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Shemeska's Planescape Storyhour - (Updated 13Aug2019)

Andry

Explorer
As a reader of this Story Hour from the beginning I really appreciate all you have written over the long years. From both Story hours which your characterization of yugoloths I borrowed for my old Planescape campaign which my players LOVED to HATE. To the great work you did for Paizo. I check every couple of days for an updates and I will continue to. Thanks again for all the entertainment and inspiration you have provided for our own home games. You truly are a one of a kind talent.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
As a reader of this Story Hour from the beginning I really appreciate all you have written over the long years. From both Story hours which your characterization of yugoloths I borrowed for my old Planescape campaign which my players LOVED to HATE. To the great work you did for Paizo. I check every couple of days for an updates and I will continue to. Thanks again for all the entertainment and inspiration you have provided for our own home games. You truly are a one of a kind talent.
Awww, thank you so much! As soon as my current freelancing is finished in the next two weeks or so my slate will be clear and I'll be updating here!
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Also the bane of updates: freelancing deadlines.

Also also the bane of updates: broken HVAC as of this week
What fortuitous timing--busted HVAC in the middle of a heat wave. Well, it must've given you a homey feel like you were back home in Chamada and working for the General...or not. Stay cool and drive on.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
So at GenCon my biggest project got announced: I'm writing Ruins of the Radiant Siege, one chapter in the Agents of Edgewatch AP.

So if you like my storyhour, based on one of my campaigns, you'll be able to play an adventure I've written. My first one! :D
 

Andry

Explorer
So at GenCon my biggest project got announced: I'm writing Ruins of the Radiant Siege, one chapter in the Agents of Edgewatch AP.

So if you like my storyhour, based on one of my campaigns, you'll be able to play an adventure I've written. My first one! :D
OOO is this for Pathfinder 1 or for Pathfinder 2?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Gehenna’s gatetown of Torch could never be said to be a pleasant destination, but from the base of the ancient baernaloth construct the Oblivion Compass, it certainly was by comparison. The relief the party felt the moment the magic of Tristol’s planeshift snatched them away and deposited them less than two miles out from Torch was immediate.

Once the spell’s light faded, Fyrehowl heaved and fell to her knees. Toras likewise steadied himself, accepting Clueless’s offered arm to steady himself from the violent nausea that was far too slow to fade.

“That was an absolutely stupid idea…” Florian panted, one hand clenching her holy symbol and the other braced in the stinking, scarlet mud at her feet.

“Well, at least we know what it looks like, even if it made absolutely no sense.” Tristol shrugged, him and Nisha both supporting one another. “Clearly we need to learn more. Hopefully we can do that here.”

Eventually the nausea and the fear faded, their proper senses returning, and with them the color returned to their flesh and they gathered their bearings, finally taking sense of just where they stood in relation to their intended target. The first thing was the acrid smell of decay and acidic swamp gas, and sure enough they stood within the margins of the so-called Blood Swamp that rose up and surrounded Torch, the landscape dotted with shallow rises in elevation along with rose the poorer districts of the gatetown while higher up the estates of the rich and powerful hugged the craggy, volcanic heights of the three mountains at torch’s heart: Karal, Maygel, and Dohin.

Unlike their brief venture into the depths of the Waste where the very landscape was leached of colors in a never-ending expanse of blacks, whites, and shades of gray, the landscape surrounding Torch was bathed in a brilliant scarlet glare. The swamplands themselves bubbled with scarlet mud, the natural result of soil filled with a mixture of natural iron-bearing ochre and the brilliantly colored plants that grew there, metabolizing the severe mineral content in their own unnatural capacity. The light that shown down, harsh and mocking, casting long shadows on everything it touched, was courtesy of the great portal that hung between the calderas of Torch’s volcanic mounts. Because of the periodic release of great clouds of volcanic smoke, the portal’s light absolute, but the intensity flickered with the intervening ash and soot, giving a strobe-like effect that was at best, disorienting.

“So, who or what is Dubai’s Obscure Woe?” Nisha asked as the group began the slow trudge through the swamplands towards Torch proper. “I was never entirely clear on that.”

“…” The rest of the party exchanged glances, the absence of an answer obvious in their eyes.

“Yeah none of us know…” The Xaositect smirked, the bell at the tip of her tail rattling.

