Travelling through the great deep forest can be a wonderful, relaxing experience; trails dappled with sunlight, chirruping songbirds, maybe a chance to take a shot at a hare or a deer or the like for your dinner (and dinner to share at that), maybe the discovery of a sprawling patch of morels or a burbling brook or, oh wondrous moment, a traveller’s lean-to maintained by years of fellow wanderers …
Oh. Oh, dear.
This doesn’t seem to be that kind of forest, does it.
What has the forest let you find?
01. A white stag that fades to bone and mist as it leaps away 02. A lone birch with golden leaves marked as if by tearstains 03. Three pillars, blade-like, of pockmarked black stone 04. A gossamer net strung across a shadowed side-trail 05. A cairn of softly glowing wolf skulls 06. A figure in torn leathers, lying still inside a ring of crimson toadstools 07. A pine weeping blood-red sap from savaged bark 08. Six pinecones gleaming oddly silver in the unsteady light 09. A tiny glade carpeted with tattered moth’s wings 10. A ring of trees grown together, so much like a small hut with hearth 11. A weathered sword of bone and gold thrust half to the hilt in an ancient oak 12. First one white sparrow follows you; then two; then four; then eight; then …
It happens more often than one might think, in this line of work. Unlucky adventurers, remnants of raiding parties, the aftermath of some beastie’s dinner — skulls turn up in all sort of places.
This one’s … kind of different, though. Starting with the fact that there’s only a skull. No other body bits, no fleshy stains, no hints or clues. Just a skull, sitting neatly all on its lonesome on the floor, or on a shelf, or a stair, or … well, you get the idea.
But that’s not the only interesting bit!
Your new-found skull …
01. … has a sealed scroll, smeared with golden wax, clutched in its jaws 02. … is engraved all over with arcane notations, filled with cinnabar stain 03. … is animated and hostile! sharp fangs sprout as it snaps at you! 04. … is animated and lonely. please, just a chat for a little while, at least …? 05. … is completely covered with delicate mosaic-work in obsidian and rose quartz 06. … has been filled with pellets, stoppered and painted; a macabre rattle to be sure 07. … has been sectioned around the middle, hinged, latched and locked 08. … is overgrown with rust-green moss, and azure mushrooms grow from its orifices 09. … has every second tooth replace with one of silver or crystal or pearl 10. … has been converted into a lantern, candlelight glowing from its eyes and sinus 11. … is surrounded by a corona of pale violet flame that does not burn 12. … is missing the top of its vault, the cranium filled with an iridescent, red-violet ichor
A delicate collection of slightly fraying scrolls; velvety black cotton paper, picked out in inks of white and silver and palest electrum and deep dark blues; bundled in wolfhide, or packed in a willow-withe basket, or sealed in a silver casket as round as the moon.
These are the remaining sorcerous works of Kha’heba, Whisper Of Midnight.
01. Eyes Of The Night: Under natural night-time darkness, see with perfect clarity; enchantments are limned with moonlight. Lasts until sunrise. 02. Mothlure: Designate an object and a type of target (elves, skeletons, moths); all in a mile’s range are drawn to the object. 8 hrs or until sunrise. 03. Midnight’s Stroke: Semi-corporeal blue-black weapon that does no damage but stuns those attacked into inaction for 1d6 missed actions. 1d8 min. 04. Afraid Of The Dark: Target is -2 on all tests/rolls at night or in darkness; unnerved and jumpy. Three days or until hex is lifted. 05. Nightcloak: Covers 100′ sq. area in soft nighttime darkness; allies are refreshed and all gain one extra action before spell ends, antagonists must check morale. 10 min. 06. Dreamless Sleep: Target falls into unwakeable slumber for eight hours, wakes healed and cleansed of disease/poison, but at Disadvantage for a day due to disorientation. 07. The Eternal River: Travel at riverboat pace for the night towards destination, along the river of stars. Ends at sunrise. 08. Night’s Watch: Calls small creatures — moths, bats, mice, cats — to stand as a warning system, alerting caster to danger or unusual activity nearby. 6 hrs.
Outside bustling townships, Whitestone and Javir and Xhori and the like, and beyond the soaring porcelain-tiled towers of Ariaenna and Sunsfall and Burab and the other Great Cities, there are other, older traditions at work.
