|Thomas Cole's Destruction (1836) from Course of Empire|
I'm deep into writing the Nomo hex crawl and thought I'd share a few of the encounters with you. I'm having fun writing it, combining a bit of the late Roman Empire + Byzantium about to fall, and running my Latin through a Gaulish filter to make it familiar and strange at the same time. Just north of Nomo's heartland is the Crimson Waste, a desert that used to be a green and pleasant empire called Irem. The Iremites got into a devil worship and ultimately were destroyed in a war with the Nabu Empire (which you might have met in my Wyvern Coast/Nabu hex crawl from way back in NOD 1 to 3). Now that land is roamed by their descendants, the Warudi nomads, with a few monasteries and settlements that were spared in the cataclysm.
Lots of casual research goes into these things, so I always learn a few things. At the moment, I'm agonizing over Nomo's legions and their emblems, mottoes and cohorts and such.
Anyhow ... on with the show:
0411 Glassy Lake | Monster
This hex holds a vast, pristine lake with a glassy surface that seems unaffected by the wind. The banks are thick with acacias and great clouds of butterflies. At the center of the island there is a small, rocky island topped by a pretty little stronghold of lavender stone, with latticed windows and crenelations topped by golden pyramids. Splashing around the base of the island are pretty children – nixies – who sometimes climb the steps of the stronghold, which descend into the water, and slide through the doors.
Within the stronghold, a tower keep, which the nixies are pledged to defend, there is a throne of crushed shell, tall and fine, on which sits a woman composed of living glass. Princess Vyrna is the spirit of the lake, which was once much larger and much beloved by the Iremites. She was once a nixie queen, but took on her present form when she made a deal with the devil (literally) to save what remains of her home from the cataclysm. At night, the nixies of the lake take on a demonic aspect, and commit horrors upon any foolish enough to be found in the stronghold.
0512 The Snake Women Cometh | Monster
The desert sands here funnel into a deep cave of basalt. As one proceeds into the earth, about 500 feet, the air becomes warm and damp, and pools form on the floor. This opens into several interlocked caverns that are very wet and warm, with opalescent slime growing on the walls in great furry strands. These caves are inhabited by a trio of giant vipers that are controlled by the true masters of the cave complex.
Hidden behind one of these curtains there is a stair that proceeds another 400 feet into the earth. This passage is blocked by an adamantine gate with a complex, electrified lock.
At the base of this winding stair is a complex of ophidian amazons. Tall, statuesque women, they have pale scales that darken to rust on their lower arms and legs and carmine on their fingers and toes. This tribe of warrior-scientists consists of 85 females (lesser ophidians) and 27 smaller males who are left behind to tend the eggs and the machinery that pro-duces the warm, wet air that fills the cave.
In these caves, they work night and day on developing a method to clone themselves using concentrated quintessence, blood and whatever humanoid remains they can recover from their vipers. They have not yet struck upon the proper formula, but when they do, they have plans for Nod.
0610 Dirhab | Stronghold
Dirhab is a dervish abbey from olden times. The abbey is constructed of white marble, pock marked after a thousand years of windblown sand. The walls are 40 feet high, and there is a 50-foot tall tower at each corner. The gates of the abbey are composed of ebony, and are 1 foot thick, 10 feet tall and can only be opened using a winch found on the inside.
Within the front gate there is a broad courtyard, rectangular, that supports numerous flowering bushes. The courtyard is floored in reddish tiles decorated with white lilies. On the walls are mosaics of Marduk’s battle with Tiamat and Kingu, and his creation of humanity.
From the courtyard, one can pass into the living quarters and temple of the order. The buildings that surround the courtyard are three stories tall. The halls are hung with rich tapestries depicting the destruction of Irem by avenging angels raining down fire and the scattering of the Warudi across the Crimson Waste. In each of the towers is a large bell of meteoric iron, the dervishes striking them at noon and midnight to call the order and their families to prayer.
In a second courtyard, well-protected, are kept dozens of small white goats with pearly horns. These goats are kept as sacred animals, and are feted on Marduk’s holy day from silver bowls while the priests dance and play flutes carved from lapis lazuli.
The patriarch of the order is old Gazim (NG human cleric 10), whose body has twisted as he has grown older. He has lived through 500 summers, as all of the dervishes are extremely long-lived due to the blessing of Marduk.
The abbey houses 18 dervish priests, 40 dervishes and 180 noncombatants. The dervishes are mostly armed with shields and kaskaras, though 20 of them carry light crossbows and wear leather armor. They all fight like berserkers.
0927 The Sea Phantoms | City-State
Deep beneath the waves of this hex there stands a tall spire, raised from the sea floor, 40 feet thick at the base and 200 feet tall, rounded at the top and carved from top to bottom with skulls in an alien, geometric design.
Around this spire is a town of 1,500 sea phantoms, men and women of the Ethereal Plane with only the merest presence on the Material Plane. These people are not undead, but they are insubstantial and appear indistinct to people who dwell wholly on the Material.
These sea phantoms survive on the dying screams and lamentations of doomed sailors, though they are never the cause of these dooms. They merely float to the surface when they detect fear, and holding out their hazy hands collect these collected sufferings in the form of a black nodule that is not unlike a large, black pearl. They place these pearls, which exist on both the Material and Ethereal Planes, in the eye sockets of those aforementioned skulls. These pearls bathe the Ethereal Plane in a strange radiation which nourishes and sustains the enigmatic sea phantoms.
On the Ethereal, the sea phantoms appear as normal human beings with pallid skin, silvery hair and slate grey eyes. They dress in gauzy robes and carry thin silver swords and daggers at their sides to fend off ethereal marauders and other such dangers of their plane. On the Material Plane, they appear as vague, shimmering outlines of human beings, with eyes like faint lights gleaming through a thick fog, and their voices, normally quite distinct, sound hollow and wispy. Their buildings and houses look like white shapes seen through a thick fog bank, and feel to those on the Material Plane like cold, slushy water.
The sea phantoms are not evil, nor are they good. They want nothing from the Material Plane beyond the desperation of doomed men and women. They seek no agency over the material world, but are willing to communicate the secrets they have gathered to people if they are willing to pass through to the Ethereal Plane with rich gifts.
1719 Natanos | Stronghold
Natanos is a small fishing hamlet (pop. 50) on the shores of the Green Sea. The hamlet consists of several stone cottages on a gentle rise overlooking the beach. Within the hamlet on will find a mysterious staircase between two buildings. The stairs are painted many colors and seem to climb nowhere. Numerous orange cats sit on the stairs.
The cats are intelligent, and live with the sorceress Philia. The stairs head up to her tower, which is tucked between dimensions. The tower, if one could see it, is about 60 feet tall and pure white, topped with a conical azure roof. The interior is elegant and simple, with many bookshelves, blue carpets and furniture that is best described as “Danish modern”.
One chamber holds a small gallery of abstract art, all of it carved from blue stone, ranging from light to very dark blue. Another holds a pool of sea water and an elegant white boat – the pool serves as a portal to the sea, and is activated by pouring wine mixed with a drop of blood into the pool. All of the chambers equipped with floor to ceiling mirrors, for the only thing Philia loves more than her cats is her own face.
Philia is in the middle of the process of forging a magic staff, and she is using the pounding surf and sea winds to do it. The staff is being held by a living statue that she has sent out into the waves – only its forearm and hand, and the staff, are visible to those on the beach, and one might guess it is nothing but a bit of driftwood.