February 22, 2020

I Have Converted to Heresy And It Is Good

I mentioned in my playtest report that Marc had suggested a revolutionary mechanic that I wanted to adopt, and while implementing it I had another huge insight: rolling dice as a GM was a sacred cow I could sacrifice.

What? Heresy! Blasphemy! :-) I know, I love tossing dice myself. But the attraction was just too great. As the game had progressed, I realized I would have been comfortable and happy as purely a narrator and invoker of player rolls when needed. I could save time spent determining how many dice to roll, rolling them, and processing the results. I could also be tougher and more honest with the players, as there'd be no temptation to fudge*.

Marc had brought up the idea of a player-facing system before, which I resisted -- I do like making rolls. And one of Vivid's core mechanics, Advantage Dice, was premised on the GM making opposed rolls with the players for most conflicts. Funny enough, though, during the playtest I found that the game was moving at such a fast pace that stopping to roll was just another speed bump.

Last week I finally decided to take the plunge and modify Vivid into a fully player-facing system like Cypher. It proved easier than I thought it would be, as I just had to translate the opposed roll results matrix into a read the highest die mechanic. Now 1-2 is a Defeat, 3-4 is a Stay with option to succeed at a price, and 5-6 is a Victory. The big challenge was what to do with the Advantage Dice mechanic. Finally had a breakthrough yesterday: Advantage for the GM -- that is, Disadvantage for you -- knocks down the result of player's highest die, applied in sequence to the current highest die.

For example, you rolled two dice, with 2 Disadvantage, and got 5, 5. The Disadvantage knocks down your results as follows: 5, 5 > 4, 5 > 4, 4.

Disadvantage is now something to really fear, which should help put players on their toes and get them thinking how to corner all the available Advantage. Which is good for me, because that drives them to give me quality input, which entertains me as much as playing a character myself. It's like getting to watch a movie.  And that's the reason I made Vivid.

Now to see if this will survive contact with the en ... I mean, my players.

*I never fudged dice during the playtest, but I did lower the ability rating of a threat on the fly because the party had split at that point and only 2 PCs were up against the beastie I'd rolled as an encounter.

February 20, 2020

Adventure Frameworks for Maruzar

The sword and planet genre has been sadly neglected in recent times. Answering the question, “What do we do in this game?” may not come as naturally to players and GMs less familiar with sword and planet stories, so this section introduces some suitably pulpy leads and frameworks you can use for building characters and adventures on. 

Outlaws of Maruzar
The characters are heroes covertly resisting the tyranny of the Aryamehran Empire and the Spaceclans. The characters may come from diverse origins, but are united by a common enemy. Because the Empire and the Spaceclans have influence on many rulers all over the planet, the characters may have prices on their heads and have to live a life on the run. Think Robin Hood, Flash Gordon, or the original Star Wars trilogy.

Warlords of Maruzar
The characters are heroes protecting their city-state from would-be conquerors and barbarian hordes, getting involved in dynastic struggles and intrigue, espionage, commando missions and battles. Think Prisoner of Zenda, Game of Thrones, Bulmer’s Krozair of Kregen, The Three Musketeers, and Kurosawa’s Ran. 

Swarm Winds of Maruzar
The characters are heroic members of the same Dryland or Inland Kingdoms community, which is imperiled by the yearly incursion of the Swarm. Or they may have been hired by the community to defend them from the Swarm. The sheer savagery of the struggle for survival on Maruzar is showcased in the defense of remote settlements and epic sieges versus myriads of giant insects. Think The Seven Samurai meets Starship Troopers!

Tomb Robbers of Maruzar
The characters are lowlife scoundrels who live by looting ancient ruins of artifacts and selling them to the highest bidders. This adventure framework should feel really familiar to veteran gamers. Stephen Sommer’s super-pulpy remake of The Mummy is the perfect peg for tomb robber adventures; also Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon, and The Secret of Sinharat.

