Sunday, July 21, 2013

Frisland: The Marquisate of Azafeth

Continued from "The Grand Duchy of Frisia"

This strip of land squeezed between the Sea of Alphatia and the Kerothar Mountains is home to descendants of ancient Antalians, their Alphatian overseers, and the sinister Ogam. Behind the orderly façade of imperial law rages a secret fight for survival.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Azafeth Hex Map
Marquisate of Azafeth -- Scale: 1 Hex = 8 Miles

This Frislandic dominion is one of the hardest to administrate because of its narrow, nearly-370-miles-long shape and forbidding terrain intersecting its mid-point. In fact, locals perceive three distinct regions. Northern Azafeth centers around the boomtown of Nasta. The southern region, anchored around Zuuldal, includes the Hills of Ygdumma. The midsection lies within the Västmark Shield, a rocky spur of jagged ridges and narrow valleys. Coastal residents don’t think of the hills and mountains in the east as part of the marquisate, for the Ogam dwell there. Townsfolk see the short, swarthy goat herders as little more than beastmen who would enslave and sacrifice them all to their evil gods if given the chance—a belief that isn’t remotely preposterous. Climate along the coast is similar to the one prevailing in real world Glasgow, U.K.—cool and rainy. Winds generally blow from the west, and a mild sea current flows from the south. Temperatures drop rapidly in the mountains.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Azafeth Diagram
Northern Azafeth Population Density Diagram
Northern Azafethians are scions of ancient Antalian culture, legendary seafarers, and warriors. They build great wooden dwellings, gathering halls, and temples that look like overturned longships. Dragon head motifs decorate throughout, as part of the walls surrounding towns and villages, on the roofs edges, carved on boulders, and of course at the prow of their fearsome-looking drakkars. To travelers, these symbols seem to mark the extent of old Antalian colonies from previous centuries. Settlers of yore were typically tall, blond, blue-eyed warriors—a stark difference with the neighboring Ogam. At present, the local population has intermixed with Alphatian commoners yielding a greater proportion of darker-haired Azafethians. Elves and dwarves have lived in the area since before the Antalian migrations from Northern Brun.

Nasta (or Lindsborg as its founders once called it) is best known as a fishing and ship-building center, especially for sleek, sea-going vessels designed for speed. With 8,100 inhabitants, it stands as the marquisate’s main economic center. Towns and hamlets feature fortifications with controlled entry at their gates. Woods east of Vykstaht provide the main source of lumber for ship-building. The population clings to the coast, rivers, and roads, not extending more than 30 miles from an urban area or a fortification. Beyond lies a wilderness best known to Ogam nomads dwelling there. Although Alphatian is the official language (i.e. the common tongue), it is only used for official communication in courthouses, at the marquis’s court, in the army, in schools, among aristocrats and foreign merchants, etc. Most of the locals speak a dialect derived from ancient Antalian, although it isn’t officially taught anywhere. Sadly, many commoners feign not to understand Alphatian when it suits them—which is usually the case when dealing with outsiders. Among those whose Antalian ancestry is strongest, pure-blood Alphatians are considered a plague and yet the lesser of two evils, their eastern neighbors being worst. Dwarves and elves are welcome. Nasta features temples honoring such immortals as Odin, Thor, Freyja, Loki, and others associated with Antalian culture.

Southern Azafethians are a different bunch. This area once stood as the original Antalian Markland, with the town of Taraldsstad as its capital. When imperial authorities reformed Greater Frisland, the Markland was annexed to the new Marquisate of Azafeth. It is a border district that has seen significant influx from neighboring Limn. As a result, Southern Azafethians are further removed from their old Antalian origins. Humans of uncertain ancestry might trace their bloodlines to humanoid clans, yielding such ethnics as demi-orcs, demi-ogres, and others less obvious. Culturally, they’re an odd mix of Antalian, Alphatian, and Limnian. The local dialect is heavily accented and sounds harsher than the original vernacular, with words and expressions borrowed from common Limnian culture. Dwarves and elves are far less common here than up north. Somewhat cruder and ruder, Southern Azafethians aren’t as talented in seafaring as natives of Nasta but they make up for their shortcomings with boldness and hardiness. They became notorious as mercenaries, or front-rank footmen in the marquess’s forces. Northerners tend to see these rough and tumble folk as ruffians and thieves, if not murderers. Southerners consider their northern neighbors pretentious kinsmen.

Nowadays, Taraldsstad is a ruin. It was destroyed long ago during a battle between Antalians and Alphatians. Nearby Zuuldal became the region’s main urban center and is home to 4,160 residents. Its main task is to filter visitors traveling from Limn, and to keep the true riff-raff from proceeding farther north. Naturally, in the minds of local residents, anything from Limn lies one big notch lower than themselves. Mind you, there is a difference between skins, bloods, and bones. A "skin" is a human with one grandparent of humanoid ancestry out of four—Limnian ancestry is therefore skin deep. "Bloods" stand somewhere between humanoid and human—the seed of their lineage therefore flowing through their veins. "Bones" are those whose humanoid pedigree is more pronounced, and are generally unwelcome in Southern Azafeth—it’s in their bones, meaning the strain of Limnian darkness dwells deepest within.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Azafeth Population Diagram
Azafez Area -- Population Density Diagram
Azafez District features jagged crests, mountain torrents, vertiginous waterfalls, misty valleys, and sudden storms. It is essentially unpopulated, save for the marquess’s eagle’s nest, a heavily fortified town perched on a stony ridge flanked by thousand-foot-high cliffs on its north and south sides. A narrow path winds along the crest to reach the fortress, connecting the marquisate’s northern and southern districts. Two massive gates enable passage through the town, in addition to an elevator connecting with Azafez-upon-Sea, a village below. The latter is located in a small fjord-like cove and its port provides shelter to passing vessels. The elevator’s shaft was carved through the mountain and can be reached from the port through a well-defended tunnel. The fortress and its port area number no more than 6,000 inhabitants altogether.

