Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ar: Of Kings and Chimeras

Continued from Flight of the Archonians.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Chimera Map
Lower Chimera -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
There was a time when royalty called the town of Ceafem home, but the earlier dynasty met an untimely end for lack of a direct heir.  Several accusations of usurpation flared, but the matter was eventually dropped and faded into historical obscurity.  The throne passed to the present house, and the capital moved to Chimera.

Much like Archon, Chimera had become part of Ar’s growing kingdom with the discovery of a new Cloudstone mine.  Alphatian population had already begun to spread to that region, and the “conquest” of the future Chimera district remained only a matter of negotiation with local land owners resulting in their eventual elevation to the status of Aran Skylords.  Shrewd viceroys (later monarchs) attracted both common population and mages, and the original village that served as the dominion’s center was renamed Skyreach.  With time, the suffix “upon-Land” was added when flying monoliths populating the skies merged to form a larger island, and the capital was moved one last time to the top.  Previous landlords became part-owners of Chimera Prime, with commensurate rights to build their abodes in Skyreach.  Such rights today fetch exorbitant prices.

Chimera is a bit smaller than Archon, but with more than 141,000 people thanks to the sizes of both “Skyreaches”.  The lower town is home to 25,000 residents, while the royal capital houses another 9,000.  Including about 1,400 land and skyborne troops, more than a quarter of all Chimerans live in urban areas.  As a result, Chimera imports food from other districts, driving up the local cost of living.  Two villages, Flutterrow and Skid Commons, exist mostly for the purpose of gathering supplies and shipping them to floating islands.  Most of the air traffic concerns Chimera Prime, with additional routes to Luckhaven, a gambling resort about 30 miles southeast from the capital.

All of the military in Chimera consists of royal troops, about 200 of whom are the king’s guards in the floating capital.  Two towers stand along the southern border, watching for any monstrous activity in the crags.  It’s been a long time since the last war with the ogres.  Since then, the need for a line of castles faded from the kingdom’s priorities.  Some argue it may one day become a regrettable and deadly oversight.  Instead, budget was diverted to embellish Skyreach and promote the development of gambling palaces.  These joint ventures with local aristocracy provide a good source of revenue and prestige for the monarchy.  This policy has been pursued at the cost of Ar’s military.  Aran forces are small, relative to what neighboring realms spend on theirs.  The argument that most of it can be transported rapidly by air is often used as justification.  Whether this line of reasoning is well-founded remains to be proven.  The reliance on skyships to keep everyone safe has induced a certain amount of complacency and short-sightedness among the aristocracy.

Airborne vessels based in Skyreach-upon-Land include three troop transports and a two large sailing ships.  Aran skyship crews all wear magical rings of air pressure.  This equipment, not always available on other Alphatian skyships, enables them to operate at high altitude.  These flying vessels either guard Chimera’s airspace or, based on an agreement with Foresthome, patrol Stoneridge Crags and the Darkpine Barrens south of Ar’s borders.  Their mission is to search for monstrous activity and interfere with them as much as possible.  The local fleet consists of the following airborne vessels:  H.H.M.S. Auster* and Boreas (LSS); Coromel, Diavolo, and Etesian (TT).  The Auster is an old skyship, a relic from the Ogre Wars.  Although combat-ready, it often serves to train cadet officers, and as such it normally operates under the purview of the Skyship Academy in Skyreach.  Its figurehead is the mummified and magically preserved upper body of the ogre king whom the original crew had butchered during the war’s final battle.  Ogres find the matter utterly offensive and await the opportunity to get their hands on the ship and its crew.

