The trail runs alongside a gorge, the stream within swollen with recent rain. A spot of color down the slope catches someone's eye. Near the streambank lies a set of noble regalia. The embroidered robe of royal blue and cloth barding both bear a design of three golden horns: The arms of Arnmund the Rancorous, a notorious, murderous noble.
The blackguard had been followed here, sought by enemies of his house. In order to confuse his pursuers, he tossed his heraldic gear into the gorge, but an unfortunate gust kept the robes and barding from reaching the stream to be carried off. He remains somewhere nearby, his pretense of being a simple knight on pilgrimage somewhat inconsistent with his expensive, well-fed destrier. Go to Comment
I'm curious about just how many adventurers would take these islands at face value: Accustomed to seeing plots and traps around each corner, the average (rabidly paranoid) adventurer is likely to cause himself trouble from overreacting to the unfathomable friendliness of the islanders:
GM: "Rempiki, the fish trainer you met, seems to like you. He is asking if you'd like to spend the evening at his hut, as his four grown daughters have come to visit."
Player: "O.K. I'm taking my retainer with me, I'm not taking off my armor and especially not eating anything..."
GM: "So, you're not eating any food while you're there. Rempiki's lovely daughters, seeing that you're apparently not hungry, ask if you'd like to go with them to gather shells at moonrise, before the tide comes in."
Player: "No way! I'm not risking going to the beach at night!" Go to Comment
A really worthwhile adventure framework. Each of the plot's components could be used seperately to add to a campaign; together they frame out the leadership of a whole region. Corleone and the others were each well-depicted, with realistic motivations.
I particularly liked the jewels of the Mad God of Desire. They vaguely reminded me of the Silmarils or the One Ring of Sauron: Superhuman magic that cannot be resisted by mortal bearers. We've seen items of their type before, but they were presented well.
The depiction is painted in broad strokes, roughly filling in a massive conflict: Follow-up submissions that focus on a smaller scale would be worth seeing. Go to Comment
My first reaction to the name "Corleone" involved visions of Marlon Brando making the player characters "an offer they can't refuse", but I liked the rest of the sub enough, I decided to ignore that.
If Corleone doesn't work for you, you could analyse its meaning (Heart of Lion or Lionheart) to come up with a variation suitable for your game: King Cour d'Leon or King Lionheart would be apropos names for a monarch. Go to Comment
The Mill of Vengeance
This chamber is filled with ponderous wheels and gears. Apparently the interior of a large mill, sacks of grain and flour are piled among the endlessly turning wheels. Steep staircases lead to catwalks above the mill’s floor, giving access to the gears and axles that fill the place. Within this chamber, visitors will encounter one of the more dangerous of the tower’s denizens: The miller Hynman Slaytor, one of the Wrathful Dead.
In life, Hynman was a short-tempered man, a vicious brute whose family lived in constant fear of his reckless rages. He murdered his son in a drunken rage, but concealed the deed from the other villagers, claiming that the boy had fallen among the cruel gears of his mill. Only his wife Agate suspected the truth, and she dared not speak for fear of his brutal retaliation. Not long after his he murdered his young son, Hynman fell ill of a grim fever, one that left him weak and shivering. In his weakness, his unfortunate wife saw the opportunity to be free of his abuses: She smothered the weakened man with his own pillow.
The vengeful shade of Hynman angrily stalks the chambers of the mill, fury consuming him. When he encounters strangers, he attacks viciously, visualizing them as his “disobedient” wife. Hynman will try to knock them into the workings of the mill, or may pick up some of the tools used within the structure: Knives, heavy sledges, or chains. In the distorted mill of Hynman’s mind, these items behave in strange ways: Hooked chains may viciously swing through the ashen pillars and gears as if they weren’t there, or mallets strike like massive sledges even though Hynman handles them as if they weighed nothing.
Treasures to be found within this place include numerous books and trinkets that truly belonged to Hynman’s family members, treasured items sacrificed by Hynman as a means of tormenting and intimidating his family. These items are lovingly stored in the mill’s office and have been carefully kept free of soot or grime by the vicious miller.
Rifts in the smoke lie behind loose boards in the walls of this room, hidden but easily found by a determined search. These allow ascent along a shaft that corkscrews up, its rough surface forming an irregular staircase. Go to Comment
One of the reasons we identified this as a rural custom was to make it credible for the player characters to be ignorant of what they are about to encounter. If these potlatch sacrifices are a custom of isolated, rural areas, the heroes can be expected to know little of them and the supernatural effects associated with them. Go to Comment
In some ways, the Tower of Ash is a supernatural morality play, a series of vignettes showing the ways that wickedness leads to suffering. Within, the righteous will be rewarded for their courage, while the sinful will have what was once theirs taken away.
