PrinceCon 33 : Ghost and Clay

pcon_33_front_coverDirector: Tim DeCapio
Dates: March 14-16, 2008


The warning on the poster is clear. The Ways to Faerie are treacherous; a path opens for a few weeks and then becomes muddled, making your return to the Mortal Realm rather challenging. Best to make sure you get out before the Ways close, or you might be trapped there forever. Despite the danger, we mortals have ventured to Faerie for the thrill of adventure, to recover lost loved ones, and for the rare chance of plundering powerful magic– but the poster adds another reason: the golden clink of state-sponsored exploration.

Mortals and the Fair Folk have been at odds for many human generations, though no record exists of concerted effort on the part of mortal governments to move against the Faeries. Now, however, in the year 989 current era, a consortium headed by the Merian League and including the Kingdom of Tyrus, Blackroot and Iron Hills Dwarves, and the major Tuluan and Red Plains tribes, is actually offering to FUND expeditions into Faerie with the promise of more gold upon delivery of a well-kept “adventuring diary” detailing the expedition.

What could be simpler? So it’s off to the nearest recruiting station we go! But on the way, there are a few things to remember…

The Mortal Realm and the Faerie Kingdom

The Mortal Realm is neatly divided by the Blackroot Mountains, which run North/South through the middle of the land. There are eight primary Mortal (i.e., Player Character) races that have spread over the land, with the following special notes:

  • Catfolk are native to the Tulu Plains in the far west, where they are still organized into Prides of now-mixed races. Many Tulu Catfolk are valued scouts in the service of the Free Cities of the Merian League.
  • Dwarves are native to the Iron Hills in the northeast. Though now less influential than the larger dwarven population centers in the Blackroot Mountains and Circle Crown Range, Dwarves carry an almost religious sentiment for their homeland, and still refuse to allow non-Dwarves to settle permanently in the hills.
  • Elves are descended from Alfar outcasts from Faerie (the Expulsion of 270 c.e.) and have taken residence deep within Alsip Forest east of the Blackroot mountains, with a smaller settlement rumored within the Lost Forest west of the mountains. Though their Faerie magic and immortality have been severed, Elves are still viewed with mistrust by the “native” inhabitants of the Mortal Realm, and have fought battles along the northern edge of the Alsip Forest against joint forces of the Kingdom of Tyrus and the Iron Hills Dwarves.
  • Eponai are native to the Red Plains in the southeast, so named (we believe) for the vast amounts of blood spilled in “good-natured” tribal wars. Many Red Plains tribesmen are valued shock troops in the service of the Kingdom of Tyrus.
  • Fey are descended from Fey outcasts from Faerie (the Expulsion of 270 c.e.) and have taken residence throughout the Circle Crown Range and Blackroot Mountains, and even on the spires of some of the taller towers in the Free Cities, but especially on the Great Moss Cliffs of C’toan on the southern edge of the Blackroot Mountains. Like Elves, their Faerie magic and immortality have been severed and they are viewed with suspicion, but Fey don’t seem to mind as much as their taller cousins.
  • Hobbits can be found wherever the fields are fertile and the eating is good.
  • Humans are found throughout the Mortal Realm, but they primarily reside in the Kingdom of Tyrus and the Free Cities of the Merian League, which represent very different modes of government. The Kingdom of Tyrus unites the countryside under a monarch, while the Merian League is the “governing” body of a loose affilition of city-states, each of which practices its own quirk of government, including the demogogues of Pavia, the warrior-scientists of Algol, and the high judges of Mera.
  • Perrin are native to the Wet Coast in the far east, but can be found on any coast and up any river of the Mortal Realm.

