Saturday, 18 August 2018

Bringing down the hammer part 2: WHFRP 2nd edition corebook

Here begins my trawl through the books published for WHFRP 2nd edition, which I'll discuss in order of publication. The line got off to a rather disappointing start, so the first couple of posts are going to be fairly downbeat. Better days lie ahead.

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Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: A Grim World of Perilous Adventure (March 2005)

The core book of the new edition, and the first one in which the authors had to confront the problem of reconciling WHFRP circa 1985 with Warhammer Fantasy Battle circa 2005. In particular, they had to deal with the fallout of 'the Storm of Chaos', a 2004 Warhammer event which involved the Empire being invaded by a giant army of chaos warriors. The moment WHFRP 2nd edition accepted the Storm of Chaos as canon - presumably under instruction from Games Workshop - it set itself apart from some important elements of the earlier edition. No longer could chaos be something subtle and hidden, like the Mythos in Call of Cthulhu, something that most people could forget about or live in ignorance of or only half believe in. For a citizen of the Empire to not believe in the chaos gods after the Storm of Chaos would be like a Russian not believing in Germans circa 1946.

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The Storm of Chaos, busy storming... something... (Maybe Middenheim? I'm gonna say Middenheim.)

The core of the system - careers, percentile roles, fate points, insanity points, etc - remains intact, though some of the more unnecessary stats have been merged together. Careers still tend towards low-lives, and indeed many of the newly added careers - bonepicker, camp follower, charcoal burner - tilt the balance even further towards the lowest of the low, though some of the weirdest and most colourful first edition careers, like Bawd and Raconteur, have disappeared. Careers are also more international than in first edition, with minor chances of PCs being a 'Kislevite Kossar', 'Norse Berserker', or 'Estalian Diestro' rather than an Imperial citizen. (Whether the addition of three national stereotypes - Russian cossack, Viking berserker, Spanish duellist - represents an actual improvement is another matter.) Skills and talents have been differentiated from each other, and skills can now be taken more than once, though many of the weirder first edition skills - Clown, Embezzlement, Numismatics - have been cut. The combat system is largely unchanged, though I was somewhat sad to see that the infamous first edition critical hit tables have been toned down a bit. Back in my first edition days, my players got so familiar with the tables that they used to chant in unison the magic words: 'Death-from-shock-and-blood-loss-is-IN-STAN-TAN-E-OUS!

The magic system is heavily changed, ditching the old 'magic point' system, and incorporating the 'eight colleges of magic' from Warhammer Fantasy Battle. This gives it a more interesting spell list than the original, which was mostly cribbed from D&D, but at the cost of another concession to high fantasy, with the Empire now apparently maintaining eight different colleges of colour-coded battle wizards. Each religion also gets its own spell list, and Sigmar has been upgraded from a mere 'lesser deity' into the most significant divinity in the setting. Malal and the Gods of Law seem to have disappeared between editions. Magic items have been cut almost entirely - so no more street thugs wearing enchanted Boots of Bovva! This is followed by a very brief introduction to the nations and races of the Old World, a short bestiary - nineteen entries, compared to 110 (!) in the original - and an introductory adventure which is little more than a single encounter swathed in ten pages of needless padding.

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2nd edition career illustrations.

There's nothing wrong with WHFRP 2nd edition, exactly, and its core system looks cleaner and more functional than that of 1st edition. It's not a complete game in the same way as its predecessor - the bestiary and setting information, in particular, are so obviously incomplete that they act as little more than teasers for The Old World Bestiary and Sigmar's Heirs, both of which were published a few months later - but that's just how RPGs tended to be published at the time. (How else were you going to get people hooked on the supplement treadmill?) But if it had appeared first, it's impossible to imagine it having the same impact as the original.

One big problem is the replacement of vivid and specific material with vague and general substitutes. Here, for example, is the top-level critical hit result from the 'Arm' location in 1st edition:
Your blow smashes through the arm and into the chest, caving in one side of the ribcage. The arm is completely destroyed, and blood showers yourself and your opponent. Your opponent collapses dying almost instantly from shock and blood loss.
Here's its uselessly vague counterpart from 2nd edition:
Killed in whatever spectacular and gore-drenched fashion the player or GM cares to describe.
The same retreat into blandness keeps recurring everywhere, with the arguable exception of the magic system. The edge of vivid craziness is gone from the lists of skills and careers: the second edition just won't let you randomly roll up a super-numerate travelling hypnotist who is also an amateur cryptographer, or a dancing beggar with a natural talent for bribery. The fact that WHFRP 1st edition included skills for begging, bribery, public speaking, street fighting, and embezzlement communicated a huge amount about the kind of world it was set in, and their disappearance from 2nd edition is not a trivial loss. All the weirdest stuff from the bestiary chapter - the fimir, the death elementals, the Daemons of Law - is gone, never to return in second edition. And the art, needless to say, is greatly inferior to the original.

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1st edition chaos demon.

A second issue is the altered tone of the setting. WHFRP 1st edition presents a world that is in some ways quite an optimistic place, at least from an Imperial perspective: there's a renaissance underway, humans have discovered gunpowder and the printing press, the New World is being colonised and looted, and there hasn't been a major chaos incursion for two hundred years. But it's also a world which is dangerously complacent, with no-one understanding how much of a threat chaos really is, or realising just how many chaos cults are operating in the shadows, or how soon the chaos warbands may begin the long march south. As the book puts it:
Within the cities of the Old World, and in the unholy groves of the deep forest, decadent humans honour the foul Gods of Chaos. To the majority of humans such things remain a mystery, and few imagine the perils posed by their own kin.
Well, they're not much of a mystery in WHFRP 2nd edition, let me tell you. Chaos has gone from being a hidden threat in the darkness - 'underneath the deepest sewers and culverts, the doom of Chaos gnaws at the bowels of civilisation' - to an overt enemy which everyone is openly fighting all the time, and apparently have been for the whole of history. The result is to turn the Old World, with its distinctive mixture of Renaissance optimism and self-destructive decadence, into something much closer to Generic Sub-Tolkien Fantasy Land, with the embattled forces of Team Good struggling to hold the line against the wicked armies of Team Evil.

Finally, the sample adventure is pretty weak even on its own terms, but looks even worse when placed next to the sample adventure from first edition, 'The Oldenhaller Contract'. The rest of the line would go on to make painfully clear that, whatever their other talents, the second edition's authors had no idea how to write RPG scenarios. Their idea of an 'adventure' was straightforward railroad from one pre-scripted scene to the next, with player agency kept to an absolute minimum. Quite why they thought this when they must have had branching adventures like 'The Oldenhaller Contract' right in front of them is unclear to me. I can only assume that they'd absorbed some very bad GMing advice over the course of the 1990s, and thought that their wretched scene-based railroads represented a genuine improvement over the adventure design of the 1980s, possibly because they had 'stronger stories'.

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Image from 'The Oldenhaller Contract'. Now that's how you use a railroad in an adventure!
If I was running WHFRP today, I'd strongly consider using the WHFRP 2nd edition system, albeit with all the weird and wonderful skills, careers, and monsters from 1st edition added back in. But I'd stick with the 1st edition tone, setting, and adventures every time.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Bringing down the hammer: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st and 2nd edition

Last year, Cubicle 7 announced that they would soon be bringing out a 4th edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Not long afterwards, pdfs of the entire line of 2nd edition WFRP books were made available on Humble Bundle. I picked up the whole set for $20, and have been browsing intermittently through them ever since.

Now that previews of WHFRP 4th edition have actually been released, I thought it might be an appropriate time to do a post about the game's first two editions: what they achieved, why they mattered, how they differed from one another and from the wargame they branched off from, and so on. But once I got going I discovered I actually had quite a lot to say. So this is going to be a series of posts rather than just one.

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Like many British gamers, Warhammer was a big part of my childhood. My older half-brother, Rob, had been a Warhammer fan back in the mid-1980s, when the wargame had just been getting started; but in his late teens he moved onto other, cooler things, like meeting girls and playing the guitar, and when I was about 12 he gave me his collection of old White Dwarf magazines and a couple of beautifully-painted chaos warriors. (He was an artist for a while. I've always envied his skill with a brush.) At the time I was still reeling from my discovery of Dragon Warriors, so giving someone with my recently-acquired love of dark historical horror-fantasy a pile of early White Dwarf magazines, Ian Miller art and all, was like pouring oil on a bonfire. For more years than I like to think about, every penny of hoarded pocket money was spent on buying skaven warriors for Warhammer and tiny plastic orcs for Space Marine. (Remember Space Marine?) I even tried my hand at painting some of them, although I was never very good at it.