High-Azafez looks very much like an Alphatian stronghold, with high walls, slender towers, imposing stone buildings embellished with stained glass windows, soaring pillars, and graceful arches. A motley collection of inhuman statues and sleek black slate define the high-peaked roofs, while somber monuments adorn main intersections. Defensive walls are notable for animated bas-reliefs, which creep along the outside, looking for anything or anyone attempting to climb. Monstrous appendages with claws or talons may form from the walls’ stonework and attack intruders. An invisible hemispherical force field covers the top of the town. Living beings, objects, and spells may cross through from the inside but not from the outside. The town departs from Nasta and Zuuldal in that it isn’t a seaman’s town. Streets are paved, buildings are made of stone, and the marquess’s soldiers frequently patrol the streets, walls, and gatehouses. Since it can never rain within the protective dome, fountains fitted with permanent water-generating devices stand at various points of the town. Excess water flushes sewage down middle troughs in the streets, and out through heavy grates in the northern walls. Warehouses, prisons, and other secretive facilities have been carved out of the rock beneath the buildings. Temples in High-Azafez honor exclusively Alphatian immortals. None of the quaint and cozy Antalian culture prevailing in Azafez-upon-Sea survives here. Overall, the upper town comes off as dark and sinister, not only from its stonework’s gray and black tones, but also from the dour character of its architecture and townsfolk. The domain of circling and ever-watchful ravens, skies often remain overcast and brooding.

The present marquess dynasty dates back to Greater Frisland’s reformation. They were put in place as the result of imperial machinations rather than royal elevation by Frislandic monarchs. Their mission is to prevent incursions from the south, but also to forbid anything suspicious from leaving their shores—such as agents of the hated Ogam. Therein lies Azafeth’s challenge. Since the establishment of the marquisate, the Ogam have proven a tough and resilient foe. They always seem to be able to reach those who oppose them in unexpected ways, usually with terrifying results. Over the years of their reign, the marquesses have become paranoid, which led them to build and fortify High-Azafez. To them, it is the headquarters from which they wage their unending war against the Ogam, with little or no help from Shiell. This mountain stronghold is perhaps one of the best-guarded and most-secure spots in Greater Frisland.

The people of High-Azafez are a mix of northerners and southerners, dwarves who were instrumental in building the fortress, and elves who oversaw architectural details. Strong Alphatian ancestry is common here, especially at the marquess’s court. Southerners are more prevalent in the armed forces, while northerners run businesses. Aristocrats deliberately, yet very carefully, sponsor rival factions among the townsfolk, not so much to foster chaos but to ensure everyone watches each other. The common fear here is someone acting on behalf of the Ogam. The resulting atmosphere is one of mistrust and oppression. Everyone knows and loathes the fact that the swarthy goat herders occupy the Illtskógur Valley between the Västmark Shield and the Azafeth Ridge, just past the eastern bank of the Grimdrein River.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
Armed Forces of Azafeth: Overall, this dominion relies on 1,500 professional warriors, including its navy. About 400 each are garrisoned in Nasta and the fortress of Faarnfoerti, 260 in Zuuldal, 200 each in Azafez and the stronghold of Foertgrim, for a total population of about 129,000. Naval forces include two longships, two skyships, one large galley, and three submersibles. The latter patrol the sea near Limn. Skyships operate from Nasta and High-Azafez, essentially to watch the Illtskógur Valley. Longships can navigate rivers of Azafeth up to the edge of the hills. Faarnfoerti controls access to the road leading through the Västmark Shield, and watches for anything sneaking down from the upper Illtskógur Valley. Foertgrim marks the limit of Azafethian population. Its mission is to bar access to and from the lower Illtskógur Valley, and patrol the southern bank of the Grimdrein River. A flotilla of privately-owned sail ships has been contracted to supplement the marquess’s fleet and watch Azafeth’s coastal waters.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Azafeth Hex Map
Illtskógur Valley: This region stretches along the Todflod and Grimdrein Rivers, down to the junction with the Grimflod tributary, some 30 miles from Foertgrim. Forces from the stronghold patrol the southern banks of the lower Illtskógur, but no farther than Alvard’s Fall for the hills beyond remain in Ogam hands. The tribe in the lower valley is one faithful to Yurrgh-Thal the Decaying, dwelling near the banks of the Illtflod River. The woods there are twisted and evil. Another clan holds the upper valley, a cold and desolate land in the hands of a tribe faithful to Akh’All the Unmentionable, centered around a mysterious monolith.

