"At three signs you shall see the plaguebeast in your midst: First sign: It shuns the light and seeks the dark. Second sign: It hungers for the flesh of those who possess a soul. Third and final sign: Its evil heart is a disgrace upon the Creator and thus he cursed its form to show its malice. If you become aware of a plaguebeast, hesitate not. The true believer does not allow the plaguebeast to live.”.
“The world is dark and full of terrors, yet nothing is more terrifying than the plague. One from our midst, a father, daughter, son or mother, friend or lover taken and turned against us. Most often obvious as in case of the gaunts, wights or illithids, yet sometimes veiled as is the case with the vampires and werecreatures , where only the truenight might reveal the evil, and some well hidden, like hags and rakshasas, hunting us from our midst, while hiding their true form with blackest magic. The only thing they have in common is that they almost seem designed to strike fear into us, their former brethren: Fear of the unknown, Fear of the dark, Fear of our very friends. Or are they formed by our fear? Do we need the terror they instil, to keep our society stable? To continue visiting the temples of the creator who promises to protect? Would we have other terrors, if we feared different things?”
“Today Tondak followed the call and went into the darkness through the eastern drowtunnel. Let us mourn him and honor his memory. We Norn lost a great friend and earned a worthy opponent. Share his secrets and his belongings and be prepared when the darkness below disgorges his pale form. He is Drow now. Continue watch, don’t follow him.”
"Day 60: Subject A does not respond to the dosage. Yesterday was truenight, and neither the injection of fresh saliva into her blood, nor the bloodcontact with it through almost crippling wounds turn her into a werebeast. This seems to confirm my theory that a malevolent will has to stand behind the contagion. One final test remains." "Day 90: Alas, instead of just biting her, the vile werebeast mauled her to death, from which she, regardless of common belief, didn't wake up again. I fear we must find another subject and also a way to control the beast. I sent Curon into town to look for another prostitute. Like this we can cleanse the community of two plagues." Day 120: I have been bitten and i feel the change already. Everything within me wants to rage, tear and feast. But how can this be? I am good. Maker protects the good. So hungry. I need flesh. Curon looks tasty. Just one bite"
Transmission & Vectors
There are two ways of transmission, but only one, the transmission of specific expressions, is, although complex and dependent on the variant, well understood. The other one, the spontaneous infection, still baffles the sages about the how and why. Sometimes an individual just changes for no apparent reason, and becomes the enemy in our midst. For the different plague expressions there is no single way of transmission. How it happens depends on the respective form of the infection. The most common way of transmission is per bite, common to lycanthropy, vampirism and necroformy, yet oftentimes a secondary ritualistic act, as is the case with vampirism for example, or at least the presence of truenight , is in play, indicating at the possibility that the plague is magic, and, like with the conception of halfbreeds or faeborn, the Fae seems to play a significant role for contraction. Another important fact about the transmission is that, while spontaneous infections can theoretically become any of the different expressions, a plaguebeast can infect another human only with its own expression of the plague. So a vampire always sires vampires, an illithid breeds illithids, and a hag creates a shapewalker while a shapewalker creates a hag.
Even after centuries of research the exact reason for any spontaneous first infection is not explained. Sometimes an individual just changes for no apparent reason. There have been theories that only the wicked or the disblelievers become infected, only those born on special days, or that the infection is inherited, yet none stood the test of time or critical analysis of facts. And, because there are unique ways to each specific expression of the plague to spread it, once an individual is infected, some individuals even argue that it is not a singular plague at all but a plethora of infections. Be it as it may be, there are monsters, and there are monsters which once were human,elvish, wolven, gnome or orc. The idea to hold one plague responsible for those second kind of monsters is, and has been at least since the beginning of human chronicling, the explanation on which the church of the creator operates on. And indeed, once an infected community misses out the chance to root out the evil in its midst in time, more and more varied expressions of the plague arise (or arrive?) , hinting at a connection between them, and making hags and rakshasas so dangerous, as they often escape persecution due to their innate shapechanging ability, thus starting a new plaguecycle for any given region and oftentimes making people erroneously identify them as the plagues cause and natural leaders, rather than just a symptome. Yet even those expressions of the plague, which have no access to shapechanging, often find ways to hide due to their other natural abilities, like illithids who can make their victims forget they ever saw them, clever werecreatures, indistinguishable from humans most of the time, who find ways to shed suspicion on other members of their community, or necroforms who instinctively hide in the underdark or any available abandoned dungeon away from civilization, just to come out at night and hunt for the soulbearing. Depending on the confession, the Church of the Creator argues that the plague is either an evil planted by the fiends of the counterrealm, once they gain access to the material plane, or by the Doombringer himself, in order to strengthen the evil forces in the real world. This has become the official explanation. Doubts remain, but are considered heresy.
