Friday, 18 December 2020

The Realm of the Dead II: More Delving into Death

In this post about "There", the Realm of the dead a look is taken into another world, a home to non-human intelligence and as a source of magic. This realm of the dead exists in parallel to the Here and Now (the world detectable to ordinary human sensation) yet is beyond the limits of ordinary perception. Ritual, magic and—most importantly—drugs enable pariahs to alter their perception and explore the world of the dead.


Three randomly generated components determine the experience of a pariah in the realm of the dead. They are:
  • Vignette: a typical scene encountered in the dead realm.
  • Environment: the backdrop against which the vignette is occurring. This will alter the manner in which the PCs perceive the vignette and also the way in which they may interact with it.
  • Ancestor: vignettes are "performed" by dead spirits... in any scene, one of those actors will be a dead spirit known to at least one of the PCs in one way.
Thus from a shortlist which I am attempting to expand (on an almost daily basis help me please God) we can start to build a variety of random scenes to provide unique experiences each time the Realm of the Dead is visited.

Vignette

2.The Field Workers

The pariahs behold a group of settled peoples toiling in the fields. They wear nothing but loincloths and scrape, dig and hoe the dark earth with a variety of primitive adzes. They appear to be much closer to one another than people would ordinarily be when performing such work. They move slowly across the ground.



Closer inspection reveals the labour to be uncoordinated and almost Sisyphean in nature, but when questioned individuals will only tell their interrogators to "be realistic" and to "learn about how the world works".

Any PC ancestor will be immediately recognisable if they are of hunter-gatherer origin: the work will confuse them, and they will appear to be "going through the motions" in shallow imitation of the other dead spirits performing this meaningless task.

Any member of the work gang can be coaxed away if they are unable to answer three consecutive questions confidently (for example: questions about the nature and purpose of their work). The other workers will be angered if a comrade neglects his duties, and will down tools until the worker returns, or a replacement is found. If someone takes the "rescued" worker's place, two further vignettes will be visible to the pariahs as distant locations (the GM should generate them according to the non-existent rules I am yet to right) The replacement worker could be a PC or another spirit happy to have been given a purpose in the afterlife.

If a PC joins the work gang they will be giving an ADZE. IF they use it to dig directly down for any a protracted period (5/10 minutes?) they will fall into another randomly generated vignette.

If during the course of the conversation anything relating to HUNGER or FOOD is mentioned, all members of the work gag will attack as GHOULS. They will move at half the speed of typical ghouls.

3. The Mother without Child

A tragic scene: the spirit of a desperate mother seeking her child. She asks 1d4 other spirits in turn if they have seen her baby. They have not, but will try to help her find it. 

If the randomly generated ancestor is the mother then this situation can be resolved quickly: the missing child is one of the PCs, they can present themselves to her and be reunited. 

If this is not the case the vignette cannot be readily resolved: further vignettes can be generated if the PCs persuade the mother to join them, but she will insist on questioning every spirit encountered if they have seen her child. There is a 5-in-6 chance her child is still alive; if not, there is a 1(+depth) in 12 chance that an encountered spirit is her child, and they will be happily reunited.

If the pariahs leave the Realm of the Dead without a) reuniting mother and child or b) not providing proof that her child leaves, the spirit will return to the Here &Now as a ghost, haunting a randomly chosen PC. 

Environment


3. The Swamp


After the river comes the swamp (or not, something else might actually be generated). Tall, crooked trees ascend from shallow waters, draped in vines. Clouds of biting insects hover around damp, stinking puddles. Movement is slow as the pariahs wade through mud or hip-high water.

Any encounter rolled here will be an amphibous variant: use your imagination. Otherwise the differences are aesthetic. Roll on the following tables for flavour:

1d6 Swamp Tree Features
  1.  Mangrove roots swell above the waters surface; hundreds of eyes blink from within the lattice.
  2. A hollow trunk houses a terrified owl. The owl is actually a spirit from another realm, and will return to the Here & Now as an ally. 1-in-4 chance it is an alien psychic parasite.
  3. Thick vines can be used like rope: they hang from the branches of tall trees.
  4. Blood-red maple trees rising from pools of golden liquid. It tastes like syrup, but is dangerously addictive.
  5. Bone-white leafless birch rising from black gloop. The bark can be taken and used as paper.
  6. Orchids growing from the swamp-trees: anyone ingesting the orchid will embark on an inception like quest within a quest to the parallel realm of death in the Beyond (the mythical "death of death")
1d6 Extra Swamp Encounters
  1. Fishman in a canoe trading animated human  bodyparts (what do the pariahs have to trade in return?)
  2. An ancestral spirit in the form of a mosquito cloud.
  3. Frogs that croak the pariahs darkest secrets for all to hear until destroyed.
  4. A disembodied eye as big as an aurochs' skull, floating on the surface of the water.
  5. An undead fruitbat with the face of a baby (in place of its own face or... or not...)
  6. A muddy stinking vortex like that scene in Krull (leads to a random vignette +3 depth)

Ancestor


A plaster Neolithic skull- a bit like a death mask.

3. The Child


Has a PC lost a baby or child? Perhaps even a younger sibling? A niece or nephew?

This could be a sensitive topic, so don't push it hard if no one takes the bait. The spirit will happily follow the party in any case. They have a fair idea of where a near ancestor is (generate a path to them, the child will be able to describe what lies ahead).

Usually the child will not have a clear understanding of its own death, but it will recognise that some spirits seem to be trapped in perpetual, repetitive loops. It has survived here for a long time.

The child carries a napsack, containing some food. Anyone eating this food must make a save versus death upon returning to the Here and Now, lest their spirit is trapped There forever (they die). The child really wants to share their food with you.

4. The Sibling II


"Umm, okay.. has anyone's pariah lost a sibling?" 

If anyone speaks up, ask them to describe who it is and what they see, and whether they seem different to when their character last saw them.

If no-one bites, tell a randomly determined player that their character sees someone they vaguely remember, perhaps an age-mate or friend from their childhood who has perished since they were cast out from their tribe.

The sibling is unhappy to see their family, having not forgotten whatever came between them in life, though their disposition is largely dictated by the vignette in which they find themselves. This sibling will err towards denial and anger over acceptance and forgiveness. They are unlikely to realise that they are dead, and will scoff at claims made to that effect.

The second sibling will try to outdo any exceptional action(re: die roll) by their family member. If they score better, use their result, if they score lower, use the PC's roll. If they roll a number equal to their sibling, the two characters will get in one another's way, with some unpredictable consequence.

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