of internal equilibrium.


Wouldn't it be better to sacrifice wine to the wine god then PCs to the blood god?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 13, 2010, 02:38:07 PM

Steerpike

Preview -The Esurience

Also known as the World's Navel, the Sea's Gullet, the Eternal Maelstrom, and the Perpetual Tempest, the Esurience is an unending storm centered round a massive whirlpool in the center of the Fevered Ocean.  A constant play of lightning wreathes the cloud-blacked sky above the Esurience while an unceasing anticyclone many miles wide swirls above the maelstrom itself, which takes the form of a sublimely vast oceanic vortex.  The exact cause of the Esurience is unknown, but many believe that at its bottom is a hole in the ocean floor, perhaps even a portal to some other plane, through which the Fevered Ocean is slowly but inexorably leaking.  If this theory is correct then given a long enough timeline the Ocean will eventually be entirely drained.  This would, amongst other things, result in the death of most of the Earth's algae, which would severely impact the world's oxygen cycle.

The Esurience poses a tremendous navigational hazard for any ships attempting to cross the Fevered Ocean.  Sailing around it would greatly increase the length of a trans-oceanic voyage, and sailing through it is incredibly perilous.  As a result the Esurience has greatly discouraged overseas exploration to the west, barring the inhabitants of the Twilight Cities from any other continents or island chains which might lie beyond.  Legends persist, of course, of paradisiacal lands on the other side of the Fevered Ocean, and every few years a ship sets out from the Serrated Coast in hopes of reaching these fabled shores.  None have ever returned.

Out of Character

The Skyscar, the Suppuration, Abysm, and the Esurience now form the boundaries of the Cadaverous Earth - I rather like the idea of the world being bordered by these titanic pseudo-natural phenomena of relatively mysterious natures, otherwordly portals and psychic bleeds and huge pits that might lead to the Hells or to stranger places, zones where reality begins to ebb and chaos intrudes...



I don't think the Esurience was ever added to the first page's posts.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 13, 2010, 03:27:05 PM
Yeah, I never got around to doing my big Fevered Ocean write-up (I will someday).  It was going to feature these big ships, kind of like a cross between coffin ships and the ships of the Elves of Middle Earth, full of people who were so disgusted with the Cadaverous Earth that they've decided to sail away into the western oblivion in the unfounded hope that there'll be some cleaner land beyond the Ocean...

Here is Light Dragon's excellent PDF (http://www.mediafire.com/?22ymndwy2yi) of the setting!  206 pages of my warped scribblings plus illustrations, maps, poetry, reviews, and contributions from other board members (with imaginations clearly as deranged and deviant as my own), committed to Adobe for the first time!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on June 13, 2010, 04:13:20 PM
Ah, the new bible ^^
Pretty cool to have it in pdf form. Kudos to LD


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on June 13, 2010, 04:33:06 PM
You are welcome. It took a while, but it was fun to make.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Cheomesh on June 15, 2010, 12:57:48 AM
Cool map; can't seem to find the PDF because I am a lunatic.

Regarding your map, however, why are there two cities cut off from the obvious river?

M.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 15, 2010, 02:27:42 PM
PDF is two posts above, and linked on the front page.

Moroi is in the place it is because that's where the Elder Trees are, which are vitally important arcane resources (think the spice from Dune).  Their sap fuels witchcraft across the Cadaverous Earth.  Weird, shifting rivers with unpredictable routes distorted by the movements of the Tallow Plains provide it with water.

Macellaria gets its water from deeply sunk underground wells that tap into a massive subterranean lake, though there are other, smaller rivers nearby (notably the Tendril, which boasts a mid-sized shanty-town of its own) and that just aren't on the map that help to irrigate its hinterlands.

The map may make those rivers look close, but they're actually pretty far away - days or weeks.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on June 19, 2010, 05:03:54 PM
Just a weird, random idea, added to the diseases section...

Rune-Rash

This bizarre condition is quite common in Moroi and other locales in which large amounts of witchcraft are practiced, such as the Hexwarren district of Macellaria.  Rune-Rash usually afflicts spellcasters, and so is sometimes known as 'witchrot' or 'sorcerer's sores.'  Rune-Rash is a memetic, eldritch parasite transferred when a certain arcane formula is read by someone fluent in Hextongue, the glyph-language of witchcraft: those non-fluent in the language are effectively immune to the Rash's effects.  Upon reading the 'infected' symbols '“ which have been found in certain ancient grimoires and have since been replicated, sometimes in graffiti form '“ the reader has a risk of contracting the Rash; 'skim' reading the formula seems to carry a lesser risk of infection, whereas thorough study virtually guarantees it.

Once infected, the reader at first notices nothing; gradually, however, a strange skin-affliction begins to affect the victim, manifesting as a series of subcutaneous Hextongue runes, which gradually spread until the sufferer's body is covered in arcane formulae and becomes effectively contagious, since anyone 'reading' their body carries a risk of contracting the disease.  Fortunately, a simple dispel hex or potion totally erases the glyphs, effectively curing the Rune-Rash.  Because of the ease and availability of treatment, few cases become serious: however, in the advanced stages of Rune-Rash, the victim begins to suffer a strange, overpowering compulsion to further reproduce the formula, seizing any nearby writing material and immediately copying the runes down seemingly from memory and even engraving the glyphs on walls or other surfaces, such as furniture.  In extreme cases Rune-Rash victims deprived of other surfaces to write upon will attack living beings and attempt to cut runes into their flesh.  They also begin muttering in Hextongue in a manner similar to that of a Gibbergeist, albeit more coherently than those jabbering grave-spawn.  However, Rune-Rash only becomes dangerous if left untreated.

If the Rune-Rash is invoked as a spell all written material within a hundred feet is instantaneously transformed, becoming a copy or series of copies of the infected glyphs.  One (perhaps apocryphal) tale tells of a witch who foolishly cast the Rune-Rash formula in his library and so corrupted over a thousand valuable scrolls and spellbooks.  Wards and protective sigils bound to grimoires appear to protect against this effect, fortunately.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on June 19, 2010, 06:59:23 PM

Steerpike


Just a weird, random idea, added to the diseases section...

Rune-Rash

This bizarre condition is quite common in Moroi and other locales in which large amounts of witchcraft are practiced, such as the Hexwarren district of Macellaria.  Rune-Rash usually afflicts spellcasters, and so is sometimes known as 'witchrot' or 'sorcerer's sores.'  Rune-Rash is a memetic, eldritch parasite transferred when a certain arcane formula is read by someone fluent in Hextongue, the glyph-language of witchcraft: those non-fluent in the language are effectively immune to the Rash's effects.  Upon reading the 'infected' symbols '“ which have been found in certain ancient grimoires and have since been replicated, sometimes in graffiti form '“ the reader has a risk of contracting the Rash; 'skim' reading the formula seems to carry a lesser risk of infection, whereas thorough study virtually guarantees it.

