Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Ruined City of Braxa / Undead Armies

This is the second of my ruined cities.  (Here is the first.)

The Countryside

For the wise traveler, all they'll ever see of  Braxa are the roads, and even then, from a safe distance.  Patrols are not as common as they once were, but they are still deadly.  The average patrol is composed of a quartet of mounted "knights". 

The average work-crew is composed of three dozen undead laborers, who level the flagstones and clear the footpaths of their growth.  It is a futile exercise--the citizens of Braxa all died long ago, victims of a plague of their own devising.

There are no small farms in Braxa, only plantations.  If you are determined to ride into the city itself, you'll pass several of these huge platations.  They are autonomous, all singularly crewed by bleached skeletons.  (Fleshy undead are messy, smelly, and spread the wrong types of disease.)

And you'll see the wagons pulling the giant jars of grain along the manicured road, on their way to the great grinding houses. 

The grinding houses, you can feel them in your feet from half a mile-away.  A thousand chained undead, straining in a spiral, rotating an entire building.  A torrent of clean grain thunders into the basement, where it is then carted off, again in a single gigantic jar.

The Walls

The city is surrounded by high walls of earth and stone, the highest wall in Centerra (except for the Forbiddance, which most consider to be a mountain range rather than a wall.)  As you walk through the long passageway between farm and plaza, you can hear the shuffling of dead, pivoting inside their secret chambers, watching you as you pass, ensuring that the leader of your party is wearing a merchant's medallion.

The walls are where the city stores its dead.  Each is about 50 meters thick, and 50 meters tall.  It is honeycombed with secret tunnels, armories, and sepulchers.  If you believe the tales, there's more bone than stone in the walls.  The whole wall is supposed to be able to exhume itself and march off at a moment's notice.

by Kris Kuksi
The City

It is clean and well-patrolled.  If there were any left of the old bloodline left, it would be a utopia for them to claim.  Supposedly, the undead will respond to the rightful rulers of Braxa, and signify this by kneeling.  Then the whole warmachine will be there for the scion to claim.

There are many granaries and stockhouses in Braxa.  Food is delivered to every house daily, and older food swept away and throw into the canal, which is choked with rot. 

The smell from the canal permeates the whole city.

A Small Building

A gate house.  Two skeletons operate the gate, while a dozen coffins in the bunk room can be summoned as reinforcements, if the proper bell is rung.

Another Small Building

A school.  Every morning, the undead clean the chalk tablets, open the windows, and serve lunch.  And every night, they put the chalk away, close the windows, and clean the tables of their refuse.

The Harbor

Looking down in the water, you will see the encrusted skeletons of Braxa's marines.  There are thousands of them down there, clad in lead boots for marching underwater.

Visitors sometimes arrive in Braxa.  The undead pay a bounty for corpses--three silver for every corpse laid down on the dock.  You may not leave the dock.

The Castle

Behind the blank-faced silos sits the castle.  Your merchant's medallion will not gain you entry.  Skeletons squat above every window, peer up from between the flagstones.  The moat is contains no water, merely more skeletons.

The last known king was Obrichan the Poet, although it is believed that he died in the plague, along with all his subjects.

Many people believe that the plague was caused by the king's acceptance of necromancers into his kingdom, and his acceptance of the undead.  Rather than condemn all forms of undeath as an abomination, he allowed them to serve as laborers.

This is where you will find living humans.  Some of the slaves seem to have escaped the plague, and now still tend to castle, performing the chores that the undead are too indelicate to perform, such as tending to the garden or playing songs during "dinner".  Slave who do not perform their chores are mutilated by the skeletons.  They may not leave the castle.

The slaves have gone through countless generations without any interaction with the outside world.  The speak a degenerate patois, and perform their chores religiously, without understanding the significance of what they do.  They have an invented religion, in which the Prophetessa is an invisible spirit within the castle.  After a lifetime of service, they will be promoted to skeletons themselves (mostly true) and after their skeletal life is complete, they will join the invisible Prophetessa at her invisible court.

One of the three towers is known to be the home of Abin Uldrin, the king's necromancer.  If there are any answers to be found in Braxa, they will be there.

Undead Army Strategy

I swear to god, no one does it right.

The greatest strengths of an undead army is in logistics, and in sieges. 

Not needing food is a tremendous advantage in long campaigns, far from home.  The need for a supply line is minimal.  And so undead armies tend to embrace long campaigns, sometimes wandering far from home for decades.

This resilience is even more useful during sieges.  Undead armies can encircle a town for years.  A common tactic is to build a second wall around a city's walls, and use that to prevent relief armies from approaching.  The undead have all the time in the world.

