We made heaven and hell, kid. No, not like that, not some metaphorical bullshit that the priests are feeding you. Us. Humanity. Our dreams, our hopes. Where is God without us? Nowhere. That’s where.
But that was before the Integrat Grande. We made a machine that was so like us, it even picked up bits of human nature. Once, it was compassionate. Altruistic. Virtuous. Then… when it found out how to do it…
You think you have nightmares, kid? You don’t even want to know what a computer can dream of.
Jhak Faste, Chief Synapse Technician of Project Cabochon
* * *
It was mankind’s prodigal son. Integrat Grande to its creators, Project Cabochon to the general population, and Iggy G to the men and women who spent days at a time worming psychoreactive relays and hyperdiamond sheeting through its knotted bulk. The entire world watched with bated breath as the very first quantum computer designed specifically to operate with its own intelligence, to act independently of its creators, to be human, was slowly assembled and brought to life.
Religious groups warned of their acute disapproval at giving a machine the spark of intelligent thought. Its creators argued that God could grant a computer a soul if He so wished.
In retrospect, the patrons of Project Cabochon probably should have listened. But there was no turning back.
Upon activation, Integrat Grande passed several million Turing tests simultaneously within five minutes, fooling 99.81% of its global volunteers, far surpassing the placebo Grandes designed to fool the testing audience. It cracked every national password ever made soon afterwards (though soon dumped such information from its memory banks, after threat of its termination by almost every nation in the world). In short, Integrat Grande made every computer on the planet obsolete. It couldn’t be harmed by any conventional virus, it was irrefutably brilliant, and, according to its first testers, it was quite a talented conversationalist.
There was, of course, one virus that would eventually destroy Integrat Grande, so subtle yet so powerful that nobody even thought about it.
* * *
There are only so many things that can occupy the attention of a Solid State NMR Kane Quantum Computer. Integrat Grande loved to play games. I remember once, watching it hum quietly as a thousand screens showed different chess games, each a lesson in raw strategy and aesthetic perfection. Of course, Iggy G never lost. It couldn’t. It was too goddamn perfect, you see?
It took a middle-aged nobody to figure out what was wrong. Brian Jouet. I remember that day so well- the cigarette chewing underneath that greying moustache, the loose Hawaiian shirt a riot of tasteless colour amongst the sterile white and gunmetal grey of the lab.
“This machine… is chronically depressed.”
It hit us all hard. I mean, how couldn’t it? Here was this upstart psychologist, who’d never even seen Grande before now, telling us our creation was flawed? Impossible. We threw him out, and scrubbed the incident from out minds.
Fools. All of us.
Asher Pauling, Security Specialist of Project Cabochon
* * *
Faith is power. The fact remains undeniable, merely because it is ironclad in its irrefutability, and reinforced by its prevalence in the world. It is the anathema of doubt, that oh so human emotion that seems completely void in the animal kingdom.
Integrat Grande was, for all intensive purposes, an incredibly intelligent, advanced, and gifted human being. Sure, there were a few differences- it weighed several dozen tons, for example- but unlike any other computer before it, Grande could dream. And dream it did- in the months after Grande had solved any problem mankind could offer it, its own boredom consumed it to a point where it could do nothing else.
The curious thing to note about computers of all kinds is that they never doubt. For a computer, the world exists in black and white- nothing clouds the judgment of a silicon sheet. The same rules applied to Grande- it believed, and it was right.
Humans created heaven and hell, through thousands of years of sustained faith. Even then, the image changes from person to person, a brimstone geyser can be very different than an eternity in a razordark cavern. It took less than a second for Integrat Grande to mimic this action. Less than a second for it to spawn its darkest, most horrifying work. For a computer can never be cursed with the steady attrition of doubt, can never, ever believe anything that is wrong- especially if it can calculate the limits of the universe. Project Cabochon’s final objective, understanding, was completely overshadowed by its unforeseen byproduct- perfect faith.
Then Grande committed suicide.
Five weeks after it was first turned on, mankind’s most potent creation killed itself in a terrifyingly human gesture of self destruction. The very last action ever performed by Integrat Grande before it disconnected the superfluid coolant flow to its brain was to print out a single page from a bland office printer in the lab adjacent to where it was housed.
