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Climbing the Tree

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Author: Orri EiríkssonEmail: : Askur Yggdrasil, the world tree, is one of the best known paths of the multiverse. It connects several of the outer planes, the astral and number of prime worlds. In Norse mythology, it is actually portrayed as possibly older than the gods. Indeed, several things were, including the first being, Ýmir, as portrayed in the third verse of Völuspá:

Ár var alda,þar er Ýmir bygði,var-a sandur né særné svalar unnir,jörð fannsk ævané upphiminn,gap var ginnungaen gras hvergi.

(loose translation:) In the beginning, Ymir lived. Was there no sand nor sea nor icy waves. No earth was there nor heaven above. A great void but no grass.

Professional tree climbers

Julius has long believed that Yggdrasil holds secrets from the time there were no gods. If discovered, these secrets could mean a breakthrough for the Athar – a strong argument against the gods or perhaps even an alternative theory of the creation of the worlds. Of course, none of the other religions would accept that theory but it would still be a definite advantage. Having concluded his studies in Sigil, only one thing remains: Field research. Not surprisingly, few Athar are willing to climb the tree with him. They reasonably worry about the Norse gods not liking an Athar philosopher nosing around in their metaphorical backyard. So Julius gets a grant to hire some mercenaries. Planewalkers would seem to be the order of the day. Here is where the pc´s come in. Julius is not offering very much jink, but the sheer epic scale of his quest should interest them. He also hints that the Athar will be very appreciative of them if they accept.

Julius doesn't mind if any of the pc´s are priests. In fact, he welcomes a bit of expert god-knowledge (especially how not to pike gods off) and it will give him a chance to verbally decapitate someone on the way up (a personal favorite of his).

"That's a pretty big tree, now...."-Anonymous berk- As soon as the negotiations have finished and everyone is ready, Julius leads them to a portal to Glorium. From there they go through another portal which leads high up in Yggdrasil. He explains to them that he has read of another portal located only a couple of days climb from there that will take them to the edge of the unknown heights of the world-tree. The portal is located in a village of fensir trolls, which Julius has dealt with once before. If they can persuade the fensirs to allow them to use the portal it will cut a week off the climb.

A deadly contest

The fensir village is located on a huge branch right beside the stem, protected from the sun by the huge leaves of Yggdrasil, which have been woven together in places. The players should be astonished by the fact that all the buildings in the village are made of stone and the village is circled by a stone wall. If they ask Julius, he will tell them that the Fensirs believe that Thor himself threw a rock (a big one) at a giant that was climbing the tree. This theory is strengthened by the fact that the town hall is a gigantic skull.

When they arrive in the village, Julius starts negotiating with the trolls. The trolls aren't altogether pleased with the thought of letting more than one person through the portal, but since they had already promised Julius they'd allow him through they decide to give the travellers a chance to earn their way through. They suggest a contest. Each of them is allowed to pit themselves against the trolls in three contests of either strength, endurance, will, poetry or lore. If they all win at least one contest, they can go through. If anyone looses all three, they all get eaten. Now, the fensirs are neither stupid nor weak, so any attempt to cheat will probably be discovered and foiled (including magical or psionic cheating). The players can choose their own contests but they have to be approved by the village goði (sort of religious and political leader). Even if they won't stand for cheating, the trolls have a weak spot in their hearts for sly individuals, so if the pc´s manage to suggest a contest in which the trolls have a serious disadvantage (but not an obvious one – the village goði won't approve), the trolls will reward that sort of trickery with gold (probably a few hundred). The fensirs are strong and intelligent, making these contests very difficult. The best chance the pc´s have is to be sly. Julius challenges the oldest troll to a contest of lore: knowledge of Yggdrasil. The trolls find that extremely funny and accept, not knowing of course that Julius is an expert on the Tree. He wins easily, much to the old trolls chagrin ("I´ve lived here all my life, yet this human knows more than I do!"). It's up to the pc´s to win their own contests.

