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Thursday, June 16, 2022

ANTHROPOLOGIE Timbre Bell Candle

 Note: Oddly enough, Bar Chakka was part of my very first draft of Centerra, back in 2010.  Centerra has changed a lot in the last 12 years, but two most important elements of Bar Chakka (the beastmen and the water worship) have not.

Orcs and Beastmen

I don't know how explicit I've previously been on this point, but orcs are technically a type of beastman.  

Beastmen are an all-male race that can breed with nearly any mammal to create a man-beast hybrid.  Orcs breed almost exclusively with pigs, and goat-men (druhok) breed almost exclusively goats and (less commonly) deer.  

They are incomprehensively virile (especially goatmen).  They are capable of blood-transmissible impregnation (similar to a bloodborne disease) and their seed remains viable for hundreds of years after their death.

The Church can explain how the beastmen drank the blood of Drumonia, a wild and ancient god of wine, revelry, madness, and sex, thereby corrupting their entire race.  Their features were made bestial to match their appetites, and despite their swollen libidos they would only be attracted to beasts.

The Orbital Liches can explain how beastmen are just another mutant race, created by the ancient wizards of a dying world, in an attempt to survive the Time of Fire and Madness.

The druhok of Bar Chakka will explain that they were born from natural species as the planet attempted to save itself from the depredations of unnatural magic.  Their birth was willed by the planet itself when it needed a defender.  (Orcs have lost their way, but the druhok still remember the path.)

Orcs, of course, believe that they were created to suffer.

Why Do Orcs Fuck Pigs?

Not all orcs do.  In every orcish settlement, you might fight a couple of dogmen or perhaps a minotaur.  

But those creatures are probably related to the chieftain, and are tolerated for no other reason.

Other types of beastmen are disruptive, and are typically driven out (if they do not leave of their own accord).  Minotaurs are famously aggressive and rarely function well in a team.  Dogmen are loud and stupid.  Equicephali creep everyone out.  Out of all the beastmen, orcs are one of the most intelligent ones, and are the only ones with mouths that can speak Gospeltongue.

Besides, swine herds can march alongside the armies, where they provide meat, companionship, and mounts (for pigs the size of royal swine).

Why Do Druhok Fuck Goats?

Because goatmen are smarter than pigmen, and they survive very well in the mountainous regions of Bar Chakka.  

There's also a large religious component to it.  The druhok goatmen are the inheritors of heaven.  The only other type of holy beastman is the stag-men, who tend to succumb often to respiratory diseases.

Goatmen are revered in Bar Chakka, where they are the only type of beastman able to become a priest.

probably the best beastman picture ever
by Karl Kapinsky

Why All These Herd Animals?

Because beastmen are still men (it's in the name), and really only thrive when they are part of a society.  

The only animals that function well as beastmen are social animals.  Solitary animals tend to hate living alongside other people.  So while there are a few bear-men in the world, they're perpetually uncomfortable and anxious when living alongside others.  (Minotaurs, for example, have a sort of nervous machismo that makes them extremely dangerous to their neighbors.)

Beastmen born from non-social animals are also missing a lot of the normal sympathies and considerations that we take for granted.  A tigerman will walk past a beggar and feel nothing--not the smallest glimmer of sympathy.  Likewise, if you give a tigerman a gift, they will accept with an alien lack of gratitude.  This is because things like sympathy and gratitude exist in humans (who are meant to live together in a society) but not in tigers (who are solitary). 

Essentially, tigermen and bearmen are sociopaths, and everyone knows this.  They are stereotyped in beastman society as evil (and correctly so).

Anyway, here are the three biggest orc cities I can think of at the moment.

Tangodar 

Tangodar is the only city that the orcs have ever been proud of.  Stone spires in a foggy valley, a full half of the city secreted underground.  Gauzy screens covered the streets, and smoke from sacrifices filled the sky above.  Everything to keep them hidden from heaven.

The secret to the city's longevity was its democracy, where major decisions were settled through combat of champions (typically non-lethal), one against one, for as long as there were willing champions.  The only weapon allowed was a bundle of sticks called a bashka.  Because all orcs are adept fighters, it was difficult to disenfranchise the majority, and because the duels were such a bottleneck, the orcs had days (if not weeks) to deliberate and compromise.

The city is long-destroyed, the victim of a century-long crusade.  But the victors came to regret their victory.  The city is cursed--a clotted vector of fear, paranoia, and avarice.  Anyone who spends a night within sight of its walls can feel it.  Friends seem to be enemies, and there is no true brotherhood in those walls.