Each of the different races on Ardu exhibits different expressions of the plague. The different races also cannot be infected by expressions of another race. They are immune, be it to spontaenous infection or to the infection through a anotther afflicted. It simply can't be done. With one exception. The only race which, for reasons yet unknown, also shows symptoms of another races expression, are the elves, or rather the Eadun (Ey-Aa-Doon), elves which have left the forests and settled in the realms of the humans. If this is due to interbreeding, or cultural factors, is not known yet. They can turn into drow, as well as become afflicted by all the human expressions, just as humans do.
Human expressions:There are five most common human expressions of the plague, ordered by the church in order of threat they pose and their frequency of occurrence, starting with the one considered least dangerous in ascending, and most common in descending order :
1. NecroformyNecroformy is by far the most common plague expression. More than 80 of 100 spontanous plague infections are infections with necroformy. Necroforms thrive in groups which haunt subterranean lairs and usually do not restrict themselves in infecting other human beings, at least if they haven't eaten them. The victims of necroformy first experience unexplained fits of rage and a need for violence, which they enjoy deeply, while at the same time developing a hunger for the flesh of conscient beings. They might hold of that hunger for a few weeks or even months, but a constant degradation of their moral reasoning (and partially their mental capabilities), and their changing appearance, will inevitably drive them from the society they stem from. Then, they usually seek out caves, abandoned mines, dungeons or even find a way into the underdark itself in order to protect themselves from the sun, which they despise, before, on some final truenight , they will leave their subterranean caves and go on the hunt for the flesh of conscious beings, preferably in the company of other afflicted. Then the transformation is complete. First visible sign is often a loss of hair, and a receding of gums, which bleaks the growing fangs of the infected. Fingers and hands elongate and sprout claws, Horns and throrns sprout from the victims body. The transformation is accompanied by a gain in muscletone and size and a skin turning greyish blue, pale or whitish purple, giving the infected the misleading appearance of corpses, which then again led to the misnomer necroformy, as the illness is not a form of undeath. Depending on the race or subrace the infected stem from, they become different things. Dwarves turn into stocky gaunts, humans turn into wights, and goliaths begin to sprout horns, increase their already impressive muscletone and size, and turn into trolls. Elves, those who become afflicted by necroformy rather then turning into drow when infected with the plague, turn into wraiths. The bite of a necroform is infectious just during truenight . Infection furthermore requires two things: First it requires the survival of the victim and secondary the will of the necroform that performed the infectious bite. Yet, due to the instinct driven nature of necroforms, which is result of the moral decline that comes with this expression of the plague, the second prerequisite is usually a given. It is the first prerequisite which victims probably don't conform to.
2. LycanthropyLycanthropy, though much rarer than Necroformy already, is the second most common infection. 10 percent of all spontaneous infections are lycanthropes. As lycanthropes also lose their self control during truenight , the chance of accidently infecting other beings is much higher, than with the more controlled plaguebeasts further up the ladder. Lycanthropy shares some features with necroformy, like the fact that the transmission happens via bite which is infectious only during truenight (if the victim survives). Just like necroformy, this expression of the infection begins with the afflicted showing less and less ability to control their rage. Yet, unlike necroformy the change is not accompanied by permanent physical changes or mental degradation. However, at truenight , the new monstrous nature finally breaks way, and with force. Once the last light has vanished, the afflicted transform into huge monsters which are half man and half beast. For the first turning, which always happens during truenight , the afflicted instinctively leave their hometown and seek out the wilderness, probably in an attempt to avoid witnesses to their transformation. Thus, the first victims of lycanthropes are usually those living in the outskirts of a settlement, or those poor travellers who didn't make it in time to a safe place before the fall of truenight . The most common type of lycanthrope is the werewolf, half man, half wolf, which, despite common superstition, is not related to the race of wolven in any way, and which most often occurs in human or eadun settlements. There are others however: Werebears, true monsters of 12 feet size or more, most common in regions which goliath tribes call their home, or werebadgers, huge monstrosities able to cut through almost anything with their claws and no joking matter at all , especially feared by dwarves and most often found haunting their caves.