The guardian at the top

Assuming that the pc´s each win one contest, the trolls allow them through their portal. According to Julius, the portal takes them higher up Yggdrasil than any known mortal creature has ever been. Huge branches can be seen in the distance and the entire sky appears green. Huge leaves (some several kilometers in diameter) are everywhere, all attributing to the multiverse´s greatest foliage. Julius brings out his notebook and a strange, ancient looking map. The map is severly limited, with only vague directions. Despite that, Julius manages to find the branch that will take them as high as possible after only a few minutes of speculation. After several hours of climbing, they see a strange circular platform sticking out of the branch ahead. On this platform stands a seven foot tall, armored humanoid. It draws a glowing two-handed sword as they approach but shows no sign of aggression and waits patently.

This creature is a powerful per, one of the guardians of the upper planes. Its mission is to keep prying eyes from the top of the tree, but things are not that simple. It wasn't placed there, no-one has commanded it. It just turned up there one day and knows only what it is supposed to do. Normally, that would have been enough for any Per. However, a mischievous deity is taking interest in Julius' quest.... The great trickster, the son of a giant and the scourge and misery of Asgard, Loki himself. He is enormously pleased by the implications of whatever Julius might find and how it might impact on the worship of the other Norse gods. Therefore, a day or so before the pc´s arrive, he plants a new thought in the Per´s mind: doubt. If the pc´s have enough presence of mind to negotiate with the Per, they might easily convince him that his mission is futile or unimportant. They could even tell him that since no-one is telling him to stay, there is no need to guard one of the most travelled paths of the multiverse from prying eyes, since there really is nothing to guard (the Per isn't clear on this). Possibly, they could ask the Per to join them, to make sure they don't do anything they shouldn't do (the Per doesn't know what that might be). Still, it is stubborn and should require some persuasiveness on the behalf of the pc´s. The other options are to fight or leave. Fighting is a bad option, especially if the pc´s are good aligned (Julius is NG) and Julius won't leave, calling his escorts cowards if they do.

-A magnificent view-

As they start their ascend to the top, the climb up the highest branch becomes easy. There are steps carved into the wood, apparently made for someone eight sizes larger than a human. They can see a white sky beyond the tree and the tree itself stretching down into infinity. This is where they encounter the grass serpent. It is a small, harmless looking animal, which coils itself together on one of the steps. It speaks to the companions when they approach. Some might guess right away that this is Loki in disguise but if they mention it, he will pretend to be insulted and leave. It IS Loki and he questions the pc´s reason for being here. Insulting him is a bad idea, for even if he is amused, he is totally chaotic and will think nothing of destroying the pc´s. However, he will only do this if they insult HIM, not if they mistake him for a real snake and insult IT. He asks them what they expect to see on the top. The DM should have each of the players write down what they expect to see on a piece of paper, then collect it without revealing what anyone wrote. Julius will come up with a few theories to help along with the imagination. He suggests among other things that up there might be whatever is left of the Ginnunga gap, the void where everything began, or an entrance to the Ordial plane, something between the planes of belief and matter: the very stuff of creation. Or even the unfinished Gimlé, the paradise that is to become after the Ragnarök. Loki suggests that there is a great secret on the top, something that the Norse gods don't want to become known. He encourages the pc´s to bring this knowledge to the world, telling them that the gods can't see them here. Julius likes that idea very much.

The big secret

What do they encounter? Anything is possible. Probably something that they believe they will see will come true, but not all. Chaotic good characters should have a greater impact on what they see than the others. Here is what they might see if they find an entrance to the ordial: A black void, with bands of...energy pulsing through the infinite. You stand on a clear, round platform with the stairs leading down towards the highest branch. As you stare into the void, you can see in the distance a (infinite?) wall of ice crashing into a equally big wall of fire. The effect is cataclysmic, but strangely far away. A huge, gargantuan humanoid is slowly forming where fire and ice meet. From his toes appear more, smaller but still huge, humanoids and from his armpits as well. "Ýmir!" whispers Julius. "He who was first!" An long time seems to pass. The humanoids breed, and three of the new ones attack the huge man. "Óðinn, Vili and Vé! -the first gods! We must be witnessing the history of the Norse gods somehow!". Then someone seems to notice them. Then everything goes black. When you wake up, you are back in Glorium.

If this happens (it is up to you, the DM, and the pc´s belief), Julius will be frantic. Happy but frantic. He urges the pc´s to hurry back with him to Sigil, where he will begin to publish his journal along with his theories. He pays them a huge bonus. Chances are, they will never see the tree in the same light again.

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