Alvard’s Fall [by GG.]: Alvard Ragnarsson, a minor jarl of Østheim, once repelled an Ogam incursion there. Although both groups were numerically equal, the Ogam employed magic to create vile clouds, killing anything they touched. Alvard, who was a master tactician in his own right, led his force out of harm’s way and massacred the Ogam—including their lead shaman. Although Alvard won the battle with minimal casualties, the shaman uttered a death curse that caused his foe to age and die within an hour. Alvard’s men erected a cairn for him near the river, which still stands to this day. Although the land has recovered from the desolation wrought by the Ogam magics, Alvard’s spirit can often be seen prowling about the battlefield, always keeping a watchful eye towards the southeast.

The Obelisk of Akh'All [by GG.]: Hel's Tooth (the Ogam call it Yamathiss—from the Carnifex "Yath-Mwathliss", or "Pillar of Glory"). Hel's Tooth is located in the upper Illtskógur Valley. Antalian farmers and trappers who lived downriver had long been aware of the obelisk, but regarded it as little more than a curiosity. That changed when shamans of the local Ogam clans read in the stars that if they could procure many sacrifices for their masters, the Outer Beings, the way might be cleared for them to return in triumph to the Prime Plane. This spurred a bloody campaign that took the Antalians by surprise. Much of the Grimdrein River watershed was depopulated, which spurred a wave of panic.

The king of the old Østheim realm at that time, Håvard Audunson, ordered his jarls into battle and sent messengers to Grønborg (Torpes) and Markland for additional aid. Neither realm sent more than a token force. King Håvard led his troops into battle personally and checked the Ogam advance where Foertgrim stands today. The Ogam retreated swiftly, but one of their chieftains staged a counterattack, which was ultimately blunted by a minor jarl named Alvard Ragnarsson.

Although defeated, the Ogam did carry out one final act of revenge to dissuade Antalians from pursuing them to their mountain strongholds. The shamans tapped enough of the energy gained from the sacrifices to poison the area around the obelisk. Within hours, all of the trees and grasses were reduced to dust, and the river itself had become poisonous, which the Østheimers discovered the hard way. The Antalians avoided the region afterwards, and renamed the river and obelisk accordingly.

Svartheim [by GG.]: Although the Antalian peoples of the northwestern coast of Alphatia historically opposed the Ogam and their machinationsand in fact many continued their conflict against that unsavory people long after the Alphatians seized control over the regionnot all of the old clans were so resolute. At various times, before and after the Alphatian conquest of the region, emissaries of the Outer Beings swayed a number of clan heads and jarls  to switch their allegiance. Many such turncoats and their followers were quickly ferreted out and destroyed. However, some were crafty enough to avoid detection.

Despite these Antalians' common cause with the Ogam, centuries of bad blood made them unwelcome among the degenerate mountain folk. The Outer Beings, perhaps uncharacteristically, noticed the predicament of these Antalians and sent an emissary to guide them to a better land. The Antalians moved south, to a remote valley near the source of the Faarnflod River, where they built their remote citadel that they called Svartheim due to the prevalence of black stone (basalt and obsidian) in that portion of the Kerothar Range. Years passed, and a handful of other Antalians trickled south while the Outer Beings turned their attention to other things. Although the Antalians eked out a living, they did not thrive until a band of Ogam arrived to teach them how to adapt to mountain life. Despite historical animosities, some intermarriage took place between the two peoples; although most of the Svartheimers more closely resembled their Antalian forebears.

While the Ogam continued to wreak havoc further north, Svartheim priests interpreted their relative isolation as a sign from the Outer Beings that they were not meant to do battle with their foes. One day, a meteor fell from the sky and blasted a large hole in the nearby mountainside. Priests of Akh'All declared this to be a sign from their patron Himself, and organized an expedition to explore the crater. They discovered deposits of marh vholclearly a sign of Akh'All's favourand the impact had revealed a preexisting tunnel that extended deep inside the mountain. The tunnel led to an outlying settlement of Shadow Dwarves.

The Shadow Dwarves already had relations with the Ogam, but found the Svartheimers slightly less odious. The presentation of a sizable quantity of marh vhol eased their first contact. The Shadow Dwarves had never seen this metal before.  They used it to make a number of weapons for their own use. Svartheim became a trading post, where the Shadow Dwarves exchanged their goods for more of the otherworldly metal. The people of Svartheim exhausted the readily-available stock of marh vhol from the crater, and then turned to sacrifices in order to secure more of it from their masters. Armed with Shadow Dwarven weapons, they raided settlements around the Ygdumma Forest. By this time, however, Alphatian-led Azafeth had already been established.  It's present marquess managed to find the source of the raids and assaulted Svartheim with a handful of skyships. Although the citadel was destroyed, the victory was a costly oneall but two skyships were destroyed by Shadow Dwarven siege weapons. Surviving Svartheimers fled into caverns and laid low for decades. The Shadow Dwarves sealed the entrance to their tunnels, but maintained a watch on the ruins, hoping their partners might one day return and make more metal. The ruins held the Receptacle of the Black Vault, until the marquess's men took it as a prize.

Receptacle of the Black Vault: This is an altar designed to send soul energy to the Outer Beings, while receiving the dark essence that materializes as marh vhol on the Prime Plane. It is a blocky obsidian altar measuring seven feet long by two feet wide, with a man-shaped impression in the middle, and ringed with inlaid marh vhol. When a victim is sacrificed on this altar, a worm-like pillar of black smoke coalesces and sucks the dying person's soul out through the forehead, before ascending rapidly into nothingness (and traveling to the Outer Beings' world). The body then disintegrates, and its ashes glow darkly for an instant before melting and reforming into a quantity of dark metal lumpsraw marh vhol. The quantity acquired is dependent on the power (i.e., level) of the person being sacrificed. The average normal man or woman, if sacrificed, would yield about two pounds of marh vhol. Every experience level of the victim adds another pound, and every spell level would add yet another pound beyond that.

