Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ar: Song of the Cockatrice

Continued from the previous article.

Cockatrice is a region of Ar notorious for monsters of the same name.  Alphatians were slow to spread into that area, for obvious reasons, but when a vein of Cloudstones was discovered there, the Aran monarchy became determined to put an end to the poultry peril.  An alchemist from the town of Arreghi devised a periapt of supple flesh that could keep cockatrice petrifaction at bay.  The amulet can have any shape, but often comes with a rooster motif and 1d4 charges.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Cockatrice Maps
Lower & Upper Cockatrice -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex
Periapt-bearing wizards thus directed the effort to capture the beasts and carefully segregated a select stock.  As it were, cockatrice eggs proved exceedingly profitable, both as exotic delicacies and spell components, since the dreaded ability did not manifest itself until after hatching.  The market for cockatrice feathers, beaks, eyes, and tongues is also quite brisk among wizardkind.  As the land was freed of its monstrous roostery, commoners followed, searching for employment or farmland.  Mining started in earnest, and monoliths began populating the skies.

Cockatrice is a small dominion of less than 40,000 Cockatenes, with relatively low population density.  The only urban area consists of the coastal village of Windborne.  Air traffic from the village involves mostly freighters supplying the floating island.  The upper class and their servants dwell there, no more than 4,500 souls in about 50 large manor houses scattered outside the Roost Palace gambling resort.  Less than 500 warriors guard the upper and lower district, including three skyships, the H.H.M.S. Gregale, Levanter, and Maestro.  Cockatrice is a net exporter of farming goods, mostly through the villages of Wingport, Cowling Green, and Sky Moorings in neighboring districts.

At 8,600 ft altitude, the floating island of Cockatrice remains the domain of wizardly aristocrats seeking isolation from the remainder of the realm.  Each of them owns a piece of the island.  Local temperatures are 30°F (16°C) lower than at sea level.  It is a flat, unprotected, and windswept land, with ravines that channel rain water off the island’s edges.  Medium-height grass covers the ground, with a myriad alpine flowers, such as apprentice buttons, sky daisies, bleeding hearts, Aran hat flowers, moon lupines, and golden mage rods painting a sea of bright colors under the cerulean vault.  A few native trees are hardy enough to grow here, including cockspur hawthorns, popping crabapples, shadowberries, and shivering poplars.  The island is devoid of most pests, diseases, and mildew commonly affecting lower altitudes.  All cockatrices were removed from the lowlands and brought here long ago.  Most manor houses include cockatrice enclosures where the monsters can be bred safely.  A fair takes place regularly “down under” on Windborne’s town square where feathers, eggs, and live specimens can be bought and sold.  Foreign merchant ships show up for that purpose, late-comers anchoring near the shore.

Roost Palace owns its own protective dome, keeping temperature and air pressure more to the liking of wizardly visitors from lower-levitating islands.  Most of the air traffic connects the resort to the main towns of Ar.  Protected moorings lie in an underground chamber with a large circular opening beneath the island.  Passengers and supplies are brought topside through pneumatic tubes.  Roost Palace is more remote than Luckhaven, and consequently more private, making it a favored haunt for Aran wizards.  It is notorious for its cockfight pens, involving specially bred and magically-enhanced cockatrices.  Variously-enchanted card games, dice, roulette, and other games of chance are also available.  Less known is the existence at the palace of a permanent outer planar gate.  Cockatrices originally entered Mystara through this opening.  Once identified, the portal was removed from its original lowland location, altered, and placed on the floating island.  For a fee, one may use it to visit the plane of cockatrices.

