A supposedly empty desert on the far side of the mountains has started growing. No one knows why. At the center of the desert lies a tall rock outcropping, hundreds of feet tall. Dust storms shroud the outcropping constantly, except for one night a year.
The Pcs discover an ancient, dusty oil lamp, somewhere in the bowels of a dungeon. Naturally they "rub it", and out pops a wizened, old djinn. So far so good. Then it speaks...
"Ah at last, at last I am free! Now grant me my wish!"
When the PCs explain that they are the ones that should be granted a wish, the malignant djinn explains to them that his particular oil-lamp has a curse placed upon it. Whomsoever releases the entity inside shall be geased to grant the djinn's wish to the best of their ability.
Groans ensue from the party. The djinn rubs his wrinkled hands, grins, and proceeds to name his wish. What could it be?
The Yugzhee, or "hedgehog-people", guard a great, secret treasure inside their giant burrowed lair. The mysterious Wall of Keys, a 12'x10', foot-thick, cold-iron, "wall", upon which, on iron hooks, hang 100 ornate iron keys of all shapes and sizes. Each key opens some heretofore un-openable barrier, door, or gate, in the particular game world of choice.
The PCs have come upon a great boon, except for the fact that the keys cease to function properly if separated from the iron wall for more than a few minutes. Higher level characters will be able to figure out how to take the wall "with them" via magic. Lower level characters will have to get creative.
Coinlake sits perched between two sheer cliffs in the Stigrani range, and is difficult to find, much less approach. Four miles long and two across, the water is a vibrant cyan blue. The lake's shoreline is an unassuming beach of gray pebbles, and its mean depth is seventy feet. The rare times when the sun makes its way between the cliffs and shines over the the still water, one could see clearly the lake's rock-strewn bottom.
Strangely, no fish or aquatic life can be found here.
At night, a peculiar phenomena occurs. When the night sky is clear, the moon and stars are reflected in the lake's surface, but if one were to look at the surface from a high vantage point, the reflection does not match the firmament above!
Instead the water's surface reflects the night sky of some other distant world and seventeen shining golden moons besides, each ones shimmering upon the water like so many gold coins!
Legends whisper that Coinlake is not a lake at all, but a gate or nexus, to some distant alien world.
The mystery has long remained unsolved, and only recently has the Arch-Duke commissioned an expedition to uncover the secret of Coinlake once and for all. Among the team members are several scholars of the Nascent Academy, an astrologer from the Occultists Guild, and of course the PCs, acting as body guards.
As far as everyone knows, the Maze has always been there; the strange pair of gates set in the side of a mountain a common feature in every painting of the area, no matter how ancient. One white, one red, nobody knows what they're made of but they resist any attempt to damage them; they’re always slightly cool to the touch no matter the weather, they have a very reflective surface, and if you look at them in a bright light, sometimes it looks as if they glow on their own.
The important thing is what’s on the other side of them, of course. The Maze itself is a strange place where the normal rules are suspended, and its own set takes their place. It’s a place filled with puzzles and riddles, monsters and traps; it’s always consistent with itself in any single run but is never the same two times around, and sometimes you could swear it has a sadistic streak, delighting in tricking the unwary adventurer.
It is a dangerous place, as so many people will rush to tell you; most people who go in never come out, and even those who do usually end up scarred for life. They also bring out with them enormous piles of riches, which is why people keep going in anyway.
Mazetown stands right around the entrance to the Maze, and its whole economy depends on the people coming to visit the ever-changing and apparently sentient dungeon. They don't get all that many visitors, but the ones that do come tend to be rather generous in their spending; after all, if anything you take inside vanishes as soon as you go in, and everyone who manages to come out usually does so with fabulous treasures in tow, why not spend your coin on R&R before getting started?
Saril had a dream. To open a library in the windswept wastes of Naarish, so that the people of the many villages and towns spread over the hundreds of leagues of desert could discover the joys of his books. For a whole year he kept his library open, but alas, almost no one came.