Once infected, the reader at first notices nothing; gradually, however, a strange skin-affliction begins to affect the victim, manifesting as a series of subcutaneous Hextongue runes, which gradually spread until the sufferer's body is covered in arcane formulae and becomes effectively contagious, since anyone 'reading' their body carries a risk of contracting the disease.  Fortunately, a simple dispel hex or potion totally erases the glyphs, effectively curing the Rune-Rash.  Because of the ease and availability of treatment, few cases become serious: however, in the advanced stages of Rune-Rash, the victim begins to suffer a strange, overpowering compulsion to further reproduce the formula, seizing any nearby writing material and immediately copying the runes down seemingly from memory and even engraving the glyphs on walls or other surfaces, such as furniture.  In extreme cases Rune-Rash victims deprived of other surfaces to write upon will attack living beings and attempt to cut runes into their flesh.  They also begin muttering in Hextongue in a manner similar to that of a Gibbergeist, albeit more coherently than those jabbering grave-spawn.  However, Rune-Rash only becomes dangerous if left untreated.

If the Rune-Rash is invoked as a spell all written material within a hundred feet is instantaneously transformed, becoming a copy or series of copies of the infected glyphs.  One (perhaps apocryphal) tale tells of a witch who foolishly cast the Rune-Rash formula in his library and so corrupted over a thousand valuable scrolls and spellbooks.  Wards and protective sigils bound to grimoires appear to protect against this effect, fortunately.


Sounds like the creation of a depraved eldritch prankster... I love it.

Oh btw I have something to say I am sure you will enjoy. Awhile back I showed my friend The CBG as I was talking with him about my setting. On his own he apparently started reading other settings and he ABSOLUTELY loves your settings (and your writing style in general). I was showing him your tempter stuff today and after I read him the intro paragraph on the tempter page he was applauding. So you have at least one fan you didn't know about.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: TheMeanestGuest on July 29, 2010, 09:53:51 PM
I wasn't entirely sure what thread to post this in, but I think it might be slightly better placed here.

I decided to write another short story about Kaius, as I've grown more interested in him as a character. I think this got away from me a bit, but ended up being decent. It's a bit longer than I'd have liked. Read at your own peril.

This is about six months after Lady Genevieve's exile from Somnambulon. I didn't exactly explain the present circumstances in the story, so, basically Lady Genevieve is running a quasi legal fashion house (among other things) in Skein. She's not licensed to sell her products in the city, but I figure there's a lot of money to be made off clothing and silk.
 

Edit: The formatting got kind of screwed up on the forum, but I can't get it to look right =\ I'll fiddle with it tomorrow. For now I've just seperated everything.

 

Fashion Faux Pas


Eight Years Ago,

Skein

Perched precariously on the bank of the Radula at the southern edge of the Violet Ward, painted in a garrish mix of colours, the manse of Lady Genevieve resembled nothing less than a grotesque bird preparing to take flight. Of late it had been uncharacteristically quiet, and this deep in the night barely a sound emanated from the grounds. Standing on the lower tier of His Lady's dais, Kaius had a perfect view of the floor of the main hall. A few remaining hangers-on lay scattered about, draped over divans and cushions, smoking from hookahs or conversing quietly among themselves. A string quartet played faintly in a corner. After observing the changing fashions of Skein for many months from this very spot, Kaius considered himself lucky His Lady gave some consideration to practicality in the dress of her servants. Still, bedecked in a yellow and black diamond checkered brigandine and cloak Kaius longed for his own armour. Most troublesome of all was the obnoxious feather that drooped from his beret which he constantly had to blow out of the way. 'Kaius' Lady Genevieve called softly.

   Kaius turned;'Yes, My Lady?' he responded. Ensconced atop a shifting mound of pillows His Lady looked at him wistfully. Her angular face and high cheekbones were framed by long tresses of scarlet hair. Her slim but curvaceous figure was emphasized by a diaphanous dress of her own design. Baring her breasts, the red silk spiraled down her midriff and legs in sheer coils. She gave him a cryptic smile.  

   'Bernadette has returned with our.. guest. Would you please clear the hall?' said Lady Genevieve. She clapped impishly.
 
   'At once, My Lady.' Kaius followed with a salute of hand to heart. Kaius turned again, his three fellow Insomnolent - accoutred in similar discomfort - had half twisted towards him from their positions in front of the dais. 'Eugenie, Maximillian, Amelia. Direct the hirelings, clear the floor' the three Guards saluted in turn to Kaius. Sweeping out across the hall they issued a succession of hand signals. The hired guards left their positions near the entrances and detached themselves from the walls and began to assist the Insomnolent in herding Lady Genevieve's guests out the two side doors. In a few short moments, the last of the stragglers were making their exit. The hirelings returned to their postings and, at a gesture from Kaius, the three Insomnolent arrayed themselves by the central doors. Kaius glanced towards Lady Genevieve; she seemed pensive. The mahogany paneled doors opened slowly with a groan, as if in protest at what they were about to admit. In strode the two Whispers: Bernadette and her younger brother, Emery.  Before them walked a girl who could not have been more than nine. She wore a simple lacy white dress. A sinuous silver length of chain held by Emery was secured about her wrists; Bernadette drove her forwards with a beautiful long-barreled pepperbox leveled directly at her head. As the new arrivals stopped a respectful distance from the dais, the Guardsmen took up positions behind them. Bernadette saluted and looked up adoringly at Lady Genevieve.
   
'Lamia' Lady Genevieve said simply. She sipped calmly from a crystal wineglass.   

'Genevieve' the girl responded. 'To what do I owe the pleasure of being dragged here by your pets?' her voice echoed strangely, far too powerful to have come from such a small creature.

   'Come now, we think we both know the reasons.' she laughed airily.  Her composure shifted suddenly. 'You tried to fucking fleece us!' she shrieked. Kaius gritted his teeth against the noise. She relaxed. 'But there's no reason we can't work this out. Just return what you made off our silk.' Lady Genevieve smiled amicably. 'Or would you like us to inform the magisters of your continued existence? I'm sure they would be most displeased to hear of that, and all too happy to rectify it' she arched an eyebrow. The girl, Lamia, giggled.

   'Oh, Genevieve.' she giggled again 'You think I still have it? You'd think I'd give it to you if I did? As for those pathetic magisters -' Lady Genevieve raised an index finger to her lower lip and spat a searing gob of flame at Lamia. The five Insomnolent surrounding her barely had time to dive out of the way. As the girl was enveloped Kaius's revolver had already leaped to his hand, he fired six shots quickly into the conflagration. 'You bitch!' Lamia cried.

   Kaius dropped his revolver. The lights dimmed. Lady Genevieve sprung from her throne of cushions as it was torn apart by dozens of razor-sharp lances of shadow stuff. Pirouetting in the air, she twirled her rapier about her as she landed, spitting flames, but was quickly occluded by a whirling mass of shadows. His revolver hit the ground. Cries of terror rose from the hirelings but were quickly and wetly silenced. Kaius had jumped from the dais, rolling off a nearby divan. Two bolts of shadow whistled through the air where his head had been seconds previously. The five other Insomnolent were fighting in a close knot; Amelia's cloak was aflame as she grappled with a shadow homunculus. Coming out of his roll Kaius threw a dagger at Lamia; she stepped out of the way neatly and grinned contemptuously at Kaius. He surged forward, cutting deftly with his longsword through a homunculus that tried to bear him down. Another lashed at him with its claws of vicious insubstance, he ducked, his sword cleaving through its legs. Panicked at how quickly Kaius was advancing, Lamia wove an impenetrable web of lashing tendrils about her. The last gap in her defence was closing. Kaius vaulted off a chair and dove headfirst through the too-quickly vanishing hole; lacerations opened on his legs as the tendrils grasped at him. Lamia's eyes widened as Kaius's sword drove straight for her neck; a silent gasp played across her lips. Her eyes changed. Before he could process the action Kaius had moved his sword arm almost imperceptibly to the right. He sheared through one of the girl's brown locks. The lights hummed as they returned to full brightness; Kaius clattered to the floor. Bawling, the girl crumpled next to him.

    Almost instantly Lady Genevieve was there beside them, holding the girl roughly by the chin she looked into her eyes; Lady Genevieve hissed.  'The bitch was too cowardly to experience her body's death. Kaius, dispose of this. There's no telling what it might remember.'

   'My Lady? She is but a child.' Kaius sputtered, taken aback, as he picked himself up.

        'Kaius.' there was a warning tone in His Lady's voice, barely restrained anger danced in her eyes.

   'Yes, My Lady. Immediately.' Kaius glanced at the sobbing girl. 'Well, come on then.' He reached down to take her hand. The girl proved recalcitrant, so he hoisted her onto his shoulder with a sigh. Pointedly ignoring the glances of his wounded comrades, Kaius retrieved his revolver and gingerly stepped around the bodies littering the hall, leaving through one of the side doors. Servants and guests of His Lady looked at him questioningly as he walked down the hallway, but said nothing. The girl had fallen asleep. He marched through the kitchen, the chef waved at him confusedly over the beginnings of breakfast spread before himself; Kaius answered with a slight nod. Exiting into the yard, he took a deep breath of the cool early morning air. Strolling lazily over to the river wall he looked into the fast flowing water. He hesitated while reaching for his revolver. Looking over at the girl's face he noticed she was awake.

   'Hello' she said shyly. Kaius sighed heavily and let his reaching arm slacken. 'You saved me from the wicked lady.' her cheeks were flushing. She looked away, embarrassed. 'Mummy always says proper ladies aren't supposed to cry.'

   Kaius furrowed his brow seriously. 'Well, in this case I think she might be able to understand. You've been through a lot.' he said.
 
   'Mummy is never very understanding..' she mumbled. Her face suddenly lit up. 'My name's Sarah! What's yours?'

   'Well, Sarah, I'm -'

   'Lady Sarah' she interrupted officiously.

   'Lady Sarah, I am Kaius Alexander, at your service.' he smiled as he lowered her to the ground.
'Now, My Lady, I think its about time we got you home. Your family must be horribly worried.'

   Sarah sniffled loudly.    'I don't know where Mummy and Daddy are!' she wailed 'I can't remember much at all. The wicked lady took me away so very long ago. She said I'd never see them ever again.' Sarah looked like she was about to cry again.'I'm sorry, Mr. Kaius. You must think me a terrible baby. I.. I have an Aunty, she lives in the Azure Ward!'

     'My Lady, I swear to you that I shall assist you however I may in your return to your relations. Come, we have spent too much time standing around here.' Kaius scanned the yard as he stood up ; Sarah nodded sagely. There did not seem to be anyone about. Sarah clutched at his gauntleted hand as he led her towards the back gate.

   'Going somewhere, lover?' the last word was dragged out. Bernadette dropped lithely off the low wall that surrounded the compound. She grinned fiercely as she pulled the hood of her black cloak back, revealing her short cropped brown hair. The leather harness cinching her blackened scale shirt creaked slightly as she advanced towards him. Sarah hid behind Kaius's leg. 'Disobeying Our Lady?Naughty, Kaius.' Bernadette purred.

   'We are not involved, Bernadette. And you are not involved in this. Step aside.' said Kaius. Bernadette pouted.

   'You always know how to disappoint a woman, Kaius.' she said. Kaius made to move past her. He saw her glance over his shoulder. Locking his arm around Bernadette's throat, Kaius turned. He ripped the dagger out of her hand as she freed it from its sheathe. Sarah squealed. He just noticed the low whistling sound and barely managed to catch the projectile with his free hand before it sank into his face. Hurling the paralytic dart back at its origin, Emery staggered out of the shadows clutching at it as it protruded from his neck before loosely collapsing in a heap. Kaius tightened his grip.

   'I told you to step aside, Bernadette.' he said. Kaius lowered her gently to the ground as she lapsed into unconsciousness. He quickly hustled Sarah out of the gate and into the alley.
 
   'Mr. Kaius! You shouldn't go around hurting people like that.' Sarah intoned seriously, hands on her hips.
 
   'Lady Sarah, you have my apologies. But it was necessary for your safety. I did not injure them grievously. They are merely sleeping, and will be up shortly. So we had best move on quickly' said Kaius.

   'I suppose I can forgive you. If you did it for me.' she said as she smiled up at him. It was getting lighter as they walked out of the alley. Sarah blinked in astonishment at the unfamiliar architecture and cleverly suggestive, though artfully wrought, signage that advertised for the various businesses along the street.
 
   'Mr. Kaius, where are we?' she asked.

   'My Lady. I regret to say that this is the Violet Ward.' he answered.

   'Oh no. Daddy will be horribly cross if he finds out.' Sarah's face had turned bright red.

   'Then for your safety and dignity, we shall make our exit quickly.' he assured her. As they headed towards their destination Sarah chatted idly, expressing immense curiosity in Kaius's own childhood and the Sleepwalker's City. He gladly informed her of what he could, though of necessity left out the majority of his story. As they neared the Azure Ward Kaius began to notice people staring pointedly at them. At first he dismissed it, but quickly it began to worry at him. His concern had reached a fever pitch by the time citizens began to filter off the street.'Lady Sarah, you must forgive me, but I fear that I may be unable to fulfill my promise to deliver you to your kin.' said Kaius as he glanced about uneasily. Sarah opened her mouth to respond, but never had the opportunity. A group of automata belonging to the Watch had rumbled across the next intersection.

   'HALT MALCONTENT' an indeterminate automata bellowed mechanically. 'YOU ARE ACCUSED OF KIDNAPPING AND OTHER SUNDRY CRIMES. REMAIN WHERE YOU ARE FOR SUMMARY JUDGEMENT' Kaius turned, but the previous intersection was similarly blocked by men of the Watch and their machines. Kaius sprinted for a nearby alley. The automata reacted immediately, throwing themselves into motion. Sarah chased after him.

   'Wait!' she cried. 'Please don't hurt him, he rescued me!' When they arrived at the mouth of the alley he had already vanished.  


Sooo, yeah. I didn't really intend to introduce Sarah as a character. I don't plan things out before I write them, maybe I should! I've never tried to write a child in anything before, I hope I wasn't horrendously patronizing. Sarah is kind of naive, but I figure that wouldn't be all that surprising coming from a sheltered magister's daughter. Incidentally, her parents were most certainly murdered by Lamia. She doesn't really remember much of her possession, nor does she understand what happened. She was convinced Lamia had physically absconded with her, rather than possessing her. I figure writing a catatonic character would be kind of boring and depressing.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: TheMeanestGuest on September 01, 2010, 08:04:45 AM
I am sure Steerpike appreciates your clever input, spambot.

Weird, that's the first one I've ever seen here.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 17, 2010, 07:33:49 PM
Two new races/creatures (one rather similar to Cataclysmic Crow's Swarm Gods, admittedly...):

Writhelings

Also called blattarians (as they term themselves), metamorphs, and soul-eaters, writhelings are sometimes considered grave-spawn because of their grotesque appearance, though in fact they are hideously alive.  In their true forms they appear as seething swarms of insects very similar to cockroaches, albeit with larger mandibles.  Writhelings are accomplished shapeshifters, however, and rarely assume their natural forms, preferring to counterfeit those of other beings.  Writhelings cannot simply adopt the form of any creature they wish, however: they choose from a repertoire of forms which they amass by devouring other beings alive.  Consuming a corpse is inadequate; a writheling's victim must die while being eaten for the writheling to later assume their semblance.  Writhelings are perfect mimics, however '“ there are no physical 'tells' or other indications that a being is actually a writheling.  However, as writhelings are actually a mass or swarm of creatures possessing a hive-mind as opposed to an individual entity, they have a tendency to refer to themselves in the plural rather than the singular.  While most of the time they are able to maintain their façade a flustered or inattentive writheling may slip up and expose itself by referring to itself as 'we,' though only a keen listener will pick up the error.
   
Writhelings do not reproduce in their natural forms but rather breed while transformed.  Offspring of one writheling and one non-writheling parent are full writhelings: though born in the semblance of their non-writheling parent they quickly discover their shapeshifting abilities, usually adopting their swarm shape six months to a year after birth.

Conspiracy theories abound as to the secret plots of writhelings abound.  Those who endorse such rumours often claim that many of the most powerful individuals in the Twilight Cities have been replaced by writheling doppelgangers working to bring the civilized world under their clandestine control.  Whether or not there is any truth to these stories, it is true that writhelings frequently devour and replicate the forms of those in positions of authority or luxury.  Because of these rumours, writhelings are shunned and actively persecuted, much as eidolons are.  Only in the cosmopolitan chaos of Crepuscle, the catacombs of Macellaria, and some of the more libertine districts of Lophius can writhelings openly display their true natures.

Sheevra

The dwindling descendents of the city of Ker-Iz on the fabled Isle of Dusk off the Serrated Coast in the Fevered Ocean, the race known as the Sheevra has become diluted from centuries of human-Sheevra couplings, such that there are no pure-blooded Sheevra left, and those who do claim Sheevra ancestry look almost entirely human, betrayed only by their luminous green-gold eyes and a faint golden shimmer and pale glow to their skin, an attribute that has earned them the name of 'Tawny Folk.'  In millennia long past, the citadel-metropolis of Ker-Iz was the most beautiful city in the world, though its gates were shut to all but the Sheevra.  An aloof and secretive people driven by wild desires and intensely sybaritic impulses, the hedonistic Sheevra might have conquered the known world with their natural eldritch talents; even at its height the cestoid Imperium itself never penetrated the ensorcelled walls of Ker-Iz.  Some have suggested that the Sorcerer Kings of old are the progenitors of the Sheevra, having joined their lineage with demons, oneiroi, or some other manner of spirit.

Disgusted with the notion of conquest, the Sheevra preferred the pursuit of pleasure to power, indulging in every conceivable desire, and a few inconceivable to all but the Sheevra themselves.  Labour was unnecessary for them, for the race was and is gifted with extraordinary inborn arcane talent, their blood mingled with pure numina, whose glow gives them their distinctive sheen.  While disinterested in the scholarly witchcraft of humans and other species, the Sheevra's natural abilities allowed them to conjure the servants and resources they needed to live their luxurious, decadent lives.  All of this changed, however, when Ker-Iz was suddenly swallowed by the Fevered Ocean, pulled beneath the waves in a single cataclysmic surge that tore down the crystalline walls with their battlements of ethereal glass stronger than glyph-etched steel or ur-bone, flooded the winding, half-sentient streets, and toppled the iridescent towers.  The exact reason for this disaster is still a mystery, but most believe the destruction of Ker-Iz to be the work of the vengeful beast-gods punishing the Sheevra for some broken pact or other, ancient wrongdoing.  The jatayi fablers speak of crustacean abominations stalking the mutable streets and tentacled horrors tearing down buildings, of a molluscoid warlord and his barnacle-studded retinue rampaging through the Glass Gardens and shattering the columns of the Dreaming Dome whose oneiric gems have been scattered across the Earth.  The Shreeva fought back with now-forgotten Arts, their cavalry wheeling on the backs of sphinxes, mood-lances slinging bolts of sorrow, but in the end the city fell, claimed by the cold and merciless sea.

Now, the Sheevra are an all but extinct race.  Some few of the survivors forged a fell contract with a demoniac prince and transformed themselves into the first eidolons, or so the lore-keepers whisper.  The rest chose a life of vagabondage, becoming noble exiles - mercenaries and gutter-witches, sensual flaneurs, addicts, beggars with glittering eyes.  Restless and melancholy from birth for a homeland none of their remaining ilk can still remember, the Sheevra are both drawn to and repelled by the society of other sentient beings.  Though their bloodline has been corrupted the descendents of the Sheevra still live for several centuries, and some spend decades wandering alone or else secreted in solitary hermitages.  At other times Sheevra throw themselves into fresh debaucheries to fight back against their vague sorrow.

I envision the Sheevra at least as playable.  Here are some rough stats:

Sheevra Traits

Fey: Shreeva are Fey, not humanoids.

+2 Charisma, -2 Strength: Sheevra are exquisitely beautiful but physically frail.

Base Speed 30 ft.

Low Light Vision (2x)

Drowsy: Like cats, Sheevra require large amounts of sleep.  If they do not get 10 hours of sleep in a given night they cannot cast spells the following day, and must make a Fortitude save (DC 20 - the number of hours they did sleep) or be fatigued.

-4 Hide: Sheevra have slightly luminous eyes and skin, making it difficult for them to conceal themselves.

+2 racial bonus to Will saves against spells or spell-like abilities.

+2 racial bonus to Witchcraft [Spellcraft] checks.

Spell-Like Abilities: 1/day a Sheevra can cast Hexsight [Detect Magic], Light, and Resistance as a first level caster.

Sheevra get a Background trait but do not select an additional trait.

Favoured Class: Witch.  Note: Shreeva witches prepare and cast spells as 3.5 Sorcerers rather than Wizards, casting spells spontaneously and using Charisma rather than Intelligence.

Automatic Languages: Shambles, two bonus languages.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on September 18, 2010, 05:25:15 AM
How complete a transformation is the writhelings' shapeshifting ability? Do they only look like the creature they're imitating, or do they actually take on fleshly forms with functional organs? If a transformed writheling is cut, will it bleed convincingly?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 18, 2010, 01:07:36 PM
Full and complete transformation.  Physically, they're totally indistinguishable from the creature they devoured.

EDIT: Are the Sheevra too weak stat-wise?  Would giving them SR of 11+ class level give them an LA?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on September 18, 2010, 02:05:04 PM
I was thinking maybe upping the base speed to 40 or 50 ft. to counter the problem re: strength and the fact that they cannot hide to escape predators.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on September 18, 2010, 02:24:48 PM
As written the race is only really good at being witches (and perhaps bards too). But they make rather powerful spellcasters due to the +2 on the casting stat. Giving them spell resistance might make them a bit too strong with optimal class. Perhaps you could give them some innate spells or spell-like abilities? Something that would be eventually obsoleted for spellcasting classes as they gain higher levels, but would remain a useful aid to non-spellcasting classes.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Llum on September 18, 2010, 02:27:49 PM
40 or 50ft seems pretty fast as a base speed. They don't really seem weak to me as is. I gather they almost always have some kind of eldritch talent? Maybe something about their glow that distracts the eye, giving them +1 to an active defense bonus? Is that too much?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 18, 2010, 03:32:22 PM
Added some spell-like abilities... they would certainly make excellent casters or charismatic types, and fairly terrible warriors.  They're intended kind of as similar to the Numenoreans (Tolkien), Melniboneans (Moorcock), or Altmer (Elder Scrolls).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LordVreeg on September 18, 2010, 04:18:03 PM

Steerpike


Added some spell-like abilities... they would certainly make excellent casters or charismatic types, and fairly terrible warriors.  They're intended kind of as similar to the Numenoreans (Tolkien), Melniboneans (Moorcock), or Altmer (Elder Scrolls).

I'm pleased that I am sufficiently geeked out that I did not blink and merely nodded.

These strange, eldritch exiles, do they have goals?  Who were they allied with?  Is there a grouping of them anywhere?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on September 18, 2010, 04:55:30 PM
Too scattered for real communities; perhaps here and there a small enclave within a larger city.  They have goals, certainly, but without a stable society of their own, those goals are either tied to a power other than their own or (more commonly) they're purely personal.  Godless, homeless, mingling power and weakness, filled with a drive to connect with others coupled with revulsion at those around them, vain and egotistical yet too lazy for intellectual or scholarly pursuits, most Shreeva fill their lives with hollow pleasures of the flesh.  Long-term relationships are difficult for Shreeva to form and sustain, partly because of their long lifespans, though one might imagine a Shreeva/ghul pairing, if the Shreeva could overcome his or her natural disgust and the ghul could tolerate the Shreeva's boisterousness (ghilan in general being rather more sedate and reserved than the quick).  A few Shreeva might flirt with death in an attempt to fill the emptiness of their existence, throwing themselves into danger.  Others might manage the patience required to create works of art, probably with the aid of witchcraft.  Theirs is the way of the blood, not the brain.  They're intended, principally, as tragic characters.

An interesting twist might be to have a messianic Shreeva obsessed with the idea of building a new Ker-Iz and restoring his/her race to its former glory.  He/she might travel in search of his/her ilk in order to gather the dispersed remnants of the race.  Could be an interesting character, with a good excuse for adventuring.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Kindling on November 20, 2010, 04:40:53 PM
Two things:

Can Baranauskas persist as an archaic name for Macellaria that is still wrongly used by some people in the more distant cities? I just like the word and don't want it to vanish from the setting. It could be kind of like I hear a lot of people here (the UK) accidentally calling the Czech Republic Czechoslovakia.

Secondly, in your Blood and Bewitchment logs, wine gets mentioned a few times. Where does it come from? I can't think of a single region of CE that I can imagine being a good place for a vinyard.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on November 20, 2010, 05:49:08 PM
Sure, Baranauskas can be an archaic name, like Byzantium/Constantinople.

Wine I was imagining being produced in the regions around Skein and Crepuscle, which aren't quite as barren as other regions and which aren't as infested with monsters (they're still weird and filled with old ruins and stuff, they're just not quite in the Slaughter-lands proper) - so basically the northwestern parts of the world would be the principal wine producers.  There might also be scattered vineyards around the southern cities, growing grapes suited to the more arid conditions, but those would be rarer.  The far northern cities and Moroi probably wouldn't produce much in the way of wine, but they might import it.

Lophius is pretty swampy... not sure how well grapes would do there.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Kindling on November 20, 2010, 05:58:57 PM
Haha, yes, Byzantium is a much better example than Czechoslovakia. Lol.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Magnus Pym on February 03, 2011, 12:00:43 PM
Gruesome, gorious, evil... These and many more seem like good adjectives for this setting.

I think this is well done and shows alot of creativeness, definitely something that has been thought out for some time than just a momentary inspiration.

