Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ar: Into the Manticore's Lair

Continued from “Ar: High Dive of the Hippogriff”
 

A unique district, Manticore owns no surface land—its floating island levitates entirely above the Sea of Zebulon, off the coast of Djinn. Just as unusual, its inhabitants aren’t remotely Alphatian. Well before the establishment of this curious dominion, three Ethengarian wizards, known as hakomons, approached the King of Ar, some time after the monarchy relocated to Skyreach. The encounter took place at a time when manticores terrorized the northern lands. In exchange for their services and fealty to the monarchy, these hakomons were charged with the difficult task of rounding up the beasts. Following their success, they became accepted in Aran high society, to a point. These enterprising mages became exceeding skillful tradesmen, using their exotic origins to initiate trade outside the traditional Alphatian spheres of interest, and acquiring goods desired by the local wizards. In time, they purchased a stockpile of Cloudstones and negotiated the creation the Island of Boreas, at the northern fringes of Ar. There, they built their capital city, and moved their captive manticores to networks of caves and dungeons opening on the island’s underside.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Manticore Hex Map
Sea of Zebulon/Lower Manticore -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
In the decades that followed, descendants of the hakomons’ servants began populating Boreas. Other fellow Ethengarians trickled in, usually from visiting tradeships. They helped settle this strange new land and give it a thoroughly foreign look. Manticenes, as they became known, have discarded their Ethengarian preference for felt yurts and nomadic lifestyle in favor of more refined Ochalean manners and architecture, which now prevail in the town. Although accepted as vassals of the Skyreach monarchy, citizens of Boreas do at times run into an invisible wall of unfortunate prejudice when dealing with high born Alphatians. A sort of distant politeness prevails in their relationship, which is perfectly fine since it works both ways. Manticenes neither care for nor concern themselves with what stiff-necked Alphatians think of them. They remain wholly content with their miniature realm, out there above the sea, of which they are rightfully quite proud.

Boreas stretches about 8 by 20 miles (13 by 32 km), with a flat, grassy surface reminiscent of Ethengar. Although the overwhelming majority of the population lives in the town, about six hundred souls dwell in the three hakomons’ manor houses and related properties in the open plains, usually involved in the raising of horses and sheep. For the most part, townsfolk in Boreas work in large trade guilds, rival houses with jealously defended commercial territories ranging from eastern Brun to western Skothar. If not running shops, taverns, or workshops, Manticenes have learned out of necessity the business of fishing. There are two approaches when it comes to harvesting the marine bounty. One consists in flying a skyship and casting fishing nets along migratory paths, or using ballistae to harpoon passing whales. A cheaper way involves large cranes at the edge of the island, which are capable of lowering nets all the way to the sea, 15,000 ft below (4.600 m). The cables are magically reinforced and anchored to reach deep beneath the surface. This leads to an odd spectacle of many lines stretching from the island, lowering nets and retrieving their catches at all times of the day. Occasionally, some are enchanted with continual lights for nocturnal fishing. Despite this practice, food must still be imported to support Boreas and, consequently, local prices are higher here than elsewhere in the realm.
 

Mystara Alphatia Ar Manticore Hex Map
Upper Manticore District -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
In total, 2,215 Manticenes live on the floating island, 1,574 in the town of Boreas alone. As such, the entire island’s surface constitutes a borderland, with scattered sheep and horse farms, and fishing outposts dotting the island’s rim. Its armed forces number all of 74 warriors, well paid and trained, with an average 5th level of experience (the highest in Ar). Part of this force serves aboard the H.H.M.S. Sting of Boreas, a small skyship whose mission is to patrol the sky above the island and the sea below, especially as a regards sea monster activity that might disrupt fishing. This province of Ar does not benefit from a magical dome, and the population has adapted to living at high-altitude. Boreas features a heated core within its Cloudstone layer, which keeps temperatures higher than they should be at 15,000 ft altitude (4.600 meters). Compared with conditions at sea-level, air temperature only drops 22°F (13°C). Heat loss is immediate as one leaves Boreas, and beyond 100 yards, temperature drops instead 55°F (31°C). The relative difference between the two layers of air generates ground-hugging fog on all but the windiest days.

