Umber is a harsh land still reeling from a series of bloody conflicts that tore apart the fragile framework of peace and prosperity. Today, the days are short and the nights all too long. Magic fades into memory, and those who would survive must be strong and cunning. They must also learn how to avoid the growing reach of shadow...
The Land of Umber is a brand-new campaign setting I've written for my own use. Inspired by the Wizards of the Coast setting search, I created Umber as my personal submission. Though I wasn't one of the eleven selected to move to the second round, I enjoyed the process of focusing my ideas into a brief, concise summary. In fact, I liked the result so much that I'm using it as the basis for my new campaign.
Adventure Journal #9: Assault on New Giustenal
Welcome to paradise.
The dragonblood's words echoed in their minds as the heroes looked around at the wondrous habitat that lay before them. Sleek stone structures, their architecture identical to that of the ruins above, bore all the signs of comfortable homes. Rows of crops grew in abundant fields, fed by the strange luminous glow of the ceiling far overhead. In the distance a river rushed past, supplying the settlement with fresh water. And all around stood happy, well-fed dragonbloods--the very same ones the heroes had first encountered months earlier in a crude encampment in the ruined city above.
For the next few days, the weary explorers took refuge in the town dubbed "New Giustenal, partaking of fresh food and warm cheer. The dragonbloods explained how they were now the first citizens of a grand new dragonblood empire, destined to rise from the ashes of Dregoth's once-great city. The mysterious voice had called them from faraway lands, and their faith had been rewarded with a lush new homeland.
But inevitably, the heroes' comfort became replaced by suspicion. Certainly all this was too good to be true, wasn't it? What exactly was the voice that called out to the dragonblood settlers? And what waited in the ancient buildings that lay across the river?
Thus it came to pass that the seven travelers from the world above set out to explore the as-yet uncharted areas of the great cavern. After fording the icy river which no doubt poured down from the mountains beyond Giustenal, the explorers found yet more habitable (but empty) areas, as well as a few other places of interest.
The first was a crop field like those on the far side of the river, but withered and twisted rather than lush and full. The heroes gave this area a wide berth, recognizing the unnatural effects of the Gloom. Apparently even this paradise was not immune to its warping energies.
Next they turned their attention to a squat, two-story stone building surrounded by a high wall. The rooms within proved strangely devoid of furnishings or decorations, other than a single stone tablet with an entirely too-familiar inscription:
The Sky Falls Darkness Rises
The Masters of Night Return.
The Child is Born The Blood Awakens
the Fire Burns Anew.
As the explorers wondered about the presence of the Crimson Prophecy here in this ancient place, the answer to a different mystery suddenly became a much more pressing problem: an enormous blob of acidic protoplasm slithered down the hall, threatening to dissolve the heroes as it had every other bit of organic material in the entire building. Working together, however, they managed to defeat the horrific thing without taking any serious injuries.
Then only one unexplored area was left: a grand yet forbidding structure which could only be described as a palace. A wide boulevard, lined by curved columns that eerily resembled enormous ribs, led up to the entrance. The ominous appearance of the palace, however, couldn't begin to predict the sights that lay waiting for discovery within.
Exhausted both mentally and physically by their discoveries, the explorers decided to return to New Giustenal to mull over what they'd learned. But escape wouldn't come so easily, as their retreat was suddenly blocked by a truly horrific sight: a humanoid creature with slimy mauve skin, bulbous gray eyes...and four writhing tentacles where its mouth should be!
Welcome to my home, echoed an alien voice in the heroes' minds. My name is Shuluth. I'm so pleased you came. After all, there's only so much one can learn by experimenting on a single species.
Chaos erupted as the battle began. Sommet dropped to his knees and screamed uncontrollably, the last vestige of his sanity erased by the horrible thing before him. Felix the sage turned on his allies, attacking them at their most vulnerable time. Hammerblows smashed across the heroes' psyches as the illithid unleashed its mighty psionic blast again and again.
But these brave souls didn't give up. The savage barbarian Grayson rushed their horrific foe, bent on destroying it utterly. Unfazed, Shuluth easily ensnared the aasimar with its tentacles. Grayson's comrades could only watch numbly as their foe drew him in to extract the delicious morsel that lay within his skull. Suddenly, with an amazing burst of strength, the barbarian broke free of the illithid's grasp and delivered the killing blow.
["amazing burst of strength" = natural 20 on grapple check to barely beat the illithid's check made to extract his brain]
As the mind flayer dropped, the heroes' minds returned to normal (other than poor Sommet, who lay whimpering in a corner). Once again, the heroes headed for the exit...but again they were stopped short.
This time, it was the curiosity of the dragonblood sorcerer Anaxachorus that slowed their progress. As they passed by the great obsidian throne in the entrance chamber, he couldn't help but investigate it more closely. To his surprise, he found that as he sat in the throne, he could perceive the presence and emotional state of every dragonblood within miles...including a small army of bloodthirsty degenerate dragonbloods descending toward New Giustenal from the magma cavern above!
The heroes realized that without the bone golem guarding New Giustenal's entrance, the degenerate army would easily ambush and overwhelm even the superior numbers of dragonbloods within the settlement. By concentrating, the sorcerer managed to establish a weak mental link with the dragonbloods of New Giustenal, warning them of the intruders and telling them to prepare for the heroes' return.
Wasting no more time, the explorers rushed back to New Giustenal to plan a hasty defense. The ensuing battle, while costly to the dragonblood settlers, proved as one-sided as the heroes had feared it might...only this time, the invaders were the ones overmatched.
New Giustenal was safe...but the heroes recognized now that the entire settlement had been founded on a lie. These dragonbloods weren't chosen to rebuild an empire, but rather to serve as test subjects and breeding stock. Whether Shuluth was responsible for the grand cavern or merely took advantage of its presence for his own foul purposes didn't matter; it was obvious that the voice that had called the dragonbloods across leagues of parched desert wasn't the spirit of Dregoth or any other draconic entity, but of the telepathic illithid tapping into the power of the obsidian throne.
The heroes had solved the mystery of the missing dragonbloods, and had learned much about Giustenal. But their original quest--the exploration of the mountains beyond, and the discovery of the meaning of the Crimson Prophecy--still lay before them.
It was time to leave this false paradise.
It was time to return to the daylight, as faint as it was.
It was time to escape from New Giustenal.
Previous: New Giustenal
Next: Escape from New Giustenal
Read the original world submission to Wizards of the Coast's setting search
Read the player introduction to the world of Umber.
All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.