Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Manticores

The Mantigon

The Mantigon was created by Yalys the Enchanter, and it is said that it only became cruel after watching her many deaths.  It is said that the Mantigon was one of her favorite sons.

(Yalys was a sorceress who created a bunch of powerful, unique monsters.  Each one has a different impression of her--one describes her as stern, another as mischievous.  The idea being that a group of determined adventurers can discover the location of Yalys' tomb only by talking to all of her monster-children and figuring out where she went to die her final death.  While this concept is cool, the implementation has, so far, eluded me.)

The Mantigon resembles an enormous old man stretched until he was 30' tall.  His grimacing face sags atop hunched shoulders, and it drags its boneless tail wherever it goes.

For the last few centuries, it has been offering a bounty for the other children of Yalys.  His belly bulges with the weight of its devoured siblings: strong enough to contain them, but not to digest them, as Yalys mastered the creation of immortal beasts early in her career.

The Mantigon lives with his wife, the Dragon Hen, in a stinking cave made all the more wretched by the Mantigon's constant digestive complaints.

Unlike his children, the Mantigon does not eat people.  His guts are full enough.  However, people who annoy him are hurled from the adjacent cliff.  Most people annoy him.

The only conversation he enjoys is slander.  He enjoys hearing horrible gossip.  Betrayals, catifights, scandals.  He cares nothing for truth, only extravagant descriptions of all the goats the the king secretly enjoys fucking.

(Stats as HD 8 giant that can breath stinking cloud every 1d4 rounds.  Non-magical weapons deal half-damage against him and cannot reduce him below 1 HP.  Nothing he eats can harm him.)

He welcomes two types of visitors.  Guests are often invited into his filthy cave to share one of his wife's enormous eggs, cooked over a low fire.

The first type are those who bring him works of art, the more ancient and irreplaceable the better.  He pays for these with gold from dead kingdoms.  Then he smashes the works of art and eats them.  His gums bleed from pottery shards, and leaded paints give him shooting pains behind the eyes, but still he gorges himself on these.

The second type are the bitter old men who wish to become manticores.

trampier, of course
Manticores

A person who wishes to become a manticore must fulfill three criteria.  They must be:

  • old
  • male
  • spiteful
More specifically, the horrible old man must also have a grudge that they want to settle. 

The Mantigon sometimes accepts those who match only two of these criteria, but never less than that.

Perhaps the orphaned Mantigon feels kinship with these fellow embittered souls.  Or it seeks to emulate his departed creatrix.  Or perhaps it's just a colossal dick that likes sowing discord.

The Mantigon will interview potential candidates to ensure that they are indeed old, hateful men, and that their grudge is indeed genuine.  There may be tests of spitefulness involved.  

The grudge must be one that a manticore, but not an old man, could achieve.  Usually this involves killing someone or ruining something.

Once accepted, the Mantigon cleans out one of his wife's eggs (they are always born empty--she is infertile) and stuffs the old man inside it.  He uses his saliva to seal up the egg, and it is given back to the Dragon Hen to incubate.  Nine days later, a small manticore hatches out of it.

It is unknown if the Mantigon can make other types of manticores, but regardless, all of the manticores that you will encounter will be flying lions with the heads of bitter old men.

The first thing they do is fulfill their original grudge.  This usually involves killing a local authority, destroying the farm they were forced out of, or eating some teenagers who made too much noise.

Then the manticore disperses.  (They do not return to the Mantigon, who has no more wish to hang out with a bitter old asshole than anyone else.)  However, from time to the Mantigon calls his manticores back and holds court.  It is unknown what, if anything, is discussed at these meetings. 

Manticores have unique psychologies.  While their initial moods are as varied as any humans, they invariably turn towards resentment.  

Roll reaction rolls normally.  On a neutral or better result, the manticore is talkative and possibly even friendly.  But as the encounter continues, the manticore will begin to grow resentful (over things that the party has and it lacks, such as youth, love, or thumbs) or insulted (as it begins to imagine veiled insults at every opportunity).  The only thing that keeps them calm is a steady supply of slanderous gossip accompanied by (at a minimum) the minor acts of casual cruelty.  

(Manticores don't actually enjoy widespread killing and cruelty.  Auschwitz, for example, would horrify one, and it would probably seek to avenge itself on the perpetrators.  Manticores prefer smaller actions, like breaking a kitten's tail and laughing at its pain, then spiking it to the ground when its mewling became aggravating.)

Everything that a manticore interacts with eventually becomes an object of resentment.  Opponents, their weapons, their clothes, et cetera.

A manticore will always devour a slain foe, their clothing, their weapons, their belongings.

Unlike their father, the Mantigon, they have no special ability to consume objects.  Bones will be splinted and wood will be chewed.  It is not uncommon to come across a manticore gnawing on a half-eated sword, cursing a dead knight with bleeding gums and broken teeth (which constantly regrow, like a shark's).

But they cannot digest the metallic chunks that they gag down, and such indigestible items are usually vomited back out.

That's the daily routine for many manticores.  Gnaw, bleed, gag, swallow, vomit, curse, and repeat.  

Indigestible items are concentrated in the tail, where the strongest elements become tail spikes.  

Such consumption is a difficult task, and the area around a manticore's lair are often littered with half-eaten objects, many having been swallowed and vomited up several times.  The manticore will always return to these objects once its mouth and throat have had a chance to heal.

In combat, they prefer to make strafing runs while riddling their target with spikes (which are later recovered and painfully re-swallowed).  

If a manticore is angry at you (and this is the default result) and is denied the reasonable catharsis of killing you, it will follow you, circling high above you, seeking to spite you in any way that it can.  It will try to kill people that look like they might know you.  It will yell down obscene things about your parentage.  It will scare away game and trample helpful herbs.  It will seek out water sources so that it can piss on you (but from a few hundred feet up, this is nothing more than the occasional droplet).

Manticore
HD 5  AC chain  Claw/Claw/Bite 1d8/1d8/1d4  Tail Spikes 1d10 + poison
Fly 18  Int 10  Morale 6

*Tail Spikes -- A manticore can make up to three separate tail spike attacks, but they must be at three separate targets, and no two targets can be more than 10' apart.  A manticore will be encountered with 1d10+10 spikes (track them).  These spikes are functionally identical to the iron spikes you can buy in town.

*Poison -- 1d4 per minute for 3 minutes.  Targets under the effects of a manticore's poison become bitter and resentful, and cannot aid their allies (unless their life depends on it).  Instead, they laugh at their friends' suffering, and will mock them even as they die.

