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Bararna Islandby Geoff Gander from Threshold Magazine issue 3
In 1999 I wrote an article [http://www.pandius.com/dwthaneg.html] about an island in the Thanegioth Archipelago inhabited by troglodytes who had an abiding interest in sacrificing anyone they captured to the Outer Beings. The article was a sequel of sorts to a piece I wrote about ancient evils in the Thyatian Hinterlands of Davania (“A Discovery in the Hinterlands” [http://www.pandius.com/hintrlnd.html]). I had had plans at the time to write an entire series of articles detailing ancient cults and holdovers from dark times that DMs could insert into their campaigns to give them a more Lovecraftian flavour. Although I continued to flesh out the cosmology of the Outer Beings, I never did write the third installment of Marcus Cassius Aurestius' misadventures (which would have centered on the Blight Swamp); although some of the ideas did finally come to life in my “Mental Ramblings” [http://www.pandius.com/mentramb.html] story.
As to why I chose Bararna Island in the first place, the answer is fairly simple. I was very aware of the popularity of X1: The Isle of Dread, but had long thought that the Thanegioth Archipelago needed some truly dark antagonists in the classic pulp action style (which was what I was writing at that time) – the kopru were good villains, but not dark enough for my tastes. I was reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) then, and it seemed only natural that I should take a random island and turn it into an unforgettably nasty place! I thought I had succeeded. Revisiting Bararna Island has been fun, and going through this exercise has allowed me to flesh it out to a degree that just wasn't possible back then. I hope you enjoy this voyage just as much.
Well-travelled Mystaran adventurers (and their players) will no doubt know of the aptly-named Isle of Dread. Remote, exotic, and teeming with hostile plants and animals, the Isle is the quintessential "lost world", complete with dinosaurs. The particularly bold - or simply those with little or no sense of self-preservation - may also be familiar with the Isle's evil and utterly inhuman masters, the kopru, who fume and plot in the very centre of the island. With all that danger and excitement, it is easy to forget that there are many other islands in the Thanegioth Archipelago, each of which could be home to equally exotic - and deadly - inhabitants. One such place is Bararna Island, which was named after an unfortunate Kerendan explorer who was shipwrecked there roughly 50 years ago, and managed to survive there long enough to be found by another vessel. His encounters with the inhabitants were well documented, which prompted many adventurers to visit the island in the years since. Few returned.
Geography and Climate
“The Immortals grant that I should find relief from this oppressive place which civilised man has had the sense to overlook.”
- from “My Life on the Waves”, by Octavius Cato (published 981 AC)
Bararna Island, which lies due east of the Isle of Dread, is a long, narrow, heavily forested place. The land rises gently from the sea in most places to a height of roughly 300 feet above sea level to a central ridge of hills running the length of the island, with a shallow, swampy depression many miles wide (lying roughly 100 feet above sea level) situated in the centre. Unlike the better-known Isle of Dread, there are no true mountains or active volcanoes here.
Many streams and rivers of varying sizes wind their way from the hilly uplands to the coast and the swampy interior. The oceangoing rivers generally flow swift and straight, while the few interior rivers wind more due to the gentler slope until they converge in the central swamp. All of them contain many species of freshwater fish and aquatic insects; although the central swamps are home to much larger varieties. A single, shallow river – known only to the native inhabitants – drains the swamp sluggishly into the sea.
The coastline is dotted with dozens of coves, many of which are deep enough to be used as natural harbours for oceangoing vessels. Offshore, the seabed drops away precipitously to the north and south. As with the rest of the Thanegioth Archipelago, Bararna Island is tropical with a rainy season from Ambyrmont to the end of Flaurmont, with little rainfall during the rest of the year. Even during the dry season, however, the air is quite humid; although it is stifling in the central swamps all year round. Storms and fog banks are common around the coasts, which only add to the island's less than inviting reputation.