Of greater concern are 50 manticores living underneath the island. These are the last monsters of the sort in Ar. They are bred in captivity for special reasons. The first concerns the business of acquiring and selling spell components involving manticore parts, usually garnered from elder beasts that are dying or have recently died. Although Aran laws pertaining to aerial beasts do not entirely apply to manticores because these are sentient, evil, man-eating monsters, their handlers take care not to mistreat their livestock. Trade involves the production of potions of manticore control, which are popular in places like Blackheart (which still harbors manticores), and other regions outside mainland Alphatia. Boreas stockpiles these potions precisely to ensure handlers can control the beasts and their young. To stay healthy, manticores must fly, which demands the use of these potions to prevent their escape.


Mystara Alphatia Ar HeraldryThe Triad: The three hakomons still live on Boreas, withered old fossils preoccupied with their magical research. Although each of them runs a rival trade house, they often get together to direct the affairs of Boreas. The viceroy appointed by King Qissling appears as a figurehead at the service of this triad. An ulterior motive had driven these wizards to come to Ar, aside from their arrangement to rid the kingdom of manticores in exchange for becoming subjects of his Heavenly Majesty (a thoroughly meaningless issue from their points of view). In reality, they sought a quiet place from which they could pursue their research and experimentation on a stock of healthy manticores. Based on an ancient prophecy, they hoped to recreate a greater beast, which could command all lesser breeds. They intended to use this regal manticore to remove the present leadership in Ethengar, and turn loose their monstrous allies, all of them, upon nearby Glantri. This last part, of interest to the House of Qimeth, sealed the association between the Aran monarchy and the triad. The fact they had been exiled and chased out of their native lands was conveniently glossed over. Since the time of the original agreement, the scheme has been largely dismissed as a pipe dream in Skyreach. All three hakomons are followers of the minor immortal Cretia. Hakomons are described in GAZ12, The Golden Khan of Ethengar.

The Manticore Gambit: The truth is that the research has already been completed. Each of the three hakomons has built a part of a construct meant to become the physical manifestation of the greater manticore. One fashioned its head, the other its chest, shoulders, front paws, and wings, and the last its hind quarters and deadly tail. The plan was to assemble the three parts so each of the hakomons could maintain control over the fantastic beast, individually or as a group. The creature’s spirit would be forcibly summoned after the parts were assembled. Since they reached this crucial milestone, all three wizards have had second thoughts about sharing power. Each began scheming to summon the greater manticore’s spirit separately and binding it to their own construct section in order to control the other two. This approach didn't work and may now provoke their downfall.

In their bids for power, the hakomons failed to notice that they had indeed summoned the greater manticore’s spirit. However, separate body parts proved inadequate to forcibly contain the magical entity. Instead, it went in search of a more suitable host, the living body of a man, a warrior of substance who would better suit its own purposes. Meanwhile, now locked in stalemate, the hakomons behave as if nothing unusual happened, finding excuses not to assemble the construct until they can think of a way to make their schemes work. Time will tell if one of them does, or if they choose instead to go after the other two parts. This latter move would trigger a war between the triad’s trade houses, spurring a bloody conflict in the foggy streets of Boreas.

Potions of Manticore Control: they function like potions of dragon control, affecting up to three creatures at a time for 1d6+6 Turns. The manticore spirit and the construct are totally immune to the potions’ effects. Heretofore "uncontrolled" manticores get a saving throw against a potion’s effect, but none against the spirit’s power. Manticores already under a potion’s control are immune to other potions and receive a saving throw vs. the spirit’s power. Manticores under the spirit’s control receive a +2 saving throw to resist a potion’s effect. Enough potions should be available to balance out protagonists, at least initially.




