Archive for the 'mayverne' Category


darksea war: tides of chaos

In darkness lit by phosphorescent fungi and the reflected light of fading magics on rushing water, the Darksea War continues apace.  New combatants enter the fray, drawn by compulsions woven by each side, formed out of horrific experiments or help from other worlds. Down the long years of war, aboleth and illithid have clashed over the limited resources, one seeks to drown the Underdark, the other seeks to civilise it.  Yet both seek to enslave those who remain and crush who resist their dominion.

The aboleth have been invigorated by the presence of the Elemental Chaos and Abyss that offers new allies to fight a war that for a while appeared to be siege-based and dependent on changes in water.  Now the aboleth plan an offensive based on sallies and counter-attacks hidden under the illithid.

  • The cultivation of failed servitors (or skum in Deep Speech) has given the aboleth a new weapon, while their fragility poses little threat to illithids, those approaching the lake-cities risk annihilation or aboleth control as they drive their former victims before them. The mere presence of skum has served to break sieges as their psychic dissonance enhances slime mage attacks.
  • Water archons have been recruited to the aboleth cause by invocations and portals to the Elemental Chaos and their presence presents the illithids with an unappetising problem.  The water archons can strike and retreat where there is water, cutting a swathe through massed illithid thralls and pulling them down to their doom.
  • Worse still, the aboleth have encouraged Dagon cults among some kuo-toa and these have led to devastating attacks on illithid thrall strongholds.  The aboleth help them by summoning kazrith demons whose hit-and-run attacks and tunnelling under key structures causes mayhem in thrall settlements.  Punitive raids by the illithids are frustrated by the supremacy of the kuo-toa in their environment.

The illithid have not been idle.  They recognise numerical superiority may not be enough and have delved into forbidden lore and experimentation to increase their superiority on land and to try and take the fight to the lake-cities where their enemies plot.

  • Bladerager trolls were created to destroy aboleth slaves and to sacrifice against the aboleth who lurk in the shallows.  Illithid-made bladeragers often display razor-edged crystals as well as broken blades and spikes and spear-heads taken from captives or thrall-forged.  The bladeragers are often transported in chains and loosed upon their intended enemies with devastating results.
  • The presence of a maw of Acamar amid some illithid raiders has provoked alarm among those few survivors; that some illithid scholar turned to a star pact for power is no surprise.  That the maw of Acamar appears to tolerate the illithid instead of just consuming them and their thralls worries many right-thinking individuals – if such terrible power can be harnessed against the aboleth, who is safe?

The Far Realm continues to provide both sides with resources beyond rhyme or reason.  The strange nothics serve both sides, mindblights are seen roaming the shores of the lake-cities hunting thralls while illithids retain cacklers as loyal if vicious pets.  The presence of fell taints have increased in the war, posing threats to all sides and making the Underdark even stranger and deadlier.  As more abominations spawn, the Far Realm comes closer.

Both sides are threatened by the duergar; vengeful former slaves of the illithid now loyal servants of the Nine Hells who have learned from their illithid captors.  The duergar are set against both sides but will make certain the illithid suffer since they are often in direct competition with the mind flayers and more than a few grudges have been passed down through duergar tradition.  The appearance of demonic allies among the aboleth has made them a target as well yet the duergar are smarter than to fight a war on two fronts.

The neogi have also escaped servitude under the illithid and intend to avoid that fate once more.  As a result they will trade with anyone including allies from both sides.  The slave markets are visited by both drow and kuo-toa; yet the neogi keep their customers at arms length while subtly sabotaging illithid expansion by a combination of proxies, treachery and magic.  On one thing everyone agrees, the neogi cannot be trusted.


weekend warrior: aisenblut orcs

In the frozen Aisenfell, hardiness and cruelty are survival traits.  It is no surprise the orcs there have changed in a land where dragons are hunted for food and where abominations roam the ice.  A breed apart from normal orcs, the Aisenblut are known for hostility and supernatural power.  Their pale, dappled grey skin, thick white hair and almost colourless blue eyes with catlike pupils mark them as different.  Many Aisenblut are known for living without fire, preferring to salt their kills or hanging them so they develop a game taste.

