Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Land That Lendor Forgot

Going through the encounter tables in the Glossography of the first boxed World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting is a trove of inspiration and information, and I highly recommend it to any who wish to plumb the depths of E. Gary Gygax's masterpiece.

The legacy within fantasy literature to place cultures which are separated not only by thousands of miles, but also thousands of years, in proximity to one another in a fantasy world is an old one. Few did it as artfully as did Robert E. Howard in his masterful Conan stories, where we see the medieval French empire of Aquilonia not far removed from the Pharonic Egyptian culture of Stygia. There are quite a few instances of such juxtapositioning within the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting as well; the Swiss-Confederation-Like Perrenland across a slip of water from what is essentially an Asiatic (or perhaps North American) nomadic nation, to take but one example. But what interests me here specifically is quite another juxtaposition indeed.

I speak specifically of cavemen.

Cavemen in the World of Greyhawk? Surely I'm speaking of something from the excellent module "Isle of the Ape."

Not hardly.

Gambol with me through said encounter tables and you will find the following fascinating tidbits in relation to their prehistoric members. Cavemen may be found in the mountainous portions of the Valley of the Mage, the Barrier Peaks (which surrounds the Valley of the Mage), the Crystalmists, the Jotens, Hellfurnaces, the Clatspurs and Yatils; 2-3% of the total encounters therein, as a matter of fact! And we are told that a full 20% of encounters in the Sulhaut mountains, which divide the Dry Steppes from the Sea of Dust, are to use the Pleistocene encounter tables in the DMG (which, I might add, include cavemen).

What the heck are we to make of that???

We know from history that the lands of the Sea of Dust were formerly the Suel Imperium, one of the most advanced cultures on Oerth more than a thousand years ago during the Baklunish-Suloise Wars. Ditto the Baklunish realms, which stretched at least from the Dry Steppes to Ekbir and Tusmit. I find it no coincidence that the easternmost border of the warring realms is coincident with the stated range of the caveman population of the Flanaess. I see two possibilities:
1. They are an indigenous population that had been squeezed between the Baklunish/Suloise realms in the west and the Flan tribes in the east. The Flan don't seem to have been sufficiently widespread, especially in the Sheldomar Valley, for this to be the case, but it is not improbable.

2. They are survivors of the Invoked Devastation and Rain of Colorless Fire that destroyed both the Suloise Imperium and the Baklunish Empire. Fleeing into the mountain fastnesses for safety, they subsequently descended into prehistoric barbarism over the course of a thousand years, where their kin rose to carve out new kingdoms.
I confess a certain affinity for the second scenario, which appeals to my fondness for the works of R.E. Howard, although the first certainly lends itself to the possibility of weird alien ruins that predate Baklunish, Suel, or Oeridian. Nothing says that the two need be mutally exclusive, either; picture the bedraggled survivors of the Invoked Devastation stumbling into the caves of some primitive proto-human people, without food, shelter, or the means for survival. Such exiles might well be assimilated into such a culture, uplifting it with their stock, while descending to its level technologically, except, perhaps, for a few choice relics brought along for safe-keeping...

Note that the encounter tables do not overlap the cavemen encounters with the Pleistocene encounters. There is no need, since the Pleistocene tables in the DMG have cave men well represented; we are seeing, I think, two different aspects of the same phenomenon.

In the line of peaks defining the eastern edge of the Baklunish-Suloise conflict, we see cavemen, whether the degenerate survivors of that conflict, some innocent race thrust aside by it, or a fusion of the two. In the mountains that formed the border between the two warring races, we not only see cavemen, but a full panoply of prehistoric mammals; cave-bears, spotted lions, and so on.

Given the harsh arid conditions to north and south of that mountain range, surely the Pleistocene conditions don't extend at all beyond the mountains themselves, or even to their edge. Irish deer wouldn't do well in a hot desert wasteland.

