Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Black Smoke in Wermspittle

Black Smoke!" he heard people crying, and again "Black Smoke!" The contagion of such a unanimous fear was inevitable...
The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells

Black Smoke in Wermspittle
Deadly stuff. It can burn you to cinders, destroy your respiratory system, char your skin to ash, or kill you with just a single inhalation. Dense and heavy, Black Smoke coils and judders as it moves, somewhat between a miasmic jelly and a vaporous blot of ink. Survivor testimony, often hysterical at the time it was taken down, asserts that the Black Smoke has a tendency to move against the prevailing wind, as if it had something approximating a mind of its own. Most reputable experts strenuously refute and revile such claims as utter rubbish and nonsense. In any case, thanks to the tireless work of the Society for the Propagation of Independent Veridical Observer Testimony and their nearly ubiquitous little yellow pamphlets, even a small child can recite the Three Things Everyone Needs To Know about the Black Smoke:
1) It always sinks downwards, settling as it spreads, and never rises;
2) The only protection against the Black Smoke is water (preferably steam);
3) It kills everything it touches, sooner or later.
One might also add a fourth item to these grim facts: The Black Smoke has changed the face of modern warfare immeasurably.

Military Applications of Black Smoke
Gdalsk, Baltrim, Zugosh; major cities or small towns alike, they have all been depopulated and decimated by Black Smoke dropped upon them by airships, fired into their midst by rockets, or unleashed from the trenches by way of mortars, pigeons or kits. Black Smoke has become a pernicious and insidious scourge upon all the lands North of the Yellow Wall. If anything, the rapid collapse of the old social order and the decline of contemporary civilization can be attributed as much to Black Smoke as to any other pox, pestilence or plague, be it man-made or naturally occurring.

Battlefields, embankments and encampments, as well as many of the mass grave-sites left in the wake of older battles, are all prime locations to encounter unexploded ordnance, left-over mines and booby-traps, as well as lingering traces and pockets of Black Smoke. During the Third Pruzt-Franzik War contra-sappers flooded the Pruztian trenches with Black Smoke. In the course of The Eleven Year War Ysparric forces unleashed an experimental Black Smoke weapon that somehow ignited and flared into a fiery maelstrom that completely destroyed Old Urskibar, literally burning it more than a hundred feet into the ground in places. The Coastal States were so devastated by aerial bombardment by cannisters of Black Smoke that more than half of them have been abandoned, the blackened bones of the dead left to lie where they fell.

Black Smoke quickly became a standard, indeed often times the preferred response to tunneling, fortifications, trenches and so forth. It proved hellishly effective in dispersing mobs, quelling riots, and de-populating occupied areas with minimal loss of life on the part of those inflicting it upon their targets. It didn't take long for practically every side to have some version or iteration of Black Smoke to lob back at their enemies. Not satisfied with fickle clouds of the deadly stuff, every major military weapons-making factory, arsenal, and armaments manufacturer began to experiment, modify and refine Black Smoke, producing several forms of bombs, mines, mortar-shells and even anti-personnel weapons meant for use by the common soldier in the field. Old Zindri fire-lances were taken from museum displays and re-fitted with pellets of Black Smoke. Kojran 'incense-burners' were adapted to emit streams of Black Smoke. The raw, oily form of the stuff was introduced into hollow bullets, even arrows and crossbow bolts. Warfare escalated through the unthinkable into brave new worlds of destructive capabilities no one had really ever expected or prepared for...and the price for this has proven terrible, truly terrible.

No effective apparatus has been developed to defend against the Black Smoke, other than the use of water in moats or spray-devices, hoses, buckets or sprinkler-systems and relying upon the devilish stuff's tendency to quickly form a gritty scum on contact with water. The Sewer Militia are known to utilize steam, both in peculiar-looking pressurized gun-type arrangements as well as bulky steam-bombs, but such weapons have proven far more bulky and unwieldy than they have proven useful. Most old-timers and other veterans prefer multiple canteens, spigot-pouches and any spell that will repel vapors over the mechanical marvels of modern military engineering. But then the Sewer Militia does tend to deal with a lot of Secondhand Smoke in the Near Deep and below.

