Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fiendish Quartet #3

Lost World Above

There's a book I read when I was much younger that told the story of a modern man trapped in an underground world, hunted by the evil fey who live there and unable to cross back to the surface world. My google-fu is not strong enough tonight to track down the title, but the book had a memorable beginning. The story's hero first discovers the underworld after pursuing a strange figure into the basement of a building, and then on through a gap in the wall of the adjoining basement, which is connected to yet another basement and another, following a secret highway connecting the dark corners behind furnaces and broken furniture. Eventually he finds a lost world deep beneath ours.

What if the lost world, though, was the one above? Two of the iconic races of the underdark, the drow and the deep gnomes, are first collected in the Fiend Folio, and there are many other strange deep-dwelling creatures in the book--meazels and meenlocks, dire corbys and doombats, gibberlings and grimlocks. What if their caves and subterranean cities were all of the known world?

Travel in this world is hard--even well established trading routes are treacherous. Bullywug bandits gambol and hop from their sumps to waylay caravans. Yellow musk creeper clings to stalactites and stalagmites, choking entire caverns like kudzu, a vile weed spreading its seedlings on the backs of its zombie victims. Mites and snyads pilfer and loot the unwatchful, and the loathed jermlaines use their nets and clubs and pitfalls to capture travelers for ransom, or worse. Beyond a few miles teleportation magic is risky for most spellcasters, but the enigmatic crypt things form a wealthy cabal of travel brokers, collecting hefty tolls to move folk over long distances. Their depots are encysted in solid rock, sealed off from all other tunnels and warded from scrying.

There are no large nations in the underdark, only small unfederated kingdoms, city-states, and trading centers. The drow and the other elvish races are a fading people. Their great halls of polished stone and marble are still, their galleries empty save for echoing footsteps. Dwarves mine alongside the svirfneblin for gems and precious metals, and the duergar study magic in squat, daemon-guarded towers. Deep halflings, the derro, are xenophobic nomads by and large, tending herds of cave oxen. Humans are more cosmopolitan, mingling even with xvarts, norkers and other humanoids in their cities and bazaars.

Forking off from the known routes are uncountable side caves. The further one follows these corkscrewed tunnels the stranger and more dreamlike the underworld grows: Two revenant princes marshal death knights and fouler undead in a perpetual war, each seeking justice for a betrayal long forgotten. Neither can ever truly triumph or fall, for the victor moulders away even as the vanquished rises again....Forlarren, the King Fallen and Redeemed, broods on his throne, black jealousy heavy about his brow. A network of skulks spies on the King's beloved and his subjects, and it is feared that the King may slay his new bride as he did the old....Elsewhere, myconids and algoids tend sprawling mushroom gardens, ruled by the Protean, an ancient fungal mind driven mad with the magic of the dozen wizards and priests it has enveloped....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Little Chester

Overheard at a coffee shop.

"I'm a professional fighter. I can't get hurt cuz I been trained to fight. They steam you up--you know the hot stuff? They steam you up. They all punch you till the master says to stop. I can punch all the way through a wall.

"I have professional numchucks. I'm a professional, so I don't have to worry about hitting myself. But if I did it wouldn't hurt me.

"I've broken bricks, boards, ice. I've walked on fire. I got burned
but I healed myself.
My real name is Lee.

"My dad gave me my name--he was Chester too--so I'm Little Chester, but I'm strong."

Fiendish Quartet #2

There are hardly any extraplanar beings in the 1e Fiend Folio: a few ethereal and astral foes, one devil, the demoness Lolth, the slaadi and the Elemental Evils. This suggests a much simpler cosmology than the standard "Wheel of the Planes." Consider a Prime Materium at the center of the four nested Elemental Planes, arranged in a shifting order depending on their current influence on the Prime. Astro-ethereal space interpenetrates all of the planes, and beyond the outermost Elemental Plane lies only the chaos of Limbo. Crucible, the Prime, is the warring ground of the Lords of Elemental Evil.

Imix, the Firelord, is currently ascendant; smoke seems to drift across the night sky, a haze beyond the embral red stars. Hordes of firenewts, led into battle by suicidal berserkers in magically heated armor, have driven the dwarves down from their mountain keeps. Firetoads and drakes harass the elvish woodlands and the halfling and human farmlands. Mephits plague the cities: smokish mephits choke and wheeze the unwary...the magmic delight in vandalism and desecration, melting statuary and gravestones...every woodpile and thatched roof is kindling for the fiery mephits...the steamish poison wells.

