On a remote island in the distant West, in an ever-shifting city on an inescapable island, unwilling warriors compete for the ultimate prize. Kill your rivals in this bloody free-for-all, and the deathlord known as Eight Eyes Ending will reward you with immortality and power. Refuse to play the game, and you’ll end up as prey. There’s more going on here than meets the eye, though – not everyone is here to be a deathlord’s entertainment. Some have games of their own in mind. Will you be their pawn, or break free?
Once this island’s name was Vello’s Folly. It was named for a sorcerer from long ago who raised it from the depths of the Wyld. Some manner of dare or contest was involved; beyond that, little is known. The few who have visited the island since then found that the city’s name was Athanor, and so now this arc of land is called Athanor Isle.
Athanor Isle is a crescent-shaped island about five kilometers from east to west and two kilometers from north to south. At the center of the crescent is a smaller island, as if a volcano had erupted long ago and blown most of the island to smithereens. Since the land was dragged whole from the Wyld, this seems more likely to be just an artistic touch. A new volcano seethes on the western side of the isle. The center of the island is a dense rain forest that gives way to palms near the shoreline.
Days are humid. Nights are warm. A few freshwater streams come from springs on the volcano or from deep beneath the island’s one small lake. The trees grow all manner of fruits, some of them edible, some of them poisonous. Game is plentiful and unafraid of humans. If not for current events, this could be a tropical paradise, and it will be easy for most contestants to find the food and water they need to survive – as long as they’re willing to be in close proximity.
On the northern coast is the city of Athanor, an ever-changing metropolis that once housed tens of thousands of people. The city’s name is declared on various plaques and archways. It now sits empty, its buildings only standing because of the ancient automata that maintain them. Each night the buildings shift, slowly, as the city moves into a new formation. If there is a pattern to this, it is difficult to discern. A deep rift descends from the city to its underbelly, an infrastructure full of ladders, pipes, gears, and chains that move continuously. One could hide forever here, if one were willing to be cornered.
The island is surrounded by coral reefs, close enough to the surface that they are a major navigational hazard. This is currently compounded by the dark storm clouds and gale-force winds that whip over the sea around the island. Shipwrecks and debris litter the coastline.
(Normally this would be a section entitled “The People of…”, but this island is deserted. Not even ghosts remain.)
The ever-moving buildings and sliding corridors that once made Vello’s Folly an amusing puzzle and vacation spot now make Athanor a deathtrap. The nearby currents and winds have been bound with sorcery and warped by darkness. Ships cannot leave. Those that come are dashed against the reefs. Even sorcerous transport is turned back toward the isle.
Into this trap, a handful of the Chosen arrived. A woman with a spider mask appeared in the darkening skies, amid wind and thunder, and spoke:
“Welcome, Chosen of the gods, to the city of Athanor. Through the winds of fate I have brought ten of you here. Only one will leave this island alive.”
“Each of you has great power. Each of you needs more. I offer you that power. I offer you immortality. Whomever of you kills the others will be rewarded with life everlasting, to the end of the world and beyond. Those who die will serve me in the underworld.”
By the time the player characters arrive, the other “contestants” have been here for three days. The PCs’ ship runs aground, battered and ruined. The first casualty of this mad event lies before them. They have no idea what lies ahead.
The best ways to run Athanor Isle are as a long one-shot, a convention game, a short campaign, or the start of a longer game. Dropping a circle of existing characters into this scenario would probably be frustrating for them, though some groups might enjoy it.
This is primarily because the scenario here requires explicit buy-in from the players. All of the players should be directly told, “We’re going for a particular kind of story today. You’re going to be trapped on an island, fighting for your lives against awful, power-hungry people. You should play someone whose skills would be useful in this kind of scenario.” In particular, sailing away from the island in the middle of the contest is not part of the story. Be clear with the players: “It makes sense for your character to try building a boat and sailing away, so I’ll let you do it if you want. However, if you do, we’re going to skip past it and get to the part where you end up washed up on the shore again.” Don’t bother to set a difficulty rating. If you’re not explicit about this, your PCs will likely go through every trick they can imagine to leave the island rather than being forced into this deathtrap. Saying “No” to them repeatedly is going to be less fun for everyone. Have this discussion before they make or select their characters.
Survival rolls made on the island to find food or shelter should be made at difficulty 1 if the characters are willing to tolerate the presence of others, or 3 if they’re trying to avoid other contestants. Increase the difficulty for both by +1 when in the city. Botches may indicate having to contend with diseased shelters or poisoned food.
Objects and artifacts left behind with dead contestants will disappear overnight if no one is watching them – stolen by mindless ghosts serving the deathlord. Only the body will remain. These ghosts will not fight for their goods; they’ll disappear wailing into the ground instead. It is very likely that anyone left unburied overnight will rise as a hungry ghost and be co-opted by Eight Eyes Ending, or possibly by Pain.
Follow this link to a page that will generate new random maps of Athanor any time you need them, but don’t describe the maze turn-by-turn. Treat navigating the city as an Intelligence + Lore roll, with more successes (up to 5) indicating less time spent being lost. If characters are chasing one another through the city, use a Lore roll to set the maximum result your side can get from Athletics rolls during the chase. Be generous in letting characters substitute, say, Investigation or Craft (Architecture) for the Lore roll.
If the PCs go looking for a shadowlands, to “escape” into the Underworld or find the deathlord, there should probably be a single small one on the island. Naturally, that’s where Eight Eyes Ending and her war ghosts will spend more time. If you want to encourage an early confrontation, make the shadowlands easier to find, perhaps at the bottom of the giant crack in the city. If you want to avoid that battle, tuck the shadowlands quietly away in a hard-to-find place, like in one of the buildings in the city’s maze or hidden elsewhere on the island.
Using the Characters
Each of the characters in this setting has a strong reason to kill at least one other character on the island, and probably two of them. The player characters, on the other hand, will more likely unite with one another. The relationship map shows how you can put together the NPCs into circles that can rival a group of starting combat-ready Solars. If you want to play out a free-for-all battle to the death between player characters (and the players are ok with that), they should probably each have multiple characters or be willing to pick up an NPC and play it for the rest of the scenario.
Nearly all of the characters in Athanor Isle would make excellent antagonists in another campaign. They’re all, at minimum, misguided and violent. Several of them are the sort of sadistic bullies that end up toadying for major villains. These people have issues. It should be easy to use one or more of them as antagonists or misguided characters in your own game.