The iron in a manticore's diet supplies the iron in their tail spikes.  If they are unable to achieve sufficient metal in their diet, the spikes will be stone (from eating dust) or bone (usually from suckling at cows' teats, after laming them), and will deal less damage (1d8 rather than 1d10).

There are rumors of more exotic types of manticore spikes.  Cursed spikes from a manticore that ate a cursed sword.  Golden spikes from a manticore that gained a dragon's hoard.  Metaphysical spikes from a dragon who ate too many philosophers.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The GLOG: Wizards

I'm not happy with it, but I'm getting real fucking tired of rewriting it.

My OSR-compatible rules for wizards can be found right. . .


They include the Illusionist, Necromancer, and Orthodox Wizard (the most traditional one).



I think these wizard rules are cooler than a witch's tit and hotter than a witch's other tit, but if you aren't interested is wading through another homebrew in search of bits to steal, here are the parts that I think are the most hackable:

  • I think the whole spell slots + casting dice is pretty elegant.  It removes the whole quadratic wizard thing and gives players a clear idea of how much spellpower they have and are bringing to bear.  (I actually give them aluminum casting dice at the start of each in-game day.  It's very tangible.)
  • Book Casting is a great ability.  It actually makes wizards feel more like wizards, since they're wading into combat with their big dorky spellbooks out, chanting stuff.
  • Vancian Preparation would be good to port into a 5e game, except maybe give a different benefit.  Maybe +1 to the spell slot, can only be used 1/day.
  • Giving mono-class bonuses is a great fucking idea and I'm sad I didn't hit on it sooner.  Just: I think it's a good idea to incentivize the all-wizard party or the all-thief party.  It makes the game experience more diverse, gives us more ways to play the game.
  • You'll notice that a lot of the old-school spells are a lot more powerful, and a lot more hackable.  A lot of them have multiple uses.  I tried to make spells like feather(fall), floating disk, lock, and levitate more comparable to sleep on the scale of usefulness.
  • Also check out the Illusionist's Final Doom where they turn into an illusion and get stuck there.  There's enough there for a blog post on its own.
  • I tried to give a lot of diversity in the undead that low-level necromancers can raise.  They all have different functions, and the necromancer's corpse economy means that they'll have to pick their favorite.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Starfighter Samwise

I normally spend my lunch breaks writing down D&D ideas on the backs of receipts and then losing them in my car, but today I spent my time thinking about an idea for a video game.

I'm a fan of bullet hell games.  (If you haven't played them, they're similar to shoot-em-ups like Gradius, except cramped and tactical, in the sense that you learn to anticipate bullet patterns rather than respond to random enemy behavior).  It's a pretty well-developed genre, and once you dig into it, there's a hell of a lot of variety, both in interesting boss mechanics and in tactics.

But bullet hell games never have a good story </opinion>.  Like, some games have such good stories that I have fun just talking about the story (Shadow of the Colossus, Portal, Half-Life 2) completely independent of the gameplay.

This is perhaps tough to do for a bullet hell game, because you're basically just a floating dot that spews out a wall of bullets at other floating dots that are also spewing out walls of bullets in an otherwise featureless landscape.  

It's not a genre that lends itself to usual story touchstones (doors, people, a sense of place).

ikaruga
Anyway, here's my script for a bullet hell / shoot-em-up game that will probably never get made.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Filling the Dragonhole

In this post, you get to watch me try to flesh out my dragon hole dungeon.  This is just me spitballin' ideas, in preparation for actually writing the thing.

So we got these six dragons, right?   And a rough idea of their personalities and collections, see?.  Maybe not so much their goals or wants, but I'll work on that later, once I have a better idea of the relationships between them.  That part can come last because it's the part that's most dependent on other things.

Saint-Leonard Underground Lake
Dungeon Layout

The recipe of "ancient X now repurposed by Y" is an old formula, but a good one.  In this case, it's an ancient water distribution system that was later used by a mother dragon and her brood.

There's a huge central shaft going down to a reservoir (or many reservoirs).  Right now my leading idea is a big shaft leading down to a sealed stone building in the middle of a perfectly spherical reservoir, maybe with a couple of pillars running up alongside it all the way to ground level (both as stairwells, but also as places to put ancient machinery and shit).

Okay, that sounds cool.  It also sounds big.  I might need two scales of map: one for the dragonhole itself and the other for the individual lairs.

Backstory

Once there was a mated pair of dragons.  A knight slew the father.  The mother fled with her seven kids and decided to hide in a big hole in the ground.  She was paranoid and controlling.

Eventually the knight died of old age and her six kids grew up.  One of her kids was killed by the other six (specifically Vulpernia) for breaking her most important rule: don't let people see you.

Then the mother died and her delusional daughter, Emerald Egg, has started turning her into a dracolich.  The other five dragons don't know this last detail, and just keep living their fucked up, egocentric lives in what is basically a subterranean apartment building for emotionally underdeveloped dragons.

Descent

The first part of the dungeon is going to be descending down the huge bore into the earth. It needs to be big enough for dragons to take off and fly around inside of it, so. . . maybe 500' across?  That's a big hole.

It's also covered in ivy and flowers, which the surgeongbirds feed on when they can't get proper blood to drink.  The flowers are watered by numerous tiny streams that flow into the circular pit, some of which break off into tiny cataracts, all of which disintegrate into mist before they fall to the reservoir at the bottom.  They grow out of cracks in the stone.

There are "balconies" on the way down.  These are actually just mountings for pieces of machinery that have been long since torn off.  (This site was previously used to pump water up into space, although that fact will never be important.)

PCs climbing down into the dragon hole will have to deal with a swarm of surgeon birds.  (Plate armor is an effective deterrent.  So is just feeding them with bladders full of blood.  So is fire.)

Okay, that's the normal, expected stuff.  What weird stuff can I throw into this balcony-encrusted murder hole?  (I can always trim back the weird stuff later, so it's good to vomit up a bunch of it now.)

Think of this as a menu of oddball shit I can choose from later.

Flower pots.  These belong to Vulpernia.

Maybe a little fairy or something.  Maybe riding in a chariot or hot-air balloon pulled by hummingbirds.  Maybe the fairy lives in a birdhouse.  Maybe they all live in birdhouses.  Maybe all the birdhouses are different, and are famous buildings identical to the ones that Ashrendar has in his lair.

Actually, fairies are lame and being carried by six hundred exhausted hummingbirds is cooler. I'll see if I can find a way to work that in there.

Drakencult berserkers being carried by hummingbirds????!!!??

