Wednesday, 4 November 2015

I wrote it, so I might as well post it: Lakes, robes, and dancing ghosts

In my ongoing efforts to avoid doing any actual work, I've taken to posting in threads where people ask for ideas about stuff. As these posts are sometimes pretty substantial, I thought I might as well put them up here as well. If nothing else, it saves me from having to dig them up myself...

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A while back, Blackadder LXX asked for suggestions for things that might live in an underground lake.

So I offered ten suggestions:

  1. Giant carnivourous blind albino cavefish.
  2. An immense, pallid water-snake, possibly a sea-serpent that got washed down there by a tidal wave centuries ago and has been stuck there ever since. Breathes poison gas.
  3. The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Not hostile, but morose and lonely as fuck. Would love a new girlfriend.
  4. Blob monsters.
  5. An order of insane cultists who worship the blob monsters, and live in a ramshackle temple by the shores of the underground lake. None of them have been up to the surface in more than a decade. They spend a lot of time fishing.
  6. The zombified corpses of an ancient civilization which once thrived in these caverns, brought back to life by weird phosphorescent algae that lives on the lake's surface. They wear ceremonial armour and are creepily polite. They have giant balls of glowing algae where their brains should be.
  7. Clockwork robots made of bizarre waterproof steel, who endlessly scan and analyse the lake's chemical composition, sending off regular reports by carrier-beetle to their unknown masters in the Underdark below. Hostile if interrupted.
  8. Amphibious cave goblins.
  9. The ghosts of the drowned, sailing back and forth across the lake in sad little skiffs with lamps on them. Will offer passage to all kinds of fantastical places ('the lands of the dead', 'the home of the gods'), but actually their boats just sink as soon as they reach the middle of the lake. They are intensely miserable about the fact that they can't tell anyone about this in advance.
  10. The animated skeleton of an ancient Dragon Turtle. Various ancient weapons of power are lodged between its ribs.

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A while later, he asked about ideas for wizard robes.

The most powerful men in the world go adventuring in dressing gowns.

So I wrote:

- Abjurers make their robes out of pure energy, in a colour and pattern of their choice. (If they're lucky enough to have a body like Conan or Red Sonja, the colour in question might be 'completely transparent', allowing them to enjoy the appearance of near-nudity without actually having to get dirty, cold, or wet.) As they get more powerful, they gain the ability to keep more things out. The merest apprentice can manage a robe which keeps out rainwater; the robes of master abjurers are proof against blades, arrows, fire, insults, emotional negativity...

- The robes of Conjurers are actually weird, robe-shaped living creatures, summoned from some bizarre outer plane. Their skin is soft and furry and warm to the touch, making them very comfortable to wear; they have a chameleon-like ability to change colour at will, and the skins of the most powerful of their kind are iron-hard, flexible, and proof against all but the mightiest of magic. They live on a diet of dead skin cells, extravagant flattery, and the occasional slice of cake. Unsummoning someone else's robes is considered extremely impolite, but remains a common prank amongst the students at colleges of conjuration.

- Diviners wear robes covered in stars, like traditional wizards, except the stars on them actually mirror those in the night sky and move and change just like the real ones. Diviners robes are a godsend for wizard-astrologers who need to do a bit of stargazing on cloudy nights.

- Enchanters wear really boring-looking robes that mess with the minds of anyone who sees them, causing them to perceive the wizard as looking totally fabulous. On rare occasions, enchanters will sell these robes to other people, usually charging astronomical sums for them. No two people will see the robe in the same way, though, which makes them a nightmare for fashion journalists.

- Evokers wear robes made of trapped fire or lightning, which look spectacular in a rather over-the-top sort of way. Especially skilled evokers are capable of selectively releasing tiny fragments of this trapped energy, so that the annoying person tapping you on your shoulder gets an electric shock while your date can hold your lightning-covered arm with no ill-effects. In an emergency the robe can be unravelled, electrocuting or setting fire to everything around you. If you think you may need to do this, consider investing in fireproof underwear first.

