This is one of the earliest images I envisioned for the Endless Blue setting: a Roman-style nautilus helmet.
Piscean aesthetics favor the natural coloration of a material, and artisans compliment that rather than obscure it with pigments or plating.
Wherever life thrives, other forms of life evolve to prey upon it. Such is the ancestry of the great oceanic predators like the carcharadons and pleisosaurs, but not all aggressive creatures embraced the evolutionary path that led to massive size. Some of the most lethal forms of life in Elqua are too small to be seen. These are the microbes and viruses that take advantage of the ocean currents to travel from host to perspective victim.
Complete submersion makes transmission of communicable diseases easier. Unlike our world, where the air makes it somewhat more easy to avoid contaminated sources, water flows every where, and eventually through the gills of all pisceans. Because it is so easy to catch a disease when you float in shared fluid, Elquan society has created social taboos and mores to govern daily life, all with an eye on preventing the spread of maladies. Dietary constraints are a major deterrent used by piscean life, and especially the Church of Olyhydra. The lists of animals and plants that are deemed “unclean” by the Olyhydran dogma is long and convoluted. Further sanctions on where bodily waste may be expelled, avoidance of spawning waters, and a myriad of other laws dictate the life of the devout Olyhydran. It is no faint claim that Olyhydrans call their diety “the Harsh Mistress”.
Sickness in the Seas
Unfortunately, scientific medicine is still in its infancy in the Endless Blue. The College of Doctors is an arm of the Resurrectionist philosophy that has only now found a level of acceptance in the Mer Currents. Many pisceans still see them as corpse stealers and plague bearers. It has been a hard current to cross, as historically Anatomist have been known as grave robbers and persecuted en masse, the worst known as the Culling Purge. With few chances to observe, hypothesize, and test their ideas, these Anatomists have only a basic understand that disease is passed from individual to individual through some strange property of the normally life-giving water, but are at a loss as to how to prevent the spread.
Argulus — Argulus is caused by infestation of lice — a crustacean parasite that can just barely be seen with the naked eye — causing morbidity and eventually death. Despite their ease of notice, they can be readily overlooked when doing a scale scrape, appearing as just dark spots on the host that could just as likely be coloration if not for their movement.
Anchor worms — Another parasite, anchor worms tax the systems of their host and weaken its resistance to other diseases, though rarely kill in itself. The larval form buries itself deeply into the muscular tissue of the host, making it difficult to remove. There it incubates for several months, where upon it makes its way back out of the host. This leaves ugly, obvious wounds that do not heal. It is a common disease in areas of bloodshed.
Blackgill — Blackgill consists of a loss of scales and/or coloration, a blackening tar on the gills, lesions, the body wasting away, spine curling and other skeletal deformities. Usually terminal, even the Resurrectionists advise euthanasia over making the victim suffer through the disease. It plays a much similar role as tuberculosis does in our world.
Dropsy — A mysterious disease, it normally only manifests in the already sick. It affects the renal system and results in fluid retention, causing the body to bloat and scales to distend. The distended scales make the soft flesh beneath vulnerable to parasites (see argulus above). Kelaguen infusions have shown a modicum of results in combating the disease in the short term.
Fin rot — A bacterial infestation of the webbing of fins, fin rot is unknown among the Orcans, Chelon, or Lumulus (and few care if it affects the Ceph). The bacteria feeds on the thin membranes, and use the easily accessed capillaries to travel through the circulatory system to other fins. The leprosy of the setting, it is a terrifying decaying of the piscean body while he still lives.
Hole in the Head — a dietary disease, comes from poor intake of vitamins and calcium. Manifests in pitting of the skull and down the lateral line of the victim that grow into cavities, the flesh sinking into the vacancy. The disease can be treated, but recovery from the progressed effects cannot be mitigated.
Ich — Also known as White Spot disease, it is one of the most common and oldest of maladies. It forms small white cysts on the body — the epynomous “white spots”. A protazoean cell attaches to the piscean’s skin and feeds on bodily fluids. As it matures, it grows the white cyst shell, usually the first outward sign of infection. It is usually too late to do much at this point, and the victim must wait until the cyst has aged and dropped off. These shed cysts will eventually crack and release more of the protozoa into the water to repeat the cycle. Sufferers are generally isolated to low, near Shelf level of ocean where the currents will drag the hatching eggs down to the sea floor instead of circulating them among the populace.
