The Jungle Of Gears
Many layers of the Abyss take some aspects of the form of jungles or forests from mortal realms, and don’t worry, we’ll be seeing a lot of them as this project wears on. This one, though, is something a little more alien…
It is common, in the Abyss, to find layers which echo themes of corruption, decay, and infestation. Whether the mortal realm is tainted by the Abyss’s evil, or if the Abyss itself is shaped by the basest impulses of mortals is an issue for philosophers, not adventurers. Nonetheless, the Jungle of Gears embodies this concept in a unique way, and one which hints at a darker power growing in the Abyss, a new force to compete with such legends as the Undead Lord and the Master of Oozes.
At the very first look, the Jungle of Gears seems a "typical" Abyssal jungle… tall trees twisting around each other in unpleasant ways, dark shadows concealing all, skin-chilling noises echoing from everywhere and nowhere, vile and indescribable colors clashing and blending into hues of pure madness… but then there is more. Those are not vines hanging from that tree, but wires and cables, spitting electricity into the air. The encrustations tearing apart another tree are not the black fungus they first seemed, but seem to be eruptions of machinery of dark iron, dripping with a grease which corrodes flesh but not metal. Some of the scurrying bugs are complex clockwork mechanism, and a loping demon traveling through the layer seems to have one arm and one eye made of machinery. This is a realm where nature — at least, what passes for nature in the madness that is the Abyss — is under assault by a virulent new form of "life", one which is slowly spreading through the Abyss. Whispers, in the Abyss, among the Dominions of the gods, and in arcane strongholds and the meeting halls of cultists in the mortal world, speak of something known only as "The Machine God", a force rising through the Abyss but who remains thus far unassailable by the other great powers.
The Jungle Of Gears is a direct slap in the faces of the putative "Prince of Demons", as this realm is his — a minor fragment of his empire, a tiny outpost, but nonetheless long claimed by He Who Sees Both Left And Right. Consumed with other battles, he has not been able to focus on reclaiming it, and those of his servants whom he has sent either die or are transformed.
The Jungle of Gears is in the form of an inverted sphere, two thousand miles in diameter, with a coruscating mass of luminescent energy in the center, acting as a sort of sun. It fluctuates madly, from blinding glare to dim blackness, but most of the time, the layer is bathed in a reddish twilight glow, providing dim light in open areas and deep darkness wherever the overgrowth blots it out. Traveling through and around the layer is an aspect of the great Abyssla river, Dralika. Here, the "waters" of the river are a thick, choking, oil, from which wafts odors not easily described.
This is a richly inhabited layer. From burrowing mites which devour the bones marrow from still-living victims, to gibbering twin-headed apes brawl endlessly among the trees, to stalking things that are part panther and part snake and part something not easily named, the Jungle of Gears contains all manner of nightmares. Now, many of them bear the signs of the Machine God’s taint, as does anyone who stays here for long.
Not long in the past, there was a trading town, of sorts, in one of the calmer bays off the Dralika. Some 500 beings lived there, mosty from other parts of the Abyss, seeking to bargain with creatures from the mortal realms and Astral Sea. The town was consumed not long ago, and what stands in its place is an edifice to madness made mechanical — a giant machine producing nothing but, it seems, smoke and waste, the mechanisms by which it works unknown and perhaps unknowable. It is a town-sized mass of crushing gears, spouting flame, whirling blades, and crushing hammers, all working furiously and without any purpose. As word of this has drifted out, sages and artificers and the like have come to explore it, only to end up leaving baffled if they are lucky and becoming carriers of the machine plague if they are not. A few of the very wise or the very foolish have begun to scour the Abyss for other signs of the rise of this so-called Machine God… what they find, if anything, is yet to be revealed.
Credit Where It’s Due Department: I had some ideas, vague and inchoate, for something like this long ago, but some of the imagery and the idea for the machine plague are inspired by the book "Whitechapel Gods" by SM Peters. Other ideas for the way in which the Machine God may interact with the rest of the universe were inspired by the poster "Chromoplasm" on RPG.net.
Merely spending some time in the Jungle of Gears exposes someone to this strange contagion…
Attack: +24 vs. Will
Endurance: Improve 30, Maintain 25, Worsen 21 or lower
Stage -1: The target is cured.
Stage 0: Initial Effect: The target’s skin begins to grow patches of black iron, and he suffers great pain as wires and piping begin to grow throughout his body. He suffers a -2 penalty to all attack rolls and skill checks, and also gains a +1 bonus to Armor Class.
Stage 1: In addition to the above effects, the target is slowed as increasing agony cripples him. He gain an additional +1 bonus to Armor Class, as well as darkvision if he did not already possess it. He also gains Resist 5 (Psychic) as his mind becomes alien and strange; this also causes a -4 to all Charisma-based skills.
Stage 2: The target is consumed by the Machine. He is a creature of half-flesh and half-metal, serving an unknown master. He no longer suffers attack or skill check penalties, save for the -4 to Charisma-based skills. He is also, for game purposes, an NPC unless the disease is removed magically or he is slain and then subject to Raise Dead.
There are many beasts in the Jungle of Gears; here’s one. (I like this concept any may be adding more later, they’ll be in "Creatures")
Infected Octoguar : A cross between an ocotpus and a jaguar, infected by the Machine God.