A world without Junah

28 June, 2011

A winter-themed Dark Sun world for GG season 3. Yum!

It was before your lifetime that the heroes failed and Junah was lost, and with her, the world that was. They who lived then had little idea what changes would come. Some changes were abrupt. Without Her divine presence, the sun became a mere ball of fire. Where once sunlight carried a divine radiance in each beam, now there is no more power in it than in a simple fire. Where once the undead feared to walk in daylight, now they wander almost with impunity. Once, the world was filled with life – Junah gave life to green and growing things, and they in turn gave life to all else. Now, little lives or grows – the miracle is that anything at all does. Perhaps a god is not so swiftly killed, and echos of her power have a little while yet before they fall silent forever.

Regardless, the other great change was slower coming. Strange to think that that reality that shapes our every waking moment was once almost unknown. To think that those who lived had no idea what they dealt with. They thought it a bauble, an alchemical curiosity. Few of us today fully know the truth of the matter, but it is a simple thing to explain.

Blue ice is a tool of the primordials, who waged war against the immortals. It’s hard to belive: but blue ice is not completely inert and immutable. It can be melted into water – real, drinkable water. But it takes divine power to do it.

Once, blue ice was unheard of. At the time Junah was slain, it was limited to the northernmost and coldest parts of the world, where sunlight is not known for months at a time. Everywhere else, her blessed power made such a thing as blue ice impossible. But now, without the divine power of the gods, blue ice once formed is permanent and immutable. Oh – it can be shaped, it can be split, it can be ground into tools: but it cannot be melted. It is water forever frozen solid by the malign powers in the primordial chaos.

And so each day more of the worlds water is transformed, forever bound into blue ice. Each breath, each bead of sweat not carefully caught and recycled will be caught by the world’s wind and taken north. When that wisp of water touches the ice, it too will be frozen, and lost for all time. In time, all the world will be dry dust or blue ice, and nothing will live or grow. The doom of all that lives is inevitable.

For now, we have a few places free of the ice. Once these places where we made our homes were called “deserts”, and no-one could live here. Now: it just about the only place a person can live. The heat, and the remaining echoes of Junah’s blessed radiance in the sunlight, keep the ice at bay. Even so, the ice is spreading through the porous seams of rock that carry water to our wells. That it has not spread further by now is a mystery. Perhaps the powers of earth, and the fires beneath the earth, oppose it. Perhaps we survive only by grace of politics amongst the primordials.

A thousand miles north of here the temperature dips below sweltering hot, and the great wall – the glaciers – begin. Where there are not glaciers, the very ground is a solid amalgam of dirt and ice. In a few spots things live and grow, but even there if you dig down far enough you will find blue ice, creeping up a little closer to the surface each year. When it begins to reach the surface, it is though the earth itself had frostbite – each patch of dead icy dirt spreading wider month by month, until everything is frozen dead.

Further north, living things cannot go. They say that there are great steadings of the undead there – the necrotic power keeping their unliving fluids flowing. If they plot and plan, I do not know. We only hope that their plots and plans involve only one another, or that they are preoccupied with battles against the elementals (which are everywhere), that they are content to wait for us all to die of thirst.

Aside from the faint echoes of the divine in sunlight, there remains one place only (so far as we know) where divine power might yet be found. Life: ordinary, simple life is a manifestation of divine power. There are elementals and aberrations, there are the undead, yes. But only in plain, common living things that grow and feed and reproduce each after their kind – in these there is the spark of the divine. Like a flame carried from torch to torch, even the humblest creeping thing and flower of the field carries a spark of that power that first gave breath to every living thing (yes: trees breathe), and passes it on it to its progeny. Some say that the seed dies and is reborn, but it is not true. The tree is alive, its seeds are alive, and they living grow and bear living seeds in turn. It could not be otherwise. Even in a world where we each inhale countless motes of blue ice in each breath, this spark, this tiny portion of divine fire is enough to ward us. It is this divine fire that melts into water the blue ice we breathe in every day.

Mind you – falling into blue ice dust is invariably fatal. The winds of the world in some places form gyres that gather fine ice dust into seas of silt. Anyone unprotected below the surface of such a body quickly inhales enough ice dust to overwhelm their body’s power to melt it. The corpses in these dust bowls are perfectly preserved – frozen solid into bone, sinew, and blue ice. You don’t want to see one. By all accounts the expressions on their faces are … deeply disturbing.

