Allen Varney, Writer and Traveler



When a t'skrang troubadour learned that orks had marketed their legends to the Librarians, she imitated them with zeal. The orks had stolidly recited their small stores of tales, collected fair pay, and departed. In contrast, this t'skrang's repertoire seemed endless, replenishing itself while our funds lasted. The dubious authenticity of her tales led to the Library's current "never pay" policy. [NOTE: This policy prevailed through Vertius's life, but the current administration makes infrequent exceptions. --Ed.]

I have spent many a pleasant leisure hour collecting these characteristic (and, I must stress, authentic) tales from the Library's own volumes of t'srkang folklore.

How S'slatrang Escaped

We generally assume that the freewheeling, rowdy ways of the t'skrang are completely natural and unaffected behavior. However, the Library holds a few volumes of what are known as "exemplary novels," books pretending to be autobiographical reminiscences. I have seen adolescent t'skrang ardently study these as guides to living well.

Among the most popular of these novels is The Life and Loves of S'slatrang. Here I extract the fictitious hero's famous escape from Warlorn Prison in the heart of the Theran Empire.

I observed that the roof of the next wing lay three spans beneath the tiny window of my cell. It offered a long, fairly flat surface. I couldn't see where it went but knew it led away from imprisonment, and that was enough to know. When I got to the roof, an idea would come. As it says in the hatchling tale, "Nothing like pressure to focus the mind."

My keeper, a dimwitted ogre, had found employment as a guard well-suited to his savage nature. I began to verbally assault the simpleton every day. Normally I would not resort to the crudeness of a racial joke, but, speaking in all candor, I was desperate.

On the first day I asked him if he knew how many ogres it took to light a torch. When he heard the answer, he picked up my dinner tray and smashed it to flinders. Actually he was trying to smash me, but of course I evaded him easily.

The second day I asked him if he knew how to spot the bride at an ogre wedding. Upon hearing the answer, he smashed my slop bucket.

The third day I asked him what was red, white, blue, yellow, and green. The answer so infuriated him that he demolished my bed.

The fourth day I asked him why ogre men carry big sticks. The only thing in the cell the ogre had left to grab (besides me) was my window frame. No sooner had he pulled it from the wall than I dove through the opening, somersaulted on my way down, and landed on the roof below. I paused to ask my furious captor the difference between ogres and windling droppings. Then, dodging the fast-flying arrows of 20 elf archers, I leapt from the prison's battlements and ran with all my might. I like to think he ponders the riddle to this day.

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Artistry Counts

Again, this comes from The Life and Loves of S'slatrang:

Earlier I remarked that every aspiring swordsman should learn some fine art, whether poetry, painting, or merely paper-folding. Such skills not only amuse the ladies, but ever remind oneself of the finer things of life. I have no small skill as a painter, and want to share with you the story of my finest portrait.

The Theran emperor, distraught at the extent to which I had disrupted his profitable slave trade, put a sizable reward on my head. One night, fleeing from his special patrols, I secreted myself in a tree above the panting guardsmen. One of the winded Therans, pausing below, remarked that if the emperor would only put my picture out along with a reward, then within days my "underworld cronies" would turn me in.

"My picture?" I thought. "A capital idea!"

The next day I collected my pigments, bought a stretched canvas and other artists' supplies (having obtained the money during the adventure of the previous night) and made way to the garrison's fortress. I had taken a mere moment to paint a few of my scales gray so as to appear aged. I presented myself to the sentries as Gnartalas, an artist in the emperor's employ, and said he had ordered me there to provide a portrait of that impudent felon S'slatrang. At first they were suspicious of a t'skrang artist rather than a Theran, but I pointed out that it takes one to paint one. This made sense to them, indicating the sloth of the bureaucratic mind.

I did a wonderful portrait of myself, handsome rogue as I was then. I had them call in copyists, and soon my smiling face hung at every street corner. I even arranged with a helpful windling to send a copy home to my devoted mother, that she would know her young fared well.

The following day I collected the reward on my own head, but I leave that story until later.

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Yssar's Witch-Boat

The t'skrang narrative called Yssar N'ts S'tat, describing the witch Yssar, has long been regarded as mere folklore, but recently variants have been discovered among certain troll tribes. Although this may merely represent cultural diffusion, perhaps Yssar does exist.

In the days before the Scourge lived a great witch named Yssar. Older than the memory of grandmother's grandmother was Yssar. Her houseboat, the Blighted Rose, appeared from time to time on the Great River. Her cruelty and fierceness were legendary. She ate new-hatched young and boiled t'skrang alive. Many were the t'skrang in the old days who saw her fly across the sky riding a giant fish skeleton, or shuddered at the Rose's lanterns of t'skrang skulls.

She had a pet alligator gar twenty spans long, and it could swallow a small boat whole. She had a pet vulture with a wingspan as wide as the gar, and it could carry off a horse and rider both. Worst of all, she had a pet monkey that was always just a bit better with a sword than the fool who attacked it. If you could fight past this fearsome crew, Yssar would invite you to play cassery, with cassery cards made from t'skrang scales. If you cheated and won, she would answer any three questions you could think of. She knew almost everything, but you had to ask nicely.

Most of the riverfolk thought she died during the time of the Horrors. Now some claim to have seen her at the prow of her fearsome houseboat, sitting on a chair made from the bones of assorted Horrors.

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Wise Fish and Stupid Fish

This hatchling's tale illustrates the t'skrang admiration of cleverness. Sometimes the story appears as T'skrang-Fish and Elf-Fish.

Wise Fish and Stupid Fish swam in their pond. Shadows of fisher-folk passed overhead. "We must prepare ourselves." said Wise Fish. "T'skrang come to catch us in nets."

"I do not think so. Perhaps they are just fish watchers, and in any event I can swim faster than a t'skrang."