Sky Pirates of Maruzar
The characters control a flying vessel from which they raid caravans, merchant airships, and any other target that offers tempting loot. A heroic take on this could have the characters acting as privateers for their own home city, or raiding only targets belonging to the Empire as part of the resistance to it. Think Captain Blood or Pirates of the Caribbean, but in the sky!

Sorcerer of Maruzar
A villain with mad ambitions has gained a prehuman artifact that gives powers beyond human understanding or control, and the characters must stop this menace. Think the stories of Conan the Barbarian and King Kull, Karl Edward Wagner’s Bloodstone, the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, or Stephen Sommers’ remake of The Mummy.

The Viridian Deep
The Viridian Deep is the great crater/rift plowed into the southern hemisphere of Maruzar by a fragment of the destroyed moon Varan, and the source of the alien Swarm. The characters get lost in the ultra-hostile alien jungle of the Deep, and must run and carve their way out! Think King Kong: Skull Island, Lost World, Jurassic Park, and throw in the giant insects from Starship Troopers.

Blood Moon Cult of Maruzar

The characters must save a city from destruction by the Red Moon cultists on the upcoming Red Night season, and stay sane themselves despite the powerful telepathic sendings of the Demon Moon. Sinister cults are a staple of the pulp science fiction; think the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Brackett’s Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon.

Marooned on Maruzar

The characters are all or mostly from Earth, stranded on Maruzar after some accident that transported them to the planet. Now they must learn the ropes of life all over again, survive a myriad alien threats, and either find a way home or make a new home on this strange world.

February 11, 2020

Swords of Maruzar: First Playtest Results!

Finally! As my now-favorite sword and planet character Teyud za Zhalt would put it, event and randomness at last allowed me to run a game, the first in what must be four years. I felt very rusty and creaky as a GM, but somehow eked through and got positive reactions from my players. It was also great to see old friends Marc and Adrian again for the first time in years, and make new ones. 

The game was Swords of Maruzar, my current sword and planet project, and the adventure, Escape from Mandator, a one-shot I'd written as a playtest of the game. Players were Adrian, Marc, Adrian's wife Jonette, Marisse, and madcap raconteur Derek. All played the following pre-generated characters:

  • Connor O’Brian, Texan gunslinger, ex-Confederate cavalryman turned treasure hunter - Derek
  • Sally-Ann Mossey, circus sharpshooter turned treasure hunter  - Marc
  • Ferala, Vyari courtesan, telepath and spy - Jonette
  • Balan Zais, Zhar ex-gladiator turned mercenary - Adrian
  • Garn Dakar, hotshot Marud aeronaut and swordsman - Marisse

After Action Report:
Escape from Mandator is an adventure set in the deserts of the Inland Kingdoms, with a small band of Maruzarians racing to the city of Mandator to bring warning of a treacherous plot against its Jerdayin, its ruling princess. There was an option to have two Terran characters, for players who wanted either a familiar character concept or to roleplay the stranger in a strange land angle. 

Act 1
Connor and Sally are transported from Earth to Maruzar, from an Anasazi ruin rumored to contain Conquistador gold to an ancient laboratory inside a half-buried tower in the Drylands of Maruzar. They explore the tower, not fully realizing they're on another world for a while. Connor finds a fulgurator rifle and test fires it twice, the second time handily incinerating the portal mechanism and so rendering unnecessary any excuses for it not working to let them return to Earth.

On exiting the tower, they spot the airskiff with Ferala, Balan Zais and Garn Dakar on board, desperately fighting off a vaspid flock. The Terrans decide to help without any prodding -- mostly because Connor "sees a hot lady."

On board the airskiff, the Maruzarians find out it's a race against time to get to the ground in one piece. Garn succeeds at all his rolls to pilot the airskiff, keeping it level and eluding the attempts of more vaspids to get on the craft. Ferala shoots a vaspid, and Balan Zais takes out two vaspids at once with his orruk gun. 

The Terrans shoot and both succeed. Sally gets the last vaspid on the airskiff, and Connor blasts the flock to cinders with the fulgurator. Afterward it gives a warning beep and starts heating up, so Connor chucks it away; it explodes harmlessly in the distance.

