Fólk Afsteinn (The People Of Stone)
These are a race of people capable of living in this environment not through physical adaption so much as through intelligent manipulation of their environment. I chose a blending of Dwarf and Halfling and called them Dwarvlings, because I wanted them to make a reasonable basis for PCs, but always thought that a blend of Stone Giant and Dwarf might have been a better choice id that was not a consideration.
The society was based on Vikings of the 12th century, with a couple of more modern refinements in technology. They have no written language and educate their young through epic sagas; Perform: ‘storytelling’ or other oratorical skills go over big. They are divided into clans (I used “Braveheart” for referance material and inspiration).
They have learnt the qualities of various local materials and employ them in various ways. For example, there is a cactus-like plant that grows here and there, especially in softsand rivers, which they cultivate. Not only does it provide water, but they can strip the skin and turn it into fabric and rope and so on. Dried cactus seed, thrown into one of the dust clouds, dies it a bright green for a time, until the cactus seeds are reawakened by the moisture trapped within the cloud. They use vast nets woven from cactus fibres in hunting as well as harpoons, javelins, etc. From a distance, these look like giant cacti, attracting the small flying mammals – and the things that feed on them!
The Fólk Afsteinn live off huge mushrooms grown in vast ‘underground’ chambours and hunt for fresh meat. They farm ‘cacti’ for water and resources, and typically will have a love of sailing and battle for their own sake. Dhargish is the local language, considered a derivation of Dwarvish.
The three most powerful clans are the Sverðkomeð, the Drukkinnölger ðaraður, and the Dreki Tönn. The title of a clan-chief is Höfðingi, and the clan chiefs of these three clans are Höfðingi Ðöff, Höfðingi Kðal, and Höfðingi Eirifkenn, respectively. The nominal ruler of all the clans has the title Konungur and is named Haffnipur. The Fólk Afsteinn rely on periodic clan wars, or Ættflokkur Stríð, to teach their children the Veguraf Líf, or Way Of Life – essentially, bravery, responsibility, etc etc. At this time, things are touchy, politically: Konungur Haffnipur’s eini sonur (only son) was killed in the last clan war, and as a result he has been using his military superiority – the only thing that makes him Konungur – to squelch imminant clan wars instead of letting his people settle their own disputes. It is said by some that he suffers from veikburðurmági (cowardice; literally, ‘weak stomach’) but the Konangur leads his men personally on these intercessions. As a result, disputes and complaints are not being aired, and tensions are building up.
The Sverðkomeð (Dwarvling clan)
These are unprincipled scoundrels who cannot be trusted. The plot against everyone and anyone just to keep in practice, and often one flokksklíka leiðtogi (faction leader) will be assigned to carry out a plot without being informed that another leiðtogi has been assigned to discover and prevent a plot against the target. The winner gets promoted, the loser gets demoted and often defenestrated into the Ocean Of Glass. But they control the Gold Mines in Eyja frá Gylltur Slípa (Island Of Golden Sands), one of the mesas. They are currently both ratting out those who are plotting against the Konangur, formenting conspiracies aimed at his overthrow, and getting rich trading with both sides.
The Drukkinnölger ðaraður (Dwarvling clan)
Warrior Jocks who will fight anyone for the sake of the fight, they are almost as unreliable as the Sverðkomeð. The first to start a fight, and the first to crumble at any sign of opposition. They have a love of high pomp and drama and will sacrifice anything to it, including their honor. They have taken advantage of the ban on clan wars to break treaties whenever it is to their own advantage, and are safe only so long as they can hide behind the Konungur’s skirts. So they do everything they can to support him. Usually.
The Dreki Tönn (Dwarvling clan)
Homy, folksy, down-to-earth, good neighbours. The Dreki Tönn are hunters, explorers, and seafarers, making them most likely to react warmly to Ókunnur Maður Handan Frá (Strangers from beyond) – ie the PCs. When the Konungur finds out about them (probably through a spy from the Sverðkomeð) he will become convinced that they are the outside agitators that the Sverðkomeð and Drukkinnölger clans blame for the opposition to his peace plans, making them criminals of the worst sort. This will precipitate the biggest clan-war ever seen, the equivalent of a civil war between all the clans – the Konunglegur Stríðsmaður (Royal Army) and two biggest individual clans against the Dreki Tönn and most of the minor clans, who will answer the call-to-arms of Höfðingi Eirifkenn.
Settlements of the Fólk Afsteinn
Many of the mesas are habitable. The Fólk Afsteinn live underground, so they don’t need a lot of real estate to hold a largish number of people. The Konungur and the The Dreki Tönn both live within the volcano, as do a couple of dozen smaller clans. The Royal City is located halfway up the peak; the Dreki Tonn and most lesser clans are settled around the foot of the volcano. This means that they have to sail along the lava rivers, locate a magmaspout (which don’t last forever, only an hour or so), and climb it in order to reach the ocean of glass. The King, on the other hand, can climb the volcanic eruption as a magmaspout, giving him a reliable headstart and strategic advantage; by fielding armed vessels, he can blockade the clans from each other.