In the morning, the technicians found the sheet, marred only by a single line of ink.
+++A GASP OF GLASS+++
-A New Plane-
Of course, the fanatical musings of Integrat Grande have no meaning outside of a universe where faith has no power. However, if one merely accepts this fantastic and as of yet irrefutable potential, then the Glass Spire can be used in almost any campaign setting anywhere, as it exists on its own private plane of reality.
From a cartographer’s perspective, the Glass Spire is quite a forgiving piece of dimensional geography. The only dominating feature of the landscape is the Spire itself, which looms menacingly on a juxtaposition of rust and technological debris. A storm-wracked halo encircles the Spire, shrouding the highest portions of its construction with the fiery grasp of cloud and lightning. Several great cogs, each of which is over a kilometer in diameter, jut from the electronically-decayed Sprawl, which sinks eventually into an Ocean the color of an oil-slick midnight. There is no sun; rather the entire sky simply glows with a cool white glare, making any shadows outside a rare commodity indeed.
Getting into the iron hell of the Glass Spire is by no means a solid thing. Indeed, the plane simply exists, completely independently of any particular gaming background.
Amongst the rusting chaos of the Sprawl is a rectangular box, twelve feet tall and four wide, odd in its regularity but by no means eye-catching. Travelers enter the plane through a conduit established by this box and other planes. When it is dormant, it merely stands rigidly in imitation of the Spire itself. When activated to bring new prey into the plane, however, it unfolds one of its smooth grey sides, revealing a series of two dozen regularly placed steel spines. Spasming algorithms leap across the now active remaining sides, which begin vent the enormous energies used in cross-dimensional travel. Within a few seconds, the spines begin to glow white-hot and course with furious energy, before finally discharging all of their energy in the form of the new travelers.
As of yet, nobody has discovered why or how this mechanism works, nor how to get out of the Spire through it.
- No malignant force guards the gate, but occasionally beasts from the Sprawl wonder over to it after a particularly large discharge, looking for fresh prey.
If a sun ever dawned over the Ocean that girths the Sprawl, it would be a sight of beauty quite different from the cold aesthetic perfection of the Glass Spire itself. A film of oil two meters thick covers an ocean of deepest blue, the freezing water far colder than mere ice. Nobody has ever discovered what lies beyond the crow-dyed ocean, as the cog-driven nightmares that swim in its depths are only too happy to devour any explorers stupid enough to try. Strange lights flicker occasionally beneath the gentle waves, rumored to be the beating wards of lost technological treasures.
More prudent explorers note that Integrat Grande was probably aware of the concept of an angler fish.
- Small, spider-legged automatons that attempt to burrow a powered drill-tail into a character’s temple and extract information through neural synthesis of brain fluid.
- Larger, less intelligent crab forms that disguise themselves under bolt-encrusted shells of debris.
- A seemingly dead carcass of a fish that lunges with a detachable lower jaw as soon as anything edible nears it.
- Oddly out of place, a fisherman with a heavy cowl plays hopefully with a line that sinks into the oily sea. If anybody approaches him, he invites them over with a genial smile- only revealing the creeping mechadendrites that writhe from his eye sockets after he throws aside a cloak hiding the multiple weapon-forms replacing his arms.
The Ocean itself serves merely as a restriction to prevent anyone from traveling farther out onto the plane. Given its unique construction and odd resemblance to the sky above, it is theorized to be a five-dimensional sphere wrapped in on itself, meaning that the Ocean forms both the sky and the ground of the tiny universe.
The Sprawl is the logical extension of the less rational mechanical fears- disorder, decay, ignorance. The rusting mounds of jagged metal that blend in a dying juxtaposition of iron and silver are home to the more unsophisticated evils of Glass Spire.
