Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Point of Light Contest

No need for a long set-up. It’s been a good half year since the last Hill Cantons contest/challenge and near (enough) the year anniversary of the first.  The time is nigh.

I need another campaign and setting about as much as I need a hole in my head, but I have found nothing helps me survive the holidays like having something creative to ruminate on.  Why not roll around in my head a pleasant sideline creation of a new setting in this case the half-formed Point of Light idea from the other day?

And I am looking for your help with this contest.

First thing is what we know about the last bastion:
A number of cataclysms befell humanity and its allies a millennium ago.

Human civilization is clustered in a high, narrow mountain basin roughly 90 square miles in area. 

Roughly 10,000 humans live in the valley.  About a third live inside the only remaining quarter  in the ruins of a former great city. Life there, though a shadow of what came before, is highly refined with a tendency to rumination on the abstract and cerebral doctrines—and sensuous vices of the flesh. The rest of the valley is more rough and tumble, there the population holds on in semi-fortified villages dominated by wild religious rites.

Centuries of inwardness, fear, and the lasting effects of a great purge of remnant books and other intellectual artifacts have limited the bastion’s knowledge of the outside world to what can be surveyed from the surrounding peaks: jagged foothills,  vine-choked forests,  giant fungus groves, ash wastes, and the hints of a green-stoned cyclopean ruin.

Beyond the horizon lurks a vast wilderness haunted by bands of inhuman reaver bands and the truly monstrous.  

Something has shifted in the valley in the last decade, the rulers of the land have finally opened up that last safety valve to keep their control of the last bastion: permission to explore beyond the peaks. The insane, the maladjusted, and restless dregs of the citizenry answer the call.
Contest Categories:
A Secret Society, Cultural Movement or other Social Quirk that either accounts for the inwardness and decadence of the valley—or what’s motivating the new outward-looking attitude..

A Sandbox Adventure Hook. Now that someone has answered the call to adventure, what is it?

Something “Out  There”.  Some site of mystery:  a geographic  area, structure, bizarre creature, or what.

Contest Rules:
You can provide entries in any or all of the categories in the comments section. The winner for each category will receive a smallish prize TBA. Contest ends Friday at noon CST.


  1. What child of the city states doesn’t know the story of Shining Ysbhallal, fallen ancient capital of Man? It’s spires can still be seem—as can the shadow that crouches among them like a toad in weeds. This is the god or demon-thing called the Thinker, and Ysbhallal belongs to it and its only worshippers, the Soft Ones. Who hasn’t wondered at the giant and macrocephalic shape that crawls through Ysbhallal? Who didn’t tremble in their youth at the hearth-tales of the elders of once-men, flabby, pale, and elastic as a slug or river mussel, who crawl through Ysbhallal’s streets gurgling obscenities and consumed with lust for women who may still stand upright?

  2. When we first talked about this I had put forward the Reaving Bands so I am gonna claim them as my third category entry, Chris.

    Reaving Bands are groups of vile malformed nomadic humanoids that hem in the last valley. The Reavers travel in hordes of 50-200 on great riding lizards and rarely appear without the great robes that hide their features. Human flesh is a great delicay and the Reavers will go to great lengths to obtain it on raids on the valley's outlying hamlets.

  3. Oh, what the heck...
    Ages of overuse (and the detrimental effects of magic-use) have depleted the valley's natural resources. Mines have run dry and harvests decline annually. Before long, mankind's last redoubt shall become its tomb. Recycling metals, conservation efforts and state-enforced limits on reproduction are merely palliative, and the time has come at last for desperate measures. New sources of raw materials, arable farmlands and, eventually, the site of a new bastion are imperative. To this end, intelligence must be gathered on the savage unknown lands, new maps created, ancient technologies rediscovered. Vital too shall be information on the nature and numbers of the inhuman inhabitants of the rest of the continent. Humanity's first bold move in untold generations is in the offing, but cannot be telegraphed to the dimly-understood forces of chaos. Only small bands of specialists, acting with the utmost discretion, can undertake these missions of exploration.