Meeting the Fólk Afsteinn
PCs are most likely to be met by the Dreki Tönn, unless they hide from them. From there, they can get swept up in local politics, or they can duck out and explore on their own after a few days R&R – usually when word reaches the Dreki Tönn that the Konungur is on his way to imprison them, and the clans are about to come down with a bad case of civil war.
The Fólk Afsteinn have developed Snyrtilegurskips (ships) that sail across the Sjór Af Gler (Sea of glass) and can ride a magmaspout from one side of their ‘world’ to another. The sails are made of a thermally-conductive solid material like copper or brass, while the ships have hollow metal oars with wooden handles into which chilled liquids can be fed (using a mechanical expansion pump to produce the chilling effect). To climb a magmaspout, the ship must go with the spiralling clockwise flow, reversing course as you near its end to slow down. In order to heel the ship over onto its side and permit it to ascend the magmaspout, it must circle the base with the flow a couple of times to build up speed. As the ship speeds up and closes in on the base, it naturally starts to lean in toward the magmaspout; the goal is to have the top touch the spout at an angle of 30 to 60 degrees, no more and no less – 45 degrees is perfect. When this is achieved, the planes (what an outlander would call ‘sails’ – will grip, and suddenly the magmaspout will be overhead, and the ship will be looping around and around it while it is dragged to the other side of the Cavern. Of course, an angle of 45 degrees to the spout is needed when you touch down on the far side. Speed is essential; gravity is UP while the ship climbs the magmaspout, and the ship needs enough centrifugal force to hold the crew on the deck. To those unused to it, the ride can be dizzying.
The Villtur Hlið (“The Wild Side”)
Dwarvling general name for the side of the world that has the volcano and great chasm.
Logn Af Andlit (“The Calm Face”)
Dwarvling general name for the side of the world that has the Sea Of Glass.
The Flói Af Loft (The Great Chasm)
Roughly in the shape of a great “L”, there is evidence to suggest that this was once a lake of lava, but most of its contents have been drawn up into the volcano because of it’s internal temperatures, as characters can determine once they reach the chasm floor. From the edge, looking almost half a mile down, it can be seen that the floor of the chasm is ringed by twin currents of softsand, flowing around the central ‘island’. The currents enter from the volcano side of the chasm, halfway up the long side of the L, split and flow around both sides of the ‘island’, and vanish underground somewhere near the toe. Dust fills the atmosphere within. The size of the Flói Af Loft is staggering. 32 square miles of sandy expanse. 9.45 million square feet. You can hide a lot down there….
Barmur Af The Veröld (The Edge Of The World)
Dwarvling name for the upper lip of the Flói Af Loft. Looking across from Barmur Af The Veröld, the far side is almost lost in the distance, roughly 15,000 feet – over 2¾ miles (4½ km) away. Almost as hard to make out through the balls of drifting dust bobbing beneath the edge is the bottom, some 2,460 feet – 750m or half a mile – below. To the left, a great outflow of lava from the Volcano, almost a thousand feet wide, tumbles over the edge in a magnificent waterfall of liquid rock. Even at this distance, it is hot enough that those with good balance can feel it tugging at them. To either side, red-hot softsand flows over the edge like heavy smoke.
The continuous flow of air shows that the Great L-shaped gash is the source of the flensing winds that were so dangerous when the party first arrived on the ‘surface’. Air currents rush in from the tips of the L, heading for the lava flow; by the time they reach them, they have built up too much momentum to stop, and so they swirl around inside the rim of the Flói Af Loft, slowly growing faster and faster with each revolution, until they acquire too much force to be contained within; they then erupt into a tornado, gathering dust and sand, and dissapating into a terrible sandstorm as soon as the rim – and its’ trapped heat – are cleared.
The lava cools as it falls over the edge, becoming first ash and then specks of dust as the fine powder coalesces around the occasional minsicule ‘hot spot’. Scattered in its travels by the winds, it eventually drops as a perpetual rain apon the chasm floor, forming great dunes which visibly flow and migrate, ever so slowly, toward the outer edges, where they collect into the faster-moving rivers of softsand which ring the cavern floor.
The edges of the chasm wall make it clear that the strongest winds are to be found only in the upper third of the chasm, where daily sandblasting has eroded the walls to a smooth finish. It would be almost impossible to climb down were it not for differences in the resiliance of the different rocks which have carved out a number of spires and recesses. With luck, this will also help protect a party from the worst of the dust storms; something which would be further aided by choosing the low point in the wind cycle.
