Flickerings of Life in the Cold Ash of Death: The Burgs

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Ammet Han'sha (by Chris Murphy)

In a relatively nice (which means only near-unbearable) spot in the Inner Plane of Ash, a body can find the very well defended fortress-city of Ammet Han'sha. It's a particularly odd place, mainly because of the bizarre ash-ships (which look like rather large, thin, wooden wedges seemingly floating through the ash) that grind slowly away from the large, grey walled burg, but also because of its inhabitants, the Tem'mati.

See, the tem'mati (the singular is tem'mat) are a splinter group of githzerai who somehow got to the plane of Ash a very long time ago. They look pretty much like normal githzerai (except for the grey skin that all Tem'mati have), but the similarities end there.

The city itself is large, housing several thousand tem'mati within its walls. The city was constructed on a huge cinder that is very near to a pocket of Water. It is completely surrounded by walls, about twenty feet in length. The buildings inside are very bland and boring, everything about the city is stark and build for function.

Efka Farstrider

Another obvious thing about Ammet Han'sha is that the tem'mati are as chaotic as the githzerai, if not more so. The population is divided into five different Guilds, which completely govern its members but has no control whatsoever over members of other Guilds. There is no central government at all. As you could imagine, disputes (and often outright violence, the tem'mati aren't as loyal to each other as the githzerai) are very common. The city is in a constant state of anarchy, with all the Guilds arguing and fighting over everything. Its a wonder that they still co-operate, all the Guilds have to, or they will effectively die out.

Each Guild has its own areas of expertise and its own duties. The Warriors Guild, the most respected Guild (with the possible exception of the Travellers), is in charge of defending Ammet Han'sha. All its members, male or female, are trained from birth how to fight, lead troops, defend a structure, and other such things to make them totally dedicated to keeping their city safe. The Hunters Guild is in charge of feeding the tem'mati. They go out and kill other things living in the wastes of Ash, and are quite good at it. The Observers Guild is in charge of keeping records and distributing food. The Travellers Guild is in charge with exploring the rest of the plane of Ash, the rest of the planes, and trading with other peoples. A small group of Travellers, the Ash-Treaders, have managed to guide huge, wooden ships through the ash psionically. Nobody really knows how they do it, but it is a very great asset to the Tem'mati's well being. The last Guild (and often thought of as least) is the Caretakers Guild. These poor sods have to take care of the buildings and the city itself, and try to keep order. Given the wall the tem'mati are, "keeping order" means stopping riots.

This city is a blessing to travellers, if you can get past the tem'mati's natural xenophobia. The city has quite a few portals and other ways out, and they can take you to more hospitable, if still fairly isolated, places. Also, if you can somehow convince an Ash-Treader to let you on his ship, you can go to other places in the plane. Why you would want to, is anyone's guess, but in case you did, I hear they really like metal (its kinda rare out there)......

Ashes to Ashes (by Joshua Jarvis)

Everyone knows of the Dustmen's burgs on the negative material planes, but few realize the dead have negative quasiplanar burgs as well. Ashes to Ashes is just such a burg. It's a place origionally set aside to study the effects of cremation on death. After all, who knows how the cycle of true death is affected if the body is burned? This burg is more of a fortress since everything in town is set within a single building. The building is a monumental crematorium made from ashes of the dead that have hardened like stone. Inside the place bodies from the mortuary that seem too appropriate to their studies to dump into the Plane of Fire itself are delivered, including mindless undead who broke the dead pact and those who died truely yet their soul hovers about the body as undead (note, these undead do give permission first so the pact isn't broken, or so they believe) to study how burning changes the cycle of death.

Cinder Mines (by Jon Winter)

Nearer to Fire than most bashers feel comfortable are the Cinder Mines, broiling hot tunnels carved deep into the Ash where glowing shards of everburning fire can be found. These sparks are treasured by the creatures of Ash that prefer heat to cold as they make life a little less unbearable when a basher's got to move through the more frigid regions of the plane. Take them too close to the Negative, however, and they'll be burned out.

