Getting Back to my Roots

Although most of my writing is in the horror genre, my first breakthrough publication as an author was in the roleplaying games industry. In fact, I owe a debt of gratitude to roleplaying games, and to the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) fan community, for helping me get where I am today.

I first picked up polyhedral dice in 1984. It was summertime, I was living in North Bay, and my friend Clinton had bought the pink box edition of D&D. I knew nothing about it beyond the cartoon that I watched on Saturday mornings, and of course the anti-D&D hysteria (which I thought was a load of crap even then) but the dice looked cool and the idea of playing make-believe with imaginary characters complete with stats, treasure, and the prospect of UNLIMITED POWER appealed to my 10-year-old self. I didn’t last long in “The Keep on the Borderlands”, but I’d been bitten by the bug and kept playing, on and off, for the next ten years. I went on to play many roleplaying systems, but D&D remained my favourite.

By the mid-90s I was in university. The original D&D game had been discontinued by TSR, and I no longer bought gaming products because nothing really appealed to me. So I ran a campaign using what I had, and figured I would just keep on playing until my books fell apart. Then I discovered the Internet, and the online fan communities – and that’s when I started writing. I hadn’t met anyone in Ottawa who was interested in my version of D&D, but there were tons of people in Italy, Brazil, Australia, the US, and other parts of Canada who were devoted fans. I got to know them, and before long we were collaborating on online writing projects to expand the campaign settings we loved so much, but which were no longer receiving official support. Years passed, our writing improved and we published our work online in fanzines, and I daresay we eventually were writing adventures and gaming sourcebooks that were of the same calibre as what we once bought in gaming shops. Such is the power of devoted, mature fans.

Somewhere along the line I looked at the sheer mass of what I had written, and thought, “Why couldn’t I make a serious go at this?” So I studied the small presses in the roleplaying markets, realised that adventure modules were sought after, and began hunting for opportunities. I made my first sale – The Secret of the Callair Hills – to Expeditious Retreat Press in 2010. That first professional sale gave me the confidence to keep going. Solstice Publishing bought my novella “The Tunnelers” in 2011, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Although I became less active in the gaming community as I devoted more time and energy into writing short fiction, I never forgot my roots. I still wrote occasionally for fanzines, ran my own D&D campaign (still going strong), and ran D&D games at local conventions. A second gaming module – To End the Rising – was published in 2013.

And now Expeditious Retreat Press has bought the rights to a third module – “The Crocodile’s Tear” – which I ran as a playtest at a local gaming con this Spring. I was thrilled to receive the news, and I can’t wait to see the cover art. It’s an adventure solidly in the style of Indiana Jones – recovering a treasure from an exotic locale, complete with traps, ancient menaces, and a curse. There is an immense satisfaction with writing and running an adventure module and seeing how engrossed the players get into the storyline – it’s a kind of connection that fiction can’t achieve, in my view.

And it’s why I doubt I’ll ever abandon my gaming roots, regardless of how far I go as a writer.

My Ad Astra Schedule!

As promised, I am posting my scheduled panels at Ad Astra, Toronto’s premier speculative fiction convention, which runs from April 10-12!  Hope to see you there.


Saturday, April 11

Spicing up your Game Setting

Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Room: Oakridge

Panelling with: Chris A. Jackson, James Alan Gardner

Jungles, deserts and tundras, oh my! from tribal wanderers to megacities and more! Panelists discuss how you can step away from the monoenvironmental, the monocultural, the monoboring and make your setting varied, alive and deeply interesting.

From The Tabletop To The Side Table

Time: 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Room: Whitchurch

Panelling with: Chris A. Jackson

From Books to TV Shows and Movies, tabletop roleplaying has been a subtile guiding hand for many story, setting and character inspirations. And in some cases, not so subtle. Panelists discuss the process of taking a tabletop game or characters and set pieces and translating it to a different medium for an audience rather than active participants.

The Shadow Over Lovecraft

Time: 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Room: Markham B

Panelling with: JD DeLuzio, Nancy Kilpatrick, Simon McNeil

Modern horror fiction inspired or derived from H.P. Lovecraft. What influence has his fiction had? What makes Lovecraftian fiction work? The best and worst texts, both in literature and films. Why all the odd pop culture appearances? Is he really that great? And how do we handle his xenophobia and racism, and the modern-day controversy it has generated?

Saturday, April 12

Reading with fellow Ottawa-area author Marie Bilodeau!

Time: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Room: Whitchurch

My CAN-CON Schedule!

It’s been a very busy several months for a variety of reasons, and I have lots of great updates to share.  But all in good time….

In the meantime, I am posting my schedule for CAN-CON, Ottawa’s own science fiction and speculative fiction convention. If you haven’t been, I strongly suggest you go – we have an excellent program lined up and there is sure to be something for everyone.

Here are the panels I will be participating in…

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3

  • 7:00 PM: “Be It Resolved: Stop Writing Novels – Write Short Fiction” – The Live Debate!
  • 9:00 PM: “RPGs: How the Industry Has Changed, Open Gaming Licenses, and Breaking In”

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4

  • 6:00 PM: “Organic Readings with Gratuitous Punctuation” – I am reading from my short story, The Old Boys Club (which appears in Imaginarium 2013, which should be available at the ChiZine Table)
  • 7:00 PM: “Email Spam: Can a Narrative be Created?”

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 5

  • 12:00 PM: “Guardians of the Galaxy – The Phenomenon”

What’s Old is New Again

Artistic expression – any kind – is a form of discovery in my view. Whatever the medium, you give life to ideas and set them free through the creative process, and in so doing you can learn a bit about yourself. Depending on the circumstances you can also experience a form of discovery by revisiting, and rethinking, something you created a long time ago in order to create something new.

Case in point: The next issue of Threshold Magazine (#3), a publication by and for fans of the Mystara campaign setting for the D&D game, will feature an article I wrote several years ago about an exotic (and highly dangerous) island that players could visit – and possibly even return from. I was a very prolific member of the Mystara writing community at the time it was first written, and many of my works centred on the Lovecraft-inspired Outer Beings, which I had just begun to develop. I was also a more exuberant writer then and explored many ideas in quick one-offs, such as the article in question, that I rarely revisited. Given my current writing interests, this seemed to be the perfect piece to explore.

A regular feature of Threshold Magazine is that it combs through the extensive Vaults of Pandius (the nexus and main archive for the Mystara community) to shine some light on older works that people may have overlooked, or forgotten. The original author is then invited to revisit their old work to expand on it, comment on it, and so on. So, when the theme for issue 3 was being discussed, I proposed my article for possible inclusion, and received the green light. I then hopped into my TARDIS and got to work.

Working with my younger self has been an interesting challenge. While he was full of ideas, he didn’t flesh them out to the extent that I would today (“I wish you’d expanded on that a bit more,” I told myself a number of times), and his approach to incorporating Lovecraftian elements into D&D tended more towards action-oriented pulp than dark fantasy. However, he was also more likely to run with a random idea and see where it went than I, accustomed as I am now to thinking about how an editor or publisher will react to something I write. He also had energy to burn, if the sheer amount of material he released to the community during that time is anything to go by. We turned out to be a pretty good team, in the end – even though there were a few “what was I thinking?!?” moments.

Despite the occasional frustration, I did achieve what I had set out to do. I revisited an old project and updated it in a way that suits my present tastes – thanks to my deeper knowledge of writing that my younger self lacked, and to advances in technology (digital hex maps are much easier to create now than they were when I first wrote the article). Revisiting my old work was like reuniting with an old friend, but while it was enjoyable it was also good to return to the present, and look towards the future.

Now *THAT’S* a Character Sketch!

Sharon (roryseviltwin on Deviant Art) has made the art I commissioned public. It was very exciting working with her to make Megane the Dark real, in full, living colour. She is exactly as I imagined she would be – you can check out the description here.

Sharon is wonderful to work with, and I highly recommend her. I will definitely be going back to her for future commissions. Check out her Deviant Art gallery!

Bringing Characters to Life

I’m enjoying a bit of time off during the holiday season, but in the meantime I’m sharing a small piece of some art I commissioned. One of the characters for my blog series on cultists was created with the help of one of my friends, and the end result was so interesting that I thought it should be brought to life.

Working with the artist was a very positive experience, and she was able to create a realistic drawing of the character based only on the text from my blog post, plus a few follow-up questions. Here is a small piece of the final product – I will share the link when the artist formally posts it on her Deviant Art profile.

 photo ball_zpsb791c2e1.jpg

Death and Destruction from the Deeps: More Followers of the Forbidden for your Campaign

The seventh, and final, installment of my series on memorable cultists to pit against your players will present a couple of worshippers of Ubbeth, the Outer Being whose domain is the watery deeps.  An overview of Ubbeth and His aims, as well as those of the other six major Outer Beings, can be found in a cosmology I wrote, which is available on Bruce Heard’s blog.

