On the edges of the Autumncrest, flowing down from Astrazalian is the once ruined bastion of Harrowhome. A piecemeal, patchwork fortress of scorched stone and new construction, this half-sunken memorial is a testament to an ages old war and a memory not forgotten.
The Battle Of Autumn
Verenestra, the mad Summer Lady, had once coveted the far realms of the Fey as an extension of her mother's dominion. This action was not sanctioned, and vibrant, faction-less Eladrin rose against such tyranny. The war was devastating.
The final blow wrought upon the Eladrin was in the form of a godly blight suffered upon the grand beacon city of Cendriane, darkening its grasslands to a pitch black and forcing its populace to evacuate. After this grand insult upon the summer, King Oberyn himself banished Verenestra to the Farplane, where she may wait out her days in exile. But her armies were proud, and continued their march downriver, seeking to secure the Mithrendain province for the court that abandoned them. They believed that if they could take Harrowhome, a place of neutrality and refuge, that their position would be immutable.
And her armies marched on the ruined bastion with speed and volition...only to be met on the lush fields at its gates by the regiments of the Wild Hunt. Thousands of primal warrior spirits under the orders of the Erlking himself. Bound by purpose, the disavowed summer forces fought anyway, and were slaughtered, their bodies cut down by the vicious precision of the Wild Hunt. Those upon the city walls watched Elven soldiers fall with a breath, like leaves falling from trees.
The walls of Harrowhome remember the battle that carved the Autumn Court into being, and beyond its walls it welcomed every creature upended and scarred by war. And continue to do so to this day.
Any wanderer that walks under its arches and through its gates, no matter their make or manner, will be treated to a warm bed, a hearty meal, and a safe rest. You see, even before the Autumn, Harrowhome was a place of spirits. Not haunted, mind you, but inhabited and cared for by creatures long dead. Spirits of cooks, caretakers, healers, and one particularly crotchety jarl care for its visitors as if they were their own citizens.
Not going to lie, it is a bit off-putting at first. Seeing the smiling, humming halfling maid that floats through the wall carrying a platter of fine kippers and tea as she drifts over to your bedside and kisses your forehead goodnight.
And yet, Harrowhome is a place of comfort. Weary travelers find assured rest within its walls without trickery (though the child ghosts can be a little mischievous); visiting guilds catch their breath and count their coin; and even an occasional warlord takes up residence once in a while.
But any who pass through know the laws. I - No violence will be willfully committed within the city's walls, not by its keepers nor its visitors. II - Under no circumstances will these halls or their denizens be exorcised, for this place is under the watch of the Erlking, and thou will not rob him of his subjects, lest they wish to join the Wild Hunt themselves.
Though most of the citizens of Harrowhome hail from the ethereal wastes, a physical presence has found its way to the city. This tiny sect of protectors, survivalists, medics, and old adventurers have sworn an oath in service of the caretaker spirits of the ruin. Not only will they defend the neutral ground from invaders, but they will endeavor to follow the spiritual example of safety and protection for all those within its walls.
It is this sect that has learned from their spectral hosts the ancient discipline in constructing sacred grounds of warding; small sanctuaries of sculpted stone and balanced energy that carry with them the same unspoken accord of the city itself - a bond stronger than steel and respected by gods.
Entities that cultivate this brand of architecture and care earn the right and blessing from their spectral mentors to venture into the wilds of the Fey, erecting safe havens at key junctures throughout the realm. These "Wayfarers" are encouraged to scout and roam until they discover a "place of need." In this place, they use their best judgement to erect a Waystation and pour their arcane will into its stone and structure. Sanctified and solidified by ancient laws, a Waystation kept will ward any malevolence from entering, and all creatures making use of the space must adhere to the rules, clearly posted in immutable script in all languages. Committing intentional acts of violence or malevolence while on this sacred ground will spell more than doom for all participating, as they have broken a sacred vow respected by the greatest of the Archfey. Though she could rage at its borders, not even the Queen of Air and Darkness could enact violence upon such a space, lest she suffer the wrath of the Seelie, Unseelie, and Hunter Courts combined. Passing over the threshold of a Waystation makes a promise to all those that seek you harm or hell, and, in the Feywild, promises are kept.
The Totem Network
Passage through the Wildes can be treacherous and unpredictable for the uninitiated. Rampant quicklings, enchanted campfires, giant mimics, and roaming primal spirits are commonplace under this aurora sky.
Nicholas Falanel, an old tortle of kind face and dreadful past, used his blessings in the arcane and survival to construct minute, portable waystations. He would call these more accurately - totems. Tiny pockets of neutral energy, these carved wood and stone spires would rest on either side of a beaten path no more than ten feet wide, planted at 10 foot intervals. The resulting network of short-form, concentrated abjuration could hold at bay any number of malevolent Fey or Undead creatures.
But the totems are difficult to construct. Though Nick has attempted to pass on his techniques, Wayfarers are a rare branch of an extremely rare sect, so the old tortle appears to be on his own for this endeavor. That doesn't stop "Old Nick", though, and many a traveler has seen him tending to one of his seven Waystations across the Wildes - collecting more materials on his quest to connect the Feywild for any who may wander its beautiful and dangerous landscape.
Stop by for a tune or three, and a bowl of gumbo for thee. And remember the skies before the Harrowed be true; we will always open our doors to you.
Sergeant Leonard heard the cries in the brush.
He abandoned his post minutes before the yips began, and even then, he trusted his lightfoot roots to carry him over the marsh to where the child lay. He was certain everyone had evacuated; the militias were ready on the rooftops. Their intel was good, their scouts intact. Someone must have been left behind.
His boots sink into dense muck and mud, noting the deer footprints that surrounded him. He checks the horizon once more, columns of ominous smoke rising. Must be the war party, I still have time. The cries sound again - someone is sobbing. "It's all right, little one! You can come out. It's just me."
The sobbing stops, a choked reply comes shaking, "ArE yoU here TO KiLl mE?"
Poor thing; must be scared all to hell. He sheathes his sword, holding his hands out to the brush. "No one's here to hurt you. See? Just a friendly halfling. Let's get you out of here and home safely." He flashes a warm smile.
"What is it, Sergeant?" A call resounds behind him from the outpost.