At least one surgeonbird has tasted some dragonblood somehow (their beaks are long enough to reach a vein, much less pierce a scale).  It's probably bigger and weirder.  Maybe it's the intentional pet of one of the dragons (Vulpernia?) and wears a little collar.

Messenger birds flying through.  Ravens?

Huge, horrifying noises as some reservoir machinery struggles against death.

Garnos' resting balcony.  It's got a water trough, dried blood, cow bones, and a live cow with broken hips.  In fact, that's the sound the PCs will probably hear as they descend down the sides of the hole--rushing water and the bellows of a dying cow.

Maybe the flowers are linked to the birds in a literal fashion, and turn to look at you if you start killing surgeonbirds.  Maybe if you kill a crap-ton of birds, the vines will turn on you.  They'll stop being easy handholds and start falling out of the wall as soon as you put your weight on them.  They might fall on you in long strips (like lumberjacks being killed by huge strips of bark falling on them.)

A warning, like skeleton stuck in the ivy, or the shields of dead knights.  (But maybe this is laying it on a bit heavy and maybe I should save it for later?)

Rainbows from the falling mist.

Beehive growing inside something.  Valuable thing amid the combs?

A huge air current that blows upward every 60 minutes for 3 minutes.  If you had a parachute, you could ride it out of there.

A painted sign, metaphorically.  The draconic equivalent of Home Sweet Home.  (This is a stupid idea.)

Carnivorous flowers?  (Nah.)


Garnos' Drakencult

Before the party reaches Garno's lair proper, they'll need to get past his guys.  These are muscular crazy dudes who used to be dragon hunters.

So, they dress like ex-dragonhunters.  One dude armed with a bladed grappling hook, wearing only a loincloth.  Another dude with a turtleshell shield that's large enough to hide under (+8 to save vs dragonbreath, but not very useful otherwise).  One chick wearing nothing but a dragon-headed helmet, carrying an extremely long spear.

So these guys, they worship Garnos and watch his back.  What are they like?  Probably like warboys.  Or ork boyz.  They probably have at least one guard post-type thing.  But what else do they do?

Probably at least one or two crazy-as-fuck things.  Like jumping off the balcony down into the reservoir, 1000' below.  Or jumping through a ring made of swords (Garnos is the one with an insane weapon collection, remember?) where jumping too far or too short results in severe injuries.

Or maybe there is a room with spears sticking up out of the ground, and they stand on top of them while wearing steel boots with leather glued to the soles, like in those kung-fu movies.  Falling over usually means getting impaled.  And you can fight down among the standing spears, all cramped.  (Rules for confined places, plus non-thrusting weapons get another penalty to hit.)

They poop inside buckets inside a treasure chest (to minimize the stink) and then dump it over the side.  Therefore, at least one room will have treasure chests containing shitty buckets.

Stupid armor, like a helmet made entirely from swords.

Stupid weapons, like a huge sword-tree made from smaller swords.

Some ridiculously large guy (stats as ogre) who can wield these ridiculous things in a way that is suddenly not ridiculous any more.

Garnos probably has a bunch of captured dragon-killing weapons, like ballistae and catapults.  The drakencult uses these to execute people (sort of like how Kim Jong-un supposedly executed a general with a mortar).

A barracks and a private room for Third Fang, Garnos' lieutenant.  These dudes probably think of themselves as dragons-to-be, so they probably emulate Garnos to a lesser extent.  Some of them probably keep miniature hoards of their own.  Maybe tiny berserker dolls.

A pile of grappling hooks and rappels.  If they're Garnos' private SWAT team, they need a way to navigate the dragon hole quickly.

A back tunnel that connects to one of the vertical shafts, which is both illuminated and protected by ancient Elvish ashakka.

Berserker dog, also mad on dragonblood.

Under a sheet, Garnos' war helmet, designed to help him kill dragons.  His siblings would be very disturbed to learn of its existence.

A shrine where they can actually worship Garnos.  Probably just a platform with some kneeling pillows arranged around it.  This is probably where he also feeds blood to his loyal dudes.  Dragons are armored all over so he probably has to cut the inside of his eyelid, and then the berserker just drinks the blood out of the cupped flesh of his lower eye while Garnos just stares at you.

It's creepier when you remember that Garnos basically never talks.

How To Talk To Garnos

You make declarative and interrogative statements.  If Garnos hears something that he disagrees with, he bites you, or maybe just breaks something.

Thief: . . . so you see, Vulpernia needed someone to fix the plumbing.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: So, if you can let us pass, that would be great.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Are the pipes in this direction? (points in wrong direction)

Garnos: (whips his tail behind him, cracking the wall)

Thief: Uh, down this other hallway then? (points in proper direction)

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Then we'll take our leave, Oh Incinerator of Cattle Herds.


Garnos' Lair

Every dragon shapes reality around them, making it more like their own expectations.  (That's part of the reason why they're such confident jerks.)  This happens in a way that a dragon wouldn't notice.  A dragon remembers (falsely) that a coin in scuffed, and next time he checks the coin actually is scuffed, confirming what the dragon thinks he already knows.

This is why dragon fear is so potent.  Dragons assume all humans are cowards.  After all, nearly all the humans they see are fleeing.

It also effects the environment.  You could think of it as psychic emanations subtly warping the environment (since that explanation has the same effect) but its really more like reality fluffing the pillows to make things more comfortable for the most valued guest.  (Dragons are more real than other things around them.  They are the Most Real Things.)

In Garnos' lair, this basically boils down to two things.

1. The first time a person is injured in Garnos' lair, they flip out and enter a rage like a barbarian (it is difficult to exit the rage).  Afterwards, they can enter the rage whenever they want, as long as they remain in Garnos' lair.

2. Once the party starts fucking with Garnos (stealing significant things, killing his warboys) reality begins to act against them.  Any source of fire will begin acting against them.  Torches will start throwing embers onto flammable stuff, lanterns will sputter out and die when you need them most.  Etc.  This won't happen more than once every 10 minutes.

Garnos' Hoard

This would be a good place to put a hallway lined with the shields of the would-be dragonkillers.  Bent, charred, bloodied, and each insignia unique.

The first thing that Garnos hoards is brave heroes.  He has nothing but respect for the steady stream of men who arrive to kill him.

So, there are a few dudes scattered around his lair.  A paladin with broken ankles, placed on a high shelf (30' off the ground).  A starving, dehydrated valkyrie at the bottom of a 20' hole.  A psychotic wizard under a 5000 pound hemispherical reactor vessel, trapped like a beetle under a shot glass.

