The Chaosium Digest

The Chaosium Digest supports the role-playing games produced by Chaosium Inc. and all content is fan submitted. Begun in 1994 by Shannon Appelcline who passed it to myself in 2000 and previously distributed via email, this is the newest incarnation of the Chaosium Digest. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Chaosium Digest Classics: The Trail of Ysgar

by Frank Sronce
Originally presented in Chaosium Digest v29.11 on Friday, December 31, 1999

[Editor's Note: Thanks to our anonymous commenter for finding the author of this article.]

This adventure assumes that the PCs are waking world investigators, preferably ones who have at least a passing acquaintance with the nature of earth's Dreamlands. It is designed so that it could be inserted into an existing Dreamlands adventure without much modification. The basic idea is that the PCs need magical aid from a Dreamlands wizard, and the difficulties involved in getting it. The Chaosium Dreamlands supplement is probably necessary, although a creative Keeper could do without it.

The investigators are contacted by a relative of Simon Brown, a part-time occultist with whom they have occasionally corresponded. Simon's personality has undergone a dreadful change, and Simon's brother hopes that the investigators may be able to shed some light on his condition.

Simon is a public accountant by day, whose only notable oddity has been his collection of antiques and occult materials. He is not a particularly respected figure in the field of occultism, being more of a dabbler and private enthusiast than an expert on the subject. PCs who have talked with him before will remember him as a well-dressed but somewhat awkward man, highly intelligent, but not particularly sure of himself.

Outwardly, Simon still appears to be the same, albeit a little more ragged. Conversation will soon reveal the cause of his family's concern. Simon seems more like a soulless husk than a full human being. His emotions are drained, his manner sullen and he seems almost lobotomized. He may stare into space past an investigator's shoulder, or suddenly drop a thread of conversation in midsentence and refuse to resume it.

A talk with Simon's doctor will reveal little. The patient is sullen, irritable and has trouble sleeping. He regularly loses patience with his therapy and refuses to cooperate. In particular, he became violently upset when questioned about his dreams, maintaining that he never has any. The doctor is theorizing that Simon may have had some sort of minor stroke, but as yet has been unable to detect any signs of it.

The PCs can get access to Simon's collection without much difficulty. Simon dislikes the very subject of his collection and talks about wanting to have all of it thrown out. This upsets his family even more, because Simon's collection has been his pride and joy for many years.

Simon's collection of antiques is full of bric-a-brac and oddities. Ornate lamps, old books, a bizarre musicbox that has little dancing satyrs that move up and downwhile it plays. If the Keeper desires, he can insert additional objects or texts useful to the investigators here. Simon also kept a journal, which the investigators will doubtless peruse. The journal contains innumerable notes about the antiquity and origins of his various pieces, but it is the last few entries that are most useful. Simon wrote enthusiastically about the wondrous effects of a particular quartz crystal on his dreams at night, and considered it his favorite piece. The crystal itself he keeps in a small, ornate box with velvet lining.

The crystal is just a large shard of quartz, about the size of a man's hand. It appears to have been broken off of a larger piece, but is otherwise unremarkable. Any scientific tests performed upon it will yield nothing out of the ordinary. It is just a hunk of quartz.

A successful Library Use roll will piece together the fact that Simon would simply sit and stare at the crystal for 20-30 minutes before going to bed. He would apparently then have the most remarkable dreams that night, although his journal never goes into particularly great detail. If no one succeeds in the roll, they will still know that the crystal was used to enhance his dreams in some fashion, but will be unclear exactly how it did so. Simon's journal never quite spells it out simply because the process is so simple he never needed to write it down. Some experimentation may be necessary for the investigators to figure it out, but it probably won't take them very long.

Investigators familiar with the Dreamlands may recognize a few of the names he mentions in his journal as cities of the Dreamlands, the most recognizable one being Celephais. Many of the others are unrecognizable, probably being the names of small towns and specific people.

If the PCs are at all familiar with the nature of the Dreamlands, they should be able to piece together that something has happened to Simon's dream-self. The dream-Simon hasn't merely died. That wouldn't normally bring about such drastic changes to his personality. Simon's dream-self is somehow trapped and can't return, even though his waking world form has regained consciousness.

Hopefully, the investigators will resolve to try and use the crystal. Attempting to find Simon's dream-self without it will be very difficult, as they have no obvious leads. If they do try the hard route, they can start going through the names mentioned in his journal and travelling to all of those places. In this manner they can doubtless eventually find their way to Rinar, but using the crystal would be much, much, easier. Note that even if the investigators don't figure out Simon's notes, anyone who spends a good period of time studying the crystal will probably trigger its properties by accident.