Still, the city is defensible, and many treasures still glitter in its depths, and of course there is no shortage of fools in this world.  And so it is that the city is ruled over by Pavorick the Stained, an exiled prince from Basharna, who still attempts to recruit people to his poisoned city while they all go mad.

Beneath the city is infested with squadrons of clever war-dead, puppeted by some necromancer still unknown.

And of course the orcs still seek to reclaim it.

Garlak

An embarassment to most orcs, Garlak is little more than a gussied-up hill fort.  There are three reasons why most orcs are embarrassed of Garlak.

First, it's shaped like a giant skull.

The orcs who live there swear that it's a titan skull, but it is obviously carved (and crudely at that).

Second, the orcs there all sing songs.  Everyone who has ever led an orc band knows that orcs need constant structure in their lives to be effective.  Without it, they fall apart.  (They're a bit like toddlers in that regard.)

And so the orcs of Garlak sing work songs.  They're a bit like sea shanties, although you can use your work tools as instruments.  When marching, this is obviously bootfalls, but can also be things like banging your knife on the trencher as you eat.  (Yes, the orcs sing songs while they eat.  It keeps the meal orderly.  It's less cute when they sing the flensing song.)

Even promotions are based on how many grunties (shanties) you have memorized.

Lastly, the orcs don't have a king.  They might, but they don't.

The orcs of Garlak will tell you that they obey the Hidden Masters--a secret group of seven orcs with the power to turn invisible, erase memories, and even vanish from existence for short periods of time.  The Hidden Masters leave them coded messages, which they can follow only once they've been inducted into the correct secret societies.  Since they are hidden, they cannot be assassinated.  And since they are everywhere, they always know the best things to do.

Outsiders will tell you that there are no Secret Masters.  The orcs of Garlak are simply mad.

A third theory is that the orcs have stumbled upon a masterful sort of self-regulation.  Nearly every orc is a member of a secret organization.  (There are over 90 secret organizations in Garlak, and probably more than 300.)  Inside each secret organization, there are secret secret organizations.  The orcs are constantly receiving coded messages (tipping with seven pennies), delivering coded messages (farting during certain words), and taking actions based on these secret messages (lowering the cost of their cheese inventory by 30%).

It might just be that these coded messages form a stable, self-regulating loop.  Something similar happens with ants who, seeking to follow the ant in front of it, sometimes form into death circles.  Except in the case of orcs, this self-regulating loop is a stabilizing form of society.

not shown: pig nose and lil pig ears
by Lestatbishop

Godai

The orcs are reluctant to call it by it's name, and so they refer to it as the City in the South.

Godai is a city founded by fascist orc supremacists.  They seek nothing less than the utter extinction of all of subhumanity.  (True humanity is already extinct, at least on Centerra.)

They are succeeding where other orcs have failed for three reasons.

First, they are utterly disciplined.  Lawbreaking is not tolerated in Godai.  An orc who cannot regulate their baser instincts is split down the middle by The Threshing Wheel (which is sort-of-a-building, sort-of-a-vehicle, that is used for the execution of unruly orcs).

Since orcs are naturally unruly, the orcs of Godai employ several methods to calm themselves and aid their focus.  A lot of these are herbal.  At least one type of lobotomy is performed.  And subtle magics are suspected (although never proven).

Second, they confront their weaknesses.  Every Black Hand Orc can recite the Forty Humiliations by heart, and list all of the times humans have broken treaties and exterminated their race.  They will tell you in the bluntest terms the ways in which humans are superior to themselves (intelligence, cooperation, innovation).

They have a list of orcish strengths, too, but that is not as relevant.  Human superiority is something that must be meditated on daily, until the shame is burnt away and only the anger remains.

The orcs of Godai are also uniquely interested in learning.  They make it a point to capture scholars and tutors, so that they can learn all the things that they lack.  And so their greatest warriors are often tutored by the same  minds that mold the minds of princes.  Orcish brains struggle with mathematics and astronomy, but they learn languages, philosophy, and construction as easily as any human.

Third, they aggressively recruit.  Their greatest warriors (with their sword hand tattooed black) are sent out to help other orcs.  They function as military advisors, mediators, and troubleshooters.  (They're a bit like jedi.)  And when all of that fails, they draw their black blades (painted so as to be unreflective).  In combat, they are commandos, employing traps, poison, surveillance, and ambush to defeat their foes.  They are very good at this.