Flora and Fauna
“...and all the while we noticed something odd about this land. There were no birds, nor were there any mammals - at least, none that showed themselves.”
- from the account of Marcus Cassius Aurestius (c. AC 997)
[Image: Svipdag transformed]
At first glance, Bararna Island is a tropical paradise. Palm trees and cycads, interspersed with ferns, grow thickly over much of the island. Fruit trees – such as papaya and mango – are also present in large numbers, and the sickly-sweet aromas of the rotting fruit attract numerous insects. Although the jungles extend to the coastline in most parts of the island, the northern and eastern coasts are rocky, and there ferns are predominant. The interior swamplands are filled with reeds, cattails, as well as lilypads as wide as a man is tall.
Bararna Island is unique among the islands of Thanegioth in that almost all of its animal life is reptilian or amphibious. The rocky beaches of the northern shore teem with abnormally large (6-7 foot long) iguanas that feed on the mats of seaweed that coat the tidal zones, while further inland the dense tropical jungles echo with the chirps and croaks of frogs and toads - and the hissing of the snakes that eat them. There are no mammals or birds to be found anywhere, nor have any lived here for millennia.
Of all the island's inhabitants, the semi-civilised troglodytes dominate every region. Most follow a hunter-gatherer existence and are grouped into loose tribes led by a shaman or powerful warrior. Although the troglodytes of Bararna Island are a Stone Age culture, they do have the technological know-how required to build outrigger canoes capable of sailing the length of the archipelago if necessary – thus they are known to many coastal communities on all of the islands.
The Five Tribes of Bararna
“We were not alone, however, for in the midst of that clearing, dancing around the fire to the sonorous thrumming of those unseen drums, were unwholesome lizard-kin!”
- from the account of Marcus Cassius Aurestius
The troglodytes are divided into five tribes, each of which has its own traditions and taboos. Most tribes generally coexist peacefully so long as warriors stay within their own lands; however, during times when hunting (for food or sacrifices) is poor, bloody skirmishes are common. Shamans, however, wander the island unopposed – all tribes share the belief that touching a shaman without permission invites great misfortune on the offender's family. Each of the tribes is described briefly below:
Asteb (“bloodied hill”)
At 140 strong, this tribe is the smallest; however, what it lacks in numbers it more than makes up for in sheer ferocity. Its warriors are well known for their propensity to go berserk in battle, and to desecrate the remains of their fallen enemies. The other tribes are generally content to leave them alone, and will mount raids into their territory only when the need is dire.
DM Notes: Members of this tribe gain an additional +1 to hit in battle, on top of other bonuses. Warriors do not make Morale checks once battle is joined.
This tribe of 600 troglodytes occupies the rockier portions of the uplands of Bararna Island, and controls most of the paths leading into the interior swamp. Their warriors make frequent raids on neighbouring tribes to make up for the poor hunting on their own lands, and they have a reputation for being disciplined combatants – and for giving no quarter at all to vanquished enemies. Being intensely pragmatic, the Kugmarek will often eat a fallen opponent if given the chance. If the opponent (regardless of race) fought well, the troglodytes of this tribe will posthumously “adopt” them, and name one of their hatchlings after them if the victim's name was known. In doing so, the fallen warrior's strength is added to the tribe's.
DM Notes: Members of the Kugmarek tribe receive an additional Armour Class bonus of 1, on top of any other bonus. Due to their skill in battle, it is also impossible to gain a flanking attack against a warrior of this tribe.
Rakoragresh (“sea storm”)
[Image: Priests traveling across Kealakekua]
These troglodytes occupy the westernmost part of the island. One would think their tiny territory would be barely sufficient to sustain this 400-strong tribe, but the vast majority spend most of their time at sea. They are, in fact, the most accomplished sailors among the troglodytes, and their massive canoes have ranged as far as the outer reaches of Yavdlom in search of plunder and captives. They occasionally offer their services to other troglodytes, and sometimes even human tribes on the Isle of Dread, in exchange for plunder. Because of this, the Rakoragresh are generally distrusted by their kin.
