PrinceCon 31 : The Withering

pcon_31_front_coverDirector: Alex Reutter
Dates: March 17-19, 2006

The Withering

Thirty-six years prior to the present day, the demihuman races were ascendant and had driven monsters to the fringes of the world. Under the leadership of Taerth, the monsters mounted a counterstrike now known as the Battle of the Hub and captured the demihuman Tree of Life, cutting off the Fey branch and exterminating all the Fey in the process, and reigned supreme on the Hub for 28 years. Along the way, an insular group of monsters known as the Hand of Dusk gained significant notoriety and became a powerful force within monstrous society.

Eight years prior to the present day, the demihumans and grafts were driven to rebel against their monstrous oppressors. Through a variety of efforts, they thwarted the Hand of Dusk’s schemes to destroy all other life on the world, grafted a new Fey branch to the Tree of Life, and restored a fragile balance of power on the Great Wheel. Alas, Taerth still sits on his throne carved from the Tree of Life, but his power is largely broken and he simply sits there, afflicted by a sort of senile dementia. The remnants of the Hand of Dusk, reviled by monsters and demihumans alike, no longer seem to pose a threat.

Each side regrouped for the next conflict, but curious events forestalled all-out war. Birthrates dropped among both monstrous and demihuman folk, and reported sightings of the Walking Dead trickled through the rumor mill. An uneasy detente eventually formed between the Monstrous Command and Council of Kings to discover the cause of these portents, but their efforts have come to naught. Something is wrong in the world, and monsters and demihumans find themselves increasingly occupied with scouring the Great Wheel of the Walking Dead than fighting each other. But what is the cause? And who will step forward to find it?

Your last living memory was the flash of the human hero’s sword as it punctured a lung / the sad faces of your children and grandchildren gathered around your bedside as you peacefully drifted off to sleep / the searing heat of the drake’s breath as it consumed you / then shadows, a frantic commingling of seemingly countless thoughts and dreams underscored by the uneasy proximity of the Maw that will eventually devour you all… but you are not consumed by Sammael (FOR NOW, AND ONLY UNTIL THE IMPENDING CATASTROPHE IS AVERTED it screams with unnerving certainty), and a Hooded Presence appears that takes you and a few other souls away from the seething mass of the dearly departed. Your small group is flung to the earth … and then you experience bodily consciousness. Your eyes open to blackness, loose soil fills your mouth, and desperately you claw to the surface, fighting with all your might. Finally your torso bursts from the ground, and you gratefully try to draw that first breath of freedom.

Only you discover you actually have no need to breathe. The body you wear is not your own. As you think back on who you were, and what you might now be, words and images you associate with the Hooded Presence thrum to a heartbeat that is also strangely lacking in this strange body: “She’s Dying… Help… Lost… Souls…”

The Tree of Life is dying, and for all the recent changes, it is still Her roots that hold the World together; without Her all shall crumble into the abyss. All the Trees know this, and the Tree of Monsters already strives to heal her elder, but only Sammael, the Tree of Death whose roots weave the Underworld, has discerned the cause.

Souls are vanishing, departing from the hold of the Tree in the Realm of Life without arriving in Sammael’s Realm of Death for cleansing and eventual rebirth. Therefore Sammael has let some selected souls keep their memories rather than wiping them away; and has sent them back to the Realm of Life (where his root-tips touch it, in graveyards and tombs and wherever else the Dead lie buried) that they may find the Lost Souls and heal the Tree of Life. But Sammael has no power to create life, and time is too short to wait for the Reborn to grow to adulthood; so the returning souls are housed in whatever dead bodies are available, reanimated and set to walk the living Earth through Sammael’s power. And so it is that the Living are plagued by the Walking Dead; you yourselves are the Walking Dead, and though the Living may dread you and attack you, and though Sammael waits to reclaim you, it is your task to save them all.

When you decide what kind of character to play, you have a free choice of what you were in your previous life: human, demi-human, Graft, or monster. (If you want to play a character who died in a previous Con, go for it!) You freely choose your character class, which need not be the same class you held in your first life — hero, mage, guardian, or cleric, though remember: the gods of the living abhor the undead, and souls sent back by Sammael as clerics can only be clerics of Sammael. And, in addition, you also freely choose the “shell” or reanimated body you’ll be using on your adventure. Unfortunately, since monster bodies tend to get eaten, torched, or cut up for loot rather than buried, your choices there are limited to human, demi-human, or Graft. Your shell doesn’t have to be anything like the body you had in your first life. The bad news is that your shell will rot away and become skeletal as time goes on; the good news is that after you return to (Hireling) Hall of the Dead, you will be issued a new shell for your next mission. Your new shell can be any race, you don’t have to stick with the same one.

Your shell has less effect on you than a living being’s race does on it, though. You don’t get the special senses of that race: you’ll have Undead senses no matter what flesh you wear. You do get the movement abilities — Horses still run fast, Fey still fly. Your weapon use will still be determined by your shell’s size. But your characteristics won’t be modified, with one exception: because Fey bodies are so tiny, while you’re reanimating a Fey corpse you’ll only be able to use half your normal Strength score. Special knowledge, like Dwarves’ knack for stonework, goes with the race you were in life, not the body you wear in undeath.