Wednesday 28 October 2020

The True North


Where does cold come from? What a fascinatingly naïve statement. Everyone knows cold comes from the North.

No, not the north, that mundane direction. I mean the North. It’s what’s off the top of your maps, there. I’ve been there once – should I tell you the story?

Travel far enough north among the sea ice, and you’ll come to an island, green among the white. The locals call this place Ilulissat.

There’s a thriving town here, full of generous people and warm drinks. The hall on the shore is a place where the most beautiful music is played, the most insightful philosophy is considered, and the most inspired learning is done. To marvel in awe for a day is worth the trip alone.

Pitch your tent on the beach, anchor your ship in the cove, and treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect. Then, walk to the northern side of the island.

There you’ll see the sea run out, and the ice sheet float off forever into a sky of eternal night. You’ll see two winding bands of colour, the Great Auroras, green, purple and blue above you, red, orange and gold beneath, through the cracks in the ice. The sound of the endless falling of the sea is immense.

On that endless plain of cracked, floating icebergs and endless, ethereal twilight. You shall see such things. Everyone you meet will be extremely muscular-


Why is everyone there muscular?

Well… I don’t know everything, do I? I suppose you’d need to be muscular to, uh, understand the Northy Mysteries?  Just shoosh and listen.

*ahem*, Everyone you meet will be extremely muscular, and all shall be on the same path as you – the path to consider the Northy Mysteries, the ancient secrets of cold, twilight and stars.

But there are dangers, too! There are many great beasts, driven from southern lands by callous hunters, who make their way along the Twilight Sea. And darker evils still – be wary you of the Eclipse King, greatest of all Vampires!


1d12 Encounters in the True North  

  1. Ripped Philosopher – They’re up from Ilulissat on a little trip to see the stars. They’ve brought their telescope and their books on the meaning of life. They’d be glad of your input into the anthology of opinions they’re writing. Probably have some booze in the barrel they’re sitting on.
  2.  Star Whale – A jet-black, star dappled whale, swimming down from the Higher Aurora. It is curious and intelligent, and will probably have some valuable information on the Northy Mysteries, if that’s your kind of thing. Can also carry you places, in exchange for a song. 
  3.  1d6+2 Muscular Warriors – Proud, philosophical, gullible. Will want to arm wrestle you. They’re from all over. They’re heading to some games in Ilulissat. Their leader is a champion spear thrower.
  4.  1d4x2 Aurora Knights – Two factions, alike in dignity, of sentient solar wind, who each view their aurora as their kingdom, and the other aurora as their polite yet dastardly rivals. They swirl into beautifully crafted armour of brittle ice, twice the height of you, then sail down on ships of frozen mist to wage choreographed war. They’ll pay extravagant sums of raw elements to anyone who can sketch their enchanting battles.
  5.   Seeker of the Garden – This traveller clearly hasn’t been here long, since they’ve not yet achieved the familiar muscularity of the other denizens. They seem lost, babbling on about how they are looking for a shimmering garden of plenty, here among the ice. Could such a place exist?
  6. Living Gale – Not a true Ælemental, since it’s only moving air, but perhaps a cousin. Capricious, distracted and petty. It will follow travellers and make sure to blow bad smells their way.  Any attempt to get rid of it will result in vicious reprisals and flying chunks of ice. It’ll get bored on its own, eventually.
  7. Whalers – They normally catch mundane whales in the sea farther south, but they’re here on a contract from an academic in Ilulissat. They’ve converted their ship into a shaky dirigible – they sail with moonlit harpoons held forward; eyes ever open for the cruel flanks of the Necromancer Whale.
  8. The Necromancer Whale – Actually, it’s a Narwhal. It floats, twisting and bucking, horn held forward to impale. It is surrounded by the ghostly spirits of those whales it has felled in combat, and flanked by an army of muscular zombies. All narwhals are like this, but they’re just better at managing their anger than this one.
  9. 1d6 Star Wanderers – Pallid, long limbed folk with black, reflective eyes and no noses. They wear strange cloth of red and gold, cubical hats, and are often accompanied by gadgets of humming wires and ticking gears. They sometimes have small, useful constructs for hauling and mining, which they will sell to you for a price in raw elements such as magnesium.  
  10. Plant Tender – A frost-marked ceramic giant, pock-marked with copper openings. Its internal chambers are filled with hot, clean water, and it wields a giant rake. It is one of eight, but the twisting crackling movements of the Twilight Sea have thrown it clear from it’s hidden home. It is melancholy and incredibly strong.
  11. Ælemental of Pure Cold – Cylindrical, shimmery pillar of utter chill and stillness. Often contains cryogenically preserved people and animals from ancient times. Can freeze anything, in exchange for a proportionate amount of heat as payment. Heat is like drugs for it. It requires a torch to freeze your drink, a bonfire to freeze that bear chasing you, and a whole forest’s worth of wood to freeze your aging, leaving you immortal, if eternally chilly.
  12. The Eclipse King – A rotten, wiry man, swaddled in furs and rich silks, with massive crystalline fangs. Each of his eyes is an eclipsed star. Should you make eye-contact, save or go permanently blind. He lives in a gigantic iceberg castle filled to the brim with frostbitten ghouls and giant, vampiric walruses.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Staring Into Space