DM Notes: Members of this tribe gain a +1 to all sailing skills, and they may re-roll one bad result per day (but the new result must be accepted).
Keresh (“fire warrior”)
The 550 members of this tribe have long-running feuds against the Rakoragresh (who delight in raiding their land) and the Kugmarek (with whom they have numerous territorial disputes). This tribe is unique in that it is the only one that mines, and forges iron weapons and armour. This has given its warriors an edge (no pun intended) in battle. The chieftain dreams of gaining dominance over all of the other tribes, and using the combined might of all the troglodytes to build an empire as described in their most ancient legends.
DM Notes: Troglodytes from this tribe gain a +1 to hit and a -2 bonus to Armour Class when fighting in formation.
Nalemgesh (“unseen ones”)
The 250 members of this tribe are sandwiched between the Rakoragresh and the Keresh, both of which are more numerous and generally more aggressive. The frequent raids have led the Nalemgesh to become very stealthy, and proficient in concealing themselves – even for troglodytes. They are reclusive, and are more likely to pepper intruders with poison darts than challenge them. These troglodytes have built their two villages in the trees themselves, and each is protected by magics that confuse the uninvited. Members of the Keresh tribe occasionally buy passage across Nalemgesh land in order to raid Rakoragresh territory.
DM Notes: Members of this tribe gain an additional bonus of +1 when attempting to surprise opponents. They also gain a +2 bonus on saving throws vs. Poison.
History (as the troglodytes know it)
“The medicine man shook his rattle and began telling me the saga of his people. In that moment I was grateful to have learned the tongue of the lizard men, for that, I am sure, is all that kept me alive.”
- from “My Life on the Waves”, by Octavius Cato (published 981 AC)
The troglodytes maintain a rich and detailed oral history, dating back almost 8,000 years to the dying days of the Carnifex Empire. Through their interpretation, the tribes tell a story of coming to a great island during a time of upheaval in which their ancestral home had been destroyed. After taming the land and building a strong realm of their own, their remote ancestors were beset by hostile human kingdoms who coveted their wealth and glorious cities. During this period of strife, epic heroes arose who, wielding the Five Spears of the True People, led the troglodytes to great victories. What followed, according to the ancient histories, was a golden age in which the troglodyte kingdom received tribute from dozens of humbled nations.
The troglodytes' undoing was their generosity. In defeating so many of their enemies, the victorious troglodyte armies acquired thousands of prisoners, whom they brought back to their island as slaves. While many were used as common labourers, some human captives were tractable enough that they could be trusted with more complicated, and important, tasks. Some of the craftier slaves, dreaming of revenge, learned the secrets of the troglodytes' defences and betrayed their generous masters during an attack by a coalition of human realms. The troglodyte kingdom was utterly destroyed, ushering in a dark age from which the tribes have not yet emerged.
The original article on Bararna Island provides the true history of the troglodytes; I will not repeat it here, aside from noting that the legendary, long lost kingdom the tribes claim as their own was in fact the realm of the Y'hog Carnfiex, who were the masters of the troglodytes' ancestors. The conflicts with human nations are dimly-remembered conflicts with Lhomarr and its allies, and the ancient betrayal by crafty human slaves was a complete fabrication. Regardless, almost all of the inhabitants believe this legend to be true, and this forms the basis of their hatred of the humans on neighbouring islands.
“They lived in accordance with the rhythms of their island, but that such an otherwise idyllic place should be home to such as they makes a mockery of any notions of Nature's balance.”
- from “My Life on the Waves”, by Octavius Cato (published 981 AC)
The tribes of Bararna Island follow a largely hunter-gatherer existence, with life centred around two or three villages within their territories. There is little industry to speak of in these communities beyond the fashioning of weapons and basic tools; although many troglodytes also create art out of sea shells, driftwood, and bones. Due to the long-running antagonisms that exist among some tribes, and the lack of variation on the island in terms of resources, there is relatively little trade – or inter-tribal contact in general.