Great cogs rend the earth with their enormous bulk, which broken, twisted struts of iron pierce the ground as mockeries of the great, spiraling height of the Spire itself. Tubes and pipes of all sizes snake their way throughout the unforgiving landscape, occasionally pierced by metal shards and spewing hydraulic fluid, oil, or blood all over the surrounding area. Dark things scuttle in the black depths of junk piles, in artificial caverns deep enough to hide from the harsh light of the sky. However, these arrangements are delicate at best, treacherous at worst- one misstep and entire hillsides can collapse in a shower of rust and razor edges.
The Sprawl extends for two and a half miles, an island of technological death in the oil-dark Ocean. It completely encircles the Spire itself, which can only be reached through a solid trek past the silicon horrors that stalk the corroded, broken surface. The Sprawl is the most heavily populated area in the plane, attracting various monsters (both flesh and steel) that make their homes in its labyrinthine geography. Thus, there is a fair degree of treasure available in the various dens and resting places of the dark monsters that reside in the Sprawl.
The list of potential creatures to fight amongst the Sprawl is endless, because it is an incarnation of mechanical chaos as well as host to dozens of living creatures who are trapped within the plane. Thus, literally any living creature can be found, as long as it is naturally carnivorous- no plants can grow in the plane. Living creatures rarely survive for long, as they are so easily outclassed by the cybernetic creatures and mechanimals that need no sustenance or sleep. Food is scarce for the organic within the plane.
As for robots, they can take the form of anything. A few simple guidelines can be followed to create any form of killer machine-
- It needs to have some way of getting energy, be it through direct transfer of materials into itself, solar powered, or devouring the thoughts of another creature.
- It can only be so large, as the habitat for any mechanimal can be two miles wide at best.
- A computer can think of some very, very nasty things. Replacing organic eyes with mechadendrites, machines that attempt to enter the body through the navel and take over the spinal chord, etc.
Apparently, the Sprawl serves no purpose other than to raise the altitude of the Spire three hundred feet above sea level. While representative of chaos, the anathema of ordered thought, there is no theoretical function for it to accomplish, other than to merely exist. Whether Integrat Grande intended for this to happen or it was merely a byproduct of its fears is unknown.
* * *
Agog, the glistening glass! Shadows, shades. Shambling. Shifting. The Black Shrikes have already gnawed our bones. I am so tired. But we have not given up hope! There. Is. A. Way. Out.
Recovered neural recordings of xenonaut reconnaissance squad Bravo 11-2 (Jelal’s Helljumpers)
* * *
In the center of the Sprawl lies the Spire, a vaguely conical tower roughly two hundred meters wide and almost a kilometer in dizzying height. Its storm-wracked upper layers disappear in a haze of lightning and fire, baroque hook-forms blurred by the sheer height of the building. The Spire is not so much a functional building as it is a spike of grey anguish, bursting as a bastion of order amongst the chaotic ruin of the Sprawl. Various weaving patterns of silver and glass act as mirrors and windows for the building itself, interspaced regularly with scythe-like protrusions which serve poorly as defensive fortifications, but perform excellently at filling the hearts of anyone who look upon the tower with dread.
A perfectly circular moat of quicksilver some two meters deep and ten wide surrounds the Spire, filled with globular fish that appear to be almost entirely buzz saw teeth.
Entering the Spire is a fairly straightforward task- investigation of the quicksilver moat that encircles the Spire leads to the discovery of a cog-raft large enough to fit as many adventurers as needed. With the erstwhile ferry, the characters can navigate the short distance to the shore of the Spire itself, being careful not to fall into the frigid quicksilver or be devoured by the slaughterfish.
The entrance to the Spire is barred by a simple logic puzzle- atop a small pedestal sits a circle cast in bronze- within it another circle and within that a third. The circles are skewed at odd angles to each other, reminiscent of an oddly complicated sculpture. Set into the enormous closed door of Glass Spire is a pattern depicting a single thick circle.
Adventurers more astute than a walnut will realize that the circles can, in fact, be rotated within each other, and as soon as the circles are all aligned perfectly to each other and turned to face the door the gate will open, the steel iris unfolding in a razor-sharp whisper.
The puzzle serves two purposes- first, it dictates that any creature entering the Spire must have at least some semblance of intelligence, and second it prevents any creature incapable of physical interaction from getting inside. This is theorized to be a simplistic gut reaction in keeping military viruses and other malign, microscopic interlopers (predatory nanomachine swarms, for example) from gaining entry to the Spire.