- The robes of Illusionists are, of course, entirely illusionary. (What did you expect?) So a given illusionist might look as though they're rocking some fantastically impractical wizard outfit, with giant pointy shoulderpads and braids and spangles and (for women) the ever-popular 'bra made from hollowed-out human skulls', but actually they mostly prefer to wear really comfy sweaters.

- Necromancers wear the ghosts of dead robes, once worn by the priests, kings, and magicians of long-vanished empires. Summoning and wearing the ghost of an especially famous robe - the wedding dress worn by a great empress, the robe an archmage wore on the day of his execution - is a mark of great prestige amongst necromancers, many of whom devote quite embarrassing amounts of time to researching where exactly the graves of such clothes might be so that they can summon up their spectres for an important party.

- Transmuters wear shapechanging robes, capable of shifting their cut, style, or colour at a moment's notice. Really powerful transmuters can even make their robes grow wings for flight, or scales for protection, or project out hooks and spikes for climbing. (Or for hugging people to death with, if that's what you're into.) Dispelled, they turn into formless protoplasmic goop which makes the wearer look really, really unfashionable. Transmuters hate this.

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Finally, Seroster asked for suggestions for a Halloween-ish death festival which might be celebrated in a fantasy world. 

So I wrote:

It goes like this: during the day, you travel to the nearest population centre. When night falls, you put on a blank and featureless mask. You wander down to the town square, or a field outside the village, or the Royal Park, or whatever, and you start to dance. The musicians will be there already, wearing their masks, playing local folk songs or waltzes or whatever. You can walk up and join them, if you like, as long as you have a musical instrument and know how to use it. On this night, they're not going to turn anyone away.

Time passes. The darkness thickens. More and more people arrive. The band keeps getting bigger. More and more people keep joining the dance. Within a few hours, everyone in the community is there. By midnight, there are way, way the hell more people out there singing and dancing and playing than live in the whole area put together, and more of them are arriving all the time.

These extra people are the dead. They look like everyone else, wearing ordinary clothes and blank masks that allow them to blend in with the living. As the night goes on, you're going to start noticing that more and more of your dance partners have really, really cold hands. Do not comment on this. Definitely, definitely do not try to remove their masks.

Mostly the dead just want to dance, and sing, and play music, and remember for this one night what it was like to be alive. They don't want to talk, and they certainly don't want to get into heavy conversations about the nature of the afterlife. Some of them seize this opportunity to pass messages on to the living: so you might, in passing, hear another reveller whisper to you in the voice of your long-dead grandmother that the family silver isn't lost at all, it's just hidden in that old crate up in the attic. But big, emotional scenes are frowned on by both the living and the dead; and even if you strongly suspect that this little kid who keeps dancing with you is the child you lost in the plague year two summers back, you mustn't say anything. Just let them have a good time, OK?

The dead always slip away before the dawn. Attempting to follow them is not recommended, but, if you really need to get into the Underworld, then that's one way to do it; just keep following them, and following them, and sooner or later you won't be in Kansas anymore. You might not be able to get out again for another year, though; and by then, the Underworld being what it is, you'll probably be dead for real.

During the dancing, things can get out of hand; and if the guy or gal you're dancing with keeps flirting with you, and you like the way their eyes glitter behind their mask and the way they move their body to the beat, you might get to the point where you just don't care how cold their hands are. Couples slip away, giggling, for brief trysts in the darkness, transitory unions between the living and the dead. The clothes may come off, but the masks stay on; and when, as sometimes happens, oddly pale children are born nine months later, people try not to say anything for fear of offending the spirits of the departed. Such children often grow up to be gifted mediums, but they usually die young.

Every community has stories about the horrible things that happen to people who dare to remove the masks of the dead. Most of them are true.

* * *

So. Three recent forum posts. Might be something worthwhile in there somewhere...

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