Scenario for the new guys - October 21, 1995 - Day 2, Year of the Cat, RC 3031, YR 28
Setting: Sottli Ban and environs
Fennisylviarachiuss NuLarrissoranian, a 132 year old former Priest of the Samaqel known as 'Fennis', has been living in Sottli Ban for nearly 50 years now, since his retirement from the Academy of Higher Learning in Do'Samaqel. Obviously, his background must be kept a strict secret, but he has found that proximity to the Sottle's secret Golden Archives has been a great aid to his various researches and scholarly pursuits.
Ten years ago, after a disastrous attempt at becoming a 'priest' to Malefolion the Black went terribly awry, Fennis' casting of his own horoscope using the Jhareesh astrological system revealed an amazing fact - at the moment of its death, the Samaqel projected its consciousness outward, into the mental network of its human hive. Although the mentality of the ancient Jhareesh was far too vast and complex and alien for any one human mind to contain, and doubtless this projection greatly contributed to the group madness that struck Do'Samaqel after the Great Interruption, shards of the Jhareesh's mind eventually came to rest in 99 of its former herd members. These shards are effectively intangible and undetectable, normally have no effect on their human carrier, and upon the death of that human carrier are passed on to other individual sentients born at the time of the previous host's death.
Using Jhareesh astrology and drug enhanced psionic awareness, Fennis has managed to find the astrological signatures of the 99 current holders of the Samaqel's soul shards, and over the last decade, has harvested 32 of these soul shards. He has used various different thugs and catspaws as agents in this ongoing process, but due to the shady nature of his own undertakings, and his own arrogant and unpleasant nature, he has found it necessary to frequently replace his underlings. Most recently, his entire gang of employees was caught setting up a kidnapping for him, and Fennis was forced to pyrokinetically destroy all of them rather than risk they would disclose to the Guards or the Merchant Council who they worked for and what they were doing.
Although Fennis was questioned by the Merchant's Council about his complicity in Malefolion the Black's awakening which resulted in the destruction of Safeharbor and the former Jeopard Forest, a large bribe ensured that no action was taken against him. Since that time he has purchased a new building in the much less prepossessing Enck's Quarter, and in the flurry of activity following the end of the Holy Wars, he used slave labor and Jhareesh artifacts to construct secret underground quarters for himself beneath the building itself. The slaves who worked on this project are all dead and their spirits are sealed within spirit jars Fennis keeps in his lab.
Obviously, Fennis must avoid future notice of the Merchant Council at all costs. Any investigation of him is potentially disastrous, as his discovery as a former Priest of the Samaqel would result in his expulsion from Sottli Ban, if not his painful death, regardless of how much money he could offer as a bribe. Thus, Fennis will go to any lengths to protect his own privacy.
Fennis is in possession of a self-designed device that can turn copper into gold or brass into silver, and this is the source of his seemingly limitless wealth. He also has the capacity to manufacture all manner of artificial gems and jewels, including psion amplifiers like crystallium and Priest identification stones, but he uses this primarily to construct psionic devices to aid him in his various projects, primarily, the resurrection of the Samaqel. Fennis' researches have also taught him how to make crude biological golems from basic protoplasm, but these spiritless creatures are both unstable and unreliable beyond rote labor. He staffs his building with them, especially the first floor tavern he runs, The River of Gold. Every ten days or so he has to recycle them through his vats as they begin to irreversibly deteriorate into glop at about that point.
Recently another complication has arisen to Fennis' ongoing work - an unknown party has sold to several important and influential factions an accurate list detailing the locations of Skole's Coordinates. Skole's Coordinates, if all are recovered and placed in the proper sequence, will show the final resting place of Streepha's Fleet. Since that resting place was Mt. Thunder and the wealth of Streepha's Fleet currently sits relatively unguarded in the Samaqel's Horde, Fennis feels that it is his duty to make sure that no one recovers all four coordinates. So he needs a new gang more than ever; at the very least, he has to make sure that he obtains and destroys one of the coordinates, and the more, the better.
