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The assembled men and women nodded or grunted at the lady speaking. Her tusks gleam as she walks around the bonfire which illuminates her brightly colored garb and the terrifying mask attached to her belt like a buckler or dagger.
“This is going to be tough. Less than one in ten of you made it through Horizon boot camp so you probably think you’re tough because you were the biggest baddest mooks on your homeworlds.”
“The kukeri training is intense and we stand to ensure trade is the only thing that happens here and no denizen of the Abyss decides to go on a vacation to this miserably cold and barren world. We must prevent any souls from being harvested without proper compensation or trade will break down and then invasion is inevitable as they will see us as too weak to be useful other than to be incorporated into being a part of a layer of the Abyss. And Gruumsh forbids any Tanurukk to get loose again.”
“This very Minkowski Tower we stand outside of is a Hellmouth linked to a trade fortress we have established at an unaffiliated crossroads in-between several Abyssal layers on the river Styx. From the “many-folded lands” point of view, we are now standing in the Abyss albeit a part of the thin lands. The portal underneath the Tower allows direct and easy travel from this world to Fort Zant and its bazaar.”
“I suppose most of you don’t even know the slightest thing about the Abyss other than the tales a shaman or skald tells to scare children around a campfire at night.”
“I don’t know the absolute truth of it but here is the legend I heard from Colonel Ilneval’s valourous skald when I last visited Fort Zant.”
“During the First Age but after the prime dreamed this eggs of the first worlds it began walking the dreamtree out of wanderlust and seeking novelty. Finally, it found the font or pool at the heart or base of the tree that fed the tree and all within it. Looking down at the well the prime saw nothing but itself. For an eternity it stared hoping for a response but nothing was revealed.”
“Then prime delved deep into the heart and the ocean became the same in all directions with no clues about up or down or left or right. For the first time, the prime felt panic and then terror. At last, it screamed.”
“Never before had the prime dreamer felt pain or doubt. This suffering gave birth to the first of the logos attuned to the emotions and experiences it felt while all alone in the crushing deep. Loneliness, loss of hope, and pain became real in the dreamsea. The first children fought each other and their blood and desires disturbed the purity of the deep and mixed with the prime’s tears. In the patterns etched by all of their experiences, the dreamer dreamed the first runes revealed like blood twisting and twirling slowly in a bath.”
“The prime screamed into the deep and in the echoes, the logos discovered the prime and language was born from that meeting. Joy now gave birth to new logos as did love and anger. A great host of logos and ideas were born and more and more began wandering and exploring the nascent Abyss.
“In time the greatest of the logos began shaping their environment with these primal tongues and runes. In wonder, the prime began writing the story of how to be a maker and with this toolset, the prime and the logos sang the first planes into existence with the prime guiding any of the logos who sought to create a home of their own. From that moment the logos would seek to create or if they could create they would seize a planar home for their own as the pinnacle of achievement laid down by the prime dreamer.”
“In the Prime Era, the Abyss had no layers around it as this was before the world eggs hatched our mortal kind and our worlds and much before the dread invasion.”
“I will skip the rest but a key concept is to understand that the Abyss is the most important thing in the cosmos. It is what the aberrations want to enter more than anything else. This is why the celestials haven’t marched in and destroyed every fiend and demon prince they could find for it is the fiends who protect the cosmos from the aboleths, beholders, and illithid aberrations.
“The layers of the Abyss shroud the heart of reality like those little Matryoshka dolls at the Bazaar with dolls within dolls within dolls. They are powered by the Abyss with each layer as you go deeper each ruled by a stronger and mighter lord or lady or cabal as if the Abyss is a sun and the many layers are empowered by the radiance. The masters of the Abyss include every major power from an alliance of mostly Githborn Grey Captains raiding the Astral and Abyssal Seas to a former Feywild Druid Circle and a Dragon-King of Athas. As time goes on the layers morph and eat other layers or unaligned planes as their masters grow stronger or shed regions as they grow weaker.”
“The nine deepest layers of the Abyss are commonly known as the Nine Hells with Nessus nestled next to the heart of the cosmic tree. It is Asmodeus who guards us all against the fickle treacheries of demons and the fearsome nature of the aberrations. Access to the heart is necessary for the birth of truly new and unique planar domains rather than just extensions or enhancements to existing planes or demiplanes.”