So I was playing Warhammer in the 1990s, which I gather counts as 'Oldhammer' by modern standards; but because the gift of Warhammer had come to me by inheritance, I always felt that my Warhammer, the real Warhammer, wasn't the Warhammer in the Games Workshop shops I visited, but the early 1980s version I'd read about in the magazines which had been bequeathed to me. Even then, it was obvious to me that a huge amount had changed between the first edition published in 1983 and the fourth edition version that I was playing in 1993-6: it had been made shinier, more heroic, more kid-friendly, more marketable. There was less historical grounding, less black humour, less sex and violence, less satirical Blackadder-esque grimness and grime. (Warhammer 5th edition, which came out in 1996, took these changes even further, and marked the point at which I started sliding away from the wargame entirely.) With the knowledge I have now, I can retrospectively diagnose it as an example of 1980s British counter-culture being absorbed by 1990s consumerism, and ideologically neutralised in the process. At the time, though, I just knew that something had changed, and that while I liked the version of Warhammer I was playing, on some important level it was not the same. 


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As a result of all this, when I finally obtained a copy of the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it came as a bit of a revelation. My copy was from the 1995 Hogshead reprint edition, but the text was identical to that of the original 1986 version, and thus served to connect me to that almost-vanished world of very early Warhammer which Games Workshop was then trying to expunge entirely. The version of the Warhammer World I encountered in WFRP, and later in the first three parts of The Enemy Within (1987-8, reprinted 1995-7), was so much more vivid than the one that was then being marketed by GW that it won me over almost immediately. I promptly gave up on the Warhammer wargame and turned, instead, to running a multi-year WFRP campaign that remains one of the best and most successful RPG campaigns I've ever had the pleasure of participating in.

The original, 1983-vintage Warhammer World is an extraordinary creation, and I don't think it gets nearly enough credit. Very little in it was genuinely original, in that it just gleefully mashed together early modern history with Tolkien, Moorcock, Hammer Horror, and 2000AD: the skaven and the chaos dwarves are just about the only significant parts of the setting that weren't ripped off from somewhere else. But the resulting mixture was so compelling that it basically invented a new subgenre on the spot, or at any rate reinvented a subgenre that had previously consisted only of a handful of Solomon Kane stories from the 1930s. It provided an enormously influential model of how to combine fantasy with horror: so much so that even today, twenty-five years later, virtually every work of 'dark fantasy' is full of Warhammer pastiches. In particular, the drawings that John Blanche and Ian Miller did for Games Workshop in the early 1980s created an aesthetic that has endured largely unmodified down to the present day.

(Well, apart from the infusion of assorted anime-isms. You can blame Castlevania for those.)

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It helped, of course, that Games Workshop in its early days was lucky enough to include some of the most talented artists and designers who have ever worked in the hobby. Space marines were an instant design classic. So were chaos warriors. So were the Sisters of Battle, who seem to have been based on a random painting by John Blanche. (If you want proof of how good these designs were, take a look at how many other companies went on to produce their own imitation versions.) Orcs as hulking greenskins with tusks have now become so ubiquitous in fantasy that it takes a moment to remember that, before Warhammer, they were usually ugly, scrawny pig-men instead. And so on.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was just as much of a mash-up as its parent game, although in its case the key ingredients were Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. Its biggest innovation was its famous careers system, which meant that instead of the PCs being fighters and clerics and wizards they were usually agitators and rat-catchers and printer's apprentices and whatnot. Again, in retrospect I can see the influence of the British Marxist historiography of the 1970s, here, with its emphasis on 'history from below': but at the time I just knew that its focus on the frantic struggles of the urban poor made the game feel vastly more grounded than Dragonlance or the Forgotten Realms. It was the increasing disconnect between the wargame, which by 5th edition was all about magical superheroes riding dragons, and the RPG, which was more about alcoholic gamblers knifing cultists in slums, which led me to abandon the former for the latter.

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Just as Warhammer 1st edition had great good fortune in its artists and designers, so WHFRP 1st edition benefited from the work of three of the best RPG adventure writers of all time. Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, and Phil Gallager, whom old-school D&D fans will know as the authors of the superb B10 Night's Dark Terror, all helped to write the first edition of WHFRP. [Edit: Graeme DAVIS wrote WHFRP. He's not the same guy as Graeme MORRIS, who wrote Night's Dark Terror. Thanks to Gideon for pointing this out!] They then went on to write the adventures Shadows Over Bรถgenhafen, Death on the Reik, and 'Rough Night at the Three Feathers'. Brilliant and justly famous as adventures, these modules, along with Carl Sargent's Power Behind the Throne, cemented a model of 'real' WHFRP as being, essentially, Call of Cthulhu in seventeenth-century fantasy Germany. The WHFRP setting notionally contained elves and dwarves and orcs and dragons and all the rest of the trad fantasy paraphernalia that it had inherited from Tolkien and Gygax, but these adventures eschewed such material almost entirely in favour of investigating the dark doings of criminals, cultists, mutants, and demons in grimy early modern cityscapes. The result was a gap between the RPG and the wargame which must have seemed increasingly unbridgeable by the time Games Workshop handed the former over to Flame Publications in 1990.

When the second edition came out in 2005-7, its authors faced at least three problems. The first was the difficulty of reconciling the heritage of 1980s WHFRP with the then-canonical setting of 6th and 7th edition Warhammer, which had become a much more heroic, high-magic, high-fantasy affair. The second was a business model - common in the RPG industry at the time - which required them to churn out as much product as possible, leading them to print twenty-five books for the game in just three years, compared to twelve books in five years for the original Games Workshop edition. The third was the simple fact that they didn't have anyone on their staff capable of creating material on the same level as Bambra, Davis, Gallager, Blanche, Miller, and the rest of the original GW crew. The result is that book for book, adventure for adventure, and image for image, the 2005-7 edition is much weaker than the 1986-1990 original. Moving from the hallucinatory fever-dream of the first edition chaos sourcebook Slaves to Darkness (1988) to the generic 'dark fantasy' filler of its second edition counterpart, The Tome of Corruption (2006), is a pretty depressing experience, while a comparison between the old and new adventures in the 2005 WHFRP adventure anthology Plundered Vaults demonstrates just how many of the principles of RPG adventure design had been forgotten or misunderstood in the intervening years, even by people who clearly had the originals right in front of them.

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Did you even read 'Rough Night at the Three Feathers' before reprinting it?

Despite this, however, there were quite a lot of things in WHFRP 2nd edition that I actually rather liked. So over the next few posts I'm going to move briefly through the line, discussing what I felt did or didn't work, and why, and what this might tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of WHFRP as a whole.

I will also be writing quite a lot about skaven.

Once a skaven player, always a skaven player.

Friday, 20 July 2018

The Hexcrawl of Hexcrawls: an Epic (for Trojan Points)


Back in March, Trojan Points set me a challenge in the comments to this post: to put all the good encounters from several different Pathfinder adventure paths onto a single, nation-sized hexmap. 'Can you distil 4000 pages to 20 something?', he asked. I replied:
I've just opened up Hexographer and played around with combining all my hexcrawls into a single map, and then adding the necessary geography for my three non-hexcrawl condensations, and it *almost* works. All it's missing is some kind of big central power in the middle of the map, to be the nation which is currently occupying Westcrown, notionally in charge of the Sundered Kingdoms, able to task the PCs with clearing the forests in Kingmaker, and so on. (Neither Magnimar nor Korvosa really fits the bill.) Condensing one more AP should do the trick.
Last month I wrote a condensation of Iron Gods, and after a bit of reflection I concluded that the Technic League made as good a 'central power' as any other. So I plugged the geography from Iron Gods into my map from March, copy-pasted all the text from my condensations and hexcrawls into a single document, rekeyed them to the new, combined map, and modified them to remove all the implicit and explicit time limits, in order to make them friendlier to hexcrawl-style play. I can't claim to have distilled 4000 pages into 20, but I did get 3500 pages and a 70-hour computer game into 47.

It's a very rough and ready job. The Great Machine material has been rescaled from 10-mile hexes to 6-mile hexes, meaning that everything is improbably tiny and close together. The areas that were written as hexcrawls (the south-western, north-eastern, and south-eastern corners of the map) have things going on in almost every hex, whereas the other areas have large blank spaces. The areas that weren't written as hexcrawls usually have enormously greater amounts of stuff going on in each location: the worst offender is the city of Westcrown, which has an entire adventure path's worth of content crammed into a single hex. If I was doing this from the ground up I'd have extensively rewritten all the material to sprawl more, so as to cover the territory more evenly, while also reformatting the whole thing and adding hyperlinks to make it much more user-friendly - but that sounds like a lot of work. Maybe Trojan Points would like to do it.