Everybody knows that the open Ways to Faerie are usually found in remote or enchanted parts of the Mortal Realm, but not much is known about the geography of Faerie. Past explorers have described palaces with impossibly tall towers hosting grand balls, wondrous caverns of light and sound, eerie forests with a thousand watching eyes, and so on. There are five primary (NPC) Faerie races:

  • Liosalfar (high elves) are the hereditary nobility, tall (~6’6″), intelligent, charismatic and confident past the point of arrogance. Generations of inbreeding have sapped some of their vitality.
  • Alfar (elves) are the Faerie common stock. They are physically very similar to the Elves of the Mortal Realm (~5’6″), who are descended from Alfar outcasts from Faerie.
  • Pixies are winged Faeries, very similar to the Fey of the the Mortal Realm, who are descended from Pixie outcasts from Faerie.
  • Svartalfar (gnomes) are most at home underground. They are similar to Dwarves in height (~4’6″), but are not quite as stocky or hairy.
  • Pookas are natural shapeshifters, and have the ability to take the form of any non-humanoid natural animal. Pookas are decidedly second-class citizens in Faerie society — their racial inability to take humanoid shape is a punishment levied for some unspeakable betrayal of which the whole race was deemed guilty.

All Faeries have the following common traits:

  • Low-Light vision
  • Glamour; can alter personal appearance somewhat; this is equivalent to what could be accomplished with stage costumes and makeup, but can be altered at will. A Faery using Glamour can be more Charismatic. Glamour will not hide the sound or bulk of metal armor. Faeries can use Glamour to look close enough to a Mortal Race to pass casual inspection.
  • All Faeries are immortal in the sense that they do not age and are immune to all normal diseases; in other words, they never die of natural causes although they can be killed
  • All Faeries share a deadly vulnerability to iron (all varieties of steel count as iron for these purposes). The mere proximity of iron causes pain and will distract spellcasting. Any Faery can detect iron within 10′ from the discomfort it causes. Wearing iron armor is impossible for a faery; prolonged direct contact with iron will cause nonlethal damage. Wielding an iron weapon is painful but possible.
  • Faery spellcasters can automatically see the presence of magic in or on an area or object. This ability works at LOS range; it detects spells, prayers, and item enchantments, but does not distinguish between them.

The Diary of Burt the Younger

This year, the first three runs to leave Hireling Hall this year were dumped in the middle of the Dungeon without warning, and one of the objects of their runs was to *find* Hireling Hall (a similar element was used in PrinceCon 18 at the beginning of all runs). The remaining runs were given the following as starting information — this would normally go in the Conbook, but was left out so as not to spoil the surprise for the “1A” runs.

…from the diary of Burt the Younger, 4th of Autumn, year 989 current era.

Some of the Ways are more reliable than others, so when the lights appeared on Cathair an Ghallain, we were not only ready and waiting a short day’s march from the hill, but we also had not quite run out of the Mavors temple seed money while staying at the village inn. It is now three days since our party descended into the Cathair barrows to seek some of the fabled riches of Faerie, replenish our empty purses, and return with stories to last a lifetime at the pub. With but a week, two at the most, before the Ways back to the Mortal Realm shifted again, we’d best hurry. Alas, so far we’ve done little but avoid the treacherous traps and laid low some rather mundane denizens of this dungeon. And… well, it’s a mystery to me, but when we last awoke, three of our party were missing! In their places were a female of the catfolk and, to my disgust, two elves. A deadly fight nearly ensued, but as Jurgen was our only lockpick and Tuathancla our only mage, cooler heads prevailed before much blood could be spilled, and we discovered that one elf is a mage and the other has demonstrable skill at opening doors.

Now, however, the cursed Faerie outcast is stuck on a door at the other end of this hallway. From my vantage point in the last room we entered, I could see him quietly working in the dim light. Thankfully, Kayla is willing to oversee the elves, leaving me to watch our backs with–clop, clop, Clop, Clop, CLOP, CLOP! Our far rearward “scout” careened around a corner in the hallway at the opposite entrance to the room and came galloping in, nearly tripping over the rope I’d set up at the door.

“Watch it, Dolt!”

“Sorry,” he said, hurriedly beginning to put on his bronzed plate armor (another odd thing that we weren’t able to properly investigate was the disappearance of the iron items in our possession), “Something back there makes my mane stand on end, and if I’m gonna die, it’ll be with my breastplate on.”

