Otherworld (3 – Icons of the Otherworld)

Even if you’re not using the 13th Age rules, these ten icons demarcate and imply the Otherworld setting. (And you can plug Icons into, say, GUMSHOE or the game system of your choice with ease – Ken did it for Night’s Black Agents here). Player characters in Otherworld are assumed to start off in ignorance of the setting, and explore it in play, so they don’t usually begin with any Icon relationships. Let the players pick up Icon relationships as they go along until they have their usual complement of three.

Heroic Icons: Shell-Dwarf Chieftain, Lady Between, Benedash Society

Ambiguous Icons: Burning Prince, Great Huntress, Smiling Merchant, Project SHADE

Villainous Icons: Alchemist, Keeper of the -Shade, Face in the Creepers, Syndicate

 

The Shell-Dwarf Chieftain

“You travel on my waters with my leave!” roared the little man. “Let us see if you are still as insolent when we put you under them!”

– A Journey to the Otherworld

The turtle-like Shell Dwarfs were the first folk encountered by Professor Bravo on his journey into the Otherworld, and they are still the most widespread people across the perilous jungles. The Shell Dwarfs know how to navigate the treacherous serpentine rivers that slither through the jungle. Their sturdy rafts and house-boats can cross the rapids and rushing streams, and their tough hide protects them from the schools of hagfish and the swarms of bloat-flies that make it difficult for others to travel by water.

The Shell-Dwarf Chieftain rules his people from his floating palace, carved from the shell of a gigantic nautilus. He is distrustful of most of the other folk who live in clearings in the jungle, fearing that they plot to enslave his followers and use them to conquer other lands in the Night Jungle. However, he has a soft spot for travellers from Earth thanks to his friendship with Professor Bravo.

 

The Alchemist

“I have drunk a tincture of the Purple Lotus, and now through my veins flows a poison more potent than you can imagine.” The Alchemist holstered his gun. He no longer needed it to threaten us. “Wound me, and you shall all perish in agony from the vapours.”

– Vat-Slaves of the Alchemist 

The fast-growing creepers of the Night Jungle bloom with a thousand strange flowers. Only the Alchemist knows all their virtues – and their dangers.

Alchemy was the highest art in vanished Hellan and tree-drowned Cynberis, where it is said that its practitioners could turn glass as hard as steel, or grow food in vats, or prolong their own lives indefinitely. Most of that knowledge was lost to the jungle, and warrior-alchemists like Kelemane have retained only fragments.

The Alchemist alone has gone beyond the knowledge of the ancients. He combines their lore with the wealth of new ingredients and strange juices that can be harvested from the Night Jungle. From his fortress issue forth hosts of vat-bred monsters and noxious fumes; his assassins creep out in secret, poisoning his enemies and blackmailing them with the promise of an antidote.

He comes, it is said, from the same world as Professor Bravo, and plans to return there one day once he has completed his mysterious work.

 

The Keeper of the Dead

A presence moved through the tombs – a deeper shadow, a presentiment of death, a cold wind that rattled the bones. One skull, more intact than the rest, quivered. A lambent light bloomed in its empty sockets.”

– Kelemane in the Dead City

In ages past, all graves were under the protection of the Keeper. Now that the Night Jungle has swallowed a hundred cities and turned them into nameless tombs, the Keeper’s reach has grown very far indeed. The Keeper is a spirit bound to protect the houses of the dead from thieves and tomb robbers. Those who make the proper offerings and perform the correct rites may be able to bargain with the Keeper or its ghostly servants, perhaps to gain permission to travel through the realms of the dead. Those who trespass in the tomb cities without this blessing are more likely to remain there… forever.

 

The Lady Between

“The shewing-stone is a relic of a distant land,” hissed the Crone, and she pushed a tiny square mirror into Kelemane’s hands. He gazed into the glass, and saw within a pale figure.”

– Beyond The Moons of Azkar

To the folk of the Night Jungle, the Lady Between is a myth. It is said that mystics and madmen see her in their dreams and that she whispers prophecies to them. Others believe that she is nothing more than a hallucination brought on by over-indulgence in certain lotus-flowers.

To those able to travel between the two worlds, however, the Lady Between is undeniably real and present. She exists in the borderland between the two, in the interstices of reality. Broken and forgotten places are her only foothold in either reality. She sometimes blesses travellers with flashes of insight or sage counsel as they move from one world to another – unable to interfere directly in the affairs of either world, she must rely on proxies and agents.

Some travellers suggest the Lady Between bears a strong resemblance to photographs of late author Miriam Benedash.