He turns. "Just a child. Don't worry, I'll get them..." A stench fills his nostrils. Pungent and rotting, like the bile that spills forth from a rancid stomach. The sergeant's heart drops as his hand grabs the hilt of his saber, a low rumbling chuckle vibrating the tall marsh grass surrounding him.
Powerful, rotting jaws clamp onto his leg. They rend his plated greaves to ribbons and he cries out in pain. He is yanked backwards, his saber flying from his fingers, and his body disappears into the brush. His screams of pain are echoed by the frenetic laughter of hyenas, and the war party crests the hill, charging the town.
Children of Yeenoghu
The first of these creatures came from the hordes of hyenas spilling into the material world during Yeenoghu's rampages. Some of the beasts that feasted on the corpses of the fallen underwent different transformations than the traditional gnolls. Of those twisted amalgamations, Leucrotta were the most numerous.
Clever and cruel, a Leucrotta loves to deceive, torture, and kill. Despite there lupine appearance, these are not pets. In fact, Leucrottas tend to be smarter and more controlled than the gnolls that often surround them. The gnolls are entertained by a Leucrotta's ability to mimic the sounds of a suffering victim, or by its ability to "play with their food," prolonging suffering as long as possible. With such deceptive and terrible intelligence, a Leucrotta can hold an elevated position within a tribe, but rarely leads one. However, a gnoll chieftain might be seen riding one into battle. But this is not a noble steed; this is a tactical advisor - an influencer to draw the most out of a kill. Beware the fleet of gnolls that ride the dreaded Leucrottas - for they will do much worse than kill you.
The Leucrotta is a stinky boi.
Its horrible body of transformed hyena and deer oozes a toxic stench that pollutes and desecrates anywhere it lairs. Its breath is worse. Dripping from its maw, fluid corrupted with rot and digestive juices kills the plant life around it. In place of fangs, it has bony ridges harder than steel that can crush bones and open up a paladin like a soup can.
The stench alone should probably ward off any prey before they get too close, but the Leucrotta has a few advantages on their side. Due to their amalgamation, their tracks are indistinguishable from deer and other fauna. Also, and more alarming, they possess a mimicry ability that they use to duplicate the call and vocal expressions of just about anything they've heard. A crying child, a wounded bird, a missing ally; they'll use anything from their massive library to lure in potential prey and strike while they are confused.
By The Numbers
The attribute suite of this critter compliments the physical well, with a +2-4 in Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. Unlike other dread doggos we've come across, this one's pretty smart and perceptive, but don't count on it for any Charisma checks. AC and HP are what you'd expect for something with natural armor, but just because most strikers can hit it, don't rush in half-cocked.
With its connections to Yeenoghu, this creature utilizes ferocity and tactics shared by its gnoll cousins, like their Rampage feature - where if they drop a creature, they can move and attack again. Also, a Leucrotta has multiattack, one of those attacks being with its hooves. Couple this with a special feature that allows it to Disengage as a Bonus Action after a hoof attack, and you've got a mobile (50 speed!) threat. And if this thing gets lucky on its bite, watch out - a critical hit from a Leucrotta rolls the damage three times, instead of twice. If you're using doubling rules, they triple their critical hits. OUCH.
Leucrotta In The Ionian Planes
A Leucrotta is a creature of cruelty and killing, but one that enjoys the sport of it all more than its gnoll brothers and sisters. This even minute level of control lends to each greater opportunities for planning, tactics, and learning. I imagine behind the most successful chieftains sits a Leucrotta, bending agendas, granting advice, and guiding the power like a terrible surgeon. Their intellect, though stronger than most of their counterparts, is outmatched by many others, so garnering a pack instead of soldiers is where their above-average wisdom shines. However, at least in Io, packs blessed with a Leucrotta find great value in them, but can only seem to have one at a time. This is less the gnolls's predicament and more the pride of a Leucrotta, for once it has tasted power, it has little want or use for a rival. And if another were adopted into a pack, it is only a matter of time before one ends up dead at the bottom of a ravine.
And that does it for December, and 2020! Up next? Not sure. The polls haven't closed yet.
Celestials and Fiends are extensive. We'll see who wins next week. Happy New Year, friends.
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It is a dog. No, a hound. Tufts of layered, dense, matted purple fur rolls over wide shoulders and long, hunched neck. A whimpering mule shudders up from the body as I approach. SNAP. My boot crunches the twig and a wince. The muling stops and I watch those shoulders slope forward, the head turning my way...and a pit forms in my stomach. A humanoid, twisted face with burning red eyes stares back at me, jaw hanging open. A mix of flat and sharpened teeth jut out from open mouth, and the moaning returns, rising to a howl. I try to draw my sword, but my body can only shake as I watch the hound rise and float a foot off the ground. Even as it wales, its head tilts to the side curiously. Then it flies toward me.
Gifts Of The Dark Fey
If one impresses members of the Old Guard of Fey, they might be gifted with a Yeth Hound. Such a gift is high praise, as the Yeth is a companion for life, connected telepathically to their master and charged with their protection at all costs.
But these hounds reflect their original creators, and are by no means good creatures. Originally personified by a headless, bloodied hound in some cultures, the origin of a Yeth is one rooted in sorrow, always reflected in their strange, baleful howl. To hear the howl is a warning, but to see its source often spells doom.
According to Volo's Guide, these creatures are large hounds with flat, humanoid faces and features, and though it looks like they may bound quickly, they often HOVER creepily overhead. It is this unnatural mobility that makes them deadly sentries for their masters.
By The Numbers
In terms of raw defenses and hit points, the Yeth Hound isn't that intimidating, but make sure you're packing something silver. Their physical stats (Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution) are noticeably high, but they're dumb as a post most of the time.
Where they become truly dangerous is in their unnatural, creepy mobility and their dreaded "Baleful Baying" howl ability. The thing's got a 300 foot range, so make sure your Wisdom is decent before engaging with one. If you happen to be one of the unlucky low rollers against the howl, that frightened condition does a lot more for the Yeth than it does for you, stacking on extra psychic damage for its scared victims. And I can't blame them; the image of this thing bearing down on you is NOT pleasant.
As an aside, I was actually very intrigued to write about this thing.
