Friday, March 15, 2019

The Parthenogenesis of the Mayfly Elves, and their White Form

Are elves like the enduring trees? Timeless, seeing history through aloof and distant eyes, the water of time flowing around their feet as they stand still in the river of causality? Are they imperishable? They might be. They very well could be, if you want. But not here. This light on elves is different, and it is not as seamlessly timeless.

The conception that sex is the undisputed, ever-present form of reproducing in nature, is wrong.  Sex is very costly, in terms of evolution. Many, many organisms reproduce, at least in part, asexually. They clone themselves. A child is no intermixture between two lines of mingling genes, but a genetic carbon copy of its mother. Hence why said child is normally a daughter, so she can do the same, and the genome is carried on, with no alterations but the rare spontaneous mutation. Cladocera, aphids, algae, slime molds, and plants, to name a few, all have asexual and sexual forms, which in some alternate each generation, and in some remain asexual to proliferate a population and then turn to a sexual cycle when there is need for genetic variety. Such asexual reproduction, where all individuals are female and give birth to only females, is called parthenogenesis. Virgin birth.

Elves are not an enduring tree, but they are in fact a chain of aphids. 

Art by Jana Heidersdorf
They live but for a week or so, which is why I called them mayflies in the title. And just before an elf dies, she (for it is always she) has a child, which grows in mere hours to her spitting image. It is people's impression that elves do not grow old, and they don't, but not in a timeless way. They are simply birthed from themselves, again and again, preferably in the privacy of their hidden bedchambers. 

Most humans never see this, they do not know of it, so they simply assume that elves are forever young, for single elven 'individuals' bridge many human generations without seemingly aging a year, because they turn adult the day they are born, and so present always the same visage to the outside world. An elf individual is rather a genome, than she is a physical creature, because the wisdom of elves crystallises on their double-helices by arcane spell, and a daughter has all the accumulated lives of her mother and her mother and her mother and so on in her head. This makes elven children, for the few hours that they exist, very unnerving, because they grow visibly through their young years into the exact likeness of their only just dead mother, and they speak with the same wisdom of centuries. Since they need a great amount of energy to grow so quickly once they are born, their mother/previous self always dies at birth, passing on the energy of her body and turning to chalky pale carbonised ash.

Art by Alan Lee

This form of the elf, this part of her life cycle which she takes in almost all of her generations, is her White form. It is called this both because these elves are silvery white in both hair and skin, and because of the colour's association with virginity and purity, something these elves find pride in when comparing themselves to the frothing, crawling, carnal lesser races. There is an evolutionary reason for this reserved isolationism too, which I'll speak of later. However, this aloof ivory tower has a hidden scarlet room. More soon on the Red form. The sexual one.

Among elves it is taboo to have more than one child. This because a careful equilibrium is maintained in their society as to not create an imbalance of power by numbers. This is not easy, for an asexual lifecycle usually excels at proliferation, creating myriad progeny. But the elves, with their feyish minds, do not hold back on violence when the balance is upset. If an elf splits herself into multiple daughters, she will soon find all but one of them murdered tenderly. The exception for this is when they are provoked into war. Then they briefly become as legion as they were thousands of years ago, when mankind was still to awake and the elven world was its psychedelic dream. Before they lost their dominion to the law of the Red Queen. 

Art by Yizheng Ke

A trait of asexual species in general is that they have a hard keeping up in the arms race between parasites (or disease, which is a very small parasite) and their hosts, which is one of the great advantages of sex: a constantly reshuffling genome, to which a virus has to adapt again and again and again with considerable effort, and which is pretty good at adaptation itself. When you reproduce clonally, this is different. Your genome doesn't reshuffle, so any virus to which you are susceptible, your daughters will be susceptible, and their daughters will be susceptible, while this virus has all the time in the world to finetune its methods of exploiting you as its bearer.

Therefore, elves are very, very afraid of getting sick. This is a second reason for the one-child rule. They must prevent their populations from being so homogenous that they'll be completely decimated by a stray illness, since their body's adaptation to disease is always outdated. If an elf gets sick, the older they are as a clonal line of the same individual, the more likely it is to absolutely cripple them, because the older they are the more outdated their defence is. 