“It wasn’t like we could get any clarifying details from Laughing Jane once she started seizing and passed out.” Toras lamented, and I don’t think any of us really cared to wait around in Portent in a place that the damn Oinoloth found fun enough to personally visit.”

In silence the party continued on, gradually making it out of the blood swamp and into Torch itself. Initially the city presented initially as a maze of tenements not altogether different from the architecture of Portent, though with broader streets and markets as they moved into higher elevations. The city reflected the influence of Gehenna, and the influence of the Blood War trade was high, represented by the myriad of mercenary companies recruiting for service in the War Eternal, propaganda posters plastered across buildings, and others offering bounties in jink for war deserters.

“I don’t think any of the mercenary companies are going to know or rightly care much about something in Torch.” Toras turned and shook his head as one company recruiter nodded and started to approach.

The Blood War recruiting was constant, though the party being both heavily armed and having a celestial amongst them tended to dissuade all but the most desperate, at least that was until they emerged into one of Torch’s marketplaces and found themselves face to face with a grandiose stall advertising, “DON’T BE YOUR OWN BOSS! WORK FOR THE LORDS OF GEHENNA!”

Sitting at the booth with a pen in one hand, a scroll in front of them, and a pile of neatly pre-counted purses of coin, a jackal-headed arcanaloth wrapped in purple silks beamed a fanged smile as they coolly walked a platinum piece along the knuckles of their free hand.

“Yeah let’s not ask them…” Fyrehowl softly snarled, doing her best to avoid eye contact.

“So who do you suggest we ask, other than…” Clueless turned to avoid looking at the ‘loth who was by that point obnoxiously waving at them.

“Yeah other than them,” Florian frowned and likewise turned her back on the still-waving and now wolf-whistling arcanaloth, “Let’s find someone in a position of civic authority, or whatever passes for it around here, and a bribe can probably find us the information we need.”

“Let’s wander off and do that elsewhere,” Toras suggested, “Because if we stick around here much longer I’m really sorely tempted to walk up, smile, introduce myself and then punch that stupid arcanaloth right in his smiling muzzle.”


****​


It was of course easier said than done. Torch, like Gehenna itself was a manifest nightmare of corruption and petty tyranny. Nominally the city was ruled over by the so-called Council of All, a citizens’ forum where decisions were made by some variable amount of one-person-one-vote, fist fights, threats, knives in the back, and vote buying. In practice the actual power brokers in the city were a few rich individuals, the source of their wealth distinctly unknown and never elaborated, and a group of six different thieves’ guilds with names like the Grey Orbs, the Kindred of Yoj, the Severed Hand, and so forth.

It didn’t take long for members of the last to conveniently find the party, aided by the wink, nod, and flip of the yugoloth recruiter’s platinum piece to the hand of one of a passing group of otherwise unremarkable tieflings.

Several blocks away from the marketplace and the party found themselves approached by a group of eight tiefling, and standing in the shadows of nearby buildings another four or five. It was nearly a mirror image of just a similar situation as they’d experienced in Portent.

“Greetings!” A clearly arcanaloth-descended tiefling with grey, fox-like ears rising up from her head over darker, bobbed hair, called out as she and her group stepped up to the party and also blocked the street. She clapped her hands together, the dark leather giving the muted sound of being lined with lead shot.

“Can we help you?” Clueless looked the tiefling up and down, thoroughly unimpressed.

“More with what we can help you with,” She blinked pale red eyes and gestured to each member of the party, “You being visitors to Torch and obviously unfamiliar with some of the gatetown’s laws, rules, and regulations.”

Nisha rolled her eyes profusely.

“We, my fellows and me here, we don’t want you all to get in trouble with any of the more… disreputable… groups and persons.” She smiled, peering at Toras and Clueless’s blades and then more pointedly at Fyrehowl. “Did you happen to get your permits in order before we started walking through Torch?”

“Permits?” Clueless sighed, glancing back to the others with a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look, “What permits?”

“For your weapons!” The tiefling grinned, “For your cleric to practice their proselytizing! And of course for your celestial!”

“Seriously?” Toras sighed, “We need permits for that?”

“Seems appropriate don’t it?” The tiefling shrugged and ran a gloved hand through her hair, “Tell yourself whatever you like to justify handing over thirty gold each and you’re on your way…”

“Yeah,” Toras nodded, “I think all these guys look like they know directions about town!”

“I think they do!” Florian nodded.

