Yay, toys are fun!
So at Dungeon we have a list of monsters/adventure ideas that we feel have been overused recently. While it is possible for us to green light an adventure that features one of these monsters/ideas, it is very unlikely. Every once in awhile we reevaluate "The List" and update it.
Which one of these deserves to come off "The List"?
Gary gave me a new toy to try out, so I thought we'd experiment with a question that comes up a lot around here, who is your favorite Dungeon author? I only included authors that have had an adventure published since issue 124 (the beginning of Age of Worms). I also didn't include any of the Paizo staff members, I know you guys love us :)
Have at it!
Let me know if I left someone out.
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Somehow, three area descriptions were left out of the final text for this adventure. Our sincere apologies to everyone for the mistake! We will include the missing text in the 130 Web Enhancement when it is released, but in the meantime I will post it here.
9. Great Pagoda
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The pagoda was used by the Amata no Sei for powerful commune rituals. The gong’s disk is made of pure platinum (see Treasure). When hanging on the frame, the gong’s disk is the equivalent of a gong of dispelling. Each time the gong is sounded, every creature and spell effect in a 30-foot radius is targeted by a dispel magic effect, CL 9th. It has an unlimited number of charges, but may not be removed without destroying its enchantment.Treasure: The gong’s disk weighs 60 pounds and is worth 12,000 gp for the value of the platinum.
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The cupboard is full of traveling clothes and accessories. A pouch in a hidden recess (Search DC 22) contains the Treasure.Treasure: 3 vials of elixir of sneaking and a figurine of wondrous power (serpentine owl).
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The staircase leads up to the great balcony above (area 23).
I was born in the Emporium. Stop for a second, and imagine the dirtiest scummy little scrap of pond sludge clinging to the wet bark of a rotting tree trunk. Now imagine a spongy white speck of fungus desperately clinging to the sludge, trying to suck anything wholesome in that piece of pond scum and incorporate it into its own soggy, misshapen form. Now you have a pretty good idea what kind of place I was born in. The Emporium is the parasite, but all it’s gotten out of Diamond Lake these past few years is corruption and festering rot.
My mother was a whore. All my life I have heard kids, and sometimes even adults, yelling “you bastard son of a copper whore!” at each other in the streets, the common room, and occasionally even upstairs, but somehow, no one ever yells it at me. You might think that was because they were sensitive, or maybe because the insult wouldn’t sting as badly if it were true. Actually, no one bothers calling me that because they have much better names to throw at me.
“Hellspawn,” “snakespit,” “bloodface,” “ratkin,” and “Demon Boy,” they call after me at me every day. And I can’t really object, certainly not to the last one, as technically speaking that’s my name. Ok, not my real name, but close enough. When the Boss first got hold of me, Auntie Rose tried to tell her my real name, but she wouldn’t listen. “Don’t care what he was called!” she growled fiercely, her eyes shining in anticipation of the money she would make with me, “Demon Boy’s what people will know him as, so Demon Boy’s his name! Best if he never even knows any other!” And so it was settled, and if she hadn’t needed someone to clean me and take care of me, I probably still wouldn’t know my real name: Aroval.
So where was I? Oh yes, I was born in the Emporium. All of that flowery talk aside, the Emporium is pretty much a dive. I suppose that probably doesn’t mean much to you, as from what I have heard, these dives don’t exist in very many places. But many’s the person I’ve overheard across the bars saying “Damn straight, but t’are ain’t no better dive than the Emporium, and that’s the truth of it.”
Of course it wasn’t always the Emporium, and maybe telling you how it happened is the best way to describe it, since I seem to be doing such a lousy job so far. Years ago, it was a brothel, one of a half-dozen in a small mining town. It catered to rough and drunk miners who wanted it so bad they didn’t care who they got it from. And in this case, that was just as well, cause from what I understand, in those days there wasn’t any uglier (or cheaper) whores this side of Greyhawk than those found and Zalamandrea’s House of Sugar. My mother (from what I have heard) was just about the most innocent looking halfling you could imagine. Well, except for the whole fat, double-chin, scar across the face thing, of course. How she got to be a whore I have no idea, Auntie swears she doesn’t know, and I have never been able to weasel it out of the Boss, if she ever knew herself. I suppose in the end, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if she had been a married woman, though. Happy, peaceful, and I would have never been born. It makes me a little sad, thinking of her like that, which is why I do it. I have no sadness left for myself anymore.
But I was talking about the Emproium. Lets see, it must have been round about ten years ago, I was still a baby at the time, and hadn’t been taken yet, when Marat showed up. He’d been wandering around the hills for years, putting on shows, but this time it was different. Somehow, and no one is exactly sure how, the Boss managed to convince him to sell her his traveling show, and move in with his whole traveling circus. She renamed the place “Zalamandrea’s Emporium.” The old sign she put up after she bought him out is gone now, blown down in a storm three winters back. The Boss never replaced it. Everyone knows the Emporium anyway, so why bother?
