The heroes have fought their way through a swath of enemies in the dungeon, only to find themselves outside the final room—the one that contains a cult leader making vile sacrifices, and all of the cult’s treasure. Exhausted and out of resources, instead of pressing on, the adventurers decide to make camp and sleep for the night before facing the cult leader in the morning—right outside his inner sanctum.
The umbral vampire appears as a pale, exceedingly gaunt humanoid dressed in archaic finery falling to rags. Tangled wisps of hair cling to parchment flesh pulled taut against its skull, and misty strands of darkness leak from its empty eye sockets, yawning nasal cavity, and mouth. Fingers twisted into jagged claws and a permanent rictus grin completes the appearance of undeath. But it is not undead. It is something much worse.
Legends speak of an ancient city whose origins are lost to the ages. Ruled by a cabal of wizards with the power to manipulate the flow of time and stay the hand of death, the inhabitants of this city became immortals. For centuries, citizens dedicated themselves to such enlightened pursuits as art, literature, and the accumulation of knowledge. But mortals weren’t meant to live forever. Without death’s merciful release, the weight of ages pulled their souls down into darkness. Turning to crueler pursuits, these citizens made war on other cities and enslaved entire races purely for entertainment. Legends differ on how their wickedness came to an end. Some say the gods punished them, and others say one of their own wizards despaired at what they had become and destroyed them. In the most well-known version of the tale, the city drowned under the weight of its own sins and passed from the world. Their power broken, the wizards could no longer hold back the ravages of time. The citizens aged centuries in moments but, instead of dying, lingered on in their dark realm.
It’s 9 p.m. on Feb. 15, 1860, a point in time that will change the course of the future—or at least this future, because you can’t change the past. Or can you? Spring Heeled Jack is back, and he is looking for Sir Richard Burton. Not only is this mythical being back from the future, but a blood red snow is falling on London. Meanwhile, while getting assaulted by multiple Spring Heeled Jacks, Burton is hallucinating and he believes someone from somewhere in some time is trying to send him a message. When Burton figures it out, he and the Cannibal Club must organize an expedition through time itself to save the British Empire! God Save the Queen!
Hodder has shown a propensity for blurring the lines between historical fiction, steampunk, and the writings of HG Wells. The Return of the Discontinued Man takes all of the blurring and creates a steampunk mash-up of the movie THX, Pink Floyd’s the Wall, the entire Harry Potter series, and a little Animal Farm into one story. If it is starting to sound confusing and a bit complicated, it is, and it takes Hodder the first hundred pages of the book or so before he actually starts making sense. I have read the other installments in the Burton and Swinburne series, and even with the pervasive theme of time travel, Hodder held things together, but he was very close to losing it on this one.
The odd quirks of spending altogether too much time with a familiar or homunculi and the perils thereof…
“So, dear master, this is the end. The magic jar is readied, and the spellbook is before me, yet still you snore.
“How sad it has to come to this. I only hope my trotter will not hamper my casting. Let the gods of magic and familiars and pig parts be on my side.
“So, goodbye cruel master, prepare to be my slave…”
Although we say it and shouldn’t, this whole master/familiar/follower/companion relationship is odd. It can’t be healthy, spending all that time together; one party giving out all the orders, the other doing exactly as instructed. Surely at some time one party is going to rub off on the other, or worse, rub the other up the wrong way?
The chart below gives you a few suggestions about the quirkier behavior exhibited by familiars and homunculi. It could also, if you wish, be extended to other close relationships such as animal companions, animated undead followers, or animated objects that spend just that little too long in human (or elf or gnome or goblin) company. Some of these traits may not suit particular familiars of followers, adjust them or assign them as you wish.
A gazebo is a curiosity of sorts, and some seek to assign more danger to it than might exist. Why not you? Or perhaps go for frivolous fun. The options are many. You can roll randomly for a result below, use the handy number provided with each entry to figure out your result on a d12. You can also pick the one that works for the area in which your characters currently linger.