“Colonel Ilnevel hasn’t yet learned how to master an Abyssal layer so at the moment the plane is slowly shrinking and ceding territory to nearby rivals but Horizon and Sigil scholars are hopeful that we can decrypt more of the Primal runes or trade for knowledge so we can better defend the Abyss from aberrations and defend ourselves from overzealous fiends who consider it their duty to conquer the weak. Remember though that while at the Hellmouth this is considered the Abyss and the Fiends will face final death should they die here so any that manage to do so the intelligent will often be quite cautious for fiends.”
“That is enough legends for today. Get some rest for tomorrow we will go over combat strategies against Fiends and the types of Fiends you will likely face on the field.”
I hope you enjoyed my little story. Wanted to get it out before Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes came out and before what I read there would color my story.
The Kukeri Tradition is pretty neat and just begging for adoption in a game involving demons.
The many folded (manifold) lands is a cosmos I created after a war between the logos or gods/demons with the mortal worlds against the aberrations in which abominations like aboleths or illithids conquered entire swathes of the prime material plane and sought to gain access to the Abyss so they could create their own planes in their own images and displace the vast dreaming completely. The Horizon guild operates Towers as bases and portals throughout the material planes and the planes of the dreaming tree. The Horizon walkers are the most well known of the guild and will often travel alone to worlds unaware of the greater comings and goings of the cosmos and join groups of adventurers or nudge groups of successful adventurers to places and situations they can be useful to the Guild and even eventually join.
A key idea is that while the blood war is happening it is pursued for the power to fight the aberrations as each side thinks of the other as weak and that they should die so that their resources could be used by better more competent and powerful beings. It also shows why “good” gods and celestials don’t just slaughter all the distracted “bad guys.” The fiends serve a purpose and a big part of their power comes from the abyss or from the souls or lifeforce of mortals. The infernals tend to see mortals as mostly useless and good only for fuel or food. Powerful fiends like to forge fallen souls into magic items and then trade those items to useful semi-competent mortals who happen to be their descendants.
Devils don’t trust demons and rumors of demons being suborned or dominated by aberrations are spread by agents of the Lords of the Nine as part of their propaganda. They may be right. A demonic aberration would be a fearsome thing to face.
Since the river Styx flows through all the layers of the Abyss it is the key point of travel, war, and trade. It is not uncommon for the river to have tributaries pass through it at hellmouths in the material and elemental planes. There are rumors of powerful fae and celestials having their own hellmouths feeding into the Styx and supporting abyssal vassals.
If the devils could stop the flow of the river Styx they would do so and starve the other layers but demon hordes invade and prevent any serious attempt done so far by Asmodeus or other Lord.
(A Technique or “Half-Feat” that can be combined with another Technique or with an Ability increase). Gain Natural Explorer (Abyssal Lands) and Favored Enemy: Fiends from the Ranger list when in the Abyss or a “thin-lands” adjacent to a Portal called Hellmouths as the Abyss will flow into the region around an open Portal and these thin-lands operate much like the Feywild or Shadowfell do. The character gains the Abyssal language from the Favored Enemy ability.
This mask makes Abyssal creatures uncomfortable granting them Disadvantage on social skill checks when the mask is worn by an attuned user and allows the user to see the abyssal connections and traces like truesight pertaining to Abyssal Fiends and their magic. This makes it immediately obvious to any Kukeri trained individual anyone who is in servitude to a Fiend of the Abyss via an infernal brand or mark but wouldn’t reveal a mercenary who was doing paid labor for a Fiend.
D&D House Rules:
The idea for this House Rule grew out of my original idea to develop Half-Elves as more of unique and variable race given their hybrid status. An Half-Elf raised among rural Humans is going to be culturally different than one raised in a cosmopolitan planar city like Sigil or raised among the Fey Lords in the Feywild or in the forests of Silvanesti. That is just the cultural differences which wouldn’t take into account variations in biology. A Liger is very different than a Tigon despite both being half lion and half tiger. I also remember a version of D&D that had a whole lot of options at character creation using a GURPS style point system. Anyway, before I digress any further here is my idea. The addition of Character Focus below is not enough to make the pc’s substantially more dangerous and can be easily countered by having important NPC’s partake as well. It is really for flavor, roleplaying, and differentiation between PC’s. Using these traits as a guide it should be fairly easy for a player and a gm to invent their own character foci too.