This is why elf matriarchs, age-old despite their appearance, are unimaginable germaphobes, and this is reflected in elf society. Elven communities are isolated and hard to reach, protected by many misdirecting and abjuring wards of magic, against disease and anything that may carry it. Elves who leave the safe borders of their enclave can never return, they become exiles. Disease and parasitic infection is the great weakness of the elf.

If an elven community is truly struck by plague, or when their defenses against disease have become so woefully outdated that the force of cleanliness needed to maintain their safety becomes unbearable, then the elven race has another trick up their sleeve, but they prefer to avoid it for as long as they can, partly because they think it's icky, partly because it completely reworks the existence of the individuals involved. I am talking about the second cycle of the elven reproduction, namely sex, and the Red Form. Or rather I will be, in the second post about these elves.

Art by 우진 오

Monday, February 25, 2019

THE ORKUS

Do Gods fear death?

No. Though perhaps they should. Gods tend to be wholly convinced that they are immortal, which is of course not at all the case. They are however exempt enough from direct confrontation with death of their kind that they view it as something that happens to others, something that is distant and unrelatable, something that is improbable. They don't worry about the end.

Then what do Gods fear?

The road there. Decay.

In all its forms they fear it. They, and the uptight elite and the moralists and the purists and those infatuated with their fetishised ideas of orderly and structured and above all clean civilisation, they fear it. After all, Gods are all of the forementioned. They're facets and enforcers of the GODHEAD MORALITY, which is restrictive, chauvinistic, and puritan at best. More on this later. Even if in your setting the gods aren't really like this, there is bound to be at least one, and there are bound to be people like this. And Gods, Demons and all the phantoms of the higher spheres are born from humanity. From its faith, its hope, its spite, its rebellion, its fear, all of its great collective sentiments.

The Orkus is no different.

It is coalesced from both human and divine decay and the fear thereof. Order collapses. Clean turns filthy. Beauty shrivels. Bodies rot. Faith crumbles. Manners are abandoned. Rules are forfeit. The Orkus is physical, mental, moral, social decay. It is as much the maggots in a corpse as it is the people becoming complacent and slothful. As much the wood of a house rotting away as it is the gentry's disdainful idea of the degenerate savage, regressed from any sort of moral standing, made manifest.

It is stagnation, corruption, bloat.

Its name stems from the idea of the Ur-Ghast, the primal progenitor of the undead that embody its emblematic decay, that express the notion of decay in their very being. But a name is a structure, a construct, and so it too must decay. At this point it is the Orkus. In a few centuries it will probably be something like the Orghs, and further down the line, it may just be the guttural grunt

Classical D&D depicts the Orkus as a sort of fat demon goat. This is ridiculous. The most accurate depiction or manifestation of the Orkus would be a vast lake of black, grimy, foul oil-like sludge, completely decayed, rotted, and putrified. Where does it live (if it can even be called alive)? In metaphysical space in the dark shadows of a decomposing body's eye sockets, in the dark corridor where the duke abandons his conscience and violates his maid, in the hollow windows of ruined houses filling penniless ghettos and derelict cities. They are the Orkus. The filth under your fingernails as you choose negligence instead of care, is the Orkus.

Art by Keith Thompson

Who worships the Orkus? No one. You don't worship decay. There's no reason why you would. However, you can lose yourself to the Orkus. As a person, but also as a community, or even as a civilisation. It starts with neglect. Of friends, of hygiene, of morals, of duty, of anything that needs care and maintains a structure. This devolves into a fundamental apathy and putrification of the self. At this point all that drives your actions is pure spite, towards everything that you've abandoned and neglected, because you hate that other people enjoy what you've let fall into the mud for yourself. You want to bring them down to your level, because you've lost all hope to pull yourself up again. You want them to be like you, because you can't stand them being better. So you become a festering bloat that heals nothing, and befouls everything. If ever there was, disagreements of morality and politics aside, a true degenerate, you are it.