On the last piloting roll, Marisse (Garn) rolled a Stay with me; I ruled that she barely achieved a controlled crash, necessitating the other characters to jump out.

The Maruzarians and Terrans try to communicate, with hilarious results. Sally (Marc) says that Balan Zais resembles a purple, sauroid circus menagerie creature that they call 'Barney.' The Maruzarians on the other hand take 'Barney' to mean the Terrans' name for themselves. 

Ferala (Jonette) tries to help communication by using her telepathy. She is nearly traumatized by the very plain and very graphic images she gets from Connor's mind regarding his intentions toward her. Eventually the Terrans learn Marazhiran language, but Connor due to his proclivities learns nothing but inappropriate words and phrases. 

Act 2 
The party was split during most of this act. While Garn worked on repairing the airskiff's gravomagnetic drive, Balan, Sally and Connor went in search of food and water. They found the carcass of a dead maulhead, together with its wrecked howdah and evidence of a caravan that had fallen afoul of Yarguun raiders. Balan Zais considered the Yarguun cowards and a minor threat except in numbers (heh heh), fortunately for them I did not roll a Yarguun encounter. They found some supplies still in usable condition, and evidence that the Yarguun had raided the caravan not so  much for loot as for fresh meat -- the caravaneers' corpses all had been hauled off. 

Balan then took Connor and Sally to search for the lost levitator spheres, and took 2 days to find them and bring them back. On the way they encountered a bloodfinder and followed it, Balan hoping it would lead them to game, but instead it led them to a dying caravan guard in a cave. He gave them his weapons in return for a last drink of water, and they found the spring in the cave and filled all their skins. They also got the mount. 

I may be unclear on this - they may have gone out thrice, first for water, then the levitators, then again for supplies. I also recall they encountered a moon spider, which in its final phase of life hunts from the air, its abdomen enormously expanded and filled with hydrogen gas to become a living balloon. Connor shot it down, but it detached from its abdomen and attacked Balan Zais. I rolled a crit on this, resulting in the spider getting behind Balan and biting him on the neck; I then ruled that being a Zhar and huge, he could resist the venom for three rounds before becoming paralyzed. He eventually killed the moon spider, but not before its spiderlings hatched and swarmed the two PCs. Connor used his enormous whiskey stock to set the spiderlings on fire, but got bitten also. Both spent some time lying paralyzed in the desert -- cue the Ranma poses and jokes!

In the meantime, Garn finishes repairs on the airskiff, and attempts some romance with Sally. Marc declares that his character thinks Garn is a prince and roleplays his character as a gold digger; she believes she can buy her way to the life she wants with gold. 

Ferala then receives a telepathic warning from Djana Zaor that Lemius Ras, the evil and ambitious Jerdun of Sarissa, has hired the notorious pirate Delok Shan to intercept them. They decide begin the last leg of their journey to Mandator by night, going flat out.

Act 3
The party has a roll-off vs the lookouts of Delok Shan at dawn, and win. They emerge from the Shangari Badlands with the sun at their backs and hidden in the shadow of the mountains, spotting Delok Shan's dirigible from afar. It is between them and the safety of Mandator.

The players decided on an end-run strategy. Ferala would try to keep them lookouts from spotting them using her telepathy, Sally and Connor together would fire the orruk gun, and Balan Zais if necessary would board the airship to distract the pirates. 

Ferala succeeded at confusing the lookouts with multiple sixes, allowing the party to get a free shot from a good range. Sally scores a hit, again with sixes, causing the dirigible to start deflating. I roll for a chance to set the hydrogen on fire, and the result is positive. They close in and get above the dirigible. Delok Shan's crew fire, but all miss. Six pirates in wingcloaks jump out of the airship and try to close in with the airskiff. Sally freezes because she's being shot at - she'd never been in real combat before and has problems shooting at  people.

