The powerful sorceress known to the Locastrians only as "The Bloated Moon" appears as a tall, slim woman dressed in brightly coloured robes of flowing silk. She is never seen without the crackelated, living mirror mask that flows and ripples around her features like quicksilver, mimicking a face of breathtaking beauty and chilling emptiness. Her long, raven hair is always elaborately done, entwined in a wreath of living, red-leaved ivy, and held up by a pair of skull-tipped silver pins.
She is rarely seen on the City's streets (except during the annual FÃªte, when she makes her traditional tour of the City and attends the fights in her honour at the gladiator pits), preferring to spend her time in isolation in her lair in the ancient ruins atop Cemetery Hill.
She is never seen to walk; instead she travels atop a floating stone platform, bedecked with ribbons and pennons, on which she sits cross-legged, smoking her water-pipe, while her attendants, her Initiates, march along beside her.
She also never speaks, instead relying on imparting visions, or hallucinations, in the recipient. These sendings are usually obscure, chaotic, prophetic and supremely unnerving for those receiving them.
To the Locastrians, very little is known about the Moon's history. It seems she predates the first settlers of this region. She was here when the City was founded, and it grew to greatness around her. Even the origin of her name is lost in the mists of time.
In the 200 years since the first foundation stone of Locastus was placed, The Moon has communicated only sporadically with the City's officials, usually through her Initiates. The Locastrian government treat her as a persona non grata, an untouchable, uncontrollable fixture around which the City revolves, her motivations obscure and her goals unfathomable. A long line of Locastrian Mayors have had to adapt their regime around her, since interfering with her is out of the question. Luckily, she seems to have little interest in worldly affairs, which makes her coexistence with the Locastrian ruling body much easier.
The common people of Locastus treat her with great respect, but also like something of a mascot. For the people of the vast slums, she is almost (but not quite) worshipped like a deity. The wrought-iron fence around her hilltop residence is always bedecked by offerings such as flowers, strings of beads, small coins, feathers, painted icons and carved fetishes, left there by the simpler folks of the city for luck.
The Moon appears to have a soft spot for prostitutes and the other women of the night, and is the official patron of the Locastrian guild of Whores. She has been known to send her minions (such as the Moon Maidens to help any of these women when the need arise. No-one knows the reason for this, but it certainly fits her unpredictable nature. The Matrons of the Guild are her staunch supporters, even to the point of calling themselves her Anointed Priestesses.
The only other person she has been known to show any sort of friendliness was the wandering Magus Remus Maal, who, before his mysterious disappearance, regularly visited and communed with the Moon.
Although no definite proof exists, there are rumours that people that offend her (such as the drunkard who once threw a dog turd at her palanquin) are later found catatonic or psychotic, driven mad by horrific nightmares that persist even when awake. That is, if they awake at all. It is also said that having her turn the full attention of that perfect, inhuman face on you, can cause you to void your bowels or even die outright.
When out in the open, the Bloated Moon is always attended to and shielded by her all-female staff, her Initiates, with whom she seems to have some form of telepathic communication. When the Moon is in her lair, these women can be seen moving in and out of the maze-like hilltop ruins, running errands, tending the graves and so on. Their numbers vary, but she is never served by fewer than ten, although their faces change with unnerving regularity. They seem to serve actively for a few years, before being replaced. What happens to them after these years is unknown, but they are never seen again.
If one would look closely one would notice that the Initiates, while all young and beautiful, all share the same vacant expression, slow blinkings and twitching eye movements.
The Initiates, it seems, are recruited spontaneously. Several families around Locastus can tell stories about how their daughters awoke one morning with a vacant expression and, without explanation or goodbyes, left the house to ascend Cemetery Hill to enter the Moon's lair, only to reappear as part of her entourage shortly afterward. No one knows why these women join the Moon. The Initiates certainly doesn't answer any questions.
The Moon's Lair
The Moon makes her home in the labyrinth-like, tumbled-down ruins that occupies the summit of a great, cone-shaped barrow mound on the banks overlooking Locastus's harbour, a great artificial hill the Locastrians call Cemetery Hill. The name stems from the fact that the sides of the barrow are covered in a dense jumble of ancient tombs and menhirs, all covered in a tangled carpet of ivy and of a design unknown to this part of the world. Great packs of Moon Rats infest the tombs and scuttle between the graves.
The entire hill (which is some 3 miles in circumference) is hemmed in by a 10-foot wrought-iron fence with only one gate, behind which a single, winding stone stair, flanked by rows of weird, inhuman statues, winds its way up the hill towards the cyclopean ruins at the peak. Even on sunny days, a dense, eerie mist clings to the grey stone tombs, and at night, weird lights can be seen winking through the fog. Sometimes, the Initiates, wraith-like in their white, flowing robes, can be seen moving silently about the cemetery, tending to the graves and checking the seals on crypts.