To a lesser degree compared with Archon, Chimera’s floating islands resulted from the conglomeration of smaller ones.  There are two main islands, essentially devoid of population save for Skyreach and the Luckhaven resort.  The two islands float at 3,300 ft and 5,000 ft respectively.  The capital lacks a protective dome, but the gambling facility doesn’t.  It prevents mountain sickness from afflicting the more fragile newcomers.  Discomfort due to altitude may start at 5,000 ft (about 1,600 m) and becomes most acute nearing 16,000 ft (5,300 m).  Outdoor temperature in Skyreach stays about 12°F (4°C) lower than at the surface.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Chimera Map
Upper Chimera -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
A ring of mountain islands hovers around Chimera Prime, the domains of well-connected wizards.  The highest peaks rise 3,000 ft to 6,000 ft above their islands’ stated altitude, giving Chimera Prime the impression it lies in a deep valley.  Chimera-II supports the highest peaks, Chimera-V the lowest.  These islands were conceived as stationary monoliths, but a proposal now in the king’s hands suggests they should be propelled so as to slowly orbit Chimera Prime without altering their original orientations.  A full rotation would correspond to a Mystara moon cycle, thus requiring a speed of 4 miles per day counter-clockwise, or slightly over 131 feet per Turn (10 minutes in BECMI).  Allowances could be made for an unobstructed line of sight from Skyreach through the gap between Chimera-III and –IV to enjoy sunset on the Summer Solstice, an important celebration in Ar.  Ongoing studies are evaluating the impact on wind patterns in the capital and the safety of airborne navigation.

Mystara Alphatia Ar
Chimera Prime lies roughly 16 by 22 miles, with a rocky wedge protruding from its underside.  Hills and light forest ring a lake, at the center of which stands the royal capital.  A stone embankment surrounds Skyreach where it meets the lake’s inner shore.  A two-mile causeway connects the town to a large paved area serving as a landing platform, about a mile-wide.  It is the largest skyport in Ar.  Levitating sedan chairs and flatbed carriers quickly shuttle common passengers and merchandise along the causeway at no charge.  Passengers are dropped off near City Hall, while goods are taken to storage holds beneath a main warehouse facility.  Animated constructs manage a mind-boggling jumble of conveyor belts to sort out barrels and crates before timely dispatch to their final destinations via freight tunnels and elevators.  All merchandise must be properly labeled along with triplicate forms and arcane warranty seals when shipped to Skyreach.  Lost goods are kept at the main warehouse for their owners to claim, before being auctioned off or discarded as waste.  On a far more earthly level, residences connect with sewers and trash disposals channeling all refuse to holding cisterns, which garbage scows frequently empty from beneath the island.  Fully accredited by the Guild of Upper Sanitation, day-laborers on these airborne barges service damaged or blocked conduits for an extra fee, a dangerous occupation given the tendency of certain monsters to live there.  Skyreach lacks a people-elevator like Aeree’s, but its skyport and public teleporters are more than capable of handling the increased traffic.  Visitors must rely on a pass scheme similar to the one in the District of Archon.

Skyreach rivals Aeree in beauty and style.  Most buildings feature stonework whose colors shift from pale blue during the day to jet black with silver specks at night.  At dawn and sunset, the royal capital seems ablaze with shades of amber, red, purple, and indigo matching the sky.  At the time of the Summer Solstice, the last rays of the setting sun reflect perfectly along the main street and all other passageways thanks to series of mirrors embedded in the buildings, monuments, and the plinths of statues.  For a brief moment, the entire capital glows as if it were made of gold.  Glazed tiles adorn the roofs along with elaborate draconic, leonine, or goatlike motifs at the corners.  Gleaming statues resplendent in auras of continual light often point lost visitors in the right directions.  The same levitating sedan chairs as the ones servicing the causeway travel the streets of Skyreach, stopping near strategically-located statues and monuments to pick up or drop off passengers.  Most aristocrats rely on personal skyships flying overhead to travel the capital.  Especially near the town’s center where the king’s palace stands, the Royal Guard also performs frequent roof-top patrols aboard sleek airborne vessels, usually in small squads of 3-4 guards.  No less than business attire is required by day-laborers employed in Skyreach.  A good number of town residents are household servants wearing uniforms appropriate to their employers’ coats of arms.

