Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Metaphysics: Aura Colors

One of the natures of souls on Aarn is that they tend to give a somewhat flashy light show before the discharge of a spell or magical effect. This light show carries with it a consistent color from soul to soul, and while this color can shift slowly over time, or be a subtle gradient from one color to another, it tends to remain consistent in the same individual.

Each soul's individual color is called their "aura color" and someone's aura color has tended to carry with it certain connotations and stereotypes about that person's personality. These stereotypes are not as fixed and highly defined as, say, astrology, but the societal impact is similar. One's aura color is considered an important part of their identity, and some of the trends (in Cerenbaun society at least) for what colors mean what are as follows:

Dark colors, such as blacks, navy blues, royal purples, browns and deep greens are considered to belong to more somber, pragmatic and calmer individuals. People with these colors are considered to be in control of their emotions and their actions. The darker and less saturated the color, the more this is considered to be the case - up to a point.

Pastel colors are thought to belong to childish, innocent, trusting, light, fluffy and not very substantial individuals. People with pastel auras however tend to be creative, expressive, loyal, compassionate and trustworthy. In the case of a color such as tan, a combination of both the dark/desaturated and pastel colors exists, producing someone considered to be very "normal."

Completely desaturated colors, from black, to grays to white, do not happen often. People tend to think of those with these colors as being mentally unhealthy or unstable. Usually an aura becomes desaturated over time, as someone rejects their previous beliefs or personality. Sometimes this change can be for the better - usually it is not. Rarely there are those who are born with desaturated auras, and these individuals are considered very pure - either pure innocent, or purely psychotic and sociopathic.

Generally, a desaturated aura represents a disconnect from some emotional concern that used to help define that person's personality - an absence of this kind of connection from birth will either produce a surreal-behaving prophet or a complete and total whack-job.

Extremely saturated colors such as bright reds, yellows, intense greens, cyans or fuchsias are considered to be a sign of an excess amount of magical energy, and the personalities of people with these colors are similarly expected to be quite intense exaggerations of the normal color stereotypes.

Across the spectrum, individual color shades are thought to have their own meanings, that can shift slightly from culture to culture, but generally follow the same guidelines.

Reds and oranges tend to be passionate and thrill-seekers. They enjoy the material world, and all it has to offer. As auras shift to golds and yellows, they tend to represent a playfulness in the case of yellows, or a nobility of spirit in the case of golds.

Greens tend to be ambitious and highly focussed individuals, while the shift through cyan to blue brings with it a sensitivity to healing and emotional concerns, with a value for love and the well-being of others. Violets, purples and indigos tend to be more spiritual, imaginative and fanciful, and a great many leaders and changers of the world have had auras in the upper spectrum.

Of course, one's aura color doesn't define one's personality. The patterns of behavior mentioned above are just that - patterns noticed by society. The paradigms of how certain colored auras are "supposed to behave" can help subtly mold one's personality while growing up, and many people rebel against these conceptions, refusing to be defined by the color of their magic.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not-quite-an-update Update: More things I'm working on

While I haven't been able to come up with any new, definite information in the last week, I have been working on, in more detail, just what things I still have to work on.

Necromancy and Biomancy: I want to work out a system where necromancers and biomancers, and possibly elemancers in general can create their own artifacts without using runecrafting, similar to how the animancers do it. For instance, a biomancer might have a mostly-inert creature he fits over his own arm, in order to launch acid or tangle an enemy in tentacles. A necromancer should be able to graft pieces of undead creatures to himself, to permanently increase his own strength.

Balancing this out will be complicated, if only because there are situations where it would be justified for the biomancer to require using one of his "currently dominated creatures" slots - like the tentacles - but others where it wouldn't, like a creature that's nothing more than an over glorified super-soaker-with-acid. At least, because necromantic creations aren't alive, such constructs -will- require actual domination regardless, since it wouldn't be able to move or function otherwise.

Another one of the niggling issues about this is that life and death channelers could plausibly have the same abilities, especially where grafting is concerned. It's going to be difficult to determine what exactly requires the wizardry, what requires the channeling, what can only be done by elemancers, and what can be done by both elemancers and channelers.

System Mechanics: I've decided to take a step back from my previous mechanics plans. I'm likely going to still use action points, but I'm probably going to "dumb down" the system a bit to streamline it. I've also decided what direction game balance is going to take - actual combat is going to be very quick and very brutal.

However, unlike most "gritty brutal" games, death will not come easily. Creatures will become incapacitated quite easily - they can be finished off afterwards with a good deathblow or two, but it will usually take several minutes for any creature, PC or enemy, to die without such a blow. Anyone who is familiar with turn-based combat knows that "several minutes" can be an eternity.

With luck, this design choice will allow me to capture the speedy and exciting combat of gritty games, while keeping it light hearted and character death to a minimum. Most enemies won't bother giving a death blow while the rest of the party is kicking around.

I'm also considering including a "dead man walking" combat mechanic. There are many wounds that are fatal (or at least would be without magic) where the body can still function for those several minutes. In real life, for instance, a sword blow through the lung is a death sentence, but not incapacitating. Without magical treatment that lung-stabbed person -will- die, but can still fight for a few minutes at least. As far as I know, there are no mainstream systems that try to capture this kind of realism.

Because the system is so high magic, and because not only is wizardry common, but can be learned without much effort, healing magic will also be common enough to heal such "dead men walking."

And then, I'm going to have to decide once and for all how the dice are handled. I'm currently considering using a "plot dice" mechanic to give PCs extra power or ability in plot-relevant fights - this would allow them to do epic deeds, like taking down giant constructs, goliaths or other huge, powerful and intimidating foes - while still forcing them to give caution towards the lowly giant rat over there, which is how I want it. Light-hearted or not, I don't want the PCs to get too complacent if they're fighting a significantly "weaker" foe than the one they last killed.