Then Garnos has his main hoard--weapons.  Just picture a room covered in them and then keep adding more weapons.  Take a realistic number of weapons and then multiply it by 100.  Sword chandeliers.  Arrowhead mandalas.  A tunnel lined with daggers, all of them pointing at you.

Of course there are some magic weapons just lying around the place.  Maybe they're buried under a pile of other swords, but the PCs can find them because they're emitting light or crying out (audibly or psychically).

The most common twist is that the sword is evil and cursed, but not entirely useless.  That's a cliche for a reason, and so that one stays on the table.

What about two rival magic swords?  Each one will only agree to let you wield it as long as you fight the other magic sword in a duel to the death.  The opponent must be of equal skill, there must be no cheating, and the losers (sword and wielder) must be killed (beheading and sundering).

The last thing that Garnos hoards is alcohol.  He's a little bit ashamed of this vice, and so he doesn't put it out in the open.  It's probably semi-hidden in his lair somewhere.

Anyway, it's just an alcohol collection that would make Nero jealous.  This is Garnos' bed, and it is where he sleeps.

Perhaps the floor is covered with broken glass.  It's too small to pierce Garnos' skin (to him, it's just rough sand) but the chunks are huge enough that the room is basically caltropped.

The floor is definitely covered with oil.  Garnos is fireproof, and he loves to burn things.  If anyone attacks him in his own bedroom, the first thing he's going to do is set the floor on fire.

He's not immune to smoke (though he is more tolerant than a human would be).

Quick Ideas For Magic Swords

A sword that can turn into dust, and then you can cut anywhere in the dust.

A sword that can cut anything 1/day (ignore armor).

A sword that can shatter non-magical swords.

A sword whose cuts don't take effect until you kiss the pommel.

Idea for the Treasure Curse

All dragon treasure is cursed.  Remember how Smaug's gold caused greed?  It's basically canon, dudes.

All of Garnos' treasure is filled with his arrogance, rage, and love of combat.  Anyone who wears or uses any of his treasure hoard must take a barbarian level the next time they level up (unless they already have at least one barbarian level already).


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Non-Euclidean Geography

This is a continuation of my non-Euclidean architecture posts (part 1, part 2) where I'm not going to postulate anything new, just expand on an idea in part 2 about multi-directional gravity.  See also, the three-sided square hallway in the Meal of Oshregaal.

So, here's a picture of the room you're in right now, viewed from the side.

It's got a chair in it, and doors at both sides.  (You should really think about getting some more furniture.)
The arrows represent the direction and strength of gravity.  As you can plainly see, the gravity in your room points straight down in all places with a normal amount of force (9.8 m/s^2).

But here's another room.  In this room, gravity is upside down!  The doors are in the same places (down), but the chair is now sitting on the ceiling.  The gravity is uniform throughout the room, with moderate strength throughout.

But what fresh new hell is this?  It looks like this third room has both types of gravity in it.  On the west, the gravity points in the normal direction, but in the east, the gravity is inverted.

But that's still nothing too fancy, as far as D&D is concerned.

(By the way, if you stand with one foot in a normal-gravity zone and the other foot in an upside-down-gravity zone, you'll start to do cartwheels in place as one side of your body falls up and the other side of the your body falls down.)

How about this room?  Notice the difference?


In that room above this paragraph, there is no abrupt reversal of gravity.  Instead, gravity gets smaller near the room until it eventually reverses.  It's a gradual inversion, instead of a rough curtain of gravity that you pass through

Let's see how complex we can make this, shall we?

Here's a room where all the gravity points to the center.  Anything not nailed down in this room will fall to the center of the room, where it will join the chair in a big Katamari pile.
If you fell on the chair, you could hang on to it.  Stand on it.  But trying to jump from the chair to the door in the (local) ceiling would be hard--if you jumped off the chair, you'd send the chair crashing against the opposite wall, while you wouldn't move very much at all.  (This is because you weigh a lot more than the chair.  Imagine trying to jump off a planet the size of a tennis ball.)

Here's a room that's the opposite of that one: one where the gravity falls away from the center of the room.

notice the 'B' at the top
In this room, you'd walk past the chair, walk over the door on to the wall, and keep walking across the ceiling, then down the other wall, until you returned to your (much abused) chair.

BUT HERE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS ESSSAY

Your journey has ups and downs in the local sense.

Do you see what happens when you walk past the chair, going left to right?  The gravity goes from pointing down-left (where you were walking leaning forward) to pointing down-right (where you must start walking leaning back).  And when you are walking while leaning back relative to the floor, it is because you are descending a hill.  Likewise, when you are walking while leaning forward relative to the floor, it is because you are walking uphill.

Therefore, the chair sits atop A LOCAL HILL.

Sorry for the caps, but if you don't understand this section, the rest of this essay isn't going to make much sense.

To think about it another way, the corners of the room are lower (locally speaking) than the walls.  Imagine that there was an immovable rod fixed in the exact center of the room, and you had tied a rope to it, and you were swinging from the rope around and around the room, so that your feet dashed across all four surfaces (floor, wall, ceiling, other wall, repeat) like the hand of a clock.

While swinging from this rope, if you wanted to touch one of the corners with your feet, you would have to descend the rope, down to the corner, since the corner is farther from the center of the room, and therefore lower (locally). 

When I say locally, I mean that if a very tiny ant were passing through, that's how it would seem to the ant.  The corners would be downhill and the chair would be on the top of a hill.  (If you were a giant that filled the whole room, this whole thing goes out the window.)

So, here is another picture of the same room.


In this diagram, the gravity is pointing down, and the floor/walls/ceiling are the ones that are bent.  

THIS DIAGRAM IS LOCALLY IDENTICAL TO THE LAST DIAGRAM.  We have fixed the wonky gravity by making the space wonky instead.

Imagine an ant, walking counterclockwise from the 'B' on the ceiling.  He walks through a valley (the top-left corner), over a hill that includes the (left) door, into another valley (the bottom-left corner), and then over a hill that includes the chair (the actual, global floor of the room), and so on.

Anyway, once you recognize that the last two diagrams depict the same space (locally, from the surface of the walls), we can move on.  (Yes, larger walking-things like giants break this rule; that's literally what makes this space non-Euclidean.)

This next room is subtly unlike the last.  See the difference?
notice the 'A' at the top
This time, the gravity is pointed toward the nearest wall instead of away from the center.

This makes a big difference, because now there are no more local hills and valleys--everything you are walking on is always going to be flat ground.