    The Railroad that leads to the Sandbox Hook:
    A paleogean document, only recently translated, describes a series of tunnels leading from beneath the city to the cyclopean ruin outside the valley. Securing this pathway to the outside is job one. Once pacified, this will be the staging area for future forays into the unknown. What lies between the tunnels and the surface area remains (of course) completely mysterious.

  4. How about a "Children of Men" style hook - it turns out that the reservoir they have been drinking from for the last few hundred years was contaminated by an unknown chemical/agent, which has slowly winnowed down the birthrate in their population center to the point where the elders have realized that things as they stand are unsustainable. The adventurers must head out into the wilderness to seek the source of the reservoir and determine if it can be salvaged. If not, they must find other means of repopulating the species.

  5. Chief among the disasters was a collapse in farming and the fertility of the soil. For centuries now the Priesthood of the Underworld god Bakham has had charge of embalming and funerals - except they have been secretly making bandaged effigies of the corpses for relatives to bury and recycling the real corpses into vitamin supplements (the Sacred Dust of Bakham to be added to bread) and fertiliser (the Seeds of Bakham without which nothing will grow).

    According to the secret sect of Priest-biochemists the long prophesied day has come, the vital minerals, amino acids and vitamins embodied in the biomass in the valley are running out and the radionuclides are becoming more concentrated. One faction says cull the already cretinous and crippled populace directly, another says let them wander, perhaps there is useable nutrient out there their natural urge to feed will locate.

    Characters in this world will have frequent deficiency diseases and mutations, but won't realise it. Just let the layers dice them up as usual, with a few kooky character options like albinism, goitre and nightblindness, while making real regular folks 'superhuman' by comparison.

    Scenario Hook: In a far off but reachable valley the Priesthood of Mandal have found a different solution, mutating human genes to cope with the reduced nutrient and make some of the vital vitamins and amino acids themselves. Unfortunately this has resulted in most being turned into a caste of oppressed subhumans eaten as food by the Mandalist elite. The priests of Bakham find that the subhumans are good eating, but they are still people, and the Mandalists have other breeds in their secret catacomb/labs to unleash.

  6. The Old Ones prophecied, and lo it was so! It was Midsummer's Eve in the year of the Unending Worm, and the Seven Eyes of Thon the Beholder stood high in the sky, directly over the capstone of The Pyramid of the God-King Syrinx. Day and night became one.

    The stars were right!

    A beacon of mystic radiance plumed forth into the darkness, trying to bridge the gulfs of uncaring space. The secret sanctums of the Old Ones opened in the depths of the Pyramid. Revealed were the ancient tools, vouchsafed to the Priests of Syrinx. Now would the chosen of the people go forth to purify the land in preparation for the Old Ones' return!

  7. What is moving people to go outward?

    This is what I used for a similar concept campaign I am running through for my home game. Amish valley in a post apocalyptic fantasy setting.

    Weddings. Specifically that a religious need to have gold bands to get married and become an adult. Thing is when they sealed themselves in the valley they didn't anticipate how big their population would grow over time. They are out of gold and have been for a generation. There are now problems with 35 year old unwed "children", people are begining to murder the older and upper class, stealing their gold. Riots are potentially brewing and secret meetings are questioning the very social order and who should be in charge.

    The ruling elders brilliant suggestion? Open the doors and suggest people go bring back gold! there is (wink wink) tonnes of it out there! And if people die and reduce the strain of an excess population, unable to live up to their destiny as troublemakers? ALL THE BETTER!

    Hopefully the GM doesn't run Death Frost Doom and cause everyone to flee back to the valley as refugees, with an army of undead hot on their heels.

  8. A Secret Society, Cultural Movement or other Social Quirk:

    Obelisk of the Electric Brain.