Mystara Alphata Ar Heraldry
As with all fashionable floating towns of Ar, there are no shops in Skyreach, since most business is conducted on land.  One finds the smells and noises of a typical medieval town singularly absent.  Gone are town criers, shop owners hawking their wares, dogs barking, palfreys whinnying, horseshoes and cartwheels clattering upon the cobblestones, the smithy’s hammering, bells tolling, and townsfolk chattering.  Everyone goes about their business and keeps to themselves.  Wafting scents of food, rubbish, horse dung, and human labor are strangers here, leaving in their place those of stone crisp and cold, ice, pine and juniper, along with fleeting hints of magic imbuing all things.  Wizardly serenity replaces the bustling chaos of common life that personifies the muddy, gritty streets of Skyreach-upon-Land.  Guest houses and places of recreation are very common, such as a grand opera, theaters, libraries, museums, indoor monster shows, spas, magical dueling establishments, and others catering to the spiritual, such as temples and chapels.  During the coldest season, the surrounding lake freezes and ice racers compete for the Skyreach Cup.  By far, the most common form of entertainment among the high-born involves kingly banquets, masked balls, and other fancy receptions at private palaces.  None are as prestigious in Ar as the lavish soirées at the royal palace.  As regards visitors, it is an unmistakable sign of status to be a guest at a personal abode rather than rely on a guest house, however nice or expensive it may be.

For various reasons, some wizards may seek to establish themselves outside Skyreach, which is illegal.  No one is permitted to reside outside city limits.  Those who do must falsify their identities and their appearances to escape common security.  This enables them to build secret lairs, usually underground, to escape the Celestial Bureaucracy’s vigilance and their levitating fees.  Rogue wizards rely on teleportation to travel to and from their hideouts.  Criminals, undesirables, and foreign mages up to no good may be the ones most interested in this sort of life.  King Qissling employs well-paid adventurers to seek out and dispatch stowaways.

Nearby Luckhaven owns a convenient skydome that shades sunlight when it is brightest, as well as provide a soft ambient glow after hours, especially on moonless nights.  Year round temperature within remains steady at about 75°F (24°C).  The dome helps maintain air ground-level atmospheric conditions.  Inbound vessels must dock inside a hangar fitted with an airlock.  Docking facilities at Luckhaven only accommodate up to two airborne vessels 140 Hull Points each.  Most of the traffic there consists of luxury yachts from the main towns in Ar, with occasional visits from Sundsvall, Haven, Errolyn, Alfleish, and Blackheart.  Non-Alphatian vessels are not cleared to dock at Luckhaven.  Traders handle the resort’s supplies.  Servants and their overseers number about 500 souls living permanently in the resort.

Aside from conventional gambling, Luckhaven also features a combat arena where wizards pit their favorite construct monsters against one another.  Walkways inside the skydome allow guests to safely observe outside scenery, the sky, or the arena from above.  Aside from luxury facilities under the dome, individual airlocks enable access to the surrounding land where guests are permitted to hunt—generally small parties on foot, with an experienced guide.  Luckhaven sits on a roughly flat disc, about 16 miles across, with chest-high grass, clusters of evergreens, a few gentle hills, and artificially recreated ruins from Alphatian history.  It is a herbivore paradise, mostly Aran dire-buffalo, with a few predators in the shape of chimeras preying upon the large, woolly bovines.  Predators are fitted with magical devices preventing them from flying off the island.  If they try, an electrical discharge knocks them out and, after a time, chimeras know not to try again.  They do reproduce naturally on the island, albeit slowly, and the license to slay one is very high, even by Alphatian standards.  Cubs and their mothers are absolutely off limits.  The facility declines any responsibility for injuries, fatalities, or loss of property occurring in the course of adventuring outside the dome.  Luckhaven relies on an invisible giant net made of force-field strands trapping any dire-buffaloes stampeding off the island’s edges.  After hunters have had their fun, fallen buffaloes are winched back to the surface and released, save for the one that ends up as the high point of the safari: an evening roast on a camp fire.  During full moons, guests may also use small telescopes mounted on the dome’s walkways to watch chimeras on the hunt.  Their mating season occurs in the fall, during which fights between males take place, followed with elaborate flight rituals to seduce a female.  The telescopes require a silver coin to be inserted into their bases, allowing for 1d6+1 rounds of use.

Many of the magical items in this section are listed in the Encyclopedia Magica Vol. I-IV or in AC 4 Book of Marvelous Magic.  Those marked with an asterisk are explained in the text below.  Game statistics, based on those from the AC1010 Almanac, have changed since the these entries are designed for AC1000.  Equipment not listed in the AC1010 descriptions is assumed to have been stolen or destroyed.

His Heavenly Majesty King Qissling of Ar and Floating Ar, Viceroy of Chimera, and Royal Sky Lord of Chimera Prime.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Heraldry
Qissling stands as one of a long-lived dynasty ruling the Realm of Ar.  Alas, he is neither quite so illustrious nor the most inspired.  Although very intelligent, this monarch lacks the leadership, social graces, and moral fiber which enlightened statesmanship demands.  All he ever cares about lies within the pages of his spellbook and the myriad contraptions cluttering his research laboratory.  If it doesn’t come in a glass beaker or in a magical formula, it must therefore be delegated to those beneath him.  And so, much of the decision-making in Ar stems from advisors, a gaggle of manipulative, self-serving aristocrats lacking any sort of common vision.  The strategy of the floating kingdom is wholly adrift, at best reflecting short-term interests.  The king’s passion revolves around his secret quest to transform himself into a quasi-elemental able to master all aspects of air, winds, pressure, and related areas such as clouds, smoke, dust, and static electricity resulting from atmospheric inner workings.  The truth is that it may transform him in ways that he does not fully grasp, forcing him to acknowledge greater powers than his—something Qissling hasn’t yet truly experienced.

Appearance: Born 1932 AY, he appears as a man in his fifties.  Standing 5’11” when straight, Qissling exudes a creepy spectral quality.  Even with copper skin, he appears pale and hunched, his head poking forward from between elevated shoulders.  His eyes are wide reflective pale blue, wide-set on either side of a hooked nose.  Veins at his temples pulse when he becomes tense or worried.  Qissling has wispy gray hair and is clean-shaven, which shows the world his odd pointed chin.  He always wears a garment known as the fabled Robe of Moods, long-sleeved, floor-length attire made from medium-weight silk.  It has a short stiff collar covering the back of the king’s neck, and a slightly darker V-shaped placket fastened by knotwork that begins at the collarbone and tapers to his belly.  Sleeves feature floor-reaching dags.

M23, AC special, hp 37, MV 120’ (40’), AT dagger or spell, Dmg 1d4 or by spell, Save M28, ML4, AL N (Chaotic Neutral in AD&D Game terms).  St13, In18, Wi6, Dx10, Co12, Ch11.  Magical Items: robe of moods*, dagger of vortices*, ring of teleportation (3d10 charges), pouch with dust of absorption.

Robe of Moods: its appearance and magical properties match the owner’s emotions.  Although effects are temporary, if an affliction was previously negated, it remains so after the King’s mood changes again.  Although others exist, the most common feelings and resulting effects are listed below.  The robe can display up to four dominant emotions in a day, after which it reverts to its normal appearance (see indifference, below).  In the case of madness or confusion, effects change quickly and continually, causing 1 hp of damage each round to the owner until removed.