As with the other parts of this series, everything written here is set in the campaign setting known as “Mystara” in the year AC 1000.  Readers are, of course, welcome to modify the material to suit their own campaigns.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
(image courtesy of Bruce Heard)

DEMETRIOS, APOSTLE OF DAGOS

Background:  Demetrios Sistovaris was born in the village of Klasomenai, on the fringes of Kastelian-controlled territory, in AC 946.  Most of the inhabitants of his village made their livelihoods from the sea, and his family was no exception.  He could swim before he could walk, and by the time he could run he was already helping his father bring in his catches.  Klasomenai had always been blessed with plentiful fish compared to its nearest neighbours, due (according to the faithful) to the reverence of most of its people for their chosen patron, Dagos (otherwise known as Ubbeth).  The other inhabitants of the region, although jealous of Klaomenai’s good fortune, shun its folk due to the prevalence of their strange deformities, which seem to grow progressively worse with age.

None of this had any meaning for Demetrios throughout his childhood, as neither he nor anyone he knew had any contact with outsiders, and thus the progressive changes that affected most of the locals seemed normal to him.  On his 18th birthday Demetrios, along with all the other youths born on the same day as he, was rowed to a reef offshore and instructed to watch the waves for one day and night.  This he did, and in the dark of night a massive, scaled, tentacled creature rose from the waves and descended upon the cluster of youths who cowered on the reef.  After regarding each one, it grabbed Demetrios and tossed him about like a rag doll before dropping him in the water, and then sank out of sight.  The surviving youths (several had died of fright) were rowed back to the village the next day, but everyone gaped in awe at the mass of barbed sucker marks that covered Demetrios’s body.  The village priest disrobed at the sight, revealing his own markings.  Demetrios became apprenticed to the priest, and replaced him when the man died the following year.

Demetrios, as the priest of Klasomenai, soon began instructing the people to expand the temple to Dagos, and to venture farther out to sea for greater catches and to attack lone vessels belonging to other communities (and to bring any surviving crew to him for sacrifice).  Fish catches have grown under his watch, and more children are now surviving infancy; although some of the deformities that used to strike villagers in their later years are now starting to show up among the very young.  The minority of villagers who venerate other Immortals, such as Protius, have come under increasing pressure to convert, or leave.  Even though Demetrios governs the village on all matters spiritual, he also has a great deal of influence over the village elders, and hardly anything happens here without his permission.

Appearance:  Demetrios is fairly short (5’4”/162 cm) and has a stocky build (150 lbs/68 kg).  Like most of the people from this part of Davania, he has a light olive complexion, but much of his skin has a rough, sand-papery look, and is marred by purplish, saucer-sized sucker marks.  Webbing is growing between his fingers and toes, and long, deep wrinkles on each side of his neck mark where gills will emerge when his transformation is complete.  His dark brown eyes seem to bulge from their sockets, and he rarely blinks.  He has lost much of his dark brown, curly hair, and his now-exposed scalp has a decidedly scaly texture.  Normally Demetrios wears the voluminous sea-green robes of his faith, but on religious festivals he has begun the practice of wading naked into the sea to perform his rites.

Statistics:

Demetrios Sistovaris (18th level cleric of Ubbeth):  STR 12, INT 15, WIS 16, DEX 15, CON 13, CHA 6.  Hit Points:  61.  Armour Class:  8.   Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:  Ceremony – Ubbeth (WIS+2), Leadership (CHA+2), Nature Lore – Jungle (INT), Navigation (INT+1), Persuasion (CHA), Sailing (INT+1), Swimming (DEX), Outer Being Lore (13).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rules, Demetrios is “Master” in the trident.  Languages Known:  Milenian (Kastelian dialect) + 1 free slot.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Demetrios has access to the full list of cleric spells.

Special Equipment:  Trident of Ubbeth (see below)

Personality:  Demetrios is an egotistical despot who views Klasomenai as his personal fiefdom, and his fellow villagers as his subjects.  The fact that word of his belligerent stance towards outsiders, and accounts of his less reputable acts (as told by people forced to leave the village), will eventually reach the nominal authorities in Kastelios does not cross his mind.  He is confident that Ubbeth will watch over him, just as the Outer Being has watched over the faithful of his village for centuries, and should any outsiders try to crush him, they will be destroyed.

Demetrios is convinced that his mission in life is to turn Klasomenai into a holy site dedicated to Ubbeth.  To that end, he takes great joy in crushing the other faiths, and in reciting the ancient rituals that are accelerating the transformation of the villagers into semi-aquatic hybrid beasts.  Thus, he sees himself as Ubbeth’s personal champion, and has given himself a grandiose title to match.  In fact, Demetrios is so taken by his own perceived importance that he has begun to refer to himself in the third person, and has demanded that others do the same.  Almost everyone else in Klasomenai is too cowed to dispute his claim, and many of those who have expressed discontent have disappeared.

Roleplaying Notes: Although Demetrios is in many ways a small fish, he is in a rather tiny pond, so his influence in the region is actually considerable.  He could easily become a problem for local shipping if he becomes more organised, and as his followers venture farther from Klasomenai in search of sacrificial victims his shadow will grow.  Eventually the authorities in the city-state of Kastelios, which claims the region for itself, will need to step in and do something about Demetrios.  The player characters would be natural candidates for such a mission.

Should the player characters wish to purge Klasomenai of Ubbeth’s influence, they will have a long, but possibly highly rewarding, quest ahead of them.  They will have to learn about Ubbeth, His methods, and how He came to influence the village.  They will also need to learn how to neutralise Demetrios and eliminate him before Ubbeth realises that one of His champions is being attacked.

NICOLA THE RED-HANDED

Background:  Nicola Robbards was born in Minrothad in AC 968, to a merchant sailing family that had been living on both sides of the law for generations.  When times were good the Robbards family was reputed to be canny in business, but when their fortunes fell they turned their talents towards piracy.  The family avoided trouble for the most part by attacking foreign shipping, but Nicola’s father was the youngest of four, and knew he would never inherit.  He made piracy his vocation, and his only child learned from one of the best.  By the time Nicola was 16, she was commanding her own small sailing ship and raiding smaller cargo vessels.  She acquired her nickname from a particularly nasty duel with a ship captain.

Nicola’s first big score happened when she was 18.  Her ship, a two-masted schooner named the Zephyr, attacked two cargo ships en route to Thyatis from the southern continent of Davania.  She had the element of surprise and managed to cripple both ships before any serious manoeuvring could take place.  She and her crew pillaged both vessels and left their surviving crews to fend for themselves on the high seas.  The Thyatians had been transporting spices and other choice commodities (such as coffee) that would fetch high prices in Minrothad and Darokin, but one crate contained strange gold jewellery decorated with marine motifs that did not seem to have been made for humans to wear.  Her crew wanted to sell the jewellery to the first merchant they came across for some quick cash, but Nicola overruled them.  She had occasionally visited the more reputable, mercantile branch of the family as a child (the Robbards family sticks together), and knew enough about art to realise that the cargo they held would be worth far more to a collector.

Using her connections, Nicola tracked down a collector in Athenos, who paid a handsome sum.  Nicola was ambushed by a band of robed assailants that night, and taken to a swampy island in the Malpheggi Swamp.  There, her captors interrogated her about how she obtained the jewellery (which their cult used for religious purposes).  Since she had proven her usefulness in retrieving something of value to them, the cultists offered her a choice:  death, or eternal service to Ubbeth, their master.  Thinking the whole thing was a farce, Nicola pledged her allegiance to the Outer Being, but after a portion of His essence was implanted in her she realised what she had done.  Now she is bound to Him, and is compelled through dream messages to do His bidding.  However, she did not bend fully to Ubbeth’s will, and always looks for ways in which to reinterpret His wishes in ways that benefit her, or which actually harm the Outer Being’s plans.

Nicola plies the Sea of Dread and the Western Sea of Dawn on her ship, the Presumptuous, and regularly attacks Thyatian and Minrothaddan shipping – although she will not attack any vessels flying the banners of the Robbards family (in fact, she occasionally escorts her cousins on particularly risky runs).  Although she has a hideout in the Thanegioth Archipelago where she keeps her second ship (the Audacious), Nicola can often be found in the rougher parts of the Minrothaddan capital, Harbortown.

Appearance:  Nicola stands 5’8” tall (172 cm) and has a solid, muscular build (160 lbs./72 kg).  She has a tanned and weathered complexion from a life at sea, and her arms are a mass of black tattoos that resemble tangled squiggles interspersed with marine life.  She keeps her hair (dyed bluish-black with squid ink) short in the back, but long enough in front to conceal her eye patch (Ubbeth’s transformative influence had begun with her eye, which she plucked out – it seems to have stopped for now).  Her remaining eye is a deep emerald green.  Nicola is a practical woman; she wears a linen shirt and trousers, low boots, and a leather vest – finery would just get in the way.  Her one concession to piratical stereotypes are her rings – each finger has at least one

Statistics:

Nicola Robbards (10th level cleric of Ubbeth):  STR 17, INT 14, WIS 11, DEX 16, CON 15, CHA 12.  Hit Points:  54.  Armour Class:  5.   Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:  Bargaining (INT), Ceremony – Ubbeth (WIS), Drinking (CON), Intimidation (STR), Navigation (INT+1), Persuasion (CHA), Sailing (INT+1), Swimming (DEX), Outer Being Lore (2).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rules, Nicola is “Expert” in the short sword.  Languages Known:  Thyatian (Minrothad dialect), Makai.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Nicola has access to the full list of cleric spells.

