Sunday, 20 April 2014

3DPBMCSHMtm: jotunfell

Frost Giants Attack by Jeff Fairbourn
The next piece of 3DPBMCSHMtm returns to Altorr and deals with the reaver giants of Jotunfell. Bards and faerie mock giantish slowness. Yet the warriors recall rocks smashing cavalry and shield-mates sundered by axes and do not laugh.  When the reavers of Jotunfell march, nobody is safe. More than one lordling ignores the hillfolk then finds his steading smashed and his serfs enslaved. The mountain passes are feared with good cause.

The four clans

Jotunfell is a glacial mountain pass surrounded by hills.  The Aerie of Jotunfell is a great castle commanding the pass.  The Skugga family of cloud giants hold the castle, forming the linchpin of an alliance of giants.  The Skugga banner is a black cloud on azure with two silver teardrops.  The frost giants impale a cave bear skull on a longspear.  The cyclops banner is a golden one-eyed ram skull with curved horns on black field.  The hill giant standard is a great spear with three gilded dire wolf skulls pointing three different directions.

Every equinox, the Skugga invite the leaders and retinue to Jotunfell to discuss events this season.   Cautious acceptance is best recommended.  The giants know not to offend the Skugga.  Giants fall badly from great heights.  The Skugga play favourites between hill giant and cyclops as the frost giants enjoy the show. Between such games of state, raids are plotted.  Here the Skugga display tactical acumen and diplomatic skill in getting the giants to agree.

The hills have eyes

Cyclops and hill giant clans violently contested claims to the hills around Jotunfell before the Demonplague. Now the clans work together with occasional violence.  The ogre families who serve the hill giants enjoy opportunities for violence and torturing hill folk.  Their glacial cousins have stranger habits still.

Jotunfell hill giants are ravaging brutes that smash opponents with ogre and dire wolf allies.  Hurled rocks soften up cavalry or spellcasters.  As they advance they bellow dire threats to break the nerves of opponents and this often succeeds.  Then they charge, intent on breaking the bones.  Those taken as slaves are valued for their strength, either as disposable warriors or as labourers.  While hill giants demand the slaves breed, few do.

By contrast cyclops pick their battles.  They take full advantage of terrain and weather.  The large crossbow has versatility. Some bolts are tipped with black adder venom or dung.  Cyclops snipers watch for spellcasters and single them out.  If the foe are softened up, the greataxes come out. Few shield walls can withstand that.  The cyclops delight in slavery, valuing each of their thralls, feuding when a slave is stolen.

Both groups accept bribes from slavers or rogue merchants seeking audience and trade with the Skugga. Each group demands tolls independently of the other.  The Skugga rein in the hill giants by making messy examples of ogre allies of theirs.  Both groups salve their honour and the ogres get a reminder of who's really in charge.

Heart of ice, bloody hands

Frost giants dwell in the glacial crevasses of  Jotunfell.  Serdtsida Bluebeard wields boreal sorcery, leading the clan to reaving softer lands and slave taking.  The great winter wolf Gyar is his companion.  He is chieftain as the jarl was defeated in battle and carried off by the Skugga.  Serdtsida uses magic to deceive or destroy foes.  He thinks the jarl is dead and will brutalise any who suggest rescue attempts within earshot.

The other giants are savage warriors.  Serdtsida has grown brutal and alliance the Skugga has its rewards - this are good times.  Even eating human tastes better.When reaving the lower hills, they are terrifying.  They keep three ogres as scouts and spies among ogre allies of the hill giants.  Though few, they are well fed and equipped.  Relations with the cyclops, hill giants and ogres are cordial despite cannibalism and psychopathic shows of might.  Nobody interferes with slavers visiting the frost giants.  Though few, the frost giants are brutal enemies with poor impulse control and access to magic.  Even the wildest hill giant notices a trail of chewed bones and dismembered, half-eaten limbs.

Kadjila, the slave-handler is the clan's smith and carefully trades slaves and steel with the Skugga.  She hated the lecherous jarl, supporting Serdtsida staunchly.  Those too weak to survive are eaten by the giants or given to the ogres as pets. Kadjila's forge is kept by three ogrekin.  Each has a massive arm, stunted legs and enough smithcraft to make them very valuable.

