The Hunger of Irth-Ometh

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The first omen of the Hunger is the image of a starving child, seen in reflection or shadow. The scholars of Irth-Ometh had no name for it; ancient oral histories referenced it only obliquely, hinting at its origins in some immense primordial sin.

The streets of Irth-Ometh are silent now. Old maps, cut into scraps of leather, claim to give its location. Most are false, but should you find a true one, you can follow it to a city half-buried in sand: vast temples of marble and glass, sandstone columns crumbling into dust, dry pools in desiccated courtyards, and the heaped bones of dry dead.

There are monsters in these streets – the Starving Bones and pathetic, roaming masses of flesh, the Cannibal Colossi, final doom of Irth-Ometh’s people. There are treasures, too, buried beneath the sand.

But do not linger too long in Irth-Ometh, the great lost city of gold, or you will begin to see the silhouette of a starving child, reflected in glass or concealed in shadow, and you will bring the Hunger with you wherever you go.

Starving Bones. HD 1; Atk claws d6; Def as chain. Appear in groups of 6-36. Pathetically desiccated skeletons, the sound of bone rubbing against crumbling bone. On kill, they frantically devour their victim with their dried jaws; flesh begins to grow on their bones, they gain +1 HD.

Cannibal Colossus. HD 10; Atk mad flailings – d6 x 10 attacks against random targets. A roaming elephantine mass of bone & flesh: at least a dozen human corpses, fused in a wolf’s shape, perpetually putrefying. Frantically devours each kill. The corpse then slowly buds from its mass, tumourlike, and it gains +1 HD and 1 more attack.

How to End the Hunger’s Scourge.

It attaches itself to humans & spreads, like a virus, to any group of people encountered after. Potential cures, found in folklore or ancient writings:

  1. A ritual requiring human sacrifice, taking place over 30 days. Discovered in Irth-Ometh, too late to be executed.
  2. Nine days of starvation renders one immune.
  3. There is no cure. Those infected with the Hunger must be killed before it can spread.

Lonesome Bloats

Occasionally visible as a pillar of gas on the horizon, gradually dispersing.

They are blobs of gas, contained in translucent skins, bobbing just above the ground. They range from child-size (common) to full-grown-adult size (much rarer). Some lunatics claim to have seen bloats as large as a house on distant desert plateaus.

They appear to have no organs or nervous system – unless there is something microscopic to the point of invisibility in their skin – but they seem to possess some sort of intelligence or at least curiosity. Sometimes a pack of them will come upon a caravan, bobbing gently above the ground, and encircle the animals and caravaneers, harmlessly nudging at them.

Experienced travelers know not to molest the bloats. Sometimes a nervous hireling will slash one open. The skin parts easily at the faintest blow, and immediately the caustic gas within disperses, dissolving flesh as it expands.

Rumour has it that certain unscrupulous desert-raiders collect bloats in secret and are trying to work out how to launch them at enemies.

(A BLOAT has 1 HD and no defences to speak of. If broken, it fills an area about 16x its size with gas, which deals 1d6 hp of damage per round to any flesh within the cloud. The gas disperses within about a minute.)

The Shade of An Unquenchable Thirst

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The black markets are flooded with maps purporting to show the way to the ruins of the Illuthian Empire. None of them lead anywhere but empty drifts of sand. Countless expeditions have departed in search of Illuthia and failed to return.

Those that have walked among the ruins came upon them by accident. Sometimes as part of caravans, following well-trodden routes. Perhaps the heat and the indistinguishable and endless dunes confused the navigators. Perhaps (and this theory is borne out by the uselessness of all maps to Illuthia) the ruins move on their own.

One first sees the city shimmering on the horizon, and thinks it is a mirage, for there is no city here.

The white marble columns rise from the sands, cracked and cakes with dust, but as one approaches one sees the knotted green vines twining up the columns, laden with white flowers and purple fruits. The fruits are delicious and wet.

The city is perfectly silent. The structures lie heaped in the sand – spires, hollow courtyards, fragments of walls, hinting at an impossible and forgotten grandeur. The heavy-laden vines rise from the sands. In dusty plazas are found pools of clear water; in dusty cellars are casks of wine, left unopened for untold years.

