Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ar: High Dive of the Hippogriff

Continued from "Ar: Helion Rising."

This land was once a part of what later became the District of Griffon, just north along the banks of the Crystal Lake. During the troubled times that followed the end of the original royal dynasty, Alphatian aristocrats whose properties centered around Arreghi revolted. The conflict had more to do with control over the Cloudstone mine that lay between lands owned by the two factions. With the ascension of the House of Qimeth to the throne, the civil war came to an end, and the breakaway region became the District of Hippogriff.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Hex Map
Lower Hippogriff District -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
The Cloudstone mine, although it presently lies within the District of Griffon, belonged to a large number of aristocrats hailing from both regions in roughly the same proportions. It is chiefly responsible for the creation of floating islands in both districts, and is now functioning at a reduced pace, since much of its deposit has been depleted. Worse, infiltration from the lake flooded parts of the giant excavation still bearing Cloudstones. Efforts are still being made to pump water out, shore up weakened shafts, and reinforce porous areas of seepage—a costly project as thankless and gargantuan as it is fraught with dangers. Rogue ogres were seen sabotaging reinforcements, presaging new troubles with the hated race.

Since the times of the Ogre Wars, Arreghi benefited from local wealth and afforded itself heavy fortifications. Although the line of towers at the southern border leaves a lot to be desired regarding its ability to forestall an invasion, at least Arreghi could withstand a determined assault. Of all the districts of Ar, Hippogriff is the one most concerned about such a possibility. Under pressure from its aristocracy, successive viceroys maintained a good relation with Foresthome’s Marches of Ogresfell. Hippogriff Prime is a springboard from which Hippogrene vessels perform regular scouting missions well into Foresthome and participated in joint actions against monstrous raids. Pegataurs from Westford are also welcome on the floating island, occasionally occupying bivouacs near the southern tip. Although Foresthome’s monarchy harbors mixed feeling about Hippogriff Prime’s encroachment into Ogresfell’s airspace, the elves of the Marches see it more as a protection and a form of commitment from Ar—not to mention the significant fee Hippogrene aristocrats pay for this privilege. From the point of view of Aran landowners, they’d rather pay their neighbors than the obtrusive Celestial Bureau. An agreement between Ogresfell and Hippogriff requires these monies be used for military purposes. If a disagreement should occur, Hippogrene wizards remain confident they could reposition the island along an east-west axis.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Hippogriff Hex Map
Upper Hippogriff -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
Hippogriff is a diverse province, with hills, deep forests, fertile plains, grasslands, and access to a lake teeming with fish. Although Aran aristocracy turn up their noses at surface ships, humble fishermen rely on a flotilla of small boats to harvest the lake’s bounty. Crystal Lake isn’t the safest place to throw one’s net, for ancient aquatic creatures also dwell there. To face the danger, a skyship usually patrols the lake, if not to engage a monster emerging from the depths but at least to give fishermen an early warning. Occasionally, a large flock of hippogriffs may swoop down and skim the lake’s surface, seizing large fish or whatever else lurks just beneath the surface, and return to Hippogriff-II to feed their young. This is especially common during the spawning season, when aquatic life lingers frenetically near the surface. On occasion, a fish or two might drop accidentally into a street of Arreghi while hippogriffs quarrel over prey, leading locals to look up before exiting buildings. . . and getting run over by a cart whose driver was doing the same. Although approaching these creatures can prove challenging, they generally do not attack people.

In total, 43,000 Hippogrene live in the district, with 1,200 on Hippogriff Prime. No more than 6% of the land is settled, leaving the remainder as borderland or complete wilderness. Its thousand-strong army includes seven skyships. Two of them are large sail ships, and a third qualifies as a troop transport, a solidly-built warship meant to operate deep in the Ogresfell. Among the small skyships, the H.H.M.S. Caecos patrols the lake. The Favon concerns herself with border surveillance and special police duties outside Arreghi. Based on Hippogriff Prime, the Volturnal and Argestian watch the upper district. The Sky Horse, the Star of Arreghi, and the troop transport Voice of Razud scout the Ogrepits Ridge and the Stoneridge Crags, lending a helpful hand to the elves of Ogresfell as needed.