I have a question though, during its designing, how could you not become insane (or did you?)? I mean, you have your own, more focused visions of all that and I can say they're not all pretty images. A constant stream of these must have gotten you near burf-status at some points didn't it?

P.S: Congratulaton at cutting my lunch-appetite. :)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 07, 2011, 05:04:04 PM
With Pym's comment in mind I present these three new monstrosities, products of my ongoing derangement (disclaimer: these three grossed even me out):

Fleshtree

Thought by some arcanobiologists to be related to the morbid Bloodwoods of the southern swamps and linked by others to the warped experiments of the Cultivar Technocracy, the bizarre, unsettling beings known as fleshtrees are not plants at all but grotesque creatures of dubious intelligence usually encountered singly or in small 'copses,' or, more dangerously, in 'groves.'  In place of bark, fleshtrees have sickeningly human-like skin; in place of branches, they have a series of fully mobile, brachiating humanoid arms, each with long, claw-like nails; in place of roots, a great mass of writhing, pallid tentacles.  Covering the central trunk of the fleshtree are a number of 'knotholes': tiny, jawless mouths, round, like a lamprey's, that greedily consume almost anything thrust into them.  Though omnivorous, flesthtrees exhibit a clear preference for protein, and go out of their way to devour meat rather than vegetable matter.

Lacking eyes, noses, or ears, fleshtrees seem to hunt primarily by sensing tremors along the ground, seeking out vibrations.  They are also quite sensitive to changes in air currents: many an unwary bird or bat has been snared by the groping limbs of a fleshtree.  Rib-like bones form the central trunk (which houses a variety of organs, including multiple hearts), while the creature's limbs possess extremely flexible, many-socketed joints.  As a fleshtree grows it develops new 'branches' much as a normal tree might.  Though fleshtrees sweat they produce no other waste-matter, using all of their energy to grow new limbs.  They reproduce asexually: when a large enough branch of a fleshtree is removed it will eventually grow roots and become a new fleshtree.  Periodically fleshetrees will pull off their own limbs to produce such saplings, even bringing their 'young' food in the early stages of growth.  This disturbing practice has led many to speculate that fleshtrees are intelligent in some way, though they have no discernable brains, only crude nerve-bundles.

Though dangerous, fleshtrees are also highly useful.  In some areas '“ particularly the hinterlands of Macellaria '“ small copses of fleshtrees are tended by enterprising individuals known as treeherds.  Using percussive instruments they drive their copse from one location to another, always maintaining a safe distance, until ready to prune their gruesome livestock.  At this point paralyzing drugs or hexes are used to temporarily subdue the fleshtrees, at which point limbs or other meat will be shorn off.  This does little permanent damage to the fleshtree, which will eventually regenerate lost branches or roots with minimal scarring, though the creatures do seem to experience pain '“ their many mouths moan dully and whimper when limbs are being pruned.  Treeherds will also typically collect blood during pruning.  The resulting harvest is usually sold to the Skin Markets, to either be eaten by the city's grave-spawn or else utilized by its fleshcrafters in the tissue-shops.

Banehulk

Also known as Plague Golems, the behemothic abominations known as Banehulks are fortunately extremely rare.  Believed to be the perverse creations of the Poxbringers '“ rulers of the City of Creeping Flesh, a fell metropolis consumed by the shifting sands of the Firesong Marches many centuries ago '“ Banehulks are living laboratories, hosts for multifarious diseases.  While many of the pestilences devised by the Poxbringers could be cultured in their vile cauldrons, others had to be inculcated in living flesh.  Banehulks are thus infected with hundreds if not thousands of diseases: they are the walking embodiments of sickness.  Though large in size by design the bodies of Banehulks grow rampantly and chaotically: while originally resembling tall, heavy-set humanoids, present-day Banehulks are now hideous, shambolic titans of immense size, distorted with tumorous aggregations and unlikely appendages, the appalling results of centuries of disease-inflicted mutancy.  Their recuperative powers mean that their bulk ripples with constant degeneration and regeneration, presenting a horrific, shifting mass of diseased tissues.

Rumour has that in later days the Poxbringers unleashed Banehulks in battle against their foes, using them as war-machines, shock troops, and siege-breakers.  Rage-inducing phages were introduced into the brains of the normally docile titans, transforming them from gentle giants into slavering monstrosities bent only on destruction.  Fortunately the resulting conflicts greatly decreased the Banehulks' numbers.  Those few that linger on are solitary creatures, shunned by all living beings.  Bred to be ageless, Banehulks cannot be killed by the diseases that riddle their enormous, foetid bodies; the miasmic clouds of disease that swirl about them cause those beasts that venture too close to sicken and die, providing them with ample food-sources.  Some remain locked in combat-mode, still feverish with the implanted desire to desolate their surroundings: these frenzied horrors can lay waste to whole settlements before being destroyed.  Others seem to have overcome their battle-lust and become solitary hermits, or else seek to somehow end their perpetual suffering.  The Poxbringers endowed Banehulks with supreme regenerative capabilities so that even the worst wounds heal very swiftly: while insufficient to fight off the tumult of infections that afflict them, this ability makes it very difficult for Banehulks to die.  Fire is notably effective against them, and some Banehulks have journeyed to the volcanic magma-pools of the Shadowglass Steppes and thrown themselves in to end their agony; others have sought the briny embrace of the sea, drowning themselves in the Fevered Ocean.  Most, however, live reclusive and lonely lives, when they aren't rampaging across the countryside laying waste to all they find.

Mori

Though commonly believed to be the reanimated heads of decapitated murderers, the grave-spawn known as mori are actually a species of parasite that utilizes human heads much as hermit crabs adopt empty seashells.  Physically vulnerable unless possessing a humanoid head, mori resemble naked brains, pinkish ganglia without obvious visual or aural sense organs.  A clutch of flexible tendrils sprouts from beneath their central mass, allowing for locomotion and the manipulation of objects; these tendrils surround a beaked maw.  Mori also possess the ability to levitate, and thus often appear almost jellyfish-like when hovering without their usual outer shell.  Upon finding a humanoid corpse, mori break the mandibles and enter through the enlarged mouth, gnawing through the roof of the mouth to enter the brain cavity.  From here they devour the brain and ensconce themselves, tucking their bodies into the cranium.  The head then detaches and floats away, tentacles trailing beneath it like ropy entrails.

Though lungless, mori can shriek hideously, a powerful attack that literally freezes the blood of those that hear it, often killing or incapacitating them.  The floating mori will hover over the heads of dead or crippled prey and thrust out a mass of tendrils from its host's broken jaws, as if sticking out a series of rubbery tongues.  These flexible, questing tentacles are forced down the throat of the mori's victim in awful parody of a lover's kiss.  Secreting a flesh-dissolving mucus, the tongues begin to digest the internal organs of the grave-spawn's prey, then scoop semi-liquid morsels of viscera up into the mori's beaked mouth (located at the base of the neck).  Occasionally, a mori will lay its eggs in a hollowed out corpse.

