Allen Varney, Writer and Traveler



Just as warriors of other races have thrown themselves in vain against the obsidimen's rocky skins, countless researchers have crashed against obsidiman folklore and come away stunned. The rock people tell stories, if that is the word, that cover entire sleepless days, or they recite enigmatic epigrams that flash by before the listener notices. Collecting their legends presents problems, not of accessibility in the usual sense, but of sheer endurance and cognition.

The Epic of Crystallization

The obsidimen of Gabbro Liferock, in the Throal Mountains northwest of Bartertown, tell the following tale in their sporadic conclaves called (in translation) Diamond Veins. At these murmurous gatherings, of two or 200, the obsidimen exchange news and repeat legends like this one. They spend 500 hours reciting this tale for, as far as I can discern, no reason whatever. I have shortened it to its essentials, but I fear I have made it sound far more exciting than it is.

In the beginning everything moved fast in a crucible of matter, energy, and magic. Matter began to gather, very slowly. Very, very slowly. Then it cooled. Very, very slowly. No haste here. Very, very slowly.

Magic drew toward the slow-growing crystals. Very slowly, magic began to dwell in some of the crystals. As they crystallized, very, very slowly, not at all fast, magic also crystallized into souls. Souls of grass blades, and oak trees, and bamboo, and mustard herbs, and strawberry vines, and [1,248 plant types omitted --Ed.] and then dragons, and shrews, and white-ruffed pheasants with orange wingtips who cry loudly in spring, and krilworms, and copperhead snakes with close-ribbed underbellies, and those with wide-ribbed underbellies, and [approximately 5,000 creature types omitted, including most Name-giver races interspersed among the rest -- Ed.] and then sand, and iron ore, and bornite-chalcopyrite-quartz aggregates, and olivine, and [over 15,000 mineral types omitted --Ed.] and finally us.

Eventually the Earth cooled, and we could move around. Some fell to temptation and moved. They eroded.

Very, very slowly, souls grow like crystals. Be still within and without. Economize your experiences. Give long, deep thought to what has happened in your life, and then crystallize that experience. Avoid haste. You achieve through not-doing.

Everything in life must turn into the very, very slow process of becoming an immortal, independent, and powerful essence. If you crystallize correctly, your being will take care of all matters. You cannot do this too slowly.

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Sayings of the Obsidimen

After the spectacularly long and dull saga, the second most popular form of literary expression among obsidimen is the epigram. Most hold limited interest for other races, such as those that warn against the grave danger of erosion, but a few appear below.

1. Never force your ideas on another. Present them as seed crystals. In a mind fed with the correct experiences, they will grow.

2. What is the true sign of excellence? When others pick up your ideas because they have rested in your shadow, they work your magic for you, thinking it their own. Here is excellence.

3. You who have cured yourself of daydreaming about tomorrow may achieve what you were born here for.

4. By teaching others, you learn yourself.

5. Name-givers receive a definite number of experiences. Economizing them, they prolong their life.

6. Judge others by yourself and you rarely mistake them.

7. What is the mark of true wisdom? When you prepare for the freedom and health of your remote descendants, you learn about yourself. Here is wisdom.

8. Respect others' ambitions, and include them as you can in your own.

9. The secret is that there is no secret.

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View From Eternity

Obsidimen tell this tale to explain the virtue of slow movement. Perhaps it explains more than that....

Those who run fast though the world, listen to these words, that they might lead you to peace. Be still as if asleep, and ponder this. You see things true only if you make the journey to the Still Realm. There you can change the subtle patterns, but better merely to observe.

When you return from your long vision, mix the Still with the Moving, and then no matter what plans you start, you will inevitably act to bring them into being. Remember: The Mobile world is but a confused reflection of the Still Realm. If you remember this, you may hope for peace.


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Obsidimen culture often puzzles the faster-moving races. Only the trolls, whose hotheaded nature makes them unlikely admirers, see virtue in the obsidimens' slow pace. Wealthy obsidimen sometimes hire troll caretakers and secretaries to handle their traffic with other Name-givers.

The adventurers meet one of these trolls, Gorlin Hulg, while in a city looking for work. Gorlin, small for a troll but shrewd, hires the characters to fake a battle "so some Blood Warders" can see what they're getting." This curious mission requires further explanation, of course, and Gorlin gladly recounts the story:

The Tale

Well, I call my employer Diorite Smith. He (and I don't know that Diorite really is a "he," but never mind) and his Liferock siblings developed a taste for money. He thought the clan might need it in the future, and so he wrote a letter to a band of dishonest dwarf prospectors, hiring them to uncover some charges of Elemental Earth under Diorite's mountain, Jormedheim Peak. Jormedheim's deposits couldn't match the ones in Blood Wood, but who wants to be around a bunch of elves anyway? Diorite meant for the dwarfs to make the big blow, collect their pay, and clear out of there, leaving his clan to mine the Earthblood.

