Sunday 1 September 2019

Condensation in Action 8: Mummy's Mask

Welcome back for another installment of Condensation in Action, where I take hopelessly bloated Pathfinder adventure paths and try to turn them into something lean and open enough to actually use. Like all adventure paths, Mummy's Mask is a 600-page monstrosity of filler dungeons, blatant railroading, incoherent plotting, and pointless bloat. Let's rip it open and mine out the good stuff.

Previous Condensation in Action posts can be found here:

Rise of the Runelords
Curse of the Crimson Throne
Council of Thieves
Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms
Iron Gods
Skull and Shackles

Backstory is a Necessary Evil: Thousands of years ago, Fantasy Egypt was ruled by an evil pharaoh called Hakotep. Hakotep had heard of a magical flying city far to the south, and he both feared and coveted the power of its creators. He worked thousands of his people to death constructing great geomatic earthworks that, if activated, would be capable of pulling the flying city to the ground: then, confident that he was safe from retaliation, he sent his agents to abduct some sky wizards from the flying city and put them to work building him a giant flying pyramid.

Hakotep died just after the pyramid was finished, and as soon as he was safely dead his people - who by this point were pretty sick of being worked to death building insane magical vanity projects - rose up in revolt against his dynasty. His mummified body was desecrated by rebel priests, who trapped his ib (higher soul) and ka (vital spark) within his preserved heart and his funerary mask, respectively, in order to bar him from the afterlife. But the rest of his preserved corpse - which still contained his ba, or personality - was stolen by loyalists and carried back inside his pyramid, which they then launched skyward. The Flying Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh has been hovering in geosynchronous orbit over Fantasy Egypt ever since.

Feeling rather embarrassed by the whole affair, his successors ordered his name to be struck from the records, and today almost no-one knows that Hakotep even existed. Unfortunately for everyone, however, a band of scholar-conspirators recently worked out from discrepancies in the old king-lists and chronologies that the legendary 'Sky Pharaoh' must have been real after all, and decided to try to claim the power of his Flying Pyramid for themselves. Their leader eventually located the preserved heart of Hakotep beneath the ruined tower of an ancient wizard... and was promptly possessed by his ib, which ate her mind, stole her identity, and took over her organisation. Now calling themselves the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, they seek to reunite Hakotep's body, heart, and mask, allowing the Sky Pharaoh to be resurrected and reign over the land once more from his flying pyramid of death...

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Wati: This ancient city is where the adventure begins. Centuries ago, it was abandoned after being ravaged by a magical plague of such virulence that, when settlers eventually returned to the region, they built a wall around the ruins of the old city in order to avoid disturbing whatever ancient contagions might lie within. Today, modern Wati is a bustling city, three times the size of its ancient counterpart: but the walls still stand, surrounding the crumbling ruins of the Old City. The locals regard the place as taboo, but adventurers hoping to unearth valuable relics within the ruins can purchase exploration licenses from the local authorities, which permit passage through the gates to the Old City. However, would-be treasure-seekers must beware the ancient undead who lurk there, still furious at being left to rot without their proper funerary rites all those centuries ago.

Nebta-Khufre: This ambitious young necromancer was raised by his grandmother, Neferekhu, a seeress plagued by prophetic dreams. In her last years she was haunted by visions of a terrible sky-king and a golden mask, and the specific details in her visions convinced Nebta-Khufre that an object of great power was hidden within the Old City of Wati. When she died before he found it, he reanimated her head and took to carrying it around with him in a golden bird-cage, so that she could continue prophesying to him. Eventually, guided by the visions described by his grandmother's animated skull, he located the mask of Hakotep, with which he hopes to transform himself into the all-conquering sky-king whom she foretold. The adventure begins when he finally works out how to activate it.

The Hook: The PCs are in Wati when Nebta-Khufre activates the Mask of Hakotep, triggering a zombie outbreak which devastates the city. After they hopefully survive (and perhaps help to contain) the resulting chaos, the ravaged city authorities beg them to investigate who or what is responsible for all this horror, promising lavish cash rewards and lifetime looting rights in the Old City if the threat can be identified and destroyed.

Night of the Living Dead: On the night when Nebta-Khufre activates the mask, a pulse of energy ripples across Wati, animating the ka or vital spark within every human corpse in the city. The consequences of this will include the following:
  • Zombie mobs clawing their way out of their graves and roaming the city streets, mindlessly devouring the living.
  • In the city market, the severed and preserved hands of thieves are hung up from a central pillar as a warning to criminals. When the mask is activated, these hands will tear themselves free. The freshest ones, which still retain some instinctual memory of life, will set off across the city to find the people who bore witness against them and strangle them to death, while the older hands simply roam the market in a scuttling swarm, leaping up to throttle anyone who approaches.
  • A local antiques dealer recently acquired a real prize: the intact sarcophagus of an ancient noblewoman, complete with her mummified corpse. Naturally, he's halfway through selling the mummy and sarcophagus as a job lot at auction when the mask is activated, causing her to lurch out of her casket and start clobbering people to death. 
  • Magistrate Sotenre, a long-dead judge infamous for passing out sentences of blinding upon the criminals tried in his court, arises from the dead and stumbles to his old courthouse. Still driven by his passion for eneucleation even after death, he establishes instinctive psychic control over a gang of skeleton 'bailiffs' and sends them out to start dragging random people into his court, where Sotenre presides over bizarre trials before inevitably sentencing them to be blinded - a sentence that often proves fatal, due to the clumsiness of his minions. The streets outside his courthouse soon fill with eyeless corpses and wailing, blinded victims. Sotenre is quite mad, but it's very important to him to maintain at least a semblance of legal procedure, so PCs entering his courtroom should be able to stall him for quite a long time by quoting random precedents and shouting 'objection!' a lot. 
  • A gang of Silver Chain grave robbers (see below) are transporting a cartload of corpses through the city, concealed under a fake cargo of cloth, on their way to a laboratory where the corpses will be wrapped and embalmed prior to their sale as 'genuine ancient mummies'. As the mask is activated the corpses start thrashing around inside the cart, ultimately breaking out of their boxes and attacking anyone nearby while the driver flees in panic.
  • The ancient dead of the Old City arise en masse and besiege the gates to the New City, trying to smash their way through. Many of the gate guards desert their posts: the ones that remain are rallied together under the leadership of a young priestess, Bal Themm, who pleads with anyone who approaches to fight their way through the streets to her temple and return with all the holy symbols and holy water they can carry.
  • A sorceress named Sehhosep Naahn is mournfully preparing the corpse of her husband for burial when the mask activates and he 'returns to life'. Convinced that her prayers have been answered, she ties a rope around him and starts dragging his zombified corpse through the streets towards her workshop, where she hopes to use her magic to restore his mind, too. She makes very slow progress, forcing her to blast the zombies that attack her along the way. Barricaded within their houses, the locals swiftly conclude that this obviously-magical woman dragging a zombie on a rope is to blame for the whole situation, and start forming hurried plans for how best to ambush and lynch her.
For maximum impact, try to arrange things so that the PCs are either in the marketplace, at the sarcophagus auction, or close to Sotenre's courthouse when the outbreak begins. Note that the animation of the dead is a one-off event: anyone who dies after the pulse will not rise as undead.

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Magistrate Sotenre. Tough on eyes, tough on the causes of eyes.

Dawn of the Dead: The night of the initial outbreak is likely to be one of total chaos, with the PCs stumbling around the city being attacked by zombies, chased by severed hands, pursued by the mummy, 'arrested' by skeleton bailiffs, etc. By dawn some level of order will have been restored: the zombies aren't very bright, so once the people of Wati work out what is going on they will mostly be able to protect themselves by simply barricading themselves inside their houses and dropping heavy things on the undead outside. The gates of the Old City remain under siege, however, and Sotenre's bailiffs represent a much more organised and intelligent threat. Isolated bands of zombies will continue to thump around in basements, back alleys, and abandoned buildings for days to come.

By mid-morning the city authorities will issue a desperate plea for help, and if the PCs have in any way distinguished themselves - by killing the mummy, for example, or dealing with Sotenre, or defusing the situation with Sehhosep, or bringing help to Bal Themm - then they will be particularly keen to obtain their assistance. Their first priority will be to secure the gates of the Old City, and their second will be to find out what has caused the dead to rise. Many will suspect (incorrectly) that the answer has something to do with the scattered reports they have received for years about a 'voice in the darkness' sometimes heard in the city streets by night, trying to lure people into the Old City, and will suggest that the PCs begin their search there. Others suggest that they investigate sporadic reports of people transforming into ghouls in the slums of the city - investigations which will ultimately lead them to the Silver Chain.

The Silver Chain: This criminal gang are based in an old brickworks in Wati, which they use as a base for smuggling, grave robbing, and trading in fake and/or stolen antiquities. They maintain a network of secret tunnels that extend under the walls of the Old City, allowing them to creep in and out unnoticed by either the city authorities or the undead currently besieging the gates. They also distribute the addictive drugs created by Bheg (see below) in the Ghoul Market of the Old City, which are brought to them through the tunnels by his ghoul minions. Repeat customers who start turning into ghouls are bundled off through the tunnels in the opposite direction.

Not long ago, the Silver Chain were taken over by the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, who set them to work searching the Old City for Hakotep's mask (although Nebta-Khufre got there first). Their new leader, Meret-Hetef, is swift to realise that the zombie outbreak means that someone has beaten them to finding the mask, and as soon as the initial danger has subsided she will send her men out to try to find who is responsible. As a result, PCs investigating the same thing are soon likely to cross paths with the Silver Chain. They may also learn of them by investigating the ghoul transformations, or by asking around about alternative ways into the Old City, or by trying to find out who was transporting a secret cartload of preserved corpses through Wati by night, or just by investigating why a supposedly semi-derelict brickworks by the Old City walls was defended so furiously during the outbreak.

