Monthly Archives: September 2009

017 The Maze Of Fangs

The Maze Of Fangs

The Maze of Fangs is the very heart of the Darkbriar, a twisting labyrinth of thorns, leading to the Enshrouded Towers at the heart. Here is where Zagralath dwells, and if he ever leaves his home – or even if he can – is something of a mystery. He has never been known to visit other planes in person, though he will sometimes send servants on such errands. He has sealed his domain as tightly as he can, with no direct routes other than those portals he personally opens and closes. The only other way in is via the Overgrowth, an often difficult journey. Even those passages end far, far, from the Enshrouded Towers, leaving visitors to wend their way through the myriad passages, tunnels, and dead-ends of the Maze.

Read on for the venom-dripping details!
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016 The Overgrowth

The Overgrowth

The third layer of Darkbriar, the realm of Zagralath, strongly resembles a typical chunk of the mortal realm. There are small forests, rolling hills, a meandering river or two, lakes, and plains… all covered with twisting brambles, briars, and thorns, choking the realm completely. Here, the hedges are a single writhing entity, constantly in motion, constantly overgrowing and consuming. There is no rest or respite — the hedge grows and surrounds anyone or anything which enters here, imprisoning it and drawing strength from its pain.

The layer is a disk two hundred miles across, vanishing into the surrounding maelstrom. Night and day occur without stars, moon, or sun, a gradual fading and brightening of the sky. The plane is filled with one sound, the sound of constant creaking growth and rustling motion, of tangled vines and blood-seeking needles continuously turning in on themselves. It is discomfitting, at best, and the continual chaotic noise makes hearing difficult; Perception checks for sound are at -5 for sounds within 10 squares, -10 for sounds within 20, and are impossible outside of that distance.

The Overgrowth serves two functions. Firstly, it is a barrier to Zagralath’s home plane — there is no other way to the heart of the Darkbriar. He has sealed all portals, blocked all channels. Only by passing through the Overgrowth, or by his special invitation, can one enter his home. (He would seal the Overgrowth if he could, but the nature of his realm does not permit it; the layers are "touching" according to the strange laws of the Abyss, and he cannot block all passages.) As such, Zagralath’s agents and servants constantly patrol the Overgrowth, looking for those who can survive the nature of the realm itself. He has appointed Clemeren, a transformed Eladrin soul, to oversee this gateway.

Second, the Overgrowth serves to imprison those beings Zagralath wishes to keep close… but not too close. The great palace at the center of the Darkbriar is where he keeps his current projects, his active concerns. The Overgrowth is, in a sense, his storeroom, the place where can toss things he doesn’t need now but might need later. To be honest, he is only vaguely aware of what creatures he has imprisoned here and why he might want them, and his various aides charged with record-keeping are not the most accurate — demons never are.

Those who guide the powerful through the Abyss avoid the Overgrowth; the best you might get is pointed to a gate which will lead you here. There are no trading posts or rest areas or meeting places here; this is a layer directly adjacent to the home of a Demon Lord, albeit a minor one, and such places do not generally serve as gatherings for the riff-raff of the planes.

The land which underlies the Overgrowth is known to shift and change over time. Mountains are worn down; rivers change their path; forests grow and shrink, become tropical jungle or northern pine. At times, the Overgrowth will suddenly sprout a village, a fortress, or a lonely waystation; these are consumed and enclosed as quickly as anything else, and their inhabitants drained. It is generally believed that in areas where the Feywild and the Mortal Realm are linked, and where there has likewise been dark corruption and powerful abyssal magic, that things can shift, that pieces of the world can move to the Overgrowth. What happens to that portion of the Overgrowth which is replaced? See below…

Clemeren has a small dwelling place here, known as the sphere of thorns, for such it is — a hollow globe a few hundred feet across, attached to the plane-wide hedge network, which moves constantly across the twisting surface. He is ever alert for intrusion, not so much out of loyalty to Zagralath, but because the slaying of invaders is one of his few pleasures. There are whispers that Clemeren desires Zagraleth’s throne, and will be willing to let those who have the power to slay him, and the will to do so, through to Zagraleth’s inner sanctum… but it may also be those whispers serve only to lure new playmates for the Overgrowth’s master.