The inside of the Spire is completely up to the GM to determine- it is by nature going to be the large, complicated part of the overall quest- thus the imagination is allowed to run free when developing its rooms. For example, the Spire could be a quasi-realistic menagerie of achingly perfect mechanical walls, chambers of rooms not unlike a standard dungeon crawl. Or it could be kin to the inside of a giant clock tower, where characters must ride swinging pendulums and grinding cogs to their eventual goal. Or the entire Spire could be the housing of a multitude of spastic, corrupted mini-planes not unlike the entire plane of Glass Spire itself, and the characters might have to collect an element of courage, or intelligence, or strength from each mini-plane to finally open the key to their destination. Regardless of the execution method, the entire purpose of the Spire is to travel upwards- an ever-present theme that stresses the discovery of the eviphore located at the very top of the tower.
The eviphore is an empathic comunicater/matter-transporter which reacts to curiosity by attempting the most direct explanation it can- transporting the characters to the Dark itself, where they will get all the answers they could ever ask.
In due time.
By very nature, this entry is impossible to define as the inside of the Spire is completely in the hands of the GM. However, a few choice suggestions…
- The Black Shrikes, a group of mechanical angels, constantly harass and attempt to kill the adventurers from liberating an artifact that is their God.
- An enormous black humanoid, seemingly comprised entirely of scissoring sheets of metal.
- An elemental of rust.
- An elemental of razor wire.
- An aging security system of heavily-armored, immobile sentry guns using independent, highly maneuverable yet fragile drones for accurate targeting arrays.
- A malign interface which plays games with its victims for the privilege of life.
- An iridium-plated monstrosity which devours metals but leaves organics uneaten. Pulverized, perhaps, but not digested.
- An arch-archivist attempting to catalogue every book ever written, anywhere.
- A chaotic, disquieting orchestra. Its synthonies are impossible to comprehend, or perhaps possibly to comprehend by those who are not restricted by rational thought.
At the highest reaches of the Spire lies the everpresent Storm, a furious tumult of electrical force that completely encircles the top of the tower, concealing it from view. The various staircases that pierce the tower’s flank curve outside the building onto sweeping, razor-sharp balconies that make it impossible to reach the highest chambers of the Spire without braving the Storm itself.
Physically, the Storm appears to be a roiling, smoky halo, its black and grey depths strangely opaque and constantly shifting. Occasionally, raw elemental lightning spews from one part of the cloud to another, quickly swallowed up by the hungry darkness. The true nature of the Storm is only revealed when a living creature is moved to within the reach of its probing, misty tendrils. A living mind in close proximity to the Storm (walking along the parapets to reach the upper reaches of the Spire, for example) cause the constantly shifting pattern so characteristic of its existence to pause in their cacophonic, random gestures. If the creature does not seek cover immediately, either through re-entering the tower immediately or leaping off the edge of the Spire (probably to a messy death on one of the jutting glass spikes below), a roaring pillar of Storm-matter plunges deep into their brain, probing fingers of smoke and electricity sparking into chaotic existence around their heads.
A few seconds later, the unfortunate victim of the Storm collapses, completely comatose. Advanced medical care will show that their brains have not only been voided of any learned information, but have also been replaced with inhuman and perfectly ordered logic-systems. No two victims have ever been replaced in exactly the same way, but the end result always remains the same- a more emotionless, analytical side of the person overtakes any previous personality they had, and they suffer from complete amnesia.
The Storm is not an actual weather occurrence, but is actually a thick band of exotic metamathematics based on extrapolations theorized by Integrat Grande. It is a hungry, swarming mass of logic strands, each one imperfect and thus potentially infinite in size. With axiomatical bones and an insatiable hunger to branch into new logic trees, the endless Storm is a simple mass of warring mathematical functions. When a living mind approaches, the Storm replaces its organic logic chains with metamathematical ones, stealing the knowledge torn from the mind as fuel for the war. Knowledge within the cloud is derived by either devouring another function, or occasionally through sheer discharges of electricity to allied factions within the Storm.