The gang's senior leadership are all cultists, now, but most of the rank-and-file aren't keen on their change of direction, and are kept in line only by their fear of the cult's magic. PCs who bribe, threaten, or capture the gang's members will soon learn about the cult's take-over, and its quest for the Mask of Hakotep. Meret-Hetef will happily assist the PCs in finding and fighting Nebta-Khufre as long as they promise to hand over the mask afterwards: alternatively, the PCs may help the gang's street toughs launch a coup against the cultists and restore the power of the old guard. If befriended, the gang can guide them through the tunnels to the Old City, and put them in touch with Bheg in the Ghoul Market.

All members of the gang know that the cult is based somewhere in the desert, but they're not sure exactly where. If the PCs manage to capture or interrogate one of the cultists then they can learn that rest of the cult is currently exploring an ancient monument called The Faceless Sphinx (see below) deep in the remotest part of the desert. The cultists will talk a good game about how the Sky Pharaoh will be coming any day now to rule the world from his flying death pyramid, but they're pretty new to all this - the whole cult is only a few months old, after all - and will crack quickly once any real pressure is applied.

Old Wati: Once PCs have travelled over (or under) its walls, the Old City is actually less dangerous than one might expect, as the vast majority of its undead are currently besieging the gates of Wati. There are four significant locations here: the temple, the lair of Imanish, the Ghoul Market, and the observatory.

The temple: This was the hiding place of the funerary mask of Hakotep, until it was stolen by Nebta-Khufre (see above). The temple is currently swarming with mindless undead left behind by Nebta-Khufre to cover his tracks, but the very concentration of these creatures at this site should signal to alert PCs that there is something unusual about this particular building. PCs who explore the temple will find ample evidence that it has been recently explored and looted, including a broken-open secret chamber which clearly once held something very valuable and very secret. The walls of this now-empty secret chamber are covered in hieroglyphics warning intruders to leave its contents intact, lest 'the Forgotten Pharaoh' devour their souls.

The lair: Imanish is a wicked spirit who takes the form of a flying head, with six ram's horns framing a bestial face. He is the 'voice in the dark' that concerns the city's rulers: for many years he has been in the habit of flying over the walls of the Old City by night, concealed by illusions, and whispering plausible lies to anyone he finds walking the city's streets after dark, using offers of gold, sex, or secrets to tempt them back to his lair in the ruins. He has nothing to do with the zombie outbreak, although he does find it pretty funny. PCs can find his lair by talking to people who were tempted by his whispers but turned back at the last minute, or just by wandering around the ruins of Old Wati, which aren't really all that big.

Imanish holds court in a ruined house, built around a central dining room. On the ancient table sit polished human skulls on tarnished silver plates, taken from its previous victims: whenever anyone enters the room, these skulls fly up and attack intruders in a clacking, biting swarm under Imanish's command. Imanish creates these skulls by means of a cursed headband, which he will try to trick or force his victims to wear before killing them. If someone is wearing the headband when they die, then at the moment of their death their head will tear free from their body and float off to the table to join the others under Imanish's command.

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The Ghoul Market: In what was once the marketplace of Old Wati, a ghast alchemist named Bheg has set up a laboratory, manufacturing drugs made from the flesh of ancient mummies. The drug has sedative and curative properties, but is addictive, and long-term use eventually turns users into ghouls. A band of these unfortunate addicts now serve as Bheg's guards, minions, and go-betweens, giving the market its name. Distribution to the city beyond is handled by the Silver Chain. (See above.)

Most of Bheg's ghouls are feral and ravenous, but Bheg himself is pretty reasonable, and is not keen on seeing his primary drug market reduced to a depopulated graveyard. He can tell PCs that he and his ghouls have spotted a number of strange men in golden masks roaming the ruins in the days leading up to the outbreak. Most of these are sightings of Forgotten Pharaoh cultists from the Silver Chain, combing the ruins looking for the mask while wearing their ritual regalia, but if his sightings are cross-referenced with the movements of the Silver Chain - either revealed willingly by allies within the gang, or extracted from them via interrogation - then one sighting, of a man entering a ruined observatory, remains unaccounted for. This was Nebta-Khufre, wearing the Mask of Hakotep, on his way to activate it.

The observatory: PCs can find this building by following Bheg's tip, or by noticing the amount of unusual zombie activity within. This is Nebta-Khufre's hideout, where he is using his necromantic powers to turn the mindless undead raised by the mask into his personal army, one zombie at a time. He'll have about a dozen zombies under his command for each day that has passed since the outbreak, plus the undead head of his seeress grandmother, Neferekhu, which he keeps in a golden birdcage guarded by skeleton warriors. Neferekhu deeply resents being kept in this horrible half-life, and will turn against him in an instant, revealing his plans, routines, and the passwords of his magical defences, if the PCs promise to let her truly die rather than keeping her around as portable prophecy generator.

The Mask of Hakotep: This enchanted mask grants the wearer limited power to raise and control undead. The 'ka pulse' effect used by Nebta-Khufre exhausted its power reserves, but a patient PC willing to spend several years waiting for it to recharge could use it to stage a local zombie apocalypse of their own. The Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh will do anything to obtain it.
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The Mask of Hakotep.

The Great Library of Tephu: The town of Tephu is a short way downriver from Wati, and is famous for its ancient library. PCs who want to learn more about Hakotep will be advised to check there first.

Any individual of good social standing can gain access to the main library for the payment of a suitable fee, but research there turns up nothing about Hakotep. In fact, it turns up suspiciously little, to the point where scholarly PCs are likely to suspect that all relevant documents have been deliberately suppressed. There is an Inner Library, which can be accessed only by breaking in, by lavishly bribing the librarians, or by obtaining a letter of recommendation from the governor of Tephu, Muminofrah, a lascivious woman whose head is easily turned by a pretty face and a muscular back. Even in the inner library, however, information about Hakotep is conspicuous by its absence.

In fact, the library does house some relevant information, but in a third collection: the secret 'Dark Depository', hidden at the bottom of a deep shaft and guarded by a bone golem with a crocodile skull for a head. This is where the librarians hide all the materials they wish to suppress, but cannot bear to destroy. Its walls are lined with sarcophagi containing the remains of scholars who trespassed upon its secrets, and were punished by being embalmed alive. Rumours about the place abound among the library staff, but getting in will require the PCs to either persuade the head librarian of the necessity of their work, or getting Muminofrah very sweet on them. Either way, they will probably have to fight the bone golem, which continues to murderously enforce all kinds of obscure regulations laid down by some long-dead archivist or other.

Diligent research in the Dark Depository will reveal the following:

  • Hakotep the Sky Pharaoh was a real historical figure, and not just a folktale as generally supposed, and he really did build a flying pyramid. Information on him is scarce because his name was stricken from the histories and king-lists after his death.
  • Hakotep's pyramid was said to contain a king's ransom in gold and jewels. It was last seen flying skyward, and apparently never came down again.
  • He was responsible for building the infamous Bone Trenches, a mysterious network of haunted earthworks whose origins have long puzzled scholars. Apparently they were meant to serve as some kind of magical weapon.
  • His spirit was divided between his body (lost inside his flying pyramid), his mask (hidden in Wati), and his heart (hidden beneath an ancient spire - once the home of a powerful wizard, but now nothing more than a pile of tumbled stones).
  • Both his pyramid and the Bone Trenches were designed by an architect named Chisisek, who was buried deep in the desert, beneath a great stone sphinx without a face that Hakotep also commissioned for some reason. Chisisek was said to have taken all kinds of secrets with him to his grave, and his tomb has never been discovered since.
The Spire: Thorough PCs may wish to check the spire where the cult found Hakotep's heart. Until recently there was a proper dungeon down here - ancient deathtraps, undead guardians, the works - but the cult cleared the place out, and now nothing remains except some recent excavations and shallow graves to show that the cult has got here first.

The Faceless Sphinx: This long-forgotten monument lies deep in the desert, in a region known as the Parched Dunes. Hakotep ordered it to be built for his wife, Neferuset, in honour of the monstrous gods she revered. Beneath it extend a vast network of crumbling tunnels, which presumably served some kind of useful purpose several thousand years ago. For most of the last century it has served as the home of a band of maftets, desert-dwelling hybrid creatures with the bodies of men, the legs of lions, and the wings of hawks, who turned the sphinx into a shrine to their ancient monster-goddess. More recently, it was found by the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, who hope to claim it as their base of operations and to plunder it for information relating to the life and works of Hakotep. The cultists and the maftets have been fighting for control of the tunnels beneath the sphinx ever since.

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A Maftet.

