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Friday, 4 May 2018

"Elf-struck" (scenario)

This is an adventure seed rather than a scenario. I threw it into my campaign as a monster-of-the-week episode while the player-characters were making their way across Dark Ages France en route to Wessex. I make no claims for the scenario except that it could work in pretty much any setting right up to modern times. The presence of the ulembi, incidentally, connects it canonically to the lost continent of Abraxas that Jamie and I created for an MMO.


On the way to Rouen, the characters pass through the forest villages of Ury, Fons Bliaudi (later Fontainebleau) and Barbizon. In each village they encounter a local idiot. The behaviour is the same: the man stares at them, points, and mouths inarticulate sounds.

Locals will say: “Don’t mind ‘e, ‘im be Hugo/Peter/Will, been like that fer years. The duende took ‘is wits, left ‘im cabbage-brained.”

The story is that these three were woodsmen, but each ventured too close to Oldtooth Dell where the fairies (duende) live and came home half-witted.

At Fons Bliaudi
The inn is run by a young woman, Tarqua (23) who is pensive and distracted. It turns out that her husband, Uril, went to Barbizon to sell a bay mare three days ago and has not come back – though the journey there and back could be done in a day.

Tarqua may try to bribe or seduce the characters into helping find out what has happened to her husband.

If they ask, locals tell them it’s unlikely he would have run off. Tarqua and Uril were sweethearts from the age of 5. They are even known as “Uril’s Tarqua” and “Tarqua’s Uril”.

Could he have fallen prey to bandits? The miller scoffs: “He had his cudgel with him. No dozen bandits could take on Uril with his cudgel.”

At the inn, they see one of the idiots hanging around under the eaves as if surreptitiously listening in on their conversation. (He’s actually making a recording.) Having already seen one in the previous village, they should now be wondering why there should be two such individuals in such a small area. If not, running into the third idiot in Barbizon will surely tip them off.

Their Perception vs the idiot’s Holdout of 13 to spot the box he’s carrying. He won’t want to show them what it does, but if forced it plays back sounds that may be recognizable (IQ-5) as the rhythms of their own words from a few minutes earlier, only with unfamiliar substituted sounds at a deeper frequency than speech.

The idiot follows them along the road to Barbizon.

Oldtooth Dell
A steep wooded valley. A stream runs down to a pool that you have to wade through to enter a cave. They could be guided here by Podraig and his truffle-sniffing pig “Trimmer”. Along the way, if very observant, they might spot birds and animals watching them more intently than usual. (The Ulembi is looking through the animals’ eyes, though Podraig would of course attribute it to faerie influence.)

Inside, the cave smells musty and lair-like, but with a faint ammoniac trace behind that. It narrows to a cleft in the rock about forty feet back from the entrance – a high, sharp-roofed tunnel that narrows to about six feet wide.

After about forty feet, the tunnel turns and there are paintings visible on the walls. Hand-prints on the right (made by blowing dye around the right hand) and on the left a procession of animals, then of men in hide clothing, and finally something that looks like a huge inverted tree (or perhaps roots of a tree) that dwarfs the human figures. This is a prehistoric depiction of the Ulembi.

By now the ammonia stench is sharper, and characters should roll IQ to notice a very faint headache (located in the forehead, if anyone asks).

Approach to the innermost cave
The tunnel narrows to what at first looks like a fire-blacked chimney. From here, a low passage stretches up. It requires characters to crouch, and they can only proceed by discarding armour. (Characters of Lifting ST 16 and up must discard under-armour too.)

As they move on, they start to experience a greater pressure in the head, accompanied by flashes of visions – or memories. They can fight this with Will-5. Anyone who succumbs or willingly allows the memories to flow will get the flashback.

The flashback
In our Immortal Spartans campaign the characters remembered themselves as 16-17 year-olds patrolling in the Krypteia, and learned something they had all been made to forget over a thousand years earlier. The idea is that the ulembi’s ESP set off something in their minds that allowed them to penetrate the mind-block that had been placed on them then. Substitute whatever important flashback or psychic insight will enhance your campaign – or disregard the flashback entirely if you prefer.

