Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mist Drake

Mist drakes are less openly aggressive than most drakes,” Bestiary 4 tells us—but that just means they attack when they know they have surprise and cover on their side.  And when you can create your own fog bank, hide (at +15!) even while being observed, and then burst out of the mist with the usual drake speed surge, there’s no need to be open about any of your actions.

The High Way is the only way to cross the great marshes and swamps of the Turling Delta.  Set on pillars sunk deep into the muck, this road meanders through the wetlands for miles.  Mist drakes and medusas are the most common threats found along the road.  Mist drakes burst out of the fog without warning to tail slap or bull rush travelers off the High Way and into the water.  The medusas alternately rob, seduce, or even aid travelers, but in every case they make a custom of leaving token offerings to the drakes to appease their greed.

“The Ripper Returns!” cry the papers, and all of fog-shrouded London huddles in terror.  But while the strikes are surgical, the lacerations are not.  Bobbies soon conclude that beasts are responsible for the recent string of Whitechapel murders, not a serial killer.  They're right—a rampage of mist drakes has found the damp streets of London to be a surprisingly fertile hunting ground.  Meanwhile, other nefarious urban monsters are using the chaos caused by the drakes to cover up for their own indulgences.  In particular, a magistrate who has managed to hide his ghouldom from his peers has begun a hunting spree, as have a cult of sinspawn, with the drakes taking the blame for both.

After the Breaking, the city of Venitar split into its component cities—the City of Fog, the City of Spires, the City of Shadows, the Burning City, the Riven City.  The sages say that each city sits in its own demiplane, slightly out of phase with each other and the normal world.  The citizens know only that they now live in a city empty of four-fifths of its people, that only wayangs may move between the cities freely, and that any attempt to escape more than five miles from any of the five Venitars earns the wrath of the drakes that prowl beyond the cities’ walls and farms.  Mist, spire, shadow, fire, and river and rift drakes all hunt the borderlands, making unraveling the mystery of the Breaking—or even simply escaping—a deadly challenge.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 79

Again, if you have not yet done so, read, read, read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

Before we get to the contest, anomalitstic asked:

This isn't monster-related but will you be at PaizoCon?

I would love to be.  Unfortunately, through epically bad timing I’m going to be in Seattle the very next weekend instead (I’m going on a cruise to Alaska with my parents and brother), and there’s no way I can justify the time/vacation days/expense to go from Baltimore to Seattle two weeks in a row.  So hopefully next year?  And if you have any good stories from/meet any cool folks at PaizoCon, let me know.

Are a lot of you Seattle folk?  Maybe there’s critical mass for a hangout sometime.

Okay, on to the contest!  (If you need a refresher, the original post is here.)

General thoughts:

1) The overall quality of the entries was pretty high.  So clearly this contest was a mistake, because the last thing I need is competition for this job.  (Fortunately this job is unpaid and healthy-bedtime-killing to boot, but still, I better watch my back.)

2) While it’s dangerous to make assumptions, I think all of the contest entries came from dudes.  (Especially dudes whose names start with J, which just got weird after a while.)  While admittedly this is a male-dominated hobby, I’m a little surprised because female and trans-spectrum readers seem to be some of my most reliable rebloggers.  If I’d noticed the trend earlier I might have done more to encourage non-male entries; since I didn’t, I just want to remind you all that this is definitely your space, too, and your readership is always appreciated.

3) People definitely picked up the gauntlet I threw and tried to give us non-medieval adventure seeds.  Way to stretch and way to keep me entertained.  Thanks!

So let’s share some of these seeds!  (Warning: I have tweaked for grammar/style reasons as I saw fit.  If you submitted more than one entry, I’m including the best.) 

Simon kicked things off really nicely:

Things couldn't get worse for the settlers of Kala. First, a kolzhutar (a variant charybdis) destroyed supply ships, and a seven-headed dragon has been carrying off livestock.  Things are looking up when a ker-kula (a variant dragon horse) offers help.  When it's found brutally mauled after a particularly fog shrouded night, the inhabitants turn their suspicions towards the mist drakes that are frequently sighted near the Mistmarshes.  But their usually nonaggressive nature suggests something darker is at work.

Friggin’ Kazakh folklore?  As the very first submission?  Awesome.  I wish my Kazakh former coworker Aya was still at my firm so I could run this by her.

Josh took us to a modern fantasy India:

On the evening of his arrest, mad geneticist Nolan Singh unleashes his masterwork on the bustling metropolis that is Hyderabad, India.  Paralytic mists rise out of the artificial lakes and rivers that make the city famous.  The city’s people are helpless in its grip.  If hazmat-suited agents could capture the madman, then the people could perhaps be cured, but Singh did not come alone.  His mist drake guard dogs are deadly foes, especially in an environment where the slightest suit breach means failure, or even death.

Jeff knows I’m a sucker for airships:

Shortcuts through the mist are ill advised for airships traveling within the Worldrend. Mist drakes lurk in the fog and pick off travelers from passing ships for food. In some parts of the Worldrend, the magical energies have mutated some of the drakes, which display odd magical variations in their fogburst (nauseating stinking clouds, burning acid fogs, and deadly cloudkills).

Ditto Jacob, who presents this nice ghost ship scenario:

The merchant airships that pass through the Canyon of Vines have gone missing over the last month.  Adventures are hired to see what has happened, only to find all the airships afloat in the canyon, but with no crew.  Before they can investigate further, a fog sweeps in and the bestial roars of mist drakes fill the Canyon.  Are these the culprits?