3. IllithismOnly 4 out of hundred spontaneous infections turn out to be Illithism, yet the illithids care for themselves, created a working structure which ensures their survival in the depth of the underdark, and are thus the third most common plaguebeast before vampires and hags. The spontaneous transformation into an illithid, also called brain eater or mind flayer, may be the worst to experience for an infected, for, besides an unnaturally heightened drive to survive and the paranoia this brings, it is not accompanied by a change of character until late in the process, when the hunger for the brains and memories of intelligent beings becomes unbearable, while all other food loses its sustenance. So the whole experience happens while being fully conscious of it. Only for some few fortunate transformations are quick, lasting but a few horrible hours, while others lament their impeding fate for months, during which their unnaturally heightened survival drive robs them of the one simple exit. The infected first experience growing headaches behind the brow before tentacles sprout from their nose and mouth. Gums and lips recede, leaving an almost round gaping maw from which new teeth grow. The skin turns dirty bluish grey, and the eyes glaze over milky white until no iris or pupil is left. All the time during this process the future mind flayer consciously experiences a growing hunger for the brain of conscious beings, struggling against it until finally breaking. This is usually when the loss of hair sets in and forehead expands, as the memories of the mind flayers first victims need space in the new mindflayers head. Mind flayers do not thrive solitary, and they rarely occur in regions in which they haven't been spotted before (although it has happened). Once the transformation is complete, the new mindflayer joins the psychic connection of the illithid hivemind and feels the call of an elder brain, the oldest and most powerful mind flayer in any given region, luring it into the underdark to join its brethren. Transmission of illithism, if not being a spontaneous outbreak, usually happens by getting caught by a band of mind flayers. They carry the victim into their caves, where they put tadpole like larvas into its ears, which hatch and bury themselves into the brain, growing and replacing it while devouring the victims memories. Once the tadpole tentacles grow from mouth and nose of the victim there is no hope of bringing the victim back and it is best killed at sight. This is by far the most organic way of transmission, reminding more at parasitic procreation, and many voices did already claim that illithism should be crossed out from the list of plague expressions, yet members of the Inquisition rightfully pointed out, that spontaneous infections still exist, and that the presence of illithids also seems to heighten the probability of the presence of other plague monsters in a given region. So it remains on the list.
4. VampirismAlready relatively rare, and responsible for only 4 percent of all spontaneous infections, vampires also tend to be loners or thrive in small groups. Thus they are, even though their spontaneous infection rate is the same, more rare than illithids. They are more dangerous though. One of the first occurring symptoms of the vampiric expression of the plague is the death of the infected, leading to many humans erroneously attributing vampirism to the realm of undeath. Indeed the metabolism of a vampire changes completely after infection, so much so that the very concepts it worked on during its previous life lose meaning. A vampires body does not need to breath, it does not need a beating heart. A common, recurring scene is a human being struck down by a mysterious illness, finally succumbing to fever and a general weakness. Peace returns to the village, yet after the next truenight the grave is found open: A new vampire is born and it hungers for the blood of the living. Yet not just the blood it hungers for. The closer truenight , the bigger the vampires need to not only drink the blood of conscious beings, but take their life and drink their souls essence, which is the vampires true sustenance. And once the next truenight comes along, the need becomes unbearable and the vampire must follow up on it. From time to time another drive creeps into the vampires instincts, one that he can only follow up by not following the primal lust for murder that arises at the dawn of truenight . He wants to sire new vampires. He does so by not consuming its victims essence in the end, but rather, once he has taken all its blood, dripping some of his own blood on the victims lips, infecting it and triggering the transformation into a new bloodthirsty vampire. A hungry vampire seems unhealthily pale, yet a fed one can only be distinguished from a living human by checking its pulse, as the fresh blood provides its skin with color, and the vampire can fake breathing easily by control of its muscles. The vampire also stops aging in the human sense, its apperance stops to change, and, given nutrition in form of blood, even the worst kind of wound can heal back completely, giving vampires essentially centuries to exist, if they are not destroyed.This often leads to the phenomenon of wandering vampires, where vampires, once a community is allerted to their presence, leave after creating a new vampire, who is then exposed as a culprit for their former crimes to burn at the stake of the villagers, while still under the mind control of its sire. The village returns to normal, thinking that justice has been taken care of, yet the next village down the road, or the village after that, is on the menu. Only after years, sometimes decades, when nobody even remembers them anymore, the vampires return and continue to haunt the village. This, together with the vampiric ability of mind control, make any vampire a formidable foe which is hard to spot, and harder to track down. Their power comes with a price though. Where most other plaguebeasts only shun the sunlight and suffer minor detriments, the vampire has developed a major intolerance to the light of the sun, and will inevitably die, once he is exposed to it for a prolonged time without ability to seek shelter.