History and Politics: This is one of the subjects intimidating me the most. I've studied enough history to know just how little about it I know, and how daunting trying to write the history for a whole world is. I've put a great deal of research, philosophical, psychological, cultural, into designing everything else, so it just seems wrong to pull the world history out of my ass. Nevertheless, it seems like that's what I may have to do.

Not only do I have to write out detailed histories, cultures, and an interconnecting time-line for all the countries and regions I went over in the last post, there are a large number of "blank spots" on the world map that I've barely fleshed out, at all, and some of them seem quite promising. Maybe I'll leave them blank for now and possibly use them later in an expansion.

And then there's the wars and deciding who hates who, and why. And possibly developing kingdoms and settlements for godtouched -other- than human ... mmmn, lots to do, there really is, and I'm not sure where to start.

Dungeons: And of course, I can't forget designing maps for players to use in actual dungeons, including traps and non-creature encounters. Some of these dungeons will be wizard and elemancer laboratories and towers, others will be ancient temples and tombs from earlier human civilizations, and others may even include "impossible" constructs that still function all this time - remnants from before wizardry was limited by Jennin and Kennerin.

Magic: And even then, there's designing the magic system more fully, fleshing out the rules and spells - and something I find almost as daunting as developing political world history - figuring out what spell schools wizards will be dealing with, without cribbing off of Wizards of the Coast. A wizard's not a wizard without specialization, after all, and of course because my setting treats wizardry as a branch of science, that makes choosing the spell schools even more complicated.

Well, we'll see. If nothing else, I can use this post and the previous one as an outline to help me decide what's best to tackle next. Man, this is more stuff than I thought it was...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Intermission: A milestone, and future plans for the blog

Updates may either slow down, or change focus in the near future. With the completion of the constructs post, I've officially detailed every type of creature that exists in Aarn, and exhausted almost all the "easy" things to write about for the setting! Here's a list of what's left to do:

Setting rules and mechanics - Complicated and difficult, especially considering most of the good ideas are already taken by people-who-will-sue-me-if-I-use-the-ideas. This cannot be underestimated in its bulk or breadth, either - it's easily a full half of the project!

Types of magic and the details of how they work - Other than the barest of bare overviews of magic (which I will be doing the next few posts) most magical spells and magical quirks and details depend on the setting rules and mechanics. Not much point of a spell that does something that isn't reflected in the rules, and doesn't affect the rules in an appreciable way, is there?

Magical artifacts and equipment - Detailing this will not only require the magic details, but the rules details as well!

A time line of recent world history and wars - While it doesn't require the setting rules, it does require working knowledge of historical socio-political trends that I am currently lacking. There's someone at my college who will hopefully help me with this, though.

World Culture - I need to detail the cultures, politics and practices of Cerenbaun, the Moorish Isles (which need a name change,) Igakari, Eastern Habruk, Western Habruk, the Eastern Islands, the Eastern Border, Yessha, and the Rensvaja kingdoms, at the very least. I do know enough of real-world culture and politics to flesh these out, but I don't want to do so without knowing the history first. Fitting cultural details to history is a lot easier than shoehorning history to fit cultural details.

Once everything on this short list is done, all that will remain for my setting's first edition to be completed will be ... editing of this very blog! We'll see how it goes, and just how many more posts it will require.

And then we'll finally enter the play-testing phase ... who boy.

Creatures: Animantic Constructs

Common on Aarn, especially in Cerenbaun society, constructs are magical creations made of clockwork gears and springs. They are created by animancers, the kanna-channeleing counterpart to biomancers and necromancers. Creating a construct is in fact not so different from creating an undead - the materials are simply different. Constructs can and often do have magical powers beyond their mechanical nature. Thematically, light-based attacks are common, though these require ammunition - because kanna cannot create light effects, constructs that use lasers need to cast wizardry spells themselves, using material components in the process.

Animancy is not the only possible method of enchanting - wizards who are not animancers can learn runecrafting and enchant objects with said runes. Divine magic users can also imbue items with divine effects. Animancy, however, is the most efficient, adaptable and least expensive way to create intricate, mobile, creature-like objects.

Constructs can take advantage of soul cores just as easily as undead. A construct with a soul core can obey commands without being directly controlled by its animancer and do tasks autonomously, freeing its animancer to create new constructs. Otherwise, when a construct's animancer "sets it free" the construct ceases to function and loses all magical enhancements. Even constructs with soul cores however will cease to function when its owner dies, though an animancer can attune a soul core to a customer, tying the construct to the customer's life force regardless of his or her skills with magic. In fact, this method of attuning soul cores to a custmer is essential if the customer wishes to give the construct orders. Also, using this process to create clockwork prosthetic limbs is quite common for those who can afford it.

Acrobatic Guardian - Lithe and agile, acrobatic guardians are known for their spindly limbs, square torsos, and large heads that resemble wide-brimmed hats. The typical design has a single gem in the front of their head that can fire magical lasers when given correct material components. They also have twin blades that swing freely from their wrists parallel with their forearms which can spin around in a whirling blade pattern, or hold rigid and still and be used as swords or tonfa blades.

Animantic siege Engine - While normal seige engines, such as siege towers, ballistas, trebuchets, catapults, and various infantry-protecting covered carts exist in the world of Aarn, animantic versions exist as well, which are normally far more effective than their powered-by-animal-and-godtouched-muscle versions. An animantic siege engine is simply a siege engine with a soul core, normally soul-bonded to a driver or to a non-expendable animancer officer. It can operate autonomously, and many of the weapons are auto-loading, making them invaluable on the battlefield.

