Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ar: Harpily Ever After

Continued from "Where Eagles Dare."

Wedged at the northeastern corner of Ar, Harpy became the last territory to join the kingdom. For the longest time, it had been the heart of a festering plague of harpies feasting upon all that strayed onto their hunting grounds. Yet, the wizardly world moved in, inexorably reducing the harpy horde to its smallest expression. Thoroughly enslaved, a small population survived in what became known as the Harpy District. Levitating monoliths soon coalesced into a large island in the sky.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Harpy Map
Lower Harpy District -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex

Harpies were removed and secured in magically silenced prisons on Upper Harpy, where they could be better controlled. It became customary for manors scattered on the flat, grassy island to include prison wards for the purpose of providing magical components. Clerics of various benevolent faiths questioned this barbaric and amoral practice. Alphatian paradigms and wizardly justification failed to prevail. Clerics were therefore allowed an opportunity to help address the unharpy situation.

It was decided manor houses would build chapels where clerics could indoctrinate these rancorous demi-avians (the latter being well restrained and gagged) and sway them from their evil. This clerical effort pieced together a number of facts. Harpies are the reincarnations of beautiful but evil women’s spirits, which explains why there are no males. They lay eggs, but only when new spirits emerge from the world beyond. The young are typically sent away on their own as soon as they can fly, a matter of a few weeks. In their pursuit of harpiness, these wretches are meant to devour live creatures. Humans and demi-humans are preferred, not just for their taste but also because of their souls. During the slumber that follows hearty meals, harpies in their dream-forms take the lingering souls of sentient victims to their immortal patrons. With enough captive souls, especially good, lawful ones to be tormented in the pits of chaos, harpies may regain their former appearances (more or less), and become undead spirits under the control of their lieges. This explains the fierce competition among harpies and their jealousy of people. They resent better-looking prey or females in particular, whom they will try to disfigure during their savage attacks. Although they aren’t undead, harpies do not age after they reach adulthood.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Harpy Map
Upper Harpy District -- Map Scale: 8 Miles per Hex

These hapless beings only have vague recollections of their former lives. Part missionaries and part psychiatrists, clerics use these memories as the starting points of the creatures’ journeys toward redemption. Clues are gained as to their former identities and what brought their horrid penitence upon them. Adventurers are then dispatched to investigate the past crimes of harpies, and glean additional information that may help cure the "patients." Bringing back a former lover remains a potent medicine. This general treatment, although proven the most effective, rarely succeeds. A few actually adopt the cleric’s faith, although a number of them revert to their evil ways after a time. Most become even more resentful of their handlers for bringing back painful lost memories. The oldest and most bitter among them simply go raving mad and must be put out of their miseries. Naturally, Bettellyn clerics strenuously oppose any such work—in their view, harpies are servants of chaos that will sooner or later betray their saviors.

With so many individual dungeons, Harpy Island eventually became the kingdom’s penitentiary colony. A prison was built, a huge tower also serving as a navigational lighthouse. Perhaps the most dismal place in the whole of Ar, this dark structure is the place where criminal wizards are incarcerated. Occasionally, evil mages from other kingdoms are committed to "the Lighthouse," usually when hope of redemption still exists. The penitentiary’s "light" is enchanted to always point toward an escapee, regardless of physical obstructions or distance. This searchlight does not extend to outer planes or to the Hollow World. It otherwise works as a normal lighthouse. Ironically, "reformed" harpies guard both the tower and its inmates, singing to keep them quiet and obedient.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Heraldry
The District of Harpy is one of the poorest of Ar, with one lowland village and a tower. Upper Harpy features scattered manorial prisons and the Lighthouse Penitentiary at the northern tip. The monarchy pays the district 8,000 gp per month for its maintenance. Hovering at 12,000 ft (3,700 m), temperatures on the floating island are 44°F (25°C) lower than conditions at sea level. This very harsh place does not benefit from a protective dome, and storms there can be deadly. Access to the island is restricted to residents and vessels bringing inmates. Overall, the district is home to nearly 27,000 Harpers, mostly lowland farmers. Less than 3,000 live on Upper Harpy, a hundred of whom are re-educated harpies employed as prison guards. The military accounts for 350 inhabitants. They are mostly assigned to lowland guard posts and manorial dwellings, or to serve aboard the viceroy's three skyships. They patrol the district’s border with the neighboring Realm of Ambur, about 100 miles of coastline (160 Km), and the vicinity of the Lighthouse. These vessels are based at the viceroy’s private palace, on a separate monolith levitating 6,000 ft above Mage Landings. They include the H.H.M.S. Leuconotar, Altana, and Ornithian.

 Some 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.

