Bees emerge as blind worms from the flesh of rotting cows. The cockatrice is hatched from the eggs of black hens that have been corrupted by sorcerers. Kittens born in the month of May should be killed immediately since they will surely bring misfortune to the household. The caladarius bird dwells in the palaces of the great and by its gaze reveals whether an invalid will live or die. The Bestiary of Sundry Creatures sets out pre-modern people’s beliefs about many of the creatures that populated their world and their imagination. In addition to providing OSR (and Mork Borg) compatible statistics for these animals, it includes scholarly opinions and rustic folklore about the temperament, behaviour and medicinal and magical qualities of these creatures. GMs can use this material to make their medieval and early modern fantasy worlds richer, weirder and more immersive.
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Ramshackle buildings of wood dominate the space of the square, skeletal and blackened, ripe for demolition and rebuilding even before the dead rose. It is like a hangover from the early half of the century, before the great fires turned people to the favour of stone and brick. It is a choked tangle of alleys, loose cobbles and filth-strangled gutters. Even if you were amongst the rotting dead, you do not think you would choose this place to spend your days. The rookeries that were once crowded with workers are now home to true rooks and crows, that put up a squawing clatter at sight of you, which brings a returning moan from the dead.
The whole of the square is dominated by the great wooden buildings that once housed the destitute and the poor. They are crumbling, broken and rotting wood littering the streets, the oiled paper windows of most of these verminous rookeries have long fallen away, admitting the elements to the interior and washing the detritis of people’s lives out into the gutter. A pair of rusted scissors here, a faggot of twigs there, a crudely carved doll with a mop of soggy wool for her hair, tugged by a rat along the dirty cobbles.
Two floors high, this house seems to be amongst the smallest dwellings here, though it is squat and broad – like a trunk or crate. At some point the wood was whitewashed, but this is now stained brown and grey and peeling away in great flakes that flutter in the slightest breeze. The door hangs open, mouldering wicker and rotting scraps of leather scattered down the bowing wooden steps.
A simple hall, with steps running up one side to the upper floor, drives through the house from one end to the other. Four doors mark it, two sets of two opposite each other down its length. All their doors open. Black mould climbs the walls and the floorboards creak ominously, soft, damp and pliable under your feet.
The woodden steps are on the brink of collapse, anyone entering by the steps at the front or rear of the house must make a Dexterity Save against a DC of 10 or have them splinter and break, suffering 1d4 piercing damage.
The floorboards throughout the building are also rotten, and will give way under heavy weight or vigorous action one time out of six (Roll 1d6, it collapses under the people fighting or very heavy individuals, with a 3/6 chance of breaking through the floor below as well, suffering 1d4 damage for each floor – since the sodden wood breaks their fall).
Ground Floor: Reception
This room seems to have been a place for taking off and leaving one’s outer clothing, and the muck of hard work. The floor is board, but it could be mistaken for a dirt floor, so caked in the mix of plaster, paint and mud. A half dozen pairs of shoes – curling from damp and flowering with blue mould – are lined up in front of two wooden benches, and there are hooks on the walls as well, hanging with smocks and tunics. A rusty iron heating stove stands in the middle of the room, the dirt around it stained orange and red.
- [ ]One day’s worth of coal.
- [ ] None of the clothing or leather is recoverable, lost to mould and rot.
Ground Floor: Parlour
The wet wooden door is hanging off its hinges and crawling with woodlice. Past it you see a simple room, clean but soaking floorboards, two tables – a card table and a larger, square table set with bowls and spoons of wood. The parchment windows are long torn away and the damp has dissolved the deck of cards on the table into wet, swollen pieces. They’re only recognisible from the disembodied heads of the paper royalty.
A stone-lined fireplace hasn’t protected its ashes from being washed out into the room – a thin grey muck that stretches halfway across the room. The firewood teems with insects, like the door, broken down into wet splinters.
- Inside the bend of the flue is a missing brick, wherein is stashed a small bag of 5 silver pieces and 9 copper coins. A tiny key also nestles amongst the coins.
Ground Floor: Room 1 (Force the door DC10)
The next door is open but a crack, the wood has swollen with the damp, tight into the frame, though it was already open, giving plenty or purchase. A nest of twigs is tangled against the door, fragments and pieces of wickerwork.
Once you make your way inside there isn’t that much to see. A small bench with rusted tools, bundles of wet wicker, a few unfinished baskets. It seems that the person who lived here – sleeping on a rotten pallet of straw and blankets – used it as their workshop as well as their living space. Many of the people here may have been doing the same.
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Whitchester Cathedral dominates the skyline of the city, like a great grey spike, reaching drunkenly into the sky. Up close it seems cyclopean, dizzying in its height. The area around the cathedral is open ground, grass and mud, punctuated by grave markers and sarcophogi of the great and good. This, in turn is bounded by skeletal trees and the attendant buildings that service the grand church, alleys and gates granting access to the profane, from this domain of the sacred.