Through a Samaqelian copy glass, Fennis has managed to make a copy of the coordinate locations. They are:
1. The Citadel of the Child in the Giant Mountains
2. The Mock Zhareesh, also known as the Hollow Tree, in the former Jeopard Forests
3. The long sunken Colossus of Riva Zand, at the bottom of Lake Rivona
4. The crystal energy pods of the cryogenic storage caverns in the Isles of the Dead
The closest location, the Hollow Tree, is also by coincidence the only location not easily accessible through Jhareesh devices. Fennis will recruit a new bunch of witless barbarian thralls and send them off to acquire the coordinates from the Mock Zhareesh. If they succeed in that, he will use them to accompany him for his own personal protection to the other locations. Fennis tentatively plans to make the Isles of the Dead his last stop, abandoning his servants there to make sure they never speak to anyone of any secrets they may have learned in the meantime.
Unknown to Fennis, Nom Wayish, the current 'Big Man' of Sottli Ban's underworld, has become aware of his activities in gathering various people over the last 10 years and, apparently, killing them while binding their spirits. Wayish, using ancient Panthean astrological techniques, has determined that most of the people Fennis has apparently killed have certain spiritual factors in common, although not all. Wayish is having Fennis watched and will attempt to get information from whoever Fennis hires next, without Fennis knowing about it.
HISTORY OF ARRAKID/HUMAN CONFLICT
Since before humans had writing, the Arrakids have been their most unrelenting terror. Utterly alien, some say Arrakids are the first creations of the Jhareesh, made to destroy humans outside the sphere of their influence. Others say the Arrakids are separately evolved sentiences. Whatever they may be, they have stalked, abducted, and slaughtered humans since the days of nomadic proto-tribes. Although humans resisted fiercely, the Arrakids were an unstoppable and ingenious enemy. At some time prior to human written records beginning, the Arrakids apparently mingled their genetic material with that of their human captives, to create the Khiton, a race of insectile humanoids in thrall to the Arrakids. As the Khiton did not dread light like the Arrakids, they became an invaluable and hated addition to the Arrakid forces.
When 90% of the human race living outside the Jhareesh Domains gathered to dwell in Panthea, the first human metropolis, uniting under the first organized priesthood of all 5 Great Gods, the Arrakids gathered as well. Burrowers who thrive in darkness, the Arrakids again and again tunneled beneath the walls of Panthea, emerging into the streets of the city to spread ruin and horror. Only when the Priesthood called on the God of Nature to flush the Arrakid warrens beneath Panthea with torrents of water and incandescent magma, which then hardened into a near impenetrable granite foundation shelf beneath the city, did the attacks cease. Even then the Arrakids continued to try to burrow through the dense stone, but renewed nature miracles kept them at bay. Yet Arrakids, despite their constant attempts, never again gained entry to Panthea until the fall of the city due to internal riot and civil war. It was doubtless at this time that the Arrakids created their second mingling of human/Arrakid genetic material, the Arrakin - shapeshifters with two seperate genetic codes, that could switch from apparent humanity to Arrakid forms at will. Sometime in this period, Arrakin infiltrators entered the main human population within Panthea, and remain hidden within every human population to this day.
Following the Fall of Panthea, three surviving factions of humanity left the ruined City to seek their destinies elsewhere. One, led by the surviving Priests of Panthea, was transported by a miracle of Time to a distant land, where they founded what later became the Omanidarian Empire. Another, under the leadership of the mage-priest of Soto Naza, used a natural teleportal to lead his people through to an area that later came to be known as Torea. The third group of humans, led by Thauma Tiergon's adopted son S'Tel, altered the frequency of the portal used by Naza and traveled through it, emerging in a forested wilderness that would eventually give rise to the city of Sottli Ban.
Last but not least, a group of humans under the protection of the few surviving P'ak Protectors simply wandered off from the city, and somehow eventually made their way to what would one day become the Barbary States area.
The Arrakids finally re-entered Panthea, only to find that their prey had vanished. Arrakid engineering soon threw a dome of stone over the ruins of the city and caused the city itself to subside into the ground, allowing the Arrakids free access without the hindrance of natural light. Although Arrakin spies were with the humans, the distance was too great for contact to be maintained between the shapeshifters and their inhuman masters. Finding the natural portal used in the evacuation, the Arrakids, after experimentation, learned not only how to attune the portal and follow the humans to their separate destinations, they also discovered how to cause the portal to open in other areas, and how to make portals appear at these other places, as well. This was the origin of the network of 'natural' portals that exists in every human settled area.
