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The Blazing Muzzle of Muthby Bruce Heard
Centuries past, a huge wyrm by the name of Muth once terrorised the northern fringes of Karameikos. The ancient red delighted in wreaking havoc among man and elvenkind alike, and especially upon their most prized constructions. The mightier and the stronger their achievements, greater yet came the wyrm's destruction and rampage. Muth took a particular pleasure in humiliating and tearing apart what humans regarded as symbols of their own power. Often Muth directed her fiery rage at fortresses and their helpless garrisons. She had once invented a game in which she would pick a ball of steel in her mouth and spit it at a great wall. Not only would the ball topple what it had been hurled upon, but a huge column of flame would follow and burn away anything else exposed among the rubble.
Many times had brave Karameikans attempted to find Muth's lair. Most died trying. Those who discovered it were never seen again, save for one adventurer. It was an odd group under the leadership of a Karameikan priest. Mavericks they were and hard to get along with each other. But each of these heroes played their part, Rodar the dwarven warrior, Whisperwind the elven rogue, a Glantrian dracologist named Le Dracenois, and Fyodor of Krakatos, the priest. The latter made it possible for his companions to survive the treacherous mountains, healing their minds and their bodies throughout the ordeal. It is he who gave them the courage to go on where all the others had fallen. Yet, it is Whisperwind who found the entrance to the lair, and she who found the way to Muth and her newly hatched wyrmlings. Then Rodar took the hatchlings hostage while Le Dracenois unleashed his arcane powers upon the mighty red.
Cornered and at risk of falling under the Glantrian magic, Muth released all of her rage in one terrible roar and filled the cave with a fiery storm. The wyrmlings quickly perished at the hands of Rodar and his dreaded battleaxe before he himself died in the flames. Fyodor stood by the wizard, protecting him as long as he could so Le Dracenois could utter the last words of his enchantment. But the blazing muzzle of Muth consumed even the holiest of defences the priest could conjure, and the two heroes felt the searing agony of Muth's wrath. The ancient red, now triumphant, gloated as the wizard and the priest writhed like mad puppets dancing in her flames until they finally collapsed at her feet, little more than charred bones and ashes.
As Muth's fire and laugher died out, a ghostly murmur then rose from the wizard's remains. At first a feeble moan, it grew stronger and more imperious. Her eyes now wide with fear and horror, Muth recognised the final verses of Le Dracenois' incantation. He was pursuing his spell from beyond death. Roaring and screeching, the wyrm awkwardly scattered the bones and the ashes, throwing them in the air and casting them against the cavern's walls. In vain. Nothing could stop the spell. The claws of fear clutching her evil heart, Muth suddenly scrambled for the exit, only to stop dead in her tracks, before Whisperwind. The elven rogue had barely escaped the cavern's billowing inferno that killed her companions. She stood there, in Muth's way, defiant and with an icy look in her eyes. She rose her hand, holding up a small object. "Are you looking for this?", she asked.
As the spell echoed interminably in the cavern, Muth lunged forward to snatch the small object. But the spell ended just then and, as the wizard's eerie voice finally vanished, his last words prophesied, "and thus will her soul with steel become one, and thus will her fire protect mankind from the evil of dragons". Whisperwind leaped out of the way and Muth seized the tiny, metal object. She shrieked, feeling for the first time in her existence the pain of fire. The object burned through her skin as she shook her paw to rid herself of it. But it stuck there. Muth twisted her limb and squirmed, savagely whipping at the object with her tail. At last, when the ancient red lied still and subdued from pain and exhaustion, an ominous darkness spread its wings above her. It was her soul. This essence of true evil slowly circled above Muth and only when she sighed her last breath did it spin downward and disappear into the object in her claws.
Once sure of Muth's death, Whisperwind came out of her hiding place. She tried picking up the vessel housing the dragon's essence, but after a few attempts gave up. This tiny bombard replica seemed impossibly heavy. She sat there for a moment, gazing at the object, and then turned to bury her companions' remains. She picked up what precious treasures had survived the blaze and glanced again at the object before leaving. She then noticed it had grown. Eventually, the cannon expanded to its full size, a six-ton metal monstrosity, with a sixteen-foot-long, thirty-inch-wide barrel. On it were engraved mysterious Glantrian sigils. Alas, Whisperwind could not decipher the arcane writing and left for good.
What happened to Whisperwind or the cannon after this no one knows. Perhaps did she return with an expedition to retrieve the artifact. Or is it that denizens of the mountains found it first and took it with them? Sooner or later, someone would unveil the fantastic power of this device. The question is, who and why?
Neither does the story end here. One of Muth's hatchlings survived its terrible wounds. It saw what happened to its mother. Too feeble to intervene, it could not risk attacking the rogue. It lied there, helpless until it could drag itself to safety and heal. All along it could sense Muth's soul inside, begging and calling. It knew that one day it would learn how to free its mother's soul and return her to this world. By the time Muth's offspring, a vicious wyrm by the name of Rath, grew large and strong enough to move the artifact, it had been taken from the den. It does not know by whom or to where. It too seeks the artifact now, and it too wishes utter evil upon mankind, waiting for revenge.
Aftermath and Statistics
Upon its creation, the cannon was essentially a vessel containing Muth's essence. It was an enchanted item with a series of pre-programmed spells, including for example many enlargements to get the original replica to its final intended size. For some time, the cannon became the property of Cornu, the younger brother of Le Dracenois, who knew of his plan to enchant Muth. He found his brother's remains and the cannon. By then Rath had removed some of its mother's remains from the den.
