Sunday, June 30, 2013

Frisland: The Grand Duchy of Frisia

Continued from "The Alphatian Province of Frisland"

Political center of Greater Frisland and an island of population largely cut off from the rest of the kingdom, the grand duchy embodies Frislandic paradigms. Edjer the Twisted, King and Grand Duke by Imperial Right, rules the troublesome realm in a game that carefully balances the mission imposed upon him by Sundsvall, and his own perfidious schemes to enrich himself while maintaining control over his vassals.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Hex Map
Grand Duchy of Frisia -- Map Scale: 1 Hex equals 8 Miles
This grand duchy includes the plains stretching westward from Lake Shiell. More than 300 miles of foothills at the edge of the Kerothar Mountains mark the opposite border. The province skirts the dark realm of Blackheart, with mutual borders more than 500 miles long lying mostly along the turbid, monster-infested Rainbow River. Two other major rivers cross the dominion: the Baalti, flowing northward into Orzafeth, and the Shiell River. Roads and waterways, as dangerous as they are, channel population growth. Frisian immigration sees Neo-Orzafethians and Wyllarethians moving from the north along the Baalti, especially in the Witival area. These include people of Yanifey, Bellissarian, and Esterhold ancestry. Ethnic Alphatians generally sail in across Lake Shiell from Foresthome. Between these two groups of people lie the Creeping Woods, a large forest at the center of the open plains which marks the limit of settled areas spreading from Lake Shiell’s western bank. Farther west stand the strongholds of Zulaht, in the vast Zolantha Grasslands, and Alinoor on the Rainbow River. These two outposts are tasked with the challenging mission to patrol the foothills and watch for Ogam encroachment, especially the Barbazi Hills. At the extreme south lie the Hills of Orzaal, which are claimed "on paper" by the kingdom but remain largely uncontrolled.

A paved highway, the Yulenore Rock Road, runs from the City of Shiell to Imaroth, and is used essentially by merchants. It had been built at the time of the Old Kingdom (locals still refer to it as the Argonath Road). The stretch nearest the Tainted Lands was not as well maintained as the remainder, and now features pot holes and weeds growing through the pavement’s many cracks.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Diagram
Population Diagram -- Shiell Area
The diagram on the left  shows the extent of ethnic Alphatian population in the Lake Shiell area. Purple blocks indicate "suburban" areas, which support many hamlets and closely knit farming communities around walled urban centers, with more than 100 inhabitants per square mile in addition to intramural townsfolk. Red blocks mark settled lands, mostly farms with a few hamlets, scoring a little over 50 inhabitants per square mile. Blue blocks indicate borderlands, with about 16 inhabitants per square mile. Unmarked areas outside borderlands are essentially wilderness, with less than one inhabitant per square mile. The City of Shiell houses more than 23,000 townsfolk, including the grand duke’s military garrison (about 2,000 strong). The next smallest cities include Witival (9,100 people, plus 500 troops), Sanaz (6,700 people, plus 500 troops), and Naugwayne (4,500 people, plus 500 troops). The Witival area is shown below.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Diagram
Population Diagram -- Witival Area
Castle Perzaht’s 400 troops guard the mouth of the Rainbow River, while the strongholds of Zulaht and Alinoor command another 200 troops each. The location of ships is outlined in the previous chapter, but summarized here specifically for the grand duchy: 2 submersibles, 2 large galleys, 1 war galley, 2 skyships, 1 large sailing ship, and 1 troop transport. All of these vessels hail from the City of Shiell, except for one large galley based in Naugwayne. One skyship patrols the Darkpine Barrens to the east, while another remains above the ruins of Old Orzafeth. Submersibles and sailing ships usually patrol Lake Shiell waters bordering Blackheart and Foresthome, while galleys watch the Fris and Rainbow Rivers, from Dovefell Bridge to Alinoor, spanning more than 400 miles end-to-end.

Creeping Woods: The Creeping Woods were once part of what are now the Ugly Woods of Blackheart, but they somewhat lack the infamous reputation of their southern neighbor. The stands of spruce and pine, mixed with the occasional birch, are densest in the hills from which the Shiell River flows, but even on the fringes the Creeping Woods have a definite unpleasant aura about them. The temperature is always a couple of degrees cooler (even in full sunlight), the morning mists never fully dissipate, and paths seem to shift from day to day.