Each village, regardless of tribe, is led by the oldest female, who is advised by the most senior shamans and warriors. Of the two groups, the shamans have more influence due to the strong spiritual undertone present in all communities, which is a hold-over from the period when this part of the world was dominated by the Carnifex. In times of strife, however (which happen fairly frequently), the warriors quickly take control in order to co-ordinate the defence of the tribe's territory. Day-to-day village life, however, is the exclusive province of the tribal mother, and her word is law. A tribal mother rules her community until death, after which the second-oldest female assumes control. Understandably, most tribal mothers rule for a few years at most, and as each wishes to make their mark on their communities it is not unusual for laws and traditions to change drastically when a new tribal mother takes over. Most members of the tribe accept this as the natural rhythm of life, much as the rainy season follows the dry, and simply accommodate whatever changes their new leader imposes. However, there is only so much change a tribal mother can impose before the shamans, acting as the guardians of morality and tradition, step in. Internal strife is not uncommon. Despite the frequent upheavals, the core values of the troglodytes remain largely unchanged.
Shamans, in addition to their ceremonial duties and their role as guardians of social order and spiritual health, prepare herbal remedies to cure the diseases that frequently pass through the islands, and provide what passes for formal education among their tribes. In the latter role, they are living repositories for the extensive oral history of the troglodytes. The shamans also direct the young to occupations that they feel would be most suitable – whether it be a warrior, an artisan, or (for the lucky few) an apprentice to a shaman. If a young troglodyte is chosen in this way, he or she is immediately sent to live with their new master, acquires a new name, and all familial ties are severed. The apprentice's family holds a funeral, and never speaks the offspring's name again.
On rare occasions, a young troglodyte will refuse the role assigned to them by a shaman. If this happens, the youth will be permitted to make their own choice if they survive an ordeal assigned to them by the tribal mother – unless they were destined to become a shaman, in which case they are imprisoned and sacrificed at the next new moon.
Although inter-tribal rivalry is common, almost all of the troglodytes are united in their devotion to the Outer Being known as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Seen, whom they call Gleeshka. Their patron is revered as the source of all life and as their protector, and in their mythology He led them to Bararna Island during a time of great chaos. The troglodytes revere Gleeshka by way of quarterly sacrifices – usually humans captured from neighbouring islands, but when these efforts fail they turn to members of rival tribes. Gleeshka is not terribly picky.
Secrets of the Island
Before the Taymoran disaster the central, swampy depression was a shallow, sulphurous lake fed by hot springs, which was inhabited by kopru. From their inhospitable domain, they controlled the surrounding region in the name of their master, the Emperor of Adhuza. Undersea aftershocks following the sinking of Taymora collapsed many of the hot springs, which made the highlands uninhabitable for the kopru as the lake drained away. Since that time, the once-magnificent underwater palace has been looted by the troglodytes, and what remained has fallen into ruin and largely sunk into the swamp. Jagged, mossy wall fragments poke out of the reeds. The troglodytes know of the ruins, and have tales of their former masters, but none come here because their shamans have declared the entire swamp to be taboo. The only visitors are the shamans themselves, who come here to commune with their ancestors and to train their apprentices, and to meet amongst themselves.
While the upper level of the palace has been picked clean, the lower level, which once contained the private chambers of the kopru, is still largely untouched thanks to the presence of numerous mundane and magical traps – many of which no longer function. It can be accessed via a weed-choked, perfectly circular hole in the centre of the ruins, which leads to a winding, flooded tunnel, at the end of which is a series of natural caverns. All of these caverns are flooded, and contain some of the personal treasures of the kopru who once dwelt here. Another watery passage, which once led to the ocean, leads further down for 100 feet before ending in a massive rockfall (caused by the quakes from the Taymoran disaster). These caverns contain fish of varying sizes and giant clams, who feed off of tiny zooplankton that in turn live on bacteria.