It is rumored that some of the Black Hands have been alchemically enhanced so as to give them further advantages in combat.

The Black Hand orc renders all of this aid for free.  But when he is done, he always calls the most promising youths to return with him to Godai, and begin training to become Black Hands themselves.  After their indoctrination into the Black Hand, they are free to return and lead their people if they wish.  Or they may carry their dim blade to more distant shores, and carry their violent proselytization a bit further.

Black Hand orcs are renowned for being lawful.  Their black-inked hand and sword are reserved to killing Dread Humans and Their Servants.  This second category is sometimes stretched a bit, but it never includes their fellow orcs.

Black Hand orcs are loathe to kill another orc.  But when they must do so, they use their non-dominant hand and a stilletto called a winnow.  A weregild is paid to the deceased's family.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Go Die In a Hole: a Podcast for You

 Back in 2019, me and Nick put our microphones together and made a podcast called Go Die in a Hole.  We made 2 episodes.  It was a magical journey in which I learned how much I hate the sound of my own voice.

The concept:

Go Die would be a podcast where we analyzed adventure design, specifically dungeon design.  There aren't a lot of podcasts that focus specifically on dungeon design.  

* Which elements of the dungeon work well?  Which elements suck?

* How does the dungeon's layout affect how it plays?  How's the flow and the tempo?

* How well does the dungeon tell a story?

To explore these questions, we would spend 1 episode exploring a dungeon in rapid fashion: one person would be the DM and the other person would be the entire party.  Combat would be resolved in a single roll, or would be hand-waved entirely.  

Then we would spend episode two discussing the adventure.  The focus would be on (a) how information about the dungeon is presented to the player, (b) the types of decisions/problems that the dungeon presents, and (c) how a party would make these decisions.

We only sorta succeeded at these goals.

Anyway, now we made two more, so there's four in total.  And I guess that's pretty cool.

Episode 1

I run Nick through B1: In Search of the Unknown, written by Mike Carr in 1979.  It was the adventure that was included in the first edition of Basic D&D.

Episode 2

We talk about B1: In Search of the Unknown.

Episode 3

Nick runs me through CM8: The Endless Stair, written in 1987 by Ed Greenwood (creator of the Forgotten Realms).  It was an adventure for the Companion Set.

Episode 4

We talk about CM8: The Endless Stair.

-

Hopefully it won't be 2 years before we record another one.

Thank you, Nick, for your melodious voice and vorpal wit.  You have a better work ethic than me, and I resent you only slightly for it.

Note: not a Patreon post.  Psh.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Gorbels

Imagine a 2d wizard, living entirely in the photon-thin surface of your television screen, who learns about the existence of a third dimension--hitherto unobserved by himself.

Wizzrobe from Zelda (1986)

And even though the two-dimensional wizard might have some understanding of these spaces and its inhabitants, the wizard still has no way to interact with it.  None of his tools give him the ability to interact with the world in a three-dimensional way.  Even his mightiest spells are two-dimensional.

So what that wizard needs is a three-dimensional tool.  Even a humble instrument would give him the purchase he needs to begin his three-dimensional machinations.  But it is difficult--so crushingly difficult--to construct such things from two-dimensional tools.

But by now you already understand that all of this is just an analogy for three-dimensional wizards struggling to interact with the four-dimensional universe, so let us speak plainly.

A tool that allows a three-dimensional creature to access the fourth dimension is called a tetravect.

The smallest four-dimensional organisms are gorbels, and many wizards attempt to summon the blasted creatures and attempt to make a tetravect from  their bodies (which have organs that grow fourth-dimensionally).  This is a difficult road--gorbels are maddeningly obtuse in both mindset and biology.  (For example, every dissection presents a new set of organs.)

Geminoids are also an option, but no one knows their true nature yet.

Second, other wizards may also attempt to summon slaad, but they are fools.  Slaad interact with the multiverse, which is entirely different from the fourth dimension.

The third and final option is to build a tetravect out of three-dimensional parts.  (This is akin to building a cube out of squares, or building a hypercube out of cubes.)  The resulting creature is a triphage (or more commonly, a tirapheg).  

We'll come back to tiraphegs in a second.  Let's talk more about gorbels first.

Gorbels

Only a fucking idiot would attempt to reach the fourth dimension with a gorbel-based tetravect scheme, and yet it happens often enough that we had better stat out the little monsters.

