Posted by : David Guyll March 14, 2014

As Ruzzah was flung towards the tree, she had just enough time to reflect on the fact that at least she would not feel any pain.

Her next thought was that she really wished Varash had not brought her back to life. Or rather unlife, as she was still quite dead.

She had been floating formlessly within a warm, comforting expanse of darkness, only torpidly aware of her existence and surroundings. Now and then, over an indeterminable expanse of time she would feel the Serpent's coils brush up against her. She was not sure how she knew what the sensation was; she just knew, and was not afraid of it.

It took her awhile to acknowledge that there was a noise. As it grew louder, she eventually realized that she recognized it as speech, as if she had forgotten was speech was and was slowly remembering it (which was not far from the truth). No, wait, it was...shouting. Someone was shouting, and whoever it was kept repeating one of the words.

It was her name.

With this revelation the warmth and comfort of this darkness were replaced, thankfully only briefly, with a cold oppression. She began to worry about what had happened and wonder where she was--worry and wonder being two sensations she had not experienced for quite some time--the darkness slid away as she was hauled out of a murky pool by a pair of lizardfolk.

This is when she met Varash, clad in the accoutrements befitting a shaman of the Ssashak tribe: shells, skins, obsidian, and a massive snake skull. His body was extensively tattooed with symbols and names of both specific and generic spirits, and ritually scarred to show dedication, or to perhaps pay the more grisly tolls some spirits might demand.

He was also holding a heart.

Surrounding the pool were eight stone alters. A lizardfolk was tied to each, and each had had their chests carved open, presumably to remove the heart. It looked like he had been busy paying much steeper tolls than blood, which would explain what had happened to her.

Varash greeted her with a deep bow and recitation of the titles she bore in life, and the ones she earned in death. He explained that he had seen the portents and heard whispers from the spirits: the Herald was stirring in his slumber and would soon awaken. Ruzzah knew the story from her previous life: the Herald was responsible for creating the swamp, but had to rest after such a taxing ordeal. When he awakened, his hunger would be so great that he would consume everything in the swamp. Many lizardfolk tribes accepted this as the way of things, but some tried to forestall the event.

Varash believed there was a way to prevent it completely.

They had captured a group of the First traveling towards the Heartwood, and learned that they were trying to find one of their lost cities so that they could destroy the Herald. Of course they would not divulge any more information, and after much torture were sacrificed to the Serpent for their trespass. Even so that meant that there was a way, they would just have to figure it what it was for themselves.

The First were careless and stupid, and their abuse of magic had cursed the center-most region of the swamp. The lizardfolk referred to it as the Heartwood because they believed that it gave life to the rest of the swamp, but even so it was a very dangerous place. The plants were alive and often hungry, the ghosts of the First could not find their way out, and sometimes the sun would look too closely and burn what it gazed upon.

But where the living failed, maybe the dead could prevail. He provided her with an alligator club, food, rain stick, and riding snake, and she set off in search of...something, somewhere.

It would be a few hours later before she found herself face-first in the tree. She picked herself up and turned towards the snake to see what had happened: it was entangled in vines, and more were slithering towards it. Assuming that the plant itself was the threat, she rushed towards it and began hacking the snake free. That was when the vines ensnared her hand.

Ah. So something was controlling them. She looked about but could see nothing. She struggled to escape, but when she could not wrench her sword-arm free used her other hand, the touch of which caused the vines wither away. That was when she saw...whatever it was that was controlling them.

It was slender, similar in shape and size to one of the First's females. Its hair was like rotting, lanky vines, and its skin was blackened bark that cracked and bled with every movement. One of its arms was extended, and as it tried to close its hand into a fist the snake hissed and writhed in agony.

Ruzzah decided to use a little magic of her own, whispering ancient words at the creature. It froze for a moment, and then began clawing wildy at its face, tearing off strips of dried, flaking bark. The vines collapsed, and Ruzzah slashed at it with her club. Its body was like sodden, dead wood, and she easily carved a large chunk out of the mid section. Recovering from Ruzzah's curse, it tried to claw at her with gnarled talons, but she knocked it back with her shield and planted her club in its face, splitting it in two.

