Friday, February 12, 2016

Caster's Rock: Setting Details for a Laughing Moon Adventure

Part I: Secrets of the Rock

For decades Caster's Rock was a place of legendary dread amongst those in the arcane community. Built on an island in the center of a remote mountain lake, Caster’s Rock acted as both an asylum for those afflicted by chaos magic, and a prison for those openly embracing the forbidden power. In truth, however, the “Rock,” as it came to be known, housed dark secrets and even darker deeds.

Frightening stories circulated of the “hookmen” who would sneak about in the dark and capture the unwary with long poles equipped with nooses that negated spells. The hookmen would drag their prisoners back to Caster’s Rock and none would hear from the lost soul again. More disconcerting was the fact that it was believed the hookmen were not human, but reptilian servants to a long-forgotten god.

The structure itself was fortress-like, dour in its design and built to withstand a siege. Isolated upon the island, the only access point to the main gates was a narrow bridge spanning three hundred feet to the shore. The water surrounding the island was home to the animated corpses of dead prisoners that ensured there would be no access by boat. But the true defense came in the form of the enchanted shield generated from deep within the fortress—the shield made the asylum impossible to detect by any magical means. Unless Caster’s Rock was physically discovered, neither Senduan Mystic nor Rogue Magician would be able to locate its whereabouts. 

Though many believed the Rock was a secret outpost of the Senduan, the Spire of Mystics denounced the methodology of the Caster’s Rock inhabitants, saying that their ungoverned abduction and imprisonment of cullothean-wielding magicians echoed the events of the Persecution.  In truth, many of their own members had gone missing while in search of the Rock’s location. The assumption, of course, was that they too had been captured and imprisoned.  None ever escaped the stone walls of that cold prison, and for decades those brought to the island lived and died as prisoners bound to the secrets within.

Perceived as fanatical Crusaders akin to those responsible for the atrocities of the Persecution, the hookmen of the Rock were incorrectly linked to those religious orders of the past. In truth, those affiliated with Caster’s Rock were followers of Ashyrdican, the “dragon-god of stolen secrets.” The hookmen, were in fact, not human, as the rumors had conveyed. Rather, they were a reptilian race known as the ah-teen. Standing on two legs, they were as tall as humans, but covered in scales with dragon-like snouts, clawed hands and feet, and thick tails. They disguised themselves in hooded black robes, and indeed captured their quarry with rope poles that instantly negated any magic, rendering their prisoners defenseless. 

Though the Spire of Mystics believed the minions of Caster’s Rock to crusade against magic and work for its eradication from the world of Mythren, they could not have been more wrong. Rather, the ah-teen captured powerful Rogue Magicians and imprisoned them within their fortress in an effort to steal their magic and harness their forbidden power. 

Greedy and covetous, Ashyrdican had Caster’s Rock built upon a specific location hidden in the Andron Mountains. Here, in the bottom-most chambers of the fortress is a secret altar to the dragon god. Fashioned from a stone unlike any other on the continent, the altar is the most precious possession of the ah-teen. Able to absorb magical elements and energy, the stone can be charged with stolen cullothean magic and used to enhance both arcane and divine abilities. 

With such a weapon in his clutches, Ashyrdican hoped to eventually capture the remaining hidden avatars of the gods and drain them of their immortal essence, thus granting unrivaled power to himself and his loyal ah-teen followers.

Part II: The Breaking of the Rock

The hookmen of Caster’s Rock continued their abductions for many long years, and the towns and villages surrounding the region endured a state of constant fear. Over the long decades the prison was filled with Rogue Magicians of varying degrees of power. Many of the abductees were casters knowledgeable in the art of cullothean control. Others had tasted the power afforded by the chaotic magic and cultivated dangerous aspirations. And some had been burned by the forbidden magic that escaped their control. Their scars were not always physically visible, but expressed through psychotic episodes or murderous rampages. These dangerous men and women were kept in the dungeons where they slipped further and further from sanity.

The ah-teen, the secretive race of dragonmen, used the abducted prisoners to further the ambitions of their covetous god. Over time, the prisoners would lose their ability to use magic as the enchanted shrine of Ashyrdican housed in the furthest dungeon drained them of their powers. Once exhausted and barren of magic, the ah-teen would murder their weakened prisoners and cast their bodies into the murky waters of the surrounding lake.