Gorbels are red, rubbery orb creatures.  They have three eyestalks that can be retracted inside their head.  They have two blubbery baby arms that terminate in bulky claws.  And they have a dull, drooling mouth that hides a decent set of fangs.  They are 2-3' in diameter, and they weigh less that you think.

Gorbel from the Fiend Folio (1981)
Does anyone know who the illustrator is?

Gorbel

Lvl 3  Def leather  Bite 1d6

Climb average  Int 2  Dis oblivious

Rubbery - Immune to bludgeoning damage and falls.  Bounces as well as a basketball.

Self-Insertion - Whenever a gorbel takes damage, it splits into two nearly-identical gorbels (with the same current HP).  (This the actually a different insertion of the same gorbel, but don't worry about that.)

Spike Burst - When a gorbel is killed, it deals 1d4 piercing damage to all creatures within 10'.  Dex save for half.

Psuedoresurrection - Gorbels that die have a 4-in-6 chance of reappearing 1d6 minutes later at some location within 200'.

Gorbels are difficult to keep in captivity.  When bored, they bite themselves (creating more gorbels) or engage in "barbering" where they bite the eyestalks off of other gorbels.  They are famously difficult to entertain, and gorbel-keepers are advised to hire professional entertainers.  (Gorbels enjoy slapstick and children's stories.  At no point do they laugh, smile, or show any reaction.  If bored, they will wander off and commit mischief.)

Wizards who wish to keep gorbels are advised to have a disintegrator on hand so that excess gorbels can be killed instantaneously.  They will also need a system to hunt down psuedoresurrected gorbels and throw them into the disintegrator.

Gorbel-keepers are also advised to construct their lair in such a way as to avoid Gorbel Resonance Cascades.  GRCs occur when a gorbel takes damage in such a way that when new gorbels are inserted into existence, they also take damage.  A pit of acid can cause GRCs.  So can a small room with strong walls.  Once more and more gorbels are bent into a space, they can begin taking crush damage from all of the other gorbels, creating a runaway reaction that can explode castles and collapse dungeons.

And of course, the sequela of a GRC is always a bunch of gorbels reappearing in the area.  Gorbels can become aggressive when they outnumber non-gorbels by a large margin.

It is not known what type of food gorbels actually eat.  They obviously get hungry, and they are always trying to eat things, but nothing seems to give them sustenance and most things cause them to vomit and take damage. 

They are famously oblivious.  Roll a d3 when you encounter one to determine its disposition.

1 - Oblivious.  Ex: staring into the sun.  Aggressive if touched.

2 - Distracted.  Ex: trying to eat a rock, gagging, and throwing it back up again.  Aggressive if touched.

3 - Aggressive.  Will try to eat you while shouting its name.  Aggressive gorbels in adjacent rooms will hear the commotion and come bouncing in.

Magic Items of the Gorbels

In the process of making a tetravect from a gorbel, there will be many failed attempts.

Gorbelblood Potion 

Creates a clone of the drinker without any clothing or items.).  Prepared spells are split randomly between the two.  Yes, if you use it on a PC, you can now control two identical PCs.  After 1 hour, one of the two clones (determined randomly) melts painfully over the course of five minutes. 

The name of the potion is a bit of a misnomer, as gorbels lack blood, instead having a pneumatic circulatory system.

Gorbel Bile

Comes in a vial with 5 applications.  Each application of bile reduces an objects weight by 20 lbs, down into the negative weights.  Smaller doses can be applied, if you wish.  Lasts 1 hour.

If applied to a 20 lb object, the object now becomes weightless.  A second application causes the object to weigh -20 lbs, and causing it to fall upwards if not secured.  A third application causes it to weigh -40 lbs, and so on.  

If drank, each application gives you +2 to jumping and -2 to shoving (and similar).

The name of this potion is absolutely accurate.  Gorbels are 50% bile by weight--although distilling it correctly is another challenge.

Gorbel Bone Chariot

Gorbels are boneless.  Inducing osteogenesis in gorbels is a biomantic and spiritual challenge.  So is removing them, since gorbel corpse disappear shortly after their death.

A successful gorbel bone chariot is a successful tetravect--the point of this whole exercise.  The chariot described below is only one form that a gorbel-based tetravect could take.  The chariot is a spherical cage, 10' in diameter, made from chrome-plated gorbel bones.  When used, all creatures inside the cage are shifted along a fourth-dimension access to a place a few centimeters outside our universe.  The rider with the highest Charisma is the "driver" and controls the function of the chariot.