The Cathedral was where many sought safety and assistance when the city began to fall, overwhelming the otherwise defensible building and causing its downfall. Religious faith was no protection from the dead. What was once the holiest of places is now amongst the unholiest.
Without upkeep and repair it is slowly crumbling, crumbling and flooding as it sinks into the wet ground beneath it under its own weight, but it is also one of the few more open areas in the city, where you can see the enemy from a safe distance.
Encounters: There should always be some wandering dead, scattered throughout the open area of Cathedral Park. Perhaps 2d6 walking dead.
The Cathedral is an enormous slab of a building, built of grey-blue stone, adorned with statuary, crenelations and stained glass. Half of the leaning spire is clad in crumbling scaffold, wood and rope creaking and swaying with each gust of wind. Crows and pigeons perch on the high walls and statues, cooing and croaking as they stare down at you.
The ground here is damp, the floor of the cathedral – and its surrounding paving – a good foot lower than the surrounding soil and covered in puddles of filthy water. Defiant ivy has begun its relentless creep up the walls, with the greenest, brightest shoots beginning to spread across the lower windows and choking the drainage.
The enormous, iron-bound doors of the entrance are partially open, the bar splintered. Saints and bishops stand impasive and powerful, graven in stone while the sound of unearthly moaning echoes out from the nave.
The building is, perhaps, 500 feet long by one-hundred feet wide, with the transepts extending another fifty feet out from the main body of the cathedral. The tower is 150 feet high, with the pointed spire extending another 100 feet into the air above that.
The building is largely constructed of blue-grey limestone, brought from the Southern coast. Much of the exterior wall is filled in with great patchwork constructions of mortar and flint, creating a riot of blues, grey, white and black – when the walls are wet. This provides a great many hand and footholds, though they are shallow, slippery and frequently sharp.
The building is surrounded by paving slabs of the same grey material, creating a walkway around the outside of the entire cathedrals, and between it and the chapter house. Many of these slabs are sinking into the earth and are at wonky angles, the gutters and troughs for draining water are similarly disjointed, creating puddles and soggy earth all year round.
The statuary that adorns the cathedral depicts, primarily, gargoyles and angels. It can be hard to tell which is which, as many of the angels are more accurate depictions of how they are described, than merely winged humans. Many have multiple pairs of wings, multiple faces, many eyes or other manifestations that can look monstrous to those without a proper biblical understanding.
The main door is flanked by the statues of two previous bishops, Bishop Beckyngham and Bishop Tyndall, depicted in their robes and with dour, pious expressions. Above them, wings spread over the top of the door, is a more conventional depiction of an angel, with a halo of radiating spikes – like spear-tips.
The gate is some twelve feet high, split in half. It is made of thick, English oak and bound and studded with iron. The wooden panels have been painted a dark blue, but are encrusted with bloodstains and dented by some great, external pressure. The wooden bar that secures the gate – from the inside – is splintered, again as though sundered by some great external force. If replaced, the door could be secured against the dead.
Sickly, coloured light penetrates the irriguous interior of the cathedral through its stained glass windows that run down either side of the nave. From here you can see almost all the way to the presbytery, past the high altar. A gallery runs around the building, up above the nave and the vertiginous, vaulted roof yawns above you, echoing every sound you make over and over again. Here and there water drips through broken roofing, to echo around the cathedrail. Crows and pigeons flap and sport amongst the arches, blaspheming the house of god with their droppings and raucous cries. Scattered and fallen pews fill the centre of the hall, covered in dried blood and torn shreds of cloth.
The nave is the broad, main hall of the church that runs from the entrance to the transepts and the high altar. Two rows of columns run along either side of the nave, helping to support the upper gallery and its wooden panels. The central area is open to the high arched and vaulted roof above, dizzying in its spiraling patterns and arcs.
There are twenty-two stained glass windows, eleven in the northern wall, eleven in the southern wall, each depicting a scene of martyrdom. Each also has a second, round window above it, admitting more light onto the gallery.
Northern Wall (West to East)
1. The Massacre of the Innocents – Babies and children impaled on spears.
2. John the Baptist – His severed, bloody head, surrounded by a halo.
3. Saint Stephen – Bloodied, with a stone balanced on each shoulder and atop his head.
4. Saint James the Greater – Bloodied, driven through with a sword.
5. Saint James the Just – Bloodied, carrying a club in his hands.
6. Saint Peter – Crucified upside-down.
7. Saint Paul – Decaptitated, holding his own head.
8. Saint Andrew – Crucified on an ‘X’-shaped cross.
9. Saint Matthew – Impaled by spears.
10. Saint Philip – Crucified on a tall cross.
11. Saint Thomas – Bloodied, driven through with a spear.
Southern Wall (West to East)
