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.
1st Saturday: Lore Drop
2nd Saturday: Monster
3rd Saturday: GM's Corner
4th Saturday: REST DAY