Well, the dwarfs took their money, all right. Then they set their charges, but they didn't clear out. They began working the claim right in front of Diorite and his whole family. We offered to raid the dwarfs, but Diorite said that the dwarfs weren't cheating him. He felt sorry for the dwarfs because their greed made them move too fast, not think like a civilized being. Those rockmen are so calm. When I die, I hope I've done enough good deeds to be reborn as a rockman.

Anyway, the dwarfs gathered so much Earth from the caverns that they ran out of orichalcum jars to store it. They tried putting some spell on plain lead jars. Guess how well that worked? The Earthblood built up such a charge that the lead melted. Wait, it gets better! It reformed into these weird living-lead creatures hungry for Elemental Earth. Some dwarfs fled the mine, others tried to kill the creatures before they ate up all the orichalcum jars. These dwarfs paid for their greed with their lives.

Still Diorite and his clan did nothing.

When the lead men had eaten all the Elemental Earth, they began to slow down until they finally stood still. Diorite wrote a letter to the Blood Warders, asking if they wanted to buy the creatures for their research. The Blood Warders are always interested in the bizarre, so they're coming down to look over the creatures. Elves pay real well for that kind of thing.

I asked Diorite if the Blood Warders might not turn the metal men into weapons. He said they might, but using them would destroy the resources of the Blood Wood in just a few hundred years. Then his clan could move in on the biggest deposit of Earth in the world.

To accomplish all this, Diorite had written three letters and spoken once to the dwarf foreman. He never walked more than 15 minutes away from his Liferock, and his clan looks ready to become the richest in these mountains.

But first these Blood Warders need to come through with the money. I suggested to Diorite that the elves would want to see these creatures in battle, so he sent me to find someone who would spar with them, you might say, to show them off. Fight them, but don't kill them, and it would be okay if you didn't get yourselves killed either. What do you say?


The "living-lead creatures hungry for Elemental Earth" that Hulg mentions are fianchors (Old Theran, "intruders"), residents of one Elemental Plane sorcerously relocated to another.

Some sapient residents of the Elemental Planes study magic, and these elemental beings sometimes travel physically between the planes. Travel presents even greater obstacles for the creatures, the fianchors, than it does for Barsaiveans. Fianchors' unmixed elemental nature conflicts with rival planes more strongly than beings here, who embrace aspects of all five Elements. Because of this stronger conflict, the fianchors undertake magical transmutation to habituate themselves to the new plane.

However, the rites of change often drive the fianchors temporarily insane. At least, Barsaivean scholars believe so because the fianchors that invade this plane behave so abominably. They eat all the Elemental material in the vicinity, especially orichalcum, and they attack every living thing around as well. This implacable hostility leads a few scholars to suppose fianchors are low-level Horrors, or that the transmutation magic they use comes from a Horror. This idea has met wide rejection because, among other reasons, fianchors seem unconcerned with Name-giver suffering or fear. Indeed, fianchor nature appears completely alien to our understanding, even by the standards of elemental creatures.

Fianchors appear only rarely in Barsaive, but of the known instances, such as the Jormedheim incident, most appeared in the presence of unmined or freshly excavated Elemental material. In most native deposits of such material, this plane's juncture to the appropriate Elemental Plane strengthens, allowing easy passage for the fianchors to this plane.

Why do they come here? Conjecture has it that Elemental material on this plane acquires a subtly different nature, a different "taste" as it were, from the material on the original Elemental plane. Scholars who advance this idea believe fianchors like the taste of this material. In fact, when the fianchors appear to ingest the ore, they are actually transporting it back to their adoptive plane for reasons unknown.



DEX: 6

STR: 10

TOU: 8

PER: 9

WIL: 10

CHA: 3

Initiative: 4

Number of Attacks: 1

Attack: 9

Damage: 7

Number of Spells: (1)

Spellcasting: 12

Effect: 11

Physical Defense: 12

Spell Defense: 10

Social Defense: 18

Armor: 8

Mystic Armor: 8

Knockdown: 10

Death Rating: 50

Wound Threshold: 18

Unconsciousness Rating: 49

Recovery Tests: 2

Combat Movement: 25

Full Movement: 50

Legend Points: 400

Equipment: None

Loot: Elemental material, 1d8 x 10 silver pieces. These count as treasure worth Legend Points.

