This month we published an opening campaign pitch for a Spelljammer Cosmic Horror game. Read it first or alongside for it all to make sense.
We also dropped a character reference on the Giff gunslinger who was on the hunt for the ultimate prey; a godlike, eldritch being of pure entropy and destruction.
But to focus a bit more on the central points of the campaign, I thought it would be good to showcase HAMAL, Lexi’s Autognome Wizard.
The rest of the crew meet Hamal on the Rock of Bral with him feeling a bit lost and confused. Hamal’s creator was from Waterdeep and that was where they were living when the autognome woke up one morning with blood everywhere and his master and friend gone.
So, Hamal booked passage on a spelljammer ship to the ‘Rock’ to look for one of her creator’s constituents; a fellow wizard who lives and works at the main library there. You’ll pardon me for reporting this a bit scattered, but I am playing in the campaign and don’t know everything about what has actually gone on in backstory; just what I’ve learned in our investigation.
And that’s a good place to start. First, let’s talk about the main elements of ‘cosmic horror’.
THERE MUST BE A DARK SENSE OF MYSTERY
First, there must be a curiosity on the part of the players. This means mystery, Scooby Doo. That’s right, the group you develop this campaign for has to care enough to do investigation. This will take a naturally curious mind, of course. And, if your players care nothing for anything that takes a plus in Intelligence, then this might not be the game for them. I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of combat situations. I mean, it IS D&D. But this style of play is fitted for those willing to put in the work and take notes. They will have to keep all the parts in mind and put them together as the adventure continues.
Now, this isn’t all on the players. The DM will have to find a way to engage with each PC and give them reason to do the above-mentioned investigation. It’s the type of role playing we all love to do. It’s something I call ‘the natural progression of the story’. Of course, the DM has the outline and the details at his disposal. But how the team goes about it is all their own. There were times we were missing items and going in a few circles and, other times, we cut to the chase and skipped steps. The DM has to be on top of all our escapades and the lore flow of the actual game.
But, the players can do something up front for, not only this type of game, but every campaign in a myriad of settings: work hard on your character’s backstory.
A good backstory is a must in most campaigns seeing that it will inform the DM what the PCs care for, what motivates them and a little about how they will react to certain stimuli.
In this campaign, the mystery for Hamal is what happened to his creator and, to a greater extent, what he did to the autognome. He can’t help but wonder what happened to him but the circumstances point to something sinister. Lexi plays Hamal with an almost childlike fascination and innocence. Fascination because he is a wizard. Now this is where you get the leader in the investigation seeing that wizard has the highest intelligence. As for innocence, Hamal has become the most sensitive and emotionally immature of the group. He is prone to crying and fits of shock at the simplest things.
This has led the others to become protective of the autognome almost like they would with a child. They tend to keep some horrendous facts to themselves and will phrase things as to ‘not upset’ Hamal.
KEEPING OUR WITS ABOUT US
That brings us to the party’s sanity.
That’s right: Sanity as a stat. Steps in trying to develop ‘Call of Cthulhu’/D&D hybrid, has borrowed the idea of the sanity stat. We have a max sanity number. Certain things viewed or experienced will cause us to roll dice to determine how much sanity we lose. Now, of course, we get to roll our HP dice (one) to regain it back everyday, but if you delve too deep into the darkness or witness far too many visitors from the Far Realm, you may loose more points than you gain.
And you don’t want to run out of sanity points. It’s much like running out of hit points. Luckily, we haven’t had anybody hit rock bottom ZERO points yet. But we have been in single digits so our sanity is fraying at the seams. This causes us to be more careful and pace ourselves less we loose our minds and our characters.
HAMAL MAY HAVE A DARK SIDE
Hamal was created by a wizard who was delving into things he probably shouldn’t have. This too is a hallmark of cosmic horror. It seems that he had been ‘reaching’ into other planes; most of which are unnamed and possibly unknowable. It’s a little different for a D&D version of this type of game. Much will be revealed, but the second theme in Cosmic Horror is that somethings are either just unknowable or shouldn’t be known and would end in madness.