Basically, anyone who focuses on the crystal shard for any real length of time will find their dream-selves drawn into the Dreamlands when next they sleep, always appearing in the same place in the hills northeast of Rinar.

The dreamer(s) will always appear in the same spot: next to a great, man-sized outcropping of pink quartz crystal jutting out of a rocky hill. Any close examination will spot a jagged area where a chunk of the crystal has been broken off. It exactly matches the shape of Simon's crystal chunk.

The only effect that the crystal has on the dreaming rules is that investigators who use it can enter the Dreamlands automatically, but that they will always arrive in the same spot. Investigators who try can force themselves to return to the waking world by concentrating on the empty spot where the crystal shard originally joined with the outcropping. An Idea roll, as usual, is required to retain anything more than vague memories of their time in the Dreamlands. The investigators will arrive wearing Dreamlands equivalents of their normal gear. Guns will be translated to swords, and most smaller weapons to knives. Whatever money they would normally carry will take the form of small silver and copper coins.

Once the nature of the crystal shard is established, hopefully the investigators will dream themselves to Rinar en-masse and investigate further. Rinar doesn't receive much attention in the Dreamlands book: the extent of its description is "Rinar's walls and buildings are made of large blocks of yellow moss-agate inlaid with copper. This is yet another seaport with frequent communication with Celephais." The 4th edition rulebook adds "Rinar is particularly notable for its merchant quarter, and for its temple of the Great Ones, which looms over the processional boulevarde." Just about any other small dreamlands community could be substituted if the Keeper desires.

Rinar is a bustling place, and the investigators are clearly foreigners (although few folk will even grasp the idea that the investigators are from another world). Queries about Simon are almost certainly doomed to failure, as he did not use that name here. If an investigator is skilled enough to draw Simon's face, or if they question people extensively about the quartz outcropping outside of town, they may find a few people who vaguely remember a smiling fellow who used to enter and leave town in that direction, but he hasn't been seen for many months. If they ask about his name, different people remember different names, or can't quite remember ever hearing his name at all.

The priests of the temple of the Great Ones are serene, kindly men who are relatively well educated. They know of the Waking World, and will probably recognize the investigators as such unless they take pains to hide their nature. The priests know nothing of Simon, nor of anything in the area that might be able to trap a man's soul, but they are willing to pray for the investigators' good fortune. Attempts to get them to make contact with the Gods of Earth on the investigators' behalf will be treated with contempt.

If the PCs make a good impression on any of the locals, perhaps impressing a priest by making a contribution to the temple, they will suggest that the investigators speak with the wizard Hawklin, who maintains an isolated home to the south of the city. He is said to be very powerful, and very skilled at divination.

Hawklin lives alone in an isolated, vine-covered, two-story house surrounded by a high bronze fence. The gate has a bell attached to it, and a path leads from the gate up to the house proper. The fence and the house itself are covered with a clinging vine of some strange variety. It has white flowers and small thorns. A successful Spot Hidden roll may notice tendrils of the vine moving on their own, or the skeletal remains of several small animals caught in the vines. The vines quite noticeably do not touch any part ofthe gate or the door of the house.

Anyone who foolishly attempts to climb the fence or scale the side of the house will trigger the vines to attack. They constrict with a Strength of 12, and inflict 1d3 damage per round. Dodging this attack normally means leaping away from the vines. It would be nearly impossible to avoid being entangled by them while climbing the fence or house (a DEXx1 check is necessary, otherwise the investigator is constricted). The vines obey Hawklin's verbal commands. Currently, they are set as a guard against intruders, and will kill anyone they catch unless Hawklin orders them to release their captive.

Hawklin is a powerful mage with dark hair and beard and gray eyes. He claims to hail from the ancient kingdom of Lomar, although he dislikes discussing his past or why he now lives in a land so distant from his original home. He appears to be about fifty years old.

Hawklin of Lomar, Ancient Wizard
STR 11, CON 12, SIZ 12, INT 16, DEX 14, APP 11, EDU 15, POW 24, MP 40, SAN 45, HP 12

Important Skills: Cthulhu Mythos 45%, Dodge 35%, R/W Serpent Tongue 35%, Alchemy 45%, Dreamlore 75%, Occult 85%

Spells Known (spells with asterisks are described later): Deflection, Emerald Darts of Ptath, Summon/Bind Shade, Summon/Bind Byakhee, Lavender Spheres of Ptath, Crystomancy*, Woeful Itch, Soul Stealer, Malign Growth*, Spiritual Well*, Opaque Wall, Seraph's Glory, Gate, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Devolution*, Lesser Ward*, Lassitude of Phein, and Voorish Sign.