Survival

The Overgrowth constantly attacks. Unless a group has magical protection, long-term flight, or other means of avoiding any contact with the surface, they will be continuously subject to the following:

Attack Of The Overgrowth: +27 vs. AC, 4d6+6 damage and target is slowed (save ends). First Failed Save: Target is immobilized (save ends). Second Failed Save: Target is imprisoned.

Imprisoned: An imprisoned target is trapped in the dense thicket of thorns, which pierce his flesh completely, growing into and throughout his body. He is unconscious. Each round, he loses a healing surge; when he has been reduced to zero surges, he is trapped in a state between life and death, and his mind is infiltrated by the Overgrowth. Clemeren, and Zagraleth, can acess the Overgrowth as a minor action to dominate any imprisoned target. This is usually done for interrogation purposes. An imprisoned character can be freed by doing 60 points of damage to the Overgrowth, which has Regeneration 10 (Radiant), and Resistance 15 to Maces, Flails, and Hammers. An imprisoned target has concealment.

A quick note to DMs: Obviously, just dumping the characters in the Overgrowth and waiting until they’ve all been imprisoned is No Fun. Unless the character’s stupidly charge in unprepared (in which case, give them what they’ve asked for), it’s usually best to make sure they know what the place is like and allow them to take precautions. A rare ritual might stave off the plane’s voracious assault for a few hours. A bargain for safe passage might be reached with Clemeren before entry. (They may imitate/impersonate invited guests, somehow…). It is also possible to let them enter, learn, and then quickly retreat through a portal which remains open for a few key rounds.

Obviously, if the characters can be attacked, it is not possible to take a short or extended rest.

The tendrils of the Overgrowth reach upwards for 6 squares.

Thorn-Tainted (Template)

Where the Overgrowth shifts and momentarily merges with the Mortal Realm, a fragment of the demonic plane is left behind. Cut off, it will quickly dissolve into grey ash, unless it can find a host. If it comes into contact with an animal or humanoid, it will merge with it, creating a twisted new entity.

"Thorn Tainted" is a template which can be applied to any Humanoid, Beast, or Magical Beast. It represents a monster infected by the power of the Overgrowth. Such a creature’s appearance transforms; it is covered with sharp thorns and spikes, each twisted and jagged. Blood, or a viler fluid, leaks from where the thorns grow out of the flesh, and the creature’s bones and form become twisted.

Thorn-Tainted Elite Brute

Piercing Aura: aura 1; each enemy that starts its turn adjacent to the thorn-tainted takes 1d6 points of damage per tier.

Hit Points: +10 per level+Constitution score.

Resist: 5 poison

11th level: 10 poison

21st level: 15 poison

Saving Throws: +2

Action Points: 1

Impaling Attacks: All melee attacks which do not have the weapon keyword made by the thorn-tainted creature do 5 ongoing damage (save ends).

11th level: 10 ongoing

21st level: 15 ongoing

Cage Of Pain: (Standard Action; Encounter; Close Blast 5) Level+3 vs. AC, and the target takes Medium/Limited damage, plus immobilized and ongoing 5 per tier (save ends both).

Grappling Thorns: (Minor Action; Recharge 5,6; Range 3): Level +1 vs. Reflex, and target is pulled three squares.

Thorn-tainted creatures will use their grappling thorns and cage of pain powers to bring foes close to them, and will then attack whoever seems weakest until they die.

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015 Needlemire

Needlemire

The second of the layers of Darkbriar, home of Zagralath the Barbed Lord, Needlemire is a vast swamp, set beneath a sky forever locked in evening. A dim and flickering sun remains always on the horizon, and the light serves no purpose other than to create shadows. The waters are usually still, unless interrupted by the emergence of something hungry… or, occasionally, one of the imprisoned gaining a moment of freedom and desperately breaking the surface.

Needlemire has a surface, but no bottom. The entire layer is filled with twisting, writhing, thornvines, tangled into a vast mat that drops down through the murky water seemingly forever, eventually vanishing into the maelstrom which surround the Abyss. Fragments of this thorn wall break the swamp’s surface, and reach upwards for a small bit — twenty feet or so at the most. In a few places, the outgrowths form tiny islands a dozen or so feet across. Mostly, though, they lie below.