Castle in the air

Dwelling in the Aerie is the Skugga, a family of cloud giants.  Though only five in number, each has a personal attack griffon and numerous slaves in attendance.  Peto, the family head is a brutal sorceror of Abyssal ancestry who plans to rule Altorr.  His remaining family are ordinary cloud giants.  Clad in finery, evil lives in their eyes and the cruelties they indulge upon their victims.

The Skugga united the giants by tactical acumen and shows of raw power crushing their opponents.  The Skugga view other giants in the alliance as allies rather than friends.Slavers make overtures to the Skugga with choice slaves, finery and treasures to warm the avaricious.  The Skugga now hold a debased court.
Their slaves indulge sadistic whims, terrified of being 'cast out' off walls or left for the harpies.  Slaves are kept for cooking, cleaning and craft.  The Skugga enjoy being pampered by a retinue while playing a harp or engaging in negotiations.

The Skugga enjoy harpysong, numerous harpies nest in the towers, taking odd slaves as mate and food. The nests hold small altars to Pazuzu, a demon lord accepting tributes of bloody fresh tongues. Yet their filth conceals greater horror. The frost giant jarl lies chained, naked and used by the harpies who took his tongue. Others have come before him.  The harpies still bring sacrifices who die faster.

Friday, 18 April 2014

3DPBMCSHMtm: in the underworlds

This installment of 3DPBMCSHMtm deals with the dungeons of the three worlds.  There are places where travel between is possible.  These are often well-guarded.  For other dungeons, getting out is harder.

Dungeons in Altorr

Altorr's dungeons are mostly isolated affairs. The notable exceptions are dwarven holdfasts and the Great Riddle where connecting tunnels run far away. Dungeons in Altorr have purpose. Abandoned mines, barrows for warlords, death-traps for tyrants, druidic labyrinths or dungeons to trap demon or faerie.  These are just examples.

Barrows of the dead
These are typically spear-shaped.  A tunnel with the warlord's deeds and fallen allies leads to a diamond-shaped chamber.  Here the warlord and his grave goods rest.  If disturbed, a warlord rises as undead and seeks vengeance until destruction or goods are returned.

Druidic labyrinths
Natural caverns and grottos are adapted by some druids.  Some are formed into labyrinths by earth magic while others are naturally enigmatic and maze-like.  Apart from shelter, caves are home to numerous natural allies (bats, cave bears etc.) as well as safe storage.

Death-trap dungeons and jails of night.
Some dungeons are built to permanently solve political problems, combining oubliette with death-trap. Others are jails for demons and their cultists.  Still others are built to hold faeries or those who have angered the Court of Shade.  Those last two share less commonality than expected.  Guardians are typically monstrous with traps designed to kill intruders or the prisoners of the owners.

The Great Riddle
These labyrinthine caverns run the length of the forested hills and hold a gigantic bioluminescent fungus. They are located on Clune's southern border.  Used by demon and druid, the Great Riddle is dueling ground, initiatory labyrinth and exceedingly strange.  The Goblin Market regularly appears at entrances.  Those visiting the Great Riddle rarely come out unchanged.  The deepest caves of the Great Riddle are whispered to link to  The Crawler's bloody wake.

Under Bellotra

Bellotra is built upon ruins and decay.  Places not already sacked, burnt-out or colonised tend to a quiet place.  The Rotten Burgs have rat-runs of cellars and vaults.  The canals also have sections underground. These Undercanals combine canal and sewer with volcanic mud, magma flow, desperate refugee and hungry monster.

Extravagant folly 
Most dungeonesque structures in Bellotra have a legacy.  Mausoleums of ancient nobles and vaults for their treasures are well-known though often stories deceive.  These are often decorated by art and sculpture.  The extravagance of a permanent monument sits well with Bellotran taboos around death and oblivion.

Oh yes, there will be magic.  Spellsellers treat vaults as chances to showcase talents, building notoriety with ingenious traps or bizarre magics. Discretion can be a concern.  Some spellsellers take an extended sojourn after a commission to prevent regrettable cases of mistaken identity.  Others merely increase their fees.