His Highness Tegujin, Viceroy of Manticore

Mystara Alphatia Ar Heraldry This bland, meek-looking character is Alphatia’s pawn in the Boreas chess game. Somewhat foppish, effeminate, and faint of heart, he’d been nonetheless appointed by King Qissling as viceroy on the basis of his upbringing and lineage. Although he never served in Ar’s military, a drawback raising many eyebrows in Skyreach, Tegujin demonstrated excellent skills as an administrator and a financier. Perhaps more critical is the fact his mother was a high born Alphatian who married a past Manticene general, one who’d saved her from certain death during a far-flung mission for the empire. At the time, the affair was deemed scandalously audacious, but the matter eventually was forgotten. Tegujin grew up as a half-caste, uncomfortably straddling the wall separating Alphatian and Manticene societies, heir to both and beloved by none. In Qissling’s tortuous mind, it seemed to make him a better candidate to extend Skyreach’s authority upon Manticore. In view of Tegujin’s apparent submissiveness, the triad tacitly approved the choice.

Tegujin, whose name translates as "one who makes perfection," isn’t remotely a fop or a weakling. His appearance is a ruse to fool the triad into believing he is their pawn. He’d received martial training from his late father when he was a child, as well as political and business acumen from his mother. He despises the triad and has been secretly working to undermine their hegemony. During his later youth, at a time when adventuring took him to Ethengar, he became a faithful follower of the immortal Yamuga (Terra), and later received his calling as a cleric, a fact he kept to himself. At a higher level, Yamuga rewarded him with a unique tabi servant endowed with a Lawful alignment. Tegujin doesn’t object to the business involving manticores, but he is convinced the triad must be eliminated because their plan will bring about Boreas’s doom, undue chaos in Ethengar, and ultimately war with Glantri. Part of his plan involved earning the loyalty of Boreas’s small army and its commanding general. Tegujin made sure troops were well paid and well trained, so that one day they may confront the dreaded hakomons. A thorn in his plan is the triad’s reliance on private guards, gangs of mind-controlled thugs, to guard the captive manticores and the stocks of potions beneath Boreas. A few of his own informers have already infiltrated their ranks.

Appearance: Tegujin works hard at keeping his mild and rather dysfunctional side foremost. Of medium height, he bears a teardrop-shaped face with unremarkable features. His long hair is brushed straight back from his wide ivory forehead, and tied in an elaborate knot adorned with golden sticks topped with green jade and malachite at the nape of his neck. His eyes are black and typically almond-shaped, with heavy lids which further his public character. Tegujin wears a robe of midnight blue silk with a stiff Mandarin collar. A placket with a confection of whorled gold braid fashioned into knotted buttons and loops ends in a gold braided belt at his waist. Golden thread embroidery finishes the collar and hems of the narrow sleeves and skirt, worked so subtly that the device of tiny monkeys climbing along vines escapes the notice of most observers. His staff appears delicate, and is a plain length of mahogany. The hammer atop the shaft is fashioned of black agate. Arkhi, Tegujin’s tabi, is a little beast the size of a house cat, with long golden fur and brown leathery wings. Its face is flat, and has lively round black eyes and a small black nose. Arkhi has pointed ears atop its head that swivel toward any sound. Its voice is small and piercing.

C11, AC1, hp45, MV 120’(40’), AT 1 staff, Dmg 1d6+2 or by spell, Save C11, ML10, AL L; St12, In14, Wi18, Dx16, Co13, Ch8(15). Magical Items: AC5 robe of monkey spirit*, stone of stolen strength*, and +2 ring of protection. Clerical Abilities: +1 to hit/dmg with stone weapons; as a cleric of Yamuga, can cast renew, produce fire, and feast spells. Alternatively, as a cleric of Terra, Tegujin may have the mystic’s ability to speak with animals.