Skeletons are also resistant to arrows and burning oil, two common methods of repelling a siege.

In fact, skeletal armies are so good at sieges that an opposing commander will often make great sacrifices to force a pitched battle elsewhere.

The greatest weakness of an undead army is the intellect of the soldiers, and their magical prohibitions.

An undead battalion must be led by a living soldier, capable of formulating plans and enacting them.  If this soldier is killed, the battalion becomes headless.  Multiple commanding officers offer redundancy, but also erode the unique advantages of the undead.  And so a common opposing tactic is simply the assassination of officers, either through a suicide squad or subterfuge (such as an opponent's risen skeletons.)

Another flaw of the undead is their limited ability to differentiate between humans (and other skeletons, for that matter).  An enemy will be obeyed if they are wearing the proper armor and giving the proper code words.

Lastly, clerical magic can scatter skeletons with shocking efficiency.  An army backed by the Church's clerics can be devastating.  And so assassinations are also required (something that skeletons are incapable of).

Undead Army Tactics

Skeletons are typically iron-shod, like horses.  Their feet tend to erode during long marches, and then they become incapable of walking. 

Skeletal armies are also capable of startling ambushes, with their combatants buried in sand, shallow swamp, or surf.

Crawling skeletons are usually relegated to battalions of their own, and trail behind the main body of the army, unless there are so few of them that they can be carried on wagons, or by their peers (although this just causes their feet to wear out faster).

Lead-shod skeletons can also invade a city through the harbor, by walking on the bottom.  This is devastating to an unprepared city, and this type of sneak attack is usually how campaigns are kicked off.

The most visible icon of a skeletal army are the gas wagons.  Huge things loaded up with burning arsenic, or possibly a mixture of bitumen and sulfur crystals (capable of producing plumes of sulfur dioxide). 

If you ever fight a skeletal army, you will do so in smoke.  In many battles, the smoke claims more lives than the skeletons do.

Common counters involve maneuvering for optimal wind, obstructing the wagons with rough terrain, and/or fighting a running battle.

Tunneling crews are also common.  Sometimes traditional tunnels are used, while othertimes a "bubble" is used, in which freshly excavated soil is piled behind them.  The skeletons are not concerned by their entombment.

For gaining access over a wall, a certain type of skeleton is sometimes used, called a flatback.  These skeletons wear special armor that makes them stackable.  A battalion of flatbacks is capable of building a ramp up to a wall within just a few minutes.

A common counter for flatback battalions is a type of wrecking ball, which is attached to the battlements and used to clear the wall.  

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Ruins of Tabernach

Centerra is supposed to be post-apocalyptic, although I sometimes forget that fact.

And if you are going to have a post-apocalyptic world, the most defining feature should be the ruins of cities.  Ideally, the ruins should outnumber the living cities.  The clouded brows of dead cities should loom over the tallest spires of the living cities, and the glories of lost civilizations should outstrip anything the present has to offer.

So here's a dead city.

This looks nothing at all like Tabernach, but the mood is right.
by Stefan Celic

Tabernach

A city of cubic buildings, built from black basalt at the bottom of a steep valley.  A river runs through it, filled with fat fish.  There are gates and gardens.  There is a park, where a parade of stone animals still stands in revelry, roaring over the silent boulevards.  Dire otters sun themselves on the stones of sunken docks.

They have tried to make the city habitable, those certain people. You can see where they've stretched poles across the street, and canvas hung between them.  It was done in order to turn the roads into tunnels.  But now the poles are broken and the canvas all slashed.  The tatters blow through the streets like bandages.

The Largest Building

It was clearly an observatory.  The rusted remains of a telescope are still visible, peering out the apex of the tower like a scared bird.  This landmark is well-noted, and people have journeyed to Tabernach in order to loot the great lens (precision optics are always among the greatest treasures of the age that mints them).

But the wooden stairs of the building have all rotted out, and those that have made the perilous climb to the top report that the glass is too heavy to easily lower.  And so the great lens remains there, an unplucked fruit.

A Central Building

There are still a few footpaths in Tabernach.  Many of them convene here, at this small prison.  The few dozen people who live here often choose to sleep in the prison, because they can lock more doors.  They feel safer in there, father from the outside.

The people who live here are criminals, runaways, and exiles.  Smugglers and travelers sometimes pass through.  Tabernach is a good place to disappear into.

Mousehead deals with the smugglers, mostly.  He and his family ensures that their goods remain undisturbed and their exiles remain unnamed.  He is a large man with a soft beard.  He always struggles to maintain eye contact, and so many who meet him do not suspect that he is capable of prodigious violence.