Here's another local map of the ant's journey across all four surfaces of room A.


And here's another local map of the ant's journey:

The ant doesn't notice the corners because he's really, really tiny.  Just a point in space, really.  If he had eyes as the approached the wall in the first diagram, he would see that the wall curved up at him, just as he would see that the ground was truly flat (non-Euclidean) in the second diagram.  But our and has no eyes, only six infinitesmal footsies that he puts in front of each other.

Even for a point moving along a line, the direction of gravity determines whether the point is going uphill or downhill.

Here's two more pictures of surfaces that are locally flat:
i forgot to add doors and a chair to this one
i also forgot to add doors and a chair to this one

Anyway, once you recognize that the last five images depict the same local journey for the ant, we can move on.  (In all five diagrams, the ant feels like he's walking on flat ground the whole time, since the gravity is always pointed straight towards the surface he is walking on--local down.)

By now, it should be simple to understand what this next diagram would feel like to a person walking across it.  

the slope, as it appears (gravity lines are invisible)

The gravity is normal, except for the middle, where it slants to the left.  If you were to walk across it, it would feel (but not appear) like this:
the slope, as it feels
Basically, an incline.

What would it feel like to walk across this, from the left to the right?  Well, it wouldn't look any different, because it looks like a flat plain.  But as you got into the diagonal-gravity section, it would suddenly feel like you started walking up a hill.  You might fall backwards if you were unprepared.  And once you left the diagonal-gravity section, it would be like walking on flat ground again.  And if you tripped while walking along the diagonal-gravity section and tumbling all the way to the bottom (the left edge of the diagonal-gravity zone).

You could even make the diagonal-gravity section into a sideways-gravity zone, and then you'd have to climb your way across flat ground.

How about this one:

the flat valley, globally (how it appears from far away)
Although it would look flat from a distance, once you actually walked across it, it would feel like this:


the flat valley, locally (how it feels to walk over it)
The gravity changes are gradual, rather than abrupt, so the inclines in the local valley likewise change slope gradually.  It's a rolling valley, rather than the abrupt ramp of the previous example.

Walking across the flat valley would feel exactly like walking down into a real valley; it just wouldn't look that way.  From the bottom of the valley, you'd have no trouble seeing out of the valley, as if your vision was curving.  (And this is an important point--is it the local or the global version of the valley that is accurate?  From a local standpoint, you cannot tell if it is space or gravity that is bent.)

But it's a still a valley, right?  What happens if we fill it with water?

the flat lake, locally
Locally, the flat lake feels like a normal lake.  You walk downhill, enter the water, and swim around.  But from a distance, the lake looks like an enormous water droplet standing on a flat surface.

the flat lake, globally
If you were to walk towards it, you would feel yourself going downhill as you approached it (even though the ground feels flat).  You could run 'downhill' and even jump into the wall of water (equivalent to doing a bellyflop, since gravity is propelling you into the lake surface in both cases).

One big difference would be the light.  Since the lake doesn't sit in an optical valley, it would be well illuminated from sunlight hitting the lake on the backside.  The water would be lit up.  You may see fish and freshwater whales swimming around in there.

Here's the counterpart to the flat lake:

the flat mountain, globally

the flat mountain, locally
 What if you built a building on top of the flat mountain?

Since the gravity lines are always parallel to local up and down, you'd have to build your walls parallel to them.  That means that the walls of your mountaintop castle would appear to be slanting inwards.

It would look like this from far away.
the flat mountain castle, globally
 But once you were actually inside the thing, the walls would feel vertical to you.
the flat mountain castle, locally
Who lives inside?

The Dyzantine Brothers

People will talk freely, when they are frightened.  They will tell you about the three Dyzantine brothers, who live in the castle atop the Flat Mountain.

The brothers are cursed, they say.

Only one brother ever appears at a time, since the other two are cursed to sleep.  The brothers are always caked in frost, despite the heavy jackets they wear, and their breath is always chill bellows, no matter how brightly the sun shines.

One brother is very young, another brother is a youth, and another is middle-aged and stricken with gangrene.

That is what they will tell you, but they are wrong.

The truth is this:

Once there was a wizard who sought to move in the fourth axis, and to move in a direction that was neither up, nor down, nor any of the cardinal directions.  His name was Dyzan.

But three dimensional flesh cannot move in a fourth-dimensional direction, and so he needed to give himself a four-dimensional body.

He found a way to do this involving his own lifespan.  Time would be the fourth dimension, and he would alloy it to his body.

And so Dyzan became a four-dimensional worm.

To three-dimensional human eyes, he looked exactly the same, but he had hijacked his timeline, and plucked all of his past and future selves and wedded them together.

To four-dimensional eyes, Dyzan was a worm.  He was a baby at one end, and an old man at the other.  In the middle, he was larger in circumference, being a full-grown man.  But he was most definitely a worm, being soft and pink and tapered at both ends.

Dyzan immediately had two problems.

The first is that his worm stretched from birth to death, which meant that one end of his four-dimensional body terminated in an old, dying man.

And the dying man did what dying men do, and died.

Dyzan's immune system didn't flow in the fourth dimension.  His blood and lymph were isolated in three-dimensional layers.  When dead old man at the end of Dyzan's bulk began to rot, there was nothing to slow it down.

Dyzan has been rotting from the fat end ever since.  Hence the gangrene that is rapidly consuming his four-dimensional body.

Dyzan's small end, the one that was made from the newborn Dyzan, is fine.  It's a bit larger now, having aged a couple of years.  This irks Dyzan, who prefers his baby self to remain a baby, but his fourth axis is not Time, but now Space in the fourth dimension.

The second problem is that our universe is paper-thin.  To move a short distance in the fourth-dimension is to thrust yourself into the cold void of the outer dark.  This is why Dyzan is always cold--most of his body is in the lightless, freezing nothingness that is outside our three-dimensional slice of the multiverse.

Dyzan is seeking a vehicle that will grant him passage through the outer dark, to a four-dimensional world where he can be a four-dimensional worm in peace.

He didn't really think this one through.

As an NPC, Dyzan will be more than happy to explain how dimensions and non-Euclidean spaces work.  He hopes to get people interested in such things, so that they will be more eager to help him find a way to distant, extra-dimensional shores.  (He can be a quest giver NPC.)

He doesn't have much time.  He's almost halfway rotted already, but he is a long worm, and the gangrene needs to rot through 86 years before it kills him.  The baby--baby Dyzan--will die last.  He'll probably be about four or five years old--too young to understand what is happening.