There is something wholly unnerving about these large Fey doggos with humanoid faces, who creepily hover overhead and paralyze prey with their baleful howl. It's just such an unsettling image. Add on to this the fact that as long as it's on the same plane as its master, it can ALWAYS contact it telepathically. Woof, buddy.
The Yeth In Io
Sentries Of The Deep Night
As servants gifted by old Fey, a Yeth Hound always has a home in the Feywild. Denizens and visitors alike who gain favor in the Verdant Court may find themselves with a Large, loyal, and evil companion that can't be charmed or frightened away.
Just, imagine for a moment, waking up with this thing sitting in your living room. Just. THERE. Totally silent. And then its red eyes slowly turn your way, like some living furred statue and a voice enters your mind like Dug from Up. "I sat in your living room in the dark because I love you. And now I'll love you FOREVER." The face doesn't change the entire time. Lol.
But not just any Fey can gift you a Yeth. They must be made first, and only one of the four Courts knows how. Skilled in curses and the binding of souls, the Ladies Of Winter, under the instruction of King Oberon himself, have much practice in plucking the unfortunate mortals of deals gone wrong and pipers unpaid, and supplanting their essence into a new form - one to serve the Deep Night and the citizens of Air and Darkness.
If a singular entity can be gifted one Yeth for an impression, imagine the army Winter commands. Hundreds of baleful, wailing sentries silently drifting across the night skies; keeping watch and wary over the fane kingdoms.
Watch for the red eyes and motionless face, and keep your distance, lest the mournful cries of a soul forever trapped in servitude reaches your ears...and rends your mind asunder.
Sleep well, travelers.
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In the time immemorial, long before the mortals killed them, the masters of the goblin races beseeched the General of Gehenna for aid. The General provided yugoloth souls to serve the goblinoid triumvirate in the Infinite Battlefields of Acheron. Yet when the time came to honor the debt, the goblin gods reneged on the deal.
The powerful entities that ruled Gehenna marked the goblinoid races for slaughter, and, as an act of vengeance, created the scourge of their nightmares...
A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
In 5th Edition, a Barghest is born from goblin parents just like any other offspring. But this entity harbors a deadly and dreadful secret. Though it emerges in a goblin's body, it will learn quickly how to assume its true form: that of a large, fearsome, and fiendish canine. In some cultures and lore, the difference is clear: a Barghest can be a yellow-skinned goblin of bigger, more muscular frame, and is marked by the fearsome yellow glow that spills into their eyes when they're excited. In other cultures, the Barghest looks like any other of its sheep, and will do its best to hide its true nature, at least in the beginning.
A Barghest's purpose is to devour the goblinoid souls of creatures it kills, the more important or renowned the better. This means that they are discerning with whom they "honor" in consumption, and there's a limited number of seats in their mission. You see, when Maglubiyet, and others like them, broke in total 17 oaths to the General, so it is decreed that one soul be consumed for every broken oath. After this, the Barghest may return to Gehenna and reap the spoils of its completed mission. Fail, and be torn asunder for its insolence.
For this one might think that a Barghest discovered by its goblinoid brethren would be killed in fear, but it is often the exact opposite. Goblins and others of their ilk will fawn over and shower the discovered Barghest with praise, servitude, and diminutive allegiance, constantly attempting to show that they are equal parts useful to its cause AND lowly enough to be undeserving of consumption. It is this strange dance that will drive those under a Barghest's leadership to commit great deeds in their name, only to be cut down and eaten for such renown.
Rooted In Folklore
As with many of our modern edition's monsters, the classical images and inspiration we draw from have a long history of deep folklore and iteration. The Barghest is no stranger to this, summoning up dark tales across multiple peoples and regions.
According to old North English folklore, the Barghest was a mythical, monstrous black dog with huge claws and sharp teeth. This original picture holds true across time, if not for a few creative liberties and adjustments, but the etymology of the word is of note. Barghest, or Barguest, roughly translates to "bear" and "ghost" in the old tongue. Couple this with further alternative spellings and we get my favorite version, the Bahr-geist, bringing the rough translation swinging more toward "spirit of the funeral pyre."
This creature has always been connected to the consequences of death, much more than a simple ghost story. A creature of intense malice and hatred, its purpose is derived through perceived destruction of its own community, at least at first, but ends in realms of power. What began as a warning of the things that go bump in the night grew into tales of shapeshifters and long-lived fiends, doppelgängers and howling at the moon, and a lupine strength coupled with a sentient intellect, and a burning, hateful purpose.
By The Numbers
A Barghest is one tough cookie. Already resistant to most elemental damage and non-magical weapon damage, this thing boasts an AC of at least 17, and have no stat with a negative modifier. Trained in Deception, Stealth, Intimidation, and Perception, they are keen to their surroundings and good liars. Couple that with superior tracking abilities and innate charming spells at their disposal, and you've got a tricky (and STRONG) not-goblin on your hands.
Did I mention it has Blindsight and Telepathy out to 60 feet? Dude.
Despite its fiendish classification, the Barghest has a difficult relationship with fire, but not for the reasons you think. It's resistant to the stuff, which tracks, but any mass of it larger than the Barghest's body acts as a tearing of the veil between this plane and Gehenna, and poor thing can be banished there just by being in close proximity. Sure, you think, they can just bamf back, right? Unfortunately, no, as a Barghest is more likely to be caught, tortured, and killed for its failure to collect its souls for the General. Tough luck, doggo.
The Barghest In The Ionian Shadowfell
Twisted By Perpetual Darkness
The Ionian Shadowfell is one of dark purpose. Creatures born here do not hold sway in D&D's legacy of a sorrow-filled landscape. No, the creatures that spawn in this place are fueled by furious purpose and twisted by the Perpetual Night.
The Barghest is a rarity among such denizens, but their existence, especially following the engineering colonization before the turn of Io Shar, is not unheard of. Goblinoid mariners and pirates became more common beyond the Evernight, far in the reaches of Gressil's Helm.
Goblins and Hobgoblins born on the dark sea can sometimes bear the Mark of Gehenna, a sigil of deep crimson in the small of the back. Creatures bearing the Mark are both cursed and blessed with extreme bloodlust and wicked strength. At a coming of age, often in battle, the Mark can manifest, turning the skin of a "marked" jet black, and its true form will reveal itself.