You’ll never get tired of staring into space. 

Trust me. Once you’re up there, no one ever does. It’s an odyssey-en-large, sure, but I’ll bet you all of the money I have, that once you get up there, you’ll never get tired of staring into space.

The thing that everyone thinks of first, is the darkness. The endless black. Yeah. That’s definitely there. All those gaps where time hasn’t caught up, where those faraway infinite stars are striving to be seen. There’s potential there, yeah.

But space is more made of light, than darkness. You ever stood, mag-netics on, on the outside of a ship? Not done an EVA or an external repair job, but ever just… stood there? And looked?

It’s bright. Every single one of those little blinking lights is a star. Hard to think of it like that, huh? Sure, there’s probably one near you. Look at that, then think infinite.

All those little blinking lights. It’s like God’s control console. Or, whatever you prefer to think is hammering the buttons. I once heard someone say it’s like still snowflakes at night. I’ve never seen snow, so I can’t say. But I heard someone say it once.

But believe me, even that, that’s the entry level. I know it sounds crazy, but, it looks even better if you turn of all your lights – get the ship dark, holster your torch. You can’t turn off the local star, sure, but head out as far as you dare. Then stand there, and stare into space.

You can see it all. The faint line of the galaxy, it’s so bright. First time I saw it, I stood and cried like a baby. Take that galaxy line, and think of the size of the thing you’re standing in. Then think infinite.

Yeah, and trust me, I only ever seen it once, but if you’re in real, real dark. Away from any stars. Out there in the black sea. That’s when—

Oh? Huh. Yeah. Interstellar craft. Engines broke down halfway. Ran out of O2 and food, pretty quick. Everyone started killing each other. Killing themselves. Just me left, it was, staring right up into the face of everything.

That’s real stargazing.

Rescue ship showed up an hour later. Just missed my buddy.

Yeah? Yeah. Real tragic story. That’s the only other time I’ve cried like a baby. That and seeing the galaxy line, all bright like that.

Yeah, you’ll never get tired of staring into space.

Wednesday 14 October 2020



Tolkrah, the Capital of Thorumaa, is one of the largest urban centres in the Deep Kingdoms. Across its long and storied history, it has been many things – an Orog hamlet by the River Tolek, neutral ground between rival clans, a trade depot for a rising kingdom, a citadel for an embattled republic, and finally, in 1698, the foundation stone of an Empire.

If the Thorumaans were a more sentimental folk, statues of the first emperor would stud Tolkrah like gems. But they beheaded the first emperor, and struck his name and image from the records. The people of Thorumaa take governance very seriously.