 

 

The Burning Prince

“A line of fire on the horizon, like the ember light of the setting sun, marked the edge of his domain…”

– The Children of the River

The Night Jungle grows with surpassing speed. What was a clear path yesterday is weed-choked today, and will be completely swallowed by the willows and creepers tomorrow. Other than a few scattered clearings protected by magic or some quirk of environment, the Night Jungle consumes all the land within its ever-growing borders.

The Burning Prince aims to change all that. He has gathered an army of followers, all fired with his determination to drive back the jungle and reclaim the lands of old. With axe and saw, with alchemical defoliant and fire, they fight an unending war against nature. They are a tide of fire sweeping across the land. When they free some ruined city from the jungle, they loot it for treasure and magic and move on. When they come across an inhabited village or clearing, they offer those who dwell there the chance to join the Prince’s armies, then do exactly the same.

 

The Great Huntress

“The beast roared again, smashing the trees to kindling as it charged. She stood perfectly still, more like an ebon statue than a woman, until the moment came. Then the spear was suddenly in her hand, and just as suddenly, it was plunged into the beast’s eye.”

The Valley of Spiders

Gigantic monsters – some bred by the Alchemist, others mutated or spawned by the wild magic of the jungle – stalk through the endless forests of the Otherworld. Heroes like Kelemane battle these creatures when they have no other choice.

Only the Huntress willingly seeks out the monsters.

Driven by some secret hatred, she wanders the Night Jungle, searching for new foes to kill. She leaves behind her a trail of devastation and bloodshed; titanic carcasses lie where they fell as testament to her fighting skills. As a warrior, she has no peers.

Some have sought her out, desiring to become her followers, or to learn from her, or to win her aid in some other quest. Their bodies, too, are milestones along her bloody road.

 

The Smiling Merchant

“He spread a handful of coins across the table. Gold pieces from Jezar, the little wooden tokens of the Shell-Dwarfs, square silvers from the tombs of Cynberis, even a handful of Canadian coins bearing the head of King George.”

A Journey on the Azkar 

The Smiling Merchant’s smile never fades, because it’s carved from wood. The Merchant wears a brightly painted yellow mask when dealing with customers. Sometimes, it is a man who wears the mask; sometimes a woman, or a child, or a strange creature, but it is always the Smiling Merchant who speaks.

The Merchant travels in a huge caravan crammed with relics and curios, guarded by a retinue of Shell-Dwarfs and Thorn Trolls. How this caravan can pass through the thickest jungle is a mystery, but the Merchant always arrives where there is profit to be made.

 

The Face in the Creepers

“Your death will feed me,” said the jungle, “and so nothing is diminished in your passing.”

The Temple of the Emerald Eye

This malicious nature-spirit claims to be the Night Jungle. Few believe such claims – it is far more likely that the Face is just an elemental trickster that takes the form of a tangle of creeper vines. It is undeniably powerful though, able to animate huge swathes of jungle when it needs to take physical form. It sometimes becomes interested in individual people, tormenting or aiding them as the mood takes it.

 

These last three Icons have more of a presence in our world than in the Otherworld.

 

The Syndicate

The Syndicate is a mysterious private company that collects both the works of J. Pierton, and individuals or items who have travelled to the Otherworld. Most of the Syndicate’s agents or pawns are unaware that their work has a supernatural component – they believe they’re working for a secretive corporation, or for the government, or for organized crime. Even the few who’ve made the connection between the Pierton stories and the weirder cases don’t know what the Syndicate really wants. All that’s certain is that they have money, influence, guns, and the willingness to use all three to get what they want.

 

Benedash Society

Even within Pierton fandom (which is, for example, to Robert Howard’s Conan fandom as a terminally ill geriatric is to the Cimmerian), devotees of author Miriam Benedash are a small minority. She only wrote a handful of Night Jungle books before suffering a nervous breakdown, and her brief career is remembered only by a few fans and critics. The Benedash Society is tiny and closely knit. They share everything on their private, invitation-only message boards – and in recent months, they’ve uncovered evidence of weird events that are somehow connected to their literary heroine and her works.

 

Project SHADE

Project SHADE was an offshoot of the MKULTRA experiments of the 1970s, based out of Fort Holdstock. The aim of the experiments was to determine if certain chemically altered states of consciousness could enhance tactical awareness and decision-making ability. The project was officially shut down in 1974, as was Fort Holdstock.

If you spend too much time on conspiracy theory websites, you’ll learn that several subjects vanished into thin air, or that Fort Holdstock is haunted or overrun by mutant plants, or that SHADE was recently reactivated and transferred to the control of the Department of Homeland Security.

All nonsense, of course – just like the idea that reading too much about topics related to obscure fantasy writers could somehow draw inexorably you into their reality, until finally you cross some invisible threshold into their Otherworld.

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