[setting riff] entire amies go dungeon crawling

reason

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The ancient empire of the Underpeoples lasted ten thousand years and riddled the mountains and the depths below the plains with vast cities and tunnel networks. But they are gone now, only savages left in isolated deep fortresses. The tunnels are home to degenerate beasts, exiles, the evil spawn of dark gods made in mockery of men, and worse horrors. But there is treasure down there, ten thousand years of wealth.

Upon the surface, the young kingdoms of mankind are often as not built atop the wealth of the depths, their cities rising about the more easily accessible and richest undercities. There is little to mine in the traditional sense - the Underpeoples mined it all long ago, and turned metals into statues and jewelry.

Lone prospectors and small groups don't last long in the depths. Expeditions need resources, and the foes are either hideously powerful or number in hundreds or thousands. Delves are war by another name, made by armies of specialists and warriors who descend to pillage, secure regions, and conquer areas rich in forgotten treasures.

King Aphineus and his Thousand, steel clad and steel-hearted. The fey-blooded necromancer Iryst who raises an transient army of shades and bones each time he goes below. Morest's Free Company, mercenaries by the hundred who take a handsome cut of whatever they win for struggling, lesser city states. There are leaders who plot over maps by lantern-light while their followers struggle to win territory, vault by vault, and there are leaders who stride with the scouts, slaying and seeking treasures. Which are you?

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reason

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The free city of Balefell, built in the lee of cavern-riddled mountains, crumbled because of victory. Its coffers empty, and the shine of lords past long gone, the disgruntled populace were easily roused by bands of roving priests who spoke of omens and signs. With little to lose but their heads, the Council sent below the Wall Guard to strive in reaching Jardinian's Vaults - knowing in their hearts that only doom would come of this. For was it not a mere thirty years past that massed ghuls and vrek had torn apart the three thousand men of Magister Jardinian, and so brought an end to the golden yeas of Balefell?

Yet Myale of the Wall Guard's hundreds returned in triumph after only ten days below, his men bearing five vast silver statues of the Last Underlords, and tales of bone-littered vaults within which only leap-spiders lurked. Soon enough, Myale was Lord Myale and all who could bear arms were below, clearing the vaults and bringing forth treasures enough to restore Balefell.

Lord Myale could do no wrong in the eyes of the populace, and the roving priests prospered mightily also. All might have been well had not these worthies come to believe their own infallibility.

Deep below Balefell, spoken of in whispers, was the Trecuspia - a sealed hall of marvels of past millennia. Glimpsed only by the mad and lost warriors separated from their host, but Lord Myale set his heart upon it. From leagues around came mercenaries and delvers, heroes and packmasters to form an army that would pierce deep into the Underrealm, forging a road through cavern and many-pillared hall to the greatest of treasures.

Ghul yet lurked in the depths, gnashing their teeth upon their jagged blades, whilst their drums and screeches echoed for league after league in the greatest vaultways. But they were only a few hundreds, and they fell before Lord Myale's troops and strategems. Even the spider-caverns were little threat to a host prepared with fire and profligate with the lives of scouts.

So came the day that Lord Myale and his guard stood before the illumina door to the Trecuspia, at the head of a column of delvers and warriors, a twisting and well-guarded roadway behind them to Balefell far above. All would be looted, even the very doors themselves, and the artisans hurried forward to begin their work upon the mighty portals.

But the Trecuspia cracked itself open, of its own volition, and choking poisons flowed in waves from within its opening door. The most dread things followed to prey upon Lord Myale's forces: wraiths and dwimmerliches, stalking bones and clacking teeth that stole the life from all they gazed upon. The Trecuspia was nothing but death, and death flowed forth with the poison air; in mere minutes halls were choked with the corpses of the hopeful and the loyal, whilst the fearful spent their last heartbeats in terror and darkness, followed to their ends by death incarnate.

Terror was returned to Balefell with the stench of poison and the ravings of those fortunate to survive. Within the gateways that led below, the poisons fumed upon the heels of the last ragged escapees for a year and a day, but only the mad and the foolish remained in Balefell by that time.

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reason

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The men of the Amenvales are, just as men of all kingdoms under the sky, clever with rope, stone, and wood. Clever with their fire-alchemies, spices, and ungents. But of magicks they have naught - for men who claim to sorcery are no more than mad hermits and fallen priests upon the cavern-riddled mountainsides. They prance and posture, but of it nothing comes. Sorcery is of the past and the depths - of the fallen Underpeople, of gems and the bones of the mountains. Of dead things that will not lie, and glowing horrors where should only be darkness.

Yet the Bell-Silver Guard of Tolenraft, greatest city of the Amenvales, bear magicks of the ancient Underpeople, each and every one of their two hundreds. This is why the High Magisters of Tolenraft rule all they can survey from their tall towers, and therein lies a tale.