If one travels beyond the pebbled cobalt glass of the Rose Roads, one such tradition still reigns in force:
Along the winding trails and wagon-tracks that crisscross the land, one will frequently see, lining the path, rows of unusual plants. Whether tall nodding grasses or clumps of weedy greens or slender lilies or tangled patches of vines, all have one trait in common — their stems, their leaves, seem tipped and edged in golden brown or russet red.
Also they grow the year round. Not even the wild winter winds can end them.
It is tradition, cherished tradition, for a traveler to bury some token, however small, perishable or no, along the road when and where they might do so. A coin or three, a packet of needles, an egg or a small loaf, a thumb-tin of ointment; a melon rind saved over, a patch for a cloak, a precious draft of water poured carefully. So long as the token holds meaning for the offerer — so long as it is offered honestly — it is good.
It is tradition, cherished tradition, for a traveler in dire need to pull up a plant whole from along the road, and in papery pod-tubers in its root-ball one will find what one needs to carry on. Bread, water, a phial of physick, a cloak balled up tightly, a coin or three.
It is tradition, cherished tradition, to give back what one can, when one can.
They’re very useful, if you can acquire one — many archivists and scriveners and sages of all stripes have one, as do most arcanists and more than a few masters of merchant-caravans and curious nobles and busy churchfolk. Sometimes you can buy one, or pay (in coin or kind or stranger things) to have one designed for you, at a curio shop or a scribal hall; and many are those who apprenticed to magic, successfully or no, who received their glyph courtesy of their mentor. They all come from someone who already possesses one, of course, because designing a new glyph requires a Sesh to be present to recognize and accept it.
What’s a Sesh, you ask?
Why, the most convenient of entities. Summon a Sesh — a gnarled little figure the size of a husky housecat, all dull-jewel scales and twisted horns and stubby wings and twisting tail — by drawing your glyph, preferably at the end of some missive or other, and the eldritch little clerk will appear out of the very air, scrollcase clutched in its twisting little talons.
Now pop your letter, or letters, or whatever else you wish, into that scrollcase it offers you, seal it up smartly, and write your glyph on one end of the case and — this is quite important — the glyph of your intended recipient on the other. The Sesh will snatch up the case and its contents and quick as a breath carry it through the nothingness between to the other party.
It’s amazingly convenient, and why, the Sesh asks for nothing but the chance to carry missives, and for only its scrollcases to be used. And that nothing be too large to fit — the case absolutely must be capable of sealing.
It’s a useful, wonderful thing to have in your pocket, as it were, isn’t it?
Just be certain you write the glyphs properly, of course. Your missive will just be brought back, battered and faded and the worse for wear by a very annoyed Sesh.
And check to be certain that there’s no lingering glyphs hanging around, in the bargain. The Sesh will deliver to every glyph indicated, after all; that’s its task and it will see it done.
Minstrel’s tales and the whisper-net of adventurers, ne’er-do-wells and other glory-seekers all speak of, at times, a certain fey and strange fountain.
Its location changes, from tale to tale: some say in the deepest of labyrinths (but none agree which), some name an isolated shrine half tumbled to ruin, some a far-off palace ruled by emperor or angel or formless wraith.
What doesn’t change is the fountain’s description, and its thorny gift.
It is a font of smooth grey stones, faintly translucent, fitted so cunningly together that not even a hair could slip between them; a half-moon of framing stone, set flush to a wall or standing free, and a basin in which water wells up gently from an unseen source. Resting on the basin’s broad lip is a dipper shaped so smoothly from milky crystal as to look grown, not carved.
Drink the sweet, cool water from the dipper and be absolved of all your failures, all your regrets, all your shame both secret and known throughout the lands. Be absolved, and know yourself to be free.
Balance, of course, must always be maintained.
What is the fountain’s price?
01. Your greatest accomplishment is also forgotten 02. Your greatest enemy or rival has also had the slate wiped clean 03. You have aged one-tenth of your lifespan 04. One of your senses is dulled; choose carefully 05. You will fail at one great endeavour at one crucial, critical point 06. Your dreams remind you of what you were absolved of 07. Your vitality is weakened, leaving you vulnerable to illness or poison 08. One archivist, unknown to you, is moved to record the sudden knowledge in their thoughts …
Beneath a canopy that sparkles like the night sky — a cunning work of midnight-purple velvet, golden threads and silver beads — a large and fluffy white cat paces to and fro on hindpaws across the length of a raised wooden platform, adjusting racks of exotic textiles, setting out baskets of tiny wonders and tweaking the displays in the worn blackoak booth-front.