Ruzzah looked around to see if there were any more, and noticed a tree that looked like it had been sliced in half, not unlike the creature's face. She walked towards it and saw that it was hollow, inside which were stuffed numerous corpses in various stages of decay, some First, some human, some...she was not sure. One was clutching a small sack in his hand. She pried it free and discovered that it contained numerous rubies. They would make a fine sacrifice for the Serpent.

The next day they made it to the border of the Heartwood. It was marked by a drastic shift in the flora: where the swamp had plenty of trees and other plants, it was at least fairly easy to find a way through, even if that way meant wading or swimming through murky water. The Heartwood? Unless you were very small, finding a path was difficult without taking the time to laboriously carve one yourself.

Ruzzah did so, with the snake following in her wake, and after much work and luck found a clearing that contained the ruins of one of the Firsts' cities.

The grass was waist high, and she could see the ruins of their stone towers unevenly jutting forth like old teeth, overgrown with vines and trees. The sun hung directly overhead, and in random places and intervals the air seemed to "shimmer". Though she was unsure what they meant, she figured it was best to avoid them all the same. The only noteworthy feature that she could spot was a stone ring near the center of the clearing, so she decided to investigate there first.

As she walked to it, something leapt from one of the ruined towers and tore into the snake. It was the skeleton of a strange creature that she had never seen before: it was quadruped, like a lizard, but had a beaked skull like that of a bird. She ran up the length of the snake and struck it in the head, cleaving off most of it. It released the snake and pounced on her, knocking her to the ground and pinning both of her arms. Unable to free herself she unleashed another curse, which caused it to crumble to dust.

With the creature destroyed she slowly and carefully made it the rest of the way to the ring. It was made of numerous stones, each carved with a single large rune. She touched it, and when nothing happened climbed it so that she could better survey the area.

What did she see? Find out next time!

Behind the Scenes

You can check out the alpha draft of the mummy here. Comments are very much welcome, as we are still trying to iron out the drives/alignment and starting moves.

In addition to working on a mummy playbook for Dungeon World, I am also revamping Something Stirs in the Blackscale BrakesPartially it is because I feel like I am a lot wiser about Dungeon World and could stand to improve it, partially because I want to be able to offer more stuff as physical books (like oh, say, Sundered World), which demands a specifically formatted pdf file.

(NOTE: If you buy it or already bought it, you will get the new version once I update the file.)

I think that running through a few sessions with the skeleton prior to publishing it was very helpful in seeing how the mechanics played out, so I figured this time why not play with both and see how they work in action?

The adventure does not mention, well, really anything about the lizardfolk and their culture besides that some tribes are willing to deal with humans, and others...not so much. This is by design, because part of the whole Dungeon World thing is to draw maps, leave blanks, and ask the players questions, and I only wanted to give the GM some building blocks to do with as she pleases.

While I am still not going to establish much of the fiction, I am going to showcase the fiction that Melissa and I come up with as we play in a "director's cut" section, as well as some more example maps. Here is some of the stuff that we came up with so far:
  • Melissa figured that the lizardfolk subsist by hunting and gathering, with those living near rivers also fishing. They view the rivers as manifestations of a kind of snake god that they worship: sacrifices are performed in the rivers to feed the Serpent, and water is routed to temple hatcheries, because it is believed that the river carries new souls.
  • The dragon is both a creator and destroyer. They believe that it created the swamp, but that when it awakens it will devour everyone.
  • They gather stone and obsidian from the mountains. To them the volcanoes are the shells of turtle spirits that, if not properly placated, will awaken, devour the sun, and crush them. Every year during the winter solstice they bring it fish and other sacrifices.
  • The dead are cast into a bog, where they sink into the underworld in order to await rebirth.
As with A Sundered World, I made up almost everything on the fly (especially the intro), relying on the adventure for the front, locations, and monster ideas (ie, its intended purpose). If Melissa was playing something more normal, like a human or elf, then I would have started her out in Reedsport or Murkwall. As it was I needed to improvise:

Sur-Ssashak (Village)
Prosperity Poor
Population Shrinking
Defense Guard (since pretty much every adult lizardfolk is capable of fighting)
Religion The Serpent
Other Resource (food, obsidian), Enmity (Reedsport, Murkwall), Primal, Lizardfolk, Craft (obsidian jewelry), Blight (corrupted spirits, elves, undead)

(ANOTHER NOTE: I'll also be putting this in the adventure update, so there is at last one lizardfolk steading.)