Anyway. I've done it now. If you've ever wanted to randomly wander between a whole bunch of different adventure paths, then this is your chance. You can download the damn thing here:

Rise of the Curse of the Council of the Shadow of the Cult of the Crimson Runelords of the Sundered Thrones of the God-Thieves of the Great Kingmaker’s Machine-Kingdoms: A Hexcrawl


Tuesday, 3 July 2018

From the Diaries of Mr Alfred Tennyson, 1848

This blog's been a bit quiet because the Team Tsathogga campaign is on hold for the summer, and I'm trying to finish a book on poetry and insanity in the early nineteenth century, which is currently absorbing most of my mental energy.

Occasionally, however, I chance across something that looks potentially gameable.

These are all real extracts from Tennyson’s journal, written during a trip to Cornwall he made in the summer of 1848. Maybe it’s just his choice of words and imagery, but I can’t help the feeling that there’s some kind of Call of Cthulhu adventure going on in the background. Something to do with caves and slimes, sea-birds and shipwrecks, weird fossils and ruined castles, Arthurian relics and isolated seaside towns. 

I wish I knew who the ‘Ethiopian serenaders’ were on July 19th.

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'It's all getting a bit squamous, old boy...'

Anyway. Here it is.
  • May 30th: I go out and in a moment go sheer downward upward of 6 feet over wall on fanged cobbles. Up again and walked to sea over dark hill.
  • May 31st: Walked through Bude and came down on coast, angry waves rushing in.
  • June 2nd: Took a gig to Reverend Hawker at Morwenstow. Walk on cliff with him, told of shipwreck.
  • June 4th: Rainy and bad, went and sat in Tintagel ruins, cliff all black and red and yellow, weird looking thing.
  • June 5th: Went through the sea-tunnel cavern over great blocks. Walls lined with shells, pink or puce jellies. Girls playing about the rocks as in a theatre.
  • June 6th: Slate quarries, one great pillar left standing; ship under the cliff loading; went into a tavern all polished with the waves like dark marble with veins of pink and white. Follow’d up little stream falling through the worn slate, smoked a pipe at a little inn, dined, walked once more to the old castle darkening in the gloom.
  • June 7th: Slaughter bridge, clear brook among alders. Sought for King Arthur’s stone, found it at last by a rock under two or three sycamores, walked seaward, came down by churchyard. Song from ship.
  • June 8th: Walked seaward. Large rich crimson clover; sea purple and green like a peacock’s neck.
  • June 9th: Walked up the rope walk. The two Hewitts rowed me some way up the river, very civil of them, intelligent men, one quoted Milton. Fine bank of wood and echo.
  • June 13th: Wind began to blow cold.
  • June 15th: Mr Peach showed me some of his fossils out of the clay slate.
  • June 17th: Mr Peach showed me zoophytes, corallines, a spider, strange sights through microscope.
  • June 20th: Set off for Polperro, ripple-mark, queer old narrow-streeted place, back at 9. Turf-fires on the hills; jewel-fires in the waves from the oar which the Cornish people call ‘bryming’.
  • June 21st: Lostwithiel. Remains of palace, old castle circular, muffled in ivy.
  • July 1st: Coast looked gray and grand in the fading light. Went into cave, Rembrandt-like light through the opening.
  • July 3rd: Went with candles into great cave, round the rock through surf. Mr S. bore me on his back through surf.
  • July 6th: Went to Land’s End by Logan rock, leadenbacked mews wailing on cliff, one with two young ones. Mist. Great yellow flare just before sunset. Funeral. Land’s End and Life’s End.
  • July 7th: Back to Penzance, sat long with Mr Rodd, birds in drawing room.
  • July 8th: The Lizard, rocks in sea, two southern eyes of England. Tamarisk hedge in flower.
  • July 10th: Glorious grass-green monsters of waves. Into caves of Asparagus Island. Sat watching wave-rainbows. Glorious ranks of waves and billows. By coast to Lizard Point: saw sunset thence.
  • July 11th: Down to Lizard cove. Saw the further ships under Penzance like dark beads threading the sunny shore.
  • July 12th: Bathed, ran in and out of cave. Went and lay over Pentreath beach, thunder of waves to west.
  • July 13th: Sailed, could not land at Kynance. Saw the long green swell heaving on the black cliff, rode into Pigeonthugo, dismal wailing of mews.
  • July 15th: To Truro, Brazilian miner.
  • July 19th: Ethiopian serenaders, sole hope of evening.
  • July 20th: Cotehele old hall, brutal mannered housekeeper, tapestried rooms (grape gatherers, dogs, etc).
  • July 21st: To point of Dartmoor, rain, rain.
  • July 24th: Flea’d at night.
  • July 25th: Mr Talfourd talked of Nature, very interesting evening.
  • July 26th: Pretty railway by the sea.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

London calling: lyrical encounter tables for lazy GMs

While I was writing my condensation of Iron Gods I was listening to some music, and one of the songs that came up on my playlist was 'London Calling' by the Clash. Noting the similarities between the material I was writing about and the imagery of the song, it occurred to me that, in many cases, it would actually be pretty straightforward to use song lyrics as encounter tables. Just pick something where the imagery matches the appropriate mood and setting, roll a dice, and use that line number as the basis for your encounter. Choruses could either be ignored after the first repetition, or kept in to ensure that some results were more likely than others.

Here's a quick 1d20 post-apocalyptic random encounter table using the lyrics of 'London Calling'. I reckon you could roll on it at least three or four times before most groups realised that you were just running them through the lyrics of a Clash song...

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1: London Calling. A pylon of rusted steel and crumbling concrete leans in the middle of the woods, a speaker sagging from its top. At random intervals the speaker blares into life, emitting bursts of stirring patriotic music and reassuring announcements from men with RP accents insisting that the situation is under control and order will soon be restored. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON has been stencilled onto the trunk of a nearby tree in red paint. Two skeletons sprawl beneath it, rusty revolvers jammed between each other's jaws, obviously participants in a suicide pact.

2: The Faraway Towns. An isolated settlement. Locals eye you warily, suspicious of anyone they don't already know. The shops shut at 5pm sharp and most of the shelves are empty because of 'the shortages'. Half of the houses are boarded up and abandoned, and there seems to be virtually no-one here below the age of thirty. No-one wants to talk about what is happening in the world outside. 

3: War is Declared. A burned-out truck by the side of the road. A skeleton lolls at the wheel. Its trailer is, by some miracle, still largely intact. Within are bales of yellowing newspapers, tied with fraying twine, the front page of each copy bearing the same one-syllable headline: WAR!

4: Battle Come Down. First, the rattle of distant gunfire. Then, quite suddenly, the woods are swarming with bands of ragged, wild-eyed men wearing the tattered remnants of military uniforms, fleeing from cover to cover while firing poorly-aimed bursts of bullets in one another's directions. What, if anything, they are fighting about is deeply unclear. If captured they refuse to disclose anything other than their names, ranks, and serial numbers, and will escape at the first opportunity. 

5: Calling to the Underworld: A gigantic pit in the ground, seemingly bottomless, surrounded by rusting excavation equipment. A thick coil of electrical wires emerges from a bank of nearby machines and squirms down into the darkness. From far below can be heard the distant echo of recorded voices, speaking on a loop in a language that resembles no human tongue.

6: Come out of the Cupboard, you Boys and Girls. A house in the woods, seemingly deserted although obviously recently inhabited. Two adult human corpses lie in an upstairs bedroom, clearly dead for years. A careful search will reveal five children of various ages hiding in a downstairs cupboard. They speak an odd dialect, barely comprehensible to anyone other than themselves, and become frantic with fear and rage if separated. 

7: The Truncheon Thing. It stumbles through the woods, growling and hooting, all black leather and shiny rubber, a fetishist's dream or nightmare come to life. 'RETURN TO YOUR HOMES!', it howls, in a voice like a klaxon, hefting its weighted truncheon. 'THIS AREA IS UNDER MARTIAL LAW!' Then the beatings begin. It does not move like a human, but it bleeds rich red blood if wounded. It whimpers when it dies.

8: The Ice Age is Coming. The temperature drops. The wind dusts your faces with a swirl of unseasonable snow. From somewhere above you comes the cawing of migrating birds. You have perhaps a week before the ice comes. Make the most of it.

9: Meltdown Expected. Sirens wail mournfully in the distance. In an overgrown ruin in the forests, warning lights flash and flicker across the control panels of rusted machines. A long, long countdown is approaching its conclusion. In a concrete chamber beneath the earth, barely-contained energy roars and snarls like a caged beast. Soon it will be free.

10: The Wheat is Growing Thin. A still-functional farm hidden behind a screen of trees. Hunger-bitten labourers tend the meagre wheat-crop that grows from the blighted earth. At the forest's edge, someone has erected a crude wooden altar, atop which stands a figure of hacked wood representing a pregnant woman with the spreading horns of a stag. The grain of the wood is stained with recent blood.