Some examples of the treasures that the players could find are listed below:
Diadem of Influence
This is a ruby diadem set in gold, shaped to fit the head of a kopru. When worn, it enhances a kopru's inborn charm ability, such that all saving throws are penalised by 2. This item cannot be used by other races.
Necklace of Landwalking
This necklace is composed of hundreds of gold and silver links, interspersed with pea-sized, uncut aquamarine stones. When worn by a kopru, the necklace creates a 10 foot wide sphere of water around them, which can be controlled by thought. The water ball's magical surface tension allows it to roll over any surface, up to a 60 degree inclination, at a speed of 60' per turn (or 20' per round). While inside the ball a kopru can breathe easily, cast spells, and speak (its voice can be heard outside the water ball; although it sounds distorted). The ball lasts for up to six hours when created, at the end of which time it evaporates back to the Plane of Elemental Water at a rate of one foot in diameter per round.
This foot-tall statue, carved out of coral to resemble a kopru, was designed to pick up the mind-control signals of the kopru masters of Adhuza and rebroadcast them over a larger area, thus enabling them to control the populace without having to be physically present. Hundreds of these statues were made, and many remain scattered across the archipelago. The enchantments in the statue are specifically attuned to kopru brainwaves, and therefore it cannot be used by any other race.
Gauntlets of Vitality
This item once belonged to a Taymoran hero of noble (i.e., vampiric) blood, who sought to assassinate the kopru overseers of this region when it was part of Adhuza. He failed in his mission, and a few of his items ended up in kopru hands. The gauntlets appear to be normal leather and metal gauntlets (which have been preserved from centuries of being underwater due to their enchantments), with what appear to be four thumbnail-sized pearls mounted on the wrists. Each of these pearls opens when tapped five times, revealing a hollow. If filled with fresh blood, each pearl will act as a cure light wounds spell, and will activate as soon as the wearer sustains damage – the blood is consumed by the activation of the healing magic. Blood kept in a pearl will last only a week before spoiling.
Horns of Fury
This is a pair of enduk horns, inlaid with gold and rubies, attached to a simple metal cap. When worn, the horns increase the wearer's Strength by 2 (to a maximum of 18), but also make them prone to berserk rages when in combat (cumulative 10% chance per round of combat), during which they must attack the nearest person – friend or foe. These horns were worn by the elite warriors of the Taymoran city-state of Tycur. The horns incur a reaction penalty of -4 with minotaurs, whereas enduks must save vs. Spells or fly into a rage and seek to kill the wearer (with an additional +3 bonus to their attacks).
Mogrethian Officer's Sword
This sword (a falcata +2) was issued to most officers in the armies of Mogreth in the later period of the Second Empire (BC 2300 – BC 2000) who were based out of Theliir (modern-day Tel Akbir). Most such swords were enchanted to give the wielder an edge against the foes most likely to be encountered during those times, such as the Taymorans, the Adhuzans, and the free sea peoples. The most common enchantments used were water-breathing, flames on command, and haste – the DM should choose which one has been placed on the sword. Roughly 10% of such swords, which would have been wielded by senior officers, were imbued with two enchantments. Optional rules for falcata weapon mastery have been created [https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7ZJ6RZNagS4Wm1XMGtCRDZ0ZVE/edit], or the DM may rule that this works the same way as a normal sword.
The most obvious way of introducing the players to this setting is to have them come across references to it in an incidental fashion (perhaps in the form of a journal found in a treasure hoard, or overheard in a bar). The information gained in this way would likely be incomplete and/or inaccurate, and should whet their appetites to learn more.
