Thursday 25 June 2015

Before the Wicked City 1: The Age of Wonders

(Every D&D setting needs a lost age of wonders. Otherwise, where would all the dungeons come from?)

As humans spread across the world, they learned many arts, and many secrets. They studied with the sages of the Silver Folk; they plundered the ruins of the Old Ones, and learned magic and astrology from the Children of the Stars. Some secrets they bought, and some they stole, and some they took by force; some they learned by patient study, and some they discovered hidden in the far places of the world. And soon great magicians arose amongst them, and in their hands were all wonders and all terrors, and the world trembled beneath their steps.

The power of these sorcerer-kings grew beyond all measure. Many declared themselves gods, and demanded that the people bow down before them. They raised enormous temple-palaces, whose ruins can still be seen in many lands. They clashed, and they squabbled, and they quarrelled, and they feuded; and, at last, they fell to war.

These wars were not like any wars before them. The magicians raised up great beasts to fight for them, and they built great clockwork warriors of metal and stone, and their battles tore the land itself asunder. Cities burned, and nations perished, and many wonders were lost forever from the world. Many of the great magicians of those days were slain in those wars; others vanished from the world, assuring their still-faithful worshippers that they had achieved new and unheard-of levels of enlightenment and had ascended onto higher planes. A few survived, lurking in hidden strongholds, clinging to the remnants of their power; but their laboratories were rubble and their libraries were ashes, and they would never attain the same levels of power again. When the fighting was over, it was clear to all who survived that the age of wonders was ended forever.

In many lands, the witch-queens and sorcerer-kings of old are still revered as gods. The sites of their births and deaths, and the places where they performed their great deeds, have become centres of pilgrimage; their temples have been rebuilt and restored, albeit often on a considerably smaller scale, and people pray to them for aid and guidance, sometimes claiming that these ancient magicians visit them in visions and in dreams. Many of these cults are mere historical remnants, serving as little more than a source of regional pride and colourful local customs. Others are built around something more concrete: priesthoods which hand down wonder-working relics from generation to generation, or enchanted places - healing springs, valleys full of beautiful illusions, pools whose waters reveal far-off scenes - whose magic has still not faded even after all these years. Some cults harbour even stranger things in their secret inner sanctums: magical monsters of the ancient world, the servants and guardians of their long-vanished makers, which they revere as holy creatures, and resort to for omens. And who knows? Maybe some of those ancient magicians really did attain godhood...

Random Relics Possessed By Weird Wizard-Cults Table (roll 1d10)

1: A pack of 2d6 immortal man-eating apes with teeth made of rusty metal. (AC 14, 4HD, to-hit +4, bite damage 1d6+2, morale 8). The apes do not age, and regenerate 1 HP per hour unless cut to pieces or burned to ashes. They live in a warren of tunnels around a great pit, into which the cultists throw blasphemers to be ritually devoured. The apes cannot speak, and are much smarter than they let on. 

2: A ancient, medium-sized stone house, magically animated: it uses its windows as eyes and its door as a mouth, and can slam the walls, floors, and ceilings of its rooms together with bone-shattering force. (Anyone just inside a room when it does this can make a REF save to throw themselves clear; otherwise they take 2d12 damage. For anyone right in the middle of a room, the damage is automatic.) If attacked from the outside it will thrust its stonework out to whack anyone trying to vandalise or demolish it (to-hit +2, 1d6 damage), but has no way of retaliating against anyone who is more than 5' away from its walls, although it will threaten to place terrible curses on anyone trying to demolish it. (These do nothing.) It will de-animate if demolished. The house can 'speak' using its hallway floor as a tongue, and demands to be fed human victims in exchange for bestowing blessings on the surrounding countryside. It knows a great deal about the ancient world, although it will not part with this knowledge unless it is fed one human for every question answered. Its blessings are totally ineffectual, but its cultists do not know this, and are constantly on the look-out for 'evil-doers' whom they can offer up as sacrificial victims. 

3:  A platinum owl which delivers a series of lectures on magical theory and moral philosophy in a peculiar whistling voice on an endless 264-hour loop, starting again from the beginning as soon as it reaches the end of the last lecture. Cultists compete with one another to commit as much of its course to memory as possible. 

4: A deep pool of water, fed by an underground spring. Anyone who washes in it will find that it stimulates hair growth to an extraordinary degree: for the next 1d6 hours, hair and beards grow by 1 foot per hour, and body hair by 1 inch per hour. There is also a 1-in-3 chance per bath that the bather's hair will permanently change colour as a result of this immersion, to some deeply unnatural shade. (Roll 1d6: 1 = bright red, 2 = electric blue, 3 = emerald green, 4 = hot pink, 5 = vivid purple, 6 = alternating streaks of two colours, roll twice.) Cultists read omens into the length and colour of hair thus bestowed, and compete with one another to spot the most bizarre and spectacular hairstyles. 