In the face of racial hatred, fear, paranoia, and imperial edicts calling for their eradication, the tribes survive and continue to threaten all that surrounds them. Part of their resilience lies in their ability to dodge their enemies. These nomads live in hills and mountains, mostly forested, which makes it easy to avert detection, ambush the unwary, and then escape to safety. These goat herders are masters in the art of guerilla and camouflage. Many of their seasonal hideouts rely on caves, preventing patrolling skyships from spotting them. One might wonder how they so easily defy the magical might of Alphatia: at the heart of their success lies their faith in alien creatures—the Outer Beings—and the leadership of powerful shamans. Several circles of apprentices assist the ruling shamans in fostering a deeply-rooted, fanatical faith among the tribes.
At the core of their beliefs dwells the notion that the Ogam are one with the Outer Beings, their mortal flesh and blood on Mystara. Should the faithful be stricken down or their lives forfeited by their cosmic patrons, their souls would return to the spiritual wombs of their masters to be cleansed of outside influences and reborn stronger yet. This belief isn’t as far-fetched as one might assume and, in the minds of the Ogam, justifies what otherwise remain inhuman, thoroughly evil, and terrifying cults. Each tribe honors a specific Outer Being and is utterly devoted to doing its bidding, however obscure and repugnant. No Ogam ever questions the mysterious ways of Outer Beings or their shamans. Among the tribes, one merely obeys and accepts whatever fate follows.

Rebirth: In truth, only the most relevant Ogam individuals are ever reborn, or about 1% of the souls Outer Beings harvest as food. This fact isn’t common knowledge among the masses of faithful. The vast majority of them tend to live short lives, less than fifty years. Life expectancy of human commoners in the empire comes close to sixty, while wizards and aristocrats survive much longer due to the availability of magic—well over a hundred. Ogam faithful are made to believe that their souls return in the bodies of newborn. Those who do return to Mystara after their deaths are usually shamans, their servants, or individuals who demonstrated a fierce belief in the Outer Beings. Over the years, as the reincarnated grow from infancy, memory of their previous existences returns along with special powers and physical mutations akin to those of Tainted Ones. Unlike the latter, however, they are devoid of mental afflictions—all things being relative since willingly worshiping Outer Beings can be seen as a form of madness in itself. Spells to revive the dead do not work among followers of the Outer Beings—these are jealous, vengeful entities who neither willingly release enslaved souls (aside from rebirth), nor could they at all after having consumed them as fuel. In other words, mortality remains arcane for most of the Ogam.

Shamans: Aside from spells common to shamans, the latter benefit from special powers related to the specific Outer Being they worship. The extent of these powers grows with the number of reincarnations (a treatment of Outer Beings in a later chapter will give some idea of the shaman’s powers—BH). Shamans also perform tribal rituals which require the active participation of the entire tribe, give or take a few individuals. These incantations usually require hours to effect, during which participants remain in a trance. One of these rituals led to the legendary annihilation of Orzafeth. The most powerful rites are used only as a last resort, precisely because of the risk of the entire tribe being harvested in the process. Lesser rituals typically affect a large area, perhaps with a radius extending dozens of miles. They can alter the nature of the land, bring about the doom of approaching enemies, or summon servants of the Outer Beings—horrid beasts as alien and bloodthirsty as those who made them. Rituals are sometimes used to defeat the mental conditioning of tainted seekers and cause them to betray their companions. Sacrifices are another key part of Ogam faith. They are important because each HD-worth consumed in the offering slightly extends life expectancy among the tribe. The souls of those sacrificed become food for the Outer Beings. Such hallowed immolation also provide shamans who perform them with additional short-term powers—the greater the offering, the greater the godly favor, usually in the form of one-time spells. Sacrifices can be selected from the ranks of the Ogam themselves; however, outsiders are evidently more preferable and yield far better results. One last detail about shamans: there is no such thing as atonement among them—betraying Outer Being patrons or failing them in some significant manner promptly results in a horrible, agonizing death without hope of rebirth.

Harvesters: These most feared servants of the shamans are bodyguards as well as executors of their masters’ dirty work, and above all they harvest those designated as sacrifices. Like their shaman overseers, they undergo the rebirth process and bear as a result physical mutations similar to those affecting tainted seekers. These fighters have the innate ability to control beasts summoned during the shamans’ rituals, to assist them in accomplishing their missions. Harvesters may control 1 monster HD for every 5 of their own hit points rounded down (6 hp if using AD&D Game rules)—no save. As regards this ability, hit points are modified only by Wisdom bonuses instead of Constitution bonuses. HD plusses are ignored. Several harvesters may combine their hit points to command a large beast. Control, while it lasts, is absolute and does not require concentration. Communication is maintained by way of ESP, up to 120’.

As an option, minimum required hit points can be modified depending on the toughness of the beast. The requirement listed in the previous paragraph is intended for monsters rated at an average 40 XP or less per Hit Die (using BECMI XP ratings). For example, lowly orcs rate as 10 XP per HD, while a 36 HD lich fetches nearly 1,000 XP per HD. It would be trivial for three high-level harvesters to dominate 36 creatures equivalent to orcs, while the same would clearly not be true for a beast comparable to a single 36 HD lich. To reflect this, use the following adjustments:

XP/HD 40 or less: 5 harvester hit points per controlled HD
41-100: 6 hp per HD
101-200: 8 hp per HD
201-400: 12 hp per HD
401-700: 20 hp per HD
701+: 36 hp per HD

In other words, trying to control a beast equivalent to a 36 HD lich would require more than 20 tenth-level harvesters with +2 Wisdom bonuses combining their abilities—more than what a single tribe could field. On the other hand, a single harvester could handle a beast comparable to a 7 HD hellhound or a 10-headed hydra.

A harvester can dismiss a controlled beast, which constitutes a spell-like action requiring a Wisdom Check. If the check fails, the harvester is allowed other tries during the following rounds, until the beast is dismissed (and returns to its dimension), control is lost, or the beast is killed. When multiple handlers combine their abilities, only the one with the highest Wisdom score (and hit points, if tied) may attempt to dismiss a creature. Once domination is broken (see below), a beast can no longer be dismissed.

If a controlling harvester sustains wounds, the ability to dominate a beast is reduced accordingly. Should total combined hit points fall beneath the minimum needed to handle a beast, the creature will immediately attack the harvesters, starting with the lowest Wisdom scores. If it succeeds in killing its handlers, a beast will then seek to eliminate shamans and acolytes who summoned it, after which it attacks anyone else it encounters, including the Ogam themselves.

Although they don’t normally wear armor beyond leather cuirasses and light shields (goat hides and such), they are permitted any low-tech weapon available to fighters. This rules out crossbows and gadgets seekers often carry. Harvesters are skilled at abducting people, and therefore must learn the use of blowguns, nets, and bolas. Darts coated with sleeping or hallucinogenic substances are part of their normal equipment (about 7-12 such darts each). Ogam/Orzafeth-tainted weapons are to be expected among mid- to upper-level harvesters. As shepherds, they also have the ability to charm sheep and goats once a day (no save), and speak with them at will. Giant versions of these animals and other closely-related monsters do get a saving throw vs. spells against this charm ability. Harvesters are immune to fear or mind-affecting auras radiating from Outer Being creatures.

Floral Maiden of Akh’All: AC6, HD 3+2*** (M), MV 60'(20'), AT 1 kiss or 1d4 cystic missiles, Dmg 2d6 + paralysis or 1d4 each + stun, # App. 1-4 (1d10+10 in lair), Save C5, ML 7, TT V, Int 10, AL Chaotic, XP 125—planar monster, enchanted; HR* 4. Special Abilities: paralysis, ranged attacks, limited regeneration, semi-translucence, levitation, seeps through cracks and holes.

(*) HR—Horror Rating: is an optional d20 check devised by Geoff Gander to determine whether the sight of the monster inflicts the viewer a random mental disease.

In short, this is an other-worldly breed of gelatinous cube. Bred in the Gibbering Vats of Akh’All, this drone toils to cleanse its master of festering impurities oozing through its skin. Roughly conical in shape and with rounded edges, this semi-translucent viscous life form jiggles and slithers across floors, walls, and ceilings, or levitates at the same speed. In a poorly lit chamber, its body blends in with surrounding shadows, save for its internal organs. The latter look like marine anemone emitting a slight phosphorescence, with delicate tendrils which slowly wriggle within the maiden’s inner eddies, suddenly retracting and turning dark if the creature senses danger. The floral maiden only communicates through ESP and cannot speak. It senses its surroundings within 120’ radius through ESP, taste, smell, and relative temperatures—it does not radiate body heat itself. It can also detect the presence of Outer Being taint within the same distance. Intervening stonework may reduce this range to no less than 60’.

In combat, the creature can shoot no more than four cystic missiles up to 60’ in any direction. The maiden may release these attacks while it flees its attackers. These projectiles consist of small sacks of semi-fluidic gelatin secreted inside its body, which, when they hit a target, inflict 1d4 points of damage. Victims must save vs. spell or become stunned. When engaged in melee, the maiden reverts to a main attack form which consists in colliding with an attacker, causing 2d6 points of damage plus a paralysis lasting 2d4 Turns or until magically cured (save vs. paralysis negates). This "kiss" attack, when it succeeds, heals half as many points of damage to the creature. The maiden is absolutely silent when it moves, and can crawl through tiny openings, such as underneath a door, through a keyhole, or up a pipe; regaining its shape takes 1d4+1 rounds during which it cannot attack. Occasionally, various non-digestible items may remain within its gelatinous body until processed and dropped on the ground. Floral maidens do not need to breathe air to survive.

Finality of the Ogam Cause: These were people of distant Nithian origins, bred specifically as slaves to reptilian wizards, known as the Carnifex. The overseers’ civilization vanished, leaving their slaves as the last followers of the Outer Beings. Ogam lore predicts a new age coming, when the Ogam will no longer stand as scions of slaves, but as masters of all. This belief drove them to maintain their faith in the Outer Beings. The prophecy is, alas, only partially true and fraught with perils. The Ogam are no more than a tool for their godly masters to enslave the whole of Mystara, humans and all other races, as soul-food for the Outer Beings. As long as they succeed, the Ogam will thrive. If they fail, and some tribes have spectacularly, they will suffer the very fate they intended for others. Though vengeful and profoundly amoral, Outer Beings do not discriminate. They accept anyone as their servants and will obliterate traitors, regardless of past services and achievements.

Ogam shamans occasionally capture infants from other races and raise them as their own, in their odious faith. When grown up, these provide agents whose role is to infiltrate neighboring cultures and spread the evil word. Illicit substances are key to this effort, administered willingly, through trickery, or forcefully as the situation dictates. Those who oppose the Ogam, especially if they are important and powerful individuals, are often marked as targets for future sacrifices. Ogam rituals also work to impoverish and corrupt neighboring lands, both to weaken their foes and promote the encroachment of tainted flora, from which forbidden substances may be concocted. This strategy has proven successful in parts of the Grand Duchy of Frisia as well as the Counties of Hosseta and Wyllareth. The same scheme centuries earlier provoked the conflict between old Orzafeth and neighboring realms. It resulted in the destruction of that kingdom.

Secret Wars: Two foes of the Ogam are largely aware of the Outer Beings’ ploy—Alphatia’s Librarians and the Fey. The former is described in the previous chapter. The Fey include especially magical woodland beings, most of whom now dwell in Foresthome. They resent the corruption of nature and will oppose the Ogam wherever they can. By design, Librarians cannot cooperate with an outside force, but they are aware of the Fey and tacitly avoid interfering with them. As a result, seekers in Foresthome act only within the confines of urban areas and along main roads. The Fey, however, are mostly unaware of the Librarians, save for vague rumors gleaned from the Council of Wizards in Sundsvall.

During the Orzafeth Crusade and the resulting chaos, a handful of survivors bearing the Outer Beings’ taint fled well south of Frisland, into what today stands as Imperial Territories. There is a reason why these lands still remain to this day forbidden to all. They were originally thought of as an estate owned directly by the empire, from which dominions could be infeoded. In truth, successive emperors have suspected Orzafeth influences there. Imperial rangers reported creatures in the area showing bestial vestiges of the Outer Beings. Rangers were ordered to hunt and destroy them at all costs. This effort yielded more troublesome reports of a lair in which a gargantuan larva lay dormant, one which clearly bore the stench of the Outer Beings. Unfortunately, those few who reported the fact all died soon afterward or disappeared before they could betray the lair’s location. This hideout remains beyond reach of Alphatian magic to unveil. Empress Eriadna maintained the ban on these lands as a result of this. Tainted Ones among the Librarians also operate in these parts, avoiding imperial rangers whenever possible. Aside from pursuing their own agendas, they will eliminate anyone else they find there. Some among imperial rangers came from the ranks of seekers, informing their lieges of the corps’ dispositions and activities.

The Great Larva is a half-formed, semi-conscious Outer Being avatar. The sacrifice of Orzafeth’s citizens at the end of the old crusade was only part of the loathsome ritual to bring the Great Larva to Mystara. Orzafeth survivors who’d hidden it in the Imperial Territories have all perished since then, becoming soul-food for the growing beast. Those who approach it share the same fate. The few who merely glimpsed it have gone mad and began worshiping the avatar’s parent Outer Being. They now defend the lair, looking for sacrifices to feed the starving beast and nurture it to full strength. It is the prelude to a disaster of global proportions on Mystara. The Great Larva is the holy grail of Librarians, but it remains anyone’s guess whether their conditioning can defeat the avatar’s unholy aura long enough for them to destroy the beast. Should events described in Wrath of the Immortals take place, the lair would sink beneath the surface of the sea, but the Great Larva—which is immune to Mystaran immortal powers—would remain unharmed and thoroughly unaffected by the seawater. Aquatic creatures would soon replace Alphatians relegated to the Hollow World.

Finally, the issue of the Shadow Dwarves connecting with the Ogam compounds the danger Alphatia faces. In the short term, the quiet conflict spills over into Lower Stoutfellow. It is a facet of the secret wars which Librarians are aware of, but have not been able to address. Their biggest problem is the recruitment of suitable seeker candidates among the dwarves. These fellows are surprisingly resistant to the seekers’ magical and mental conditioning. It is a technical failing, yet perhaps an unforeseen solution to the Ogam peril itself. Dwarvenkind is particularly resilient to mind-affecting Outer Being influences and to the effects of illicit substances key to the Ogam’s nefarious expansion plans. Until the matter can be fully understood and exploited, the Librarians will do all that they can to discreetly help Stoutfellow in its growing struggle against the Shadow Dwarves.

Lord Azapheram, Seventh Marquess of Azafeth

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
Like all his forebears, this distant, insensitive, and often hostile aristocrat suffers from paranoia—he assumes everyone bears hidden motives and seeks to exploit him or his House for evil ends. His ancestral condition finds its roots in an existence continually fraught with ghastly perils and a complicated web of intrigue defining the House of Azapheram. When he founded the new Kingdom of Greater Frisland in the wake of the disastrous Orzafeth Crusade, Emperor Alphas established the House of Edjer as its new royal dynasty. The Council of Wizards in Sundsvall, which didn’t approve of the House of Edjer, wanted to play their own pawn on the Greater Frisland chessboard. It came with their success in forcing Alphas to approve the House of Azapheram as the recipient for the title to the old Antalian Markland. Thus was born the Marquisate of Azafeth. Henceforth, successive marquesses had to contend with a lasting dislike from the House of Edjer, increasingly estranged relations with imperial circles, the constant machinations of the Great Council, subjects who mostly resent Alphatian hegemony, as well as the bone-chilling conflict with the sinister and devious Ogam. Moral and political isolation of the marquisate, embodied by its mountain stronghold, is as extreme as it looks.

The Houses of Azapheram and Rathmore are distant cousins. At some point during their rule, the marquesses also became connected with the Ravensfolk. A bargain was struck between the embattled house and the strange soothsayers, binding them all through the following centuries. A secret prophecy was made that directly ties the marquesses’ bloodline to the outcome of the wider struggle against the Outer Beings. The Ravensfolk have provided insights that prevented the worst of fates befalling the marquisate, a service costing the beneficiaries dearly. One sign of the Ravensfolk connection lies in the cloud of ever-watchful ravens circling above the stronghold. They inform the ruling marquess and the Ravensfolk of a lot of things happening in Azafez. These mysterious seers are in fact kin of the ancient Fey, and thus remain bitter opponents of the Ogam. Nonetheless, little sympathy prevails between their circles and Alphatian authority. When all is said and done, the Fey are no friends of Alphatia.

In his struggle against the Ogam, Lord Azapheram secretly acquired the Receptacle of the Black Vault, an ancient artifact. It proved a costly endeavor, as all those who’d come in contact with it either went mad and had to be put down, or were executed on suspicion of treason (at least to keep them silent). This included the entire crew of a skyship that had briefly gone rogue. The artifact, which reeks of the Outer Being taint, is locked away deep beneath High Azafez, and protected with many layers of magic. The marquess knows that it may help him defeat the Ogam, if only he could get past the artifact’s corrupting aura. His present goal is to research enchantments to gain safe access to the mysterious object. Harboring this artifact comes at a high price, the least of which are persistent nightmares for the marquess, stemming from his knowledge of the relic and his own sense of guilt. News of events surrounding the seizure of the artifact and the ensuing bloody purge were suppressed at the marquess’s behest. Brutal and swift, this measure mostly succeeded, leaving only vague rumors amongst Eriadna’s Librarians and Azapheram’s lieges—a select few in the Council of Wizards. Naturally, both the Ravensfolk and the Ogam know all the details, but they aren’t sharing them with anyone else. A seeker squad in Azafeth is presently trying to unveil clues to confirm the rumor, as is the Imperial Ambassador at the marquess’s court—a council loyalist. A handful of military commanders resent the gruesome purge that led to executions of kinsmen, fostering a yearning for revenge as yet unspoken. Meanwhile, the Ogam seek to infiltrate the mountain fortress and recover their stolen artifact.

Appearance [by JDP]: The marquess stands just above short. Azapheram’s apparent age is early to middle 50s; only those close to him know for certain. His tone is typically Alphatian, with dark stringy shoulder-length hair parted in the middle, pale skin, and eyes a combination between turquoise and sapphire, the whites of which are thoroughly bloodshot. Azapheram, doesn’t sleep much: his eyelids are marred by puffy purplish gray splotches. Beneath his ever-restless eyes hang wide semi-circular sagging bruises. He tries to hide this with a sparse, wiry beard, but it only calls attention to the area. An occasional white hair mars his locks, and his eyebrows are already salt and pepper. Muscular twitches flit across his features, wrecking an otherwise pleasantly mild appearance and leaving tortured wrinkles in their wake. Only his closest servants and a few advisors who have been with Azapheram for a length of time can ignore these unsightly movements, as well as the constant twisting of his head. When the marquess can’t sleep, he walks his citadel, looking for suspicious characters or doings. Those he suspects of betraying him and his house (and they are many) are subjected to questioning and beatings or thrown in the dungeon and forgotten. It is said of Azapheram that he has even arrested rats, and a few hapless dogs and cats, on suspicion of treason. Their bodies molder somewhere he’s long forgotten. Azapheram wears a long-sleeved simply cut robe of densest black that has subtle patterns of feathers appearing and disappearing in any light.

Azapheram: MU19, AC3, hp42, MV 120’(40’), AT staff or spell, Dmg 2d6 or by spell, Save MU19, ML7, AL C; St11, In18, Wi14, Dx15, Co13, Ch10. Magical Items: robe of the raven, staff of power, ring of safety, bone of Archibalzam. Special Abilities: 25% anti-magic, immune to physical diseases and poison, fly at will, telekinesis 2,400cn, can negate 1d4 failed saving throws.

Robe of the Raven: This black robe confers an AC of 4 as well as the abilities to fly at will, to see/hear using the senses of any raven within a 1,000 yards radius, and speak with any nearby raven. Ravensfolk provided this garment to the marquesses who may retain it as long as they do not betray their association with the seers. Unbeknownst to its owner, the robe also enables the Ravenfolk to spy on the marquess.

Bone of Archibalzam: This is a bone fragment from the remains of a legendary wizard, called Archibalzam, a distant ancestor of the House of Azapheram. The relic produces a 25% anti-magic benefit to its owner (5’ radius) as well as immunity to physical diseases and poison. The Seventh Marquess presently studies the ancient object as it seems partially able to withstand the corrupting effects of the Ogam artifact. Wearing the bone provokes facial and neck twitches for its owner.