Among his treasures are an immovable rod and an unstoppable rod (whose velocity cannot be changed by anything while the switch is depressed).  (He can also be an opponent that the PCs attempt to rob.)

In his tower, Dyzan also keeps a gorbel.  He has been trying to coax the secrets of void ships out of the beast, with no success thus far.

Stats as a level 9 wizard.

*Wrap-around - Dyzan can flex his body in the fourth dimension, curling it around so that re-enters the material (three-dimensional) plane as we know it.  This functionally gives him three bodies.  These bodies share HP and spells but otherwise take actions independently.

When he uses his Wrap-around ability, it looks like a frost-bitten corpse has just teleported into the room.  The corpse then rapidly de-ages back to a living age and attacks as normally.  Conversely, if Dyzan puts his smaller, baby-sized end into our dimension, it appears as if a two-year old has just teleported into the room, who rapidly ages up to an appropriate age.

*Fourth-dimensional Shove - Dyzan can shove you into the fourth dimensional outer void that surrounds our dimension.  Treat this as a normal shove attempt.  If it is successful, you are now in the outer void, riding a four-dimensional worm made out of the entire lifespan of a desperate wizard.  It's very cold (1 hp damage per turn) and dark.  You can get back to your own dimension by climbing along the wizard until you reach the part that is currently passing through our dimension.  So if you were pushed out by a 19-year-old wizard and you know that the 23-year-old wizard is still back in the Flat Mountain castle, you would have to climb across the 20-year-old wizard, the 21-year-old wizard, and the 22-year-old wizard in order to reach the 23-year-old wizard who is in the warm, well-lit room trying to kill your friends.

In this case, a year equals 100'.  You'll be climbing along the wizard-worm in a lightless void, but you will not suffocate.  The outer dark is filled with stale air and a very low concentration of peracetic acid, you poor bastard.





Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Nameless Queen Yama and the Queenscult

Heresy can be defined as knowledge which corrupts merely by being known, even if that knowledge is never spoken aloud, acted upon, or even consciously thought about.  This damage can be direct (as in the Madness of Avool) or indirect, (as in the Three Secrets That Damn the Soul).  It is a firebrand that burns the hand that holds it.

In heretical times it becomes necessary for the Church to excise the most pestilent elements.


Obliteration

For blasphemy and written heresies, Obliteration is easy: burn the books, then silence the people know know the contents (also, possibly by burning).

Smart witch hunters never read the books that they are tasked to destroy.  Most of the books that have been Obliterated by the Church are history books.

For small things that are not written down (embarassments, moments of papal carelessness) it is even easier.  The bureaucracies of heaven have many levers by which to subtly rotate the world.

It is even said by some that this is not the proper world, and that the hand of Zulin has even grasped the timelines themselves, and tilted us into a false canyon of history.  Reality has been turned traitor, and our proper future has been stolen from us (thereby spoiling the fountain from which prophecy springs).

The previous paragraph, by the way, is known as the Bosquirian Heresy, and it is one of the ideas that are sinful to even speculate upon.  It has been declared as Obliterated by the Church, and they stamp it out whenever it sprouts.

But that's books.  It is more difficult to Obliterate famous people, to say nothing of a powerful and well-liked queen.


Nameless Queen Yama

After her Obliteration, she was the Nameless Queen.

If the church had their way, she would just be a blank spot in the list of regents, an empty line between her husband and her brother-in-law, the two kings who bracketed her own regency.

But Queen Yama can never be truly nameless.  How can the Kingdom forget the name that it knew best?

They called her cold, calculating, and ruthless.  All of these things were true, of course, but what her detractors ignored or omitted was that she was intensely committed to her people's well-being.  Her spider-like machinations were woven selflessly.

She did not weep when her people starved; she negotiated grain imports.

And when grain merchants tried to inflate the prices to exploit her kingdom's desperation, she had them quietly beheaded.  She would feed her people at any price.

And when grain merchants tried to charge her fair prices for the grain, a few of them were found without their heads as well.  The kingdom was poor, and couldn't afford even a fair price.

The wilderness was beaten and plowed.  Homesteaders buried the corpses of decapitated dragons and giants.  As much as her census-takers could tell, life was objectively better for her subjects.

She was deeply unpopular.

Not that she cared.  She would drag the peasants into a new golden age by the heel, kicking and screaming, whining and uncomprehending.  Such was her nobility and her arrogance.

In her campaign to stamp out nepotism, she removed local authorities that people knew and trusted.  The process of optimizing agriculture meant forced relocation before famine followed the land's wasting.  And she practiced international politics with Machiavellian hyper-aggressiveness; while there was never an open war during her reign, there were many brutal skirmishes and preemptive strikes.

The undead were a point of contention between her and her private bishop.  She believed that they could be put to good uses.  Undead soldiers would save the lives of the living, and undead laborers would work without tiring.

Her bishop disagreed with her, along with nearly every other person that heard her speak such ideas in private.  Even as speculation, they bordered on heresy.

In the end, it wasn't the church that brought her down, it was politics.  She was found guilty of falsely prolonging her remarriage or abdication.  Women were not allowed to get to comfortable on the throne.

She was arrested, tried, decapitated, and her brother-in-law was installed on the throne.

Nine days later she returned as a lich, committed the mortal sin of regicide, and sat back down on her throne.

It took another four years, a crusade, and an additional two deaths to topple her.  The Order of of the White Raven finally slew her, pinning her to her throne with a half-dozen holy swords.  The South Wind destroyed her castle.  Some of the stones were blown as far northward as the shores of Perenos Lako.

This is not far from how I imagine her.
Imperious.  Wearing a ridiculous-but-not-impractical piece of fashion.
And always, always with something high-necked, preferably with ruffles somewhere.
Lichdom

Queen Yama been practicing magic since the age of nine, when she stole the spellbook from the court wizard.  Lichdom was merely the logical conclusion to her life; there was too much work to do, and only a single lifetime to live it.

When she was sixteen, Princess Yama quietly announced her decision to the bathroom mirror.  She had just menstruated for the first time.  "I will someday become a lich," she announced to her bathroom mirror.

Her Phylactery

Her phylactery is her hometown of Temphis.  She cannot be eradicated as long as the town is inhabited by at least one of her relatives, and at least one stone still stands atop another.

The fate of Temphis and Yama are intertwined.  As one waxes or wanes, so does the other.

Although she thinks that her phylactery is secret (since she has never revisited the town, or even mentioned it since its creation), the Church is aware of its importance.

But for all its callousness, the Church is unwilling to raze a town full of innocent people.  (They believe that they can manage her resurrection through St. Cascarrion without having to take this drastic step.  So far this has proven true.)