Other Applications of Black Smoke
Black Smoke has been blamed for effectively killing-off more than two-thirds of Eastern Civilization. It is a horrific weapon of indiscriminate destruction. Deadly in the extreme. So of course people have been trying to harness it, blunt it, convert it into something more manageable, more productive. Especially experimental investigators and philosophers of the unnatural. Most especially spell-casters.

There are several spells currently available on the market that purport to Repel Black Smoke, but most of these are cheap knock-offs of Avert Vapors or Disperse Gasses, and are only superficially attuned or focused upon Black Smoke. The most common wards offered by the Jaladari and others are the so-called Nebrin Sponges and the more expensive Condensative Coin, both of which have the unfortunate tendency to attract the Black Smoke even as they absorb a set quantity, converting it into a dry, compressed, almost charcoal-like consistency...it's the rest of the Black Smoke these things attract that is not absorbed that presents a problem. Of course the peddlers just shrug and offer to sell you a few extra. Jut in case.

Several varieties of deadly inks have been rendered from Black Smoke, the best quality coming from the raw oil itself, the cheaper grades being derived from extracts of the powdery residue. Only one golem is known to have been made utilizing Black Smoke cannisters. But of course, according to the tabloids and scandal sheets, there must be dozens if not hundreds more of the things prowling the haunted old trenches, the burned and broken battlements, or possibly the Low Streets. The stories vary each week and no evidence ever seems to be forthcoming, so few take the claims very seriously.

It is curious that the Daemons of Yalb much prefer to be summoned forth in a cloud of Black Smoke in place of their long-prescribed ink and incense. Perhaps they are merely keeping up with the times.

Lingering Traces and Nasty Residue
Black Puddles, Necro-Dust, Black Crust, Black Scabs, Black Scum, Black Sand, Killing-Black, Death Grit, and Dark Stains are just some of the varieties of residue left behind Black Smoke. There are a wide array of powders, dusts and gritty-stuff clinging to walls, blanketing roads like drifting snow, covering the blackened bones of the unburied; It is said among the Foragers and Scavenger Crews that there are even more forms of Black Smoke Residue than there are of the bad stuff in the first place. (We'll cover more on this topic in a follow-up post.)