The Parched Dunes: The deserts around the sphinx are plagued by sand krakens and gnoll slavers, and consequently avoided by just about everyone. They contain four significant locations, as follows:

  • A 15' tall automaton built out of corroded bronze, coeval with the sphinx itself, protruding halfway from a sand dune. Close examination will reveal a hatch on its back, which leads to a cockpit full of pedals and levers - but none of them do anything, because its engine is missing. (It's in the lair of the efreet - see below.) If its engine was reinstalled, it would rise once more into life, crackling with magical electricity and ready to be piloted. It's too big to fit into the tunnels within the Sphinx, but would be a major asset to any fight outside it.
  • A wide expanse of deserts full of carefully-arranged piles of rocks. This is a zen garden maintained by an obsessive-compulsive blue dragon, who roams the area looking for stones of just the right size and shape to be balanced on top of other stones. Anyone intruding within the 'garden' will incur his wrath, but he will try very very hard to kill them without disturbing or damaging the stones in any way. His lair (and his hoard) are hidden in a sand-choked cave nearby.
  • A fortified encampment of maftets displaced from the Sphinx, which has been their ancestral home for generations. They will tell anyone willing to listen how they were cruelly driven into the desert by ruthless humans wearing golden masks, and will beg the PCs for assistance. (They'll keep very quiet about being monster-goddess-cultists themselves.) They know of secret entrances into the tunnels beneath the sphinx, which they use to launch guerrilla raids against the cult, but are increasingly coming to despair of defeating them as long as they command the loyalty of their scorpion-man mercenaries. (See below.)
  • A ruined temple, now the lair of a fearsome efreet. Amidst the various rusted treasures heaped up in the efreet's treasury is the magical engine of the bronze automaton, which the efreet has just been using as a source of electricity.

Beneath the Sphinx: The tunnels within and beneath the Faceless Sphinx are now the stronghold of the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, although the hard work of driving out the maftets has mostly been done by a company of scorpion-man mercenaries hired by the cult before they moved in. Now the cultists painstakingly comb through the ruins, looking for the ancient secrets of Hakotep, while the scorpion-men keep an eye out for maftet raiders. The tunnels are vast and half-collapsed, and the cult is not even close to mapping them all, let alone searching and excavating them.

The scorpion-men are professionals, and believe in honouring their contracts: after all, their reputation is at stake. Ultimately, however, they're here for the money, not because they actually care about resurrecting Hakotep. They are willing to fight for the cultists, but have no intention of dying for them, and will abandon the cult if someone makes them a better offer.

The cultists themselves were mostly scholars and treasure-hunters until a few months ago. Their only real fighter, a man named Rathos, got hit by some awful curses while looting one of the shrines beneath the Sphinx: he's now a warped monster with stone arms and the head of a crocodile, who flings himself into battle in the hope of ending his horrible, agonised existence. The mind of their leader, a sorceress named Serethet, has been overwhelmed by the ib of Hakotep: she now wears a golden mask engraved with Hakotep's bearded face, and insists on being referred to as The Forgotten Pharaoh. Hakotep's preserved heart has imbued Serethet with a lot of magical energy, and it's really only her power that holds the cult together. Any PC who takes the heart will find the deathless will of Hakotep rapidly overwhelming their own, and even the most strong-willed of PCs is unlikely to be able to carry it for more than a few days before becoming its slave rather than its master.

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Many parts of the complex were turned into shrines by the maftets during their time here, and the cultists avoid these when possible. One such shrine is guarded by the animated corpse of a giant mummified crocodile. Another contains ancient undead horrors slumbering within sarcophagi, who burst out and attack anyone who gets too close: the cultists figured this out after the first one, and will try their best not to awaken any more, but anyone who wants to create a lot of indiscriminate chaos within the complex would just have to run past each sarcophagus and then out again. These undead are, in turn, powered by the unholy life-force of an even more ancient zombie queen bricked up in the walls. If all of them are destroyed then all her energy will return to her, and she'll kick down the wall and start murdering everything in sight.

In the extreme depths of the tunnels lies the tomb of Chisisek. The maftets know perfectly well where his tomb is, and would be willing to reveal it to the PCs in exchange for their aid against the cultists. The Cult currently don't know where it is, but if they remain in possession of the Sphinx then they'll find it eventually, and Serethet will start interrogating his ghost. His grave contains a wealth of ancient papyri describing the construction of the Bone Trenches, including instructions on how to activate its mechanism, and plans for the Sky Pyramid, including enough information on its original position to allow PCs to 'aim' the power of the Bone Trenches at it once they have gained control of the mechanism.

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The Bone Trenches: An immense network of ancient trenches dug into the earth, arranged so as to spell out enormous hieroglyphs when seen from above. They're in the desert, but not nearly as deep as the Faceless Sphinx, so their rough location is pretty well known. However, they're also well-known to be protected by horrible monsters, so most people leave them well alone. There's been some scholarly speculation about who could have built them, and why, but most people who go in for a closer look end up getting eaten by Dusk-Taker (see below).

When the trenches were built, dozens of air elementals were bound into obelisks within them. When activated, the collective power of these elementals would have been sufficient to drag down to earth whatever the great mechanism at the heart of the trenches was pointed at, up to and including a flying city. Today, many of the obelisks lie in rubble, and the system is operating at far below full power - but if the mechanism was turned on and pointed in the right direction, it still has enough energy to drag Hakotep's Sky Pyramid down to earth. The Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh are counting on this as their means of recovering Hakotep's body, although they don't currently know how to activate the mechanism. (This is why they're searching for Chisisek's tomb beneath the Faceless Sphinx - see above.) 

Hakotep had these trenches built in a hurry, driven by terror of the wizards of the flying city. Thousands of slave labourers were worked to death during their construction, and were buried wherever they fell: today their ancient bones litter the trenches, protruding from their shallow graves. The combination of thousands of angry ghosts haunting the trenches with dozens of half-bound elementals radiating magic into the air and soil has given rise to weird composite monsters that the cult call 'ossumentals': raging animated bone-storms that crash, howling, along the trenches, driven by a mixture of elemental energy and ancient grief. The continuous motion of these ossumentals endlessly sweeps the trenches, thus preventing them from being covered by the desert sands that would otherwise have choked them thousands of years ago. 

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An ossumental.

As if the ossumentals weren't enough, the trenches are also protected by Hakotep's unaging pet rocDusk-Taker, which still waits patiently for its master to return. As its name implies, the bird prefers to attack at dusk, swooping out of the sky to seize and devour anyone who comes too close to the trenches. However, if anyone approaches bearing Hakotep's heart (and thus possessed by his ib), or wearing his mask (and thus radiating his ka), it will leave them alone, confused by the appearance of someone who apparently both is and is not its long-absent master. 

The Mechanism: Buried beneath the heart of the trenches is the command centre, which houses the ancient mechanisms used to aim and 'fire' their collective power. The building has been sealed since the death of Hakotep, and is still guarded by animated statues, though anyone possessed by Hakotep's ib will know the command words to make these stand down. Without the notes from Chisisek's tomb, it would take months of patient study by a team of experts to work out how to activate this mechanism.

Besides killer statues and rusting machines, the command centre also contains a vault packed with small sealed jars that, if opened, each contain an odd-looking preserved insect floating in fluid. These 'insects' are, in fact, magically preserved thoughts pulled from the minds of Hakotep's subjects, which he stored here in case he needed them later: some contain moments of insight or understanding, while other house experiences of fear and trauma. Eating a bunch of the former will grant great wisdom and understanding, possibly allowing the working of the mechanism to be intuited in minutes rather than months. Eating lots of the latter will send you mad with horror. Whatever cataloging system once organised them was lost millennia ago. 

There is also an animated mummified spinosaurus down here. Because fuck you, that's why.

The Sky Pyramid: Hakotep's pyramid has been floating in orbit for thousands of years: a vast mass of weathered stone bristling with black iron rods that arc and crackle with electricity. It's very high up, making it effectively unreachable by any but the strongest flyers, but the Bone Trenches will be able to pull it down if aimed in the right direction. When it lands, its sheer weight is so great that it sinks several feet into the earth. 

Unlike most pyramids, which were built as tombs, Hakotep always intended his pyramid to be more of a flying death fortress. The loyalists who launched it into orbit mostly died of intense cold shortly afterwards, but enough of Hakotep's minions have survived intact to make the pyramid intensely dangerous to intruders. These include the following:
  • Bound lightning elementals. These mostly exist to power the lightning rods outside the pyramid, but in some places they have come somewhat loose from their magical moorings and now roam the halls.
  • Keshenepek, a horrible fish demon whom Hakotep summoned to act as his royal admiral. He's been stuck inside a frozen pool of water for thousands of years and is extremely eager to take out his accumulated frustrations on anyone who comes within range of his harpoon.
  • An arena containing dormant brass golems and bone golems, which will creak to life to attack anyone who sets foot within.
  • The tormented ghost of Princess Nailah, who was executed for attempting to depose Hakotep in a coup, and her six drowned handmaidens. She will attack anyone entering her chamber, but if the PCs manage to communicate with her then she will do everything she can to help them in destroying Hakotep and his legacy. She cannot leave her burial chamber, but the dripping, waterlogged corpses of her murdered handmaidens can.
  • The spirit of General Tarawet, the Hakotep loyalist who dragged her master's desecrated corpse into his throne room and activated the pyramid before freezing to death. Her ghost still roams the halls in her phantom chariot pulled by spectral steeds, attacking all who defy her beloved pharaoh. 
  • The undead body of Hakotep's wife, Queen Neferuset. In life she was a cultist of dark gods, and in death she has become something hideous and strange, crawling along the ceilings as she creeps from room to room. She has all sorts of horrible magic, and if killed she simply dissolves into a miasmic mist and starts reforming inside her canoptic jars. Only if the jars are destroyed can she be truly defeated.
  • The awful sorceress Kentekra, whose body is composed of thousands of skittering scarabs.
  • Rank upon rank of skeletons, mummies, and animated statues, still waiting for deployment orders that never came. They'll defend themselves if attacked directly, but will not otherwise act unless ordered to do so by the risen Hakotep.
Hakotep's Throne Room: The hallway leading to this room is decorated with images of people abasing themselves before Hakotep, or offering him great treasures. It is enchanted with spells that strike down all who approach with unbearable agony, unless they are holding out an item of great value as though in tribute, or crawling forwards on their hands and knees. The room itself is defended by a fearsome mummified sphinx. If General Tarawet has not been defeated already, then this is where she will make her last stand.