It’s a rum place, it never really stopped being a brothel, but when the Marat moved in with his freakshow, it turned into the dive it is now. They say there’s nothing that can’t be had at the Emporium, and they’re usually right. I have a lifetime of stories about the place, but I’d just as soon forget them all. If I have my way, I’ll never see the inside of that place again, and you will get more than enough from my own story to draw your own conclusions.
So I was about three years old when the place got sold, and it was just after that when my father showed up. My mother, as I said before, was a whore, and asking questions was not in her job description. When my father showed up the first time, he was covered in dark robes and wearing a black mask. When he came into Zalamandrea’s House of Sugar and demanded a halfling, neither the Boss nor my mother asked any questions. Of course everyone else was curious, and grilled my mother with questions the next morning, especially when they discovered her client had left in the middle of the night. But my mother never said anything about him, ever, to anyone. When my sister and me were born the next autumn, she did her best to hide us from as many people as she could. In fact, for a long time, only my mother and Auntie Rose knew about us. She must have known what people would think, pale pink skin and ghost white hair, not to mention blood-red irises. Even at that time, she must have wondered what we were. Of course it’s a moot point now.
As I was saying, I was about three years old when my father returned. He arrived, as he had left, in the middle of the night. He was less subtle the second time, kicking the door in at midnight and stomping up the stairs to my mother’s room. No one knows what would have happened if she had not been there, but what actually happened was bad enough. When the Boss arrived on the scene, she promptly ran downstairs screaming. My father had kicked in my mother’s door, just as he had kicked in the door downstairs. Inside the room, there was blood everywhere. My mother never made a sound, as the flesh was systematically ripped from her bones; I like to think she died quickly. But the way the Boss tells it, when she looked in the room for a brief instant, their eyes met, and she could feel my mother silently begging her to do something. In the meantime, my father, who had just removed my mother’s left leg with his bare hands, turned and stared at the Boss.
When they worked up the nerve to return to my mother’s room, hours later, they found that my father had systemically ripped the flesh off her entire skeleton, and then taken her bones with him. Of my sister, asleep in the room with my mother when he arrived, there was no sign. Most of the town now believes that he ate her before he left, at the time, of course, they did not know she even existed.
I survived, because I was not in my mother’s room that night. I had been taken ill with a fever, a bad one, and been removed from my sister’s presence for fear that I might make her sick as well. As it turned out, it saved my life. I was sleeping in Auntie Rose’s room at the Emporium when my father arrived. Auntie says I slept through the entire evening, but when I woke up, the fever was gone. From that night on, Auntie told me she knew I had been touched by The One.
If she knew it, no one else did. In fact, after the terror that happened that night Auntie was even more determined that no one else should know about me and my parents. But it was not to be. When I was four years old, and desperately anxious to escape the confining prison of Auntie’s room, I finally managed to sneak off on my own when she was out. I trotted down the hall, full of my own independence (or so I am told) and ran straight into the long skirts of the Boss herself.
At first, she was furious, but when she saw my white hair and red eyes, she knew me at once for what I was and demanded to know where I had come from. Not knowing any better, I eventually led her back to Auntie’s room. When Auntie saw us, the Boss and I, quietly playing in her room waiting for her, she just about died of fear. The Boss was not upset with her, but she had every reason to be afraid. My mother, The Boss explained to Auntie Rose, had belonged to the Emporium, and I, her only remaining possession, would naturally devolve to the same owner, since there was nothing of her remaining.
Auntie protested, of course, but there was nothing she could do, and she dared not complain too loudly. And so the Boss took me, and named me Demon Boy, and my life truly began at that point.
The first thing I remember is pain. Not pain such as you know,when you cut yourself with a knife or burn yourself in a fire, nor even when you are brought down by a fierce internal ache so bad that it forces you to your knees. This is cutting, razing, burning, searing, constant, and terrible agony. For days, weeks, months, time loses its meaning. After a while, the pain becomes a part of you. You have been branded, scarred in your very soul, so that you will never live again a single second without pain. Even when you do not feel it, it is with you. Welling up from your mind in an eternal spring of despair, sucking the life from your spirit, even as it gives strength to your mind.
