Monday, 25 February 2013

yet more unlikely treasures

Roll d12 for more loot.
  1. Foppish men's wig in periwinkle blue, needs repair (42gp). Worth 50gp if repaired.
  2. Green silk parasol with embroidered silver flowers (60gp).  Perfect for shading from strong sunlight, needs one hand to shade a man-sized or smaller creature.
  3. Helm with full-face visor of mirrored steel (50gp).  Has a 20% chance of reflecting certain gaze attacks back at the creature.  Needs polishing for 10 minutes when it is worn or loses it's effectiveness.
  4. Ingot of gold (1lb) without mark of provenance (50gp).  Useful dealing with unscrupulous groups.
  5. Journal and letters of local noble (50gp). Example letters of introduction and commission will if consulted for 1d4 hours beforehand grant a +2 to reaction rolls when dealing with a noble's court, lawful bureaucrat or city official.
  6. Kite made of purple linen with embroidered silver eagle (55gp).   A toy fit for a noble-born child, weighs 2lbs.
  7. Lynx-trimmed goldenrod vest decorated with floral embroidery (42gp).  Suitable for a slim human, half-elf or burly elf.
  8. Map case of engraved ivory containing a smudged map (46gp, 40gp empty).  The map (DM's discretion for location) is water damaged (60% legible) but still accurate.
  9. Necklace with heart pendant containing dose of rare perfume (40gp, 30gp empty).  Pewter necklace and pendant with secret compartment containing perfume suited to court.
  10. Orcish battle standard of skulls and eye surrounded by iron spikes (50gp).  Six-foot long staff topped with skulls and spiked eye emblem grants a +2 bonus to any attempts to intimidate a man-sized or smaller foe or a +1 morale bonus to any allied orcs or half-orcs.
  11. Paired silvered hand axes balanced for throwing and etched with dwarven blade runes (50gp for pair, 22gp each).  Not magical but may prove effective against certain creatures.
  12. Quiver with 20 bronze whistling arrows (41gp, arrows 2gp each).   The arrowheads keen when fired.  Audible within 400' feet of the arrow's flight path and may increase wandering monster checks accordingly. If fired at a target, they break on a natural 1 or natural 20.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

inns & taverns: the fool & hounds

The Fool & Hounds, refuge of rogues, thrives in the shadows of a hard market town.  Most honest folk avoid it.  A three-storey longhouse without ground-floor windows, it's long walls have six laughing-face plaques.  These spew stale air and wisps of smoke.  The stained long walls form scarred, narrow cartways haunted by black flies to a butcher's yard.  The painted sign creaks on iron chains, a florid-faced jester with two dogs, one biting his posterior.  This creaking punctuates the hubbub from it's door.  The west-facing doorway is well-kept with wooden plaques showing links to merchant houses and street gangs.  The cobbles reek of old blood, ordure and yeast.  Shuttered casements on the second and third floors remain closed at all hours whatever the weather.  The back door has trapdoors to the cellar.  The cartways at night are lightless.

Inside, the ground floor bar is gloomy and cool.  A U-shaped bar dominates the room, four doors to the left lead to privies.  Tables orbit the bar with antechambers before doors.  Candles at each table hurl shadows at dingy booths claimed by assorted ne'er-do-wells.  Boards with prices and risque artwork line the walls.  In daytime, the bar is quiet, chill and dialogue is hushed.  At night, a more raucous atmosphere takes over.  The place fills with drinkers and rogues who warm the air in the bar.  Dogs work the room, fed scraps by patrons. 

Beyond the bar's right arm is a gambling den, the hearth and candles lit only at night.  Five tables with checkered tops and comfortable chairs await.  Chess, cards and table games are popular with regulars.  The only dogs in here are illustrated on boards.  A darkened mirror hangs on the south wall, etched in silver with a jester's grinning head.  Beyond the bar's left arm is a corridor leading past an ascending stair.  This opens into a back room redolent of a ship's deck complete with locked hold doors.  These descend into a pit for animal fights.  Crushed hops and sawdust are strewn on the floor after fights to conceal the blood.  Upstairs leads to staff quarters for the landlord, his partner and the cellarman.  The top floor is the subject of conjecture, odd lights at odd hours are the least.  Whispers of a rogue wizard persist.  Clanking chains on moonless nights suggest they have company.      

The inn keeps mediocre ales at best.  Regulars favour Dunbarrel, a muddy brown quaffing ale or  Baldegard, a coppery ale in clay bottles.  Dark rum or sloe genever are also available.  Those eager to flash coin buy Mo'zaat, a spiced salt beer irrestible to orc and kin.  Food here is portable and/or meat-based.  Beef jerky, smoked sausage, fried pork rinds, pickled walnuts and hard cheese are sold from jars.  The staff are not skilled chefs.

The inn changes barmaids routinely with few permanent staff.  The current landlord, Zarick is distinctive.  Slim, slinking and hollow-eyed, his half-shaved head is adorned with scars and topped with blonde ringlets.  His feral smile and foppish breeches, high boots and fleece-trimmed embroidered vests cut a dash.  Nobody sees the silvered razor until too late.  Skynah, his leman is pale and pretty, favouring crimson chemises, leathers and silver.  Her rasping voice and ready daggers deter casual advances.  Their relationship fuels gossip with a trail of broken hearts, bodies and minds yet remains strong.  They watch the bar, letting the staff serve.  Brune, a hulking, hirsuite half-orc with dueling scars, muttonchop sideburns and stained buckskins tends cellar.  His presence is solid yet silent.  Everyone else lasts at most a season.  Better pickings are found if Zarick and Skynah don't break them. 

The Fool & Hounds has no accommodation.  Falling asleep means being vulnerable to other patrons.  Instead the door is locked at midnight, opening to eject patrons until Zarick or Skynah closes up.  Drunks blundering into the fetid cartways risk their lives.

Needless to say, opportunities await.  Zarick and Skynah are famed for tempestuous arguments, passionate reconciliation and tag-team seduction of willing suitors.  Brune is more calculating in his advances.  Gambling ranges from genteel games of cards to cruel dog fights.  Ex-barmaids  whisper horrible stories of Zarick's pecadillos.   The cartways offer liaisons, mugging and murder with a choir of black flies.  Yet the inn is busy most nights.

Monday, 11 February 2013

more unlikely treasures

Roll 1d12 for more unlikely treasures...
  1. A jangling bracelet of tiny golden bells and fine-toothed cogs on crimson silk rope (25gp), suited to a small wrist interested in intricate mechanisms.   
  2. Blue glass finger-bottle filled with dark fluid (11gp as is, 1gp empty).  10 doses of floral scent that stains red any skin it touches for 3d6 hours.  The scent vanishes in 2d6 +1 hour per dose used.
  3. Charm bracelet of silver chain with five shield-shaped charms (20gp).  The shields have various religious icons for luck.  Has dried blood on it so the previous owner wasn't that lucky.
  4. Dagger with copper wire wound around hilt and cabochon malachite pommel (15gp).  The sort of thing that plays well in rural courts, missing it's scabbard.
  5. Engraved light steel shield with spikes (20gp).  Ornamental vine decorations around spikes, if used to bash a foe, it does 1d4 + Strength damage.
  6. Foot-high statuette of bronze man with mouth open (15gp).  This statuette is hollow and if part-filled with water emits a musical humming if placed near heat sources equal to a brazier or campfire.
  7. Noblewoman's caul (hairnet) of slender silver chains (10gp).  This delicate array is best suited to those of dark hair.
  8. Ochre leather bracers decorated with silver studs (10gp).  These are detachable cuffs used by hirelings in temporary service to nobles whose coat-of-arms includes red and silver or white.
  9. Painted riding saddle decorated with white roses (24gp).   This saddle of black leather is suited to a minor noble or lady-in-waiting.  
  10. Quartz chess set (blue quartz and nacre) (20gp).  Each chess piece is worth 5sp and the board of lacquered wood is worth 4gp.  A threadbare cloth pouch stores the pieces.
  11. Red-stained leather-bound chapbook (10gp) with information on local brothels and gambling dens in a large city.  If consulted for an hour, it gives a +2 bonus to reaction rolls in dealings with these establishments or employees.
  12. 1d12 silver spoons of assorted quality and size (1d6gp each).  Stolen from various reputable houses whose crests are engraved into the handles.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

inns & taverns: the wanton trout

The Wanton Trout is a solid, stone two-storey tavern in a port known for endurance against all comers.  It's owner, a soldier turned bard and pacifist made it famous by his verses etched in it's windows as a customer.  While the port is cold, foggy and grim, The Wanton Trout keeps up a warm welcome on the corner of the crossroads leading to the main marketplace.