Aisenblut Parb
The parb are the weakest warriors of the Aisenblut orcs, analogous to the drudge.  Like drudges, their concept of honour is non-existent and they enjoy charging at enemies and swarming them.  Unlike them they learned clubs are useless for hacking and employ bone-bladed short swords that can cut blocks of ice out of a glacier.  Their sensitivity to fire is such they avoid it at all costs, preferring the chill of the glaciers and the small igloo-like dwellings they make.

Aisenblut Mestetul
The mestetel are fierce hunters analogous to the raider often harrying their foes and prey across ice sheet and glacier.  They dislike fire intensely and aim a javelin at torch bearers and other fire-making types.  They are wiry but as strong as a parb and often intimidate them. Their hunter’s eye ability makes them fearsome foes in a skirmish where a javelin can find people who mistake partial cover as insurance against pain.  Their ability to pick out a concealed target and strike it with a javelin makes them deadly hunters and feared opponents.  The mestetul is also feared for charging the enemy with great spears – their superior reach often carries them into a shield wall with devastating impact.  Mestetul are keen on skewering enemy leaders as trophies. 

Aisenblut Yrokh
The yrokh corresponds to the orc berserker and it at least keeps with ancestral tradition as a blow from it’s greataxe will crush the weak who it despises above all things.  The yrokh is a brutish mass of dappled grey orc muscle and sinew, it’s ice-blue eyes menace all they see.  The yrokh braids the fingerbones of their fallen foes into it’s hair and revel in senseless carnage. For them, there is only kill or be killed and death in battle is chosen over retreat.  This attitude leads to a short, brutish life filled with other people screaming – this pleases the yrokh well.  It will serve those who are stronger but an yrokh will test for weakness.

Aisenblut Glazazimoi

A shamanic leader of the Aisenblut orcs though it serves an aspect of Gruumsh fitting to it’s chill environment.  It’s skin is bone white, shaven and scarred and it’s single blue eye radiates a chill light that invigorates other Aisenblut in battle.
The glazazimoi will inspire other Aisenblut orcs to fierce charges and use it’s eye of winter to weaken a foe for allies to finish.  If it is close to a group it will use it’s freezing blast ability to weaken foes then keeping close to it’s allies for them to benefit from the relentless chill and incite blood fury.
The glazazimoi often forms the tactical nucleus of a group and works as a shamanic advisor to the orcs of it’s tribe.  Unlike the eye of Gruumsh, it is much more inclined to tactics and defensive fighting (for an orc anyway).
On death, the glazazimoi’s eye shines with an eerie blue chill that coats it’s spear and the flesh in frost, allowing one final attack before the glazazimoi finally falls over, heart shattering into ice. The cold revenge is a gift from the Elemental Chaos stolen by Gruumsh when the orc race was still in it’s infancy.


inns and taverns: the wayside

A roadside tavern just inside the edge of The Great Forest, a solidly-built three storey circular tower of oaken beams 40′ across using a pair of trees for structural support with a first floor balcony that views the road which is often guarded by someone with a signalling horn and a longbow. It is surrounded by a low wooden fence and gate that can be vaulted by the athletic and climbed by the drunk. A lean-to adjacent to the building and in the shade of one of the trees provides rough-and-ready stabling and pasture for five horses. It is possible to climb onto the inn from the trees and get into a top floor room from there.

Entering from the east, the first two storeys form a massive common room and tavern around a central slate hearth where chicken and suckling pig roast on spits and a sizable cauldron bubbles with stew. Long tables and benches are arranged like wheel spokes from the hearth On the west side of the room is a bar where eight wenches and two barmen pour from kegs behind them and a slate hangs with prices. There are staircases to the north and south leading up to balconies on the first floor where people gather and the staircases lead higher. Under the balconies are discreet alcoves for business but getting served can be a problem for those sat there.

