Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Cygnate Principalities, Part 1

So my current campaign world is called Requiem. (Please ignore the first posts I made about my world, I'm currently treating those like an inchoate, undeveloping fetus). It features the Tritonius Ingenium, which is an empire of coastal barbarians, tempest magic, Mongolian savagery, Greek creativity, and Romanesque military might that was fighting a very successful war against Ruhrum Aqklas, a loose confederation of tribes encompassing a huge inland desert. Unsurprisingly, the further away the Ingenium got from water, the weaker they became. So they tried to conquer up the top half of the continent, which was close to an ice sea, and got mired in tundra for their troubles trying to circle back down towards the caravan-capital of the Aqklas, Quorrummeklas. One front is cold, inhospitable ice with ebony dragons, two others biting sand with dustwyrms and sandstorms and no water along with the Ruhrum Antlions, and yet another route is cursed savanna between the tundra and the desert that swallowed up the first army that was sent into it and all other small expeditionary forces/adventurers sent into it so far. There are rumors of a massive citadel, constructed out of a volcano's peak, deep in the savanna. For now, propaganda abounds about the successful advance of the armies, while the war slowly loses its momentum as the Poseidon, Amphitrite, and generals watch. Logistics has become a mindfuck of colossal proportions, and the Aqklas are adapting. 

But that is outside the scope of this post. 

Across the Athonian Mare, to the west, is a whole other continent. This one holds the Velus Republic, where idealistic socialists, corrupt officials, and entities with other interests battle it out for control and work behind the scene of the once great nation that is simultaneously sinking into decadence and frothing idealism as its formerly subjugated territories, sensing weakness, quietly cut ties with it, slaughtering outposts in the night, assassinating local Parlimentarians, or convincing forces born and bred in the territories to renounce their loyalty to the current Quincet. The Velus have essentially adopted a democratic satrapy as a way of absorbing territories. This works out great for the idealists, who tout self-rule, and the guilds, for whom influencing a lone Parlimentarian is easy and often leads to big returns, usually at the cost of the natives. However, the Velus have drastically underestimated the currents of resentment over coerced absorption, the effect of their arrogant sense of social superiority, and the partial fracturing of traditional ruling structures, especially in their relatively recent territories.

But that is also outside the scope of this post.

Other significant locations are the Sweep of Nations, the Twin Cities of Bblyns and Torre'kan, the mysterious Land of Lakes, the Hoar Kingdom (a federated nation), the Twosers, and the relatively quiet Duran Plateau.

All those, however, are outside the scope of this post.

No, today we look at an independent entity known as the Cygnate Principalities.

It is located in the southwest of the Sweep of Nations, occupying a small spot on the Bblyn Peninsula, surrounded by the Maieca Mountains. The Principality occupies the small valley created by a portion of the southern Maieca that twists away to form a small pocket. Mountains on 3 sides, with the seaside facing west. It exists on a small bump, locally known as the Swan's Bulge.

The valley in the Bulge is known for its swans due to the ancient tower of an airvein sorcerer known as Ani.

Ani's tower floated above the valley, drifting several miles to the west in the winter, and back to the east in the summer, following the migration pattern of the birds they so loved. Eventually, Ani's tower, eyries hanging empty, trailing long pennants as it drifted hundreds of feet above the ground, attracted a bevy of swans, who kicked the various small birds out and ate the squirrels that defended their home. Swans are omnivores, you see. The ones that used to migrate over cities were especially famous for using their beaks to blackjack cats, babies, and other small animals, swooping down in small groups to attack and kill exposed, vulnerable meat, and eating them on the wing.

Fragmentary records dating from around 4:AA:345-65 describe the legendary Rain of Blood, whence a massive migrating swan wedge came upon and dismembered a wild herd of yaks along with most of their guardian qern, feasting and raining drops of blood, bone, and the occasional hunk of yak and human for over a hundred miles. Even today, the Qernyak of the Aqklas holds swans as an ancient and powerful enemy, occasionally bringing them in conflict with other qerns of a more avian bent.

Regardless, Ani adopted the swans as their own, and for years the bevy roosted in the lower, open-air floors of the tower, developing a healthy respect for the flying tigers below.

History is not clear on the eventual fate of Ani. The version espoused by the Velnmenmna Sacerdote described the slow fall of Ani and the corruption of the tower below. Eventually, the tower landed, and vast armies of ravenous swans poured forth, exterminating all creatures in sight, including the flying tigers. Of course, the Velnmenmna have been known to rewrite their history for proselytizing purposes.

The Library of Bblyns has an old scroll detailing the rise and fall of Ani, told as an epic poem. It pins Ani's disappearance on a greedy band of adventurers hired by the Duran League to recover a piece of lore who then looted the place. The tower crashed to the ground, and neither Ani nor the source of their destruction ever emerged.

The swans escaped, both sources agreed, and returned to less bloody behaviors. The occasional cat or dog still disappears around a nest of swans, especially when the female is raising chicks. Packs of wolves noticeably avoid the territory of swans. Woodsmen don't go near swans unarmed and alone.

Several hundred years later, one of the mountains surrounding the valley erupted, partially covering the verdant forest in ash and lava. Most researchers agree that if the flying tigers survived the initial swan attack, they were killed or migrated away from the region following the eruption. Mount Aelyn remains somewhat active today...

That is all old history, and widely known locally.

What came next was a steady stream of colonists to take advantage of the fertile volcanic soil, and an equally steady stream of adventurers that tried to take advantage of Ani's Tower. The colonists grew where the adventurers withered and died, never to be seen again. Except, on certain nights, flights of swans can be seen, flying in all different directions under the light of the full moon. Invariably, when day breaks, the fresh corpses of people long thought dead all appear in strange locations, far away from the tower. All are surrounded by feathers, and all have died from a great fall. The ones who survived are called Icarians, and almost always speak an incomprehensible dialect. Most of them die within a few days, wretched things that gradually shrivel into a clump of feathers that falls away to reveal a perfect swan egg. The ones that survive all become divinely connected to an avian force, and forge powerful new religions, some of which remain today. All are mysteries, and all attempts to learn the secrets of the Icarians are inevitably foiled by their powerful minions. Inevitability plays a large part in the mindset of humans and humanlikes here.

Ani's Tower remained locked. A town grew up around it, and people, as they always do, inevitably fell under the psychic domination of the swans. In several decades, wereswans appeared, and eventually, bizarre combinations of swan and human were seen, hiding in sheds, peeping out of attics, the secret shames of humans intimate with the unknown. Soon, the Hlafsvans (as they are called) walked the valley freely.

Such a symbiosis could not long endure. Various nearby organizations, cults, and governatories, all endowed with a snobbishly superior belief in the supremacy of the undefiled human, formed a loose coalition and attacked the valley.

Therein lies the great Aelynian Schism, and the reason why Ani's Tower, leagues away from the battle, is now half buried in basalt. Stories abound of dwarves unearthing pockets of magma-burned warriors, the Hlafsvans plumageless, fighting eternal conflicts with charcoalesque humans, smouldering sword ringing on light ashen feathershield, tinny noises presaging the slaughter to come as the burning gheists turn their lava overflowing eyes on the living, who crumble to black ash under their liquid eyes and burst into flames under their hardened, ashy talons and fingernails. Have yet another terrifying monster.

Burning Gheist
AC unarmored (usually Hlafsvan) is equivalent to leather + shield, humans and humanlike as chain
Hlafsvan gheists have exceptional Dex (16+) Human gheists have exceptional strength (16+)
Move as human HD several. not a knockover, but not hard.  Int 7
Special abilities!
Immunity to fire damage, obviously. Roll 2d8 and add 1 if the number is odd, then divide by 2 to find the number of gheists encountered. Half are human, half Hlafsvan
Usable 1/day. Targets 1 creature, is a gaze attack. That creature must make a Cha save (make it not easy, at least) or drop to 0 hit points. Once a creature succeeds on its save, it is immune to all other burns from gheists for the rest of the day. Creatures with resistance to fire damage lose half their current hit points on a failed save, creatures immune to fire damage cannot be affected.
Avoid eye contact with a gheist to evade their fiery stare, get a penalty to attacking, Or, DM's, give the gheist a bonus to attack targets who aren't looking at it directly. Same thing, right? See which ones your players would prefer. Oh yes, creatures killed by this specific effect crumble into ashes.
When a gheist hits a target with a melee or ranged attack, that target must make a Dex save or take an additional 2 fire damage at the end of the gheist's turn. Stacks. Magical healing removes all scorches. I love small stacking effects, apparently.

They attack either with talons/nails (1d6) or with weapons.

On their behavior: burning gheists will always try to kill living things first, and then go back to fighting each other. It is perfectly possible to lure two groups together, disappear, and watch them resume their ancient battle, slow and stately, filled with overflowing hatred. They use good tactics when fighting PC's, but the two groups only "cooperate" in the sense that they don't attack each other.

They fight with weapons from a past life, hundreds of years old. The arms and armor of a burning gheist are always warm to the touch. They are sooty and smoking if metal, and charcoal if wooden. They are cracked and blistered if they used to be leather, but perfectly supple. These arms and armor will never need an oiling, a sharpening, or a retuning, and cannot be burned up. It is difficult to melt the metal ones. Most will have an ancestral crest engraved on them, warped and cracked. Some of the families these former mortals belonged to will still be alive today, and may claim these relics through right of blood.

I will go over feathershields and sooty feathershields in the next post.

