Friday 25 February 2011

The Footprints of Ayrvaat

"Oh Gods it's horrible here!
Please can we go back to the dungeon?!"

Some ancient and broken roads in the Wilds lead nowhere.  Literally nowhere.  They terminate not in settlements inhabited, deserted or even ruined and monster-haunted, but in badlands that even the jaded natives of the Wilds consider unnaturally twisted and hostile.  Even more so than dungeons, these are places shunned by the sane and sensible.  The men of the Nagai Plains call these ill-omened lands names that variously translate as "Befouled Domain of the Dead", "Tangled Vista of Misery", "Place to Which Only a Damn Fool Goes" and collectively "The Footprints of Ayrvaat". 

Traveller's tales concerning these places are universally cautionary and grim in tone.  Asking around the learned sages or craggier, more travel worn habitués of the bars and bordellos of Adburg will produce an unchanging unity of tone in responses: "The Footprints of Ayrvaat? Stay away.  You won't find treasure; you won't find glory; you'll just find a slow, painful, ignominious death." Few, and of little credence, are stories of lost treasure in these dread places. 

Whatever the prevailing terrain the environs of Footprints of Ayrvaat are difficult going.  The land becomes ever more broken, directions and distances ever more deceptive.  Prevailing weather within several hours travel of a Footprint is almost universally bad, with vicious crosswind and limited visibility the norm, and dire rains unpleasantly common.

The outermost peripheries of the Footprints are invariably composed of stony fellfields bisected by long berms and hillocks, all of which point back in the direction from which the traveller has come.  There are numerous erratics and a great deal of broken, vitrified ground.  The little water that can be found is brackish and unpleasant at best, and more often dangerously toxic.  The terrain is sparsely scattered with remnants of what may once have been crafted metal and stone crafted to an inhuman aesthetic, but might just as easily be naturally-occurring materials heated and shaped by immense, alien forces. 

The broken, cliff-scarred lands at the heart of the fellfields, surrounding a Footprint of Ayrvaat proper, will be scattered with stark, sharp-edged monoliths and rows of sculpted rocks positioned to form mile-long stretches of wall or dragons teeth blocking forward progress in the most awkward manner possible.  Numerous unburied humanoid skeletons of strange form lie unburied around the monoliths and fellfields.

The monoliths - all prominently situated - variously resemble spiked trees or vast lightning bolts flung into the ground at crazy angles.  Some are solid; others contain seemingly random hollows and voids.

The (obviously artificial) walls and dragon’s teeth are composed of strangely-angled blocks of hard-wearing stone, deliberately positioned so that only difficult to find narrow, twisted pathways exist between them. 

Within the broken rings of the monoliths and walls are found the foci of the Footprints.  These are invariably vast depressions furlongs across.  These vitrified and blasted badlands are most commonly bone dry and afflicted with constant dust storms, but some are partially filled by miasmal toxic lakes.  Intruders rapidly become prone to progressive malaise and wasting sickness.  Dead organic materials (leather, wood, paper, etc.) begin to decay at an accelerated rate.  Metal radiates a strange form of St Elmo's Fire which streams away from the centre of the Footprint.  Nothing good grows here; normal life rapidly sickens and dies. 

The inner reaches of Footprints of Ayrvaat are devoid of any by the most stubborn life; a few warped mewling blasphemies of life crawl across the landscape scrounging whatever meagre sustenance they can from the strangely fleshy ground-hugging plant life that struggles to survive here.  As if the attenuated ecosystem were not stressor enough, living creatures are further afflicted by both wildly unnatural environmental conditions and insanely howling spectres of the long dead. 

At the very centre of each Footprint is a strange area of tortured space.  Gravity, space, time and magic all become unpredictable in the vicinity of these Twists.  Normal sight and darkvision simply refuse to register whatever is at the focal point of a Footprint, treating it almost as a blind spot.  Magical probes blink out of existence, register contradictory information or react in unexpected ways, often driving those investigating them insane.  Approaching these strange cankers in the substance of things is generally fatal, even to the best-protected explorers. 

All who have survived a journey to a Footprint of Ayrvaat agree: there is nothing of value, only a lethal enigma.

Footprints of Ayrvaat, Notes and Rules

Yeah, the Footprints of Ayrvaat are my attempt to add a little Gamma Wastes/Cacotopic Stain/Chaos Wastes/Mournlands vibe to the Wilds.  They’re not exciting treasure- and danger-filled focuses of excitement; they’re a (pretty heavy-handed) reminder that the Wilds are a post-apocalyptic setting which eats unique and special snowflakes for breakfast.

This link on Warning People Away from RL Bad Mojo should be of interest.

Locating a Footprint of Ayrvaat
There should be a non-trivial chance (my pref. 50%) that any large town or city rolled on your preferred random terrain generator is instead a Footprint of Ayrvaat.  The hex containing the Footprint of Ayrvaat, and all surrounding hexes, will be considered very difficult/badlands terrain for purposes of overland movement.