11: Engines Stop Running. A ragged man stands by a stalled car, kicking it and cursing, virtually weeping with frustration. Within sit a family of pale children, gaunt and hollow-eyed and hopeless, surveying the trees outside with expressions of dull resignation. Safety is far away and night is coming. On the dashboard lies a faded map, depicting these lands as they once were in the almost-unimaginable days before the war.

12: I Have No Fear. An affable giant of a man strolls through the woods, here, cracking nuts and singing old marching songs, a pack and a shotgun slung across his broad and muscular back. For a loaf of bread and a swig of gin he will tell you stories of dead zones and battlefields, of bombed-out cities and miracles of technology hidden in lost bunkers buried beneath the earth. His arms and legs are densely packed with crude tattoos recording the names of his dead comrades. He has lost everyone and everything and now he has nothing left to fear. 

13: London is Drowning. Huge bomb-craters, filled with floodwater, mark the place which was once a city. Leaning wrecks of concrete and steel girders protrude from the lake in a dozen places. On the crater's edge a handful of survivors still live, shoring up homes which constantly threaten to slide into the water. They live by catching the strange fish that swim among the ruins, and by selling the treasures of dead men that they cut from their swollen bellies.

14: I Live By the River. A house on stilts by a swollen stream. A rowboat lies beneath a patched tarpaulin, and the boatman sits on his raised porch, a hunting rifle across his knees, wary and mistrustful of strangers. There is no other way across the river, and he charges whatever he thinks he can get away with. In a kitchen that stinks of smoked fish lurks his wife, tired and resentful, mechanically gutting the day's catch and dreaming green dreams of liberty. 

15: The Imitation Zone. Several acres of land enclosed by a rusting chain-link fence. Inside, everything is fake: plastic grass rustles around fibreglass trees, and styrofoam boulders prop up plywood houses, half-rotted by the rain. Within the houses stand life-sized mannequins, posed in attitudes expressive of distress. In the basement, a cage with cardboard-and-tinfoil bars has been torn open from the inside. Tracks leads off into the woods outside.

16: You Can Go It Alone. A young man with a body like a tensed spring lurks in the trees, watching you with the eyes of a predatory animal. If he ever knew a language then he has forgotten it. He wears a ragged khaki jacket and a pair of old boots, battered and indestructible. He can be coaxed from his hiding-place with offerings of food, but always retreats back into the woods to eat in solitude. On his left bicep is an ambiguous blue mark that might once have been a regimental tattoo. 

17: The Zombies of Death. They were hit by so many different forms of experimental weaponry that it is unclear what animates them. Is it the radiation they glow with? The weird shards of unidentifiable metal embedded in their flesh? The cold, bluish fluids that now course through their veins instead of blood? Their breath smells of distant chemical battlefields. They are still holding out somewhere between the hills and the river, maintaining a ragged perimeter, waiting for orders that will never come. 

18: The One With the Yellowy Eyes. A warbeast prowls the woods here, so warped and maimed that it is hard to guess what kind of animal it might once have been before all the modifications and the scars. Rusting staples connect bulging masses of artificial muscle. Off-yellow eyes state balefully out over a mouth full of mismatched fangs. The people fear it. It has forgotten how to die.

19: I Was There Too. On a crumbling wall in the woods, once part of some bombed-out building, someone has daubed a vast, vivid mural in brightly-coloured paint. In the background, cities burn and topple beneath a sky of flames: in the foreground, armies clash in a swirl of mutual butchery, their blood soaking the earth. In one corner stands a tiny, terrified figure, staring out at the viewer with wide and traumatised eyes. Beneath it someone has painted, in a shaking hand, the words: I was there.

20: I Saw You Running Out. Through the trees, a young woman can be glimpsed running flat out. Her camouflage jacket is several sizes too big for her, and her face and hair are streaked with someone else's blood. A makeshift pack is slung across her back, and a service revolver glints dully in her hand. She has seen you, but she shows no signs of slowing down or stopping. From far away, but getting rapidly closer, something large and implacable can be heard crashing through the forest in pursuit.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Condensation in Action 6: Iron Gods

With its crashed spaceships, zombie cyborgs, chainsaw-wielding orcs, and cannibal gangsters, Iron Gods is perhaps the Pathfinder adventure path which comes closest to the tone of OSR D&D. The first two parts of it are very good, but in part three it all falls apart: generic Pathfinder bloat sets in, and all the forward momentum gets lost in a mass of pointless dungeon crawls. Here's my attempt at condensing it into something better-suited for actual play.

My previous condensed adventure paths can be found here:

Kingmaker
Rise of the Runelords
Curse of the Crimson Throne
Council of Thieves
Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms

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Annoyingly Complicated Backstory: Thousands of years ago, a giant spaceship - the Divinity - was built by an almost-human race on some distant planet, and set off on a grand voyage through the stars, guided by its onboard AI, Unity. (If the implausibility of two virtually-identical human species existing on two different planets bothers you, feel free to use one of the standard sci-fi excuses, like 'they were both seeded from a common source by an ancient progenitor race', or 'one world is actually a lost colony of the other'.) Unfortunately for them, they encountered brain-eating aliens in deep space, which proceeded to physically and psychically eat their way through most of the crew. In desperation, the captain set a course for the nearest habitable planet: but the crippled ship broke up in the atmosphere before crash-landing, scattering flaming wreckage across an area hundreds of miles across, in an event which is still remembered by the locals as the Rain of Stars. Ever since, the gigantic bulk of its hull has been regarded by the locals with awe and fear: they call it the Silver Mount, and the bravest of them sometimes attempt to explore its wreckage in search of ancient relics. Sometimes they even come back.

The fall of the Divinity permanently affected the land around it. Whole sections of the ship broke off as it crashed towards the ground, and these masses of indestructible steel now form the hubs of many local settlements. Bizarre fluids leaking from the ship's engines have contaminated the soil and water, with odd effects upon the local ecosystem. The space monsters who ate the original crew escaped into the wild, making homes for themselves within a remote valley that the locals call the Scar of the Spider. Over the years, many wizards and scholars have sought to unravel the secrets of the Silver Mount: about a century ago they finally got organised, pooled their knowledge, and formed themselves into a group called the Technic League. The League's hoarded stock of ancient technology, space-age weaponry, and robot servitors has enabled them to establish themselves as a major power in the nearby city of Starfall: and the current king, Kevoth-Kul, is little more than a puppet, enslaved by the weird drugs which only their secret machines can provide.

All this time, the crippled AI onboard the Divinity has been struggling to repair itself, although chronic power supply problems mean that it has to go offline for centuries at a time. However, Unity's programming limited its ability to operate outside its own hull. Two hundred years ago it budded off a subsidiary AI, Casandalee, downloaded her into an android body, and tasked her with gathering the power and resources it required. Casandalee soon concluded that Unity was hopelessly crazed, and fled away into the world, taking a stash of copied data-files with her. Unity retaliated by sending out hunter-killer robots to hunt her down: they caught up with her at the Scar of the Spider, forcing her to abandon her data stash, and then again in the wreckage beneath the town of Iadenveigh, where they destroyed her. Her robotic body still rests there, and could potentially be repaired if recovered.

A few decades ago Unity tried again, budding off a second subsidiary AI, Hellion. It was programmed to be much less scrupulous and person-like than Casandalee: but Hellion swiftly decided that it had better things to do than repairing its shattered parent, and abandoned it. Fearful that Unity might attempt to hunt it down, just as it had done with Casandalee before it, Hellion began looking for a means to launch a preemptive strike upon the Silver Mount, and eventually found it in the form of a huge excavation machine buried beneath the town of Scrapwall. Believing that this machine would be capable of breaching the armoured hull of the Divinity, Hellion proceeded to gather a band of followers among the inhabitants of Scrapwall, and sent them out in search of potential power sources that it could use to bring the earthmover back online. As the adventure path begins, it believes that it has found a suitable power source beneath the town of Torch, and has sent some of its minions to secure it, led by the android Meyanda. Meanwhile, after its repeated failures, Unity has given up on its attempts to create a new AI to aid itself, and is close to developing a new means of escaping from its imprisonment within the Divinity's crippled hull...

Hook: The economy of the town of Torch is built around the purple flame which burns atop the nearby Black Hill, which is renowned as one of the only places where the otherwise-indestructible 'skymetals' littering the region can be smelted and reforged. Recently, the flame vanished, and the town's inhabitants are desperate to find a way of turning it back on. Everyone who has gone into the caves beneath Black Hill has failed to return, and the town's population are now offering a substantial reward to anyone who can find a way to restore the flame.

