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Hollow Moon Culturesby Sharon Dornhoff
Okay, gang -- here comes the part of the Hollow Moon you've all been waiting (too long) for! But first....
"Out-Of-Character" Disclaimers, Explanations, and Words of Warning
Before I actually get started on describing HM societies, I thought I'd clarify a few things about where I'm coming from with these posts. That way, I'll know I'm not giving my readers false impressions, and you'll know I'm not completely out of my mind. ;-)
1) Although some of these cultures are based upon or inspired by IRL historical societies, they AREN'T intended to be perfect copies of reality, nor (God knows!) to stereotype or demean any real-life human culture. If what's written here seems to deviate from what you might've learned in an ancient history or anthropology course, or if you believe it's disrespectful -- although, I swear, I've TRIED not to be offensive -- feel free to alter it to suit your own knowledge, principles, and tastes.
2) For that matter, everything I'm going to tell you about HM cultures, their previous histories on Mystara, and Matera's native races, should be considered COMPLETELY optional. I sincerely welcome all Mystara-lovers out there to change, amend, borrow, dispute, debate, contribute to, laugh their rears off at, and/or ignore this material, in your own campaigns: that's what I wrote it for, people. :-D
3) That said, I'd like to assure readers that whenever possible, I've tried to fit these races, and their origins, within the larger context of "canon" Mystara's historical/cultural milieu. When it does contradict something that's considered "canon", I've tried to alter ONLY that material which was described as "suspected" truth, not definite (as with Modrigswerg dwarves), or which is already highly inconsistent, as it's portrayed in the published products (as with the vesper elves' roots among the shadow elves). If you've followed the published "official" history of Mystara -- i.e. the one from the HW boxed set -- moderately closely, in your own games, then fitting these new races and cultures into your campaigns' timelines shouldn't be any problem.
4) As it happens, I am both (a) a compulsive "name-dropper", and (b) a jigsaw-puzzle fanatic. That means that -- like many of you, on the MMB and MML :-D -- I can't pass up a chance to draw obscure connections between one Mystaran locale or historical event, and another; nor can I resist the temptation to "fill in" the gaps, oversights, and trivial inconsistencies in the published material about the setting. Because of this, you'll find that I've leapfrogged all over the map -- not to mention the last 15+ millennia! -- in placing these nocturnal cultures on Mystara, and then hijacking them to the moon ... although I HAVE tried to restrict myself to using only the "official" timeline, to put each HM culture into context. Whenever there's an opportunity to connect Hollow Moon history to one of the "non-canon" timelines from Shawn Stanley's Web Archive, I'll be sure to confine my mention of that link to footnotes; I'd rather not make the use of HM history contingent upon my readers' also adopting, say, James Mishler's "History of the Ispan people", or Geoff Gander's "Primal Mystara" (even though these are both excellent additions to the game-world!). Exception: I originally wrote the "Ierendi v. 2.0" timeline, also on Shawn's site, so I could bring the Utter Island albinos into the HM setting; thus, this "non-canon" timeline is intended as actual HM history, and should be adopted along with the albarendi.
5) When I'm NOT doing jigsaw puzzles, I'm usually reading. (Sometimes I do both at once, but then the puzzle pieces always seem to fit together in ways they weren't intended to.... ;-D) For the Hollow Moon project, I've done a LOT of background reading, much of it from the earliest-ever science fiction stories about the IRL moon, and much of it -- I kid you not -- even more bizarre and satirical and over-the-top than the "Princess Ark" saga! Because these stories are so colourful, and because I wanted to follow up on what I've read about the Moon's role in fantasy, I've opted to draw heavily on those past works of moon-fiction, when designing races and cultures for Matera. More than half of what I've come up with, from the cryion bat-people to the Cacklogallinians, was inspired or influenced* by old-time lunar sci-fi. I'll try to cite my sources whenever that's the case, if only because a lot of those stories have amusing histories of their own.
(* - If not stolen outright ... but hey, THAT book pre-dates modern copyright laws, and those light-fingered Cacklogallinians would approve! :-D)
6) Besides favouring races and cultures that have some precedent in old-time fiction about the IRL Moon, I've also ruthlessly excluded those races from consideration, for which descriptions exist only in the AD&D game*. While readers are free to add such creatures to the setting if they want them there, I have always rather liked the fact that Mystara has its own unique, eclectic roster of (OD&D) monsters, and ISN'T arbitrarily crawling with every bug-eyed critter in the Monstrous Manual (yuk! :-P). The only AD&D monsters which will appear here, at all, are a few kinds which were published exclusively in the Red Steel appendix to the Monstrous Compendium and thus were tailor-made for Mystara. If you want a moon full of drow, you'll just have to look for them in the Spelljammer setting, because you're not going to find any on Matera.
(* - This is NOT meant to imply that you can't play in the HM setting, unless you use the OD&D rules. That wouldn't be fair at all. Either game system should be entirely compatible with the HM setting, and all kinds of players and DMs are welcome to use it. I doubt if I'll actually be able to include rules for using the new HM races as AD&D player characters, in the coming posts ... but only because of my own time constraints, NOT because I've got anything against the AD&D system.)
7) In posting this material, I'm making one key assumption: namely, that we're all DMs here. Therefore, while I'll be following a similar format to that of the HW books, I'll be consolidating the different headings from the 'Player's Guide' and the 'Dungeon Master's Sourcebook' into a single "HM Cultures" entry for each Materan race and/or society. (Some of these will surely take me more than one MMB post to get through, but there won't be separate listings of player information versus DM information*.) This means that a race's history and its game-stats will both appear in the same thread. I'll also be dispensing with the "coyness" of the HW booklets, and will state outright which IRL culture(s), if any, provided me with inspiration for each individual HM society. If I CAN'T track down enough information on an historical culture to know whether, for example, the Achaemenid Persians used tusked shields (Gad, how picky! :-P), I'll simply recommend a few weapons and armours which I know are typical of the culture, and then move on to the "good stuff". :-D
(* - For 'Top Secret' information, such as Immortal plots or hidden artifacts that'll blow up half the planetary system, there'll be a 'spoilers' thread coming up some time after this "HM Cultures" one is finished. That's where I'll be revealing "HM Secrets" that are too important to be blabbed about in the general culture descriptions, because they'd distract first-time readers from the "mood" of the culture in question (not to mention spoiling Matera's best surprises! ;-D).)
8) One new section will appear, along with the ones from the HW boxed set: "Sensory modes". This is to specify which races use which senses to get around in the dim-lit HM setting, and to clarify how well any given race can see (or whatever) in the dark. I'll have more information on just how good "night vision" and "superior night vision" are, and what the various oddball sensory modes (e.g. echolocation, vibrations) might tell a character that sight, sound, and other human senses do not, in the "HM Campaigning" thread still to come. Till then, just bear with me, and take my word for it that the different HM races' sensory quirks will prove entertaining, come game-time. :-)
9) This is very much a work in progress. Everyone is invited to contribute ideas, and everyone is welcome to criticise or make additions to these cultures or to recommend others I could use. I'll be working through the Hollow Moon in chronological order rather than alphabetical -- oldest races, first -- so as this project continues, we'll get closer and closer to the Mystaran "present"; if you want me to consider adding any especially old (e.g. pre-Blackmoor) races or cultures to the setting, it's best if you suggest them to me right away*, so I'll have time to fit them in!
(* - Post suggestions here, or e-mail me if you'd rather surprise the readers also.)
That's it for the "small print"! But before we pay a call on the Ur-Carnifex, there's one race of HM monster (they don't really have a "culture") that preceded all the rest, by eons....
Desert Ghosts of the Crystalbarrens
Long before the Hollow Moon's interior became shielded by the Spell of Remembrance ... before Matera's patron Immortals warmed her lands and thawed her seas ... even before the impact of a gargantuan asteroid smashed through Mare Orientale's bedrock, opening up the HM setting to a wider universe for the very first time ... even then, desert ghosts had roamed the crystalbarrens for a thousand million years.
Back then, there was no liquid water to be had, within the sealed, translucent orb which was Mystara's outermost moon. There was little light -- far less, even, than the dim illumination of today -- and no oxygen in its thin nitrogen/argon atmosphere. But there was wind -- brisk and ever-present, coaxed to life by Patera's tidal pull -- and there was dust for it to blow about. And there was static electricity -- faint, crackling sparks of it, when the great dust clouds blew over the crystal -- and no metal for it to ground through, out on the open bedrock. And these things -- the absolute dryness and the sure lack of metal; the wind, dust, and static -- were the only things the sand-spirits really needed, to survive.
From duststorms ... from dust-vortices ... from the Plane of Earth they came, to ride the arid winds and taste the sterile air and drink up the tender young lightning-sparks, that lanced between the ground and the gritty, grey, cold sky.
Their scions drank, and grew, and reared up and strode across deserts more barren and waterless and blessed than any which their kin, on worlds where soggy organic life teemed and trespassed, had ever found.
They had no warning.
When the sky cracked, it was the end of the world, of their world. The Firmament fractured; mountains thrust up. All around them -- all around this hollow Moon that had been theirs, alone -- they could hear, and comprehend, the dying rocks' screams. Straining faults shifted and tortured landforms changed, and the desert ghosts heard their anguish.
And then ... the rains fell.
Locked up harmlessly as still, tamed ice since Matera's beginning, the calamity had thawed and unbound the Moon's waters. A wave of death, it swept over the crystalbarrens, gushed across the rock-faces, poured torrential from the skies. Moving and seeking and seeping, its pursuit could not be eluded. Soaking and miring and muddying, its grasp could not be evaded. Quenching and quelling and killing, its touch could not be endured.
Six hundred and seventy million desert ghosts died, when the Mare Orientale rains fell.
There were survivors. Perhaps one in twenty thousand, by chance or by caution, had survived. Shaken, shattered, traumatised. Isolated from each other, in pockets and patches, deep and dry within the rocks. Many were scions -- infants -- small enough to hide from the deluge, innocent enough not to grasp the ghastly magnitude of the carnage. A few -- too few -- were adults, able to stride in search of others who yet lived. Too few to re-open the paths of Earth, they scoured the sodden lands in search of their offspring, to herd them into the drylands. To cringe, and to recover. To hide, and to share heartbreak. To shelter, and to mourn.
Out on the crystalbarrens, far from the rocks they could not heal and the waters they dared not face, they grieved for a world lost and gone.
They are grieving still, timeless and immemorial. Discontented, they roam the windswept Oceanus Procellarum and the featureless Mare Imbrium and the trackless, untouched wastelands of the Firmament's cracked dome. Desolate, they sigh with the winds in sorrow for innumerable lost brethren now dispersed into mud and mire, even as their own stridings sweep up lace-like, frozen crystals of the waters that once killed them and bear it away like part of their own bodies. Despairing, they vent their rage at a tragedy beyond all imaginings, by lashing out bitterly at the soggy, steel-bearing outlanders who trespass upon their world-sized cemetery, and unknowingly sow their crops and set their treading feet upon soils made out of dust-spirits' corpses. For longer than any Mystaran breed or people has existed, Matera's desert ghosts have grieved.
They remember. Always, they remember their lost ones.
It is all that they can do for them.
OD&D "Monster" Game Statistics and Description*
(* - These are taken directly from the Creature Catalogue, for the benefit of readers who don't have that product. Special defences are slightly modified, as HM desert ghosts are tolerant of extreme cold, yet take normal damage from heat due to the presence of snow (which melts into deadly liquid water) in their particulate bodies. Other characteristics are also expanded upon, to better adapt these creatures to the crystalbarrens and fit them into the HM setting.)
Desert ghost, Materan
Immature -- AC Not applicable; HD 4*(M); Mv 30'(10'); Att. By contact; Dam. 1d6; # Ap. (0) 3d4; Sv F4; ML Not applicable; TT Nil; Int 3; AL N; XP 125 Adult -- AC 3; HD 5**-8**(L); Mv 120'(40'); Att. 1 touch; Dam. 1d8 per HD; # Ap. (0) 2d4; Sv F5-8; ML 10; TT Special; Int 5-8; AL N; XP 425, 725, 1250 or 1750
Monster type: Planar (Rare within cryion-held boundaries; Very Rare near cryion croplands, herds and villages; Uncommon on open crystalbarrens) Terrain: Crystalbarrens of Nearside, open Firmament of Farside to the limits of the atmosphere
Despite their name, desert ghosts are not undead. In fact, they are elemental creatures composed of dust, grit and snow, deriving their being from the plane of Earth*. They are unaffected by Charms and other mind-affecting spells.
(* - Or the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Dust, for AD&D campaigns.)
Desert ghosts first reached Matera, via the wormholes these beings could once open during violent sandstorms, before the moon's exterior was opened to the outside. However, after the Mare Orientale impact and its devastating aftermath, not enough desert ghost adults remained to create a wormhole back to their plane of origin. Now, though their numbers have recovered somewhat, the SoRs constraints on extraplanar travel prevent them from departing. Thus most of their race is now stranded inside Matera, although a few have escaped by means of freak gateways that opened up by chance, as a natural phenomenon.
There are two forms of desert ghost, corresponding to the stages of their life cycle. Immature desert ghosts appear as clouds of snow-flecked dust and grit, drifting across the bare, crystalline rock as if blown by a gentle breeze. In this form they can travel great distances, as they feed upon minuscule charges of static electricity that build up between the crystal bedrock and the many flecks of grit and debris in the crystalbarrens' dry winds. Immature desert ghosts are not aggressive, but if they come into contact with any metal object larger than a dagger, they involuntarily discharge the electrical charges they have collected within their particulate bodies. This instantly kills the young desert ghost, and inflicts 1d6 hp of electrical damage upon anyone touching or carrying the object which caused the discharge. Because metallic objects are so lethal to them when young, both immature and adult specimens have an instinctive hatred and fear of metals, and of the organic beings who make use of them... the cryions, who also inhabit the crystalbarrens, in particular.
During Storm Times and other windy occasions, when large, dry dust storms sweep across the crystalbarrens, desert ghosts gather in large numbers, to howl in mourning and to take comfort in each others' company. During storms they can travel for miles on the wind, crossing vast stretches of the crystalline ground, and keeping ahead of weather-fronts that might unleash the rare, but dreaded rains. Should an immature desert ghost be well-sated on electricity when an especially fierce storm blows up, it matures into the adult form of its kind -- a swirling, vaguely human-shaped "ghost" of snowy grit and dust, which can move independently of the wind as it strides across the wastes.
In this form, desert ghosts become more dangerous, for they gain greater intelligence and the capacity for purposeful action. Adult desert ghosts have been known to carry out coordinated attacks against cryions and other metal-users, with the intention of driving them off the open crystalbarrens. A mature desert ghost can deliver a tremendous electrical shock on contact (1d8 hp damage per HD of the attacking dust-spirit, save vs Spells for half damage), but it also loses 1d4 hp of its own, in the process (1d2 if the victim saves). Against sighted opponents, their attacks can be even more incapacitating: on an attack roll of 19 or 20, some of the grit and dust from the desert ghost's body gets into the target's eyes, causing blindness* until the painful debris can be washed out. A successful saving throw vs Dragon Breath indicates that the victim closes his or her eyes, in time to avoid the blinding dust.
(* - Penalties are -4 to hit and +4 to be hit, for humans and demihumans. Other HM races may or may not be incapacitated as severely; if sight is not their primary sensory mode, they take only a -1 to hit due to the painfulness of their gritty eyes. (This is true of cryions, and is one of the reasons desert ghosts fear their mortal enemies.) If sight is the victim's primary sense, but two or more of the victim's secondary senses are still functioning, he or she needs take only half of the penalties -- i.e. -2/+2 -- which (demi)humans suffer. Opponents with no eyes, or with dry-and-lidless, insectile eyes like those of an aranea, are immune to this part of a desert ghost's attack.)
Non-metal weapons cannot damage a desert ghost, young or old. Melee attacks with metal weapons inflict normal damage to adult desert ghosts, but the attacker will also suffer 1d3 hp of electrical damage, unless he or she is wearing the special insulating gloves invented by the cryions. Metal or metal-tipped missile weapons can be used without fear of an electrical backlash, but they inflict only half damage on the desert ghost's diffuse, gritty body. A desert ghost struck by a metal object weighing more than 50 pounds, such as a large cauldron or a cryion icerigger's keelblade, must save vs Dragon Breath or die instantly in a shower of mini-lightning bolts. Anyone who is directly touching such a metal object as it kills one, in this manner, must also save vs Dragon Breath, or suffer as many hp of electrical damage as the desert ghost had left, when struck (half that, if the save succeeds).
Desert ghosts of the Hollow Moon are immune to normal cold damage from their extreme climate, and always suffer the minimum damage from magical cold-based attacks. Fire or heat inflicts normal damage the first time it is used against them in a battle, but subsequent heat-based attacks do minimal (magical fire/heat) or no (non-magical) harm to these dust-spirits. In fact, the initial damage is not directly due to the fire; rather, the first blast of heat from such attacks melts the particles of snow which make up a portion of their dusty, gritty bodies ... and water in its liquid form is deadly to desert ghosts, inflicting damage by shorting out their stored reserves of electricity. One wineskin-full of liquid water, or of some other fluid which is very "watery" -- wine, milk, acid, cider, urine, or the like; blood, oil, or honey are all too viscous to suffice -- can inflict damage to desert ghosts as if it were a flask of burning oil (1d8). Desert ghosts are hostile to creatures from the elemental plane of Water. (Luckily for them, such creatures are rare on Matera, thanks to the SoRs inhibitions on extraplanar summonings and Gates.)
Electrical attacks inflict no damage upon desert ghosts; and natural bolts of lightning (like from a storm), or electrical spell-attacks such as Lightning Bolts, actually INCREASE desert ghosts' hit points (!) by the same number of hp they would've inflicted against a normal target. For every 5 hp an adult desert ghost gains in this manner, beyond the maximum hp for a creature of its HD, it gains another hit die; thus, a 5 HD desert ghost which starts out with 30 hp would gain one hit die, from a 25-hp lightning bolt. An 8 HD desert ghost which is struck by natural or magical lightning instantly explodes, in a burst of flying grit and dust that scatters in all directions. All beings which have eyes like a vertebrate's, and are facing towards the exploding desert ghost when it is struck, must save vs Dragon Breath or be blinded as described above. Otherwise, this scattering of grit and dust does no damage to nearby creatures. Come the next Storm Time, the scattered bits of grit from the destroyed desert ghost will coalesce with other specks of the crystalbarrens' debris, forming 2d10 new 4 hp immature desert ghosts*.
(* - This is the normal means by which Matera's desert ghosts reproduce, although natural lightning bolts are generally favoured over magical ones, by those who have attained maximum size and feel the time to "disperse" into scions is right. As with treants who "go back to sleep" as normal trees, desert ghosts do not fear this transformation or consider it the same as "dying".)
Desert ghosts never have metallic treasure, but sometimes (30% chance) small areas of the crystalbarrens where they congregate may have 2-20 small gems scattered nearby, worth 10-50 gp each. Very rarely (1%), a desert ghost which lives on the fringes of civilised territory may pick up a scroll, map, or other windblown scrap of parchment, and carry it along for miles inside its body. On the rare occasions when (metal-free, non-cryion) travellers have managed to parley with desert ghost adults, and have used Speak With Monsters to translate the spirits' blustery, grit-rasping, wind-gusting voices, they have made cryptic references to some kind of "treasure" or "prized thing" -- or perhaps even "god" or "magic"; all these possible translations are dubious, at best -- which their kind apparently found or have always kept in their possession, and which others must not try to take from them. However, no Materan has ever been able to get a clear or consistent description of this treasure/god/whatever, from its alien and somewhat dim-witted "guardians" ... let alone, find out where it is kept or what its actual nature and function are.