Here, also, are side effects of a mound of necromantic ashes! Lucky are your players for having to face these horrid things, or lucky are you, if you're keeping this secret from your DM. (Shame on you.) Presenting, without further ado, my favorite monster from the Lost Mines of Phandelver: ash zombies!

Where ash zombies are found, a burning gheist is not far behind.

Use the zombie stats. Add resistance to fire damage for the lulz.
Ash Puff
Whenever the zombie is damaged by an attack for the first time, it emits a puff of ash with a 5 foot radius that heavily obscures the area and lasts for 1 round. Anyone in an ash cloud is unable to take the Dash action as they struggle to breath through the ashes.

For all the non-5e people out there, I highly recommend adding the Undead Fortitude to all your zombies. It goes like this:
Undead Fortitude
Whenever the zombie drops to 0 hit points, it has to make a Con save equal to 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a crit. On a failure, it dies. On a success, it drops to 1 hit point instead.

This makes zambies fearsome again instead of just more meat to be pulped. IT. KEEPS. COMING. Describe the zambie getting back up in detail, for extra classical zambie horroir.

Two more volcanic monsters, and then I wrap part 1 up. Part 2 will cover a bit moar history and then get down to the nitty-gritty.

This malignant thing lingers around volcanic battlefields or burning pits where victims are executed by fire. It prefers to masquerade as an obscured human form walking away through an ash pile and kicking up an ash cloud, and then when PC's follow: surprise the ash cloud is trying to kill you. Usually, ashfogs have a radius of 20-30 feet. Truly fearsome elder ashfogs may have radii of up to 60 feet. Of course, ashfogs prefer to lure enemies to the center and then try to choke them.

AC  worse than unarmored commoner when outside the fog, autohit when inside the fog
Con is exceptional Int 6 (smarter than dog) Move is 10 feet HD lots. 5-7?
Immune to bludgeoning, piercing, slashing (it's a cloud), and fire damage. Have fun.
A suffocating is you. There are several ways to deal with suffocation, but I advise contested Con checks (in this case). Have the fog roll a Con check to try to suffocate the player, and have the player make a Con check to try to forge past it. Keep going until the player has 3 successes or 3 failures. 3 successes means they can breathe normally, 3 failures means that they drop to 0 hp. Any player with more failures than successes cannot move more than half their movement speed on their turn due to ashes clogging up their lungs. The ashfog can try to choke as many people as it wants, as long as they spend at least one turn inside it.
This resembles how the fog is actively trying to kill the player, and how the player is fighting for breath. Note that I said Con check, not Con save. I will differentiate between the two later.
Roll to attack, on hit one PC takes 2d6 fire damage from swirling, white-hot embers.

Ashfogs prey on each other and other sentient aereosolized creatures. like amoebas. Sometimes ashfogs go on a cannibalistic streak, killing and absorbing other fogs, and growing truly monstrous in size. These elder fogs have a lump of ash and cinders at their core, through which a coruscating light can be seen. Given enough time, this lump will coalesce and harden into a large coal rock. Some say that those rocks are eggs that birthed the first dragons. Others say that each time an ashfog incubates a Coal, Deca-Macahuitl (the demon of volcanoes) is given a chance to be reborn into the world.

Elder Ashfog
This monster has a radius of at least 60 feet, and gains more features along with the ones each ashfog ha
HD twice a normal ashfog Int 12 Move 15 feet
Casts spells as a sorcerer of 3rd level.
Always accompanied by either dragon cultists, demon cultists, or cultists of elemental fire (1d4: 1 - dragon, 2 - evil elemental fire, 3-4 - demon), 1d6 + 1 zombies inside the cloud, and a sage (who ideally would like to see the egg hatch, but isn't willing to risk his/her life for it). 50% chance of a minor demon tagging along.
Crackle now does 3d6 fire damage in a 10 foot radius.
Targets one PC. Con save or gain one level of exhaustion.
Explosive Death
When an elder ashfog dies, the Coal at its heart cracks and explodes, dealing 4d6 fire damage, 4d6 bludgeoning damage, and 4d6 necrotic damage in a 60-foot radius.

Use your imagination if the Coal hatches.

This is the apotheosis of a burning gheist, what happens when one side defeats their ancient enemy in a hidden lava pocket. If there are more enemies within several leagues, the gheists combine and take on the form most appropriate to travel towards their destination.

You will know them by their approach: first, a raise in temperature. Next, any surrounding stone will begin to smoke and sizzle.

When the stones are glowing, and lines between the masonry blurring, it is already too late to run, as the thin stone crust splinters beneath your feet with each step and the floor begins to bulge outwards, a faint black scum breaking as the lava underneath strains upwards, radiating colossal heat.

Fire dragons speak of a tangled conglomeration of forms, burning inexorably in one direction, shimmering heat waves making it impossible to look on. Fire dragons are notorious braggarts that often lie about the enemies they've seen or couldn't beat.

The next part will cover the recent history and the current state of the valley.