Corruption is kept low by the promise that your immediate successor will personally behead you if it is discovered.

It is not without reason that Thorumaans are joked to have an obsession with beheading.

The Nation

Surface visitors come to Thorumaa, expecting the regimented culture and quiet public places of Zarumaa high above – orcs are orcs, so they say.

Orcs are not orcs, however. Many a travel journal has commented that the local Orogs dress just as sharply as their Zarag cousins above, but where the Zarumaan society is disciplined and polite, Thorumaa is insubordinate and confrontational.

Orders are constantly questioned, authority is challenged whenever it can be – children make fools of parents, and soldiers make demands of their generals.

Thorumaans say, ‘this is all, as it should be’.

In a nation that went through 8 failed governments before the Empire, questioning the legitimacy of the people in charge has been built in for years.

The Politics

The simple fact is, the Thorumaan system is completely incomprehensible to sunwalkers. The institutions are given names in Tradespeak that do not fit their true nature – truly, the titles of Thorumaan government are untranslatable.

The name ‘Empire’ is something of a misnomer. It calls to mind a militaristic state with an autocratic head and a loyal army. Whereas, Thorumaa currently has 3 Emperors and 2 Empresses, all acclaimed by different sections of the army. This is normal, and is expected.

Two of the Emperors are even married, each equally as powerful as the other. The other three tend to form a ‘voting bloc’ against them, although this is another term that doesn’t apply well.

The toregar, the advisors to the Emperors and Empresses, were originally translated as senators, generals or dukes, in equal measure. None apply correctly.

Certainly, most toregar are involved in the military. Some are most definitively great orators and politicians. Some wield disproportionate influence. Some positions are even hereditary.

However, there are just as many pacifists, silent logisticians, political irrelevancies and promoted peasants among the toregar ranks. 

There is no handy guide for their meanings, no explanation for why the system is such chaos.  To understand the system, to comprehend it’s mad workings, is to be Thorumaan.

To require an explanation is to paint oneself as an outsider.

This is why ‘Tolkran’ is an adjective referring to something excessively complicated, and typically involving a great deal of administrative detail.

The City

Speaking of excessively complicated: Tolkrah itself.

Its history is as excessively varied and incomprehensible as that of Thorumaa, and the winding labyrinths of its districts reflect this.

Consider, in the Deep Kingdoms, travel from one place to another is not as simple as on the surface.

Supplies are scarcer, routes are less reliable, and the fauna ranges from troublesome to lethal, and worse besides.

Cities are not designed to welcome you in from the long road – they are designed to be hard for deep-earth demons or aggressive fauna to invade. Combine this with the necessity of saving space, and you end up with cities like Tolkrah -  put bluntly, a habitable maze.

The most navigable districts for outsiders lie around the River Tolek, where the great black palaces of the many current and former Emperors reach for the cavern ceiling, studded with beheaded statues and ragged banners.

Following the river’s flow, one eventually reaches the nice districts – sometimes referred to as ‘downriver’. Downriver holds all the banks, the embassies, and other such frivolities. They’re kept well away from where the actual governing happens. 

The coming of the vis-rail has only just opened the Underdark to the experience of things like cafes and leisure shopping, and these flourish, like fungi, downriver.

A Tolkrah coffee house is a differing experience from a café in Upper Iskadar. For a start, you’re not lounging on wicker chairs on a sunny afternoon. You’re huddling in a narrow booth, around a small table, sitting next to a steam vent for heat. It’s equal parts sauna and salon.

The drinks, too – coffee and tea are rare and highly expensive imports.

More common is boiled water, gella, a hot, greenish drink made from boiled roots, or turstahk, the local liquor. It is made from a particular root that might be a cousin to ginger. Turstahk is dark green, and oily. It is only drunk in small shot glasses, not due to the alcohol content, but due to the hideous flavour. It is acerbic, strong and catches the throat, and reportedly has notes of fungus and ash.

