Friday, August 11, 2017

Report on the so-called "sick rock" mineral

Let me start with a little background about my weekly campaign.  As I've mentioned before, I'm running my adaptation of Anomalous Subsurface Environment, the great OSR megadungeon affectionately known as "ASE."  The best part of it is that my players haven't set foot in so much as the gatehouse, as they are continually deflected from their quest by their own misadventures.

Just another day in ASE

That quest is to retrieve a certain quantity of raw protonium ore for their patron, an old and clever dragon.  They know that they can find this in a place called Mount Rendon, and to gain entrance to this mountain they must obtain a small quantity of what is known as "sick rock" i.e. uranium.

Towards the end of a fun little picaresque journey from their portal to Denethix, the party got its hands on this very material in the traditional way (i.e. they beat-up some lion men).  ASE provides a nice little lair dungeon to make this happen, so I ran that and the PCs won the prize.

But then they lost it.  It wasn't really their fault.  Well, actually, they sort of panicked and let it be known that they had found the wizard's lost sick rock. After being thanked and rewarded, the authorities took custody of the stuff and sent the PCs on their way.  So now what?

I'm getting to it!  First, I had to anticipate some of the places that the players might look for new sources of sick rock.  Second, I had to come up with a few of those sources. For this, I mined my burgeoning catalog of OSR adventures and figured out ways to stick them in ASE with some sick rock.

I've already created a few seeds for other adventures, but this required a dramatic expansion.  For the record, here are the published materials I'm looping into this campaign:
The PCs haven't run across all of those seeds yet. However, having commissioned a professor in the Academy of Elevated Thought to write a white paper about sick rock, they gave me an easy way to introduce some of these hooks.

It took a week, spent by our heroes mostly looking for a way to frame the nice Pie Cult for mass poisoning by slipping rat poison into the flour they use to bake pies for the poor. Speaking of which, I know that sounds bad, and it really is.

For the last time, nobody cares about your pies

Anyway, at the end of the week, the good doctor sent for the party with a page. His study complete, he wanted to present them with the paper and an offer: if they would be so kind as to retrieve an ancient musical instrument from a newly-discovered ruin at the bottom of a well, he would provide them with an additional lead that required extra research.  

The players shrugged, I suppose trusting to the meta-narrative that I was throwing more adventure seeds at them.  Fair enough; as long as nobody says it, then it's not real.  Anyway, they readily agreed, and I ended the session by sharing the document with them, and reciting it in a fancy voice.  

I have provided the full text below.  It should be recited in the manner of Paul F. Tompkins' impression of Andrew Lloyd Webber for full effect. The players seemed to enjoy what was essentially a big block of boxed text. The moral of the story: presentation is crucial.

It's worth tracking down this skit

Well-read OSR GMs: see if you can spot the hooks to two of the published adventures that I mentioned above.

Report on the so-called "sick rock" mineral

As researched by Dr. Greigus, Distinguished Professor of Geology and Historical Musicology


This document, authored by the esteemed Distinguished Professor (of Geology and Historical Musicology), is intended to provide valuable information on the topic of the rare mineral known largely as “sick rock.”  It will discuss the physical properties of the material, other terms and etymology, the historical usage and speculation as to the locations of caches and natural deposits.

Physical Properties

Sick rock is a rough earthen mineral that easily flakes and crumbles down into granules.  The stuff is uncommonly dense; slightly more than 2.4 times the weight of an equivalent volume of iron.

Sick rock is so-named for the deadly aura that it radiates, slowly poisoning all life within it’s vicinity.  A stone-weight of it will slay half of a dwarven population at a ten yard range within an hour, and nineteen-of-twenty will be dead within three hours.  Humans are said to die considerably sooner.  At distances of greater than fifty yards for the same weight, the effect of the poison is negligible.

This poisonous aura is completely blocked by an inch-wide lining of lead; water and stone are no barrier to its evil effect.

It is said that sick rock possesses great power that could amplify the magics of Ancient wizardry.  However, few, if any, still possess this lore.  So far, those who have attempted to unravel its secrets have been poisoned, though it takes decades for the most cautious scholars to succumb.


Sick rock was extensively used by the Ancients in some of their greatest works of magic, although we no longer know the word they used for it, or how it was used.  The current name comes to us as a literal translation for the dwarven phrase zu’un dar.  Dwarven lore features prominently in the stories about sick rock.  Indeed, to demi-humans (dwarves, elves, halflings and, presumably, goblins) the material appears differently than it does to man: glowing with an indescribable color.