Many people assume that the sinister aspect of the Woods is somehow related to the malevolent nature of the Tainted Lands, but this is incorrect. The Creeping Woods have been a dumping ground for some of the less successful magical experiments created in the northern strongholds of Blackheart. Some of these creatures were magically modified plants, which have since cross-bred with the indigenous greenery to create a vaguely unpleasant forest. Although most of the plants do not, in fact, pose a direct threat to passers-by, they do move about slowly and forest paths can (and do) change overnight. It is not uncommon for a poor soul to lose its way, starve to death, and end up being absorbed by the roots of the surrounding trees. [GG]

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Diagram
Outpost Population
Zolantha Grasslands: This region is all that remains of the Yanifey kingdom that bore the same name, which was but a dim memory when Argonath was in its prime. Before the unleashing of unwholesome magics that rendered much of northwestern Alphatia a barren land, Zolantha was a fertile, forested kingdom that boasted six magical lakes of unsurpassed clarity—thanks to a powerful community of nymphs, with whom the royal house of Zolantha had forged ties (first political, then marital).

Prior to that union, the local Yan clans fought often with their neighbors. Unknown to them, the local nymphs were in conflict with the unsavory mountain-folk, who had foul designs on their pristine lakes. In a desperate bid the Queen of the Nymphs assumed human form and enticed the strongest Yan chieftain to fall in love with her. On their wedding night she assumed her true form and invoked their marriage vows (knowing that the Yan placed immense value on oaths) to convince him to aid her people against the Ogam. He did so—reluctantly at first—and defeated the Ogam so soundly that they did not dare approach the region for more than a generation. As a reward, the nymphs shared their magical secrets with the Yan and recognized their queen's husband as King of the Lakes. Thus the Kingdom of Zolantha (which is Yan for "Lake Country") was formed.

For decades, the Zolanthans distanced themselves from the conflicts of their neighbors and enjoyed the bounty of their lakes. Thanks to the infusion of nymph blood, the Zolanthans also became attuned to water magic. Knowing the lake folk would never let their guard down against them, the Ogam stoked the fires of jealousy elsewhere. These actions bore fruit, and before long Zolantha was under frequent attack. The Ogam seized this opportunity and descended from the mountains. The king, knowing that the Ogam would grow even more powerful if they could claim the magic of the lakes for themselves, used his inherited talents to tap the tarns' life energy, absorb it into himself, and discharge it in one destructive blast. Thousands of Ogam were incinerated, and the lakes utterly vanished. The land itself began to wither, and within a year nothing remained but deserted grasslands. Of the king there was no sign.

Although the story of Zolantha's fall lives on in folktales, most people believe it to be a legend. However, travelers have reported seeing ghostly meres at certain times of the year that vanish when approached. A handful claim to have met a lone man stalking among the grasses, seeking something. [GG]

Barbarzi Hills: The Barbarzi Hills are a windswept land whose soils barely support grass and shrubs. The earliest records of the region, which date from the time of Argonath, report that the land was little different then, save for cryptic references to a "dark stronghold" in the mountains. This stronghold, now known as the ruins of Geitrokk (a bastardized Antalian translation of the original, and now-lost, Ogam name), was once the domain of a powerful shaman who claimed the eastern foothills of the Azafeth Ridge for himself.

Although the Argonathians did manage to drive the Ogam out of the stronghold, they lacked the resources to eliminate them entirely. Thus, the tribes retreated into the mountains as Argonath fell, and bided their time while Frisland, Orzafeth, and the other northern realms arose. Most of the Ogam in this region migrated to Orzafeth; after that kingdom's destruction, very few returned. The region retained its unsavory reputation, which was not helped by the discovery of the monolith (now known as the Needle of Glass), and the horrific effect it had on a band of Alphatian soldiers attempting to topple it.

Garrisons of Zulaht and Alinoor make regular forays into the hills, responding to reported monster sightings. Most of these are false alarms (unlike the incidents reported in the Hills of Orzaal, further south), but Frislandic history has shown that one cannot take chances. [GG]

Hills of Orzaal: They are probably the most fertile region at the eastern foothills of the Kerothar Mountains. Grasses here are relatively lush (but still meager compared to similar lands further south), and wildflowers lend rare color to the region in spring. These hills would be pleasant, were it not for the presence of the Ogam, who prowl the mountains and regularly descend to the hills with their goats.

Frisland has not been able to spare resources for a permanent garrison in the region, and must make do with sending troops from Alinoor on months-long excursions. Given the unsettling aspects of the monolith called the Misty Spire, this entire region is under surveillance. Despite regular troop presence, the Ogam occasionally stage attacks, but to the Alphatians' dismay their foes are somehow able to tap the power of the Misty Spire to cover their retreat even when they are miles away. [GG]

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
The Frisian Conundrum: Aside from general lawlessness and highway banditry in the wilderness, the grand duchy’s plight relates to the fall of old Orzafeth. The Ogam, so far, have not recently manifested themselves in these parts, although some say this may be the calm preceding a storm. The Kerothar foothills are so remote that unveiling tribal activity there remains an enormous challenge. Ogam activities have been more prevalent on the other side of the Kerothar Mountains. The matter of the Tainted Lands and old Orzafeth artifacts is unwisely believed to be the neighboring county’s problem, although forbidden objects are occasionally smuggled through Frisia and into Blackheart.