These statistics describe a typical fianchor, a "weird living-lead creature," in Barsaive. On this plane it resembles a vaguely humanoid but mostly shapeless figure made of the nearest appropriate element. Despite their associations with two different Elemental planes, treat a fanchior as an Elemental from the plane it currently lives in. The fanchior eats any Elemental material in sight. Then it usually attacks, but it may show inscrutable alien behavior.

Fianchors vary in abilities according to their plane of origin and plane of current residence. On either of these planes they are stronger than in Barsaive.

The Adventure

Gorlin's story is true and his offer is legitimate. Gorlin offers the characters 40 silver apiece plus travel expenses, and will go as high as 60 apiece. The journey takes a few days. At a safe distance from the mine the party meets Diorite and the Blood Warders, two Corrupted elves of hostile attitude and great power. Gorlin gives each of the adventurers a tiny shaving of orichalcum (value 20-30 silver; half their payment) and sends them after the fianchors.

The creatures, shapeless leaden pillars, animate as the characters approach. Under the watchful eyes of the elves and Gorlin, the characters must fight the fianchors without killing them for half a dozen rounds, letting the creatures make a variety of attacks. Then the characters must flee, whereupon the fianchors grow dormant again.

The gamemaster can introduce complications during the battle. The fianchors may move to attack the Blood Warders, forcing the characters to decide whether to protect Corrupted elves. After the battle, the Blood Warders may try to enlist the characters as muscle to "persuade" Diorite to part with the fianchors for free, or as guards for the long trip to the Blood Wood. Finally, the fianchors may suddenly begin speaking, for until now their new bodies have not had time to evolve vocal abilities. The creatures murmur a spell and vanish.

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While travelling among the deserted Dragon Mountain ore claims, the adventurers encounter a veteran of the short-lived Auric Kaer ore madness of 1486 TH, an old ork named Dunnerd Lonk. Once they greet him, they find it difficult to shut him up. Dunnerd's account of one of his interesting experiences follows.

The Tale

"The actual veins of ore here were uncovered during the construction of Auric Kaer. Nobody gave a damn about native orichalcum then, with the Scourge coming on fast. Centuries later, when that troll airship put in for water, we heard 'em and came out. As soon as we knew we was looking at a safe and sane world, the ore madness hit real hard.

"Funny thing, orichalcum. You can never have enough. If you eat the best turkey dinner in Barsaive, you don't want another one right then. Yet you can find the biggest nugget of ore in the world, work yourself ragged for 20 hours mining it from the earth, and if you hear of another hit, you'll get up from your tired bed and have at it again.

"We was mining out of the walls of the kaer, and built a boomtown camp in a stockade of raw lumber. A creek ran alongside town, and one of the boys found ore flecks in the soft brown mud. So we panned and we sluiced, not to mention tearing up the ground right under the town.

"One day a troll kid found the toe of an obsidiman poking through the mud. We reckoned this buried guy'd been on his way to the kaer before the Scourge, missed the sealing, and died outside the door. It took us a week to dig out the poor old guy. We put him on a stump in the center of town and started calling him `His Honor, the Mayor.'

"Couple of months later the town collapsed, 'cause we had mined out the bottom of it. Like I say, ore madness makes you do dumb things. "His Honor" fell in the pit with everything else.

"We moved downstream and searched for a new vein. One of the boys starting eyeing this huge red granite boulder. Red granite can bear orichalcum, and so he took a couple swings at it. All at once we hear a yell from the old townsite. Some fool said it must be the ghost of Shorty Dufee, who danced into the stockade at the start of the rainy season saying he'd found a big claim outside of town, then drank himself to death by promising the barkeep future payments.

"Well, we figured if Shorty's ghost didn't want us getting at this rock, it must that rich claim. We went at it good. We heard all kinds of rumbling and roaring, and lot of miners got spooked and run, but us greedy types stayed at it. Suddenly he crashed through the trees: His Honor, the Mayor.

"He ran over, and we all looked at each other real sudden and sickly, 'cause we guessed we'd been attacking his Liferock. We backed away fast-like, and after a couple tense moments we all sorted things out. Seems he'd been dormant, and the attack someway called to him.

"He stayed pretty mobile for the next few months and actually served as mayor. Then he settled down for a long stand near his rock, and we elected Mary Kongee."