Velvet — An incredibly virulent disease that manifests with a reddish-brown or golden dust spreading outwards from the gills. The primitive races tend to be resistant to the damaging effects of the disease, and become carriers. The civilized races seem to be especially susceptible to velvet, possibly the result of epigenetics. It inhibits breathing, shortening the breath and eventually asphyxiating the victim.
Wasting — The terrifying syndrome that recurs yearly on the anniversary of the Rending of the Gorgon, consists of the body’s muscles twisting incessantly, to the point of tearing apart. It has been partially weaponized, with those knowingly infected plotting to expose innocents to the disease where it will do the most damage.
Infection is a daily worry for those that breathe and swim the waters of Elqua. Never discount the social stigma that might result in the superstitious from a tiny cough or ashen complexion.
“Suffer not the unclean, lest your life suffer as well…”
In the fall of 2013, I had the pleasure of commissioning a series of nine digital paintings by Vincent Coviello (V4m2c4 on DeviantArt). Each image has a tight line drawing, a full color illustration (as seen below), and a final background composite. Many of the magnificent details in these drawings came from Vincent himself, and his input was spot on. During the whole process I could not help myself from checking my email compulsively for the newest sketch or update. I may have suffered a little bit of withdrawal when he finished the project.
Illustrations of the player races in the Endless Blue Campaign Setting.
This and some of his other work has been recently featured on IO9.com in the article “Can We Please Have More Diverse Dragon Designs Like These?” His hard work and talent are plain to see. It was a pleasure working with Vincent, and hopefully, someday I will again…
Aquatic Prosthetics: Restoring What Was Lost
Life beneath the waves is a perilous existence. The constant battle between the well-honed ungues of the predator and the evolutionary adaptions to escape of their prey is a constant specter. Those escape tactics don’t always succeed, and by some twist of fat should the prey survive an attack, they rarely always survive unscathed. The lucky remain relatively intact, with scarred-over gashes where tooth tore flesh. But many other creatures pay a dear price for their freedom, losing limbs to the jaws of the aberrations above or the ocean predators below. For these victims, their loss need not be completely permanent.
Prostheses are artificial creations that replace lost bodily parts. Their purpose is so the piscean can regain normal function in day-to-day society. While lost limbs are seen as a red badge of courage (and those individuals are given respect for the dangers they escaped from), their absence still proves a hindrance to living under the waves. Instead of having to rely on another piscean for daily functions, most pisceans prefer the independence granted by limb replacement.
Form and Function
Most prostheses are single function. Meaning, they are designed to replace a single activity the lost limb could accomplish. Tails and fins are designed to give maneuverability back to the amputee. A lost hand would be replaced with either a hook for combat or a flipper for movement. Chirurgeons, who often “cut to cure”, rely heavily on prostheses for their patients. Resurrectionists study anatomy in order to better understand the piscean form, and by extension this helps them design better prostheses.
Mariners and other soldiers often lose a limb in the service of their homesea. In the cases of lost hands, many chose to have their favorite weapon replace the lost hand. Spear and Trident heads are the most prevalent, but simple blades or even blunt cestus’ are known to exist. Many military groups bestow those maimed in service with a traditional prosthesis that bears an inscription or other carved insignia dedicated to the piscean’s sacrifice for their homesea. Such a prosthesis would be passed down from generation to generation, down the family line, as a symbol of respect and reverence, in many ways becoming a family heirloom. Sahaguin have been known to purposely amputate themselves so a particularly famous family prosthesis could be attached to their body, raising their esteem in the community.
Forms of Prostheses:
Limb — Prostheses of this type can vary in nature. While a finger is usually too small to replace and still maintain functionality, a limb missing at various points along the arm is more common. Hand, forearm, and full arm limb replacements are possible. While movement at the joints is possible, it is a bend-and-lock mechanism that must be adjusted through applied force. These prostheses are incapable of mimicking normal movement of a limb.
Tail — A common predatory tactic is to sneak up from below and bite their prey in half. It is rare to survive this kind of suprise attack, but it does happen. Survivors find a great portion of their tails lost. Such a loss severely impacts the ability to swim through the water. Tail prostheses are based on a flexible rod that replicates the undulating movement of swimming in reaction to movement in the hips. Otherwise, the prosthesis is rather stiff, making its existence obvious to the observer.
Dental — Blunt trauma to the face can result in permanent dental damage. The repair of lost teeth or a damaged jaw is possible through dental prostheses. These are usually permanent implants, but temporary removable dentures are possible. Due to the variation between the shape of the mouth, all dental prostheses are custom-made.