Melissa loved the way the session started out. She mentioned that she would have had something like an earthquake awaken her, but was pleasantly surprised that her character had been brought back to life as part of a ritual. It says something about the importance of her character and the lizardfolk (in our interpretation of the adventure, anyway): they have the capacity to bring someone back to life, just dead and at great cost (sacrificing a bunch of other lizardfolk).

She also liked the curse and rotting touch, as they allowed her to creatively get out of jams. We have not had cause to use the soul mechanic, so still not sure if it is too good or pointless.

Quick note: the First are what the lizardfolk call elves, since they were there first. They believe that the Herald drove them away and changed the swamp as a gift for them.

Since even blighted dryads are tied to their trees, I decided to have the tree become damaged in the same way that the blighted dryad was (hence it was split in half). Blighted dryads are in constant agony, so are less interested in enticing mortals and more about torturing them (hence the tree stuffed with dead bodies).

{ 5 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I liked the skeleton, but I think I like the mummy even more. The touch of eldritch abomination just makes it feel awesome thematically. I think I'm going to steal your blighted dryad for my 4E game too... they're currently in a feydark swamp and I was thinking of throwing a hag their way, but the blighted dryad seems more appropriate and interesting.

    I looked over the mummy draft. I think the first bullet point under Vermin Swarm is missing a "do not" (unless I'm just reading that wrong). The soul mechanic looks interesting, and I don't think it'd be too powerful if offset with no armour and below average health, but it's hard to say without actually testing it. You might also consider an opposite to "Keep It Together" where you deal damage when you spend a soul, punishing those that drop you. Finally, I think a drowning curse would be pretty cool and thematic for the peat bog mummy.

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    1. I made a 4E encounter with dryads and treants. The dryads vanish into a tree, and when the treant attacked they could pop out as an Immediate Reaction and give it bonus damage. Damn, I need to get on hacking 4th Edition...

      The draft is definitely an alpha draft: we are going to be doing another play test session tomorrow, or the day after. I am glad you like the soul mechanic: we wanted to make it so that it felt different then the skeleton, while feeling like you were playing a mummy.

      The thing with Keep It Together is that you can run out of hit points using magic (representing spiritual exhaustion), but I could see an advanced move where you deal your damage against someone that drops you to 0 hit points.

      We wanted to make the moves kind of...vanilla-y in order to make them easy to apply to any mummy origin, which is what the stun/damage effect of the curse represents: a desert mummy causes them to dry out, or maybe parts of their flesh turn to dust, while a frozen mummy causes them to freeze, and a bog mummy fills them up with water. :-)

      Same goes for the "swarm": it could be scarabs, flying vermin, or even a razor-like flakes of ice (unless we can find a cold-based bug...).

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    2. I wasn't thinking about dropping to 0 for other reasons, so linking it to a triggering action is the better option. It's what I intended, if not what I stated explicitly. :P

      Similarly with the drowning somewhat. I thought about it being flavor on the curse, but also thought it might make an interesting idea like the swarm or similar. A desert mummy might use a choking cloud, and not sure about the frozen one, just freezing their lungs?

      I can't think of any cold-based bugs. To my knowledge all bugs (insects/anthropods/etc.) are ectothermic, so don't do well in cold climes. But this is fantasy! So maybe some do exist. Or just flakes of ice directed by a malevolent spirit. That works too.

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    3. Wow... fantasy much. That should say "arthropod", not "anthropod"... >.>
      Yeah, I knew it was an error and still typed it wrong. Don't you love it when that happens.

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    4. Derp, good point. We can add a clause that "if anyone reduces you to 0 hit points, deal your damage to them".

      That is the tricky part: making advanced moves that modify the curse, but can be easily skinned to any climate. I think for the frozen one, that freezing the lungs would work, and we did kind of settle on shards of ice, too. Will probably end up calling it "Scouring Cloud" or something.

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