5. Hags and ShapewalkersHags and shapewalkers, also known as rakhshasas to the elven, a term which the humans adopted only for the male variant, may appeal frail or weak in their true form, as it is invariably that of a very old, and very, very ugly woman (in case of hags) or a similarly old and seemingly decrepit man (in case of Shapewalkers). No one ever sees them in this form though, yet when... it is almost always too late for the poor soul that did. Both kinds of plaguebeast do not suffer any detriment from sunlight, and their shapechanging ability allows them to appear completely normal, yet also as beings of stunning and seductive beauty. Of all plague infections, the infection of a hag or shapewalker may be the most insidious, because, before the physical change sets in, the psychological transformation is already complete. One truenight the hag or rakshasa awake fully conscious of what they have become, and they feel the growing urge to eat the flesh of conscious beings, to corrupt people and to make their victims end as physically and emotionally painful as possible. Once they decide to follow up on it, and devour their first victim, their bodies change. At that moment though, fully aware of their power, they easily hide their real form with their innate shapechanging abilities. Unlike lesser plaguebeasts, the sun does neither hurt them, nor does it even pose any detriment that could betray them. Also, every hag and rakshasa has a close connection to the Fae, making them natural magicwielders. This led to the misguided term witches for female hags in the past, a term which female graduates of the Seven Towers deeply despise for obvious reasons (as it is their official title). Like other plaguebeasts, the hags and rakshasas feel the call of the truenight , urging them to commit heinous acts of sadism and bloodshed, yet they can consciously decide not to act up on it, in order to escape detection, rather than being driven and having to withstand it. This expression is the rarest, with only 2 out of 100 spontaneous infections turning out to be this. And the Hags and Rakshasas like it that way, because they are loners and controlfreaks, and have no use for others of their kin, seeing them as obstacles at best and rivals for the control of a certain area at worst. Nevertheless they will inevitably succumb to the need to infect another souls one day, in a process which of all is the most emotionally crushing and a true testament to the sadistic and evil nature of hags and rakshasas. They do so by having intercourse with an unwitting victim, during the process planting some of their corrupting essence in its body, before revealing their true form to it, which triggers the change. Until the next truenight the given essence takes control of the victims body and whispers in its mind what atrocities it plans to do, once this night comes along, while the victim can't do anything about it. The victim then has become a guest in its own body, who knows what it will do to its loved ones soon, but is unable to warn them. Taking sustenance from the emotional pain that this dillema creates, the essence grows, until, at the next truenight , it "hatches" and then follows up on all its promises, crushing the soul of the victim in its own feelings of guilt, before finally devouring it. And so a new hag or shapewalker is born, which immediately leaves his "mothers" or "fathers" territory to find its own hunting grounds.
The Elvish ExpressionMost Elves become drow when afflicted by the plague. Unlike the other expressions of the plague, drow do not hunger for the flesh, blood or, in the case of illithids, brains of intelligent beings, although they despise them as inferior and plan to rule them one day. Also their "Changing" is much less dramatic, one day they decide to leave their brethren and follow something that the elves only know as "The Call", which lures them deep into the underdark. Here the lack of sunlight bleaches out their skin and hair and their irises turn red. In the underdark they gather and form their own society, yet one that betrays all elven values, and is characterized by scheming, intrigues and constant struggle for domination. Due to their ability to cooperate and scheme and oftentimes rally the creatures of the underdark, they are often considered as dangerous as even the plaguefiends. Unlike the plague expressions of humans, gnomes and wolven there is no way of transmission from a drow to another elf though. The only way to become drow is spontaneous infection. This should lead to a lot less infected, and it would, but elves are a lot more often affected by spontaneous infection than humans, at a rate which, wth the Norn, even increased in the last decades. Today every tenth Nornelf will become a drow one day, a threatening development, which many Norntribes take very seriously, yet which also led to a worsening of the already bad reputation that Norn tribes share, be it with their Sitha brethren or with the humans, with both of whom they often fight for ressources. Sitha, even though still affected by the plague, turn at the much lesser rate of only three percent of their population, which, although lesser, is still a huge increase compared with the rate at which humans are afflicted. Oddly enough, not all infected elves become drow. Only one out of hundred plague afflicted Eadun elves turns into a drow, and even the rate of becoming plague afflicted in the first place is comparable to humans. The remaining infected Eadun turn just like humans, creating elvish variations of the monsters humans turn into. This is only true for Eadun elves, there has not been a case of Norn or Sitha infection which led to anything but drow yet, and just like Wolven and Gnomes, Norn and Sitha elves are immune to human expressions. Eadun are not.
The Wolven ExpressionThe wolven expression reminds at a mix of necroformy and lycanthropy, turning the wolven into huge, nightmarish, hairless caricatures, which became infamous under the name "Rage Horrors". Like Lycanthropes at truenight , these beasts are embodied rage, unlike them however, just like necroforms, the transformation never stops. Yet, while necroforms keep at least a little drive of self preservation, and are capable of implementing tactics and strategy, the turned wolven is unending rage without sense and purpose. Equipped with increased self healing, a strength that outmatches even trolls, extremely quick reflexes and enhanced senses, these things are very hard to kill. Once a wolven turns into one of these, its usually up to the entire pack, and sometimes even the tribe, to stop it. The transmission is insidious and not at all physical, like the bite of necroforms or werebeasts. Its psychological. If wolven, who fight the Rage Horror, become carried away by the heat of the fight, and give into their own rage, then they become infected. The wolven have found a technical solution to this problem though. They counter it by drinking a tea called "Sira's Peace" before fighting Rage Horrors, a potent potion which helps them supress their own rage and other emotions, and which has found some use and praise also outside the wolven regions as a powerful sedative.