When they finished with me I was changed, inside and out. Even now, I am not sure how they did it. After a while I stopped even asking, fearing that knowing how it was done would give me some idea of how to reverse it, and knowing that I would never be able to achieve that. Some foul blend of magic and alchemy, I am told, usable only on a child, which permanently altered the pigmentation of my skin. He was inspired by what was already there, a faint touch of red, ghostly but eminently present among the natural fair tones of my flesh. Between that and my eyes, and her own memories, the Boss made me into the child of a demon. She took my skin and darkened it to deep, blood red. Bright and almost arrogant, until my skin shone with the color and radiated a feeling of intense heat, and the smell of fresh blood. But that was only the beginning. She proceeded to inscribe circles and whorls of black shape spiraling across my back, down my arms and legs, and coalescing above my heart in the lidless eye of a foul demon. I was truly a terror to behold, albeit a small one. I was, in a way, perfect. I allowed people to confront their fears safely. By mocking me, they could drive out their own terrors. They could feel more powerful than hell itself. I was a perfect attraction. Years later, I was told that they would have added horns and a pointed tail as well, but the cost was too high. Sometimes, I wish they had—horns and a tail could be useful.
My life, from then to now, since my earliest memories, has been full of mocking laughter, which I suppose is only fitting. At first I remember hoping that the color would fade, that the marks would grow indistinct as I grew. But instead they seemed to grow with me; adding complex shapes and spirals as they expanded. By day, I was thrown in a cage, and people paid money to laugh at me, spit on me, and throw things at me. They could not actually hurt me; I was spared that at least, but nothing else. The entire story of my father and mother was posted upon the wall outside my cage, and for just a few copper, everyone was invited to come marvel, and mock, the twisted thing that I had become.
For my part I have roared and cursed, given as good or better than I got. I have sat silent in the cage for weeks on end, doing nothing. I have tried to strike up conversations about the outside world from passersby. I have piteously cried and begged and pleaded with anyone who could hear me to be let out. But for years upon years, nothing ever changed.
I lived at night. They took me back to Auntie Rose’s room at the close of each day. She loved me and took care of me, and despite my fate, and I loved her just as deeply. It was she that taught me how to read and write, how to reason, how to be a person, instead of a demon. And it was she who told me about The One. How could she not, when I was his chosen. She could see his mark on me, she said, and someday, somehow, she knew that I would be able to see it for myself. For a long time, I never believed her.
But she was right. As the years wore on slowly (too slowly) my popularity as a sideshow attraction began to fade. Then as the area around my cage grew lonelier, the Boss began paying more and more attention to other things. Other new and more grotesque creatures that she had obtained from far off lands occupied her attention, and for the first time in my life, I began to think of escape.
I was feeling strange new desires and emotions. I didn’t know the meaning of the universe, but suddenly it became urgently important that I find out. With Auntie’s coaching, some of these mysteries became clear. She taught me that The One was a mysterious god, and I had to agree, after what I had been put through, I didn’t know what he could expect me to accomplish. She told me the myriad of temples and faiths that existed in the world, and how their gods battled with each other over small matters. How their self-righteous priests paraded around, consumed with their own importance, all the while missing the whole point of the matter. The One, she explained, had existed before them, before their gods, before time itself. He was the entire fabric of the universe, and nothing existed in reality that was not part of him. He was silent and uncaring about the world, most of the time. But every once in awhile there were those born who were touched by him directly, and they were able to manipulate the would around them as no others could. By controlling the very essence of creation, they were able to wield strange powers on behalf of The One. But The One himself seemed almost oblivious to them, not caring even what his chosen accomplished upon the earth that was part of him. Which was fine with me. I mean, if you’re going to wield ultimate power some day, it would be a shame to have someone looking over your shoulder telling you how to use it.
And power I had been given. Not ultimate power, at least not yet, but I found that by focusing in a certain way, I could make things glow, and in a different way, I could even make them move on their own. I began to listen more closely to The One, and found that if I was relaxed and connected with him, he would speak with my voice and move my arms in strange shapes not unlike the pattern of my skin. Afterwards, I would see objects float, and come to rest, or start to glow. By focusing in a different way, I saw people and objects radiate a strange form of power. I knew that if I could somehow control these things, the world itself could be mine. As my power grew, I began to plan my escape.
For weeks now I have scouted out the town at night, looking for a place to go when I ran away. I knew the Boss would almost certainly try to find me, but if I could remain unreachable for a few weeks, she would probably give up. She is nothing if not lazy, and she has only grown more indolent as she has aged. By this time I had repaid her investment in me a hundred times over, but I could not be bringing her that much any more. I knew that if I stayed, it was only a matter of time before she gave me over to the brothel master, if people would no longer pay to laugh at me, perhaps they would pay to exploit me another way. I have never been very strong physically; I knew I could not survive that for long.
* * *
From the beginning, I knew that my appearance would prevent me simply strolling around town, but on one of my first excursions I stumbled across (quite literally) a freshly killed gnome that had been tossed out into the street behind the Emporium (not an uncommon occurrence). Although he had been stripped of his valuables by whoever had killed him, the corpse did possess one extremely useful item, a thick black cloak. Considering that my entire wardrobe at the time consisted of two pairs of short breeches dyed bright blue, you can imagine I was extremely grateful to the poor sod for the find. That cloak has given me some measure of anonymity, and has permitted me to move through town and even interact with other people, at least at night.