At the sudden and unexpected change in their presumptive marks’ demeanor, the gang members exchanged awkward, questioning glances.

“Do you happen to know how we could get to some place called Dubai’s Obscure Woe?” Tristol asked as politely as he possibly could, the irony of which was recognized and met with a giggle by Nisha just before what happened next.

“Pardon?” The tiefling thug asked, shortly before she was kicked in the face by a lupinal, something she’d never experienced before.

Answers to their questions came quickly, without permits or bribes, lubricated by remarkably little actual blood but more than a few broken teeth scattered across the cobblestones of Torch.


****​


The Oinoloth’s face was devoid of emotion and expression as he stared down at Factol Larisette’s notes, the only indication of response to the text’s details being an increased radiance from the fiend’s albino-pink eyes.

“Hide from me all you wish, bury your name beneath layer upon layer of prosaicism, locked away and forgotten.” Vorkannis smirked, gesturing without a glance back to where the Overlord of Carceri knelt naked, on her knees, serving as nothing more than a stand to hold aloft one of her master’s tomes. “We both know how well that can work. Lock away something and surely, oh surely it will rip its way free.”

For hours the Oinoloth had poured over the notes from Hashkar’s safe and others stolen from archives in Sigil. In response to the two dead or vanished Fraternity of Order factols’ notes, Vorkannis had written almost an equivalent length of text, almost all of it feverish and labyrinthine mathematical formulae. Unlike the Oinoloth’s meticulous spellbooks, the mathematics were less perfect and much less artistic, with whole pages crossed out as dead ends or false routes towards some ultimate end. More ominously, Vorkannis, normally restrained, supernaturally confident and perpetually in control was anything but, and time and again the archfiend paused to pace about the room, often trekking to and from the patch of ice and ashes in one corner of the room to meditate wordlessly before returning to his calculations. A line of footsteps in perpetually frozen ashes formed a line between the fiend’s table with the stolen manuscripts and the chamber’s far corner.

“Not complete…” Vorkannis mused, “You fools tumble to vast conclusions and fail to realize that you’ve found only the first part of four or five.”

Abruptly the archfiend snarled, upending the table and casting the papers onto the floor, ignoring them and walking towards an elaborate illusionary model of the Inner Planes. Gesturing he zoomed in a conceptual representation of Quasielemental Mineral, specifically the border between that plane and the Positive Energy Plane.

“Clean up that mess…” The Oinoloth belatedly remarked, sending Shylara into a scramble to retrieve and collate the stolen papers and his own. It made for a bizarre scene with an archfiend on her hands and knees like a chambermaid set against the backdrop of a robed ultroloth standing in a catatonic trance, shivering and bleeding from the spike of cobalt crystal embedded in its forehead.

Obsessively the Oinoloth manipulated the planar model, tinkering with the area of focus and shifting the details based on input from the calculations.

“Shall I make diplomatic overtures to the Archomental Crystalle?” Shylara’s voice asked with soft, terrified deference.

“No.” The Oinoloth’s answer was swift but without any denigrating dismissiveness. “I have zero interest in the political theatre of the elemental planes. We are taking what is mine, not bargaining for something the natives are themselves wholly ignorant of in the first place.”

Shylara nodded and neatly placed the last of the papers back into place, watching curiously as the Oinoloth began to smile, his eyes focused on an image of the Tower of Lead.

“One of Four.”


****​


The Blood Swamp that surrounded Torch should have swallowed the ruins of Dubai's Obscure Woe, given how the lay of the land actually situated the estate in a shallow, local depression. Yet inexplicably, hauntingly so, it did not. More than anything, the ruddy colored muck seemed to withdraw from the ruins' proximity, healthy flesh stretched thin, bleached of color, and withdrawn in the face of a ragged mass of scar tissue in the plane itself, the evidence of some ancient wound, or perhaps an encapsulated tubercle, still lurking with hidden, deathly potency.

Yet for all the harrowing nature of the landscape, for all the flickering, distant furnace-light of the portal to Gehenna itself, the first steps onto the abandoned estate's grounds carried absolutely nothing fearsome or untoward. If anything, it seemed sheltered from the surrounding dangers of the swap and free of Torch's bloody political squabbles.

"This was not what I expected..." Fyrehowl remarked as she cautiously trod over the broken flagstones of the estate's central courtyard. "Are we sure that we're in the right place?"