When the investigators first speak with Hawklin, he will be brusque and unhelpful. He is in the middle of an experiment and he cannot waste time with their request. He maintains that his magic can EASILY locate this missing 'friend' but that he is simply too busy at the moment and advises them to return in a few months.

Hawklin will produce various excuses why he cannot help them, and unless one of the investigators reveals themselves as either a wizard or a traveler from the Waking World, Hawklin will refuse to aid them. Hopefully the investigators will be able to get across to Hawklin that they are not locals, and that they are skilled at ferreting out information. If Hawklin has any reason to believe that they can be of any aid to him, he will ask them inside for a private discussion.

After extracting a few promises not to reveal this information to the locals, Hawklin will explain that he uses Crystomancy for his divinations, a method he considers superior to all other forms of divination in every way save one: it requires a specially enchanted crystal to scry with, and Hawklin's has been stolen. Without it, he cannot find Simon or anything else for that matter. While his magic is quite powerful, his divinatory abilities are the primary source of his income. Hawklin is in quite a stew. His pride forbids him to admit to the theft for fear of damaging his reputation. He doesn't know how the crystal was stolen. The thief somehow not only passed through his magical vines unharmed, he somehow bypassed the ward on the door to the room where Hawklin kept the crystal. If the investigators can find the perpetrator and return the crystal to him, he will gladly turn all of his powers to locating their missing friend. He is clearly furious and frustrated at the theft and his inability to resolve it himself.

Wise investigators will doubtless want to examine the evidence for themselves. Hawklin will show them around. There are small marks on a window sill where someone climbed in, and the vines on that part of the house are oddly damaged. Their roots have been pulled free of the house in places, as though someone climbed them without triggering an attack.

The door to Hawklin's scrying room can only be opened by him. Anyone else will trigger a nasty ward that shocks them for 1d3 damage and magically holds the door shut with a STR of 24. There are no signs of forced entry, and in any case Hawklin maintains that successfully forcing the warded door open would dispel the ward and it is still intact. Hawklin describes the crystal as a translucent yellow-orange ovoid crystal about the size of a man's head. It is clearly unrelated to the shard of quartz the investigators found in Simon's collection, although somei nvestigators may jump to a different conclusion.

Along with the crystal, the thief took several minor arcane symbols cast in gold and a bowl filled with silver and gold coins, some of which were quite ancient. If asked for a description, Hawklin will state that most of the currency was local, but that several of the gold coins were from the far West and had an ornate dragon design on both sides ofthe coin.

The investigator's best bet is to check out the merchants in Rinar. Eventually, they should reach Hiram the Moneylender, who will recognize the description of the dragon coins. So long as no impropriety on his part is insinuated, Hiram (a rotund, friendly fellow) will be quite helpful. He does know of a young widow who recently bought her family out of debt with some old coins, some of which had dragons on them. He can direct the investigators to Janeta's house.

Janeta and her teenage son, Yslin, live alone in a somewhat ramshackle home on the outskirts of Rinar. Janeta is a blonde woman in her late thirties, who until recently earned a living as a maid for an upper-class merchant family. She is polite, happy, and more than a little vapid. If pressed about her newfound wealth, she will stammer some explanations about inheriting it from a recently deceased uncle, and will be reluctant to discuss it any further, taking any opportunity to change the subject.

If asked about Simon, she will remember him as Ysgar, a charming traveler who roomed with them for a time and was practically a surrogate father to her son Yslin. Her description of Ysgar will physically match Simon perfectly, but her description of his manner will be totally different. Where Simon was a staid family man, Ysgar was a swashbuckling rogue, given to wanderlust and fanciful stories.

Janeta's son, Yslin, is a sullen and suspicious type who will be uncommunicative if the investigators take the wrong tack with him. He can be drawn out, though, by discussing distant lands and fantastic adventures. He remembers Ysgar quite fondly, and says that the man taught him a number of things, like how to climb trees and how to read and write. Ysgar was always in and out of town in a hurry, never staying for more than a couple of months, but Yslin still treasures the memories of their time together. He has not seen Ysgar for more than a year, though, and has given up hope that Ysgar will ever return.

Daring investigators who manage to snoop through Yslin's room may discover a hidden box containing Hawklin's crystal and one of the golden icons he lost, but neither Janeta nor Yslin would ever voluntarily let the investigators search the house.