Ocular — Lost eyes can be replaced by finely smoothed glass or obsidian glass spheres that are inserted into the empty socket. Unfortunately, these prostheses are cosmetic only, and cannot restore binocular vision.
Dorsal/Pectoral/Caudal Fin — The replacement of fins is important to the mobility of the afflicted piscean. Fins are normally in a constant state of small waving motions, in order to stabilize or shift the orientation of the individual. Even the most delicate of fins can be replaced, but restoring the original minute dexterity is beyond the skill of prosthetics designers.
These are magical works of metal, bone, coral, and other materials. Imbued with mystic energy, they act exactly like the missing appendage or organ. The most infamous of these magical prostheses is the Cetacean artifact, Khantusk. Wielded by the first Khan of the Cetacean Hordes, and lost during the battle of the Leviathan, Khantusk bestows great leadership and mastery of command to those that posses it.
Biological prostheses are the grafting of flesh given life once more. These prostheses are not cheap: Resurrectionists still suffer from the superstitious fear of the populace, so they must work in secret, and require severe compensation for the risk they incur. But should a piscean possess enough wealth, he might persuade a Resurrectionist to graft a limb. These limbs utilize the same animus vitae that Resurrectionists employ in the animation of homonculi. The replaced limb becomes a natural part of the, with the same blood flow as the rest of the piscean.
The Transpiscean Movement is in its infancy. These Resurrectionist believe that the races of the Elqua should not be limited by the piscean form. The piscean form can be improved upon, through the grafting of newer organs. Some fear this idea of slowly replacing the body with homonculi organs, piece by piece. But it goes further than a creeping supposition of the body — Transpiceans believe they should not be limited to the shape of their bodies. Extra arms, dermal carapaces, even organs like ink glands or venom sacs can be infused into the piscean form, at the individual’s whim.
Due to cultural taboos, Transpisceanism is viewed negatively by many species of the Known World. The Chelon and Lumulus, usually at odds over almost everything, both reject the idea of purposely revising the body. The Church of Olyhydra views it as an aborration against the Mistress’ design, to such an extent as to decry almost any prosthetic other than those that are the most primitive, basically sticks strapped to arms. But Transpisceanism has found a home in the Mer Currents due to the culture’s inherent openness to new ideas. There it flourishes just as well as the Olyhydran Church, and it is just a matter of time until the two philosophies clash.
The piscean form is an artifact designed by inheritance.
It was not designed to remain in its present biologic state
any more than roe is designed to remain roe.
– Transpisceanist argument.
The Aboleth: Puppeteers of the Deep
When the Kraken Empire fell, the apex predator of the Endless Blue disappeared almost overnight. This left a vacuum in Elquan ecology that has never been truly filled. That is, until now. The aboleths have stirred from their “long dreaming”, and begun infiltrating their thralls into the political and social circles of the Known World.
Huge Aberration (Aquatic)
Hit Dice: 8d8 +40 (76 hp)
Initiative: +1 (Dex)
Speed: 60 feet (12 cubes)
Buoyancy: Shelf (adjustable)
Armor Class: 16 (-2 size, +1 Dex, +7 natural)
Base Attack/Grapple: +6/+22
Attack: Tentacle +12 mêlée (1d6+8 plus slime)
Full Attack: 4 tentacles +12 mêlée (1d6+8 plus slime)
Space/Reach: 10 ft. by 20 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Subjugate, parasite, psionics, slime
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., ultravision 60 ft., mucus cloud
Saves: Fort +7, Ref +3, Will +11.
Abilities: Str 26, Dex 12, Con 20, Int 15, Wis 17, Cha 17
Skills: Concentration +16, Knowledge (any) +13, Listen +16, Spot +16, Swim +8
Feats: Alertness, Combat Casting, Iron Will
Environment: Deep, dark waters (Shelf)
Organization: Solitary or slaver brood (1 plus 7-12 skum).
Challenge Rating: 7
Treasure: Double standard.
Alignment: Usually lawful evil.
Advancement: Huge (9-16 HD), Gargantuan (17-24 HD)
Level Adjustment: -
Aboleths are vile, alien aberrations. They occupy no true role in the delicate ecological balance of Elqua. Instead, they subvert and undermine the natural ecosystem to suit their whims. They do not insinuate themselves into the natural order, but instead disrupt it by their very presence. Nothing preys on these aberrations, allowing them free passage where every they go. And where ever they go, the reap devastation.
