Friday, 29 July 2016

Insects of Hyperborea

If you go far enough north, you come to Hyperborea. This is true everywhere. Travel past the kingdom of fake Vikings and the mountains of the white elves and the ice-ridden shores of the polar seas and the place where sky and sea and land all blur into each other and all you see is white. Keep going north and you will find it.

There is life even in Hyperborea. Silent birdmasked whale hunters. Kite cities floating on katabatic winds. Empires of sapient bacteria, subglacial magma-heated saline bubbles the only universe they know. Reefs of white coral that filter food particles from the eternally howling wind. Fake Vikings who've gone a little weird. Self-perpetuating magnetic fields that want to liberate your soul from your body so it can dance with them in the aurora. Goblins. Mammoths. Mammoth seals, like elephant seals but bigger and stupider. Tusked apes. Pockets of rainforest that unfreeze for a week in the heart of summer to briefly mimic the tropics. Piranha penguins. Crimson oozes that leave their pigment in caves when it's time to hunt. Tomb vultures that eat only the flesh of dead empresses. Stunted scavenger bears. Skeleton jellies. More goblins.

There are also giant insects. Hyperborea is not subject to the same natural laws as your world and insects can be as big as they like. Here are some.
  1. Myrmeleon. The larvae dig funnel-shaped traps in the snow and lie in wait with their jaws open at the bottom. The adults are called 'lacewings' and are rarely seen. They're rumoured to grant wishes, but this is probably bullshit that someone invented as a cruel prank.
  2. Dripping mantis. Translucent chitin. Hangs in contorted postures from rocky overhangs and the eaves of houses, perfectly disguised as a cluster of icicles. On warmer days, moistens self with tear-like substance secreted from special glands to give the appearance of melting.
  3. Snow strider. Skates across plains and hummocks of metre-thick powdered snow as if it were hard earth. Carries 1d6 bubbles of liquid nitrogen affixed to the hair on its legs, to be flung at enemies.
  4. Ice lice. The size of small dogs. Mostly live on mammoths and other huge mammals. Will drain a human dry in under a minute, then crowd around the corpse trying to figure out why it doesn't have any more blood in it.
  5. Boilfly. Abdomen glows with a chemical reaction warm enough to melt snow and bright enough to act in lieu of a torch. Explodes if startled or ungently prodded, spraying sticky, boiling liquid over everything in radius of its light.
  6. Hogbody caterpillar. Giant fuzzy caterpillar lumbering its way though waist-high drifts, consuming every scrap of organic material it can get its mandibles on. Takes seven summers to accumulate enough energy for metamorphosis.
  7. Hogbody moth. Wings like sheets of ice glint and refract the summer sunlight. Fat fuzzy body. Horrible gargoyle face. Antenna that can detect the radiation of your thoughts from half a mile away. Feeds exclusively on the aurora, but wants your flesh for its babies.
  8. Avalanche beetle. Rolls compacted snow and dung up into perfectly spherical boulders, sends them tumbling down cliffs at you. Makes snowmen in its spare time. No one knows where it gets the carrots for the noses.
  9. Fisherman centipede. Scuttles along the underside of ice shelves, feeling the vibrations of footsteps through its legs. Attacks through concealed breathing holes, bursting from snow dunes in a torrent of spins and legs. Venom is a potent antifreeze and anticoagulant that confers haemophilia on victims.
  10. Plowhorn beetle. Shovels snow out of the way with a huge chitinous horn, leaving highways in its wake. Hard to domesticate, but kept track of by seasoned travellers and sometimes steered with presents of nectar.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Random Encounters of the Dzungarian Gate

Played a game of Ryuutama with Nico and Richie Cyngler. Improvised a setting based on the steppes of Central Asia using a bunch of stuff I already had in my head. The PCs are humble farmers and artisans from the Heavenly Kingdom, a quiet and pastoral realm where nothing has changed in a thousand years, who venture north and west across the Altai Mountains to the endless barbarian steppe and the mysteries that lie beyond it.

Ryuutama is mostly about travel. There's a whole system of survival and navigation rolls that takes up most of the game. I need to hack it to take more advantage of random encounters, and there's a thing where the DM is technically an omnipotent dragon that never came up, but otherwise it's pretty good. It's kind of cute and anime, which is not a thing I realised I want in my games until I had it. The PCs were trying to get from the mountain town of Alashankou in the pass known as the Dzungarian Gate to a gathering of nomads on the shores of Lake Balkash, which harbours a city of frog women in its depths. One of them had a dream that she would find her one true love somewhere to the west, another wanted to kill interesting new monsters and make the best possible hats out of them. I put together an encounter table and we spent most of the session stumbling across stuff and having to deal with it.

Here's a version of the table. This isn't exactly what I used but it's close enough.
  1. A sapient quadrupedal iceberg, relic of an ancient glacier, ambling across the plains.
  2. A wind wizard in a sail-propelled cart, gathering the feathers of exotic birds.
  3. A herd of sheep-sized, frill-necked dinosaurs grazing by a river.
  4. Nomads hunting a golden-antlered hind to make a headdress for their shaman.
  5. A woman in tortoiseshell armour who wants to trick you into a griffin-guarded cave.
  6. An egg with legs, arms and a moustache that runs faster than you and steals stuff.
  7. A tree whose leaves make whistles that conjure storms.
  8. The wedding of a frog woman to a rusalka, interrupted by a former lover.
  9. Nomads escorting the portable tomb of their khan, whose body must never rest.
  10. The north wind, BURAN, in the form of a shaggy old man with snakes for legs.
I thought the wedding would be cute but it turned out horrifying. I blamed it on cursed fermented mare's milk from a carnivorous horse. That should probably be on the table.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Pole of the Pole

This is a short story I wrote.

It's called The Pole of the Pole. It's about six thousand words long. The idea is to deliver a meaty chunk of setting in a narrative format instead of the normal encyclopedic blog-entry format we usually write our settings in.

I feel like it worked pretty well. It's inspired by a period of history that I almost never see represented in anything. I don't want to tell you too much about it because I want to see how clear a picture you get of the setting from the story alone, but there is some art here so you have something to visualise in your head box.

Anyway that's enough talking. Go and read it.