In the centuries since men learned to build cities in place of skin tents, and make crafts in place of hunting, sorcery of the depths has struck down armies. It has brought terrors boiling up from the endless halls below the earth, and thence crumbled walls and palaces of the mighty. Wandering priests cry out against it, and call for dire and strange works of a past age to be left fallen below. But kings and magisters lust after power that might be granted by the scepters and orbs of the Underpeople. Delvers by the hundred and by the thousand have marched below to horrid deaths to slake such desires, marshalled as armies of corridor-soldiers and regiments of delve-architects. The ingenuity of men matched against the fallen stone of shaft and deep hall, and their strength of arms matched against chanting ghul tribes and vast cavern-nests of venomous lyr-spidren.

Beneath Tolenraft lie the Vain Halls and Lord Yeft's Passage, each a massive network of vaultways and shaft-stairs, split by rock-shifts in years long gone by. Beneath that lie the Bells; great resonating chambers built uncounted centuries past for purposes unknown, coated thick with vein-silver, their low tolling a mystery when the city of men above was yet young. When Tolenraft was ruled by Lords, it was the Ruby Spears of Lord Gulfane who cleared rot-skinned rulch from the Vain Halls, and formed shield-walls across Lord Yeft's Passage to catch filth-encrusted ghul arrows. Gulfane's scribes and architect-attendants drew up their maps, alchemists poured fire-oils into the worst nests, and commoners were pressed to carry provender and torches below, bent beneath their loads on new-made stairs of wood, following new-made marks upon the walls.

The Bells drew them deeper, but achieving such depths is a matter of years of toil - to make a well-defended roadway of supplies that leads down shafts, stairs and vaults, and past victories already won, through halls of the Underpeople seen by men for the very first time. Tolenraft grew, made wealthy by icons carved of precious stone and sigils cast from metals of the forge, brought up and melted into shapes more pleasing to men of the surface. For all this wealth, is said that an older Lord Gulfane wept upon first seeing a Bell chamber, its silver gleaming by torchlight - and glistening, sheened by black ghul blood. For he saw greatness.

Yet Lord Gulfane should have seen death; there are worse than savage, hideous ghuls in the deepest places. As companies of Ruby Spears encamped in the now-silent Bells, and scout-archers and apprentice-mappers roamed the halls and passages of that depth, scores of dire miathren awoke from their slumbers. Each beast broad as a vaultway, strong as twenty men, yet cunning in their inhuman speech - and silent in the dark when it was time to tear scouts limb from limb.

In the rocky depths of the earth, near palace-vaults that once glittered with the fineries of the ancient Underpeople, lie reservoirs, sealed lakes, and canal systems that stretch for league upon league. One such the miathren know, and even as the Ruby Spears were roused to the onslaught of mighty beasts, others were tearing apart stonework and sealed doors to unleash a flood that would tear away the ropes, stairs, and workers of Lord Gulfane's company of architects. Torn and pressed by monsters upon one side, and drowned in chill waters of the depths upon the other, bare twelve score of Lord Gulfane's best men forced their way to higher chambers, vaults yet unexplored. Those who straggled, and those who bravely locked shields to face the roaring miathren, were rent and slain, their screams driving on the rest.

Their torches faltering, Lord Gulfane at their head, the leadmost of the Ruby Spears came upon a glimmer in the passageways, and then a bright glowing vault of treasures. Statues of iridescent metals, and between them racked the arms of the Underpeoples. Spears and swords, a-glow with ancient sorceries. By all accounts, Lord Gulfane gave there his orders in expectation of death, and his men seized upon these weapons and set their shields side by side. There they would stand, and hold in hope that the waters would subside and the hundreds above would bring down fire and poison arrows in their rescue.

But that was not to be, for the weapons of the Underpeople sang in the hands of men, and made heroes of each one in his heart. No matter that the foe was mighty and strong beyond all reach of a man - the miathren came, roaring or silent as was their choice, and were slain by men who fought as though in a dream. Glimmering lights settled upon the steaming blood of the miathren, and their corpses choked the vaultways.

It was three days before the waters subsided and Sareth the Tutored descended with three times a hundred men well armed - in search of his Lord's corpse, for he held no hope. He was met by dreaming men who bore sorceries, and was much afraid and much cheered at once. Of the miathren, no more was seen in those years, and soon forges were made of the Bell vaults to melt their silver. Each surviving man of the Ruby Spears bore his weapon upward to Tolenraft, and each was presented with a medallion of silver; soon enough they were the Ruby Spears no more, and became the Bell-Silver Guard for their deeds. To this day, the magick weapons of the Underpeoples remain in their hands.

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Wratts

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We must have some sort of psychic connection. I was mulling over the same kind of ideas recently.