That is when Saril came up with his new idea. If people didn't travel to read his books, he would travel to them! Saril closed his library, hired a team of twelve camels, loaded up the beasts with all of his books and proceeded to invent the first nomadic library.
Now children and adults alike, looked forward to hearing the bells of Saril's camels as he entered their villages, as he tirelessly traversed the deserts in a long circuitous route, visiting every village and town he came across, in turn. It came to pas that Saril's traveling library came to some fame, and that is how the folk of Naarish became literate.
A word of warning though. Naarish has only six thousand volumes. He deals with those that lose or steal his tomes quite "harshly", by bypassing the town or village which was responsible for losing one of his books for that calendar year.
One of the camels in the caravan trips over a dark rock protruding from the sandy dunes. The poor animal has broken its leg and cannot continue. A cacaphony ensues as the animal suffers and the caravan train overseers complain passionately as they redistribute the animal's load across the caravan. (Let's just hope none of the PC's was riding this camel, shall we?)
As the camel is put out of its misery and the camel is skewered over a campfire - waste nothing! - someone takes a minute to inspect the root cause of all the trouble. To their surprise, the upturned rock is worked stone. Some frantic digging may excavate the bottom half of a gorgeously worked1 obelisk, and maybe even the small square forum below; but a more rigorous exploration of the surrounding dunes reveals a buried tomb doorway on each side of the forum.
Oazduke's Vengeful Head.
The head haunts all headsman and executioners.
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.
The PCs are making their way from village to village across a rural hinterland, when they spot a weird sign along a farmstead's fence, with an arrow pointing to the actual farmstead.
"CRAZY DANCING HOES!!"
If they investigate, a rather sedate local farmer, explains to them that for a mere two coppers, they can witness the show for themselves.
The show involves six ordinary, animated hoes "dancing" on a makeshift stage, as the farmer accompanies them by slapping his thighs to keep the beat, and playing on his flute.
If asked how the trick is accomplished the farmer demurs, not wanting to share his "secret".
"If you can get Old Man Purkiss to tell you how he gets his cows to spout poetry, I'll tell you how I make my hoes dance."
In reality, this minor encounter can lead to the PCs discovering that some localized, magical effect is active in the area. All kinds weird phenomena seem to occur in these parts.
Perhaps the PCs have finally found the ley-line of mana energy that they have been searching for! The party's wizard gets excited.
The PCs are hired by undead to rid their village community of an invasive necromancer.
As the PCs make their way, wherever they are going, they spot two zombies. The zombies approach but before the cleric can turn them, one starts throwing coins at the PCs while the other pleads with them, unable to pronounce the letters "L" and "H" due to some missing gums. "Peeth issen...no 'arm...coin...peeth issen!"
If the PCs don't slaughter the two zombies immediately, they will eventually come to learn that the two were chosen to find help by their brethren. The zombies want to hire the PCs to rid their community of an unwanted pest. An opportunistic necromancer.
Apparently, a small benign community of undead have taken residence in an abandoned village, living out their undeath as peacefully as the undead can. Recently, a malicious necromancer has invaded the village, and plans to enslave the entire populace with his malignant spells, raising a small army.
The PCs must battle the vile necromancer, even as he animates the very folks who hired the PCs in the first place, to slaughter them.
An insidious creature, most likely somehow "related" to trappers and lurkers, the Dead Leaves (for no other name exists as of yet for this foul thing), hibernates for three of the four year's seasons, deep underground. Its active time is Autumn, when trees shed their leaves, depositing colorful carpets across the ground. The terror then emerges and blends in with the surrounding leaves, perfectly camouflaged, waiting patiently for unsuspecting victims. In appearance it resembles nothing more than a ten foot square, six inch thick, layer of bright yellow, orange, and red leaves. The only hint that someone is walking on top of it, comes in the form of an unusual amplified sound of leaves crunching underfoot. Too late usually, the victims notice this additional "crunch". The Dead Leaves will then swirl and "rise" up to smother and suffocate the victim, like a colorful, malevolent, boa constrictor.