Hippogriff Prime: This long and narrow island, stretching 44 miles (71 km) north to south, is home to the High Griffodrome and a very large lighthouse. Levitating at an altitude of 8,200 ft (2.500 meters), temperatures drop 31°F (18°C) compared with sea level conditions. The entire floating island is heavily forested, mostly with spruces, firs, and aspen. Conifers grow taller than usual despite the altitude, due to local magical conditions. Amid the deep and dark woods lay a handful of manor houses belonging to landowners. These estates, including the viceroy’s palace, look more like hunting lodges than a typical Alphatian dwelling, at least from the outside. The grounds are used for hunting primeval deer, cave bears, giant boars, dire wolves, and cold-weather breeds of saber-toothed leopards. Other monstrous beings do dwell in the sylvan depths, feeding on local wildlife. The hunt is purely for sport and magic-use there is considered bad form. Hunters may go individually, equipped with wands duplicating the power of a bow and which require feats of dexterity to aim correctly. It is considered a primitive sort of magic harking back to Alphatia’s ancient times, and which comes closer to nature. It enables mages to test their mettle without the full accoutrements of wizardry. Master hunters are very well regarded throughout the realm. Hunts on horseback with packs of dogs are far more stylized and social by definition, and quite popular among visiting Aran aristocracy.

High Griffodrome: Although a gambling establishment like others so common in Ar, this one seems very proper and selective, a triumph of snobbism at its highest. Guests are always impeccably dressed and behaved, aside from the usual gossiping. It is the sort of place where one goes to be seen, a who’s-who of Alphatia’s upper crust bent on showing off the latest fashion from Aasla. Facilities were designed by the best artists from the Kingdom of Haven, resulting in a classical style, with monumental gilded domes and cupolas atop marble colonnades and archways, tall windows, and baroque decoration starkly contrasting with the deep, primal forest surrounding the grounds. A magical vault preserves comfortable air pressure and temperature. High Griffodrome is best known for hippogriff races. It features a circuit within the protective vault that demands ground speed and aerial prowess, a sort of steeplechase for winged mounts requiring them to fly through hoops, dive beneath horizontal obstacles, or bounce off vertical panels. Also common, sulky racing involves levitating carriages and jockeys armed with telekinetic wands to up the ante. Many a family rivalry is fought during these rough and tumble races. The best known include the Royal Hunt, the Triple Wand Stakes, and the Imperial Derby enshrined as yearly pilgrimages for the rich and high born. The best stallions can fetch very high prices, as do wagers during the races.

Mystara Alphatia Ar HeraldryHippogriff-II: this small floating island, near the district’s northern borders, is home to throngs of wild hippogriffs. Its jagged, rocky spires float in the sky at 11,300 ft (3.400 meters), and is very cold year round. A few noble houses cling to icy slopes, usually for the purpose of raising hippogriffs for the famous races. Isolated clerical or druidical hermits are known to live on the island. The monarchy also maintains a laboratory on the island. Its presence has to do with a curious aspect of hippogriffs’ fantastic nature. Hard to breed in captivity, these creatures ought to result from griffons mating with mares—highly improbable since the winged beasts prey upon horses. The popular expression "to mate griffons with horses" clearly evokes impossible endeavors. Yet, hippogriffs do exist as a breed of their own. Confirming the wisdom that extraordinary creatures ought to achieve extraordinary deeds, a patrolling skyship observed a large rip form in the air, revealing a hundred hippogriffs diving at high speed. The tear vanished as abruptly as it had opened when the last creature barreled out. The flock circled the skyship for an agonizingly long moment during which her captain hesitated to order his boltmen into action. At the last second, the swarm suddenly veered and raced toward the floating island, which curiously had been sent aloft the previous day. There, among caves in what was later dubbed Hippogriff-II, the winged community chose to roost.

Ever since this event took place, mages have studied hippogriffs. As it were, domesticated stock proved unable to accomplish the feat leading to their appearance. Among the wild, a swarm of a hundred or more seemed necessary to provoke a tear. Their flight acted at times like migrating geese, and at others like clouds of sparrows suddenly changing direction for reasons unknown. A courageous mage riding a tame mount once joined a travelling flock. Accustomed to his presence while he’d studied them, the creatures did not chase him away. The rift opened after the glorious creatures flipped over and hurtled toward the ground in a perilous high-speed dive. The plunge took him through a wormhole which led above mountains in faraway Norwold. Soon after reaching Eastern Brun’s vast wilderness, he was able to observe rituals of the hippogriff mating season. There was no clue about what had led the creatures to seek this remote region, perhaps an auspicious alignment among the asters. Many hippogriff communities, without a doubt from other regions of the world, appeared in neighboring mountain ranges and followed similar rituals, inferring these were habitual mating ground for these creatures. Whether others existed elsewhere remains unknown. Soon after the mating season ended, the swarm took off once more. After a long time spiraling up Norwold’s cold, pristine sky, the hippogriffs opened another rift and returned to their roosting grounds in Ar. Why and how they’d initially chosen the floating island exactly when it was created remains another mystery.