The problem with the gate is that something came through that wasn’t meant to enter the prime plane.  An elemental spirit had blended into a jade cockatrice figurine which a visitor stole from an outer planar shrine.  In effect, the figurine worked as a Trojan Horse, allowing the creature through with the returning wizard.  The elemental spirit now haunts Roost Palace, following cockatrice owners until no one watches, to wreak revenge upon them for mistreating her kin.  Although invisible to all but earth elemental beings, she typically remains hidden inside the figurine for 3d20 hours before coming out, to avoid detection.  She generally does not venture more than 300’ from the figurine, and as a result hasn’t yet exited the dome.  If she does, or if the figurine is taken outside, she will wander the island, taking note of cockatrice farms.  In her own way, she will communicate to the captives that on one cold winter night she will set them free.  They are to petrify as many of their captors as they can before taking the resort by storm and fleeing back to their plane.

Elemental Spirit: AC0, HD12****, MV 120’(40’)/360’(120’), AT 1 beak/2 claws/1 tail, Dmg 1d8/1d4/1d4/1d6, Save F12, ML10, In 9, AL N.  Special Defenses: +1 or better magical weapon to hit; immune to spells level 1-3; minimal damage from air-based attacks; meld into stoneSpecial Attacks: dissolve/harden breath weapon; petrifying touch.

This elemental spirit has the ability to blend into a mineral object that originated from the plane of earth.  The object must be at least fist-sized, and it will radiate a magical aura if such is detected.  The spirit can be expelled with a successful dispel magic, or if the object is crushed.  Once expelled, the elemental spirit is invisible and remains so even while she attacks.  She can be observed with a detect invisible spell, appearing then as an eight-foot-tall, iridescent cockatrice.

As soon as she can, the elemental spirit uses a breath weapon, up to twice in a day, in two different ways: 1. Dissolve (as the spell) or, 2. Harden (the same, reversed)—usually one of each to trap foes standing on a stone floor.  The breath weapon is cloud shaped (50’x40’x30’).  As a cockatrice, her touch turns a victim to stone unless negated with a saving throw.  The elemental spirit requires a +1 or better magical weapon to be hit, and is immune to spells level 1-3 (except for dispel magic and detect invisible), as well as conjure elemental spells.  This elemental spirit otherwise suffers double damage from fire-based attacks.

Prince Qibban, Sky Lord of Cockatrice

Qibban is the younger brother to Lord Qiessan, the Viceroy of Cockatrice.  The prince holds a majority stake in Roost Palace, which he runs and uses as his primary residence.  He also operates a cockatrice farm nearby.  Qibban is aware of the great trouble besetting his resort, although he has failed to identify it.  Instead, he has petrified guests quietly removed in order to suppress any hint that a killer is loose in the resort, and dropped at sea, away from prying eyes.  He and a handful of trusted henchmen have been trying in vain to lure the intruder and destroy her.  They haven’t yet connected her to the cockatrice figurine.  So far, the jade piece has been used variously as a bedchamber or lobby decoration.  Most of the victims were alive when they were turned to stone.  If pulled from the sea, they could be revived with stone to flesh spells.  None but one of them is aware of what happened, since they were surprised when the elemental spirit attacked them.  The witness is a wilier, more cunning mage who’d detected and fought off the creature for a short time.

Appearance: in his 30’s, of average height, with copper skin, collar-length flame-colored red hair, and deep-set amber eyes.  Qibban’s pointed gaze misses little in his business:  he is able to sort out most difficulties among his staff quickly.  However, the true nature of the murderer in the Roost Palace still eludes him.  He wears a crimson robe of talons (see below), with black mid-calf boots ending in pointy toes matching the epaulets on his garment.

M12, AC1, hp 38, MV 120’ (40’), AT 1 spectral talon or spell, Dmg 1d6 or by spell, Save M12, ML6, AL C; St10, In16, Wi8, Dx13, Co14, Ch15.  Magical Items: periapt of supple flesh (3 charges), ring of protection +2, staff of the avians*, and robe of talons*.

Staff of the Avians: a black staff surmounted with the white carving of an eagle’s head, it confers its owner the ability to control up to 10 HD of bird-like creatures, including cockatrices, once per day for 1d4 Turns.  It does not affect the elemental spirit in any way.