The Caretaker of the Dead may be benevolent in his ultimate purposes, but he is a mysterious figure. He would certainly encourage a party whose goals were selfish and malevolent, for their own evil might tempt them to folly within the tower. Either they learn wisdom, and thus survive, or they may provide another edifying tale for the villagers...
(I like to think of him as a sort of supernatural Rod Serling...) Go to Comment
Chambers of the Tower of Ash
The rooms found within the Tower of Ash will vary, but a few examples are provided here:
The Tower of Gallampred
This series of chambers appears to be the interior of a slender tower, with a narrow stair winding up the wall. The steep and treacherous stairs have a handrail, but the crumbling ash of the sagging railing will not support any meaningful weight. Hundreds of pages of parchment lie scattered on the stairs, piled on the floor, and haphazardly affixed to the walls. Each sheet is covered with arcane diagrams and spells, written in a nearly illegible scrawl. On one side of the room, empty and begrimed with soot, sits a wooden hope chest. It is nearly buried by the arcane texts that have been dropped upon it.
Soon after the PCs arrival in the chamber, an elderly figure descends imperiously from the trapdoor at the head of the stairs. His weight supported on a gnarled staff of scorched oak, the heavily-robed figure of the wizard Gallampred looms at the head of the winding steps, calling out in an strident voice, “How dare you disturb my solitude! I am on the verge of great discoveries! Great discoveries! Enchantments that shall propel my name to greatness and free me from this prison of the mediocre!”
In life, Gallampred was a moderately-skilled wizard, a driven man who neglected his family in his quest for fame. His wife died while he was away researching and his daughter Delil left while still young, falling in love with the first man that showed her the affection she hadn’t received from her self-centered father. His self-centered arrogance and unyielding pride kept him in his tower, a slave to his ambitions: Now, imprisoned within the Tower of Ash, his shade fruitlessly labors on.
Several sacrificial items may be recovered from Gallampred’s chambers. These include the hope chest and some of his pages of magical researches, hidden beneath the litter of his failed schemes to free himself. The parchments that he has penned since his demise can be plainly seen to be nonsense by any skilled wizard that examines them; once someone notes this, the examined page promptly crumbles to dusty ash.
The only valuable pages are buried beneath heaps of rubbish. They include a series of parchments translating the Ducerion of Fallon the Mystic, an ancient text of religious lore about leadership and cooperating in ways that benefit both the leader and his flock. Gallampred sacrificed the text when he completed his translation, deeming it irrelevant to his researches. Leaders or priests may find the translations very useful, perhaps even bringing Gallampred the fame in death that eluded him in life.
The hope chest is a beautifully-carven chest of polished cherry wood, an heirloom of his wife’s family. He sacrificed the chest in a fit of pique when his daughter eloped, first destroying the meager dowry she had accumulated prior to her mother’s death. His daughter and her husband live humbly in the village; they would reward anyone who recovers the valuable antique. While the reward they offer might be meager, those who accomplish this good deed will be well-remembered by the village folk.
Gallampred will become angry if anyone begins reading the documents he has strewn about, if anyone tries to enter his “sanctum” (the unremarkable room at the top of the stairs), or if they continue to interrupt his “valuable researches” for more than a few minutes. Although he is certainly slovenly, with some of the attributes of the Mors Acedeas, he is truly one of the Mors Superbios, a creature of intellectual arrogance. Gallampred lacks the physically imposing appearance common to shades of his sort, for his misplaced pride lay solely in his intellectual gifts.
Within the confines of the tower, Gallampred’s spirit wields considerable magical power and will blast intruders with the spells common to a mage of unremarkable skill. Given the opportunity, he will first cast a spell to block the stairway, keeping opponents from reaching him. Afterward, he will summon monstrous assistance in the form of “Flame Spiders”, hideous supernatural arachnids that burn with white fires. The webs of these unholy creatures wither at the touch of holy objects, but are impervious to flame.
More dangerously, as he becomes angry, a soot-filled wind begins to fill his chambers, a whirling vortex of burning cinders and flying parchment. While this wind does not damage him or the treasures of the chamber, other characters in the area may be knocked off the staircase or be battered by flying debris and papers.
Like others of the Mors Superbios, Gallampred can be dismissed with a sufficiently powerful blow, for he is full of hot air. If powerfully struck, he will wither away, vanishing into a blast of foul soot. Go to Comment
The Garden of Luxury
Visitors to the Tower may find themselves clambering into a sheltered garden, a beautiful bower lined with roses. Although the garden seems real at first, the walls and ceilings of ash can be made out beyond the beautiful plants that fill the place.
Those exploring the small garden soon find a gazebo, where three beautiful maidens await their arrival, seated upon elegant velvet cushions. Before the ladies, low tables are placed, laden with sweetmeats and cool flagons of wine.
