It's a hellcrawl. The party is running a pirate ship called the Adamantine Ogre, sailing across the burning seas of hell, trying to find repairs for their ship after it was bashed by giant swans in order to stop a ratman mutiny.
There's a quest for an egg, but who cares. Hell pirates and hellish hives of scum and villainy.
This post is about Hungry Joe, one of the aforementioned hives.
But first, some context.
Dying in Hell
You can't die in hell. If you would die, you instead lost 1d3 levels, become undead, and then must make a save against becoming some sort of fucked up NPC. Regardless of your success, you lose memories.
There is a vast subterranean tapestry where all the souls of the dead trickle down to. This is the Abyss, and it is full of demons (who only grow in power), the dead (who only dwindle), and the paladins, who successfully conquered hell, sundered Satan, and built the Circular Hells.
The Circular Hells
Basically just Dante's Inferno. The concept is unimprovable. There are three of them (East Hell, West Hell, and North Hell) and they are all run by the paladins, who collect and imprison the souls of sinners inside these machine-geographies. They are packed with anguished people.
This is the hell part of hell. Outside of the Circular Hells, life is laughably horrible, but inside, it's torture on a scale we can barely concieve.
They forced the demons to take the Oaths, creating the devils who wear the Shackles. They ensure that sinners are punished forever, and that no one escapes the Circular Hells. Someday, they will conquer all of the Abyss.
He is one of the very, very few people to escape from the third circle of hell (Gluttony). That was a long time ago.
Hungry Joe has eaten armies and cities. They're all still there inside him, still screaming, still dying, because there is no death in hell.
And he has grown huge. Huge and strange--a self-loathing glutton trapped inside a levitating planet of unthinkable, impossible obesity.
Two rocks thrusting up from the burning oceans of hell. They hold a barge suspended 50' above the surface of the flames, like a grain of rice held between two chopsticks. One of the chopsticks has a shoulder filled with maimed boats and the sounds of lamentation. This is Joetown.
The dock is crowded with moored ships, most of them no longer seaworthy. The dock and the ships are built from non-flammable materials (because the sea is fire). Things get dimmer the farther you move from the water's edge, because the ocean is the only light source. There are many, many ships, most of them derelict and filled with crumbling, powerless undead. You can only reach the dock by ramming other ships; otherwise you will have to tie up on someone else's ship and cross over their ship to reach the rock.
An unlit lamp post leans over the dock. Atop it, a hookman named Jarrack watches for incoming ships, and charges them a small fee to dock.
Sample Ship: The Last Gamble. Signs of violence. Sails have been knotted and the anchor has been hung high upon the mast. Mostly abandoned, except for the wailing coming from the hold, which contains six "mermaids" lamenting and arranging bones. Melania has three bone fish hooks threaded through her cheek, each one a single use of summon fish if used as a conventional fish hook. She and her five sisters are looking for news of the living merfolk (up under the sunshine). She will pay money for water (a rarity in hell). They offer shelter but will attempt to kill and eat you if they think they can succeed. Locked in a box they have a whaler that that they have been slowly eating over the last six months. Every so often one will open the box and take a nibble. They are saving his eyes for last. (His living, terrified eyes.)
Another Sample Ship: Empty rooms. More empty rooms. In the boiling hot bilge is a mass of weeping flesh, half-submerged in its own suppurations. (Stats as black pudding.) Arranged carefully at the back of the bilge is a dolorite sculpture of a deformed uterus (worth 3000c) surrounded by sculptures of miscarriages, made from garbage and mucus.
At the end of the dock is a Joe Lump.
The Joe Lump is a blistered clump of skin and hair. It wears a hat. Up close, you can see the dozen eyes buried amid the fleshy folds. Some are rolling madly and some are closed, but most are looking at you with calm regard. Under the hat is a slobbering mouth. At its base is a row of sphincters that constatly ooze black treacle. It weighs about 400 lbs. Joe can see through its eyes.
How much can you compress human suffering? Into how small of a space can you compress it?
If you put a bunch of people in an oven, you have achieved a great deal of suffering, to be sure.
But if you cut off their arms and legs, and then piled them into the oven, you would surely have created a greater density of suffering.
But what of the superfluous material of the body, the bones and the skin and the digestive tract? Why not excise that as well? Why not peel a man down to the marrow and layer his anguished nerves across the oven floor, as compressed as possible?
This is the principle behind dolorite, except that it made with much more extreme efficiency than our example would seem to imply. The details are best left unspoken.
Dolorite is fabulously expensive to create. It is prized by demons, who manufacture it into daggers and dildos and other such blasphemies.
For most people, touching dolorite causes immediate and catastrophic depression, and a near-complete loss of the will to life. (Mechanics: Upon touching dolorite, save or drop your HP to 0. At the start of each of your turns, make a save. If you succeed, you regain all of the HP you lost.)
|From the Book of Creatures|
The whole site if pretty awesome.