It’s a source of never-ending confusion for tourists that the locals willingly drink such a disgusting liquid. Thorumaans assign the drink medicinal properties, and its health benefits are a common folk myth among the people of Tolkrah. Many Orogs still end the day with a small drink of turstahk. 

Away from the river, the districts twist and turn and wind into themselves. Streets become stairs and vis-driven elevators. The average number of rooms in a house goes from about 8, down to 1. The fashionable hearths of the innercity are replaced with crudely installed steam vents to keep out the cave chill. In this humid environment, lichens, fungi and cave flora bloom. Visitors have called this part of Tolkrah ‘the greenhouse’.

The symbol of Thorumaa – the cavekkan, or ‘bat-wolf’ – can be seen in facing pairs over every heavy stone arch, or curled around the top of every load-bearing pillar. The real things can be seen stalking every twisting back-alley or stair lined pit.

Thorumaans revere the cavekkan for their capability to work in massive packs when necessary, and to tear each other limb from limb for food, when necessary. Adaptability, action, and a grasp of where they lie in the local power structure. All desirous things for a toregar or emperor.

They also eat the cavekkans in great numbers, because bat-wolves are no match for smart people with traps. This appeals to the Thorumaan sense of irony.

Travelling against the river’s flow, one might find the districts of boilers and forges which heat the city, and produce the metalwork which Tolkrah is famous for. Here, in the forges, the swords which carved out Thorumaa were made. 

The swords of famous heroes are brought back and hung from gate-posts as a form of ‘retirement’ for the blade

The boilers are the most isolated part of Tolkrah. In a world that mostly relies on Vis (a suspension of so-called “mana” in water, to simplify heavily) Tolkrah’s industry is uniquely steam-driven. The heat and humidity of the city comes from here. Tolkrah is a powerful industrial organ, responsible for arming Thorumaa’s relatively massive army (as large as a small surface country’s military, which is way more than any of their neighbours can afford to support.) 

Here, metal is smelted, reagents are reacted, water is boiled, waste is processed and finished products churned out the other side in a never-ending stream.

The Bilges

The physical, magical and gaseous waste of all this industry is funnelled down to a series of claustrophobic caves that lie below Tolkrah. These are the Bilges. The Bilges are haunted by oxygen-deprived vagrants, slithering, fungal things, and the repulsive Voidlings called ‘Mozgriken’, the Choke-and-Choking-Ones.

Mozgriken are hideous nightmare things from the Void-Between-the-Stars – they appear in places where there is a high saturation of unbreathable gases. 

They appear to be gnome-sized things, with lumpy, purply-grey skin, long, wet hands, and a nest of purple, pulsating tentacles in place of a head. They can suffocate you from a distance, exude flammable gases and render themselves down into oily smoke, to better infiltrate your house and choke you in your sleep.

Even in the face of the Mozgriken, though, the most nerve-wracking thing in the entirety of the Bilges, is a Golem. A golem is a clay shell filled with a Sun-Spirit by secretive rituals, and set to tirelessly fulfil a set of instructions. On the surface far above, Golems are treated with fear and reverence, as the Maker’s holy, indestructible soldiers.

The Tolkrans realised it didn’t need to breathe, and shoved it down in the Bilges to operate machinery. It’s maintained by the local Temple of Altum Petram, the Aspect of Earth. In truth it is so durable, and so rarely bothered, that maintenance is often unnecessary. To keep its internal flame from igniting flammable gas, or being extinguished by smothering gases, it has a domed helm of tempered glass mounted to its clay skull.

As with all Golems, the true name of the motivating Sun-Spirit is unknown, but it has accepted the nickname Glare-glass.

Saturday 3 October 2020

The Maug

The Maug are one of the many strange species to be found marching the iron cubes of Acheron, The Eternal Battlefield.