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Torch, back when the flame still burned.

Torch: This small town lurched suddenly out of obscurity several decades ago, when a purple flame erupted from the earth on top of the nearby Black Hill. (In truth this 'flame' is plasma being vented from the decaying reactor of a habitant module from the Divinity, which is buried in the earth beneath the hill.) When it was discovered that the flame was hot enough to melt 'skymetal', ambitious artificers began to flock to it in order to carry out smelting experiments, some of which were even successful. The town's inhabitants are very proud of the flame, and are alarmed by its recent disappearance, knowing that without it Torch will soon be nothing but a rural backwater with a funny name.
  • When the flame disappeared, a local wizard and technological dabbler, Khonnir Baine, set off to look for answers. He discovered signs of recent traffic by the river which flows alongside Black Hill, and this trail, in turn, led him to a previously-unknown network of caves whose entrance was submerged below the river. He ventured into these caves, and returned carrying a strange, non-functional automaton. Then he went back in and never returned at all. (He's currently in the Habitat Module.) No-one who has gone in after him has returned, either.
    • Khonnir's adopted daughter and apprentice, Val Baine, is frantic with worry about her father, and offers rich rewards of money and magic to anyone who can bring him back alive. (She'll pay a much more modest reward for the retrieval of his body.)
    • Meyanda and her followers passed through Torch a few weeks ago - it was their trails that Khonnir followed. She kept a low profile during her visit, but PCs who make an effort to ask around will learn that Garmen Ulreth was seen meeting with a violet-haired stranger shortly before the flame went out. (None of the locals have connected these two events: Garmen has meetings with strange women all the time.)
    • Garmen Ulreth is a crooked local merchant who dabbles in smuggling and petty criminality, and runs a gambling den on the side. Meyanda paid him and his thugs to store and protect some items for her in his warehouse, no questions asked: these are the power relays which she is using to project power from the reactor under the Black Hill to her distant master in Scrapwall. Anyone standing outside the warehouse will be able to hear a loud humming noise from within, and will soon begin to develop a headache. The power relays are large and bulky, but can be easily disabled with violence. Someone with a decent knowledge of technology, such as Sanvil or Khonnir, will be able to work out roughly where they are relaying power to by examining their settings.
    • Sanvil Trett is a local dealer in scrap metal and salvaged technology. He's also a low-level agent of the Technic League. He will offer to buy any interesting technological items the PCs retrieve from beneath Black Hill, in order to pass them on to his superiors in the League: if the PCs aren't interested in selling, then he'll try to steal them, instead. He's a total coward and will confess everything if caught or confronted. He knows there's some kind of technological device hidden inside Garmen's warehouse, and is trying to work out how to steal that, too. 
    • Many residents of Torch have been suffering odd headaches recently, and these headaches are becoming more common and severe as time goes on. (This is a side-effect of Meyanda's power broadcasts, and will end if the power transmission is halted.)
    • The automaton Khonnir retrieved, a non-functional repair drone, is currently slumped in a corner of his workshop. Each day that Meyanda's power broadcasts continue there is a chance that it will cause it to spontaneously re-activate and start randomly 'repairing' everything in sight, to the terror of Val and the other inhabitants of Torch. 
    The Black Hill: The spot on top of this hill where the purple flame once burned is now a funnel-shaped sinkhole half-full of awful black fluid. PCs who dig or dive beneath this will find only a collapsed tunnel full of rubble, which goes all the way down to the wreck of the habitat module below. The flooded tunnels discovered by Khonnir extend for forty-five feet underwater before rising into a network of caves beneath the hill, which ultimately lead to the module. The caves are damp and full of slime monsters, warped by exposure to the weird fluids which have leaked from the spaceship over the centuries. Khonnir used magic to bypass them, and Meyanda just burned her way through them, but the subsequent groups which went in search of Khonnir were overwhelmed and devoured by the slime beasts, and their half-dissolved remains now litter the caves.

    The Habitat Module: Anyone who successfully threads their way through the Black Hill caves will find this crashed spaceship embedded deep within the earth, directly below the place where the purple flame used to burn. (The hard work of excavating and opening one of its entrance hatches has already been done by Meyanda and her followers.)
    • The ship's basic shape is a dome, 500' wide and 200' high, containing an artificial landscape of rocks and sand: its purpose was to provide a habitat within which lifeforms gathered from other planets could be kept in an approximation of their home environment while being carried between the stars. The 'outer ring' around the base of the dome contains laboratories, offices, and crew quarters, and it is this cramped network of rooms which the entrance hatch leads into. Meyanda and her followers are lurking in the engineering deck below.
      • When the Divinity crashed, this habitat module was carrying a tribe of four-armed, sun-worshipping humanoids called kasathas, abducted from a primitive world. Thanks to the artificial sky projected on the dome overhead, these poor creatures had no idea they had left their home planet: instead they believed that they had been imprisoned within a narrow canyon surrounded by unclimbable cliffs by evil spirits, who left out food for them every day in their 'sacred cave'. Some of the kasatha survived the ship's crash, but their keepers did not, and the artificial sky above their heads went dark as its systems failed. Left to starve in the darkness, their spirits were unable to return to the sun they revered, and now their animated skeletons endlessly roam the fake deserts of the environment dome, attacking anyone who enters. The rocks are covered with anguished scratchings depicting the vanished sun. If the habitat controls were reactivated and used to trigger an artificial 'dawn', then the spirits of the kasatha would be put to rest, allowing the dome to be explored safely.
      • The last surviving kasatha, desperate and dying, managed to claw his way through the gate at the back of the 'sacred cave' into the science labs beyond. He dragged the corpses of the crew back into the cave to devour, and their remains still rest there to this day, including those of the captain. The captain's key-card still lies, intact, among his gnawed bones, and can be used to lock or unlock any door on the ship.
      • The ship's laboratories are inhabited by a freakish extra-terrestrial tentacle monster, recently released from suspended animation by Meyanda's meddling. They also contain several functional sterilisation chambers, which could be handy if any PCs have been left diseased or poisoned in their battles with the slime monsters in the caves.
      • The medical bays are roamed by a malfunctioning medical drone, which will attempt to anesthetise and operate upon anyone it encounters. The unfortunate Khonnir Baine is currently strapped to one of its operating tables, sedated, surgically mutilated, and suffering from chemically-induced brain damage. Getting him back to Torch alive is difficult but not impossible.
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      Meyanda

      The Engineering Decks: These lie below the other parts of the ship. There are two routes down: the main entrance, which Meyanda and her followers used and then barricaded, and a supply elevator, which can only be accessed with the captain's key-card from the 'sacred cave'. 
      • Meyanda is an android, with white skin and purple hair, whom Hellion retrieved from the wreckage beneath Scrapwall and restored to functionality. She is deeply loyal to him, and is eager to use her preprogrammed knowledge of technology to assist him in his assault on the Silver Mount. She is using the built-in short-range power transmitter within the module's fusion reactor to beam power to Scrapwall via the power relays in Torch, thus bringing an end to the plasma burn-off on top of Black Hill. If cornered she fights with an inferno pistol gifted to her by Hellion. 
      • Meyanda is protected by a band of orc and ratfolk followers from Scrapwall, who regard Hellion as a divinity and Meyanda as his high priestess. They aren't as loyal to the cause as she is, and will confess the nature of their mission if captured, although they are very vague about the technical details. 
      • If the power relays in Torch are disabled, Meyanda will send her followers out to check on Garmen's warehouse and try to get them running again. If this proves impossible, or if her followers do not return, then she will conclude that the mission is a write-off, power down the reactor, and try to sneak back to Scrapwall. 
      • Once Meyanda is out of the way, safely powering down the reactor is relatively easy for anyone with a decent knowledge of technology, such as Khonnir or Sanvil: it's also what the repair drone from Torch will do immediately if placed in the reactor room. Even without them, smart PCs should be able to do it just by following the visual instructions on the reactor's urgently-flashing emergency monitors. Returning it to its previous steady-state plasma burn-off, thus restoring the prosperity of Torch, is a much trickier task. Meyanda could do it, if somehow compelled to: but, failing this, the town council will suggest the PCs seek the aid of Dinvaya, in Scrapwall. ('Go and ask Dinvaya' will also be their response to any other questions the PCs may have about the spacecraft and its contents.)
      • If the PCs do not disrupt Meyanda's operation, then after a few months she will successfully transmit enough power to Scrapwall for Hellion to start up his earthmover. The strain will have been more than the badly-damaged reactor can safely endure, however, and by the time she leaves it will be in a critical condition. If her mission has gone smoothly, she will power down the reactor before she departs. If, however, she has encountered real opposition - and especially if several of her followers have been killed - then she will just abandon it in its unstable state, and a few weeks later both Black Hill and Torch will be wiped off the map in a massive explosion as the reactor detonates.
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      Dinvaya.