About Ore Madness

Several episodes of ore madness have struck parts of Barsaive since the Scourge ended. All to date have taken place in hilly or mountainous terrain. News of orichalcum or gold travels fast in the province; within a week after the outside world first learns of a rich strike, 2,000 to 20,000 hopeful miners, assayers, merchants, and camp followers arrive in a rugged area hardly larger than a village. They subsist for a month or a year until the mines play out, then vanish just as quickly. These overnight boomtowns make good settings for adventure.

Ore madness adventures often center around routine issues such as claim jumping, lost treasure maps, and banditry. Other elements include usurious winesellers and provisioners, who sell food and drink for almost their weight in ore; crooked betting; and a background of easy virtue and unbridled greed.

The Auric Kaer boomtown collapse highlights the porous nature of some Barsaivean land. A long-held kaer typically grows to enormous size, and so miners who dig nearby risk widespread collapse. On the other hand, a deep claim may open onto a tunnel complex, abandoned in the unwritten past and teeming with magical treasures and subterranean creatures.


The Theran Empire still technically claims dominion over Barsaive, and Throal extends its influence over much of the region. Both kingdoms love the sudden revenue bonus from taxes on rich ore finds.

Therans: In past instances the Therans' "tax" has amounted to complete seizure of all ore found, as fines for mining without prior approval. This chore ordinarily required one Imperial maniple detached from the nearest kila stoneship. Thera has usually waited until the rush almost played itself out, in order to find the maximum amount of gold or orichalcum stored and ready to transport.

In their intermittent political infighting, rival fleet commanders may come to view an ore camp as a rich prize; more than the ore itself, success earns favor in high places. This happened at Auric Kaer, a month after the legend recounted above. With typical Theran overkill, Commanders Amborius and Delarian each moved into the Kaer camp with a maniple, support personnel, and a combat vedette for show. A week later Amborius, stung by his rival's greater success in confiscating mines, shipped in an entire cohort. Overgovernor Tularch soon recalled them both, incensed at the operation's extravagant costs. By then the Imperial troops had looted and destroyed the Auric Kaer site.

Throal: The dwarf kingdom takes one third of all proceeds from everyone leaving the ore camp. Throalic collectors use an effective "iron fist in velvet glove" tactic. Standing before a platoon of soldiers, the collector politely asks to search the miner's person and vehicle. Refusal, or declining to pay the assessed tax, brings no punishment at that time, but as the rebellious miners proceed through the mountains, they get attacked remarkably often. Miners believe the Throalic commanders authorize bandit gangs as privateers. The gangs rob enemies of the state with the kingdom's permission, or at least its benign neglect. To date no one has proved or disproved the allegation.

Sometimes collectors can't find the proceeds they would tax. Miners pay dearly for magical camouflage that evades a collector's own magical detection. Spells of invisibility fetch high prices, as do those that temporarily disguise the ore as some less valuable form. "Yessir, richest lead strike I ever seen. Gray, gray lead! Gets yer excited, don'it? Whut ya mean, `No'?"

The Adventure

"His Honor, the Mayor" is an obsidiman named -- well, his designation among his kind is untranslatable, and so he answers well enough to "Mayor." Having adhered to his Liferock for the last 20 years, the Mayor now detaches himself for another episode of wandering and collecting new experiences to share with the Liferock.

Meeting his old friend Dunnerd Lonk in the company of the adventurers, the Mayor casually mentions the news that more orichalcum ore lies near here, not far beyond the westernmost extent of the old claims. A young obsidiman just returned from his first wandering has sensed the ore, and he passed it along as an interesting piece of trivia. Dunnerd's and the characters' intense interest in this news takes him a bit by surprise, until he recalls the curious ways of the fast folk.

The adventure promises a fortune in orichalcum ore, perhaps a hundred thousand silver for every character -- if they can keep the claim secret long enough to retrieve the ore. Dunnerd's expertise lets them equip and work the claim, but the mere purchase of equipment may be enough to start rumors. If the characters avoid this, Dunnerd's own talkativeness may ruin them. Then there are the travellers through these mountains, more numerous by far than two decades ago.

Eventually the news gets out, and the ore madness descends. Run adventures based on the suggestions above, and then bring in Throal and Thera to argue over the taxes. Can the characters get out with their fortunes intact? More importantly, can they forestall a replay of the bloody outcome of two decades before?

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Copyright ©1994 Allen Varney and Don Webb.

EARTHDAWN, Barsaive, and all Barsaivean names are trademarks of FASA Corporation.

No challenge to these trademarks is intended.