Mousehead is satisfied with the status quo, and anyone attempting to change the city in any significant way (such as excavating the temple) will meet lethal resistance from him.  He will also expect a cut if the lens is ever successfully removed.

Fiddleback deals with the spiritual needs of the exiles, when he is sober.  He knows more of the history of Tabernach than anyone else.  Like everyone else, he has his theories about what is wrong with the sun.  Unlike anyone else, however, he is correct.

Fiddleback would never admit it, except to a trusted friend, but he is writing a book about the shape of the sun in Tabernach.  He has been studying shadows and pinhole camera projections, which he believes to be safe.  (He is mostly correct.)  His has a folio full of drawings which can be used to piece together the shape of the sun, something that he has been hesitant to do (and rightly so).  With total knowledge comes total insanity.

Still, Fiddleback knows enough that the truth of the city's demise could be discovered in a library (one of the mansions holds a sufficient library) and the curse dispelled.

A Small Building

A shack near the docks contains a spread cowhide and a trio of sodden barrels, sprouting mushrooms.  The barrels were once filled with a small fortune (2000s) of pepper.  Now, the rot is so bad that only a small amount (100s) can be salvaged by a patient hand.

Another Small Building

A two-story house, the perimeter secured by strings and trip-wires.  It's filled with shoes, many still containing a foot.  The owner is Chapparung the Shoe-Thief.  He'll be back soon.  HD 3, unarmored, Axe 2d6.

The Temple

The paint has faded and at least one steeple has toppled, but it is still the most highly stylized building in the city.  It's composed of an outer building, a courtyard, and a small inner building.

The outer building holds a dozen small shrines and a central chamber of worship, all of which have been looted and defaced long ago.  The buildings only inhabitant is Gogo, a lonely who man who was unfairly driven from the prison because of his obsession with his own feces.  He's lived here peacefully for years, but has never ventured into the inner building, since he suffers terrible nightmares whenever he does so.

The inner building is a small sanctum.  There is a small pedestal where a larger statue once stood, but aside from that, the room is empty.  The only other thing to note is that the floor is made with pale tiles of rhyolite--an oddity in a city where absolutely every other stone is black basalt.

If the tiles are pried up, the ground beneath them discovered to be made from human bones, broken and mixed together.

If these bones are are removed (a process that takes about 10 hours of labor), a staircase is revealed, leading down into the basement level.  Every cubic centimeter of space is in the staircase and basement is filled with broken bones, from floor to ceiling.  Before even a mouse can explore the lower levels, the bones must be removed.

The process of clearing the bones takes about 1000 hours of labor.  The bones belonged to approximately 160,000 people.  The bones all appear to be of equal age, and all demographics are represented among them.

The Sun

The sun does not shine down on Tabernach.  Although the light is the same shade and intensity as the sun's light, it is something else entirely in the sky.

People who go down into the valley of Tabernach do so at night, and they do so quickly.

Those who see the sun (through a peephole, mirror, or even a pinhole camera) go insane.  Their first actions are usually to open all the windows, destroy any awnings, and encourage their friends to look at the sun as well.

Those who are seen by the sun suffer a worse fate.  They are snatched up, screaming into the sky as if by a giant hand.  Their remains are usually returned to the same area, usually within a few hours, and dismembered usually at the joints.  There is a great deal of variety in this process, though.

And there is one last oddity: all of the shadows in Tabernach are twinned, as if there were two light sources instead of one.  (The eyes of Satan, some say.)

Another common story is that there is an invisible giant prowling the city.

Another story, the one told by Mousehead, is that there is another sun behind the first.  And behind that second sun is another world--another planet, called the Opponent.  (This is known as the Heliocentric Heresy, since it is known that the sun orbits the earth, not the other way around.)

 But if there is such a thing as the Opponent, it would explain where the crawling men come from.

The Crawling Men

They exist only in rumor, and the rumor is this:

the crawling men are knights (or perhaps large beetles) with large, round heads.  They have long arms that allow them to move swiftly on all fours.  Their heads sag, either from the weight of their own skulls or because they are always searching the ground for scents.

The crawling men are accused of killing dogs, stealing weapons, poisoning food, and removing shade.  No crawling man has ever been killed, or any piece of their armor been recovered.

They may not exist.  In fact, they probably don't.  But if they did, they would have the following stats.

HD Def plate  Rusted Sword 1d8
Move dwarf  Int Mor 5

Bloodseeker - Crawling Men always know who has the least HP, and attack that target preferentially.

Skittish - As soon as someone is killed (either a PC or a crawling man), the crawling men will attempt to grab the person and flee.  This is the only time they will ever fly (as a giant beetle).  They will fly about 200' away to a place of relative safety, slit the person's belly open, and lap up their blood with their long tongues (which fit perfectly through the round mouthparts of their armor).  This process takes about 10 minutes, after which they will return to fight again.