Unlike most (spirit-facilitated) teleports, this is a "sharp" teleportation.  Anyone who is halfway in the chariot when it teleports will be cut in half.  If you teleport into a solid object you will be fused with it.  It sounds like a thundercrack every time it is used, and hearing protection is strongly recommended.

There is no three-dimensional air out there.  Anyone who uses the chariot without fully exhaling and relaxing their airways will take 1d6 Con damage (if reduced to 0 Con, the result is lung eversion and death).  Even with that precaution, anyone remaining in an extradimensional space will lose consciousness after 2 rounds.  (I'm glossing over the other effects, like the nitrogen bubbles and edema.  You honestly need a space suit.)

From here, you can observe any location as if you could see through walls.  Additionally, you can teleport to any visible location with 1000'.  Each of these two usages causes the passengers to gain 1 point of Trauma.  

If you see a gorbel's true form from this vantage point, take another point of Trauma.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Zala Vacha

"Zala Vacha" was originally the Church's name for them--a broad category of all the cults scheduled for extirpation. They didn't have a name for themselves, because they didn't have anything in common (although they soon would).

And there were so many of them. A hundred city gods, a thousand petty divinities, and ten thousand hearth spirits (recognized by only a single family). A vast tree that hung over the whole continent, with every part shaded by its countless branches.

Except the Church did count them. It counted them, wrote out the next century's work, and then the Church pruned t hem back. Now the tree is just a stump with a few stubby arms, too thick to hack and too wet to burn. At some point the whole thing will have to be ripped up.


Let us be clear–there are some “cults of Zala Vacha” that do not consider themselves cults, and do not consider themselves a part of Zala Vacha. For the sake of your digestion, I've broken the largest "cults" into four parcels.


Please Don't Lump Me In With Those Other Guys

  • Void Monks
  • Necromancers
  • Truthmakers
  • The Dawnbringers
More Reasonable Than You've Been Led To Believe
  • The Fire Cults
  • Excelsiors
  • Biomancers
  • The Dinosaur Cult
Exactly As Horrible As Rumored
  • Doomslaves
  • Darklords
Held in Universal Contempt
  • Goxlagog
  • The Rat Cult

Void Monks


The void monks abhor the other members of Zala Vacha, and want nothing to do with them. (Although to be fair, the void monks feel the same way about most people.)


Nevertheless, the monks' atheist inclinations earned them suspicion, and their investigations into the lacunae have earned them condemnation. 


They do not have a centralized power structure, but the greatest of their monasteries is the Obliterat.  Their lay followers are the House Unheard. They are not associated with any god. (Casca, god of the Void, is respectfully acknowledged but not worshipped. He has nothing they need.)


Necromancers


While necromancy certainly existed prior to Nameless Queen Yama, she was the one who perfected the art.  Nearly all of the advancements in necromancy for the last 200 years have been made simply by studying her notes.  Modern necromancers struggle to understand even the things that she attempted to explain in her journals.


The Church burned her at the stake no less than three times and obliterated her memory.  They were successful.  She has not returned since, and her original name is irrevocably lost.  “Yama” is just the word for “zero” or “null” in gospeltongue.


While there are certainly necromancers outside of the Queenscult, the best necromancers are taught by her students.  And the Queenscult is jealous–it is quick to stamp out competing schools of necromancy.  


The Queenscult is led by the Visceral Court, men and women who each possess one of the Nameless Queen’s reincarnated organs.  It is through them that her rebirth will be secured.


Her army is the decapitantes--the headless armored zombies of both humans and giants.  Her elite soldiers are the princesses revenant, nearly a hundred wights raised from the now-desecrated Tomb of Unwed Princesses in Noth.


Their goal is the resurrection of the lost kingdom of Kyona, and nothing else.


by Suguru Tanaka

Truthmakers


UmU is the god of Truth, and OmO is the goddess of Lies, except for when UmU is the goddess of Lies, and UmU is also the goddess of Truth.  It’s all very tongue-in-cheek.  If you can grasp that, you can understand the Cult of UmU in its entirety.


Their great enemies are UmO and OmU, deceitful rival deities whose schemes must be hunted down and discovered. Most of the machinations are directed towards counteracting the machinations of UmO and OmU.


All four of these gods are very, very real. As real as all of the other gods.