The top floor is a collection of rough-and-ready rooms frequented by secretive patrons willing to pay a bit extra and a pair of local working girls popular with the local foresters. The ale is rough but strong, wine is sold from the keg. The food is plentiful and good quality though sleeping on straw is the only option for guests – requests for baths are laughed at. Ale is brewed and food is prepared for cooking in the cellars where staff have slightly better accommodation than the guests. The Wayside is usually busy with foresters, tinkers and itinerant travellers and turns a tidy profit as the door lintel is marked as under protection of a local scout and ranger fellowship.


tides of the darksea war

The Darksea War has raged in the Underdark for as long as aboleth and illithid have competed for territory, food and slaves. Their inventiveness and longevity killed thousands over the years as aboleth lake-cities are raided by illithid and their allies; in return aboleth command servitors to dam water courses, reshape caves and tunnels to expand their domain while denying life-giving water to their enemies.

Aboleth overseers use rituals for other purposes than servitor creation. They also make magical items for use against illithid and their allies – such items are designed for aboleth or are perilous to non-aboleth. Understanding of how Far Realm denizens think is required to use these items; such understanding is corrosive to sanity and the few students of aboleth lore are unpleasant folk.

Of note is a magical crystal lens called a meniscus of control that focuses the mental powers of the aboleth to extend their domination attack further (increasing the range of such by 50%) – of course the illithid are interested in obtaining an intact meniscus but to do so means descending into the slime – something no sane illithid will dare. Also the meniscus (a piece of crystal at least five feet in diameter and concave on both sides) is often inset into a building as a window.

The aboleth also discovered that certain of their slimes can attract oozes and cultivated ochre jellies to clean their cities; using their slime to pacify any aggression towards the aboleth, they have caused certain ochre jellies to aggregate into huge masses of jelly with an appetite for organic matter in the manner of slime molds. The illithid are able to pacify the oozes but their inedible nature and their attrition of minions makes them a constant source of… irritation.

The battlegrounds between illithid and aboleth can over time become infused with evil and death warping the very stones themselves. Some areas become blood rock while others may become haunted or attract umbral taint. Undead have been seen working for both sides; the illithids try to broker deals with sentient undead (and become liches themselves) while the aboleth cultivate undead guardians out of those who died on the field and use the kuo-toa to make others.

The glyph script that the aboleth use is sometimes carved onto particular stones; a lone servitor is sometimes sent out to build a cairn using these stones. As the servitor dies due to dessication it’s life energy is trapped by the glyphs and the servitor arises as a ghost. Trapped between the worlds with memories of servitude, betrayal, the agony of it’s death and hatred for it’s enemies, the result is an insane, violent ghost bound to a specific location.

The illithid are not averse to buying undead from the drow; armies of skeletons made of former illithid victims marched against the lake-cities in the past. Abandoned lake-cities become horrific boneyards later consecrated to evil and lairs to undead monstrosities formed out of those who died there. The aboleth are careful to collapse tunnels that link these places or to ensure there are kuo-toa priests between them and the active lake-cities.


waves of the darksea war

In the Underdark, the presence of the Darksea War echoes like the distant tide; the aboleth lake-cities slowly expanding against destructive illithid raids; between this hammer and anvil, the other races carve their own empires in the sunless world. The shifting alliances of the Underdark and the inherent treachery of the Far Realm makes unpredictable neighbours.

  1. Balhannoth are tamed by both aboleth and illithid via telepathy; these alien creatures are set to guard areas with high ceilings. They are not bred by either race as destrachan are – their nature is not suited to it; instead they are allowed to patrol territories that coincide with the tactical desires of either race to feed on the minions of their enemies.
  2. Drow and kuo-toa, despite being on opposite sides of the conflict will do business together – the drow are not always enamoured of waterborne travel and drow slave markets are often filled with choice purchases. The fickle nature of the drow is only provoked by direct attack or if aboleth expansion may harm their cities or territory.
  3. Foulspawn will serve as mercenaries for either side. When they meet the opposite side; there is a brief negotiation, the foulspawn obey whoever pays the most. Naturally both aboleth and illithid have lied before (and will again) and as these conversations happen telepathically, it is very difficult to know if foulspawn will stay allies.
  4. Ropers are willing to negotiate with illithid to watch over certain areas. For a tasty victim or three they will also report on what they observe. The illithid will suggest that the roper takes to the ceiling to maximise their hunting opportunities and after all, such a position limits the danger of being surrounded by enemies…