The Gnomish ExpressionAll Gelfling subraces, including the goblins, have one thing they fear most: Turning into a gremlin. When infected by the plague, the gnome's skin begins to crinkle and blister. The eyes grow and bulge, and spikes begin to grow from the spine of the infected, while the hands elongate, turning into terrible claws. The skin turns greyish green or red, the gums and lips recede, pronouncing the canines of the former gnome, and giving it a dead, skull like look once combined with the holes which gremlins have for a nose. Besides the physical change there is a psychological shift even more feared by the gnomes and goblins: The urge to destroy structures, be it social, technical or psychological. Humans sometimes mix up Gremlins and Goblins, because of the appearance of Goblins with their sharp teeth, big eyes and green skin, and also because of their mischievieous nature, yet there is a distinct difference: Goblins, even though warlike, and a plague upon many swathes of land, value their tribe, share a warrior codex, and are, despite all claims of pillaged farmers, able of kindness... Gremlins... are not. They are the embodiment of chaotic evil, seeking destruction of structures and people for their own joy, and are utter psychopaths, which, just like hags, take joy from the emotional and physical pain they create. Unlike hags and rakshasas, which, in order to protect their hunting grounds, only despise the presence of other hags and rakshasas, Gremlins are utterly unable to endure the presence of any other soulbearing creature, without the urge to make it suffer, not even another Gremlin. Yet they also think that every other being shares the same mindset, so they are utterly paranoid, convinced that everthing out there is out to hunt and hurt them, just for the fun of it. A trait which makes them very hard to catch. They often haunt the outskirts of settlements, despising its inhabitants with every fiber of their heart, and plotting how to bring it down by actions which don't betray their presence. Like with the wolven, the transmission of the plague from a gremlin to another gnome is more a psychological transmission, rather than a physical. From time to time a gremlin will have an especially strong aversion against another gnome. Gremlins hate all thinking beings with each fiber of their body, and want them to suffer, but they do not mind if they die due to their schemes. There are always more to torment, and why waste tears for that worthless scum which would do the same to the gremlin if they had the chance? But sometimes there are gnomes or goblins which just deserve to suffer. Really suffer. And it should never end. Death would be too sweet of a release for them. With these gnomes the gremlin is especially careful. His tricks and schemes become more refined, less inclined to kill and more to cause despair. The poor gnomes who are subject to their terror often do not even realize that they have caught the attention of a gremlin, and slowly witness how their lives turn horrible, how loved ones die and everything for which the gnome has ever worked crumble to dust. Step after step the gremlin tries to dismantle the gnomes composure, his or her self esteem and his inner peace, until, finally, the gnome breaks, unknowingly succumbing to the plague and turning into another gremlin which hates each and everything. This is often a process of months and years in which the whole attention of the gremlin is transfixed on this other gnome, who can only be saved if the gremlin can be killed, before the terrible deed is done.
The Orcish ExpressionThe victims of this plague expression are called "Hobgoblins" and "Bugbears", depending on the question, if it was an orog, or a common orc who became infected. The misnomer Hobgoblin in this case, just like the term "Goblinoids", stems from the human misconception, that the savage orcs and the sly goblins are yet somewhat related. A hobgoblin is just an infected orog, and as such, before transformation, belonged to the, more elaborate, orcish leaderhip caste. Bugbears stem from the ranks of the common orcs. This has led to the myth that Orcs, just like humans have more than one expression, where in truth the difference is already one present in the orcish culture per se. Once the Plague takes hold, the respective orc begins to feel an ever growing need to escape the light of the sun, and feels a pull that draws him underground and into the Underdark, not unlike the subconcious need which drives prospective drow. Following it triggers a slow transformation of the orc into either a hobgoblin, if he was an orog or a bugbear, if he was a common orc. By nature of the orcish powerstructure and psyche, hobgoblins threaten to take all those lesser orcs with them, which they led when they were still orogs, and which will also fall for the plague over time and turn into bugbears. The orogs of a tribe are thus very cautious about signs, which betray a plague infection of one of them. Where in case of bugbears the loss of another common orc is barely even mentionable, an emerging Hobgoblin threatens not only himself, but the clout of the entire tribe. Orogs which show signs of plague infection, are therefore hunted by the other orogs, and constantly challenged for the leadership of their orcs. This practise has led to orogs hiding any weakness with respect to the sunlight, and, once they understand that they carry the plague, to even leaving the tribe behind early with their following of orcs, which in turn made other orogs even more attentive. Results of this armsrace are demonstrative sunstaring contests during the midday sun, and, because all hobgoblins are dishonorable, expected explicit displays of honor and sportsmanship of all orogs.
HobgoblinsOnce the Hobgoblin settles in the underdark, preferably, at least from the hobgoblins point of view, with a comfortable tribe of common orcs that will become bugbears soon, a slow process of transformation sets in. The gums of the Hobgoblin recede, as do the lips, bearing the sharp orc teeth even further, giving the lower part a threatening, skulllike apperance. The skin of the Hobgoblin turns from the original dark tone into either a pale brown or grey, and the eyes glaze over until no pupils are left visible and the large eyes have turned completely white, not unlike the eyes of Illithids. The skull grows protrusions, horns and throns, which sooner or later penetrate the skin, giving the creature an almost demonic apperance as if it wears a crown of horns. The remaining body stretches and hunches, and further horns sprout from its back along the spine, and from the wrists and elbows. Hobgoblins inevitably become the king or queen of their little tribe of bugbears, if they still have them, and send them on raids towards the surface regularly in order to gather ressources, food, and also to abduct orcish or other prospective mates, such that the Hobgoblin king can further the continuance of his tribe. Because Hobgoblins and bugbears are cannibalistic, sometimes the abducted even serve two purposes. A common union in the underdark are hobgoblin kings and queens and aristocratic drow, as the drow envy and praise the orog trait of dominance over their partners, and their ability to enforce faebirth pregnancies without magic support solely by their own will, which the hobgoblins inherit. A trait Drow very much like to see in their children, which are called deep orcs then.