The stonework exterior is dappled grey and russet blocks.  Corners and lintels are black granite.  The roof is green-grey slate and the whole structure exudes permanence.  The sign is a study in suggestion.  A pair of slim, pale hands tickling a fat brown trout encircled by "The Wanton Trout" in gilded runes.  An aroma of cooked oats, peat, pine, wax and grain alcohol teases passersby from green-stained oak shutters and south-facing double doors.  A stable suitable for twelve steeds flanks the tavern to the north.

The interior is cream plaster walls, etched with viridian vines bearing pink grapes.  The main lounge is cruciform with a great hearth of wrought iron and granite blazes with burning peat and popping pine cones in the eastern arm.  Iron pots and skillets are tended by sweating youths as oaken tables and benches groan under clientele and wares.  The corners are separated by granite pillars and woven wool drapes in elaborate checks.  Beyond these are more seats and the windows.  Around each window, the plaster is black with crabbed script, pored over by minstrel and scholar.

The northern arm is dominated by a staircase befitting a noble's hall, leading to a balcony.  On one side are six booths for private meetings.  On the other, a dozen doors lead to cosy rooms with shuttered windows with more writing etched into the plaster.  Patrons must carry their own ale, a trial for the hanger-on with many friends or drink-worn.  Food is brought on request by the youths at the hearth who expect some compensation.  The western arm houses the L-shaped bar and stairs to the cellar.  A trio of barmaids hold court, dispensing ale and cheer.  Woe betide the over-amorous, these ladies are ready wits skilled in deflating oratory and more physical advances.  A shout will bring two brawny cellarmen armed with shillelaghs to their aid.  Wooden racks behind the bar hold clay jugs of sealed spirit and ornate pewter tankards inscribed with fanciful decorations.

In the long spring and brief summer, a warm russet ale is sold for a copper quartet.  In autumn, a toffee-coloured ale with hints of peat and caramel is sold instead until spring. In winter, a superior black porter ale is sold for five copper.  Throughout the year, whisky is sold in 'thistles' for two silver.  These tumblers narrow at the top.  Water is served with the whisky to taste, most locals add a little water.  Fortified blackberry wine, cloyingly sweet is sold by the jug for 1 gold.  Food is sold at the hearth.  Salted porridge for a copper, sweetened with honey and hazelnuts for another copper.  Haggis, dark bread and roast turnip is sold for three silver.  Luxury is found in trout baked in butter and herbs for five silver.

A bald-shaven, bucolic fellow, Kriell O'The Dale is a former leader of the watch.  His twin talents for diplomacy and brawling make him a natural landlord.  The youths that cook, cellarmen, stable boys and maids defer to him.  The same is less true of the three barmaids. Eilen, Mora and Shiel who nettle him constantly.  Staff are fiercely loyalty to each other, for every blue moon, the owner shows up incognito. This poet, orator and drinker known to nine worlds demands a room, whiskey and trout.  He and Kriell discuss business in private, sometime coin is exchanged.  The rooms are kept clean by three maids.  Clad in simple dark livery, they are acolytes of a local temple, sworn to chastity.

The rooms upstairs provide private accommodation for the princely sum of 4 gold a night.  The common corners provide a frugal experience for a mere five silver.  The rooms upstairs are good quality and limited availability, 1d12 are already booked. Their windowsills are darkened by more verse on the virtues of love, sleep and warmth.  Each has a simple feather bed and covered chamberpot.  Scholars may try to bribe or persuade guests to let them in to study the verses.  Women travellers are told to raise the alarum if disturbed more than once.  Men are told to resolve the issue informally.

More considerate scholars club together to hire a room, studying the verses until the morning.  Their muttering in meter may alarm nervous guests.  An influx of trade on holy days and rooms smelling of incense suggests some muttering is incantatory. There's been no trouble yet. The maids are vigilant for chalk circles.

Friday, 8 February 2013

anatomy of an apocalypse - part 2

In part 1, we left things after a series of surgical nuclear strikes and civilisation reeling from ten years of nuclear winter.  Millions died in nuclear fire, millions more from fallout.  Famine claims the greatest number of victims.  Most supermarkets last nine days before food runs out in conventional situations (extreme weather or fuel shortage).  Panic buying is not uncommon.  Extreme situations yield food riots, laws against hoarding, rationing and military support of law-enforcement. Most survivalist food plans expire in five years, halfway into the decade without summer.