Robe of Talons: is a crimson garment showing random shadows of talons on its fabric.  Black leather epaulets point upward from the ends of both shoulders, joining in the back of the neck to form a curled collar featuring thorn-like edges.  Eight box pleats from beltline to ankles allow Qibban plenty of room to move.  The robe confers its owner with an AC of 4 and the ability to use spectral talons to fight a visible foe, up to 30 ft away (one encounter per day).  Spectral talons can hit creatures requiring +1 or better weapons.  Attacks require an unmodified hit roll (no Strength bonus).  The owner can master the attack style with the expenditure of a weapon proficiency slot, and may then apply any Strength bonuses as well as increase the attack range to 60 ft.

Lord Qiessan, Viceroy of Cockatrice

The viceroy often acts as a diplomat for King Qissling, especially when a journey abroad is needed.  As a result, he may be found in Sundsvall or any other Alphatian provincial capital, or at the royal palace in Skyreach.  When not performing ambassadorial services, he resides at a private palace on a lone monolith, about 2,000 ft above Windborne.  There, he manages the affairs of the district.  When away, his seneschal takes over military matters, while the vizier handles tax collection and financial concerns.  Qiessan is unaware of the nasty business going on at Roost Palace.  While grievously disenchanted if he found out, he’d have the resort shut down for “redecorating” to settle the crisis.  The viceroy would rely on all resources available to him to protect his younger brother and prevent any truth about the affair from spreading.  Should he become compromised as well, the king may intervene to prevent a scandal, since he happens to be one of the investors in Roost Palace.

Appearance: In his mid-thirties, Qiessan resembles his younger brother Qibban, although he sports a closely-trimmed beard lining his strong jaws and chin, and keeps his hair neatly tied on the back of his neck.  He wears a regal robe of thick purple silk.  A subtle pattern of book spines and scroll tips embroidered upon the fabric in a slightly deeper tone can be seen only in the right light.

M18, AC4, hp 50, MV 120’ (40’), AT 1 dagger or spell, Dmg 1d4+3 or by spell, Save M18, ML7, AL N; St11, In17, Wi10, Dx12, Co13, Ch16.  Magical Items: dagger +3, librarian robe*, medallion of protection vs. ESP and scrying, scroll of seeing (which may identify the elemental spirit), mirror of messaging*, and wand of charm monsters (as the spell; 1d6+1 charges).

Librarian Robe: it allows its owner remote access to any and all written material placed in his/her private library.  The target area must fit within a space no more than 1,000 cu-ft +100 cu-ft per experience level of the owner.  For example: an 18th level mage could designate a 280’ long, 10’ high, one foot deep set of shelves (or a combination of contiguous shelving) in his library as the robe’s literary source.  Casting a read languages spell inside the library enables the owner to assign a target area to the robe.  Remote access requires a Turn of concentration, after which the owner may mentally consult any book, scroll, or written material within the target area, including any available spellbooks there.  The range of the effect is 250 miles per experience level for mages up to level 9, or 500 miles/level for mages level 10-19 with up to two separate target areas, or any range/outer planes for higher experienced mages (except from the Hollow World) with up to three separate target areas.  The oldest assignment is dispelled when casting a new read languages for the purpose of connecting a new target area to the robe.  Unless the owner looks specifically for a particular item, an Intelligence check is needed to notice something out of place of missing entirely.  The robe also confers an AC of 4.  The robe does not provide access to material which the owner has not already read and understood, or to material protected with magical wards not under the owner's control.

Mirror of Messaging: this small silver mirror enables its owner to communicate through larger mirrors, one located at the royal palace in Skyreach and the other in his seneschal’s quarters in Cockatrice.  Although communication is possible from anywhere on the surface of Mystara, it does not extend to the Hollow World, outer space, or the outer planes.  It can be used once per day for 1 Turn.  Any of these mirrors can be used to call another on command, causing the other to glow, or leave a message no more than 100 words.  Someone familiar with a mirror’s command word can use it to eavesdrop on a conversation between the other two, or listen to an earlier message.  

Special thanks to Janet Deaver-Pack for her editorial input.

To be continued.

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