Special Equipment:  Short sword +1, +3 versus servitors of the Outer Beings.

Personality:  Although Nicola is an unpredictable, dangerous pirate who occasionally consorts with outer powers for personal gain, she has not (yet) descended into inhumanity.  Her crew is her surrogate family, and although she is indisputably the captain and will not tolerate any insubordination, she will go to the wall for those who serve her well.  She also follows a code of honour, of sorts:  She always keeps her word (unless the other person has ever wronged her), she will not (unless provoked or instructed otherwise) abuse a prisoner, and she will give quarter to a vanquished opponent who fought with courage.

Nicola is someone who thrives on living life on the edge.  The greater the risk, or the greater the chance of being caught, the better.  She does not believe in laws or structures of any kind, and resents attempts by other people to constrain her activities; although she will accept offers of help – so long as the help is given on her terms.  Nicola is also very impulsive, and will set sail anywhere if the promise of loot and glory is great enough.

Nicola’s feelings about serving Ubbeth are complicated.  She knows that He is a very unpleasant, very powerful being who would destroy most of the world if He could.  She also knows that He would sacrifice her to advance His plans without a second thought.  The few times Nicola communicated with Ubbeth left her feeling disgusted afterwards – so much so that she chooses to interpret His dream messages in a way that suits her interests best.  At times, she has even hindered Ubbeth’s plans.  Yet she also revels in the power that He provides her.  To Nicola, playing Ubbeth’s game while using His power for her own purposes is living life on the ultimate knife edge.  Her crew has no idea where she gets her strange powers, and so long as the loot continues to pour in and she treats them well they will not care.  Thus, every additional day of life is something to be celebrated with wild abandon.

Whenever Nicola is in a port, she spends the bulk of her money on her ship and what is left on personal entertainment.  She is as aggressive and impulsive in her personal life as she is on the high seas, and does not care at all what other people think.  She does not believe in saving or planning – she always seems to hear a rumour about a juicy cargo vessel at just the right time (she chooses not to speculate as to whether Ubbeth is behind that or not).  Focusing on the fun aspects of life also distracts her from the unpleasantness that lies at its core.

Roleplaying Notes:  Player characters may run into her at a bar, spend half the night gambling and drinking with her, and walk away with emptier pockets and a smile.  Or they might wake up on the deck of her ship, sailing to parts unknown, not knowing that she had drugged their drinks because she needed a few tough-looking individuals for a job, and no one was volunteering.

Because Nicola’s ultimate loyalty is to herself, she can be an ally or a foe depending on how the player characters react to her.  It is unlikely that the source of her magical power will be immediately apparent, so if and when it does become revealed the party could have a difficult decision to make if they have come to know her.  Do they confront Nicola as a follower of the Outer Beings because Ubbeth provides her with spells, or do they consider that she has only used those powers for personal gain, and not to further her master’s goals?  Regardless of their views on the matter, Ubbeth will eventually become aware of Nicola’s activities and He will not be pleased.

NEW ITEMS

Trident of Ubbeth:  This trident is encrusted with barnacles, dried seaweed, and coral-like growths which sprout tiny white fronds that constantly wave about – even when there is no breeze.  No matter how long it is out of the water, it is always damp to the touch and none of the living creatures that have colonised its length ever die.  Anyone who wields the trident instantly becomes known to Ubbeth if they are within sight of a body of water – even a river is sufficient.  This weapon also always smells strongly of the sea, no matter how much one tries to clean it.

If used as a weapon, the trident functions as a trident +3; however, anyone stabbed with it in combat must make a save vs. Poison.  If the save fails the victim not only takes damage, they are also “injected” with polyps from the coral-like growths on the trident.  These polyps react with the victim’s bloodstream and begin growing.  The victim will begin to feel listless six hours after being injected (-3 to Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution), and after another 12 hours will become so weak that they will be unable to move.  Coral growths begin erupting from the victim’s flesh soon afterwards, inflicting 1d6 damage per turn until death.  Not long afterwards the victim’s corpse is transformed into a vaguely person-shaped coral formation.  The disease can be halted by a cure disease spell.

The trident also grants the wielder the following abilities:

  • The ability to speak with marine animals (as per the spell speak with animals) five times per day.
  • The ability to breathe underwater (as per a ring of waterbreathing).
  • A reaction bonus of +3 when dealing with any of Ubbeth’s followers.

NOT QUITE A FINAL WORD

Although this series has run its course, I will be revisiting the Outer Beings and their interactions with Mystara over the coming months.  I will flesh out the magic used by the cultists I have been describing, and I will expand on what Bruce Heard and I developed on his blog – including providing more detail on the accursed city of Orzafeth.  I will also (because one can never have too many villains in their campaign) flesh out more followers of the Outer Beings.  The sky is really the limit, but I would be very interested in hearing what you would like to see.

So in closing (for now), I would like to send special thanks to Bruce Heard, Nicole Lavigne, and Megan Fulton for their unique roles in making this series happen.  You know what you did.  I owe you all.

Evil from the Dawn of Time: Some Inhuman Villains for Your Campaigns

The sixth installment of my series detailling some followers of the vaguely Lovecraftian cosmic entities known as the Outer Beings looks at a pair of worshippers of Rosheg-Kha, who is otherwise known as “She Who Provides” and “The Father of Lizards”. Readers interested in learning more about the Outer Beings are invited to visit Bruce Heard’s blog, where I wrote a cosmology for them (scroll to the bottom).

Although everything written here is set in the campaign setting known as “Mystara” in the year AC 1000, readers are welcome to modify the material to suit their own campaigns.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
(image courtesy of Bruce Heard)

SLIZZESH (SLEE-zesh), VOICE OF THE MOTHER

Background:
Slizzesh is a member of the Folkurat (“Shadow Hill”) tribe of lizard men, who live in the southern fringes of the Malpheggi Swamp, near Athenos. His tribe venerates Rosheg-Kha as a mother figure, and have given Her the name “Bringer-Forth of the Egg”. The Folkurat have always been an aggressive, expansionist tribe, but have historically been hemmed in by a loose coalition of rival tribes who tend to follow Ka or Protius. Slizzesh was steeped in the mythology of his tribe, and became a warrior once he reached adulthood. A hot-tempered representative of his species, he quickly acquired a reputation for being exceptionally brutal in combat. He became a celebrated warrior of the tribe, and earned the chieftain’s favour.

During the annual Festival of Renewal, during which the tribe’s eggs are laid and the tribal shaman performs auguries to determine fortunes for the coming year, Slizzesh was told that there were portents that indicated he was to undertake a great quest, and that he would have to venture into the deepest part of the swamp to learn what he must do. Naturally he could not refuse, and departed immediately. Slizzesh’s journey was arduous, and he was frequently beset by deadly foes – both living and dead. Finally, he reached a portion of the swamp where the mire was especially deep, but from which great carved stone blocks emerged. He immediately received a vision of himself meditating on one of these blocks.

Slizzesh sat for a week, constantly emptying his mind and imploring Rosheg-Kha to give him a sign. He received a vision of himself discovering a doorway in one of the blocks, which revealed a crumbling staircase leading down into a warren of half-flooded tunnels of dressed stone, which led him to a vaulted chamber whose walls were covered with fetid moss. A circular platform, on which rested a stone chest, rose from the muck. In that moment Slizzesh awoke to find himself in the chamber, on the verge of opening the chest. Knowing that he had been guided by Rosheg-Kha, he opened it, and was immediately attacked, and possessed, by the spirit that had been trapped within – Aron, the High Priest of Ardannon. A great mental battle ensued, but the fierce lizard man’s spirit was no match for a devious priest who had spent more than a thousand years plotting his revenge.

Slizzesh returned to his tribe weeks later, bearing a strange spear (the Royal Sceptre of Meruvar – see below) and proclaiming himself to be the Voice of the Mother. The shaman left the tribe immediately, and never returned. Since that time, Slizzesh has become chief in all but name, and has been guiding the tribe to become even more aggressive, to organise itself more, and become more settled.

Appearance: Slizzesh stands 6’5” (196 cm) tall and has a powerful build (270 lbs./122 kg). His body is covered with light green and dark yellow scales in a stripe pattern, and old scars cover his arms and back. His voice is sibilant, yet possesses a warmth and authoritativeness that compels most listeners to pay attention. When he speaks to others, his orange eyes hold their gaze with a penetrating stare. He walks with a stately, measured grace.

When he was still a warrior Slizzesh wore numerous pieces of jewellery taken from fallen foes, and he wore three necklaces of teeth (one tooth taken per kill) and took great umbrage if anyone threatened to touch his treasures. Now, however, he walks about undecorated.

Statistics:

Slizzesh (9th level shaman of Rosheg-Kha): STR 16, INT 16, WIS 14, DEX 15, CON 18, CHA 10. Hit Points: 62. Armour Class: 6. Alignment: Chaotic.

Skills: Alchemy (INT+1), Arcane Lore (INT), Ceremony – Rosheg-Kha (WIS), Ceremony – Yurrgh-Thal (WIS), Etiquette – Meruvar (CHA+1), Knowledge – Eraeda (INT), Knowledge – Meruvar (INT), Knowledge – Molharran (INT), Nature Lore (INT+1), Outer Being Lore (14), Survival – Jungle (INT), Survival – Swamp (INT+1). If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rules, Slizzesh is “Expert” in the spear. Languages Known: Eraedan, Hemkalss, Nithian (see DM note).

