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The Oards and their Plansby Rodger Burns
To understand the oards’ intentions, it is first necessary to understand their whereabouts, and the tools available to them there. The oards that escaped the Immortals’ retribution, and now threaten Mystara, do not call any planet or Outer Plane home; they have instead taken refuge in a degenerate and incomplete fragment of space-time, something that by all rights should not exist in the known multiverse. Even this existence, in defiance of all natural law, is tentative and temporary, and the resulting environment is barren and inhospitable. Yet it is rich in one resource – a strange admixture of energy, force and substance that the oards have named eschaon.
Eschaon is perhaps best defined as anti-causality, the stuff paradoxes are made of. Where it exists, two or more outcomes can arise from the same event, further actions cascading forth as if both had happened, or sometimes behaving as if nothing had changed even when it did. The time-travel devices used by the oards are empowered by eschaon, and so can be used to create paradox within the ‘normal’ multiverse, attacking the fabric of reality. By its very nature, this creates more eschaon for the oards to use, replacing that which was lost and furthering their plans of conquest and corruption.
The levels of eschaon are not stable, though, and can rise and fall – both naturally, and through the meddling of sapient beings. Eschaon increases when paradox occurs or causality is violated, intentionally or unintentionally; likewise, it decreases when action is taken to avert a paradox or preserve the commonsense flow of cause and effect. Beings of all kinds living in the multiverse act on a daily basis to oppose the spread of eschaon, without even realising it, and so the oards have been hard-pressed. They have taken much care to husband the eschaonic energies available to them, building up a reserve sufficient to allow them to intervene more directly. If their intrigues are blunted, it will be a long, long time before they can muster the powers needed to strike again – if ever.
In the meantime, though, they have power and they intend to use it. As the adventure starts, the oards can work with an eschaon level of 100, and can spend eschaon to dispatch agents, weaponry, and other tools across time to attack Mystara. Each of the actions listed below reduces the eschaon level by a fixed amount when attempted, and if successful in causing a paradox increases eschaon by a random amount afterwards. If events or heroic action conspire to prevent the oards’ meddling from having any meaningful effect on history, though, the eschaon is simply lost – this is the first line of defence against the oards’ schemes.
The oards can normally take only one action per Mystaran week – attempts to take action on a more frequent basis causes eschaonic disruption that prevents successful time travel. At the Dungeon Master’s discretion, a sizeable reduction in the eschaon level may reduce this interference and allow the oards to act more frequently, though the cost in eschaon to attempt each action would make such a plan a ‘succeed or perish’ proposition. Actions the oards may take include:
- Divert: Probably the simplest action available to the oards, this affects a victim or party of victims important to the timeline, displacing them a distance of 10-1000 miles in a random direction. The oards cannot control the destination of this displacement. This may result in the victims being injured or killed, if placed in a hazardous environment, or merely absent at a meeting of some importance. Action taken to retrieve the victims and return them to their intended destination on schedule will counter a Divert action. Divert costs 2 eschaon to attempt, but returns +1d6 eschaon if successful.
- Attack: With this action, the oards dispatch a squad of Infiltrators or Enforcers or (more often) a band of hired swords or bioengineered monster to murder an individual important to Mystaran history. The attack can occur anywhere or anytime, but generally happens in a public place as this gives greater chances that the target is present. An Attack costs 5 eschaon to attempt, but returns +2d6 if the action is successful and the target dies.
- Steal: The oards use this action when they want to acquire a magical or mundane item of great historical significance. By appropriating the item and returning with it to Oard Space-time, the oards can both increase the flow of eschaon and gain a valuable prize for use in future attacks. Items targeted by the oards are usually well-guarded, though, so the oards will generally not attack directly but will instead appear several days away, using stealth and guile rather than raw force. The Steal action costs 5 eschaon to attempt and returns only +1d8 eschaon if the item is taken; however, the oards also gain the use of the stolen item, and may employ it as a weapon or bargaining chip at a later date.
- Destroy: By activating remote-effect weaponry, manipulating the weather or environment to cause a natural disaster, or merely unleashing eschaonic energies, the oards attack a city or area, causing devastation and destruction. This sometimes will change history by causing turmoil, strife and dissension between nations, as the victims seek someone to blame, or may just distract heroes from other causes. This action costs 10 eschaon to attempt and returns +2d12 if successful; it can be countered by actions on the scene that blunt the devastation, or determined enough action to repair and rebuild that long-term hostilities are avoided.
- Fortify: This action involves the oards establishing a forward base on Mystara, through which they can coordinate further attacks. Bases will usually consist of twelve to fifteen oards, plus associated technology, minions and defences, and are generally established in inaccessible parts of the wilderness to avoid human intervention. Fortify costs 30 eschaon and does not create paradox directly; however, an established base allows the oards to conduct one Divert, Attack or Steal action per Mystaran month at no cost in eschaon, or a Destroy action at the cost of only 5 eschaon, as long as the target is within 300 miles of the base.
In addition to these abilities, the oards can also activate lesser powers through the use of eschaon. Oards and their creations can cross vast distances by manipulating eschaonic energies, in a manner similar to teleportation but unrestricted by many of the defensive measures that would normally block teleport spells. Spying on matters of import in both the present and the past is also possible, though here the oards are limited by both a lack of watchers and a lack of familiarity with Mystara and its peoples that leave them slow to distinguish between the momentous and the trivial. Finally, eschaon can be used to bewilder and befuddle select individuals, by confusing perceptions, dreams and even memories, though such efforts are imprecise at best and possible to defend against once detected. The oards are not likely to meddle with perceptions and memories unless forced, by successful opposition from mortal heroes.
Commentary: Time travel and paradox are tricky things to bring into any campaign. Can someone with an oard time machine shoot his own grandfather? And if he does so, does he disappear? I wrote up Oard Space-time and eschaon in direct response to this question - yes, you can shoot your grandfather, and if you do so you won't necessarily disappear, but half the world will think you were never born. Oh, and doing so makes the bad guys stronger.
Eschaon points and the oards' actions also work in a sort of 'mini-game' usable over the course of a campaign - they're adventure seeds and a scorecard rolled into one. The way in which nearly every action (Steal excepted) returns more eschaon, on average, than it costs is intentional - unless the PCs act, or recruit NPCs to act, eschaon levels will slowly go up. And since the oards can theoretically hit at any location on the planet, serious opposition to them is going to involve going to some very odd locations...
Up Next: Detecting and Opposing the Oards