1. Saint Potninus – Surrounded and torn at by wild beasts.
2. Perpetua and Felicity – A woman and her servant, pierced by swords while a cherub looks on.
3. The Scillitan Martyers – Twelve faces looking up at a bloodied sword.
4. Saint Justin Martyr – Decaptiated, with an axe close by.
5. Saint Polycarp – Burned at the stake.
6. Saint Timothy – Blooded and battered on a pile of stones.
7. Saint Mark – Depicted hanging from a rope.
8. Saint Simon the Zealot – Depicted severed in half at the waist.
9. Saint Barnabas – Being burnt at the stake.
10. Saint Bartholomew – Stripped to the waist and covered in bleeding whip marks.
11. Saint Jude – Bloodied, decapitated, bearing an axe.
Encounters: It is easy for the dead to enter the Cathedral and to mill around inside, but less easy for them to get out – the other entrances and exits being locked and blocked. The dead seem drawn to this place, as though still considering it to be a place of refuge. There should be 2d6 random undead within the area. Note that zombies from other areas of the cathedral will be attracted by noise, and may join in any attack.
- [ ] Beeswax Candles (Long): 1,500 in stores, chests and cupboards, (several hundred in candlesticks and candalabra).
[ ]Beeswax Candles (Votive): 500 (stored near and set in racks to the north and south sides of the nave).
- [ ]Tallow Candles (Beef/Mutton): 500 (cheaper candles, set in candlesticks and sconces in the nave, many nibbled on by mice and rats).
- [ ]Multi-Wick Oil Lamps: 12, hanging from the ceiling, six on each side of the nave.
- [ ]Kegs of Lamp Oil: 24, in stores and chests.
- [ ]Brass Candlesticks: 100.
- [ ]Brass Candalabra: 12, hanging from the ceiling, six on each side of the nave.
- [ ]The Poor Box: 485 copper pieces, 15 silver pieces, 4 gold pieces.
Choir & Presbytery
The benches for the choir stand two deep on the north and south of the junction between the nave and and transepts. Before them are the pews for the great and good, the gentry from before the city fell, closer to the altar, and to God. It is dark here, shielded from the windows, the candles burnt all the way down into rippling overflows that spill onto the floor. Gilt and brass glitters in the patchy light, reflecting off the geometrically carved choir screens. Before the high altar, and to its side, up a short set of stairs is the pulpit, graven in the shape of a boar and picked out in gold, behind both a stone screen, silver and gold on light grey stone, carved with stars, sun and arches.
The choir stands at the junction of the nave and transcept, in the westernmost part of the crossing. This is the area in which the choir sings, and the wealthy elite of the city would attend services. A once-rich rug of mouldering red, lays across the centre of the area, soggy with damp.
Encounters: 2d10 child zombie choirboys, others may have wandered away. 1 zombie priest and 1d4 other random zombies.…
Want some real horror for D&D? Check out Grimdark.
This pair aren’t described as being very scary at all. I’ve upped the implied CR (making them a deadly encounter all by themselves for a 1st level party) but the real challenge in taking them on would be the poison garden, or the house of automata.
Medium humanoid, neutral evil
Armor Class 14
Hit Points 85
Speed 30 ft.
STR 12 (+1) DEX 18 (+4) CON 14 (+2) INT 13 (+1) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 14 (+2)
Saving Throws Dex +6, Con +4, Wis +3
Skills Deception +4, Insight +3, Investigation +3, Perception +3, Persuasion +4, Sleight of Hand +6, Stealth +6
Senses Passive Perception 13
Alchemical Innovator: See p78
Callous Genius: Ivana has advantage on Deception, Insight, Investigation and Persuasion rolls unless her opponent is acting selflessly.
Gardens of Evil: See p78, additionally, all saves made against Ivana poisons are rolled with disadvantage.
Closing the Borders: Ivana can close or open Borca’s borders once per day.
Immortal: Ivana is ageless.
Poison Blood: As a bonus action she can coat her weapon with her own, toxic blood. The next strike it does, does +1d4 damage.
Multiattack. Ivana makes two shortsword attacks.
Dagger. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d4+4) piercing damage.
Cunning Action. On each of her turns, Ivana can use a bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.
Sneak Attack (1/Turn). Ivana deals an extra 2d6 damage when it hits a target with a weapon attack and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is within 5 feet of an ally of Ivana that isn’t incapacitated and the spy doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.
Medium humanoid, chaotic evil
Armor Class 12
Hit Points 42
Speed 30 ft.
STR 10 (+0) DEX 14 (+2) CON 10 (+0) INT 18 (+4) WIS 14 (+2) CHA 16 (+3)
Skills Deception +5, Insight +4, Persuasion +5, Proficient with watchmaker’s tools.
Senses passive Perception 12
Cursed Correspondence: See p80
Manipulative Actor: Ivan has advantage on Deception, Insight and Persuasion via his letters, or by being out of sight and using a well-practiced child-like voice.
Toy Maker: See p80, he can create facsimiles of animals, monsters and humanoid automata with up to CR 1
Wicked Wonderland: See p81
Closing the Borders: IVan can close or open Borca’s borders once per day.
Rapier. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8 piercing damage.
Parry. Ivan adds 2 to his AC against one melee attack that would hit him, using a parrying dagger in his left hand.