Special Abilities: Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’. Slizzesh has access to the full list of shaman spells.

Special Equipment:
Royal Sceptre of Meruvar (see below).

Personality: Before becoming possessed by the departed spirit of Aron, the High Priest of Ardannon, Slizzesh was a crafty, but thuggish, lizard man. He delighted in demonstrating his physical prowess and his ferocity in battle, but was not above using trickery to gain an advantage over his enemies. However, his reputation all but assured that any criticisms directed against him were made very quietly, and behind his back. Slizzesh also took great delight in looting the corpses of his fallen foes for trophies, and displayed them proudly for all to see. He was especially fond of teeth.

Since his transformation, Slizzesh has become more subdued – at least on the surface. He no longer boasts about his abilities or challenges rivals (real or imagined) to feats of strength and skill to prove his dominance. He has also rid himself of all of his grisly trophies, and instead walks sedately about his tribe’s territory with no adornment whatsoever. He speaks calmly, and urges restraint when passions arise. In every sense Slizzesh has become the authoritative, yet nurturing, parental figure for his tribe – in short, Rosheg-Kha made flesh.

The calmer, gentler Slizzesh is but a guise. Inside, however, the spirit of Aron writhes with barely suppressed rage and impatience. He remembers clearly the power he once wielded, and the potential his lost realm once possessed. He had dreamed of being found by an ambitious, greedy human, whom he could twist to rebuild Meruvar under the glory of the Outer Beings. Instead, he is housed inside a brute of a lizard man whose tribe has no concept of civilisation. Focusing on the long view, Aron is quietly tutoring the tribe by showing them their potential and guiding them to become stronger by being more civilised. In so doing, Aron is slowly lifting the tribe out of savagery, and he dreams of one day using them to build Ardannon anew. It is a long-term goal, but Aron can convinced himself (with great difficulty) that he can bide his time for a few more years given how long he was imprisoned.

Aron has completely buried Slizzesh’s personality. Once he has determined that the tribe can acquit itself well in larger battles, he will drop all pretence of gentleness and drive the tribe mercilessly to overwhelm and enslave its neighbours in order to build his city. Once that is done, he will reign openly as himself, and turn that portion of the Malpheggi Swamp into a locus of power for the Outer Beings.

Roleplaying Notes: Slizzesh is the kind of villain that hearkens back to the action-packed pulp classics of the 1930s – the evil high priest in a savage land who possesses a dark secret. The player characters can be openly heroic in countering his plots, and while his strength is considerable a plot arc involving him can have a slightly lighter tone if the DM and players want it to.

Also, depending on the role lizard men play in the campaign (as a savage race or possibly as a degenerate remnant of a once-mighty civilisation), defeating Slizzesh could serve another purpose – eliminating a corrupting influence on lizard men.

DM NOTE:

By virtue of the fact that Slizzesh is possessed by Aron, he has considerable knowledge of people and places that have long since vanished. This is reflected in Slizzesh’s knowledge skills, which cover the vanished lands of Eraeda, Molharran, and Meruvar.

Eraeda covered the lands between the Streel River and the western edge of the Alfheim, from the region just south of what is now Corunglain to the lands near the town of Wrasseldown. Its people were fair-skinned folk of Neathar descent who organised themselves into largely self-sufficient petty city-states. These people formed the root stock of what would become the Darokinians – Ansel Darokin was an Eraedan chieftain.

Molharran lay to the west of Eraeda, and occupied a roughly triangular-shaped territory stretching from the Streel River to the shores of Lake Amsorak. It was a centralised kingdom ruled by the House of Kareth, whose capital city of Elstarath (Elstrich) was once one of the largest settlements on the entire Streel Plain. Although related to the people of Eraeda, the Molharraners had mixed with indigenous peoples thought to have been fey. They were known for being slight of build, with very pale skin and dark hair. Molharran collapsed before the rise of Thyatis, but a relic population still exists in the town of Elstrich, as well as the valleys to the north known as the Elstrich Vale.

Meruvar occupied the northern half of what is now the Malpheggi Swamp and lands immediately to the east, plus a stretch of hill country along the Molharraner frontier. Its people were closely related to the Molharraners, but had mixed with the folk of the city-state of Athenos. They were of a slightly darker complexion, and had embraced the Athenosian deity known as Yuranos (Yurrgh-Thal) as their own. Meruvar soon came into conflict with Molharran, and the former’s worship of the Outer Being was sufficient justification to mount a series of bloody crusades, which, although successful, bled Molharran dry (which ultimately hastened the kingdom’s demise). The Molharraners did, however, manage to raze the Meruvari capital of Ardannon, which soon faded from memory – until it was rediscovered many centuries later by Slizzesh.

More information is available from the following timeline, written by Aaron Nowack with my input.

“Eraedan” was spoken by the people of Molharran, Meruvar, and Eraeda. This was Aron’s native language; although he spoke the Meruvari dialect. Eraedan has long since been replaced by Thyatian as the common language of the region, and very little remains of it in the modern era, beyond a few relic words spoken by countryfolk.

Likewise, although the Nithian Empire had been recently erased by the Immortals, in Aron’s time there were still a few scholars who retained some knowledge of that nation and its language. Aron was one of those.

CONSTANTIN PETRIU

Background: Constantin Petriu, the youngest of three boys, was born in the hamlet of Stregoicavar in AC 967. Stregoicavar is located on the fringes of the Blight Swamp, just outside the Black Eagle Barony, and its inhabitants make their living through woodcutting and subsistence agriculture. Never a particularly sturdy or athletic child, Constantin was tormented by his peers and spent much of his time sulking in the woods or on the fringes of the swamp. He developed a deep appreciation for nature – especially the frogs, salamanders, and snakes he discovered on the murky margins of the Blight Swamp. They fascinated him because they lacked the combativeness and frenetic natures that people – and all mammals by extension – seemed to exhibit, and which he found unappealing by associating such behaviour with the actions of his peers. As time passed, Constantin sought out reptiles more and more, and soon developed a deep knowledge of their habits.

Constantin was well on his way to becoming a social outcast when, at the age of 20, he was attacked during a raid staged by bandits employed by the Black Eagle, Baron Ludwig von Hendriks. Although many residents of Stregoicavar were injured, Constantin’s lack of physical prowess made him especially vulnerable. The lion’s share of the few resources available to heal the injured were given to those who fought hardest against the enemy; Constantin received nothing, and was told that the people could not help those who would not help them. He did not see how his self-imposed isolation (merited or not) had effectively resulted in his own exile. Constantin left Stregoicavar as soon as he was able, and moved to the capital city of Specularum, where, he hoped, he could start over.

During his time in Specularum he worked in a succession of jobs – his antisocial nature did not ingratiate him to his employers. He returned home thoroughly disenchanted with humanity, and the frosty reception he received drove him back to the swamp, where he set up a rude hut for himself. Strange insights began coming to him then as he studied his beloved reptiles – that they were in many ways a simpler, but better, form of life in his view. He yearned to be more like them, to find fellowship at last with other living things. That yearning, unknowingly to him, drew Rosheg-Kha’s attention, and He saw the young man as a potentially useful (albeit mammalian) tool. Constantin discovered his magical abilities, and the transformation began soon afterwards. He attributed this change to his devotion and love for reptiles, and as a result his territory has become a sanctuary of sorts for all scaled creatures.

Appearance: Constantin is a fairly small (5’3”/160 cm) man with a slight build (120 lbs./54 kg). Before his transformation he had brown eyes, long, wavy brown hair and a ruddy complexion. Now, however, extensive patches of mottled green and brown scales are present on his limbs, back, and chest, and clumps of his hair have fallen out, revealing even more scaly flesh. His nose has flattened and broadened to resemble a reptile’s snout, and his eyes have enlarged noticeably. His once whiny voice has acquired a rumbling undertone. He sometimes wears a simple robe of coarse wool, which covers most of his body, but often he wears nothing; the powers granted to him by Rosheg-Kha have also made his territory warm and humid year-round, and it will remain so as long as Constantin remains there.

Due to his affinity towards reptiles, and the love they have for him (see Personality – below), Constantin always has 2d10 mundane snakes (DM chooses the variety) present on his body at any time. These snakes love their protector, and will sacrifice themselves if necessary to shield him. In game terms, this “living armour” gives Constantin an effective Armour Class of 7.

Statistics:

Constantin Petriu (7th level shaman of Rosheg-Kha): STR 8, INT 12, WIS 13, DEX 12, CON 10, CHA 6. Hit Points: 30. Armour Class: 7. Alignment: Neutral.

Skills: Ceremony – Rosheg-Kha (WIS), Knowledge – Blight Swamp (INT), Nature Lore (INT), Stealth – Swamp (DEX), Survival – Swamp (INT). Constantin has no expertise in any weapon; his reptilian charges will defend him should anyone threaten his safety. The DM should stock Constantin’s sanctuary with a variety of snakes and other reptiles. Languages Known: Traladaran.

Special Abilities: Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’. Constantin has access to the full list of cleric spells.

Special Equipment: None.