The city is silent. There are no signs of its former inhabitants, living or dead: no bones, graves, or ghosts.

You drink of the water, devour the fruits, gather treasures from among the fallen towers and empty palaces: gold coins stamped with an unfamiliar visage, beer and wine in dust-caked bottles, finely-carved statues of winged and eyeless divine creatures.

Why would you ever leave Illuthia? The springs of water are endless; the purple fruits bountiful; there are no sand-spiders or other creatures of the desert to trouble you.

Those who have returned from Illuthia all make the same curious claim. Some time around the third night of their visit, they began to feel that they were being watched. Some claim to have seen a figure moving among the forests of columns or watching from the high windows of distant buildings.

Nobody offers a proper description of the shade, but (they claim) the sight or even the sense of it changes one’s impression of Illuthia. The protruding white columns begin to look like the ribs of an immense dead thing, half-buried in the sand, and the impression is soon inescapable; those fragments of wall are teeth; the tangling vines are its veins. They begin to wonder why no history books make reference to Illuthia, why it is never found in the same place, and the fruits begin to lose their flavour, the strange visage stamped onto the ancient coins seems to leer at them with secret knowledge.

Few who have visited Illuthia show any desire to return, but there is a persistent rumour that the city is inescapable once visited, and that all those who have walked its silent streets will one day behold it on the horizon again, shimmering faintly beneath the sun, and that they will never return from their second visit.

Mantis Men?


Obviously a game that lets you play as a Mantis-Man is better than a game that does not. So let’s find an excuse to sandwich Mantis-Men into Black Sands.


Human-sized, bipedal, four-armed. They come from the desert. Some live in enclaves in human cities – dependent, like all other creatures, on the water of the Diviners.

They communicate with each other via clicking noises and subtle pheromone emanations. They are incapable of reproducing human language & vice-versa. Inter-species communications are achieved through a crude sign-language.

mantis-man has the following characteristics:

Armour equivalent to chain, granted by their carapaces. Naturally, human armours don’t fit them, and mantis-plate is produced at a much higher cost.

Four claws. They can use their claws to attack (for d4 damage, equivalent to a dagger). They can wield weapons as usual.

No magic. Whatever otherworldly emanations allow humans to channel magic essence are forbidden to the Mantis-Men. They can’t use magical tablets or learn spells at all.

Wearing the Mantis-Men

Metal is rare and Mantis-Man carapaces are more durable than bone. Consequently, armour made from dead Mantis-Men is a coveted commodity.

Cities with high populations of Mantis-Men will frown on the wearers of such armour, however, and one may find it difficult to make friends among their number so attired.

Skin Void, Sand Spider

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Skin Void

Found in the most ancient and desiccated of tombs. A Skin Void is a perfect absence of humanity: a wrapping of barely-convincing flesh, beneath which lurks an alien hatred of breath and life. At a distance, a Skin Void is a reasonably convincing simulacrum of a human; nearer, and you may notice that they only blink or breathe when they remember to, that their movements are faintly lurching, that their features are absent of any trace of sincerity. They mimic humanity only insofar as it permits them to destroy it. If they speak, their voices are dry, raspy, and mocking.

HD 8; Atk by weapon, or d6/d6 claws; otherwise, as a normal human

Mimicry. Viewed from afar, it is impossible to distinguish a Skin Void from a normal person. Nearer, a save is permitted to detect the difference. In a prolonged interaction, all but the most imperceptive will notice that something is wrong.

Immune to Mind Control. Skin Voids are immune to any magic that affects the mind (domination, confusion, etc). Attempts to read a Skin Void’s thoughts reveals only a frigid emptiness. The caster must save or be overwhelmed with mortal terror.

Origins. Accounts differ. Some believe that Skin Voids are tomb-robbers cursed by wards placed the buried kings. Others suggest that the ancient kings knew how to create these curious creatures, and placed them in their tombs as guards. Still others claim that Skin Voids are a consequence of the apocalypse that killed the gods and blasted the world: a grim reflection of the hollow nothingness of the desert.