Next round: Balan Zais aborts his intention of jumping into the airship due to the fire. Ferala and Garn roll Stays vs the wingcloakers, hitting none but keeping them from closing in. Connor shocks Sally out of her fugue by grabbing her butt; she slaps him.

Next round: The wingcloakers should've boarded on this round, but again were repelled by the shooting of Ferala, Garn, and Connor. In the meantime, Balan secures everyone for boarding combat by tethering them to the airskiff with ropes so they can't fall off. 

Next round: Ferala, Garn, Connor and Sally wipe out the wingcloakers. Delok Shan abandons hope of accomplishing his objective, and abandons the airship using a wingcloak. 

The airship crashes, and the party reaches Mandator in safety. They are challenged by aerial patrols, but the commander of one ship recognizes Garn and knows he was a favorite of the Jerdayin, and so escorts them to the palace himself. They are welcomed by Miria am'Amaris, who is established as having visited Dor Amaris when a teen, assigned Garn as her escort, and a budding romance between them had been in the air. Garn and Ferala deliver the message of Djana Zaor, and the game ends with Miria calling a conference with her generals and rewarding the PCs. 

Epilogue:
Balan Zais gets the money and a place to establish a tavern of his own (established as the character's dream). Ferala is taken into the Jerdayin's court as a free retainer. Garn is treated with honor and also attached to the Jerdayin's court, until his home city of Dor Amaris is freed. Connor's inappropriate language and ignorance causes Ferala to advice Miria that the 'Barneys' belong in nursery school, and that's exactly where the Jerdayin sends them.

Evaluation
The players thankfully enjoyed the adventure despite my rustiness, liked their characters, found the world interesting and the system easy to understand and use. They liked how they could influence things with clever play and their characters' traits, and Marc specially liked the Advantage Dice pool mechanic wherein players and their opponents compete for shares of a fixed pool of 3 Advantage Dice. He later suggested another mechanic that could totally revolutionize this game so now working on how to implement that.

I'm giving myself only fair marks on GMing though: there were some mechanics I forgot to elucidate and use, which in some cases led to the players getting easier victories. In one case, I forgot to mark the transition from long rounds to short rounds during the final aerial battle, allowing the PCs to fire their orruk gun (basically a jingal), more frequently than they should have been able to. Perhaps running the game with all my text in my iPad wasn't optimal; scene notes might be better on index cards right on the table so I don't forget them. Then again, I think this is more a matter of my personal GMing technique than the game system. 

Overall -- I think the playtest was a success. But now I really wanna play more!

February 5, 2020

Creatures of the Shrunken Seas

Cliff Kraken
The cliff kraken, like its relative the cave kraken of the Drylands, is a terrestrial cephalopod and may be an ancestor of the latter. It lives in the cliffs of several isles and coastal mountains of Orokkonda, where it feeds on the marine lizardbirds that nest there. It may be encountered by those scaling the cliffs to gather eggs and nestlings (important food items for the Orokko), or searching for the treasure-filled ruins and buried hoards said to be hidden in those heights. Cliff krakens reach only 6-8 feet long, but unlike the cave and kelp kraken, the cliff kraken has a virulently venomous bite. Cliff krakens are largely responsible for the astronomical price of lizardgull egg soup, a famed delicacy of Orokko cuisine.

Lizard-ray
The lizard-ray is an eight-limbed marine reptile whose first four limbs form broad, winglike flippers. It ‘flies’ through the water with these, achieving speeds that make it one of the fastest swimmers in Maruzar’s seas. Lizard-rays reach up to 12 feet long and will attack anything they can overtake in the water; they’ll even jump at people in a boat to knock them into the water. Lizard-rays however are widely hunted for their skins, which is favored for wrapping sword hilts because of its nonslip texture.