Personality: Constantin is a highly introverted man who has little love or empathy for his fellow human beings, in large part because of the events surrounding the raid by the Black Eagle Barony. He found solace in the quiet study of reptiles because it relieved him of the burden of interacting with other people while occupying his inquisitive mind, and he enjoys the solitude of his sanctuary now because it allows him to commune with his reptilian charges. His years of voluntary isolation from other human beings have only accentuated his antisocial tendencies – to the point where he finds casual conversation incredibly difficult.

The progressive physical transformations Constantin has experienced, and their perceived benefits, has simply reinforced his view that reptiles are superior in every sense of the word, and that mammalian life is nothing more than an evolutionary aberration that will one day be corrected. He does not even consider himself human anymore. Despite the joy he derives from his altered state, as well as the kinship he has found with reptiles in all their forms, Constantin loathes his vestigial humanity and yearns to excise it entirely. This self-hatred manifests itself in occasional violent outbursts and attempts at self-mutilation. Most of the time, however, he exhibits the eerie silence and stillness that only reptiles can manage.

Constantin will be very cold towards any sentient mammal he encounters, and very little will provoke him to attack. An adventuring party whose membership includes a lizard man or similar creature will be treated more hospitably, but Constantin will focus almost entirely on the reptilian.

Roleplaying Notes: Constantin could be an interesting, if highly disturbing, encounter for an adventuring party because not only has he turned his back on his own kind; he has also willingly and enthusiastically transferred his affections to cold-blooded creatures that should not care at all for him, but in fact do – enthusiastically. His numerous reptilian pets flock around him constantly, crawling and slithering all over him while seeking his caresses and seeming to listen attentively to his gentle murmurs, but are also very visibly primed to attack at the slightest provocation or threat to their loving master. His visibly altered appearance emphasises the abnormality of the situation.

Constantin presents an interesting roleplaying challenge as well because anyone dealing with him for any length of time will soon realise that, while he has no love for his former people and would destroy them if given a chance, he does not actively seek the destruction of humanity and his desire to protect reptilian life is genuine. It is possible that Constantin could be sheltering rare species of reptiles in his domain, or providing sanctuary to a lizard man (who may not be evil). Thus, killing him and destroying his sanctuary may actually do more harm than good, over the long term.

The other complication is the fact that Constantin has no idea that he is actually a follower of Rosheg-Kha, and knows nothing about the Outer Beings; he honestly believes that his powers are a manifestation of his love of reptiles, and he sees himself as their protector.

NEW ITEMS:

Royal Sceptre of Meruvar: Although Meruvar did not long endure as a nation, it did exist long enough for its people to develop the trappings of nationhood that many take for granted – including crowns, sceptres, and other adornments of state. This sceptre measures six feet in length, and is made from polished ebony shod with silver and inlaid with mother-of-pearl cabuchons. Its decorative tip bears what appears to be an overly ornate spear head inset with a single, thumb-sized ruby. The sceptre weighs 40 cn (four pounds).

Slizzesh uses the sceptre as a spear, and as such it works like a spear +2. However, the sceptre contains a number of magical powers, all of which are also known to Slizzesh. The sceptre can cast every 1st- and 2nd-level magic user spell once per day, and renders the wielder immune to all scrying attempts. The sceptre can also cast summon lesser servitor three times per day. Any class can use this weapon.

NEW SPELL: SUMMON LESSER SERVITOR

Level: 3
Range: 0′ (caster only)
Duration: 1 turn/level of caster
Effect: Summons one lesser servitor for the duration of the spell.

This spell, when cast, summons a lesser servitor of the DM’s choice to the plane currently occupied by the caster. The servitor will, for the duration of the spell, obey the commands of the caster, as though it was under a geas. Any command may be given except for those that might endanger the life of the servitor, in which case the caster’s control is broken. Examples include ordering the servitor to kill itself, to attack anything whose hit dice or levels exceed its own (i.e.,: anything larger or visibly more powerful than itself), or to go somewhere that is obviously extremely dangerous. This is up to the DM. The servitor will also take commands literally, even if its Intelligence is high enough to make this normally impossible, just to spite the caster. As a result, the caster must word his or her orders very carefully. The caster also has no control over what kind of lesser servitor is summoned, and will not know until the servitor arrives. It should be noted that if a type of servitor is summoned, which cannot normally survive in the environment to which it is summoned, it will suffer the full effects of that exposure. Finally, if an intelligent servitor is summoned, it will likely remember its summoner, and take vengeance upon that person at some later date if it feels it was misused.

Evil From Between the Stars: Otherworldly Cultists

The fifth installment of my series detailling some followers of the vaguely Lovecraftian cosmic entities known as the Outer Beings looks at a couple of followers of a being known as Hrug, who as otherwise known as “The Traveller” and “The Keeper of the Way”. Readers hungry for more are invited to visit Bruce Heard’s blog, where I wrote a a cosmology of the Outer Beings (scroll to the bottom).

Although everything written here is set in the campaign setting known as “Mystara” in the year AC 1000, readers are welcome to modify the material to suit their own campaigns.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
(image courtesy of Bruce Heard)

AMRETHINAR OF SKYREACH

Background: Amrethinar was born on the floating island of Ambelethmir in AC 976, to a modestly wealthy aristocratic family. Unlike his two older brothers, Amrethinar did not demonstrate the knack for arcane magic. His parents, however, were unconcerned because they knew enough high-ranking clerics of the various faiths practiced in Alphatia to guarantee their son a position in one of the holy orders – and with that training in divine magic and the granting of aristocratic status. Despite this guarantee, Amrethinar’s older siblings treated him like an inferior whenever they could get away with it – which was often, because their parents were both active astronomers and were largely focused on their research.

Despite these difficulties, or perhaps because of them, Amrethinar grew up to become a confident young man who was as fascinated by the stars as his parents. He was accepted into the Church of Ixion, which had a large, glass-domed observatory at its temple in Skyreach (which was one of the deciding factors). Although his duties filled up much of his days, Amrethinar still found time to gaze at the stars, and carried out a considerable amount of research that actually got published in a number of journals – some of them widely read. It was during one late-night research session that Amrethinar heard a voice. At first he thought it was a prank, but when he listened carefully he realised it was telling him in a very disjointed fashion to scan the sky over the northern horizon. He did so, and saw a glowing object plummet to the ground from the heavens, which caused a massive explosion that blinded him momentarily.

In a panic, he rushed to his master’s chambers to report what he saw. His master inspected the site with the telescope, but found nothing out of the ordinary and assigned several punishments to discourage such flights of fancy in the future. While carrying out these additional duties, Amrethinar began receiving strange sensory impressions. He occasionally heard voices, but the most common impressions were images that flashed into his brain – much of the latter were fascinating images of far distant worlds and other features, but occasionally he saw images of worlds being torn apart and of vast discharges of energy tearing holes in the fabric of reality itself – and from those holes emerged things that seemed so massive yet seemed so unlike anything he had ever seen before that for some reason he had great difficulty focusing on them, amid inexplicable feelings of intense anxiety. Yet, as he thought about those strange, vaguely repulsive entities he also felt drawn to them. He began dreaming about them, and one of them – a creature that resembled a misshapen cylinder of colossal proportions – seemed to “speak” to him, and in that moment Amrethinar realised that it was the source of the first strange vision that set him on the path of celestial discovery.

Appearance: Amrethinar is of “pure” Alphatian ancestry, with pale skin, shoulder-length black hair, and violet eyes. He is quite tall (6’/183 cm) and slim (140 lbs./64 kg). He has a soft, vaguely musical voice that many young women have found enchanting – not that he cares overmuch. He typically wears traditional Alphatian robes in blue and gold (the colours of his family), but of late has been sporting clothing of a more sombre hue, with patterns consisting of stars, planets, and other celestial themes.

Statistics:

Amrethinar of Skyreach (2nd level cleric of Hrug): STR 9, INT 16, WIS 12, DEX 13, CON 11, CHA 14. Hit Points: 10. Armour Class: 8. Alignment: Chaotic.

Skills: Alchemy (INT), Arcane Lore (INT), Astronomy (INT), Ceremony – Hrug (WIS), Singing (CHA), Outer Being Lore (2). As a cleric of Hrug, Amrethinar does not have any weapons, and therefore has no Weapon Mastery skills. Languages Known: Alphatian + 2 free slots.

Special Abilities: Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’. Amrethinar has access to the full list of cleric spells.

Special Equipment: None.

Personality: Amrethinar is an abstract intellectual through and through. Ideas, particularly where they involve the heavenly bodies and how their transit through the skies affects the physical world, fascinate him to the exclusion of just about everything else. This is why the broadcasts from Hrug have made such a deep impression on him – the Outer Being is showing him worlds and galaxies that no one else has ever seen, as well as phenomena (such as giant gas clouds) completely unknown to Alphatian astronomy. Although the majority of Hrug’s messages make no sense, Amrethinar suspects that he will eventually receive enough information to actually locate these wondrous discoveries in the heavens directly, and once he does so he will receive the credit.

In the meantime Amrethinar is becoming increasingly closely attuned to Hrug Himself, and is already beginning to change in subtle ways. His intellectualism is coming out very forcefully in most conversations, such that he rarely pays attention to social niceties anymore. He is also becoming more preoccupied with his creative output and the largely nonsensical messages he receives from Hrug. It is only a matter of time before the strange messages become more frequent, and begin to occupy even more of his conscious mind.