The cave
At first just see the device. Uril is here, with wires leading into his head. He rolls his eyes if spoken to, but seems not to understand them.

The ulembi is splayed low, and therefore at first unseen by the characters (assuming it makes its Stealth roll) then rises up amid the rocks – possibly getting surprise.

This creature has been here for thousands of years, periodically hibernating while trying to build a transmat device to return home. This device, only about three-quarters finished, is an array of wires, crystals and silica panels salvaged from its crashed ship.

The recordings it has the idiots make are played into the device in order to tune it to human brainwave frequencies. When complete, the device will draw on energy from everyone within fifty miles, mind-wiping them in the process.

Creatures from a star cluster beyond the Coal Sack, who came to Earth millennia ago by psychically broadcasting themselves through outer space to escape their own dying world.

Ulembi have large heads whose hard ridged integument resembles a walnut. This skull protects the creature's huge brain. A ring of dark globular eyes protected by deep recesses allow the ulembi to see in all directions at once. There is a short neck and then the ulembi's trunk bifurcates, the two stout limbs resembling large serpents. At the end, each limb divides into four tentacular fingers. The ulembi can balance on one limb or on its "elbows" while holding something in the fingers, but rarely needs to do so because all ulembi are able to manipulate small objects by telekinesis.

When fully reared up on its limbs, an adult ulembi's head can be as high as eight feet off the ground. But it can also splay its limbs out low, moving with ghastly stealth through undergrowth no more than a few feet high. In combat the ulembi is able to bristle its scales, giving the limbs a rough jagged surface like pineapple skin. This allows it to flay the skin off an unarmored opponent. Young adults sometimes wear bronze vambraces on the lower limbs, with which they can deliver powerful whip-like blows. Older ulembi disdain physical combat altogether, preferring to use their psionic power to instill a feeling of dread and despair in a foe.

Given a short time with a subdued victim, the most powerful adepts of the ulembi can psionically rewire his brain so that he will serve as their agent. This can even take the form of subliminal commands, so that the victim does not know he has been affected. Eventually tumors form in the brain of the victim, however, and madness and death soon follow.
The transmat device is sufficiently functional to create a levitation effect within the cave. It takes three rounds to power up, then suddenly gravity seems to cut out. Initially roll HT to avoid nausea; fail means -2 skills, -1 active defence. Every round while weightless, Free Fall (default DX-5) sets an upper level on your skills (except block/parry).

Uril can be freed if the wires are broken, but his mind is too far gone to be saved. He has become like one of the idiots they met earlier.


  1. Dave, thanks for the post. I was wondering whether any of the art from the original dablrdnlands books was for sale in any format? I'd be very happy with a print (ltd edition or not). It should be fairly easy to set up so it ran automatically via a 3rd party and I would have thought it would make a good revenue stream for whoever holds the copyright...

    1. And by 'dablrdnlands' I of course mean fabled lands

    2. Well, once FL12 Into the Underworld is published, Dave, Jamie and Paul will be starting a new fantasy epic set within the Dablrdnlands. It'll be 20 book long and should be complete by late 2153.

    3. I think that original FL art is available from Russ Nicholson. Just drop him a line on his blog.

      Also Megara Entertainment were going to do a book of FL art as an extra in their FL7 Kickstarter. Maybe you can contact them to ask about buying a copy of that.

    4. As for what year Into The Underworld is due... Hmm.

    5. Thanks for the steer Dave. If Russ is doing the art for dablrdnlands maybe I should enquire about that at the same time.

    6. Jamie and I have been heard to refer to Garbled Flans and Flabby Nads when one too many drams has been poured.

    7. I certainly have a PDF of the Fabled Lands artbook from the extras of the Kickstarter, so that's a thing!

    8. And if you want to make yourself a print copy from that, James, see "How to turn a PDF into a paperback" in the sidebar.

  2. Dave this reads like the outline of a classic Doctor Who episode !

    1. Which era do you think, John? I can just see Oliver Johnson playing the Fourth Doctor.

    2. Yes, definitely the Fourth ! With the Doctor then going to Abraxas to track down a piece of the Plot Coupon to Time ; )

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