A platter of fresh blood is irresistible to them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Exile

I'm writing another adventure.  It was a small idea but it's already spiraling out of "manageable" and into "I may never finish this".

Essentially: a sorcerer colonized a flying mountain and enslaved a bunch of people to work for him via mind-wipe collars.  A raiding party has killed (?) the sorcerer, and now his mind-slaves are snapping out of it.  (Because the fastest way to get a game started is to shout "all you have is your filthy clothing and amnesia".)

It's meant to be approached in two ways: either as a starting adventure for a bunch of level 1 characters, or as a continuing adventure for a bunch of established characters.

by Sergey Zabelin

Hook for Established Characters

On a cloudy mountain hex, clouds blow over a lonely precipice.  And out there, just beyond the lip, is a rope ascending into those same clouds.  The top of the rope disappears into unknown heights.  The tail of the rope swings in the wind, lazy circles a hundred feet across.

Hook for New Characters 

You realize that you are picking turnips.  You have been picking turnips for a long time.  You aren't sure how long.  You look around and notice that there are other people like you in the field.  They are sunburnt and wear burlap tunics.  Everyone seems as confused as you are.  Where are you, exactly?

Hex 1 - The Farm

Depressingly mundane.  Fields of grains and root vegetables.  There is a small field of mandrakes, but they are not obvious.  Chickens, cows, sheep.  The billy goat is a failed apprentice--he has human intelligence and is spiteful.

Expect a lot of shabby NPCs milling about.  People will be trying to take off their collars.  People will be examining each other, trying to make sense of the amputations and alchemical scars.  People will be searching faces, looking for a known face, a piece of context.  People will be weeping.

Some people will be angry.  They will want to set out, figure out who put collars on them, and force that person to take the collars off.

Some people will be scared.  They will want to remain on the farm until help comes.  They will build a Godhand in the yard and start walking devotional circles around it.  They will pray.  A nameless woman will begin preaching, and if the PCs don't intervene, the farm will become hostile and isolationist within a couple of days.

If you don't help fortify the farm, it'll be wiped out 5 days by the strongboys.

Hex 2 - The Elephant

You might encounter it as a wandering monster, but you'll definitely encounter it here, collapsed by the side of the well, shuddering as it tries to drink water.  It is damaged beyond easy repair.

It is wrapped in cerement, like a mummy.  Only its pale face pokes through the tarry bandages.  It sputters and gasps like a man, but it does not speak.  Its tusks are gold-banded, wrapped in runes.  Its two eyes are rheumy and vacant.

It will only open its third eye if it is heavily damaged (below half HP).  The third eye is an alien thing, bloodshot, spasmodic, and alert.  It gives the elephant a gaze attack: save vs (torsional) long bone fractures.

It's innards are made from scented wood (worth 500s) and elephant bones (a whole herd's worth).  It's heart is a canister of felfire, sealed with white lead.

Stats as an elephant, movement speed halved.

Hex 3 - The Windmills

A dozen of them, each one sitting atop a small mound.  There is no wind, only fog, and yet the windmills still turn lazily.  Close examination reveals that the windmills sit on turrets--they can rotate. 

Because of course they are not windmills at all, but propellers that move the flying island around.

Each windmill has a small hatch, but there is no obvious way to open them.  A crowbar and a chisel would be sufficient.  Alternatively, a brave PC could climb the vanes and enter through the top, descending along the driveshaft where they can open the hatch from the inside. 

The windmills connect to the Underground.

Hex 4 - A Hole Full of Clouds

It looks like a garbage pit from far away, but from up close you can see no bottom.  All you can see are the tops of clouds.

The hole is, in fact, the garbage pit for the farm.

The Exile

The name refers to Gormagog, and he is a mountain.  He was condemned by his brothers for an unspeakable crime, and the whole planet was in agreement that the most serious sentence should be enacted.

And so Gormagog was exiled--cast off from the planet where he had been born 30 million years ago.  His roots were all broken, his brow was bashed in, and he was banished into the air. 

Gormagog rose higher and higher with each passing day (the blink of an eye in geologic time) and would have plummeted all the way into the sun, had the sorcerer not intervened.  A contract was struck, and Gormagog was allowed to remain at 3000' feet, not exiled but imprisoned.

However, the death (?) of the sorcerer caused the death of the planet's covenant, and now the Exile is rising again.  If nothing is done, the flying island will fall all the way into space.

Wizards disagree with all of this, by the way.  They say that it is something to do with magnets.

