The Hunt for Manticore
A short game about a group of gentleorcs coming to one of Hegemony of Ur's newest colonial development areas, called in by the Governor-General to undertake the most perilous task of hunting down an almost mythical beast by the name of Manticore, which is preying upon the workers employed in the exploration of the ruins of the Directorate of Biological Sciences and the retrieval of the relics of the draconic civilisation contained within, and which has so far eluded all attempts at its life by lesser hunters and the Governor's soldiers, vanishing back into the deep jungles of the colony after each attack.
In the beginning, the world was ruled by dragons, the most ancient, intelligent and mighty of all the species. Their rule was not kind.
Called forth by the prayers of their subjects, who were being used as little more than slaves, experimental subjects and livestock, the First of Demons descended from beyond the stars on the wings of fire and created a great desert where It landed. The dragons did war upon it, but it was for naught, and the First Civilisation ended in a single, terrible night. The planet was left without its masters.
It came to the former slaves to fill in that gap.
Eventually, after many trials and disasters, the great nations of today emerged - barely a shadow of the power and wisdom of the dragons, even of their last refuge where the few of them inexplicably spared by the First have started to rebuild, but now at last able to decide their own fates. The one exception is the Free Golem Nation, created in process of a civil war that nearly ripped apart what little the survivors of the Night of Endings have managed to build, and which managed to hold onto many of the secrets of the past, frozen in unaging cognitive crystals.
The Hegemony of Ur is one of such nations, the most advanced and - as its citizens claim, at least - the most civilised and cultured. Created by orc refugees around a network vast, ancient draconic industrial complexes, it is the first of the survivor nations to rediscover the production of gunpowder, and the greatest one in terms of territory and economy.
Over the time of the last century, it had been expanding its influence, bringing various weaker nations under its control as colonies and puppet states. The idea that the Hegemony - as the most advanced and cultured nation in the world - has the responsibility to take a role of a leader and help lift other, less fortunate and civilised nations up to a proper level is currently dominant in its society.
The fact that it often uses those it is claiming to "help" to gain an advantageous position against the necromancers of the Black King, whose armies had been spilling from the far north for the last three decades and who threatens their dominance, is usually left unsaid.
Everything in the world has a spirit - from the living beings to the waterfalls to the stones. The one exception are the First and Its creations, who are nothing but void. The craft of a magician is fundamentally based on communing with those spirits, bargaining for their services and borrowing their power to affect the material world.
That connection can be strengthened with time and effort, and it is not uncommon to see centuries-old suits of ancestral armour or weapons be far superior to ones freshly made, their spirits carefully cultivated, shaped and even sometimes befriended by their owners and their families. While mages specialise in this, a certain degree of communion with spirits is common in most of the survivor nations, and forms the core of religion and spiritualism within them.
Even the spirits of living beings can be managed and reshaped in such a way, with many great wizards greatly prolonging their lives and increasing personal ability by perfecting their selves. Similiar methods are used by trained doctors and healers, but reshaping the spirit of others is a controversial area - it is, along with genetic experimentation, how the dragons created or altered many of their slave species, and the scars of that time are yet to heal, despite the passage of time.
The spirits are respected, the spirits are, in many ways, revered - however, there are also mages strong and amoral enough to force them, chaining them to their wills. It is how the black art of necromancy was created - by binding the spirits to the bodies of the dead or specially prepared vessels, in order to use them as servants or to further one's own knowledge. Necromancers are most often also those most skilled in reshaping their own spirits, that being the easiest way of attaining power to perform their craft. The greatest of necromancers in history, rivaling even the great dragons of the past, is the Black King, who stands in opposition to the Hegemony.
A beast fierce and savage unlike any other, it rarely leaves survivors during its attacks, and strikes with such a speed that in truth there is little known about its true nature. It is known that it is large, greater than any of the more common predators one might find in the jungle, and that it prefers the flesh of men and elves above any other food, attacking workers in the colony time and time again. It has a long, striking, barbed tail and can launch poisonous spines as if they were arrows at its quarry and pursuers; one survivor also claimed that the beast has wings, but that account had not been corroborated by any others who have encountered the beast. It has several rows of sharp teeth, capable of biting even through the metal breastplates and helmets of Governor's soldiers.
It features prominently in the legeds of the elven tribes living within the jungle as an unstoppable monster, a spirit of death itself, which takes who it pleases and punishes the careless and haughty; the new lord of the jungle, who claimed the tomb of its former masters as its palace and accepts no intrusion. While those accounts are undoubtedly far exaggerated, myths created by terrified savages that no enlightened Hegemony gentleman should believe, it does suggest that the creature is either an entire species, or possesess most unusual longevity. Resolving that mystery, however, can wait until its dead carcass had been dragged out of the jungle and retribution for the lives it took was handed out.
A group of hunters called forth by the Governor-General to hunt down the monster that has been plaguing his operations in the region for no less than three months by now, claiming the lives of over one hundred workers and a dozen soldiers, reflecting very poorly on him in the eyes of the government. As such, his latest attempt to put the issue to rest involves bringing in a group of exceptional individuals who are willing, for one reason or another, to accept going on such a perilous foreign adventure.
"Exceptional" in this case being orcish gentlemen - and ladies, as the case might be - of fine standing within the Hegemony and considerable experience in relevant fields, though the Governor is desperate enough that he has also brought a variety of less reputable individuals to the area.
There are three stats: Physical, Mental and Social. During character generation, the players assign priority to them. First priority gives 5 dices to roll, second 4, and third 3. In addition, the players can pick one speciality that lowers the difficulty on relevant rolls by one. They should be rather specific, though - "firearms" speciality is not really going to fly, for instance. They can take the form of a physical object - such as a heirloom musket or a hunting hound, for example, or be less material, depending on player preference.
Magic is generally handled as a combination of Mental and Social stats, though certain situations might only use one of them.
A wide variety of weapons is accessible, though the standard modern weapons are firearms of various kinds, mostly flintlock muskets and hunting rifles.
All information present here is stuff that characters can be expected to know ICly, or have already found out ICly. (some IC bias may be present in entries; it is not complete, either, and will continue being updated with time)
Dragons are the old masters of the world, crushed by the First. Now the shattered remains of the draconic civilisation shelter at the old Directorate of Physical Sciences positioned at the North Pole, which has escaped the Night mostly intact for unknown reasons, and attempt to rebuild. Originally ruled by a group of so-called "primordials", ancient and incredibly powerful dragons numbering somewhere around 20 according to the old records, that number has been culled, though some of them still remain. Nobody, not even the most ancient of elves, knows what happened to the rumoured Progenitor, the first of all dragons, however.
Modern dragons are extremely focused, preparing ever more lethal weapons for what they perceive as inevitable second war against the demons, and the painfully obvious eventual conflict with the Free Golem Nation; they have neither attention to spare nor the resources to bring their former slaves back to their knees. Although the Directorate's former mortal population remains, they are not used as livestock, but are now citizens, if only second-class; there is also an increasing number of cases of dragon-blooded individuals appearing, wielding a fraction of power and intelligence of true dragons, but still far in excess of mortals.
However, they also remain isolated, that seclusion being enforced by their advanced weaponry, so there is precious little information about them and their society beyond that - the few dragons that venture out on various missions rarely being very talkative.
Trolls were the next generation of artificial organisms created within the Directorate of Biological Sciences, developed not too long before the Night. "Troll" is actually a very wide term, including beings ranging from human-sized domestic servants to hulking, building-sized combat forms; their defining element is the special composition and nature of their spirit and flesh, allowing trolls to regenerate from absurd wounds, such as beheading or general dismemberment; fire, acid, high explosives and other similiar drastic methods are required to kill them permanently.
The Free Golem Nation is an extremely hostile polity, both towards the dragon remnants and the survivors of their servant races. Originally created from the spirits of those that the dragons devoured or who died in their service, it was typical to use several spirits per golem, forming strange, composite entities. They were notable for being used for heavy labour, various high-risk roles and situations in which having biological beings around was simply inconvenient.
However, after the Night, the remnants of former draconic security forces attempted to form their own nations and fiefdoms, using the leftover weaponry that they still had or managed to acquire - and they were not willing to relinquish their control over the golems, wanting to use their knowledge sealed in cognitive crystal and great personal strength to build their new polities. The golems disagreed, and in a savage campaign that saw the use of legendary atomic weaponry crushed them and ventured to create a nation of their own, where there would truly be no slaves anymore.
Due to their collective nature and the peculiar effects of the crystals, required to prevent the necromantic binds used in their creation from decaying, golem modes of thinking are often alien and incomprehensible. However, the Black King is known to use golems as his enforcers - fitting that the necromancer-king would manage to get along with the most advanced necromantic constructs known to history.
The Black King
The great enemy of the Hegemony; one of the human warlords and petty feudal lords who, in highly unclear circumstances, attained power and determination far in excess of what anyone could expect, launching a campaign of conquest against surrounding nations, mostly human and elven, though the siege of the nominally-Dwarven former Directorate of Chemical Sciences was probably the most infamous of his campaigns.
His forces - and he himself - make extremely heavy use of highly advanced necromancy, rumoured to have been derived from recovered draconic archives, to the point of creating entire armies of horrors, spirits bound to combat-optimised vessels and constructs. Rumoured to be the greatest necromancer in the world, rivalling some of the dragons and the Witch of the Sun herself, though those rumours are widely believed to be exaggerated in orcish territories. Somehow has managed to acquire the favour of the golems via unknown methods, though so far the details of the situation remain incredibly elusive.