Saber-toothed Screamer
Saber-toothed screamers are large predatory fish of abyssal origin, reaching up to 20 feet long, with armored bodies and disproportionately big skulls, the jaws of which are armed with two pairs of saber-like fangs. These ambush predators also have a sonic weapon: a vibratory organ in their throat can produce sound waves so strong they can damage the hulls of boats, and instantly stun any human in the water. They have even been seen to bring down low-flying lizardbirds, and at least one airskiff. Screamers like to lurk in shallow waters, camouflaged by their multicolored, armored scales which they allow to become overgrown with algae, then attack targets on or just beneath the surface, always opening with their sonic weapon. 

Seafolk
Seafolk are descendants of humans who had themselves Reshaped to live in the sea after the War of All Planets. They have gills, thickened skin, webbed fingers and fins, greater than human strength, and no body hair at all. Their fingers are tipped with sharp, inch-long claws. Descendants of a radical back to nature cult who renounced technology and learning, the seafolk have become primitive savages. This may be the very same cult that gave rise to the Feral Men of the Drylands and the Beastmen of the arctic, or there may have been many such cults.

The seafolk constantly raid the desalinator plants of the Aryamehran Empire, blaming these for the increased saltiness of the Opaline Sea and the decline in fish, and they often attack fishing boats or even merchant and naval vessels. Fortunately they use no weapons, relying entirely on their strength, claws and ability to drown human victims. The seafolk will always try to carry off at least one victim alive every time they attack, to sacrifice to the abyssal god they now worship.

January 12, 2020

Reconceptualizing the Yarguun

I've rewritten the concept for the Yarguun, the alien barbarians of Maruzar, to give them an edgier feel. I think it'll make them more memorable, and give GMs more of a handle on adventures involving the Yarguun.

===================

The Yarguun  race is very old. Originally a servitor race of the Old Ones, perhaps even the very first race the Old Ones enslaved, they are now savage warriors, roaming the arid lands on both sides of the Opaline and Nacreous Seas in small nomadic bands. From time to time these bands come together and launch surprisingly massive raids for captives and plunder, and these raids have been growing in strength. 

All mankind on Maruzar fear the Yarguun, but they do not fear them enough: the nomad bands are not simple barbarians, but merely the scouts and hunters of subterranean kingdoms hidden beneath remote mountain ranges. And the Yarguun warlords are on a holy war to reclaim a planet that was once theirs. The few who have escaped slavery in the Yarguun cave strongholds tell of great and ever-busy forges, hatcheries containing thousands of eggs, and other evidence their barbarian masters once had an advanced civilization that may be in revival. 

Yarguun stand about 8 feet tall when standing erect, but have a naturally stooping posture; they have a gaunt, practically skeletal build, are gray-skinned and totally bald, with huge red eyes, no external ears, four short tusks curving out from their jaws, clawed hands and feet, and long, whip-like tails. Their hind legs are jointed like a heron’s, and their feet are clawed. Like birds, their bones are hollow. They are also completely immune to telepathy.

In combat, the Yarguun rely on stealth, speed, and sheer ferocity. They never wear armor, and as they can run as fast as a gannor for hours, they never need mounts. Most Yarguun warriors carry only a couple of sharp iron boomerangs plus a two-handed clawsword, a serrated, hooked blade on a long hilt that is used to trip or snag foes and prey. Some tribes have stolen firearm technology from humankind, and now make their own extremely long muskets. 

January 2, 2020

Maruzar: Attack of the Frustrated Marine Biologist!

I've always been fascinated by marine life, and scuba diving and snorkeling are two of the pastimes I can never get enough of nor afford as often as I like. As a kid I was hooked on the Jacques Cousteau docus, and as a kid five decades later I'm an avid follower of BBC's excellent ocean documentaries. One of the creatures that fascinates me most is the Bobbit worm, which inspired this innocuos little thing from the world of Maruzar:

Eunice aphroditois, by https://www.flickr.com/people/26598370@N00
Bathoris
The bathoris or vampire worm is one of the most dreaded predators of the Opaline Sea. This giant marine worm is strangely beautiful with its deep maroon coloring, marked by patterns of iridescent yellow, orange, and metallic hues of blue and green. Its form however is both horrible and full of deadly features. At rest, the bathoris is about nine feet long and only as thick around as a man’s bicep; on the attack, however, it swallows water or air to swell to its full size of twelve feet and a diameter of nearly two feet.