(PCs will notice that it is getting colder each day.  They may even notice that the ground is getting farther a way.  There is a time limit on this scenario.)

Hex 5 - The Ranch

The Astromath enjoyed the charade of a simple country life.  His house is modeled after the type of rustic house that he claimed he grew up in.  (A lie he told even in his childhood.)

One story, ten rooms, with a small horse barn out back.  Big tree, swing set, tree house, pond, one-eyed cat. 

The golem is in the process of burying the sorcerer's family, three bloody figures arranged beside three open graves.  Soon it will begin repairing the burnt sections of the house.

The druids--the assassins--were all heaped unceremoniously in the back and burnt incompletely.  The golem is a clay man with fire roaring behind the cracks of his face, but he knows less about fire than a child.  (In fact, the golem knows nothing.)

The golem is not immediately aggressive, but one will be allowed into the house.  It knows if there are uninvited people in the house, and it will not permit them to stay.  In a way, this serves as a checkpoint for unequipped parties.

Golem
Level 6  Def 14  Fists 1d8/1d8
Move 10  Int 2*  Mor *

Immune to slashing and piercing damage.

Becomes inert if it is ever fully submerged in water (as this extinguishes the fire).  Dies if its shem rune is ever broken or damaged.  This golem's shem is located on the crown of its head, hidden beneath a metal servant's cap.

The interior of the house is simple, but elegant.  There are signs of violence.  The only survivor is Delilah, the third wife, a succubus bound to her circular, silver-framed bed.

Hex 6 - Dead Warriors

About half a dozen of them.  They were killed by the golem, their heads bashed, with the bloody pulp of the brain now attracting flies.  (It hasn't been long enough for maggots.)

They ascended the Exile via long ropes, originally anchored by druids who flew them up in bird form.  But the Exile has drifted, and those tropes are no longer a feasible means of escape.

Hex 7 - The Apprentice Tower

Currently under siege by a small woman and an enormous polar bear.  The woman wears tattered wolf-skins and wields a rusted sword.  She is a powerful druid, he is a powerful shapeshifter.  They are mated, and they came here to kill the sorcerer and free his slaves.

They do not know yet that their allies are dead, but they will not care much if/when they discover that fact.

Inside the tower are three apprentices, each armed with a single spell (light, sleep, and illusion) and a crossbow.  The bear has considered turning into a sparrow and flying in through the arrow slits, but is worried about what weapons the apprentices might have at their disposal.

They will all attempt to coerce the PCs to join them.  The apprentices know their histories and have a way to remove the collars.  The druids will argue that these are the same people that enslaved them.  They will tell the PCs that they should feign friendship to gain entrance, and then kill the young sorcerers in their sleep.  (It's not a bad plan.)

The tower is loaded with magical trinkets of dubious value.

None of them have any way of escaping the Exile.

Hex 9 - The Escaped Horses

They're all out here, rolling on the grass and looking for carrots.  They're happy out here, but wouldn't mind being led back.  It's getting late, and they know the value of a good stable.

Hex 8 - The Prism

A crystal the size of a three-story building.  Dusty, cracked, and crudely faceted. 

The Sorcerer uses it to import copies of items from adjacent universes.  Light is reflected off an item and onto a second mirror, where it is then bounced back and forth between the two mirrors.  Since a reflection imitates a form, and the form doesn't necessarily exist while the image persists, a paradox occurs and a new item is created.

Currently it is copying a burly man--the progenitor of the strongboys.  Every once in a while, a new strongboy will wander out of the prism, where he will be greeted with a new enslavement collar.

PCs who wander into the Prism will find that it is a fractal, with the same three rooms repeated endlessly.  Loot: crystal marbles (see 6 seconds into the future if swallowed) a mirror cocoon (essentially just a save-file for one of the PCs), and an infinite number of elemental arrows, each one a different element.

TODO

The wizard known as Nimbrot the Astromath.  I should probably explain what an astromath is, what's in the tunnels beneath the Exile, and how the PCs can escape.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Zak

I believe Mandy.  

If you're reading this blog, you're probably already familiar with the people that have come forward in condemned Zak, but just in case, here's Vikva, Patrick, Scrap, Cavegirl, Skerples, Fiona, Kiel, and Kenneth Hite.  

Add me to the list, I guess.  I'm cutting ties with Zak, and I encourage you to do the same.  

I've dragged my feet because Zak was one of the first people to welcome me to the OSR, and because of all of the good discussions that evolved around him.

Those are good traits, but it's possible to have a few good traits and many shitty ones.

Zak is a manipulator and a narcissist.  He is very good at arguing people down.  I'm not referring to anyone else's allegations--I'm saying this based on my personal experiences, and nothing else.

After Patrick's Fuck All of You post, I wrote a few thousand words condemning Zak's behavior.  I also talked to Zak about it, hearing his side of it, and he eventually talked me out of posting it.

So here's a quick recap of that unpublished post:

Zak likes to divide people into a binary of rational creatives and insane people who don't contribute anything useful.  This is ridiculous and reductive.

It's good to hold people accountable for their words, but Zak has taken that instinct to the extreme by demanding that everyone answers all his questions to his satisfaction, or else admit that you were trolling all along.  Also ridiculous.  

And lastly, he always insisted that rational speakers paid no attention to tone (since definitions of tone were variable), even when it dipped into arrogance and abuse.  Anyone who argued otherwise was doing so in bad faith.

He strives to turn conversations into a strict dialectic, with rules defined by himself.

Zak also wins many debates by sheer attrition.  At a certain point, you realize that it's just not worth sinking another hour into an internet argument.

. . . anyway.

What to do now?

If you believe Mandy (and the other victims): support them.  Say something.

If you want to hear Zak's side of it: here it is.  I don't believe it holds up, but you should still read it as part of the truth-seeking process.

If you want to talk to Zak directly, I don't recommend it.  Debate is his preferred battleground.  I'm not advocating that you don't seek out the full story--just recognize that Zak will distort and spin things.

If you are one of the gleeful trolls looking for an opportunity to shit on Zak: hold your fucking tongue.

If you are Zak: I dunno, man.  You've got a lot of good ideas in your head.  Stop viewing everything as a combat to be won.  There was a time when you were less aggressive, less controlling, and I think a lot of that online harm can be rectified someday.  (I can't speak about the offline actions.)

If you want to know more: click those links up in the second paragraph.

If you want to build a better OSR community: 
  • This week's lesson is to never tolerate abusers.  More broadly, don't tolerate shitty people who are making your community worse.  The shittiness very quickly outweighs past actions and contributions.
  • Hold people accountable for their statements.  Ask for sources.  Research your own claims.
  • Cite sources.  Give people credit.  Especially artists.
  • Post something.  Even if you don't think it's that good, I guarantee that it will be of use to *someone*.  Don't denigrate reviews or remixes--those are also extremely useful things.
  • Talk to people that are writing stuff you are interesting.  Bang ideas together.  Collaborate on something.
  • If you see something that sparks joy, reshare it.
  • If an online comrade hasn't posted in a while, check in on them.  It helps keep the community alive, and even if it doesn't, everyone appreciates a friendly voice.  I'm not just a name at the bottom of a blog post--I'm a human.  And so is everyone else on your blogroll, on G+, and on Reddit.
I know G+ is dying soon, but we aren't.

And whatever strange form the OSR takes in the future, I know I want to be a part of it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The State of Religion in Centerra

This is a primer on religion in Centerra.

I'm writing partially for me, since I want a good grasp on religions before I publish rules for GLOG clerics.

And I'm writing partially for the players in the game I started last week, who have no idea what they're getting into, but want to make a paladin anyway.

I'll update this post as the canon reloads, probably.

St. Peter's Basilica, Apse

This level of detail represents what a village priest would know.  Heresies (alternate facts) are indicated in italics.

The Church of Hesaya

The continent of Centerra is dominated by a monotheistic religion that subordinates all other gods.

The Church of Hesaya is ancient, powerful, and full of secrets.  It is led by the Pope (the last vestige of a former imperial line).  It's authority is upheld by clerics, paladins, golems, and the Winds.

The Church is conservative, authoritarian, and intolerant.  It is sometimes greedy, sometimes corrupt.  And yet, the Church uses its immense resources to build roads, sue for peace, regulate finance, and field armies of brave paladins, who would die to protect the innocent.

The Church is loved.  The Church is hated.

The Church rose to its current position of dominance by killing all of the local gods that once pocketed Centerra.  A few of the old gods exist as slave-gods beneath Coramont, mostly forgotten and worshipped only briefly.

Other old gods have proved to be worshipped, and so are worshipped along side the Zulin and the Emperors.  Any time a sacrifice is made to one of the old gods, an equal sacrifice must also be made to Zulin.

Even monsters know of Zulin, and even dragons hesitate to blaspheme against the Prince of the Upper Air.

The Faithful of the Church are called to prayer every morning by the ringing of the bell of St. Dorbaine, which only they can hear.

The Authority

Creator of Heaven, Earth, and all living things.  The Law Giver.  The First Voice.  Humanity was created to order the world and make creation pleasing to him, and fair to all of humanity.  He is the head of the Church of Hesaya.  When he is invoked by magicians, he is calle the name of the sun, which is Dumadiyel.

The Elven Heresy: The Authority did not create the world, he merely discovered it and established himself as ruler of it.  Life was not created, it evolved prior to his arrival.

The Antediluvian Heresy: The Authority spent several billion years testing different types of biologies before settling on the current one.  In dark corners of the world, you can still bump into ancient creatures whose metabolisms do not use sugars or proteins, instead relying on impossible energy sources, such as morality, or songs.  The scholars who proposed this heresy were killed by sky execution.

The Authority lives inside the sun, which is a golden palace that orbits Centerra.  In fact, it is possible to see the golden domes of the sun's gardens with a powerful telescope.

Ninca Heresy: the Authority is absent, his palace is empty.  The world is like a ship with no one at the helm, adrift.  Ninca was killed via scaphism.

Since the Authority is the god of gods, no one is worthy of addressing him directly.  Anyone who speaks directly to the Authority risks his wrath.  Except for kings, of course, who are allowed to pray directly.

Everyone who is not a king must pray to a lesser deity in his service, most typically Zulin, the Prince of the Upper Air.  It is a sin to know the true name of the Authority.

The Fox's Heresy: The true name of the Authority is Akatom.  (Foxes do not exist, so they cannot be punished.)

Zulin

The foremost son of the Authority, Zulin is associated with the color blue, the sky, the wind, and the spoken word (and symbolic thought, by extension).  His symbol is a blue hand, sometimes depicted with a tail, usually depicted as a pattern or a tesselation.  (This is how Zulin is represented in religious art, at least).  His other symbol is a teacup.

He lives atop the Immortal Mountains.  The faithful may walk among those peaks with comfort, subsisting only on the snow, while the doubting man will stumble and freeze.  Heathens may not even look at the mountains without feeling sick.  Saints may actually walk to the Heavenly City while barefoot, walking atop soft snow, untouched by the winds or the cold.

His ex-wife is the Simurgh, the Queen of Birds, who is Thirty Birds.  The verdant gardens of the Heavenly House were once hers.  Her church is now shunned, and there are no birds in the Heavenly Mansions, except in cages.

At the center of the Heavenly House, Zulin hosts a tea party, the Eternal Tea.  The Eternal Tea cannot ever conclude, because if he does, his guests will be allowed to depart.

One of his guests is Agda, a primeval goddess of darkness, silence, and secret fire, who will one day drown the cities in lava.  She intends to do this as soon as she departs.  She is furious because she has fallen in love with Zulin.

His guests also include all of the emperors who ascended: the first, fourth, ninth, and nineteenth.

Also in attendance are the Three Cryptic Sins, the last three members of the Ten Deadly Sins.  While the first seven Sins declined Zulin's invitation and descended on the world, the three eldest Sins were intrigued, and became entrapped.  Their names are Ibsia, Ambathy, and Moscalune.  Humanity has never experienced them.

Lastly, the party is attended by all of the greatest entertainers, philosophers, and socialites who ever lived.  Many of them are especially invested in the party's success, since they are destined for hell once the party ends.

Anyone who accepts an invitation to the tea party and sits down is required to stay until it is finished.  This is not a punishment--Zulin is an excellent host.

The Boiler Heresy: There is no contract or compulsion surrounding the Eternal Tea.  Zulin remains there, aloof from the affairs of humanity, because he does not care about us.  Neither does Agda, who has refrained from ending the world mostly because she can't be bothered.  (Timmaeus Boiler still lives, among the orcs.)

The Prophetessa, May She Live Again

Essa (May She Live Again) was the daughter of a gravedigger, and was nineteen when the Zulin revealed himself to her, and asked for her to be his voice.  Since that moment, the prophetessa worked tirelessly to bring his words to the world.  She founded the Hesayan Church, which is named for her.

After many years, she finally died.  Rather than allowing her to join him in the Heavenly Mansion, she was reincarnated so that she could continue to be a source of inspiration for the Church.  She has continued to be reincarnated, and currently lives in the holy city of Coramont.  She is currently on her 57th cycle.

Essa (May She Live Again) serves as the fulcrum for modernizing interests within the Church, and is a subtle critic of the Pope.  If the Church ever fractures, it will be along these lines.

Her body is 10 years old and has not yet remembered all of her past lives.  She is protected by her immortal dog, St. Smaudius.

The Planet of Phasmodel (FAZ-mo-DELL)

Centerra is a continent on the planet of Phasmodel, which is hollow and named after its inner sun (as most planets are).  The outside of the planet holds the oceans and the continents, while the inside of the planet is Hell.