  • 1. Love: AC +1, Ch +1, protection from evil—pale pink to salmon, pink shell buttons with hook-and-loop closures replacing the knotwork.
  • 2. Happiness: AC +2, Co +1, immunity to curses & poisons—emerald green with sparkles, which seem to form a wave pattern and race across the fabric in constant motion.
  • 3. Sadness: AC +3, Co –1, immunity to mind-affecting magic—billowing dark gray topped by a tunnel-shaped cowl.
  • 4. Indifference: AC +4, In –1, immunity to 1st-3rd level spells—a rich mahogany shade with deep brown embroidered scrollwork.
  • 5. Pride: AC +5, Wi –1, grows 1d4 inches taller + immunity to fear—fiery orange-gold-red, it has what appear to be flames rising from the hem, up the dags on the sleeves, and through the stiff half-collar surrounding the back of the king’s neck.
  • 6. Jealousy: AC +6, Ch –1, detect invisible—sickly green with shifting yellow tinges reminiscent of infection and jaundice.  This incarnation has chevrons of the deeper yellow on the placket.
  • 7. Puzzlement/Alarm/Reflection: AC +7, Wi +1, detect magic—amber with small red bursts in odd places at odd times.  Embroidery embellishes the placket, with rows of antique gold braid crossing Qissling’s chest between gold buttons.
  • 8. Anger: AC +8, St +1, +2 to saving throws—bright crimson with an animated pattern of white lightning.  People standing near the king actually feel their skin prickling as with static electricity.  The lightning is associated with a sharp crackling sound.
  • 9. Pain: AC +9, St –1, regenerates 1d4 hp per round—deep black with red veins intensifying with the king’s emotion.  A throbbing matches Qissling’s heartbeat betrayed by the veins on his temples.
  • 10. Fear: AC +10, Dx –1, shrinks 1d4 inches + haste—sickly, pale, muddy blue with slightly darker “worms” in the fabric that twine around and chase each other.
Dagger of Vortices: acts as a magical +2 dagger.  When hit, a victim must save vs. spell or be engulfed in a 12HD air elemental vortex.  The whirlwind dissipates when either the victim or the elemental is killed.  Each successful use of the dagger requires a charge.  The weapon has 1d6+1 charges left when taken from Qissling.

Prince Qirklin

This twenty-year-old-man recently inherited the title to a significant portion of Chimera Prime.  Charming, enterprising, and brave to a fault, Qirklin already spent four years in the Chimeran air fleet, first as a cadet on the H.H.M.S. Auster, and in various roles aboard the Boreas and Etesian.  His service record is impeccable, and his previous commanders regard him with utmost respect.  After a short tour of duty in the imperial air fleet, he resigned his commission to pursue a calling as a cleric of Valerias, manage his estate in Skyreach, and provide assistance to royal advisors as a naval liaison, such as Lord Aerithern.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Heraldry
Many of the aristocrats dwelling at the palace see in Qirklin someone with good potential.  The prince is already popular with a number of aristocrats, commoners, and military.  Those well-placed at the palace who are familiar with him seem intent on making Qirklin “their man” before he gets ahead, spinning webs of influence around him.  Qirklin, a sharp and well-educated fellow, is fully aware of the forces at work and plays along, for now.  Compared with his experience among the military and his clerical order, he sees what happens behind the palace’s closed doors as a deplorable state of affairs and Ar’s eventual downfall.  He’s not certain that he may ever be able to do anything about it, but is willing to let time, fate, and his faith in Valerias lead his steps in the right direction.

The prince is a tolerant and forgiving soul, yet keenly conscious of human nature.  Although respectful of laws, his faith leads him to enjoy life, romance, adventurous escapades, and dueling for sport.  Among those closest to him, he presents a slightly roguish image, questioning hard facts of wizardly life in Alphatia, and challenging those that seem unfair or abusive.  His sense of humor aims to bring people to face their own weaknesses and come clean.  Above all, he is a patriot, an Aran through and through, and a proud Alphatian.  Qirklin may be found at his residence in Skyreach, at the Temple of Valerias, at the royal palace, at the Skyship Academy, at a theater, in good company at a ball, or at a dueling establishment to spar with a staff.  He sometimes travels to Luckhaven to hustle the unwary like no one’s business.  He then promptly flies down to Skyreach-upon-Land to donate his gains to a hospital or to the poor.

