“Look deeply into the fire, child. It will reveal its secrets. The purest element. Men and gods are not its masters. Nothing is its master. Try and control it and it will consume you. Let go of your mind and body, these corpus shells that shackle us. Feel the truth. Let it burn you. Let it know you.”
The hood of the old man hung low over his gnarled, misshapen face. Deep in these holy caves, dimly illuminated by the tongue of flame that burned before them, feeding on some unseen fuel below the rock. The ever burning flame. The boy was on his knees before the flame, staring into it with wonder, as if seeing fire for the first time. He was beautiful.
“Fear? I sense fear in you. What a useless thing, this fear. You are but a summation of elements, child. Fire, water, earth, and air. Precariously constructed for the small breath of life you have been chained to. To these things you will return. Then, you will be free from this mortal prison. Why fear your destiny? Why fear the destiny of every living or unliving thing? You have learned to love that beautiful shell you walk about in. What you have learned to love… you must learn to hate. That shell will make you weak, child. It is a construction of the gods to cause you to be weak. To cause you to be enslaved. You must rise above it.”
White spittle formed at the corner of the old man’s mouth as he spoke more and more vehemently, “Plunge your hand into it! If it consumes you… let it. Then it has chosen you!”
The boy did it—or was compelled to do it. Even now he cannot remember the details of the event, just the impressions. But his hand smoked and sizzled as it burned, the flesh peeling back from the bones and fingers as the unearthly hot fire caused him more pain than he had ever felt before or since.
“Sith corpus ist tav,” the old man chanted as he grabbed the arm of the boy, who looked like he was going to pull it out of the fire. Suddenly, the pieces of the charred flesh regenerated themselves and made his fingers whole, just briefly, before the white hot fire torn the flesh apart again. The old man repeated his charm and the process repeated itself again and again and again, his hand made whole and then destroyed again before his eyes. Newly formed flesh bubbled and blistered away, as the pain never stopped. Indeed the fiery pain that first shot up his arm had coursed to every part of his body. His body thought itself on fire, even though only his hand burned. He felt every scrap of skin as if it were blistering and evaporating away. Finally the boy passed out.
“Not bad,” the old man mumbled to himself, “he will be suitable for the task... eventually.”
* * *
“Earth and Stone, Man and Gnome,” declared the carved cantilever that formed the main gate threshold of Verbobonc. Dozens of merchants, commoners, traders, and pilgrims hurried beneath the stone, which showed a single, unrepaired crack that bled like a tree root from the top of the stone to the “n” of “man.” As their walking staves clicked on the cobbled stones and they animatedly discussed the upcoming festivals and weather, not a single head rose to acknowledge this past, mostly forgotten monument of unity. Neither were any of the travelers gnomes. The diminutive, jovial jokesters were all but forgotten in the city of Verbobonc.
Despite this, there were a few left. The gnomes of Kron Hills still had business in the capitol city, and gnomes in this region had gained the reputation of hard and greedy bargainers. A cloud of suspicion hung like a shroud over the dealings between the races now. Most humans didn’t really understand it. They thought the gnomes were just a peculiar, isolationist breed. They couldn’t really explain the saying at the gate, when asked. Some just stared at you blankly, as if asking “is that what it says?” It was better to shrug such things off. Verbobonc had been built throughout the centuries by many people and many races. Elven towers, carefully maintained by the city’s forefathers attested to an aesthetic sensibility the humans of Verbobonc had always had, even though they seemed to have lost some of their cultural sensitivity.
The old sage that you met at the Grand Goblet talked to you for hours. You bought him Silver Stouts, locally brewed ale with a silvery sheen to its head when poured.
Apparently there was a time in the city’s history when gnomes and men could be seen down any street, drinking in the same pubs as humans, even sharing dinner or song. Whether it was just the old man’s glorification of the past, or whether times were once better, you were not sure. Indeed, you had come in search of what all restless young people who feel out of place search for: adventure.
“They see the oppressors in the Verboboncan descendents. The humans don’t of course, that was over two hundred years ago. But the memory of a man is short. And to a gnome… well… ha! A man is a man isn’t he? Keoish or Verboboncan? It doesn’t matter. There was a trust violated. And the funny thing is, nobody but the gnomes know that the gnomes hold a grudge…”
As the old man rambled on, a few of you regretted asking the old man about the words above the gate… The lilting music of the Growfest festival could be heard on the street from the tavern courtyard in which you sat. Singing, dancing, revelry. That was what Growfest was all about to the young. It meant different things to different people, of course. To farmers, it was the rebirth of the land and a time for optimism. To newlyweds, it was hope for healthy children. To priests it was a sacred time, especially the rising of the Celene moon. To the young however, it was just another excuse to party. And everyone was young again during Growfest. Even the old man who was now evidently talking about fireworks, multi-coloured stones, and clever mechanical toys the gnomes used to bring to Growfest was having his share of stouts – on your silver.