Certain rooms and regions within the fortress were lined with a rare metal known as eversteel. Only in these areas was the draining power of the island negated and magic able to be used. Some prisoners would be kept in cells lined with eversteel so that their abilities could be studied. Other areas, particularly the sub-levels of Caster’s Rock, were plated with the metal so that the ah-teen could oversee experiments using cullothean magic. Morally corrupt prisoners could be bribed and their knowledge exploited in exchange for promised luxuries and freedoms not otherwise allowed. Over time, the sub-levels and dungeons of the Rock became places of utter horror. Men and animals were experimented on, and the results were monstrosities better left to the nightmare dreamscape.

But as firm a hold as the ah-teen claimed over this region, their rule was not to endure. Doom came at last to Caster’s Rock not in the form of justice of even vengeance, however. It came in the form of a little girl.

A Rogue sorceress named Casaveil was brought to the prison and locked away in the third floor infirmary.  Here were kept those afflicted by spells gone wrong. Many had been physically hurt by their own magic, or bore frightening mutations brought on in the thrall of uncontrolled cullothean casting. These broken souls were kept under less vigilant watch, as their afflictions where studied but their demeanor deemed nonthreatening. Unbeknownst to the infirmary warden, Casaveil had been brought to the Rock pregnant.  She later gave birth to a daughter. Little Lelu she was called, and amongst the lost souls of the infirmary, she was a rare beacon of light and hope.

Whether the child’s abilities came as a result of having been born here upon the Rock, or were in fact an innate ability, none could say. But as the magic was drained from all those around her, Little Lelu found herself becoming a natural wielder of the forbidden power. She was cared for by the sympathetic inmates of the third floor, and in secret they helped cultivate her growing skills in arcane manipulation.

Tragedy, however, was inevitable. Weakened by her own prior spell-casting which had left her body broken and deformed, when the last trace of magic was drawn from her, Casaveil’s worth to the ah-teen came to an end. Little Lelu, an eight-year old child, watched helplessly as the dragonmen killed her mother and unceremoniously dropped her body into the dark lake.

The inmates of the infirmary screamed and wailed against their keepers, but bound as they were either by physical condition or shackled to their beds, they were helpless.  They held on to Little Lelu and tried to protect her from the spectacle, but she tore herself from their grasp. As her mother's body splashed down into the water, Lelu's tenuous grip on reality cracked like thin ice. 

Summoning the forbidden magic to her, Lelu filled her mind and soul with the ecstasy of cullothean. It boiled within her body, coursed through her veins and glowed in her eyes. She was possessed not only with the magic, but with the decades-worth of suffering and despair that clung to the walls. A banshee-like wail issued from her mouth and all who heard that terrible shriek fled in horror. The ah-teen killers felt the burn of her magic, and the wardens of the infirmary were crushed in her magical grip. The bonds of the infirmary were broken, and crawling from their beds or cells, the inmates rose up against those who had held them prisoner. They fought and died, clearing a path for Little Lelu who paved a path from the third floor down to the sub levels of the Rock.

Cries of alarm mingled with the screams of the dying as Lelu and her remaining entourage smashed through the ah-teen defenses and discovered the hidden temple of Ashyrdican. Here, in their most cherished inner sanctum, Lelu killed the dragonman priests and approached the enchanted altar of that pulsed like the dark heart of this cursed asylum.

It is impossible to know what actually happened in the depths of Caster’s Rock, but what is known is that the altar of Ashyridican was shattered and in that moment all of the stolen magic was returned to the surviving prisoners. Little Lelu released a pulse of energy strong enough to break the bonds of every last prisoner and free them from their cells. However, as the magic was released from her fingertips, Little Lelu’s mind at last gave way and the forbidden magic went awry. The foundation of the fortress cracked, the eversteel walls peeled like oily paint, and stone walls splintered. Although the prisoners of the Rock were freed from their cells, the entire fortress became magically sealed and none were able to escape to the outside world.

Riots broke out as the prisoners battled their ah-teen keepers. Those whom had been confined to the dark chambers of the dungeon levels surrendered entirely to their madness and let loose their wrath in unbridled torrents of magical fire. Creature, monsters, and abominations rose out of the experimental laboratories, crushing their makers and wandering into the prison. Trapped now with seemingly no hope for escape, the prisoners battled futilely for their lives.