YSLIN, young thief-mage
STR 10, CON 13, SIZ 9, INT 15, DEX 17, APP 13, EDU 6POW 10, MP 10, SAN 65, HP 11

Important Skills: Dodge 55%, Climb 85%, Sneak 85%, Spot Hidden 75%, Pick Locks 40%, Jump 60%, Read/Write 45%

Spells Known: Ysgar's Suppression*, Eyes of the Cat*

Obviously the investigators must return Hawklin's crystal to him in order to progress any further. There are several ways in which this can be accomplished. They could steal it back from Yslin, blackmail Janeta into turning it over, or simply tell Hawklin who took it and let Hawklin handle it himself.

If the investigators return with the crystal, the first thing that Hawklin will want to do is to scry the whereabouts of the thief so that he can properly mete out his vengeance. As soon as he knows that Yslin is responsible, he will rush out of his house, heading straight to Janeta's home. Unless the investigators interfere, he will render Janeta unconscious with Lassitude of Phein, then cast Soul Stealer on Yslin, trapping his consciousness in a tiny sphere.

Hawklin will ask the investigators to bring Yslin's body back to his house for safe keeping. He will speak to the sphere containing Yslin's mind, taunting him and furiously demanding to know how the thief bypassed his defenses. If the investigators ask, Hawklin will let them speak with the boy's soul as well, which only requires the investigator to hold the sphere and concentrate.

Yslin's mind is terrified, tearful, and apologetic, but Hawklin just is more interested in ranting at him than actually questioning him. If the investigators speak with him, he will gladly confess everything. Ysgar was more than just a wanderer. He was a skilled and daring thief, who used potent magic to aid his thefts. He not only taught Yslin to climb and sneak about, he also taught him a few spells he had found useful. Yslin used Ysgar's Suppression* to bypass Hawklin's defenses, but he claims he only did it to get his mother out of debt. He doesn't know where Ysgar is now, but knows that Ysgar had grown bored with the Dreamlands and had left seeking a new realm to explore.

Once Hawklin has a bit of time to think, he will announce his solution for the problem. He will use the Devolution spell to turn Yslin into a bestial, mindless guardian under his control and set the boy to defend his house against any future thieves. If the investigators do nothing to interfere, he will do just that.

Once the issue of Yslin is settled, Hawklin will gladly use his crystal to scry for Ysgar. He will determine that Ysgar has left these lands of Dream and entered a deeper realm where the goblin spirits live. In return for their aid (or all of their money if their aid was lacking), Hawklin can open a 1 POW gate between this realm and that one, letting the investigators continue their search for Ysgar.

If nothing is done to prevent Yslin from becoming Hawklin's guard dog, investigators will lose 1d6 Sanity apiece for seeing what becomes of the boy, not to mention the tearful protests of his mother. The local courts will frown on Hawklin's actions if they learn of them, but they will not be willing to do much to dissuade him. Theft is a serious crime, and thieves have been hung here before. The boy was clearly guilty and Hawklin has a fearsome reputation (moreso once word of the boy's fate gets out), so persuading the locals to do more would be quite difficult.

A much nicer solution is to suggest to Hawklin that he make the boy into his apprentice and have him work off his debt. Yslin already knows some spells, and Hawklin could even learn those spells from him. He has already shown himself to be skillful and clever, for how else could he have managed to steal from the mighty Hawklin? With skillful flattery and appeals to his greed for new spells, Hawklin can be persuaded to spare Yslin. If Yslin is spared, investigators will receive 1d6 Sanity apiece for resolving the issue without additional suffering. Other solutions may merit different Sanity awards. The Keeper should determine those himself, using these as guidelines.

This adventure was originally used in my Dreamlands campaign as a prequel to a quest into the Goblin Realms to rescue Ysgar. It has been modified to use Waking World investigators. While the adventure assumes that the investigators are trying to find Ysgar, the only real requirement is that they end up needing Hawklin's aid.

Instead of needing his divinatory skills, they might need Hawklin to teach them a spell, or give them some magical artifact they need. If they are already travelling in the Dreamlands for reasons of their own, Hawklin might even hire them to help him, fearing that if he employed any locals to do so his reputation would suffer.

There isn't much danger for the investigators in this adventure, but there are lots of opportunities for them to use social and detective skills, and a nice little moral quandary for them to resolve once Hawklin finds out who stole his crystal.

It's also an excellent opportunity for the Keeper to introduce new spells to the investigators, as well as giving them a magical ally to consult when necessary. While most of Hawklin's spells will not work in the Waking World, some of them (such as Dread Curse of Azathoth) will work almost anywhere.

What follows are some new spells important in this adventure. Few if any of them are likely to work in theWaking World unless the Keeper wants to increase the magical abilities of the investigators.