Hakotep's mummified corpse is still slumped on his golden throne, with an obvious hole where his heart should be. If his heart is returned, then his personality is reunited with his will and he essentially becomes an awesomely powerful ghost tethered to a vulnerable and inanimate body. If his mask is returned, then his personality is reunited with his vital spark and he becomes a raging undead powerhouse, crashing around the pyramid beating people to death with his ceremonial flail. If his heart and his mask are returned then he is restored to full unlife, sends out his minions to smash the mechanism keeping his pyramid earthbound, and flies off to start retaking his kingdom. 

Behind Hakotep's throne room lies his treasury, which contains enough gold, jewels, and ancient artifacts to make all the PCs very, very rich.

If the PCs do nothing: 
  • Five days after the ka pulse: The Silver Chain find Nebta-Khufre, assassinate him with the aid of Bheg, and take the Mask of Hakotep. The next day, Meret-Hetef will leave Wati with the mask, heading for the Faceless Sphinx.
  • Two weeks after the ka pulse: Meret-Hetef hands the mask over to Serethet, boosting her power and allowing her to finally drive the maftets from the tunnels beneath the Sphinx.
  • Five weeks after the ka pulse: Serethet finally finds the tomb of Chisisek.
  • Nine weeks after the ka pulse: Serethet leads the Cult into the Bone Trenches. Most of them die horribly, but she manages to activate the mechanism and call down the sky pyramid. Horribly wounded, she crawls inside, only to die a short way beyond the main entrance. 
  • Ten weeks after the ka pulse: Queen Neferuset finds Serethet's body, and carries the heart and mask back to her husband's corpse. Hakotep rises from the dead. The Reign of the Sky Pharaoh begins again.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Gaslight and Shadow: urban folklore of the mid-nineteenth century

All of these are authentic. Most are from Karl Bell's The Magical Imagination: Magic and Modernity in Urban England, though some come from other sources.

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Cutting crosses into the backs of your ears will protect you from harm. Unfortunately it's very difficult to know when they've healed up. Get your friends to check them every day.

The severed hand of a hanged man has healing properties. This is why the authorities always hand the corpses of executed criminals over to the doctors, rather than returning them to their families.

The Book of Murder is an evil book that describes how the poor can and should be murdered by poison gas in order to reduce the surplus population. (Its official title is On the Possibility of Limiting Populousness, but if you refer to 'the book of murder' everyone will know what you mean.) Its author, a wicked clergyman known only as Marcus, roams the country in secret, murdering the children of the very poor with the connivance of the authorities. His Malthusiast followers could be coming to a slum near you any day now, armed with official warrants and barrels of poison gas.

Lucky amulets affixed to the side of a stall or barrow will bring good fortune in business.

A drunken man with a torn umbrella is the very luckiest customer you can have first thing in the morning. Tear the umbrella yourself if you have to.

Graveyard soil and holy water can be used as all-purpose protections against bad luck and evil magic.

Dragon's blood (red guam) can be burned to ensure the faithfulness of an absent lover. If they betray you, then mix more dragon's blood with brass pins and urine and bury the resulting mixture inside a glass jar, and they are sure to come to harm.

Steel Jack is a monstrous ghost or demon who roams the city by night, wearing brass armour with clawed gauntlets. He can breathe fire, is impervious to bullets, and can take the shape of a bull or bear. He escapes by springing away over walls or rooftops once he has suitably terrified his victims, although sometimes he also pulls their hair out in bloody clumps or marks them with his horrible claws. Some speculate that he is actually a wicked aristocrat who is trying to scare people to death as part of a horrible wager with his equally wicked friends.

Books of Fate can be used to tell fortunes and predict lucky and unlucky days. If you can read at all then you should own one - and if you can't, then ask someone else to read one for you. Only an idiot would attempt anything important without first consulting their Book of Fate.

Cunning men and wise women can carry out divinations, cast spells to protect you against witchcraft, and help to locate stolen goods. Every community has at least one of them, and if you have been the victim of crime then they are much more trustworthy than the Detective Police, who are probably just looking for an excuse to have your family gassed by Marcus. Don't trust a cunning man who doesn't have a magic book, or a wise woman without a magic mirror.

A boggart seer can help to protect your community against boggarts and evil fairies. If your town has boggarts but no boggart seer then you're going to be in trouble. You might be able to borrow one from another town in an emergency.

Evil spirits can be driven out by an exorcism performed by a clergyman. If you're being troubled by evil spirits, demand an exorcism from your local vicar. If he objects, threaten to get one from a dissenting minister, instead. That usually brings them round.

White pigeons tapping on windows are an omen of death. Someone within the household will die soon.

Workhouses are always looking out for ways to kill the children entrusted to them, so that they can butcher their bodies and sell the meat for pies.

Innkeepers sometimes rig their beds with spring-loaded blades, allowing them to murder and rob lone travellers by night. Always check your bed when travelling alone.

Bread baked on Good Friday has healing powers.

Nunneries are simply used as brothels by the Catholic clergy, who murder the resulting infants and bury the bodies in the grounds. Never allow your daughter to enter a nunnery.

Doctors are infamous for viewing their poorer patients as opportunities to practise the latest surgical techniques, whether their surgeries are needed or not. If you value your internal organs then you should have as little to do with them as possible.

Resurrection Men are grave robbers who secretly dig up the bodies of the recently dead in order to sell them to medical students. When they can't find enough fresh corpses they abduct and drown the living, instead. Everyone knows that the medical schools don't ask any questions.

Mesmerists can heal both mind and body with their powers, but beware: some misuse their gifts to exploit, enslave, or sexually abuse their patients. Some cruel mesmerists even mesmerise their patients into believing that they are dead, or made of glass.

Captain Swing is coming to burn down Parliament any day now. The day of reckoning approaches. Be ready.

Folklorists are an extremely dangerous breed. They will listen to your ghost stories, and pretend to believe them, but as soon as your back is turned they will write them down and print them, and ghosts hate that more than anything. Never talk to a folklorist unless you want the wrath of the whole spirit world brought down upon you.

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Wednesday 24 July 2019

How Walter Scott almost invented RPGs 200 years early

I recently read Walter Scott's autobiography - an unfinished fragment that I found bundled in with my grandfather's edition of Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott. Scott's fiction isn't much read these days: he wrote in an age that considered length to be a virtue in novels, and modern readers often find his works maddeningly slow as a result. But his influence is hard to overstate, and even today, when most people think of 'the Crusades' or 'the Middle Ages', what they imagine is likely to owe at least as much to Scott's novels as to actual medieval history. Fantasy fiction, in particular, owes an enormous debt to Scott, and to the fictional world of knights and kings and barons that he first popularised two hundred years ago. (The basic line of inheritance runs Walter Scott -> George MacDonald -> William Morris -> Lewis and Tolkien -> everyone else.) I was thus intrigued to discover that, as well as laying the groundwork for the subsequent invention of fantasy fiction, Scott seems to have come surprisingly close to inventing the RPG.

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Scott as a young man, by Henry Raeburn.

Scott suffered a childhood illness that left him lame in one leg, excluding him from participation in the ordinary sports of the day. Instead, like many physically infirm boys before and since, he immersed himself in reading, especially in old stories of chivalric adventure. His best friend, John Irving, shared his passion for such stories. Here's how Scott describes their favourite pastime:

My greatest intimate, from the days of my school-tide, was Mr. John Irving, now a Writer to the Signet. We lived near each other, and by joint agreement were wont, each of us, to compose a romance for the other's amusement. These legends, in which the martial and the miraculous always predominated, we rehearsed to each other during our walks, which were usually directed to the most solitary spots about Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags. We naturally sought seclusion, for we were conscious no small degree of ridicule would have attended our amusement, if the nature of it had become known. Whole holidays were spent in this singular pastime, which continued for two or three years, and had, I believe, no small effect in directing the turn of my imagination to the chivalrous and romantic in poetry and prose.

This is essentially the same social context from which innumerable D&D campaigns were born two centuries later: nerdy, socially awkward teenage boys sneaking off to tell one another interminable stories of war and magic and adventure, taking turns as narrators, riffing off one another's ideas, and spending entire holidays developing the larger-than-life exploits of the imaginary heroes they created together, all while hiding from their peers from fear of ridicule. (Yeah, I know, D&D is cool now. But it certainly wasn't when I was a kid.) But it gets better: Scott's health worsened, and he spent several months stuck at home. Here's how he passed the time:

My only refuge was reading and playing at chess. To the romances and poetry, which I chiefly delighted in, I had always added the study of history, especially as connected with military events. I was encouraged in this latter study by a tolerable acquaintance with geography, and by the opportunities I had enjoyed while with Mr. MacFait to learn the meaning of the more ordinary terms of fortification. While, therefore, I lay in this dreary and silent solitude, I fell upon the resource of illustrating the battles I read of by the childish expedient of arranging shells, and seeds, and peebles [sic], so as to represent encountering armies. Diminutive cross-bows were contrived to mimic artillery, and with the assistance of a friendly carpenter I contrived to model a fortress, which, like that of Uncle Toby, represented whatever place happened to be uppermost in my imagination.
Just as Scott and Irving's story-telling sounds as though it was only a character sheet away from D&D, so Scott's re-enactment of historical battles on the floor of his own bedroom sounds as though it was only a few dice away from wargaming. The pieces were, quite literally, all there: he'd even been playing chess, itself a gamified representation of the clash between two armies. All it would have taken was for Irving to drop round one day for a visit, and for one of them to have the idea of using Scott's seed-and-pebble armies to reenact a battle from their shared stories rather than a battle from history, and for the other to glance at the nearby chess board and suggest making the battle a game rather than a predetermined narrative, and bam: fantasy RPGs and tabletop wargaming would both have been born in the 1780s.

