Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hemlock

art by Patvit
Hemlock
A location in Krevborna.

Avoided by pious folk, the mining town of Hemlock has abandoned the Church of Saintly Blood to follow vile pagan ways. Hemlock’s most powerful family, the Graymalk clan, are rumored to practice the darkest arts of witchcraft and to have made unholy pacts with liege devils. Sèances are a popular pastime for Hemlock’s prosperous citizens.

Aesthetics
  • Ramshackle buildings fallen into morbid disrepair.
  • An isolated town surrounded by deep, skeletal forests, marshes and bogs, and stark, perilous hills.
  • Lanterns carved from gourds hung up at night to ward off the spirits of the vengeful dead.
  • Pagan altars, wicker effigies, ribald maypole ceremonies.
  • Gruesome, mutilated reminders that the fey folk must be offered due tribute.
  • Witch marks, bodily signs of devilish heritage, tattoos of runes and sigils that denote occult allegiances.

Themes
  • The seductive power of Faustian bargains.
  • Aligning with evil forces to fight enemies of even greater malignancy.
  • The haunting knowledge of the dead and the sacrifices necessary to learn from their unquiet spirits.

Adventure Hooks
  • Venture into the woods to find the magical herbs necessary to remove a horrific hex from an innocent citizen of the town.
  • Save an abducted spiritualist who is being forced by grieving parents to continuously channel the specter of their deceased child.
  • Aid a coven of “benign” witches to destroy a cabal of warlocks planning to summon a great evil into the world.
  • Excavate a mine shaft collapsed by the cruel and malicious fey to rescue the miners trapped within.
  • Unmask a charlatan whose fraudulent sèances are giving false hope to a wealthy widow or widower.

Notable Residents
  • Eva Graymalk is the head of the Graymalk clan—a prominent family of witches in the town of Hemlock. 
  • Although she plays the part of a bookish and naive young woman, Circe Graymalk is a witch of the Graymalk clan who does the liege devil Malistrad’s bidding.
  • Now bound to a wheelchair due to horrific injuries, Old Grigori gives sage advice to those who visit his workshop in Hemlock. 
  • Mother Malaryn’s evil is such that she is no longer truly human in form. Bent and twisted, she scuttles about the earth as a spider or crab. Her mind is consumed with a lust for blood, which she must sup upon to maintain her magical power.
  • Horne is Mother Malaryn’s son by an unknown father. He is brutish and blunt, but is also a talented butcher and a brilliant anatomist.
  • Lenora Vos, a powerful necromancer and graduate of the Malcovat, keeps a villa in Hemlock so that she might tryst with her secret lover in absolute privacy.
  • Davut Dykstra is a leader of the Soparla, a criminal organization active throughout Krevborna. Although he dresses like a gentleman, he is a feared member of the criminal underworld.
* * *

Director's Commentary
Hemlock is the "folk horror" area of Krevborna. It was mostly inspired by a witch village in Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice series, but there are elements of The Wicker Man and The Witch in here too. And probably more than a little inspiration drawn from the episodes of Penny Dreadful where Vanessa Ives is learning witchcraft in that isolated cottage. Or possible like the town in the show Salem if the witches won and ruled more openly.

Mother Malaryn and Horne definitely have a Last Apprentice flavor; they were the villains of one of the campaigns I ran in Krevborna. The Graymalk family has appeared in several adventures I ran back in the G+ days; they are some of my favorite NPCs to roleplay. The Graymalks are also inspired by the various witches in Last Apprentice, but again there's a heaping helping of Evelyn Poole and her witchcult in Penny Dreadful in the mix as well.

The "criminal element" has been something that has gotten built-up over the last few years of play. I should make a post about the shadowy Soparla soon.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Choristers

The Choristers
A faction in Krevborna

Description
The Choristers are the elite upper echelon of the Church of Saintly Blood. They believe that the gods are dead or distant, and that the human condition can be transcended through the consumption of the sanctified blood of saints. Their stronghold is the Orpheum Cathedral in Chancel. The Choristers are known to consult blinded augurs who live within the Cathedral before guiding the Church down drastic paths.

Though they present a united front to the faithful of the Church of Saintly Blood, the faction is rife with internal politics and division. The members of the Choristers fight among themselves for position, prestige, and leadership of the Church. Brother Lazarus is the current head of the Choristers; he has proven very difficult to depose and has weathered many a crisis.

Motto
The Church of Saintly Blood is the silver sword that cleaves the darkness in twain.

Beliefs
  • The Saintly Blood is Krevborna’s only hope for survival.
  • Mankind’s limitations can be overcome through ritual and faith.
  • Heresy and sin open the door to supernatural evil.

Goals
  • Maintain the Church’s power at all costs.
  • Discover the true nature of blood sanctification.

* * *

Director's Cut
The Church of Saintly Blood is an obvious riff off the way the Catholic Church is usually deployed in Gothic fiction. (As it turns out, 18th century British Protestants tended to have a pretty hefty bias against continental European Catholicism.) As such, the Choristers generally represent the corrupt religious leaders often found at the head of those depictions. This is where all your evil monks and sadistic nuns go. I don't think I've ever had a player in one of my games trust this faction.

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Gods, Church of Saintly Blood, Heathens and Druids

Miscellaneous lore from Krevborna


The Absence of the Gods
Gods were once reverenced throughout Krevborna, but in ages past they withdrew their influence from the world. Some say that the gods abandoned mankind to its dark fate due to unforgivable sins. Others believe that the gods retreated after they were betrayed by the rebellious angels who became demons and devils. Some even claim that the gods were killed and consumed by cosmic forces of darkness known as the Old Ones.