Lady Hope, Warden of the Lighthouse

Hope is a truly reformed harpy, perhaps the most successful product of clerical diligence. She became a follower of Koryis as the result of her indoctrination, and later a faithful cleric. As the result of her profound change of heart, her new immortal patron granted her gradual transformation to a more human-like appearance. Of her former self, she retained a very large set of black wings which protrude through slits in her clothing or armor. Hope clearly remembers her past condition, which now makes her sick. She feels mostly compassion for her avian kin, leading the effort to save those who can be saved and end the torment of others truly hopeless. Over the years, she was approached with an offer to govern the Lighthouse Penitentiary. She saw this as an opportunity to return the favor once made to her, helping misguided wizards find a path to their salvation or deliverance from their torment.

There is another side to Lady Hope. She never revealed to her original benefactor that she had total recollection of her previous life as a wicked woman. She was in fact an Aran aristocrat known in her time as Slydrielle, the lover and accomplice of one Master Deborran. As it were, her companion betrayed her in order to seize her possessions. Although this happened a very long time ago, when kings ruled from Ceafem, Lady Hope sensed that her killer still was of this world. His quintessence survived in the flesh of his descendants, just as evil as always. Today, one refers to him as His Highness, the Viceroy of Harpy. Knowing his ways, Lady Hope was able to surmise what crimes Deborran had committed in order to become a viceroy and an influential member of King Qissling’s entourage. All she needs now is enough proof to have him locked up in the Lighthouse, so that she may cleanse him of the stench of evil and, perhaps, either regain a lost love or smite him forever.

Mystara Alphatia Ar Heraldry
Appearance: Tall (6.5’), slim, yet muscular, Lady Hope has a wide forehead that tapers into a small delicately pointed chin. With a straight nose and lovely sculpted mouth, her features are those of a classic beauty suggesting both sadness and dignity. Her eyes are dense black, matching her thick long hair. A steel cuirass covers her torso front and back. It features an ornate pattern of twining golden vines. Beneath her cuirass, she wears a suit of fine chain mail with long flared sleeves and a skirt reaching to just below her knees. A girdle fits against the lower end of the cuirass, and a red robe under her armor flows down to her boots. Lady Hope’s shield displays the badge of her faith. She wields a war hammer having a foot-long head of dull silver metal. Her impressive double-jointed black wings are normally kept furled against her back. If something unexpected elicits a strong emotional reaction, the wings fold out to extend to their full 20 foot span.

C15, AC-1, hp68, MV 120’(40’)/180’(60’), AT 1 hammer, Dmg 1d6+3 or by spell, Save C15, ML11, AL L; St15, In14, Wi17, Dx12, Co16, Ch13. Magical Items: +2 plate mail of weightlessness*, +1 shield of invisibility, +2 hammer of silence, girdle of inescapable faith*, and pendant of hypnosis*. Special Abilities: Hope still can sing as harpies do, either to charm foes or simply to calm irate or frightened people around her. Likewise, she is ageless and can fly.

Plate Mail of Weightlessness: as the name indicates, this armor has no weight and minimal encumbrance, enabling Hope to use her wings.

Girdle of Inescapable Faith (C): this ornate, silver-inlaid leather girdle provides Hope with protection from evil once a day, as well as a permanent +3 bonus to save vs. mind-controlling and charm attacks, so long as she wears it. If she ever performs an act contrary to her nature or alignment, the girdle is destroyed. The girdle does not protect its owner from illusions.

Pendant of Hypnosis (C): this gray pearl set in bird-like claws hangs from a silver chain. She inherited it from her benefactor when he died of natural causes and departed to serve Koryis. When swinging this pendant before someone’s face for 1 round, the victim must save vs. spell or become enthralled. The pendant can be used to ask a number of questions equal to the cleric’s Wisdom bonus +1, after which hypnosis ends. Questions can relate to the victim’s inner psyche, such as details of one’s previous incarnation or something in possession of the victim’s soul. Answers must be simple (less than 30 words). As an alternative to questions, one suggestion may be implanted into the victim’s subconsciousness, such as performing a simple action at a given time or under specific circumstances (a precise set of events, a trigger word, etc). Once activated, a suggestion’s power lasts only one round.

His Highness Deborran, Viceroy of Harpy (a.k.a. Deborran the Undying)

The initial instigator of the Deborran bloodline cursed himself in a scheme to live forever. In truth, there always has been and will only be one person involved. After he marries, while his first born male successor is born, Deborran dies and effectively becomes his son. Death occurs exactly when the baby’s umbilical cord is slit. It is far more insidious than a case of possession since the newborn has no soul other than his father’s. Deborran retains all skills and memories from his previous self, earning in this way a sort of immortality. Although the infamous name comes into use with every other child, adult facial traits hardly change, save for hair style, a beard, a mustache, or a possible scar.

Deborran always marries when he becomes old, feigning frailty and absent-mindedness, in order to attract the kind of spouse who would expect a quick inheritance. To avoid later complications, Deborran’s child reincarnation eventually provokes the "accidental" demise of the mother and all other siblings, if any. The very few old enough to be aware of the situation believe this to be the Curse of the Deborran Blood. In reality, this wicked wizard is guilty of many murders, not only of his own kin, but of others who crossed him or whose magic he coveted. He was able to devise this spell after obtaining necessary elements from a former lover, Lady Slydrielle, whom he eliminated to make sure no one else would know about the purpose of his final enchantment. In the case of Slydrielle, he led her to fall into a pit filled with wights, whom he later destroyed in the name of "justice." Fatalities always happen in such a way that they cannot be traced back to him. Evidence usually points to someone else. This black-hearted mage has failed so far to unveil Lady Hope’s true identity (only her late benefactor did).