salient facts on the darksea war

I mentioned the aboleth and mind flayers in my next campaign world are at war in my response to the Mr. Doppleganger incident. This is one of the first historic events in the campaign setting and the war has not slowed up since that long-lost time. Here’s a brief summary of the notes around that and some ideas that spun out from those notes.

  • Aboleth create large shallow lakes by using slaves to build dams across Underdark rivers; the resulting flooded caverns are enlarged by servitors or dominated slaves. The resulting flooded caverns are enlarged and the stone used to build the great crenellated towers, wells surrounded by rings of short spikes and mazes found in aboleth construction.
  • Some aboleth take controlling the water supply even further. Their servitors dig deep wells for nearby client villages in return for a tribute of potential servitors. Aboleth takes pains to ensure that tunnels leading to the wells are secured – usually by deadfalls, clouds of mucus or multiple glyphs of warding. to discourage intrusion.
  • The resulting structures have a disturbing aspect, one part coral reef, one part nightmare. The decoration of sections in arcane glyphs and swirling patterns makes the construction seem to swim before the eyes while clouds of mucus and silt fog parts of the construction.
  • Kuo-toa venerate aboleth and provide them with slaves, honouring them as culture-bringers. While the occasional guard is offered as servitor material, aboleth regard the kuo-toa as willing allies rather than servitor or slave. The fanatical nature of the kuo-toa is used as an example of how servants should act, though occasional madness is not desirable.
  • Aboleth usually practice a studied contempt for the ‘lesser’ deities venerated by the former races of their servitors yet the divine patrons of the kuo-toa are respected for their influence. Beyond this, there are the dark entities who the aboleth entreat in complex lines of glyphs across buildings, etched into crystal seals or even into their own flesh.
  • Illithids are confident in their dealings with lesser races, even the most blood-crazed war troll considers the mind flayer something to be respected. This arrogance has led them into alliance with certain drow and resulted in grimlocks, hook horrors, umber hulks and war trolls joining mind flayer armies. Drow, bugbears, troglodytes and trolls have been found as illithid thralls or dominated servants.
  • Masterminds surround themselves with armies of thralls and use them for menial labour as well as troops. As a result, illithids can quickly spawn devoted thrall communities but their progress is sometimes sluggish due to the deep despairing trance of thralldom which leads illithids to using whips and torment – adding sadism to their other evils.
  • Mind flayers are fascinated by study and academic achievement; their intellects are drawn to arcane matters, lore about the Far Realm and oratory. Their studies of fauna, flora and constructs (usually with the intention of using them to control or become thralls or dinner) makes them potent scholars.
  • Their willingness to share this lore is limited, an exchange would require an intrepid scholar to have something spectacular at hand (a difficult skill challenge involving Arcana, Bluff, Insight or Dungeoneering may be of some help) though failure may lead to dinner for the offended scholars.

Both aboleth and illithid breed destrachans as guardians and warbeasts; their aberrant nature and the breeding programs have led to beneficial mutations of the base destrachan stock.

  • Aboleth-bred destrachans have translucent skins and strong webbed limbs (swim 6 instead of climb 3). They still breathe air so they sport on the surface of the city-lakes and sound in a manner akin to dolphins. Dolphins armed with thunderbolts of course.
  • Illithid breeds have ruffed collars that display if it grows aggressive (gain Intimidate +6) and sleek, athletic bodies (speed 8 rather than speed 6 climb 3) – the long claws of these runners are still razor-sharp and their sadistic nature is no less diminished.