5: A large colony of giant spiders, with a leg-span of 5'. The spiders are not poisonous or aggressive, but are used by the cult to spin spider-silk and perform manual labour; the cultists live in fantastical homes woven out of spider-web, constantly attended by swarms of attentive arachnid butlers. The cultists believe that the spiders will only obey those who wear the regalia of the cult, out of loyalty to their long-dead wizard creator, but actually the spiders are so dim that they'll obey anyone who orders them around in an authoritative voice whilst wearing a suitably large and impressive hat.

6: A giant (3' wide) telepathic blue oyster, residing at the bottom of a shallow pool. The oyster claims to be a veteran of the secret Psychic Wars fought during the Age of Wonders, and will telepathically ramble on for hours about all the heroic things it apparently did in them; its cultists believe every word of this, and regard it as a world-saving hero. Anyone who fails to show sufficient respect for its war stories will be zapped with psychic jolts (WILL save or suffer 1 damage and be stunned for 1 round). If anyone actually tries to hurt it will lash out at all nearby minds in whom it senses hostile intent, and maybe a few others just to be sure: its targets must pass a WILL save each round or take 1d6 damage and be stunned for 1 round. Its pool is full of enormous blue pearls, which would be worth a fortune to a jeweller. It has AC 18 and 6 hit points.

7: A bush grown by an ancient sorcerer with literary ambitions. It is covered in heavy purple-blue fruit; anyone who eats one will be filled with overwhelming feelings of melancholy, and will spend the next 1d3 days sitting around sighing and weeping, too depressed to move. During this time they will ceaselessly compose dramatic monologues about the bittersweet futility of life; literate characters write them down, using their own blood if necessary, while illiterate characters simply recite them, even if no-one is around to listen. The cult has an enormous library of poems produced under the influence of this fruit, which they believe to constitute an important source of wisdom about the true nature of life.

8: An ordinary-looking girl of about fifteen, deep asleep. Every few minutes, tears of pure quicksilver trickle down her cheeks and are collected by her attendant. (These are sold to alchemists by the cult, for whom they form an important source of income.) On high holy days, the girl is woken up and brought to the temple, where the cultists beg her for oracles; she usually looks around miserably, offers some cryptic remarks, and then tells them that she's tired out from the effort of communing with eternity and really needs to go back to bed. Her favourite hobbies are baking and mountaineering, but the cultists do not know this because they have never bothered to ask her; if approached by a friendly soul who seems to take a genuine interest in her, and offers her the chance to spend a few days scrambling up cliffs and baking cakes, then she might force herself to stay awake long enough to share all kinds of information about the ancient world. Apart from her agelessness (which is due to her sleep - if she stayed awake she'd age normally) and her weird tears she is a normal human, and no harder to kill than any other teenage girl.

9: A pair of copper armbands shaped like coiling snakes, with rubies for eyes. They are alive, intelligent, and sycophantically loyal to whoever wears them, with whom they are able to communicate telepathically; unfortunately they also hate one another, and will each insist that any advice or information offered by the other one must obviously be wrong. They can be ordered to fire beams of searing light from their eyes (treat as a ranged attack which ignores armour and inflicts 1d8 damage, or 2d8 if both are fired together), or to breathe forth clouds of poison gas (everyone within 10', or 15' if both breathe together, must make a FORT save or suffer 1d6 damage and be incapacitated for 1d6 hours, wearer is immune), but each armband can do each of these only once per day. They are worn by the cult's head enforcer, who usually lasts about five or six years before being totally unhinged by their constant telepathic sniping and jeering at one another, which continues ceaselessly, day and night.

10: An ancient sacrificial dagger, made of black iron, with a crude face carved onto its side. This face speaks in a harsh, grating voice, demanding offerings of blood and milk, which it somehow 'drinks'; when placed into a bowl of either, the level of the liquid will sink and sink until the bowl is entirely dry. If stabbed into a living creature, it will immediately suck whole pints of blood out of them, inflicting an extra 1d8 damage and requiring them to pass a FORT save or pass out from blood loss on the spot, waking up in 1d20 minutes; after doing this the dagger will be briefly sated, and unable to drink any more for the next hour. The dagger constantly demands more milk and more blood, making all kinds of grandiose promises and threats in order to get what it wants, all of which it is totally powerless to fulfil. The cult's leader uses it to ritually slaughter the enemies of the cult, whose bloodless bodies are left as a warning for others.

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