James should never work for a tourism board:

The fishing town of Soryu has always lived with the deep fogs that plague the coastlines of the feuding Warlord States.  In hushed tones, their elders speak of creatures made of fog that crave the flesh of the living.  They were accustomed to leaving offerings of fish and livestock, and locking their doors on the nights the fog was thickest.  Better to appease the mist drakes, then to end up their next meal.  They grew weary of this practice in time, however.  On the day they were conquered by Warlord Jinkkai and he began stationing patrols around the town, they found the solution to their worries.  When Jinkkai’s men begin disappearing, as did the offerings to the fog, he called for monster slayers from across the Warlord States.  The people of Soryu feasted, knowing that they found a new source of offerings to feed the ever-encroaching mists.

James also does not know I used to know a Buddhist monk named Soryu—he lived next door to my friend Nicole.  Soryu would not approve of these people.

From David:

The people of Danau Atas, a city-state built on an island in a huge, ancient caldera lake, have a symbiotic relationship with the nearby mist drakes.  In an annual ritual, the king plays a certain tune on a flute kept under lock and key the rest of the year, calling the drakes to dance and whirl above him.  But this year, when he sounds the first notes, the drakes react angrily, swooping down on the assembled crowds. Is something wrong with the flute, the king, the drakes—or all three?

(David is also really good at sending questions/comments that get me really excited.)

Connor is a hell of a worldbuilder:

The nation of Vrymr is the economic powerhouse of the Frigid Bowl region of the northern seas because Vrymr Hold is built atop a cave network that leads to the Elemental Plane of Salt; the long winters of the region make extracting salt from seawater a difficult business, and the salt mined from the plane is Vrymr’s chief export throughout the region.  Vrymr is also the premiere naval power of the Frigid Bowl due to a collaboration with the mist drakes that nest in the coastal openings of that same cave network; with their ability to see clearly through mist, fog, rain and snow, a well-trained mist drake navigator is an asset to any ship plying the northern seas—particularly when they can direct cannon fire through the fogbanks that they themselves expel to conceal their ship and baffle their enemies.  Adventurers preparing for a sea voyage could hardly find a more useful crewmate, but finding a ship that can support a full grown drake is a challenge, not to mention trying to entice one away from Vrymr—southern climates disagree with them, and their collective agreement with the Lords of Vrymr forbid them from offering their services to foreign ships. What else those agreements stipulate no one outside of Vrymr seems to know, and no one inside it seems willing to say.

Seriously, all his adventure seeds were like that.

Tumblr (Tumblrer?) justavulcan proposed a similar partnership:

The mist drakes of the Shrouded Coast have long served as companions to the wave-bound oracles who share their lands.  Despite the occasional philosophical difference, the partnerships have lasted through the centuries due not only to similar tactics, but prophetic insights: some say that the masters of the waves can read the future or perform other auguries in the drake-breath.

Another worldbuilder, Jamieson (seriously, the J name thing is getting out of hand) conceived an entire South China Sea-inspired setting and ecology for these drakes.  I can't do his whole post justice here, but here’s a sampling:

The Hanging Library has been under the "official" possession of the Humble Bank of Woodwick for decades, repossessed when its previous owner failed to pay the interest owed.  The matter of clearing out the vermin that came to live in the library, however, was a task left to one of the bank's newer employees—Filin Quirkstone—who decided to introduce four hungry mist drakes to the abandoned hallways and let predatory nature take its course.  The time has come to reclaim the library, built over a series of sea-bound mesas and within a network of lofty caverns centuries ago.  With the drakes and their offspring still lounging comfortably inside, the nearsighted halfling might need a little help in cleaning up the mess. 

That’s some seriously good work—evocative location, bizarrely fantastic and yet weirdly believable scenario, and a great halfling character—and I really want to adventure in Jamieson’s Shanchaoshi campaign.  In fact, I’m calling this the runner-up…and even then it’s a photo finish with the winner.

In the end, though, I think Benjamin narrowly—and I mean narrowly—squeaked out a win:

As a pea soup-thick fog rises off the river Cark, mingling with the smoke of a hundred thousand chimneys and smokestacks, something is butchering the citizens of New Trinovantum.  The Tengu Benevolent Self-Protection Society and the Hippogriff Boys have accused each other.  If the real culprit—a mist drake originally imported as an exotic pet and dumped into the sewers when it stopped being cute—isn't found, the fragile network of treaties and threats that keeps the cities many gangs at peace may be shattered.

As I said, all of the entries were strong—seriously, you guys did great.  What got me about this seed was that it did so much in so little space.  I got a sense of the city, I got a sense of the tone of its people, and I immediately felt like I knew what it was like to live and adventure there.  Cark is a wonderfully terrible name for a river—I imagine it horribly polluted—especially when juxtaposed with the overwrought New Trinovantum.  And how could you not like the TBSPS (tengus!) and the Boys?  (Is their name from a totem symbol or graffiti or a fashion statement or do they own actual hippogriffs?)  Also, I liked that this could be as serious (a mysterious butcher, gang warfare, a city in flames) or fun (a lost pet, sewer drakes, Cockney or Mafia toughs) as the GM and his or her players wanted it to be. 

So Benjamin, send me your details and I’ll mail your prize of Quests of Doom to you.  Everyone else, awesome job, and thanks so much for entering and sharing your ideas with us!

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