Another way of learning about Bararna Island would be to encounter Marcus Cassius Aurestius himself. Marcus survived his adventure on the island, and likely did more than just write about it. He could be giving a lecture tour about his discoveries at a variety of Mystaran colleges, and depending on who the PCs know they could very well have heard of him. Marcus would happily share additional information with the PCs – especially if they expressed a willingness to go to the island and try to put down the menacing creature that devoured his companions.
Alternatively, the PCs can find their way to Bararna Island in much the same way as the original discoverer did – by accident. In this case, the PCs may not even know about the island and its fearsome reputation. This might be the best way to introduce the island.
“Of its description I can say little, save that it resembled a moving blackness - a crawling, slithering, mass of nothingness that destroyed all it touched.”
- from the account of Marcus Cassius Aurestius (c. AC 997)
Aragresh (Glorious Warrior)
Armour Class: 6
Hit Dice: 15****
Horror Rating: 12
Move: 60' (20')
Attacks: 2 grab or 1 smother, or 1 devour
Damage: 1d6/1d6 or 3d4 + special or 1d8/round
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Save As: F17
Treasure Type: None
Aragresh (lit., “glory warrior”1) are elephant-sized masses of black protoplasmic matter that originate in the same dimension that currently houses their master, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Seen (also known as the One – “Gleeshka” to His troglodyte followers). These exceedingly rare creatures are almost only found in or near temples dedicated to their master, who is not known for being terribly interested in the affairs of mortals. The few scholars who are familiar with the forbidden lore of the Outer Beings are not entirely sure what purpose the Vault Fiends serve.
These creatures lack any skeletal structure and are highly elastic, and as such can assume any shape they wish and can stretch or contract their forms to pass through almost any aperture (even as small as a keyhole; although passing their entire form through it would take a full turn). They are also immune to fire, lightning, and non-magical weapons. The foul odour exuded by these creatures is such that anyone within 10 feet must save vs. Poison each round or succumb to nausea (-4 to attacks, skill checks and saves). These effects remain until the individual leaves the area of effect for one turn.
In combat, an aragresh can extend parts of its mass twice per round to grab its opponents (inflicting 1d6 crushing damage), or it can try to smother an opponent for 3d4 damage, after which the victim must make a successful attack to escape. Until they do so, a victim must save vs. Death Ray each round or suffocate in 2d6 rounds and die 1d4 minutes thereafter. The aragresh’s most deadly attack, however, is its ability to devour its victim whole. If it hits, it wraps itself around its victim and begins liquefying and absorbing their flesh for 1d8 damage per round. Once the victim's hit points fall to 0, he or she is absorbed completely (no resurrection is possible).
This section for use by Layout:
[Image: Falcata] http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Falcata_%C3%ADbera_%28M.A.N._Madrid%29_01_vertical.jpg
[Image: Behemoth] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Behemoth3.jpg
[Image: Gauntlest] http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BLW_Steel_Damascened_Gauntlets_%281%29.jpg
[Image: Svipdag transformed] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Svipdag_transformed_-_John_Bauer.jpg
[Image: Priests traveling across Kealakekua] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Priests_traveling_across_kealakekua_bay_for_first_contact_rituals.jpg
1 This was incorrectly translated by Marcus as “Vault Fiend”, due to his weak grasp of the troglodyte tongue - which, although related to the common lizard man tongue (known as Hemkalss, which he did speak well), has important etymological differences.
Hemkalss uses the letter “h”; although it is pronounced towards the back of the palate and is occasionally hard to discern. Non-native speakers who wish to have any skill with the language quickly train themselves to listen attentively for this letter, as dropping it can substantially change the meaning of what is being said. The troglodyte tongue rarely makes use of “h”, and thus Marcus heard “Haragresh”, and from that inferred the component word “harag”, which means “pit”, or “cavern” – a reasonable conclusion, given the creature was emerging from a pit at the time. In fact, the troglodytes were saying “arag”, which is derived from the Carnifex word “arh” (light) – which also carries the implied meaning of glory (this is not the case in Hemkalss).