For obvious reasons, mori are feared and greatly abhorred.  Though they exhibit clear signs of intelligence they do not speak.  They do sometimes form packs or larger flocks, called choruses or choirs respectively, which seem to have some variety of non-hierarchical, alien social structure.  In the Twilight Cities they are considered dangerous pests and are often found lingering in catacombs or crypts, or in cemeteries.  Nocturnal by nature like most grave-spawn, they dislike sunlight but do not seem to be actively harmed by it.

Out of Character

The mori are a kind of mash-up creature based in equal parts on the mind-flayer, intellect devourer, and vargouille.  I love all three monsters but as I don't want to outright steal anything directly from D&D I decided to fuse the three abberations into one revolting and terrifying monstrosity.

Now, to decide which of these beasties to unleash on my players first...


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on February 07, 2011, 05:14:07 PM
All 3 of those were sick and twisted. I love it! Also for some reason the first one made me think of the redneck tree when I read the name (after I read the description that thought went away, those things are far more perverted and disgusting than the redneck tree).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on February 07, 2011, 05:22:53 PM
I fear to run across those in the IRC game... except for the treeherders- that seems about as amusing as it is frightening.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Magnus Pym on February 07, 2011, 06:38:09 PM
wow. Great beasts, very creative yet again!

I especially like the Banehulk


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on February 07, 2011, 10:10:24 PM

Quote

Ezekiel Khaan

An eccentric (some would say deranged) witch who lives on the outskirts of Macellaria, Ezekiel Khaan is a wealthy and obsessive individual. Outwardly he appears human, though rumors persist that he has forged infernal contracts or else preserved himself with alchemical treatments, unnaturally prolonging his life. His physical semblance is chameleonic, to say the least. Round and excited eyes peer out from his ageless face, often adorned with elaborately sculpted whiskers '“ Ezekiel is prone to growing long, gaudily dyed beards (usually blue, green, or violent orange) and then shaving them without warning. He wears a shifting garment with sewn-in sigils that fluctuates in hue according to some inscrutable pattern, possibly its wearer's own whims, possibly at random. A hunched familiar something like a hairless monkey and something like a giant toad, addressed by Ezekiel as 'the Primeval Warbler,' can constantly be found in the witch's company, usually perched on his shoulder and babbling obscure and nonsensical gibberish that sounds sometimes like poetry and sometimes like a complex mathematical theorem.

Ezekiel's manse is located on a hill southeast of the Eel's Gate, ringed by a tall, solid wall of writhing maggots, constantly squirming, erupting from the ground in a quivering profusion of pallid larval flesh. The 'gate' of the manse only parts for welcome visitors, those who can prove that they have an appointment with Ezekiel to the demon gatekeeper Nybias '“ a tall, svelte figure with a beard of tentacles, a nest of red insectile eyes, and a barbed tail, habitually clad in a pristine white suit, Ezekiel's chosen livery, paid for his services rather than compelled into subjugation (though the terms of this arrangement are known only to Ezekiel and Nybias). Most of these visitors are outlandish themselves: mysterious men and women with odd grafts or lurid garb, adventurers and scoundrels and fellow hexers with stitched servitors or chained familiars or hulking bodyguards armed with unwieldy weapons. The manse itself is visible beyond the hideous living walls, a rambling and whimsically constructed edifice with many unlikely cupolas, spires, and wings, lavishly ornate and adorned with faceless statues like spindly mannequins, carved in animalistic and often sexual postures. Few reliable descriptions of the manse's interior have emerged. Reports have mentioned a mad chaos of clockwork and steam, furnaces and crucibles wreathed in sulphurous fumes, glass forests of beakers and test-tubes; an array of living furniture fashioned from monstrous limbs and skins; a room whose walls are covered in murmuring wallpaper that speaks with a thousand loquacious mouths.

Ezekiel's income is generated principally from his ingenious inventions and his alchemical concoctions, sold in the Hexwarren district of the City of Bodysnatchers. The Splicing Guild considers the witch a threat to their business but have been unable to infiltrate his manse; they would pay a small fortune to any willing to do so and return with Ezekiel's secrets.


Ah, just noticed this. Guess Wispy needs to locate the Splicing Guild to sell his extra partial map. :)

More information on them would be appreciated (I only noticed one other mention of them above).


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 07, 2011, 11:24:56 PM
[blockquote=Light Dragon]More information on them would be appreciated (I only noticed one other mention of them above). [/blockquote]The Splicing Consortium are basically the big fleshcrafters' guild, a trade association that oversees grafting, glyph-scribing, and soul-binding in the city; alchemists and apothecaries are also frequently members.  Though there are dozens - even hundreds - of freelancers throughout Macellaria, the Splicing Consortium disapproves of them, and actively harasses them if they become profitable, pressuring them to join the Consortium (Ezekiel is a rare case, as he's powerful enough to hold his own against the Consortium).  In exchange for dues and the like the Consortium provides loans and other resources such as training, equipment, and discounts on raw materials (arranged primarily with the Fleshmongers, the slavers, brothel-keepers, and graft-peddlers association) to its members.  It also provides pensions and the like to supplement retired masters, who generally take a role in the Consortium's administration.  While no official charter specifically requires fleshcrafters to join the Consortium, the benefits of joining generally outweigh those of independent operation.  Members get access to certain secret libraries, esoteric alchemical forumlae, and similar arcane knowledge.

EDIT: I envision them as quite conniving and ruthless, a sort of sinister necromancer's cabal run a bit like a bullying corporation and/or a particularly obnoxious, aggressive union: greedy, vicious, and self-serving.  At the same time they represent one of the few bastions of order in an otherwise anarchic city, and they do genuinely help a lot of craftsmen set up shop and stay in business.

And yeah, Carver's go-to fleshcrafter, Needlefingers, is a member.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on February 07, 2011, 11:26:18 PM
Hm. Sounds like people that Mr. Carver would be involved with in some fashion.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Superfluous Crow on February 08, 2011, 03:34:45 PM
yeeees. If I get discounts.
LD, what happened during your small trip to Hell (and back)?