The rest of the team is beginning to think that Hamal, in all of his innocence, may have a connection to dark, alien powers and may have a ‘dark side’ we haven’t seen. Sure, he is a ‘sentient being’, but the autognome was made by gnomes. How Hamal became sentient is not known, but it could have been after his master’s disappearance. The fact remains that it is a constructed being and isn’t like us. The ‘otherness’ of Hamal makes him a wildcard.
Art by J.P. Targete on Artstation
Can we trust the little guy? He seems harmless enough? Well, if it weren’t for the black power that flows from him when he casts spells. That mystery has been kept tight. Sometimes, you could swear that Hamal was a warlock which would make sense if there are dark, eldritch things in his background. But, just as a player who has played this game a while, Hamal CAN’T be a Warlock. Too many spells and high intelligence and low charisma…No, the clues say no.
But, just because Hamal’s not a Warlock, doesn’t mean his magic isn’t steeped in some dark powers. We have to go to the source. Tatten, Hamal’s ‘creator’, breached the barriers between planes and tampered with dark energies of time and entropy. The main focus of his experiments was his capture, dissection and study of the creature known in Cthulhu mythos as the BYAKHEE.
THE BYAKHEE: A CREATURE OUT OF TIME AND JUST OUTSIDE OUR COMPREHENSION
Art by Joseph Hughes on Artstation
The Byakhee are interplanar, bat-like creatures that travel unharmed in the ‘vacuum of interstellar space’. Although these creatures can be harmed by the weapons of the party, they are incredibly hard to find and, once found, hard to even pinpoint as they exist just beyond your line of sight in the folds of time and space. That is why some scholars believe, instead of them actually flying through the vacuum of space, they ‘fold in time and distance’ and simply step from one place and time to another.
Tatten, the interloping wizard, had ‘reached’ into their nests in other planes and stolen eggs to raise them and study them literally inside and out. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of doing this was the damage flesh and blood took breaching the planes. In time, he replaced his hand with a mechanical one that can weather the ravages of interplanar breaching.
What we have surmised was that the wizard built Hamal to walk the planes as it were in ways that Tatten could never do and survive. The final clue of this was the discovery that Hamal has a heart of a Byakhee in his chassis. Does this include the gland that includes interplanar and possibly time travel? Possibly. But it confirms that the autognome is mixed up in some dark arts whether he’s actually calling out to it or not. The fact of the matter is Hamal was created to do what no one should do: travel space and possibly time.
IS HAMAL OUT OF TIME?
What went wrong is not clear. Waking up to blood all over the laboratory and Tatten gone, one would assume the wizard dead. But there is the matter of time displacement. YEP, Hamal last saw his creator alive in 1493 DR, but, upon visiting with Tatten’s associate in the Rock of Bral, we found that he had last seen him in 1497 DR; meaning the little guy can’t be sure what happened and how much TIME he lost!
WHAT DARK CONNECTION DOES HE HAVE TO THE RUINER?
All of our characters have some connection to the master of entropy called ‘THE RUINER’. But Hamal seems to have the deepest connection. Besides the Byakhee ‘heart’ powering the little guy, there is a certain book he carries around that has the very symbol of ‘THE RUINER’ on the cover. That and the fact that, if one is not careful or strong enough, they could find themselves ‘sucked’ into the book!
Where do those taken by this book go? What dark plane are they transported to? This becomes a more important question seeing that we have found that ‘THE RUINER’ is not one creature, but eight. And we are finding ways of capturing the individual powers. The only problem is that they are captured into the dark book bearing ‘THE RUINER’S’ symbol. Are we stopping the end or are we ushering it in? At this point it is hard to tell. But hopefully in the games to come we can shed more light into this and give you the answers you need to run this campaign.
Art by RenegadeNova on Deviantart
NOTE: We have found an orb that transported us to the location of the first part of ‘THE RUINER’. Hamal also may have seen these orbs before in Tatten’s workshop where he was created, lived and worked. What was his creator doing with them? Did he loose them? More questions than answers, as usual!
Until then, follow the write-ups of each of the characters and, in the near future, of “THE RUINER” itself for more details.