The first tenet of UmU is “All gods are false, and everything a priest says is a lie.”


The second tenet of UmU is “It is useless to make lists.”


The third tenet of UmU is “Irony is the superior type of humor, and people who like it are superior to those who don’t.”


The fourth tenet of UmU is “There is no greater fool than someone who understands a piece of the Divine Plan.”


The fifth tenet of UmU is “All order is false order.  No line is perfectly straight, and we should stop pretending that it is.”


The sixth tenet of UmU is “You can only start to learn things when you realize that you don’t know anything.”


The seventh tenet of UmU is “How many more of these things do I have to write?”


The tenets change every time they are written down, and in fact, joining the Cult of UmU involves writing your own set of tenets.  


Every truthmaker of UmU holds the rank of The Pope, and is considered to be a heretic by every other The Pope.  But that’s not an obstacle–the The Popes of UmU have no prohibition against cooperating with heretics.


Some of them are mad, but most of them are probably just clever people pretending to be mad.  They dress like priests of other religions.  They hold their ceremonies in the middle of the night, in the temples of other religions.  


Sincerity is anathema.  People who sincerely join the Cult of UmU are tryhards, and should be avoided.  People who join the Cult of UmU ironically are the true children of UmU. In fact, the truest followers of UmU are the people who do not know that they are following UmU.


Their schemes usually involve embarrassing important people, mass schadenfreude, and general chaos.  (Some of the schadenfreude incidents can be intensely cruel.)


Their allies are: 


  • Mockeries.  What looks like a kid in a troll mask is actually something with the same statblock as a troll.  What looks like three guys under a dragon costume is actually something with the same statblock as a dragon.

  • Laughing Beasts (Babarukhs).  Sort of like werewolves that turn into big shaggy muppet-ogres with bone-white masks.  Cruel provacateurs.

  • Clowns.  The most hated of the Underworld’s creations.


They operate a circus somewhere in the Underworld. Their symbol is the Waist Trainer In Black Size Small, probably.


by Suguru Tanaka


The Dawnbringers


Good and Evil fought a great war, and Centerra was their battleground. Evil triumphed, the Authority turned his face from his creation, allowing it to be remade in the image of Evil.


This is why there is pain, disease, and death. In the Authority's infinite wisdom, do you think that he would create a world where your children would die of deformities before their first birthday? Where so many sleep in the streets, infected by diseases that cannot be cured? Where so many labor the whole lengths of their cheap lives, before finally dying alone and unloved?


And of all the poisons oozing from this cursed world, the cruelest one is the one that convinces us that this is normal--that this world is the natural state of affairs.


There is no justice in this world, but there will be justice in the next. This world must be ended so that the Authority will reclaim it. Only when the last sinner perishes will the world be allowed its rebirth. (And we are all sinners.)


The Dawnbringers will be the ones to do this. The Maiden has shown them how to take the love in their hearts and direct it.


Their greatest weapon is kindness--honest kindness without any strings attached. They heal all who come to them. They avoid violence and killing as much as possible. They operate many shelters and orphanages (and it is from these places that their most devout followers originate).


If they must fight, they will fight with non-lethal means. They avoid cruelty and killing as much as possible. They are not pacifists, and their soldiers include InvisibleShield Glass Screen Protector for iPhone 12 pro Max--beatific figures with halos and wings. They always show mercy to those that they capture. But before they release you, they will pacify you, healing your mind by restoring it to its natural state--where violence is rightfully abhorrent. You will never want to look at another weapon for as long as you live.


Truthfully, their ultimate goal is far from them. There have been mass suicides (happy ones, if you believe their priests) and sterilization of the willing. But yes, someday they will end the world--a calm sunset before a glorious dawn.


by Suguru Tanaka


The Fire Cults


The last remnants of the old volcano religions that existed in Centerra before the advent of the Church and the Taming of Fire.  They worship a paired set of divinities: Quen is the god of fire, self-realization, and rebirth.  Marsaat is the goddess of shadows, privacy, and peace.  They are believed to have a hidden church beneath Lady Hellfire, the last volcano in the world.


Out of all of the arms of Zala Vacha, the Cults of Quen and Marsaat are the most popular with the general population.  They perform all of the functions of a local church–weddings, exorcisms, namings, last rites, blessings, and festivals.  Many people have grown to loathe the Church’s inquisitions and authoritarianism, and they find resonance in the fire cult’s values of privacy and personal autonomy.


