A Traveler in the Lovely Dark
Lexi's Far Traveler Class (Here) is utterly amazing: it's both a class-template à la wizard schools and a little exploration at the same time! I fully recommend doing this for your setting, it's super fun.
Here is what a Traveler's "Been There" table might look like for the Lovely Dark. A kind of travelogue for this tiny little half-real world, lost somewhere between death and dreaming.
|by Kei Nanameda|
1. The Underworld. A few precious memories of that place remain to you. Endless grey hallways in obscure geometric forms. Warm breath exhaled down long highways made of electric light that go on and on and on through fathomless dark. Closed courtyards of ash-white trees and the bowed shapes that weep, as indistinct as traces in dust. The Houses of Judgement, where each stair comes up to your waist, and the doors tower out of sight. The Court, where Games are played. And once, a glimpse of Grandmother Possum in her rotten nest, picking her teeth with her nails. She winked at you.
Perk: There is a certain etiquette required for the Dead to challenge Courtiers to a game, and in victory thereby return to life. You have it, though you could not teach it. Your chances of victory are slim.
2. The Titanomachy. The blooming flourishing screaming wretching dreaming bleeding dying thing that comes bursting from the guts of the Ragged King. Dancing courtiers only minutes old with faces made into hives of colorful worms. Garden-skulled servants and fashion designers with live scorpions instead of thoughts. Satellite cities sink constantly into the teeming swamp, the private playhouses of mad surgeons and utopian industrialists, desperate to finish their work before their royal grant runs out, or their city revolts, or they drown.
Perk: You took a commission from the fevered mind of the Ragged King. Something beautiful. Something that will shake all the rust and misery off of the world and make it love us again. Something impossible. You have 999 Obols in start-up capital remaining, and a year and a day until you must report victory and be reborn, or report failure and be pressed into service.
3. The Enduring Empire. You took a shrouded road through the pale web-strewn wood, through the great cemeteries with their winding processions of mourners and concession-sellers and sunburnt preachers, past the corn fields and the carnival towns where legions of silent ghosts stare longingly at tragic pantomimes and vast gentle spiders spin candy floss that softens regret. Through the bas-relief gates in the great grey walls, to arrive in a city buried so deeply in history it can hardly be seen at all. The Nameless Capitol. Once, before the Truth, it ruled the world. It will never live again, but it endures nonetheless.
Perk: The inner empire does not accommodate the needs of the living. You learned to do without. You can sustain yourself on candy and dead leaves instead of food, and on a thimbleful of tears or falling rain instead of a drink of water.
|Ball-Joined Body, by Ink-Yami|
4. The Shattering Kingdom. You have been below, where the Empire cannot reach you, and seen what it cannot reclaim. Subterranean rivers run thick with blood and gold and salt. The gem-studded roof glitters in candlelight, mapping the forgotten sky above. The bleary-eyed imago, lusciously unfolding layers of wax-paper skin in their faded courtly colors and delicate brocade, drifting in the shadow of the Impostor Queen, who has maintained countless generations of royal blood flukes and aristocratic ailments beneath her living skin, scabrous and immaculate. Her ichor compels and terrifies like a rush of pure adrenaline. Now that it has passed your lips, you will never truly be free.
Perk: You can heal all of your HP by thinking of her. It comes back to you all at once, a bile swell of abject terror and lovesick adoration. Every time you do this, there is a 1-in-4 chance your heart explodes. Don't be scared. True, your HP will stop coming back for good, but look on the bright side: You won't remember what love is well enough to miss it.
5. Apokreta. The poison is the fecund soil, and the fruiting bodies of the fungus and the pomegranate trees, and the big wide iridescent sea and the big empty iridescent sky. The poison is art and sorrow and the many ways of courtly love. The poison is a moss that grows on the rocky black shores of the iridescent sea, and it gets in the oil-slick water and the tall red grasses and the bugs-of-burden and never gets out. If there are ordinary people in Apokreta, tending the orchards and fishing the lake and serving the Princess' ineffable whims, you never met any. You saw only her sprawling, many-limbed palace: paper-walled and gauze-curtained and full of music. And the everlasting rainbow sun. And the poison, of course: it is these things too.