Companion Doll - Even in the world of Aarn, there are socially obtuse people who simply have a difficult time getting along with other people. A companion doll is a construct created specifically to look like, move like, and act like a human being or other godtouched, but will never react poorly to bad treatment or rude behavior (unless you wish it to.) They are not quite sentient, however they can respond to quite complex verbal commands, have limited decision-making capabilities and can communicate their needs or observations verbally. The amount of effort required to give them their personalities and near-sentience is quite extensive and expensive, and requires months or even years of preparation and magical work. Companion dolls are usually used as servants, maids, butlers, or even slaves by the more rich and affluent eccentrics of Cerenbaun society.

Cybermancer - When an animancer has learned to split his soul effectively amongst many construct creations, his attachment to his own body can often become tenuous. A magical spell here, a rigorous meditation session there, and the animancer can leave his biological body behind forever - transferring his soul's affinity directly to one of his constructs. Most view this as a desperate or insane tactic, and the practice is frowned upon in society - though those who have the power to do it to themselves normally are above such criticism. Powerful cybermancers can transfer their soul into any of their currently-active creations, though they normally have a "favorite" body of much intricacy and hidden capability. Considering how wizards often lust after immortality, it's somewhat surprising that there are actually animancers who don't eventually do this to themselves.

There are some who, philosophically, consider cybermancers to be a type of undead - a spirit that is simply possessing a construct body. Further, attempts by necromancers to repeat this process themselves using their own creations have all failed. It seems that because their elemental affinity is quite literally "death," their creations are too "slippery" for their souls to latch onto. Granted, necromancers who exercise their death channeling powers can usually become quasi-immortal anyway, their bodies dead-but-not-dying, in the exact same way a cybermancer's body is non-living-but-not-dying.

Demon Construct - While demon constructs fall under the same general range of abilities as other constructs, they are not animantic. Demon constructs are made of metal, power cores, wires, circuits and electromagnetic servos - all technologies that none on the world of Aarn fully understand. And why should they? Their own science of magic is perfectly adequate at creating the same effects with comparable weaknesses in design. However, it does make encountering a demon "robot" quite jarring for most adventurers, and especially animancers. It is something completely non-magical, immune to anti-magic effects, that yet, acts like a magical construct - and most importantly, doesn't cease to function with the death of its creator.

Flitterwheel - Spies, guards and surveillance equipment, flitterwheels are intricate flying boxes about 2 feet in length, with twin spinning rotors that help to steer it as its near-permanent levitation spell keeps it aloft. Most flitterwheels are fitted with a scrying globe that allows its owner to see what it sees, though occasionally one has been equipped with offensive magical weapons such as light-focusing crystals or an air-blade manifester. One famous flitterwheel was even fitted with a gravitic enchantment that made everything but itself too heavy to move within a certain area.

Gear Hound - Excellent guards, pursuit units and expendible lackeys, gear hounds are easy to manufacture and quick to replace. They have physical abilities comparable to a living guard dog, they never need sleep or food, and only require the occasional bit of oil or tune-up. While a pack of three can be somewhat expensive for an animancer to maintain - either through limiting how many other creations the animancer can maintain at once, or through requiring soul cores - three of them can effectively secure a large compound, working in a pack and tearing any would-be intruders to ribbons.

Golem - The most basic, and perhaps most magical kind of construct, golems are inexpensive to build, but require great skill to animate. Golems are made of a single solid piece of material, usually earth, metal, wood or stone, and are given no natural joints or moving parts. There in fact is very little difference between a golem and an elemental, though elementals tend to be loose collections of material bound together by magic, and not single solid chunks like golems. What allows the golem to move - shaping spells that change key parts of themselves into malleable material - also makes them extremely resistant to physical damage. They can repair themselves quite easily, shrug off damage, and in some cases even allow a weapon to pass through themselves completely without harm befalling them. A golem in battle is fearsome to behold, and can only be stopped by the most epic of heroic feats.

Golemnoth - When an animancer or his client decides that expense is not an issue, a golemnoth is usually what results. Huge, unwieldy, and very difficult to destroy, a golemnoth is usually created from a central, 20 foot tall humanoid shell. This shell is typically made of solid metal, and animated in the same method as a golem. This gives them a great deal of strength and resilience. Beyond the central core, golemnoths have several hard points where optional units can be installed, depending on the tactical situation where the golemnoth will be used. Optional equipment includes artifacts that fling spells, generate gravitic effects to paralyze foes, effects that serve as a rallying point in battle, over-sized versions of melee weapons, siege engine components, and in some cases even huge tanks of water for city maintenance, firefighting, and water-tendril effects.

Gremlin - Like all worlds, Aarn has its own folklore that doesn't exactly correspond to real creatures. Gremlins are an example of this. Believed to possibly be fey, extensive research eventually proved that they either didn't exist, or their activities were actually being done by mischievous fairies. The accomplished animancer, Archibald Crossduke, decided to name his most popular creation after the gremlin myth, once he was assured that gremlins in fact did not exist, of course.

Inspired by the biomancers' imps, Archibald's gremlin is a foot tall humanoid construct with an intricate, agile body. It has child-like proportions to make it more astheticly pleasing, and also to give enough room for a potential soul core in its chest or head. While it cannot fly like imps, its thin and dextrous hands allow it to easily do finesse work with mechanical precision. Gremlins make excellent lab assistants, and their small size also makes them excellent spies, or even saboteures like their fictional namesakes. When an animancer wishes to sabotage the project of a rival, most will send in well-crafted gremlin.

Jeobardi Flyer - Jeobardi Flyers were invented by Marcello Jeobardi, an animancer who was inspired by pterodactyls during a safari. They typically have wingspans of 20 to 30 feet, and can carry up to 3 passengers, including half a ton of cargo. They make excellent scouts, carriers of mail in times of peace, flitterwheels in times of war, or important express cargo regardless of the times. Usually, the driver and passengers of a flyer will ride on its back, though more efficient (and expensive) models have canopies made of glass that passengers ride inside.