The ruins at the top of the barrow are in complete disrepair, an intricate maze of unroofed walls and empty, peaked arches mostly covered in the red-leaved ivy, and are the breeding ground for great flocks of Orbats that continually circle overhead, the air bitter with their psychic calls.
The ruins, arranged in a rough circle, open up onto a central open, flagstoned space where the 50-foot stub of a once great tower stands, choked in ivy and with a single, circular doorway gaping darkly at ground level. This is the entrance to the Moon's lair, from which no-one returned to tell about it. It is assumed that the Moon, unofficial ruler of Locastus, lives among the bones of the dead in the catacombs that, supposedly, honeycomb the barrow.
The Untold Story
Some 400 years ago, a battle took place on the plains further inland from where Locastus now stands. A local tribe, whose name has been long since forgotten, clashed in these meadows and grasslands with a, likewise nameless, conquering horde from the North. The invaders were, after a long and bloody battle, seriously decimated and fled back the way they came, leaving their baggage trains and camp followers behind, at the mercy of the victors. The young woman who would one day become the Bloated Moon of Locastus was a camp follower of that army, a common, bedraggled, disease-ridden prostitute among many. Her name was Cliona. Her mother, also a camp follower, was of the Old Blood of the Empire, her father, some unknown Northern soldier. The ancient bloodline had granted her a certain degree of Talent, but circumstances and hard living had failed to nurture that Talent, making it retreat into dormancy.
When the victorious, war-painted tribesmen fell on the baggage train, Cliona and a small group of camp followers fled, riding the last ox-pulled wagon of Northern loot towards the only high ground in sight; the Great Barrow, which is now called Cemetery Hill. While the tribesmen hounded them for a long time, pelting the small company with javelins, arrows and blowpipe darts, they broke off the pursuit as the company entered the Barrow grounds. The eerie barrow, predating even the tribes of these lands, was considered taboo for these animalistic folks, and they avoided it like the plague. While the ghosts of the Barrow rose at the intrusion, they did not harm the intruders, held back by Cliona's unknown powers, that flared in response to something deep beneath the mound of earth, something that called out to her.
Cliona's little flock never again left the Barrow. Even though others of the company wanted to move on when the threat of the tribesmen was gone, the power of Cliona's charisma, now fuelled to superhuman levels by her connection with the thing beneath the earth, eventually won them over. They settled in the ruins on the hilltop, building shelters in the catacombs beneath the earth and, eventually, began trading their stolen loot for food with the bravest (or the greediest) of the tribesmen.
Deep beneath the ruins, in the central cavern at the heart of the warren of catacombs, Cliona unearthed the thing that had called to her; The Well of Dreams, a dressed, circular well, 50 feet across, filled with a roiling grey-green mist. Built by the Ancients above a spot where the fabric between this world and the realm of dreams has frayed, it presented the opportunity to draw power from the dreams of other people. The strange, not-quite-matter in the Well rose in response to Cliona's power. She had found her destiny.
The Mistress of Dreams
Cliona's followers grew old and died, in the natural course of things, and they were interred in the old tombs on the Barrow. Cliona herself, however, still looked as young as the day they had got there, her life spark replenished by her communion with the Well of Dreams and the spirits that dwelt in it. When her last followed died, Cliona sank into a deep torpor, her soul travelling the Dream World, gaining power and knowledge, forging alliances with the spirit world while her body remained prone by the lip of the Well, deep beneath the Barrow.
It was only almost 150 years later, when the ships of the Southern invaders, the people that would later found the city of Locastus, appeared on the coast, that Cliona, now known by her spirit name - "Bloated Moon" - finally awoke from her long slumber. During her long travel, she had discovered the need to have assistance of other Dreamwalkers to tap the full potential of the Well of Dreams, so, using her new-found arts, she manipulated the dreams and psyches of the invaders to settle near, and build a city around her Barrow. The Moon nurtured the growing community, encouraging peaceful trade with the native tribes and, as the population started to grow, had her pick of the most powerful young Talents to aid her in her work.
As Locastus grew, so did the powers of the Moon. She learnt to draw forth the very substance of the dreamworld and create from it weird, unnatural creatures to do her bidding. With the bound Dreamwalkers acting as conduits, funnelling the power of the Well into their mistress, she became more powerful than she could have ever dreamt of, but it came at a price. She became a creature beyond good or evil, so powerful those petty human distinctions no longer mattered, losing much of her humanity in the process.
Now, roughly 200 years since Locastus was founded, it is hard to judge how much of the original woman remains in the immensely powerful sorceress the Moon has become. She has the power to kill with a look, tear a man's soul apart or fill his dreams with nightmares. Her spirit alliances allow her glimpses of the future and she could control the minds of every person in Locastus, was that her wish. Her relation with the City forms a complex symbiosis, her being reliant on the city to bring her fresh Dreamwalkers to keep her power and the city on her to keep the power of the Well of Dreams from devouring the soul of everyone within a 5-mile radius. She is also incapable of going any longer distance from the Well without risking losing control over the host of spirits that crowd it. Her massive dream-mining has drawn the attention of every spirit in the Dream World to that spot, causing an unfortunate situation where she has to replace her Dreamwalkers at an ever increasing rate to keep the Well under control.