Precious though these shards are (and they're used as currency on Ash by creatures who have need of such a thing) the Cinder Mines are very dangerous. Dug into the ash itself, (and despite the fact gravity here is subjective) they're very prone to collapse. Tons of burning embers landing on a berk's head never was the best way to improve on's health, and while the natives can usually tunnel their way free easily enough, the crushing shock of a collapse can easily kill an unprepared cutter. Add to that marauding packs of hungry rast and ash mephits looking to steal shards from miners and you've got a nasty combination. Explore with care!

Cindrek (by Asmos Kithkin)

Character: Cindrek is about the only large town you can find on the plane of Ash that's been established by humans. It's rather dull looking, yet the people reflect the nature of Ash itself: Live greatly and then die out. You see, ashes have only so long to live. They start out as embers of a fire, burning fiercely. When the fire goes however, the ashes die out, becoming cold and lifeless. Such is the life of the natives. These people try living life to its fullest, for one day, our flames will all die down.

Ruler: Halowick Emberson (Planar / male ash genasi / F13 -M9 / CN) is the ruler of this town. Few would challenge him, especially since most are busy making the most of their life. Emberson doesn't enforce absolute law, as life is too short to be boring. Instead, he tries to make sure nobody gets hurt in their constant revelry.

Description: Cindrek is a fair sized city with a few thousand people in it. The natives are primarily human, more sociable ash genasi and sartarin ruvoka, but others that can survive the plane come here as well. The ash genasi usually sell tools and crafts from their homeplane to travellers, but they sometimes get better results trading with wizards. After all, if you want magical components, where else would you go but the inner planes? That's my motto. Do it right or don't do it at all. The houses here are well reinforced with magically enhanced ash walls, courtesy of Felix the Quick, an old friend of mine (Planar / male ash genasi / F10-M16 / CG ).

Despite the dullness of ash, the planar beasts are far from tame and the locals take no chances. The streets aren't any different from the rest of the plane. The locals just don't bother. The circular city has magical lights illuminating it at all times. As one gets closer to the centre of the city it gets darker and darker, until at the centre there is none. There in the town hall, one can find Lord Emberson.

There are few taxes here, and the people try to help each other out. They don't have any opinions on outsiders, and allow them to stay as one of their own if they wish, granted that they remain civil.

Militia: On the Inner Planes, the landscape is often hostile so there is a good deal of militia here to protect inhabitants and travellers. There are dozens of patrols around town and at the borders. The typical patrol consists of 5 troopers (Planar / ash genasi / F1-5 / CN). The leaders of the patrols are usually equipped with some magical weapon, usually a pole-arm.

Services: Cindrek's services tend to lie around pleasure, as the ash genasi tend to spend most of their time indulging in it. The best tavern one can come to here is "The Furnace", a fine establishment run by madame Ferris Coalin (Planar / female ash genasi / B7 / CG). I'm sure Volo would recommend it, if he could endure the plane. The bar caters mostly to ash genasi, though it offers an environment free of the plane's drab appearance. There is always a party going on here, and the food and drinks are both palatable and cheap. A good ale goes for about 7 silver while a hearty meal goes for about 1-2 gold pieces. Ferris also provides information. She has access to much choice gossip as many of the city's most important men come here to get drunk. Ale has a way of loosening a man's tongue, especially in large quantities.

There are various weapon stores here as well, since you'd have to be barmy to go through the Inner Planes without protection. A smithy of note is "The Drake's Claw", run by Jolren Caviron (Planar / male ash genasi / F12 / NG). Jolren forges weapons of great quality made from Ash mined from the heart of the plane. His method of forging these magnificent dark blades remains a mystery to me, but they've saved many a travellers life in a battle. He typically charges 50 gold for a regular longsword, but if you've the jink and the time, he can craft a true masterpiece of a weapon (1d8, +2 versus creatures of elemental Ash, user may breath and walk through ash as a native of the plane, suffering no damage). He rarely makes these weapons and a special price may be demanded, as well as a large sum of gold (2000 minimum).

Finally, there are the services that allow unprotected travellers to walk through the plane unharmed. It's quite annoying when a spell runs out to leave you for dead on a hostile plane, but the natives make sure it won't happen to you. For a price. The stores sell cloaks made from an unknown dark material, but they provide shelter from the heat-leeching nature of the plane and also make normal breathing and sight possible. These cloaks go for about 500 gold each (the natives may be kind, but not stupid) and if money is not readily available, the ash genasi will allow travellers to survive and pay off the debt.