Barghests take many forms in the Shadowfell, but all are lupine. Some appear like broken glass, the shards a refraction of their vision. Others are amorphous clouds with teeth. Many are hounds with sharpened, boney spurs and horns. And all are very, very dangerous.
Hounds Of The Chainbreaker
It is the Barghest's greatest will and purpose to complete its mission and return to the Generals of Gehenna. A throne awaits them in The Bleak Eternity.
Yet, this mission could take months, years, decades. In this time, a creature could gain power, prestige, and ownership. Perhaps they gain even more fulfillment than what awaits them in the worlds beyond. Which begs the question: what happens when a Barghest completes their mission...and does not wish to return?
Is it power or retribution that awaits them? To scorn their masters and their promise, and break the chains of their birthright. Or are they the husks of great warriors before, the lost soldiers of Gehenna hopelessly clinging to life and sanity, even as their masters siphon away what's left?
Unfortunately, the lore ends here. For no one seeks the Hounds of the Chainbreaker. The only thing that persists is a tiny warning scrawled in the stained journal of a deckhand, lone survivor of The Kretch Jumper and their ill-fated voyage.
"And to the poor souls that tempt venture beyond the ruins of Evynlee's Veil and seek the Moaning Gray through the Formless Cante, keep your eyes pinned to the horizon and seek not the masked hound that watches you from the peaks...for it covets all that meet its third eye."
It is worth noting that this message is written as its last entry, and the handwriting does not match previous entries.
More Of This Please
Unfortunately, in my experience so far, this critter is drastically underutilized. Their story is one of grand deception, superior command, and a cosmological mission with possible sweeping consequences. Imagine a villain poised as general of a goblin army, especially considering the complex relationship with his subjects. Imagine a hero, biting the line between the best picks of the worst people to destroy for his dark master.
There's a lot of depth here, and I can't wait for my players to begin to scrape the surface.
Sleep tight, doggo.
Source: The Barghest can be found in Volo's Guide To Monsters, published by Wizards of the Coast for use in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons; also, TONS of actual British folklore.
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Some Lore Drop and Context
Sailing through the Ionian Shadowfell, the young adults recently encountered a curious lady.
Whilst staying at the Grendal's Spindle in the machinist city of Kennrock, the captain of the group looked for a local to hang out with. As luck would have it, she came across a well-dressed woman face down on a table and surrounded by partially empty tankards. The woman, though, sprung to drunken life as the captain sat to join her.
Dressed in a fine coat of gold and crimson, she rocks a belted corset over a white silk shirt, the open collar revealing the thin mithril chain underneath. Two "gunslinger" belts cross around her hips, accenting the hip-hugging leathers below, the brand of a barbed whip just barely visible before it disappears up under the corset. Her hair is a deep magenta-red that fades to black, and her pale skin only further draws the eyes to her own; rings of topaz and black, that seem to spiral and telescope depending on her level of interest in the conversation. As she smiles, it is a tentative action; nervous, but playful, as if she is gauging how others may react. Fair, considering the not-so-subtle fangs on one side of her face...
This is Miriam Windrunner. The players know her to be the niece of one of the Vampire Lords directly connected to another Player-Character, but only the captain knows that information at the time of writing this (a lot can change in a week, though). Miriam is my play on a Fell Dhampir - a progeny born from the union of a vampire and another being, a creature always wrestling with monstrous lineage and making their own way. The "Fell" part of this complicates things; as creatures born in the Shadowfell are blessed or cursed with more mysterious abilities that only get more complicated and interesting as you get older.
To help with this, Miriam carries with her an adamantine blade. Like a cross between a longsword and a straight katana, it vibrates at a strange frequency when drawn, seeming to focus the wielder's attacks in battle somehow. Yet, Miriam rarely draws the weapon. She carries it for the little perk it offers instead; companionship.
You see, the pommel of the blade is a sculpted, ashen skull...named Bob. Bob is sentient, his eyes lighting up with blue fire and jaw unhinging to speak whenever Miriam calls his name. She quiets him by gently stroking the skull's head with her thumb. Bob serves and protects Miriam unconditionally, even if he offers unwanted advice often. Manifesting sometimes as an adorable, magenta skeleton spirit with a sword and shield, or a druidic staff, he serves both as the Dhampir's Spiritual Weapon and Healing Spirit, depending on what is required, and he would never leave her side. Beyond this accord, though, it remains a mystery on the what the depth of their relationship is, and that is a story for another day.
Influences and Theming
Anyone that knows my affinity for Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files can clearly see where I'm pulling Bob from, but the narrative device of a spiritual companion is one that's been explored fifty times over in fantasy. And in the dark and dangerous Shadowfell, it felt right to introduce such a thing for a creature that, at least at one time, would have been very lost.
Miriam Windrunner is, now, a capable young woman. Not a loner by any means, she will protect those she finds connections with, even at great risk to herself. Yet, once they are safe, she finds little need to follow; she is currently a creature of instances - wayward, strong, but directionless and mysterious. When I ponder her, it is an image of drifting fog, like smoke on the water; yet, when you meet her, she is immediately intriguing.
So I wanted to explore that idea with flavors.
Now, I'm not some nuanced scholar of mixology, I just wanted to make something with a certain aesthetic that tastes nice. If it evokes a few subtle feelings, even better.
Hanging on to that image of smoke on the water, I am drawn to one of my silver liquors. Silver Rum ain't my jam at the moment, so I pull out the Tequila. It also doubles as a distinct, vibrant flavor. A splash of lime will bring out the hints of sour. But now we just have a "mostly water" with a rusty green from the lime.
I've been experimenting with syrups lately, so let's bring out the Orgeat, a hazelnut syrup popular in rum drinks, and mix that in. Yes. After a quick stir, the thicker marzipan syrup "muddies the waters" if you will. And, after a sip, smooths that Tequila right away without sacrificing it.
The first flavor that came to mind when considering Miriam, however, was the underrated Stella Rosa Pink. Bright, silky flavors without being overpowering, I thought it aligned beautifully with her personality. And following my success in blending Pink and cinnamon, I am overconfident this will work out.