What classic D&D got right, is that the Orkus is deeply tied to undeath. After all, an undead is tyically an avatar of decay, a rotted dark mirror-image of a wholesome human. The undead subservient to the Orkus are no clean skeletons or ghosts, they are zombies, ghouls, ghasts, rotting pulps of viscera and stench and maggots, or emaciated blemished diseased wretches. They are the face of human spoiling in body, in mind, and in soul. They are hard to look at. They are disgusting. They are a confrontation with every human's posthumous fate, with the inevitable tarnish and defacement that awaits.

Art by Jakub Rebelka
Sometimes the Orkus was used as a weapon. Artillery shells filled with its black bile-like sludge. Water wells poisoned. Some monster even turned the sludge into a gas at some point. The results, as you might expect, were hideous. And they took both sides too, for to use something like the Orkus to rot your foes into submission, decays the mind with the maggots of either guilt or sadism. They were all gripped by the Orkus. The aforementioned man that invented ORKGAZ killed himself in a moment of lucidity from his state of decay. By that point his house was all but consumed by wood and cement rot, the carrion of dead rats was oozing its juices through his ceiling, and he had eaten his cat, the bones strewn around the dead-stinking kitchen. Of course, his death didn't stop his decay. The house ate the pus-ridden flesh from his bones, or perhaps the other way around, and now he crawls, undead formless behemoth, through the wasteland. The Orkus wins. Everyone else loses.

Necromancers who draw their power from the Orkus are misanthropic, unhygienic, amoral shit sacks that if they're lucky still somewhat resemble people. They'll be infected with the Orkus over time. Teeth rotting, skin turning black and yellow and shriveled and gangrenous. Bloat. Necrosis. Their name will turn from Johan into Jhhng into hoarse hiss. They neither sleep nor eat, at first because they neglect doing it, then because they lose the organs to. They die somewhere along the way, but as long as they have tendons to pull their bones with they keep going.

Orkus necromancers cannot make anything. They can only decay things down, not build them back up. They can't improve anything with fleshcrafting, they can only amalgamate things together to rot as one big pile. They can't create order or structure. They can't give anything more functionality, only less. They can't heal in any possible way, not even themselves or their own undead. Learning a spell of the Orkus will gradually rot away the other normal spells in your brain, turn them into maggot-riddled festering versions of themselves. Fireball would turn into Exploding Corpse, Magic Missile into Magic Maggots, Light into Pallor. These rotting spells are never as powerful as the original, and if they deal damage, part of it is necrotic instead of what it's supposed to be. Over time they'll rot even further, more and more of their damage will turn necrotic, and you may lose some spells altogether as their carrion thoroughly putrefies and leaks out of your brain as a soup of metaphysical pus.

Art by Konstantin Kostadinov
Powerful items of the Orkus do not look magical or intricate or wonderous. They're disgusting. People will ask why the fuck you have something like that on you. And then they'll look at your face under your hood and scream. Some examples of Orkus items:
  • The ribcage of Vrghhrh, meat hanging on it, infected with at least four kinds of insects, kept in a bloodied sackcloth bag. When you set it over your head, no telepathy or mind-affecting effects can reach you through its miasma and its rotting aura disillusions you from any phantasm trickery, but its stench nauseates you and its resident insects come to partake in your flesh. Permanently lose a point of randomly either Charisma or Constitution, each round you wear it.
  • The remnants of an ORKGAZ artillery shell. A black greasy film of the Orkus still sticks to the rusted twisted metal. You can empower a necrotic effect with this to increase both its range and spread, holding it like a catalyst, but touching the shell rots your hands away. Using the shell permanently costs a point of Dexterity.
  • A ghoul's clawed arthritic hands, tied together with frayed rope. They are still twitching under their bonds. The blackened scabbed fingers ooze the infected pus that causes muscle spasms and contraction. Harvest a dose of paralytic poison per day.
  • A grimy tin can of spoiled meat, riddled with fly eggs. Remnant of some war that neither side, but instead the Orkus, won. Raised undead release a flesh-eating fly swarm when ruptured/killed.
  • A blood- and shit-stained brick of some old sewer. Its scraped, filthy stone embodies decades of neglect. If you awaken its ruin, by smashing some living thing dead with it, the blood will corrode it and make it brittle like an eggshell. It can then be broken to release the Orkus, quickly collapsing stonework, walls or other architecture. The size of this effect is proportional to the sacrifice.
  • A maid's rag soaked in blood that won't dry and has turned into a forever-wet dark stinking muck. The testament of violence and abuse, morals rotting until they burst at the seams with maggots and the Orkus consumed the house. When you wear it, those who deal damage to you are reimbursed with a Charisma drain that makes them brutish and obscene.
Then there's the wand. The wand should never have existed but some sick establishment decided to build it anyway. Luckily, it was never completed, because its assembly line rusted, its launch platform collapsed, and its factory became derelict before the missile could be finished. Its influence was that strong. WAND01, WAND standing for Wide Area Necrotic Detonation, was the necrotic equivalent of an atom bomb. A rot nuke. It was built with a core containing the coffin of SUBJECT, called that because his name had decomposed so thoroughly it ceased to exist. Allegedly he was some kind of holy warrior in ancient times, but he succumbed to the Orkus and became one of the most depraved legends of old. When he was killed, but obviously kept going, he was cast in a sealed coffin inside of which he has been putrefying, liquefying and coagulating, subsisting on himself, for centuries.