The grand duchy’s current preoccupation is the traffic and use of toxic substances extracted from plants connected with Orzafeth’s ancient curse. The full extent of the problem is not well understood by the public. Imperial edicts restricting the dissemination of knowledge pertaining to Orzafeth interferes with the fight against smugglers. Usage of these drugs and problems associated with abuse aren’t new either. They’ve become a part of Frislandic society ever since the fall of old Orzafeth.

In exchange for becoming the ruling dynasty, King Edjer’s forebears were entrusted with an Imperial Mission. Aside from ruling Greater Frisland, the responsibility of the new royal house was to eradicate all evidence of old Orzafeth, be it flora, fauna, artifacts, forbidden faiths, or the study of all things Orzafethian. Over time, this mission lost much of its meaning. During King Edjer’s reign, key objectives were casually delegated to the Marquisate of Azafeth and the County of Orzafeth. The grand duchy now concerns itself more with the destruction of toxic plants and the search for smugglers. It is fortunate that this alien vegetation cannot grow in settled areas for reasons that remain unclear. Ideally, if the entire region could be properly settled, one might assume the problem solved. But Frisian wilderness is dangerous and offers poor crop yields, thus the lack of natural desire to push forth.

The fight against banditry in Frisland suffered from the monarchy’s lackluster determination, and the mission’s original intent was largely forgotten. The king’s household troops are primarily in charge of law enforcement within the grand duchy. Their challenge lies in their own corruption and relative lack of competence about toxic plants and the hunt for smugglers. Furthermore, smugglers operate well-armed bands of thugs. If they dodge fights in the open against veteran troops, they will seek revenge against military leaders and their families once they return home. Nobody is safe. Therefore, Frisian troops show poor motivation and low morale. All in all, the impact of household forces on smuggling remains mediocre at best.

Imperial ambassadors have long been aware of the troublesome situation affecting Greater Frisland as a whole. A few who didn’t mind dealing with red tape and unwanted attention discreetly communicated their concerns to Empress Eriadna. Two decades ago, the empress founded a secret cadre of seekers, known by its members as The Library. Breaking imperial law and in total defiance of the Council of Wizards, she quietly gathered what forbidden Orzafeth lore she could, and entrusted it to the leaders of her shadowy organization. To enable "plausible deniability," imperial seekers ply their craft outside the law, beyond the confines of Sundsvall’s sprawling bureaucracy, and do not report to Eriadna for fear of implicating the empress. All members of the cadre are subject to permanent enchantments and psychological indoctrination to ensure complete loyalty.

Six Rules define their mission:
1. Seek knowledge of Ogam/Orzafeth lore
2. Report all acquired lore to their leaders
3. Eradicate all Ogam/Orzafeth evidence*
4. Identify smuggling networks
5. Terminate ringleaders, high-placed accomplices, and clients
6. Identify and eliminate high-placed addicts
(*) Provided the measure isn’t obviously suicidal

The Library: Imperial seekers own a secret lair in the Kerothar Mountains, on the border between Stoutfellow and Greater Frisland, at the edge of the Marquisate of Azafeth and the Grand Duchy of Frisia. It is concealed from sight and can only be reached by air or with transportation magic, such as teleport spells. The location was chosen because it is concealed amid utter wilderness, yet near their primary area of concern. The lair acts as a warriors’ barracks, an assassins’ den, a training facility, a retirement home and healing center, a repository of forbidden lore, and an insane asylum.

Logistics: Despite the lair’s remoteness, imperial seekers have expanded their presence throughout the empire, including Vertiloch and Sundsvall. Problems related to old Orzafeth have in fact been identified in many places. The organization owns several small skyships fitted with invisibility devices to deliver supplies to the lair and drop off seekers where needed. Enchanted scrolls enable seekers to report to their leaders, wherever they may be. A ride back home requires a specific coded phrase inscribed on these scrolls. Communication relies on specific memorized phrases. For example, "All Hail Empress Eriadna the Wise," means the seeker is in distress and requires immediate reinforcement, usually when an outbreak has been discovered.

Funding: Conveniently, the lair happens to sit on top of a diamond mine, which generates the funds needed for the organization to function. Elder members who are no longer fit for the dangerous life of seeker are responsible for selling the gems in various regions of the empire, as far as Bellissaria. The lair’s diamond shaft runs deep, but so far no contact has been made with shadow dwarves living far below.