Fire, as can be imagined, is particularly effective against this creature, but one has to *know* it's there before putting it to the torch. And there's the rub. The creature is impossible to "identify" in a large patch of fallen leaves by eyesight alone.
The PCs are exploring the catacombs beneath a Colosseum-in-Rome type of structure, when they come across a foul-smelling, stagnant, ankle-deep with algae, public mass latrine. Countless urinals of marble, line this rather large chamber equally crafted of marble. Whatever system of plumbing once worked here, has not in many years. Old graffiti lines the stained,dirty walls, prominently bolded are such intellectual poetic musings as, "Urine For It Now", "I Pee Therefore It Comes" and "Now Urine Trouble".
A few moments after the PCs get to take in this unpleasant location, they hear the low rumbling of ancient plumbing and rather large Urine Elemental rises like a great, wet, wave of filth to attack them. The creature reeks and exudes noxious debilitating fumes, while its liquid strikes burn flesh like acid.
The food that eats you back.
Creatures of nightmare, the thankfully rare Mesnoi have unique form and attributes. Only one Mesnoi at a time will ever be "encountered".
In appearance, a Mesnoi resembles a walnut-sized chunk of freshly-roasted red meat from some uncertain yet familiar, edible animal. The insidious creature camouflages itself quite appropriately whenever it can, by slowly making its way amidst feast tables and trays of roasted meats.
Once eaten by the unsuspecting, the Mesnoi sinks down to the stomach, reforming if chewed, and begins to lap up the gastric fluids, digestive juices, and bile that it craves, like a sponge.
The Mesnoi carrier will experience mild to severe stomach pains during this time.
After a few hours of this (this is the only time that the Mesnoi can be purged with magic, or other mundane means), the Mesnoi transforms into its true form inside its victim, that of a miniature, once more walnut-sized, pot-bellied, devil-horned, snake-tailed imp. This horrid little creature then begins to chew and eat its way out of the victim from the inside out with its tiny, razor-sharp teeth, like a rat forced to do so via torture.
The victim almost always dies a slow, agonizing death. That much is certain. The devilish imp then exits its victim and begins its seventy two hour existence of mischief and malevolence, until it once more turns back into a hunk of roasted meat with the movement capabilities of a snail.
Also called "pale-yellow witch" by alchemists, this mineral is known to possess a peculiar attribute. When found, a Yupiorite will appear the palest yellow. Rather than crystalline in structure, Yupiorite occurs in weird, smooth, ovaline shapes, as if already carved by skilled hands to serve as ring or necklace ornaments. Yupiorite somehow detects and reacts to mood. When the wearer of the gem is content, calm, and happy, the stone will remain the palest yellow. As the person gets more excited, angry, or otherwise stimulated, the mineral will darken progressively to a dark corn-yellow in color. Why the gem reacts this way to sentient mood swings, is still debated by gemologists and alchemists alike.
It is said that the Elven Halls of Vala-Aluduwy are resplendent with wall-sized mirrors of pure Yupiorite, showing plainly and ironically, the emotions of everyone present, despite the Elven love of restraint and stoicism.
"Cave-grass" or "cave-pine" is a deep forest green in color, rare and often mistaken for other minerals, though otherwise mundane. Crystals form into tiny, ultra-thin, needle-like clusters by the hundreds of thousands, creating vast dark green bursts and structures, resembling evergreen conifers, if viewed by any sort of light. Despite its ephemeral shape, Aragdulose is only second to a diamond in hardness.
Dwarves are said to keep these mineral "trees" in their homes, putting them up during festive family holidays, leaving presents beneath them, for kin to open.
The Jiangsi was the name of an undead being in Chinese folklore and mythology. Usually translated as zombie or vampire for Western palates, the Jiangsi was really neither. They appeared as simply risen, fresh corpses. They moved (peculiarly!) by hopping rather than walking, and sought out the living to suck the Qilife force from their victims.
