Screaming Bolts, a Private Hell, and the Nothingness of the Dead…

You can find the ever-growing list of “Better Than Nothing” items  over on the right. Read ’em, like ’em, share ’em, and comment.

Hartlight Beacon

They had been chasing him for near an hour, and Dwight had all but given up trying to flee. The wet cobblestones of the Rack were hard and his boots here soaked–every slap sent a powerful jarring ache through his body. His chest rose and fell like an over-excited bellows, he was lost and there was nowhere else to run.

As he put his back to the wall in the long alley and watched the snarling bastards close in, he felt more sorrow than anger (though there was a little anger). He felt more pity than fear.

The big one ordered the other three to stay mindful and told Dwight to hand over all of it–the purse, that ring, and especially the large black flatbow over his shoulder.

With quiet care, Dwight pulled the drawstring on his purse and heard the coins clink and chitter along the stones in the wet; pulled off the ring with a heavy sigh and let it fall into a splish of a puddle; and unslung the polished, menacing flatbow and clenched his eyes tight as he pulled the trigger.

System: The Beacon is a crafted delight from the Unseen One, a great god of death whose devouts are well-known to take their own eyes to better love the dark. It is a mirror-shine polished arrangement of mirewood and ebony–deep dark grey and black woods with popular uses in necromantic artificiary. The stock is chased in subtle carved relief depicting the screaming and howling spirits of the restless dead in writhing agony (PP 25 to notice this, though an active handling of the weapon for a few moments will show it clearly). Countless necromancers and arcanists have tried over the years to pry its secrets free for more universal purpose, but the gifts of gods are not so easily dismantled.

Once attuned, the Beacon serves as a +0 heavy crossbow and may be used as a +0 improvised weapon (dealing 1d4) as well. The Beacon reloads itself (though still taking the same time as a normal heavy crossbow) so long as one maintains concentration on it during that time (as a concentration spell). Conventional ammunition cannot be fired from the Beacon, its bowstring being long atrophied, but finely spun, gut more akin now to stone than string.

However, instead, upon pulling the trigger in an attack at a sentient, intelligent creature (INT>3) a deep, howling scream (audible through 5ft stone) roars forth from the Stygian depths and the servants of the god of the dead release a pained, mad, angry, and tortured soul into the world in a cacophony of terror and sorrow. The area around the shooter goes cold and a black and white screaming spectre flies out like a cannon shot and flies through the target. Being in contact with the spectre (even for a moment) deals an extra 1d4 necrotic damage. The passing spectre dissipates–its essence destroyed–afterward. This harrowing reality takes it toll on the shooter’s own soul, and he must earn 2 inspiration to be able to use 1 inspiration dice.

The Sorcage of Hillicks von Gratt

“I never liked the histories all that much, if I’m to be honest. They were too sad and I never could abide the sadness.”

“Why sad, then?”

“Because history is life. Its just a great ant-hill of life with little things–so many little tiny people–all clamboring over each other to accomplish some tiny little thing. But, all the while, their lives are just a series of closing doors and shutting windows. They work and toil and sweat and try and fight and… really for nothing. Nothing at all. Because they look back, the little tiny many people, and only see those things that they can no longer do and then they look forward and see their end coming. It is sad. And I admit, I’m moved by it.”

“That is something to think on Dedrict. I’ll consider it. Until next time, then? Maybe a lively talk about wines again? I enjoyed out last.”

“That would be nice, Eran, that would be nice. I look forward to it.”

“I’ll see you then, Dedrict. Thank you for your time…”


“Yes, Dedrict?”

If I get free of this… I will sup on the tears and screams and defilement of all you know. I will have a thousands lifetimes of revenge on you and Stella and Banx and your children. I will give you years to contemplate the slow peeling of your skin from the soft fat and wet muscle underneath it–a maddening contemplation between hoarse and silent raw howls of pain. I will play and dance and make games of you.”

“…yes. Yes, I suppose you will. IF you get free, of course. Goodnight, Dedrict.”

System: Hellicks von Gratt took his studies in abjuration and transmutation to dizzying heights, the culmination of his life’s work being his Sorcage. The Sorcage is a glass bottle (of a size with a large wine bottle) ribboned through in chaotic angles with strands and slivers and strings of raw, handbeaten copper. Red and green veins of it swirl around the otherwise clear crystal. Inside is a boiling and rolling cloud of noxious green and grey gas and particles of unknown matter–seething and teeming, never still and ever in motion. So thick one cannot see from one side of the glass to another.