Travel in Needlemire is difficult. Swimming is the obvious mode of transit, but the thorns are everywhere below the surface, and each round of swimming — unless you are a native of the plane or somehow protected — exposes you to damage. (See below.) Watercraft, especially flat-bottomed rafts, are the preferred solution, but even they run into problems, as the thorns will grow upwards to entangle anything which spends too much time here. These are problems, but there are always solutions, and there are people with a reason to seek them out.

Needlemire is a junction point for many tendrils of Dralika, the Abyssal river. (It may seem confusing that a river can branch, split, and meander, and still be the same river, but such is the nature of things in the Abyss.) While the layer seems to be one vast swamp with no inlet or outflow, the navigators of Dralika know the secret routes, the ways to travel just so, allowing them to pass through Needlemire and out again to vastly different aeas of the Abyss. Throughout the layer, there have been built small huts, observation towers, and so on, which serve as guideposts and places to exchange passengers and goods… and then there is the balloon…

Sherrinal’s Retreat

Never claim that evil is uncreative, especially when there is trade in souls to be had. The folk of the Abyss tend to fall into two broad types… the ravening, mad, brutes whose only thought is destruction for the sheer joy of it, and the depravedly cunning, who ultimately do far more harm. Five-armed Sherrinal, a marilith, is very much one of the latter. She has created a floating platform, hovering some thirty feet over the swamp’s surface. Attached by ropes of still-living tendon and muscle to a bloated gasbag of stiched skin (likewise still alive, with faces peering outwards in all directions, moaning and sighing), the platform serves as a central point for trade, travel, and tribute (to Sherrinal). Zagraleth seems to endure this intrusion, and it can only be assumed Serrinal has made some special deal with him. (Indeed, she has… any mortal Fey which enter the Retreat are taken and delivered to him, alive and as unharmed as possible, for his slow and painful pleasure. Anyone who might report on this to other planar travelers is simply dealt with as needed. It’s no great surprise that mortals who dare to visit the Abyss do not return, after all. Sherrinal prefers to keep this action quiet, very quiet, as places like hers tend to attract mortals, who bring much in valuable trade and information — a reputation for treachery above and beyond the usual, expected, level is just plain bad for business.)

The Retreat is small, some two hundred feet across, and cluttered with an insane mound of half-constructed shacks, tents, cabins, and so on. Population shifts constantly. Sherrinal maintains a personal palace, a luxurious tent of elf-skin (living, of course), in the center of the mess, and she dispenses whatever passes for "justice" in the Retreat — basically, if a dispute manages to reach her, she decides on a whim which party she likes more and favors them. The other will be lucky to leave with all of his body parts attached. For the most part, she lets the Retreat run itself, intefering only when something threatens the main role of the place as a semi-haven. There’s a certain tolerable level of random violence, and she acts if it looks like that level (in her ever capricious mind) might be exceeded, especially if people of true power (and thus, worth) find themselves spending so much time in self defense that it’s not worth their bother coming.

The Inhabitants

Needlemire draws to itself the souls of the darkest of the aquatic fey, especially sea-elves who have turned piratical and cruel, and the so-called "Crab Drow" of the underdark oceans, at least those who escape the webs of the Spider Queen. (As an aside, there are damn few "official" creatures which are both Fey and Aquatic — to be exact, one. Look for this error to be… corrected… by some future articles!) These unworthies, save those few chosen to serve Zagraleth himself, are affixed below, pinned and impaled in the murk, constantly devoured from within and without by swarms of things — razor-toothed demon fish from the outside, hatching acidic lamprey larvae from the inside. Some struggle free, briefly, and then seek some kind of shelter or respite, but there is none to be had — none of those who pass through will grant sanctuary, for Zagraleth forbids it and, more importantly, the newly-escaped have nothing of value to offer.