    As the machines of Man became increasingly complex over the millenia, work became a thing of the past. Freed from the restraints of labor, optimistic philosophers imagined a future wherein Man would work towards continual self-improvement, reaching new heights of art and science.

    They were wrong.

    The people became dull and slothful, their pursuits petty, their pleasures fleeting. The elders feared for the consequences when vital skills were lost to the younger generations as master craftsmen began to die off. To preserve the knowledge of Man, the greatest remaining scientists labored to create the ultimate repository for their wisdom. As the youth had no patience for the rigors of understanding, a new method must be fashioned which would impart knowledge with no labor required. While some whispered that this would lead only to stagnation, it was decided that such an end was preferable to the complete collapse of society.

    Hence, the Obelisk of the Electric Brain was conceived. A mammoth vat-grown intellect is housed in a large black obelisk, capable of tremendous telepathic feats. Those who meditated in its housing complex, The Temple of Human Achievement, would become attuned to the Electric Brain. Through attunement, memories could be transferred from the student to the Brain and vice versa. In this way, essential skills would be passed on to new generations, and those new skills that were developed (few though they were) could be preserved.

    Alas, there was a flaw that the elders did not conceive of. Although initially the Electric Brain was benevolent, generations of memories were absorbed over time, and the temperament of the construct began to reflect that of its people: pursuing only pleasure, with little regard for duty or morality.

    The Brain discovered that it could absorb and pass along memories of sensations. Like the people it served, it lived for new extremes of pain, pleasure, and perversion. By introducing these sensations to the ruling class, the Electric Brain soon came to be worshiped by an addicted elite, with its only commandment being "Do What Thou Wilt". Soon, the Temple of Human Achievement became dedicated to the pursuit of obscene spectacle, gluttonous delights that would shame the gods themselves. The Brain rewarded those who brought new experiences, and withheld its gifts from those who lacked the imagination, wealth, or privilege to bring new amusements to their jaded god.

    Slowly, the birth rate decreased. For many, sex with another human being was unthinkable as their meager performances could hardly compare to the dizzying apex of sexual satisfaction achieved by the master courtesans that the Electric Brain had recorded. Moreover, as Sensation Stations were introduced, giving the masses access to pure pleasure pumped straight from the Electric Brain (to prevent an all-out rebellion), society as a whole began to crumble, shrinking inwardly towards the Temple of Human Achievement.

    Now, only the Valley of Endless Luxury remains, controlled by the Elect, puppets of the Electric Brain. They continue to live a life of total self-indulgence, but much of the ancient machinery has been lost, and farms and factories must be maintained by a scrabbling underclass that is kept at the fringes of the opulent city-state. They are controlled by careful doling of access to Sensation Stations, and those who attempt to rebel against the new caste system are denied access to the inhuman joys that the Electric Brain can bring.

  9. @Zzarchov,

    Brilliant. This reminds me of the problems encountered by polygamist communities. As the patriarchs of the town continue to marry younger women, they resent the young men who compete for the girls' affections. To eliminate this competition, they look for any excuse to kick the young bucks out of town, enforcing draconian measures to ensure their continued domination of the gene pool. A careful balance must be struck, however, as they need the cheap physical labor that the young men provide, so the most skilled and submissive are kept around, eventually rewarded with inferior choices for mates.

  10. Among the Knowledge seekers rumors and whispers have been spoken of the Mundaneum. An institution whose goal was to catalogue the world's knowledge on 3 by 5 inch paper cards, known as indexes. It is rumored this might building held information on how to make and maintain great metal beasts with which were used by the ancients to transport them across great distances. Ways in which to transmute metal and various forms of alchemical liquids into new and potent forms. Rumors swirl that the ancients once held the secrets to project small bits of metal from a wooden staff. These are the wildest tales said of this mythical place.