It is only slightly ironic that the Nameless Queen would have no compunctions about razing a town to the ground if she thought it would remove her nemesis.

Piecewise Resurrection

Normally the Church has no trouble permanently destroying a lich, with their great power over the soul and the afterlife (where they are perhaps more powerful in the afterlife than they are on the mortal plane).

So, the Nameless Queen did something very clever.  She stopped being a lich.  She would reincarnate.

This was another backup plan, a contingency to a contingency.  She would be reborn as a new baby, complete with all of her memories, personality, and deadly intent.

But the Church discovered this plot as well, and it was quashed.

Or at least, halfway quashed.  It couldn't stop her soul from reincarnating (too many backdoors in hell, too many tunnels through the afterlife), so she was merely divided.

Since her death of impalement atop her throne, Queen Yama has been resurrecting in pieces.

Somewhere, a child is born with her liver.

Somewhere else, another child is born with her eyes.

And aboard a leaky barge, another baby is born with her delicate hands.

If all of her parts are ever allowed to join together in one place, they will rejoin, and Queen Yama will live once more.


The Queenscult

Nationalist necromancers, mostly led by the Queensisters.

These are women who each contain a different part of the Nameless Queen.  They recognize each other upon sight, but remember nothing else of their past life as the lich-queen.  They are of all ages, and of all walks of life.  They are all sorceresses.  Many of them are necromancers.

Although they would never describe themselves as such, they revere the Thrice-Killed Queen as they would a god.  (She herself spurned religion, and was fond of mocking it, a crime that would have resulted in death for anyone save a queen.)

In the style of a goddess, her symbols are:
  • the guillotine that she used to bring order.
  • the scythe that her people used at harvest.
  • the old flag of Kyona, the country that will return.
  • the tiger's eye necklace that she wore.  
DM's note: The Queenscult is a pretty explicit replacement for the generic necromantic death cults that pop up in D&D games.  (See also: the Heralds.)  Still evil necromancers with a nefarious agenda, but nationalistic and weirdly nostalgic about the bad guys who lost the war.

St. Cascarrion's Eternal Hunt

The Church does not think that the return of Queen Yama would be a good idea.  To ensure that this event does not occur, they have dispatched St. Cascarrion, leader of the Third Lantern (the official arm of the witch hunters).

St. Cascarrion is the only "living" saint.  While the title is normally only bestowed on the dead, Cascarrion is allowed an exception because he is also among the dead: he is a vampire.

He has led the Church's witch hunters for centuries.  He teaches his students how to destroy the creatures of the night (and he teaches his new recruits to fear them).

His mind and body are bound by over a hundred separate enchantments, each maintained by a different monk in a different monastery (most of these are doubly and triply redundant).  His mind has been erased on multiple occasions.  There is not much of the original Cascarrion left.

His history has been taken from him, part of the punishment for his heinous crimes.  However, when the Church feels to need to bait him with an extra incentive, he is sometimes allowed to look at small items from his past.  A pocketwatch.  A locket.  A war banner.  A woman's brooch.

According to his contract, he has four thousand years of servitude left.  He intends to finish that contract.

Most of his time is spend hunting down and eradicating the pieces of Yama.

He carries with him a portfolio containing hundreds of sketches of Queen Yama.  When he finds a young woman whose nose matches that of the Queen, he will carefully inspect their body.  Once his inquisition is satisfied, he cuts off her nose.

Sometimes the Church is successful in saving the life of the host, cruelly parasitized by soul-pieces that they never invited into their body.  Sometimes the lungs can be excised and new ones grown in their place.  Sometimes the girl walks away without any scars.

St. Cascarrion mostly catches the Queensisters when they are very young.  Girls.  They are the least cautious.

If he finds this distasteful, he does not offer an opinion.  He never offers an opinion on anything.

It is rumored that the long centuries of obsessing over the Nameless Queen has caused the ancient vampire to fall in love with her.  He has nothing to look at but her portraits, and no lifelong acquaintances except her.  Thus it is reasoned.

(The idea that the Nameless Queen would ever return anyone's love is laughable.  While she lived, she was nearly completely loveless.  How could lichdom thaw her heart?)


The Astrologer Incident

The Astrologer was a ship, chartered by Pope Stochastic III.  It was attacked by by the Lich Queen in the waters outside Cauterus.

While she has never succeeded in fully collecting her disparate body parts, in this case the Queen managed to collect most of them.  The pope was killed by the limbless, eyeless, incomplete resurrection of the Nameless One.

She lived for another three days before her lack of kidneys became unsurvivable, and her own blood poisoned her.

And incomplete soul cannot become a lich, since lichdom is already the process by which a soul becomes incomplete.  She is stuck with this resurrection scheme.

Her Buried Armies

While her first death was unpleasant, it was not unexpected.  The Queen had planned for it, just as she had planned for nearly everything.

During her reign, she ensured that the headless corpses of her enemies were quietly collected into private catacombs secretly constructed for this purpose.  Few people care what happens to the body of a child molester after he is beheaded.  Most people were glad to see the bodies vanish from the streets after a cold winter night.

She collected more corpses, too, from her border skirmishes and soup kitchens.  They were all carefully preserved, numbered, and sorted by size.  In this way, her secret catacombs silently filled.

So when she returned to claim the throne, it was at the head of a headless army.

Nearly all of them were clad in armor.  There's little reason to not put armor on an undead.  They don't tire, they don't need to remove it, and they won't drown if they fall in the water.

(DM's Note: The Headless Legion has stats as HD 3 zombies in plate.  50% of them have a face shaped into the front of their armor--they can see out of this face.  The other 50% of them carry shields with a face on it--they can see out of this face.)

Her elite guards are the giants, also armored and also headless.  They are called the Decapitantes.  They wear manning armor and wield trifling brooms (both designed by giants to better fight their smaller foes), but on their backs they carry sledgehammers.  In their hands these are siege weapons.

(DM's Note: Stats as HD 8 giants in plate.  They don't have faces anywhere on their armor or shield.  Instead, they can see out of the eyes of anyone who is sees them.  Sometimes they carry a Queensister, who balances between their shoulders while casting spells.)

Her prime servant is Cryptoc, the headless dragon corpse.  He has an enormous mirror bolted to the end of his neck stump, ringed with runes.  His exact abilities are unknown.  (If anyone has seen Cryptoc in action, they have not survived to report it.)  Most suspect that the Thrice-Killed Queen can speak directly through the mirror, though.