Flying constructs developed before the Jeobardi flyer had wings based on rocs or dragons. These wings were intricate and fragile - not very good for durability in combat. In contrast, the wings of the Jeobardi flyer are smooth, rigid and aerodynamically shaped - quite similar to the smooth and practically featureless wings of the pterodactyl. The flyer's head acts as a rudder as well, giving it extra maneuverability. The aerodynamic features of the flyer allow it to use less power in its levitation spell in order to keep aloft. This frees up more magical energy to be directed towards speed. Jeobardi flyers are easily twice as fast as comparative wingless hoverplatforms, and in recent times, Jeobardi Flyers and derivative models have become the transportation of choice for animancers and their clients.

Living Armor - The simple designs are sometimes the most effective. While plate-mail has long since gone out of style as a common armor of choice for adventurers, it is still widely used for honor guards, and in some cases, decorations in mansions, castles and buildings of public office. Using a suit of armor as a base for a construct is often cost-effective, and can occasionally hide the true nature of the creation. A suit of armor that suddenly springs to life can be quite jarring for an intruder, and simultaneously, a closed suit of armor can, at least briefly, impersonate a living human soldier. Living armors can be quite effective in combat. While they are usually no more agile than those who might be otherwise wearing the armor, they don't suffer from the weakness of having fleshy bits inside of them that can tire or impede their function if damaged.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Metaphysics/Creatures: Souls and Soul Eaters

The process of a soul being created is poorly understood. There are energies in the brains of material creatures that certainly lead one to believe that brains have something to do with it, though the ability for a soul to exist without a brain and without those energies simply raises further questions. For quite some time, it was believed that the one mother created and maintained souls, and the energies in brains were simply the method of the soul communicating with the body - however, her absence for the past 5 decades has proven that she is not required for soul creation, though she may still have something to do with it.

A century ago saw a rise in experimentations with souls. Biomancers and other wizards with metaphysical interests would create brains without bodies and study the formation of their soul. The souls formed were usually irrational and lacked astral bodies, which led the experimenters to believe that souls required physical senses on top of brains to form correctly. The cases of conjoined twins each having their own individual soul (one for each brain) caused a trend in biomancy for multi-headed creatures, to see if something with multiple brains could have just one soul (such as the hydra or chimera), or to see how many souls they could cram into one physical body.

One poorly conceived experiment along these lines is the monster now known as a "soul eater." Soul eaters were originally much smaller, though reproduction over time has caused them to grow much larger since they've escaped into the wild. Modern soul eaters are ten feet tall, reptilian humanoids with long arms, short, stocky and powerful legs, and a head the size of their torso with a maw that looks more like it belongs on a bullfrog rather than a 10 foot tall tower of meat. Soul eaters also have a thick, warty carapace on their back that is perhaps their most distinguishing physical characteristic.

Soul eaters tend to swallow their prey whole. When they do, their unique physiology preserves their meal's brain and carries it to the carapace, where it is added to a cluster of neural tissue with enough bulk to drown a horse. This process, while traumatic, manages to maintain the bond between the soul and the brain. Thus, a soul eater has in its carapace the brains of every meal it's very had - and by extension, traps their souls within itself.

This neural tissue is not connected to any sensory organs and cannot control any muscles of the soul eater, so we can only speculate as to what the brains trapped within the neutral tissue experience. Creatures that are aware of the inbetween can often see astral hands and faces trying to claw their way out of the soul eater's carapace. Even entire astral bodies connected to the soul eater by chains have been reported. The sounds the astral bodies make have been said to be cacophonous and horrifying.

Soul eaters have no life expectancy, and they breed by budding. When the number of brains stored in the carapace reaches a critical mass, the carapace buds - and 5-20 new soul eaters will grow out of it and then go on their merry way, each carrying a percentage of the brains and souls the parent had trapped within itself. The only known way of freeing the souls trapped within a soul eater is to kill the beast.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Creatures: Monsters

While in many other settings the word “monster” refers to all the creatures that the players are meant to beat up on, in the world of Aarn, “monster” means something specific. A monster is a living creature created with biomancy – life channeling magic combined with wizardry. Monsters are inherently magical things – despite them not being godtouched, the magic that created them can give them magical powers. Most monsters, similar to necromantic undead, are created from well-known blueprints. Also similar to necromantic undead, monsters do not die with the death of their biomancer, and biomancers can release them from servitude at any time. Like necromany, biomancers can only exert mental domination over a limited amount of creatures at a time.

Monsters often continue to live their lives after the death of their creator, and many monsters have become creatures indigenous to an area. The breed like animals, behave like animals, and in some cases even possess sentience. The general rule is that if a living creature is not a godtouched and possesses magic, it is a monster.

Basilisk - Lizards with six legs spliced with the biological material of a medusa, Basilisks can kill people instantly with their gaze. They are normally kept as pets or as bodyguards by overambitious or paranoid individuals, and basilisk eggs, while illegal, are widely available and fetch quite a price..

Bunyip - A horrifying experiment gone wrong, bunyips are amphibious squid who can crawl on land and swing from tree to tree. Each of their tentacles eds in a wickedly sharp tooth that secrets poison. They are distinctive for their call that sounds suspiciously like a baby or a woman screaming. They will often drag prey into rivers or streams to drown them, once their poison has taken effect.

Catoblepas - A catoblepas has the body of a hippo, the armor of an armadillo, the mane of a horse, and a massive head the size of its own body that resembles a merge of a hog and a buffalo. It can breathe out a deadly poison that causes exposed skin and veins to calcify, eventually causing blood clots and heart attacks. If inhaled the gas is instantly fatal.