There is a reach in the east deep underneath the sea near an aspiring tribe of feudal power. The tribe is fending off a siege against the things from the depths. The slimy parasite-bearing "things" must have nested there long after the Underpeople, for the most daring of scouts have returned message before the siege that beyond the reach is a grand "library" of the Underfolk, holding many secrets engraved in black marble tablets. Daring indeed, because half of them went mad and turned murderous on their own kin, back at home. After that, only few were found brave enough to attempt further delving.

The clan's lord sent expeditions on behalf of the initial scout reports, but they were mangled by the creatures in the depth. Some vanished completely. The clan responded with some skirmishes against those filthy abominations, but they couldn't get any more expeditions through, a realization made real only briefly before the siege began.

It has lasted for nearly 5 years now. Luckily, the clan can supply via the surface world, but the creatures are burrowing tunnels around the settlements and palace and beginning to entrench the clan's homegrounds more effectively. Unluckily, the beasts seem to have infinite supplies and force of numbers. And even worse, the clan is contemporarily weakened by in-fighting and struggles for leadership amongst each other. It's only a matter of time before the power structure crumbles, and a rebellious fraction seeks to launch a full-out attack into the depths, in hope of retrieving artifacts and sorcery to give them the ultimate edge to defeat the creatures -- or perish bravely in war against the monsters.
 

reason

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The Magister's Circle of Parenn, a city of men built upon a mountain's foothills, tithe their people harshly. But threft stalk those lands, whithering all they pass, and large trade caravans are the only traffic to and from the city. Merchant-captains levy yet more harshly than the magisters, and so few have the means to leave.

The coin of Parenn is of ancient stock, won from the mountain's vaults by an army of a past generation, and marked with the strange sigils of the Underpeoples. It is valued greatly enough in other lands for the caravans to risk long-limbed threft and the Magister's displeasure.

It is said that the Gilded Companies of Parenn form the finest army in all the lands, but the Magisters use them not in these years. Endlessly these soldiers train, both upon paved grounds and stair-roads in the city, and below in the cleared vaults beneath the mountain. All of the trapped folk of Parenn aspire to their ranks, or to the companies of support who toil upon provisions and architect's tools.

Of shieldmen there are five hundreds, enough by the mappers' measure to hold a league wide and league broad of vaults and ways below. Twenty in two ranks form a Wall, with mace afront and long spear at back. To follow the Wall, five from the support company to hold high lanterns upon long poles, or bear the map, or run with orders and messages. Behind the Walls are delve-archers, three hundreds strong, thirty bands of ten - and four young commoners to bear and carry arrows, torches, or provender. Shieldmen call these delve-archers "stepmen" for the wooden half-stool each bears upon his back; stools are set as steps to stand upon when archers mass to loose arrows at foes who charge a Wall. When above ground, delve-archers of Parenn carry longbows, when below, curved and strong shortbows of stonewood, brought upon caravans from Uthall Mar.

Thus, by the architect's count, it is thirty and nine men of the Gilded and the support to hold a corridor of the Underpeople against the assault of ghul or slithe. For two days below are such men expected to withstand the vile beasts of the darkness before their relief, time enough for architects and commoners to strip a vault of all that might be valued - time enough for mappers to find and record all the ways, shafts, and stairs. Time enough for the building of stairs and barricades of wood, or clearance of fallen stone.

Of delve-scouts, Parenn boasts four hundreds, men too old and wise for the Walls, and youths too young to yet hold a shield fast against the stench of ghul blood. A Hand of scouts is by tradition three of the old, three of the young, a mapper, and a lanternman. The young with bows, the old with spears. Were Parenn's magisters to order their Gilded Companies below in earnest, knowledge of the ways yet untouched by men would be bought with the blood of the Hands. For delve-scouts suffer that shieldmen may live to slay the enemy revealed.

They who stand in support of the Gilded number at least one thousand: porters and those who prepare provender. Two hundreds of architects and their apprentices, wise in the ways of rope and wooden structures, wise in the ways of stone and its treacheries below. Four score mappers of the Magisterial Library. A score of alchemists to brew their fire oils and ungents. All the smiths and craftsmen of Parenn, who might be pressed into service and toil upon arms and armor.

But Parenn is wealthy, and its magisters are sated. Thusly does this army train for war in the vaults that never comes, and even the poison threft are left to work their horrors upon caravans unmolested.

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reason

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In contrast to the wealth and culture of Amenvale cities or high Parenn, the savage Yethmenite men live as beast-herds and nomads, ruled by tradition and wise-women who keep dark secrets. Wandering priests from other lands fare poorly in Yethme, often as not meeting an ill death indeed. Yethme has its own gods, and they are not the gods of other men. The Yethmenite clans mark boundaries and the reach of their rough law by the great hill portals that lead below to the realm of the Underpeoples. From these portals, so the Yethmeni taletellers have it, came their gods and their herd-beasts in ages past. Even now do womenfolk journey far to set offerings wrapped in akash-leaves before the dark entranceways, and light fires there to see portents in the drifting of smoke.