Robe of Monkey Spirit: this curious garment confers Tegujin with a +1 Dx bonus as well as the skills of an accomplished escape artist (including acrobatics, alertness, jump, and climb). Its enchantment is good enough to give him a basic AC of 5. It is a trickster’s attire, which helps protect his true personality—Tegujin gets a saving throw with a +2 bonus against any magic used to see through his subterfuge. If he succeeds, the magic yields a false result.

Stone of Stolen Strength: This +1 magical weapon is a seven-foot-tall staff imbedded with what looks like a small stone hammerhead. On command once a day, it enables Tegujin to swap his strength score with an opponent’s within his weapon’s reach. A saving throw vs. spells negates the effect, which otherwise lasts until the foe is defeated, until the end of the combat encounter, until dispelled, or until Tegujin is disarmed—whichever happens first.

Arkhi: AC6, HD5* (S), hp25, MV 60’(20’)/240’(80’), AT 2 claws, Dmg 1d4/1d4 + special, Save M5, ML12, AL N, Int 8. Special Abilities: venom in its claws causes delusions (negated with a saving throw vs. paralysis). Delusional victims attack someone else for the next 2d6 Turns, or until the venom is neutralized. The tabi also has a 40% chance to pick pockets, move silently, and hide in shadows. Its favored combat tactic is to wait in ambush, attack, and retreat while its delusional victims attack each other.

Terra

Patroness of Life and Fertility, also known as Mother Earth, Yamuga, Yamag, Cay, Marau-Ixuí.
 
Nature: 36th level Hierarch of Matter, Lawful
Symbol: a circle of stones with a plant in the center
Interests: the element of earth; the creation and protection of Earth-based races. Especially as Yamuga: balancing the cycle of fertility, birth, and the return to earth; livestock herders and farmers.
Locations: Known World (Ethengar), Yazak Steppes, Savage Coast (Cay, Jibarú), Alphatia, Bellissaria, Davania, Skothar, Hollow World (Neathars, Nithians, Jennites), Elemental Plane of Earth, and other planes.

Appearance: a strongly-built, dark-skinned woman clad in simple brown robes, showing a stern yet compassionate expression. Hair color varies from rosy red at dawn, brown in the morning and afternoon, blonde at midday, and black from sunset on.

History: Terra began her existence as an earth elemental, a great warrior against invaders from other elemental planes. An incorporeal voice contacted her during her youth, leading her on the path to immortality. She later explored the multiverse and became fascinated with the way worlds could spawn whole cultures and races. The latter became her hobby, as well as the sponsorship of new Immortals of Matter. She is the most powerful Hierarch within her sphere.

Personality: Though she despises the daily plots and intrigues of immortals, she does her best to promote her sphere above the others. She is stubborn, literal, and dislikes change in general. She prefers unwavering laws, and insists that justice be served.
 
Liege: Unknown (possibly Ouranos)
Allies: Diamond (ruler of Lawful dragons), Djaea (whom she sponsored as an immortal). Terra has few friends, but shares with Nyx an interest in new races.
Enemies: none.
Followers' Alignment: Lawful or Neutral; clerics must be Lawful.
Favored Weapons: any hand-held stone weapon, mattocks, hammers, or tools to work the earth (picks and shovels). Followers get a free weapon slot (using optional proficiency rules) for these weapons. Clerics of Terra also receive a +1 to hit and damage with these weapons.
Clerics' Abilities: as a cleric of Yamuga, can cast renew, produce fire, and feast spells. As a cleric of Terra, may have the mystic’s ability to speak with animals.