But that's not what happened. Scott's health rallied, and his social skills improved, and he learned how to dress himself properly and stop being such a nerd all the time, and he ended up becoming a successful lawyer and novelist instead. The tiny crossbows and seashell armies and cooperative romance-writing were left behind - but not before they had instilled in him a fascination for tales of medieval adventure and daring-do that would lead him to write novels like Ivanhoe, The Monastery, and The Talisman. These novels became, in turn, the grandfathers of modern fantasy fiction, and thus the great-grandfathers of the modern fantasy RPG.

What I found most interesting about these anecdotes was their familiarity. It's hardly a surprise to discover that bookish, socially awkward, and physically infirm teenage boys have always gravitated towards fantasies of power and magic and violence, and towards idealised figures of masculine heroism with extremely strict honour codes: that was as true of Scott in the 1780s as it was of me in the 1990s, and doubtless for all the same reasons. But until I read this autobiography I would have guessed that the specific form taken by these fantasies - the knights and castles and wizards and whatnot - were more historically local, a matter of grabbing onto whatever available cultural bric-a-brac happened to fit the specifications. I was thus somewhat surprised to discover that the causality actually ran the other way around, and modern adventure stories about knights and wizards were first popularised by a man who did so because he fell in love with them during his own days as a nerdy teenager in search of escapist fantasy.

It couldn't have happened any earlier, within a cultural context in which the institutions of feudal chivalry was still held in deadly earnest: that culture first had to wax, and wane, and fall away, and become available for re-discovery and re-appropriation as a fantasy rather than a reality. Scott was a child of the Gothic revival, not of actual medieval Gothic culture. But Scott's autobiography suggests that once it was possible, at least part of its appeal stemmed from the fact that it was what we might now call 'gameable': much more easily adapted than, say, Classical mythology to improvised co-operative storytelling, or to refighting battles on your bedroom floor. And the much-remarked-upon dominance of medieval fantasy in RPGs and computer games - the fact that forms that could theoretically do anything keep gravitating back towards the same imaginative landscape of knights and wizards and castles that Scott half-excavated and half-created two hundred years ago - may have something to do with the fact that it was a landscape that was created for something very close to gaming in the first place.

I mean, tell me this doesn't sound like a scene from a D&D scenario:

"Lo, Warrior! now, the cross of red 
Points to the grave of the mighty dead; 
Within it burns a wonderous light, 
To chase the spirits that love the night: 
The lamp shall burn unquenchably, 
Until the eternal doom shall be.' 
Slow moved the Monk to the broad flag-stone, 
Which the bloody cross was traced upon: 
He pointed to a secret nook; 
A bar from thence the warrior took; 
And the Monk made a sign with his withered hand, 
The grave's huge portal to expand. 

With beating heart, to the task he went; 
His sinewy frame o'er the grave-stone bent; 
With bar of iron heaved amain, 
Till the toil-drops fell from his brows like rain. 
It was by dint of passing strength, 
That he moved the massy stone at length. 
I would you had been there to see 
How the light broke forth so gloriously; 
Streamed upward to the chancel roof, 
And through the galleries far aloof! 
No earthly flame blazed e'er so bright: 
It shone like heaven's own blessed light; 
And, issuing from the tomb, 
Shewed the Monk's cowl, and visage pale; 
Danced on the dark-brow'd Warrior's mail, 
And kissed his waving plume. 

Before their eyes the wizard lay, 
As if he had not been dead a day; 
His hoary beard in silver roll'd, 
He seemed some seventy winter old; 
A palmer's amice wrapped him round, 
With a wrought Spanish baldric bound, 
Like a pilgrim from beyond the sea; 
His left hand held his Book of Might; 
A silver cross was in his right; 
The lamp was placed beside his knee: 
High and majestic was his look, 
At which the fellest fiends had shook; 
And all unruffled was his face-- 
They trusted his soul had gotten grace. 

Monday 1 July 2019

Evil, be thou my good: the cult of the Wicked King

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Decades have passed since anyone anyone last saw him, and yet his face is everywhere. His statues loom on every corner. His tower blocks out the sun. His soldiers plunder you. His ministers lie to you. His secret police spy on you. His tyranny is in the air and the earth and the water. It hovers, unseen, between person and person, ruining and infecting everything, withholding you even from those whom you most yearn to love. It poisons you and it sickens you, reducing you to a mockery of the person you could have been. It deforms your personality. It withers up you soul. It breaks your heart.

He has not been officially deified. In the city's gilded temples, hireling priests offer up thanks to heaven each morning and evening for being allowed to live under a ruler so wise, so holy, so enlightened - but while they pray for him, for his health and his longevity and the continuation of his rule, they do not pray to him. Officially, he is no more and no less than the very best of mortal kings.

He has not been officially deified - but people pray to him anyway, just as one might pray to any other evil spirit of the land. Spare me, they whisper, before they sleep. Spare me just one more night. Spare my parents. Spare my children. Take my neighbours, if you must take someone. I will make you a bargain. I will make you an offering. I will be loud in my praise of your wisdom. I will burn sweet incense at your statue's foot. I will inform on the old woman for her seditious gossip at sundown. Only spare me, O king, O destroyer. Only spare me yet another day.

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In the streets, superstitions about the Wicked King grow like weeds, and the people regard his agents less as members of mortal institutions than as a race of folk devils to be evaded through luck and guile. If you eat while standing in the shadow of his tower, they say, the secret police will come for you within a fortnight. Scatter rice from a third-story window and the wrath of the King will be averted. Whisper the name of your worst enemy three times while facing the tower at midnight, and the secret police will come and take them away - unless they've hung a polished brass mirror on their door, in which case they'll come for you instead. Faced with the apparently random predations of the city's government, such petty rituals help the people to feel that they wield at least some measure of control over their own destiny. And who is to say that there is not some truth behind some of them? No-one, after all, really knows what it is that watches the city through the eyes of the king's statue network, or upon what principle his minions decide which luckless souls will be dragged away, wailing, into the night.

So the people pray to the king. They make offerings to him. Some of them even maintain sad little shrines to him in the darkened corners of their homes. But a few go further. In the dark of the night, they slink out and abase themselves before his statues. They croon songs of worship into their cold ears of stone. They sprinkle the dust around their feet with the warm blood of sacrifices. They join the cult of the Wicked King.

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The cult has existed for decades, now, ever since the people of the city began to grope around for some explanation of what had happened to them. In its most popular form, it teaches that the king is a kind of prophet, whose actions must be understood as coded or symbolic teachings. His power and immortality are signs of his semi-divine nature. His destruction of the city's name, his withdrawal from the sight of the people, and his refusal to proclaim his own divine status are understood as acts of negative mysticism, designed to encode the truth that real power and identity are to be found not in the outward world of appearances, but in some secret and numinous realm beyond them, hidden as the king himself is hidden, immortal as he is immortal. Some cultists think that his cruelty is a sign that the moral law is a lie, too. Others believe that he is punishing the city for its sins. Others still maintain that the body is the soul's prison, and that unleashing a gang of masked murderers to brutalise his people is the king's rather roundabout way of teaching them not to place too much value on physical things.

But these are rationalisations, and the true reasons that people are drawn to the cult of the Wicked King are the reasons that people are always drawn to power. Ambition: if I sacrifice enough to the king then he is sure to bring about my promotion. Desperation: if I pray hard enough to the king then maybe the secret police will bring my sister back. Justification: I'm not just a cruel and selfish person! I'm following the secret teachings of the king! And, perhaps most commonly of all, sheer exhausted frustration. Faced with the endless opacity of the city's government bureaucracy, the transparent injustice of its laws, the arbitrary depredations of its security services, and the spiritual inadequacy of its state religion, it it understandable that many people become desperate for even the illusion of having a hotline to the top.

The cult of the Wicked King is something of a wild card in ATWC. It's extremely disorganised and decentralised: a shifting web of solitary practitioners, semi-formal congregations, and splinter groups following individual teachers and interpreters of its makeshift theology. Doctrines vary widely from one cult member to the next: all that they really have in common is the belief that the Wicked King really does want his people to worship him and will reward them for it, despite the claims of the Ministry of Religion to the contrary. (Indeed, some of them see the Ministry of Religion as an actively malevolent force, keeping the truth from the people for evil reasons of their own.) They exist in something of a legal limbo, discouraged but not technically illegal: and the secret police, in particular, tend to regard the cult's activities with something resembling indulgence, a fact which discourages the other branches of the city's government from attempting to crack down on them too harshly.

The informal patron of the cult is Alisher the Just, the current Minister of the Heavens, who is himself a secret cultist of the Wicked King. Leading teachers of the cult's esoteric doctrines sometimes find themselves summoned for discreet meetings with the minister, who believes that proper worship of the king will help accelerate his personal advancement, and doesn't care how many human sacrifices he has to preside over in order to bring this about. PCs who oppose the Wicked King could easily find themselves targeted by vigilante cultists eager to win his favour by defeating them. But crafty PCs might also be able to turn the cult's beliefs to their own advantage, especially as it includes many people who would be willing to risk their lives for a chance to meet the king face to face.