Medium construct, unaligned
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 40
Speed 30 ft.
STR 14 (+2) DEX 14 (+2) CON 11 (+0) INT Uses Ivan’s WIS Uses Ivan’s CHA Uses Ivans
Senses – Uses Ivan’s
Spider Climb: The Perambulator can ascend walls and walk on ceilings – without unseating Ivan – at half speed.
Protective Shell: The Perambulator must be destroyed first, before attacking Ivan.
Piercing Leg. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 2d6+3 piercing damage.
Want some real horror for D&D? Check out Grimdark.
The God Brain
The God Brain squats malevolently in its roiling, vaporous broth. It is covered in sores and lesions, pus dissolving away into its tank while diligent mind flayers tend and sooth and operate – constantly. You feel its attention, like you’re being turned around in your own skin, pass over you and for a moment you hear its echoing madness in the patterns of your own thoughts and mind. The brain is in torment, madness, driven by palpable revenge and an endless thirst for forbidden lore.
Gargantuan Aberration, lawful evil
Armor Class: 11 (The God Brain is surrounded by an AC 22, 72 HP tank of transparent adamantine which is transparent to the God Brain’s powers, but must be broken before the God Brain can be attacked).
Hit Points: (20d12 + 180 – Roll when you encounter the God Brain to determine its current state of health)
Speed: 5 ft., swim 10 ft.
STR 30 (+10) DEX 10 (+0) CON 28 (+9) INT 23 (+6) WIS 18 (+4) CHA 24 (+7)
Saving Throws: Int +10, Wis +9, Cha +12
Skills: Arcana +11, Deception +12, Insight +14, Intimidation +12, Persuasion +12
Senses: Blindsight 480 ft., passive Perception 14
Languages: Understands Common, Deep Speech, and Undercommon but can’t speak, telepathy 5 miles
Overmind: The God Brain, while it sits in its lair, is aware of all its dedicated servants and can sense everything that they can sense and communicate with them in a network. So long as one servant can see or hear something, all can.
Mist Vibrations: To those it controls, its servants and some magical devices, the God Brain appears as a beacon in the mists. A fixed point to which its servants can always guide themselves, despite the confusion of the mists.
Closing the Border: The God Brain can electrify the mists and flood them with psychically active gases, effectively cutting them off and wiping the memories (Wisdom Save DC 18) of any who leave.
Life Support: The God Brain has reserves of spinal fluid it can use to heal itself from damage, and it is tended by mind flayers who can also engage in healing actions. The God Brain has 2d10 doses of spinal fluid, each of which can heal it for 1d12 Hit Points, once per turn as a bonus action. It’s tenders can expend an action to heal its sores and wounds with arcane devices and consoles, healing 1d6 Hit Points for each action (Move, Action, Bonus Action) they expend in tending it.
Creature Sense: The God Brain is aware of the presence of creatures within 20 miles of it that have an Intelligence score of 4 or higher. It knows the distance and direction to each creature, as well as each one’s intelligence score, but can’t sense anything else about it. A creature protected by a mind blank spell, a nondetection spell, or similar magic can’t be perceived in this manner.
Innate Spellcasting (Psionics): The God Brain’s innate spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 19, spell attack +11). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no components:
At will: detect thoughts, levitate, augury, blindness/deafness, enthrall, suggestion, zone of truth, comand.
4/day each: dominate monster, antipathy/sympathy, feeblemind, mind blank, forcecage, mirage arcane, project image, mass suggestion
Legendary Resistance (3/Day): If the God Brain fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.
Damage Vulnerability: The God Brain is vulnerable to poison damage.
Infirmity: The God Brain has disadvantage on Constitution Saves.
Magic Resistance: The God Brain has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Telepathic Hub: The God Brain can use its telepathy to initiate and maintain telepathic conversations with up to forty creatures at a time. The God Brain can let those creatures telepathically hear each other while connected in this way.
Tentacle: Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 30 ft., one target. Hit: (16d8 + 10) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a Huge or smaller creature, it is grappled (escape DC 23) and takes (4d8 + 5) psychic damage at the start of each of its turns until the grapple ends. The God Brain can have up to four targets grappled at a time.
Mind Blast (Recharge 5–6): The God Brain magically emits psychic energy. Creatures of the God Brain’s choice within 240 feet of it must succeed on a DC 18 Intelligence saving throw or take 32 (20d10 + 5) psychic damage and be stunned for 1 minute. A target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
Psychic Link: The God Brain targets one incapacitated creature it can perceive with its Creature Sense trait and establishes a psychic link with that creature. Until the psychic link ends, the God Brain can perceive everything the target senses. The target becomes aware that something is linked to its mind once it is no longer incapacitated, and the God Brain can terminate the link at any time (no action required). The target can use an action on its turn to attempt to break the psychic link, doing so with a successful DC 18 Charisma saving throw. On a successful save, the target takes (12d6) psychic damage. The psychic link also ends if the target and the God Brain are more than 5 miles apart, with no consequences to the target. The God Brain can form psychic links with up to ten creatures at a time.