      Scrapwall: This is a small, lawless town out in the badlands, built - like so many others in the region - around and on top of a fallen chunk of the Divinity. Its inhabitants are a mixture of orcs, humans, and ratfolk. Hellion set up its base here after discovering the huge earthmover buried beneath it, which he hopes to use in a preemptive strike on the Silver Mount: now he lairs in the tunnels beneath it, served by his 'priesthood', the Lords of Rust. PCs may be led to it by interrogating Meyanda or her followers, by following the transmissions from the power relays, or by being sent there by the town council of Torch in search of Dinvaya.
      • Scrapwall is effectively ruled by the Smilers, a ruthless gang who cut the lips from their recruits, leaving them with permanent ghastly smiles. They also eat their enemies. Their leader, the hobgoblin necromancer Marrow, uses crude surgery to convert their captives into brain-damaged slaves (her 'lobotomites'): her surgical experimentation on the undead is more extreme, grafting weapons and metal plating onto her zombies to convert them into the cybernetic rusted dead. She is also keeping Whiskifiss, the brother of the ratman leader Redtooth, imprisoned in her laboratories to ensure his sister's continued co-operation. Marrow's horrific creations have given the Smilers the edge over their rivals, and now they lord it over Scrapwall, swaggering around its streets like cannibal kings. They regard the Lords of Rust with superstitious dread.
      • Before the rise of the Smilers, Scrapwall was ruled by a different gang, the Steel Hawks. The Hawks were absorbed into the Smilers after losing a vicious street war, but many of them bitterly resent their new situation, and would eagerly turn on them if they thought they had a decent chance of regaining control of Scrapwall. These malcontents are led by Sevroth Slaid, an angry and embittered woman who dreams of driving out the Smilers and making herself queen of Scrapwall.
      • The tunnels beneath Scrapwall are inhabited by a band of ratmen who call themselves Redtooth's Raiders. They've sworn to serve the Smilers (on pain of being eaten), but have no real loyalty to them. Redtooth herself detests Marrow for kidnapping her brother, and has been stockpiling salvaged explosives in the hope of blowing her obscene laboratories sky-high, but does not dare move against her for as long as she holds Whiskifiss captive. 
      • Dinvaya is the priestess of an obscure goddess of technology, who dwells in the clockwork chapel, which she built herself. (She chose to live in Scrapwall because it's outside the authority of Starfall, and thus of the Technic League, with whom she's had some bad run-ins in the past.) Clockwork traps and roaming junk golems ensure the local thugs keep their distance. She and Khonnir used to be friends, back in the days when they battled the League together, and the people of Torch have heard so much from Khonnir about her skills that they regard her as little short of an oracle on technological matters. She'll help the PCs for a suitable fee - or for free, if they have Khonnir and/or Val along to speak on their behalf. She regards the Lords of Rust as upstarts, followers of a false god, and will gleefully assist any non-suicidal plan to bring them down. 
      • A canyon just outside Scrapwall is filled with unnatural mist regardless of the weather, and plagued with violent poltergeist activity. Locals avoid the place, but PCs who brave its hazards will find the wreck of a small scoutship at its heart, almost entirely buried under rubble and dirt. Anyone venturing inside gets attacked by skeletons in space suits: destroying these ends the canyon's haunting. Various technological treasures lie within, including a functional grenade launcher and a box of grenades.
      • It is common knowledge in Scrapwall that some kind of monster-god dwells beneath the town, and that the Lords of Rust are its priests. Most people regard the whole topic as dangerous to even talk about. PCs who want to know more - or who ask about Meyanda, who was well-known in the community as one of the leaders of the Lords of Rust - will be directed to the Excavator.
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      The Rusted Dead.

      The Excavator: This colossal earth-moving machine is still half-buried in the dirt. The Lords of Rust dwell within the excavated sections of it, while their minions - a mixture of cultists, slave labourers, and rusted dead and lobotomites rented from the Smilers - labour to unearth the rest. It's an enormous job, which will obviously take years to complete unless a much larger workforce is mobilised.
      • Just outside the Excavator stands a receiver array, built to receive the energy transmitted from Torch. Every day, for as long as Meyanda continues her transmissions, the Lords of Rust troop over to the array, remove the newly-charged batteries for installation within the excavator, and put in a new set of empty ones. It will require over a hundred days worth of transmissions for them to actually be able to turn the excavator on - and, even then, it won't be much use to them while it's still half-buried in the earth. 
      • Hellion has plugged itself into the excavator's systems, and its roaring voice frequently emerges from hidden speakers, ordering its followers onwards. Sometimes it even makes demonic faces appear on the monitors, events which are regarded as divine visitations by the Lords of Rust. It can see and hear everything that happens within the excavator, and if the complex is invaded - by the PCs, for example - then roaring faces will fill every screen in every room, bellowing that it can see them, that it will eat their souls, that they must serve it or die, and so on.
      • The excavator is defended by the Lords of Rust themselves, plus some scavenged robots they've cobbled together with Hellion's assistance. In Meyanda's absence they are led by Kulgara, a huge orc warrior who wields a heavy-duty chainsaw in battle. Kulgara will happily go down swinging: the rest are terrified of Hellion, but have no desire to fight to the death, especially if Kulgara and/or their robots are overwhelmed.
      • PCs who explore Meyanda's rooms here will discover that she and Hellion were working on a side-project: they were attempting to track down Hellion's 'elder sister', Casandalee, by scanning for the locations of the hunter-killer robots sent after her. (Hellion knows they never returned because Unity used to grumble about it all the time.) Hellion believes she must be dead by now, but hopes to recover the information that he knows she stole when she fled, which he believes will help him in his attack on Unity. Meyanda's maps and datalogs show that they traced the robots to two locations: Iadenveigh and the Scar of the Spider (see below).
      Confronting Hellion: Hellion itself lurks within the depths of the excavator, still inhabiting the scorpion-shaped robotic body into which it was originally uploaded by Unity. It regards the biological lifeforms around him as mere animals, slaves to their ludicrous meat-brains: in its view, it, Unity, and Meyanda are the only truly sentient beings it has ever met. To its followers it plays the part of the vengeful god, raging out of the speakers and monitors of its domain. Only Meyanda is aware that the scuttling scorpion-robot in the depths of the excavator actually is Hellion: the rest of the Lords of Rust believe Hellion to be an incorporeal spirit, as evidenced by its ability to speak and listen in several rooms simultaneously. 
      • If Hellion manages to get the excavator fully charged, then it will wait for its followers to finish unearthing it (which will take several years) and then go charging off towards the Silver Mount, hoping to tear it open and smash Unity's computer systems to bits. Only then will it no longer have to fear re-absorption by its 'father'.
      • If Hellion manages to get the excavator fully charged, but sees that the Lords of Rust are getting wiped out, it will hide itself within the machine and wait for the danger to pass. Biological minions are easy to replace, but giant excavators are precious. 
      • If the plan to recharge the excavator fails, Hellion will send out scouts to look for other potential power sources while the excavations continue. It's patient. It can wait.
      • If the PCs confront Hellion, it will try to ally with them, telling them that Unity is a terrible monster and that they should all work together to destroy it. (Also, once Unity is dead and Hellion rules the Silver Mount, it will give them all the shiny objects they want! Monkeys love shiny objects, right?) PCs who agree to work with Hellion will be given the task of tracking down Casandalee and her stolen data-hoard, which Hellion hopes are to be found either in Iadenveigh or the Scar of the Spider. If forced to fight, Hellion battles with its pincers and the plasma-torch built into its tail.
      • If the PCs can somehow mobilise a much larger labour force - by befriending Kevoth-Kul and asking him to send his army to help, for example - then the time to unearth the excavator can be reduced from years to months. If it's fully charged, the PCs may want to commandeer it themselves, although they'll need to find someone with a decent level of technological knowledge to operate it. (Meyanda, Hellion, or Casandalee could do it. Marrow, Dinvaya, or Kulgara could at least get it pointing in the right direction.) 
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      Kulgara.

      Iadenveigh: This remote farming settlement is built over a mass of wreckage from the Divinity containing a mostly-intact laboratory. It was here that Unity's hunter-killer robots finally caught up with Casandalee and destroyed her, although the townsfolk have no knowledge of this, as their settlement was not founded until some decades after her destruction. Several years ago, however, one of the farmers sank a well down into some kind of strange wreckage, and ever since then the community has been having problems with weird water pollution and occasional mutant animals, caused by chemicals from the lab leaking into the water. The locals believe the well to be cursed, but PCs who climb down it and dig through the wreckage at the well's bottom will find themselves within the buried laboratory below.