If the wand is ever finished, and detonated, it may spell the End.

As you've noticed by now the Orkus is more of an infestation than anything else. Its undead and necromancers generally form hives in derelict villages, cities, compounds, factories, sewers, and other ruins. And they'll try to spread, because that's what they do, turning meat to sludge and concrete to gravel and wood to pulp along the way. They bring disease, parasites, maggots and flies, miasma and infection. Any religion with a decent (god)head on its shoulders condemns and roots out the Orkus. The best weapons against it are light and fire. Light because it is a vector of structure. Life became flourishing and complex on earth because the sun was continually feeding it energy in the form of light. This is a powerful motion, and the opposite of the Orkus. Fire because it is very good at incinerating everything.

It should come as no surprise that purging and inquisition is a widespread response against the Orkus. And that is unfortunately an effective means. Maintenance and cleaning, however merciless, is the opposite of rot and filth. Remember, the Orkus was born from the fear of the Gods and the puritan gentry, and they are the embodiment of restrictive, overbearing, and punitive law. But, this is not the only antithesis to the Orkus. Care, nurture, heartfelt attention, is another. And it tends to not have the risk of everything only becoming worse if you forget to burn the bodies.

Photography by Atlas Obscura

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Thawing Kingdom: Locations, Strangers, Creatures, and an Afterword

This is a Thawing Kingdom post. More specifically, it is the last one, for now. If you do not know what the Thawing Kingdom is, go here. If you do, read on ahead.

So. Here we are. It's been a while since my last post. Chalk it up to the escape from Draailant taking a long time. But, now that we've braved the stone deserts, wrapped in sooty scarves against the ash wind, we're back. The ground is wet underneath our feet, and we find the dinghy tied to a rock we used to come here. It rocks as we sit down in it, and we paddle our way into the Iron Swamp. Back into the cold and damp. Into the Thawing Kingdom, for one last time. But we'll see so much of it.

In the previous posts I've supplied the Kingdom, a touch of its people, a touch of the ice, a touch of beasts, and a touch of what lies beyond.

This post is a collection of noteworthy things in the Thawing Kingdom, to inspire and fill your game, to give you goals for an adventure, strange landmarks to pass the night at. This post won't contain as much prose as the previous ones: it'll have a lot of its contents cast into tables, so that you can randomise things, in true OSR fashion.