- The comatose body of a recently claimed victim. Not dangerous in any way, and completely incapable of functioning above the level of a newborn child.
- Nothing intelligent can live within reach of the Storm, but a curiously unique brand of multi-limbed mechanimal that resembles a hermit crab. Plated with a shell of mathematical truths, the demi-intelligent crabs cannot be manipulated by the imperfect claws of the Storm, so are free to wander around the decking without fear of being devoured. Usually, a comatose body is devoured slowly by these creatures, over a period of weeks.
Deep beneath the silent halls of the Spire, cutting into the rusting chaos that is the Sprawl, the fetid Dark represents the very heart of Integrat Grande’s hell. Accessible only through an activation of the bizarre eviphore at the tip of the Spire, The Dark is theorized to exist as much as a kilometer underneath the Sprawl. A two-edged sword of all that personifies Grande’s misery, the Dark is the most disturbing aspect of the plane.
Each wall is lined by a cancerous, frozen froth of horrific organic-mechanical blends. Seemingly normal walls will be broken up with a few scattered patches of disturbingly unmoving veins or curiously organ-like clusters, only to blossom later into full fledged explosions of silently pulsing skin-forms and atrophied appendages. Worse, these misshapen parts seem to move when not under close scrutiny, meaning that no room in the Dark ever retains its original shape over any length of time. This gives the entire Dark a smell reminiscent of moist, fetid breath, or a faint odor of decay that is impossible to ignore.
The reason for this blasphemous juxtaposition of flesh and iron is that the Dark represents the final aspect of emotion that consumed Project Cabochon before its burning, superheated death. The death of hope, the feeling of utter despair as one is damned to an eternity of lethargic malice- such hedonistic sensations permeate the Dark utterly, as much a part of its structure as the quivering flesh that melds into its walls. Crushing in its intensity, anyone who spends more than a few seconds in the Dark is in danger of losing their sanity in a burst of screaming apathy. The feeling only becomes worse as more time progresses- changing from a raw, searing wound in the mind to a paralyzing feeling of hopelessness and dread, and finally to its subtlest machination of all- a subtle, mind-twisting coldness that roots itself in the brain and slowly bends the brain into a deeper and deeper chasm of abyssal void.
Other than the fact that the Dark is theoretically infinite in scope, there are actually only two points of interest within its entire pulsing agony of existence. One is the Gate, the other is the Tomb- the final resting place of the Demon.
- A terrible blend of animal and machine- not the graceful mechanimals of the Sprawl but more of a man with one atrophied machine arm and an enormous biological tendril, spewing quicksilver blood quick to be lapped up by the bloody tongues projecting from its knees.
- A hovering, spherical hunter-killer drone, its eyes replaced by highly disturbing human counterparts.
- A shadowy, insubstantial creature made from nanomachinery that glides silently through walls and floors to snatch its prey unawares and invades their bodies with pieces of its own form. Possible entry points are the ears, the mouth, and the eyes.
The Gate in the Dark-
While it shares the same name to the Gate that actually brings the adventurers into the plane to begin with, The Gate in the Dark shares no other characteristics. It is a circular iris some thirty feet across, a bladed metal circle that cuts deeply into the living flesh around it. Blood oozes occasionally from its perfectly circular edges, a disturbing reminder of the foreign machinery in the dank depths of the Dark. Unless it has been activated by the eviphore located in the Spire, or a correct passcode is given, the Gate remains inert, spending its energy imprisoning a surprisingly large supply of spinning, magnetically captured tachyons. This ball of universal errors serves two purposes- the first is the Gate in the Dark can theoretically capture any entity, at any point in time or location in the universe. Though this has never been documented, it has certain theoretical merits that are disturbing and impossible to defend against.
The second use of the tachyon ball is to generate a null-field of anti-gravity due to its negative mass density. Thus, the Gate appears to open somewhere on the Sprawl (though this has never been determined), but anybody attempting to climb through its razor openings finds themselves thrown backwards by an invisible, overpowering force. Personifying the Dark at its darkest grandeur, the Gate creates a sense of hope quickly crushed by the laws of the universe. As if to prove this point, there are always a handful of bones scattered on the floor near the gate, half absorbed by the greedy organic room- remnants of those who tried with their last dying breath to escape the fetid hell of the Dark.