Understanding full well the cannon's nature, Cornu skilfully changed the cavern's layout and entrances to protect the site. Then, over the following few years, he finished the enchantments his older brother had planned. This transformed the cannon into a powerful magical weapon. Unfortunately, as he attempted to move the unsecured cannon, the massive weapon's barrel suddenly fell, crushing the Glantrian wizard to death. The weapon then lay abandoned in Muth's lair for several more decades. During this time, the essence of Muth corrupted the cannon's enchantments and made it into a quasi-artifact. Whether it still lies in Muth's mountainous den or someone else removed it since still remains a mystery today.
The Weapon: the Blazing Muzzle of Muth requires neither powder nor ammunition; it fires a fiery projectile similar to a magical meteor. It can fire once every two hours, at a range of two miles. The missile automatically hits its intended target (no save) if still within range, else it continues on a ballistic trajectory until it reaches its maximum range.
The missile inflicts 20d6 points of fire and impact damage to a creatures hit directly (no save). Fire damage engulfs all in a 20' radius (save for half damage). Buildings or ships suffer d12+20 points of structural damage (Hull Points) and a saving throw must be rolled for the fire to all structures within 20' of the impact. Fire damage to structures amounts to d6+6 HP per round until it is put out or the building is destroyed. Once a building is ablaze, fire has a 25% chance of spreading to adjoining buildings (modify according to situation - check whether adjoining buildings are wooden or stone, whether winds blow in the right direction, how much distance separate buildings, etc).
To activate the cannon, the owner must utter the word "Muth" while placing his/her bare hand on the cannon's breach. The word can be found when using a read magic spell on the runes engraved on the barrel. The cannon thunders as it fires its missile, filling with a thick, acrid smoke the area ahead of the muzzle. The smoke takes 1d4 rounds to clear with a light breeze.
The cannon can be used as a normal weapon, provided smokepowder is available. In this case, with a maximum 45-degree elevation, the Blazing Muzzle of Muth can fire a thousand-pound iron ball a mile away, or a 500-pound stone ball a mile and half away. Chances to hit a target are based upon the artillerist's experience or skill level with siege weaponry, plus 3. The metal projectile is considered a magical object with no pluses as far as being capable of hitting enchanted creatures goes. It can fire normal projectiles four times per hour.
The Artifact: as such, the cannon has several magical powers of its own. The DM must make secret saving throws vs. spell for the cannon's owner (Wisdom bonuses apply). Such a saving throw is made each time the cannon is fired. The "owner" is defined as the first to fire the cannon (only the owner can trigger the cannon). With the first failed saving throw, the owner becomes convinced that his/her present quest is rightful and will want to use the cannon at every opportunity. If the number of saving throws failed exceeds half the owner's Wisdom score (rounded down), the owner becomes a megalomaniac under the cannon's will (Muth herself). Muth's goal, besides spreading destruction among humankind, is to find Rath, her only surviving offspring. Tales of such a cannon should eventually reach Rath (1% chance, cumulative, per shot; -1% for each month that goes by without a shot fired).
If the owner makes more saving throws than he fails (at least three successful saving throws), the cannon becomes a curse. No saving throws are required any longer, however, the cannon will have a string of accidents whose goal is to kill the owner and as many of his/her companions. Accidents include breaking its carriage or the scaffolding needed to put it in place. The fifteen-foot barrel can easily crush several people. Those standing immediately next to the cannon get to roll under their Dexterity scores, with a -9 penalty. For each foot of distance, those standing nearby receive a +1 bonus to their rolls. The barrel inflicts 8d6+6 of crushing damage to all caught underneath.
The cannon otherwise offers several magical benefits once the owner has failed at least one saving throw. The owner and all his/her companions benefit from the following effects when within 20' of the cannon: infravision, protection from normal missiles, resist fire, and a +2 bonus to their morale ratings, AC, saving throws, and attack rolls. The owner is immune to all first level spells and receives a heal spell once per day when cleaning the barrel (the healing does not affect the cannon's influence over the owner's mind). The owner can also understand the ancient language of red dragons such as Muth. When firing the cannon, its thunder should cause all foes within its field of fire to roll a morale check.
As an artifact, this cannon cannot explode accidentally, whether it fires magical meteors or common projectiles. Its projectiles will automatically miss if fired at red dragons. Worse, they will hit what Muth would consider a better choice within its range. If Muth's offspring, Rath, has reached enough HD to qualify as a Large dragon, he can begin new enchantments on the cannon. If he succeeds, the cannon is destroyed (which is the only way to destroy it) and Muth returns to Mystara as a dracolich.
The biggest drawback of this artifact is its sheer size and weight. Le Dracenois had meant it to defend a fortress. Transporting it can be a nightmare. The barrel has to be transported on a specially built cart pulled by at least eight oxen or heavy draft horses. Its cart has a propensity to break its wheels regularly. Add even more wagons for ammunition (if any) and tools. Another frame needs to be built on site in order to fire the cannon, therefore demanding some scaffolding and pulleys to position the barrel. The cannon should at least face its intended target (within a 60 degree field of fire) to be fired. The artifact is meant to be used with an army, or at least with some troops in sufficient numbers to transport the weapon. Magic can otherwise be used to move the artifact, such as a specially enchanted levitating device. The cannon's carriage moves at half speed on paved roads, quarter speed on unpaved trails, and no more than a mile per day off road. Muddy conditions or any soft terrain will halt any sort of progression.