Cyclops - In an attempt to breed a smarter, more loyal giant that could be a decent bodyguard, the cyclops is a miserable failure. While semi-sentient, it is actually less intelligent than most giants. It will almost mindlessly follow orders and believe lies if they are given in a commanding voice - even if those orders don't come from its creator. Cyclops appearance is that of giants with a single eye and large oger-like tusks. Cyclops never blink and their eyesight is quite good, despite the lack of depth perception.

Chimera - Seven centuries ago, a biomancer named Meesha actually managed to get her hands on a mated pair of dying dragons. She subdued them and in her infinite "wisdom" immediately created this freak of nature. She combined the two dragons each with a goat, a lion and a snake, creating a four-headed flying monstrosity. She then mated the pair and the western coast of the Shanbar Province has been plagued by this menace ever since. They breed like rabbits and even the most heated government efforts to cause their extinction have failed.

Goliath - Goliaths are exceedingly large humanoids that dwarf even giants. Goliaths are typically 40 feet tall or larger - grown from much smaller forms. Biomancers typically give them channeling magic of the flame variety, red skin, and devil-like horns. Their "hellish" appearance is as much of a weapon as their size, strength and magi, being quite intimidating for those fearful of demons. While the red-skinned fire goliaths are by far the most common, there are other varieties with different elemental affinities, and slightly different shapes.

Griffin - A dog sized creature that is simply a combination of a miniaturized lion's hindquarters with the head, wings, and fore talons of an eagle. Griffins were originally created to be show animals to be bred and to compete for beauty prizes. Since then they have gone wild and often spend their time perched in trees at night, filling the same ecological niche as the owl.

Hydra - One of the most dangerous biomancy experiments ever made, the hydra was an attempt to recreate dragons using other animals as raw materials. A newt that was used as one of the base components had an unforeseen consequence; it gave the resulting hydra amazing powers of regeneration. A hydra will actively allow its heads to be severed, like a newt would shed its tail. What's worse, two new heads will grow for every head shed. As if that weren't enough, the biomancer's eforts to allow the hydra to breath flame instead caused its shed heads to explode. Hydras are not something one wants to tangle with.

Imp - A sentient (if simple minded) monster, imps make excellent familiars and laboratory assistants. Appearance-wise, they look like one-foot-tall humanoid dragons, with lizard like wings, scaley skin, long pointed ears, a blunted snout that causes their face to resemble an ugly human's, and sharp, pointed fangs. Imps come in 14 varieties, one for each element in channeling magic. Each variety of imp seems to be partially made of its element of choice, so someone procuring an imp must take care to choose a beneficial element. A librarian, for instance, would not want a fire imp helping her sort books.

Keneranik - A black bird with a 12 foot wingspan and its eyes in its chest, the keneranik is often used as a spy or as a servant. It has a natural, detachable globe in its back that shows everything its eyes see. Its master can keep this globe by his side and peer through it, as if he were the bird. Also, as if all that wasn't good enough, keneraniks can breathe fire.

Living Room - Particularly insidious, a "living room" is a large creature that was created originally out of a jellyfish. The living room is a trap more than a creature, and not very mobile. If placed in a room, it will fill that room and coat the walls with itself. Those entering the room will quickly find the exits close as the room itself begins to digest them. Suffocation usually comes first however, especially for those who use an open flame as their light source. Damaging a living room enough will usually cause its exits to open, and it will forcefully expel its occupants in order to preserve its own life. Those inside must be careful not to kill it completely however, because once killed, it will deflate without opening its exits, and those inside will be smothered.

Manticore - A cross between a scorpion, lion, bat and human, the manticore is a feared creature of the southern deserts. It can fire sharp poisonous spines from its tail, has vicious claws and its bite can be quite deadly. Despite its human features it is barely as smart as a common lion. It can fly short distances using its wings, but spends most of the time buried in sand, waiting to ambush prey. Like many biomancer experiments, it is especially fond of human flesh.

Platypus - Considered to be a long forgotten biomancer experiment by many magical scholars, there is heavy contention from the naturalist world, where most insist that the platypus is a natural creature that evolved like any other. It is so hotly debated that simply mentioning a platypus in the middle of a group of scholars invariably causes fistfights and riots to break out.

Troll - Trolls are sentient cave-dwelling monsters who are nocturnal. They heal very quickly and will often raid human towns at night, stealing away children and livestock. They hate light and fire, and do not heal from fire damage. Trolls are noteworthy for the fact that if they are exposed to direct sunlight, their skin calcifies and paralyzes them. To most, this looks like they have turned to stone. In actuality, once the sun sets, the troll's skin will soften and the horrible creature will go on its merry way.

Ugulogo - Created in the last hundred years by a crazed botanist biomancer, the ugologo is a cross between an octopus and a bunched cory cactus. It has pink flowers growing on its head, and its head and tentacles are covered in thick bristly spines, as well as the usual suction cups. Despite having difficulty finding an ecological niche, ugulogo of all sizes thrive in Cerenbaun, around the Great Barrier Sea and the inland Kresian Sea. Surprisingly, they are more happy and healthy on land than in the water, though they are slightly amphibious.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Creatures: Necromantic Undead

The difference between necromantic undead and other kinds of undead creatures is largely a superficial one. Nektos has no dominion over necromantic undead, and instead of being controlled and powered by a special magical virus, the essences of necromantic undead are maintained through a combination of wizardry and death channeling. Necromantic undead come in many different flavors, and are created using well known and well researched magical recipes. Some of them have magical powers that rival true undead, but most get by on brute strength alone, and all are unable to turn other creatures into undead.