In Sunbury, and at intervals along the road, were dead bodies lying in contorted attitudes—horses as well as men—overturned carts and luggage, all covered thickly with black dust. That pall of cindery powder made me think of what I had read of the destruction of Pompeii...
The Ten Most Common Types of Black Smoke (The Songrieve Scale)
The Songrieve Scale assumes that the pernicious Fear effect of the Black Smoke has already been addressed by whatever means are deemed necessary, prudent or effective in the particular circumstance. Those facing the Black Smoke for the first time often suffer a penalty to their Morale (-1 to -4 depending on severity of situation), or they must make a Reaction Roll (failure means they are repulsed and horrified, treat as under the effect of a 1d4 round Fear effect), or they can Save against Fear, as the situation warrants. There is no one true and proven means or method for handling Black Smoke, nor for the Fear it causes, this despite several attempts to codify just such a system.
  • Type I: Save or suffer 1d6 per round of exposure. [Sub-Types denoted by damage caused: A=1d6, B=2d6, C=3d6, and so on.]
  • Type II: Save at -2 penalty or suffer 4d4 damage for next 2d6 rounds as blood transforms into a toxic black ooze. Nullified by water, but becomes extremely flammable if exposed to alcohol and will burst into flames inflicting 3d6 damage in a twenty foot radius.
  • Type III: Inflicts 1d4 damage per minute for the next 3d6 minutes, then goes inert. Skin affected becomes permanently mottled with lurid, bruise-like blotches. Victim now permanently heals at half their normal rate and must fail a Save to allow healing spells to function normally.
  • Type IV: Kills any living creature with 4 or fewer HD, those succeeding on their Save take 1d2 damage per round. Those with 5+ HD take 1d4 damage per round exposed, Save means half damage. A new Save is required each round of exposure. Persists for 3d6 turns, unless treated with water/steam.
  • Type V: Causes 3d8 damage per round for next 4 rounds. Victim gains a cumulative +1 to their Save each round, success means half damage.
  • Type VI: Causes 6d6 damage as it shrivels and blackens the victim's flesh over the next 2d12 hours, during which time the victim cannot be healed by any magic or medicine, though medical professionals are working on a variant form of Cure Disease that they feel confident may prove effective. Standard Procedure in these cases is to amputate the affected area(s) before it can spread. The black rot becomes contagious after 1d4 hours, even after the victim dies.
  • Type VII: Sticky and insidious, this type of Black Smoke burns the victim's flesh to cinders, beginning at the extremities, and burning its way inward to the more vital areas, inflicting 1d6 damage every minute it remains in contact with their body. This type of Black Smoke lingers around its victims, affecting anyone within 3 feet of anyone already affected. This stuff remains volatile and deadly for up to ten or more days, after which time it tends to settle-out into a granular, gritty layer that cling to everything.
  • Type VIII: Thick and dense. Clings to the skin, staining it black. Causes 5d6+5 damage while airborne. Settles to the ground within 1d4 hours leaving a black filmy coating over everything within a 20 foot radius. The lingering particulates cause 2d4 damage on contact with exposed flesh and remain dangerous for up to 72 hours.
  • Type IX: Inflicts 8d8 damage on anyone coming into contact with the viscous, coiling mass of deadly vapors. Those who succumb are burned to blackened skeletons. Typical patch covers roughly 10-20 foot radius. Seems to dissipate after an hour, but this is misleading as there's a base 40% chance of re-releasing the Black Smoke should anyone disturb the darkened area where it has settled.
  • Type X: Stains everything it touches a greasy black while causing 3d6 damage to anyone caught within its 30 foot radius of effect. Save for half damage, but a new Save is required every round of exposure. Has a tendency to follow its victims at a rate of 1d4 feet per round. This seems to be some sort of simple chemical effect, the vapors having somehow bonded to the victim, and not due to anything like intelligence.
There are reports of new types of Black Smoke all the time. Most of these reports are simply faulty accounts from hysterical survivors or possibly malicious rumors perpetrated by persons suspected of being in league with various foreign intelligence services. Since the Wall Guard, Cellar Inspectorate, and Sewer Militia all adopted the Songrieve Scale, it has taken on a form of legitimacy among most other agencies and institutions that deal with the Black Smoke on a regular basis. Of course, this being Wermspittle, there are at least three other conflicting and incompatible taxonomic or qualitative indices for measuring and comparing instances of the Black Smoke currently in use, including the so-called 'Three-Fold Scale' in use by the Street Patrols and Red Watch.

The Three-Fold Scale of Black Smoke
(Street Patrol Manual, published by Hardinger & Erlanger, Grottinger, Balzque.)
  1. Lesser: Treat as Stinking Cloud with a Fear effect.
  2. Common: Treat as Cloudkill with a Fear effect.
  3. Greater: Treat as Incendiary Cloud with a Fear effect.
The Three-Fold Scale is quick, elegant and simplistic in the extreme, but it works well enough in most situations, according to the survivors of those Patrols that have run afoul of the dreadful stuff. Of course, such a limited range of categories has not endeared this system of measurement and codification with the Academics and others who study the Black Smoke. Most of them insist on further details, more information. Sometimes demanding that a Patrol re-trace their route and go back for a better look in order to file a more detailed report. The most successful Patrols are prone to lie in their reports. The most convincing liars tend to survive the longest.