Charcoal Palace (by Jon Winter)

Crafted from pure black carbonised something-or-other, the Charcoal Palace is the home of Yethea, Queen of the Ever-Glittering Embers, Slayer of Flame, Chill Empress of the Hearth, etc, an ash mephit of extravagant taste and proportion. Fatter than most slaad, Yethea devours burning brands and drinks lantern oil like it's going out of fashion, and her retainers, a cowardly bunch of mephits if ever there were, scour the plane looking for fresh foodstuffs for their mistress. If they hear of Outsiders in the region a cutter can bet they'll be paying a visit on the lookout for such morsels.

Yethea fancies herself as the ruler of Ash, and nobody's really sure why she gets away with it. It's a cert, though, that she holds some sort of power over the other ash mephits on the plane, because none of them'll say a word against her. For the most part, the quasielementals ignore her completely, more likely out of derision than fear.

Cold Reality (by Etienne Duval)

Being a burg in Ash to which sods who lost it all face reality in the most brutal way possible...

Character: "I lost everything and I'm starting again with what the multiverse gave me in return! I'm facing reality! I ain't like all those berks up on the Outer who live in fantasy and think belief is reality! I lost it all and I'm building back from the ashes that were left to me. And I ain't got a chip on my shoulder for it like all those other berks who claim they've lost it all and sit and cry all day!" -- Grestaroth, typical citizen

Ruler: There's no proper ruler to this burg, but of course there is a prominent member who're listened to more than most. Seeing that this burg doesn't need and doesn't want a government to help (or interfere) with what the people are doing, it won't take kindly to a body claiming to rule over them. But a blood by the name of Est' A Est (Planar / male pit fiend baatezu / 13 HD (98 hp) / Fated / LE) is listened to more than most. Perhaps because he's a pit fiend or because he's the one to have lost the most, he's pretty much the High Up of the burg. Since he lost all of his armies and territory and three (!) prime material worlds in one feel swoop to his former "friend" (a former pit fiend whose acquisition of ten brand new armies and three prime worlds got him a promotion to Noble), he's been here trying (without any chance of success) to rebuild what he lost. Since he won't accept any offer of help or similar "gifts", it's no wonder he can't amount to anything.

Deep down, Est' A Est is happy not to succeeded for he's certain that should he succeed, another would surely rob him again. He's got a serious confidence problem and any mind-bender could help him -- but who would really go up to a pit fiend and say: "Hey! You know that you've been sabotaging yourself for the past hundred years and I, puny little mortal before you can do what you can't and help you overcome this problem." So Est's condition his not likely to change this millennium. Anyhow, he's always trying to force the Ash quasielementals to follow him and their laughing hasn't improved his self image. Est' doesn't concern himself with the burg because they surely wouldn't follow him.... Of course, this doesn't show to the average blood who'd only see a high-up baatezu in exile and hiding.

Behind the Throne: There's nobody here that would even try to manipulate a pit fiend (they don't know how he's feeling and he's still as smart as ever and his claws haven't dulled....). And the burg's population is to individualistic to be organised enough to be manipulated as a whole.

Description: This place is for the sod who lost it all and decides to face reality in the most brutal way. But it's a lie berk! The dark of it is that all here are trying to give themselves an excuse not to try again. See, around here there ain't much to work with and so they can't fail or lose again since there ain't anything to fail at or lose. Every thing around here has already been lost, it's been burnt and there ain't anything but ash left.

The centre of town is built pretty much like one would expect in such a place as Ash: it's built on and from the solid ash and lies in a big hollow sphere upon which any surface can be stood and so the few building in this area are littered about this big hole in the plane. A very interesting and important feature is a leafy plant they called Ai'ogoth (from some prime tongue meaning life from the ashes). The plant looks like a great vine that clings to Air and forms huge spheres criss-crossed with their stems and leaves. The stem is a deep royal blue while the leaves are dark red-brown making a it a truly beautiful creature. This plant is exceptional in that in survives in ash and it gives off fresh air! Needless to say that anybody cutting down one of these is in for a hot time despite the cold!...