The other Elemental Lords have less influence. The icy wastes and cold seas that gird Crucible's equator are still held by the hostile allies Cryonax the Icelord and Olhydra of the Wave. Fog giants, frost men and ice drakes maraud the tundra, and kuo-toa return to the oceans from their caverns and earthen deeps. The Earthlord and the Airlord are weaker still, but they too contest for the Prime. It is thought that the slaadi manipulate all five of the Elemental lords, to unknown ends.

The clerics of Crucible, no matter the ethos, seek vainly for gods to worship. Undead are few, so they channel their nameless faith to turn or control the Elementals.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fiendish Quartet #1

Inspired by a post at Jeff's Gameblog I've been riffing on several campaign kernels built mainly from the First Edition Fiend Folio, "tome of creatures malevolent and benign." Here's one:

A world where apes evolved from men? Not exactly, but the simian dakon are one of the many humanoid animals in the FF. What if these intelligent apes, and bird-men, and cat-people and other beastfolk were the major political and cultural powers in the world? Humans and demi-humans are mainly found in a few free states held by the dakon, a scholarly and mercantilist people ruled by a silverback wizard. It's rumored that he is not merely advised but also controlled by his phanaton familiar.

Still, the dakon lands are open to peoples of all sorts, and a measure of safety and prosperity can be had even for humans and their ilk. Elsewhere, peril. The deserts are ruled by the aarakocra, who range far from their cities of towering cacti to hunt on hot dry winds. The bird-men make much sport of tribes of nocturnal halflings, using trained achaierai to root them from their burrows, like pigs after truffles. The kenku are less savage, but long-lived and remote, keeping usually to mountain aeries and forest rookeries, mischievous and aloof in their dealings with other peoples.

Elsewhere, great trains of slaves are herded by the Shepherds of Iron, the dog-headed flinds and their truculent gnoll soldiers. Best not to speak of the slaves traded to the jungles where the tabaxi skulk; they are rumored to be as cruel as they are elusive. Likewise few win free of indenture to the crab men, for the building up and tearing down of their shell and coral cities is unceasing. Better by far to end up in the Squamic Fens at the center of the lizard men's empire. Though ruled by the savage caste of Lizard Kings, they are a people of long history and ancient knowledge. It is easy to die on the sands of their arenas, slain by babbler or bonesnapper or worse, but there is much glory for the victorious....

MP3: Robyn Hitchcock, The Shapes Between Us Turn Into Animals

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rhymes with Myopic

Raps about what it might be like to have eye problems:

readin eye chart flows and stoppin hearts cold
like king midas's hex
all I see turns to gold
I'm Optometrist Rex, I vex
the opposition collapses when I move the masses
shakin asses and makin passes at all the girls who wear glasses

like Tiresias I'm epic, prophetic, cut you to pieces
I'll pull your leg over your eyes, it's catachresis,
peep this: I'm metamorphosin',
leave you cry-iyi-yin'
like Roy Orbison, don't get morbid, son
you'll get done: I spit wicked braille
but y'all frail, you fail
to impress, I'm the pinball wizard
you're the least of the less,
you're a rhyme shirker, I'm the Miracle Worker
teachin Helen Keller to talk to Teller
while you fallin through the cellar into Hell, sir
allow me to introduce myself I'm the man without fear,
you get speared, your head sheared loose
I'm ruthless
you're toothless
meanwhile I'm playin truth or dare with the devil

my vision shimmers, my rage simmers
my eyes twitch, still I flip the switch
now your future's gettin dimmer
I'm burning pitch, invisible witch,
fantastitch plastitch elastitch,
which means I stretch slimmer
you wanna start a thing?
Fuck you, I'm Ben Grimmer

I got astigmatism like protestants got schism
corneas harder than hardknocks shootin up blocks with glocks
bullets fall in cataracts, gunsmoke clouding my iris,
counteract attacks with the third eye of osiris...
even blinded with glaucomas I leave my foes in comas

myopic optics can't stop this
can't knock me down I'm gyroscopic
I roll thick and rock headknots
ancient like Coptic break you open like lockpicks
twist you up in double helix like Watson & Crick
turn your life inside out like endoscopic bio pics
clock tick tick tock ticks to six-six-six
your own personal End Times' now, apocalyptic