Research goes on to this day, with the wondrous hope that perhaps the hippogriffs’ secret might some day enable Aran skyships to travel in a similar manner. It is illegal to harm hippogriffs in Ar, and they benefit from the same laws as those devised for griffons. Hippogriffs crave horsemeat, but they only attack unguarded horses. They are quite fond of flying fish traveling through the skies of Ar in large silvery clouds, or those fatter ones they can skim from the surface of Crystal Lake. Although they do not stray more than 80 miles from their floating island, the nearby lake and the Ogresfell are their preferred hunting grounds. Hippogriffs often fly in packs of ten or more while seeking prey.

 
 Lady Aquiline, Royal Sage

This research-minded mage is the grand-daughter of the one who’d once flown to Norwold with hippogriffs. She walked away from her high-born destiny and endeavored to continue her forebear’s effort. Her office, appointed by the king, provides her with adequate resources. She works from an isolated tower on Hippogriff-II, which includes her personal quarters, a small library and laboratory, and a stable for her pet hippogriff. She spends much of her time surveying the floating island, counting couples and their young, documenting their lives, and monitoring their seasonal flights. Like her grandfather, she occasionally departs to Norwold to further her research. In more recent years, she was able to approach hippogriff lairs unharmed to watch their behavior more closely. She has developed a bond with a number of these creatures, especially those she helped heal of disease or injuries, and took their part against poachers and other unwanted intruders.

She sends yearly reports to the court in Skyreach. Filled with obscure or bizarre observations, none of these ever proved of any practical value to anyone, leading some at the royal court to wonder if Aquiline might have "gone native." She is seen as a nature-loving eccentric and an activist against the raising of hippogriffs in captivity, their commercial trade, and their recreational use at the High Griffodrome. The latter earned her the enmity of many Aran aristocrats. Although none of the above is factually incorrect, the truth is that Aquiline unveiled rudiments of the magic enabling hippogriffs to create a wormhole and to accurately target its opposite end. She chose not to reveal any of it, for fear of exposing her winged friends to damaging attention. Aquiline is even more concerned with political consequences of this knowledge, fearing inevitable abuse by those in on the secret, and conflict with those who seek it. For years, she has therefore engaged in the skillful practice of propagating distorted observations and false conclusions to mislead anyone else looking into hippogriff arcane abilities. Her high-born status, illustrious pedigree in the field of hippogriff research, lack of a consistent and sound government scrutiny, and the potential embarrassment to King Qissling if she were discredited, have so far protected her.

Appearance: in her fifties and standing just under six feet tall, Aquiline owns a sturdy demeanor; she strides everywhere she goes, her wooden-heeled knee-high boots announcing her arrival. Her skin is light copper, her eyes wide and brown, and her unusually elongated nose gives her a vaguely equine expression. Large square yellowed teeth set in her narrow mouth reinforce the image. Naturally ringleted chestnut hair falls past the middle of her back; untamed by comb or pins, it has attained the character of a small bush, including occasional twigs. In it, she often twines hippogriff feathers. Aquiline is often marked by bruises and streaks of earth or mud. She smells strongly of a combination of horse sweat, foetid blood, and the peculiar reek of raptors. She’d rather be riding a hippogriff or observing them than doing anything else. Aquiline gives little thought to how she speaks or acts in company; her attitude is rough and tumble, and she deliberately puts forth the impression she is quirky and very odd. Her robe is a dark brown leather jacket with a wide ankle-length skirt divided front and back.

M13, AC1, hp53, MV 120’(40’), AT 1 blowgun, Dmg 1 or by spell, Save M13, ML9, AL L; St11, In17, Wi16, Dx13, Co16, Ch9. Magical Items: AC4 skyrider’s robe*, +3 blowgun*, +2 saddle of bonding*, ring of regeneration, and potion of extra healing.

Skyrider Robe: this magical leather garment protects Aquiline from natural weather conditions prevailing at high altitude. Although it doesn’t enable her to survive in a void, it helps breathing at high altitude to avoid hypoxia. While wearing this robe, Aquiline never takes more than half damage from air- or cold-based attacks (quartered with a successful saving throw).

Aquiline’s Blowgun: this magical weapon is a four-foot-long wooden tube through which small darts are shot. It provides a +3 bonus to hit only. It usually is strapped to the harness on the flank of Aquiline’s hippogriff. This blowgun has an increased range compared with a non-magical weapon (30’/60’/90’). Its long, feathered darts inflict only a point of damage, but a victim (up to 4HD) must save vs. poison or fall asleep for 1d4 Turns. Even with a successful saving throw, an enraged or frightened victim would be calmed. Subsequent darts are needed to affect a larger creature, at the rate of 2 extra HD per dart. Aquiline uses her blowgun as an Expert with BECM game rules (a weapon specialist in the AD&D Game, ignoring class limitations).