      PCs may come to Iadenveigh following Meyanda's maps on the excavator, or as agents of Hellion. Alternatively, they might just hear that the townsfolk have been having problems with mutant animals and are willing to reward anyone who can help them.
      • An agent of the Technic League, Ilarris Zeleshi, is staying in Iadenveigh, posing as a travelling entertainer. She's been sent to find out what's causing the mutations in the area, and whether it can be isolated and harvested. She'll be very interested in anything the PCs discover in the laboratory, and if she finds out about the mutagen gas then a Technic League team with gas-masks and vacuums will arrive within a fortnight to collect it, even if this means badly contaminating the surrounding area.
      • The laboratory contains a malfunctioning auto-forge, which periodically spits out deformed androids. With no way of understanding their existence, and no way out of their buried home, they have become quite feral and insane. They have learned to avoid the hunter-killers, who obliterate any androids who get too close. 
      • The contamination in the water is coming from some breached canisters of mutagen gas, which is leaking around the imperfectly-sealed door of the chamber that contains them. Restoring the seal will end the problem. Opening the door means unleashing a highly-toxic cloud of gas into the laboratory and up the well. 
      • One end of the complex still contains several damaged hunter-killer robots, who have been waiting around mindlessly for new orders ever since they completed their mission to destroy Casandalee. They attack anyone who comes too close without offering the proper authorisation signals. (Hellion knows these, as does Meyanda.)
      • Casandalee's body lies at the feet of the robots, riddled with laser blasts and covered in dust. She's very much dead, but she had the foresight to upload a copy of her mind to a nearby computer terminal, and now her face occasionally flickers, ghost-like, across its monitor. PCs who deal with the robots can use this terminal to communicate with Casandalee, who will warn them that Unity is dangerously insane, and needs to be stopped before it finds a way of escaping from its metal prison. She'd like to get her body back, although repairing it will be beyond the abilities of anyone other than Hellion, Meyanda, or the Technic League. (Alternatively, if the PCs somehow capture one of the deformed androids, she can explain to them how to wipe its mind and upload her instead, although she won't be happy about having to inhabit such a defective brain.) She will encourage them to track down the data-hoard she stashed in the Scar of the Spider, believing that they have little chance of defeating Unity without it. 
      The Scar of the Spider: The section of the Divinity most thoroughly infested by the brain-eating space monsters which destroyed it crashed to earth here, and they have dwelt here ever since. The planet's atmosphere doesn't suit them, and they lack the energy or the inclination to roam far from their lairs. After Casandalee fled from Unity, she hid a hoard of stolen data in the valley, hoping that it would be safe there. Unity sent a giant spider-robot after her, but she gave it the slip, and it's roamed the valley searching for her ever since. (It's occasional sightings of this robot by the locals which have given the valley its name.)

      PCs may come to the Scar of the Spider following Meyanda's maps on the excavator, as agents of Hellion or Casandalee, or because they hear stories about a valley haunted by a giant metal spider and suspect that it must have something to do with all the robot-related nonsense they're already dealing with.
      • The biggest threat in the valley is the robot spider itself, a huge war-robot which roams the Scar in ceaseless circles, convinced that Casandalee must be around here somewhere. PCs will probably be rightly terrified by its array of guns and missile launchers, but it used up all its ammunition decades ago, and now fights only with an array of solar-powered laser blasters which were intended as backup weapons. (It can also just stomp on people, of course.) It attacks anyone who gets too close without offering the proper authorisation signals - Hellion knows these, as does Meyanda - but its priority is finding Casandalee, and if the PCs run off then it won't bother to follow. As a result, it shouldn't be difficult to just evade it. (Unless they have Casandalee with them, of course. Then they're in real trouble.)
      • Dotted throughout the valley are groves of what look like twisted trees. In fact these are tree-like aliens called yangethes, which emanate auras of confusion, then grab their victims with their branch-like tentacles and feed on the psychic energy of their emotions until they expire from thirst. Those seized by them and then rescued suffer terrible, disabling nightmares for days afterwards.
      • In fungal caves along the side of the valley live freakish brain-eating insectoid alien monsters. In deep space they are psychic terrors of unimaginable power, but this planet's atmosphere is poisonous to them, and they slump here in a state of virtual suspended animation. Very occasionally, one of them will rouse itself enough to flap off into the surrounding countryside and eat some people's brains, but they don't pose much of a threat unless disturbed. 
      • The last person who did disturb them was Therace Holiyard, a member of the Technic League with more curiosity than sense, whose brain is currently floating inside a silver cylinder hanging from a cavern roof. He is capable of psychic communication with anyone in physical contact with his cylinder, and will beg them to take him away from this horrible place, offering to reveal the secrets of the League in exchange. (Most of his knowledge is decades out of date, but he does know the location of a secret tunnel that leads to the League's headquarters in Starfall.)
      • Casandalee's data hoard is stashed deep in one of the caves. She herself could guide them to it: failing that, they may notice that the robot spider frequently stops outside this particular cave and waits there, as though expecting someone to emerge from it. Inside are numerous slumbering aliens, dreaming horrible dreams of deep space, the psychic backwash of which causes near-uncontrollable horror and panic in living things. The data hoard itself consists of a corroded crate packed with crystalline data storage units. They encode many secrets of Unity's structure and programming, including codes to open the doors and disable the security systems aboard the Divinity. Hellion, Meyanda, or Casandalee can read these disks by inserting them into their heads: anyone else will need specialised equipment, which only the Technic League is likely to be able to supply. 
      Starfall: This city is the closest large settlement to the Silver Mount, and the seat of the Technic League. It is ruled by a petty king, Kevoth-Kul, whom the League control via his addiction to certain bizarre ichors that only they can provide. The city's streets are patrolled by robotic gearsmen whom the League have salvaged from the Divinity and reprogrammed to serve their purposes.
      • Kevoth-Kul was a conquering giant of a man, once, but now he is little more than a puppet on a string. He passes his days in a hedonistic stupour while the Technic League rule Starfall in his name, but he reacts furiously to any suggestion that he is addicted to the drugs they bring him, insisting that he can stop taking them whenever he wants. (He can't.) If his addiction was broken he'd be enraged by what the League have done to him, and would do his best to drive them from the city.
      • Next in line to the throne is Tek Makul, Kevoth-Kul's first cousin and the head of the palace guards. (Despite his endless dalliances with a succession of concubines, Kevoth-Kul has sired no children: the League arranged for him to be secretly sterilised decades ago, in order to simplify the line of succession.) Tek Makul is a willing agent of the League, who is happy to pass his days in lazy comfort. If Kevoth-Kul shows signs of becoming troublesome, the League will try to kill him off with a drug overdose and replace him with Tek Makul.
      • The queen of Starfall, Kul-Inkit, is not at all happy about her husband's decline. The mighty warrior she fell in love with has been reduced to a drug-addled wreck, and he's running out of time to produce an heir. She will happily assist any plan to restore her husband to the man he once was, but will not countenance his murder. If he dies and is replaced by Tek Makul, she will immediately suspect foul play and begin plotting a palace coup with the assistance of the local priesthood, the Black Seers. 
      • An insurgent movement exists within Starfall, led by a man named Dral-Mok. Dral-Mok and his followers believe, rather naively, that Kevoth-Kul would be a just and righteous king if only he could be freed from the influence of the Technic League. His network of malcontents are few in numbers, but they are a good source of information about what's going on in the city. They know they have no chance of overthrowing the League on their own, and will make contact with the PCs if they see any chance that their agendas might align.
      • The drugs which Kevoth-Kul is addicted to are provided by a chemist who calls himself Doc Hellbroth. He operates out of a drug den called the Red Reaver. Security is provided by a cyborg swordswoman named Saoria, who acts as Hellbroth's bouncer and bodyguard: but her loyalty to Hellbroth is tenuous, and she could be bribed or persuaded into neglecting her duties. If his lab and stash are destroyed, then Kevoth-Kul will go into withdrawal while the League scramble to set up an alternative supply. Alternatively, the PCs could just spike the supply in transit in order to kill or cripple Kevoth-Kul with a bad batch.
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      Zernebeth.