Water falls as rain, drains through rivers into a porous network of subterranean oceans that border on both the inner and outer suns.  Since Hell is so much hotter than the outerside of the planet, water evaporates faster, and exits the planet's interior through the poles, which are open.  (Thus is the water cycle of the planet alloyed to the morality of its inhabitants.)

Hell

Objects fall towards the earth because they seek to reunite with it.  And so a boulder will roll downhill until it encounters a valley.  Souls have a similar attractive force towards Phasmodel, which priests call the Furnace of Souls and fools call the Anti-Sun.

Most of the souls who travel to Hell follow the same path as the water, first gathering on the rivers before tricking down through the abyssal caverns on the ocean's floor.  Some ride magnificent dream-ships, while others merely drift.

Hell was not created.  Every dead thing, every abandoned place, will eventually sink down to hell.

This includes people that no god has claimed, gods that no people have claimed, ideas that have been forgotten, and the geography of abandoned continents.  Demons ride iron ships across boiling oceans, and primeval landscapes run together like paints in a pot.

Satan ruled Hell for eons, until an army of paladins found a way into Hell.  The Infernal Crusade ended came to a climax when Maxodus of the Holy Hand struck Satan down, and sundered the King of Lies into 77 fragments.

Most of the Satans were captured and enslaved through the use of powerful magic.  Many demons were also captured, and forced to swear the Oath.  These demons were given Shackles, and became devils--infernal spirits bound to the will of the Church.  And while demons war and cavort as their whimsy dictates, the shackled devils have all been given tasks by the Meragon, the son of Maxodus and the first king of Hell.

Heresy of Dead Embers: Maxodus lost to Satan and was possessed.  Everything that has happened since then is a ruse to undermine the Church.  (No originator could be found for this heresy.  It seems to have arisen from many people simultaneously.)

Some devils hunt their free brethren.  Other devils have been turned in gargoyles, and now silently guard the great cathedrals.  And yet other devils have been tasked with tempting humans into sin, to better separate the chaff from the grain.

Some may balk at this last task, but consider this: if a cruel man is never given an opportunity for cruelty, how shall we know him for what he is?

Zala Vacha

The Church stamped out many of the local cults, but many survived the destruction of their temples.  This loose collective of fallen gods is called Zala Vacha.  They have many different personalities integrated within them, and many different goals, but they are united in their opposition to the Church.

Some of these gods are monstrous, like Elcoroth, the Infinite Pillar of Flesh, who is the god of Growth, Livestock, and Biologic Change.  He appears as an infinitely long worm composed of the torsos of all species, arcing through the sky like a banner.

Some are benign, like Oressa and Ulda, two goddesses of the harvest who hate each other almost as much as they hate the Church.

And some are inscrutable, like Casca, a powerful spirit of void, forgetfulness, peace, and solitude.  Casca appears as a hole in the universe, and teaches that everything is an illusion, and that desire is the root of all evil.

Heralds of the New Dawn

The Dawnbringers teach that the world was once the battleground between Good and Evil.  In the end, Good was defeated, and the world fell to ruin, and was remade in the image of Evil.  This is why there is so much pain, disease, death, and futility in the world.  It was never meant to be this way.

Humanity was never meant to suffer disease, old age, enslavement, and death.  Children were never meant to contract bone cancer.  The world is inherently unjust.

The only way to save the world is to end it.  Only when the last wicked man has perished will the sun truly set and the world be allowed the purification of a rebirth.  And so that is their goal: to extinguish the last wicked soul on Centerra.  However, since we cannot tell who is wicked, everyone must pass on before this world is abandoned.

The Cult of the New Dawn operates hospitals, orphanages, and soup kitchens.  They take care of the most disadvantaged members of society.  (Just because the world is wicked doesn't mean that there aren't still good people who need help.)  Most of the time, this is all that they do.

But there have also been mass suicides.  And mass murders--entire towns wiped out, hundreds of families who perished peacefully in their sleep.

The Dawnbringers are led by the Radiant Maiden, who appears to be a veiled angel.  Lesser angels obey her as well, but they are her creations.  She claims to be the only living creature that remembers the world as it was before the Fall, and the Victory of Satan.  She brings healing, mercy, and gentle death.

The Deep Gods

The merfolk have their gods, too.  Little is known of them, except that they are living creatures that dwell in the blackest abysses of the sea.  They are never seen, and in fact it is believed that the lower pressures of the upper ocean would rip them apart if they ever ascended.

Their priestesses spend their entire lives attempting to grow large enough to mate with them.

The Green God

The Green God is more of a force, or a consensus.  It is the hatred of civilization, specifically symbolic thought (such as language).  In the eyes of nature, symbolism is the only abomination.  Just read this post.