Roleplaying Notes: Amrethinar is another example of someone who has just begun their journey into darkness, but instead of being driven by bitterness towards the world he is simply motivated by curiosity and a small measure of greed. Thus, if someone were to develop an intellectually (as opposed to morally) sound argument as to why he should abandon his faith, he might actually do so. Hrug would likely not notice, or care, if Amrethinar left the fold.

MENELIMNAR (“THE STAR ORACLE”)

Background: The being now known as the Star Oracle was once a pure-blooded Alphatian man named Menelimnar, who was an avid scholar who developed many theories about planar physics and alternate magics. Born in AC 917, he had grown up in an aristocratic household in Sundsvall, in which most of his family practiced traditional air magics. Although Menelimnar was proficient in the art, it did not long retain his interest. He had a strong desire to stand out from his contemporaries, most of whom were more concerned with completing their magical training and securing a comfortable existence for themselves. There was no value in magic, in his mind, unless it could be used to push back the boundaries of knowledge in every sense. Conventional magics, in his view, were for unimaginative people – and he had no time for those.

He explored alternate magics, pondered the utility of calculus in proving the existence of antimatter (and by extension, anti-magic – he was never able to prove this, however, and part of his mind remains irritated about it even now), and theorised that, if the duality of law and chaos should be taken as a “fact”, then a greater duality of reality and unreality might also exist. This last thought intrigued him as nothing had before, and he devoted 30 years to researching this very question. He became so absorbed in his work that he neglected his family and the few friends he did have, and before long all that existed in his mind was the Great Question. It consumed his every waking hour, and became so much of an obsession that he began to lose all perspective of reality.

Then he heard a voice, and that voice shared some of the secrets of the outer reaches of the universe. The more he listened, the more attuned he became to Hrug, and before long he felt a compulsion to seek out others of his new faith, and in time he became a living conduit for Hrug’s messages…and slowly transformed into the Star Oracle. He now resides in a temple of the Outer Beings in Sundsvall, where he is in constant communion with Hrug, dispensing His celestial wisdom to the faithful while listening for the Word that shall herald the dawning of a new era.

Appearance: Before his transformation Menelimnar was a “pure” Alphatian of average height and build, with black hair and dark blue eyes. Prolonged contact with Hrug has mutated him into a vaguely cylindrical, white pulpy mass measuring 9’ long (274 cm) and weighing 720 lbs. (327 kg). His limbs have withered away into vestigial stumps, and what is left of his face is scattered about on one of his ends – his features slowly roam about. His voice, once a nasal monotone, has degenerated into a wheezing croak.

Statistics:

Menelimnar (20th level cleric of Hrug): STR 1, INT 20, WIS 5, DEX 1, CON 9, CHA 1. Hit Points: 42. Armour Class: 9. Alignment: Chaotic.

Skills: Alternate Magics (INT), Arcane Lore (INT), Calculus (INT), Ceremony – Hrug (WIS), Inter-planar Physics (INT), Outer Being Lore (15), Trans-Dimensional Mathematics (INT). Please note that prolonged contact with Hrug has obliterated most of Menelimnar’s memories, such that most of his skills have been forgotten. Having no useable limbs and being essentially immobile, Menelimnar has no Weapon Mastery skills, and instead relies on his anthropoi to defend himself (see below). Languages Known: Alphatian.

Special Abilities: Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’. Menelimnar can cast clerical spells as a cleric of his level due to his animus stone (see below).

Special Equipment: Animus Stone (see below).

Personality: 
Before being transformed into an inhuman monstrosity, Menelimnar was a bookish man who was far more interested in abstract ideas than people – unless those people could somehow be helpful in exploring concepts that interested him. As Menelimnar found few people that he considered his intellectual equals, he tended to look down on most – even other aristocrats. He was also highly contemptuous of unimaginative people, regardless of social class, but he did not bother to insult them; he simply ignored them entirely. This calculated disdain extended to his family, as well.

Now than he is no longer remotely human, Menelimnar’s personality (or what is left of it) has become even more extreme. The fragment of his residual identity that is not devoted to broadcasting the utterances of Hrug concerns itself solely with exploring as far beyond the fringes of magical thinking as possible. Freeing the Outer Beings is little more than a mental exercise in probing the strength of inter-dimensional barriers, and in testing what is, in his view, the Ultimate Hypothesis: Whether there is a polar opposite to reality. His vestigial consciousness is so deeply absorbed in this thinking that it will not notice anything happening around it unless Menelimnar’s physical form is on the verge of death.

Roleplaying Notes:
The Oracle/Menelimnar is intended to present the player characters with the ultimate example of how the influence of the Outer Beings can not only strip away what makes a person “human”, it can actually turn them into something else entirely. An adventuring party is unlikely to encounter him unless it is attacking a temple dedicated to the Outer Beings, and even so he is so deeply entrenched in the inner confines of the complex that only high-level parties would be able to meet him. Being so distanced from everyday reality, he would not even actively notice the player characters, even if they started to attack him. Instead, his subconscious will would direct spells at the party and create anthropoi to do the job.

NEW ITEMS:

Animus Stone: Animus stones were created in order to allow highly devoted followers of Hrug to better defend themselves, should the guardians of the temples in which they are normally found be unable to protect them. They are palm-sized balls of obsidian inscribed with tiny runes over their entire surface, which are then embedded into what was once the forehead of the cultist like a third eye. Followers of Hrug are, in fact, able to “see” out of these stones, but what they see are the ideas of their master given form, and then superimposed over “reality”. As such, they are not terribly useful as visual aids, but they are very effective focal points for the casting of spells – in fact, high-level worshippers of Hrug would be unable to cast spells without them because their minds are too scattered by their master’s mental broadcasts.

Animus stones also allow their wearers to project a portion of their subconscious into the Prime Plane as a physical entity under their control. This entity, known as an anthropos (plural: anthropoi), can pick up and use objects, attack, and otherwise perform any purely physical activity. The anthropos’s combat statistics are below.

Should anyone who is not a follower of Hrug decide to wear an animus stone (which must be embedded in the skull), they must make three halved Constitution rolls. If any one of those rolls fail, the person in question dies. If they survive, their minds will be in constant communication with Hrug – insanity is the likeliest result.

Anthropos

Armour Class: 0
Hit Dice: Special (see below)
Move: 120’ (40’)
# Attacks: 1 slash or one weapon
Damage: 1d6 or by weapon
No. Appearing: Special (see below)
Save As: Special (see below)
Morale: 12
Intelligence: 10
Treasure Type: None
Alignment: Chaotic

An anthropos is a physical manifestation of the subconscious mind, which is brought into existence through the use of an animus stone. They are misty, faceless, vaguely human-shaped forms that do the bidding of their originators. They are incapable of speech, and cannot be affected by sleep, fear, charm, hold, or illusion spells. A follower of Hrug can produce and control one anthropos for every two experience levels possessed, and once summoned they will remain on the Prime Plane for one hour per level of the caster, or until destroyed. In combat, they can slash with their vaguely tentacle appendages (which can become solid enough to inflict physical damage), or they can use a weapon.

Each anthropos has a number of Hit Dice equivalent to one-third of their originator’s level, rounded down. They save as clerics of one-third their originator’s level, as well.

As an example, Menelimnar can summon up to 10 anthropoi, each of which has 6 Hit Dice (20 divided by 3, rounded down), and saves as a 6th-level cleric.

That Which Must Not Be Named: Memorable Villains for Your Campaign

The fourth installment of my series on detailed character profiles of evil cultists will focus on a couple of followers of the Outer Being known as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Seen, also known as “The One”.  More information on the One, as well as those of the other six major Outer Beings, can be found in a cosmology I wrote, which is available on Bruce Heard’s blog.

Although everything written here is set in the campaign setting known as “Mystara” in the year AC 1000, readers are welcome to modify the material to suit their own campaigns.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
(image courtesy of Bruce Heard)

MEGANE (meh-GAH-nee) THE DARK

Background:  Megane ferch (daughter of) Arwend was born on the Rock of Aberwynn (now known as Setonios’ Isle), which lay off the coast of the Thyatian Hinterlands, in AC 962.  At the time, the island, and the mainland just opposite, was home to a small number of Thratian clans who practised a pastoral existence (in contrast to the majority of the people, who kept to the jungles and lived closely in tune with its rhythms).  Her father was one of the clan head’s personal guards, while her mother enjoyed a position of some influence as a prophetess; although she was a sickly woman.  Megane was charged with looking after the household whenever her mother was unable to look after things – which was often.  Her father, who had wanted a son, did not know what to do with Megane and had very little to do with her; although he was not cruel.  For the most part, she was left to her own devices and, as she was considered odd by most of the other children, she had few playmates.  However, Megane was highly introverted anyway, and the absence of social contact bothered her little.  When Megane was nine her mother gave birth to a boy, and she was sidelined even more, and spent most of her time wandering the countryside.  Never having had much to do with other people, she let her own curiosity lead her wherever it would. She watched animals die because it seemed interesting, she jumped off of low cliffs to see what falling felt like, and she ate poisonous berries because she wondered whether she really would get sick.  Few people paid attention to her, but many of those who did began to grow concerned.  Some labelled her insane, and ostracised her.  Megane, who was already deep into her own world by this time, did not notice or care.

Megane’s life changed on the eve of adulthood, when the now-infamous warlord, Bran of Carrick, invaded Aberwynn to bring its peoples under his rule. Although the islanders resisted mightily, they could not long stand up to Bran’s seasoned warriors.  Megane fled to the wilderness in the middle of the island with a handful of refugees.  It soon became apparent that her family had not made it.  Megane, to the disbelief of her countrymen, walked deeper into the wilderness.  Years of guerrilla warfare ensued, during which Megane lived like a wild thing, foraging off of the land.  When times grew lean she wandered into the half-ruined villages to take what she needed, and killed countryman or invader alike if they stood in her way – and on occasion ate them if the need was dire.

By the time the first Thyatian ships arrived at the island in AC 985, as a prelude to colonising the mainland, Aberwynn had been reduced to a desolate, largely-depopulated land.  The surviving islanders were too dispirited to protest much when the empire claimed the territory for itself, and began sending settlers.  Megane by this time was wandering the island in a daze, but the stories of her deeds reached the Thyatians.  Many regarded her as a curiosity but one man, a former legionnaire, sought her out and coaxed out her story.  He then offered something no one else had in years – attention.  He told her about his deity, the One, and how He would sweep it all aside and replace with something new.  This notion aroused Megane’s curiosity, because it was the most interesting thing she had heard in years. She swore fealty to the One.

In the years since, Megane has travelled the Known World and lands beyond, charged with tracking down and destroying artifacts designed to prevent the return of the Outer Beings – and occasionally eliminating those who are interfering with her masters’ plans.  Over the years, she has acquired a following of her own and now commands what is, in effect, a small army.  Her band has no name, and marches under a solid black banner.

Appearance: Megane stands 5’10” (178 cm) tall, with an athletic build (150 lbs/68 kg), brown eyes, and long, straight auburn hair, which she often wears loose.  Like most Thratians she originally had a fair complexion, but years of service to the One, and of being exposed to His dark energies, have changed her physically.  Her skin now has an almost cadaverous cast, and is marked by what appear to be thin grey veins.  She makes no effort to hide a long, thin scar that runs from the corner of her left eye to her jawline – an injury acquired while taking out a party of adventurers.  Her voice, which was once quite melodious, has acquired a rasping undertone.  Suspended roughly a foot above her head is a smoky black fist-sized sphere, from which wispy tendrils extend downwards.  This is a physical manifestation of her connection to the One.

As Megane is almost always on the road, she is rarely seen without her armour – blackened, ridged plate that seems to resemble a living thing more than anything else.  She wields a halberd with a scythe-like head and a spike.

Statistics:

Megane the Dark (20th level cleric of the One):STR 17, INT 15, WIS 9, DEX 17, CON 16, CHA 7.  Hit Points:  80.  Armour Class:  -1.   Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:
Alertness (DEX), Artillery (INT), Ceremony – the One (WIS), Dancing (DEX), Danger Sense (WIS), Detect Deception (WIS), Intimidation (STR), Military Tactics (INT+1), Navigation (INT), Riding – Horse (DEX), Swimming (CON), Tracking (INT), Outer Being Lore (12).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rules, Megane is a “Grand Master” in the halberd.  Languages Known:  Thyatian, Thratian.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Megane has access to the full list of cleric spells.

Special Equipment: Armour of the One, Gauntlets of Draining, Scythe of the Void (see below).

Personality: Before entering the One’s service, Megane was a highly introverted, borderline sociopath who could have gone either way, but whose environment pushed her into darkness.  She had great difficulty in interacting with others due to shyness, parental neglect and ostracism from her peers, yet she was aware of how a person ought to behave in society in order to be accepted.  She learned quickly how to put on a mask to appear “normal”, and to suppress her feelings – and in the process become distanced from them – in order to get what she wanted.  However, with no close social ties there was nothing to anchor her to her community.

Megane’s years of service to the One have burned away much of what little warmth and passion she once had, leaving behind a person wearing the guise of humanity, but whose soul is emptier and colder than the emptiness between the stars.  She knows full well that should the Outer Beings prevail, she and everything she ever knew would be destroyed forever, but she simply does not care – caring would require a zest for life that she hardly had beforehand, and definitely does not have now.  Megane does not actively think about the future, she has no fond memories of her homeland or any sense of camaraderie with her followers, and she feels no hatred towards her opponents.  All she feels is the vague compulsion to accomplish the tasks set before her by the One, which is often overshadowed by her sense of curiosity which draws her in random directions like a leaf blowing in the wind.  She sees her existence as a road without beginning or end.

When she does interact with other people, Megane rarely makes eye contact and often seems to be having a different conversation that the one the other person thought they were having – she changes the subject when she grows bored with it, but does not think to tell anyone.  On occasion, however, Megane does focus on the subject at hand, and in those moments she stares deeply into the other person’s eyes and invades their personal space.  Again, she does not notice she is doing this, nor does she care.

Megane is aware that the One views her as nothing more than a tool, and that He will sacrifice her for His own ends without a second thought.  She accepts that this will probably one day come to pass, and feels no fear or anxiety about it. Despite how her already warped soul has been twisted further, Megane still has a very independent streak and interprets her instructions from the One in a way that suits her preferences – whatever they happen to be at that moment.  The One, for His part, does not care; Megane is a useful tool.

She does occasionally “play” with her opponents before killing them. This is not done out of malice or a desire to inflict agony for its own sake, but simply because she is curious. She has, through extensive experimentation, learned how to keep a victim alive for days – simply because she wondered whether it was possible.  However, Megane tends to bore easily, and if her victim is no longer “fun” or “interesting” she might kill them on the spot, release them, or simply forget about them.

Megane is equally indifferent towards her followers, most of whom are little more than bloodthirsty bandits.  She views them as useful tools who can help her accomplish her tasks, and insofar as they prevent her from being injured, so much the better.  She does not care that they follow her only for looting opportunities, that they brutalise their own victims in ways far more heinous than she could, or that they occasionally plot against each other in the vain hope of winning her favour.

Roleplaying Notes: Megane is a powerful opponent who can be used as a long-term villain in a campaign, to be encountered towards the end of a major plot arc as the player characters advance. Ideally, she should initially be the force behind the enemies that the characters face, but as they increase in strength she will take more notice of them, and eventually try to deal with them personally.  Defeating Megane should be a truly difficult task.

She also serves as a good example of how inhuman a person can be, and players who are into heavy roleplaying may enjoy interacting with someone who might have a disjointed chat with them or kill them, depending on what impulse is driving her at that moment.

FRATER ALEXIUS CORVUS

Background: Alexius Lyrion, born in AC 972, was the eldest of three children born into a family of bootmakers.  As soon as Alexius was able to work, his father had him in his workshop clicking cured hides from templates.  Alexius’s father had a well-earned reputation for producing quality goods, and he was a strict taskmaster.  By the time Alexius was 14 he was producing serviceable items of his own; however, his father would regularly force him to redo his work if the slightest flaw could be found.  Alexius’s challenge was that his heart was not in the work, and he begged his father to let him apprentice to someone else – his two younger brothers had already started to learn the craft, and they were far more interested.  His father, fearing the shame from losing his intended successor, refused.

Rather than grow despondent, Alexius quietly sought out a master in another craft. Before long he was taking lessons from a silversmith late at night, using money from his father’s purse.  His deception was uncovered before long, and Alexius was thrown out of the house after receiving a severe beating. Alexius wandered the streets for several months, working odd jobs, but he soon felt he would have to resort to theft if he wanted to climb out of his hole.  It was then that he ran into some off-duty legionnaires, who bought him a meal and regaled him with tales of their exploits.  In that moment Alexius realised that a stint in the legion would give him food, lodgings, basic pay, and some measure of social prestige – and since he had been thrown out his siblings had begun shunning him.  He enlisted.

After enduring months of gruelling training, Alexius was posted to West Portage, on the Isle of Dawn, where he patrolled the frontier with Alphatia. Life was quiet for the most part, but reports of bandits operating out of the Thothian Plateau saw him be redeployed to the sparsely-inhabited and mysterious Provincia Septentriona.  There, he and his fellow legionnaires frequently went deep into the forests to investigate reported sightings of columns of armed men marching about.  Many of these proved to be false, but on one occasion they marched into a trap.  The Thyatians fought bravely, but they were outnumbered.  Alexius was knocked unconscious in the battle, and when he awoke it was to discover that he was the only survivor.  Seeing the others – many of whom had become good friends – butchered at his feet drove him into shock.  He wandered back to camp in a daze, filed his report, and went to the infirmary.

After Alexius regained his senses days later, he sought an audience with his commanding officer and made an emotional appeal to mount a punitive expedition to wipe out the party that had massacred his companions. Although he was sympathetic, the commander informed Alexius that a deal had been made already with the enemy, and amnesty would be granted in exchange for strategic information.  Alexius walked away in shock, and completed his term of service in a haze.  He was discharged honourably and, while living off of his saved earnings he wandered the city while pondering why his friends’ deaths were left unavenged.  He sought consolation in philosophy and joined a club, and it was at one debate that he heard a passionate man argue that the Immortals regularly forsook their followers, so it should be of no surprise that men did the same.  Something in the man’s argument appealed to him, and afterwards Alexius introduced himself.  The other man was gruff, but engaging, and asked pointed questions about Alexius’s spiritual leanings.