Beneath the area worn smooth by the winds is an area of relative calm, in which the chasm walls can be clearly seen. A number of small caverns are visible in the rock face. Surprisingly, although there is some thickening at the bottom of the strong-wind zone where the rock has not been eroded, the general slope of the walls in this area is still inward until roughly half-way down the cliffs. Only then do the walls begin to slope outwards. In cross section, ignoring the effects of the wind erosion, the chasm more closely resembles a huge cavern that has had the mountaintop sliced off to reveal the top of the cave.
The lower third of the Flói Af Loft is all about dust, ash, and sand , in choking quantities. The dunes are covered in a hazy layer of air that is thick with the stuff, and drifting – almost bouncing – in and out are a number of the dust balls which have been observed elsewhere. During the peak of the winds, any which float/bounce too high are instantly torn apart; but during the calm lull, they would appear capable of escaping the chasm and entering the atmospheric gap between the Wild Side and the Tamed Side.
Descending the Veggur Af Aðeilífu (The Walls Of Forever)
Anyone who looks up at any point gets a faceful of dust and sand.
Descent Stage 1: First 120′:
Climb DC 22. Failure leaves the character hanging, unable to proceed further until they sucessfully make their roll, and blocking anyone higher up. The surface is mostly smooth but not completely, and there are a number of hand and foot holds, leading into chimney-like slots eroded into the surface. The surface itself is extremely hot, causing 1d6 each 10′ (halved if wearing gloves). DC is reduced by 5 if a piton is hammered in every 4-5 feet or so, and reduced another 5 if rope is used. DC is +5 if CON is <5. Encounter check (refer Stage 3, below).
Descent Stage 2: 120′:
Climb DC 28, same adjustments & failure consequence as Stage 1. This is trickier. The chimneys have widened and opened out to the point that climbers cannot brace themselves against one while descending another, the rock is more slippery, and the winds are still strong enough to blow dust and sand into the eyes of everyone periodically even with as much protection as they can muster. Confidence is not eased when several of the pitons from the previous section work loose; the rock surface may be solid enough to stand up to sandblasting, but it is relatively easily shattered. DC is +5 if CON is <10 and +8 if CON is <5. 1d6 heat damage every 20′, halved if gloves are used. Encounter check (refer stage 3 below).
Descent Stage 3: 120′:
Climb DC 28. Failure as before. For every 5 failure margin, 1 piton works loose. Each piton can hold 50#; the number that can work loose without the whole lot tearing away and the party falling can be determined by totalling the weight of party members and equipment. Once into the underhang and past the region of strong winds, sand in the eyes is not so big a problem – but the whole weight of the party is now being suspended by pitons, with more working loose all the time. This causes the mutually-incompatable goals of trying to hurry while keeping movement to a minimum. The caves are larger than expected and are now about 120′ farther down, and pockmark the entire rim of the chasm. From one, a cascade of sand states quite emphatically that at least one softsand ‘river’ empties into the Chasm from here. DC is +3 if CON is <15, +8 if CON is <10, and +12 if CON is <5. 1d6 heat damage every 30′, halved if gloves are used.
Encounter checks: If the caves are investigated, an encounter automatically results with the cave’s inhabitants. Aava prefer to nest in the cliff walls on the side farthest from the volcano, so that they get more heat and light. Veiði Risastór occcupy the caves that receive less light. Every ’round’ of climbing, the referee should roll 1d20; if the result is less than or equal to the number of characters climbing, an encounter will result. In the upper 240′ (rolls 1 and 2), this is 75% likely to be the inhabitants of the face NOT being climbed and 25% likely to be the inhabitants of the face that the characters are attempting to descend/ascend. Roll#3 reverses this ratio; thereafter, the odds are 50-50.
There is a 50 percent chance that the attackers (if Veiði Risastór) will attack the rope, effectively adding their weight to that of the party, and potentially tearing a critical number of pitons loose. Note that the characters will find counterattacking, or defending, extremely tricky! Success should earn extra XP.
Descent Stage 4: 120′:
Climb DC 20. Failure as Stage 1. It’s starting to get easier, the occasional razor-sharp protrusion of rock offers a cautious handhold. Treat as a character with BAB +3 attacking with a dagger. A character wearing Chain Mail and leather gloves is considered to be wearing leather armour for the purposes of this check. Each point of damage inflicted adds +1 to the DC of all future climb checks if not healed. Beneath the climbers, the chasm walls stop being cliffs and start becoming jagged rocks that look distinctly dangerous to fall onto. DC is +2 if CON <20, +5 if CON is <15, +10 if CON is <10, and +15 if CON is <5. 1d6 heat damage every 30′, halved if gloves are used. DC is reduced by 5 if the characters rested in a cavern, having emptied it of prior occupants, and by another 5 if new anchor-points were made at a cave lip.