The Arrakids sent Khiton scouts through the portals, and though nearly all of the exit points were originally on the surface, Arrakid engineering soon erected hivelike mounds over them. Over the decades and centuries of Arrakid use, these mounds were often reinforced until they became hills and blended with the landscape as natural features, with the portals themselves now in subterranean chambers.
THE HOLLOW TREES (MOCK ZHAREESH) OF THE ANCIENT LANDS
The so-called Mock Zhareesh, or Hollow Trees, of the Ancient Lands have an ancient and mostly dark history. In the earliest days of humanity on the River, after man first came here from lost Panthea, humanity's oldest and most implacable enemy, the Arrakids, built a dome of stone over the ruins of Panthea and took the portals used by Naza and A'Tel for their own use. Following the fleeing humans, the Arrakids used their engineering skills to cover and bury the portal exits. They learned to duplicate the portals and built many Stairways leading from their own subterranean domains upward to the surface of the Earth in the areas now inhabited by humans. The first of these Stairways were constructed on the original exit sites through which the Panthean exoduses had come, one just outside Sottli Ban, the other in Torea.
Outside Sottli Ban, the Arrakids staged slave-raids on the city, forcing the newly christened Sot-tels to raise the first walls around the city itself, and to construct massive magical light sources to keep the monsters at bay. Thwarted, the Arrakids sent their warrior thralls, the Khiton, into the new human dominions to continue to supply them with slaves for their herds. Over the next 700 years or so, as humanity spread and formed what came to be known as the First Kingdom, the Khiton were a constant, dreaded presence. Yet despite their absence, the Arrakids were never forgotten by the Priesthood of Soto, which made certain that all human communities were provided with magical sources of bright light. The night became a time of terror for humanity, and few dared venture outside the well lighted city walls. The Arrakin remained part of the greater human gene pool during this period, awaiting orders from their creators.
200 years after the founding of Sottli Ban, Psions settled on the River and became worshipped by the Durshi and Sotharks as gods. Most of them became busy building the Celestial City on the Eastern Islands. The Psion Gods offered their worshippers protection from the Khiton, and in fact this protection was so ferocious that many of the Southern and Northern Khiton tribes retreated and began looking for ways to leave these lands altogether. The Sottles, however, would have nothing to do with the 'false gods', and thus received no protection. The Khiton of the Central Regions renewed their attacks on Sottle cities. At around this time, the Jhareesh Mass Migration occurred, and the Samaqel brought its herd to settle far to the North, on the ruins of Panthea.
Over the next 150 years, Sotan cities became isolated from each other by Arrakid and Khiton attacks. The Northern and Southern Khiton tribes, unable to hold out against humanity's Psion-god protectors, took possesion of the ancient network of Stair portals and used the skills of their masters to convert the portals into exploratory passages leading to other regions. They then use the portals to emigrate to the Eastern Isles, sealing them behind them, and sealing the Stairways off from the surface. After this, the Central Khiton tribes were the only Khitons left on the River, and with the Stairways sealed, they found themselves without direct Arrakid oversight for the first time in their existence. Seeing no point to continuing their war against humanity, they emigrated into the vast uninhabited reaches of what will one day be known as Aha-Taqel, where, like the Northern and Southern tribes before them, they build hivelike mounds to both shelter their dead and house the experimental portalways they construct in an attempt to re-establish contact with their former masters.
However, at about this time the Samaqel tries to 'go on, retreating both physically and mentally from his herd to focus all its powers on the attempt. Over the next hundred years, remnants of its abandoned herd settle the River, many of them coming through portals found in the ruins of Panthea buried beneath Do'Samaqel, which has long been abandoned by the Arrakids. The exits of these portals, first converted to Stairways by the Arrakids, then sealed by fleeing Khiton tribesmen, were blasted open by refugees from Do'Samaqel, who were often equipped with high explosives and psionic amplification devices. These refugees spread throughout the River, unaware that they had made it possible for the Arrakids to return to the surface again after several centuries.
However, by now, the Wild Frodds in the forests outside Sottli Ban have begun worshipping Nature, under the guise Grandfather of the Trees. To forestall the Arrakids' return, the first Frodd shamans re-seal the portals with cunning Frodd engineering, and then work miracles to grow enormous trees over the caverns with the Arrakid Stairways in them, which will hopefully keep them sealed for all time. Two hundred years later, the Samaqel's wrath intervenes, with the Great Deluge that destroys the First Kingdom and much of the life on the River. The Frodds are forced to retreat into the mountains to survive. Sotti Ban, however, erects a dome over its cities and they survive intact, to form the nexus for the Second Kingdom. Among the human population of Sottli Ban remain the Arrakin cults. Once the Great Deluge subsides, the Arrakin move out into the destroyed forests and possess themselves of the land around the ruins of the Trees. Although the Frodd seals continue to defy the Arrakin attempts to open the Stairways, nonetheless, the Arrakins soon hollow out the dead trunks of the great trees and they become hereditary lairs for Arrakin shapeshifters. Once the forests begin to be renewed and resettled by Frodds and others, the Hollow Trees quickly gain a reputation for being 'evil places'.
KISS OF THE SPIDER-WOMAN
Day 3 - Party meets Fennis just after midnight. Fennis' building is being watched by undead working for the underworld. When party finds place to stay for the night, Marylia will approach a member staying alone and try to get information.
Meanwhile, Maraud is organizing an undead Church Hawk strike force to move upriver from Sottli Ban by Queensland troopship. It will depart at noon on Day 3.
Day 4 - Maraud's troopship arrives at the River point closest to the Hollow Tree. At nightfall they set off overland. (Party departs?)
Day 5 - Travel.
Day 6 - Travel. Maraud's Undead strike force reaches the Hollow Tree area at about an hour before dawn. Arrakin forces and local Wild Frodd cult members rush to defend the tree. Maraud's forces pull back and entrench. (Party enters dead, bleak looking lands around Hollow Tree. Everyone rolls off 1/2 WP vs. 20 to escape effect of telepathic webs; otherwise, party will inevitably be drawn to Silk Keep. Note how much each party member blows roll by, if they do.)
Day 7 - (Travel.) Wild Frodd forces destroy several of Maraud's troopers by daylight. Maraud supplements his forces with Undead Wild Frodds and creates magical sources of dazzling light to lead the attack at night. The Arrakins and their supporters are forced back. (At dusk, the party arrives at Silk Hall and is welco. Anyone not wanting to spend the night must roll off 1/2 WP vs. 20 + amt they blew previous roll by. If they spend the night, a random attractive male party member will be chosen by Selnissa as a mate for the night.)
Day 8 - Selnissa and her brother/son/servants, along with Lord Eysle
Telepathic Web -
The 40 acre tract surrounding Silk Hall, including the Hollow Tree, is interwoven with telepathic 'webs' which are designed to telepathically suggest to any travelers through this area of forest that the proper direction of their travel is the one that will lead them directly to Silk Hall. This suggestion is combined with a 'confuse' effect, to make travelers feel lost and disoriented when within the forest. The overall effect is is one that creates nervousness and unreasoned dread in most susceptible travelers, as the forest seems very gloomy and threatening to them, and the feel as if they are being watched by invisible, malevolent eyes.
Upon entering the area, Travelers should roll off their [(WP+6)-Intu] vs. 15. Travelers winning the roll off experience no effects. Travelers failing the roll off become disoriented and will tend to find the atmosphere of the forest frightening and unpleasant, and although they will feel that they have become lost, they will invariably move towards Silk Hall. They will also be under a constant -5 to all Mental rolls, due to the confusion effect.
Due to the battles that have been fought over the last few days, the party will encounter various odd sights if a 1 is rolled once per hour on a d6
01-50 Arrakin Webs
51-60 Weapon/Equipment, Frodd
61-70 Weapon/Equipment, Church
71-80 Frodd body
81-90 Undead remains, burned in webs
91-96 Undead suspended in cocoon
97-99 Arrakin appendage (25% chance partially human)
00 Church bunker (Maraud on guard)
The web also alerts both Selnissa and her mother, Shellona, that travelers approach. When travelers reach Silk Hall, a servant will be out front, ostensibly repairing the gate, but actually waiting to welcome them. Silk Hall gives off a suggestion of safety, welcome and warmth; travelers must roll off [(WP+6) - Intu] vs 15 again to not be affected by this. Travelers under the previous spell's effect have a -5 to all mental rolls, so DM should have them roll off against 20. Traveler's effected by one suggestion but not the other will have to make a Morale roll off vs. 0 to turn away and re-enter the forest, Travelers effected by both suggestions must roll off Morale vs. 5.