  1. I love all the baroque detail!

    1. Cool. There's a lot of ground to cover. Black Smoke is very integral to so many bad things...

  2. It's as if Wermspittle is WWI with magic - truly horrible. That is a compliment.

    1. Thanks! There are a range of things involved in Wwermspittle, and its surroundings. Some of the Great Powers were fairly equivalent to WWI in some of their technologies, while others were more in line with Napoleonic states. The rampant use of Black Smoke, Salted Shot, Green Brass Munitions, and so on brought about a severe, even apocalyptic-scale conflagration. Large sections of the countryside are barely above the stone age or the medieval period, as are some of the back alleys. The odd mix of things is partly due to the Weak Points, as not all the Adjacent Worlds are completely dead or barren. I think you'll like the set of posts detailing the Ramparts and the Baffles, which will be going up shortly. That will help explain a bit more of the patchwork nature of things.

    2. So what you're saying is that it would not be unlikely to face Vicker's Heavy Machine gun loaded with heart seeking ghost bullets manned by a crew of picked men hopped up on hard candy? This is sincerely more scary than a dragon.

      A quote from Junger's apocalyptic Storm of Steel "Wanton destruction; a kind of madness; maelstrom of devastation; a demented fury; our losses were appalling; another gory carnival beckoned."

    3. More likely to be a Mitrailleuse, and worse things than ghost bullets, but essentially, yeah. Could happen. Most dragons are displays in the various curiosity collections, museums or the Medical College...though there are rumors every now and then of one being spotted, usually past a Weak Point or out in the Plateaus where the nomad tribes trace their ancestral migration routes.

      One of the books I was reading when I first began work on Wermspittle was 'The Arms of Krupp.' There's a family with a very large, old estate at the back of the High Streets who've made a fortune peddling death much like the Krupps. They are one of the factors that have conspired to keep this place off the maps, and to finance a lot of insane geniuses with their labs where they design and test-out prototypes. That's another reason there are so many spies, agents, and the like running around in this place, as well as covert financiers, banker's reps, buyers, and so on. Too bad the family business has fallen on hard times, now that most of the Great Powers are fallen or failing, mobs displaced workers, convoys of refugees, and hordes of undead are all over the place...and the rails are ruined, the roads are mined or cratered, the ships mostly sank, and the airships do not come here any more...

      I have not heard of this 'Storm of Steel,' before, but that quote is wonderful. I'm going to track this down now. Thanks for the heads up.

    4. "The tender green of young leaves shimmered in the flat light. We
      followed hidden, twisting paths towards a narrow gorge behind
      the front line. We had been told that the 76th was to attack after
      a bombardment of only twenty minutes, and that we were to be
      held in reserve. On the dot of noon, our artillery launched into a
      furious bombardment that echoed and re-echoed through the
      wooded hollows. For the first time, we heard what was meant by
      the expression 'drumfire'. We sat perched on our haversacks,
      idle and excited. A runner plunged through to the company
      commander. Brisk exchange. 'The three nearest trenches have
      fallen to us, and six field guns have been captured!' Loud cheers
      rang out. A feeling of up-and-at-'em."

      Yes. Yes indeed, this is going to be a great read and such a perfect book to add to the Vermiform Appendix that I'm compiling...

      Thank you, very, very much!!!!

  3. The Mitrailleuse is a nasty weapon. I never read the "Arms of Krupp" but I was probably in the 6th grade when it came out - Nixon days, in the heart of the Vietnan War. I am sure or own military-industrial complex was on the author's mind when he wrote it. I should look that book up. So much for the late19th/early 20th Century being "a more civilized time".

    1. Yep. A wicked precursor to modern machine guns. There are also mortars, mines and a few other heavy weapons out there, but in the end the Mitrailleuse is one of the nastiest. I would say check out 'Storm of Steel,' as per Gus L's recommendation--wow, that is one intense book. It has been very inspirational for the Baffles and Inner Ramparts areas, and a lot more fun to read than the 'Arms of Krupp,' though that book does have a ton of details and interesting stuff, for a history geek like me...and it has been inspirational for things in quite a different way than Unger's book.


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