This all basically grew from the idea of What If Spirited Away, But D&D?
Also everyone is children:
- During character creation, switch Str with your lowest ability score.
|by Sunga Park|
The Inn Between
An otherworldly place, always located between two sufficiently distant locations. Whenever anyone sets out on a journey that they cannot feasibly complete in a singular lifetime, they may be able to travel through the Underworld and complete the journey nonetheless.
And halfway to their destination they will pass by the Inn Between.
In truth, the Inn is a refugee that fled the dim depths of Hell, and now floats upon the upper conceptual layers of the Underworld like a soap bubble atop a frothing sea.
If stone hands reached into the graves of dead civilizations, scooped up all of the bits of loose architecture, bundled some lost souls by their hair, and then those stone hands raised the whole mess up through dreams and bedrock, you would have an idea of what the Inn Between looks like, because that's exactly what it is.
The Inn Between requires a constant supply of gold to stay afloat. None of the denizens can leave. If they were robbers and killers, no one would visit their vaults. And so the Between has been forced to become a place of hospitality and industry--against the instincts of its inhabitants.
It is a huge building on a small island, in the middle of a river called the Winterwine.
These are dead children, the lowest caste of speaking people you'll meet in the Between. The PCs come from their ranks.
After death, every soul filters down through the Underworld to Hell. Unless a psychopomp snatches up your soul and diverts you to your religion's afterlife, this is your fate.
As it turns out, many children die unbaptized and alone. The underworld is full of their sobbing ghosts, wandering randomly-but-inexorably towards the hottest fires. For the most part, even the foulest demons and sternest paladins take pity on these children. A bonebreaker demon that comes across a lost child in the Underworld will probably sigh, take them by the hand, and lead them to the Inn Between, where the child at least has a chance to keep an Occupation. Without an Occupation, they'll mortify even faster.
Mechanically, fullbrats are identical to human children except that they have tiny red ants for blood.
The Underworld's price cannot be dodged, bribed, or swayed, and mortification is the fate of all. Fullbrats eventually become halfbrats as they forget the last memories of their mortal body. They are forced to recreate their body through any method they can.
Some wear sheets with a couple of eye holes punched out.
Others stuff their jackets with pillows, and use a carved pompkin for a head.
Yet others mold themselves into puppets--or stranger things.
Mechanically, every time a fullbrat dies (or spends a full year in Hell), they lose a level. If they have no more levels to lose, they become a halfbrat NPC.
Halfbrats tend to forget everything except for their Occupation--or very nearly. They rank above the fullbrats.
Halfbrats that have mortified even further become Quarterbrats. There's nothing left of them except a pair of shoes.
The shoes amble around, generally obeying the Halfbrats. There's no invisible body attached--it's more like a mage hand effect welded to a pair of shoes. The shoes trundle over to the broom, which then begins to sweep the floor.
If the shoes are ever more than a few feet apart, they become inert. (This is as simple as kicking one of the shoes away.) Bring them back together again, and the quarterbrat will re-awaken.
There are storerooms of sleeping quarterbrats beneath the Between. Storerooms filled floor to ceiling. Every spring, when the matrons need more space, hundred of them are dumped into the Winterwine.
There's very little of the child left at this point. They still respond to their names, though, usually carved into the bottom of their left shoe.
The owner of the Inn Between. You will not encounter her unless she wants to meet you. You will always walk into a room a few minutes too late, the air still heavy with the scent of cloves and cinnamon.
She is a huge old woman, bent-backed and long-nosed, and wearing several layers of coats and dresses. When you meet her, you will think that she is wearing a wrinkled wooden mask, but you will be wrong. She is an immensely powerful sorceress--but she typically chooses to act indirectly, through her dogs.
Long ago, the Rat King robbed Mabinyaga, taking all of her jewelry and hiding it throughout the island. In retribution, Mabinyaga killed the Rat King several times--so many times that he forgot where all of the items were located. These are the Treasures that you must seek out.
If you return a Treasure to Mabinyaga, she will return a memory to you. (This is how you gain levels. Remembering your days of pickpocketing is the same as taking a level in thief. Remembering your mother's protections gives you the strength you need to gain a Knight template.)
The Rat King
The Rat King rules the Basement, which is the big, obvious dungeon beneath the Inn Between.
Whenever the Rat King dies or gives up hope, the next cleverest rat in the Between becomes the Rat King. And because there are always rats in the Underworld (it is probably where rats originated from), there is always a Rat King. All of the rats serve him.
The Rat King appears as a regular rat, but can speak in the booming voice of a titan if he so wishes.
If you wish, you can give a Treasure to the Rat King instead of giving it to Mabinyaga. If you choose to do so, he will open up new avenues to you, and tell you the most valuable pieces of information.
He is the furnace demon. He lives inside the central furnace of the Inn Between. If you want to talk to him directly, you'll have to step inside the furnace yourself. This is possible if you go at night, when the furnace is nothing but embers, and you wear thick boots soaked wet.
In exchance for a steady supply of gold, Fornax keeps the Between from sinking back down to Hell. He also heats the water for the baths, and is a great lover of tea. He appears as a pot-bellied old man made of metal. Fire burns behind his open mouth, and behind his smile.
The golems serve him, but they rarely leave the furnace.
He hates Mabinyaga, who hates him just as passionately. However, since they both need each other to survive, they have sworn an oath of non-violence towards each other. Instead, their malice takes the form of pranks, inconveniences, and humiliations.
If you throw one of Mabinyaga's Treasures into his furnace, he'll roar with laughter as he melts it down and sends it to the storerooms of Hell. He'll reward you with a fine magic item.
The Gameplay Loop
Gossip is more important than treasure.
1. A guest comes to visit. The PCs are in charge of satisfying that guest. If they do well, they are rewarded with the only type of reward that they are ever issued--free time. Perhaps 4 days if they do excellently, but only 1 day if they perform poorly. (If they perform especially well, they may even get a juicy piece of gossip.)
2a. You'll have a chance to explore and talk to NPCs. Eventually you'll figure out the location of one of the many small dungeons hidden around the Between. Each dungeon has 1-3 pieces of Treasure inside it. Some of these dungeons are quite non-traditional, such as the Very Busy Kitchen.
All of the dungeons are hidden, except for the Basement (but you'll have to bribe the Rat King if you wish to access all of it, or else defeat all of the rats).
2b. Alternatively, you might figure out how to solve all of the Problems of an NPC. Once you solve all of an NPC's Problems, they become your Friend. This pleases Mabinyaga, who will call you into her office and give you another memory (and therefore another Level).
3. Redeem your Treasure with either Mabinyaga, Fornax, or the Rat King. Eventually you'll be strong, well-equipped, and have access to the entire Between.
4. The endgame really depends on how you allied yourself.
If you solved everyone's Problems, Mabinyaga will offer you the Inn Between. She's old and wishes to enter the Winterwine for a good long rest.
If you found all of the Treasures, the Rat King will confide in you that he has stolen a Holy Infant from the surface of Centerra. With the Holy Infant, you can ransom yourselves back to life, and live a normal life.
Lastly, if you kill everyone (a genocide run), you can become new Princes and Princesses of Hell. This is power enough to return to the surface, where you can bless it or blacken it.