Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Delvers' Guide: Ruins of Kor, Part 2

The Stained Palace

Nestled amongst the rubble of the fallen walls and towers, rests the largely intact palace of the former rulers of KOR. It has buckled on one side, an entire wing bending at a steep angle to the rest of the building, the rest leaning backwards as if to escape the rest of the ruins. The centuries have worn away at the stone, and the rain, blood and waste blown across the chasm have stained the walls. It's name derives from these stains, but it is also known as the STAINED PALACE because of the stained-glass windows encircling the dome that dominates the palace. The glass has retained its bright colours, is unbroken, but generally coated in a layer of grime. The windows have proven to be indestructible, repelling even spells that unleash destruction in the form of lightning bolts and fireballs. Magi would gladly pay a king's ransom to discover how they were made.

The Twisted Tower

Not far beyond the palace is another mostly intact building, the TWISTED TOWER; so called due to the odd arrangement of its ten stories. Each level protrudes above the lower, creating a step-like line, the direction alternating between levels. Believes to have once been the domain of a powerful mage who enjoyed experiments, the tower is said to be full of traps, puzzles and magical wards. Strange creatures have been spotted inside, and within its vicinity, and treasure both mundane and magical has been looted from within.

Worm Valley

On the western side of the ruins is a long, narrow valley formed by walls of rubble. It connects the BONE PIT to the west side, allowing easier passage between the two halves of the city. These walls are pitted with holes, leading into a network of tunnels and caves, which are the lairs of the creatures that made them: giant flesh-eating worms; long, pale-grey, blind, but possessing an uncanny ability to detect prey by the vibrations of their movement, even, so it is said,  by the pounding of the heart of a terrified man.

Looters' Square

Beyond WORM VALLEY is an open plaza strewn with debris. A square formed by the ruined buildings surrounding it, the plaza is one of the few areas of the city that the SHADES avoid, for as yet unknown reasons. As such it is one of the safer places to explore; which it has been on numerous occasions, each time discovering new chambers and passage beneath the square. This is where most of the treasure has surfaced, looted from the rooms below; and although the treasure found is less than it was, there is still enough to attract adventurers.

Below the square, depending on which entrance you take, there are tombs and crypts, former dwellings, crude passages and caves formed by collapsing rubble, as well as chambers believed to be ancient temples, arcane sanctums, and former barracks for long-dead soldiers. Some of the passages lead under and deeper into other parts of the city, some even connect to the tunnels beyond, especially those few to the west.

The Western Edge

Along the WESTERN EDGE of the ruined city are mounds of rubble, piles of waste, rivulets of blood and water, scree slopes that climb down to the craggy surface of the chasm; beyond this jagged line the chasm is largely unexplored, with fewer tunnels or features than the eastern side.

The edge is noted for the hives that have been built by giant killer bees that have developed a taste for the blood emerging from the walls. Rarely hostile, unless provoked, they have a deadly sting and seldom travel alone.

Beyond the Ruins

Beyond the ruined city of Kor, the chasm gradually begins to narrow, mirroring the eastern half, as it meets the roots of the mountains. There the broken rock has formed folds of stone, giant steps that climb out of the shadowed depths and into the slopes of the mountainside. It's a difficult climb, even without the blood concentrated on the walls; dangerous too, with caves holding the lairs of trolls, wyverns, and owlbears closer to the ground.

Like the east side, the floor of the chasm is made of crushed layers of stone, forming tunnels and caverns, but less numerous and with fewer connections. Most of the blood has merged into one large river, which cascades down a fissure in the rock, falling to unknown and unexplored depths below the surface of the chasm.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Delvers' Guide: Ruins of Kor, Part 1

The Eastern Ridge

The eastern tunnels largely emerge into the ruins over a ridge of densely packed stone, strewn with scree slopes and scattered boulders. Many of the rivers of blood stop here, forming pools and small marshes; others have carved channels through the ridge, and bloody waterfalls cascade into the ruins beyond.

