Stripped of their blood and limbs by the enemy, stripped of their arms and mail by the common scum, stripped of their reward eternal by victorious but strange gods, the dead inherit only loam. Murder, misadventure, disease, happenstance, age, these all find homes under consecrated circumstances. Not so the battle people. They are Carted, claimed and carried, to one apocryphal blind box canyon where they are planted like ragged roses line in line awaiting a torpor and flourish that time and rebirth can bring only. The damned have been sown for centuries in gravel and clay made redder than God by unceasing hours of bony-fingered determination. They have been lain up a store, like pickles of apocalypse. Apickleypse.
Poorest imagination will reveal the purpose for this charnel pantry - it will comes easily to lips if you attempt to describe it - but the when: when is this hellcrop due for a mortal harvest? At what hour comes the Reaping Which Stands? Well here is a fear long heeded by the cleverer nations: The Deaths Will Come For You When You Come Looking For It.
The city state of Nuydeqag did not get the magical memo. Young and starving they have set themselves as a kingdom upon the goal of the tallowed valley. A bid for power or an ill-conceived attempt at smiting a known and stationed evil in the name of a boring sky-dad, that much is unclear: Nuydeqagites (hey real quick piss off with these names Ozco) are merely carrot and stick to justify spiriting your cast to the brink of high stakes disaster in a strange race where nobody wins unless no party reaches their destination.
Other forces are...well, not on your side, but opposed to the Nuydeqagites, and you'll have to deal with those as well. There are also the mundane mad and the wild people of the hills, disciples of pacifist war gods in search of a cause worth blaspheming for, a veil breached only by watching dispassion and the strange deer-faced insects who linger past the fringes all waking perception. Die and become the danger. Fight and feed what's coming. Follow....but steer clear the Carter and his nine forms of finality.
Illison Ozco writes, Monster does the illustrations.
A word about ghouls -
Ghouls are not undead, they are simply of-dead. They are perhaps most traditionally, most respectfully, a type of being, or perhaps a shade which an uncareful man might pass through, becoming something not themselves but also not just Send More Paramedics. Closer to a Wendigo, but for once not a WENN-DIII-GOOOO.
A Ghoul is compelling when they are not just another thing that wants to eat you, or another thing which is dead and naked aggression, or another thing which is some kind of faerie or some shit. A Ghoul is compelling when they need to eat you. More specifically, primarily, they need to eat the dead, and not the recently dead either. The buried and moldering bone case where your snout gets all pinochled up. They have been pushed to this by desperation because even the fallen and ripening have been long cannibalized due to circumstance, or else set on by wild animals whose lives are relatively comfortable compared to a Ghoul's own. You must eat the dust, low thing. You must dig for poison, cursed shape. That is all that is left. A Ghoul is a one who in their need has become so base that in all aspects they are diminished but in a strange way hidden to the sight of the gods they have become...if not more, exactly, no, not more, then only ah... deeper. Leatherface was not a Ghoul, Gollum was. A Ghoul is not one who likes a nice long pig now and again, a Ghoul is that one guy from Lovecraft whose house was so old and shitty and he ate so many people that he went so crazy his house exploded.
They need to eat you because they see it in you, a glimmer of everything that was lost, and you are a map to them back to love and light. They will grin and laugh and seemingly delight in the hunt as they paw at you down corridors dark enough for their grayed eyes to tolerate. Giggling scratchers, theirs is instead a damned jog after the last lifeboat on the Titanic. They are sinking. They do not know you cannot save them.
Illison Ozco missed her chance to go insane on dat good-good radioactive cocaine thanks to growing up without a communist shadow looming overhead but she didn't let a little thing like that stop her. Naval hero and one of the only historical uses of the phrase "Polish Invasion" that isn't immediately followed with "OH SHIT," Illison came to the second generation of Adder Entertainment with something to prove. In word this was that Eastern Bloc mysticism and a century of light bulb jokes could still produce a new generation's Ivanov but, in practice, it was positing the entire Eurasian clash-up as a spiraling gravity bigger than nations and bad ideas, a weighty ink like the aforementioned HP's bottomless Massachusetts. This is most evidenced in Abandoned Abaddon Abandon, her third of five projects for the company, in the web of Ultimately Assured Destruction woven between the local state-nations. Also, the Carter himself serves as a sort of Uncle Creepy koriphyos-cum-Guy-Who-Pretends-To-Kill-The-Shark-On-The-Jaws-Ride. Trusting him is not foolish because he will betray you. Trusting him is foolish because evil always wins out the prisoner's dilemma of entropy and expecting anyone to have any effect on the grinding of galaxy wheels is like counting on a maggot to stop a volcano.
If your cast elects to follow the Nuydeqagites' trail on the road then you get to see a series of nations braced for murder-by-suicide and the opportunity to patch things up along the way as their communities fall to shit while the Big People pretend at plans. If your path takes you over the mountain then looping, interconnected concentric trails must be carefully navigated or you join the Snow, one of my favorite examples of ghost-as-geography in gaming history. Go through the mountains and you have a harder time than Gandalf's slowest-pitch adult league softball team, coming face to face with home-grown parasite purgatories who looked at the attempt to build a physical world hell and went "hey, let me on that titty." There's a good generator for these but they end up way gonzo and that's me saying that: I let people play a bag. The three off-the-shelf options are much better.
Actually, speaking of the Gore Chief, let's talk about Monster, the prog botanist whose art adorns these pages. It's minimal. It's spare. It's affecting. It's completely wrong. Monster's art for Abandoned Abaddon Abandon was famously mixed up at the printer with the art it had completed for the licensed Tazmania RPG that Warner Bros. planned to put out. That means that while Monster's strange interpretations of John Astin's forgotten resume are captivating they are entirely alien to the text, which gives them their own weird horror vibe. The proofs that escaped into the wild from the quickly-scrapped Tazmania book show something like a true Coleridge experience while also serving to underline the hubris in flying too low to the common denominator with this particular pitch. (I'll try a Spinning ability score, that's a neat trick!)
There's your meme history for the week: this is why the Gore Chief lovvvves pepperoni pizza.
Ozco did not actually collaborate with Monster again although its artwork graced three of her four efforts for Æ. Monster would go on to heights of its own with a little cam-pak we'll discuss next time. As for Ozco, her jet accident left her with limited manual dexterity and cataracts in her focus but she still serves as advisor and ambassador for the Red Raj series of books over at Pinnacle.
Final note: the doomed Æ miniatures line was never reborn to see Carter cast in pewter but a 3D printer file for a pitched Reaper commemorative protoype made its way online last year thanks to an enterprising Tattoo Society member (among whom, unsurprisingly, a figure like Carter has proved popular). You can download it here for free but any donations you make over on the right go to efforts helping to free Skinny Tim, still in prison from 2015's GenCon Gridlock event at the Marriott.