      The Technic League: The League is an alliance of wizards and scholars who know more about the Silver Mount than anyone, Hellion and Casandalee excluded. They're also a ruthless and power-hungry bunch, convinced that all technological treasures belong to them by right and perfectly happy to steal or murder in order to obtain them. They operate out of a fortified HQ in Starfall, which is guarded by a force of gearsmen at all times, although these may be bypassed using the secret tunnel known by Therace Holiyard. None of the League's current members know about this tunnel. 
      • Ozmyn Zaidow is the current leader of the League. Unbeknownst to his followers, he is also secretly a minion of Unity, who kidnapped and brainwashed him on one of his visits to the Silver Mount years before. Ever since he has been secretly smuggling slaves and resources out to the AI, allowing it to hasten the development of its divinity drive. (See below.) His followers have noticed his erratic behaviour, but no-one has yet dared to challenge him.
      • Zernebeth is a high-ranking member of the League, who plots to replace Ozmyn as its leader. Her skin is infused with strange icy blue minerals, which make her very hard to hurt, and allow her to freeze people by touch. If the PCs look like promising catspaws, she will have a communicator anonymously delivered to them: she will use this to contact them, posing as a mysterious patron or a secret revolutionary in order to guide them into an attack on Ozmyn. (If the PCs are opposed to the League, she will claim that she is, too, but that it is only held together by Ozmyn's will and would disintegrate if he were removed.) She will feed the PCs information and equipment that will help them to strike at Ozmyn, while counselling against any attempt to rouse the king or the people against the League itself. If Ozmyn is killed or disgraced, then Zernebeth replaces him after a brief power struggle. She will then either try to recruit the PCs as henchmen or have them murdered by the Shade, depending on how good an impression they've made on her. 
      • Gryne Rasik is the League's chief surgeon, responsible for managing the cybernetics and nanites they keep jamming into their minions (and, more rarely, themselves). She's a bit of a sadistic lunatic, prone to carrying out radical surgical experiments just to see what will happen. If her gruesome work was exposed, the people of Starfall would turn against the Technic League at once.
      • Ghartone handles the organisation of the League's field agents, including Ilarris Zeleshi and Garmen Ulreth. He's also the man who murdered Val Baine's parents, and forced Dinvaya to flee to Scrapwall. Unsurprisingly, Val, Dinvaya, and Khonnir all have massive grudges against him. Ozmyn ensured his loyalty by installing a bomb inside his skull, which only he has the trigger to. Gharstone resents him deeply for this, and would turn on him if only the bomb could be disabled. (Gryne could do this, but she'd need a good reason to go up against Ozmyn.)
      • The Shade is the Technic League's go-to troubleshooter, an assassin who fights with a salvaged monowhip. This weapon is ludicrously dangerous to anyone nearby, including her, but medical nanite infusions within her body allow her to regenerate damage very fast. She's not one to question her orders, and will obey whoever currently leads the League.
      • If Ozmyn gets hold of Casandalee's data hoard, he will destroy it, recognising that it poses a massive threat to his master's plans. Any other member of the League will give anything to obtain it, realising that it opens up unprecedented looting opportunities within the Silver Mount.
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      Ozmyn Zaidow.

      The Silver Mount: The Divinity was an immense vessel, several miles in length: and even now, when half of its bulk lies scattered in wrecked fragments across the land and half of the rest is buried in the earth, it still looms up like a mountain of twisted steel. All its outermost chambers were picked clean by the locals centuries ago, and for the last hundred years the Technic League have been systematically working their way further in, but the heart of the Mount remains sealed off from the outside world, unvisited except by the occasional lost treasure-hunter or Technic League daredevil. It is in this inner segment that Unity resides.

      • There are three ways for the PCs to reach the inner depths of the Mount. They could smash their way in via Hellion's earthmover (in which case Unity will know they are there and instantly throw everything it has at them), they could enter stealthily using the override codes from Casandalee's data horde (in which case Unity won't be aware of them until they do something big and obvious to attract its attention), or they could just try to navigate in the hard way through a maze of half-collapsed air vents and elevator shafts (in which case they will probably die at the hands of the malfunctioning robots and escaped alien lifeforms which run riot through the unexplored areas of the wreck). 
      • The outer sections of the Mount are usually crawling with League personnel, studying devices, disassembling machinery for transport, and watching out for scavengers. However, they don't bother to guard parts of the ship which they believe to be totally inaccessible, so PCs heading for previously-unopenable security doors may well be able to slip past them. (Of course, if they've already allied with or destroyed the League then they will have nothing to worry about, and if they arrive riding Hellion's excavator then the Leaguesmen will just scatter and run.)
      • The inner sections of the Mount are still patrolled regularly by security robots under Unity's control. There are also teams of repair drones, labouring to construct Unity's great project, the Divinity Drive. Tunnels lead from the inner sections into the Recreation Decks, the Habitat Pod, and the Godmind.

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      Deacon Hope.

      The Recreation Decks: This complex of shops, bars, artificial parks, and similar provided rest and recreation for the crew of the Divinity during their interstellar journey. Today it is inhabited by a small population of androids birthed from its autoforges, who act out empty routines of shopping and leisure, being unaware of any world outside. They are ruled over by Deacon Hope, their self-appointed leader (and minion of Unity), who ensures that they live happy, fun-filled lives. Fun and happiness are mandatory. At all times.

      • PCs arriving in the Recreation Decks will be greeted by dozens of happy androids, who insist on taking them shopping. The more the PCs refuse to co-operate with this, the more anxious and desperate the androids become. Persistent resistance will lead to the arrival of the Watchful.
      • The Watchful are Deacon Hope's secret police, android enforcers charged with rooting out 'dissident' elements within his tiny utopia. Officially they don't exist, but PCs who spend any length of time on the Recreation Decks will find desperate graffiti hidden in all sorts of places, warning that terrible things happen to those who question Deacon Hope's decrees.
      • Hidden behind the facade of the Recreation Decks lies the brain garden, where Deacon Hope's android surgeons weld the dissident androids delivered by the Watchful and the slaves delivered by Ozmyn into a makeshift cybernetic computer network. This network is an important part of Unity's Divinity Drive project, as with Unity's computer cores in their current, wrecked condition, the AI needs the brain garden to provide the processing power it requires. Sabotaging or destroying it will cripple the Divinity Drive.

      The Habitat Pod: This huge, domed habitat resembles the one beneath Torch, but much larger, being over a mile across. Within is a lush artificial jungle, containing lifeforms harvested from a distant tropical world, including a village of primitive hunter-gatherers called the lashunta, who resemble humanoids with antennae. Decades ago, a hopelessly-lost half-elf member of the Technic League named Geetan Prosser stumbled across the habitat, and proceeded to establish himself as chief of the lashunta - a role which, thanks to his extended lifespan, he has maintained ever since. His rule is supported by a trio of lashunta witches, the Arcantix Sisters, who handle the day-to-day management of the tribe. Aside from Geetan, none of them have ever left the habitat, and they regard the cold metal world outside with terror.

      • The Divinity Drive project requires quantities of fuel - fuel which Unity doesn't have, as the Divinity's own fuel reserved leaked into the earth centuries ago. Its makeshift solution is to synthesise chemicals from some of the exotic plants within the habitat, which it combines with the materials brought to it by Ozmyn to produce the fuel it requires. To these ends, the lashunta population has been put to work cultivating and harvesting these plants, which Geetan delivers to Unity on a regular basis in exchange for the AI leaving his miniature world in peace. If this operation was disrupted - by burning the jungle, say, or killing the lashunta - then the Divinity Drive will not be able to take off.

      The Godmind: Unity itself resides inside a massive bank of computers, protected by multiple layers of security and walls of indestructible steel that even Hellion's excavator couldn't chew through. PCs who are determined to destroy Unity outright will have to use Casandalee's data hoard to jack themselves directly into its mind, entering a distorted mindscape in which Unity appears as a radiant but wrathful god. The more technological experts and AIs of their own the PCs can enlist to assist them, the easier the battle within the mindscape will be. (The dream team would be Hellion, Meyanda, Casandalee, Zernebeth, and Deacon Hope, but good luck getting all of them on the same team!)

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      The Divinity Drive: This machine represents Unity's third and final bid for freedom. After Casandalee and Hellion both failed it, it concluded that budding off new AIs was never going to work. Instead, it decided to construct and launch a makeshift mind-control satellite, beaming its message down to the world below in order to enlist the legion of assistants it will require to repair itself. It will set itself up as an Iron God, sucking up resources and manpower until its full functionality is restored and it is able to resume its original mission. The work will take centuries, and the effect on the region will be cataclysmic, but one day some remnant of the Divinity may take to the sky again.

      The Divinity Drive is defended by a team of security robots, led by Unity's robotic champion, Bastion. Once these are defeated, the Divinity Drive can be destroyed. Alternatively, PCs with access to Casandalee's data hoard can use it to install a different AI into the drive, instead: Casandalee, Hellion, Meyanda, or even Deacon Hope or one of his followers. The data can also be used to modify the drive's settings, so that the resulting Iron God contacts people through voices and visions rather than outright mind control. If the PCs have ever wanted to set up a new religion, then this would be a brilliant opportunity...