Necromancers usually can only directly control a limited number of undead at once, and so they often invest their money into enchanted items that allow their creations to behave autonomously. One such item is a "soul core" that has the ability to harness and enhance the strength of channeling effects. Another such item is a necromantic sphere, which is essentially a battery for channeled death magic. Because necromantic spheres give off so much death channeling energy, they often promote the creation of noncorporeal undead. Normally, a necromancer cannot create noncorporeal undead, even if they can influence and manipulate them, so necromantic spheres can be very handy, if dangerous artifacts to possess.

When a nercomancer dies, its undead pets continue to function, unlike the golems of an animancer. Nektos himself quietly usurps control over the abandoned creations - even though they don't have his virus, Nektos has become quite skilled at using death channeling magic himself, and can easily claim the necromantic undead left around after their creators' passing. This arguably makes killing a necromancer the most dangerous thing one can do when confronting one and his or her pets.

Animated Corpse - The equivalent of a zombie, animated corpses are one of the most basic forms of necromantic undead. Individual animated corpses are far more durable than zombies, partially to make up for the fact that they have no infection to spread. Animated corpses are usually abandoned by more powerful necromancers; they aren't quite strong enough to justify using up their precious channeling energy, nor are they valuable enough to justify using a soul core to make one autonomous.

Bound one - Only necromancers of quite some skill can create bound ones. A bound one is an animated corpse reconstructed from the ground up. Its raw material is a skeleton, overlayed with nothing but pure muscle and connective tissue. Bound ones are so physically powerful that they have metal bands encircling their limbs and torso. Without these reinforcing bands, they would literally tear themselves apart with the power of their physical blows. Bound ones are also quite agile, and very durable due to their metal reinforcements.

Composite Corpse - A composite corpse is a freak of nature - the limbs, heads, and natural weapons of many different creatures sewn together and magically bound. Composite corpses are a common "mid-level" necromantic undead - they can be created reliably by necromancers of average skill. Composite corpses are usually limited only by the imagination of the necromancer, and no two are exactly alike.

Demi-boneless - A cheap impersonation of an actual boneless, demi-boneless cannot grow in size or convert other corpses into boneless like their infectious cousins. A demi-boneless will remain the size it was at its original creation, which can range from a single corpse to a large pit full of them. They can still slither and digest creatures effectively however, and unlike traditional boneless, a demi-boneless can and will work in groups. As with boneless, a demi-boneless can be effectively dealt with using fire.

Mummies - One of the most advanced forms of necromantic undead, mummies are extremely powerful. Mummies require divine spells to create properly, so making one requires a priest as well as a necromancer. If a necromancer happens to double as a divine magic caster, he can make one by himself however. A mummy is created by meticulously preparing a corpse over a period of 70 days, casting divine spells along with necromantic ones in order to bind magical energy to it.

Mummies have a large number of abilities at their disposal not normally attributed to necromantic undead; They can drain energy out of living creatures in order to become more powerful, they can infect living creatures with horrible diseases that will kill them (but mercifully, not turn them into undead.) Mummies almost always are given a soul core which both allows them to act autonomously and also cast the divine magic they are infused with. Mummies are adept at casting curses and wraths, which can catch many undead-hunters off guard.

There are rumors of ancient mummies who, like liches, still have a soul, and thus, sentience. While it is possible that there are lost arcane arts that allow one to bind a soul to a dead body without Nektos' aid, it is far more likely that these reports came from those who mistook the presence of a soul core for a genuine soul. It is also possible that these reports were generated by those encountering an elderly death channeler who had simply wrapped him or herself in linens.

Projections: Even though necromancers who do not neglect their death channeling skills can communicate with, bargain with and influence the behavior of noncorporeal undead, many necromancers do not trust ghosts and spirits to be reliable servants. They usually are wracked with either pesky free will or annoying madness. Despite this, necromancers in general tend to find them useful, so it was only a matter of time before they discovered how to create a type of artificial noncorporeal undead.

By using a soul core, a necromancer can create a projection - an astral body without a soul. It acts as any other necromantic undead, obeying to the letter any commands its necromancer gives it. A projection shares its death channeling energy with its creator, and can use any channeling magic its necromancer has, though the two also share the same energy reserve. Beyond its ability to use death channeling magic, projections can also pass through walls, and turn invisible or intangible at will. They make excellent spies and assassins, though destroying one can be costly; the death of a projection has a small chance of shattering the valuable soul core used to spawn it.

Skelegons - Necromancers who are not skilled enough to create truly effective skeletons will usually go the "bigger is better" route. A skelegon is a giant skeleton, made from the bones of dozens of creatures sculpted into a humanoid shape. It's a popular - if sloppy - way to create a necromantic servant. Skelegons are similar to composite corpses in the fact that they can come in many shapes and sizes, and their natural weapons are normally limited by the imagination of their necromancer. Skelegons do not have the capacity to heal that skeletons do, however, their bulk makes them more difficult to damage in a more than superficial way.

Skeletons - Powerful, durable and frightening, skeletons are exclusively necromantic - they require a constant supply of death channeling energy in order to continue to function and move without tendons or muscles. A well constructed skeleton will be able to repair itself - even if its bones are shattered to dust - and continue to be an effective warrior or guardian despite the damage it absorbs. Many skeletons are not so well constructed however, and enough physical damage will cause the channeled energy maintaining them to dissipate. Magical damage on the other hand can be quite effective at disrupting their death channeled essence, and so magical attacks are recommended while facing them in combat.

Creatures: Sentient Infectious Undead

After a thousand years of experimentation with infectious undead, Nektos eventually achieved his original goal of creating an army of undead that are sentient. The first successful attempt were the wights, whose soul was retained but personality warped beyond recognition. Nektos continued to experiment, and eventually created araenid, deadwalkers, liches and his crowning achievement, vampires. The infections from sentient undead are harder to spread than those of nonsentient undead, but their abilities are far more potent, and activities far more dangerous due to their intelligence and presence of a soul. They are not fully antonymous however; Nektos has still infused his essence into the virus keeping his undead "alive," and this essence helps to guide and twist their behavior to suit his agenda.