LOCATIONS

At first, here are some large and named locations, the sort of things you would see on a map, or that locals warn/tell you about. Some of them are more dangerous than others, but expect all of them to hold at least the potential for an adventure, or misfortune:

1
Ankle Lake stretches far and wide but is only a foot deep. However, due to duckweed and murk it is hard to see into, and there are dangerous hidden pits. The witch of Ankle Lake is a renowned but callous medicine woman, and wears big waterproof boots made of chicken skin.
2
Mist surrounds Borri’s Stones, three standing stones on a hill in the middle of a lake. Many dead are buried here because it seems appropriate. They could be haunted, or just mysterious. A fourth stone sticks out of the lake some distance from the island. There is an empty spot in the circle for it.
3
The trees of Halfwood are submerged up to half of their length, the treetops sticking out of the water. Half-thawed here walk through the sunken forest using long ice stilts. There are some submerged huts under the water, and bizarre animals like human-faced moths inhabit the trees.
4
The Stewpots are a group of round, steaming hot pools. There are about ten and you’ll find them on a rocky plateau. The plateau is littered with remains of encampments. They are an ideal resting place, free from the usual cold. The Kettle Knights have made this place their base.
5
The Puller’s Bog is a swamp area where, hundreds of years ago, dead soldiers of some battle sunk en masse. Now, they have become fenfolk, and the bog is filled with undead fen mummies that lie in wait under the mud, waiting to grab trespassers and pull them under.
6
The Knights of the Purple Boots house in the ruin of a great cobblestone barn in the area of the Redderth Fields, where the wet soil is rife with beet pulp. Strange leprechauns and goblins live in the earth here, wearing purple caps and beets. The Knights try to stay peaceful with them, but they are mischievous.
7
Sinkwall consists of the ruins of a farming village, submerged up to four feet in fen and water. Looters and highwaymen have made camp inside the still habitable ruins, and patrol with canoes between the buildings. They watch the area from many peeping holes in the ruin of the old mill.
8
The Flat is a large chunk of ice that looks like a large raised slab, sitting in the middle of a cold lake. It is possible to walk on it, and due to the mist of the lake it may seem like one is lost on an endless ice plane. Some have tried making homes on it, but the ice took them. Be careful when you encounter an abandoned village on the Flat. Half-thawed lurk.
9
At Dead Wood End, heaps of driftwood, boat/fishing debris, and wreckage from the Flotsam Riders’ recurringly collapsing headquarters pile up against rocks in the river to form a beaver dam-like heap big enough you can set up camp on it. However, be careful of the looter colony that lives inside.
10
The large rock face with cave openings called Jotti’s House, as the name implies, resembles a house with a roof, windows and an open door. There is in fact a giant that lives in it, named Jotti, who may give out treasure he has found in exchange for goats - or people - to eat. Maybe he is reclusive, but he could also terrorise villages.
11
The flooding has completely submerged Bedholm, a village of stone houses that now sits at the bottom of a lake. The people there have become eerie, aloof corpses that wander the village. They are not aggressive, and if one learns their sign language then they may tell secrets or locations of treasures lost in the lake. However they have strange customs. Be careful not to offend them.
12
Unlike many cities destroyed by floods and glacial collapses, Gethelberge is still livable, though the houses are more like convenient caves than warm homes. The Gethelbergers make do with what they have, but without its usual supply from surrounding farms a city is a harsh and barren landscape. Rat is the main local food source. Robbers and thieves are plenty. When someone dies, they disappear. Folk in sackcloth robes take them, to the old Gethelberge prison, where it is said the living partake in the dead.
13
Few dare enter the Resting Tower, a tall stonework watchtower sagged to the size and collapsed onto a steep hillside, giving it the appearance of lying down to sleep. Inside, there lives an old wizard and his faceless owl. He is mercurial in his dealing with visitors. Some may expect a cup of tea (it is unsure what he makes it of), while some are hacked to death with a wood axe once the door shuts behind them. Possibly there is a method to his madness, but what that may be is unknown…
14
The Durmstreng Long Man is made of knee-high stone walls, a large drawing on a hillside. Glaciers melting took his left arm, so now it is as if he points towards the nearby village of Durmstreng, where goats are livestock providing both milk, wool and meat. Goatherds never cross into the Man however. What it was before, 500 years ago, is a mystery, but there are entries into tunnels located on its forehead, its heart, and its stomach…who knows what the Long Man’s innards harbour.
15
At the shores you may find the ruin of Castle Saltekker, where the Seagull Men live. Their masks made of wood and leather resemble bird beaks, and they contain herbs that they grow in the castle. Allegedly these make them immune to the sickening breath of the coastal drakes that they fight (but more often are killed and eaten by). They are always eager for a victory against the drakes, given their usual bleak disposition.
16
The White Forest is still rife with frost and ice. It is a very dangerous place, and home to a terrific monster: an enormous half-thawed grizzly bear, its head covered in hundreds of sharp icicles so that only its maw remains free of them. Besides this bear the wood is home to other half-thawed animals and people, making it incredibly dangerous to cross- a significant issue considering its large size.
17
Though its centre is frozen over, the city walls of Wonnich are free of frost and make for an elevated ring of stone foundation to build ramshackle houses on, and to hollow out like combs in a beehive and make alcoves to sleep in. The wall-dwellers of Wonnich cultivate mushrooms in the dark, damp corridors inside the walls, and sometimes organise expeditions into the frozen city for treasure to trade, and frozen edible wares to thaw.
18
The lakeside castle ruin of Mournstone Keep holds a great chunk of ice in its innards, and it is filled with treacherous stairwells, falling icicles and chandeliers, collapsing ceilings, and lurking half-thawed. The melting water of the ice flows out through the tower windows, giving it the appearance of crying.
19
The Creeping Tower is a square and squat bastille tower that was ripped off its main structure by a glacial melting, and is now ever so slowly making its way down a mountainside sat upon a mass of moving ice and rock. It is tricky to navigate as many of its parts can easily collapse.
20
Sat inside a large bog, the abandoned Castle Ghurt is an eyrie for drakes. Small ones flock to the castle ruin, and in its mud- and swamp-flooded dungeon a Great Drake may even roost. It is filled with dangerous stinking vapours from the drakes.