BugbearsA bugbear transformation at first does not come unwelcome to the orc: He becomes stronger, even slightly taller, even before being afflicted by light susceptibility. Much more driven by his instincts and not by an abstract concept of self like their orog brethren, it doesn't take long for the emerging bugbear to flee the light, once the light aversion sets in. The physical transformation that follows is less extreme than the transformation a Hobgoblin undergoes, yet the result is almost just as far removed from the orc as the Hobgoblin is from the orog. Bugbears hair grows into a thick dark fur, which helps them vanish in the darkness of the underdark. They also grow stronger and their darksight enhances, as does their tremorsense, turning them into natural stealth experts which can fight even in absolute darkness, a fact they often exploit when fighting in the underdark. Albeit their mental capabilities diminish slightly, they yet understand that on their own they won't suvive long. Hence, once they entered the underdark, the almost legendary bugbear survival instinct drives them to find new masters whom they can serve, be it now drow or other denizens below, yet preferably a Hobgoblin which understands their needs, and also comes with other bugbears in tow that promise strength in numbers.
PlaguefiendsEvery soulbearing creature can turn into a plaguefiend, be it humans, elves, gnomes wolven or orcs, or even one of the more rare other self conscious beings that inhabit Ardu. The plaguefiends, also called demons, devils or simply fiends are just that, the physical expression of the fiends which haunt the counterrealm, given a corporeal body in our world by either a terrible crime, or the slow corruption of a wielder of magic. The aforementioned crime is the crime of demon conjuration, a terrible act, as it demands the sacrifice of a soulbearing victim. Invited by the ritual into the body of the unconscious victim, whose mental defenses are shut down by drugs and spells, the fiend of the counterrealm enters, destroying the victims soul in the process, and replacing it with himself. The second way, less violent, but more insidious, is the corruption of a wielder of magic, who succumbs to the promises, or threats, of the counterrealm. Sometimes it is promises of revenge or wealth or something as simple as feeling loved. To get or prevent it, whatever "it" may be, the only thing they have to provide the Fae in exchange is their corporeal body to inhabit, become a conduit to the fae just for a short time and provide will and ambition and thus structure, the thing which it hungers to have most. What could happen anyway... just one spell more... And oddly... not much happens. And then they do it again. And again once more.... They were warned, but what do those who warned them know anyway? So far nothing happened right? A stupid superstition… Until, one day, the Fae takes them, breaks in with force, and changes them. Be it an unwilling victim, like in the case of demon conjuration, or a victim of ones own ignorance, like when a wielder of magic turns, the result is the same. The person is gone. In the matter of moments tentacles or horns sprout, growing or overgrowing each other, mouths and eyes develop were none should be, additional limbs form, while the old ones wither, until nothing reminds at the old form. A plaguefiend is "born". These beings, while not "infected" in the classical sense, are invariably connected to the plague, acting as its catalysts. Where Fiends occur, so do infections with other forms of the plague, and in an increased rate, which led to the belief, that it is these beings who create the plague in the first place, by allowing the Fae to enter the world. It is also the reason that wielders of magic are eyed with suspicion and subjected to the control and persecution of either the Church, where it is dominant, or the Sentry.
Unique PlaguebeastsNot all plaguebeasts which arise from human hosts can be easily put into categories. Sometimes something awakes, some monster which defies description, which has never occured in this form, or at least only centuries ago. These rare beasts are oftentimes the hardest to kill, as their weaknesses as well as their strengths are unknown, and even experienced plaguehunters often decline to hunt them.
DMTip: This is the place to get creative, you don't have to use this category, but it provides you with the opportunity to generate unique monsters for your characters to fight. Or probably rescue? There might be some rare non evil expressions...