Unusual construction materials
Elemental corrosion in Bellotra forces artisans to make lasting structures from elaborate materials and innovative methods.  The artisans decorated the usual materials further. Ceramic tiles, tinted metal panels and glass bricks have been found in the vaults and mausoleums.  Stone still provides the fundamental fabric. This is usually andesite or basalt (created by gate-induced vulcanism) or marble imported from the Elemental Plane of Earth.

Deadly para-elemental and quasi-elemental traps
After a denunciation of fire as passé by certain nobles, use of para- and quasi-elemental matter in traps escalated.  The resulting demand for special traps taxed imaginations. Early traps used super-cold, super-sharp ice.  Later traps drowned thieves in mud, choked victims with smoke or incinerated them in flowing magma.  The last required careful management.  The tombs over Lemizah's Jewel in the Undercanals are slowly sinking into a pool of magma.  Blinding ash clouds burn and choke unauthorised personnel.  Brine pits dessicate air and toughen zombies within.  Exploding geodes, jets of steam and prismatic rays kill.   Lightning traps used deep underground do not invoke the aurora vortex on the surface.  Exact depths are unknown though. Magical duststorms suffocate unlucky thieves and cause others to be lost, half-blind and coughing.

The known world of Carcetus

When all you know is underground the world shifts. Carcetusian communities are close-knit, battling aberrations, oozes, slavers and giant vermin to survive. Light and water are life.  Carcetus is a pragmatic honeycomb of constructed and natural tunnels, taking advantage of changes in geology.  Dwarves take stonecraft further than most.  Magic solves many engineering problems.

Life in Carcetus rarely rises from war footing. Tunnels are fortified by bolt-holes, casemates, choke points and redoubts.  Traps are simple but effective.  Entry and exit tunnels are defended to prevent incursion. Water supplies and food stores are strongly defended.

Pervasive aberration influence.
The presence of aberrations shapes the tunnels of Carcetus.  Aboleth construct dams and shallow lakes using slaves.  Ettercap weave orbs of silk and sinew in three dimensions.  Naga congregate around shrines and desolate tunnels.  Otyughs lurk in cesspits and sinkholes.  Some have been adopted by communities.

Remembrance walls & crypts
Remembrance walls are etched with names of the fallen or bas-reliefs of faces scored into the rock.  These are traced by mourners in the dark.  Communities who revere Mordiggian or Saint-George construct simple crypts.  Carcetusians get quite  passionate about remembrance and history - both involve someone dying to reach this point.

Common items between the three worlds.

Travellers between worlds sometimes journey via dungeons.  There are commonalities though none are that safe.  Being among ghouls, travelling via gates or in the wake of a hungry god  is... interesting.

Crypts of Mordiggian and Saint-George
All worlds have crypts consecrated to the faiths of the Great Ghoul or the Pale Warrior.  Ghouls of Mordiggian tunnel for books, lore and food.  Their crypts hold surprises with lost magic and ancient secrets amid the chewed and cracked bones.  The tombs of Saint-George inter dreadful secrets among the bodies of dead warriors.  Both are perilous undertakings for adventurers.

Nidal's Tunnels
The dwarf Nidal knew refugees would come.  During the Demonplague in Altorr, he sought demonic gates and fortresses yet found tunnels linking all three worlds.  With allies in every world, he made great  maps. These maps are priceless, whispered to hold powerful magic and the secrets to great wealth as well.  His disappearance into the Tunnels has led to rumour of his being eaten by The Crawler.

The Crawler
The god of pain and hunger is known to all three worlds.  It's howling, bloodstained journey is heralded by purple worms.  The resulting swathe of destruction is followed by earthquakes and beasts from all the three worlds.  Chaos is left in it's wake.  The Crawler's hide is  studded with blades from hundreds who tried - and failed - to slay it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

3DPBMCSHMtm: the hollow hills

Original image by
In this installment of 3DPBMCSHMtm, we head off to Altorr to talk faerie. The 'Fair Folk' play their inscrutable games of state.  Yet the Courts of Light and Shade are honoured by mortal king and commoner alike. Having helped cure the Demonplague they've earned it.  Yet these games have high stakes. They make heroes of ordinary people and paupers rich while breaking others on a wheel of fate and magic.