“I’m pretty sure she wasn’t lying, especially after Clueless made her eat that platinum piece as payment for her teeth.” Toras chuckled, “That was a nice touch.”

“Was it a bit much?” The bladesinger asked, “I thought it was a bit much. I was just tired of these stupid yugoloth-light tactics… still tempted to go back and smack the tar out of that damn arcanaloth.”

“I kicked her teeth in and I’m pretty sure she swallowed a few.” Fyrehowl shrugged, “I hardly think making her swallow that platinum piece was too much beyond what we started off with.”

Clueless chuckled but said nothing more as the group slowly progressed into the ruined estate. Centuries old structures had largely collapsed into shells of stone, stripped of their original grandeur by the passage of years and the humidity of the surrounding swamps. Yet it was odd how other than the structural collapse of the manor house and outbuildings, there was absolutely no evidence of vandalism, looting, or squatting.

“Does anyone else find it absolutely bizarre that at the edges of a city literally ruled by yugoloths, yugoloth-spawn, and fellow travelers of yugoloth ideology that this place just sat here until it collapsed without anyone claiming it as their own?” Clueless motioned with Razor’s tip towards one ruined wall and then another, “Or squatting here to hide from issues in Torch proper? Or to have torn the place apart in search of hidden treasure or just to strip the walls of anything they could sell for a few jink?”

“It’s odd yeah…” Fyrehowl nodded. “And it doesn’t make any sense. You’d only expect this if something was here making sure that none of those other things happened. But here I am not feeling anything untoward at all.”

“Yeah we’d expect to all be cursed, or have you dive out of the way without warning, or you puking from something hideous elder evil yadda yadda…” Nisha winked.

“Yeah you’d think!” The lupinal shook her head, “I don’t know. Tristol?”

“There’s no weird magic. There aren’t any alarms. There aren’t any traps.” The wizard shrugged, “Which I find even stranger because from what what’s her name mentioned…”

“Little miss got her teeth kicked in.” Fyrehowl interjected.

“Her yeah,” Tristol laughed, “Because as far as she knew, this place was set up by a wizard way back when, and that nobody visits because those who do either find nothing or they don’t come back. There’s nothing here to suggest an actual wizard lived here. Not any self-respecting wizard who’d actually use their talent and leave some traces of their art.”

On that note they continued deeper into the ruins, passing through the ruins of an antechamber and gallery and into the middle of an interior courtyard that once housed a pool, the original lilies and other waterborne flowers long-since replaced by other, less pleasant vegetation, wild, snarled, and overgrown. The polished blue tiles at the bottom of the pool lay cracked and caked in silt, and through it all still no traces of obvious magic.

Passing through the courtyard and into the next portion of the ancient manor, it didn’t take them long to find something immediately out of place, in every possible way.


****​
 
I am finally caught up with this legendary Story Hour. I eagerly await further revelations :D

One minor question - what happened with Alex the alienist? PC or NPC? This character came into the story with lots of unanswered questions but shortly was gone, leaving me scratching my head.
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
I am finally caught up with this legendary Story Hour. I eagerly await further revelations :D

One minor question - what happened with Alex the alienist? PC or NPC? This character came into the story with lots of unanswered questions but shortly was gone, leaving me scratching my head.
Alex was a PC, albeit a short lived one. Some of the story elements associated with him (such as former Bleaker Factol Tollysalmon) get explored later on.
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Alex was a PC, albeit a short lived one. Some of the story elements associated with him (such as former Bleaker Factol Tollysalmon) get explored later on.
Alex, Alex, Alex... nope. I don't remember Alex. I remember a lizard tout-guide with a big hat back in Sigil, but I don't remember Alex.
 
Side question, going back a few years there was the side adventure that resulted in Shemeska gaining the Shadow Key. Will Ashlanaya and Surefoot ever show up again?
 

Shemeska

Adventurer
Side question, going back a few years there was the side adventure that resulted in Shemeska gaining the Shadow Key. Will Ashlanaya and Surefoot ever show up again?
Surefoot made some cameo appearances late in the campaign (as IIRC they were created by Clueless's player and so there was impetus to have them reappear in the mainline game), but Ashlanaya does not, having basically gotten out of Dodge while the getting out was good to avoid Shemeska tying up loose ends of that whole affair. She did however inspire Fyrehowl's player years later for at least one tiefling paladin of their own in a later game.
 

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