Perhaps here we might add yet a third scenario to explain the diffusion of cavemen along this particular line of mountains:
3. There is a caveman homeland in the Sulhauts, replete with a full host of Pleistocene fauna and flora, and they have migrated along the mountains to their present range.
I find this option to be particularly satisfying, personally, and it has the added bonus of being compatible with either of the other two options if desired (although I daresay it renders the first obsolete, being a much better story all around!). It would almost certainly be the case that, if there were such a "lost valley" somewhere in the Sulhauts, the war of annihilation between the Suel and the Baklunish would certainly prompt at least part of the population to flee. And, given their prehistoric nature and cave-dwelling predilections, it makes sense that they would follow the peaks and their attendant caves (it also makes sense that they would have found the Depths of the Oerth that lead to the Vault of the Drow, but that might be best left for another discussion).

So that's where I find the evidence and best storytelling possibilities take me. Somewhere in the Sulhauts is a high glacial valley, inhabited by the cave-folk (themselves perhaps descendants of the ancient Baklunish-Suloise wars) who fell into barbarism almost immediately and migrated along their well-known mountains to their current range of habitation. Over the years they might have been met by, and assimilated, groups of refugees bearing unknown treasures from those ancient empires, now regarded as totems by the cave-folk, their original functions long since forgotten. Plus there is that original valley itself, still waiting to be discovered, explored, and, perhaps, plundered, by intrepid adventurers. Who knows? Some ancient treasure of the Suel, or some relic of the Bakluni, may still reposit there.

Now, if only I could figure out what those cave men were doing in the Cairn Hills, I could sleep at night.

In the tradition of the Wand of Wonder, I present...

... a new magic item. I'm inspired by a documentary on Ovations TV on the finest cartoonist of the 20th century. Be afraid. Be very afraid. I'm not sure I'd ever actually use it... nah... I will. Next Friday, if I can. Although last Friday would have been just too perfect!! ;-)

Yav Xeret's Whistle of Ill Luck

Blowing this normal-seeming whistle causes to come into being an enchanted black feline imbued with the magical ability to send the most improbable and embarrassing/hurtful bad luck possible to the target. Once the spell is activated, the magical black cat will suddenly appear and cross in front of the target creature, and then disappear into the magical dimension whence it came, too fast to catch. The target creature will then suffer a piece of the most inexplicably bad luck imaginable, based on the following table:

01-15 Anvil falls on target's head (3d6 damage)
16-19 Concealed pit trap opens beneath target (10' deep; 1d6 damage)
20-26 Swarm of moths envelops target, consumes all non-magical cloth, and then leaves
27-33 Storm cloud instantly forms above target, lightning strikes for 2d6 electrical damage
34-40 If underground, minor cave-in for 2d6 damage. If above ground, inexplicable pile of rocks falls on target for 1d8 damage
41-53 Storm cloud instantly forms above target, rain douses target for 2 segments, putting out any non-magical fires
54-59 Rake appears in whatever direction target is moving, or will move next. As soon as the target moves, it steps on the rake, causing 1d4 damage
60-68 Flower pot falls on head (1d8 damage)
69-74 Goat appears and devours one item carried or worn on target's body (if target is not carrying anything, re-roll). Goat then disappears.
75-79 Concealed pit trap with spikes opens beneath target (10' deep, 2d6 damage)
80-86 Swarm of termites envelops target, consumes all non-magical wood, and then leaves
87-94 Inverted silver bowl descends on top of target's head, when it disappears (after 1 segment) all target's hair is gone. If target had no hair, bowl leaves blond curly wig behind.
95-99 Cylinder with cone on top end falls behind target, emits loud piercing noise for 1d4 rounds (effect equivalent to a shrieker's sound)
00 Glue covers target, then air fills with feathers, sticking to target. Effects as if target were slowed, for 1d6 rounds.

The Whistle will typically be found with 6-17 (1d12+5) charges. Blowing the Whistle takes 1 segment, and the range is 3". If the target makes a successful saving throw vs. wands/staves/rods, the target will incur two effects rather than just one. A bard blowing the whistle can adjust the rolled result by 10% either way, if desired, with knowledge of what the effect would be. A jester blowing the whistle can adjust the roll by 25%. If the Whistle is used against a Leprechaun, the effect will be turned against the blower of the whistle ("luck of the Irish"). Faerie Dragons and similar lovers of pranks greatly prize these devices.