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Author Topic: The Cadaverous Earth  (Read 64412 times)
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« Reply #15 on: November 01, 2008, 07:59:25 PM »

Perfect poem choice.
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« Reply #16 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.
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« Reply #17 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.
« Last Edit: February 02, 2014, 05:53:23 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #18 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.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:42:51 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #19 on: November 02, 2008, 03:02:45 PM »

Reserved for Crepuscle, the City of Red and Black.
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« Reply #20 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.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:43:18 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #21 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.  
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« Reply #22 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...
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« Reply #23 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.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:44:17 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #24 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?
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« Reply #25 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.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:45:12 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #26 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 tongue

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.
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« Reply #27 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.

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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!
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« Reply #28 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.
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« Reply #29 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.
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