Art by Skraww
Then of course, there are also smaller landmarks that dot the waterlogged wilds of the Thawing Kingdom. These might have names, might not. Maybe the locals have given them a name, or maybe there aren't any locals around for miles. Anyway, they're usually good places to make a camp, and keep track of where you've been. In a Dungeon Master sense, they enrich the landscape for the players to explore.

1
A standing stone. 1 in 6 chance that its inscriptions or drawings have not yet eroded.
11
A large papery insect hive built in a structure of dead bark or driftwood. 1 in 6 chance that it is still inhabited.
2
An abandoned stone hut. 1 in 6 chance that it is less abandoned than you thought.
12
A crashed Draailant hot air balloon, far beyond repair. 1 in 6 chance that there is a Draailander still stuck in it, dead or alive.
3
A large boulder that resembles a face, animal or other thing that isn’t a boulder. 1 in 6 chance that it is a shrine to hermit/bandit worship associated with the boulder’s likeness.
13
The washed-away ruins of a small village or standalone barn/hut. Foundations are all that remains. 1 in 6 chance that there is a cellar still intact.
4
The skull or partial skeleton of a giant or great drake. 1 in 6 chance that a message or map is carved into the bones somewhere.
14
A remaining part of a stone wall, no longer than a few yards. 1 in 6 chance that crossing over the wall induces an old curse or illusion.
5
A notably thick or tall tree. 1 in 6 chance that it can speak (very slowly) through a hole in its trunk, from a hole between its roots, or from a mouth.
15
An orchard from before the frost. Trees in neat rows. 1 in 6 chance that unnerving scarecrows are dotted around it.
6
A stranded/wrecked rowing boat. 1 in 6 chance that the damage is small and repairable.
16
An abandoned crossroads, the signs pointing towards villages long gone. 1 in 6 chance that the sign was put there after the thawing, thus being accurate.
7
A clearing if in a forest or a huddle of trees if not. 1 in 6 chance that there is a sword stuck in the earth in the middle, marking a grave.
17
A dolmen, where the dead of old rest. 1 in 6 chance it is haunted by a ghost from before the frost.
8
A small stone watchtower, still upright or (partially) collapsed. 1 in 6 chance that someone lives in it.
18
The wreckage of a wooden house or barn, half collapsed to reveal the inside. 1 in 6 chance it is not wet and rotting.
9
Abandoned camp. 1 in 6 chance that the reason it was abandoned so hastily is still around.
19
A wide circle of mushrooms, like a fairy ring. 1 in 6 chance to come with actual fairies, though their benevolence is unlikely.
10
A thin waterfall clattering off tall rocks. 1 in 6 chance a water spirit is tied to it, eager for you to leave it alone.
20
Roll again, but it is a snow mirage: an illusion created by the ice to lure people to it. In reality this something is a remaining patch of ice.