The Maug are, apparently, artificial. Nobody – not the Reaves, the Bladelings, or Bane himself – consider them to be native to Acheron. The Maug themselves are reticent on the subject, but their implications seem to agree.


Perhaps they’re the project of some mad Prime wizard? A Baatezu soldier-caste gone wrong? The other project of the Obyriths? Exiles from the Legion of Hell? These ideas swirl and twist with no evidence or end in sight. Perhaps there is some link with their name being a homograph of the Giantish word for sin?

These are curiosities for Sigilite scholars. For those in Acheron, the Maug are simply there, and are a fact of life.


And what facts! Each Maug is exactly twelve and a half feet tall, looming above the height range of even the largest Ogres and Trolls. They are heavy, boxy, massively built – and their ‘skin’, such as it is, is a heavy, black stone, apparently some mutant kind of iron ore.

Their interiors, however, are flesh. This can be seen from the uncomfortably human, lidless eyeballs lurking in their sunken sockets, and the row of massive incisors inside the hinged jaw.

One of the Maug’s most interesting features are their interchangeable limbs – many Maug collect useful arms, often scavenged from other Maug that have fallen on the battlefields. The Maug lack family lines, and instead trace ancestry based on who owned their arm last. Maug with many spare arms are linked to many families. The arms are often marked by each owner, so each arm is in effect a family tree for the Maug that wears it.


Here is the old mini for the 3.5 Maug.
Imagine this but with meat at the joints
and unnerving, lidless eyes. 

Dissection of a dead Maug reveals a rudimentary, vestigial digestive system, a massive heart, eight sets of rubbery lungs, and muscle, muscle, muscle. Their bones are steel, as they have both an endo- and exo-skeleton. They lack gender, and their method of reproduction is unknown or non-existent. All known Maug are old, and being old on Acheron makes you a veteran.


Maug have an interesting psionic ability – they can link their minds to that of the commander under whom they are serving, able to immediately receive and carry out orders. The level of autonomy the Maug have during this ‘command trance’ is under constant debate, and the Maug themselves seem reticent to clarify.


Like most others living on Avalas (the first layer of Acheron) the Maug organise into massive Legions, which are, in essence, mobile polities modelled after Bane’s Great Divine Army and the Legion of Hell (Yugoloths).

These Legions provide mercenary services off-plane or fight endless battles to gain and maintain territory on-plane. Maug territories tend to be dull, boxy, and covered in layered wall-and-trench defenses, sized to fit the big lugs.

The primary Maug Legion is called the Collective. This is a huge structure of Maug, all within a circular, self-linked command trance – in effect, a hive mind. The Collective could almost be considered a Maug-based computer. Its intellect and capacity for calculation far surpasses the breadth, speed and detail of even gods.

The Maug use it to track expenditures and weapon maintenance schedules.

Who or whatever made the Maug, they did not give to them that most mortal of talents: creativity. The Maug are utterly dull, recycling the same six types of interchangeable arm down through history. Their art is made of up of lines and numbers depicting troop movements. Their poetry (a concept introduced to them by the Reaves) is, in effect, literal descriptions of whatever a given Maug can see. Excellence is painstaking accuracy in each description.

The meticulous detail and unswerving honesty of these ‘poets’ has led to the utterly barmy occurrence of Maug War Reporters for the embattled news-rags of the City of Doors.


The Maug have begun to recently adopt names – they can instinctually recognise each other, another psionic power they share, but the same is not true for other folk they deal with. Most Maug call themselves [Colour][Metal][Number], usually with no rhyme or reason. Maug will never call themselves ‘Green’, as this colour is not present on Acheron. If you showed something green to a Maug, they would call it ‘Verdigris’.

Some example Maug names:

Red Iron 47

Umber Steel 91

Verdigris Bronze 11 (A famous commander and “eccentric”)  

Pearl Silver 9

Blue Adamant 804

Much like their Reave neighbours, the Maug are an increasing presence across the multiverse - for good, or for ill.