This divine spark is why we can transport water using the leeches. Water placed in an unliving container – unless that container be impossibly clean (only magic can accomplish such a thing) – will inevitably come in contact with some unseeably small shard of ice and freeze into a useless lump. But you can take a water leech with you, or attach a few to your camel, and the life in them will keep the water fluid. I believe some of the elves use a certain kind of moss for the same purpose. Some tribes reportedly use a variety of ant. And there is the cactus plant, of course.

An aside: before Junah was lost people would have been repelled by the idea of eating anything live. Even nonsentient things like insects. Some were dainty enough that they would not wish to eat anything still warm from the slaughter. They would slaughter their food and store it for hours, or days, before cooking it. Anyone who tried such a thing now would find themselves biting into ice and uncookable flesh, of course, wasting the meat. But it was not so when Junah lived. Mind you – they were happy to eat plants live. It goes to show.

This divine spark is what has kept the little unfrozen soil in the world from freezing long before now. Soil is rich in life, richer than we ever supposed. And this is is the power that the blighters call upon, to melt blue ice into water. It works. With this stolen power they melt the ice into water and water their crops and their herds. They sustain themselves and their people. But they do so at a terrible cost. The life in animals is red, obviously, as in plants it is green. The blighters pull this life out of everything that lives, bleaching it white. Soon the blue ice invades, creating a perfectly preserved landscape of trees and grass, each blade hard and sharp and dangerous as a razor. They keep themselves and their vassals alive for a little while, perhaps, but the in the end they freeze the world much quicker.

We face a bleak future. No! We face no future at all. It is twilight for all that lives. When we are gone, when the last memory of the divine fades and falls silent, then the primordials will own all. They will war with one another, perhaps, and build cities and empires, but we will all be long gone.

Waking dreams

21 June, 2011

I dreamed about “Bob” this morning.

I was in a building in the sim world, sitting at a small table (perhaps I was in a cafe?) on a balcony overlooking a small public square of some kind. To my left was a charming four storey residential building, but the unit in the bottom corner stood out – it hadn’t been themed yet and so just had the default white-and grey generic-modern-apartment theme.

The guy who bought it was experiencing severe sticker-shock. This smallish corner of the sim world had cost him a million bucks. His contract, which he had been assured was a fair and reasonable one, on closer inspection turned out to be from beginning to end slanted to benefit the lawyers. His “retainer” was worthless. It turned out that his retainer retained nothing, and the lawyers charged a thousand bucks for every fifteen minutes.

Down in the square below me, he was arguing with a group of young arabs – young billionaires dressed in expensive grey suit pants, sunglasses, and leather jackets – but not cowboy boots, which I found odd because that’s what rich young arabs wear. The young arabs didn’t want the millionaire living in their neighbourhood. Turns out that part of his contract stipulates that in order to build in New Morocco he must use an appropriate texture pack to fit the theme of the neighbourhood, and the New Morocco texture pack cost a million bucks – as much as he had paid for the apartment itself. That’s just the basic pack, mind you. Every lampshade, every pot plant, every light switch, was additional thousands of dollars.

One guy, it seemed, had attempted to dodge this in the past by designing his own texture pack – from scratch – to fit in with the neighbourhood. It was so good that the company sued him for copyright and won, even though that sort of thing is nothing to do with what copyright is supposed to protect. The millionaire was realising that he had been comprehensively scammed. His money was lost and he would be forced to move into the bad part of sim town, with all the cheap apartments with their crap default grey textures. And there was nothing much he could do.

Upstairs in the balcony, sitting opposite me was a man. I didn’t know who he was. His appearance and manner – he was Christopher Walken, although I did not realise that in the dream. I didn’t know his status, I was apprehensive, I didn’t want to say anything. But then he simply commented – looking out onto the argument below – “How like “Bob”!”. And I understood.

The whole sim world was one of “Bob”’s many, many scams. Down there millionaires and billionaires were fighting over bytes on a server somewhere – the millionaire being treated like bottom-of-the-barrel scum; while outside in the real world there were hordes of the genuinely poor and the just-struggling-along, who could never even dream of setting up home in the sim world, who could barely afford their weekly grocery bill. My sympathy was all misplaced – served that bastard right. Served ’em all right.

(An interlude. I was – somewhere – standing next to, standing far too close to – some TV preacher. On TV he was all charm and compassion, but up close you could see that he had murderers eyes. The more you looked in his face, the clearer it became. I felt unsafe. I wanted one of those riot shields that the police have, to put between us.)

I moved on from my dream. It had been a really cool dream – one of those uncommon ones with a clear beginning, middle, and end. I wanted to write it down, to record it and put it on my blog. I was in the sim world, and commenced to write on my tablet. It was outside, daytime, crowded, packed with bodies like a nightclub.

I began my post, “I dreamed about “Bob” this morning”. My tablet ran out of room and so I began to write on paper – illegible scrawl in blue ink. My girlfriend had wandered off to find a toilet. There was a fad, a fashion in the sim world at the moment: someone would call out “Stop!” and everyone would freeze. I sort of tried to participate, but I didn’t freeze as well as everyone else. And anyway – I wanted to get my dream down before it faded. Already I was forgetting details.

And at some point I rolled over in bed, and the motion-sensor in my phone decided to play my alarm: “Sweat” by C+C Music Factory. “Everybody dance now”. I rose and wrote this.

Paizo organised play, we barely knew ye.

16 June, 2011

Giving up on the Paizo organised play due to lack of interest. Two players, three weeks running, is just to sad to ignore. Oh well – we gave it a fair try.

Die With Honour

14 June, 2011

Played “Die With Honour” at Wintercon. Jerimiah II (formerly Xavier the sorcerer) is level 14 and – oh yes – has purchased a Ring of Theurgy, thanks to one of the other players making a gift of a 35kgp item. Yowsa!

We fought off wave after wave of ogres as we waited 20 days in the “Rest Room” for the crafting of the ring to be complete – it was kind of the other players to wait and grind for XP and loot. Tactical Teleport was a brilliant choice for a spell – saved the party’s asses again and again. Wall of Force was also useful.

Hmm. What else?

  • Arcane Fusion has a very, very useful and non-obvious feature. Everyone hates a mage that does nothing but protect themselves. I have seen an inexperienced D&D player do that – cast Invisibility in round 1 and then do not much else. Not well-received. Arcane Fusion allows you to cast Greater Invisiblity (remember: we were up against ogres) and at the same time to cast – say – Ray of Enfeeblement. That way, the other players don’t resent you for sucking XP without contributing.
  • Expeditious Retreat (swift) – hell yeah. When every round counts, and you are mid-high level sorcerer with a lot of low-level slots, this spell makes the difference.
  • Scorching Ray – natch. The workhorse damage-dealer. Pair it with Energy Substitution feat for bonus fun.
  • Resist Energy (mass) – omg yes. Nothing like that “Coises! Foiled again!” expression on a DM’s face, and Sal is a very expressive DM. A joy to foil.
  • Assay Resistance – don’t attempt to Feeblemind without it.

On the minus side,

  • “Brilliant Aura” is unexpectedly lame, especially when you are up against undead ogres. Damn. Should have gone “Prismatic Ray”. Avasculate is awesome, but evil. May create alignment issues, so I avoided it.
  • Greater Mage Armour – no help at all at these levels. A mage has to rely on mobility, invisibility, and meat-shields.
  • Lesser Orb of X – another waste of a slot. There’s a reason Magic Missile is popular. Get Feather Fall. Get Identify (important in DWO).

So: a lame 7th level spell pick, but effectively 5 more 6th-level spells per day. Not as cool as it could be, but still pretty damn cool. I have loaded the Ring of Theurgy with Identify, Fly, and Enervate.

Sydcon is on in October. I might see if I can get there. Must speak with Sal re the level-drop tradeoff. I’d really like a do-over for that 7th level spell. I have only cast it once. Id be happy to trade it for a lower-level spell, even. Fly, or Cone of Cold. Or Disintegrate, aka “Rogue in a can”. Sal might agree, but the price will be steep. It’s all good 🙂 .


9 June, 2011

TPK! Booya!

Running “The Godmouth Heresy” at Good Games, Lanyon. Two players showed up. Gave them an NPC healbot but he became disabled for six rounds. It went badly from that point. My very, very first TPK as a DM. W00T!

The organised play rules specify that for this module, death is not permanent – although there is a penalty. No worries.