The tavern courtyard was pleasant. The ancient white stone walls were hung with hundreds of spring flowers. Their pleasant scent mixing with the ale was quite intoxicating. There were ancient structures all over Verbobonc, the city and the Viscounty. You realize that the old man’s conversation had finally turned to something interesting, something you had come here for.
“Oh yes, yes. Ruins ancient and ruins not so ancient dot Verbobonc. If adventure is what you seek, I am certain you can find it not far from here. But you must ask yourself, if that is truly the path you wish to seek. Many-a-bone from a so-called ‘adventurer’ lay buried in this land, their souls drifting in nether regions known neither by gods or mortals. Such men have lost more than the treasure and fame they sought by overturning the wrong stone. Some stones are meant to lay unturned, and cannot be properly replaced if you get to moving them…”
The old man continued to ramble on in this vein for a while about the virtues of farming, taking up an apprenticeship with a carpenter or brewer, or about the fulfilling nature of serving in the militia, rather than wandering from town to town, seeking to fix problems, but causing all sorts of troubles as adventurers are prone to do…
“Hommlet. Yes, not far south from here. It is but a tiny hamlet, but a strange one. One that trouble seems to seek out. If something were to happen in Verbobonc, and some evil, malign thing is always waiting to spring into the heart of a man when he is weak, that is the place you should seek out. Men are weak there. There is something insidious about that place… something that you cannot put your finger on. It is like feeling ill without any true symptoms for the local cleric to diagnose. But adventurers have been drawn to that area of the country, for many many decades they have been going there… and dying there. Yes, if you want to test your mettle, or your meddlesomeness, seek out Hommlet. But be careful what you ask about… heh heh heh,” the old man stood up from your long table, finally, appearing ready to take his leave, “there have been some recent murders on the road to Devernash, rumor has it, they had been poking around Hommlet, asking about the nastiness that happened there just shy of twenty years ago.”
The old man giggled to himself a bit as he wandered off, ignoring any further inquiries with giggles and drunken laughs. He stumbled off through the courtyard, leaving you to your drinks. There were just two days of Growfest left. The final day was more for the inexperienced adolescents, which the old man may have made you feel like. But no, most of you had experienced the “Gawk Hunt.”* You just hoped that the old man was not some clever trickster sending you on one now.
* The last day of the week of Growfest is known as "Foolsday," sacred to Olidammara and other trickster gods. In Ulek and among rangers, trappers, hunters, and even farmers in the countryside, it is traditional to send someone 'hunting the gawk'. This trick is most commonly perpetrated on a young man who has just come of age. He is sent into the woods to hunt a gawk, which the tricksters say only comes out during Growfest (it does not exist in all likelihood). The properties and stories behind this Gawk are quite varied. Interestingly, the last person sent on the Gawk hunt, is most often the one most ready to pull the trick on the next person the following Foolsday.
* * *
The sun was shining brightly the day you strolled into Hommlet. This place, at the foot of the Kron Hills not far north of the great Azure Sea, could always breed dangers to threaten the nearby greater realms with the fine-sounding names—the Archclericy of Veluna, and the kingdoms of Celene and Furyondy. At least that is what the old man at the Grand Goblet had claimed.
Hommlet and Nulb are two small villages, which squat in the vales between these great powers like two dark and tiny eyes, surrounded by the ancient wrinkled hills on the face of some evil demiurge. It is a place to make a name and perhaps start a career. It is ideal for transients and vagabonds (otherwise known as adventurers) like you. Wanderers too restless to call any piece of land home, you have come to these forests and hills which seem to spawn and breed danger. You have come to see if there is any trouble you can stir up, or adventure to get into. There are always rumors of sacked merchant caravans, murders on the high roads, and ancient evils buried beneath the rocks of this land. Perfect.
We are looking for 2 additional players for a story-driven, role-play driven, writing-driven campaign. Players should love to read, love to write, and love to roleplay. They should be mature, laid-back, and willing to devote a decent amount of time to creating the story with the rest of us through posting and playing.
Sessions will be every Sunday. We are not certain of the time slot yet, as we will be in Scotland, but we will try and schedule a time slot that is bearable to everyone involved, both in GMT and CST. This most likely means mornings/afternoons for CST and afternoons/evenings for GMT. Between sessions, there will be considerable roleplay posting on a message board, so that characters and story can be further developed.
I am taking some old Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer modules and re-working them for 3.5 campaign, adding a lot of additional story and roleplay opportunity to them. They should be a lot of fun. You do not need to know these modules, or the world of Greyhawk at all. Indeed, I would probably prefer if you did not. You do not even have to be a regular or experienced Dungeons and Dragons player, as we tend to emphasize story over mechanics.
If you think you are interested in this campaign, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will ask you several additional questions, as we try to find a group that will work well together. Please bear with this process, as we have found it is integral to finding players interested in a long-term, fulfilling campaign. I put a ton of work into preparation for my sessions and my campaigns (not node building… the important stuff), and so I want to make sure players are up for it and willing to reciprocate the effort.