The Church of Saintly Blood
Although the apparent absence of deities is felt keenly, divinity still maintains a foothold in Krevborna through the legacy of the Church’s saints. Saints are venerated in place of the gods. Those of holy blood transmit their sanctity down through the generations; men and women who evidence a touch of the divine spark are regarded as heirs to the saints and their blood is viewed as sacred. The rites of absolution and healing practiced by the Church of Saintly Blood involve imbibing the blood of these saintly descendants—often mixed with the mundane blood offerings of the faithful—or blood baptisms given in ancient fonts. The most common holy symbol associated with the Church is a glass vial of consecrated blood on a silver or golden chain.

Heathens and Druids
Before the precursor faith that became the Church of Saintly Blood arrived in Krevborna, the human population revered the fey ladies Queen Devania, Baba Linya, and Bonnie Maeva as a tripartite goddess. Druids and their flocks still give worship to those fey ladies in isolated, rural regions. Most pagan circles are beneficial to the rural communities they minister to, but some revere the more bloodthirsty and destructive aspects of nature. For example, the druids of the Zatmoor cult led by Dahlia Medlozka use the threat of nature’s wrath to feed their own ambitions and twisted desires. Likewise, hag covens pervert the old ways to serve their own ends. The Church regards practitioners of the old faith as heathens and pagans to be converted or exterminated.

* * *

Director's Commentary
When I started building Krevborna I knew that I wanted an alternative to the kind of typical gods you usually find in fantasy settings. The possibilities that suggested themselves were monotheistic religion in which THE god is a real thing or something based on saints whose veneration survived the disappearance of their gods. Either one was bound to take on a pseudo-Catholic tone, but ultimately I found the latter more appealing to my own sensibilities.

The focus on saintly blood was (obviously) partly inspired by Bloodborne, but it also opened up a space to make the rites of the Church strange and off-putting. They have an intentionally vampiric vibe: the religion focuses on consuming holy blood (as a dark parody of the Eucharest and its resonance with vampire myth) or bathing in it (bringing in shades of Elizabeth Bathory). 

An Easter egg: you can find the Church's holy symbol, a blood vial, in an illustration that Aos did for the Krevborna book.

Regarding the heathenism, I wanted to tie druidry to the fey lords and ladies in an explicit way. But I also didn't want to have the early religion be a woo-woo "the old ways were in connection with the earth and were obviously better and more moral!" thing. I see paganism as just as much of a mixed bag in the setting as the Church.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Inspiration Zine

Zine Quest 2 is currently underway. I admit, I haven't really been paying attention to what's on offer. I did get a preview of A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City, and I can definitely recommend checking it out.

I don't have anything of my own to promote for Zine Quest 2 as I don't really feel comfortable with Kickstarter for my projects, but in the old spirit of free content I do want to offer you a free zine: The Inspiration Zine

The Inspiration Zine presents four different ways to use the inspiration mechanics in 5e D&D:

  • Blood Opera Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to add bloody interpersonal drama to your game.
  • Flashback Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to account for prior actions, experiences, and preparations.
  • Momentous Events Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to establish a deeper connection between character development and the momentous events that unfold as you play.
  • Tarot Storytelling Inspiration. Rules for using inspiration to reveal more about their characters’ pasts.

The Inspiration Zine is available in two formats:
Screen format pdf
Print format pdf 

To print your own physical copy of the zine, print the second pdf as double-sided (duplex), set to flip on the short edge. This will give you two double-sided pages to fold in half, for eight total pages that flow in order when assembled.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Blood of Elves

Before it was a hit video game series, The Witcher was a series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, the "Polish Tolkien." Geralt of Rivia is fast becoming one of the most recognizable modern fantasy heroes, a stoic combo of monster-puncher and irresistible ladies' man who travels the strife-torn landscape in search of dark creatures to battle. Join Jack and Kate as they explore the first full-length novel in the Witcher series, The Blood of Elves.
What unexpected parallels to noir fiction will be uncovered? How does Three Men and a Baby figure into all of this? Just how important is it to stay on good terms with your exes (particularly if they are all sorceresses)? Will coins, in fact, be tossed to our Witchers? All this and more will be revealed in this month's episode.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Grail Tombs

Art by Enzhe Zhao
The Grail Tombs
A dungeon in Krevborna

Ancient catacombs deep within the earth, the Grail Tombs are the remains of the Lilitu, a technologically advanced civilization that predates the rise of man. The Lilituan Empire fell when it embraced demonic cults that ultimately transformed their noble rulers into the world’s first vampires.




Aesthetics
  • Labyrinthine dungeons and burial vaults belonging to a long-dead and inhuman civilization.
  • Grail and chalice motifs; depictions of tall, gaunt, vampire-like beings carved in stone.
  • Unnatural phenomena, warped time, impossibly convoluted architecture, unthinkable machines, malevolent beings trapped in the strange eons of the past.

Themes
  • The present’s uncertain foundations are the corruptions of the past.
  • Unthinkable connections between the vampires of Lamashtu and the forgotten civilization of the Lilitu.
  • All empires fall.

Adventures in the Grail Tombs
  • Retrieve a lost group of Labyrinth Dredgers from within the burial catacombs of a miasma-afflicted Grail Tomb.
  • Recover saintly relics that have been safeguarded from demoniac cultists within a Grail Tomb.
  • Search for a chalice left behind by the Lilitu that is said to restore the dead to life.
* * *

Director's Commentary
The Grail Tombs give a reason for there to be ancient dungeons waiting to be explored beneath Krevborna's surface. They also give a reason for introducing any weird technology that doesn't fit in the setting--the Lilitu did it! Finally, the Grail Tombs hint at the origins of vampirism in the setting; one intrepid fan mostly figured out the mystery here, which I found most impressive.

Here's Matt Colville on why you need a dead empire in your campaign setting: