Worldshaker: The Ruiner

I first started working on my worldshakers after reading some of Thoughtcrimes designs for Worldbreakers which are, I think, themselves a variant on the Icons of 13th Age.  I know very little about 13th Age (almost entirely through what I’ve read about it on Thoughtcrime, actually), but I suspect that the worldshaker might be fairly similar to that idea.  Essentially these are intended as a kind of force of nature, with personality.   The worldbreakers at Thoughtcrime are meant as bosses but these here aren’t really meant to be confronted directly.  Or if they are, it’s an endgame activity (one way or another).

A Worldshaker is a force of destruction, akin to a tornado but with motivations that can be understood, a mind with which to reason, and goals PCs can engage.  Worldshakers are meant to be something inevitable, an element of the world to work around or deal with rather than oppose directly.  A better metaphor than the tornado – there are certainly PCs who could stop a tornado – might the weather conditions that spawn the tornados.  PCs might be able to stop one tornado, but they would have to break the world themselves to keep tornados from happening ever again.

Here, then, is my first:

The Ruiner

The Ruiner believes art is held back by its past, scorns imitators, and wishes to see a world of creators.  Towards this end, The Ruiner destroys and obliterates anything that is in danger of becoming too admired, that has been copied or replicated by artists who should be creating their own work instead.  

The Ruiner does not care about function, merely admiration, and is mostly dangerous to the public when destroying works of art that are still in use.  However, as time has passed, the Ruiner has been expanding its definition of art.  Now almost anything admired is to be destroyed, including the artists themselves and especially those who would teach their technique to others.  

Rumor has it that the Ruiner is beginning to eye the elves.  Far too many human nobles seem to be trying to appropriate elf culture.  That probably has to go, too.

Conflicts with the PCs when:

  • The Ruiner sets its sights on a mosaic of the ancient world, the same map the PCs need for the secrets it contains to the location of a hidden tomb.
  • The Ruiner has begun systematically destroying the architecture of the great Klovis Presidio.  It has already reduced to rubble the Grand Coliseum, the Floating Gardens, and now approaches the Oroborian Colossus.  The fourth work, considered Klovis’s greatest, is simply called The Aqueduct and an entire city depends upon it for drinking water and irrigation.
  • The PCs’ last heist was amazing, a one-in-a-million success, pulled off perfectly, flawlessly, a true work of art.  The PCs should pray the Ruiner never learns who managed it.
  • Agents of the Ruiner have been seen in the same city where a PC’s [family member/mentor/patron] will be performing their masterpiece at a public ceremony.  How can the PCs keep the Ruiner from learning just how skilled their friend is … without ruining the relationship?
  • The PCs need an artifact but learn that the Ruiner destroyed it many years ago.  However, there are rumors that The Ruiner always keeps a piece of what it destroys.  Even a fragment of the artifact could help in their quest.  The PCs need to find the Ruiner’s vault, and loot it.

PC Opportunities:

  • The Ruiner’s agents offer bounties on fine art gathered from the dusty halls of lost cities.  The bounties are higher if the agents get the first look and highest if the explorers can lead the agents back to the original site.
  • The walls of the enemy are impervious to mortal efforts.  Can the Ruiner be convinced that those walls are a work of art in their own right?  And what will it cost the PCs to come to its attention?
  • The Ruiner only gets directly involved for works of the highest beauty, true masterpieces.  For the rest, especially works derivative of that which the ruiner has already destroyed, well… the Ruiner’s organization is ALWAYS looking to hire.
  • The Ruiner is rumored to be seeking the Dontrigan Harpsichord.  The PCs need the Dontrigan Star.  Odds are good they’re in the same place.  The Ruiner is likely to lead them just where they need to go, but do they try to rush ahead and ransack the cathedral before the wrecking begins?  Or do they hold back and try to find the Star in the ruins left behind?

What is the Ruiner?

  • An archfey, attempting to guide the mayfly civilizations away from their lives of dull tedium, to inspire true creativity
  • An elf, one of the oldest of its kind, bored, so bored, and just so tired of watching the lesser races repeat themselves
  • A tarrasque with both intelligence and patience, delighted with itself for also finding purpose
  • An ancient and intricate golem of adamantium and wyrdwood whose last instruction has been corrupted by its own rise to sentience
  • An angel of beauty, implacable and determined to ensure mortal beauty never has a chance to decay into ugliness
  • A night hag coven, with a taste for the highs and lows their victims experience when dreaming of lost treasures

Other easy fits: beholder, dragon, giant, vampire

Organization

The Ruiner has a vast organization of critics, curators, and assayers.  Some know what their employer does with the information they collect.  Many do not.  There are even elements of the organization devoted to encouraging and promoting artistic growth.  As long as you’re not the best or brightest, they can be quite helpful.  It’s probably the only art school where competition is fiercest to be second best.

Variations

The Ruiner doesn’t have to be a worldshaker; there are definitely lesser, more approachable variants possible, against which PCs could triumph rather than simply work to mitigate.