Recruitment: The Library recruits new seekers from two sources. One consists of ethnic Alphatians of notable skills who got on the wrong side of imperial law. These are people on the run, awaiting execution, or banished. If they agree to serve, new identities and appearances are granted, followed by enchantments and ideological indoctrination to seal their loyalty. If they refuse, death comes swiftly. The second source targets children of high-placed aristocrats who were eliminated as a result of addiction to forbidden substances, specifically progeny who’d inherited the Taint of Orzafeth before birth. Since conventional wizardry often fails to affect Outer Being emanations, the idea prevailed that the best weapon against them is Orzafeth magic itself. It is a perilous craft, and those best suited to dabble in it bear the Taint of Orzafeth. These Tainted Ones undergo extensive training and indoctrination throughout their youth, much like real-world Mamluks of medieval Egypt. Furthermore, the mystical senses of Ogam shamans only reveal these seekers as tribal kinsmen. As can be surmised, their mission is to infiltrate Ogam ranks, spy on their tribes, and slay their shamans. Thanks to them, the link between Ogam and shadow dwarves has come to light.

Indoctrination: Magical safeguards prevent seekers from deliberately failing to follow the Six Rules of their mission when presented with a reasonable opportunity, or knowingly choosing a course of action that would lead to breaking one of the rules. Except for self-defense, arcane conditioning forbids them from knowingly harming an innocent party (as defined by the Six Rules) or deliberately choosing a course of action that would result in harm coming to an innocent party. For the sake of general playability, evil monsters never qualify as an "innocent party."

To be specific, a seeker cannot perform a physical action that would break the rules. Failing to follow an appropriate course of action results in 1d8 points of damage per Turn until the seeker addresses the issue. If the problem can no longer be reversed (an innocent died as the result of the seeker’s deliberate decision), damage is inflicted until the seeker passes away.

Psychological indoctrination governs much of the behavior of seekers, resulting in fanatical loyalty. This process confers immunity to all types of fear, mental control, and ESP. Seekers cannot reveal any information pertaining to their sect under duress—using magic to force them to speak causes seizures and death. Because of the nature of their work, seekers cannot be of a Lawful alignment using BECMI mechanics (with AD&D Game rules, imperial seekers are either Lawful Neutral or Lawful Evil).

Training: All seekers are proficient in Orzafeth Lore. This skill confers a basic 25% chance of correctly identifying artifacts, fauna, flora, toxic substances, and general Orzafeth emanations. For example, examining wounds on a corpse or observing footprints may enable a seeker to identify their origins. This score increases +1% per experience level, and +3% per point of Intelligence bonus or Wisdom bonus (an 18 Intelligence score would confer a +9% bonus). A seeker can always decipher old Orzafeth writing, or for that matter converse in this forbidden language. Untainted wizards of the Library may use Orzafeth magic as spellcasters 1/3 their experience levels (rounded down). See below for details.

Orzafeth Magic: For simplicity, it is the same as common magic, except it affects Ogam/Orzafeth targets as intended. Bizarre new spells should also be par for the course. This type of magic causes psychological damage to its users, requiring a Wisdom check with a –1 penalty to Wisdom per spell level; Tainted Ones start with a +2 bonus to Wisdom (a 20 always fails). Failing this check confers a random psychological disorder to the seeker, and may provoke the appearance of one or more Outer Being creatures. The odds of the latter happening are 5% per point of failure—for example: if the ability check fails by 2 points, the odds of an Outer Being manifestation are 10%. The creatures’ combined HD are roughly equal to that of the seeker’s party.

Tainted Ones: Regardless of their actual character classes, they have access to Orzafeth magic as wizards half their experience levels (rounded up). As a result of their condition, Tainted Ones CANNOT become clerics of Mystaran Immortals, or druids. They can, however, sense within a 30’ radius the presence of others of their ilk, ethnic Ogam tribesmen, and any creature or object connected with Orzafeth. These special seekers always bear the stigma of their condition, in the form of a random affliction or deformity. Rather than being purely cosmetic, this stigma must be significant enough to affect game play and cannot be healed (and neither can any psychological disorder contracted as the result of a failed Wisdom check). As a source of inspiration, click here for a list of random afflictions. Tainted Ones also receive a –2 penalty to Charisma as a result of the strange, disturbing feeling they exude among untainted folk.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
Tainted Ones are aberrations and wholly against imperial law. If publicly identified as such, they would be hunted down and killed without due process. Tainted Ones always operate alone, whereas untainted seekers often work in teams of two or three.