But this part of the burg ain't the busiest part; it houses only a few people, between 20 and 100 heads depending on the frequency of the raids this past month. The real city is scattered around the hole and is connected by a few (2-20) tunnels around the surface of the sphere.

Unlike most burgs who have streets and houses... well, dwellings, that are lined up around the first, Cold Reality is more like a watchers (prairie dogs) warren and to get to a certain point, you have to pass by a certain tunnel that leads to a certain somebodies house. See, it goes like this, people here don't want any help and so they think they have to live alone or at least not directly in the "city" and so they all dig up their little in the plane around the sphere. But it ain't all people who want to dig up from scratch (sure they want to make it on their own but it's hard work and not all are fit for digging this Ash stuff...).

This is helped by the fact that dwellers weren't too keen on having holes every which way they turned lead to people making friends (or at least temporary partners) to dig up homes. And so peoples' homes have been adding up in different tunnels at different intervals and none of them even considers connecting the close ones (it's hard to know where's your future neighbour's house is in a pile of ash....) together. This makes this burg probably one of the toughest to navigate in the multiverse, 'cause you've got to use private roads all the time, and most people here don't take to kindly to strangers just walking, slithering or whatever in their personal work. The easiest way to meet somebody here is to stick in the sphere and literally wait for them to come out. So be prepared to wait.... That's for layout, but what's going on, what's where and what's here?

With typical mortal determination and grit, the citizens of this place have managed to eke out a living and most of the more recently arrived (they won't say it and don't say it to them) profiting from their "cadets" darks, have been able to do something else than trying to survive the plane. Since it's just at the right distance from Fire to be comfortable for mortals. Don't think it's like Elysium though, the cold here will freeze off any part that's not carefully covered up but the plane doesn't absorb the heat quite as much. Magical protection isn't needed and fires give about a third of the heat they would on a Prime world. And if they have the ai'ogoth to give fresh air. And so, if you can get here, you can probably live here and it makes it a beautiful resting spot for the wary planewalker. Fortunately (in the residents view) rare are the few who know of this place.

Getting back to what they do with their free time. Remember, this a place where folks come who want to start again, so once they're here, they start doing what they did back before. But the major problem that any native of Ash faces, is there's no material to work with but ash. See, most of the sods who wound up in this place worked with wood and let me tell you this: if you're looking for a nice piece of wood to carve in Ash you're in the wrong place! The outcome of this little dilemma was cunning craftsmen learned to work the ash itself. This has led to great works of art of ash, truly a sight to behold! Cutters found ways of making it hard as stone and the masters at it can make it hard as steel (especially Galano'an, he's a spell slinger of no small power). Homes are made of the stuff and those who can are starting to make the ground this hard. (Now, being always the practical basher, I wonder if I could persuade Steelmar, that's a smith I drank with a few times, to make me arrows of the colder ash...?)

Seeing that they have an endless supply of material, homes are, for those who can manage it or pay for it, great works of art. The interiors are usually comfortable (if chilly) and practical (remember these are bashers who work hard, even by Bytopian standards). Usually, covering every wall and floors is a necessity if you want to be able to take off your shoes without catching frostbite. The beds are pilled with furs and anything that remotely warm and many sleep with their clothes on. Every house has its ai'ogoth in a special room full of holes to connect it to the other rooms. Food is never cooked here since it freezes up before you can eat it and consists mainly of an animal cleverly named the "ash whale" because it lives in Ash and... it looks like a prime whale (such originality!) "Drinks" are stored individually and then heated to a slush like consistency before serving, and are most often sap from a ai'ogoth which is harvested exclusively from personal growth. Hot drinks just aren't worth the price!

Another interesting trait about the people here is their open indifference to people's troubles. If they see another struggle with a heavy bag, no one will try and help him. See it's the mind of the viewer that they wouldn't want to be helped without asking and so they return the favour. Thing is, people are happy with this... But if one does ask for help, it's considered bad form to refuse but politeness obliges the helper to keep on saying that it must be impossible to do since he needs his help and he knows how independent he is, etc... Asking for help is the equivalent of begging for a living in Bytopia in regards to social status.