One must be attuned to the Sorcage by spending a day and night in contemplation of its contents. Afterward, one may use it to trap the souls of the newly dead within its confines–severing their connection with the world and any and all divine or otherworldly great powers that empower them. From within the Sorcage, they cannot be transported, teleported, planar-travelled, or resurrected in any way. They are trapped, and trapped until they are freed by the possessor of the prison. While inside, they are also immune to all magical effects from without. To speak with a soul trapped inside, the possessor need only think of them and their consciousness rises to the surface and may speak (though the soul may well choose to ignore the possessor entirely, of their own free will).

To trap a soul, one must activate the Sorcage (with a Reaction) while one hand rests on it and the other touches the creature. There is a 5% chance of failure, but otherwise, the soul is trapped. Releasing it is a free action–at which point they vanish to whatever plane or appropriate afterlife awaits them.

A trapped soul (for the purposes of normal combat) yields only 1/2 XP at the end of the encounter instead of their full XP.

The Render

“Hurry! Arla! Wensel! Hurry the fuck up!” Teller screamed over the din of the storm and the crashing horror of the castle’s slow-but-quickening tumble to pieces around them. She was no clever one, that’s true, but she could see the signs all around. They were too deep into this monstrous place, far too deep. It’d be several hundred yards of climbing and twisting stairs back up and there’d be no guarantee that anyone would be able to take them on out after that. Wensel was a capable magician, but even he had his limits.

The trio ran up the stone stairwell–dodging tumbling bricks and shoving away the occasional panicked cultist–no less terrified of the falling palace than they were. And as they crested the path that led up from those catacombs, into the grand hall that marked their halfway mark, Teller went cold and froze at the hopeless sight. The whole place was a bath of red and orange flames and the searing, naked heat of their devouring rushed her back to her senses only a moment after.

No choice. No damn choice at all. Gripping the long-handled sword she bid everyone stand back and in a perfect, flowing and fluid arc, the black stone greatsword tore a black bloody gash through the world and shook the mountain itself in its furious cut.

System: The Render is an artifact of the far frozen north, a 6′ blade of chipped black igneous rock with a rough, pale leather handle another foot and a half long–like a dagger a caveman might have made with great care and applied fine use to over the years but grown to proportions that defy belief. One must be mighty, indeed, to wield such a thing. It was a sword crafted by the Calcikai, a cult of death mages and ash priests, back during the days of the Old Empire.

The Render may be attuned with a careful night of slowly polishing the smooth surface and re-wrapping to preference the bulkly and long handle. To use it as a greatsword, one must be Strength 18, otherwise it can only be used as an improvised weapon. It counts as a +0 greatsword in stats (though weighs 50 lbs. and is quite a noticeable bit larger).

Once per month, one may use the Render to tear a hole through this world into the next. Doing so requires a Concentration check equal to the strength of the barrier between the material world and the land of the dead. This varies based on many factors–urban areas are generally harder, rural areas generally easier, blighted or less lush lands easier, but richly vegetated places harder. The number will range from 10 to 30, the DM is encouraged to place a sensible difficult on this in any given place, write it down in secret on a notecard, and then allow the attempt. Share the card after the attempt, success or failure.

(the learned arcane academy and scholum of a major city at noon would be difficulty 29-30; the blasted ancient graveyard of a long-abandoned people at night, during a full moon, near the lair of a lich might by 10-11)

The Lands of the Dead are uninteresting. They are a shadow of this world, but still ephemeral and insubstantial to both see and manipulate. There are no spirits here to converse with. Nothing here to take or make use of. It is a place of only empty void and sodden forgotten death. The gash in reality will stay until the render passes back through it into the real world. They may stay up to 100 days in the Lands of the Dead and when they exit they are back where they were a number of days equal to their days in the dead lands x 1d4. Time passes strangely in the dead lands. As many individuals can accompany the render as they have character levels.

There is no day or night cycle in the dead lands. It represents 1 very long rest so long as one spends at least 24 hours there. Everyone who enters the dead lands loses 1 inspiration.

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