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To see who leads the local cultists, roll 1d20:

  1. Broken-hearted old man furtively burning offerings in front of a statue at midnight in the hope of getting his children back.
  2. Psychotic serial killer using the 'need' to offer human sacrifices to the king as an excuse for murders he would totally have carried out anyway. 
  3. Ambitious young member of a local merchant house, who attributes his recent run of good fortune in business to the favour of the Wicked King. 
  4. Anxious band of low-level bureaucrats praying for promotions and the horrible deaths of their managers. 
  5. Wild-eyed conspiracy theorist determined to reveal the truths that the Ministry of Religion is deliberately concealing.
  6. Ageing debauchee who has seized upon the doctrines of the cult as 'proof' that nothing is true and everything is permitted. 
  7. Opium-addled visionary so lost in speculation that he has managed to convince himself (and his followers) that right is wrong, freedom is slavery, and war is peace.
  8. Loyal retainer from one of the Cobweb families, trying to win the favour of the king for his masters, and bring down his wrath upon their rivals.
  9. Small-time gangster who regards the cult and its practises purely as a form of practical street magic, and is entirely indifferent to their spiritual or political content.
  10. Eccentric clockworker convinced that the city's government is deliberately refusing to recognise the value of her inventions, and that the king would acknowledge her genius at once if only she could get his attention.
  11. Twitchy teenage street kid. Her adventurous older brother set out years ago on a do-or-die mission to discover what was really at the top of the king's tower. She still hopes against hope that he made it, and is now living some kind of life of splendour with the Wicked King himself. 
  12. Profoundly damaged Murder Harlot who joined the cult semi-ironically years ago, and has long since lost track of which parts of its doctrine she does or doesn't 'really' believe.
  13. Secret revolutionary who infiltrated the cult on behalf of the Red Brotherhood and ended up rising to become its local leader.
  14. Semi-secret neighbourhood congregation who believe that regular worship of the king helps to avert the attentions of the secret police.
  15. Member of a Labyrinth Doctrine mystery cult, who regards the Wicked King as an ascended and enlightened figure, and creeps up out of the Maze by night to participate in his worship.
  16. Self-proclaimed prophet, deranged but charismatic, who sees the king's face in her nightly nightmare-visions and now seeks to share her incoherent revelations with the world.
  17. Steel Aspirant convinced that only the Wicked King knows where the Cogwheel Sage is really hiding.
  18. Fantatical ascetic, consumed with self-hatred, who insists that the king's tyranny constitutes a form of divine collective punishment upon a city that richly deserves it.
  19. Master mason who has spent his entire working life maintaining and repairing the statue network, and is now convinced that the statues are whispering to him when no-one else is looking.
  20. Air Corps gyrocopter pilot who has flown close to the top of the King's Tower on several occasions, and is convinced that she heard someone in there screaming for help. She has concluded that the king is being held prisoner by his own government, and is plotting a daring rescue mission, for which she is certain that the grateful king will reward her lavishly.
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Friday 28 June 2019

Team Tsathogga campaign map

Somebody asked for the map I used in the Team Tsathogga game. The actual map is stupidly enormous, and is full of stuff that would just be meaningless clutter to anyone except me: but I've produced a cut-down and simplified map that shows the areas actually visited during the course of the campaign, plus the regions around them. Here it is.

A partial explanation of sources, moving roughly from north to south:
  • The Black Isle started out as a riff on Naggaroth from WFRP, but ended up morphing into its own thing. Sea dragons and viking vampire cultists and a religion kludged together from the diaspora of a diaspora. 
  • Vathak is a heavily-altered, massively-condensed version of the continent of the same name from Shadows Over Vathak.
  • The northern ice wastes are a combination of stuff from the Pathfinder adventure The Hungry Storm, the crowdsourced hexcrawl the Kraalthis post from Goblin Punch, and... some other blog post that I can't currently find, which had all this great stuff about a haunted frozen city destroyed by ice-storms called down by the slaves of its rulers, mixed in with plenty of original material. 
  • The Stonemoors were mostly based on the ancient Baltic, but a lot of the things in them were actually inspired by a few questlines and bits of background art in a crappy browser game I briefly played years ago. Funny how things stick with you sometimes.
  • The Grey Uplands were mostly based on a zone from the original Sacred computer game.
  • The Caves of Purple Lightning are, of course, based on this post from Goblin Punch.
  • Ungol is a modified version of Kislev from WFRP 2nd edition.
  • Vornheim is, of course, based on Vornheim. Deathfrost Mountain is from Death Frost Doom. The Haunted Highlands are based on the DB series of adventures for Castles and Crusades. The ruined monastery is the one from Horror on the Hill.
  • The Plateau of Yeth was based on Minotaurs of the Black Hills from Raging Swan Press, but soon developed into its own thing, with a little help from Scrap and Patrick's reimagining of the Derro in Veins of the Earth.
  • Vulture Crag, and the vulture-men in general, are from this Elfmaids and Octopi post. The Pools of Life were mostly based on Dwimmermount. The Pit of Oom is from Petty Gods.
  • The Cold Marshes are a combination of elements from lots of different sources, but the Marsh Giants are pretty directly from Pathfinder, and the Witchwood of the Ghost Drummers was mostly inspired by the Grunnheim zone in Torchlight 2.
  • I think the Owlmen were inspired by something from Valley of the Hawks by Frog God Games?
  • The Cave Dwarves, the Bear Clans, and the Ursine Dunes are all based on things from Slumbering Ursine Dunes. The Isle of the Eld is, obviously, from Misty Isles of the Eld. 
  • The Relic City-States started out as a riff on some obscure background material from Runescape, of all things, combined with the Scavenger Lands from Exalted first edition. They swiftly became their own thing, though.
  • The Plaguelands are mostly based on Ina'oth from Shadows Over Vathak, though the Two Towers are from Towers Two, and the forests north of them were the ones from Sky Ov Crimson Flame.
  • The Red Legion - the descendants of the terror-legions of a long-dead demonologist, now the protectors of their people but still wearing their ancestral demon-armour, trying to defend their lands from the undead raised by the necromantic rival of their now-vanished master - grew out of some concepts from the first Spellforce computer game.
  • The Yellow Land and the Autocrat's Scar are from The Dread Machine by Gus L.
  • The Isle of Xaxus is the one from The Idea From Space.
  • Azlant is complicated.
  • The Purple Islands are based on The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, albeit very extensively rewritten. 
  • The island of the cyclopses was inspired by the Pathfinder adventure module Island of Empty Eyes.
  • Zaozerye is based on the medieval Slavic kingdoms. Observatory Lake and its surrounds are from Deep Carbon Observatory. The Tyrant's Maze is loosely based on some bits from Maze of the Blue Medusa. Stonehell, obviously, is from Stonehell.
  • Reval was mostly based on medieval Italy. Bright Meadows and its attendant underworld are very loosely based on Liberation of the Demon-Slayer.  The Caves of Transformation were based on Madness of the Rat King.
  • The Forest of Ruin is inspired by The Dreams of Ruin. 
  • I think I found the Boar Folk in some OSR bestiary or other?
  • Harrowvale is a mash-up of the town from The Haunting of Harrowvale with a few other similar 'spooky little town' settings/adventures. The Cult of Llegh were inspired by the cult of the same name in Petty Gods.
  • Ingria was based on early modern Germany. The Order of the Divine Surgeon was a riff on the gloriously obscure and over-complicated backstory of the Order of Leitbur from the earliest years of Magic: the Gathering. 
  • The Old City is based on 'The City' from Dungeon of Signs, albeit quite a bit smaller.
  • Korvosa and Scarwall are mostly from Curse of the Crimson Throne and Curse of the Lady's Light, though Dunnsmouth is from Scenic Dunnsmouth and the Stone Fleet is from Dungeon of Signs.
  • Gilan was loosely modelled on the medieval Caucasus Mountains. Aram was sort-of based on medieval Iran. The bat-folk were based on the ones from Elfmaids and Octopi. The House of the Beast is from the Pathfinder adventure of the same name.
  • The Thug Bugs are from Fire on the Velvet Horizon. The Blue Cities were inspired by a line in Mutant Crawl Classics. The City of Rot is a mash-up of Skavenblight, the subterranean regions of Ravnica, and The City by James Herbert and Ian Miller.
  • Lata was based on northern India and Afghanistan. The Queenscult were from Goblin Punch, but with the Elizabethan aesthetics swapped out for Indian ones. The Land of the Lost is based on World of the Lost, but in an Indian rather than West African context.
  • The Shiv and the Forest of Spirits are based on the Pathfinder adventures Souls for the Smuggler's Shiv and Forest of Spirits, respectively. 
  • Hule is, of course, from X5 Temple of Death.
  • Qelong is from Qelong.
  • The Jungles of Midnight combine elements from Tomb of Annihilation, the Divine Wight material from Dungeon of Signs, and the Pathfinder adventure path Serpent's Skull. 
  • Torth is from Revelry in Torth. The Dune Folk were from Exalted. The Shrine of the Eremites was inspired by a monster from the Teratic Tome. 
  • The Scrap Clans are based on material from the Pathfinder adventure path Iron Gods. The ghoul-queen was originally inspired by the one from Petty Gods, but eventually developed into something very different.
  • The City of the Four Voices is based on material from Carcosa.
Not shown here: the island kingdoms of the west and the Lost Lands of the east. They're part of the same world, but I'm saving them for future campaigns.