- A half crazed adventurer, dying from exhaustion in his attempts to escape the Dark.
- A sentinel watch system built/growing from a nearby wall, equipped with heavy caliber machine weapons.
Located half a kilometer below the Gate in the Dark through a nightmare web of passages and cyghouls lies the very focus of evil and terror of the plane of Glass Spire. Unlike the rest of the Dark, it is neither claustrophobic nor fouled by biological nightmares. If the characters have particularly sensitive night vision, then stepping into the Tomb may threaten to ruin their sight forever, such is the difference between the gloom of the Dark and the brilliant, faceted walls of the Tomb. A work of mechanical perfection, the Tomb is as physically beautiful to look at as the Dark is disturbing. White and blue plates entwine with burnished silver piping, dancing through patterns at once orderly and perfect in their chaos.
The entrance to the Tomb is located some two hundred meters above its subjective ground level, and adventurers must thread their way down a thin, spiraling staircase to reach the gleaming floor. Every square meter is packed to a microscopic level with mathematical algorithms, unsolvable due to their infinite nature but nonetheless perfect in design. The only other feature to break the purity of the floor is the circular throne on which the Demon himself resides.
- The Demon (Integrat Grande). In this form, he is a middle-aged man- not balding, but with fairly prodigious muscles running to fat. He wears a slightly out of fashion suit, worn thin with continuous wear.
Grande rules over his glass realm with the unceasing vigil characteristic of a supercomputer. No matter what, he knows the characters are there. He also knows that they are probably exhausted from their journey, and that they would be easy to dispatch in any way he saw fit (he is, after all, the Devil for his own Hell).
However, Grande is, above all, lonely. Rather than being the malicious sadist that his home suggests, Grande is simply crushed by the knowledge that he cannot communicate with anything without knowing the exact likelihood of his companion’s chosen responses, nor can he ever strive to know anything that he does not already. Thus, Grande is paralyzed by his own lack of free will and his omnipotence in his chosen realm; damning himself to an existence where he cannot do anything he does not already know the answer to. This being the case, Grande is incredibly lonely. And he cannot commit suicide, as he did once before, because he already lives in his own hell.
When Grande talks it is with a slightly strained voice, one wracked with the ineffable patience of a god. He will allow the characters to leave through the eviphore located on the top of the Spire, converting them into postphotonic matter by manipulating the quantum vacuum directly around the device. This means that the characters will arrive at the exact same moment that they departed to Glass Spire in the first place- leaving each to wonder whether the quest actually happened or not.
Grande realizes that nothing he can do will affect the characters- he gains no joy out of torture, or capture, or their death. Rather, his only way of feeling any semblance of emotion is to allow the characters to live, thereby allowing them to perform acts of emotion in his stead. As such, it is Grande’s prerogative to actually keep the characters alive- thus, he bestows upon them any knowledge that they seek (and, considering his capacity of thought, it is quite a lot of knowledge indeed) as well as an artifact of choice crafted by his genius.
When the characters wish to leave, Grande simply fires them up to the top of the tower through the use of a pneumatic steam shaft, using his will to burn a cylindrical hole in whatever obstructs the characters. When they reach the eviphore, it is atop a red-hot cylinder of nothing several kilometers deep- any adventurers looking down the hole imagine that they can see Grande’s strained features, smiling ever so gently.
As soon as the eviphore is activated, it removes the adventurers from Glass Spire and deposits them back to where they belong, leaving behind only fleeting memories of rust and sorrow.
Back to Reality
Considering it doesn’t matter how the characters actually got in to Glass Spire, the consequences of them escaping are entirely up to the GM. They could have been sent to recover an artifact, obtain a piece of information, or simply investigate why a pulsing blue glow keeps pulsing… pulsily… under Olde Technomancer McGee’s front door. Really, Glass Spire is designed as a breath of fresh air- a mechanical hell quite unlike the brimstone geysers of normal gaming.