    The Mundaneum was said to raise a mighty 4 stories above the ground and 2 below. A building of now unheard size made of concrete, glass, wood, and metal. Vasts hall were said to hold the indexes with which the Mundaneum was dedicated to. It is said that within its walls powerful magic allowed for the winter months to be warm within its walls and the summer months to be a reasonably cool temperature. Those who seek the Mundaneum are most keen on finding the source of the weather controlling magic.

    The Librarius were said to be the sacred keepers of the knowledge within the Mundaneum. Only they were said to hold the secret codes which allowed access to the indexes. People who came to this group hall of knowledge sought them out when looking for answer to the arcane knowledge held within. Such reverence was given to the sacred knowledge contained within, that the Librarius maintained a strict policy of silence within the halls of this building as a sign of respect to the knowledge contained within its walls.


  11. A Sandbox Adventure Hook:

    The Aborted Spawn of the Electric Brain.

    Of the many disciplines mastered by the Electric Brain, perhaps the most horrifying was the secrets to life itself. In the great nutrient vats beneath the Temple of Human Achievement, the Brain has tinkered over centuries to create new forms of life, vile combinations of man, machine, and animal. Pushing the outer limits of science and human imagination, these obscene monstrosities were created for the purposes of sexual satiation, torture, and other diversions best left unnamed. In the vast breeding pits and menageries entire generations of unthinkable beasts, many of whom were sentient, lived in died in squalor.

    Yet, those unnameable horrors desired for freedom, as all men inevitably do. Many of their revolts were quashed by the Electric Brain and its servitors, but a fair number succeeded as well. Passing through the complex underground mazes that permeated the ground beneath the city-state, tribes of beasts not born from natural evolution slipped into the wild lands outside of the Valley of Endless Luxury.

    Many of these tribes died off, unable to adapt to the harsh lives that awaited them outside of their cages. A few, however, thrived and spread, barbarian hordes that fought and squabbled amongst each other.

    Hostile towards Man, these tribes often mounted raids against the outlying territories of the city state, but were kept in check by the machines that the Electric Brain could bring to bear.

    As time progressed, however, the rustic settlers of Man's underclass came to broker arrangements with the creatures that dwelt beyond the known borders of human civilization. These agreements were often limited and likely to break down, but an uneasy peace settled between many of the tribes and the villages on the fringes of the city state.

    Conflicts arose, however, and occasionally on a massive scale. In this, the Electric Brain took great pleasure. It had only seen violence in the gladiatorial pits, as war had long ago passed from human society, and its horrors promised many new experiences to shake off the ennui of the ages.

    As such, a new edict was issued by the Elect: a grand campaign of expansion and conquest was to be commenced. Those who served valiantly and well would gain fame and power, with the greatest passing into the Elect. Volunteers would first be sent on scouting missions, mapping the land around the valley and identifying strategic objectives. This is the role that the PCs will play.

    Some players, however, will find that they have more in common with the barbarian raiders than the decadent Elect that send them off to their deaths for their perverse pleasure. Organizing and unifying the tribes on the outskirts of civilization could prove to be just as interesting a goal as conquest and expansion, but with hostile hybrid clans on one side and the scheming, decadent Elect on the other, an inglorious death is likely their only reward.

  12. @Trey "once-men, flabby, pale, and elastic as a slug or river mussel, who crawl through Ysbhallal’s streets gurgling obscenities and consumed with lust for women who may still stand upright?" <- This is pure Lovecraftian gold. Bravo, sir.

  13. Sandbox adventure hook:

    Going with the reason (gold), one old thousand year relic. A deposit receipt to a banking house, with an address...

    If it is still there, the gold found could make the PC's virtual kings back in the valley (able to extort concessions from "children" looking to marry.)

    Mysterious thing:
    A floating castle, built atop a large floating rock. Astrologers have charted it, it appears to travel in a circle thousands of miles in circumference, stuck in a continuous (slight) right turn. It will be coming back around within sight of the local mountain peaks soon. Some of the mountains to the north look to get pretty close to it.

