Inspired by Ria Hawk's winged mushroom picture:
The winged mushrooms (Lerreta Meia) are a species of giant insect indigenous to the leafy areas of Udnalor, Kingdom of the Gnomes. Outwardly they appear much the same as ordinary giant mushrooms, and they graze in the bulbous fungal glades. However, this is merely an elaborate camouflage: the insect beneath is a fungivore and prone to fly off when it encounters another creature. Sometimes gnome farmers mistake them for crop mushrooms. They're in for a surprise when they do.
An artist is commissioned to paint frescoes in a cathedral, and is imprisoned because of his unconventional style.
Idea from the Aeneid. Could make an intriguing encounter when searching for firewood..."Quite near there happened to be a mound of earth, at the highest part of which were growing thickets of cornel and a dense cluster of spiky myrtle-stems. I went up there and tried to wrench the green growth from the ground to provide a leafy covering for our altar. There I was confronted by a horrible and astounding miracle. For from the first bush which I tried to break off...blood oozed in dark drops, fouling the earth with its spots...A piteous moan came from the base of the mound and I heard a human voice answering me: 'Why, Aeneas, must you rend a poor sufferer? I am buried here...for I am Polydorus. Here death overpowered me in a crop of piercing iron-pointed spears. And so a crop resembling javelins has grown over me...'"
As you emerge from the shop in the alleyway, not-too-distant clanging and stamping makes you wary. Further investigation reveals a massive Balgrian protest march flooding the main street, banners roaring about the inhuman conditions in which this ethnic group is forced to live. City guards stand helplessly by, beating up the odd protestor, but unable to hold back the flow. Onlookers throw vegetables at the Balgrians, and shout abuse.
The city was cursed many years ago. Since then it has not stopped raining. The gutters are inhabited by eels and the doors are on the first floor, coated with pitch. On a bad day, you can see the water level rise above the ground floor windows. Carts have both wheels and bladders filled with air to keep them afloat. And yet everyone is surprisingly dry.
The two cathedrals in the Citadel stubbornly ring their bells two minutes apart, since each believes the other to be too early or too late respectively. This has been done for over two hundred years.
The peasants of the wood use crudely carved symbols to ward off wolves. They think the symbols are emblems of purity and goodness and that keeps the wolves away. The symbols work, but not for the reasons the peasants believe...
The symbols are actually arcance evil symbols which the wolves know and fear, but to which the peasants are oblivious. So how gullible are the peasants going to be when a strange horned man displaying the symbols on his shield turns up and asks for their allegiance?
The ochre sands stretch for miles around. Something kicks up the dust. It's a yak. A desert-yak. It ambles slowly, nuzzling the ground for the low-growing shrubs. The ranger freezes. "Stay very still," he warns. "Don't move at all."
"What is it?" you ask, breathlessly.
"It's the most dangerous creature in the whole Ocadian desert. And it's about to eat that yak..."
The city of Nausopol is built on stilts. Lots of very sturdy stilts and butresses, of course, because it rises about five hundred feet from the ocean. Even the most terrific of storms is only heard in the city as a distant cacophony of blasts as waves strike the solid stonework fathoms below. It has never been attacked because of its isolation and impregnability.
It's not a place for the faint-hearted: vertigo and sea-sickness are not desirable traits. But when you are standing in the middle of the city there is no way you could tell that you were standing above an ocean, separated only by a gulf of air and a few stones.
A thousand steps lead down from Nausopol to the floating docks. These docks are pitch-coated wooden and can be raised by winches during squalls. Trade with other cities and countries is good: Nausopol is built over a sunken atoll whose minerals are still mined by divers, and it was from this that it originally derived its wealth.
But the principal method of getting to and from the city is by riding the giant sea-eagles which have been captured and bred for that very reason.
The cliff-hunters ride sheer-stalkers vertically down the cliff faces to reach the nests of birds and steal their eggs for sport. Sheer-stalkers are vicious agile lizards about the size of large komodo dragons. They must be muzzled and harnessed, but even so there have been some nasty incidents...
The village sits on the edge of the deep fjord, often engulfed in mist or rain. Its people are fishermen, who work even through the sea-ravaging winter. And they pray to the gods of the deep.