Excelsiors


Zhul is the god of money.  His followers are the excelsiors.  With his blessings, their eyes become jewels, and their skin becomes gold.  He dangles the promise of immortality, for what worth is wealth if death still stalks?


Any animal can be made into a Slave of Zhul by replacing its eyes with gold coins. Whenever the eyes are removed (from master or slave) the poor soul keels over and weeps like a toddler until they are returned.


Zhul's domain is money, mining, charity, greed, and immortality.  The excelsiors operate a number of prominent charities for the poor.  They also appeal to people who seek money, and there are always any of those.


Until recently, Zhul was a god in good standing with the Church. But the story of Zhul's indelicacy, discovery, imprisonment, and escape is too long to recount here.

 

His warlocks have the following powers.


  • Appraise - learn what something is worth.  At higher levels, learn to whom it is worth the most, and why.  (This ability is more powerful than it seems.)

  • Purse - stomach is a bag of holding.  Accessible by swallowing and regurgitating items.

  • Covet - teleport an item into their hands.  After [dice] rounds, it is returned.

  • Goldenbody - become immune to damage for [dice] rounds.  This spell has no effect on damage caused by gold, jewels, and other overt forms of wealth.


And yes, they do believe themselves to be superior to all other members of Zala Vacha.


5" O-ring snaffle
by Suguru Tanaka


Biomancers


There are many schools of biomancy, but the oldest and the greatest is the Cult of Elcoroth, the Infinite Pillar of Flesh, who manifests as a rainbow of flesh arcing overhead (or several). If Zala Vacha has a heart, it is the miles of cardiac tissue that beats within Elcoroth.


The greatest living practitioner of biomancy is Grandfather Oshregaal, who dwells in Revanwall.


The Cult of Elcoroth has acquired a great deal of power and legitimacy simply because they are known as the greatest healers in the world.  Even the Church cannot cure cancer–something that the Cult of Flesh can manipulate as easily as your grandmother knits a scarf.


The Cult also derives its support from those who wish to develop super-human soldiers (and there are always a few).


Lastly, Elcoroth retains a degree of support among ranchers and cattle-folk.  Back when they were still called Elcor, they were a god of cattle, especially leatherworking and safe birth.


The Dinosaur Cult


Tyroganon Ferox was an ancient reptile, and perhaps the greatest genius and prescient that has ever lived.  According to his own testimony, he was able to see the entire timeline of Centerra in its entirety, hold the entire thing in his mind, and perform calculations on it.

There was no power on Centerra great enough to prevent his death. If there had been, he would have found it.  And although he uplifted other ancient reptiles to serve him, his power could not prevent an apocalypse that killed all of them irrevocably.  (The Great Deluge, it is believed.)  Tyroganon Ferox died in that era, and he remains dead.

To his Men's Cofra New Castor Steel Toe WP/Insulated Rubber Boots today, Tyroganon communicates by fossil tablets.  If you wish to speak to him, all you have to do is walk through the wild places and mumble.  (So great was his prescience, that he has already seen and heard all the things that have been, and will be, spoken in all of creation.)  If Tyroganon wishes to respond to you, you will stumble across one of his tablets, where he will respond to you in perfect Common.  (His spelling is impeccable but his penmanship is atrocious.  He was a crippled tyrannosaur.  It was difficult for him to scratch in the mud.)


His loyal servants are rewarded with the locations of gold mines and lost jewels.  All of his cultists someday hope to find a fossilized treasure map.


Tyroganon has other servants.  The serpentmen, long since extinct themselves, have been evacuated from a dying timeline.  Now, the serpentmen are crawling up through the history of Centerra.  They are appearing in history books where once there was nothing.  Ancient ruins are sprouting where once there was only sand. 


Allegedly, anyway.  No one has any memory or evidence of the weird ophidian ruins not being there. We're just taking them on their word.


But their assassins are already here. Serpentmen wizards, atrox pedigrees, and the abominations they call reptoks.


They are crawling up the timelines, these dinosaurs.  They are crawling up the timelines and soon they will be here.  Every year that passes, they get 13 months closer.  Can you hear them?  The words in your history books are turning traitor.


First they’ll kill your great-grandfather, then they’ll kill your grandpa.  Then they’ll lay eggs in your grandma’s house.  Then your dad will be dead, slain in his boyhood by a raptor that crawled out of a mine.  And then they’ll be here, all teeth and scales and you’ll be snapped up and devoured.