When the food ran out...
...all hell broke loose.  Rioting met brutal responses from armed police with military support able to fight a recognisable threat.  The more powerful civic leaders and military commissioned research regarding creation and preservation of food. Production was a top priority.  Farms had to meet intensive quotas.  Heavily guarded bio-domes and hydroponic warehouses use sunlamps to grow through the dark seasons.  This isn't the only option.  Evidence of cannibal communities is hidden by horrified civic leaders. 

Symptoms of kuru and amyloidosis are identified by medics.  Despite all the death, too many mouths need feeding.  Secretive purges of individual serial cannibals and growing cannibal gangs are led by pro-establishment brainers. Yet cannibalism appears in cities and rural communities. Food caches of MREs and freeze-dried goods are treasured secrets, used only in dire need.  Shifts from increasingly scarce food stores to sustainable food supplies means tightening belts.  Horror stories of cannibal cults led by charismatic leaders become more prevalent.  Society begins a slow-motion splintering.

Listen to the voices... 

The psychic maelstrom is a product of the millions of dead.  Yet pandemics claim equivalent body counts without forming a worldwide miasma of psychic energy.  And if they do, they're rarely as informative as this one.  So why are the dead so damned helpful?  Consider the gutting of a worldwide infrastructure due to the Cull's EMP and burning cities out.  Surviving engineers are kept busy.  Some rebuilding occurs and there is nothing like necessity to breed invention.

Satellites require significant investment and connectivity breaks.  Nanoscale networking is a different approach and worldwide production nodes may reconnect people.  Imagine a communicable personal nano-network linking you to the Internet.  Pre-Cull brainer tech like implant syringes or violation gloves (amplifying signal or rapid processing) makes this less of a leap.  The resulting noosphere mixed ingenuity and horror in the last two years of the Decade Without Summer.  Cryogenic stasis became a reality. Leaders of men and entourages enter bunkers to sleep away their troubles until the land is renewed again.

Introducing... the Burn.

So what stops satellite-assisted human ingenuity and the nanoscale Internet?  Irony demands a solar event. 2012 saw increased awareness of coronal mass ejection.  CME events reach peaks every 11 years. Heralded by solar flares, powerful CME events weave auroral displays, burn out satellites, disrupt electronic and power networks.  A global Carrington event electrifies power lines, phone lines and pipelines. Transformers blow, satellites burn out, electrified lines go down and fuel pipelines experience electrical fires.

Blackouts again and fewer engineers means longer downtime.  The noosphere dies and panic ensues again as electronic controls fail.  Eventually the nanoscale network reboots.  Things are different, inexplicable sensory impressions, voices whispering.  This glitch births the psychic maelstrom and over forty years, it transcends it's original form.   The gifted and strange attune to it.  Information is lost, corrupted or transformed into formats man was not meant to know.  Insanity spikes among noosphere users, what seemed salvation is risky.  Those with latent psychic ability become gifted.  Nobody knows how or why.

Colony collapse disorder

In the wake of The Burn, civilisation finally splinters.  Famine rears it's ugly head as the farms lose power.   This time, mere anarchy prevails.  Authorities retreat or are overthrown.  Holdings form at power stations, factories, hospitals and military bases.  Mirroring declines in bee population, people abandon cities after looting them.  Those who remain carve out niches.  Cannibalism, insanity and mutation - the last from exposure to environment, radiation, pathogens or psychic maelstrom grows more prevalent.

Sustainable farming and hunter-gathering becomes the norm.  Communities disperse or form around working power sources.  The adoption of biogas from waste products and traded generators means cars can run and electrical light is possible.  Communities shrink out of necessity.  Trade in oil, petroleum and gas still occurs. Money becomes meaningless - barter now makes sense.  In time, skills are lost and memories of the world before the Cull are told to children. The omnipresent psychic maelstrom whispers equal education and confusion.  Things get a little scrambled in the re-telling.

In the absence of government or corporate interest, infrastructure decays.  Roads crack, sewer systems and flood defences are compromised.  Those with skills effect small-scale repairs. Larger problems are left to fester.  In addition, culture begins to erode.  Magazine celebrities become archetypes studied by manipulators.  Savants and operators ply their trades. Names lose meanings in the struggle to live - those who die are remembered and sometimes eaten. Fifty years after the bombs exploded, this world is bleak.

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