Sense Thoughts: The God Brain targets a creature with which it has a psychic link. The God Brain gains insight into the target’s reasoning, its emotional state, and thoughts that loom large in its mind (including things the target worries about, loves, or hates). The God Brain can also make a Charisma (Deception) check with advantage to deceive the target’s mind into thinking it believes one idea or feels a particular emotion. The target contests this attempt with a Wisdom (Insight) check. If the God Brain succeeds, the mind believes the deception for 1 hour or until evidence of the lie is presented to the target.
The God Brain can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. The God Brain regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
Tentacle: The God Brain makes a tentacle attack.
Break Concentration: The God Brain targets a creature within 120 feet of it with which it has a psychic link. The God Brain breaks the creature’s concentration on a spell it has cast. The creature also takes 4d4 psychic damage per level of the spell.
Psychic Pulse: The God Brain targets a creature within 480 feet of it with which it has a psychic link. Enemies of the God Brain within 10 feet of that creature take (12d6) psychic damage.
Sever Psychic Link: The God Brain targets a creature within 480 feet of it with which it has a psychic link. The God Brain ends the link, causing the creature to have disadvantage on all ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws until the end of the creature’s next turn.
When fighting inside its lair, the God Brain can use lair actions. On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the God Brain can take one lair action to cause one of the following effects; the God Brain can’t use the same lair action two rounds in a row:
The God Brain casts wall of force.
The God Brain targets up to four friendly creature it can sense within 480 feet of it. The target has a flash of inspiration and gains advantage on one attack roll, ability check, or saving throw it makes before the end of its next turn. If the target doesn’t or can’t use this benefit in that time, the inspiration is lost.
The God Brain targets one creature it can sense within 480 feet of it and anchors it by sheer force of will. The target must succeed on a DC 18 Charisma saving throw or be unable to leave its current space. It can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
The territory within 20 miles of the God Brain is altered by the creature’s psionic presence, which creates one or more of the following effects:
Creatures within 20 miles of an God Brain feel as if they are being followed, even when they are not.
The God Brain can overhear any telepathic conversation happening within 20 miles of it. The creature that initiated the telepathic conversation makes a DC 18 Wisdom (Insight) check when telepathic contact is first established. If the check succeeds, the creature is aware that something is eavesdropping on the conversation. The nature of the eavesdropper isn’t revealed, and the God Brain can’t participate in the telepathic conversation unless it has formed a psychic link with the creature that initiated it.
Any creature with which the God Brain has formed a psychic link hears faint, incomprehensible whispers in the deepest recesses of its mind. This psychic detritus consists of the God Brain stray thoughts commingled with those of other creatures to which it is linked.
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Through the iron bars of the prison cart, across the rolling acres of downland and the rounded hills, Wightchester hoves into view. Is it your imagination, or does the sky look a little darker over that blighted city? It squats behind its walls, dowdy and stained with flocks of crows constantly circling. Even from this distance you think you can hear the hungry dead within, a constant, low cacophony of mindless moaning. From outside only the rooftops and the tallest buildings are visible. Above them all rises the square-block-and-spike spire of the Cathedral, ragged with crow’s nests, a holy signpost to the most unholy of places.
Even beyond the walls its presence can be felt. The cart rattles through abandoned farmhouses and villages, only a few occupied by fearful looking peasants, eking out a living where no other will dare. Around and around the city is circled by hedgerows and ditches, by wooden spikes and tangles of dry, dead brambles.
Guards file out of their barracks to gawp at the passing prisoners, fresh meat for the butcher’s block.
Outside the Walls
Wightchester sits within the South Downs, atop a part of the River Itchen, north of Cheesefoot Head. The Itchen was once a clean river, fed by chalk aquifers, where wild watercress would grow and trout would swim in great number. After flowing through Wightchester the water is now unclean, carrying disease to many and occasionally even raising the dead from their graves downstream, if they are buried too close to the water. Farmland watered from this source does not grow well, often producing twisted fruit, ergot-riddled grain, rot and sourness.
Wightchester itself lays across a very slight valley, carved by the river, but the downland all around is low, gently rolling and you can see a long way on a clear day, at least as far as the nearest hills. Much of the land around Wightchester is abandoned, dilapidated villages with rotting thatch, copses of trees reclaiming the ground, half-wild pigs, ponies, cows and sheep roaming the downs. Only a few bother to still work the land here, fearful of the dead as they are. The villages, already emptied by war and plague, now only host the stubborn, the radical, the insane and outlaws.
The walls of Wightchester are not considered sufficient to contain the threat, and so various earthworks and protections have been erected around the city. A great bank and ditch – in the old style – bone white from the chalky soil and only just beginning to be colonised by weeds and brambles. A barren circle of salted earth, salt thought – by some – to be proof against demons and witchcraft. Great fences of sharpened staves, blunting in the weather, but appearing scary enough. A great spiny hedge of blackthorn has also been planted, both as protection and to hide the rest of the defences from passing travellers. Here and there are also great crucifixes, raised by the religious, thought to help contain and control the devilry that reigns in the city.