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Sand Spider

Horse-sized eight-limbed beasts. Their eye-clusters are purely vestigial; instead, they are highly attuned to vibrations in the sand. A sand-spider can survive in a hibernatory state for weeks, waiting for a living creature to pass above its burrow; then it emerges with sudden horrifying speed, engulfing the victim in its tangle of limbs, then dragging it inexorably towards its poisonous beak.

HD 10; Atk bite d8 and poison; Def as leather; Grapples with Strength 15; Speed x2 human speed, burrowing

Poison. The sand-spider’s poison is a paralytic. Once a victim is paralyzed, the spider drags it down into its burrow, carves it into pieces, liquefies it with powerful acid, and ingests it. A paralyzed victim may save each minute to end the paralysis, should they be fortunate enough to survive.


Thirst Vampires

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Supposedly formed from those who die of thirst in the desert during certain phases of the moon and stars. Thirst Vampires are nearly immortal creatures driven by maddening and insatiable thirst: a desperation that is impossible to sate. They hunt living creatures across the sands, and, upon killing them, hasten to suck all the blood and moisture from their bodies, leaving desiccated husks behind.

Lairs. They are usually solitary. Each has a lair, usually a burrow beneath the sands, filled with the dry bones of kills dragged back to be drunk. They will roam several miles from their lairs in search of prey.

Behaviour. They can sense the presence of moisture – blood or water of any type – at a distance of up to a mile. If they discover a human caravan, they will track it until nightfall, and will proceed to attack the largest source of water available. (This may not always be a living creature.) For this reason, caravans traveling through vampire-territory tend to keep their water supply spread across multiple sources. The thirst of these vampires is never slaked, so they will continue to harass a caravan until it is fully depleted or until the caravan escapes from the vampire’s territory.

HD 6-8; Atk bite d12, 2 claws d6; Def hide (as leather), standard undead immunities; they are immune to normal weapons, but vulnerable to fire and holy magic; Speed x2 human speed; Regeneration – if the vampire successfully drinks from a water source, it regenerates d6 hit points per round until its health is restored or it next takes damage.

If reduced to low health, thirst vampires will usually flee, searching for an easier source of liquid to drink from & to regain their life essence.

If reduced to zero hit points, thirst-vampires remain awake and able to act, though they move at half-human speed and take a -4 penalty to all checks. If they successfully get a drink of water, they will regenerate rapidly. The body of a thirst vampire must be completely destroyed (e.g. by fire or holy magic) to prevent them from returning.

Clay and Magical Languages

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The Language of Magic

Spells are the thoughts of the dead gods, transcribed onto clay tablets.

The transcriptions are written in the fundamental language of the universe. Hence, each inscription represents an alteration (however small) to reality.

Were someone to learn the language of the gods, they could become gods themselves, able – through transcendent speech – to adjust reality to their will. Unfortunately, in the minds of men, the characters of this language are transitory and fleeting. They pass swiftly through the mind and are gone.

Certain scholars have attempted to memorize spells from the tablets. This invariably leads to insanity, and frequently causes the victim to combust.

Instead, spells are transcribed by rote onto tablets. The scribes must take care not to dwell too closely on the nature of the inscriptions as they are copied, lest their minds collapse. After rigorous training, one can then examine the inscriptions, and – through a sacrifice of blood – briefly invoke the reality-altering power of the words.

A character not so trained may attempt to cast a spell in this way, but they must also save or take d6 Charisma damage. A Charisma score reduced to zero equals brain-death. It is far safer to simply smash the tablet, which releases the power of the transcribed words in a single blast.

Some Spells

There are no “spell levels” as such. Any spell that scales can be cast at any level less than or equal to your own.

One must also expend blood to cast a spell. If the caster’s blood (or that of a submissive victim) is used, the cost is 2 hp per spell level. The blood of a freshly-dead creature grants 1 spell level per HD of the victim.

Basic d&d spells can probably be converted by feel, but here are some examples:

“The Manifestation of Destructive Energy.” Arcane motes strike designated targets unerringly. One missile is fired, plus a second at 4th level, a third at 8th, a fourth at 12th, and so on. Each deals d4+1 damage.