Mechanics

Anyone person swimming in the waters of Needlemire will be constantly attacked by the thorns (+30 vs AC, 3d8+6 damage), unless they make a DC 20 Athletic check.  For every five points by which they make it, they will avoid attack for that many rounds. (So a result of 30 means no attacks for two additional rounds.) Vehicles travelling the Needlemire will be likewise attacked, but it is a Nature check to avoid damage. Flat-bottomed vehicles gain a +10 on the check.

Long-term travel by raft should be abstracted out; there is no need to roll every single round for a journey of hours. Out-of-combat travel in the Needlemire is best modeled with a skill challenge. It can also be assumed that demonic boatmen who travel the Needlemire regularly have learned all the tricks of the trade and are not at great risk… unless the DM has a good plot reason for exposing them, and their passengers, to danger.

The Crunch

While I could have a lot of fun with an entire bestiary of dark thorny critters, I don’t want every installment to be monsters. :) So we’ll take a side trip this time, and look at a few of the interesting things you can buy at the Retreat.

 

Manskin Armor

This leather armor is warm, and supple, and fits just perfectly. It also has a face, located on the left shoulder, and a few tattoos. Ignore them.

The flaying of incarnated souls is an artform in the Abyss, and preserving life in the remains is the pinnacle of that art. Pain is power, and demons love power above all else. Manskin armor is, as one might guess, armor made from the hide of sentient beings. Despite the name, it comes in many varieties — dwarfskin, elfskin, and so on. Each grants special benefits to those who wear it. Of course, wearing it has some drawbacks. Only those with the Evil or Chaotic Evil alignments can put it on; anyone else will take 1d12 points of acid damage per plus for each round it is worn, if they put the armor on voluntarily. Even if someone is immune to acid, the armor provides no bonus to AC to those not of the proper alignment. Secondly, the wearer has a -5 penalty to any Diplomacy or Bluff checks made against non-evil creatures when wearing the armor.

Level Bonus Cost
15 +3 25,000
20 +4 125,000
25 +5 625,000
30 +6 3,125,000

 

Armor: Leather, Hide

Enhancement: AC

Property: Resist 10 Necrotic.

Level 25 or 30: Resist 15 Necrotic

Power (Encounter): (Shapechanging) The wielder may take on the form of a unique individual of the same type as the armor (dwarf, elf, human, etc). This lasts for five minutes, but can be extended an additional five minutes by expending a healing surge. The wearer’s size will change to that of the appropriate race, but none of his other abilities, powers, attacks, etc, are altered.

Level 25 or 30: The shapechange lasts until it is dismissed as a minor action or until the wearer takes an extended rest.

 

Power (Daily):(Minor Action) The wearer invokes the power of the race from whom the armor is shaped. For the duration of the encounter, he gains one of the following:

Dragonborn: You may use dragon breath as an encounter power.

Dwarf: You gain stand your ground until the end of the encounter.

Eladrin: You may use fey step once during this encounter.

Elf: You gain wild step until the end of the encounter.

Half-Elf: When the armor is first found, it has an at-will power of a particular class embedded into it. Activating the armor’s power allows you to use that at-will once during this encounter.

Halfling: You may use second chance once per encounter.

Human: When the armor is first found, it will have a  Heroic or Paragon feat embedded into it. Activating this power grants the character use of that feat for the remainder of the encounter.

Tiefling: You may use infernal wrath once per encounter.

 

 

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014 Icethorn

Icethorn

It cannot truly be called a "maze", for a maze implies a mere two dimensions. Like the rest of Darkbriar, Icethorn extends in every direction, plants with no roots and no surface, a sprawling labyrinth of needles to impale the weak and unworthy, fed by blood and pain. It is a realm of twisted, thorn-encrusted vines, one wrapped in bitter cold, with the substance of the layer moving from frost-encrusted plant to living ice and back again in a manner that follows no rules or patterns.

Icethorn is cold, and the cold cannot be described as the mere lack of heat. It is heat-stealing, a cold that extinguishes all life, all warmth — the warmth of love, the warmth of compassion, the warmth of humor. The direst reaches of the Shadowfell are a merry carnival compared to Icethorn. To be here is to be drained of all that gives life meaning.