A single path winds through each and every part of the defences, studded with several gatehouses of wood and stone, each one guarded by a handful of men, the final gate being that of the city itself.
Two garrisons stand to defend England from the foulness within the city. One has been built up in an old farmhouse, the other in a vacated manorhouse – where the Captain Safe-On-High Travers commands from. A whole company is stationed here, though not of the best men. Wightchester has become a dumping ground for the insubordinate and the untrusted, duty here is a punishment – hence the Puritan captain.
The soldiers here number a hundred, fifty billeted at the farmhouse, fifty at the manor…
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Crimes and Misdemeanours
Everyone or almost everyone, who passes through the prison gates of Wightchester is guilty of a crime. If not guilty of a crime, they are either thought to be guilty or have volunteered to enter the city.
For those who are criminals, or wrongly accused, there must be a crime for which they have been sentenced. The following table provides a proportionally weighted set of possibilities for that crime. The player may choose from the list or roll randomly, and it is the random roll that I recommend.
Of course, if you roll randomly for both the crime and whether you are guilty or not, you may find that your character is guilty of some thoroughly repugnant or horrendous crime. You can always play your character as having fundamentally changed or as seeking reform and redemption, but better roleplaying opportunities come from rolling with the punches. This is especially true in such a ‘Grimdark’ setting.
These crimes are culled from The Bloody Code and the reasons for transportation to the colonies. As such, some are apocryphal to the period, but then there wasn’t a city full of undead in our real history.
Keep in mind that being consigned to Wightchester, or transported, was seen as merciful compared to being hung, beheaded or subjected to other forms of execution. In England, beheading or hanging (and sometimes gibbeting) were the main methods of execution, with beheadings not ending until the mid-1700s. Burning at the stake was primarily reserved for women guilty of treason and ‘unnatural crimes’ and continued into the late 1700s. Given the supernatural pretexts of the setting of Wightchester, burning – and other horrible forms of execution – are likely to be relatively prevalent.
Guilty or Innocent? – Roll 1d10
Crime – Roll 1d100
1-80: Thieving (Roll 1d12)
1-2: Burglary: Breaking and entering a premises, likely causing damage, and making off with goods of any value, or even failing in the attempt to burgle.
3: Demanding Money with Menaces: Extorting people for money by making threats or offering ‘protection’.
4: Fraud: Pretending to be something you are not to gain sympathy, regard or money. This might include pretending to be a pensioner or war veteran, selling phoney cures or masquerading as a priest or similar person ‘of station’.
5: Highway Robbery: Stand and deliver! You hide your face and rob people on the road, often at gunpoint.
6: Looting: This might include scavenging from shipwrecks (though wrecking is apocryphal) or making off with goods during a riot.
7-8: Pickpocketing: A shilling in 1667 is equivalent to about £6 today, and that would be enough to send you to the gallows or the colonies if you were caught.
9-10: Poaching: There is common land upon which you are allowed to hunt, graze your animals and so on, there is also the land that is privately owned, or owned by the Crown. So much as take a single rabbit on land, you’re not permitted access to, and you could be killed or transported.
11-12: Other Theft: Shoplifting and other forms of theft were punishable by death or transportation if they amounted to three shillings or more (£18-20 in today’s money).
The Ancient Past
The grassy downland and forests made this area of Hampshire prime land for early settlers of Britain. What was good ground for hunting and gathering, with clean water from chalk aquifers, plentiful game and open land, was also good for farming as society developed further. The ground was also full of one of the most important resources that prehistoric man could hope for, flint.
So important was flint that whole flint mines were opened up in prehistory, carved into the bone-white chalk of the hills. This flint was worked into arrowheads, spearheads, knives and even large axe-heads. Flint could be honed to a razor’s edge, almost as sharp as obsidian, and its use persisted even into the bronze age.
To this day old flint mines are uncovered, or fallen into, and the ground is littered with old arrowheads, which are considered to be elf-shot. The ground is full of such mysteries, and older ones, fossilised sea creatures such as sea urchins, which are called ‘fairy loaves’ by the locals. Amongst the more prosaic flint points, the occasional piece of ‘true’ elf-shot is found, silvery like the moonlight, more fragile than glass.
The remains of ancient hill forts still dot the landscape, though the efforts of farmers and Christians have erased many of the old landmarks and standing stones. Whitchester was the site of one such fort, a great bank and ditch, with a man-made hill at its centre. That hill, or what little remains of it, is underneath the site of the cathedral today, and the old ditch – long used as a spoil-pit – often turns up bones, pottery and other trinkets from that bygone age.
Whitchester developed into a town, around the old fort. A wooden pallisade was raised further out from the old fortifications, creating what the Romans would call an ‘oppidum’. This fortified township was a meeting place for different tribes within the Belgae, and a religious site for the worship of Nantosuelta, a river goddess of the Celtic tribes. While not as important as the other, surrounding towns, Whitchester had its own niche of importance as a secondary marketplace.