These places could have some loot stashed at them. Roll a 6-sided die. If it is 4, there is minor loot. If it is 5, there is significant loot. If it is 6, there is loot but it is cursed, infected, attracts a particular monster, or otherwise treacherous.

CHARACTERS

There are many different kinds of characters players might meet, and they may have stories for you, or things to ask, maybe even things to beg for. Or perhaps they take what they want int this lawless flooded land. If you encounter one or more travellers on they road they might...

1
…be fleeing from wherever they were before. A village or camp struck by calamity or conflict, or an isolated home previously safe but now disrupted. Perhaps they left something/someone valuable there or had it taken from them. Perhaps whatever they are fleeing from is pursuing them.
6
…have come to the conclusion that food shortage and many mouths to feed are problems that solve each other. Perhaps they’ll wait for an opportunity to kill and eat you. Perhaps they’ll be upfront about their appetites. Perhaps they’re rabid.
2
…want to rob you of everything you own, being highwaymen. They won’t risk their lives, but they’ll go pretty far if you look like a juicy haul. They might not immediately be upfront about this either. They might do it at night while you’re camping together.
7
…be on the hunt for a particular creature. Perhaps out of vengeance. Perhaps for prestige. Perhaps because they saw it a few minutes ago and want to throw it into the pot. Perhaps the creature is a person. Perhaps it’s you they’re after.
3
…be part of one of the knight orders! As protectors of the realm they are eager to aid you in your quest or defend you from evil…at least, to the extent of their capacity. Which usually isn’t a lot.
8
…carry supplies to try and start a new settlement somewhere where the floods haven’t reached. They’re sure to reward you if you ensure their safe passage. Perhaps their chosen location is a daring one. Perhaps it is deadly and these people are naive.
4
…be adventuring through the kingdom looking for opportunity. They’ll have interesting advice about the surrounding area, and the prospects for looting, but they won’t give them up for free. Perhaps they want food. Perhaps they want help in a planned endeavour.
9
…be foragers and looters that sell and buy all kinds of rubbish, curios and remarkable findings. A rare opportunity for trading loot nobody else wants. Perhaps they have some items that come from dolmens or old castles and are magical, or cursed. Perhaps they’ll try to con you.
5
…be struck by frost or curse or wounds or another ailment. At least one of them is incapacitated by this, and the others are trying to find aid. Perhaps you can provide it. Perhaps you don’t, but know someone who can. Perhaps you consider their belongings easy prey.
10
... be Draailanders! They never go far from their balloon. Possibly interested explorers eager to question you. Possibly anxious pyromancers making a landing to quickly gather some wood as emergency fuel, eager to give any suspicious native that approaches them the fire whip.

CREATURES

The fauna of the Thawing Kingdom mostly entails normal animals of northern nature, like moose, geese, salmon, bears, toads, and so on, but there are also plenty of animals that are a little more remarkable. Here are a few examples, but there are surely more:


1
Empty Owls: large owls with no face, and instead a gaping hole. Cold wind blows out from it, and those who have stared into it claim to have seen a faraway landscape of ice and snow deep in the dark emptiness, like a light at the end of a tunnel. Perhaps a memory of the frozen years. They are unaffected by the ice, the only species to seemingly have a limitless tolerance for cold. They have no body heat.
7
Crumplejacks: bizarrely flat things that can fold themselves like paper, and more often just glide through the air on their side than actually flapping their wings. When flapping their wings, they make the sound of crumpling paper. The wings are insectile, so it is presumed the crumplejacks are large insects.
2
Vorstmannen: these creatures were frozen millennia ago, into the ice of the kingdom’s mountains. With the thawing event, some of them were also freed. A vorstman is a pre-human with remaining ape-like characteristics. They prefer very cold areas. Maybe the spell addled them despite already being frozen.
8
Skimmers: mosquitoes. Big ones, the size of apples. They thrive in the wet and lake-rich environment, mostly in the less cold areas. Their eggs are laid in clusters that float on the water, called skimmer jewels, as the eggs have a vaguely silver hue. If it is too cold the jewels do not hatch, and they are collected as pretties by scavengers and magpies.
3
Frozen Flowers: Jellyfish that bob through the air, seemingly made of ice and not changing shape, just floating around like a static image. They have another form, which looks like an icy flower that grows on mountain rock and ice, and when they touch the ground they melt into a watery blubber, reshape, and refreeze. Under what conditions they turn to their floating form again is unsure.
9
Vjergs: They’re like bears, but with no head. No one is quite sure which end is the front, as they seem to walk in either direction. There is a maw, on the underside, running from one end to the other. They’re scavengers, but they have claws like a bear and have mastered the art of rearing up and then body-slamming their assailant with their belly-jaw.
4
Crauges: a crauge is a landbound crocodilian creature that nests at the flood lake beaches of the lower lands. Despite a shared reptilian aspect, it is very unlike a drake. It has a rocky, rough and stout appearance and has no poison or stink. The name originates from the loud roar-croak sound that they make.
10
Wizard Hares: white hares the males of which use their teeth to carve intricate shapes into ice stalagmites (carved stalagmites are called ‘towers’) to impress females. They are resistant to the cold due to their thick fur (which sometimes gives them the appearance of having a bushy beard), but only approach the outskirts of the ice to find icicles fit for their sculptures.
5
Halfwood Moths: though plentiful in Halfwood, the Halfwood moth can also be found in other forestial areas. It is a moth with a wing span of a foot and a half, and a human face. The faces do not speak, but they sometimes smile or cry. The caterpillar has no human face. The cocoon must be made with human hair, so the caterpillars often flock to corpses to collect it. Allegedly the moth gains a face comprised of a combination of the faces of all sources.
11
Rowboats: odd fish that have come to float on the surface of their lakes and use large side fins to row around. They mainly eat skimmers and their eggs, and can both breathe through lungs and gills. To escape predators they can sink down quickly by exhaling all their stored air through a blowhole, leaving only air bubbling up as they disappear to the depths.
6
Buphants: a buphant is a toad, but it is bigger. It’s the size of a hunting cabin, and it moves very slowly. These animals can hibernate for years, even in icy conditions, becoming as stone and turning into odd shaped boulders during their sleep. They are sometimes mistaken for Great Drakes by blissful knights unaware that a Great Drake is much, much bigger than a hunting cabin.
12
Royal Ducks: before the forst, king Iceheart was terrifically fond of duck to eat, so the castle held a great amount of ducks to be prepared for the king. After the thawing they escaped. They are like normal ducks, but infinitely more arrogant.


AFTERWORD

Well, this is it. As you might expect from the mention of an afterword, this is the last Thawing Kingdom post. Or at least, the last one for a long time. And I think that's about right. I could make this post longer, add more tables, add factions of knights and villages and whatnot, but I won't. That's fun you can have yourself. After all, if you're reading this and using the Thawing Kingdom as a setting, it's yours, and I'm dead.

Especially when making game material, as an author, one is far from immortal. In fact, OSR game resource writers are the mayflies of authors. Live for a brief moment, shine, then go out as your work is taken to the table by others, changed, edited, tailored to their needs. This is as it should be. I encourage whoever reads this to fill in the blanks I leave to their heart's content. Make your Thawing Kingdom your Thawing Kingdom.

If you're interested in another final note on this setting, and a slightly more elaborate opinion on authorial death as a tabletop author like I've quipped here, you should read the upcoming Silver Swords zine. In it you'll find an article from me about what I've just mentioned, and a lot of other stuff worth your while.

In addition, since I have used many of their works to illuminate my Thawing Kingdom posts with atmospheric pictures, visit Skraww to find many, many more great artworks and daily landscape paintings.

Now, this blog, too, thaws. New things are on the horizon. Who knows what the man in the mirror will insidiously convince me to write next?

Art by Skraww