Death Among Seekers: There are such things as common and arcane deaths. Common death is subject to raise dead spells and necromantic magic. Arcane death is not. The latter usually results from a mortal sequester spell or similar magic, which permanently severs the link between a soul and its former mortal vessel. It prevents a soul from ever rejoining its original body, and blocks necromantic magic. This negates spells affecting the dead and the undead specifically, including speak with dead, but not healing magic for example. All seekers are subject to mortal sequester as part of their magical conditioning. Therefore, a killed imperial seeker can never be brought back to life. This may seem harsh, but it is in fact a good thing. In the business of fighting emanations of the Outer Beings, a guarantee that one’s soul cannot be harvested by the Odious Ones offers peace of mind. Seekers also wield at least one magical weapon bound to them. These types of weapon bear a permanent mortal sequester enchantment, which only the owning seeker can activate. Anyone killed with this weapon while its magic is activated suffers arcane death. This too is seen as a deliverance from the tyranny of the Old Ones, as it prevents tainted souls from being harvested. Likewise, those slain in this manner could never return as undead or as any other creature.

Mortal Sequester
Level: 7 wizardry, 6 clerical
Range: touch
Duration: permanent
Effect: blocks necromantic magic

This spell prevents all forms of raise dead spells and any magic involving the dead, such as speak with the dead, from affecting the recipient. When touched, an unwilling victim may save vs. spells to negate its effects. If the spell is successful, death (whenever it happens) will be complete and permanent. The effect cannot be dispelled, short of a post-mortem Immortal’s wish. There can be no more than 1 Turn between the moment the spell is cast and moment when the caster touches a victim. A weapon may receive a permanent mortal sequester enchantment. It only affects a victim slain with this weapon; however, the victim does not receive a saving throw. Mortal sequester is generally associated with slayers guilds whose members wish to permanently eliminate a high-level personality (one whose allies would have access to raise dead magic). Imperial law in Alphatia considers the spell illegal when used against an unwilling target but, ironically, will resort to this form of magic against those condemned to death.

Seeker Specialists: This character class concerns those who’ve abandoned their original profession to specialize in seeker craft, or more likely Tainted Ones trained from childhood. As a D&D Game class, specialists use a fighter’s combat abilities, saving throws, and experience table with d6 base hit points (d8 if using AD&D Game rules). The prime requisite is Dexterity. Equipment and skill limitations are generally those of a thief, except for equipment listed in the next two sections. Specialists perform all thieving abilities as a thief half their experience levels (rounded up), as well as detect hidden and secret passages as an elf. For every six experience levels, specialists also receive a +1 to hit creatures related to the Outer Beings (starting at level one, thus at levels 1, 7, 13, 19, etc up, to a +5 maximum bonus), which enables them to attack Orzafethian creatures requiring magical weapons. This bonus comes in addition to Strength, Dexterity, and weapon enchantments. Specialists have a tracking ability akin to a hunter (or an AD&D Game ranger). When rolling an unmodified hit score of 20 on a backstab attempt, the blow has a chance of slaying the victim outright. The % score to kill is equal to 36 plus the specialist’s experience level minus the victim’s level or HD (a 01 score always succeeds).

Seeker Equipment: Seeker specialists own handy devices to fight monsters and get past obstacles. These spring-loaded gadgets propel an array of projectiles, such as a net, a vial of repellent gas, bolas, a miniature harpoon or a hook fitted to a tether, single-use darts enchanted with level 1-3 spells, etc.

One of the most notorious weapons in their arsenal is the repeating action "dartalest". It consists of a wooden stock with a series of parallel brass tubes spinning around a barrel, and a metal container with 24 darts. A magical gem imbedded in the barrel enables the tubes to spin when the shooter presses on the weapons’ trigger, which rearms the spring-loaded mechanism catapulting each dart. Up to six darts per combat round can be released in quick succession. Because of the number of darts being shot, the initial hit roll receives a +3 bonus. Although only one single hit roll is ever rolled, the odds of actually hitting a target go down by –1 for each subsequent dart. In other words, the first dart has a good chance of hitting, but odds are much less that all six will. An unmodified hit score of "20" will cause all released darts to hit the intended target.

It is possible to release the entire clip’s contents in one attack, but the dartalest may jam after six consecutive shots (+4% cumulative per additional dart) and combat penalties will eventually drop to a maximum –6 to hit (reached with the tenth consecutive dart). Such an action must be declared before releasing a volley of darts and rolling the die. Reloading the dartalest and removing a jammed dart take 1 Turn each. (Okay, the author is having some fun here!)

The weapon, which weighs as much as a heavy crossbow, is only provided to a seeker when conditions demand, possibly with blessed silver darts harmful to most Outer Being minions. Darts inflict 1d3 points of damage each (range: 40'/80'/120'). The silver model inflicts double damage, non regenerable, against Outer Being minions. Headmen may carry enchanted dartalests with additional secondary powers. All normal missile weapon bonuses and penalties apply.

Clue #1: do NOT shoot this thing at a melee involving adventuring buddies unless you’re feeling lucky.

Clue #2: for sheer amusement, shoot at a target standing before a door and count the number of darts stuck in the wood, outlining the target’s silhouette.

Traitors: The problem with Tainted Ones is that they bear the stigma of the Outer Beings, and as such they may become corrupt. The unthinkable may happen after being captured alive by a powerful Ogam shaman. Tribal magic may weaken their foes’ psychological indoctrination, but not their magical conditioning. Though untainted seekers succumb to this infernal ordeal, Tainted Ones instead become psychopaths still subject to the Six Rules, but little more. The Six Rules were never meant to protect Tainted Ones—in fact they define them more as potential targets (being living, tangible evidence of Orzafeth). Mental indoctrination is what prevents seekers from killing Tainted Ones recruited by their sect. Without it, corrupt seekers can harm Tainted Ones without breaking the Six Rules. In their own amoral and callous logic, Ogam shamans don’t mind these psychopaths still possibly coming after them. They consider this a small price to pay compared to the benefit of a psychotic seeker returning to the sect’s lair and quietly killing Tainted Ones there, especially young apprentices. The Ogam scheme involves rendering a psychopath unconscious, inflicting a nasty unhealable wound, and dumping their victim far away. This is nearly guaranteed to result in the psychopath’s return to the sect’s lair. They rarely survive after being unmasked.

Retirement: Elder seekers usually work in various ancillary, administrative, or leadership functions. In the course of their service, those who suffer mental afflictions are committed to the lair’s asylum (including captured psychopaths), so they may no longer present a danger to others. If they wish, untainted elderly may be granted a generous sum in gold and released from service. Tainted Ones are, however, never released.

Administration and Integrity: The Library was built to resist infiltration. It is militaristic in nature, with a solid hierarchy. Field units have specific territorial jurisdictions. These units do not know or communicate with each other. Within a single jurisdiction, teams of two to three seekers form independent cells of about ten to twelve, reporting to local headmen. Tainted Ones operate almost exclusively in Ogam territory, and without backup.

Headmen report though magical scrolls to a Master of Scrolls cognizant of all headmen in his/her jurisdiction, based at the Library. In turn, Masters of Scrolls report to one of seven Head Librarians. The latter form a council overseeing the Library’s general strategy. One Head Librarian is responsible for Greater Frisland, another runs missions in Vertiloch alone, and four more split the rest of the empire (the mainland’s northeast, southeast, west, and overseas territories). Finally, a seventh Librarian controls internal security. Under his authority stands the Curator, who oversees the Repository of Forbidden Lore.

The seventh Librarian’s responsibility is to look for compromised elements within the lair and in the field. Among each cell, a seeker actually works for the seventh Librarian, unbeknownst to headman or master concerned. This seeker’s mission is to quietly evaluate the loyalty and mental reliability of members. If any cell seems to have been compromised, its Master of Scrolls will be ordered to have it eliminated. This process is crucial because the Grand Council suspects the existence of the Library. "Accidental" deaths among high-placed councilmen fool no one there, since victims cannot be brought back to life or questioned through necromantic magic. Therefore, deaths had to be malicious. Spies working for the Grand Council or official imperial circles have been playing cat and mouse games with each other and with seeker cells. Empress Eriadna feigns passing interest in these matters and does not get involved.

The Library also benefits from high-placed informants, former seekers who went undercover at least a decade earlier to reinsert themselves in society. Their appearance may be altered to prevent identification. Usually, these can be found among the ranks of the Grand Council, secretaries of statesmen, military commanders, ambassadors (especially in Greater Frisland), as well as rival spy rings. These individuals report directly to specific Librarians, usually through magical scrolls.

Edjer The Twisted, King of Greater Frisland

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
A better epithet to describe this monarch is "The Teflon King." He is about as devious and corrupt as it gets but always finds a way to blame someone else. He is a master at weaving side plots to mask his own schemes. Edjer, ultimately, is a vain and greedy fellow. If he could, he would legalize the use of illicit substances and collect hefty taxes from sellers. Since this is clearly not possible under imperial law, he sends his household forces on wild goose chases, occasionally blaming officers for failing their missions. He quietly extorts funds from those he suspects are benefiting from the forbidden trade. Highly publicized raids actually do target smugglers, but amazingly just after a large sum of gold was collected—imagine that! He has no real interest in curbing crime and seeks to profit fully from it, while entrapping others to look good.