Highly expansionist, he nevertheless united many of the previously-quarreling local kingdoms and republics in the South, creating an era of prosperity and safety never before seen in the region; it is not known what his ultimate goals are, however, and his methods are considered disgusting to many. He turned himself into an immortal monster with his necromantic prowess; widely considered the most dangerous and real threat to Hegemony's dominance, though of course he and his subjects are still barbarians.
Scraps of Knowledge
- Elves were once used as lab workers, low-level administration staff and the like by the dragons; as a result, they both escaped the worst of their casual cruelty and the treatment as livestock that many of the others have suffered, and they received the gift of biological immortality, the dragons preferring that over having to replace their staff every few decades. Living a life effectively locked in one position for theoretical eternity and still at risk of being eaten if they displeased their masters, drug abuse and suicide were both significant problems for them once. However, the colony's native elves and their legends suggest a significantly different history than normal.
- Hegemony researchers, pushed too far and too fast by Governor-General Lugal desiring fast results during their exploration of Directorate of Biological Sciences, unleashed a horrific plague that killed many thousands, orcs and natives alike, deep within the jungle, and caused many elves to escape from it entirely, picking life inside Marad, the primary Hegemony settlement within the colony, instead.
- The Manticore is said to be a death spirit, perceived differently by those who see it, recalling their past sins moments before they die. There is however little empirical evidence to back those legends, and many hints that the Manticore is very much a physical beast, regardless of its age.
- The Directorate of Biological Sciences was built in a desert, the 11th of Primordial Dragons taking seeding the previously desolate place with life as a challenge for her intellect. Some of the old creatures of the desert, used to dreadful living conditions, still linger within it.
- Fragments of ancient knowledge still linger; even though much of it has been lost, some things, such as certain efficient farming methods, or concepts such as germ theory, are known to advanced, civilised peoples such as the orcs of the Hegemony. There are also still faint memories of ancient draconic thinking machines and the machine-spirits that dwelled within them, but of course, as with other technology, nobody yet knows how to replicate them, each sample being incredibly valuable and impossible to replace.
Now that the party has entered the Directorate ruins - the southern quadrant of them, to be precise - the entire area is wide open for both exploration and for hunting that malicious beast. Therefore, some information about the area should be provided. (also as a reminder)
The Directorate is divided into three rings, connected by now largely overgrown land routes and subterranean tunnels, though the last ones have been sealed away centuries ago. Each layer is separated from the others by a great wall, though by now these have many cracks in them.
The outermost one is the security ring, where the guards of the entire facility were stationed. It is also the one that has been most thoroughly searched and looted, both by the Hegemony researchers and the native elves. However, areas of it have been under lockdown since the Night, sealed behind unbreakable doors - and who knows just what kinds of surprises can be found in there?
There are still several armed camps garrisoned by Hegemony soldiers in here, placed in order to keep watch on the area in preparation for the eventual return of the workers to the next ring.
Some of the more important landmarks:
- the army base, split into two parts by a river (where the party is right now)
- a distant spire, far smaller than the central one, but nevertheless still tall enough to be easily visible from large distance. Often used for orientation by the local Hegemony patrols. To northwest from the base.
- a great field of concrete, full of hangars and metal hatches. Distinctly separate from the army base, but not too far east from it.
- a massive, squat building, resembling some kind of concrete mountain. Located northeast.
Administrative and Habitation Ring
The middle layer was both the main administrative area and the place where the elves working within the facility usually lived. The jungle has reclaimed many of the facilities by now, though, little more than ancient, hollowed-out shells. A lot of it is still unexplored - those are Manticore's hunting grounds, and the place where it most often struck at the workers.
Some of the more important landmarks:
- the administrative complexes roughly in the middle of the layer - the places where most of the Manticore attacks took place
- abandoned Hegemony camp near the above complex
- the city at the wall - now reclaimed by the jungle, the place where the elves and orcs once lived.
- Series of large warehouses with glass ceilings to the southeast of the complexes, away from the city.
- The draconic habitats to the northwest of the city - not all dragons lived underground or within the research layer.
Research Layer and Underground Facilities
Both virtually unexplored so far. The innermost layer housing the great Spire and the place where most of the dragons lived, and the subterranean facilities that were the heart of the Directorate - Hegemony research teams have yet to begin exploring either properly. The last attempt by Governor-General Lugal to push straight towards the most valuable artifacts that could be found here resulted in the outbreak of a terrible plague that killed considerable amounts of Hegemony personnel and natives.
No landmarks are known at the time beyond the central Spire itself. An enigma.