The Moon as an NPC
In an RPG, the Moon is probably best used as a prop, something you add for atmosphere and tone. In the state I've described here, she would have little interaction with an average PC, and every action taken against her are more or less doomed to fail. Strip her of some power and she becomes your average run-of-the-mill evil sorceress (yawn), make her more powerful and she becomes a god (blah). I've found she works best as something in between, a vastly powerful creature that occasionally lets slip a glimpse of human motivation.
When I playtested one of my stories (that's one of the ways I come up with dialogue, by the way - I suck at dialogue), I let Locastus get invaded and the Moon killed or vanished. I then let the PC's deal with the invaders, traitors in their own ranks AND the Well of Dreams going critical beneath them, which worked pretty well. (OK, so all the PC's died and everyone was angry at me and now don't return my phonecalls, but, hey, I'm an evil DM.) Anyway, I kept the Moon as a mysterious figure in the background up until the point when she battled an unholy coalition of lich priests on the Docks, and got herself killed in the process. I felt that worked better than using her as an integral part of the story line.
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? Responses (17)-17
I´m throwing this one out there, not quite, but mostly complete. This is a big one, and partly more story than NPC. If any of you think that does not belong on this site, please let me know and I´ll remove it.
Plot hooks, some links to as yet unfinished stuff and some final tinkering to be done. For now I need to distance myself for a day or so before I can come back to it.
Updated: OK, added the last bit. I´m not adding plot hooks to this sub, instead I decided on some playtesting anecdotes. I hope you´ll enjoy it!
I enjoyed reading this a lot! She's the only thing that keeps the spirtis of the dream world from wrecking havoc on a city that has sprung around the mysterious gate-way into the world of dreams. What is there not to like? Kudos on that dark, gothic spirit that you have infused both this NPC with as wel as the mysterious, gloomy world she inhabits.
Well, we got ourselves a great new poster! A little long, but then again it is good so no problem there.
Have had theives world on the brain lately, and she reminds me of the type of entity of Tempus or Ischade level.
The Moon was inspired by equal parts The Lady of Pain from Planescape and Empress Laseen from The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I do think that a solid backstory is necessary to understand motivations and so on. Quirks are important, but only when you present the reason for a character having them. I LIKE quirks...:-)
One thing I´ve never learnt to create is weak female characters. Dunno why, but I just cant do it - they all turn out to be tough. My damsels in distress turn around on their own volition and kicks their kidnappers in the nuts. Sometimes I think it would be nice if they asked me first if they could do that...:-)
Great work! Very enjoyable read.
It invoked memories of "Planescape" and that woman in Sigil, whose name I no longer remember. That is good. There are too few personas like these here at the Citadel!
Well written and good grammar! (being a european I know how hard it is to match the grammar of these UK/US whiz kids!)
If you want to boost your score, well, let me tell you: Bold headlines and paragraphing goes a long way. Believe me! You have done fine in that regard, but for mastery you should study the user "valadaar". He is a masterful teacher of that art.
While I was one of the original proponents for plot hooks I think it is perfectly fine you don't include any. I love playtesting notes.
Too bad it didn't work out. By the way: Evil GMs are really GMs that want to challenge their players to rise to the occasion and excel. When, or IF the players do that the sessions become legends in themselves, memorable and with time nearly mythical.
Oh, and I LOVE the name "The Bloated Moon". LOVE IT!
All of your submissions are good.
I love it, from top to bottom, the symbolism, the well of dreams, the codependence of the Moon and Locastus, and even her humble beginings. Kudos
okay, AG trumped me on the first and foremost comment i was going to make. The name, Bloated Moon, for an NPC, and particularly for an NPC of this caliber, is simply stupendous. I drool.
Her story and the delicious detail puts this over the top for me. A great world unfurls before us, and we have certainly taken notice, David.
Great work! Just great.
Get going on Locastus entry! :)
This is an incredible post. It has such useful layers of detail that present a complete picture. So many uses....
And helps capture some of the mood of the set too. You really need to read all of it to take the whole picture in, but this is my favorite piece of the set.
So lovely. The sorceress of Locastus! Her tale is a captivating one, David.
Huh, when I first started reading your entries related to the Bloated Moon, I had always imagined it as some sinister supernatural force operating outside of our corporeal plane. Ah, well: this is still awesome. Excellent work!
One of the truly amazing subs of this entire site, and that's saying something. Vivid, evocative, creative.
Excellent. Wonderful language that paints a thoroughly engaging picture.
I was absolutely thrilled that you had the back story and motivation!
Well written, it drew me right through to the end. I have a great sense of the location and aura that she has over the town. Just an outstanding submission.