The Goblin Market

Most people deal with Faerie through the goblin market.  At dawn, the market opens under thickets and in caves.  At dusk, faegoblins grow bold and settle by river banks.  Pipe-music accompanies lilting song promising tempting wares.  Exquisite fruit, fine steeds and nonesuch jewels have lured many a customer into the market. Returning to the world, everything else seems drab. Visitors often begin pining until the market comes again. Some are so profoundly affected by this loss they waste away if denied the market's fruits.

Faegoblins are goblinkin with faerie ancestry.  Brilliant artisans, they are only rapacious in business deals. If a deal is spurned once the market appears, they get downright nasty about it.  Catcalls, threats and mob-handed brawls are known. Drawing steel will cause them to withdraw and seek help.

The Court of Light

To find the Court of Light, look eastward at dawn as fanfare announces the new day.  Then make an offering pleasing to the Court.  It rises from earth or water in stately ceremony.  Courtiers on white horses prance as samite palanquins blossom suddenly. Lords and ladies approach amid reverent hushes.  The Court enjoys hunting, sporting games and music.  The Court's justice is compassionate, if not always fair.

Pharisidhe resemble angular and graceful elves. Violet-eyed, smooth-skinned, of immaculate attire, and complection. Agile and beautiful, their Charisma bonus is added to Armour Class and saving throws.  Cold iron poisons them (save or take 1d4 Constitution damage) and they fear it greatly.  Their singing voices may fascinate the unwary.  When the Court is offended, pharisidhe close ranks.

The Court of Shade

To find the Court of Shade, look westward at dusk as cacaphony heralds the coming night.  Then make an offering pleasing to the Court.  It descends from air or fire amid debauched revel.  Grotesque riders on dark steeds menace as oxblood leather palanquins fall like autumn leaves.  Lords and ladies approach amid fanfare or fierce drumming.  The Court enjoys hunting, combat and debauchery.  The Court's justice is fair, if not always compassionate.

Kernasith also resemble elves, though rawboned and sinewy, as though carved from wood.  They grow spiralling, tined horns each century they live, elder kernasith look like they're wearing crowns.  They prefer immaculate garb yet find durable clothes comforting.  Kernasith always keep a blade handy and are superlative duellists among the fae.  They may move through undergrowth at normal speed and leave no trail, yet plants magics can impede.  Cold iron burns them as if red hot.  Each strike does an additional 1d6 fire damage to kernasith.  When the Court is offended, kernasith fight.


The 'tradition' of exchanging children with mortals is a diplomatic exercise for both of the Courts.  Such fostering is great honour to the fae.  There is a matter of timing of course. The Court of Light often chooses to save children facing certain doom or an evil upbringing.  The Court of Shade takes more indiscriminately and arbitraily.  Over time, the 'unearthly' child will manifest faerie traits.  Ransoming back a child is typical. That said, the Court of Shade won't always use a changeling from it's courtiers for this.  They claim this just adds spice to the game.

Real Like The Others

Other fey make appearances.  Diminutive faeries like atomie, grig, nixie, pixie and sprite make it difficult for easy identification.  While not quite as small, little people (brownies, korred and leprechauns) wield surprising power.  Dryads and quicklings represent intelligent plants as do nymphs.  Satyr and faun sport while stranger fey hide.  The more powerful fey are destructive and best left unless developing savage appetites or apparatus.


The transmutation of one thing into another is a cornerstone of magic.  It is also magic faerie excel at.  From shapechanger pelts to fairy rings anchoring 'unplaces' to repairing broken things, magic is practical. Teleportation, telekinesis and magic of the mind are popular as is magic shaping nature or body.  Faeries love to enlarge, shrink, slow, speed or stop.

Glamer, illusion and dreamweaving.

Faerie is glamour, it's said.  Illusion and dream weaving are vital tools for deception, chicanery and misdirections called sways by fae tricksters.  Illusions that beguile are used in both Market and Courts to achieve diverse ends for all.  Disguises and invisibility add to deception.  More potent illusions draw on shadow or twist minds.  It is whispered the Court of Shade keeps illusionists for their entertainment and to teach lessons.