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The Darkbriar, Part I

Darkbriar, Part I

Well, time is limited for me to work on this site, so I am combining two "regular" features for this week — Breakfast Crunch and the Abyss Project. This week I’m planning on doing a fairly complex demonic realm, four interlinked layers which are the domain of Zagralath, The Thorned Prince, the Lord Of The Dark Hedgeways, the Barbed Lord, the Impaler. Zagralath has a fairly interesting history. A relatively minor demon, a servant to one of the greater princes, he oversaw the gardens of the Minotaur King. When the Aeld of Cret decided they had both the power and the right to seek to bind the princes of demonkind as they might the least of dretches, a number of upheavals occured. One of these was the momentary merger of a part of the Feywild with a segment of the Abyss — the Minotaur King’s Gardens. Zagraleth may have had only mediocre power, but he was bound to that realm, and when they Fey energy surged into it, it surged into him, transforming him. He is now a strange and terrible thing, a demon tied to the Feywild, and his realm resembles the harshest parts of that world, magnified a thousand fold and twisted into utter evil. The entirety of it, all four interwoven layers, is known as Darkbriar… and we will be exploring them all.

Today, we look at Icethorn.

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Ghoul-ash, Part III

Ghoul-ash, Part III

You can tell I grew up on bad horror movies with bad horror hosts shown at 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, can’t you?

For Part III, I figured since the DMG2 includes guidelines for traps and minions, it only makes sense to create, well, a trap and some minions! So we have the Drowning Pit and the Clambering Hordes.

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Underdweller: Cryptguard and Gravepriest

Underdweller Cryptguard And Gravepriest

Two more Underdwellers!

The Cryptguard is a reasonable fighter in his own right, but his real strength is as a guardian for his allies — he is hard to get past if properly positioned, and if he sees a friend perish nearby, his fury is quite painful.

The Gravepriest can fling bolts of solidified necrotic energy, as well as sapping the strength of nearby enemies and giving his allies the power to grwo strong from the blood of their foes.

General notes on Underdwellers are here: Anthrophagi Of The Undercities

 

Underdweller Cryptguard

Level 8 Soldier

Medium natural humanoid

XP 350

Initiative

+8 Senses Perception +11
HP 86; Bloodied 43
AC 24; Fortitude 21; Reflex 20; Will 20
Speed 6

m

Claw (standard; at-will) • Poison

+15 vs. AC; 2d6 + 5 damage, and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).

Lunging Slash (no action; at-will)

The Underdweller Cryptguard may make opportunity attacks against any enemy which shifts in a square adjacent to him.

M

Eviscerating Fury (immediate reaction; at-will)

Trigger: An ally of the Cryptguard is reduced to 0 hit points by an enemy adjacent to the Cryptguard. Effect: The Cryptguard may make two claw attacks against the triggering character.

Tendon Slash (standard; encounter)

+13 vs. Fortitude; 4d8 + 5 damage, and ongoing 5 poison damage and target is immobilized (save ends both). Aftereffect: Target is slowed (save ends).

Alignment

Unaligned

Languages

Common

Skills

Athletics +15, Dungeoneering +11

Str

22 (+10)

Dex

14 (+6)

Wis

14 (+6)

Con

14 (+6)

Int

10 (+4)

Cha

14 (+6)

Equipment

Scavenged Chain

 

Underdweller Gravepriest

Level 10 Controller (Leader)

Medium natural humanoid

XP 500

Initiative

+7 Senses Perception +8; darkvision
HP 102; Bloodied 51
AC 24; Fortitude 21; Reflex 22; Will 24
Immune Disease; Resist 5 Necrotic
Speed 6

m

Claws (standard; at-will)

+15 vs. AC; 1d8 + 5 damage, and 5 ongoing poison damage.

R

Screaming Bolt (standard; at-will) • Necrotic

+14 vs. Will; 2d6 + 5 and target is pushed 2 squares.

C

Miasmic Mists (standard; recharge 5 6) • Poison

Burst 3; +14 vs. Fortitude; 2d6 + 5 damage, and 5 ongoing poison damage and target grants Combat Advantage. (save ends both).

Blood into Life (no action; at-will)

Any ally of the Gravepriest who is within 10 squares of him may take a Move action to gain 5 temporary hit points if they are adjacent to a bloodied foe.