The ridge acts as a natural border, separating the tunnels and city ruins, and is spread across the miles-wide chasm. Paths, natural and man- or monster-made cut through the stone, winding down to the sunken city below.

The Boulder Fields

Forming a rough crescent on the edge of the denser ruins is a sparse expanse of bedrock, scattered and strewn with boulders of all sizes. These are actually the worn-down remnants of ruins, and hidden amongst them are trapdoors and buried stairs leading down into cellars, crypts, dungeons and underground warehouses. Some are visible, some have been excavated and explored, but most remain untouched, waiting to be discovered.

The Red Canals

One fairly intact section is partially flooded; the former streets have become canals fed by a river of blood, hence THE RED CANALS. This area has been claimed by a team of engineers, explorers, archaeologists and adventurers, who have managed to clear enough space to establish a permanent presence, a camp amongst the ruins. They are ever vigilant, coming under attack on a daily basis, and mercenaries are constantly in demand. Sponsored by the Trade Guild, they are working to maintain a permanent stronghold, with their own lift, in direct competition with the Delvers' Guild.

Although they are a long way from achieving this, they have made some progress: there is a small trading outpost, a simple inn, and a make-shift tavern. It's certainly one of the safest spots in the ruined city.

The Bone Pit

In the central part of the ruins, surrounded by crumbling walls and shallow caves dug into the rubble, is a huge pit, really a crater, known as THE BONE PIT. Thousands of bones fill the pit, maybe even hundreds of thousands, as no one knows how deep it is. The bones come from all over the ruins, collected by the degenerates– commonly referred to as SHADES, due to their pale-skins, aversion to daylight, and affinity for shadows– and thrown into the pit, offerings to whatever dark gods, demons or totems they worship. Mingled with these assorted bones– animal, monster and humanoid– are gemstones, jewellery, anything that glitters and glows brightly in torchlight; trinkets and baubles for the most part, coins too, but also some truly valuable gemstones such as rubies, sapphires and golden yellow topaz.

Be warned: although the area surrounding the pit seems empty, it is anything but. The pit is a trap, with SHADES lurking in the caves, behind walls, even buried under a fine layer of dirt and rubble, ready to pounce. As soon as you turn your back, distracted by the flash of gems, they will swarm. If you're lucky, you'll be killed; if not, you'll be eaten alive.

Rumour has it that the pit itself holds a further danger, some monster that lives in its depths, occasionally rising to the surface to be fed sacrifices that the SHADES throw into the pit.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Delvers' Guide: the Ancient Ruins

Ruins of Kor
The ANCIENT RUINS OF KOR are centuries old, and by all accounts KOR was an old city even before it fell. There is no doubt that a wealth of treasure can be found there, along with ancient knowledge, unknown magics, and history waiting to be discovered. It is the ultimate goal of anyone descending into the chasm, and can be a hive of activity; with adventurers, explorers, historians and other scholars all paying the ruins a visit.

The ruins are also dangerous, even more than the tunnels and surface of the chasm. Pale, regressed humans are the dominant threat in the city, believed to be the descendants of the original inhabitants. They are little more than scavengers, cannibals, and hunt in packs. They have an aversion to sunlight, and cringe in even bright light, but can tolerate the light of lanterns or torches. There are rumours that some among them are shamans, but this has yet to be proven.

The original landscape of the city has changed beyond all recognition, and there are few intact buildings. Those that have spent time in the ruins have roughly mapped out sections, giving them names based on landmarks and notable features, all to aid others in navigating the ancient ruins.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Delvers Guide: Places to See & Avoid, Part 3

The Hidden Forest

Deeper into the tunnels is a natural cavern that sinks lower into the ground. This cavern holds THE HIDDEN FOREST, with giant mushrooms in place of trees, patches of mould in place of bushes, and fresh water from streams fed by rainwater that trickles through the layers of stone above.

