Enter a sunken marshbound town of secrets in the 22nd Short Adventure for September.
This is gaming material primarily for roleplaying, with a set of related suggestions for wargame scenarios. It could be part of a campaign set on and around Stopover, a landmass ideally suitable for various host worlds. Three more adventures for the setting will be up by the end of the month.
The 21 adventures to date can be found here, with more information on the nature of Stopover available at the post on Scree and in the notes.
Flame in the Fog
The protagonists are travelling the marshes of the Reclamation on the southern plain of Stopover (see here and here). By contrast with the rest of the landmass, this is a verdant realm. It is also one more heavily populated by Moral Rotters (see here), who have - unusually for their kind - formed a highly complex communal structure (see here) which appears to have overcome the condition in which the Moral Rot has left them.
The protagonists come upon the Mounds, dark shapes of earth lying in the mists.
The outskirts of the Mounds are patrolled, with 1D6+1 groups of 1D3+6 Moral Rotters on duty at any one time; each group will be composed as described here. The group will move towards an approaching party, barely under the control of the food carrier; he or she will be suffering the heckling of the two water carriers, who will in turn be casually threatened by most of the remainder.
The Moral Rotters will initially assume that the protagonists are offlanders from Inway, and that they have become lost or distracted while travelling the roadway between Inway and the groves (see here); this passes through the Mounds. They will be told to return to it, as the agreement with the Partner requires (see here). The carriers will be nervous that if this does not happen, they will be punished.
If the protagonists manage to outwit or otherwise pass the group and move deeper within, they will discover that the mounds are partially collapsed or sunken drystone buildings now overgrown by peat and vegetation. Some have been dug out; closer to the outskirts the majority of these are occupied by Moral Rotters, but further in more are empty, surrounded by trampled earth and enormous webbed footprints, the marks of outsized lashers (see here). These are the Mount Mounds.
On the journey to the Mount Mounds the protagonists will be challenged by 1D3-1 groups of Moral Rotters, either patrols or occupants of mounds who spot them pass. Any major delay or noise, whether the screeching of Moral Rotters or the sounds of fighting, will attract one further group, with a 1 in 3 chance of an Eternal too.
Other protagonists and antagonists - The Eternals
The Eternals are the heart of the Reclamation - both physically as the term pertains to the marshland, and politically as it pertains to the attempt to reform a society from Moral Rotters gathered from across Stopover. The Eternals are Moral Rotters themselves, members of an abrasive council constantly scheming and manoeuvring, albeit less to gain ground than to avoid losing it to another.
Manoeuvring literally too, for the Eternals ride lashers of immense size; these have also been made potentially immortal by the Rot, and grow endlessly as is their nature. The great beasts are a guarantee that the Eternals may make their demands, but also guarantee that they listen, lest they be consumed by a peer. The threat of violent death in the jaws of a lasher effectively overcomes the lethargy of the Moral Rot, and the constant circling at tongue's length symbolises the flowing compromise which conveys dynamism to the Reclamation as a whole.
Any Rotter may become an Eternal, by the sly feeding of so mighty a beast - though this degree of delayed gratification is seen rarely - or by being caught up on a smaller specimen and unable to dismount; from here the Rotter will become a useful lieutenant and may join the circling in turn should he or she survive a stronger fellow. The Eternals retreat only to sleep fitfully, ensconced tightly in a dug-out mound while still mounted.
Events 2 - An initiation
If the protagonists enter the large trampled space at the centre of the Mount Mounds, the 1D6+6 Eternals present will initially assume that they are Moral Rotters. They will be shocked and angry to learn the truth, and aggressive with it, pressing forward while maintaining a safe spacing, scattering their Rotter entourages and surrounding the interlopers. However, the anger will soon give way to questioning voices and a wily attempt by each Eternal to gauge the power of the party and to win it over as an ally.
An Eternal who meets the party alone will have ample opportunity to do this, and will likely delay introducing them to the Circle until their support is assured.