2 oz Silver Tequila
1 oz Orgeat
1/2 oz Lime Juice
3 oz Stella Rosa Pink Wine
+ A lovely drink
+ Tequila is a flavor you don't hide, so the Pink and Orgeat only smooths its finish
+ A great vehicle to accent the Orgeat without overpowering other flavors
+ Pleasant and smooth and bright
+ I could drink this easily and quickly...be careful
Adding on that the wine brings a silky pink chamise to the visual is just icing on the cake, as it reminds me of her crimson coat, which is awesome.
See you in the shadows.
Zipping through the thicket and brim, little Zym left the lumbering oaf far behind. Skating along the water's edge, he skips easily along the liquid and dances up the lily to perch in the phosphorus purple sky. Miles away, his eyes twitch down to the spoils of his mischief: a locket, large in his hands. It is brass, with a gold chain, and metal clasp. Zym clicks it open to reveal a beautiful portrait of an elven maiden - a noble perhaps. With a proud grin, Zym snaps the locket shut, tying it onto his back and, with a bolt and a blur, disappears into the Underwood...
At A Glance
In 5th Edition, a Quickling is a tiny, mischievous fey of lightning speed. They think and act quickly, moving faster than the untrained eye can track, and most creatures see them as mere blurs.
To a Quickling, however, the outside world is painfully slow. They see it all in transfixed time, not unlike our recent renditions of Quicksilver on the big screen. This boring world with a lack of motion and meaning creates a creature of jittery purpose and mobility. If a Quickling is ever "at rest", it would be found pacing, and not for long.
They are the plight of the of those that wander the strange forests of the Fey, tying shoelaces, stealing coin purses, tricks of artful malice; and though they sometimes blur their chaotic intentions and sew violent discord, they never seek to murder...at least not directly.
An Insult Too Many
Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, is not to be left waiting. To do so is to incur the wrath of one of the oldest and most powerful Archfey in existence. And yet, this exact insult is the crux of a Quickling's lineage.
Once a race of egotistical, lazy, and narcissistic Fey, these gluttonous creatures ignored and delayed a summons one too many from their great Queen. So, as an Archfey is want to do, she cursed them.
Their tall frames were shrunk to tiny sprites. Their slow minds quickened to an alarming, maddening speed. These Fey, under their new life, would never be late again, the insolence of their hubris burned into the fibers of their being.
By The Numbers
These are tiny, fast, hyper dextrous creatures with itty-bitty hit points and decent AC. They won't last long in a fight, though, at least not one on one. But just as an army of squirrels is still an army, 1d4+6 (Dexterity of at least 22!?) adds up right quick, and with their evasive, blurred movement, if ever your adventures happen upon a batch of them, they'll need a better strategy than "stab it until it dies."
Quicklings in the Ionian Feywild
Unlike other entries, the Quickling's Faerunian lore fits perfectly already into the core concepts and forces that rule my Feywild and its regions. The only adjustment here may be in the relationship of the Quickling's curse.
While I am certain that some Quicklings worship their Queen openly, I would assume that many harbor a great ill will toward the Queen, and a great fear to never act on it. I, being a cruel world-builder, have woven a long, manipulated memory into the Quickling that spins the Queen's actions as an act of salvation.
The lazy Fey would certainly have perished without her "blessing," so they worship and serve her without question. In fact, the most zealous and devout Quicklings will create "orders" and guilds in direct service to the Winter Court so as to gain the Queen's favor. Such favor achieved...is rare, and if ever it happens, THAT Quickling may actually last in a one-on-one fight.
So if a chill breeze follows a Quickling, exercise caution if you mean to chase it into the Deep Wood.
See you in the forest.
Source: Quicklings and their official 5th Edition attributes can be found in Volo's Guide To Monsters, published by Wizards of the Coast.
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Setting: Io (all ages)
Legacies carry weight in the expansive timeline of Io. A name can be earned, or stolen, or bound, or lost, and all carry a legacy of rich history and meaning. Much like the etymology of language, a name's path and purpose can change given their circumstances; heroes become villains, tyrants become priests, and thieves become nobles.
Yet these developments benefit most from a structured timeline. Instances and events of momentous growth and change powered by the metaphorical jet engine of past transgressions. There is a line to follow in this madness.
What if the line were broken? What if your name, your legacy, was taken from you; displaced somehow? Without the benefit of a past to learn from, what new future does a creature forge?
In today's Lore Drop, on November's theme of Legacy Names, let's take a look at one of the most curious of NPCs - the Va'Orodin.
Temporal imbalance in magic and arcanum is a running theme across every Age of Io, but in no other age was it felt more than at the turn of the 4th Age. The event that triggered the turn was the manipulation of an Ancient called the Riftskin - a terrifying creature made up of an endless cloud of indestructible, semi-sentient spikes - who tore through both the Infinite Battlefields of Acheron and the Plane of Water, flooding the Material Plane with volatile surges of magic and gigantic aquatic beasts. The event would usher in an age of steampunk piracy and expand the world and its industry, laying the groundwork for the sky ships of Cloudsinger...and their eventual fall.
But this surge of the untapped Aether sent ripples across the Feywild and Shadowfell, their oceans and tides rising to match their Material parallel, and with them, a torrent of storm fronts buffeted the once forgotten continents at the edges of the world. These storms, though, were special. Echoes of the tears - tattered remnants of the veils between worlds - these screaming tempests were gateways to other planes of existence, and, for some, a path across time.
The Loremasters of Io-Shar began documenting reports of expeditions to the far continents whose fleets were set upon by these temporal storms. Entire sections of ships struck by strange purple lightning; but the wood, cannons, and occupants were not destroyed...they were taken. Chunks of cities missing. Mountains and forests with impossible, gaping holes in their geography, only to be discovered hundreds of years later in Elysium or Pandemonium.
Collected in their archives were also minute entries, many tens to hundreds of years apart, of individuals seemingly displaced by these storms. Their stories are always the same; a thunderclap, a vision in the clouds, a flash, and now they are here. Most do not remember their past lives, but carry knowledge of past ages and their history, general and specific, and when asked their names, they can repeat them, save for one curious addition: first names are recalled perfectly, but each surname is precisely the same - "Va'Orodin."