General Gangaldai

Manticore’s military caste chose Gangaldai as their commander, a decision entirely based on merit. A follower of Tubak the Law-Giver (otherwise known as Ixion), the general had more than once fought aquatic monsters fouling Boreas’s fishing nets, and spent time with a small squad of fellow horsemen in the service of Sundsvall where he demonstrated excellent fighting and leadership skills. Two pet Hyborean tigers (7HD) normally stay by his side when in his quarters or while campaigning. Gangaldai, whose name means "of fire steel," doesn’t like the triad any more than his liege the viceroy does, but he is a pragmatic character. He isn’t likely to make the first move against anyone, preferring to wait for an opportunity to present itself. The general isn’t likely to risk his small army in a vainglorious and foolish rebellion against the triad or set himself up for a war against the rest of Ar, let alone the empire. At least, this was the case until recently.

Gangaldai has become the recipient of the greater manticore’s spirit. The entity has effectively taken control of the general’s mind. Its goal is to identify Tegujin’s informants, coerce them to Gangaldai’s service, and if enough are swayed, to have them free all the manticores. The monsters are to kill everyone on Boreas and reclaim their ancestral territory in Ar. The entity knows what the triad is up to and will try to prevent them from assembling the construct. If they do, the hakomons would force the great manticore’s entity into the construct, and control it for good. It would, however, rid the general of his unfortunate possession, leaving him with useful memories that may prompt him into action. The entity is fully aware of the parts’ hidden locations and how to steal one of them. The two tigers do not obey Gangaldai while he’s possessed.

Appearance: Gangaldai is well above average height for his race, standing about 6’1". He has black straight hair with a stripe of white, drawn into a long pony tail at the back of his head. His face is square and strong, with bright black eyes beneath heavy epicanthic folds, and a long straight nose ending in a wide flare. Deep wrinkles frame the sides of his mouth. He has a long mustache and a trimmed beard. Robust energy difficult to contain and a muscular physique make him a formidable foe. Gangaldai is always ready to leap into action. He wears a fur-trimmed pointed helmet matching his armor and that affords protection for the back of his neck. He wears his horseman’s sword at his side, as well as a recurve bow made from horn and bone along with a quiver of arrows on his back.

F14, AC0, hp74, MV 120’(40’), AT 1 sword, Dmg 1d8+5, Save F14, ML11, AL N (C); St17, In12, Wi13, Dx15, Co16, Ch14. Magical Items: +3 armor of tiger spirit*, +3 sword of steppes*, potion of flying, and ring of invisibility.
 
Armor of Tiger Spirit: this magical suit of lamellar armor provides a +1 Strength bonus and immunity to fear. It also enables Gangaldai to speak with tigers at will, as the clerical spell speak with animals, and, once a day, hold up to 9HD of tigers or tiger-like animals, as the druidical hold animals spell.

Sword of the Silent Steppes: on command once per day, this traditional Ethengarian’s horseman’s sword can release a lightning bolt, as the wizard’s spell, or control winds as the druidical spell. Both effects are cast as a 10th level spellcaster. The sword is sentient, Neutral in alignment, and has an Intelligence of 9 with empathic ability. As long as the greater manticore controls Gangaldai, the sword will completely negate its own powers and entertain a far-less-than-cordial empathic relation with the intruder. Its name is "Storm" (also its command word), and it seeks glory in battle above all. It is likely to release its lightning bolt against its owner if used in a treacherous way or if the owner acts in a cowardly manner (fleeing from combat, refusing a challenge, discarding the sword, etc). This sword can only be wielded by a character with a combined score of 150+ (Charisma score times the character’s experience level), although it can be transported like any normal object.