These women, Milias, Valentia, and Argent, are actually some of the Mors Luxereas, the Lustful Dead. Unable to free themselves from the meaningless patterns of their lives, they will attempt to seduce those that encounter them, a seduction that is more insidious than it appears. Those who eat or drink from the ashy-tasting luxuries within the chamber will feel some of their life essence slowly drained from them, growing weaker and more fatigued. The ladies’ kisses also taste of ash, and have a similar effect.
They will cling piteously to those who seemed receptive to their seduction, begging them to bring them from the Tower. Despite their pleas, the only way that these accursed shades may leave this place is if someone gives their own life up in their place: If some fool allows himself to be entirely drained by these creatures, one of them will be set free into the world. Unfortunately, the lustful spirit that would be freed will simply become a homeless undead, a pathetic shade no better off than she is within the Tower.
In life, these women were cold-hearted manipulators, creatures that used their sexuality to control men and incite the envy of other women. Not truly slaves of lust, they instead used the lusts of others as a means of domination. Within the Tower, they try to continue this pattern, oblivious to the ultimate futility of it.
The garden holds several items that were sacrificed by the unfortunate ladies within. One secluded nook holds a satchel of tooled leather, filled with needlepoint supplies. These gleaming silken threads and bright needles were a gift from a lover, one who was spurned when he confronted his lady over her lies and infidelities.
A small cabinet within the gazebo holds other items: A set of ancient glassware that had been passed down though one maiden’s family for generations. Valentia sacrificed these items in thankfulness when she was offered a position as nanny to a nobleman’s family, planning even then to seduce her noble patron.
Those hoping to ascend past this chamber may climb the vines and trees within, to where several rifts in the smoke above lead further into the Tower. Go to Comment
It's a good question, and suggests that either the gods desire that their people prove themselves worthy by symbolically overcoming sin or that their desire to return gifts to the people has been subverted by less beneficient forces.
Echomirage's sub, The Sinners, had one answer that works well, with the sinful restless dead needing a confrontation with the living they have wronged before they can move on...
I would answer that they exist to show the price of sin to the living, but they are there ultimately to be defeated. I would expect that the dead that the villagers encounter might not be the most fearsome of those within the tower: The worst of those within would be unleashed only when those able to offer them battle appeared. Go to Comment
A truly interesting ruler: More worlds should have an attractive and charming, if cold-blooded, lich-queen. I particularly enjoyed her detailed history and the way that she dovetails in with the rest of the information given about the world of the Trinitine Faith.
Her backround and history make her interestingly three-dimensional. In a world where undead aren't the ravening horrors of classic D&D, she forms an intriguing bridge between the realms of the living and the undead. The White Lady could be an ally or an enemy, with numerous possibilities for adventures that feature "strange bedfellows": Alliances with the undead against the aggression of the Trinitine Church and alliances with the White Lady against other, less reasonable, undead come to mind.
I could see some arguing that the tendency of most liches to decay and crumble into a shape of horror is due to lack of interest in things physical: They have reached a state where such concerns are beneath them, where their eldritch intellectual and spiritual pursuits render such concerns insignificant. Go to Comment
Because of the burning, itching sensation, and visible discoloration of the active toxin, I didn't think that repeated contact was likely.
I envisioned the poison as something associated with random killings, as some sects use it to coat various items that will be sent to their enemies' towns. Since it takes days to become lethal, they will have plenty of time to evade those who will seek vengeance. A man with a rag covered with the stuff could wipe it onto armor, weapon hilts, buckles, tools, pots and pans, and other items, then wait for it to transform into deadly poison days later. Go to Comment
As it appears to be an oil-based material that alchemically reacts with iron, solvents that remove oil or grease should break it down and materials that remove rust should eliminate it. I'd be careful what I did afterward with the rags that were used. Go to Comment
You'd have to be pretty bold to put this stuff on arrowheads; as it's a contact poison, all you'd have to do is accidentally brush one against your bare skin...
If it is in danger of becoming too common, the weeds it is derived from might turn out to be more uncommon than I had suggested. In a realistic game, I don't see this stuff becoming very commonplace: There are real-world substances that are comparably unpleasant, but they aren't often seen on the weapons or booby-traps of terrorists or criminals. Nasty poisons like this are just dangerous to keep around.
A floating, bloody head, long separated from its body, is a particular legend among a very particular group of people, executioners, specifically those that chop heads from a block for a living. It was that infamous highway robber, Oazduke the Vengeful, who when finally captured and put to the axe, screamed his foul hex, seconds before his head flew off.
"You will know it is me when I'm through
A curse on your ilk and on you!
May my severed head haunt you eternal
Frightening you headsmen infernal!"
Years later, not one but two(!) weary, puffy-eyed, spooked, headsmen, haunted day and night by Oazduke's insufferable severed head, approach the party cleric in order to hire him to exorcise the ghost head once and for all.