Apr 28, 2012

Sky mining for Amberstone

As mentioned, briefly, in the posting on the Darkearth Plains, the Nightwash River comes out of the Destriel Mountains, and flows over a great cliff wall at the edge of the mountains (the Nightwash Falls).  That cliff wall is part of a curious formation called the Cliffs of Cloud.  Soaring over 3000 feet in the air, above the plains below, this formidable edge of the Destriel Mountains extends some miles in either direction of the Nightwash Falls, and does not get noticeably easier to navigate anywhere in the region.  And still - there have been numerous attempts at carving trails and walkways criss-crossing their way up to the heights to get at interesting features in the cliff wall.

One of the features that exists, and has a precarious donkey path carved into the rock wall, crossing it's way back and forth some 1600 feet into the air, is the famous Amberstone mine.  Once the 3 feet wide trail is climbed up to the cliff face, it opens up into a rift in the cliff wall, with a large shelf, approximately a mile from west to east.  This is just east of the falls, so the western edge of the rift is quite close to the falls, and the rift is constantly wet with spray from the mighty waterfall.  The shelf cuts back several hundred yards into the cliff face, and most of the open rift has a ceiling some 50-60 feet high.  It is as if a gigantic finger scooped a mile long blister out of the rocky cliff wall.

Overhead view of Amber Cave (top), image of Blue Sky Snail (lower left), outside of
Amberstone mine (lower center), and looking out from Amberstone mine,
even seeing the green valley down below (lower right).
Within this rift, known simply as the Amber Cave, there is a curious rocky tower built, from bottom to top of the rift, near where the small trail rises up to the rift opening.  That tower is the monastery home for a group of hermetic dwarves that protect and guide the miners working in the mines.  The whole western end of the cave (shown above, in an overhead sketch, along with images of a blue Sky Snail, and the outside and inside of an Amberstone mine) is home to the Sky Snails.

The shells of the Snails retain their ability to float.  One thing that the snails can do, when they detach from something and start floating on air, is to use some internal organ or magical ability to steer and direct themselves up and down and left and right.  Although the shells can give a person this ability (a single shell from an expired adult snail, if worn as a backpack, extending from a human sized wearer's knees, to up above his head, and extending far to the rear) to float quite readily - but directional movement has to be accomplished some other way.

The sky miners use the snails by luring them onto the great blocks of Amberstone with a food/potion mixture that the Dwarfs make (theirs is called the "Order of a Reflective Sky" - a curious theme and name for a Dwarven mystic order).  A block rider will then climb onto the top of the floating block, and use the Sky Snail potion to lure the snails from one side of the block to the other, giving a crude sort of steering mechanism.

The temple monastery is old - much older than the Dwarfs, or even than Westroner culture in the valley.  It was probably built by servants of the Old Ones.  The Amberstone that is mined today comes out of thinner veins than what evidently originally existed.  Vast blocks of the stuff were used to build the great canal of the Lost Mare river as it runs under the King's Highway.

Today, most of the mined blocks of Amberstone "float" their way down to Khomaes.  There is a great market there, not only among the great public works of the City Proctor, but also among the many noble houses, and their decadent villa.  None, however, has as hungry an appetite for Amberstone as the faculty and staff of the wizardry school of enchantment and charm in Khomaes - the Glamor Hall for Bewitchment and Entrancement.  The Queen of Enchantment (Queen Mellisonde) is a great customer of the guild of miners working Amber Cave.  Because of this, she (and the enchanters and enchantresses of her school) is very supportive of and protective of the Reflective Sky order.

The miners, other than raids by bandits, have to contend with possibly opening up the wrong tunnel or cave trail, to the many hived pockets of evil humanoids from the Unseely Court that dwell within the Destriel mountains in general, and within the Cliffs of Cloud specifically.  When herding and harvesting sky snails, however, two other menaces present themselves.  The first are the Blood Stars, radial parasites that have a limited flight (actually, sort of a jetted propulsion through the air, as part of a surprise attack to attach to a victim), but whom begin viciously sucking blood out of mammals.  There is a strange feature of Sky Snail blood that keeps the Stars from draining it quite so quickly, but not so Humans and Dwarves (death could come within minutes of a full sized star striking an unprepared victim).  The second are the Cliff Monsters.  These are hard shelled worms, capable of burrowing through hard rock, that are attracted to vibrations caused by movement, and also heat caused by fires or too many people in one area.  Once they emerge from the rock walls, they tend to go after the closest warm body.

Writeups (with specifics, and stat blocks) on the Sky Snails, Blood Stars and Cliff Monsters are available as their own articles.

Apr 27, 2012

Darkearth Plains Map

First map of the Darkearth Plains.  This is lifted from the most detailed overall valley map (done in autorealm).  I am also thinking of doing a version of this in hexographer, and they populating it as a sort of sandbox area, just for giggles.

Not all of the sites mentioned in the previous writeup (which was an intro sketch to the area, just collating what I already knew about it, and had captured elsewhere), but it is a good start - more coming.

Regions of the Valley (3) - Darkearth Plains

The Darkearth Plains is a region in the northern part of the valley, slightly west of the central point.  It is bordered on the north, by the Destriel Mountains, and along the southern edge by the Great River.  The western boundary for the region is the Lost Mare river, and along the east edge the boundary is the Greywater River.  The other major waterways in the region are the Nightwash River, and the Terrapin River.

