Harrowfaust: Twenty Questions

Jeff Rients has twenty questions here. Let’s answer them for my World Between game! We get to play there next on August 11. (This was harder than I thought it would be, but I like how it turned out.)

What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?

There are fringe elements who worship the mono-theistic Lady of the White Way, but generally this land is hostile to her Church. Also, those who worship the Storm Sovereign Pantheon get a cold reception, as it was to avoid their tyranny that the founder of the nation struck a deal with a death god to gain vampiric power. Most gods leave Harrowfaust to the vampires and pennangalan and the other things that go bump in the night. This is a nation that turns to death gods and demons to protect themselves from the more traditional gods. If you must worship, pick Morgath the Corpulent Reaper, and/or keep your holy symbol tucked in.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Harrowfaust has a tremendous gap between the wealthy and the abject poor, the exceptions gathering in cities or out-of-the-way farmsteads or chateaus. If you are an aristocrat, or you belong to one, there are many specialty vendors to cater to your needs. If you are more middle class, or have more money than connections, go where the people gather in numbers, stick to where trade flows. Where Harrowfaust touches the outside world, it mirrors it somewhat. Stray into the territory of the rulers or the ruled, and you’ll see how the demonic masters of Harrowfaust regard their subjects.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

Many undead nobles indulge themselves in exotic pets as mounts, security, or displays. Most undead nobles have armorers on hand with extensive and sometimes strange experience. Befriend one of the elders among the nobility, and you can have armor made for anything. However, if you have no connections, there is a deep and weird black market in the big cities that has worked out a more or less comfortable solidarity with the demonic government. Go after custom gear like this, and you’re likely to make someone curious. Really, in Harrowfaust, it’s best not to be noticed.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Gabrielle Lorbrek. She rules the Claustrum Arx, an impenetrable fortress deep in the mountains, and is one of the two rulers of Harrowfaust. She’s also a demon. Unfortunately, she has a sense of humor, so her foes don’t generally die easy. She trains human wizards in demonic magic, and while others are more learned, or more skilled, she’s got a broad-band conduit to the World Below and she gets so much power flowing through her spellcasting, sometimes demons find their way through her spell effects as she tears the world.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Maximilian von Karlock may as well be. With so many ancient veteran vampire knights, who can tell which one is the most terrifying? He is the Grand Duke, ruling Trivium with an iron fist, able to dominate the factitious vampire lords and withstand the scheming of the pennangalan sorceresses in Claustrum Arx. His ability to compromise and choose his battles, combined with his ruthless punishment of a foe’s miscalculation, make him awe-inspiring even among the monsters that rule Harrowfaust. He crucifies vampire hunters for sport. Are others more skilled? Well, it’s hard to know for sure; but if greatness also encompasses political ruthlessness, supernatural energies, and backup armies–he wins.

Who is the richest person in the land?

Zethlan Fier and his weird wife. They live in Trivium. Their wealth is vast; the money is one thing, but they have reached a point of conspicuous consumption of favors, souls, and more esoteric currency. Fiers who are in  good with the patriarch of the family do not age, for some reason.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Your best bet is to find a Vistani healer. Gypsies pass through Harrowfaust with relative freedom, connecting the World Between with the Scavenger Lands. They have made enough concessions with the demonic powers of the land that they are allowed minimally hindered movement, in exchange for news from nearby and far away. Their mysterious herbs and chants and connection to Fate may stand between you and death, but the price is seldom satisfied with mere coin.

There are many academic scholarly doctors who will bleed you to cure you of dirty blood, and there are monsters that will make deals with you so you can stay in the World Between, but really… Vistani are your best bet.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

Short version? You are SO SCREWED. Vistani or doctors may be able to help with disease or poison, and there are always  monsters who may trade your health for something you find you need more. Curses, again the Vistani; however, you’re just as likely to find yourself cursed by them as to get a curse lifted. If you’re shapeshifted, your best bet is to go to the Shae Isles, all the way across the world. For lycanthropy, Harrowfaust is a pretty sweet setup; many vampires have werewolf retainers, and you could probably find a boss no problem.  Cure? Not so much.

Nobody fixes undeath in Harrowfaust. This land belongs to a God of the Dead, Morgath, the Corpulent Reaper. It is sacrilege to retrieve someone from his grasp. Blasphemy isn’t treated with cuddly torture and beatings like it is in the Lands of the Lady. No, it gets downright unpleasant…

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

The pennangalan will train promising youth, exchanging their innocence and vitality for demonic sorcery. Also, there are many demons in the World Below who are willing to offer pacts sealed with familiars in exchange for magic. Nobility have private tutors for their mystically inclined children, but some train in secret; the demon lords of Harrowfaust keep a close eye on wizardry for a number of reasons.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

The good news is, there are lots of refugees who have plenty of esoteric knowledge that are attracted to anonymous hideaways in Harrowfaust. Heretics fleeing from the Lands of the Lady, the violence of the Iron Principalities, or the savage philosophers of Relmeenos hide in the woods. Clever people who aren’t quite “Northron enough” slip across the border from Frostreave. Students seeking forbidden knowledge know it is closest to the surface in the wilds and slums of Harrowfaust.

The bad news is, education is decisively the privilege of the wealthy and powerful. Any expert will be attached to the machinery of demonic rule, whether associated with vampires or pennangalan or some opportunistic and hellish influence.

In short, freelancers are likely to be crazy heretics, and if there’s someone who has a good mind and education or has acquired any real power, that person will be in the clutches of one or more demonic interests.

Where can I hire mercenaries?

There are a lot of mercenaries in Harrowfaust. Rough people who made themselves unwelcome in the Lands of the Lady (Midian, Scarabae, Caligari) escape to Harrowfaust where the forces of the Lady tread with care. Soldiers from the Iron Principalities overflow into the haunted woods of Harrowfaust. Occasionally drifters from the blasted Scavenger Lands hire themselves out for “safer” work.