If the protagonists survive the anger and proximity of the lashers, the likely outcome of the competition among the Eternals will be an offer of accommodation, food and water, and the exchange of knowledge. However, there will be a great deal of veiled language, as well as an early mention of the Shrub (see here), a plant growing at the groves in the foothills to the north which seems to be mildly hallucinogenic and is highly addictive.
The Eternals will allocate a neutral mound, evicting the Rotter occupants and posting a vast crowd of entourage members outside. A fire will be lit with the Shrub, ostensibly to force out the damp. If a protagonist makes a successful test of a characteristic suitable for perception or wisdom, the undesirable nature of the process may be become clear. Windows may be dug out to avoid departure through the front door.
The smoke produces an effect akin to the that the wormins feel (see here), a recognition of a related life around; those who have Dreamed (see here) may recognise the sensation of expansive awareness. Extended exposure, overnight say, will have a good chance of causing addiction in those not overwise immune or greatly resistant.
Addiction may mean the protagonists wishing to remain, with a growing awareness of their condition, and with the Eternals ever more directly requiring the performance of tasks in return for access. These may be generated using the Eternal Tasks Table.
Eternal Tasks Table (1D6)
1 Accompany a force of Moral Rotters to annexe the Peat cuttings (see here).
2 Convey a message or escort a mission to the shamblers atop the Cascade (see here).
3 Explore the partially excavated tunnel network running beneath the Mounds.
4 Infiltrate the offlanders at Inway and learn the plans of the Partner (see here).
5 Gather offlanders at Inway recently infected with the Moral Rot.
6 Lead an expedition beyond the Broken Brook and up over the eastern mountains.
The protagonists may learn from individual Eternals of the treaty with the offlanders. This sees the Eternals provide both safe passage along the roadway and rights to the Shrub, in exchange for offlander tools useful in developing the Reclamation. The Eternals also hope to spread the addiction far and wide beyond the ocean, ensuring the continuation of the development and allowing investigation into a reversal of the Rot.
If the protagonists learn of the source of the Shrub, they may attempt to reach the groves to secure a supply, or ambush offlander shipments on the roadway (see here).
Location - The groves
The groves where the Shrub grows lie to the north of the Mounds, in the foothills of the central range. The cluster of 1D6+6 structures acting as a distribution centre is reached via the raised roadway which travels up from Inway; at any one time it is home to 1D6+6 offlanders, 2D6+6 Moral Rotters and 1D6+3 shamblers.
The Shrub grows wild on the sheltered slopes, the bush reaching around half a body length in height. The branches are split from the stem and bundled with twine by 1D6+12 roving teams, each composed of 1D2+2 offlanders, 1D6+3 Moral Rotters and 1D2 carts drawn by a single shambler apiece. These are spread across the region, each based at a grovestead of 1D2+1 structures for accommodation and storage. Shipments of bundles travel to the wharves at Inway and supplies arriving via the wharves travel back.
The number of teams is constantly rising, while the laying out of plantations and the construction of an irrigation network are well underway. Those streams in the area not yet sludged up (see here) are being used until a new canal diverting water from the Run (see here and here) is complete.
The protagonists may attempt to leave the Mounds at any time, travelling away over the Reclamation as described here. They may instead choose to follow the roadway, either north to the groves or south to Inway (see here). Beyond the roadway to the north-east is the Broken Brook, the location of the next adventure.
New actors: Eternal
- a surprise raid onto a battlefield populated with barracks, with the units of an opposing force appearing randomly as the alarm is raised or noise generated
- civilians crossing or occupying areas of the battlefield, with any harm caused encouraging support for another faction, or increasing incidence of sabotage and delays over the course of a campaign, or automatic defeat (try this)
- units doing double duty, attempting to complete a task or protect work
- a last stand, with the command units of one force surrounded and each commander and his or her loyal units being controlled by a different player, to allow cooperation or betrayal in attempting to break out (try this)