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: LD on February 08, 2011, 04:10:59 PM
You can either find out in-game if you dare ask for Wispy's take on events; or, if you can wait-- I think that Steerpike is going to post up the story. :evil: :)


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on February 08, 2011, 05:33:40 PM
The story should be up on the log thread, as is the rest of Carver's jaunt.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on February 10, 2011, 08:39:05 AM
Steerpike I had a weird dream the other night that I think would actually make for an awesome disease in your setting. Basically a type of fungus that slowly takes over the body replacing the insides with fungus until it is so clogged up that internal organs fail and the person drops over dead. At which point the fungus uses the body as a sort of home until someone is foolish enough to disturb it. They then all burst inside the body releasing a form of free moving maggot-like larva that swarm quickly towards any living things nearby, burrowing into their skin (and through any thin armor and clothing between them and skin) and infecting them.

The most striking thing about the fungus is how it alters the body. Hairs fall out, the skin yellows, from where hair fell out long thin stalks grow out of the skin with feathery or rounded tips. Other pores on the skin start to grow and elongate connecting with those on the other side of the body creating holes that pass clean through arms and legs (when this starts happening to the torso the person is close to death). Within these holes one can look in to see the fungus themselves. Small round purple-gray pods with what almost look like craters on them from the center of which sprout long stalks with feathery or rounded tips. They don't seem to do much more than this to the body and a person will continue living a largely normal life other than the shocking change in appearance for awhile. However the fungus rapidly multiply and at some point all these spheres blocking arteries and clogging lungs, heart, liver, and more will kill the subject (in the case of creatures that can largely live without organs they slowly turn into walking fungus before falling apart). The only cure for the fungus is an immersion in a bath that has been prepared with certain herbs and hexed by a skilled witch as the fungus itself is an arcane creation. However it multiplies rapidly and so must be treated very quickly. Once the subject has died the only thing to do is to light the body on fire from a safe distance.

Anyhow I had a dream about this and woke up and went... hell that would be awesome for cadaverous earth as a sort of eldritch plague left over from time long since passed. Thought I'd share it with you.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 04, 2011, 02:54:58 PM
Very cool disease, Nomadic.  I must ponder fungi more.

Another vegetable monstrosity in the meantime:

Ghostgrass

Ghostgrass is a type of vegetation found principally in the Mewling Moors east of the Gloom Coast, though some has crept up into the south-easterly Slaughter-lands.  Drawing energy in part from the aether, ghostgrass is sometimes classified as a 'grave-spawn plant.'  It is immune to many diseases and, most importantly, to the putrefying Rotmists common in the regions it flourishes.  Arcane winds in the aether cause ghostgrass to rustle, producing a whispering noise that uncannily mimics the sound of voices: in particular, the voices of the dead.  A group of individuals moving through ghostgrass will all hear distinct and different voices identical to those of departed loved ones.  These voices begin by simply muttering familiar phrases or names, but gradually grow more and more disturbing, urging those near the ghostgrass to acts of extreme violence against their companions, or themselves, or else taunting an individual with shameful secrets.  During eldritch 'gales' this murderous susurrus has been known to drive travelers quite mad, forcing them to set upon one another.  In other cases it is merely unnerving.  Witches seem especially susceptible.  It is suspected that ghostgrass feeds on the dissipating life-energy ('soul') of dying creatures, and so encourages killing as a method of subtle predation.

Physically, ghostgrass is extremely pale, almost translucent; in moonlight it acquires an eerie greenish or bluish tinge, depending on subspecies.  It is extremely hardy and difficult to kill, being highly resistant to toxins or physical damage.  Fire is effective, but the damp of the Moors makes it difficult for flames to spread.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Ghostman on March 04, 2011, 05:22:28 PM
Can't help myself. My first thought reading that was that someone must have tried smoking the grass. :D


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on March 04, 2011, 06:08:23 PM
Does it drive everyone mad or would someone used to it be able to resist the whispers, knowing them for what they are.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 04, 2011, 06:29:59 PM
Nomadic, it could be resisted.  In crunch terms it'd be a Madness save, similar to a Kyton's Unnerving Gaze attack, or the suicide statuette from our campaign.
[blockquote=Ghostman]Can't help myself. My first thought reading that was that someone must have tried smoking the grass[/blockquote]How could I overlook this possibility?!?  Cool idea!


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Nomadic on March 04, 2011, 06:32:06 PM

Steerpike


Nomadic, it could be resisted.  In crunch terms it'd be a Madness save, similar to a Kyton's Unnerving Gaze attack, or the suicide statuette from our campaign.
[blockquote=Ghostman]Can't help myself. My first thought reading that was that someone must have tried smoking the grass[/blockquote]How could I overlook this possibility?!?  Cool idea!


New idea... witch smokes grass, gains great power, but is also driven mad (like with drinking too much of that mad wine stuff). So you have an insane person with alot of power and no predictability or sane reasoning. Power would probably be related to necromancy or control of spirits or something like that. And of course they would now be dependent on the grass.


Title: The Cadaverous Earth
Post by: Steerpike on March 04, 2011, 06:46:34 PM
Modified version:

Ghostgrass

Ghostgrass is a type of vegetation found principally in the Mewling Moors east of the Gloom Coast, though some has crept up into the south-easterly Slaughter-lands. Drawing energy in part from the aether, ghostgrass is sometimes classified as a 'grave-spawn plant.' It is immune to many diseases and, most importantly, to the putrefying Rotmists common in the regions it flourishes. Arcane winds in the aether cause ghostgrass to rustle, producing a whispering noise that uncannily mimics the sound of voices: in particular, the voices of the dead. A group of individuals moving through ghostgrass will all hear distinct and different voices identical to those of departed loved ones. These voices begin by simply muttering familiar phrases or names, but gradually grow more and more disturbing, urging those near the ghostgrass to acts of extreme violence against their companions, or themselves, or else taunting an individual with shameful secrets. During eldritch 'gales' this murderous susurrus has been known to drive travelers quite mad, forcing them to set upon one another. In other cases it is merely unnerving. Witches seem especially susceptible. It is suspected that ghostgrass feeds on the dissipating life-energy ('soul') of dying creatures, and so encourages killing as a method of subtle predation.

Physically, ghostgrass is extremely pale, almost translucent; in moonlight it acquires an eerie greenish or bluish tinge, depending on subspecies. It is extremely hardy and difficult to kill, being highly resistant to toxins or physical damage. Fire is effective, but the damp of the Moors makes it difficult for flames to spread.  Interestingly, ghostgrass has great utility as an alchemical ingredient: when combined with other reagents it can be refined into an elixir which, when imbibed, produces temporary incorporeality in the drinker. When mixed with nectar from the Elder Tree and then injected by a witch, essence of ghostgrass greatly increases the efficacy of necromantic witchcraft.  It can also be smoked in its raw state, which likewise produces an interesting effect: the smoker becomes intensely aware of the life-force of surroundin