Over the next ten years, Caster’s Rock eventually fell to an uneasy and unnatural silence. None were ever seen leaving the island-bound fortress, but from time to time, flickers of light can be seen from within. The curse is still in place, and those who cross the threshold into the fortress are unable to escape.

Only Little Lelu has the power to break the magical seal. No longer a child, she wanders the asylum in a fugue of madness and despair, unaware that the harnessed power of Caster’s Rock now lives solely inside of her.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Magic of Mythren

The Senduan Mystics

For over a thousand years these magic-users have acted as keepers and protectors of the arcane. Rising from the ruin of the former age, the Senduan swore to maintain order and control over the world of magic. Stories told of how the forbidden magic, abused in the hands of mortal kings, led to the eventual destruction of the Age of Dominion. To prevent such a catastrophe from happening again, the Senduan vowed to shun this pure form of magic, and instead, adopted a strain of magic called sillothean. Those who embraced this magic were labeled as rogues and deemed renegades and threats to society. Knowledgeable of the hubris that brought down the Sorcerer Kings of old, the Senduan keep secret many truths of the ancient world. Still linked distantly to this fallen age, the Senduan Mystics have both a mystique  about them and a subtle elegance in their knowledge and use of the arcane. The Senduan Mystics use their powers to decipher prophecy, battle encroaching evil, and to keep the mystery of this magic from falling into the hands of the notorious Rogue Fold.

The Senduan are divided into three distinct groups called “Folds.”  The Silver Fold is devoted to maintaining order and balance while using their magic against threats of evil.  Members of the Copper Fold are collectors of history, secrets and information, and are interested in the patterns of lives as well as fate.  The Iron Fold strives for power and uses elements of prophecy to strengthen their position in the world. 

All three Folds convene in a tower of magic called the Spire of Mystics, located in the capital city, Delerion. A colossal structure towering over the city from the side of a central mountain, the Spire became the sole ruling source of arcane power throughout the lands from the earliest days of the Age of Prophecy. Housed within the vaults of the Spire of Mystics are countless artifacts, mysteries and secrets.  Legend states that in the deepest bowels of the tower lies a Deep Gate, a Fey Way, a master Runestone allowing teleportation throughout the world, and a circle of summoning stones said to draw spirits back from the dead.  Furthermore, the Master of the Spire has access to an enormous device called the Oculus, or the “God’s Eye.” Mounted to the wall of  a secret chamber, the Oculus has the power to peer into any corner of the world, bent by the will of the Master of the Spire.

Senduan Mystics often adventure abroad in an attempt to support their Fold, as well as their personal interests in matters of the arcane.  Power does not always come in the form of magical items or spells—for many, knowledge is the ultimate boon.

The worst fear of the Senduan Mystics is that the Rogue Fold—those devoted to using the forbidden magic—will unravel the ancient secrets of the arcane world and unleash the untamed magic on the lands. The Senduan know that this is the exact magic used by the Sorcerer Kings in the Age of Dominion...a power which led to their ultimate demise.

The Rogue Fold

The Rogue Fold is a secretive group of magicians who choose to embrace the forbidden magic called cullothean. This is a powerful form of magic long ago outlawed by the Spire of Mystics. Chaotic in nature, this forbidden power is rumored to be far greater than the ordained magic used by the Senduan Mystics. Due to this, the Rogue Fold represents the greatest threat to the careful balance of magic upheld by the Spire and regulated by the notorious reiners—men capable of drawing out the ability to use magic…forever. 

Those embracing the forbidden magic are not necessarily evil, nor do they oppose the Spire of Mystics—at least not as a general rule.  Those brave enough to summon the forbidden magic are merely ambitious.  There is ancient power interwoven into the chaotic patterns of cullothean magic.  Once, mortals knew the secret to controlling those powers.  The Rogue Fold seeks to rediscover those secrets and reclaim what was once the most potent force in the lands.  

Many have lost their minds and souls to the chaotic siren’s song of the forbidden magic, but there are those who have gained some mastery over its potential. Those few are privy to a world of magic and mystery, but know that such power comes at a price. Their use of the forbidden magic is careful, calculated, and used sparingly. Only with such discipline can a member of the secretive Rogue Fold hope to live with such unbridled magic.