While there are numerous Frostreave warriors in Harrowfaust, you can’t hire them; if Northrons kick up a fuss, they can be enslaved by local nobles, by law; that’s Reparation Servitude. Rulers of Harrowfaust passed this solution, as they are weary of attacks by Frostreave raiders. However, Northrons may show up in the service of languid nobility, involved in violence even if they are not for hire.

To hire mercenaries, either go to a noble who has troops to spare and ask to rent or borrow some, or hang around taverns. Most mercenaries work for traders who must travel the roads through the tall, menacing forest.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

It is illegal to wear red unless you serve vampires. If you wear red and do not serve a vampire, then you will be made to serve a vampire one way or another by way of punishment.

Northrons (anyone who looks Viking enough to be from Frostreave) who are involved in suspicious activity or violence can be indentured as slaves to local lords, who have hobbies and trading networks built on this human traffic. Reparation Servitude. No need for proof, no appeal process, no pretense at fairness or justice; this is the sort of policy you get when you irritate demon rulers past the point of endurance.

A general note: corruption is pervasive. If confronted with the forces of law, figure out how to align your interests and wellbeing with the goals of someone powerful. Forget about justice, fairness, due process. Focus on the virtues of Harrowfaustian law; honor wealth, worship power, shelter trumps morality, don’t get caught.

Which way to the nearest tavern?

Dark, thick beer that is often as sustaining as what foods the peasants get. Meet in low, dark, grimy buildings that lend themselves naturally to brooding. Any place that attracts life, light, and color attracts predators, so if you see a lively happy tavern it’s a hunting ground. The grim, the dour, the servants of the Lady, the canny survivors of the demonic occupation, and the spies of the powerful frequent more suspicious and grimy drinking establishments. Still, secrets are always auctioned in both kinds of places. Your secrets are safe right up until you’re outbid–but the same is generally true of your enemies.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

An advantage of the profoundly corrupt law enforcement system is that it is stupid easy to get a job hunting criminals. Investigations are brief and cursory unless someone powerful is involved. The state or local lord will put out a bounty, usually dead or alive unless the target knows something, and all you have to do is find the poor bastard and turn him or her over to the rulers.

The pervasiveness of monsters also means some newcomers or rogue elders make trouble for those in power. The bounties for these monsters is usually quieter and higher, but you can make quite a living as a monster hunter in Harrowfaust, thanked by demons and vampires and such–as long as you restrict your activities to the proper targets. Rivals, escaped pets, failed experiments, rogue scientists, and the like frequently get on the nerves of the shepherds who like a sedate, numb flock.

Common targets include accidental or illegal vampires, werewolves of various stripes, spontaneously reanimated dead who can’t rest easy, tentacular dimensional refugees lurking in smashed laboratories, variously improved undead strains, and the occasional demon.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

The Iron Principalities is sort of a neverending war. There’s always work there. Also, now that Caligari has the best musket and cannon technology, they’re eying the borders and looking to redraw them; skirmishers with no official connections to a nation are hired on both sides for exploratory raids, espionage, assassinations, and other asymmetrical warfare. Then there’s Frostreave to the north, like a glacier of violence that occasionally calves into Harrowfaustian territory. Both sides like to have more warriors, and the Harrofaustians are easier to endure.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

The top and the bottom of society can meet this need. The most wealthy and bored nobles have deathmatches, often between Northron slaves and/or monsters from the World Below or the depths of the woods.

In the slums, life is cheap and glory is wonderful, if fleeting. Plus, champions on that circuit don’t get in trouble if they confine their violent urges to arena matches, and they can also attract the attention of nobles and the wealthy looking for specialty warriors, some nameless and some with the kind of reputation you can’t buy, for unsavory work.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Yes. Dozens. The vampires have intrigues within intrigues, and the pennangalan are demons that HIDE INSIDE BODIES. These demon predators can’t help themselves; they conceal, they misdirect, they betray.

When demons rule, good people will resist, and this resistance must be secret and labyrinthine in its trade-craft and operational security.

Delta is a secret society of monster killers, named for the idea that one river may have many branches. Their main goal is to depose the demons and make Harrowfaust a Land of the Lady, and their methods can’t rely on broad military support unless Harrowfaust is too weak to resist effectively. Those in power root traces of Delta’s work out and crush it wherever it can be found.

The Crimson Loopis a society of servants of the pennangalan in Claustrum Arx that work to uncover the espionage work of the vampires and protect the pennangalan in the shadow war.

Marooners are disloyal vampire servants who seek to steal the power of their immortal masters.

What is there to eat around here?

Freerange pork, almost illegally powerful coffee, scrawny scraps of chicken, thick black bread, gourds of all kinds used for all kinds of purposes, sweet heavy wine,  flatbread that is almost identical to the wafers of the Lady, used for dipping in wine and cold beet soup.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

The Shade Forest is full of treasures hidden by bandits/freedom fighters/religious nutjobs/fleeing nobility/deposed monsters/armies of the Lady. Ghosts fill the forest; some try to help uncover treasures that keep them restless, others like to screw with people before arranging for their deaths (by killing them, or leading them into danger.)

The Lost Fifth is a column of the Army of the Lady from the third crusade that was moving through Harrowfaust when they broke contact. The entire company was lost in the mountains. They had with them fantastic weapons, armor, and treasure befitting an army from the World Above, and no one ever found a trace of where they went.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

There are a handful of surviving dragons in the Spine mountains. Most of them made a separate peace with the demonic rulers of Harrowfaust, mutual non-aggression. Screw with the dragons, the demons will find out and end you. It’s for everyone’s good, really.

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