Its head terminates in a quartet of sharp mandibles, with which it bites gaping wounds in its prey; it then inserts its toothed tongue into the wound to rasp out gobbets of flesh and blood, feeding while the prey is still alive. It eats only the guts and other organs in the stomach cavity. The four, foot-long antennae on its head, the pair of setae at its tail, and the sharp bristles running all along its back, are coated with a poisonous slime that causes local numbness and paralysis on contact. Should the bathoris come under heavy attack, it escapes by ejecting all the water or air it swallowed out through the spiracles all along its sides, thus shrinking rapidly back to a size that can easily wriggle away into the water or into whatever narrow cranny it can find.

Vampire worms sometimes get caught in fishermen’s nets, but they have also been known to come ashore or climb into boats and ships in search of warm-blooded prey, which they prefer over fish. Seafolk have also been known to plant vampire worms on ships and the platforms of the desalination plants to wreak mischief, sometimes even to provide diversion for an attack; it sometimes backfires on them, though.

July 2, 2019

Khayr Coronnar, Capital of the Empire

The chief city in the Opaline Sea basin is magnificent Khayr Coronnar, capital of the Aryamehran Empire. Khayr Coronnar has a population of about two million, with perhaps two hundred thousand more living unrecorded in its prehuman, subterranean bowels.

Location
The city is located by the excellent harbor of Hydralis Bay, and northeast of it is the Port Tartessos spaceport. On a hill to the east is the ruin of Old Hydralis, whose subterranean undercity reaches all the way to the Khayr Coronnar. All around the city for many miles stretch the plantations of the nobility, worked by legions of slaves. Together with the heavy tributes the Empire levies from its conquests, this fertility has concentrated here a level of wealth unmatched anywhere else on Maruzar and enabled the city’s rulers to build lavishly in the style of the First Empire. 

Architecture
The capital is a vision of soaring white towers, many with landing pads for skyships, magnificent palaces, fountained gardens, the pyramidal temples of the Primogens, and tall, stern monuments to past Emperors. All this is surrounded by a triple wall bristling with both cannon and ancient energy weapons. The Imperial Palace alone is the size of nine city blocks. All the major buildings of Khayr Coronnar are faced with white marble, and the palaces and temples have walls inlaid with onyx, malachite and gold. 

Beside the Imperial Palace is the gigantic Grand Arena, which is domed over with tinted glass and climate-controlled with machines provided by the Spaceclans. It is considered a wonder of the age. Nevertheless, all this is but a shadow of the First Empire’s capital, Az Coronnar. The highest finial of the Imperial Palace stands four hundred feet high; the tallest tower of Az Coronnar was over a mile high. The rest of the city is occupied by residential towers, the first two floors of which are occupied by shops and markets.

The Imperial Palace
The largest edifice in Khayr Coronnar is the Imperial Palace, which occupies the northern quarter of the city and forms its strongest bastion of defence there. It is made up of five towers standing over a common base, the central tower four hundred feet tall while the the flanking towers are a hundred feet shorter. Notorious for its extravagant opulence, the Palace is not just the dwelling of the Imperial family and the center of the Empire’s government, it is a statement of power in every stone and chamber. 

The cyclopean-scale throneroom is lined with captured banners on the walls and First Empire statuary plundered from various dead cities, while the walkway to the throne is now a massive glass-topped pool stocked with iridescent, twenty-foot long Gamilan dragon-eels, telling the world that the Emperor controls enough water to use it extravagantly and claims rule of planets beyond Maruzar. There is of course provision for abruptly dropping unwelcome visitors into the water, an event the intelligent and ever-hungry dragon-eels greatly enjoy.