Under the influence

Faerie enchantment is a nuanced affair.  Magic is one tool among many.  By combining gift, magic, persuasion and performance the fae ensnare those they would need or desire.  Performance of any kind will be accepted if good by any fae, giving bards an advantage.  Food and drink are typically used by commoners.  Etiquette and gift are more for the Courts.  The beautiful may trade locks of hair or tears. Giving part of yourself to those knowing magic is a risky proposition often with unintended consequences.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

3DPBMCSHMtm: gates, pools & windows

Portal Gate by Elartwyne@DeviantArt
In this part of the 3DPBMCSHMtm, some mechanisms of travel between the worlds are considered.  These are not the only ways to travel. Their relative scarcity outside Bellotra makes them noteworthy.

Gates in Theory and Practice

Gates are powerful magic indeed.  Bellotran lore on gates notes difficulty in their creation without aid from the Ten Thousand Worlds. Yet Bellotra is riddled with gates.  The nature of the gates may mean problems. Elemental Plane portals chance eruption.  Astral and Ethereal gates are unreliable due to planar weather.  Gates to other Material Planes are stable but inherently risky.  Gates to the Ten Thousand Worlds are paradoxically the most stable but least trusted.

They appear in a variety of forms.  Portals or doorways, geometric energy manifestations, even bizarre machines.  Other forms have been found elsewhere.  Yet the gate will connect two planes in space and time, allowing transit from either side.  Triggering actions may activate a passive gate.

Particularly ancient or poorly-maintained gates risk gate poisoning.  Arcane energy from elemental corrosion invisibly poisons users.  Steady exposure will slowly kill corporeal beings unless they are resistant to acid damage.  A poisoned gate inflicts one permanent point of damage each time it is used.  Poisoned gate damage requires potent magic.  Heal will only cure 1d4 damage of this kind.

Windows upon Other Worlds

For those without powerful magic, a simpler spell can create a planar window.  These are typically as large as a shield.  Windows seldom allow sound transmission (1 in 6).  Spells that expand sensory perception may be cast 'through' a window.  It is notable some windows open to disturbing vistas.

A few (1 in 12) windows are one-way and allow sound to travel through them.  These are prized by thsoe in the know.  Despite being invisible to mundane senses, they still attract attention as scrying attempts to the powerful.

Additional magics permit communication or travel through a window though the latter is often quite cramped for most spell casters.  Certain outsiders from the Ten Thousand Worlds use windows to speak via telepathy to their allies.

Table: Windows upon Other Worlds (roll d12)

  1. One-way window that allows sound. 
  2. Allows sound.
  3. Allows sound.
  4. Normal window
  5. Normal window.
  6. Colour shift towards red part of spectrum.  Violet appears black.  Infravision gets +10'. 
  7. Colour shift towards violet part of spectrum.  Red appears black.  Low-light vision gets +10'.
  8. Concealed by drape or soft furnishing. 
  9. Guarded by beast with gaze attack (DM's call).  Doesn't work through window, good for a laugh.
  10. Displays permanent illusion.  Roll 1d6.
    1. Boudoir of pleasure slaves of various races lounging about indolently. 
    2. Dusty outdoor gladiator training ground with gladiators practising their combat drills. 
    3. Aviary filled with small birds of motley hue and a human skeleton stripped of all flesh. 
    4. Log cabin with hearth filled with blazing log fire that never burns down.
    5. Never-ending rain of neon-green runes into darkness.  Oddly soothing to watch.
    6. Darkness with pearlescent runes that state
  11. Sealed with cold iron shutters and locked  from other side.  Might be a challenge, that.
  12. Disturbing vista.  This causes a saving throw or causes a viewer to become shaken (-2 to hit and saving throws) for 1d12 hours. 

Pools of Eerie Hue and Reflection

Pools are membraneous, blurry windows to other worlds.  Sound doesn't travel and the image is like a magic-eye painting.  The membrane feels warm and amniotic and can be breached by pushing against it for a round.  This lets you reach into that world and if you want, force your way into it.

From the other side, someone breaching looks odd. The membrane makes faces seem inhuman.  Once the breach completes, others can pull you through.  For some pools, this can be unfortunate.  Devils are fond of dragging unfortunates into their Hell via pools and then claiming the trespasser.

The membrane heals over after each breach, needing to be forced through each time.  The size of a pool is typically 1d20+12 inches across.  The membrane is impermeable to spells and effects.  Breaching allows the casting of magic into the otherworld.