Home to a variety of wildlife, some hostile, the forest is a source of food and water for those that live in the tunnels, and for adventuring parties passing through.

Old Scar-Face

One of the inhabitants of THE HIDDEN FOREST is an old, huge tenacious Manticore that has been given a name by adventurers: OLD SCAR-FACE; for the monster's face is covered in scars from the battles it has fought and survived. None have managed to slay him, and those that have tried have always suffered casualties. In part, this is due to his size, power and ferocity, but also because he is rarely encountered alone, being normally encountered with his fully-grown children or mates.

The Statuary

Closer to the ruins are a series of linked caves and tunnels full of statues, known as the STATUARY or the PETRIFIED CAVES. A nest of Cockatrices is said to lair here, although no one has proven this; and a medusa is rumoured to have taken up residence in one of the caves; both would explain why there are so many statues.

The statues themselves are dominated by perfect sculptures of adventurers, explorers and their entourage; many are posed in mid-fight or -flight, some wearing expressions of shock and surprise, fear and horror, or simply acceptance. There are statues of animals and monsters too, and their ages range from a few decades to a few days old. The aged statues are worn, cracked, crumbling, with many fallen into piles barely recognisable rubble.

It is an eerie, quiet and unsettling location, where the eyes of the statues seem to follow you, or move when caught in the corner of the eye; and it has its own particular danger.

Living Statues

Whether the result of an experiment or research, or ignited by a spark of the divine from the blood that drips from the rough, unseen ceiling, it is known that some of the statues are alive, in the crudest sense. These LIVING or ANIMATED STATUES have an intrinsic disdain for all forms of life, ambushing parties as they pick their way through the tunnels crowded with statues. They vary in both material and methods of attack, shatter, crumble or rust when vanquished, and all have jewels for hearts. Some magi believe that their victims turn to stone themselves, replenishing the statues that are worn or smashed.

The Twisted Stairs

Eventually the tunnels emerge amongst the ruins of KOR, some merging and forming natural steps that twist and buck towards the surface. These TWISTED STAIRS exit all around the edge of the ruins, creating numerous entrances.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Delvers Guide: Places to See & Avoid, Part 2

The Bloody Mire

Upon the surface of the chasm, starting a short distance from the shaft, is a boggy marsh region where the rivers of blood have muddied the debris; creating the reeking BLOODY MIRE. This marsh is abuzz with insects, including some of the giant variety, and monsters hunt and lair there. Flocks of BLOOD RAVENS dine on the insects when they can't get meatier prey, and ICHOR or BLOOD ELEMENTALS have been known to spontaneously form.

The mire covers two-thirds of the width of the chasm, making it to difficult to avoid. Those that try find themselves trapped by those monsters who have learnt to hunt on the 'dry land' between the mire and wall.

Blood Ravens

These abominations are a bane to all travellers to the chasm. Originally they were ordinary ravens, attracted by the deaths of all those Avatars and followers. They began to change when they first tasted the divine blood; growing in size, feathers turning blood red, beaks sharpening, overcome with insatiable hunger for blood and fresh meat. Highly hostile, they'll swarm to attack if you approach them.

The Lake of Unknown Depths

Further along the surface, against the south wall, is a large lake where a number of rivers and streams of blood converge. It's known as BLOOD LAKE or the LAKE OF UNKNOWN DEPTHS, because no one knows how deep it is, and as yet no one has had the courage to find out. It has become the watering hole for the chasm's inhabitants, and with such a variety of creatures, fights between them often break out.

In the middle of the lake is a small island of rock, with a tunnel entrance sheltered under a stone shelf. This natural formation is known as AMIR'S PATH, after the explorer who discovered it. It is a more direct route to the city ruins, avoiding some of the worse dangers of the tunnels; a useful shortcut, if you can cross the lake.