Points of interest: a skinny man begging for food, smoke rising from a beached rowboat, a group of people amid four half-ships, and a path up the rock to the upper barge.
This close, it is possible to see the top of the rock through the haze. The barge has something ascending from it, an irregular pillar, possibly made from thick smoke.
The starving man is running away from Hungry Joe. He will follow the party if they seem to have food. He is bruised around the face and temples, as if beaten recently. He is (briefly) helpful if fed. He will become aggressive in 10 minutes if not fed. He is not hard to deceive, but he is desperate and willing to attempt anything.
The beached rowboat hides a trapdoor, leading to a man-burrow. The first room holds pair of blind, syphilitic "dogs"*. The back room holds Jayak. He will give free advice to anyone who does business with him. He will sell cockatrice eggs. He will buy drugs at a high price. He will also pay beautiful ladies to reach into his chest and caress this small, shriveled heart, which does not beat, but merely trembles like a bird.
The four half-ships are exactly that. Two ships that have been broken in half and assembled around a town square of sorts. In this square a witch is attempting to commit suicide. She has convinced her 10 friends to call upon Zulin, condemn her as a witch, shame her, beat her, and then burn her at the stake. She hopes that this will consign her to oblivion, rather than an eternity of suffering.
One person is cursing the witch more than the oters. She is Rendrada Fly-Heart, and she was the witch-hunter who killed the witch when they were both alive. In death she is her deepest friend.
You can stop the ceremony. No one will thank you if you do.
Gran Begina, the Witch: HD 4, warp wood, steal voice, water to fire. Her spellbook is written on the bottom of her shoes, and will be lost when she burns.
Rendrada Fly-Heart: HD 3, leather, broadsword. Save +4 vs magic. Enemies struck by her have a 50% chance of fumbling spells for 1 round.
Up on the cliffs, you can see hookmen scrabbling up and down. clickclick--clickclick--clickclick. They wear baskets on their backs and seem to be collecting things. (They are collecting giblets that missed the Buckets.)
If you climb the switchbacks up the cliffs, you will be accosted by 1d4-1 hookmen who demand that you pay 20c to ride the elevator. This is not robbery, just a local rule that encourages hookmen to collect elevator fees from travelers.
At the top is the barge, perched precariously between two gripping crags. Above it, the elevator writhes. In the fire-damaged hold is meeting place that doubles as a shrine to Jubilex (one of the strongest elements of the demonic rebellion against the paladins). In an open chest is a pile of meat hooks, for the hookmen's guests.
|Whales are so fucking weird|
and no one seems to notice.
There's a loop of enormous chain. It is large enough that you could not pick up a single link. It goes through a ring on the deck of the barge. It loops up, getting lost in the smoke from the ocean. 450' higher, it loops through another hook in the ceiling of the landing lodge.
Wrapped around this enormous chain is one of Hungy Joe's intestines, sealed off in a closed loop. The intestine still has directionality, however, and so it writhes around the chain with peristaltic contractions. (Here's a video of what your stomach does everyday.)
It's a bit like a three-dimensional conveyor belt, where the chain is the floor and the skin of the intestine is the surface of the conveyor belt. It moves about 1' for every 2 seconds (and so it takes 15 minutes to be conveyed from one end to the other).
Hookmen ride the elevator easily, since their hooks are perfectly suited to clamber onto the fleshy skin of the intestine. Hookmen are friendly and helpful as long as you continually give them small amounts of money. They ask for money a lot.
Non-hookmen can reach Hungry Joe by stabbing a meathook into the intestine and hanging on for dear life.
The elevator is fed by cutting it open and pouring in some half-digested chyme, harvested from Hungry Joe's intestines. (The waste liquids are similarly drained beforehand.) This is why the writhing flesh-elevator is covered in long, garish scars.
These are the descendants of the whalers that first befriended and colonized Hungry Joe. They have drank Joe's bitter juices. They have slept atop his troubled brow and let his dreams trouble theirs. They have replaced their extremities with hooks.
They offer the same surgeries to the PCs.
Replace a hand (50c). Your hand will forever do 1d8 damage, but it cannot ever hold anything every again (since you have no hand, just a hook). If you replace both hands, you have a single natural attack that does 1d12 damage, but you can never hold anything ever again.
Replace a foot (30c). You get a hook attached at your heel and another at the front of your foot, like a pincer. For each foot replaced this way, you get -1 Movement and +2 to resist being moved or tripped.
For each hand/foot replaced in this way, you get +2 to climb. If you replace all four extremities, you can permanently climb as spider climb.
Replace tongue (100c). You can harpoon things and reel them in like a hookshot. Your tongue has Strength 4. If you have hook feet, you can use the bonus to resist being moved.