Perk: You have developed an encyclopedic knowledge of poisons and their uses. You can always identify one by letting it poison you completely. If you survive, the poison comes out in your tears. You can catch them in a vial, diluted and weak, but useable.
|Organs, by Ink-Yami|
6. Asphodel. The Miracle Place. The terraced gardens of the earth and sea and sky. Stained glass fountains run with rich cathedral-chrism. Maiden-amputees in the lotus pool. Eyeless priests walking their gargoyles, waving politely to the silent bandaged garden-tenders, sampling from barrels of mellified monk. A vast complexus of bright garden temples, a boundary-place of the underworld. The eternal return of the material everything. High arcades of sacred architecture in bright spring earth and warm flesh matter, maintained by ancient colonies of termites. A secret place, hidden safely in the sea of flowers: a kaleidoscopic carnivorous delirium that blooms like spring in summer and in winter. And below it, the termite cities of Lachrymose and Honey-Drool: bright and fashionable and everlasting.
Perk: Divinity is terribly in at the moment. People who want to be in, and people who are afraid of being out, will pester you with all kinds of superficial questions about Asphodel (its holy mysteries do not interest them especially), and reveal things about themselves in turn. For each night you spend out on the town among fashionable people, ask one of these, and get an answer:
- How can I present myself to blend in with/impress/offend this particular caste?
- Who are the most fashionable subcultures, and where do I meet them?
- How are the coded messages hidden here? Flowers? Handkerchiefs? (You don't learn the code.)
- Where is the best place to be seen, or the place nobody would be caught dead?
- When will the next major "private" (but really public) event (masquerade, family reunion, wake) be held?
- Why does this group present the way they do? What do people think it means?
7. The Sea of Forests. Follow the paths into the forest where the redwoods grow, where the ground falls away inch by inch, down down down into the wild darkness of the world, as deep as the bottom of the ocean. There is no sun. There is no sky. This is where the trolls abide, in their lightless pulsing cities of bone and meat. There are no paths. There is no way to go deeper. But you can hear her voice in the clay of you. Go deeper, into a yearning jungle of parasites and pale fungi, where the tree trunks might be cliffsides. There is nothing here for you. The deepest place, where the trolls won't go. The swallowing place. You never returned.
Perk: Once upon a time, in a deep dark wood, you ate a traveler who trespassed where they shouldn't. You have their skin and their shape, and all the glistening things inside them are yours. When you are unseen, you can cast their skin aside and go back to the shape you know best. You can climb on anything and get in anywhere- mouseholes and keyholes and eyeholes. You can crawl down someone's throat and eat them from inside. Anyone who sees you will try to kill you. If anyone takes your stolen skin from you, you are stuck as you are, so you must kill them, and eat them, and take it back.
|Cannibalism, by Ink-Yami|
8. The Far Mountains. They rise like a wall at the northern edge of the world. The trees here grow upside-down, sending their trunks and leaves down into deep caverns to soak up darkness while their roots grow up to grip the mountainside and drink up blood and air. The Brass Men passed through this place, on their pilgrimage to the gate at the end of the world. They left things behind. Astrolabes that realign thoughts. Factories that manufacture hatred. Ecosystems have grown around them. No one knows why they were made, or why they were left behind. Perhaps they were seeded as temptations to impede pilgrims to follow. But you were not impeded. You reached the gate yourself. It was, regrettably, locked. But it had a keyhole.
Perk: There is a scar around your eye where you peeped. There is a certain amount of reverence around mountain-pilgrims. Wanderers, vagabonds, and the fatally curious will ply you with good drinks and good food and good gossip, in exchange for stories of the place beyond. Though really, you could say you saw almost anything through that keyhole, and people would believe you.
9. Verity. The last colony, and the first. If you follow the road south, you will never reach the sea. The sand beach will go on and on and on. It will come in waves of new colors- statue colors, temple colors, observatory colors. The walls of Verity have fallen. Blind-eyed kings stand sentinel in stone. Empty voices echo down the colonnades. There was no revolution, so Verity remains.
Perk: Verity is a city of ghosts. One of them stuck to you. Roll for what it knows and what it wants.
- ...the law, as an educated lawyer would. Verity had an awful lot of lawyers. It provides sober, thoughtful consultation, though its knowledge is a little out of date, and its memory is motheaten.
- ...quite a lot about machines. It is awkward and quiet and bad at explaining things, but it might able to walk you through something if you need it to.
- ...that a penny saved is a penny earned, and that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and other silly things like this. It thinks itself very wise, and will eagerly lecture you on proper moral behavior.
- ...the law, as an experienced career criminal would. Verity had an awful lot of these too. It will treat you as some combination of co-conspirator and patsy.
- ...nothing but the name of its beloved. It wails miserably in the night.
- ...a host of ghoulish stories from the city's final days. The Season of Executions. The Word of Exile. The Birth of the Brass Men. It recounts them with the skill and relish of an unsavory uncle.
- ...to reunite with its beloved somewhere deep in the underworld. They have taken some pains to hide themself, putting themself in debt to the Courtiers. They will not be glad to see they have failed.
- ...the name that was taken from it by the court. It is carved into a tablet in a vault in a ruin in Verity. The ghost is not enthused about returning there.
- ...to live again. To feel the sun and taste rosewater and weep real tears. It does not care how.
- ...to reunite with its beloved, who lives on as a bent and ancient oracle somewhere high in the Far Mountains. They love it still. When they reunite, they will go to rags and ashes together.
- ...bloody revenge against its nemesis, who is long dead. Their legacy is the next obvious target.
- ...to return home, wherever that is, because it can't remember. To have died somewhere that is as unlike Verity as possible. To be happy, the way it was as a child. It will never accomplish any of these things.
10. Gul. The jungle rises like a fever. The cramped twisting sweltering streets and mosquito-choked canals shift into strange patterns when you aren't looking. The rain is full of bacteria that carry messages to each other in the hack of your cough. A pestilence begins in the thorns of roses and in all the little kittens and sinks into your bones so you bloom with patterns of undiscovered color. There is precious little space, so every building is built on every other building in a great complexus of rotten walls and crooked passageways. Hospital-refectories and museum-hostels. Your Obols are worthless: you pay in secrets, in desperate, precious kisses from your uninfected lips. Gul is the lovesick heart of a carnivore maze that tangles in everything, and it swallows up all the secrets it can. Few escape it.
Perk: People in Gul chart veins under skin, and turns in labyrinths, and patterns in epidemics. It is a city rich in secrets and in desperation. Most of what they learn is meaningless- an anglerfish light for obsessives that only makes them sicker. But sometimes they learn something good. Some elemental secret of rot and rain. A deformation of the body that was always possible, if only you knew how to accomplish it. You've learned of one such secret, and how you might work it. (Here)
|Disease, by Ink-Yami|
11. Zeboim. Way out in the desert, past the sea of flowers, is the greatest city in the world. The place where the moon fell to earth. Where the Ultrareality had its first kiss. A city of black volcano glass that sings in empty air. A city built in-and-out, not up-and-down, where the roads are light and shadow. A city called Zeboim, where the Name-Eaters rule. In Zeboim the sun is a ball of dripping neon-drenched delirium and the moon is a paper mask. In Zeboim all the music is a kind of jazz that hasn't been invented yet, and all the food is corpses and smoke. In Zeboim you drink starlight from mirror-black basins and walk the streets wearing only your bible-black shadow. Somewhere deep within, the Witch-Queen reigns forever in a garden of her own black velvet fur.
Perk: You met the Witch-Queen, once. It is not too uncommon: she has a soft spot for the far-traveled. Her hot breath fogged your skin like glass. She took you in her arms, and twisted off your head like a screw-top bottle, and decanted your organs into jars and made them into something delicious. When it was time to go, she filled you back up with smoke and hair, and gave you a couple jars for the road.
Roll twice. Grave jelly is good on finger sandwiches for a tea party, or with some crusty bread late at night. The magic lasts one night, or until it is burned away by sunlight.
Lungs: Tastes of beer and placenta. Instills a deep and abiding dread, so nothing else can frighten you.
Stomach: Tastes of brine and blood. Your muscles tighten into armor. Leaves you unbearably sore, after.
Liver: Tastes of milk and semen. Holds off the effects and progression of infection or tissue rejection.
Intestines: Tastes of the water in a magic eight ball. Makes your throat close up. Save or suffocate.
12. Shaddad. The empire across the sea, which ruled us once upon a time. You have not been there. You will never go there. But you have heard stories- the Nemesis Engine, the Sea of Eyes, the Palace of Smokeless Flame. All the true things in the world. Our lands are a shadow, or a dream. We don't really exist, except as their dark and deliquescent mirror.
Perk: You can speak a haltering and debased form of Imperial Mandaic. This is a real language. Here in the Lovely Dark, it is nothing like anything anyone has ever heard. Everyone understands it, whether they want to or not. People and birds and rivers and stuffy toys. It will hurt you badly when you speak it, and it will hurt them worse to listen. Your tongue will melt at the edges. Your teeth will crack in tiny hairline fractures. You will remember you are nothing. But it will be worth it. It will be something real.
|Safavid Battle Mask. 16th-18th century.|