The PullCommon to all expressions of the plague, all infected feel a pull, some instinct which draws them towards each other, subconscious, and hard to withstand.Together with the aversion for sunlight, or even light at all, many plaguebeasts sooner or later seek out abandoned dungeons, or find their way into the underdark, which caters to such needs. Not all of them seek out the subterranean life though. Illithids, Drow, Necroforms and Plaguefiends usually do, whereas Vampires, Hags, Rakshasas and Werebeasts prefer gloomy ground level forests to seek shelter from the light. Gremlins, due to their aversion against anything else but them, follow the Pull, but avoid contact with every other plaguebeast (or any other being at all). They usually live subterranean, but avoid the "crowded" underdark, or at least find caves just for themselves. Rage Horrors feel the pull too, but, due to their rather obvious presence, are already put down by the other wolven, before they can follow up on it. This Pull leads to "regions of darkness", not too far from settlements, partly on ground level, and partly subterranean, where all the horrors dwell, torn between the pull and their hunger for victims. The regions are places where no one dares to go, and "from which no one ever returned alive". The pull increases in intensity with the number of plaguebeasts in a region, which led to regions called "Black Holes", true maelstromes of darkness, devoid of any other life, where only plaguebeasts prey upon each other, unable to leave it, as the Pull draws them back. The biggest such region is called "the Shadow" a giant region south of the Dragon Teeth, between the Thash in the East and the Dark Crest and the Blood Peak in its west. Legends say that the very first Plaguefiend, the Doombringer, also known under other names like Shadow Dealer, the Corruptor or the Nameless One, resides there, deep under the surface, ruling over legions of Plaguebeasts, waiting until the ranks are full to unleash the next "Shadow War" as it has happened 6 times already since the church started chronicling.
The SecretThere is a terrible secret behind the plague, and the infected know it. Or so it seems. Some illithids, before finally succumbing to the transformation, have spoken about how it drives them crazy that they cannot share it. Yet also other plague expressions, like Hags, have oftentimes referred to a secret which cannot be shared, usually to taunt their victims and scare them. However, even though the infected speak about its existence, none ever betrayed what is actually is, and even the worst torture by the inquisition or the Sentry couldn't bring it out. As even gremlins and drow mentioned it before their death, without ever betraying it, it became one of the publicly known characteristics of the plague and one of the major arguments for the plague being one infection and not several.
Hosts & Carriers
All soulbearing beings are affected. The true hosts seem to be the plaguefiends, however there have always been cases of infection where none was near, and when a plaguecycle started off with another expression alltogether, thus casting doubt about this suspicion. In the end it is not fully explained.
The plague has been part of Ardus history since the first chronics, in a time even before the six shadow wars. Also mentions of "the Shadow" and plaguefiends reach back to this very age. The church of the creator, arguing, that it is the faith in the creator and his avatars which prevents the infection best, speaks about a cycle in which, after a time of relative peace, many believers forsake their faith in favor of other religions, leading to an increase in infections until the next shadow war breaks lose, in which again only those survive which follow the creators faith, as they are protected. And thus the cycle begins anew. As this completely ignores the other races expressions and puts the humans somewhat into the center of the plague, this explanation is contested. The elven have a legend which says that it was the arrival of the humans which brought the plague, and that the world was good and peaceful before the humans came. Yet as they have no written history, and the few legendstones they own do not go back before the time of the first Shadow War, it is not clear if this is true, or if such a time ever existed.
InfectedEach infected, if recognized as such, is hunted and killed, and each race usually cares for its own expressions of the plague. The most sucessful are the wolven, because to them it is the easiest, as Rage Horrors are spotted easily. The least sucessful are the humans and elves, due to the different plague expressions, and also due to the the specific characteristics of each expression. Hags and Rakshasas can shapeshift, lycanthropes are human most of the time, Vampires can pass as humans and illithid have a sort of mind control for defense and flee into the protection of the hive once the infection takes hold. Elves that turn into drow only exhibit their physical change long after they fled into the underdark. Also, while humans have an almost zealous drive to root the plague out wherever possible, at least where the church is strong, elves seem to rather see it as a natural process, not just a plague, but something bigger in the cycle of life. When an elf followed the call into the underdark and was stealthy enough to pass the guards, it is not up to the other elves to follow him, as they would also risk capture by the drow which already dwell there. If this tradition to let him go exists due to passed down experience, with the argument, that it might be somehow important in the cycle of life only as justification, is argued by some sages, yet not known for sure.