General Rules for the Footprints of Ayrvaat
  • Divination magic ("commune", "contact other plane", etc.) generally yields little information beyond a general theme of "We have no desire to talk about that.  Stay away."

In Proximity to a Footprint
  • Living creatures take periodic radiation damage (see below).  Check once per 4 hours in the outer reaches of a Footprint (within 10 miles of the Footprint proper, but if outside the monolith walls)
  • Inhabitants? Break out Mutant Future or your preferred random beasty generator. Low frequency of encounters.
  • Compasses and dead reckoning navigation work erratically, if at all (increase chances to become lost by as much as you see fit). 
  • Weather is invariably bad, with occasional unnatural storms pouring out of the Footprint in defiance of prevailing winds. Fun Fortean storm chart here.
  • Quality of hunting is poor and foraging for food is nigh impossible.
  • Animals are skittish and unruly.
  • Intelligent summoned entities are sullen, nervous and keen to leave as quickly as possible. 

Within a Footprint of Ayrvaat
  • Living creatures take increasingly large doses of radiation damage.  Check once per turn within the crater, and immediately if anyone is foolish enough to drink from a toxic pool.
  • Inhabitants?  Swarms of screaming incorporeal undead. In between fending off the howling dead sprinkle with Mutant Future, or your preferred random beasty generator. Don't spare the rod.
  • Natural items decay at an accelerated rate (Item saves per hour?). 
  • Food sours, or picks up radiation.  Enjoy those rations folks.
  • Magic has a 50% chance of misfiring (effects at GM's discretion, although invariably malign).
  • Magic which allows instantaneous transportation (teleport) or which uses/allows travel to other planes as a means of transit (ethereality, shadow-walking, etc) tends to backfire horribly.
  • Most summoning spells either do not work, or work in a horribly unexpected manner.
  • Summoned elementals are entirely uncontrollable and invariably hostile within a Footprint.
  • Animals absolutely will not enter a Footprint, and will turn on masters who attempt to compel them by force.
  • Other effects as the GM's evil mind decides.

At the Loci of Footprints
  • Living creatures are bathed in dangerous radiation.  Check once per round, increasing minimum intensity as distance closes. 
  • Coming into direct contact with the locus of a Footprint should be impossible.  Anyone foolish enough to have attempted it should be torn to pieces by arcane physics gone berserk before getting within reach.
  • Using divination magic on a locus causes the scyrer to suffer a random effect: 
1-3 - Cause Fear
4-5 - Feeblemind
6 - Symbol of Stunning
7 - Symbol of Blindness
8 - Symbol of Insanity

All effects as the spell of the same name (see LL & LLAEC, or equivalent book of your choice). Save at –2. No save allowed if the spell true seeing was used to scry.

Radiation in the Vaults Game

Generally, as Mutant Future pp50-51. 
Roll d6 for intensity; d10 if the PCs have wandered into somewhere horribly dangerous...  or if you're in a bad mood. 
Failing a string of saving throws against radiation (treat as Save vs. Wands, per MF 145) doesn't result in glamorous new mutations; it results in death.
Radiation damage cannot be healed naturally; bed rest is no help, ditto macho pulp hero slugs of alcohol.  Hit points lost to radiation damage can be regained only through the use of magical healing (yeah, as 3E's Vile damage type). 

It's an established trope of the Vaults game that large amounts of magic does bad sh*t to you. I'll be using these rules for areas of unnatural (often sickly-green or lurid purple) high-magic radiance.

Header image from The Wandering Scot blog
Landscape of Thorns and Forbidding Wall images from Excerpts from Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Sandia National Laboratories report SAND92-1382


  1. Thank you Chris. This is brutal and forbidding in the extreme and it inspires me greatly.

    I always found the ideas of contructing some kind of structure to deter contact with radioactive material by some unspecified human descendants at some point in the distant future to be an endeavour of rich poetic resonance. It gives me the vertiginous feeling that we are the ancients - the Precursors - and destined to be destroyed by our own technology. It also embeds us in a larger temporal context, within deep time, as agents whose actions are potentially extremely far-reaching.

    This stuff is all very appalling and majestic and I am very glad you are back. You're one of those half-dozen or so bloggers whose work I find especially inspiring and is all-too-often absent from the sphere.

  2. as regards SAND92-1382... just wow. Somewhere people got funding to produce that report.

  3. Very dark and flavorful, Chris. I'm utterly obsessed with the idea of a campaign where the players are utterly obsessed with "solving" these things. Bleak, desolate, grainy black & white films that may never have existed sprang to mind as I read the post. Nice work! Also, I'm glad the weird storms chart is actually useful to someone :)

  4. Oh, wow. I am forever indebted to you for the WIPP link. It describes in perfect detail how to make "wrong" structures, and the reasoning behind them, which is something that I as a writer and a GM have been struggling with for years. It has been added to my Notebook of Evil GM Techniques for future use!

  5. Cool stuff. Definitely gets the old brain box ticking.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...