The paradox cascade will be shunted into a sacrificial timeline. A New Truth will overwrite the Old Truth. The border will shake and then shatter, flooding all the disharmonious corners of the universe, and the universe will accept it because the Universe values for Harmony but does not understand Truth. 


The incongruent residua will be shackled with chains of irrefutable causality and drowned.  The Authority will smile down from his sun (a bit warmer than the yellow one no one remembers) and flick his tongue in pleasure.  The reptilian thieves will steal from the dinosaur kings, and all will be as it ever was.  Mammals will be exiled to to, and the victors will forget the victory.


Of course, many madmen claim that this has already happened.


Doomslaves


Doomslaves are all consecrated to Phasmagore, the goddess of Blood and Doom.  Every member of her cult exists only to slaughter her enemies until their death.  Doomslaves wield serrated bastard swords called doomblades. They are deathseekers–their goal is to literally die fighting. 


Phasmagore is usually depicted as a woman riding a red horse or, less commonly, a woman sailing a ship on a sea of blood.  She wields two swords and nine heads hang from her waist.


Doomslaves cherish bloodshed, violence, anger, etc, but they are always obligated to accept a surrender–typically, they will just sacrifice a single person to Phasmagore and then be on their way.  They also won’t fight unarmed people, although they may sacrifice a few.


They claim that Phasmagore lives in a lake of blood, down in hell.  When they spill blood, they are merely “sending it back” to her.  Spill enough blood, and demons called shrikes will arise.


All who die in the name of Phasmagore are guaranteed a seat at her table, where there is feasting and fighting for all eternity.  All sins are forgotten, and all painful memories wiped away.  She does not require faith, merely service.


by Suguru Tanaka


Darklords 


Those who worship Mallefar (a.k.a. The Hammer of the Apocalypse, a.k.a. Master of the Falling Sky, a.k.a. The Debtholder) are known as Darklords and Darkladies.  They are gamblers, hedonists, diabolists, and spellbreakers.  Yes, they are exactly as edgy as they sound.


Mallefar is a comet filled with demons. Most believe that it was constructed by the Authority as a prison, and cast far from his light.  The comet returns every few years so that their repentance can be ascertained (just in case they’ve had a change of heart).  


Another theory is that Mallefar is their pleasure barge–the demons are joyriding between worlds.


Either way, Mallefar certainly seems to have a sentience of its own (much like Centerra itself).  It has a much different orbit than the other celestial bodies, and travels far from the universal ecliptic.  Speaking to Mallefar has been successful on exactly one occasion.  The evil comet spoke of its intention to strike Centerra, changed its course in order to pass below the aurora, and then departed to complete its orbit, mocking its audience all the while.


I will not repeat the comet's words here. They are too vulgar.


Mallefar has a period of 19 years and 19 days–it does not orbit near Centerra often.  In the long nights between their master’s warmth, Darklords and Darkladies turn to more conventional demon summoning to enact their plans.


They also have a connection to the Edgeless Sharp, best described as the dimensionless, semi-sentient plane of severance (in all its forms, but especially physical).  Many of them wield Orbs of the Edgeless Sharp and other strange artifacts–all gifts from Mallefar, arriving as asteroids that fall on the homes of Mallefar's enemies.


Orb of the Edgeless Sharp


Spend as long as you like gazing into the orb and invoking the Edgless Sharp.  Each round, a dozen papercuts open up on your body.  At any time, you may point your finger at a target and command the Edgeless Sharp to sever it.  It deals 1d6 slashing damage to the target for every round spent charging up the orb  (max 10d6).  


For every d6 that shows a 3, you take 3 damage.  Multiple people can charge up the orb simultaneously–the orb is “fired” by the first person to invoke it after helping charge it.  Usable 1/day.


by Suguru Tanaka



Cult of the Evil Earth


Goxlagog is the god of oozes and evil earth elementals.  He was worshipped by a nameless culture who valued boredom as the ultimate symbol of luxury.  Yes, there are pits of boiling clay, and if you go to the ceremonies you might get to meet the Black Pudding* and yes, those earthquakes did kill a lot of people, but like, Goxlagog sucks. Not as much as Gribblegrim and the Rat Cult, but close.


*The front end of the Black Pudding, not just the bucolic appendages you stumble across on wandering monster tables.


The Rat Cult


Incoherent, tawdry, and of no consequence whatsoever.


by Suguru Tanaka