Saddle of Bonding: this colorful set of black braided halter and tooled saddle enable Aquiline to communicate her intent to her mount from the standpoint of three-dimensional maneuvers. It confers a +3 bonus to AC and saving throws to both herself and her steed, as well as extend the protection of her robe to the hippogriff. While riding the saddle of bonding, Aquiline cannot accidentally fall off her mount while it engages in aerobatics.

Abateene the Hermit, Cleric of Palartarkan


Mystara Alphatia Ar Heraldry
Ever since Aquiline’s forebear explored the hippogriffs’ ability to summon wormholes, the Temple of Palartarkan has maintained an uncanny interest in his research. Since he’d fended off all attempts at shedding light on the subject, a hermitage was erected in the general vicinity of the mage’s dwelling on Hippogriff-II. During following decades, a succession of priests lived and died in utter solitude in what amounted to little more than a monastic cell on the icy, wind-swept mountain slope. Each sought divine enlightenment through prayer and meditation, while spying on the mage and his grand-daughter now, in the hope of unveiling clues. Over the years, Abateene, the sort of half-wild character matching Aquiline’s demeanor, naturally developed a friendship with the Hippogriff Lady. He pays her an occasional visit, usually on holidays of clerical significance, providing any help he may and receiving some back. Although he is painfully aware of how Aquiline’s research could impact the Alphania Project, of which he’d been an architect, his growing feelings for Aquiline have resulted in a silent conflict between love and faith, or trust and duty. Which may prevail remains uncertain at this point. He hasn’t pierced her secret as yet, but a few clues here and there have been forthcoming (although Aquiline treasures his visits, she remains wary of her burden and of Abateene’s possible motivations). Until their relation changes, the two quietly watch and protect each other should trouble arise.

Appearance: Abateene has the appearance and habits of a man who has been solitary in the wilds for a long time. He stands around six feet, but looks taller because of his long-furred conical hat. The intense conditions in which he lives weathered his skin, and his hands are gnarled and crooked. One hazel-hued eye glares either feral gold or intense green with brown flecks. The other turned milky from the puckered scar of an old wound that runs from his forehead to the middle of his cheek. He has wild pale brown hair and enough of a beard to toss over his shoulder to get it out of his devotions. Both are tied in knots decorated with bird bones, which sometimes clatter when he moves quickly. He wears felt boots lined with fur matching his hat and coat. Abateene’s chainmail gives off pale blue glints and looks oddly civilized against his unkempt appearance. He bears a curious elbowed stick made from ironwood, about two feet from point to point, and carved on both sides with arcane designs.

C15, AC2, hp51, MV 120’(40’), AT 2 boomerang, Dmg 2d4+2/d6+2 or by spell, Save M13, ML9, AL N; St13, In14, Wi17, Dx13, Co15, Ch9. Magical Items: +2 chainmail of the faithful*, stick of Palartarkan +2/+4 vs. avians*, candle of shielding, and ring of air pressure. Special Abilities: as a priest of Palartarkan, he can fly up to two hours per day (innate ability, cannot be dispelled).

Chainmail of the Faithful: this suit of pale bluish metal mesh provides Abateene with complete immunity to non-magical diseases and a +3 to saving throws versus other afflictions (including lycanthropy and such). It also informs his leader whether Abateene is alive, hurt, or dead, and the location of the armor (unless one is in the Hollow World and the other on Mystara’s surface). Loss of faith or starvation would qualify as being "hurt." The chainmail only confers its magical benefits to faithful followers and clerics of Palartarkan, but if detected, it will radiate a magical aura.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Palartarkan
Stick of Palartarkan: known elsewhere in Mystara as a boomerang, the weapon is magical and confers a +2 bonus to hit and damage (+4 vs. birdlike creatures 3HD or less). This item hits the same target twice: once when thrown and again during the following round when it returns to Abateene, usually with an additional +2 to hit for a back-attack if the victim isn’t paying attention. Separate rolls are needed for each attack. The weapon requires open space to spin and fly. Within limited quarters, the weapon only provides a single attack, and it will fail to fly back to its owner. It can otherwise be used as a club. Catching a returning boomerang does not constitute an action and takes place at the end of the round; it doesn’t require a Dexterity check unless hampered by adverse conditions. As an Expert with this weapon (see Sling Weapon Mastery, RC. pg. 79), Abateene receives several bonuses and can move after throwing his boomerang. A player using a boomerang in this manner must announce before throwing the weapon where he/she intends to be at the end of the following round, otherwise the boomerang clatters on the ground at the wrong spot. For the AD&D Game, use weapon specialization mechanics (ignoring class limitations).

Thanks to Janet Deaver-Pack for character descriptions and editorial support.

To be Continued.