Their huge, massive bodies are roughly twenty foot long prism-shapes, and consist of sickly colored teal, segmented plates covering their front and a flexible, finned tail behind a circle of socketed tentacles. Its ventral side is a pale, jaundiced pink that falsely looks tender and vulnerable. Along its sides are a series of darkened, pulsating sphincters. These orifices constantly ooze a steady flow of mucus that the aboleth spreads over its entire body with its four tentacles. This cloudy, rancid mucus is insoluble in water, and prevents the aboleth’s scent from being carried on the currents. It had detrimental effect on the biology of the average piscean.
The vertical row of sanguine eyes on the prow of their head betrays the wicked intelligence of these monsters. They see all matter as their play things, and treat creatures with cruelty and disdain. Their unblinking vision can stare straight into the soul of a piscean, and somehow finds every weakness therein to manipulate. They will distract and seduce a victim, separating him from the group for enough time to crush his will and mentally enslave him. Once dominated, the aboleth initiates a slow transformation process in its victims that culminates in their utter submission into a form of sub-piscean known as a “skum”. Skum are the puppets of the aboleth, working for the aberrations, completely unaware they dance on strings.
Aboleth possess a communal racial memory. What one aboleth knows, all know. An aboleth possesses the knowledge and memory of its predecessors as if they were its own. This way, there is no actual “teaching” of aboleth ideas and culture — you have to be an aboleth to know it. This has produced a level of technology far in advance of the pisceans of the Known World. A form of bio-technology, their artifacts were once living creatures, now perverted in purpose by the malign needs of the aboleth. Without being an aboleth, no one can utilize their bioconstructs, no matter how simple, other than clumsily swinging and thrusting. The operation of aboleth biotech requires the mind of an aboleth, controlling the body of an aboleth, to act in an aboleth manner. At the very least, all aboleth grafts — the fusing of a living creature with new abilities — requires repeated, frequent anointment in the aboleth’s own bodily excretions. That alone makes the technology almost useless to the piscean races.
An aboleth prefers to use its skum thralls for combat, but if cornered will attack using its tentacles, whipping their slender lengths with fearsome speed and accuracy. But overall, aboleths abhor calling attention to themselves or their agents, and utilize their illusion powers to the fullest long before resorting to violence. Once violence is needed, though, they are savage, torturous monstrosities.
Subjugate (Su): An aboleth can attempt to enslave a living creature within 30 feet. To do so, the victim must either be out of line of sight of any ally, or be physically touching the aboleth. Should the victim fail a Will save (DC 17, Charisma based), he is suffers the effect of a dominate person spell (caster level 16th). A subjugated creature automatically complies with the aboleth’s mental demands as if they were his own free will. This telepathic domination can be countered with a remove curse spell. Unless the victim is addicted to the narcotic effects of the aboleth’s slime (see Slime, below), he can attempt a new Will save every 24 hours to break free. Should the aboleth die, the Will save decreases slowly at the rate of one point per passed day. There is no limit to the distance an aboleth can maintain dominance over a subjugated victim.
Psionics (Sp): Aboleths posses the following psionic powers with an effective caster level of 16 and saves DCs are Charisma based: At will—hypnotic pattern (DC 15), illusory wall (DC 17), mirage arcana (DC 18), persistent image (DC 18), programmed image (DC 19), project image (DC 20), veil (DC 19). Aboleths understand all spoken languages. Further, an aboleth automatically senses everything a subjugated victim experiences, and has full access to the victim’s memories. Finally, an aboleth enables a subjugated skum overcome the suffocation effect of its mucus cloud (see below).
Mucus Cloud (Ex): An aboleth constantly exudes a cloud of mucus that it surrounds itself with, about a foot thick. Those unlucky enough to come in contact with and breathing this substance must pass a Fortitude based save at DC 19 or lose the ability to breathe for the next 3 hours as the cloying, viscous goo clogs their gills. Additional contact/inhalation with the mucus cloud and failing another Fortitude save renews the effect for 3 more hours. The save DC is Constitution-based.
Slime (Ex): A blow from an aboleth’s tentacle or inhaling the aboleth’s mucus cloud (see above) can cause a terrible addiction. Exposed creatures must pass a DC 19 Fortitude save or become addicted to the narcotic properties of the aboleth’s slime. Each additional hit in the same round requires another save, but with a cumulative +1 to the Difficulty Class. Remaining in the mucus cloud continues the cumulative penalty, but the DC rating resets at the beginning of the next round should the victim retreat or otherwise leave the area of the mucus cloud.