“Stay in here,” and I crept out of the room toward the T-intersection in the hallway beyond. Loosening my blade in its scabbard, I peeked around the corner. The glow of Faerie-light was faintly visible, and resolved into a ghostly humanoid image. It paused at another intersection and looked about. Something tap-tap-tapped on the door to my mind, and with great effort I shoved it away, ran back to the room to collect Dolt, and we hurried to the others.

“We have to go, now,” I said to their questioning looks.

At that moment, the lock was picked, and we filed into the next room, scanning for immediate danger and finding none, then looking to see how well the position was fortifiable against attack. On the left wall, the catfolk was examining three knobbed metal rods attached to hinges set into the wall; all three were in an “up” position. She reached out and began try to move one to the “down” position.

“Don’t touch them!” I screamed, too late– the exits to the room slammed shut and the walls began to close.

Kayla shouted, “There are eight possible combinations of up and down positions! We’ll just have to work through them as quickly as possible! Okay, all up! Now pull the first one down!” Even pushing with all our might, it took an agonizingly long time to get the rod into position. The walls kept coming. “Now the second switch!”

“This is no good!” I cried. “We don’t have enough time to try them all!”

“All right! Give me a minute to think!”

Suddenly, Dolt grabbed the switches and forced them all to a *center* position. The walls stopped. The exits opened. We all stared open- mouthed at the only member of the party who couldn’t write his own name, and (thankfully) had never had to learn to tie bootlaces.

“I think I seen something like this before.”

“Where did you see something like this befo–?!!” Something nagged in the back of my head. A fleeting image of Jurgen standing in front of these rods in their current position and happily slapping Dolt on the back flashed in memory and was gone. I looked at Kayla and saw that she too was struggling with a similar thought. Then…

“Kay, your hair.” I hadn’t noticed before in the dim lantern light, but fine strands of white now mingled with the black on her head. “Something’s wrong. I–”

Dolt and the catfolk, ears twitching, violently motioned for silence. In the quiet that followed, I heard it: a faint clickety-clickety- clickety punctuated now and then by a metallic scraping on stone. We quickly filed out into the opposite hallway and sped down the corridor, hoping that whatever was following us wouldn’t solve the problem of the rods.

What we found at the end of the long corridor changed the rest of our adventures in Faerie. A single glowing, will-o-wispy form hovered in the air ahead of us, beckoning. We were transfixed by its– beauty? and stood still with anticipation as it moved closer, tendrils of light flowing toward us, when the moment was shattered by the arrival of two howling humans and a dwarf, brandishing weapons and swinging wildly at our vision, which fled through the nearest wall.

“Don’t worry, you’re safe now!” one of the humans beamed at us.

“We’ve found four more!” shouted the dwarf down a turn in the corridor, to unseen allies. “The two Faerie outcasts can sleep in the hallway,” he sneered, gesturing at the elves.

He then led the rest of us to a chamber filled with demihumans, explaining that this was the “Hireling Hall” in the fight to win our freedom from a Faerie dungeon. None of us know exactly how we got here, or how just long we’ve been here, or how to get out, but here’s what I know about our new surroundings:

  • The walls, doors, doorknobs — just about everything in this dungeon has been magically Patterned to be incredibly strong; beyond the ability of our mages to weaken. Hireling Hall was constructed by knocking down the walls of adjoining rooms, but this has taken two weeks of tremendous efforts by several tireless and strength-enhanced dwarves.
  • The lack of iron is common across Hireling Hall. Aside from a few magic weapons and armor, the little iron to be had was fashioned into crude picks for the dwarves. Instead we have uncannily well crafted bronze items, but these will not stand up to heavy usage. We must find more equipment, and soon.
  • Likewise, our rations are running low.
  • There may be many other adventurers trapped in here, like us (until now) unaware of their predicament.
  • A party set out from Hireling Hall last week to investigate the clickety-clickety-clickety noise, and hasn’t been heard from since.
  • That will-o-wispy creature… our new comrades call it a “mnemovore”. They’re usually seen in packs, have some resistance to non-magical weapons, and will try to mesmerize you before it eats your memories. Be very ‘ware.