Suddenly the cat’s attention is squarely on you, golden eyes like inquisitive twin moons. Snowy white paws cradle a weapon that surely, surely no cat should wield so easily.
“Perhaps this humble merchant may have something that catches your eye?”
The ghost cat’s armoury
01. Paired ivory-hilted daggers, etched with silvered prayers to the Saint Of Iris 02. Pyre Tyrant’s Needle, a rapier of frosted steel hilt and basket and blade of crimson flame 03. A sabre polished to mirror brightness, mounted in brass and blackened steel fittings 04. Regret, a longsword consecrated to be the bane of spirits, rosewood-hilted and perpetually damp with blessed tears 05. A belt-knife of bone split and polished from a wyvern’s sting, grip wrapped with tawny silks 06. A perfectly plain-looking shortsword, yet it is sheathed in shadepanther pelt and crystal droplets 07. The Moon Calls Me, a silver-trimmed crystal blade that cycles from dagger to shortsword to hunting sword to greatsword and back 08. An ancient broad-bladed sword of greenish bronze, sporting black gold hunting figures that glow faintly 09. Mistine, the white steel bastard sword trimmed in sapphire and white enamel which ballads claim was the oath-blade of Teitaia, Warqueen of fallen Oakhaunt 10. A slim rapier, basket-guard of twisted ivy and gilded, stained with the blood of a vampire prince 11. Aaite, a curved sickle-like blade of deep red horn, said to be carved from a fragment of an angel’s talon 12. Matched set of broadsword, hanger and three daggers, all smoky steel mounted in bronze and ivory and engraved with the same motto — “Endure” — flanked with tiny inset garnets
In the aftermath of the Four Sorcerers Clash, there it lay in its bondage, straining against the chains of blood-golden light that bound it, pinned it motionless into the rubble that once was Ruthenen’s mightiest mountain.
In warring against each other, Ruthenen’s wild spell-magisters uncovered a being more fearful than they could ever hope to be.
Now they lay shattered beneath the broken stones and ashen forest, and in their place a fallen titan of tyrannical eternity strained four golden arms against its bonds; clashed its great wolf’s jaws in silent scissoring of starlight fangs; thrust a single spiralling horn of blood-stained twilight towards the uncaring sky; tore pearled and sable scales the size of small huts free against its phantom chains as its falcon-talons, greater than grand halls, tore furrows like small ravines through the earth.
The Golden Night rages against a fettering set in place long before mortals came to Ruthenen.
The Golden Night howls in silent fury to an uncaring heaven its burning eyes can once again behold.
The Golden Night whispers to the heart of any who approach its bulk; terrible, wondrous, furious, thirsting.
Lift even the least of my bonds and
01. I will forge you into a conqueror of steel and sunfire 02. all that you hate will burn to scarlet ashes 03. you will come to sit at my right hands and wield my sickle 04. all will bow to what you shall become 05. white flame shall scour the unworthy from existence 06. we will pull the traitor heavens down into the earth
Yet all around the titan, in the rubble and the wreckage, and the dying mountain, the decaying forest, there is a sign …
01. where ichor pools under scale-stripped flesh the earth turns to chalky ashes 02. animals that approach within a furlong turn on each other without fail 03. above the fallen titan the sky appears blank, a white and empty void 04. silver blackens and bubbles, copper and bronze patinate and slowly grow tiny branches 05. each day more and more strange knots of congealed anger range the countryside, congeries of crimson and black and bruise-purple that lash with coiling barbs and waves of red fury 06. shattered rock slowly shifts and reconfigures across the land into the shape of four great blades
… and there are also wondrous things …
01. from ichor and chalk spring tiny golden flowers that cleanse all infirmity 02. rasped golden flesh reveals true-gold veins within, and hints of glittering sky-iron sinew 03. spars of fallen scale, rich with power and sharp as a lie, cry out to be forged 04. silent snarls, heavy of breath, congeal in the cool of night into tiny amorphous masses, like silk-light smoke-blue ambergris heavy with secrets 05. cracks in the battered earth gleam bone-golden, amber and opal, suffused with the light of titanic binding 06. what would happen if one consumed the merest morsel, the tiniest crumb of flesh?