King Edjer has a general understanding of toxic plants, their effects on people, and how smugglers operate in his dominion. He does not use illicit substances or any Orzafeth-related assets, and does not condone their use at the ducal palace in Shiell. He will take every opportunity to personally prosecute anyone caught doing so in order to promote himself as the champion of imperial law while seizing the financial assets of those brought to justice. On the other hand, this monarch assumes that the Orzafeth curse is a thing of the past, largely blown out of proportion by imperial propaganda and popular lore. This has led him to delegate the responsibility of watching the ruins of old Orzafeth to the neighboring county up north. He hardly pays attention to this issue, and if something goes wrong, someone there will certainly be blamed. Likewise, he believes the Ogam are no more than vilified goat-herding savages squatting his mountains. To remain on the safe side with Sundsvall’s ambassador (whom he sincerely distrusts), he regularly takes credit for the Marquisate of Azafeth’s efforts to "pacify" the tribes. There once was an incident with Ogam transients captured off the western outskirts of the Zolantha Grasslands. The goats were appropriated and their owners brought to Shiell with great fanfare. King Edjer had them crucified along the old Argonath Road just for show—a cheap but effective tool of royal propaganda.

Indubitably, the Imperial Mission lies in good hands.

Appearance: Edjer, who appears to be around 45 years of age but is actually much older, is an energetic man. He is extraordinarily thin, bald, and stands about 5’ 9". His nickname "the Twisted" comes not from physical deformity, but from his love of infighting and intrigue: if an interesting situation is not available, he will start one. A broad forehead tapers to a narrow upturned chin, which makes the end of his trimmed beard stick straight out like an odd sensing device. White skin does little to hide the bumps of his skeleton: cheekbones flare prominently above a heavy mandible, with shadowed convex areas between. A white mustache reaches his beard along the corners of his thin wide mouth. Black eyes constantly rove to all sides, making Edjer a difficult man to talk with. A few strokes of pallid ink define the white of his eyebrows while blue-gray shadows sag beneath his odd gaze. His bony hands show the red pattern of blood vessels beneath. Edjer constantly wears a red-gold coronet carefully fitted to his peculiar head, which is longer along the sides and narrower in back than in front. It is a four-inch circle of solid metal, decorated with swirls of intricate granulation, and surmounted by three small shields at the temples and middle front showing Edjer’s House arms in exquisite detail. Each is topped by a faceted pigeon’s blood ruby. He wears a scarlet tunic made of fabric that seems in constant swirl except around his armorial badge; darker red trousers and boots complete his normal dress. [JDP]

Edjer (AY2000): M21, AC9, hp54, MV 120’(40’), AT spell, Dmg by spell, Save M21, ML6, AL N; St11, In18, Wi14, Dx9, Co 16, Ch11. Magical Items: staff of wizardry, medallion of ESP 30’ range, ring of human control, and tunic of the scarlet vortex.

Tunic of the Scarlet Vortex: Weapons coming in contact with this garment go right trough the owner without harm. Metal-tipped projectiles that should hit the owner are reflected in random directions and pursue the remainder of their courses from there. Hand-held metallic weapons are yanked from the hands of attackers and dimension door in a random direction, up to 360’ away. Attackers may attempt to hold on to their weapons. With successful saving throws vs. spells, attackers dimension door as well with their weapons. Potentially, the robe could transport a charging paladin, his lance, and his warhorse. Use mechanics below to determine the direction.

Direction: 1d8:
1. south
2. southwest
3. west
4. northwest
5. north
6. northeast
7. east
8. southeast

Distance: 300’ plus 6d10

Altitude: 360’ minus distance

Her Excellency Zarratharamma,  
Imperial Ambassadress

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
This young but determined envoy was sent by Eriadna the Wise to hone her diplomatic skills at the court of King Edjer. Rumor has it that her forebears and older siblings had been slain by unidentified killers for reasons unknown when she was very young. She had disappeared for nearly 18 years until she was discovered in a Jennite slave market, in faraway Esterhold, by a friend of the family who recognized her facial traits. Magical means available in Sundsvall easily corroborated her identity. Within a few short years, she was able to make great strides in her education and magical training. Likewise her Alphatian mien shone through, a tribute to her ancestral bloodline. By imperial edict, her ancestral assets in Vertiloch were restored along with all honors and privileges due her House.

In truth, Lady Zarratharamma is an informer for the Library, and a Tainted One. She’d been trained as a seeker specialist since childhood and sold to Jennite slavers. Soon afterward, seekers contrived to have a friend of the family visit the slave market, leading to her discovery and return to Vertiloch. She bears the stigma of Orzafeth: a row of eyestalks along each side of her spine, and a strange ability causing plants to wilt and living flesh to develop sores when she touches them for more than a round. As a result, she always wears long silk gloves masking her hands and forearms, as well as ample, all-covering robes. She shuns intimacy with those who come close to her. Her long, thick hair hides eyestalks accidentally peering past her garment’s collar.

