The preceding material deals with the basic culture and geography of the Fens — information a player needs to make a Phoenix from the region. All of that material can be useful to you if you’re developing a mission in the Fens, but let’s take a closer look at the story potential of the region.
In making plans for the Fens, a first step is to consider Aeries. Myrn and Baroch both contain Aeries, but Myrn’s is certainly lost and it’s likely that the Baroch Aerie was shut down and heavily vandalized following the Civil War. You could chose to have the Aerie already restored, though the relationship between the people of Baroch and the Aerie staff would likely be strained. Alternately, restoring the Baroch Aerie could be an interesting challenge for a group of Phoenixes: escorting a Flamekeeper to the troubled city, reclaiming the repurposed Aerie, and winning sufficient respect from the locals to ensure that they’ll allow it to remain open would be a few of the challenges the Phoenixes would face. It’s up to you to decide if there are any other Aeries in the region. If so, it’s likely because a place was especially close to the Dusk or otherwise perceived to be especially dangerous… why is that?
The Fens are part of Ilona, and have ties to the traditions found elsewhere in Ilona — notably the Talu families and the House Gods. However, the Fenfolk have clung to their House Gods long after most of the Empire has let them go. The bond beasts are a lesser form of this devotion. These could be worked into story in a number of ways…
- The Fens are fertile ground for cults. The Hunter in Shadows has her assassins, and the Serpent in the Water his vigilantes. But any House God can bring Fenfolk together with secret purpose, and you can create new gods to serve the needs of your story.
- In the legends, the bond beasts are loyal allies… but the Dread twists things. A corrupted beast could be a terrifying threat to a village, and yet the villagers could not want to destroy it because of its ties to the house. Alternately, a sentient beast like Salassa could return, but twisted by the Dread it manipulates its family into doing terrible things. Or perhaps a family is blinded by fear or madness and engages in human sacrifice in the hopes of drawing their bond-spirit back to their beast… but instead they draw something else. All of these stories are stronger if the family and beast in question have a tie to one of the Phoenixes. The Devoted from the Fens grew up hearing stories of Salassa’s wisdom; how will they deal with the twisted serpent threatening their kin? Can the spirit be freed from the corruption of the Dread, or must it be destroyed?
- The bond-spirits of the region are creations of the Heartland Alliance (GftNIM p.162). They require a mortal host to interact with the world. The Dread may have weaponized these spirits. Where previously a bond-spirit might just grant a hound unusual size and strength, these corrupted spirits might turn their hosts into true monsters — skinless beasts bristling with bone spurs and dripping with venom or acid, or worse. Destroying the body of such a beast is a temporary solution, as the spirit will find a new host. It’s up to you to decide how swift this process is; will killing a blood-hound buy a day or a week of safety, or will a new hound rise within hours or minutes? Is a spirit bound to a particular host type, or could the spirit that inhabited the hound shift to a human host?
If you do want to use a House God (GftNIM p. 205), the Fens are an excellent place for it to happen. The Talu have been hoping their gods would return… now one could manifest, claiming the body of a Talu heir. Consider the following ideas.
- The god has appeared in a small community. While it is defending the locals from other manifestations of the Dread, any who dare challenge its actions suffer terrible fates and it grows more tyrannical or paranoid by the day. Is the spirit affected by the Dread? Or is it the influence of the mortal host that’s the problem?
- A Myrai god is traveling with its group of refugees and has helped them establish a haven in a Barochai stumptown. The god is protecting the town as well as its people. This could be about conflict with the increasingly resentful Barochai; can the Phoenixes deal with this conflict before it goes too far? If Myrai are hurt, will the god wreak divine vengeance on the locals?
- Whether in a large or small community, this can also simply be a question of whether the Phoenixes can trust a House God. In all the stories, these are the Talu’s tool of tyranny… yet this god appears to be benevolent, and protecting its people. Baroch has returned to the city that bears his name and seems to be protecting the people. He asks the Phoenixes to take action that will increase its power, so it can better defend the region. Will they aid the House God? Or will they banish it, to avoid any risk of the god becoming a tyrant or turning on the Myrai refugees?
- As noted above, House Gods may have cults. Should Xaria return in a child host body, she may not actually have any desire to command an order of assassins… but the assassins have spent centuries awaiting her return, and they may push the goddess to help them with their apocalyptic schemes.
Bond-spirits and House Gods are just a few of the potential dangers Phoenixes could face in the Fens. Hatred and old violence have seeped into the roots of the Fens, and the deep shadows of the swamp are an excellent place for restless dead. Bones are a simple answer; consider a few possibilities.
- Imperial forces from the Civil War seek to wipe out the Fenfolk, perceiving them as violent rebels. There could even be a shadow of a hostile Phoenix… though the anchor is the spirit of a mortal soldier, and the Phoenix just part of his memories.
- A spectral sect of assassins, carrying out the unfinished mission of a Humanist cultist of Xaria. They’ll target the Phoenixes, and anyone they consider loyal to them — whether this is true (such as the staff of a newly established Aerie) or pure paranoia.
- A Talu force from the days of the Conquest, accompanied by the imagined revenants of bond beasts.
Aside from the bond-spirits and the unquiet dead, there is another force that could be at work in the Fens: The Anima (GftNIM p. 165). This seeks to defeat the Dread by creating new forms of life that can survive it. Its creations could be mistaken for bond beasts, even though they have no tie to spirits or the past; or you could see massive river serpents rising up from the waters, immune to the Dread but posing a terrible threat to all the humans in their way.
This raises one final question: What happened to the city of Myrn? The city was lost and its people slain… or so we assume. Consider a few possibilities…
- The people were taken over by a bond-spirit similar to the Puppeteer (see Mission Five in Guidelines for the Newly Inducted Marshal). The full population has been integrated into a supernatural fighting force. If the spirit has been corrupted, this army might head north and lay siege to Baroch; alternately, they could be holding Myr, and even seem normal at first glance… until you realize they’re the hive-minded vessels of an inhuman spirit.
- The inhabitants of Myrn were transformed by the Anima into some variation of humanity that could survive the Dread. It’s up to you whether these new beings have any memory of their former existence or whether they are entirely inhuman monsters.
- Whether the city was hit by monsters created by bond-spirits or the Anima, there could still be survivors holding out in some parts of the city — perhaps sustained by Myr’s Well — desperately in need of help.
Phoenixes could come to Myrn in search of survivors, but they could also be sent to Myrn to find something vital that was lost. Myrn was the second largest city in the Fens. One of the Marshals could be from the Fens, and need some personal relic recovered from the area. It could be the waters of Myr’s Well are required for an important ritual on Pyre, or that a vitally important mortal was last seen in the city. Whatever the reason, it’s a major city whose people were suddenly lost, and any number of valuable things could remain within.
Next week I’ll add a section about how to incorporate the Fens into Eberron. Until then, I hope this has given you ideas!