Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Grande Review, Part IV

(See also Part I, II and III)

Dwarfs: Tales are still told in the echoing Dwarven halls of the lost grandeur of the old empire. Before the rise of man in the wild lands below, the Dwarfs ruled a mighty imperium that connected the great halls and underground cities across the formidable Worlds Edge mountains. These bulwarks were once thought to be the invincible holds of the Dwarven kings, yet one by one they fell to foes, disease, greed and arrogance. The final blow fell on the stubborn Dwarfs as their realm was overwhelmed from below by an intractable enemy—untold legions of Night Goblins swarming their networks and tunnels, cracking the very foundation of their kingdom with reckless and incessant burrowing. Today, the descendants and scions of this glorious realm still style themselves as Imperial Dwarfs, the fading successors to a crumbling empire. These stalwart heirs still march the overgrown cobbled highways and make pilgrimage to the hallowed halls of their ancestors, looking down upon those Dwarfs that long ago conceded defeat and settled their communities amongst the kingdoms of humankind. For the Imperial Dwarfs, defending the last redoubts of their forefathers is a matter of stubborn pride set against impossible odds. Dwarf armies are typically lead by powerful clan lords, but Dwarven host might also be supported by a Gnome hero or self-taught Dwarf wizard, who can further bind monstrous and ethereal hosts to serve the contingent. The core of the Dwarven warband is made up of various formations of heavy infantry shock troops, ranging from the elite Hammerers to the the veteraned Longbeards and battle-hardened Clansmen. Regular Dwarf Warriors fill out the battle lines, and are supported by ranks of Crossbowmen and Thunderers, wielding the deadly Dwarven arquebuses. Specialist troops include berserk Slayers, who wade into battle with frenzied abandon, as well as Sappers and auxiliary units of Gnome Warriors. While Dwarfs are not natural wizards, retaining only half the magical energies that other sorcerers wield with ease, Dwarven hosts can bring to bear the overwhelming firepower of Dwarven artillery batteries, comprised of numerous bolt-throwers, catapults, cannons and other engines of war. Typical to their rigid views on military strategy, Dwarfs lack skirmishers and cavalry, yet they can depend on Halfling and Old Worlder allies, as well as Old Worlder, Norse and Ogre mercenaries to bring tactical flexibility to the battlefield.

The Slann: Aeons ago, long before the reckoning of man, the world was presided over by a highly advanced race known as the Slann. These amphibian custodians came from the stars to refashion the planet for reasons now consigned to the oblivion, although the rare remaining tablets buried in the steamy jungles of Lustria tell fragments of that story. When the batrachian spacefarers originally discovered the roughly geoid earth, they encountered a developed civilization of lizard people, which they subsequently drove underground with overwhelming firepower and technological superiority. The Slann then used magnetic tethers to pull the world closer to the sun, anchoring it with dual warp-gates, black holes torn into the firmament, over each polar region. With the terrain now inhospitable to previous life, the new stewards set about a program of atmospheric reform and geographic rebalancing, following a model they had employed throughout the thousandfold star systems glittering in the night sky. Here, the Slann developed myriad races and species for research or maintenance work. When their star empire finally fell with the complete collapse of the warp-gate network, the Slann on this world were developing several extremely powerful and dangerous projects. A millennia after their arrival, the catastrophic downfall of the Slann was to stem from a problem long appreciated by their sages, but one which they were eventually unable to overcome—while their interstellar network depended on the chaotic dimension of the warp, the alternate realm inexplicably harbored some formless intelligence, which proved more malignant as its power was probed. After the event, remaining Slann settlers quickly descended into barbarism, striking unspeakable bargains with the malevolent psyches that spilled forth from the polar gates. Retreating to their laboratories in the southern jungle continent, the once vaunted race of spacefarers soon lost mastery and even memory of their fabled technologies, which were left to rust and rot in the humid climes. Today, servitor races of slave eunuchs and genetically-engineered all-female Amazons continue to work menial tasks and tend to the forgotten instruments, while client tribes of Pygmies and tribute legions of Lizardmen now fill the ranks of the opulent and fattened descendants of the Slann. Although their primitivism and barbarism has reduced the Slann to pre-metallurgy armaments, the core of their war parties are made up of a dizzying array of fearsome shock warriors drawn from the Slann braves of satellite villages in thrall to the nearby city-state. These vassal warriors include the formidable Bull Slann Riders, mounted on bloodthirsty Cold One reptiles, as well as the frenzied Warrior Priests, devoted to the mystical deities worshipped by the superstitious Slann. Auxiliary regiments are pressed into service from the lesser savage tribes from the deepest parts of the jungle, serving as skirmishing missile troops, scouts and levy fodder alongside lobotomized human eunuch slaves, tamed troglodytes and Lizardmen tribute warriors. While the Slann lack artillery, they can call on Slann animal handlers driving dangerous jungle creatures forward into combat and consecrated War Altars replete with the fetishes and burning incense of the city-state deities. Slann armies have excellent access to skirmishers from the more barbaric tribes of the inner jungle and can call on Pygmy allies as well. Due to countless blood-stained centuries of sacrifices and dark bargains with Chaos daemons, as well as the remnants of their technocratic history, the Slann have unlimited access to magic, which they can further employ to bind hosts of jungle monsters to their will.

Undead: From forgotten crypts and forlorn mausoleums, the history of the civilizations of the world is ancient indeed. Now lost to time, countless societies rose and fell in the wilderness throughout the long and listless ages of man and more unspeakable creatures, taking with them all of their secrets and revelations. For those ambitious and reckless few, these moldering ossuaries are treasure troves of powerful lore, concealing the answer to the oldest predicament known to humankind—death. Many necromancers thus start down their path of destruction innocently enough, drawn to a misunderstood formula scrawled in the corners of an incomplete magical text or nagging suspicions about a master sorcerer's unfinished work. The result is often much the same, however—a kind of withered undeath in the disemboweled husk of a liche with little memory or love for the life it once knew. When they march forth from their sunken sepulchers to punish the living, Undead armies are headed by powerful wizards who have mastered the necromantic arts, whether Necromancers, Liches or Vampires. While the mindless, rotting legions must remain close to these sorcerers, more independent units can be lead by the spectres of fallen heroes, raised to once more haunt the battlefield. While all of these soulless corpses are immune to human fear and other frailties, the ever-tenuous hold of magic over their animated bones can be disrupted by defeat in combat, causing unpredictable results ranging from the return of more living dead to a complete collapse of the magical fabric that binds them. As Undead armies are raised slowly and painstakingly from the necropolises of forgotten civilizations beyond the frontier, the bulk of these foul legions are typically ancient skeletons, who ride into battle on skeletal steeds or creaking chariots, or might march as a phalanx bristling with spears, great weapons or armed with bows, crossbows and arquebuses. Common rabble is made up of cowardly Ghouls as well as Zombies who, with a faint glimmer of memories still whirling in their rotting brains, can be forced into a rout if threatened by the press of steel. Flammable mummies make up the core of the Undead heavy infantry, while giant Carrion birds cloak the sun and undead catapults pelt the enemy position. At the center of these undead hordes is invariably the Plague Cart, slowly plodding across the battlefield and sowing fear in the enemy while bolstering the threads of magic that hold the rotting army together. On occasion, allied contingents of Chaos or Dark Elves might be seen marching alongside the armies of the Undead, while hosts of monsters or spectres may be enthralled by the more powerful necromancers.

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