Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Visit to the Treasure Vault (Part II)

Art by Stephan Peregrine

Stephan Peregrine's sole magic item contribution to Flying Buffalo's Treasure Vault (1984) is “The Spirit Boat.”  This item appears as a small carving; the cat-person depicted above is shown wearing it on a thong about his neck.  Supposedly, there are several Spirit Boats, but this Spirit Boat “is said to have been fashioned from a fragment that the god Hrong Hrong struck from the left tusk of the Star Behemoth (the great mystical monster that haunts the abyss between universes).”

The Spirit Boat is able to... the command of its owner, assume the form of a full-sized sea canoe...In its expanded state, the Spirit Boat seems ghostly and transparent but is quite solid to the touch...this vessel can magically move without sail or paddle...It can easily sail (or fly) through the lower, middle, and higher astral planes.  However, it cannot travel to other universes or sail the skies of the material world.  And being a holy object, it will refuse to enter any of the demon-worlds.
More interesting than the magic item are the associated non-player characters.  First, we have Helga..
...a forest-witch and priestess of a coven of goddess-worshippers.  She has a vast knowledge of herbalism and natural medicine.  Her special talents include preparation of antidotes for rare toxins.  Helga owns a small farm and supplements her income by raising cart-ponies and by selling the occasional magic charm.
With regard to fighting prowess, Helga is “good with dagger, poor otherwise.”

One day, while looking for herbs in the woods, Helga came across a “strange cat warrior almost lifeless.”  This is our second non-player character, Prince Rrau, “an unintentional visitor from another universe [where]...His world is one in which cats have evolved into the dominant life form.”  (Prince Rrau received The Spirit Boat as a gift “from the cat-shamans of Smoke Isle.”)  It seems Prince Rrau “was a powerful wizard-warrior” in his home universe before “supernatural invaders...sorcerously blasted [him] out of his world.”  However,
“due to the subtle differences in the dimensional fabric, his magical powers are often ineffective or reduced.”  Of course, if I were a cat-person trying to impress a naïve forest-witch, that's exactly the sort of thing I would say.  “Yeah, I'm a totally awesome wizard-prince in my native universe.  My magic doesn't work here because of...uh...subtle differences in the...uh...dimensional fabric.  Yeah, that's it...dimensional fabric!”

Speaking of things I would say, no explanation is made of how Prince Rrau can communicate with the denizens of Helga's world.  We see in the picture above that he's wielding some kind of blaster gun; maybe he has a universal translator as well.  Regardless, Peregrine's drawing is special; if it was a black velvet painting, I would proudly hang it on my wall.

Anyway, the salient details for Prince Rrau are:
Ht: 5'11".  Wt: 170 lbs.  Age: young middle age.  Fighting prowess: excellent with rapier and similar weapons, otherwise very good all around.  Magic ability: uncertain.
We also learn:
     His weaponless self-defense technique approximates “tiger-style” kung fu (GMs may wish to add damage done by unsheathed claws).
     Sadly, he knows that his people must yearn bitterly for him to return.  This often subdues an innate good humor, but he finds spiritual strength by meditating on the god Hrong Hrong.  The only human Rrau completely trusts is his friend Helga; with other humans he is wary, being an alien in an alien world.
Naturally, Prince Rrau's “main goal is to find a way – through science or sorcery – to return to his world and destroy the enemies of his people.”  For her part, Helga “plans to help Rrau return to his world [and]...To this end she is resolved to advance as far as possible in esoteric magic and science.”

There are three “scenario suggestions” for The Spirit Boat.  Of course, since Prince Rrau owns the item, all of the scenarios involve him and Helga.  (They are “interlocked,” so to speak.)

In the first scenario, The Spirit Boat has been stolen.  Prince Rrau and Helga hire the player characters to recover the item from the “fanatical collector of occult objects” who hired the thief.

The second scenario starts with a “friendly nature-sprite” providing some information to Helga.  A wicked necromancer-king has plans to obtain The Spirit Boat.  (The player characters are supposed to be enemies of this necromancer.)  Rrau suspects that the necromancer has magic that will allow the feline prince to return to his own universe.  So, in a manner that the book does not detail, the “player characters enlist to help balance the odds in the upcoming confrontation with the necromancer and his army of spies and undead shock troops.”

With the third scenario, the player characters overhear Helga and Prince Rrau in a used bookstore.  While doing so, the PCs uncover information regarding the location of a secret library that was once owned by somebody “who may have known how to convert a Spirit Boat into a vessel capable of making the jump from one universe to another.”  On the basis of this scant prospect, the player characters accompany Prince Rrau and Helga because they know “that such a library might contain other information of extreme value.”  (This assumes that the PCs reveal the existence of the secret library to the cat man and the witch.)  Of course, “the road to the library leads through lands beset with plague, bandits, and civil war.”

To me, an obvious scenario would be the arrival of Prince Rrau's supernatural enemies in the campaign world.  They need to retrieve Prince Rrau for some reason; possibly to install him as a puppet ruler in his native realm so as to quell unrest.  The only way to track him is by detecting the Star Behemoth vibrations generated by The Spirit Boat.  The villains consider adding the campaign world to their list of conquests and the player characters get in their way.  Can an anthropomorphic wizard-prince cat, a bored looking forest-witch, and the neighborhood player characters thwart the diabolical depredations of extra-dimensional invaders?  Well, can they?!?

For some reason, I find Prince Rrau and Helga intriguing; maybe it's the gonzo concept.  Maybe it's that somewhere, there's a story – nay, a saga – of Rrau and Helga and their adventures.  Perhaps it exists only in Stephan Peregrine's imagination; perhaps Rrau and Helga were player characters in some long ago campaign; perhaps (Hrong Hrong help us) Rrau and Helga were protagonists in a badly written, never to be published novel.  Whatever the case, I want to know that saga; I want closure.  I suppose it's lost now, like

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