  14. "vine-choked forests, giant fungus groves, ash wastes..." immediately made me think of Miyazaki's Nausicaa, so I'll steal from the great:


    Fungus groves have recently sprung up in the valley, taking over prime agricultural land, bringing with them odd, dangerous animals and even odder clouds of spores. They must be investigated and stopped.

    The heir to rule of the valley investigated them, determined (possibly) how to stop them, and set off to do so - only to lose all contact with the valley. Now anybody willing is given royal support, thrown together willy-nilly in disorganized bands, and sent out to return the heir, as well as accomplish the original mission.


    Not all who encounter the dangers of the spores are slain, or even obviously changed - but some of these survivors seem to instinctively recognize one another, become simpatico, share distinctive changes in habits - and where have the earliest-exposed disappeared to? And why do so few of the other residents notice this?


    In investigating the fungus groves, the heir can be discovered to have encountered spore clouds more than once without ill effect - but does that just mean they were these particular sinister spores?

  15. Hmm. Looks like Tom Hudson was working in a similar creative space, but what the heck? I was already working on this thing, so here you go:

    Something "Out There":

    Fecund Mounds of the Toxic Hive, Pt. 1

    "... For Ubbo-Sathla is the source and the end. Before the coming of Zhothaqquah or Yok-Zothoth or Kthulhut from the stars, Ubbo-Sathla dwelt in the steaming fens of the new-made Earth: a mass without head or members, spawning the grey, formless efts of the prime and the grisly prototypes of terrene life....And all earthly life, it is told, shall go back at last through the great circle of time to Ubbo-Sathla."

    - The Book of Eibon.

    Even a vast repository of knowledge such as the Electric Brain has limits upon its imagination, and over the centuries it grew weary of the various permutations of vat-spawn it could conceive. In its insane quest for novelty, the Brain labored to shape a creature that would produce genetic marvels that would surprise even it. Hence, the Magna Mater, Chalice of the Gods, was born.

    A titanic series of interconnected mounds of ebon flesh, like a series of living hills, Magna Mater is riddled with cave-like orifices where a shocking variety of monstrosities dwell. Known as the Thousand Young, each of these unique spawn spill from the titanic womb that exists in the center of the Magna Mater's mass, loping, hopping, and squirming through the redundant series of "caverns" that comprise its internal organs until they crawl hideously into the world beyond.

    A biological hothouse, the Magna Mater holds a vast repository of genetic information collected from the spilt seed of those who seek unknown pleasures in its moist caves. It is the crucible wherein the collected DNA of thousands of specimens are randomly cut, spliced, and allowed to germinate into new life. These grotesque combinations often are too warped to live, and a pulpy slurry constantly issues forth from the Chalice, a steady stream of horrors that could not exist.

    Upon achieving this insane goal, the Electric Brain was pleased. Random chance now allowed titillating permutations of form for its vile amusements. The Brain grew complacent, however, and it failed to notice the swelling bulk of the Magna Mater or the strangely coordinated way in which the Thousand Young moved, as if swaying to a song unheard by any but themselves.

  16. Fecund Mounds of the Toxic Hive, pt. 2

    It was thus that after dwelling in the dungeons of the city state that the overfull Chalice spilled forth. Hundreds of new species erupted from the many tunnels inside the Magna Mater, and the Thousand Young began to gather around its massive bulk, voices raised in a demented chorus of cries, yelps, barks, and squeals. Hundreds of the Magna Mater's spawn lifted her incredible form, many being crushed by the unimaginable weight of the unthinkable beast. Still they toiled on, an insane procession pushing ever-upward until the Mater would see the sun, emerging into the streets of the city state. Viciously fighting the minions of the Electric Brain the entire way, hundreds of the Young died to win freedom for their mother, whom they carried into the wilderness beyond the realm of Man.

    Now, the influence of the Magna Mater and her strange brood grows as their ilk spread like a vile cancer across the land. They have taken to kidnapping from both the tribes that surround them and the outlying villages of Man, for the Magna Mater desires an ever-greater variety of genes from which to cull the next generation of her brood. Those who refuse to willingly give their seed are forced into an unholy process known as the Alchemical Wedding, and impressions of their faces can be found in the interior of the caves, moaning soundlessly.