Appearance: At present, Deborran is an old man, with one shoulder slightly higher than the other from a hunched back, a wrinkled face, sunken unfocused hazel eyes, elongated earlobes, and wavy pale gray coarse hair with an odd yellowish cast. His garb, a robe of some sort, seems a uniform pallid gray, but it reflects the faces of people around him in ghostly parodies. Should Deborran be in the midst of a crowd, this can be quite haunting, especially since some faces resemble his former victims. It hangs from his bony shoulders to his ankles. His staff, clearly one of another kind, is about eight inches taller than his hunched appearance, made of amaranth wood with darker-hued veins along its surface. It is crowned with oddly-shaped upstanding fingers of amaranth, which encircle a fist-sized teardrop of transparent crystal. He also conceals a dagger in his sleeve, remarkable for its fluted bone hilt and matching sheath.

M30, AC-1, hp44, MV 120’(40’), AT 1 staff, Dmg 1d6+2 or by spell, Save M30, ML8, AL C; St11, In18, Wi13, Dx15, Co12, Ch14. Magical Items*: AC3 robe of some sort*, +2 staff of another kind*, +2 dagger of neither here nor there, +3 ring of unspecified use, and amulet of nondescriptness.

Robe of Some Sort: aside from providing an armor class of 3, this robe is designed to thwart magical attempts to spy or gather information about its owner. Its main power is to "disinform." For example, the robe generates false images and sounds when its owner is the object of scrying, clairaudience, clairvoyance, or true sight attempts. If alignment is detected, the robe will show the same as the observer’s. With ESP or other mind-reading powers, the sensation is that of harmless, absent-minded thinking. If location is detected, it will show Deborran in his private laboratory, a place to which no one else has access. Detect magic paints magical auras on his boots, a gold tooth in his mouth, a silver chain at his neck, and a set of earrings. This garment also blocks tracking devices, such as those described in earlier posts (the gown of hearing and the robe of intrigue). After several magical detection attempts, one might be allowed an Intelligence check to realize some clues seem not to add up. Although the robe is a wondrous one to be sure, it isn’t sentient and therefore remains imperfect. Its enchantment relies on a good number (but not infinite) of pre-generated illusory elements to mislead observers. Some might be repeated accidentally.

Staff of Another Kind: this +2 weapon requires a saving throw vs. spell. If the roll fails, the victim falls unconscious. The staff also erases from the victim’s mind all memory of recent events, at the rate of 1 hour per point of damage inflicted from the time of the attack.

Dagger of Neither Here Nor There: its target must save vs. spell or be sent into a pocket plane. This plane is timeless, and therefore anything entering there remains eternally motionless. Provided one knew where to find the victim, a wish could return it to the prime plane. This wicked blade crumbles to dust when it successfully traps someone.

Ring of Unspecified Use: although it is a +3 ring of protection, this ring bears one of four additional powers which must be selected at the start of the day (1. Fire Resistance, 2. Quickness, 3. Regeneration, or 4. X-Ray Vision). If the daily choice is omitted, the power is chosen randomly. Four tiny gems are embedded in this ring’s gold band—a ruby, a sapphire, an emerald, and a topaz. Depending on the ring’s usage, three of the gems remain black. It is a powerful item crafted specifically by Deborran. Anyone else with lesser Intelligence wearing it falls under Deborran’s mental control if within 100’ of him (except beings immune to mind-control magic—no save). The mage can always sense the location of his ring, as well as see and hear as all that its bearer does, whether the ring is worn or not. Its magic vanishes when Deborran is killed.

Amulet of Nondescriptness: on command, this magical object enables its owner to blend in with a group of humanoid creatures no smaller than kobolds and no larger than gnolls. Its power is such that no one in the crowd will notice, address, or attack the owner. The effect can be triggered in the middle of a battle, in which case attackers simply "forget" entirely about the owner (while his/her companion can still plainly see through the amulet’s magic). So long as the owner appears to act in exactly the same manner as the rest of the crowd, the amulet imitates their clothing, racial appearance, mannerisms, voices, languages, and smells. The effect ends as soon as the owner does anything that departs from expected behavior, such as addressing or attacking someone, casting a spell, taking something, or suddenly running away. The effect requires congregations of at least 20 creatures. For every 10 additional creatures, the amulet may extend its powers to a companion of the owner. With this amulet, Deborran can remain unnoticed among a crowded street, den of thieves, a lair of orcs, or a ball at a palace (etc.) The amulet does not affect beings immune to illusions.  Creatures with 5HD or more are allowed a saving throw.

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

To be Continued

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