“Stillness of Water.” Any Diviner caravan will have many magicians bearing this spell. The person on whom this is cast is nourished by their own blood, sweat, and other liquid excretions, and is sated by half the usual amount of water – half a drachm instead of one. Lasts for 1 day per 2 levels.

“Withdrawal of the Divine Essence.” Traditionally cast upon the dead after a battle, drawing upon their own life-essence. This spell draws all the liquid from a corpse, dead no longer than an hour, and causes it to crystallize into a floating orb; capture it in a waterskin before it dissipates. Creatures usually contain 1 drachm of water per HD, but no more than 1 drachm per level can be withdrawn.

Qedeth, City of Lapis

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Ruled by the Diviner Qedeth Set. None but her most trust servants will ever behold her. Her palace is white marble, lapis, heavy with trees and the sound of running water, perched at the peak of the mountain. The hovels of the city huddle around the base. The sandstone walls keep the worst of the desert out. Within, the people work, fight, and die.

A Table of Professions. I want to run the game classless, but I like the idea of choosing/rolling a profession to determine your starting equipment. Here are some options for characters from Qedeth.

  1. Lapis Miner.Worked in the lapis mines, but you’d rather not die choking on rock-dust. Re-roll: Strength. Start with: a pickaxe you stole (d6); your last payment (1 coin, 1 drachm of water).
  2. Ex-Scribe. You were employed copying spells onto clay tablets, but an error was found in one of your copies and you were thrown out into the streets. Re-roll: Charisma. Start with: a random spell, and you can cast spells.
  3. Escaped Slave. The wealthy have many slaves, and it little matters if one escapes; they can’t hope to find a better life. Re-roll: your lowest stat. Start with: nothing.
  4. Pick-Pocket. You’ve made a living snatching coins from purses. The corpses of captured thieves dangle from gibbets in the town square – the lifestyle is hard to sustain. Re-roll: Dexterity. Start with: thieves’ tools, a bone knife (d4).
  5. Ex-Fighter. You’ve won once or twice in the fighting pits, and you’re scarred and weathered as a consequence. Re-roll: Strength. Start with: a bone sword (d6), 2 coins (your winnings), battered leather armour (AC 12), a disfiguring scar (-1 max HP).
  6. Disgraced Merchant. You were a minor figure in the water-trading business, until you were caught stealing; you should be bound to a post outside the city, waiting for the vultures to eat you, but you escaped justice. Re-roll: Charisma. Start with: 12 coins (your stolen goods), a warrant for your arrest.

Some Places in the City

Taverns and Drinking-Holes. They serve a dark, bitter beer that is much cheaper than water.

The Lapis Mines. They are a short distance from Qedeth, and employ a significant part of its populace. Workers return to the city at the end of the day, heavy with dust, to exchange brass chips for water and food.

Caravans. Run regularly, and are always hiring guards or porters. Qedeth trades lapis, gold, and other incidental metals from the mines; they receive in exchange spices, exotic foods, animals, and motley other goods. The caravan-routes are as safe as the Black Sands get, but there are still casualties every time.

The Library of Inscriptions. Well-guarded, home to a trove of tablets on which are inscribed all the spells known to Qedeth’s official magicians. Absolutely no commoners are admitted! The magicians frequently hire expeditions to search the wastes for new spells, known to be buried in the tombs of the lost kings; such expeditions are never paid in advance, since most never return. But, on the rare occasion that new tablets are found and returned, the magicians pay handsomely for them.

The Prisoners’ Gardens. Some time in the distant past, vines hung from these sandstone archways, and these pools were filled with instead of dust. Now it is rumoured that the gardens are a habitat for ghosts; in fact, a conclave of thieves lurks here, led by the infamous Seden of Graves, who once stole water from the Diviners’ own vessels (or so it is claimed). Thieves wishing to join the conclave must give proof of an astonishingly illegal deed committed against the city.

