Friday, January 11, 2013

Cloud Valley of the Ogre Flowers

Field Guide to the Shadowdrift
Hex #117
Cloud Valley of the Ogre Flowers

Buried in a lush, tropical mountain range, the Cloud Valley  is the crater of an inactive shield volcano.

The Ogre Flower, for which the valley is named, refers to an ancient legend about the wedding of the Ogre King and Queen. The Ogre King had his subjects plant enormous, foul-smelling, purple flowers throughout his kingdom in celebration of the event.

Very few of the flowers still exist in the valley, and they are highly sought after by perfumers and alchemists.

Of greater interest to adventurers are rumors of the labyrinths of antediluvian lava tubes hidden throughout the valley. Some say they lead to a system of caverns far beneath the earth that leads to a mysterious domed city. Also the ruins of the Ogre King's castle are still nestled in a hillside, choked by vines and obscured by overgrowth.

In the center of the valley is a deep lake. On opposite ends of the lake are two warring tribes of Goblins. They are extremely secretive and stay hidden in the canopies of trees. Like gibbering Ewoks, their villages consist of crudely built platforms and huts around the trunks and teetering in branches. No one remembers what started their feud, but in recent weeks, several members of both tribes have gone missing...

A Lamia Noble by the name of Yrich has taken residence in an underground lair nearby the lake. She sends her minions (Shambling Mounds, Ogres, Orcs) to enslave goblins or whoever else she can find in the valley to serve her purposes. Her slaves are hard at work trying to dig into the ancient tunnels so that she can find the mysterious domed city and prepare it for her rule.

Illustration by H.B. used with permission

Other Rumors, Suppositions and Hooks:

At the Bottom - 
At the bottom of the lake is the burial place of an ancient race of mega-dragons. The last of their kind was sealed in cyclopean tomb by a powerful wizard, who then filled the deep shaft with water.

The Cult of Rirakath -
A secret order of Ogre Maji from the east are performing unspeakable rites and rituals to invoke the material form of Rirakath the Gorger - Mother of Ogre-Kind. They have been abducting young women from a nearby village to satiate Rirakath's blood lust.

Rixis the Hobgoblin Lord -
A local Hobgoblin chieftain has set up a garrison in the hills. He and his band of brigands are exploiting the goblin feud for their own benefit.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Poison Elves

A few nights ago, the topic of Poison Elves came up on G+. A gritty and grotty indie comic that began as the self-published I, Lusiphur in the early 1990s. The first one I picked up was issue #10, "Sex & Violence" and yes, I bought it solely because of this cover.
Inside, the story was wordless. Just the protagonist, Lusiphur Malache and his girlfriend Cassy in bed together, intercut with scenes of their assassin jobs. It was unlike anything I had seen before. It reminded me of the great black & white fantasy indies I loved as a kid - Elfquest of course (which had the distinction of being sold alongside Dragon magazine at my local hobby shop) and also Barry Blair's original Elflord series (especially his Windblade one-shot). But it was dark and gritty and felt more like Savage Sword of Conan than the pastoral tales of the Wolf Riders or Hawk Erickson.

After that, I picked up every issue of Poison Elves I could get my hands on. I became obsessed with the characters and the world that Drew Hayes had created. The stories were unlike anything I had read in comics before or since, and the art was amazing. The earliest issues looked like they had been drawn by a frenetic hand at 4 a.m. assisted by Marlboro reds and Samhain's "November Coming Fire". The lines were shaky and scratchy. Every inch of the page was filled in with details. It brought the gritty and lusty world of Amrahly'nn to life.

I stopped reading around issue 70, when I read that Drew had been sick. I sent him a card. The next 9 issues came out very sporadically, and by then I was too busy holding down two jobs and going to school to set foot into a comic book store. 

In March of 2007, Drew Hayes passed away. It was a shock. Drew was only a couple years older than me. We were heavyset guys who favored black work shirts, we smoked, we liked girls with lots of eyeliner and fishnet stockings. We liked beer and punk rock and Bettie Page. I never wrote him a fan letter (of which his responses to were famously published in each issue), we never corresponded, but still, losing Drew was like losing a friend.