Others will simply be burned by the fire they would hope to master. 

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tavaros, Kingdom of the Crossroads: Setting Details for a Laughing Moon Adventure

An otherwise forgettable location, Tavaros is notable only in its tragedy. Only a few historians know of this location, and this small lot continues to argue over what began the decline.  None, however, dispute the fact that its ultimate doom was brought on by the traveling circus that came to be known as the Jester’s Jubilee.

Situated in the northeast corner of Torith along the borders of Greyvanmoor and Brithanol, this town acted as a gateway. Travelers and merchants frequented the town, bringing with them a mix of exotic flair and personality. Taverns and inns gained in popularity, but Tavaros was never destined to become a metropolis like Watershire or distant Delerion. Not truly a kingdom at all, in fact not even a sizable city, the importance of Tavaros was inflated by the ego of its wealthy governor. Thandon Rol, a self-declared king, ruled the city like a tyrant. 

Calling himself King of the Crossroads, Thandon Rol had a small palace built in the center of the city. His greed was rivaled only by his possessive nature,  and he coveted his crown, his queen, and the illusion of power he wielded over the region. Under his reign the town suffered a great loss in commerce and trade as former travelers and merchants took more arduous roads around Tavaros to avoid heavy taxes or the heavy hand of the King's guard. Despite his unlikable nature, King Rol's court jester, a man named Rhezzun, became a popular attraction and a notable exception to the otherwise unfriendly demeanor of the town itself. His court performances combined with his surprise appearances at the local inn kept the commoners and outsiders entertained and distracted from the "King's" rule.

The laughter and antics of the jester, however, were not destined to last long, however. Chaos erupted in Tavaros when the the King’s captain of the guard discovered Rhezzun having an affair with Thandon Rol’s queen, Katarin. Outraged, King Rol had Rhezzun imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced for execution.

On the eve of his march to the gallows, Rhezzun was rescued by a traveling troupe of mimes known as the Unspeakables. Inspired by the jester’s past performances, the Unspeakables felt compelled to save their muse from certain death. Sneaking into the palace under the guise of a traveling act, the troupe murdered the dungeon guards holding Rhezzun captive and rode off with the jester into the night.

Thandon Rol became obsessed with finding and killing Rhezzun, and placed an enormous bounty on his head. The queen, Katarin, was forbidden to see any living man and was held like a prisoner in the palace. Falling into a dark depression, she was incapable of being consoled and spiraled deeper into madness.

Rhezzun, meanwhile, knew that his only hope for survival was to hide. Rather than disappear, he and the Unspeakables joined with a vandi circus. Calling themselves the Jester’s Jubilee, Rhezzun disguised himself as a common clown and hid in plain sight. 

The circus had some of the best performances in decades—everything from animal trainers, acrobats, contortionists, illusionists, and a freak show that was talked about from one coast to another. The mimes drew a tremendous crowd and the antics of the Jolly Jester himself brought waves of laughter from the growing crowds. Over the next ten years, the Jubilee became a hugely successful and popular attraction all over the lands.

Years later, news of Queen Katarin’s failing health at last reached Rhezzun. Knowing that her death was imminent, and certain that his affair with her was the cause of her decline, Rhezzun, the Jolly Jester, steered the Jubilee back to Tavaros for one last performance.

At some point during the long journey, Rhezzun disappeared from the circus and slipped into the secretive pocket of the Andon Mountains known as the Dwimmer Vale. Here he uncovered an ancient entity trapped within a Fey Way and a deal was struck between the two. Armed now with a curse borne of dark fairy magic, Rhezzun prepared for his return home and his last act.

The attractions of the circus were so well-known that nearly the entirety of Tavaros came out to the outskirts of the town on the opening day of the Jester’s Jubilee. The King himself was in attendance, bringing his ailing Queen and seating her beside him on a raised platform at the main stage for the opening performance. 

It was the Jolly Jester who welcomed the guests that fateful night as the Laughing Moon rode the sky. Climbing to the highest perch of the trapeze, the Jolly Jester brought out each and every performer, giving them a grand introduction that was met with resounding applause from the crowd. Surrounded by the troupe of the Unspeakables as well as the motley collection of circus talen, the Jolly Jester climbed to the highest platform of the trapeze and here tore off his disguise. Rhezzun, at last revealed, gave a final bow to the awestruck crowd. The Queen, blinking through the madness that had plagued her for years, stood shakily from her seat and beheld the image of her true love.