Thursday 20 June 2019

A brief history of British literature in Warhammer armies

This is all Solomon VK's fault. In a comment on my previous post he challenged me to imagine Warhammer armies for three British authors - Belloc, Waugh, and Greene - and now I can't stop doing it. So now you all get to suffer the consequences.

The Medievals: Geoffrey Chaucer plays a Bretonnian army heavy on peasants. Thomas Mallory also plays Bretonnians, but his army is mostly knights, and he spends a lot of time trying to reconcile different versions of the game's lore. The Gawain poet plays a weird Bretonnian - Wood Elf allied army which he insists is rules-legal in some edition or other. William Langland plays dwarves, who he says are much better than humans because they're harder workers. The Beowulf poet plays Space Wolves, but it's OK because he only plays 40K first edition, and back then the rules and armies were Warhammer compatible. The whole group sometimes organises tournaments with their rivals, the Welsh Bards, who mostly play armies of Wood Elves and Beastmen and place a premium on freakish and spectacular conversions.

The Renaissance: Phillip Sidney plays Empire. Edmund Spenser plays Empire too, but squanders all his points on knightly orders and High Elf allies, and had to be banned from trying to include a 40K Necron in his Warhammer army list. Shakespeare prefers historical wargaming, with Imperial Rome and the War of the Roses as his favourite periods, but he's got a pretty good Dogs of War army going on the side. Thomas Middleton plays ludicrously murder-happy Dark Elves. John Webster plays Undead.

The Seventeenth Century: Rochester plays Slaanesh. John Donne used to play Slaanesh as well, but then got really serious and switched to Dark Angels. George Herbert has an Ecclesiarchy army. George Etherege has an army of beautifully-dressed High Elves. Herrick collects Halflings. John Aubrey mostly just writes anecdote-heavy blog posts about the good old days of first edition.

John Milton has two collections - Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines. He claims that the Space Marines are his 'real' army and the Chaos Marines are just there to give them someone to fight against, but it's obvious that the Chaos Marines have been painted with vastly greater skill and care than their loyalist counterparts.

The Augustans: Jonathan Swift plays Orcs, carefully converted to look like caricatures of various political figures. John Gay plays Skaven with a heavy emphasis on gutter runners. John Dryden and Alexander Pope only play historical games set during the Classical era: Pope used to play fantasy as well, but ragequit after one too many dwarf jokes. Henry Fielding plays Empire. Thomas Grey plays Halflings. Horace Walpole plays Undead.

The Romantics: Jane Austen has a custom Imperial Guard army, with dashing red uniforms and far too many officers. Mary Wollstonecraft plays Sisters of Battle. William Wordsworth used to play Wood Elves but switched to Imperial Guard after the war started. William Blake plays Chaos Daemons, and sculpts all his own miniatures. Walter Scott used to play Undead, but then switched to historicals, and now spends most of his time obsessively refighting the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge keeps buying new armies and then changing his mind about who he wants to play, leaving behind a couple of half-painted figures and a stack of unassembled models. Percy Shelley plays Slaanesh, and keeps writing interminable blog posts about why they're actually the real good guys. John Keats plays Eldar aspect warriors. Lord Byron plays Vampire Counts. Thomas De Quincey plays Chaos Undivided.

The Early Victorians: Elizabeth Barrett Browning plays Sisters of Silence. Robert Browning plays Dogs of War. Christina Rossetti plays Sisters of Battle, but maintains a secret collection of painstakingly converted goblins and beastmen. Charles Dickens plays Goblins and Skaven, because he can paint twice as fast as anyone else and thus has time to maintain two collections. Alfred Tennyson plays Stormcast Eternals. Lewis Carroll plays Tzeench.

Ann Brontë plays High Elves. Emily Brontë plays Dark Elves. Charlotte Brontë plays Wood Elves. Bramwell Brontë used to play Vampire Counts, but sold all his models on ebay to buy more gin.

The Late Victorians: Thomas Hardy plays Imperial Guard. Algernon Swinburne plays a Dark Eldar army heavy on sexy dominatrices with whips, and makes everyone a bit uncomfortable with just how into it he is. Bram Stoker plays Vampire Counts. M.R. James plays Nighthaunts. Lionel Johnson plays Dark Angels (obviously). Oscar Wilde plays Eldar Harlequins.

The Modernists: Virginia Woolf plays Tzeench. W.B. Yeats plays Wood Elves. Henry James plays High Elves. D.H. Lawrence plays Beastmen.

Ezra Pound plays Space Marines, and obviously loves the Imperium for all the wrong reasons. T.S. Eliot also plays Space Marines, but he always loses on purpose in order to make some kind of obscure moral point.

Friday 14 June 2019

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: d100 encounters with onrushing modernity

'We have fallen upon strange times', wrote Dickens in 1839, 'and live in days of constant shifting and changes.'

Most fantasy worlds get by without ever really changing, apart from the odd cataclysm every couple of thousand years. It's all just kings and guys with swords, forever and ever and ever. Even if steampunk or clockpunk technology does exist, it's usually as a known quantity, something that's been around for long enough to be thoroughly integrated into the fabric of society.

My current interest in the 1830s and 1840s emerges from their status as crisis decades, in which everything was changing very fast, and no-one really knew how to cope with it. They worked it out in the end, of course, for better and for worse. But for a couple of decades there, everyone from the paupers to the prime ministers were totally making everything up as they went along.

Here's an Elfmaids and Octopi-style d100 encounter table suitable for any rapidly-industrialising city, mostly based on things that really happened in Britain between 1830 and 1850. Environments like this are full of rich pickings for chancers and opportunists. Your PCs should do just fine.