Perhaps significantly more interesting than the Jiangsi itself, was the lore surrounding them. "Zombie wranglers", or "Corpse Herders", usually Daoist priests, were men tasked with delivering these undead beings back to their respective home towns. Tradition in China placed great importance and emphasis on the return of the dead to their homes and families, and thus the corpse herders came to be. By using magick words and talismans they would animate the dead, and by placing specially inscribed parchments of paper over the Jiangsi heads and faces, the corpse herders would be able to control the hopping corpses. Then like pied pipers, they would lead processions of subdued undead, across many miles, rhythmically chanting and ringing tiny bells.
Special inns were built across China to house these undead caravans, as the zombies could only travel by evening and night, the sun anathema to them. Rows of doors opening to barely a closet-space, lined the walls of these special establishments. Behind these doors, the corpses would be stored upright while the corpse herders rested in rooms.
The Jiangsi under the control of a corpse herder were quite harmless, merely hopping after him, silently and without complaint, for weeks and months. If however, the magicked parchment would somehow be removed from their faces, the creatures would immediately seek living humans to kill. Their thirst for Qi was unquenchable.
The job of a corpse herder was an interesting one to say the least.
In a new town for the first time, the White Raccoon Lodge looks like a comfortable place to spend the night. The owner, however, makes sure to explain to you that there is a curfew after sundown and the door will be locked... from the outside. "We don't want anyone being caught out on the streets after dark," he says.
Now that you think of it, all the doors in this small town did have a crossbar on the outside rather than the inside... You wonder what goes on at night...
He's a non-descript man, with his pushcart. On it he sells nothing more exotic than jars of sun-dried tomatoes in oil and pickled vegetables. But he's always out there, in the courtyard of the great Guild of Wizards, in most weathers, and he'll have a kind word for you, and a jar.
Castoria was once a thriving and prosperous nation, a rich trade center for the surrounding lands. This all changed when, on one fateful night nearly a century ago, the Mist of Eternity rolled in and surrounded the land, obscuring more of the outside world as days and nights passed.
By the time the Mist blocked out the sun, a new light shone during what was assumed to be daytime: The Starpoint Spire, a mysterious place atop Castoria's highest peak in the northern-central region. Some say that there is some sort of building atop the mountain shining the dim "sunlight" onto the land, but it is only ever too bright or too dark to fully make out any structure, not to mention the mountain's immense height.
Not a month after the Spire's light lit up, the stars fell. Flaming rocks and debris from far-flung edges of space plummeted downward onto the eastern region of Castoria. Once the shower subsided, a strange energy from within the fallen stars transformed the eastern lands in what are now known as The Voidwastes, a barren gray land littered with craters and strange alien creatures (these can vary, but I had Pathfinder's Akatas in mind).
To the south, strange mechanism of eldritch origin are again at work after aeons of rest in the Ruins of Kchuthngnl, an ancient city of non-human creation that is estimated by scholars to be no less that five millennia old.
To the west, the once peaceful and serene forest, now known as The Plagued Woods, has been experiencing corruptions of the wildlife and humanoids living there. Some humans have reported creatures that appear not unlike a halfling, except that they can open their mouths to massive proportions to swallow creatures the size of an ogre.
When adventurers and citizens alike try to make an escape from Castoria, they are never seen again, and it is utterly unknown whether they found hopeful sanctuary or agonizing death withing the Mist's depths.
What is unknown to all residents of Castoria is that all of these events occurred because of the actions of a secret but powerful cult loyal to the Elder Gods who call the space between the planes their abhorrent home. The cult still lives on, larger than ever, and their plan is for the alien horrors to incubate and thrive within the dome of mist that now envelops Castoria, so that when the Elder Gods return as the cult's prophecy foretells, they will have an army of blasphemous creation at their disposal that they will use to make war with and enslave the denizens of the Material Plane.
A Druid Circle that's witnessed the polution and destruction of Mankind plans to wipe out every technological race, turning the world into a Nature Nightmare.
It is said that though the crown has always been passed through inheritance, no man may rule without the approval of the Archmage and the Guildmaster. (Interpretation I leave to interested parties.