Alignment

Unaligned

Languages

Skills

Arcana +13, History +13

Str

14 (+7)

Dex

15 (+7)

Wis

17 (+8)

Con

14 (+7)

Int

17 (+8)

Cha

20 (+10)

 

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Underdweller: Cryptguard and Gravepriest

Underdweller Cryptguard And Gravepriest

Two more Underdwellers!

The Cryptguard is a reasonable fighter in his own right, but his real strength is as a guardian for his allies — he is hard to get past if properly positioned, and if he sees a friend perish nearby, his fury is quite painful.

The Gravepriest can fling bolts of solidified necrotic energy, as well as sapping the strength of nearby enemies and giving his allies the power to grwo strong from the blood of their foes.

General notes on Underdwellers are here: Anthrophagi Of The Undercities

 

Underdweller Cryptguard

Level 8 Soldier

Medium natural humanoid

XP 350

Initiative

+8 Senses Perception +11
HP 86; Bloodied 43
AC 24; Fortitude 21; Reflex 20; Will 20
Speed 6

m

Claw (standard; at-will) • Poison

+15 vs. AC; 2d6 + 5 damage, and ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).

Lunging Slash (no action; at-will)

The Underdweller Cryptguard may make opportunity attacks against any enemy which shifts in a square adjacent to him.

M

Eviscerating Fury (immediate reaction; at-will)

Trigger: An ally of the Cryptguard is reduced to 0 hit points by an enemy adjacent to the Cryptguard. Effect: The Cryptguard may make two claw attacks against the triggering character.

Tendon Slash (standard; encounter)

+13 vs. Fortitude; 4d8 + 5 damage, and ongoing 5 poison damage and target is immobilized (save ends both). Aftereffect: Target is slowed (save ends).

Alignment

Unaligned

Languages

Common

Skills

Athletics +15, Dungeoneering +11

Str

22 (+10)

Dex

14 (+6)

Wis

14 (+6)

Con

14 (+6)

Int

10 (+4)

Cha

14 (+6)

Equipment

Scavenged Chain

 

Underdweller Gravepriest

Level 10 Controller (Leader)

Medium natural humanoid

XP 500

Initiative

+7 Senses Perception +8; darkvision
HP 102; Bloodied 51
AC 24; Fortitude 21; Reflex 22; Will 24
Immune Disease; Resist 5 Necrotic
Speed 6

m

Claws (standard; at-will)

+15 vs. AC; 1d8 + 5 damage, and 5 ongoing poison damage.

R

Screaming Bolt (standard; at-will) • Necrotic

+14 vs. Will; 2d6 + 5 and target is pushed 2 squares.

C

Miasmic Mists (standard; recharge 5 6) • Poison

Burst 3; +14 vs. Fortitude; 2d6 + 5 damage, and 5 ongoing poison damage and target grants Combat Advantage. (save ends both).

Blood into Life (no action; at-will)

Any ally of the Gravepriest who is within 10 squares of him may take a Move action to gain 5 temporary hit points if they are adjacent to a bloodied foe.

Alignment

Unaligned

Languages

Skills

Arcana +13, History +13

Str

14 (+7)

Dex

15 (+7)

Wis

17 (+8)

Con

14 (+7)

Int

17 (+8)

Cha

20 (+10)

 

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Underdwellers, Part II

Underdwellers, Part II

Not too much to add by way of introduction, here. A few general notes on using these monsters: If the idea of a relatively passive race of corpse-eating monstrosities isn’t interesting enough, one nice variant is to alter them from a "natural", albeit degenerate, race into one which propogates itself by stealing babies and feeding them rotting human flesh while performing grotesque and corrupting rites. Some corrupt city officials may well have made deals with these beasts, providing them a steady stream of "offerings" drawn from the wretched refuse of the city, in exchange for which, the children of the powerful are never taken. Alternatively, or additionally, the Underdwellers may be much more interested in "fresh" meat than the default I’ve provided; they may well regularly sneak up to the surface to have a snack.

Anyway, today we mostly look at more powerful members of the clan: The Cryptguard, which guards the home territories of the Underdwellers, and the Gravepriest, the master of secret magics. Both can be found here..

 

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