Greater Manticore Spirit
 
Although entirely immaterial, this entity can cast spells while possessing a host, each once daily: (I) charm person, darkness, protection from good; (II) detect good, detect invisible, ESP, (III) clairvoyance, dispel magic, hold person, (IV) bestow curse. It can also control any number of manticores within 300’ radius (see potions of manticore control, listed earlier). Once the spirit’s control is established, it remains permanent, regardless of distance. If its host is killed, defeated, or otherwise disabled, the spirit may cast magic jar up to three times per day until it acquires a new host (if the spell succeeds, the host’s soul is stored in a random object within 60’). The spirit is never bound by the object of the magic jar spell since it does not have a body of its own, and may roam Boreas in an incorporeal form in search of a new host—MV 360’(120’). If the general is killed or defeated the entity will attempt to possess Tegujin next, or any resilient character other than the hated hakomons. Assembling the three construct pieces immediately and forcibly binds the spirit to the construct, which remains fully under the triad’s control (no save). Destroying the construct after it’s been assembled will kill the manticore spirit (a dispel magic or remove curse spell cannot separate the spirit from the construct once the binding has occurred).

Greater Manticore Construct: AC2, HD15* (L), hp100, MV 210’(70’)/360’(120’), AT 1 bite, 2 claws, 6 spikes, Dmg 3d8/2d8/2d8/1d8 per spike, Save F10, ML12, Int12, AL C. Special Abilities: +1 or better magical weapon to hit; immune to sleep, hold, and charm spells; immune to poison and gas-based attacks (does not breathe or require sustenance); detect invisible 60’ radius at all times. Tactical Notes: spikes have the range of a long bow (70’/140’/210’); the construct has 32 spikes, but it can only regrow them if it eats fresh meat (1HD worth per spike).

Suggested Sequence of Events

1. With mounting tension among the triad and Gangaldai’s growing reluctance to obey his orders, Tegujin hires adventurers as bodyguards. Hakomons are no longer communicating with Tegujin, and the dungeons’ entrances have been closed.

2. Tegujin and Gangaldai (possessed by the spirit) independently send parties into the dungeons, either to secure potions of manticore control (Tegujin) or destroy them (Gangaldai). PCs participate in this effort as their own party.
Sensing their grip slipping, the hakomons begin fighting each other, trying to capture the other two construct segments. Gang warfare erupts in the streets of Boreas.

3. PCs are ordered to hold the viceroy’s compound against assassins and manticores sent by the hakomons. Tegujin transmits a message to Skyreach about the bloody unrest. The Sting of Boreas takes position above the compound but does not intervene, other than defending herself against manticores.
 

4. Tegujin dispatches a message to Gangaldai, ordering him to restore order with his troops. Feigning obedience, Gangaldai leads all of his troops into the dungeons. While utter chaos and destruction reigns in the streets above, the general takes control over all remaining manticores still in captivity. He orders them to attack everyone on the surface.

5. Skyships from neighboring districts start arriving to investigate the chaos. Assisted by the general’s manticores, the Sting of Boreas attacks them. The fight rages above Boreas. Tegujin and the PCs leave the compound to find a secret entrance to the hakomons’ fortress, hidden in the dungeon.
 

6. Meanwhile, Gangaldai and his troops assault the hakomons fortress in upper Boreas. Two of the hakomons are killed during the onslaught, but the third assembles the construct in the nick of time. Manticores now under the hakomon’s control turn on Gangaldai and his troops. The Sting of Boreas, if not destroyed, strikes her colors at once.

7. Tegujin and the PCs mount a surprise attack upon the surviving hakomon. They must first destroy the construct before they can defeat him. With surviving troops, Gangaldai rallies and counterattacks, distracting a number of manticores guarding the fortress. Skyship reinforcements are now inflicting a shellacking upon manticores taking to the skies. If the construct is destroyed, the last beasts either retreat to the dungeons or flee into the woods in neighboring lower districts. If the hakomon somehow dies before the construct is destroyed, the latter immediately flees and attempts to hide somewhere in the Imperial Territories.

8. After the smoke clears from Boreas’s rubble, PCs are offered bounties to recapture escaped manticores that have begun preying on Aran farmers once more. Magical nets and lassos are loaned for the job. Live male manticores fetch a full payment, half only for dead ones, double for mares. PCs are not permitted to stray into the Imperial Territories to go after the construct (if it fled there).

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

To be Continued.