An interesting fact uncovered by my research is that the Ancients were not the only civilization to make use of sick rock, or even its most prolific users.  In fact, the mysterious Builder civilization, of which we know far less, were extensive users of the stuff.  It is said that they mined it from the earth, or traded with an unknown parties to obtain it.

Much has been lost of the Ancients, but of the Builders, even less is known.  They were said to be a great empire, and at its height, it may have rivaled that of the Ancients.  However, most of it was unseen by the eyes of outsiders, with only colonies established in these lands.  

It is not clear whether the Builders were a race of otherworldly beings, or a great tribe of advanced men.  Either way, they were a weird and secretive folk, and only a few centuries after their first colonies in this land, the Builders’ advanced society collapsed.  Some scholars theorize that it was the Builders’ extensive use of sick rock that hastened their end, but this author has found no evidence to support that conclusion.

Possible sources

The wise author of this paper is making the assumption that his audience is most interested in obtaining their own samples of sick rock for research purposes.  Below, we consider a number of possible sources, which are divided into two categories: natural deposits and gathered stores.

Natural deposits

There are only two known natural deposits of sick rock.  It is cautioned, by this illustrious author, that it is said that extraction is hazardous and complicated, and the process to refine it is even moreso of both.  And that’s not even considering the ever-present threat of Chaos-spawn that tend to linger in the vicinity of large deposits.

Southwestern Lanthanide Wastes

The closest of these lodes can be found to the South in the nameless mountains that hem the Lanthanide Wastes from the west.  The estimated distance from the great city of Denethix (many thanks to the mighty wizard Faretha) is at least ten-score leagues.  The precise location of these deposits could not be determined within the scope of this study.

The Land of Gu

Much further to the south, legend claims that there exists a lost continent called Gu, once inhabited by cities of men and other intelligent beings and now there are only beasts and ghosts.  The legend is dismissed by many casual scholars, but historians of the Builders know that they quarreled with the Ancients for some territory on that very continent.  Moreover, the reason for the Builders’ interest was a colossal sick rock lode in the mountains of Gu.

While Gu exists, its precise location is not charted on any maps found by this esteemed researcher.  Fishermen to the south claim that great storms crowd the southern seas, and only wizards are seen to venture past them.  It is this author’s expert opinion that the stories of ghosts and monsters are mere superstition, but Gu and the storms are not.

Gathered stores

Fortunately, there are a number of smaller caches of sick rock in greater proximity to Denethix (glory to Faretha!), though they are smaller and difficult to obtain.  Such caches are very likely to be of the refined form of the mineral.

Mount Rendon

Two day’s journey along the Western Road, a traveler will encounter the pathetic village of Clemfordshire.  Nearby are the monster-haunted slopes of Mount Rendon, which supposedly contains a great college of magical study, among many other reputed wonders.  

It is known that protonium materials were forged in its depths, and this was done by combining geothermal heat with the fires produced by sick rock.  It stands to reason that there must be a cache within this facility.

Unfortunately, part of the reason for this likelihood is the fact that this academy of the Ancients has never been breached in over a millennium.  Many have tried to gain entry, only to have been turned away at its seamless gates of protonium.

Near Carrowmere

Directly west of Denethix (long shall its blessed streets wend), along the Western Road but two-score leagues further, past the dread wizard Canus, one finds the territory of the less-horrible wizard Brother Dagon.  Therein one finds the village Carrowmere at the fringes of the Trackless Marsh.  And upriver from Carrowmere is a dam that is one of the last intact edifices of the Builders in this part of the world.

It is known that the Builders used the vast energies of the rushing waters of the Dretchen River along with their sick rock alchemy to shift the position of the moon above.  This is based on conversations with certain temple gods as recently as the last generation.  They recalled the events with some alarm, even then.  The legends say that the ritual site was on the other side of the mirror, and that is all that is known.

Isle of Kalmatta

To the southwest in tropical waters there is the island called Kalmatta.  There are a number of strange legends associated with the place, and the unparalleled author of this tract lacked the time and resources to investigate most of their veracity.  But one story of interest is that a cargo ship of the Builders, returning from the Land of Gu, was wrecked on Kalmatta after limping away from an ambush of the Ancient navy.

A number of existing records confirm that this story is based in fact.  There is a strong probability that most if not all of this cache remains where it was wrecked: on the southern rocks of Kalmatta.  The nature of these shores precludes landing, and the nature of the sick rock repels interlopers.

Kalmatta was the last refuge of the Kamehannet Empire, a minor kingdom that rose up long after the passing of the Ancients.  It is said that the tombs of their god-kings still contain the riches that they were buried with.

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