"No, they use nets that close off the pond and easily catch such large fish as you and I," said Wise Fish.

"I fear no slow-moving breathers," said Stupid Fish. "I will go sleep on the bottom and save my strength for when it is needed." Stupid Fish swam away and went to sleep.

Soon weighted nets dropped into the water. Wise Fish swam down to the bottom, yelling at Stupid Fish to wake up. Wise Fish would have been afraid, but he knew the Two True Sayings: "Panic solves nothing" and "Nothing matches pressure to concentrate the mind."

So Wise Fish swallowed the nastiest lump of mud he could find. Then he turned belly-up and let himself float to the surface. A fisherman pulled him out of the water, smelled the foul mud, and threw him onto the grass, saying, "Oh, dead and rotted."

Then the men caught Stupid Fish. He fought hard, but was no match for a net. When they left, Wise Fish slithered back down to the water. He lives there today.


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The player characters hire on to crew the airship Rainstorm on an expedition to mine Elemental Fire over the Death's Throat Sea. There they meet a fellow hand, the t'skrang L'satra, an aspiring merchant princess who has left the Serpent River to pursue greater fortune -- so far without luck.

According to her, some t'skrang revere the Mad Passion Vestrial even now in his madness, but most t'skrang recall fondly the earlier era of his sanity. It was the trickster Passion, she says, who bound Death under the Death's Throat Sea. She tells them the legend:

The Tale

Once, before green life came to Earth, all was molten and pliant. In this crucible the Passions worked their wills. Yet as each Passion began to create a new world, the Thirteenth Passion exercised her Power and ended it.

"The other Passions gathered in a small corner of the universe and decided that if their work was to continue, Death must be weakened. They knew they could not kill Death, for Death alone had the power to kill. However, they reasoned that she could be weakened, and the potential of rebirth might arise while Death was so weakened. Each Passion spoke of her plans, but all feared Death. Perhaps she could slay even the Passions themselves, so that the objective universe manifested them no more.

Therefore Vestrial said, "I will create a place to weaken her, a chthonic region. It will hold her because it is a grave."

"What is a grave?" they asked.

"A special container for the dead. If I bury Death first, we will have eons to try our hand at creation. Who knows? After strange eons, the death of Death may die."

So Vestrial created a bubble in the molten world, and he called to Sister Death.

"I have fashioned a wonder for you. I call it `grave.' It holds dead things. This place can hold all that you kill."

Death said to him, "O my brother, you alone understand me. What I kill, I value as treasure. I only kill what I love. Thank you for this."

Vestrial said, "But my creation has two problems. One, I must get the other Passions to agree that graves hold the dead. Help me gain their say on this."

So Death went to the other Passions. They agreed that graves hold the dead, and what the Passions agree to becomes law.

Then Death asked about the second problem. Vestrial said, "I have no dead for my enclosure, sister. Could you just lie there, so I can know I fashioned it correctly?"

Death did so. Then Vestrial said, "You are Death; therefore you belong to yourself. What belongs to you is dead. Graves hold the dead. Therefore my enclosure holds you." And he sealed the grave.

There Death lies until the will of the Passions dies.

The Adventure

Life aboard the vessel offers the heroes various torments. The air burns their throats; the heat draws perspiration from their pores and evaporates it instantly. One dark night on the voyage, on watch beneath a black-clouded sky lit by heat lightning on the horizon, the parched heroes overhear suspicious words between two crew members who should be asleep.

These sailors, disguised assassins of the Hand of Corruption, have infiltrated the Rainstorm in an attempt to free Death from the Death's Throat Sea. The try can take either of two forms:

1. The Hand may hope to break the surface of the lava sea by blowing up the Rainstorm. The pair have seized the ship's entire stock of Elemental Water, a small orichalcum barrel, and plan to drop it all at once. This overload, many times more than the ship would ordinarily use in its Fire mining, triggers a tremendous explosion. It rends the lava surface. Though it does not free the captive Death, it does severely injure the ship, unless the heroes can stop the assassins.

2. A more complex and dramatic scheme coordinates half a dozen ships in a common rendezvous far out on the Sea. The Hand has captured questors of all 12 Passions. It plans to coerce them to summon all the Passions in a massive ritual over the flaming sea; then the assassins will compel the questors to speak a text: "The Sea no longer holds its prisoner." This, they hope, will change the Passions' original compact and release Death. Just in case, they plan to drop a freight of Elemental Water to the flames, as in option 1.

The heroes may defeat the Hand before the rite, or they may try to cope with the deluded assassins after the rite fails. At that point, in their desperation, the fanatics grow still more dangerous.


When Elemental Water contacts Elemental Fire, the resulting explosion inflicts Step 30 damage at the point of impact and in a radius (in yards) equal to the number of ounces of Water used. For example, four ounces of Water would explode at Step 40 in a four-yard radius. The radius is called the "Step increment."

Farther from the explosion, damage falls by 1 step for each Step increment in yards. In this example, the explosion would do Step 29 damage at 4-8 yards, Step 28 at 8-12 yards, and so on. In borderline cases, inflict the lesser damage. Shields do not protect against this damage, but Physical Armor does.

In this encounter the Hand of Corruption tries to drop a barrel containing 30 ounces of Elemental Water. The ship routinely rides 100 yards above the Death's Throat Sea, and so would suffer Step 27 damage if all the Water explodes. The ship hull has Physical Armor 9 and a Damage Rating of 30 (see "Barriers and Structures" on page 209 of the Earthdawn rulebook). The explosion would not destroy it; however, the crew must immediately work to rescue it from listing and heeling over into the lava. The Hand will work against them, if the explosion has not conveniently blown them overboard.

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Copyright ©1994 Allen Varney and Don Webb.

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