Wednesday, May 15, 2019

HELLWALKERS: the Pilgrim’s Verse and the Crow’s Chime

Journey West, Pilgrims
Through field and mire,
Vine and spire
To the Pit of Flame.
Ring the Crow’s Chime,
Turn back time
Restore the righteous world,

The words float on the air. They linger on the lips of the wounded; they lure the foolhardy to the gates and echo after their un-worn boots. Those who heed the Pilgrim’s Verse are Hellwalkers. They all dream of saving the world—of becoming the true HELLWALKERS.

Rumors of the Pit of Flame (B07)

Their destination is the Pit of Flame: a volcano in the Western Mountains, just southwest of the town of Bones. Rumors drift down the river Styx to the town of Stones: the people of Bones are terrified of the Pit. They whisper of a beast, the Crow, but the journey is long; merchants are few and Hellwalkers fewer. No witness has ever returned with a direct account of the thing or its prize: the Chime.

Oscar of Astora (Dark Souls)

The Lab

A concrete bunker squats in the caldera. The doorway is exploded; the great steel doors, stamped with the seal of the Order of Asphodel, lay 40 feet away. Inside are countless piles of feathers, shinies, and small treasures. Skeletons both human and demon for the floor, and blood and feathers cover shattered test tubes. In the central chamber is a single large test tube frame the size of a small house, in the bottom of which is a huge nest with piles of coins and other treasures. A vault door lies in front of an alcove in the back of the room with a pedestal in it.

Treasures: Unhatched Crows’ Eggs, 6-Second Skip Pills, 6-Second Rewind Pills

The Crow

Crows infest the lab and the caldera. Their tiny hoards dot the area. Among their number, however, are demon crows and cyborg crows (2d8: 1 much bigger, 2 flaming, 3 shadowy, 4 teleporting, 5 laser eyes, 6 feather blades, 7 jet wings, 8 electric talons). They build their nests in the test tubes of their birth. They’re smart, and they’ll test the party with gifts and caws to see if they’re friend or foe. They are the younger siblings of The Crow.

It looms up to the size of a T-Rex. A hive of dimly-lit glass eyes set in a huge metal plate dominate the left half of its face (they shoot a huge laser). It raises its wings to obscure itself in shadow fog. Feather blades line its wings. It breaths with the noise of a jet engine and moves with speed to match. If wounded, its talons ignite with electric flame. It hungers for more shinies.

The Shrieker (Darkest Dungeon)

The Crow’s Chime

A rod of steel and silicon, as long as an arm and engraved with the seal of the Order of Asphodel. It weighs more than it should and catches light from unseen sources. It is, in reality, a sort of checkpoint, set to a day 15 years ago, 15 minutes before the beast breaks containment and four hours before the end of the world. If it is rung—twisted into position over the course of a day and struck by strong steel—it will drag the rest of the world back to its anchor point. The Chime pulls everyone touching it to its physical location in the lab as well, leaving their bodies, memories, and inventories intact. The ritual that ended the world took place in the lab four hours after the checkpoint was set. It can be stopped by the HELLWALKERS.

The Chime is not on its pedestal.

The Chime is in the Citadel (I08). With no one left in the lab to claim it, the demons took it to safeguard their victory in the past.

The Draft Room

An iron-banded oak door covered in charred claw marks blocks a side passage, or used to, before it rotted away. It was an office. Inside is a skeleton, a sturdy desk, and a small pile of opened cans, enough for two days’ worth of rations. On the desk is a one-way radio distress transmitter and dozens of sheets of paper—rough drafts of the pilgrim’s verse.

Journey West, Pilgrims, through field and forest, or grass and woodland, or sun and shade. Visit the Caldera of Knowledge, or the Scholar’s Cauldron, or the Final Volcano. Ring or toll or twist the Chime, the Chime of the Beast, or the Past-Walker’s Chime. Reclaim what was, or seize your former fate, or rewrite old wrongs right again: HELLWALKERS, or PASTSHAPERS, or PENITENTS. There is a final sheet of paper next to the radio with the final verse.

Other pages track frantic thought: “Door barred. Two days’ food. Chime remains for now. Order Asphodel ruined; no rescue. Battery for one transmission. Chime must be used to change past, but none in Order are stronger than Escapee. Must attract others.”

“Could explain situation. Broadcast openly. Too long to transmit, too much knowledge to bear. Instead: spread simple myth of Chime’s power through Order survivors.”

“First Hellwalkers—allies? [locations of two Hellwalkers] Know much. Will overburden others with strict morals. No doubt bitter. Chime must ring. Be direct. No distractions.”

“Last can. Transmission sent. Demons still outside. Chime remains. Pray they don’t take it.”

“So hungry. One day since last can. Rescue still unlikely.”

“hungry hu̸ǹg͢ry h͘ù́n̕͠gr̵̛y̡̧ h̴͜͡u̷͞҉҉n̸̛g̨̨̕͜r͠͏̵̷͜y̸̡ h̶̜̜͉̝û͓ͭ̊̿͒ͧ̌n̶̫̣͓̮̂ͯ̇ͩg̒͂ͧͦ̂̂̍ṟ͈̮̻̼ͪ͋ý̯”

MFW I'm waiting for the adventurers to Ring the Crow's Chime and Turn Back Time (imgflip)

Design Notes: Influences


Dark Souls
So, I didn’t really fight the Dark Souls influence here. As those of you who have played the game might have noticed, the Pilgrim’s Verse is directly inspired by Oscar’s Undead Prophecy in Dark Souls 1: a call to arms to visit a far-off location and ring something. The ringing of the bell in Dark Souls is so strongly imprinted in my memory that I just let that bleed through here: the Hellwalkers are also trying to ring a macguffin. The influence runs deeper than that, though—also like the Undead Prophecy, it misleads those who follow it: there is a second Bell of Awakening to ring in Dark Souls and the Chime is not in the Pit of Flame. Just like the Undead Prophecy, the Pilgrim’s Verse is a fabrication by a waning power hoping some future adventurer will restore it.

Enter the Gungeon
The quest is also inspired directly by Enter the Gungeon: in that game, the player characters are attempting to go back in time and undo their past mistakes. I think that’s pretty cool, and it makes me feel less bad about writing a world full of crappy stuff.

Doom (2016)
The Order of Asphodel works parallel to the UAC. Both meddled in demonic power and things went south. There’s some evidence of that here in all the broken test tubes, but I’m going to try to scatter more of it around the map.

Darkest Dungeon
It has a cool corvid boss fight.

Here's the map, for reference

4 comments:

  1. I like the interesting genre mixture and your influences are spot on! I like the straight forwardness of having a fixed endpoint with the completion of a quest. Too few of my games has been that way and it often leaves me itching to try out other things and being unable to.

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    1. Thanks! And yeah, having a distinct endpoint is kinda neat, I think. I'm still experimenting with my preferred mode of play, and I think I REALLY like hexcrawls, but now I'm going to experiment with the formula a bit with Hellwalkers. Bigger map, stuff more spread out, fewer detailed hexes, and of course a single overarching goal.

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  2. Adding Doom to Dark Souls is certainly something I haven't thought about, but this is an intriguing development.

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