During the height of d20 mania someone asked him in a letter if had ever thought of writing a Poison Elves RPG. Drew declined, but said that if there was going to be one, he'd want it to run on the old Runequest system - intricate and sketchy. Still, during a 3rd Edition Living Greyhawk campaign, I ran an elf fighter who shared more than a little similarity to Luse.

Poison Elves carries on, in trade paperbacks and various spin-off series, and a newly restarted series from APE comics, but it's too different. It doesn't feel the same at all and I just can't get into it. When a band loses a member, someone can usually fill that hole in the line-up, (drummers and bassists mostly) but Drew Hayes was lead guitars and vocals of Poison Elves, without him, it's just a different band playing the old songs.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Hunt for Red John

The dapper ("Springheeled") Jack Shear over at Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque, ran a contest recently. I chose the title "The Hunt For Red John" as my contribution to Jack's Penny Dreadful cavalcade and it is submitted here for your approval...


When you're a child, adults are quite fond of telling you about the will o wisps, or the wicked whispers in the larch grove, or Posey Mathers who stole naughty children from their beds and sold them to trolls for soup. I knew such stories were only told as a way to goad my sisters and I into drinking our beet tea and making tidy Mother's parlor.

However, my half-mad Uncle Vincent's tales were something else altogether. His stories weren't cautionary fables for us to abide, they were tales of the wondrous and horrible things he had seen during his wanderings.

When he would come to stay with us, Uncle Vincent would drink an entire kilderkin of strong ale with supper and sit before the fire. The thick clouds of cinnamon-scented smoke from his pipe would bring us from all corners of the house. We would sit while he regaled us with stories of gypsies and wizards and blind women who could fly like birds.

But it was after my sisters were made to go to bed, that my uncle would tell me great bloody tales of the mad kings of Rictus or the Thing in the Vault of Caronos, or the terrible story of Red John.
Red John was a young man who lived in a village called Sparrow's Point. John was wrongly accused of a terrible crime. He was hung by his wrists in a dungeon for years and years, and in the darkness, John cursed his accusers and wished for revenge.

Finally, a demon heard John's wish and released him from his prison. John's arms had been stretched grotesquely long and his body was nothing more than bone under a thin sheath of pale yellow skin. His hair had fallen from his head. His eyes, perhaps most ghastly of all, had turned red as blood.

In return for his freedom and his chance at vengeance, Red John agreed to serve the demon for the rest of eternity.

Red John strangled the life out of every last man, woman and child in Sparrow's Point, and the ones who managed to escape his bony clutch, were stricken dead by the very sight of his nightmarish visage. 

When there was nothing left alive in Sparrow's Point, Red John told the demon that his vengeance was not complete, for there was one family who had escaped.

Red John roamed the land, searching for all the living descendants to the missing family from Sparrow's Point. Pulling them from their beds, choking the life out of them and then finally, devouring their warm spleens.

The demon followed, waiting for the day when he could finally take possession of Red John's soul. But his lonesome demon worried that somehow he himself would wind up facing Red John's wrath.
Movement: 40'
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 8 (68 hp)
No. of Attacks: 2 claws/bite
Damage: 1d6 / 1d6
Morale: n/a
Save As: 8th level Fighter

Special Abilities:
Red Eyes: Players must make a saving throw vs. paralysis when first seeing Red John or be frozen in fear for 1d4 rounds.

Strangle: If Red John successfully attacks with his claws he can strangle for 1d6 damage per round until a successful attack is made against him.

Red John is between 7 and 8 feet tall. His arms are long and his knuckles rest on the ground. His movements make no sound and he is extremely quick.
He is extremely vulnerable to light and only appears after dark. Anyone holding a lantern or torch will be the first to be attacked.

Whenever Red John is near, the Lonesome Demon will be found drinking in a local bar room. He appears as a tall man in a long black coat, hat, and gloves. As soon as Red John's task is complete, the Lonesome Demon will settle his bill and quietly vanish into the night.
If the Lonesome Demon is offered a bottle of whiskey, he will gladly offer Red John's fate for another soul that he deems suitable. If a bargain is struck, Red John will then return to his shackles in the dungeon beneath Sparrow’s Point. 

Later, when I lay in bed and thought about my submission, I realized that I had created an origin story for Slender Man by way of the Croglin Grange legend.