Blood Elementals

The lakes, pools, streams and rivers of blood sometimes produce short-lived creatures called BLOOD or ICHOR ELEMENTALS, akin to the better known four. Varying in size from a small dog to an elephant, and possessed with a rudimentary, animalistic intelligence, scholars believe they are created by whatever sparks of divinity is retained in the blood; a belief the magi refute, saying that the spark of life is simply part of the natural, inherently magical, weave of the world. However they are formed, these elementals or WEIRDS, as they are sometimes referred to, are unstable, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. They are susceptible only to magic, in any form, making them difficult opponents. Thankfully, they are not always hostile, often content to simply swim through the rivers of blood, driven by unknown motives.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Delvers Guide: Places to See & Avoid, Part 1

The WEEPING CHASM is full of danger, but it is also full wonder. There are things below that you won't find anywhere else, sights unseen, experiences like no other. Some can be found in the tunnels, others in the ruins, and a few cling to the walls and lie upon the surface. Keep your wits about you, however, because for every wonder there's a monster close-by.

Here are a few of the more common monsters and places to see, and sometimes avoid.

Skin Wraiths

Thought to be the lost, discontented souls of slain Avatars and their subsequent victims, SKIN WRAITHS are common enough to be fairly well documented. Semi-corporeal undead entities, akin to the deadlier life-draining wraiths found in the CATACOMBS, these shadowy creatures wear the tattered skins of their victims. They radiate intense cold, and their touch freezes, eventually paralysing their victims. The SKIN WRAITH then skins the victim, slowly, painfully, killing them in the process.

Thankfully, they are vulnerable to the divine powers of clerics and priests, and their semi-solid state allows mundane weapons to hurt them. A warning: only magic, divine or otherwise, can truly destroy a SKIN WRAITH; otherwise they simply reform in a matter of hours.

The Crystal Maze

Quite close to the lift-shaft is a series of connected tunnels and chambers, whose walls are compressed crystals and crystalline formations in a wide-range of dazzling colours. Bring light into this maze and the crystals catch the light, expel it tenfold and more, creating bursts and rays of dazzling, sometimes blinding, colours. It is a truly awesome sight, all the more magnificent for the absence of magic; the CRYTAL MAZE is a natural phenomena.

The crystals are worthless by themselves, something delvers have learnt over the years, but the maze connects to tunnels that lead deeper into the chasm, providing a short cut; this is unfortunate, as it is easy to get lost, especially when dazzled, and many an adventurer has lost their way and fallen prey to the creatures that hunt there. Sometimes you can stumble across a kill, still equipped for adventuring, maybe even still laden with treasure. The monsters that prowl the maze, giant vermin for the most part, care little for trinkets.

Mirror Imps

One of the creatures that uses the CRYSTAL MAZE as it 'hunting ground' is a peculiar demon that is known as a MIRROR IMP.

Mirrors, as any magi will tell you, can be used as doorways to other realms, so long as you have the right 'key' and know the appropriate ritual. One such realm is the ABYSS, that other world where demons dwell. MIRROR IMPS are able to cross through to our world at will, without keys or rituals; all that they require are mirrors reflecting back upon one another, conjuring up an infinite regression of images– as the scholars tell it– that create an accidental portal. The highly reflective crystals of the maze have the same effect, letting in the imps whenever they feel the need.

These bloated goblin-like demons are highly mischievous and malicious with it. They adopt a party, following them on their adventures, causing all sorts of problems; from attracting monsters, stealing or sabotaging equipment, hiding treasure, to cursing party members. When confronted they plead innocence, and try to make deals, which they always break at the first opportunity.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Delvers' Guide: Entry & Exit

Entering & Leaving the Chasm

There is only one safe way to enter or leave the city, and that is by the lift attached to the DELVERS GUILD. For a modest fee, a delver will take you down in the lift, and the return ascent is free; although you may have to wait a while for the lift to arrive. There used to be a bell attached to a very long rope, but it was removed after the more intelligent monsters learnt that they could call down food; their very own room service.