The Panopticon
Deep in the Nameless Catacombs of the Nameless Queen, there is a circular chamber, large enough to contain a whale.  Every inch of that wall is covered with shelves.  On each shelf is an object covered with a velvet cloth.

Under each cloth is a head.  These are the heads that the Nameless Queen has collected over the centuries: warrriors, beggars, giants, merchants, farmers, and at least one pope.

The heads are normally content to sit there with their eyes closed, whispering quietly, but when the covering is removed, the head will open its eyes and babble.

Each head retains its knowledge (very similar to a permanent speak with dead spell), but in the hands of a Queensister, they have an additional power: they can be used to scry on the blood relatives of people that the head is related to.

Some minor connection remains, and even babbling, the heads sometimes mutter something that only their descendants would know.

Simultaneously uncovering multiple heads is increasingly dangerous.

As She Appears

Her eyes are red-brown and silky, similar to tiger's eye, her favorite stone.

She has three tiger's eye ioun stones that maintain a static position above her head.

Together, her two eyes and the three ioun stones form a pentagrammatic summoning circle that allows her to shoot demons out of her forehead.

As befitting her station, she carries a scepter (contains magickz) and a cruciger (rumored to be the egg of an undead phoenix, however impossible that sounds).  She wears the Queen's Crown of Kyona; she has sworn to only wear the King's Crown once she has resurrected Kyona itself.

Her dresses are kept practical and short, but she often wears a ruff collar and some lace around her wrists.  She always enjoyed those small allowances.

She avoids explicit symbols of wizardry, having spent her whole life hiding it.  She likewise avoids explicit signs of necromancy.  Skulls are tacky.

Gelatinous Cubes and their Masters

Okay, let's get one thing straight.

The gelatinous cubes that you bump into down on the second level dungeon aren't really the unit that is worth talking about.

The gelatinous cube, as you know is, is just a rogue subunit of a bioweapon.  But even that simple description oversells it.  The HD 4, slow-moving, mindless gelatinous cube is just a fragment.

Gelatinous cubes were designed to operate in concert--many thousands of cubes sliding over each other simultaneously, self-assembling into much more useful shapes.

Saying that a gelatinous cube is a stupid monster is a bit like saying that the tarrasque's bellybutton is a stupid monster.  You aren't wrong locally, but you've got some bad assumptions back on the global level.

A Lesson In Self-Assembling Subunits

I'm just going to throw some Youtube videos at ya'll.  It's almost midnight and I have work tomorrow.

You don't have to watch them all--I'll write the takeaway below each video.


Fact: a bunch of very stupid sub-units can display a startling degree of emergent complexity through very simple algorithms.  Many stupids equal a smart (as long as another smart wrote the program).  Look at how ants design their nests.


Fact: most people are vastly underestimating the behaviors that an externally-rigid cube is capable of.  This robot uses three internal flywheels to generate torque, but a gelatinous cube could just swirl its guts around and then stop suddenly, which would cause the whole cube to flip.  More complex biomechanics are built from this.


Fact: cubes have some notable advantages when it comes to self-assembling swarms.  They're very easy to stack, and they're very easy to move past each other.  Gelatinous cubes would have no problem sliding down a hallway made of other gelatinous cubes (that's literally what they are made for) and they would have no problem sticking to each other.


Fact: a bunch of stupid cubes (or cubical pillars) can do some pretty cool things.  They could carry things (like ships) or position things (like armor plates).  Properly souped-up gelatinous cubes could fire cubical cannonballs via hydraulic pistons.  

And not only can the True Gelatinous Cubes hop up on their corners and spin around like kung-fu jelly (shit, that's a monster that deserves a write-up), but they can fire lasers from their cores.

Laser cubes, motherfuckers.



Fact: Big Hero 6 had a cool villain.  Self-assembling microbot swarm = yes.  Are there self-assembling gelatinous micro-cubes?  Of course!

Masters of the Cube

They're flying wizard-oozes.  They're called the Vudra.  They're all telepathic and think that communicating via human mouth-flatus is hilarious.

There's a city in the Madlands is the city of Carnosus.  They rule it from atop their wind towers (only accessible through 3" wide holes on the top floor).  The city is made of gelatinous cubes.  Sometimes the city's masters move it from place to place, mostly for magical reasons.

Vudra reproduce via fission.  The parent splits into two smaller clones that retain all of their memories.  In their eyes, all Vudra are as old as all other Vudra.  They don't remember being young, and each one is ancient.

Vudra can also fuse together, which causes them to undergo genetic and mental recombination.  This is their sex-analogue.

They don't have sex with their friends or lovers.  That would destroy the entire purpose of having a friend or a lover.  Instead, they have fuse with stronger looking Vudra when they are scared or stressed, or they fuse with enemies.  (What better way to resolve a disagreement than to fuse into a single creature, negating their personal bias, and then select the better option.)

The Vudra have created a race of artificial humans that they call the Vudra-men, who have similar mindsets and biologies.  They fuse together instead of having sex, and are capable of splitting into a number of smaller offspring (but these babies aren't the big-headed babies you'd expect; they're more like lemurs).

The vast majority of them are in the process of leaving the planet (through means undisclosed) and have promised that their most loyal vassals will be handed the keys to the city and the ioun stones of cube control.

But gelatinous cubes are really just their bread and butter.  Really, they dabble in cubic golems.  Stone, mostly, but cubes are preferred for when they want to really fuck things up.  They also control slithering trackers (capable of following the merest scraps of molecular residue) and slithering racers.

Slithering Racer

HD 4  AC leather (from speed)  Trample 2d6 acid
Move 36  Int 1  Morale 12

*Slither Over - Slithering racers don't engulf their prey, they slither over it, leaving a healthy layer of acid, then circle around for another pass.  When creeping, they creep as fast as any other ooze.  But when food is at hand, they slither twice as fast as a sprinting horse.  This great speed, coupled with poor senses, gives them -4 to hit, but they are capable of hitting anyone in the path of their great slither.

Gelatinous Cube Mounts

You'll need a snorkel, a ring of ooze command, and a ring of acid resistance.  The rest is cake.

Asria

The city of Asria could also be described as the building of Asria.  It's a castle-arcology, contructed prior to the Time of Fire and Madness and then expanded and retrofitted by the city's current rulers.

There's a lot of interesting things in Asria (jellyfish farms, canopy beds that cause stasis-sleep) but they do notably use gelatinous cubes for things like pumping water and controlling doors.  A little bit of magic stolen long ago from the Vudra, of whom they've never heard.