Deerakh’all, Hetman of the Illtskógur Harvesters

This warrior is a champion of the Ogam tribe occupying the upper Illtskógur Valley. Her sworn enemy is the Seventh Marquess of Azafeth who stole a hallowed relic from the ruins of Svartheim. The tribal shaman, a follower of Akh'All the Unmentionable, tasked Deerakh’all with recovering the artifact and bringing the marquess to the tribe, so he may be sacrificed. Deerakh’all, who is of prevailing Antalian stock, thereafter spent years living in the marquisate where she’s now known as Úlfdís Alfansdóttir. She managed to join Azafeth’s armed forces, and slowly rose through their ranks. While she was posted at Foertgrim, the hetman gained her superiors’ confidence in a series of patrols along the Grimdrein River during which she relied on her secret knowledge of the Ogam to hunt them down. She was transferred since to High-Azafez to join the marquess’s garrison.

Well-acquainted with the town’s layout, its defenses and weaknesses, Deerakh’all used some furlough time to sneak back to her tribe and report. The old shaman performed a ritual and summoned beasts that would help the hetman complete her quest. Deerakh’all used a ring of merging to pull within her own body the beasts she was given to control. Along with her outlandish guests so intimately concealed, she returned to the mountain fortress to resume her duties. Other harvesters under her orders, harboring their own beasts, remain hidden in the mountains north of High-Azafez, awaiting the time their hetman finds a way to let them in. Meanwhile when possible, Deerakh’all releases one or more beasts at night to explore the fortress’s inner reaches for a path to the artifact and the marquess’s bedchamber. Before dawn, her beasts return and once again blend within Deerakh’all’s body.

The hetman is an alluring female warrior with a fair share of admirers among the marquess’s garrison. She manipulates them as she sees fit to further her goals. She’s become aware that Lord Azapheram isn’t immune to her looks and stalwart reputation, although the marquess’s paranoia forbids him to approach her. Sensing an opportunity, Deerakh’all staged a heroic fight with one of her beasts, which she sacrificed in the process, suggesting she saved the lives of her lord and his family. This increased His Lordship's attraction to her, but earned his wife’s suspicion—call it female intuition—and budding jealousy. The lady of the citadel now relies on her own faction among the guards to keep an eye on Deerakh’all, one of whom happens to be a Librarians’ seeker.

While in Azafeth, the hetman does not carry the sort of weapons common to harvesters, such as blowguns, darts, nets, or bolas. Deerakh’all does not bear the taint of the Outer Beings since she has not undergone the rebirth process.

Appearance [by JDP]: In her early thirties, Deerakh’all is tall, muscular, attractive, and exudes a wolf-like ruthlessness. Her long flaxen hair stays braided and knotted close to her head. Ice-blue eyes fringed by pale brown lashes dominate her face. High cheekbones give her a slightly haughty appearance, of which she makes full use when giving orders. A finely-drawn nose balances her full lips, both of which are in perfect proportions. Her typical expression of reserve belies what goes on behind Deerakh’all’s martial façade. Thoughtful, yet assertive, she reviles the twitching marquess’s admiring glances, keeping her wits to play him despite his paranoia. Deerakh’all typically wears dark red leather boots, leggings, and a jerkin studded front and back. Her sword never leaves her side.

Deerakh’all: F21, AC6, hp57, MV 120’(40’), AT sword, Dmg 1d6+4, Save F17, ML11, AL C; St17, In11, Wi16, Dx13, Co12, Ch15. Magical Items: ring of merging, potion of dreamspeech (3 doses, as per RC description pg. 233), medallion of misleading, and +2 sword of influence. Special Abilities: monster domination up to 15 HD (lowest XP rating) or no more than 3 floral maidens of Akh’all.

Ring of Merging: This magical item is similar to a potion of blending (RC pg. 233). It enables the hetman to merge within her body up to seven companions with their equipment, as if they were incorporeal. Those merged cannot speak, cast spells, or attack without stepping out. Damage to the hetman does not affect merged beasts, but will reduce her ability to dominate them (if so, Deerakh’all picks which ones she retains). Uncontrolled beasts will step out and attack her right away. The hetman’s death would release all those still within. The ring is made of carved goat bone.

Medallion of Misleading: Bearing Deerakh’all’s totem she-wolf symbol, the object prevents divination spells from ruining her subterfuge, such as in particular true sight or detect evil. Whether or not she hosts Outer Being beasts within herself, her alignment comes off as Neutral. She keeps the medallion hidden under her shirt. Someone with an Orzafeth Lore skill might recognize it as an Ogam totem symbol.

Sword of Influence: it appears as a simple sword with a +2 enchantment. In truth, it is a Shadow Dwarven weapon with peculiar powers. Once a day, it either confers the hetman with a +2 bonus to a Charisma check when interacting with someone, or it fosters a –2 penalty to Charisma checks for everyone else within a 30’ radius during 1 Turn. Its intent is to divide people and set them against one another. When in combat, however, its blade instills upon those it wounds a sense of despair. Each wound requires a separate saving throw vs. spells to negate. Failure to save results in cumulative –2 penalties to hit the hetman (and to morale checks for NPCs). Upon close examination, an experienced Stoutfellow swordsmith might be able to identify the blade’s nefarious origin. Charisma-based modifiers do not affect those who are immune to mind-affecting magic; despair does not include foes immune to fear.

To be continued. . . Coming next: The County of Västheim

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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