The Grand Terrace above the throneroom is occupied by five glass-domed gardens. One houses a large bathing pool, surrounded by exotic Vashtian and Karkushan jungle plants. Another houses a vishra, the Maruzarian sand dragon; another is the personal fencing salon of the Emperor; and yet another is a sealed menagerie of zoa-trees and savage insectoids from the Viridian Deep, for Imperial scientists to study. 

The central tower contains the Imperial family quarters and those of their servants, complete with kitchens, banquet halls, conference rooms for the Imperial council and favored petitioners, private libraries, and so on. The flanking towers house the Imperial Guard and hangars for the Emperor’s personal warships. Stables, food storage, and machinery are located in the basements. Access to the towers is by external stairs or lift shafts with levor disks. The grounds are a magnificent public garden with fountains under glass domes. 

The Grand Arena
The Grand Arena is the second-largest structure in the city. It is not only a coliseum for the bloody games beloved by the Azhir nobles, it is also their favorite playground, for the structure surrounding the arena is made up of tiered galleries housing luxury shops, restaurants, pleasure houses run by the city’s most famous courtesans, and so on. 

Beneath these are quarters for gladiators, trainers and guards, and armories, and below these, kennels for the many kinds of beasts made to fight in the arena. The inner rim of the arena is entirely taken up by seats, with the Imperial box at one end. Combatants enter the sands from the tall Gate of Valor located right opposite the Emperor’s box, giving the ruler the pleasure of seeing the gladiators first. 

The wealthy citizenry love novelty in the arena, so they are always demanding more exotic beasts and new fighters. There are many ways to make a fortune here — as many as there are ways to die on the sands.

The Grand Temple
The Grand Temple is the main Primogenist temple in Khayr Coronnar. It stands on the north side of the Plaza of Glory, in the very center of the city. The temple is a huge step pyramid of nine levels, crowned at the top by a quincunx of towers which form the temple proper. At every tier are statues depicting the Primogens, the First Men and Women, while the sides of each tier are carved with reliefs depicting the history of the First Empire and the founding of Khayr Coronnar.
The pyramid interior is honeycombed with chambers, and it is here that the city’s mentalists are trained by Primogenist priests. A great library is housed deep within the pyramid, and some say there are secret chambers within the library of which not even the Emperor knows, hiding curious experiments or forbidden knowledge. 

The Shrine of Aryamehr
Princess Aryamehr, the founder of the Empire, is honored in a shrine opposite the Grand Temple. The shrine is a vaulted dome, the top of which is open as a skylight shining down upon the thrice-life size golden statue of Princess Aryamehr below. Many military rites are held in the shrine, such as awarding recognitions for valor and the swearing of fealty to the city’s lords.  

The Undercity
Beneath all this are the labyrinthine tunnels and reservoirs of the Undercity, the prehuman ruins atop which Khayr Coronnar was built. Many aliens, denied a place in Imperial society, live underground and may not see the sun for days on end. The Undercity is a hotbed for the cultists of Balaor, the Mad Moon, who periodically stage sudden, violent bacchanals and grisly sacrificial rites. The complex reaches all the way to the abandoned city of Old Hydralis, and despite attempts to seal off the tunnels running below the city walls, the tunnel dwellers have always managed to dig through or find other ways yet unknown to the authorities.

The Waterfront
West of the city lie the marinas, warehouses, and fishermen’s towers of the waterfront, practically a town in its own right, surrounded by its own walls. This lively district never sleeps, for half the population works all day, and the other half works all night to cater to carousing sailors, fishermen, marines, and dockhands. There is a large Orokko population here, which is carefully watched because of recent rebellions in Orokkonda, their homeland. Seafolk sometimes infiltrate this area, causing havoc and panic before they are driven off.

Desalination Plant
To the southwest of the marina is the complex of glass domes, pumping stations and pipes of the Hydralis Desalination Plant, the largest of the desalination facilities on Maruzar. Every day this plant yields enough fresh water to supply the entire city, and the surplus is pumped inland to Port Tartessos and Khayr Coronnar’s satellite cities. The plant is now guarded day and night from watchtowers and patrolling galleys against Seafolk attack. 
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