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  1. First meeting of newly-founded learned association. Members are arriving from all over the country: they've been in correspondence for years, but most have never met each other face to face. Rich pickings for impostors.
  2. Labour dispute. Workers on strike outside newly-built factory. Industrialist haranguing them from a balcony, threatening to import starving labourers to replace them. No-one on either side knows how far to push their luck.
  3. Secret nocturnal trade union meeting. New members swear terrible oaths of loyalty amid flaming torches and grim icons of death and revolution. 
  4. Creaking carriages importing new machinery for use in manufactures. Working men look on balefully and mutter darkly about the consequences.
  5. Luddite riot. Unemployed and starving workers on the rampage, disguised with masks, blackened faces, and/or women's clothing, trying to smash as many machines as they can in order to raise the demand for labour.
  6. Enclosure act. Common lands are being fenced off and parcelled out to private owners in order to raise agricultural productivity. Local smallholders watch the fences rise with a mixture of anger and despair. 
  7. Monster meeting. Huge crowds of people assembled in fields to hear speeches by popular orators, rousing them to action. Armed yeomanry look on nervously and finger their sabres.
  8. Ragged band of rural labourers, deprived of their land by the enclosure acts, stumbling resentfully towards the city to join the ranks of the industrial proletariat.
  9. New police force splendid in shiny new uniforms, marching the streets with truncheons in hand, ready to keep the scum in line.
  10. Old police force, obsolete but not yet disbanded, shivering in their old watch-houses and predicting ruin to the state.
  11. Clandestine meeting of criminals thrown into panic by the operations of the new police force. All suspect one another of being police informers.
  12. Detective from newly-formed police detective unit following a trail of clues relating to a recent murder.
  13. Crowd gathered around a body that has recently washed ashore, with a gash on its head and bricks shoved into its pockets.
  14. Public execution by hanging. Swells watching from nearby windows through opera glasses. Pickpockets working crowds. 
  15. Quarantined city district hit by exotic new disease from foreign parts, now filled with death and misery.
  16. Land torn open for construction of exiting new sewer network, miles of tunnels being constructed, an entire subterranean world being born beneath the city streets.
  17. Gangs of sweating navvies cutting the way for a canal or railway, demolishing everything in their path.
  18. Furious legal dispute between railway proprietor and a property owner whose inconveniently-placed house is blocking the path of progress. Pickaxe-wielding navvies look on menacingly.
  19. Crowd of speculators trying to work out exactly how long to back the current railway boom for.
  20. Wild-eyed men roving the streets, selling shares in mostly-imaginary railway companies.
  21. Clanking parade of convicts stumbling off for transportation to the colonies.
  22. Band of escaped convicts returned illegally from transportation, furtive and terrified of being recognised.
  23. Band of government inspectors scornfully criticising an old prison, where chained prisoners languish in chaos and darkness and filth.
  24. Band of government inspectors rapturously praising a new prison, where masked prisoners are kept in total silence and solitude.
  25. Coach-load of hopelessly crazed inmates being transported from new prison to local asylum.
  26. Travelling mesmerist attracts crowds with his amazing displays of mind control and mesmeric healing.
  27. Ragged street preacher howls predictions of national woe to a receptive crowd.
  28. Gigantic new asylum under construction. Lead engineer fretting over the spiralling costs. Lead doctor worried that there still might not be enough beds.
  29. Drunken gentry out on the town, smashing lamps and beating up policemen.
  30. Team of mechanics installing new gas lighting on the streets.
  31. Shivering part-time prostitutes, ashamed but desperate, nervously propositioning passers-by.
  32. Sweatshop tailors, diseased and naked, one coat between ten, working frantically to fulfil the latest order for military uniforms.
  33. Huge new gin palace, just opened, all flaring gas lamps and shining mirrors, an instant hit with the locals.
  34. Impromptu penny theatre performing blood-and-thunder melodramas to a delighted crowd of small children. 
  35. Travelling freak show advertises dwarves, giants, and human skeletons.
  36. Grave robbers stealthily excavating the grave of a recently deceased freak on a special commission from a local doctor.
  37. Sauntering dandies with perfumed curls and exquisite swallow-tail coats, serenely ignoring the clamouring debt-collectors who pursue them from street to street.
  38. Wretched beggars wave amputated limbs, telling miserable tales of industrial accidents.
  39. Train-load of blood-spitting consumptives setting off to convalesce at the seaside. 
  40. Street stricken by strange new water-bourne diseases, probably nothing to do with the new factory that just opened upstream.
  41. Band of ex-officials, holders of ancient civic offices just dissolved by modernising government decree, sit around mournfully in their obsolete regalia, swapping tales of the epic civic banquets of the past.
  42. Popular novelist mobbed by admirers, all trying to persuade her to include their brilliant idea in her latest story.
  43. Cabmen competing to drive their fares the fastest, hurtling recklessly through the streets, people scattering in panic before them.
  44. Steamship of day-trippers setting off downriver with hampers of sandwiches and bottled ale, band playing on-deck, queasy passengers vomiting copiously over the sides. 
  45. Firework display over illuminated pleasure gardens by night. Lots of furtive assignations in the bushes.
  46. Crowds gathering to watch hot air balloon race between rival aerialists. 
  47. Recently-returned explorer delivering a public lecture, telling blood-curdling tales of his adventures among the savages.
  48. Recruiting sergeant looking out for likely lads to join the regiment, handing out drinks freely and telling mouth-watering stories about all the food and loot and women that a young soldier can get his hands on overseas. 
  49. Soldiers setting out for distant colonial war, resplendent in their shiny new uniforms.
  50. Soldiers returning from distant colonial war, sunburned and traumatised and ravaged by tropical diseases, twitching nervously at loud noises and looking around for something to kill out of force of habit.
  51. Celebrity criminal being carried to the gallows, surrounded by adoring crowds begging for locks of hair and straining to hear their last words.
  52. Menagerie of exotic animals, caged and miserable, on display to paying customers.
  53. Panic - an elephant, driven mad in captivity, has burst its bars and is now on the rampage. A band of men waving muskets follow in hot pursuit.
  54. In a low tavern, thieves plot a break-in on a nearby warehouse.
  55. Street vendor selling penny books with lurid woodcut illustrations to semi-literature customers.
  56. Newsboys hawk newspapers full of verbatim witness testimony from the latest aristocratic sex scandal. 
  57. 'Lion-hunting' society hostess on the lookout for celebrities to invite to her next soiree. She's got no-one lined up for next week yet and is getting frantic.
  58. The 'black guard': soot-covered street children, drunken and half-feral, roaming the street in mobs.
  59. A meeting between rival benevolent societies to discuss the best means of distributing charitable relief to the poor. The mood is growing less benevolent by the minute.
  60. Crowds mobbing a doctor's coach attempting to carry a man to the asylum, while the patient within screams that he is sane and being carried off against his will.
  61. Band of city traders on shooting excursion to the countryside, nervously eyeing their shotguns and hoping they don't shoot each other by accident.
  62. Seconds making secret preparations for a duel on an isolated patch of wasteland, checking the pistols, waiting for the surgeon, and keeping an eye out for the police. The principals will arrive any minute, horribly hung-over and desperately regretting their drunken challenges the previous night.
  63. Opium eaters stumbling around in a blissed-out haze, smiling meaninglessly at everyone.
  64. Meeting of a band of armchair detectives, determined to solve the latest crimes described in the daily newspapers.
  65. A man being dragged off to a debtor's prison while bailiffs carry off the furniture and possessions from his home, to be sold at auction. His wife and children sit, stunned with misery, in the street outside.
  66. A local election. Both candidates have spent lavishly on free beer for the electors, and everyone permitted to vote is now very, very drunk. Agents of one candidate are now circulating with the aim of tricking the befuddled voters into voting for the wrong man, or, failing that, of drinking themselves into unconsciousness and thus not being able to vote at all.
  67. Chimney-sweeps adorned with green branches, dancing and begging money for beer. 
  68. Bands of emigrants dragging their meagre possessions down to the docks, hoping to try their luck elsewhere. 
  69. A group of literary reviewers sit in the corner of a pub, whispering like conspirators, plotting how best to destroy a writer they have taken a dislike to in their review of her next book. 
  70. A group of actual conspirators sit in another corner, making grand but impractical plans for uprisings, rebellions, and assassinations.
  71. A hired carriage rolls by, on its way to present a grand petition to parliament. Watching crowds, sullen and mutinous, mutter about rioting if their demands are not met.
  72. Screaming match in the streets between legislators beholden to the agricultural and industrial interests. Each faction accused the other of bringing utter ruin to the nation. The mood is tense and a crowd is gathering fast.
  73. Huge new church under construction to spiritually regenerate the working classes. Already looms over the entire district like an omen of doom and the spire's still only half finished. The locals are terrified of it.
  74. Grand opening of new museum to display the treasures of empire, houses sacred art looted from five different continents, rumours of curses and hauntings probably nothing to worry about. 
  75. Scientific expedition just returned from distant shores, now being unloaded by crews of porters, disgorging an apparently endless stream of pickled marvels and monsters from its hold.
  76. Ambitious young doctor seeks volunteers for his latest experiments in surgery and anaesthesia, promises they're only sometimes mostly fatal and his technique is improving all the time.
  77. Band of ragged paupers seriously discussing whether they should spend the winter in the workhouse, or whether they'd be better off getting drunk and breaking some windows in the hope of getting sent to prison instead.
  78. Tombs of the famous dead being systematically broken open under the supervision of a noted phrenologist, who has received permission to carry out a comparative scientific study of their skulls.
  79. Travelling lecturer in chemistry amazes his audience with displays of electricity, explosions, blue flames, and similar wonders.
  80. Band of postmen from newly-instituted postage system roaming the city, attempting heroically to match the directions on the letters with the completely unsystematic geography of the city itself, which has never been mapped and lacks any agreed-upon system of street names or house numbers.
  81. Factory in a state of great upheaval, with everything being cleaned and all the most obviously sick and crippled workers being shoved out of sight in preparation for the first visit of a newly-formed government inspectorate on a fact-finding mission.
  82. Reclaimed drunkards addressing a temperance meeting with lurid stories of their previous debasement. Lots of hymn-singing and tea-drinking. Gangs of drunken roughs jeer and heckle from the sidelines.
  83. Grand opening of chapel founded by new religious movement. Much impassioned preaching, prophesying, and speaking in tongues. Fevered speculation among the faithful regarding the miraculous powers supposedly possessed by the sect's founder. Dark rumours that a plot is afoot to have her committed as a lunatic.
  84. Coachload of miserable children, unwanted or illegitimate, being carried off to a distant boarding school where they can be safely forgotten about. The more desperate among them are planning an escape.
  85. Gang of criminals planning to sabotage the new electric telegraph system, on the grounds that crime will be impossible once news of a crime can travel faster than the criminal who commits it.
  86. Giant new intercontinental steamship lying in drydock, in preparation for epoch-making intercontinental voyage. Lounging spectators make bets on how far it will get before sinking.
  87. Ashen-faced bankers stumbling from the exchange. There has been a crash, and ruin now awaits them and all who have banked with them unless some desperate expedient can be found. 
  88. Stage production of the life and death of a famous celebrity criminal, watched each night with rapt attention by a huge and adoring crowd, to the consternation of the authorities.
  89. Circle of spiritualists advertise weekly communions with the spirits of the dead, with much table-turning, spirit-rapping, apportation, and masses of ectoplasm. A glowering sceptic seeks volunteers to help him unmask their surely-fraudulent activities.
  90. Self-proclaimed genius preening himself in a salon, surrounded by female admirers, holding forth at length on how all true art must be produced without any consideration of profit or commerce. He writes a book a year for the popular press, the most recent of which came out last month and is already a bestseller. 
  91. Half-mad demagogue stirring up a crowd. He claims to be a nobleman deprived of his rightful heritage, who will lead the people to reclaim their rights and bring about a new age of justice. He's clearly a little unhinged, but there are plenty of people around who are desperate enough to listen.
  92. Formal but increasingly heated debate between two cliques of political economists about how best to reform the taxation system to reflect the realities of the new economy. Some important people are in the audience and the stakes are getting worryingly high.
  93. Swindler mercilessly fleecing middle-class snobs at a party by making spurious claims about his aristocratic connections. Some of the sharper ones suspect they're being played but don't have enough to prove anything... yet.
  94. Famous engineer surveying the city, making plans for grand new bridges, tunnels, streets, squares, embankments...
  95. Rookery of slums endlessly subdivided into smaller and smaller apartments, linked by an incomprehensible warren of back-alleys, a breeding-ground of filth, crime, and disease. 
  96. Surgeon holding public demonstration of 'bio-galvanic energy' by running electrical currents through the corpses of executed criminals in front of a paying audience. There is no way this can go wrong. 
  97. Street brawl between local workers and recent immigrants, who are widely blamed for pushing down the price of labour by inconsiderately being desperate enough to work for starvation wages.
  98. A dazzling display of the latest visual technologies: magic lantern shows, stage apparitions, transparencies, panoramas, and mechanical theatres. Some particularly gruesome ghost projections are sending small children into hysterics. 
  99. Well-meaning philosopher wearily explaining to a hostile crowd that giving charity to the poor is actively harmful, as it holds down the price of labour by preserving the surplus population.
  100. Girlish young queen on her way to her own coronation, watched by a sceptical crowd of loafing sandwich-eaters convinced that she'll never amount to anything and will be swiftly forgotten.
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