When the trade-need falls upon a Yethmenite clanhold, forth come the most brave and savage warriors, the most cunning of womenfolk; in days of feasting and contests is an army made. Thence into the darkness of a great portal they go, with great shouts, chanting, and beating drums to scare what beasts might lurk there. Glowing char-fires, seeping smoke and tended by wise-women, mark the progress of this horde into the upper reaches of vaults and corridors lined with strange carvings. Youths, made foolhardy and brave by a mash of fermented fruit, rush ahead with short-lived torches to reach places that might have never before been touched by Yethmeni hands. A few are taken by lurking spidren beasts, chitinous and chattering, and some proud savages fight half-blind in flicker-light and smoke to slay things that bleed steaming green upon ancient stonework. Fallen icons, rare carved stones, and other scraps of an age long gone are found and carried forth in triumph; these will sustain the clan in trade for a year.

But of the depths and what might lie there, no Yethmenite might say. Nor do they care, but others turn their eyes towards Yethme. Lords and Magisters of lands where men delve more deeply, and where warriors are regimented soldiers rather than proud savages, know that Yethme might pay back the cost of its conquest over and again in treasures of the Underpeoples.

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Toxoplasma

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Near any great delve, you'll see the ragged patchwork tents of the Tatterdemalion; the communities of madmen-prospectors drawn irresistably to the portals of the Underpeople.
Ragged they go into the dark, convinced of safety if they observe bizarre superstitions; brandishing amulets, braying doggerel songs, wearing only red or white or yellow, smeared in saffron or ash or woad. They go alone, they go in their hundreds, dancing and braying.
They war among themselves as to which superstitions to use, tearing each other apart like wild beasts and forgetting the dispute in a day.
They vanish into the deeps.
Sometimes the armies of men find them, pale, ragged, gibbering, deadly as rabid dogs.
And sometimes, one will walk out, with a priceless item from deep, deep in the earth, where the boldest companies care not go.
Some become trusted guides; their mumblings and caprices unerringly predicting danger and reward.
And some become worse things.
 

reason

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Campaign Opening:

The city of Crescence upon the great rift is the oldest - and once the richest - of the cities of men. Stairways fit for companies to march twenty abreast were carved centuries past, in years when the Amenvales were yet a dominion of nomads and brigands. The rift gave access to great treasures, vaults that extended twenty leagues in either direction, and depths of mystery. But the palaces of the Underpeople, once plundered, cannot sustain a city. So Crescence fell, hollowed from the inside. Then when the naimid darklings rose up into the rift labyrinths, there was little left of coffers or soldiers to defend this ancient place. The darklings worked their sorceries, and the spires of Crescence crumbled into the rift, the last of its defenders slain or fled. Of that ancient city of men, there is naught left.

Players:

The player characters are either young lords or magisters of Crescence, men and women who in the final hours salvaged some measure of what was left. They are followed by ragged citizens, soldiers, and a caravan of too few goods. Some few architects, mappers, alchemists, and priests are amongst them. A hundred leagues from Crescence lies savage Yethme; if the pride of Crescence is to rise again, it is from Yethme it must be forged. Where else is there to go, but the surrounding dominions where these lords and magisters would be supplicants, and their people beggars. This, then is their destiny: forge an army and a citizenship of these refugees, seize lands from the Yethmeni savages, and raise a New Crescence atop an unexplored portal.

Conceits:

- This is a game of armies, resources, leadership, and all that comes with it. Logistics, treachery, negotiations, and war. Glory, wealth, and the number of your followers are the measures of success.

- Sending armies below is a matter of what some might call "force projection." How many men and what resources does it require to set a hundred men to fight and explore effectively a league from the surface? How might more or more skilled architects change this? How best to build the delve-road to maximize effectiveness? What cost are shafts, increasing depth, rifts and rock-shifts, or nests of spidren?

- The foes are not only below the earth: the Yethmeni are made your mortal enemies by your actions. Beyond Yethme, lords and magisters of wealthy cities will look upon your acts and see opportunity - striking at you may be their way to the treasures that lie beneath Yethme.

- Where do you send forth your emissaries? To raise mercenaries from the Harau Fens? To seek fragile alliances in civilized lands? And what of your peoples and their needs? How will you raise and train the delve-soldiers whilst also tending to harvests and beast-herding?

But there are glimmering things waiting below - all the wealth unimaginable that once sustained Crescence, and might do so again under your rulership.

Reason
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