None can say for sure what magic was granted by the evil spirit within the Fey Way, but amid the gasps and cries of the attendees, Rhezzun uttered the forbidden spell whispered to him by the creature trapped within the Dwimmer Vale as his troupe of clowns mimed their own deaths. What is known, however, is that Rhezzun leaped from the trapeze platform with a noose around his neck. As his body hung twitching in the heart of the big top tent, a curse was loosed upon all those gathered. The crowd fell into uncontrollable hysterics, suffocating from their own laughter. Before them, embraced by the black magic, the performers died one by one by their own hand--some impaling themselves upon flaming swords, others leaping from the trapeze, or allowing themselves to be killed by animals gone mad.  Like a great storm, death swept over the carnival and claimed all those trapped within.

Tavaros, emptied of his inhabitants, became a place known for its ghost stories as it slipped into decay. And remaining on the outskirts, rotting as the years passed by, sat the Jester’s Jubilee—a carnival in quiet ruin, but rumored still to hold remnants of the Jester’s curse carried on the echo of his last laugh.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Ridges: Setting Details for a Laughing Moon Adventure

Decades ago this quaint location was used by Delerion nobles as a place to discretely offer comfort and care to their “afflicted” children.  A collection of cottages constructed by a nearby lake would make for a serene sanctuary away from the harsh public eye, or so said the wealthy investors who commissioned the project. Here, tucked away in the Andron Mountains, those born into specific wealthy families with mental illness, disease, deformaties, or disciplinary issues were sent to the Ridges and kept under the watchful eye of the Sisters of the Hand—acolytes of Krymara, the Goddess of Healing.  

Though their hearts were pure, the Sisters were not true priestesses and lacked the divine gift of magical healing. They were caregivers and counselors, but ill-equipped to deal with the increasing number of residents or the multitude of afflictions they possessed.  Those sent to the Ridges were never cured, they were merely contained.  And in the pristine getaway of their mountain retreat, the outcast children of Delerion’s highborn became sullen, angry, and vengeful.

Over time, the inhabitants of the Ridges grew older, and despite promises made by the Delerion nobles to provide money for supplies, additional shelter and general care, soon the flow of gold into the quiet camp ceased all together.  With many of the Sisters abandoning the camp, unrest began to stir amongst the inhabitants as the Ridges turned from a place of comfort into a hidden asylum with increasingly dangerous denizens.

The first known murder was committed by a boy of sixteen named Joachim. Sister Tyrell had never been known as a tender heart,  but what set the brutal act off remains a mystery. She was killed just outside the perimeter of the Ridges, bludgeoned to death with a stone, and perhaps out of fear of being caught, Joachim attempted to hide her body in a nearby cave.  Deep within the dark confines, he found the perfect location to conceal his crime: an ancient archway that outlined a yawning abyss.  How could the boy have known about Fey Ways or the myths and legends surrounding them?

How could he have understood the sacrifice he was offering?

The body was thrown in, and a devilish fey entity was awakened.  When Joachim left the cave he carried more than a murderer’s guilt—he carried the spirit of an evil monstrosity hungry for mortal blood.
Madness erupted shortly thereafter and the inhabitants of the Ridges fell victim to the murderous will of the possessed Joachim. Death claimed uncounted victims, and those that escaped did so screaming into the surrounding woods.

From the open Fey Way, additional creatures slipped out like sinuous shadows to occupy the cabins and cottages once held by the “afflicted.” Here they fed off of the residual anger and trauma that lingered from years of abandonment and neglect. They took the tangible form of the most horrifying thoughts long kept hidden in the inarticulate vaults of the inhabitants’ minds. Murder and madness bred and gave birth to new terror.

Soon the Ridges fell quiet and time slipped by. Some say the former denizens still wander the wooded region, lost in a perpetual nightmare or perhaps possessed like Joachim. The cabins and cottages still stand, though time and elements have been cruel. Within, the gloom conceals the atrocities of yesterday as sleeping monsters drift ever closer to waking. 

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