While sentient undead have souls, and tend to have remarkable healing abilities, they are more vulnerable to being killed by dismemberment than soulless undead. A soul's grip on a body is tenuous at best, and even more fragile when that body is dead. Too much physical trauma of any kind can cause a sentient undead's soul to flee to the afterlife, and its body to become mindless and nearly impotent.

Araenid - An expert mimic, an araenid is disturbingly skilled at interacting with and blending into regular society. Distinctly spider-like, araenid are extreme mutations of their original form from when they were alive. Virtually any godtouched creature can become an araenid - the virus is not choosy in what kind of creature it infects. Regardless of what the araenid once was, it develops over a dozen sharp, pointed legs holding up a thickly armored carapace body. Their heads are on top of long stalks that resemble a human female's torso only superficially, and they have six insect arms coming out of their torso's "shoulders." What makes them able to blend into society is their almost supernatural ability to fold their many segmented legs into tight spaces. An araenid can squeeze itself into the skin of a victim, and its body secrets special fluids that help keep the dead skin looking "alive" - preventing decay and keeping it supple. A disguised araenid is quite difficult to tell from a living, breathing creature at first glance, and only experienced undead hunters or clairvoyants might notice the deception.

Araenid create more of their kind by literally swallowing a victim's head whole, keeping it alive despite decapitation with several oxygen-supplying organs. Once processed, the head is laid as an egg which will develop into a new araenid over a period of several years.

Deadwalkers - Deadwalkers are undead who spread their infection to the living by a kiss, something that might be easier for them to do if they weren't so horrifically ugly. The process of becoming a deadwalker causes the dying person to grow two feet taller, with much longer legs and arms. Fingers also grow longer, as well as fingernails. The skin on the face tightens and peels back, to the point where the deadwalker barely has any lips to speak of, and constantly has exposed teeth. Their eyes are solid black with no whites, pupils, or irises, and they tend to lose all of their hair. Their skin itself tans to a very leathery and dark-colored hue, superficially resembling tree bark. Deadwalkers are quite intelligent - if malicious - and tend to live in the trappings of nobility and riches. Amoral, money-hungry butlers have been known to manage the financial and social affairs of entire deadwalker families, who everyone else thinks are simply reclusive eccentrics. Deadwalkers are vulnerable to silver weapons, which can easily corrode their preserved skin, and they become violent at the sight of their own reflections.

Dunpeals - Born of a vampire mother and a living father, dunpeals are the only true biological offspring of an undead creature. Nektos designed vampire biology so well that such an offspring was possible, even though he himself never anticipated that possibility. Half alive, half dead, the hyperactive immune systems of newborns help to neutralize the vampiric virus - it can no longer be spread to others, and Nektos loses his influence over dunpeals. Dunpeals themselves have many of the vampire's unique skills, but at a reduced capacity. While a vampire gains a great deal of death channeling potential, a dunpeal's natural channeling talents are more limited than a vampire's. Direct sunlight also does not harm a dunpeal, though extended exposure can make them feel nautious and sicken them. Nektos, also a god of mischief and perversion, takes pleasure at the pain a dunpeal suffers through its half-living existence, and so does not mind that he has no dominion over them.

Liches - Wizards and necromancers with a penchant for immortality beware; Nektos may disguise himself as human and confront you with secret knowledge on how to turn yourself into a lich. It may seem like a good deal - your soul is encapsulated in an item that is difficult to destroy or find, and your body is controlled by remote. Even "killing" you will not kill you, and a new body will form from the corpse nearest to your soul at the time. It gives you countless lifetimes to perfect your craft and gain access to arcane knowledge the gods would rather you not have. It allows you to play politics with generations of kingdoms, buying your time and allowing your agenda to grow slowly and insidiously. However - once you are a lich, you are bound to Nektos. He can sever the contract at any time, for any reason, and banish your soul to the afterlife - where you become just another nobody. Some liches however are insane enough to consider even that a bonus - they serve Nektos as wizards, necromancers, and especially priests. The magical power of these liches is feared by all.

Vampires - Nektos' pride and joy, a vampire is an undead creature visually indistinguishable from a living member of their species. Notable features are that their irises become red, their claws or fingernails become harder, and their canine teeth become more pointed. Because they are so difficult to root out of society, there are a great deal of myths and legends about vampires that are only half-truths. Vampires have no weaknesses to garlic, holy symbols, wooden stakes, and they do have a reflection. Vampires can consume flesh other than blood for their nutrition, but prefer to drink blood for cultural reasons. Vampires can in fact cross over running water, and are only damaged by holy water due to its purifying effect.

A vampire's most famous weakness, their habit of bursting into flame when exposed to direct, natural sunlight, is a curse placed upon them by the goddess Reksha - she lost her heart once to a vampire, and forever cursed them to remain in the shadows. Nektos has been working on trying to lift the curse since, but only half-heartedly; he seems to be amused by it. However, the conditions of the curse are clear; vampires can be out and about during the day - they must simply shield themselves with a parasol, large hat, or hood, and prevent any skin from being exposed to the sun.

Asides from their ability to blend into society, vampires are especially dangerous because of their channeling potential. If a creature that is becoming a vampire has channeling potential already, his or her elemental affinity changes to death and they also gain abilities of mental domination, flight, disguise and limited teleportation. If the creature becoming a vampire has no channeling potential, they gain it, along with the aforementioned abilities. Unlike still-living death channelers, they do not become emaciated and do not begin to resemble a corpse due to its use.

