Thursday, November 4, 2010

Places under the Dying Sun: The Sea of Bones

The Sea of Bones (10 XP)
Beyond the Tharian Hills, far to the west of mighty Hajal, lies the much-storied Sea of Bones.  Uncounted years ago, before the birth of the grandfathers of the eldest, the mighty Grand Dukes of the East, whose wealth and power exceeded the dreams of the grandest dreamer, met the heretofore unstoppable Kerchak Horde, whose fury and lust for destruction exceeded the nightmares of the most timid, upon a grassy plain whose original name has been lost to time.  The Horde of the Supreme Khan was so vast that the thunder of their hooves could be heard in the Hegemony of Ashok,beyond the Valley of Mariners, and the people marveled at the ceaseless thunder without a storm.  The united armies of the Grand Dukes were so large that the feet of the marching men carved a great rift in the earth, which is still visible in the Aeon of the Dying Sun. And when the two sides finally met in clash of arms, the force of their violence was such that the entire earth could feel the ground shake so that all feared the end of this world had come at last.

Some say that the vast hosts fought together for a year and a day without end, with some going so far as to say that the Sun took fright and refused to leave the Underworld so that no man could truly say how long the battle lasted without means of reckoning the passage of time; others, such as the anonymous scribe of the Faresian Chronicles, assert that the destructive power of each side was so tremendous that the great battle took but the span of a man’s breath.  Whatever the case, all agree that every man there was killed and no living thing remained on the plains of forgotten name. That once-grassy plain was turned, in a year or an instant, into a vast sea of death, shadowed for miles around by the flight of carrion-beasts, which blotted out even the fiery Noon-time sun.

Yet the sloth and avarice of Men knows no bounds and soon human ravens descended upon that place to loot the bodies of the fallen.  And there was much to be scavenged, for the armies of the Grand Dukes were arrayed with such finery as none now living have ever seen and the Kerchak Horde had spent the previous decade plundering the uncounted wealth of the Far Lands.  But no matter what treasure was prised from the dead hands of the fallen soldiers, no scavenger was ever satisfied for each hoped to find the bodies of the Grand Dukes of the East, to whom mere wealth was the slightest possession.  It is said that one of the Grand Dukes rode a magnificent steed made all of gold to the final battle; another wielded a mace whose head was a perfect diamond of a size exceeding a man’s face and of a colour which no longer exists; a third Grand Duke is rumoured to have brought a personal bodyguard carved out of green jade who could not be slain by ordinary means; while a fourth wore an impenetrable suit of mail made of stars that had been forged in the heart of the sun.  Many stories there were and are of the surpassing splendour of the Grand Dukes of the East and many longed to find and loot their corpses with a passion that overwhelmed all other considerations. Yet there are no tales of even one of the Grand Dukes ever being found.

Today, the Sea of Bones is vast wasteland, so filled with the ancient remains of the great battle that the earth beneath is entirely obscured. For all practical purposes, the ground of the Sea is bone, human and animal.  Virtually every other substance has either rotted away over the centuries or been looted, yet the faint odour of decay somehow remains.  There is no vegetation and, since the carrion disappeared, no natural animal life either.  The only exception are the Scavenger Clans.

Travel upon or through the Sea of Bones is thus an unpleasant, eerie experience.  Animals that are not familiar with the area become very tense and can act in unpredictable ways; some people behave likewise.  Although there are areas at the periphery where the bone has become ground down, from the passage of feet, into a fine powder, in most places traversing the Sea of Bones means picking a way through a thick layer of remains, some of which are heaped together in piles exceeding a man's height.  Travel times are multiplied three-fold in this place and dangerous, even fatal, falls are not uncommon.

And yet there are some few merchants, crazy or desperate, who travel to the Sea of Bones, to trade with the Scavenger Clans.  The Scavengers are an unpleasant lot, largely composed of the descendants of those who came centuries ago to loot, supplemented by the occasional desperate misfit with nowhere else to go. Mutant and barbarian, the Scavengers are ignorant, malnourished, greedy, territorial, suspicious, unpredictable, and extremely in-bred.  Congenital diseases of various unpleasant sorts of common.  Most know of no other life beyond the Sea, being the off-spring of those consumed by lust for the treasures of the dead and learning such lust themselves to the exclusion of all else.  Without any natural resources, however, the Scavengers would all die, but for those merchants who are willing to venture into this place, bringing food, water, and other goods in exchange for the ancient loot still torn up by the residents.   The Scavengers have very little sense of the value of their items, since they have no frame of reference anymore; they regard everything as “treasure”.  Some few merchants have made their fortunes and retired as a result of a single, fortuitous exchange in the Sea of Bone; many others have met their deaths due to some unprovoked outburst of violence.

But there are worse fates than simply dying.  A number of travelers and traders have reported uncanny, manlike forms moving through the bones at night, with only the gleam of their red eyes to see them.  Unearthly keening noises have also been noted.  And bones have been noticed which are both fresh and gnawed upon, although there is no animal life. Some have suggested than at least some of the Scavenger Clans have turned to cannibalism and degenerate ghouls are the result. They say that the more human Scavengers trade only to lure fresh meat into the Sea of Bones.

All animals not bred in the Bone Lands become extremely skittish there. Any attempt to make animals perform even the most routine actions requires a Reaction Roll.  Any action which would normally require such a roll, suffers a -2 penalty.  Similarly, most NPC's need to make  Morale Roll upon entering the Sea of Bones and every day thereafter, rolling at a -2 when confronted by violence.

The Sea of Bones can serve as the reputed resting place of any fabulous artifact the GM needs. The Grand Dukes possessed anything and everything desirable, according to the legend, so if it’s something that a PC or NPC might want, it might be there somewhere (or again, it might not).  It can also serve as a destination for trade, if the PC’s find themselves desperate for cash and fall into the job of guarding a merchant train.  The tensions inherent in the bottom-feeding traders ultimately seeking the same things as the crazed, starving Scavengers can easily lead to violence.