The man then offered something no one else had in years – sympathy.  He told Alexius about his deity, the One, and how He would not forsake His faithful, as Alexius’s Immortals and commanding officer had abandoned his friends to die.  The man told Alexius about the injustice of the world and the cosmos, and how it was all a cruel joke designed to inflict misery on mortals.  The One, he said, would sweep it all aside and replace with something new.  Something just.  And in that moment of weakness Alexius swore fealty to the One.

Since that time Alexius has grown in power.  He now guards a temple of Rasthz hidden in the sewers of Thyatis city, although he does venture out frequently.  He revels in his power, and eagerly carries out any missions assigned to him.

Appearance:  Alexius stands 5’10” (178 cm) tall, with a heavy build (210 lbs/95 kg), brown eyes, and short, curly brown hair.  He used to have a tanned complexion, but since dedicating himself to the One he has become noticeably paler; although he attributes that to the many hours he spends in the underground temple.  Alexius has a deep, gravelly voice.  He walks with confidence – almost a swagger – but any experienced warrior who watches him will notice that he always maintains a posture that makes it possible for him to spring into a fighting stance if necessary.  Alexius is an extraordinarily quick and nimble fighter – but most of his opponents do not live to internalise that lesson. When he is on duty (which is most of the time), Alexius wears blackened plate mail armour and wields a bastard sword (which he can use one- or two-handed).

Statistics:

Alexius Corvus (5th level cleric of the One): STR 17, INT 12, WIS 14, DEX 18, CON 16, CHA 10.  Hit Points:  43.  Armour Class:  1.   Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills: Alertness (DEX), Ceremony – the One (WIS), Danger Sense (WIS), Intimidation (STR), Military Tactics (INT), Outer Being Lore (4).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rules, Alexius is “Skilled” in the halberd.  Languages Known:  Thyatian. 

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Alexius has access to the full list of cleric spells. 

Special Equipment: Circlet of Draining (see below).

Personality: 
Before enduring the trauma of war and years of service to the Outer Beings, Alexius was a fairly kind, open-minded young man who was eager to contribute to the well-being of his family and community, and who was a firm believer in the Immortals and their powers.  The rejection by his family (or at least, his father), and the empire’s seemingly callous disregard for the deaths of his comrades, shook him to his core, and led him to question the morals of the Immortals themselves, if they could permit their faithful to suffer so. 

Alexius’s devotion to the One has burned away much of his warmth, leaving behind a cold shell of a human being.  His hatred of the world, its people, and the cosmos as a whole, as well as a burning desire to destroy it all, are what animate him now.  He knows full well that victory for the Outer Beings will mean the destruction of everything that he knows, but he sees that as a worthy sacrifice if the sense of bitter betrayal that lies at his core, which still causes him intense emotional pain, is finally extinguished.

Because there is so much anger at his core, Alexius can be extremely vindictive.  For example, if someone humiliates him, he would derive a great deal of satisfaction in having that person’s death be even more humiliating.  He also has a habit of studying long-time rivals to determine what their weaknesses and vices are, in order to exploit them later on.  For example, if he captures an opponent he knows is afraid of dirt and sickness he will main them, ensure their wounds get infected, and then gloat as they die.

Roleplaying Notes: Alexius could be an interesting encounter for the players because, if they ever learn his back story, they will come to understand how someone who started out as an ostensibly “good” person became evil.  Although Alexius went over to the One in a moment of weakness, he has made conscious decisions since then that have drawn him deeper into the Outer Being’s camp.  There is no possibility of redemption, and even a short encounter with him will reveal how much his soul has been corrupted.  Alexius is intended to be a challenging opponent for lower-level adventurers – perhaps used the first time they explore a temple dedicated to the Outer Beings.

NEW ITEMS:

Armour of the One: This suit of armour is crafted of marh-vhol, a substance originating in the prison dimensions of the Outer Beings.  It resembles plate armour in terms of structure, being composed of large, solid segments connected by what appears to be mail, but close inspection by someone skilled in smithing will reveal that the armour was not shaped by hand tools. In truth, the armour is “grown” into shape with magic.  It confers an Armour Class of 1, and it weighs 30 lbs. (300 cn).  Anyone wearing this armour will be immune to hold, sleep and charm spells, as well as all forms of scrying (including ESP spells and the use of crystal balls. Furthermore, the otherdimensional origin of this armour creates a weak anti-magic field around the wearer – all spells directed at them have a 15% chance of failure.  This does not affect magic cast by followers of the Outer Beings. 

As with all things crafted of marh-vhol, this armour is always cold to the touch, and it is attuned to the Outer Beings.  Furthermore, because of the armour’s alien composition any damage sustained by the wearer is reduced (in game terms, each damage roll against the wearer is reduced by 1).  Anyone who wears it has a 20% chance per day of becoming known to them (the DM should choose which one notices them) – a discovery that will probably make life difficult, and short.

Circlet of Draining:  This item is a plain, ring-shaped crown of marh-vhol whose only adornment is a circular, egg-sized polished piece of obsidian set in the brow.  When worn, the circlet allows its wearer to tap into, and drain, any magical energy sources within 30 feet – including weapons, rings, potions, scrolls, wands/staves/rods/, and spellcasters themselves.  Only one source can be targeted at a time, and an attempt to drain it counts as an attack.  The target must save vs. Death Ray (if the target is an item, use the saving throw score of its owner), and if the save fails the magic is drained from the target and absorbed by the circlet as one or more spell levels.  If the target was a weapon or piece of armour, it loses one “plus”, and if the target was a spellcaster they lose one spell (chosen by the DM), and the level value of the spell lost is converted into units of magic (e.g., a 9th level spell becomes nine spell levels, or units of magic).

Magical energy is stored in the circlet until tapped by the wearer, who knows at all times how much magical energy is available.  The circlet is capable of storing up to 100 levels of magical energy, which can be tapped at will by the wearer to cast spells.  Thus, if the circlet is full the wearer could cast 100 1st level clerical spells, 20 5th level spells, or any other combination.  If the circlet is destroyed, the magical energy that it contains will be released in one massive explosion, inflicting 1d6 damage per spell level contained, affecting an area measuring 10 cubic feet per spell level contained.

The circlet, as an item crafted from marh-vhol, is always cold to the touch and is attuned to the Outer Beings. Anyone who wears it has a 5% (non-cumulative) chance per day of becoming known to them.

Gauntlets of Draining: These gauntlets are crafted of marh-vhol, and are infused with the One’s power.  When worn, the gauntlets provide the wearer with an additional +1 to hit and damage, on top of any other bonuses they might have.  Their other property is that they allow the wearer, three times per day, to drain the life forces of everyone within 20′ – victims may make a save vs. Death Ray to avoid the effects.  Anyone who fails their save loses 1d10 hit points, which are then conferred to the wearer of the gauntlets.  If a victim dies as a result of this draining, their soul is consumed by the One and they may not be resurrected.  Any hit points gained by the wearer in excess of their normal maximum are lost – these are also consumed by the One.

In addition the wearer may, once per day, grab someone and drain half of their remaining hit points instantly (no save) – this counts as an attack.  All of these stolen hit points are conferred to the wearer of the gauntlets immediately, including any in excess of their normal maximum.  These additional hit points remain for one hour, and any subsequent damage sustained by the wearer is subtracted from these extra hit points, first.

In other respects, these gauntlets are like the Armour of the One in that they are cold to the touch, and have a chance of attracting the attention of the Outer Beings if worn (10% chance per day). 

The Scythe of the Void:  This halberd +3 is heavily imbued with the magic of the Outer Beings – so much so that it very visibly bears their taint.  Thorny, leprous growths sprout along the length of its shaft, and its scythe-like axe head bears serpentine, rust-coloured runes that move about when one is not looking at them directly.  The weapon is tipped with a twelve inch spike.  All told, the weapon measures seven feet in length, but if wielded by another it would lengthen or shorten to accommodate them. When wielded for the first time, the Scythe’s thorny growths will inflict 2d4 damage to the owner – the “safe” spots to hold it are discovered soon enough.

Whenever the Scythe inflicts damage, the resulting wound becomes infected with the taint of the Outer Beings.  Such injuries will not heal fully without the aid of magic (only half of the lost hit points can be regained through regular rest and medical attention), and each one sustained will cause constant pain (-1 to Constitution per injury) until fully healed.  Should a person’s Constitution be reduced to 0, they will die and their soul will be consumed by the One (no resurrection is possible).  The Scythe also has the ability to haste and teleport the wielder, as per the magic user spells, three times per day (for each ability).

In addition, the thorny growths along the shaft can be commanded to release a cloud of black gas measuring 20 feet cubed three times per day (which does not affect Megane).  For each round a person is caught in this cloud, they must save vs. Poison at a -2 penalty.  Anyone who fails their save will take 1d8 damage per round until they leave the area of effect, and if they die as a result their corpse rises the next round as a zombie under Megane’s control.