Originally believed to an ancient, shared lineage across multiple races, the Loremasters of Empyr - the 5th Age - derived through their studies alongside the tribes of Air Elementals and the Skyborn Aarakocran that this name carried great power. In fact, its utterance was once a word of power among the Auran people. Roughly, it translates to "Storm-Touched."
Entities Out Of Time
In every Age of Io, a Va'Orodin has crossed the paths of the dozens of heroes ignited by furious purpose, but few gave their names. Of the ones that did, even fewer stuck around.
Io-Shar: Ja'Naya Va'Orodin was discovered by a pirate crew under the leadership of a stalwart lizardfolk (Ricin) and a grumpy elf (Grim). Ja'Naya was fiercely loyal to Captain Grim, devoting her life to his cause of vengeance and dominance over the flooded world. An adept cleric of some ancient neutral angel, Ja'Naya entered hailed from Io-Sooth, the 2nd Age, and carried with her a terrible sacrifice. The first keeper of the legendary Sunraker Gauntlet, she was surprised to find that when she would remove the item from her arm, her skin and muscle came with it. At some point in her past life, she willingly or unwillingly traded the flesh of her right arm for a legendary item. Whatever the case, though, the Gauntlet would leave her body at her passing nearly 20 years later, and serve the Valenwood family for nearly 100 years before passing into Loremaster care.
Io-Ren / Io-Shar: Once a cleric of Istus, the deity of fate and chance, Straiga Va'Orodin was undeterred by his displacement. An adept tactician and pole arm master, this red trifling would find rewarding work among others like him - the lost and forgotten. He found this home through the mercenary band known as the Knight Owls, and would rise through its ranks to command his own team in the 4th Age (Knight Owls - Season 3).
Io-Shar (Feywild): Yasha Va'Orodin is a creature of subtle, athletic frame, and stalwart reserve. She is one of the Gatekeepers of the nexus city of Astrazalian. Where and when she came from, no one really knows, but she holds great respect for the Fey Court, especially Lady Winter Sarissa. Perhaps we'll see more of her...perhaps not.
In the sky battles of Cloudsinger, during the 5th Age known as Empyr, the Va'Orodin of this age would find a dread purpose to follow. Once called The Smoking Banners, a coup within the ranks of this pirate legion would repurpose its resources to chase the temporal storms that ravaged the surface of the Material Plane. These "Stormsingers" would ride the dark lightning currents and attempt to harness the tears between worlds, trying to shift planes with their ships. Some sought conquest, while others yearned for the astral frontier. Many...just wanted to go home. And many, failed and died.
But one, a charismatic swashbuckler named Gideon Briarios (Va'Orodin), with his fleet of Singing Hammers, found the gateway to Elysium this way. In fact, it was the event that ushered in the 5th Age, when he broke the coveted Seal Of Heaven, and ignited the dormant World Engines in the First Cities of Io-Temm (the 1st Age). It was this event that lifted the old civilizations into the clouds and awakened the dragon lords to reclaim the sky. It is his song that the bards sing when they sing of Stormsingers, and it his banner they rally behind.
Flames Of A Second Chance
And what say the Raven Queen, the one who holds memory and time and antiquity aloft to the thousands of souls that pass her bastion in the planes of shadow? Or the Angels of the Sunrake? Or the Valkyrum of the Evernight? Powerful overlords and dissonant factions pull a curious lens over those in ages without belonging, so what purpose awaits creatures like this?
This old Loremaster is pulled to consider instead the Equation of Potential. As long-lived as I am, I know not everything, nor did my past lives, but if you'll humor a fellow ancient for a moment, we may yet find common ground. There are many across the Ages whose actions have sent ripples unknown; great things, terrible things, powerful things. All without knowledge of the future. Yet, we know there to be entities whose intelligence and memory are ageless; the mere concept of our mortality is a single drop in the river of their understanding. Perhaps, say, they drop a pebble into that river. Each ripple is a lifetime, and three lifetimes over, a ripple shifts a stone ever so slightly, and the river flows a different direction. Such a tiny act can have a tremendous impact. And if that pebble had free will? Yes, I think we understand each other.
So are the Storm-Touched spilled by design of some great entity, or are their fateful tempests random? This one knows not. Only time will tell.
Safe travels, Stormsinger.
-Loremaster Arteza Rainmaker
These black hounds of dark fur and roiling smoke hunt in packs in the deep alcoves of the Shadowfell. Led by an alpha, a hungry pack will descend upon nearby prey with ferocity and savagery. The alpha howls to strike the target with fear, while the pack flanks, then pounces. Efficient killers, the gloom only enhances their coordinated strikes.
The Best Boi
Shadow Mastiffs are summoned into service as watchdogs, temple sentinels, and bodyguards. Religious sects and cults of the Shadowfell will call them into being as sentries to their dark work. This ritual of binding is known to only the most dedicated to the forbidden arts, but is not exclusive to evil individuals; it is just the most common practice.
These punishers of heresy and apostate can see into the ethereal world, and such extraplanar senses make them invaluable allies to whomever employs their service.
By The Numbers
Shadow Mastiffs are stealthy and perceptive, but they won't be making any knowledge or persuasion checks. With decent hit points and a low AC, expect these suckers in packs. Favoring the shadows, they gain resistance to physical damage while in dim light or darkness, and, of course, are packing darkvision, PLUS the ability to see into the ethereal plane (suck it, ghosts!). Like many of its lupine brothers, this thing listens and sniffs well, but its real trick is the invisibility it earns when in the shadows. Be fearful of the pack of mastiff in a dark room.
But not all Mastiffs are created equal, and every pack needs a leader. A Shadow Mastiff Alpha is beefier in hit points and intelligence, possessing a howl ability that frightens their prey. Though Alphas are heard of, their statistics vary and wane depending on the region you're in. They are generally tougher, but a targeted attack can fell one in a round or two, especially if you can trap them in direct sunlight.
Shadow Mastiffs in the Ionian Shadowfell
Through an overabundance of summoning rituals and long life, Shadow Mastiffs are less an extraplanar ally and more a living, growing breed in the Planes of Shadow. Once the complex ritual is complete, a Shadow Mastiff can persist through eons, evolving and adapting to its surroundings, forever in its prime of youth and virility. Old Mastiffs become Alphas, adopting unique properties based on their experiences. A Mastiff roiled in pack fighting may develop a hardened hide, or teeth and claws that rend with added ferocity. Some adopt the abilities of a Blink Dog dominated into their pack, or copies the stalking stealth of a Displacer Beast they felled. These extra properties can be random, but no less frightening and dangerous. How they multiply is still a mystery, as these pups are created genderless, but some scholars surmise that when certain conditions are met, a Mastiff will drift toward the gender of the matriarch, and summon her own progeny. If the Mastiff remains this way, no one knows, or much cares.
As for me, I'm down for a shadow puppy.
Settings: Ionian Feywild, Faerun, D&D in general
As you bed down in the lush planes of the Feywild, a rustling nearby gives you pause. A hand goes to your sword hilt as your eyes trace the horizon. The red, long grasses point and shift in gentle breeze, and you scan the stalks for movement. You see none, and that's the problem.
There, flanked by the grass, you see a pointed leather hat, the silhouette of a hunched, twisted creature. You hesitate, thinking it a nymph or fairy, but then you hear it. The harsh, raspy sound of a rusted blade being dragged through the grass. It sends a shiver up your spine and a tight, cold knot settles in your stomach as a pair of red eyes stare back at you from the darkness. A chuckle drips from between yellowed teeth stained with blood as its name reaches your mind and you draw your sword.
A face wild with bloodlust rushes at you from the brush as dozens of other hats rise from the grass around you...
Blood Lust Muffins
Don't let this giggling little murder Santa fool you, a Redcap is a nasty little bugger.
Literally born of bloodlust, these homicidal Fey form and gather wherever a sentient creature has spilled fresh blood. If they chance to appear, they often grow out of the ground as tiny bloodstained mushrooms trying to push their way out of the soil. If a ray of moonlight, magical or otherwise, shines upon the bloody mushroom cap, a creature claws its way out of the loose soil.
A twisted, sinewy, wizened gnome creature with wild eyes and a shock-white beard, the vision of a Redcap is unnerving to say the least. Wearing a blood-soaked red leader cap (originally the mushroom's top), patchwork leather shirt and pants, heavy steel boots (used for kicking, see below), and a vicious, heavy blade. Some sprout with sickles or scimitars, others with knives and pitchforks; the nastiest carry fine chef cutlery with a dreadful grin across yellowed teeth.
It is a sight to behold, and if you linger long enough that they notice you, best prepare to fight for your life.
Slaughter By Necessity
A Redcap's time on this plane is not long. In order to persist in its personal mission of murder, it must soak its hat in the blood of its victims. The hat will slowly soak up the blood, drying out over the course of three days. If the Redcap cannot wet the hat with more fresh blood by then, it ceases to be, and this fact drives its bloodlust forward with an intense need. Some explorers have ventured that the removal of the cap may also end a Redcap's lifespan, but tearing it from its head has proven very difficult and dangerous; none have succeeded thus far.
Some Redcaps enter existence with some knowledge of the murderous act that brought them to bear, and may seek the creature responsible as their first victim. It is unclear if they feel empathy for the murderer, or some measure of tracking link to them, but they tend to track them down either to satiate their cap or be led to more slaughter. Either way, perpetuating their own existence is rooted in killing, so they are their own vicious cycle.
Notes and Features
These danger boys are Small creatures, so around 25 feet of movement per round. Darkvision's a given, but their iron boots won't help their stealth. Not sure they care though.
Unnaturally strong, a Redcap boasts an impressive attack and Strength score (+6 / 18). And they're vicious little buggers, attacking at least 3 times each turn. I say it like that because a Redcap has a nasty attack tied to its movement. These little jerks can charge you and punt you over with a heavy iron kick from one of their boots.
Yeah, yeah, it's funny now. See how much you laugh when a swarm of them start curb stomping your Paladin into goo (3d10+4 bludgeoning damage ain't a joke).
Lucky for you, they're AC / HP outputs are pretty small (13-14 / 40 or so), and a decent Barbarian build should smash a few before things get too dicey. But don't underestimate them. When these bad boys grapple, they do it as Medium creatures, and being Small to begin with, they can pile on you. Remember, killing you cements their lifespan for another three days. I'd say they're pretty MOTIVATED.
Redcaps in Ionian Lore
On the neutral grounds of the Fey Court, many lords and ladies hold special stations. Some employ or barter their own personal bards, cooks, and butlers from the denizens of the Wylds, or from the ranks of foolish travelers that wander into their theaters. For if a creature does their job well, a Fey will often covet such skill, adopting it into their folds for future use and entertainment.
Most of the time, the subjects are unwilling participants in this display of power, and depending on the season, their servitude is short-lived, for The Accords must be maintained while the trade routes are open. But some...subjects...feel a calling to remain, and for these willing mortals, great positions of power await. This is a path to Knighthood under the Queens of the Air and Fire, or to swell the ranks of The Wild Hunt. And to others, another position awaits. Someone to tend the gardens and landscapes of the grand, opulent noble manors, and, when needed, cull the flock.
If the subtext is not yet clear, these "Gardeners" serve a dual purpose. As with so many facets of the Fey, there is always a darker side to the coin, and these otherwise calculating taskmasters are universally feared among the Courts. If ever you are invited to a Lady or Lord's home and find yourself alone with their Gardener, one is advised to exit the premises as soon as possible, leaving the way you came in. A noble should always greet you themselves to allow passage into their home; if they do not, another might deem you a threat. Remember, a Gardener's job is to keep the grounds safe and tidy. Little pests cannot be allowed to roam.
So when you invariably find yourself lost and alone in a vibrant, intoxicating floral maze of high thorns and broad bush, remember...we warned you. Your blood is their water, your flesh their fertilizer, so don't be surprised by the knife as it plunges deep with a twist, nor of the sprouting red mushrooms that bubble up around your corpse. For every garden needs tending, and new children need to eat...
And with that terrible thought...sleep well and I'll see you at the table.
Campaign: Ionian Shadowfell, across the Ocean Styx
When: as Styx is flooded in direct parallel to the Material Plane being flooded, we must be somewhere in the 4th Age Of Shar.
The Ionian Shadowfell
In Dungeons & Dragons's legacy, the Shadowfell is a bleak, desolate place full of decay and death. A dark reflection of the Material Plane, like a mourning echo, it is said to pull color and vitality away from those that pass into it, like color itself were bleached from its lands. As a mirror to the Material world, its geography is similar, but not identical, and because it passes into the prime world much the same way the Ethereal Plane would, skilled arcanists and cosmologists can use the Shadowfell as a means to travel great distances across the known world.
But to LIVE in the Shadowfell is very different. Adventurers of any merit would have been unheard of, as it is assumed that creatures who reside here are so devoid of hope and purpose that they would never amount to more than a pile of sad, broken bits of useless flesh and bone...
But that's boring and stupid sad.
So in Ionian Lore, there came a moment in cosmological history called The Sewing. As the Astral Seas churned, the Material Plane found its seasons in the Elemental Chaos, its laws and legends by the positive and negative planes beyond, and its magic from the influences of the multiverse. And the days and nights...from the Feywild and Shadowfell.
At the close of the 3rd Age of Io, when an Ancient called The Riftskin tore open the Plane Of Water and the battlefields of Acheron, a flood of magic and mayhem spilled across the Material Plane. However, its echoes - the Feywild and the Shadowfell, so too mirrored this cataclysm, and what they tore open...was each other.
Influences of the Fey seeped into the lands of Shadow, while dark beings wormed their way into the lands of fairies beyond. The Darklands gained surges of color and inspiration, and the Torchwick gained its first true form of depression and malice. Tears and veils between both worlds; pockets and portals shifting with the tides. These connections - new threads of travel and magic - would help maintain the vitality of both planes. At least, for now...
And with this, a surge of vitality. Inspiration, heroism, and creatures who come from dark beginnings fighting for purpose and perhaps a small measure of good, whilst surrounded by vampire lords, devilish valkyries, and a flooded ocean of the dead.
The War Of Dominion (Shar 146-195)
As the pirate lords of The Ashen Horn and Scarborough battled for dominance over the new world in the Material Plane, their parallels did the same, carving out new territory across the Ocean Styx and claiming dominion over the ruined and dissonant nations still scrambling to survive.
During this time, five cities arose to seize power.
The Valkurym Of The Evernight - the Honor Guard of the Shadowfell's Capitol
The Thuulian Imperium - a motivated sect of Mindflayer engineers and alchemists.
The Brakenork of Krakenspire - The Orks of the Blake - an orc-like civilization that values strength and renown.
The Factories Of Kennrock - Eldritch machines and industrial weaponry.
The Gladiators Of Jotunheim - a city of many races, battle, and coin.
The next 50 years would cut a bloody swath across the dark sea, where no nation was safe and no action disavowed. In the chaos, the Valkurym, with their dread wings and fallen celestial tactics, easily seized control of the skies. After only 10 years in the fray, they rained fire upon Jotunheim and Kennrock, reducing the proud cities nearly to rubble. Each swore allegiance to the Evernight, if only to cease the heavenly onslaught.
Meanwhile, the seas churned with cannon fire, blood, and steel. Dennisen Thuul, Lord King Corsair of the Mindscythe, was busy. The Mindscythe is a ship of legend; living and breathing and slicing through the black sea, it sails as if to drink the ocean dry. Flanked by his vicious Echo Fleet, Dennisen, in the name of the Imperium, continued to stake and stretch the borders on his massive nation. Only the proud barbarian Orks of the Blake were able to push Dennisen back from their waters, but only just. And as the Mindflayer nation continued to sink its tendrils into the fallen ruins and outposts deep beneath the Styx, a sixth nation chose neutrality in the conflict.
These would be the Artisans of the Kuriale.
A nation of twin cities, Onyxheart and Undraaken, Kuriale was tasked with protecting the ancient relics drudged up from the flooded ruins beneath the Ocean Styx. They are a mixed people of elven tribes; beliefs in high art, study, and creative expression rule their ideals, laws, and exports. In fact, marked at the edge of the Azraelian Kretch, they are the region's main source of magical weapons, items, potions, scrolls, and magical services.
Though news of the War reached their shores quickly, the people of Kuriale decided against entering the conflict. In fact, when Jotunheim and Krakenspire each approached the Artisan Guilds for aid, the Drow council of Onyxheart emphatically refused. Even the sister city of Undraaken, and their Council of Seven, spoke no ill will of the visiting nations, but declared themselves neutral ground to any side. No trade, however, was to be given to participants in the conflict.
And though Kuriale remained neutral in this conflict for its total 54 years of bloodshed, this choice painted them as cowards on every side. Their kindness was exploited, and their artisan work raided and plundered by every city. Though they remain nearly pacifists, the backlash following the Dominion War has forced the city to raise its own elemental protections.
The Plight Of The Drow
Under the Evernight Vale (the region where our main campaign began) Drow women are not treated particularly badly, but they tend to be pushed toward lower class work and servanthood. However, the males of the species, are treated more like cattle. Creatures to be herded, expendable, and worthless; a leftover stigma from the soldiers of Lolth.
This belief, especially the latter, has informed an extra layer of prejudice toward the Kuriale, especially their "princes." The Vampire Lords, their Courts, and others with cruel, long memory enjoy dominating these Drow; crushing their will and expression, as a last insult to their neutrality. Even the White Court, the most empathetic of the Vampire Lords, deem these creatures "mongrels," as they chose indecision over carving their own destiny...so they must deserve to be forever used and manipulated. Many Lords will take these Drow and use them as humiliating labor, then toss them to the hounds, or sell them to another Lord as a joke. But those that have been around long enough realize the value a Kuriale can have, even as a bargaining chip, and will risk renown and rebuke to protect all those that cross their threshold, even if they dominate them first to steal claim from another more vicious lord.
The Difficulty Of Prejudice and Racism
Though these elements exist in the world, none of them are painted in a positive light. When they have shown up, the players are distinctly uncomfortable or frustrated, and will find ways to either divert attention away, cause a disturbance, or even try to undermine the system from within. They know it's wrong, and though they don't have a lot of power yet, they're planning to fix it. No matter our setting, the players nor the DM are siding with these manipulative Lords and Ladies; it's definitely NOT a good thing.
But it IS the Shadowfell, and I am honored to share a table with people mature enough to tackle these painful challenges and seek the light on the other side.
No matter what realm we share, it's worth it to fight for one another.
See you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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