Descent Stage 5: 120′:
The next stretch is relatively easy (Climb DC18, -5 pitons, -5 rope), but exhaustion is now reaching dangerous proportions, and eagerness to complete the climb might lead to hasty actions. Failure = character loses grip and falls. DC is +2 if CON <25, +5 if CON is <20, +10 if CON is <15, +15 if CON <10, and +25 if CON is <5. DC is reduced by 5 if the characters rested in a cavern, and by another 5 if new anchor-points were made at a cave lip. Razor-sharp protrusions are more numerous and more damaging. Treat as a character with BAB +8/+3 attacking with a shortsword. Each point of damage adds +1 to the DC of climb checks. Each point of failure on a climb check now inflicts 1 point of damage to the character, which will also add to the DC of all subsequent climb checks if not healed.
It’s almost at the point where the rope is unneccessary. The behaviour of the ‘dust balls’ that litter the cavern floor appears increasingly strange as characters approach. Some of them seem attracted to their body temperature, and begin slowly drifting in their direction while continuing to cavort above the sand dunes. A spot check will show that they appear to be the same as the dust balls that occupy the middle atmosphere between this surface and the sea of glass overhead. However, they are considerably more active and turbulant at the bottom of the cavern floor. A second round of close observation will show that they are electrically charged; dust particles rubbing against each other in the swirling winds seem to be generating static electicity.
Descent Stage 6: 120′:
Climb DC 22 (-5 pitons, -5 rope): Reduced visibility is soon making progress more difficuilt once again, and exhaustion is now becoming critical. DC is +5 if CON <25, +10 if CON is <20, +15 if CON is <15, +20 if CON <10, and +25 if CON is <5. DC is reduced by 3 if the characters rested in a cavern, and by another 5 if new anchor-points were made at a cave lip. Failure = character falls (but note that they will fall at 1/4 the accelleration they would expect, as explained later).
As characters pass through the broiling dust clouds – or as they surrounded the characters temporarily, depending on how you want to look at it – their hair breifly stands on end and they experience a mild electrical shock (1d3 damage), and retroactively adds 2 per point of electrical damage to the DC of the previous climb check – a marginal success may suddenly become a failure. This will come as a surprise if the characters did not pause earlier.
The temperature has dropped noticably as the characters have descended the last 150′, and this may be contributing to the effect, as most materials conduct much more efficiently when cold than when hot. The surface of the Flói Af Loft seems to be the coldest location within this pocket reality, and therefore the location with the least gravity and best conditions for electrical displays. This is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the dust balls behaviour. The temperature at the start of this 120′ passage is perhaps 27°C (low 80s °F), and will drop another 5-10 degrees C by the time the bottom is reached.
The lighting conditions worse than would have been expected; the source of most of the light in this pocket reality is the Great Volcano, reflecting off the Ocean Of Glass. The dust is obscuring far more of this than anticipated; conditions will be that of twilight when the bottom is achieved.
Any smart characters in the party may cautions them against lighting lanterns and torches; they have been told that dust clouds can sometimes explode if there is a spark or flame nearby, and they are contributing more than enough sparks to make everyonel feel uncomfortable enough without deliberately provoking the situation.
As this section of the climb is completed, have all characters present make a Spot Check against DC 35. Insist on witnessing the rolls. DON’T announce the DC, it will only start an arguement. If no-one succeeds, let them check again in 5 minutes, game time, at DC 30. Then 25, 20, and so on. When a character eventually succeeds, inform them of the following: “Coalescence is when two things become one. You would have sworn that you just saw two of the dust cloads coalesce – except that the small of the two passed completely through the larger, emerging (so far as you can tell) completely unchanged. That means that at least one of the two had to be travelling against the wind. What you think that means is up to you; perhaps it’s no more mysterious than static electricity and opposites attracting. However, it seems clear that there isn’t enough temperature within the clouds to make enough gravity to hold them together. This observed behaviour means that the second-best theory – electrical attraction – also falls apart. So what does that leave?”
Descent Stage 7: The last 30′:
In many ways, this is harder than any of the previous stages. It’s darker, it’s cold enough to make fingers numb, and climbers experience frequent shocks from the dust clouds which make muscles – and grips – twitch. On top of that, it’s cold enough for there to be some condensation – actual liquid water – on the characters and on the rope, which makes everything more slippery. DC 25 (-5 pitons, -2 rope). DC is +8 if CON <25, +12 if CON is <20, +20 if CON is <15, +25 if CON <10, and +30 if CON is <5. DC is reduced by 3 if the characters rested in a cavern, and by another 5 if new anchor-points were made at a cave lip. Failure = character falls (but note that they will accellerate at 1/4 the rate they would normally expect, as explained in part 3).