When the Romans came to England they saw the value in the land around Whitchester as much as anyone else. After their conquest they set about Romanising the populace and built many a villa in and around the same area. Whitchester itself survived as a garrison town with a small fort, safeguarding and supplying Roman settlers and soldiers as they moved about the region and built their roads.
Romans raised the first wall about the town, circumscribing the site of the oppidum – and a little more besides – with a stone-reinforced bank and flint-blocked wall of chalk-white, as tall as a mounted man. The town never came under attack in this period, but the large stones of the walls, reinforced with proper Roman bricks and terracotta, were broken apart and reused time and again in the years to come.
After the Withdrawl
After the Romans withdrew a great deal of progress and civilisation was lost. Whitchester survived better than most, retaining many of the things that Roman conquest had brought, not least of all its Roman sewers, insisted upon by some ancient and forgotten magistrate or commander. Like many settlements across the area, this loaned Whitchester a reputation for cleanliness and health that wasn’t necessarily deserved.
The Old Church
Throughout the medieval period, Whitchester continued to be built up. Its walls thickened, grew taller and were expanded. A grand old church was built upon the hill in celebration of burgeoning Christianity. No longer a true fortress, it still held some strategic importance in the petty struggles of kings and lords. Consistently, throughout the period, Whitchester provided food and lodging for soldiers and displaced peasants.
The New Walls
Each new conflict or lordling saw Whitchester’s walls addressed. Different stonemasons and different materials, different styles and choices. The ‘New Walls’ ended up an oddly-shaped patchwork, changing without warning, torn down and built up seemingly on a whim. Old flint was supplemented or replaced with slabs of sandstone and mudstone, statues and crenelations were added – here and there – and the gatehouses were constructed. Much of the walls are still this medieval craftsmanship, worn smooth by the passage of time, but as sturdy as when they were laid.
The Maze of Streets
Given constant raiding by Vikings throughout the years, ranging as far south as Andover or further, radical reconstruction of Whitchester’s streets was undertaken. The passageways through the city were turned into a snarled gnarl of knotted pathways, intended to confuse and slow down any invaders while armed men took to the church. Fortunately, the town was never raided and, over time, the citizens of the city rebuild in a more conventional fashion.
In 1066 the Normans invaded England from the North and South. Having overcome English forces on the coast, they rapidly took over the rest of the country and became the new rulers over it. Whitchester became the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle, the first and only proper castle to stand upon the site. In addition to the building of the castle, the Normans undertook the construction of ‘The New Church’, a more impressive replacement for the pre-Norman cathedral that had begun to be built on the site. This church would form the basis for the cathedral-proper in later years, and little of the original remains. The combined weight of the castle and the New Church largely flattened old hill fort, meaning the castle barely rose above the ground or the enclosure.
The Grand Cathedral
The final phase of construction on Whitchester Cathedral began in 1348 and would not be completed for two centuries, interrupted almost immeditely by the arrival of The Black Death. Constant delays and changes of whim turned Whitchester’s Grand Cathedral into a schizophrenic mess of a construction, full of follies, blind corners, cubbies, staircases to nowhere and mismatched windows. Nonetheless, it has a certain gothic charm to it, and was the site of many petty intrigues in the Church, as it provided so many secretive places to meet.
In 1360 a great fire swept through Whitchester, burning almost everything on the left bank of the river and within the bounds of the city’s walls. Enormous sacrifices were made to protect the Cathedral, and this came at a huge cost of life and property everywhere else in the settlement. Between the ravages of the plague and the fire, the city was catastrophically depopulated, but soon began to be resettled and the opportunity was grasped to give the place a new layout and new buildings, this time – primarily – of stone and brick, paid for in no small part by the local wool trade, which was about to be impoverished.
The Black Death
From 1348 The Black Death ravaged England and Whitchester seems to have particularly angered God, as it suffered greatly from the disease, as bad – or worse – than London, though no reason for it has ever been discovered.
Significant Instances of Plague:
- 1348 – 60% of the population killed (3,000 of a population of 5,000).
- 1361 – 20% of the population killed (600 of a population of 3,000).
- 1563 – 25% of the population (1,000 of a population of 4,000).
- 1593 – 20% of the population (800 of a population of 4,000).
- 1625 – 15% of the population (500 of a population of 3,500).
- 1665 – 25% of the population (1,250 of a population of 4,500).
The city was consistently and constantly unable to cope with the number of casualties in each instance. The dead were buried en masse in a number of plague-pits around the city, most notably in the excavations for the new Cathedral, this being reckoned a worthy grave, as even commoners were to be interred on the holiest of ground. Later instances were buried beneath the city’s parks and within the old ditches, or deep in the crypts below the Cathedral in mass graves, dug into the clay, chalk and sedimentary stone.
Sheep, Cows and Wool
The Tudor period spanned from 1485 to 1603, a lineage of royalty that most notoriously included Henry the Eighth. It was a transformative period for England in terms of religion, power and a flowering of art and technology referred to as The English Renaissance.
Dissolution of the Monasteries
After Henry the Eighth had separated the Church of England from Rome in 1534, not a great deal changed. This was simply Catholicism with the King at its head instead of the Pope. This was also the King who took on the ‘divine right of kings’ and who ruled with an iron fist, and a lot of executions. From 1534 to 1540 the crown ransacked, demolished and disbanded the overwhelming majority of monasteries and convents throughout England. Winchester was not spared, with its Carmelite convent and Benedictine monastery both being looted and broken down. The cathedral was similarly looted of many of its treasures, but remained relatively unscathed…
The fourteenth century was the time in which gunpowder weapons first saw widespread use in Europe, beginning with cannon and simple explosives. By the seventeenth century things had progressed a considerable way from those early, dangerous weapons.
The matchlock was the oldest form of firearm still in use during this period. Prior to the matchlock weapons were fired by directly applying a match or burning taper to a powder-strewn hole atop a cannon or hand cannon – somewhat awkward and necessiting one-handed aiming of a rather cumbersome weapon. The matchlock held a burning taper or match within a mechanism which, when the trigger was pulled, touched it to a flash-pan of priming powder which would, in turn, ignite the charge. Matchlocks were susceptible to the weather, spilled powder from the flashpan, misfires and other issues but remained in use, in the form of muskets, right through the English Civil War and its aftermath.
The wheellock was a development from the matchlock, using a spring-loaded wheel, scraping against a fragment of pyrite (or similar material) to generate sparks, which would then ignite priming powder, and in turn the main charge of the firearm. The wheellock was rapidly replaced by the snaplock, snaphaunce, doglock, and finally the flintlock, all of which used flint and steel – and sometimes primer powder – to ignite the main charge.
The final evolution of this firing mechanism, and one that would be used for two whole centuries before being discarded, was the true flintlock, first developed in 1610 and used by the elite forces of the New Model Army, typically in the form of carbines and other cavalry use firearms, due to the relative simplicity and reliability of such a gun (many were water resistant and weren’t at risk of spilling their primer powder).
Because of the slowness of reloading weapons, even the more efficient flintlock, a number of innovations were made to compensate. Weapons with multiple barrels were constructed, which could be fired one shot after another, all at once, or even in a rapid volley, one shot after another. Barrels could be clustered together to fire a devastating volley, spread out to shoot in a broad spread or mixed with close-combat weapons such as hammers, axes, swords and knives. Some even had revolving barrels, able to fire multiple shots and even of having their revolving drum swapped in and out – an early version of a magazine. Some gunfighters would wear multiple, holstered pistols, drawing and discarding (or sheathing) the pistols as they were expended and reloading them all before the next battle…
The Royal Society was founded in 1660 and immediately gained the new King, Charles the Second as its patron. The Royal society grew out of the Invisible College, a looser collection of natural philosophers associated with the Rosicrucians (itself a rather opaque and possibly fictional esoteric order). It was also influenced by The Republic of Letters (made up of philosophical penpals) and other, similar, fledging societies and academies around the world. It was, however, The Royal Society that set the standard and which became the future model.
Largely made up of physicians and natural philosophers, many from amongst the idle-rich, gentleman scholars of the time, The Royal Society, in its earliest years, was made up of the giants of the New Science. Discovery after discovery came along in a rush, experiment after experiment, bringing on European science, mathematics and medicine in leaps and bounds.
Despite being one of the nails in the coffin of superstition, many of its most enlightened fellows were also enamoured of superstition or turned aside by their religion. Newton was a genius, no doubt, but also wasted a great deal of effort on alchemy and ritual magick. He even ceased progress on his understanding of gravitation because of his belief in God and a mechanistic, ordered universe. Without his superstition, he may have given us relativity many years ahead of Einstein.
In the world of Wightchester, Newton is the star of The Royal Society, his open mind and superstition allowing him to fuse mysticism with science in his attempts to understand magic and the undead, even stooping to the most unnatural experiments. Only his genius and closeness to the King gives him immunity to the prosecution and torture that awaits most other experimenters.
Some of the most important members of the society in this period include:
A founding fellow, and the treasurer of The Royal Society until 1663, Ball was well known for his observations of Saturn, and may have even discovered the Cassini division before Cassini. Injured after a bad fall in 1660, he suffered from ill health ever-after, though this didn’t stop him having a clutch of children with his wife, Posthuma. In reality he was forced to step back from science because of his ill health and having to manage his estate. In the world of Wightchester the abnatural events have given him hope of miracles, of a cure for his infirmity, and he has returned to his studies with particular interest now moved to comets, like the ones that heralded the rising dead.
A skilled physician who tended Charles the First during his incarceration, and who was present for the death of Cromwell, Goddard was also a wealthy shipbuilder and a frequent collaberator with other natural philosophers. His experiments with Hunyades in distillation inform his current work in Wightchester’s era, trying to extract and distill the essence of what raises the dead, to isolate it so that it can be subjected to proper experimentation…