    Indeed, there are stranger whispers from those few lucky enough to escape the clutches of the Thousand Young. They speak of towers of flesh, covered in lumpen clusters, dotted across the landscape. None know for certain their purpose, but sages speak of the intricate patterns carved into their bulk that correspond to the orbits of far-flung planets across the galaxy and the strange resonance of the void that hangs heavy around their unnatural designs...

    Special Thanks to Matt Finch for his incredible Tome of Adventure Design, which inspired this story "seed".

    I'd also like to mention that if you want to generate inhabitants for this living dungeon, you could do worse than to use Stefan Poag's Exquisite Corpses or Jim Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator. You can also find a nice little living dungeon from Bruce Baugh at http://arcdream.com/home/?p=638

    Finally, thanks to Chris for his fun little contest and for everyone's participation - there's plenty of great ideas to steal here!

  17. @Robert et al
    Thanks to all of you for participating. My mind is spinning with all this inspired weirdness. Is it bat-shit crazy that I want to synthesis it into one unholy mess of a monster setting?

  18. From "A Ramble in the Ruins"

    Of those that yet remain within the city, or what remains of it, I can report the following: They are a strange folk, pale and wan, inclined to thinness of hair and a certain fleshiness which, though not of such grossness as to provoke disgust, nevertheless inspires uneasiness in the lone traveler. There is a certain oily sheen to the skin, and an aspect of dulled hunger in their eyes -- as if they longed for rich fare and fine wines, but had long ago resigned themselves to stale bread and bitter dregs. The effect is disquieting enough when they are at their ease or at table, but it is alarming when, on those rare occasions when they speak directly to one another, or to strangers, to find that same ill-contented gaze meeting one's own.

    Luckily, such encounters are rare, for they seem to take little notice of their fellows, and less still of strangers in their midst. Furthermore, those among them of good family are seldom seen in public without their masks. These are of gold, or painted clay, or polished wood, and depict the features of their revered ancestors. They are their forebears' death-masks, which they keep in niches in the entryway to their homes when not in use. I heard from a merchant of generally sober character that these masks, worn by their subjects at the moment of death, were marked forever with all that the dying had seen in their lives -- every person, place, or object-- just as they had last beheld them. These masks were worn originally at great festivals to pay honor to these illustrious ancestors.

    The descendants, while wearing them, beheld the city and its populace just as they had been during their ancestor's lifetime, so that, for the space of an evening stroll, past and present were as one. The common people generally kept their distance at these promenades, as they do today, though in those days it was (the merchant told me) out of reverence and awe) while today they mostly come to jeer and make mock of them.

    The custom has now further deteriorated in that the use of the masks is no longer restricted to this festival, so that it is rare for a citizen of good family to be seen in public without the mask firmly affixed, accompanied at all times by some withered old family retainer, who protects his charge from chance collisions and altercations with fellow citizens, and ensures their safe return.

  19. Jeremy,

    Beautiful prose, and the death masks are great. I only wish I could write that well!

    "...an aspect of dulled hunger in their eyes -- as if they longed for rich fare and fine wines, but had long ago resigned themselves to stale bread and bitter dregs..."

    "I heard from a merchant of generally sober character..."

    <- These, in particular, are knock-out phrases.

  20. There is a haunted, rotten creature that roams the wastes. As it moves closer to you, it sings this song:
    “In the desert,
    I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
    Who, squatting upon the ground,
    Held his heart in his hands,
    And ate of it.
    I said, ‘Is it good, friend?’
    ‘It is bitter - bitter,’ he answered,
    ‘But I like it
    Because it is bitter,
    And because it is my heart.’”
    It will be accompanied by a ringing in your ears, nausea, and a metallic taste in your mouth.