Crystomancy (8 mp, 1 san, 10 minutes)
This spell requires an enchanted crystal with at least 1 POW sacrificed in its creation. A separate spell (Enchant Crystomancy Crystal) is required to create it. Whenever this spell is used, a hazy image will appear in the depths of the crystal, visible only to the caster. A POW roll is required to determine how clear and understandable the image is. The base chance of success is POWx1. Every additional POW invested in the crystal after the first will add +5%. Results above POWx1 are increasingly vague and blurry, and above POWx3 they are completely useless. Crystomancy may show a dim or blurry image, but never lies unless other magic is involved. Crystomancy is the best at showing things in the present, and can scry the past and the future only poorly.

[Basically, this is a fortune teller's crystal ball, and only works in the Dreamlands. The user asks the crystal to show them something, and it tries to comply. A botched POW roll (96+) can cost the caster an additional 1d6 San, or worse, may attract the attention of some potent entity, so the spell should not be used too casually. Trying to scrythe actions of an Outer God, for example, would likely be suicidal and can be assumed to botch automatically.

Hawklin's crystal has a total of 5 POW invested in it, granting +20% to scrying checks, so Hawklin receives a clear image on a roll of 44 or less, and a vague image with a roll of up to 92. This makes it an extremely valuable artifact, albeit only in the Dreamlands.]

Devolution (24 mp, 1d10 san, 2 rounds)
If the target of this spell fails a POW vs. POW contest,they begin to devolve into a brutish, animal-like thing. This process takes 1d6 rounds. Once transformed completely, the target becomes almost mindless, and very violent, attacking anything within reach. A victim of this spell will be afraid of only one thing: the caster. Anything else, even old friends or lovers, will be attacked with murderous intent. This CAN be dispelled with appropriate magics, causing the subject to slowly return to normal. The longer they have been transformed, the longer the change takes to reverse itself ranging from 1d6 rounds to 1d6 weeks for someone who has been transformed for years.

[The target's STR is doubled, while their INT and EDU become 1, their APP zero, and their DEX 1/2 normal. The spell is permanent until dispelled. Seeing the bestial form costs 0/1d3 San, or 0/1d6 San if the investigator knew the victim. This spell is a modified version of one given in the Dreamlands adventure Pickman's Student, found in some editions of the Dreamlands guide.]

Eyes of the Cat (2 MP, 0 San, 3 rounds)
This spell enables the caster to see in darkness as well as a cat. For the duration of the spell, his eyes will reflect light like those of a cat. The spell lasts 1 hour.

Lesser Ward (8 MP per Ward, 1d3 San, 1 hour)
This spell lets the caster trace an invisible rune over an inanimate object such as a door or chest. Anyone besides the caster trying to handle it will receive a nasty electric shock inflicting 1d3 damage. It will also hold the object in place with a strength equal to the caster's POW. If the ward is successfully forced, it will be dispelled.

Malign Growth (12 MP and 1 San per day for 7 days)
This spell requires the caster to plant the seeds of the rare Lomarian snow vine over an area. Over the course of the week, the vines will grow into a living guardian of the area, and will obey the caster's commands. They cannot unroot themselves, but will capture and/or strangle intruders according to their master's orders. It can take upto a year for the vines to reach full size.

Spiritual Well (1+ POW, 1d2 San, 1 hour)
This spell enables the caster to store additional MP in another dimension. Every POW invested in a Spiritual Well allows the caster to store an additional 1d3 MP in their Spiritual Well. These magic points can be used at will. Basically the spell grants the caster additional MP above and beyond their natural POW rating. It is commonly used by mages to increase their spell-casting powers.

[It is dangerous to use this spell too much. If the MP limit of a person's Well should ever exceed their natural POW, they run the risk that their soul will rupture, costing them 1d3 POW, 2d6 points from the Spiritual Well, and as much San as the two losses added together. The base chance of a rupture is equal to 5% per point that their Well exceeds their POW. If a single rupture does not eliminate the problem, their soul may rupture again... It is up to the Keeper to decide whether or not these additional MP are available to the investigator in the Waking World or only in the Dreamlands.]

Ysgar's Suppression (1 POW, 1d6 san, 1 minute)
This spell temporarily suppresses ongoing magic in the area around the caster without dispelling it. Spells around the caster will slowly weaken and cease to function, returning to full strength when the spell expires. Ysgar's Suppression lasts for as many minutes as the caster's POW. Its effects are not rapid. It can take a full minute or more before a spell near the caster is completely suppressed.

Spells created by extremely powerful beings (such as Outer Gods) will likely be completely unaffected by this spell. Cast upon a bound creature, this spell can temporarily free them from the binding, giving them a few minutes to do as they will.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to issue 29 v 07, the author of this adventure is

Frank Sronce

9:24 AM  

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