Vampires spread their infection through direct blood exchange - no other method can reliably spread the virus. They often consider those they have turned into vampires their children, and dysfunctional immortal families can easily develop between vampire "generations." A vampire woman, as mentioned in the dunpeal description, can also give birth to biological offspring by mating with a living male, though fathering one can be a complicated affair. If a male vampire impregnates a living female, the child will be stillborn, and will raise as a normal wight once buried.

Wights - Wights were the original sentient undead, and their infection was the predecessor for the vampire breed of necrotic virus. Wights retain their soul but not their personality, and their infection potential is more potent than that of the other sentient undead. While a simple scratch will not turn someone into a wight, dying immediately after such a scratch almost certainly will. Wights have pale skin that sunburns easily, so they do not like to venture out into the light. They also are not civilized enough to actually want to bother putting on robes that might protect them and allow them to venture into the public domain. Along with their chalk white skin, they have long yellow claws, yellow eyes and yellow teeth, and their hair is normally black and wiry.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Creatures: Mindless Infectious Undead

When Nektos originally created undead creatures, he was planning on creating an army of powerful, sentient followers who would be in a forever deathless state. This did not go according to plan. He constructed a magical barrier that would isolate the soul from being reclaimed by the one mother, and created a magical virus that would keep the flesh of the creature "functional" despite being dead. Unfortunately for Nektos and arguably all sentient life, the soul still fled the dead, infected body and destroyed the original afterlife system in the process. The soul became the first ghost, unable to rejoin the one mother because of Nektos' barrier, and the body became the first of the mindless, infectious undead.

An adaptable god, Nektos began to worm his essence into his necrotic virus, and began to subconsiously control and guide the mindless undead that become infected with it. He usually does little more than keep them on "idle" however, building his armies for some unknown purpose in the future. An idling undead is still rather dangerous however, because it still needs to consume flesh to maintain its health and heal its wounds.

Corporeal undead can usually be destroyed by mundane means, but this is doing little more than dismembering the corpse. In many cases, leaving the dismembered corpse can be dangerous - given enough time it could reform itself, or be consumed by a scavenger animal that would then become infected itself. In order to truly eradicate the necrotic infection and destroy the undead on a more permanent basis, one must cast a purification spell. Fire can be effective in destroying the undead individual, but the virus in the ash is still contagious.

Husks - Husks are undead whose physical bodies are corpses mummified through natural means, either through freezing in high altitudes, chemical mummification such as in peat bogs, or dehydration in desert locations. Husks have leathery skin and a lurching gate that is limited by the stiffening of their joints and flesh. Despite its mummification, a husk's internal organs are very poorly preserved, and usually resemble soil or sand, depending on what is most common in their habitat. The actual infection that turns corpses into husks is located in the soil or ice of the husk's habitat, so there is little risk of becoming one regardless of how badly they injure you. (Unless, of course, they injure you to the point you die and your corpse is left alone with the infectious soil.)

Boneless - The best way to describe a boneless would be "an amoeba of flesh." Those infected with this breed of Nektos' curse quickly have their bones dissolve and become a sloppy, quivering mass. Boneless exist with a single-minded purpose - to envelop more food, to grow, and to find other boneless to merge with. Boneless are one of the more dangerous kinds of undead due to their resilience and ability to quickly heal injuries, and their ability to continue to move even once dismembered. Fire can be an effective deterrent, as can acid, when magic is not available.

Zombies - One of the most common forms of undead, a zombie is simply a rotting, decaying animated corpse. They have no special abilities, but their necrotic infection is highly contagious. Zombies have no natural resistance to rotting, so they are ravenous in their attempt to consume more flesh in order to rebuild their bodies. Any wound inflicted by a zombie's teeth, nails or bones can become infected, and without treatment the person infected will die and become a zombie themselves.

Shambler - Similar to a husk, shamblers are undead composed of graveyard soil. Like husks, the actual source of infection is the soil itself, and bodies that are buried in shambler-infested soil will become the seeds for new shamblers to grow. Shamblers are typically humanoid-shaped mounds of dirt, mixed with bone and other non-rotting material. Shamblers have two methods of existing - a dormant cycle where they are nearly indistinguishable from normal dirt, and an active cycle where the dirt pulls itself together into the shape of the corpse that seeded it. Shamblers are usually nocturnal, entering their dormant cycle during the day, and becoming their humanoid forms during the night. Because they are made of magically coalesced dirt, they are extremely difficult to fight without magical means - luckily their movement is quite slow and it is not very difficult to flee from them.

Creeping Vine - Undeath is not limited to only animal creatures. A creeping vine describes any kind of plant - even trees - who become infected with this particular kind of necrotic virus. As the plant dies, it loses any stiffness it once had, its leaves wither and die and any fragile components break off. What remains is a pliable tangle of "vines" that can move quickly, without warning, capturing and consuming animal life. Creeping vines are dangerous, and the infection is very easily spread. Kingdoms have been known to seed farmland with powdered creeping vine in times of war, and necromancers and wizards alike are known for keeping small samples of creeping vine in their labs, for use in spell components.

Fell Creatures - Created by a mutagenic necrotic virus, fell creatures die slowly as their body is taken over by the infection. Any kind of sharp pointed growth, such as teeth, horns, nails, claws and ribs grows into a double-layer, giving fell creatures a ferocious appearance, especially because in vertebrates, the second layer of ribs curves outwards, piercing the skin and turning into rows of barbs. Fell creatures can be any kind of animal, even godtouched - the infection is not discriminatory. The infection also spreads easily - any wound caused by a fell creature's natural-grown weapons can harbor infection. Fell creatures are perhaps the most insidious of infectious undead because the soul only leaves the body in the latest stages of infection - those who are beginning to show symptoms and growing the monstrous mutations may still be saved, even if they can spread the infection to others. In many areas, populations of fell animals are difficult to control, and fell pigeons are especially common.