Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pellatarrum: Energy Stars

Written by Ryan Roth

Everyone knows what the Positive Material Plane is: a roiling, tremulous expanse that is the source of all light and life in Pellatarrum and, if you believe the Church, the source of all souls as well. What most people don’t know is that, on occasion, the Positive Material Plane will throw off part of itself.

Actually, that’s wrong. The Positive Material Plane is doing this all the time. Flares of energy will erupt into the Astral Plane, sending shards of condensed, highly-concentrated positive energy flying into the void at high velocities, in much the same way that a normal sun emits plasma during coronal mass ejection events. In most cases, the ejected material is very minute in size, too small to see or handle. In most cases, it will crash into one of the Elemental Planes (where some scholars believe it sparks the creation of new elementals) or the Negative Material Plane (where it is instantly obliterated). But sometimes, the ejection is of significant size. And sometimes it finds its way through the Astral Plane and lands like a meteor in Pellatarrum.[1] When this happens, sages refer to the fallen material as an 'Energy Star,' borrowing an ancient term for lights that appeared in the sky above other worlds before Pellatarrum existed. The most fanatical among the Church of the Light consider such objects to be holy relics: physical fragments of divine soul-stuff that must be found, protected and revered.

Most members of the Cult of the Dark consider Energy Stars to be among the most dangerous objects in existence, and they do whatever they can to find and destroy them when they land.

A typical Energy Star appears to be a brightly shining, irregularly-shaped rock with a density and heft similar to marble. Its size is usually somewhere between Tiny and Large, but bigger versions (Colossal or even larger) are not completely unheard of. The Star constantly and continuously emits a bright white light and a pleasant amount of warmth, side effects of the constant stream of positive energy the Star emits.

An Energy Star will emit its energy into its environment unceasingly (slowly shrinking in the process) until it is all expended, where upon the star dwindles to nothingness. Like radioactive material, there is a kind of ‘half-life’ duration that one can use when describing how long a given Star will last. At the end of this duration, the Star’s size has dropped to the next lowest category. The ‘half-life’ duration is not constant; larger Stars have longer lifetimes than smaller ones. This means that, as the Star ages, it starts to dwindle away at a faster and faster rate. Despite a considerable amount of research, the Church of the Light has never been able to find a way to preserve an Energy Star beyond its lifetime. Eventually, they always fade away, a fact that the Church (and the Cult!) sometimes uses as a metaphor in its teachings.

Energy Stars, as a material, are nigh-indestructible. Normal tools cannot break or shape them, and enchanted tools don’t fare much better (treat them as having a hardness of 25). They also have a natural resistance to magic of all kinds (spell resistance); note that, because they are not actually stone, they cannot be affect by spells such as stone shape. Energy Stars are, however, vulnerable to Negative Energy, and enough such energy can instantly reduce the Star in size, hastening its death. Repeated applications of Negative Energy can obliterate a Star. (Mechanically, each Star has a Negative Energy ‘Absorption Capacity’. If that much Negative Energy hit point damage is channeled into the Star -- via the Cleric energy channeling ability, an inflict wounds spell or similar means -- it will immediately reduce the Star by one size category. Spells, abilities or effects that apply negative levels to the Star effectively do 2d10 points of such damage per negative level applied).

As one might imagine, having a little piece of the Positive Material in your backyard is likely to have a significant impact on the place. The larger the Star, the stronger the effects it has, and the larger the area it influences. Mechanically, each Star as a Short, Medium and Long range at which different effects occur.

Long Range Effects: The following occur at Medium to Long range from the Energy Star.

1) Enhanced Plant Growth. Plant life is usually the first thing to feel the effects of the positive energy given off by the Star. Growth rates of normal plants are tripled. Plant creatures such as treants heal at twice the normal rate. Eaten, damaged or destroyed plants are quickly replaced, usually in under a day.

2) Negative Energy Suppression. The Star begins to interfere with the Negative energy that makes undead mobile. Any undead in the area are considered fatigued, and cannot recover from this condition until they leave the area. The Negative energy or death-involving effects (necromancy, damage rolls, etc.) receive a -2 penalty to all rolls in the area; this stacks with the normal energy bonus/penalties that naturally exist on Pellatarrum due to the day/night cycle. (That is, Negative energy effects in the area have a penalty of -4 during the day, -2 during dawn and dusk, and no bonus during the night).

3) Positive Energy Augmentation. Likewise, Positive energy effects (healing rolls, Con checks, Fortitude saves, etc.) receive an additional +2 bonus in the area that also stacks. Creatures are nearly twice as likely to be afflicted with Mania if they stay in the area for more than a day.

Medium Range Effects: The following occur at Short to Medium range from the Energy Star.

4) Overgrown Vegetation. Closer to the Star, plants absorb even more of the Star’s energy, and grow even faster. Destroyed plants are replaced within hours or minutes. The area becomes overgrown as per the plant growth spell.

5) Enhanced Negative Energy Suppression. Proximity to the Star further diminishes Negative Energy effects. All undead in the area are effectively exhausted. Negative energy effects are further penalized by -2 (for a total of -4). At this range, fully dead creatures and plants decompose very rapidly -- a corpse will be reduced to a bare skeleton inside three days. This is not so much an accelerated rotting as it is the conversion of dead matter into new living things such as plants and insects. This also affects formerly-living object such as leather, rope, and foodstuffs.

6) Enhanced Positive Energy Augmentation. Positive energy effects are given a bonus of +4. Mania-affliction is almost certain for living creatures that stay in the area for more than a day.

7) Flora and Fauna Mutations. Over time, a Star can radically change the flora and fauna living near it. This usually requires that the creature in question be of the Animal or Plant type, and have at least a few generations of its ancestors bathed in the Star’s glow. Because of this, the first creatures affected are almost always insects, such as ants, bees or flies. This is usually followed by small animals like newts, moles and lizards. After sufficient time living near the Star, the flora/fauna can acquire the giant simple template.  Successive generations can acquire this template multiple times, creating truly titanic monsters; note, however, that a given Energy Star can never cause a creature to grow to a size larger than itself. In addition, Huge or larger Energy Stars can, over years, cause creatures to acquire other templates; possibilities include airborne, arboreal, dire, ironskinned or mighty. Those creatures neither Animal nor Plant almost never acquire the giant template or other mutations, either because of some innate difference of physiology, or because their normal life-spans do not allow successive generations to be born and reproduce near the Star while it exists. Creatures which acquire the any such template gain some dim awareness that the Star is responsible for their vigor and health; they typically become quite territorial and will actively defend the area immediately surrounding the Star.

Short Range Effects: The following occur at any distance less than or equal to Short range to the Star.

8) Wild Vegetation. Plant life near the Star becomes so vital that it visibly grows and writhes. Destroyed plants are replaced in minutes. Vines and brambles in the area grow and move, entangling any creature of Large size or less (as per the entangle spell with a DC of 20).

9) Enhanced Energy Suppression/Augmentation. The Negative and Positive energy penalties and bonuses are increased to -6/+6, respectively. Undead continue to be exhausted in the area; dead things (including worked and preserved items, such as leather, cloth, rope or foodstuffs) completely decompose in space of minutes. Any living thing entering the area will suffer from Mania almost immediately (if not already afflicted), and the symptoms will only intensify the longer the creature stays.

10) Life Charging. Any living thing that spends time near the Energy Star regains hit points every round, as per fast healing. The amount gained every round is the Strength Rating of the Star. In addition, living things near the Star cannot become fatigued or exhausted, and can function indefinitely without sleep or food. Undead creatures that manage to get this close to the Star will suffer this Strength Rating in hit point damage every round they remain near it.

Energy Star Size
‘Half-life’ measured in
Short/Med/ Long Range Absorption Capacity Spell Resistance Strength Rating
Diminutive Seconds 0/1/5 feet 1 5 1
Fine Minutes 1/5/20 feet 5 7 2
Tiny Hours 5/20/100 feet 10 11 3
Days 20/100/500 feet 15 13 5
Medium Weeks 100/500/2500 feet 20 15 8
Large Months 0.1/0.5/2.5 miles 30 17 12
Huge Years 0.75/5/20 miles 50 21 15
Gargantuan Decades 5/20/100 miles 100 25 20
Colossal Centuries 20/100/500 miles 200 29 25

There are a few more points to make note of. Firstly, nothing says that Energy Stars have to land on, well, land. A good many of them hit lakes and oceans. Which just adds an additional problem for anyone seeking to destroy, move or protect the Star: learning to breathe water. The Positive Energy the Star emits tends to charge a tiny amount of water it lies in, converting it into elemental steam, so finding the Star is usually as simple as looking for where the bubbles are coming up to the surface, then diving down towards the bright light. Once under the water, expect huge kelp forests and lots and lots of very large fish. But, if the Star is a big one that has been in deep water for a long while, expect Giant Giant Squid (no, that was not a typographical error). All things considered, though, the threat of an Energy Star is somewhat mitigated if it falls into the ocean -- the creatures it affects are likely to stay in the water after the Star wanes, and it isn’t as if there aren’t giant sea creatures down there already (though, come to think of it, those might be descendants of other Star-spawned beasts).

The second point of interest that scholars often raise is that, if Energy Stars can be emitted from the Positive Material Plane, could they not also be emitted by the Negative Material Plane? If such a thing occurred, wouldn’t the result of one hitting Pellatarrum be a region of horrible death, wherein only the undead could thrive? Well, maybe. However, it has never been known to happen, even in the records of dragonkind. There has never been a substantiated report of a Negative Energy Star, be it on Pellatarrum, the Astral Plane or elsewhere (of course, if someone did find one, would they be able to survive to talk about it?) Why Negative Energy Stars don’t exist is a point of fierce debate among the sages that care about such things, but most people are just very thankful that they don’t have to worry about them.

Thirdly, it will eventually occur to all adventurous types that having a source of radiating hit point recovery could be really handy to have around. That is, it would be profitable to carry around an Energy Star when doing dangerous stuff like adventuring, especially if you think the undead will be lurking nearby. In theory, this is correct, but in practice it really isn’t tenable. Any Energy Star that is small enough to be portable isn’t going to last more than a few days (and that’s only if you would consider a gnome-sized hunk of marble ‘portable’). During that time, you’re going to be constantly bothered by plants sprouting underfoot, slowing you down, and progressively larger mosquitoes swarming around you. And you’ll probably be fully Manic by the end of the first day. And the Cult of the Dark will want to have a word or three for you (the three words often being ‘Inflict Serious Wounds’). And the Church will want to have a word or two for you (those two words often being ‘Holy Smite’). When it comes down to it, is a few rounds of fast healing really worth all that, especially when there are easier ways of accomplishing the same effects? Most would say no.

Energy Stars are fragments of Positive Energy that can spur vegetation growth like crops, can last for years or centuries, heal people and make undead critters go poof. What exactly is the problem? Why does the Cult of the Dark hate the things so much? 

Well, it has to do with those mutations -- in particular, the part where little things get really, really big. It isn’t a real issue for the most common, smaller Energy Stars, since they don’t last long enough for the effects to become too severe; but for Medium or larger Stars it can become a real concern.

While an Energy Star exists, the giant animals it produces can feed off of the local plant life (which regrows in short order) or each other (in which case the ‘encouragement’ the Star provides to the reproductive process tends to insure that the fauna population is maintained). Since the animal life tends to stay near the Star, the net effect is that a small local ecology of giant critters quickly develops and stays relatively contained. Just stay away from the area, let the druids worry about it and everything is fine, right?

Well, no, because Energy Stars don’t last forever, even the big ones. And once the Star starts to wane, its energy output can no longer support the largest creatures it created. And then, invariably, those creatures start to spread out to foraging for food. And before you know it, the whole countryside is swarming with Gartantuan Ants, Huge Airborne Vegepygmies, and Colossal Ironskinned Chipmunks. Did I mention that all these beasts are Maniacs, and essentially act like they’ve been popping amphetamines and caffeine constantly since the moment they were born? Entire civilizations have been destroyed in days by these monstrosities.

(Editor's note: This is an excellent example of where Magical Beasts can come from, if they aren't created through magical experimentation.)

Cultists of the Dark, naturally, see the existence of the Energy Stars on Pellatarrum to be an affront to their religious beliefs -- destroying a big one is a sure-fire way to gain a healthy amount of respect in the Cult. But, more than anything, the whole ‘wiping out civilization’ bit makes them particularly keen to stamp out Energy Stars before the real trouble starts. So, when a Cultist (or sometimes a Grey Cabalist) discovers that a sizable Energy Star has landed in his vicinity, a mission to ensure its destruction quickly becomes the top-priority.

Such a quest requires getting to the Star and pumping Negative Energy into it until it pops.[2] Speed is important: the longer the Star exists, the larger and more numerous its monstrous defenders become. Moreover, if the Star is destroyed after it has already created the largest possible monsters, then the effect is the same as if the Star waned on its own (see aforementioned ‘destruction of civilization’). Speed is important for another reason as well -- if  "those damn fools in the Church" find the thing first, they are liable to guard it, set up fortifications and pilgrimages, or (if they are colossally stupid), move it into a populated area. If you’re really unlucky, sometimes druids of the Gray Cabal decide to interfere as well (if, for example, they think the local urban sprawl has gotten too big and needs a bit of ‘reclaiming’). Other times, though, Grey druids will assist the Cult in order to make sure the original ecosystem isn’t completely disrupted.

To top off everything, a Cultist can’t even rely on his undead servants to protect him on such a mission, because they weaken, slow down and eventually disintegrate. To successfully destroy an Energy Star, a Cultist will need a living escort -- preferably a group strong enough for the job and stupid enough not to know what they are getting into.

That’s when the Cultist heads to the local tavern, plays the role of the Mysterious Stranger, and waits for the idiots to ask him if he has a job for them...

[1] Note that, as the material moves through the Astral Plane, it does not necessarily fly in a straight line. Its path can curve and twist in odd ways as it is influenced by its Astral environment and the Elemental Churn. Because of this, it is very possible for the material to land on the night side of Pellatarrum or the Underworld, in addition to the side of the disk that currently faces the Positive Material Plane.

[2] If this isn’t possible, a second option is to rapidly move the Energy Star well away from any populated region, preferably by air. Incidentally, there is at least one old bard story about a green dragon who dropped an Energy Star in the middle of a Bonefield that was disrupting his study of the local ecosystem, only to have that ecosystem overrun by giant bees a little while later. The dragon was reported to find this fascinating.

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