Appearance:  standing 6’1” with dark red wavy hair, assessing black eyes with a merry glint, and a handsome copper-skinned face, Qirklin is the quintessence of the romantic adventurer.  He sports a short manicured beard and mustache slightly darker than the rest of his hair.  The prince is athletic and duels often with a stout staff.  His clothing is predominantly combinations of black, red, and silver.  The plate armor he dons occasionally is as dark as the smith could make it, embossed or inlaid with brilliant red, thorn-bearing roses in honor of his immortal patroness.

C10, AC0, hp 43, MV 90’ (30’), AT warhammer, Dmg 1d6+3 or by spell, Save C10, ML9, AL L (Lawful Good in AD&D Game terms).  St16, In10, Wi17, Dx12, Co13, Ch15.  Magical Items: plate armor +1, war hammer +2, boots of cloudwalking.

Master Qin, resident cadet at “The Academy”

This eleven-year-old boy is believed to be the child of a wizardly couple named Rezethem and Qwynnatria, minor nobles who own a fragment of Chimera Prime and enough of a claim to hold an abode in Skyreach.  Qin isn’t remotely connected to the couple: he is the grandnephew of his Heavenly Majesty Qissling, and the last remaining heir to the old royal line.  His parents, grandparents, and others with a potential claim to the throne of Ar had been dying in suspicious circumstances from horrid diseases, catastrophic accidents, ghastly murders, and other eerie natural causes, or simply vanished inexplicably.  Qin’s forebears concealed his birth and sent him away to trusted friends, along with the family signet and arcane warranties attesting to his true identity.  After basic schooling and apprenticeship in magic-use, his adoptive parents enrolled the youngster as a cadet at the Skyship Academy to strengthen his character, hone his wizardly skills, and earn a leader’s demeanor.

Qin developed the habit of wandering the academy at night, looking for his pet, Trikkitikki, a tarsier-like oddity with wings.  He earned his moment of fame when he caught an individual rifling through registration scrolls in the principal’s office.  With his limited skills, he was able to delay the marauder until older cadets could capture him.  The stranger disintegrated shortly after his incarceration, but not before he was identified as a suspect in an unsolved murder of someone related to the royal house several years earlier.  As naval liaison, Prince Qirklin, remitted the child with a medal for bravery on behalf of His Heavenly Majesty who was detained by other duties.  Qirklin had a hunch there was something unusual about the child when he first met him, but couldn’t quite define it.  Since then, the prince quietly keeps tabs on wily little Qin, making sure he remains healthy and safe.

Appearance:  This engaging youngster has glossy black shoulder-length hair, a startling contrast with his white skin.  A bit skinny and tall for his age, he has an oblong, determined face, and odd purple eyes that can appear either blue or brown depending on the colors he wears.  The academy uniform for underage students is his normal dress, a simple ankle-length robe with a modest hood and wide sleeves made of dark blue cotton.  Qin is curious and smart.  He also has a tendency to try bending the rules a little when he thinks it necessary.  He’s a budding adventurer who relies on his palm-sized furry friend for companionship.  The creature has short black fur, a long hairless tail, leathery wings, and huge, opalescent eyes.

M3, AC9, hp 9, MV 120’ (40’), AT 1 spell, Dmg by spell, Save M3, ML7, AL L; St6, In16, Wi8, Dx9, Co14, Ch16 (in a boyish way).  Magical Items: boots of speed (from his adoptive parents), gem of ideas (acquired after playing marbles with friends; 3 charges left), potion of gaseous form (1 small vial for a child, an anonymous birthday present from Qirklin).

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

To be Continued

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