Hookman: HD 1, AC leather, Hooks 1d12. Spider climb. Harpoon tongue (as above).
They have no hair. Every part of their body that was previously covered with hair is now covered with a soft cuticle, much like a flimsy fingernail.
The Buckets (Neighborhood)
About halfway up to the landing lodge are the Buckets. These are hanging platforms. They look more like stained metal trays than buckets. The largest is 200' across.
They are used to catch Hungry Joe's drippings (from his many sores), giblets (from the meat harvests), and his feces (very little is produced--Hungry Joe's body is too gluttonous to allow much to escape).
A few hookmen eke out a shitty existence atop the buckets, growing strange crops to feed Hungry Joe. Their shanties are made from from bones and spoorcobble.
The Dangles (Neighborhood)
About 90% of the way up to the landing lodge are the Dangles. These are loops of Hungry Joe's intestines, knotted together and looped into paths and foundations. They average about 5' wide. The landing lodge is in the middle of this. A normal-looking man will help you off the elevator, then ask for 20c.
Like all of Hungry Joe's buildings, they are attached by hooks. Most of the buildings are converted (metal) ships or associated structures. An old dock might double for a wide market road. The harbormaster's office is inside an enormous diving bell.
The intestines are different colors and sizes. Black, brown, yellow, red. They all move slowly as they contract and pulse. Remember that intestines are muscles. The buildings sway.
The hookmen sometimes use the road. Othertimes they jump from intestine to intestine. They climb fastest sideways, like a vertical crab. Climbing on the intestines is frowned upon, because it wastes blood, and sometimes Joe's meals spill out a little bit. Most of this is caught by the Buckets, below, but it risks being wasteful.
Eating the half-digested chyme that spills from Hungry Joe's intestines is not tolerated. That is food-theft, and is punished with death (as you are fed to Hungry Joe).
There are other places of interest up here. The Nursery, where Flocculent Sneed with perform the operations that turn you into a young hookman. The Tit, a tavern with an inaccurate name, where hookmen, pirates, scabromanders, and a battlesnake get drunk on blood.
Above the Dangles, you can barely make out the backside of Hungry Joe. It is huge and sallow like a cancerous moon. Occasionally a boil will pop, raining down toxins onto the Dangles. Occasionally a hookman will spill one intentionally onto an invader.
Black Bottle (Neighborhood)
A neighborhood on the side of the Hungry Joe. It is inside glassified blisters, which bulge out from Hungry Joe's side like bubble windows made from smoked glass. Inside are the crab-hand wizards, who tend to the delicate chemistries of Hungry Joe's unruly livers and glands.
The crab-hand wizards replace each finger on their right hand with a crab claw. They do this to cast spells faster. They have other alterations, but the crab-hand is the biggest and most consistent.
Most of the attention is spent grappling with the moods of Joe's humors, but they are mostly known for the Little Joes that they produce.
Little Joes are made by cutting off a large piece of Hungry Joe and growing it in a vat. The resultant creature is often mistaken for a whale, until it lifts its head from the water and you can see the patches of hair and the blind, idiot eyes lolling amidst the waves.
Little Joes are used as boats. Submarines, actually. They compromise the bulk of Hungry Joe's ramshackle Navy.
The crab-hand wizards offer a variety of modifications to the basic Little Joe. The jaw can be grown to large proportions, to the point where it subsumes the nose and forces the eyes to the side of the head, causing the Little Joe to have a face like a blunt-toothed shark. Or the entire useless face and brain can be replaced with a cluster of cannons.
Each Little Joe comes with a magically locking hatch on the back and three interior rooms.
- Little Joe: 10,000c
- Chompers: +5,000c (powerful bite attack, precludes Cannon Cluster Face)
- Cannon Cluster Face: +5,000c (powerful and expensive ranged attack, precludes Chompers)
- Voluminous Uterus: +5,000c (huge cargo space, precludes blasphemy glands)
- Blasphemy Glands: +5,000c (blasphemes against gravity, allowing flight, precludes Voluminous Uterus)
|From the Contemporary Chester|
Strains of tumors evolve and fight slow wars across Hungry Joe's tortured belly. This is where the priesthood lives, alongside the butcherboys.
The priesthood are the actual leadership aboard Hungry Joe. They maintain his body and his mind. They control the Navy and the butcherboys. (They also control access to the dungeon inside Hungry Joe.)
The butcherboys are specialized hookmen. Their job is to keep Hungry Joe fed. Hungry Joe's diet includes "fish", relatively mundane vegetables from the gardens, intruders, and pieces of Hungry Joe himself.
While institutionalized autocannibalism may seem self-defeating, it works better than one might suspect because of the sheer efficiency of Hungry Joe's digestive system, due in part to his many miles of digestive tract. And autocannibalism is necessary, because it is important that Hungry Joe is eating constantly.
Very bad things happen if Hungry Joe ever stops eating.