Before I go into Focus I just wanted to highlight a character trait that should actually have a big impact on pc’s in your game.
Advantage of the Majority: This trait is free to all members of the dominant race, sex, religion, or caste in a given region. The character is more likely to blend in and not attract attention and enjoys many privileges from having easy access to foods, gear, weapons, and armor for their size and shape to having the right to vote or wield certain weapons or wear certain clothes or colors. The character’s advantages may be invisible to them and should the character go into an area in which they no longer have this background applied to them they may find things to be very strange and have a hard time adapting. In most worlds this applies to human PC’s.
Each PC gets access to one Character Focus that shows a key part of who they are and what they spend their down time doing. A Rogue who is well connected in a legal merchant guild is going to roleplay differently than a Rogue who is a Savant with thieves tools. A Paladin carrying his father’s shield blessed by Brennan the demigod of protecting children is going to have a different feel than the Paladin Weapon Specialist.
Well Connected: Based on your character’s background you have a wide range of contacts giving you an “in” and respectability within that field or organization and a constant source of general information that can be turned towards specific information at a price. A guild member will know the gossip in the guild and a secret or two and easily find themselves well ensconced in a new city and probably find a few leads on guild and adventure work. A criminal knows the major players in the shadows and recent critical events from the point of view of the underworld. A noble knows that Baron Schwine has the finest hawks in the Marches and recently decided that he would pay a fortune to the noble adventurer who brings him a griffin egg. A travelling Sage who was well connected would be welcomed upon arrival at Candlekeep. At GM discretion the PC can have advantage on certain social or investigative rolls involving their social circle and can use the group’s influence in certain social interactions with outsiders. A lowly street gang member is easier to intimidate by a made thief of the Guild than a random no name thief. It is wise for the Well Connected PC to share time, knowledge, and money on her contacts even if it is just a drink or lunch or an hunch. The more lubricated the contacts the better the gossip flows back. The difference between a well connected Noble and a Noble with just the background would be that the Noble knows the daughter of the Duke and has maybe exchanged words once or twice but can’t get invited to her party while the well connected Noble who had never met the daughter of the Duke could in an afternoon of conversation at a local Baron’s luncheon find themselves with an invitation upon arrival back home. The DM is encouraged to have random NPC’s recognize the PC and to have heard stories about them throughout the game. The PC just knows people who know people.
Wealthy: The PC starts with an additional 100 gold pieces or adventuring equipment worth an equivalent amount, or tradeable goods worth at least 250 gold pieces that would need to be sold a sizable distance away and includes an hireling and a mule and wagon for overland travel or part of a cargo hold for overseas travel. The Wealthy PC would of course be wise to hire protection on such a journey. Wealthy PC’s tend to attract wealth but need to spend it as well and don’t take well to modest lifestyles. A Wealthy PC knows how to act and dress higher status and knows the best inn in Waterdeep before she had ever been there. If the PC’s want to sell a minor magical item legally the wealthy PC might know who would be interested and who would be able to afford it. The DM is encouraged to have money flow in the direction of this PC and the PC is encouraged to spend freely and often.
Heirloom: The PC has one very expensive and valuable piece of property that they inherited and treasure. They would never sell the item or allow the item to be taken from them. It could be a mastercrafted sword or a suit of half plate worn by a famous Paladin ancestor that inspired the PC to take on the adventuring life or even a minor magical item passed on by a loved one when they died. It should be an item that would grow in power with the PC and their legend. One cannot picture Raistlin Majere without the Staff of Magius even if the only magic he could do with the staff was a light spell at 3rd level. Torvald’s father’s battleaxe soaked in the acidic blood and soul of the adult black dragon he had slain and from that day dealt acidic damage on his foes and later slew a demi-lich forming a strong antipathic resonance against the undead. The DM should find some sort of excuse or work with the player to make the heirloom scale and remain a key part of the PC as they become more legendary. Torvald after all had passed up on some pretty looking axes with heavy enchantments on them when they arrived in Sigil.
