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Marh Vhol - Metal of the Outer Beingsby Geoff Gander
"In ancient days, of which we have scant records and half-remembered tales told by the firelight, there was a great race who ruled much of our world. They were not men as we know them, but of an entirely different race - a race touched by madness and shadows, it is said. Of their great works and mighty cities, we know nothing, save for what we have unearthed amidst the mossy ruins and worn stones that speak in mute testament to the once-awesome power of these strange, forgotten people.
"There was, however, one other thing that remained from those half-forgotten days. A strange, black metal, imbued with otherworldly power. Very little of it has been found, but those amounts known to exist have been hotly contested by sages, wizards, and the power-hungry. Weapons forged of this metal are said to be more durable, and deadlier against one's foe. Blades made from it seldom lose their edge, and when wielded such weapons seem to give added prowess to their owners. Always, however, such gifts come with a price. Those who use the black metal for too long become attuned to...darker powers. Their bodies have been known to sicken and wither, and sometimes to develop an altogether unwholesome aspect. Few know for certain what transpires in the souls of those who use the black metal, but it is known that all who use it are changed somehow.
"Such is the power of this enigmatic substance, known by certain sages of old as marh vhol".
- excerpted from "A Treatise on Rare Magical Metals", by Rudolfo Benedetti, professor of alchemy at the Giovanni della Monte Academy of Thaumaturgical and Natural Sciences, Wendar City, Wendar, AC 988.
Trapped as they are behind dimensional and magical barriers, the Outer Beings are thought, by those who know about them, to be relatively harmless. Barring the odd incident where they may influence susceptible minds by aid of artifacts or weaknesses in the barriers containing them, it is thought that they are unable to affect the Prime Plane in any meaningful way, and that they spend their time in idleness. Sadly, this notion is incorrect.
Furious about being imprisoned all these millennia, the Outer Beings actively plot and scheme for a means to escape and wreak havoc on the Prime Plane. One means by which they do this is distributing the metal known as marh vhol to their followers, either as raw metal, or in the form of magical weapons crafted by their servitors in their various prisons. Some of the more powerful weapons are crafted by the Outer Beings themselves; these are by far the deadliest of their kind.
Marh vhol, which is a Carnifex word meaning "dark metal", is fashioned from the basic solid matter composing the prison dimensions. These prisons, it should be noted, are not buildings or enclosed spaces per se, but entire worlds and planes of existence, from which the Outer Beings cannot leave. Thousands of servitors, accompanied by the spirits of former worshippers, labour ceaselessly to mine the fabric of the prison dimensions' realities for the proper materials that may be used to fashion marh vhol. Once sufficient quantities are gathered, the Outer Beings will then use their powers to shape the material, to compress it down into its base elements, and to imbue with a fraction of their own strength. Occasionally, they will sacrifice some of their more powerful servitors, whose essences are then melded with the metal to strengthen it even more. In this latter case, the product is most often a finished weapon of some sort; very rarely would they make such sacrifices to craft the basic metal itself. Once finished, the product resembles a block of dense, black metal - marh vhol itself.
Often, the metal is then transported to the Prime Plane by way of bloody ceremonies conducted by worshippers, or it may be brought by summoned servitors. It is not given out freely, however; only the most loyal cabals of worshippers are granted even the tiniest amount of it. Whenever it is brought to the Prime Plane, it is most often for the purpose of crafting magical items to further the cause of the Outer Beings.
As mentioned above, in appearance marh vhol is a black metal. It is not dull; rather, it has a lustre to it reminiscent of obsidian, and there are never any imperfections in it. To the touch marh vhol is cold - holding it for prolonged periods (in game terms, more than six turns) will inflict mild frostbite damage to the possessor (1d2 damage per turn). In terms of weight, raw marh vhol is no more cumbersome than iron or steel. An additional, though less tangible, effect of marh vhol is its otherworldliness. Those tiny amounts that have been located and collected by sages an spellcasters have been shown to emanate a certain "alienness" - those exposed to it cannot help but notice its presence. It does not disturb them, but it does register its presence with them in some manner at the subconscious level, as though indicating that it does not belong there.
As mentioned above, marh vhol is brought to the Prime Plane for one purpose only - to aid in the construction of weapons and other items that will further the cause of the Outer Beings in various ways. Although this metal is not required to make such items, those items which are crafted from it - at least in part - are always among the most powerful. This is because marh vhol, no matter where in the Prime Plane it is located, or in what quantity it is found, is always attuned to the minds of the Outer Beings. Having been fashioned by them, it retains a small portion of their essence.
In game terms, there are no precise rules governing the use of marh vhol in the creation of magic weapons and other items, since each item created with it tends to be unique. Occasionally, the steel used to forge weapons and armour is mixed with tiny quantities of marh vhol in order to equip larger numbers of Outer Being worshippers. Generally, only one part marh vhol is required per twenty parts of mundane metals is required to accomplish this. If this is the case, all weapons created in this manner will acquire an additional damage bonus of +2, on top of any other bonuses that might be in place (magical or otherwise). Likewise, metal armour created in this manner reduces all damage received by the wearer by one. It should be noted that such bonuses not magical per se; they are properties of a metal that does not "belong" on the Prime Plane.
Those few non-worshippers who have managed to secure varying amounts of marh vhol have conducted numerous experiments concerning its origins and nature, as well as its possible uses. Although only a select few have managed to discover anything concerning the metal's origin, all concerned do tend to agree that it is not of the Prime Plane, and that there could be inherent dangers in meddling too much with it. Incautious researchers have disappeared, or been found dead, as a result of acquiring too much of it, or of delving too deeply into the mystery of the metal. The various cabals of Outer Being worshippers throughout the Known World are always on the lookout for errant pieces of marh vhol, and they will do anything within their power to recover them for their masters.
Despite the dangers inherent in the metal, many scholars who come across it are not easily dissuaded from pursuing further knowledge, either out of curiosity or greed. Certain rulers also know of marh vhol, and eagerly seek out as much as possible in order to equip their elite forces with it, or combine it with red steel in order to produce, as certain alchemists believe it would, a "super-metal" of unrivalled potential. Whatever the motive, the growing thirst for marh vhol will only serve to spread chaos and dissent among the nations of Mystara, which can only aid the cause of the Outer Beings. Indeed, there are some scholars - those who know too much - who believe that this is their plan.