An addicted creature’s thinking becomes clouded, and he will subconsciously choose actions that invoke additional attacks from the aboleth and re-entry into the creature’s mucus cloud. For example, an addicted fighter might chose to cross the aboleth’s threat area and enter hand-to-hand combat instead of maintaining his distance from the aberration. Even the victim will not realize he is unconsciously putting himself in danger in order to get another fix.
Casting a remove disease spell is enough to break the addiction and free the victim’s will from the slime’s influence.
Parasite (Ex): If an aboleth can successfully isolate a subjugated victim for at least a week, it can implant a parasite that replaces the victim’s tongue and prevents the dominate person effect from being dispelled. It requires a heal spell to expel such a parasite, followed by a regeneration spell to regrow the consumed tongue. Addiction to the aboleth’s mucus must be cured separately.
Common: Relegated to myth, aboleths have so rarely been seen that the populace believes them to be obscure, minor folklore.
Uncommon: Some apocryphal scriptures of the Church of Olyhydra describe aboleths as invaders from the Vastness, set to seduce the unwary into damnation.
Rare: Aboleths are reputedly immortal. Like the Lumulus, they do not die from old age, and instead simply grow larger and larger as the centuries pass by.
Obscure: The slime of an aboleth, once absorbed into the body, acts like a narcotic. Habit forming, victims will seek out aboleths in order to collect the tiniest trace of their addiction.
The Dark Undercurrents:
The aboleth incursion has been plotted out long ago. The vile aberrations have systematically mentally enslaved key pisceans and sent them off to infiltrate normal society. There, under the telepathic direction of their overlords, these dominated individuals built up bases of power, ensuring their entrenchment in the homeseas of the Known World. As time passed, the aboleth slowly altered their slaves, and as they reproduced, increased their number. These new generations of slaves needed less and less mental attention of the aboleth, until the point where the slaves essentially serve of their own free — albeit, unknowing — will.
Much of this complete domination is successful through the use of a parasite. Created by the vile knowledge of the aboleths and passed down through their cumulative racial memory, these parasites are bred not unlike a piscean Packbreeder develops her animals. The parasite begin life in a pupal stage, and appear like a nodule about the size of a Mer’s molar. This nodule is inserted into the mouth of a victim through the mucus forming orifices along the side of the aboleth, where it gestates. As it matures, it slowly gives off chemicals that deaden the sensation of pain in the victim’s throat. Once the nodule dissolves completely and the pupa matures, it bites into the tongue at the back of the throat and slowly devours it completely. The host remains oblivious to this change as the parasite anchors itself on the stump and replaces the consumed tongue with its own body. It reacts to impulses in the body’s nervous system, flexing in the same way that an intact tongue would. Speech is not hampered by this exchange, and indeed, the aboleth can take over the victim’s vocal chords through the parasite and speak for him.
The depth of infiltration these enslaved pisceans have achieved is staggering. It would have taken multiple generations to so thoroughly ingratiate their way into the upper echelons. Skum reproducing, passing on the aboleth parasite to their offspring, they repeating the cycle… The planning must have taken generations, way back to a time period when the Kraken still dominated the Fluid Nations. Which then begs the question, “Did the aboleths have a role in the fall of the Kraken?” Perhaps they made a new deal with the Elsewhere powers that fueled the occupiers’ rise? Might this pact have been the catalyst for the dark powers to abandon their servants on the eve of their final battle?
There seems to be a suspicious link between Lumulus and Aboleth lifespans. They share a similar alien mentality and psychic ability. Could there be a link? The Orcans are quite sure they were the first race on Elqua, could it be that the aboleths played a part in the creation of the crustacean species? Could there be a deeply submerged command in the psyche of the Lumulus, laying dormant, awaiting the day their aboleth masters reactivate them as skum?
If aboleths have a weakness, it is the coating of mucus that enshrouds their repellant bodies. Without this intact layer of phlegm, their skin would shrivel and dissolve in the briny waters of the Endless Blue. This makes areas of underwater brine pools, rivers, and falls especially dangerous to the aberrations. It is the greasy, insoluble aspect of their excretion that saves them from an excruciating fate of being salted alive. To avoid this fate, an aboleth can enter a suspended state they call “the long dreaming” or “the endless slumber”. This state of torpor is involuntary, leaving the aboleth comatose and at the mercy of its surroundings. It cannot escape this state of its own volition, and is utterly dependent on either random chance to save them, or their own contingency plans put in place years earlier.
“Coincidence is the veil of the puppeteer; masking him as he pulls the strings of marionettes…”
– conspiracy theorist mantra.