  • A petty wizard or baron, jealous of their own lack of art
  • A duke or crime boss who measures their own power against the unique beauty they have seen and destroyed.  “I was the last to gaze upon such works”
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The Shapes of Spells

Here are a few alternatives to spellbooks.  Mechanically, each of these ideas allows a wizard to record the spells they’ve learned in a physical object (or creature) and then study that object later to recall the spell.  In the world, however, they offer some significant differences in behavior.  Any wizard who stores their spells in eggs had better keep feather fall memorized at all times, but is in a much better position than an ink-and-paper wizard during a downpour.

I think I first started writing these ideas down after reading Goblin Punch articles about Catbooks and Alternative Spellbooks, but I have seen variant spell containers in a number of places.  Unfortunately, I did not note many of these as I ran across them.  I believe the ideas below are all my own, but if I’ve repeated something already posted elsewhere on the web, let me know and I’ll add the link.

In general, I tried to include a method of storing the spell (analogous to scribing the spell in a book), a portable object for the wizard to keep on their person (the book), and a means of using that object to prepare the spell (studying the spellbook).  Wizards who use these alternatives in my campaigns will still need to spend the same money and time for each of these actions that they would to maintain and use a spellbook, but will likely visit different merchants or resources for their specific needs.

They all work as scroll replacements, too.

Spiderwebs and Looms

Ettercap shroudwinders are known to mimic the weave of magic in the physical workings of their webs.  The famous witch Arachne claimed to have studied their works.  This has been impossible to verify, however.  While many of the weavings and scraps of cloth she left behind continue to puzzle, and injure, the sages who study them; ettercap creations have been much more ephemeral.  Whatever the truth of the webs, those who follow Arachne’s teachings weave a new fabric for every spell they learn and, when they wish to recall the magic later, find all that they need in the warp and the weft.

Eggs

The Ovaturgists of distant Khartolla seek the unfinished spirit developing in an egg and bind it with runes and sigils of fine lacquer.  They steep these eggs in mystic oils and incubate them in holy smokes to twist the nascent being within.  The newborn spell is then released through a tiny hole in the egg shell, to live amongst the weave of magic itself.  Those who study the shells left behind can learn how to call upon the spell and compel it to their own purpose.

(This is one of the ideas I think I might have seen in variation somewhere else; I’m happy to remove it or add links if someone can help me figure out WHERE I saw it)

The Hive

On the eve of his death, Yid of the Three Whispers went to his fields to stand amongst the flowers of his garden.  He spoke his first whisper and the bees flew from their hives and began to circle his head.  One by one, they lit upon his outstretched finger, stilled, and then dispersed.  He spoke his second whisper and the butterflies rose from the petals to gather in his clothes, his hair, and his hat.  He stood completely still as one by one they flexed their wings and fluttered away.  He spoke his third whisper and what happened then no one can say.  When the soldiers of the Goldat Imperium arrived at his hut the next morning, they found the cold, stiff body of an old man, the two splintered sections of a long oaken staff, and none of the spellbooks for which they had been sent.

Scrimshaw

The true skill of the Tegluri scrimshaw artists is not in the image, it is in the layers.  Each piece of art is also a secret, a message meant only for those with eyes to see it.  Now that the Baergen empire is diminished, its holds no longer filled with Tegluri slaves, the need for espionage and subterfuge has faded as well.  But the art remains.

Windchimes

The cliffwitches of Kernow hang strings of shell and bone, sea glass and stone from the eaves of their huts.  They sing their spells into the sweeping storms that pound the coast.  Then, when they need them, the wind will bring their secrets back, tangled in the clacking of the chimes.

Garden

 

Life is to life, to grow to harmony.  If you would live with the world, if you would shape it, you must let it shape you.  Merge your mind with the soil and the wind and the water and you will understand the secret shape of the world.
From the teachings of Tol Som the Enlightened

Every garden is a miracle, but the gardens of wizards are libraries of miracles.  The leaves and the seeds will share their wisdom with those who know how to seek it.  This may explain why the High Wizard of Windholme is never seen with a spellbook, but nor is he seen without his long-stemmed pipe.  Or perhaps why, when the Inquisitors offered the Grand Dame of the Silver College a last meal before her execution, she asked only for her tea.  That is, of course, only rumor at best, there being so few survivors to question.

Food

Wizards are like cooks.  They work for hours to achieve moments, they constantly try new and weird things to improve their art, and they get really mad at you if you touch their stuff.  Also, if either one screws up badly enough, someone could die.  But the best ones can do some amazing things.

Mostly, though, I like the theory for the sour looks I get when I explain it to a new spellworm.  But it’s true, too.  And the best caster I ever served with was both.  She’d make this jerky, smoked and spiced with the strangest stuff.  She’d share some of the regular kind with the rest of us but every evening she’d pull out her own special pouch and just… chew.  Knew another who would bake bread and listen hard to the birds that came to eat it. But the jerky wizard was the best.  I asked her once about the special kind and she just grinned and let me try a taste.  Never trust a grinning wizard.  Damn.  I came out of it an hour later but I still smell apples whenever someone slams a door.