As I pulled the cloak from the compartment in which it was concealed, I felt a sharp point prick me directly in the small of the back. A low, raspy voice commanded “Take it easy fella, I don’t know what you are, but you’re gonna turn around slowly or feel my spear inside your belly.” As I turned around, I felt a deep hatred for the sheer injustice of my situation welling up inside me. Suddenly, I understood that no one would ever trust me, that no matter where I went in the world I would be forever marked as an outcast. A homeless monster doomed to a life of utter solitude. (Fortunately for me, that was not correct, as you will see.) As I whirled to face him, the rage that had been building within me burst forth in a massive blast of intense heat. The curse I screamed at my attacker was lost in a massive roar of fire that sprang from my jaws. And for a brief moment, I watched in satisfaction as my assailant (a halfling no less!) twisted and writhed in the burning flame that was only a small part of what I myself had experienced.
My rage spent, the fire slowly died away, and began to realize what had just occurred. I can breathe fire? I was struck with wonder at the sheer idea, quickly followed by fear at what would happen should anyone discover this about me. Claims of great strength and bizarre mental powers were one thing, but if anyone found out that Demon Boy could actually breathe fire, my life wouldn’t be worth the iron my cage was built from. I had to get away, and soon.
I awoke from my reverie with a start, as I realized that the building was slowly catching fire around me. Sparing a brief prayer to The One for my attacker, I quickly stripped him of his possessions. His clothes were burned to a crisp, but the spear he was wielding, while scorched, was perfectly serviceable. But the most amazing find was the crossbow strapped to his back. I don’t know where this halflling came from, but it must have been a much more interesting place than Diamond Lake, halfling sized crossbows are certainly not the norm around here. I paused to grab his belt pouch (and was rewarded by a satisfying jingle) and slip on my cloak, and then ducked out of the burning building.
As I ran, I could hear the cry of “Fire!” taken up behind me, and knew that there would be people swarming over that entire section of town for hours. In the confusion, it wasn’t hard to slip off to the other side of town. Something totally unexpected had just happened, and I needed to sort it out someplace quiet, so naturally, I headed for the cemetery.
It was at that moment, as I was brooding upon a marble marker in Diamond Lake’s squalid public graveyard, that I first spotted her. She was a moderately tall human woman, about 20 years old and not-quite-painfully-thin. Her skin was quite pale, and she had midnight black hair down to her shoulders and equally dark eyes. Dark shadows were gathered under her eyes as well. Her arms were marked with faint scars, like cuts from a tiny blade or dagger. She was wearing a fancy courtier’s outfit and an inordinate amount of jewelry.
I jumped to my feet with my spear at the ready, prepared to flee at the first sign of hostility, but she just smiled. “What are you doing here, little halfling? Have you come to experience the power of death for yourself?” I was slightly taken aback, and I cautiously lowered my spear and replied. “Not exactly, although it would be appropriate, death has been following me my entire life.” She smiled at my response, and with her smile I felt my loneliness and despair vanish like the money in a fool’s purse. She withdrew a greenish bottle from within her robe, unstoppered the cork and passed it to me. “You sound refreshingly morose. Perhaps you would care to elaborate?”
As we passed the bottle of wine back and forth, I learned a few things about my new friend. She was a devotee of the death goddess Wee Jas named Tyralandi. I resisted the urge to enlighten her about the true nature of the universe, as I could tell she was committed to her own beliefs. She told me she also had worked for a local carnival, but that instead of a sideshow attraction she had traveled with them on what was known as the “Greyhawk Circuit,” visiting dozens of towns and villages in the surrounding area. I was full of questions about the outside world, and she in turn was amazed at my ignorance. Having never had a friend before, I wanted the conversation to last forever, but of course that was not to be. Eventually she left the graveyard, and I was alone again.
Before she left, however, she agreed to meet me the following night (tonight!) at an abandoned building outside of town. Apparently, there was a group of people looking to get out of town (boy did that apply to me) and they were going to raise funds by looting a “cairn” just outside of the village. I agreed at once, although I was a little dubious at the prospect of meeting a bunch of strangers, what if one of them turned me in? Still it was better that any of my own ideas.
The next morning, emboldened by my first real conversation with an outsider, I pulled my hood low over my face, and walked into town. My courage lasted just long enough for me to purchase a journal and some writing supplies. I have decided to chronicle my new life, beyond the Emporium. I have left, and I will not look back. This is a fresh beginning for me. Just how far can a scrawny red-skinned, red-eyed, white-haired halfling make it in the world outside the pond scum that is this whole town? I guess we are about to find out.