The Black Markets. For trade forbidden by the Diviners. The Black Markets are concealed in the rambling old ruins that ring the city, marked with signs known only to thieves. If you wish to buy from the black markets, you must have a connection among the city’s criminal elements; sellers of contraband, such as stolen spells or iron weapons, will have easy entrance. Once within, in addition to illegal weapons and magics, one can purchase monkeys trained in combat; the captured regalia of city guardsmen; draughts of luxurious wines meant for the lips of nobility; poisons brewed in secret laboratories; maps to secret tombs and lost cities; and anything else the heart desires. The merchants accept brass chips, gold, or drachms of water.


The Lack of Metal; Water Rationing


Metal is rare and extraordinarily valuable as a consequence. Thus most weapons are made of one of the following types of materials:

Bone. Notoriously fragile. Weapons made of bone shatter on a natural 1. Consequently, most warriors carry several backup bone-knives into battle, and any adventuring group is well-advised to have a member trained in the art of bone-carving. Bone armour is the equivalent of chain mail, and breaks if the wearer is critically hit.

Black Glass. Volcanic glass, black and opaque, sharpened to a merciless point. Scrappy mercenaries and desperate pit-fighters dream of the day that they can afford a black glass sword, possessed of a resilience common bone-blades lack. Black-glass breastplates provide AC equal to chain mail.

Iron. Iron ores are collected in the immense mines of the northern cities. Iron weapons and armour are immensely rare and valuable, and most Diviner cities restrict their use to elite warrior-castes. Iron weapons deal +1 damage and have +1 to-hit, and iron armour is the equivalent of plate.

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Water, Currency

The standard unit of water is the drachm. One drachm is enough water to sustain a man for a day. Three drachms occupy one inventory slot.

Thirst. For each day that passes in which a character drinks no water, they take a cumulative -3 penalty to all ability scores. Should the penalty exceed their Strength (or Constitution) score, they die of thirst. (This means that an average character can survive for about 3 days without water.)

The Acquisition of Water. The exact nature of the Water Sight is known only to the Diviners, who intentionally obfuscate the truth of their powers. Can they truly summon water from stones, or are they only drawn to watering-places?

Somehow, water emerges from within the Diviners’ immense palaces, borne out in heavy armoured casks under the watchful eyes of throngs of well-paid guards, to be distributed to those Water Merchants authorized in its sale. Each day, citizens approach the Water Merchant shops, clutching the small stamped coins issued by each city’s government. One brass coin, marked with the Diviner’s countenance, corresponds to one drachm of water.

The wealthy like to flaunt their wealth by wearing their water on their bodies; sometimes, if one peers into their palanquins (escorted through the streets by giants encased in iron armour), one can see them reclining among sloshing heaps of water-bags. Heads of crime families flaunt their status with water in place of jewels or gold.

Brave prospectors sometimes roam the desert with magical equipment that they claim grants them a fragment of the Water Sight. They are tolerated by the Diviners as crackpots, since most of them never return. However, there is one village in the midst of the desert, called Artema, perhaps only legendary, but which caravaners whisper about over draughts of dark beer. The founder of Artema, it is claimed, drove a rod deep into the earth and discovered a wellspring of water beneath. If it exists, Artema is the only human habitation not controlled by the Diviners. And, if that is true, there is no doubt that the Diviners intend to do something about it.

Notes on System

I like Into the Odd’s stripped-down ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Charisma. 3d6 in order, of course. Hit die d8 per level. Ability scores serve as saving throws: roll under on d20 to save. Ascending AC, with 10 being unarmoured, 12 being leather, 14 chain, 16 plate. A light shield is +1, a heavy shield is +2. Attack bonus equal to level, up to +10. That’s combat out of the way.

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No classes – instead, a la Knave, your abilities are determined by your equipment. You get item slots equal to Strength. You can carry armour, swords, shields, potions, spells on clay tablets, and use whatever you want.

As to spellcasting: anyone can invoke a spell by smashing the clay tablet on which it is inscribed, but one can also pay to receive the training necessary to cast without expending the tablet. A starting character could elect to have this training in lieu of a sword or something, or it could be acquired later, as a reward for doing enough tomb-robbing.

That’s enough of a framework for me to start with. More (of everything) later.