Since this is such a (relatively speaking) nice spot, other groups of creatures have started to gather up.... And one of them seees the place as a very pleasant place to own... A powerful ash genasi fighter got hold of a medallion that lets him charm monsters and he's "recruited" quite a few hordes of rast, with which he has a special affinity, around himself. Why he won't enter the town as a peaceful citizen is still dark, as is his presence to all but three townsfolk (and two have left). All folks know is that rasts seem to be attacking every second step since a week. Many folk have left trough a portal not to far away with the help of a few friendly ash quasielementals rejoiced in seeing mortals leaving their plane and sorry to see that not all were leaving. Currently, the towns population is of 37 in the Sphere part and 200+ (who knows exactly) in the Warrens. Most people in the Warrens haven't been attacked while those who were in the rasts' way to reach the Sphere are either gone or lost. (There's plenty of interesting stuff to find in there if a basher ain't got too strong a moral code...)

Now that you've heard about it and had time to let it turn in your head for a little while (unless you ain't read what I wrote), why are most bashers here former wood workers? See, it goes like this: when sods see their shops go up in flames and they truly feel they lost everything and they got this ultimate conviction that they'll start again from the ashes if they have to, sometimes the smoke and falling ashes become a portal. It's like the falling ash creates a great portal and the will to start again from scratch is the key. And, apparently, since blacksmiths workshops tend to ignite rather well too there's quite a few smiths as well. Most are workers since otherwise, it would be lost dreams they would mourn, not lost work and material. Curiously, no prime as ever been "brought" here this way. Probably has to do with the planar malleability of the Outer planes or some such.

Services: The greatest service here is crafted ash. It can be sold for a hefty purse to the right buyer in the Cage and if my friend accepts my request, it can't be to long before another basher gets the idea and we might be looking at a new export.

Food and drink can be purchased along with a bed in the only (nameless) Inn of the place with the only inscription "Outsiders here" with an arrow pointing to the door. The Inn is mostly a drinking place and has only three rooms and no stables.

Trade is conducted on an individual basis and they don't want to make the towns presence known and so they trade almost exclusively with other citizens in the Sphere. They really dig their own graves deep!

Ember (by Jon Winter)

A massive elemental pocket of Fire in Ash, Ember is a thriving burg filled with all manner of creatures. Efreet exiles, young fire mephit thrillseekers who fancy a jaunt off-plane, ash creatures sick of the numbing chill and planewalkers who've got protection from flames but not from cold are the most common bloods found here. A handful of taverns thrive here, most catering solely to creatures of Fire, among them the infamous Hearth at Night, the Chimney and the Flaming Wight.

Chant goes that Ember is slowly shrinking as the Negative claims the flames for Ash. Naturally, the locals ain't keen to lose their home, and they've tried many enchantments to halt or reverse this decay. Unfortunately, the chant continues, it hasn't worked, and has even increased the rate of consumption! There's clearly an opening here for an inspired cutter to clean up, as the worried locals reckon they've got only another 5 years before buildings on the edge of the fire bubble are destroyed. Perhaps an alleigance with the mage Stoke of Rekindle is on the cards, but nobody's holding their breath on that. A better bet, perhaps, would be some sort of flaming artifact. Alas no basher the town have hired to find one ever returned...

Rekindle (by Jon Winter)Stoke of Rekindle

Deep in the heart of Ash a fire genasi, Stoke Ignitio (Pl / male fire genasi / W8 / N) has gathered an unwilling army of "volunteer" fire creatures to aid her in a strange project. Fire mephits and at least one magically geased fire elemental are attempting to relight the plane of Ash to full flame and return it to the glory of the Crematorium. Apparently Stoke has invented a magical fluid so flammable that even burnt-out ash can be restored to a blazing vigour.

What the natives of Ash think of her project ain't known, but the fact that much of Stoke's attention is devoted to fending off attacks from angry ash mephits suggests someone ain't happy. Strangely, the ash quasielementals are silent on the subject. Some observers reckon they remember the times when Ash was warmer, and they're sick of the chill.