… but suppose instead one wished to warn, or gain the aid of, or parley with …
01. the Sapphirine Concordat, of the sorcerer’s folly if nothing else 02. the seven prismatic cranes of sharp crystal plumage that fly on slow circuitous route around Ruthenen’s fallen lands since the Clash 03. Hess’skenieth The Sundered, most ancient of dragons, scaled in ochre and orchid, said to be older than the gods themselves 04. the Six Faiths Of The Turning Heavens, for surely those summer-robed dedicants have some concealed wisdoms 05. a slim, patient representative of the Pearl-Shadowed Hell, just waiting to be called upon and very interested 06. the road-worn mendicant knight, banner- and badgeless, who camps just beyond the fallen one’s influence and never seems to break vigil
Outside of the sometimes omnipresent street urchins (whether NPCs or player characters) and the occasional sprog in need of rescue, maybe a creepy zombie or glowing-eyed waif, there’s not always that much reference to children of any stripe in rpgs.
To be honest, I’m quite happy with that fact and maaaaybe there’s some selection bias going on because of that.
But hey, sometimes you need to at least acknowledge that youngsters exist, so here’s a few pre-adventuring professions, almost-organizations, unusual origins and similar such sundries that do exactly that acknowledging. Not for playing as children, but acknowledging nonetheless. Not just human youngsters either, because where’s the fun in that?
01. Spore Collector
You gather up the clinging dust from tiny mushrooms and towering ferns, distributing it to new growth-beds and nurturing it to life.
hard-sided, partitioned leather satchel; dozen or more stoppered bottles; dusting brush; wooden funnel
02. Keeper Of The Rolls
You took up the census for your community, recording births and milestones in life. Use your knowledge wisely, now.
ink-kit; bundle of quills or pens; illicit copy of the Rolls; personal genealogy project
03. Former Youth-Cursed
You were, for some reason — fae “gift”? cursed enchantment? an act of or descent from the divine? — a child for an unnaturally long time, perhaps decades or centuries. Now you’re finally aging. Now what?
several antiquated toys or games; clothing you’ve grown out of but are attached to; many helpful “aunts” and “uncles”
There’s midwives, and then there’s you. You’ll see a birth through to its conclusion safely, right enough, but they have to trust you, not the healer nor the gods.
protection-woad; wooden charms; white sheepskin; curved flint knife
05. Creche Singer
Raising children together builds bonds and keeps them safe in one place. You were dedicated to teaching the creche’s inhabitants, using catchy songs and memorable rhyming rhythms to impress wisdom on your young charges.
memory aids, drawn or written or patterned; musical instrument; small shoulderbag of odds and ends, carvings and props
06. Guardian of the Light
They came to you in the darkness, luminescent saviours. They promised you salvation and healed you. They pressed a gleaming precious thing into your hands. You must keep it safe until its gestation ends.
fur-lined carrying pouch or grass basket; dream-journal; smooth, glassy, luminous “egg” the size of two fists together
07. Devoted Shepherd
You spent most of your life protecting the lambs from the wolves. When the reavers came, you did the same for the village nearby. The children trusted you. You will value that always.
reinforced crook; heavy fur mantle; broad sickle or knife; wolfsteeth necklace; toy gifted from village child
Someone has to soothe the little ones who no longer see the light of day; that someone is you.
blessed milk, several children’s shawls, oil lamp, brazier, effigies of toys and treats
It’s a long cold trek, in the Brilliant Lands, from sunken sod hamlet to briar-walled village, from clusters of longhalls to lonely roundhouses; and the wind wails cold and icy through dark forest boughs, across frozen bogs, piling the snow and the spars of ice.
There’s strange and beguiling things to carry away from the Lands, mind, if one cared to dare the cold —
01. A slender bone phial of eternal snowflakes 02. The trimmed, smoke-like pelt of a ghost lion 03. Birch-staff, spiked and hooked, incised with spirals of dead-wardings 04. Blue-golden shard of frostflame, death to the frozen ones 05. Small pine box, polished with tallow, with a frozen dream inside 06. Blessed caribou sledge-blanket, meant to warm the life back into the lost 07. Pair of snowhounds, golden-eyed and white of fur, and their harnesses 08. A handful of winterdrake scales, blue and frosted and sharp as ice 09. Icerune etched into a pale birch pendant, glowing faintly blue 10. Swan-bone flute, to charm blizzards and snow-witches 11. Curved knife honed from a ghost lion’s great fang 12. Three wax-sealed polished horns filled with tingling ice-honey