The region takes its name from the rich, dark black soil that is common throughout the region, with the exception of two areas - the Great Owl Forest (the ground of which is covered by thick, thick layers of decaying leaves, over a more generally sandy loam undersurface), and the Aghanz Hills, which feature a dry dusty and sandy soil, very rocky.

I am working up maps now, using Hexographer, and Autorealm, and should release some very soon.

The peoples of Darkearth include three cities of Westron humans (Khomaes, Werms and Huygen).  There are, in addition, a number of tribes of Storm King barbarians in the region, especially in the north east, up along the very broad Greywater River, and in and around the Riven Moor, on both sides of the Terrapin River.

There are several portals that frequently appear to the Seely Court in the Great Owl Forest, and also in the Harp Woods.  This means that Wood Elves, as well as other Faery races, are not uncommon.

The Aghanz Hills are home to both the Star Tower (seat of power and learning for the Silver order of druids), as well as the gnome stronghold at Flintgate.  These areas are both well patrolled and guarded by their own interests, but much of the rest of the Aghanz remains rough, open, hilly and rocky country.  There is a presence, of a curious group of tribes of large, primitive men that do not have a spoken language, and do not work with or use metal of any sort.  They are called, simply, the hillmen by the druids of Star Tower, and the shagmen by the gnomes of Flintgate.  It is reported that they are vicious cannibals.

Dwarves have some strongholds throughout the Destriel mountains.  In some of the deeper delvings and cave systems, there are permanent portals to the Unseely Realms (mostly goblins and their related filth, as usual).

Roaming the region to the west, near the Lost Mare River, are the intelligent horses of the Great Herd.  A single herd in name only, roaming groups of these very large, very intelligent horses do all seem to answer to the leadership of the Great Khan of All Horses.

Splitting the region, from west to east, is the King's Highway, as always providing a huge barrier between the north and south part of the Darkearth Plains.  The Lost Mare river flows under the highway, in a broad and fabulous lock system, built by the Old Ones, and lined in marble.  That part of the highway is patrolled by, and made safe by, companies of spearmen from Khomaes.  Further east, however, especially as the highway draws near to the Great Owl Forest, the area just north of the highway is known as the Horned Run.  It is home to tribes of broo, known as the Horned Ones.  Wicked, unsociable creatures, they have a heartless and sadistic culture, and seek to prey on all who wander into the region.

The point where the Nightwash River leaves the Destriel Mountains, down into the plains (just west of the Aghanz Hills), there is a cliffwall at the edge of the mountains, the Nightwash forming a mighty waterfall (Nightwash Falls).  Along that cliff edge, a curious and very valuable marble-like stone is found, called Amberstone.  A group of human and dwarven miners operate a mining operation here, cutting out huge blocks of Amberstone.  It is then floated south to various trading concerns south of the King's Highway, by air travel.  The air travel is accomplished by having a curious breed of giant snail that lives on the cliff face near the Nightwash Falls.  Called the great blue skysnail, this creature has a shell with magical (levitating) properties.  The miners have methods of luring the snails to cover a block of amberstone, and a "blockrider" will ride the floating block of stone south, towards the various destinations.

Where the Nightwash (a broad and fast flowing river) finally reaches the Lost Mare River (in the middle of the grazing lands of the Great Herd), there are vast openings into the earth, along the edge of the Nightwash.  Splinter flows of the vast river flow down into those openings, and form free-fall waterfalls down into the underearth.  Deep, deep below the water falls into the vast underearth sea that is home to the Dark Elf buccaneer kingdoms.  The openings are watched after by warrior horses of the Great Khan.

Along the southern end of the Lost Mare River, as it broadens to eventually join the Great River, it opens up into a flooded basin, known as the Arriott Bottom swamp.  Curious tribes of lizard men, and other related saurial races, are found here.

Apr 20, 2012

Return to the Valley

So, my PhD is finished. I will soon be a Doctor. (I wonder if that means I get a Gallifreyan accent, and a second heart?) In addition to finishing my education, a lot of changes happened over the year since I signed off (last March). I was on track to finish my PhD in the autumn semester of 2011, when I found out that my old job at the research center was being de-funded. So I had to spend much of the fall months looking for a new job (and also going through a bit of depression...) needless to say, I wasn't focusing on my PhD. Luckily, however, I got a new (great) job, and I finished up in the spring semester. Glad to be done!

I can, now with a clear conscience, return to working on the Valley in my spare time.

My plans for the next few months will be in completing and collating the various regional descriptions, along with the descriptions of the professions (class descriptions), religion, and races. Putting this all into a combined gazetteer (or player's handbook), and producing it as a PDF here on the website.

Step one will be in completing the regional descriptions of the regions of the valley. The first two already have some introductory material, but maps and keyed descriptions are also necessary.

Moving from west to east, north of the Great River, the next region will be the Darkearth Plains, named for the curiously dark, nearly black soil common to the area between the Lost Mare and Greywater rivers. While not as big as some of the other regions, there is a lot going on here, so it should be an interesting writeup. Have I mentioned the intelligent horses? How about the horned ones?
Located in Darkearth, of course, is the Hermitage of the Beast-Duke. The adventure, Horror at the Hermitage is already underway, and might be released here on the blog, as well. I hope to run it at a convention later on this year.