Remaining in a breached membrane for longer than seven rounds attracts the attention of local wildlife. Creatures of animal intelligence or lower are hostile to any lasting breach and attack the breacher.  The animals experience a painful pulsing in their heads alleviated by the breach being sealed over.

Famous crossing-points

The following are referred to in various places. Musty academician texts in the Chained Library at Rulby. The Saffron Enchiridon displayed at the House of Mordiggian.  A remembrance wall along one of Nidal's Tunnels. Those who find these gates, portals and windows face wonderful opportunity and great dangers.

Green Chapel (Altorr)

Hidden in a forest, this overgrown chapel to Saint-George is festooned with saplings and brambles.  This has been abandoned for years.  Once breached, the nave is adorned with a portal made entirely of human skulls nailed together.  By pouring blood through the portal, a two-way gate to Bellotra is opened.  This gate leads to a crypt in the House of Mordiggian.  Furthermore, the crypt of the Green Chapel contains a second gate! A frost-rimed stone arch leading to and from a Carcetan tomb-arch in Klar Shkent.  Both gates enter darkened places.

Horns of Elbram (Bellotra)

In a public park, three marble crescents rise from a staired pillar five storeys high.  On ascending the stair, you have three openings. The northern one goes to an icy glacier under endless snow (the para-Elemental Plane of Ice).  Southeast takes you to a sandy beach with palm trees (Elysium) while southwest opens into an ancient coliseum under a grey sky (Hades/The Grey Wastes).  The name Elbram is lost in antiquity as is the reason for making the gates.  The gates are also one-way. Returning is an exercise for the traveller.

Machinery of Assilha (Bellotra)

Locked in a noble's basement, this ornate device is regarded as the pinnacle of gatecrafting.  Made of brass valves and panels etched with profane sigils,  it is 10' across.  Activation needs an Intelligence check.  Once this is done, travel is possible.  A second Intelligence check is needed to choose the desired location. Failing means a random location is determined (roll 1d6).

  1. The Rock of Agonies in Altorr, where atonement for your misdeeds can be earned by being chained   to it for a lunar cycle.  Watch out for the roc.
  2. A disused courtyard in The City of Brass. If visitors tarry too long, they risk arrest by an efreet for intrusion into a palace.
  3. A long-forgotten atrium in the Elemental Plane of Earth.  Dusty, dirty and quiet.  Drag marks on the floor indicate heavy items were moved. 
  4. A fast-flowing saltwater bore in the Elemental Plane of Water.  Entering enables the crossing of long distances at ten miles an hour plus the character's swimming rate.  The hard part is not being disorientated by buffeting currents.  Leaving the bore requires swimming at double the normal speed or sinking by weighing more than 500lbs.
  5. A grey cloud island spinning slowly clockwise in the Elemental Plane of Air.  Heavy enough to support anyone without flight.  Chunks of purest silver can be carved from it's edges.
  6. The northern edge of Ankanyn in Carcetus. This massive crevasse is home to shantak who launch    themselves from their edgeside nests to hunt and sing songs of doom into the abyss in Aklo.   

 The gate remains open until it is closed (this requires a successful Intelligence check)

Pit of al-Kaiss (Bellotra)

This gate is laid flat on a dais in an open courtyard in the fetid Rotten Burgs.  The gate falls into a massive, gullet-shaped pit on the Elemental Plane of Earth, studded with large quartz crystals.  It resembles nothing so much as the maw of a purple worm carved out of rock.  The Pit is used as prison and mine.  Convicts are sent in to carve out stone and quartz.  There is a 1 in 6 chance each day of an eruption.  1d6 boulders are hurled out in random directions up to 30' distance doing 2d6 damage to whatever they hit.

Sigard's Escape (Carcetus)

This is concealed in a permanent illusion of a ceiling cave-in surrounded by bubbling alkali puddles.  Walking through the cave-in reveals a chilly alcove.  This holds a sea-smelling verdant sphere of guttering illumination and scattered rust grains on the floor.  Entering gates delvers to an aurora-lit beach of ochre rust grains on an icy sea.  This southern rust beach on the Chill Sea of Bellotra is unoccupied.  Behind is a flickering red sphere.  This returns to before the verdant sphere.

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