PlaguefiendsTo prevent plaguefiends, where it has the power, the Church of the Creator has outlawed all magic which eludes its control. The Church organization which executes this law is the Inquisition. In other regions, where the Church of the Creator is not dominant, the Sentry, once founded by the Church, but today independent of it, fulfils this task. Sorcerors and Wizards Worst off by far are sorcerors with their oftentimes chaotic magic, and their independence from any school to learn it. The only way for a sorceror to escape the Inquisition, which mercilessly hunts undocumented wielders of magic down, is to join one of the thirteen towers and undergo the wizards rigorous mental training in order to withstand the persuasions or extortions of the fae. Many sorcerors and wizards fear this, as they will have to face the final test, where the wizard, witch or sorceror find and face their "nemesis", the fiend formed inside the counterrealm by the sum total of all their fears, hopes, desires and experiences. If they can banish it (which is always temporary), they pass. Those who fail are never heard of again, because succumbing to ones own nemesis spirit is a direct ticket to becoming a plaguefiend, and the wizards and paladins who stand guard during the test do not hesitate to put it down. Bards Bards are allowed to follow their art if and only if they graduated from one of the official bard schools, which are part of the Towers. There are those that do, and they recieved a rigorous mental training to protect them from the dangers of the counterrealm. However not all are happy with this. As the education also requires the bard to follow the schools strict magical rules when working their music, and "creative differences" are a norm with these highly individualistic people, not all bards follow the dictate and rather rebel and flee, risking to be hunted by the Sentry or the Inquisition, rather than further suffocating their creativity. Worse even, the mental training seems to inhibit the creativity, as it disconnects the bard from some of his most intense feelings, something which leaves these bards predictable and oftentimes not able to create further masterpieces but repeat what he has learned without adding to it. While those who had undergone it often find a well paid job in the service of a noble, the "unfinished" ones often live a life of wandering musicians, while trying to avoid the attention of the Church or the Sentry, hiding their genius behind pseudonyms. Druids Although the druidic approach of balance helps to avoid falling for the promises of the counterrealm and becoming a plaguefiend, with a better quota of success even than the training of the wizards, the church rigorously forbids their practice, mostly because their is little control over thiskind of magic which allegedly originated with the elves. As there are no human "schools" of druids, most druids are elven, wolven, orcish or gnome. There are single human druids however, yet they are hiding, and are, due to persecution by the Church or, more rarely, the Sentry, very careful before taking on a new student. Warlocks Warlocks as wielders of magic in the service of otherworldly creatures, are generally considered a threat, and mercilessly hunted down by the Church or the Sentry, especially if the pact is fiendish in nature. This is because the pact with a fae creature is basically an open path for it into the material world, and there is no way to tell, when it will be used by the fiend to turn the Warlock into just another plaguefiend. But other kinds of pacts are considered apostate too, as the what and how of its masters can't be understood, and the Church and the Sentry wish to limit the power and influence those entities gain over the real world. Clerics and paladins Uncontrolled by the church or Sentry are any ecclesiatic wielder of magic, like paladins and clerics. The contact to the fae and the resulting magic in their cases happens through another, inherently benevolent being, such that the cleric and paladin is protected, not only against turning into a plaguefiend, but the magic they wield is considered benefcial to the order of things, and believed to counter the plague. Note however that this only holds for those deities which are at least considered allowed in the respective region. Clerics and paladins following a faith that is considered heretic by the dominating faith are treated like warlocks, and even named such. A cleric of the Father, who is a god of the pantheon of the Seven for example, is well advised to hide his faith in the region of Haven, where the Church of the Creator has outlawed all other faiths, or otherwise face the wrath of the Inquisition. At the same time the Sentry in Caldaven will not pursue a Cleric of the Creator for working wonders in the name of his deity, as his faith in Caldaven, though not dominant, is not forbidden. But because the Aquirans see this a little different, the Sentry of Aquira and the one at Caldaven are often at odds about clerics which perfomed magic in Aquira, in the Creators name, or one of its aspects, but now live in Caldaven. A typical conundrum presented by the dependence of the Sentry on local laws. Monks As the power of a monk comes from his own personal fae, or his Ki as they call it, and not the general Fae that permeates the world and creates fiends and the counterrealm, it is considered harmless. The Magic monks wield is personal and does not disturb the order of things, and thus even the church encourages its, although limited, use. With the Seat of Shadows in Bannishold, the realm of Haven, which is also the center of the Church on Ardu, even supports a monastery whose monks are sometimes considered morally... questionable. Yet the church doesn't care, as they are also of use in the fight against the plague. Rangers, Arcane Tricksters, etc... Not all magicwielders need a training, some have a general knack and also a talent for spells in their specific line of work. These are usually considered harmless, as they are also not in danger of passing through the veil into the counterrealm one day, just to return as a Plaguefiend, at least not by what they usually wield in their arcane arsenal. Also the control of all those, who use magic for minor effects, is far beyond the capability of any organization on Ardu, and thus, if their shenannigans do not threaten the order of things, they are left to their own regards. They will get problems if they do threaten it however, or even just appear to do so.
How to use the Plague as a DMThere are a few possibilities which present themselves naturally. The DM could use a spontaneous plague outbreak as a hook for any adventure which includes one of the monsters that the plague creates, be it a drow who vanished, but took something very precious with him, which has to be returned, Or a vampire or hag terrorising an area, who have to be put down, before the plague takes hold and more expressions show up, leaning more towards the detective kind of stories, as it first has to be found out who it is... but quick. The heroes could arrive in a city or village in which the plague has had more time to settle, and thus developed different expressions already. Here the plaguebeasts probably roam publicly already, while the humans seek shelter in their homes, leaving it up to the heroes to clear out the base of the plague, which is usually some dungeon or abandoned mine. Probably the DM wants to impact his players more on a personal level. While they are out of their hometown, adventuring, a vampire moves in and starts a new plaguecycle, or a former friend is infected and turns into a Hag or Shapewalker. They get the message that something is wrong, yet if they leave NOW they would have to give up hunting the evil duke, who is the only one who knows where to find the antidote which can save the young princess. But if they don't, they can never be back before the fall of the next truenight. When the characters finally return the DM could make them see the results of their decision, with a damage done the bigger, the longer the players took time. etc.
- Chronic, Acquired