At the beginning of every winter they hold a summoning ceremony. Three boats are taken out into the fjord, a hornsman on each. The mournful horns are blown in the language of the whales, the gods of the deep. The whales sometimes appear in answer to these calls, and it is taken as a good omen when they do.
To a party of PCs wandering the misty hills and valleys nearby however, the doleful whalesong of the horns can be disturbing and misinterpreted...
With regard to the plot "Sleeping Mines of Elathon":
You manage to get the water wheel in the mine working which operates a pump to clear the flooded lower levels. As you explore the dank tunnels of the lower galleries, you can hear the creaking of the wheel above. You enter a low-ceilinged passage and are crawling on your backs, when the creaking stops. The water starts seeping wetly around the back of your head...
THE GNOMES OF UDNALOR: Part II
Having left the hush of the upper halls, and crossed the depths of the Braeth (an underground river, which is not all that deep because bear in mind we're talking about gnomes here), you would find yourself in Wattling Street, the main road through Udnalor. It's actually a long, well-worn passageway which opens out eventually into the City Centre. The gnome-buildings branch off Wattling Street as small burrows or caverns with boulder-blocked doorways for privacy. You can find armourers and smiths (though their armour tends to be on the small side for humans to buy) and many other types of trader.
There are many streets, ginnels and cooies which run off Wattling Street, the most famous probably being Smell Street, the domain of the infamous gnomish alchemists, the eponymous smell being very distinctive: the stench of cooking fungus, the aroma of subterranean spices, the pungent reek of rotting carcasses (used in some of the more notorious experiments). An encounter with an alchemist can really be spiced up (excuse the pun) if you have a well-stocked herb cupboard, and actually make up the potions, elixirs and draughts as they are ordered by characters.
THE GNOMES OF UDNALOR: Part I
Upon entering the deep underrealm of Udnalor, one must first pass through the upper halls, which were the residences of the gnomes in days of past glories. Now they have abandoned the fading tapestries to the worms and moles, and an uncanny silence reigns, laid over the oaken tables like the thick layers of dust and humus.
There may be creatures which now inhabit these areas: nests livid with giant maggots, rats and other vermin.
The watchtowers and passageways which lead to the Overground are frequently trodden, however. After all it takes a great many small humanoids to hoist a single giant rabbit corpse back through the fathoms of earth.
The gnomes primarily hunt giant rabbits with bows and arrows tipped with the subterranean poisons concocted by their best alchemists.
The Forest of Throck:
Throck forest is divided into three parts: a region of twisted black magic, which is dark and hemmed in with the legions of sable pine. This is Spindel, and is occupied by the hideous Ettercaps and their spider-pets. The second area is the chaotic elfin-wood, where the druids work their wyrd magic amongst the oaks. The last part is Udnalor, the home of the gnomes. Finding themselves surrounded by these chaotic forces they dwell as quietly as possible beneath the surface. Their culture is a fascinating one to visit, and in the next few miscellaneous ideas, I shall examine the ways and customs of THE GNOMES OF UDNALOR, with a view to role-playing them.
Among the assortment of organized criminals who live in the great city, few command greater fear the Moonbeard Order.
They of course do not call themselves that, but have earned the moniker from their fashion of dying their large beards with lye to produce a distinctive crescent shape running from earlobe to earlobe. This is meant as a taunt for their enemies, for it clearly outlines their throats.
They also wear garb similar to the northern tribesman, carefully tooled leather and showing multiple, colourful glyphs.
They are feared due to the intense discipline that their group maintains, due to their origins as a warrior-sect.
They serve as paid thugs, enforcers and assassins within the city, with the client simply ordering a service from the organization, not hiring an individual. Apart from making the request and providing payment in full in advance, the order completes the assignment themselves.
Their order has many moles through the organizations of the city, and more than a couple of nobles. As such, no organized move has been made against them since their chief activity is directed against other members of the crime world. It is said that their services have been useful for those in power as well, further protecting them from persecution.
Their religion holds that their time in this world is vanishingly brief, and largely unimportant except as training for the Great Battle.
The order is very utilitarian with weapons choice - they simply use the tool needed for the occasion, though not without having trained extensively with it beforehand. Daggers, garrottes, swords, bows, battle axes, polearms, wagons, even siege engines have been used to carry out their contracts.