Stoke's project is funded by an efreeti high-up or three who're all keen on expanding their territories into Ash. Chant goes Stoke's playing the three off against each other, and if that's true it's a dangerous game indeed...

Smouldering Rage (by Adam Reeve)

Burning hatred, white-hot passion, and the heat of battle eventually cool, leaving nothing but a shadow of their memory and the consequences of actions taken. But like a smouldering campfire, the heat is not completely gone, and sometimes, either through slow, careful prodding or in a sudden burst, the flames can spring back to life, brighter and hotter than before.

This is Smouldering Rage, a remote town on the Plane of Ash. It's located very near the border to the Plane of Fire, and so the heat-draining effects of the plane are greatly lessened here, making the air temperature cold, but not unbearable, and also generally quite stable (see below). The town is not particularly large, housing only about 3,000 people at any given time, and it rests on a huge slab of solidified lava, which drifted over the border from the Plane of Fire aeons ago. The building are all one story tall, and are almost exclusively built from the same lava rock on which the town rests.

Upon entering the village for the first time, visitors immediately begin to feel Smouldering Rage's calming effect. Instead of the usual "body-heat" draining effects that are found elsewhere on the Plane of Ash, the unique properties of this town drain the "emotional-heat" of its inhabitants. Passion, hatred, anger, ambition, and even love are all gradually drained. While the effect is similar, perhaps, to that found on the Gray Waste, it is missing the erosion of hope and dreams that accompanies that evil plane.

This does not mean that the inhabitants of the town are completely emotionless, however. The "calming", as it is referred to by the natives, makes this a fairly pleasant place to visit, actually. People forgive each other quickly, because they forget their anger even quicker than it arises. Priests administer but do not preach or convert, for their religious zeal has been quelled. Would-be conquerors or despots quickly lose their ambition and drive for power. It is a town of tolerance of peace, not so much because the people wish it that way, but because they cannot muster up the emotion to change it.

Not everything about the town is so pleasant, of course. Merchants can still bilk travellers, and natives may be rude, obnoxious, or downright mean if they so choose. And just because the natives cannot maintain high emotional states does not mean they don't remember incidents that would normally incite them. They are still as sentient as ever, even if they have limited ability to experience or display strong emotions. They have extremely good memories, and tend to carry long grudges, even if they never do get worked up enough to act on them.

The natives of the town are a mixed bunch. In addition to simple descendants of other natives ("A-yup! Ah lived muh whole life right here in dis here town."), many townsfolk are those who chose to migrate the town because of the "calming", in order to escape burning passions inside them that threatened to consume them. Similarly, there are also those who were banished to the town by others, in the hopes that the "calming" would put an end to their burning passions. And, of course, there are those who are simply refugees, saved from the eternal chill of Ash by happening to stumble across the town.

But all this can change in a flash. Being near the border to the Plane of Fire, Smouldering Rage is particularly susceptible to the flux of energies commonly found near the borders. The "Burning Wind" is a surge of energy from the Plane of Fire that enters the town as an extremely hot, dry wind. The temperature of the town skyrockets, often hitting 120 degrees F for extended periods of time. But the effect this wind has on the inhabitants is the real problem. The heat also serves to inflame all the passions, hatreds, and ambitions that have been carefully nurtured since the last "Wind". Violence frequently erupts in the streets, and the slightest provocation is enough to send even the most stoic and controlled of people into a complete rage. And then as quickly as it came, the "Burning Wind" leaves. The time frame is unpredictable. It will sometimes last 10 minutes, sometimes (rarely, thank heavens!) 10 weeks. And the frequency of the surges is just as random. It could be a hundred years between occurrences, or only a matter of days...

The primarily resources available in the town are weapons and art. The natives know that "their day will come", and they intend on being prepared. Most natives have a weapon or three stashed away somewhere, and in times of "calm" may be particularly agreeable to trade or sell them. The art of the town is, predictably, primarily carved lava rock and lava glass. The great abundance of the workable, attractive material attracts many renowned sculptors to the town, and although their passion for their work may suffer, their skill and creativity remain in top form.

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Inner Planes

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Copyright 1999, text by various authors,
graphics by Jon Winter and Jeremiah Golden

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