The lift passes through a shaft at the bottom of the chasm, and stops in a cavern that has been cleared and enlarged over the years. The shaft is defended by sharpened stakes driven deep into the rock, and a mixture of divine glyphs and arcane wards. There are no guards down there, as their life expectancy would be very low.

The other ways in and out of the chasm are risky at best, deadly for the most part. The obvious way is climbing the walls, which certainly have plenty of nooks and crannies to hold on to; an easy climb, if it wasn't for the blood and the half-mile descent. Climbers have to contend with the flying creatures that make their nests on ledges and in the shallow caves. No one has ever climbed all the way down, or up. The few that tried fell to their deaths.

There are a few tunnels, pits and winding stairways that lead from the catacombs out through holes in the walls; and there is at least one tunnel from the OFFAL PITS, which comes out on top of the surface, next to a sinkhole, which in turn opens into the tunnels.

Midway along the chasm, at the foot of the hills it carves through, some enterprising engineers have been trying to build their own lift, straight down to the ruins below. So far, they have failed, largely due to the greater number of monsters in that region.

At the other end of the chasm, under the shadow of the mountains, the chasm breaks into folds of rock, that are much easier to climb and ooze less blood than the eastern side. There're still plenty of monsters– owlbears, wyverns and trolls especially– but parties have managed to make their way down that way. That side has few tunnels, so reaching the ruins is a difficult journey, full of natural hazards and hungry monsters. Not many make the journey, and none have made it without taking some casualties.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Delvers' Guide to the Weeping Chasm

Sketch of the Weeping Chasm
The first thing you need to know about the WEEPING CHASM is its size: a little over twenty-seven miles long, half-a-mile deep, and five miles across at its widest point. The tip begins here, in our CITY OF BONES, and the fissure ends at the foot of the mountains to the west. It is vast, with numerous tunnels, caverns and pits spreading out from its interior, like cracks in a broken pane of glass.

The second thing you need to know is that its depths are largely unexplored, and that new areas are always being discovered. The remains of the ancient city of KOR lie in the chasm, the more intact buildings at its centre, the rest at least partially buried by rocks and scree, flooded with water or blood. The accumulation of centuries of fallen stones, dumped waste, and general detritus have compacted layers of debris, with natural pockets and caves being formed, creating a network of tunnels and rooms, some narrow, some wide avenues, often cramped with low ceilings, damp and pitch black. These tunnels lead to the ruins and the dungeons, catacombs and crypts below the city, and are safer to traverse than walking along the 'roof' of the tunnels, the surface of the chasm floor.

Which brings us to the third thing you need to know about the chasm: it is a dangerous place. Make no mistake, exploring the chasm is a deadly profession and a third of all those who descend into the dark never return. The blood that oozes from the torn edges, coursing down the walls to form pools, streams, rivers and even lakes, attracts all manner of beasts, both natural and otherwise. This is why the tunnels are safer, for upon the surface where most of the blood accumulates are monsters that have grown fat and bold. They will attack without provocation, driven by what has been described as an insatiable hunger.

The tunnels, although safer in comparison to the surface, are not without their dangers. Monsters roam the tunnels, or make their lairs in the caverns that have formed. The tunnels are also unstable, prone to collapse, and some have been flooded by water or blood.

Amongst the ruins of KOR, where the blood and tunnels converge, the danger is immense. Very few have made it out alive, although those that did came back laden with treasure. Aside from the monsters that now lair there, it has been said that degenerate humans live there, descendants of the original inhabitants who somehow survived their city's fall; we call them SHADES.

Rival adventuring parties, explorers, monster-hunter, and curious magi complete the danger. The competition for treasure, artefacts, trophies and lost magic is fierce. Fighting between parties are common, and many a man has been killed fighting over some trinket or jewel recovered from the chasm.