Though she originally reported to the Head Librarian in charge of overseas territories, the one who’d run the Jennite mission, she now reports to the Head Librarian for Greater Frisland. The latter instructed her not to travel that kingdom or leave the palace in Shiell, as other seeker cells operating in the area aren’t aware of her true identity. For them, she would be evidence of Orzafeth emanation and subject to elimination if ever detected. Fortunately, the vast majority of tainted seekers prowl the northern Kerothar Mountains, but a risk always remains. Her mission is to identify any evidence of Orzafeth among the king’s immediate circles, as well as monitor failures to enforce the old Imperial Mission. She would report the latter directly to Empress Eriadna. So far, Her Excellency the Imperial Ambassadress has systematically thwarted King Edjer’s ring of human control and his medallion of ESP.

Appearance: Zarratharamma stands about 5’7". Although she is not tall, this thirty-or-so cultivates a regal bearing that seemingly adds to her height. She is known to twitch occasionally, and often re-settles her loose hair with her hands to cover her neckline. Her white skin has a definite bluish undercast. This young ambassadress has intelligent wide dark brown eyes, framed by long wings of blue-black hair parted in the middle. Her gold braided coronet holds her tresses in place. She is knowledgeable, smart, and dedicated to learning and research. It takes all of her estimable diplomatic talents to divorce herself from Edjer’s constant machinations. So far, she’s done well. Zarratharamma wears wide cuffed sleeves, and her dresses always have a high collar extending forward to her clavicles. Her features are gently molded and attractive, which, along with her gloves, make her a popular subject of court romantic gossip. [JDP]

Zarratharamma: S12, AC0, hp44, MV 120’(40’), AT sword or spell, Dmg 1d8+1 or by spell, Save F12, ML11, AL N; St13, In16, Wi15, Dx17, Co 14, Ch12(10). Magical Items: two wrist-mounted stingers +2 to hit, ring bracelet of spectral armor, head circlet of invisibility detection, scroll of communication, and sword of arcane death. Special Abilities: Orzafeth spellcasting as a level 6 magic user (last resort only); thieving abilities as a level 6 thief; detect secret passages as an elf; can track fugitives as a skilled hunter; uses fighter combat table, optional maneuvers, and saving throws; detects Orzafeth emanations 30’ radius; +2 bonus to hit Outer Being minions; immune to fear, mental control, and ESP; subject to mortal sequester. If her back is exposed, her dorsal eyes cause confusion as the level 4 wizard spell (when failing a saving throw vs. spells) or, at the very least, utter disgust (her Charisma drops to 5).

Stingers: these small weapons are strapped under the forearms and hidden inside one’s sleeves (atop the ambassadress's silk gloves). Two quick wrist motions are enough to release a sting (1pt of damage, range: 10’/20’/30’). The stings are coated with a dry substance which may put a victim to sleep. A saving throw vs. poison negates the effect. If the saving throw fails by 1 or 2, the victim is slowed and suffers a –2 penalty to hit and to saving throws for 2d4 rounds. Failing by 3-4, the victim collapses for 2d4 rounds. Failing for 5 or more, the victim remains unconscious for 2d4 Turns. Unless used in plain view, a victim failing to save isn’t normally aware of the attack. Each sting requires a separate saving throw. The ambassadress is well trained with stingers, being able to shoot both once per combat round, although she incurs a –2 penalty to hit with her left hand. Stingers hold up to three stings, self-reloading after each shot. The ambassadress hides a jar of the substance enough for a dozen stings (including those already in the stinger). The substance is only available from the Library’s Apothecary.

Ring Bracelet: This elegant gold bracelet extends from the wrist to the middle finger and features small ornamental stones. It covers her left hand glove and provides the ambassadress with a basic AC of 2, modified by Dexterity and other magical bonuses.

Head Circlet: This piece of jewelry consists of braided gold strands. It enables the ambassadress to detect any invisible object or creature, or those concealed in some way within a 30’ radius. It also provides the ability to sense one’s environment within range while in total darkness.

Scroll of Communication: It enables messages to be written, which subsequently appear on her commander’s registry, or receive responses the same way. Messages must be chosen from a series of coded phrases taught to the ambassadress during her original training at the Library. Any other phrase written on her scroll will alert her Head Librarian that she’s been compromised. As a result, another seeker might be sent to assess the situation or eliminate the compromised ambassadress.

Sword of Arcane Death: The ambassadress’s weapon is a finely wrought and engraved silver blade fitted with a permanent blessing. On command it shrinks to the size of a common dagger or back to its normal sword size. It is enchanted with a mortal sequester and causes double-damage to any Outer Being minion.

To be continued. . . Coming next: The Marquisate of Azafeth

Special thanks to Geoff Gander for his participation in this article, and to Janet Deaver-Pack for character appearances and her editorial contributions.

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