Weapon Specialist: The warrior has a favored weapon that they spend inordinate amounts of time mastering to the exclusion of a vast chunk of their social life. With a specific weapon type the PC has a +X added to their attack with X representing the number of normal attacks they can do in a round. At first level this would be a +1 bonus but a fifth level fighter would be +2 because they have two attacks. When the PC increases their bonus they gain an additional favored weapon.
Acrobatic Defender: +1 bonus to AC as long as the character has freedom of movement.
Shield Specialist: The character adds their Proficiency +1 to their AC when using a Shield instead of the +2 to AC a Shield normally provides. Whenever an attacker misses the Shield Specialist by more than 10 they open themselves up to a bonus action called a shield bash which is an attack that uses the shield and does 1d4 + Strength damage. A Magical Shield provides the AC bonus to the attack and damage rolls just as if the Shield was a magical weapon.
Elemental Affinity: PC is resistant to a type of energy damage like acid, fire, cold, or thunder. The PC gains a +1 bonus to Skill rolls involving the element and +1 damage when using weapons or magic involving the element. For example a PC with a fire affinity would have a talent for starting the camp fire, wielding a flaming sword, or casting a fireball. More exotic resistances are possible with DM approval and PC background such as being a Fire Priest’s acolyte or being a distant descendant of a race resistant to that type of energy.
Magical Prodigy: The PC is extremely talented with a school of magic and gains an extra cantrip and an extra level 1 spell slot for that school. For those without a spellcasting class they gain just a cantrip. Should the Prodigy ever get trained in a spellcasting class and gain a level they would then gain access to the extra level 1 spell slot.
Studious Spellcaster: The PC has worked very hard to learn how her magic works and how to stretch her capabilities. Her Spell save DC has a bonus of +1 and she learns 1 additional spell at character creation.
Battlemage: The PC is talented with combat spells and cantrips. The PC adds their Dexterity Modifier to their Spell Attack Modifer for combat magic that needs a spell attack roll.
Savant: Character is extremely proficient at the basics of a skill or tool or instrument. The Savant counts a roll of 7 or less as a 7 with any tasks involving that skill.
Attractive: The attractive PC has advantage on social rolls with someone who finds them attractive at the DM’s discretion based on the social situation at that time. The PC spends an inordinate amount of time focused on highlighting their beauty or handsomeness at least from the point of view of the Weapon Specialist. The PC might be reluctant to undertake tasks that might diminish their attractiveness like crawl around in a sewer. A troubadour, artist, or actor can really leverage their attractiveness when performing and often earn more pay than other entertainers of greater skill.
Gifted Healer: Any use of a Healer’s kit or Herbalist’s kit or magic to provide aid to an injured or otherwise hurt individual gains the injured character a bonus hit point per die rolled.
Fleet Footed: Speed increases by 10 feet. The PC spends much of their spare time running or swimming and can also run longer distances as well compared to less focused characters.
Green Thumb: The PC has a special knack with plants and has advantage with all rolls using an herbalism kit or Nature rolls involving growing or tending plants. Plants just seem to be brighter and healthier around them. Sentient and semi sentient plants react positively to the PC who has Advantage on any social rolls involving plant creatures.
Tough: Has an extra 2 Hit Points at character creation and an additional 2 HP per level afterwards.
Sentinel: +5 bonus to passive Perception rolls. Pick one sense and have advantage on all rolls using it.
Well Traveled: Familiar and comfortable with different cultures and races the PC has a very cosmopolitan view of the world. The PC is unlikely to make a faux pas when interacting with exotic beings, foreigners, nobles, and rustic folks and counts a 5 or lower as a 5 with all skills they are proficient in that involve interacting socially or involving academic knowledge of them and their traditions. Common among traveling sages who can become quite valuable to leaders and merchants hoping to begin diplomacy or trade with little known peoples. Well traveled PC’s gain an extra language and have an easier time learning new languages as they can learn without the need of an instructor if they are immersed in an area with the language and culture. Their training time is also cut in half.
Darkvision: A PC of a race that doesn’t have this trait gains Darkvision of 60′. It may be as a result of pact with infernal or fey beings or as a result of an ancestor from another race or from exposure to wild magic or even an experimental potion.
D&D House Rules: