May 3, 2019

Warfare on Maruzar

Maruzarian tactics are shaped by the arid environment, the strong fortification of cities, and the limited availability of aerial transport. On the defense, airships form the first line to detect the enemy from afar and  prevent their landing troops in the city. If the enemy gets into the city, they are met with all available ground forces. If they mass outside to lay siege or scatter to raid the plantations, the ground forces sally out and may fight a pitched battle outside the walls. 

Pitched battles rely on a complex interplay of combined arms. The usual object of the defender is to destroy the enemy artillery or command. To do this, infantry and artillery are used to fix the enemy while cavalry first destroy or rout their counterparts, then assault the foe’s main body with the aid of warbeasts. It is usually these titans which actually destroy or capture the enemy artillery. While all this is happening, the aerial forces of both sides do what they can in support; if one side gains aerial superiority, they can bomb the other’s ground forces and artillery.

On the attack, Imperial generals prefer to make surprise aerial landings aided by agents within the target city. When a landing cannot be made at acceptable cost, and no other means of assault is feasible, the attacking commander may try to lure out the foe by raiding their herds and plantations, or if he has enough artillery, lay siege with his heaviest cannons and catapults. 

As Aryamehran and Inland Kingdom cities have strong walls, and the Inland Cities are often built in highly defensible locations, the defense always has a formidable advantage. Moreover, sieges are limited by the availability of aerial transport. A single siege cannon can weigh more than a thousand men, and so takes the largest airships to transport.  Only when an attacker has enough of the ancient heavy weapons to destroy the defenses does a siege stand good chances of success.

The pace of warfare on Maruzar is suprisingly fast despite the archaic weapons used due to air transport. Surprise is truly achievable, and large forces can be massed quickly by airship. Likewise, airships can ferry supplies far and fast, and can only be stopped by other airships. Even when the whole army cannot be transported by air, shipping supplies by air allows for much more rapid marches.

Not all warfare though is against opposing armies. Small units of cavalry must periodically sweep the deserts and nearby ruins to seek out and destroy dangerous wildlife, particularly feral humans and Swarmlings, as well as bandits and raiding nomad bands. The jerdars of both the Empire and the Inland Kingdoms consider this a sport, going out in gay parties bedecked in rich trappings, followed by their children, concubines and retainers on floater-chariots or on ranagors fitted with luxurious howdahs. 

In the meantime, a grimmer kind of campaign is always going on in the Undercity, where infantrymen must hunt dangerous subterranean creatures in the dark. No warrior can ever keep his sword sheathed for long on Maruzar.

April 24, 2019

Maruzar: The Keshai Tribes

The Keshai or Sand Marud tribes claim to be the oldest nomadic culture on Maruzar, dating back to even before the First Empire. Their tribes, they say, survived intact through the Shattering and the following Age of Chaos, retaining their old names, languages and ways. This history makes the Keshai extremely proud, even arrogant. 

The Nine Tribes
Only nine tribes of Keshai survive, but all of them, save one, claim to descend in continuous line from their forebears of the same name. The tribes are: the Shanur, which defeated and absorbed two other tribes to become the largest tribe, but is riven with feuds between its member clans; the Zoai, who nurse an ancient feud with the Shanur; the Ammatar, who have taken over the dead city of that name, wiping out the Irajin who lived there; the Illuar, who occupy and farm the Jerafan Sinkholes; the Jerafa, who were driven from their homes by the Illuar; the Zikandar, who claim their leaders used to be high kings over all the tribes; the Keshvar, who are notorious marauders; the Isali, who say their ancestors used to live by a great lake, and were pirates; and the Gozashtar, a ‘new’ tribe that took shape only after the Shattering.

Keshai Culture
All  the nine tribes have some variant of the basic Keshai culture, which is based on pastoral nomadism, matriarchal clans, and equestrian warfare. All Keshai wear white robes and headcloths when outside their tents, each tribe differentiating its members by the color of their sashes. Every Keshai wears up to five finely-made knives, Honor Blades, which are given as signs of accomplishment and respect. 

The tribes are notorious for their propensity to raid settled folk, caravans, and each other, and for their long-burning feuds, some of which have lasted more than a thousand years. Keshai tribes are extremely territorial, jealously guarding their precious wells and water caves and demanding tributes for safe passage.

Keshai warriors are always in high demand as mercenary light cavalry. They are excellent riders, often with some of the best gannors, masters of the lance and javelin, adept at scouting and ambush, and loyal as long as they’re paid. Their great weakness however is their tribal feuds, which seem to follow them wherever they go. Keshai mercenaries of feuding tribes will often fight inspite of orders, and Imperial patrols have been ambushed merely because they passed through the land of a tribe who had a feud with one of their nomad scouts.

The tribes are ruled by councils of Clan Mothers, who between them own all the herds and tents. Each Clan Mother appoints a warchief for their clan, who may be of either sex. 

March 14, 2019

Barbarians of Maruzar

The aftermath of the Shattering saw the highly civilized, technology-dependent Maruzarians uprooted from their cities to wander in search of the basic necessities. Billions died. The survivors lived any way they could, the strong and aggressive taking from the weak. Many who fled to the remotest regions never managed to rebuild their societies but instead formed savage and insular tribes; they became the new barbarians of Maruzar. 

As a rule these barbarians live only in village-sized settlements, wear only hides and furs, and live by hunting and gathering, some crude farming, and raiding. Their technology is crude, many tribes not even knowing how to make iron. Barbarian tribes are scattered across the western shores of the Opaline Sea, and both sides of the Nacreous Sea, where they are beyond the reach of the annual Swarm. A few hold out in mountain fastnesses between the Inland Kingdoms, at heights too cold for the Swarm. Indeed, most barbarian settlements are in hidden dales among high mountains. 

Other than these common characteristics, barbarians are highly diverse, each tribe different in some way from every other. There are dark and fair barbarians, giants and pygmies, warlike and peaceful tribes and so on. 

The Karanthori
The Karanthor Hills were once an island chain fringing the coast; now they are a range of hills on the mainland, but the easternmost hills face the Opaline Sea. These hills are honeycombed with enormous sea caves now left high above the water, and these are inhabited by the numerous Karanthori barbarians. These warrior tribes live most of the year in scattered  cave settlements, but when the drift kelp rises they gather by the sea to hunt the giant sea lizards from leather coracles. 

The Karanthori sometimes cross the equator in coracle fleets to raid the Empire's coastlands. Most Karanthori wield weapons tipped with sea lizard teeth, and wear armor of scaly sea lizard hide. However many of them now have swords and other metal weapons, thanks to visiting traders who bartered these for sea lizard glands and ivory.

The Barutar
The Barutar are a barbarian tribe who settled near the site of an ancient air-space battle, littered with the wrecks of ancient skyships. Their ancestors salvaged the metal of these and a single working power plant, and with it crafted enough wondrous suits of armor and weapons to equip all their men before the power plant died. 

Now the Barutar treasure these items as precious heirlooms, proudly passing them down from father to son along with a tradition of an egalitarian warrior republic. They rule a swath of the Zireyan Hills from their citadel at Castle Akumon, but because they forbid intermarriage with outsiders they are in decline. Many suits of armor no longer have any to inherit them. Quite a few Barutar have left the tribe with their armor to serve as mercenaries.

Barutar armor is a full-body suit of plate, all black cerametal and gleaming like glass, but every suit has now been customized and barbarized by generations of barbarian warriors. A Barutar's armor may be decorated with garish painted patterns -- usually crimson, beast claws and teeth, and worn with a mantle of fur. 

The Sigkari
The Sigkari are a barbarian tribe renowned for their skill with javelins. These equestrian hunters live at the edge of the Karboulian Marshes far to the north, where they spear lizardbirds in flight, and also harvest the marsh lotus for the southern drug markets. They have frequent conflicts with the Beastmen, to whom the disappearing marsh lotus is a necessity for winter hibernation. The Sigkari are normal humans and do not have the ability to hibernate, so when winter comes they migrate south to their winter homes in the caves beneath the Sigkarran Mountains. 

The Guoroon
The Guoroon tribe lives beneath the Abaddai Mountains, in a labyrinthine cave system that stretches for over a hundred miles and with many hidden exits. Widely feared as cannibal bogeymen, the Guoroon are said to be pallid, hideous pygmies, mutated by centuries of isolation and their cannibalistic diet; few have ever seen one as they attack only by ambush, and rarely leave survivors. It's believed that they are led by mentalist 'wizard-priests,' who also lead the hunts for human prey and subdue the victims by telepathy.

The Vanavar
The Vanavar tribes live amid the high crags of the Comyrium Mountains. A powerful warrior tribe, they live by hunting and raiding. They are alternately the terrors and the leaders of neighboring tribes, who sometimes join them for big raids against Alcyonis. The Vanavar are tall and muscular, bearded, and because of their rocky highland environment are excellent climbers. 

Once, they liberated some Gliders from an Alcyonian merchant who was going to sell them as slaves, and inspired by the Gliders' ability to fly they began experimenting with crude hang gliders. Now they often soar for sport, and some Vanavar warriors enter battle on hang gliders.

March 11, 2019

Mount Zom

Mount Zom is an extinct volcano some 12,000 feet high, with a horseshoe-shaped caldera four miles wide. The inner face of this caldera is pocked with hundreds of manmade caves, along with enormous relief carvings of anthropomorphic and esoteric figures. This is the home of the Zomi Order, where its Ten Immortal Masters live and teach the novice Zomiin warrior monks. The Ten Immortal Masters are not literally deathless, but instead whenever one passes on he or she is immediately replaced by another who takes his or her name. Thus the Zomi Order appears to be led by the same ten masters that founded it centuries ago. 

The mountain is located nearly in the middle of the Sepulchral Plains, in the southern Drylands -- that is, in the middle of nowhere. Those who wish to join the order must either find their way to the mountain on their own, or convince a sand monk to bring them there. Aspirants are advised to prove their humility and commitment by coming on foot. 

Novices can expect to spend up to ten years on the mountain, hardening their bodies by walking around the mountain daily, learning to use the halberd, and and doing manual labor. The monastery has fungus and hydroponic farms, forges, and all it needs to be self-sufficient. It is defended from the Swarm by a sonic defense system that uses the unique acoustic properties of the caldera; the monks have been unable to duplicate the effects anywhere else. 

Visitors other than aspirant sand monks are not welcome at Mount Zom. The monks will succor any who are shipwrecked, lost or fleeing from attack, but even such supplicants are sent away as soon as they can travel again safely. Nor are such visitors allowed freedom of the complex, particularly the chambers deeper inside the mountain. The Zomi Order it seems has secrets it will not share.

March 8, 2019

Forgotten Gods of Maruzar

While Primogenism, or veneration of the First Men, has become the sole religion officially practiced on Maruzar a number of ancient cults still survive among secret pockets of followers -- in hidden cities and tribal villages, among secret cabals, and in the criminal underworld. Many of these gods and cults have disturbing, even horrifying aspects. 

The Old Ones
The Old Ones are worshipped as the true masters of Maruzar by some secret cults, and by communities of feral men. Worshippers sacrifice humans at ancient altars hidden in the wastelands or deep underground where the Old Ones were supposed to have lived, hoping by these offerings to bring the Old Ones back. The cult of the Old Ones harbors a special hatred for the Azhir race and the Azhiran Empire, and by extension the Aryamehran Empire its avowed successor.

Great Yargul
Great Yargul is the god of the Yarguun race, depicted as an eight-armed Yarguun with a different weapon in every clawed hand. Little is known of this god, save that all Yarguun seem to worship him and that Yarguun tribes occasionally come together into ravaging hordes in his name. Apparently the god promises to return the Yarguun race to their lost glories, and the uprisings are led by warriors who are able to claim that Great Yargul has spoken to them.

Zorgorath
Worshippers of Zorgorath believe he grants them good fortune and protection if they aid in restoring him to his original status as the primary god of mankind on Maruzar (he never was). To this end worshippers preach, make pilgrimages, and try to acquire ancient artifacts connected with his cult. The truth is Zorgorath is an extradimensional being trapped somewhere on Maruzar, and started this cult in order to get worshippers to find his prison-tomb and liberate him from it. 

Gozairon
Gozairon is believed to be a unique colossal beast that once roamed Maruzar, crushing tyrants beneath his clawed feet. His worshippers pray to free him so he can rise again and destroy the Aryamehran Empire, the rule of the Azhir, and the Spaceclans. Proof of his existence is shown by incredibly ancient carvings deep in the subterranean ruins of previous civilizations. The cult of Gozairon is unsurprisingly popular among slaves.

The Speakers of Oro
The Speakers of Oro are a septet of immortal priestesses living in a secret temple somewhere in the mountains of Orokkonda, or some say beneath the sea. They claim to have contact with the spirits of all dead Orokkon kings, and act as oracles. Officially the Orokko people no longer believe in the Speakers and the spirits, but some still secretly send offerings and prayers to the Speakers for oracular advice. What's disturbing is that the priestesses really are immortal, and know things beyond human ken. Where does their power really come from?

Mardammor
Mardammor is an ancient god of wealth who continues to be worshipped by some merchants. His cult is two-faced: The benign side worships with offerings of food and wine, and festive processions of dancers and musicians, and is tolerated everywhere as an excuse to feast and make merry. The dark side of the cult involves child sacrifices, performed in secret at hidden locations. Most worshippers of Mardammor know nothing at all about the cult's secret side. Mardammor is depicted as a fat, grinning, bearded and robed humanoid sitting cross-legged; the dark version of the cult however adds a fanged, gaping mouth in Mardammor's abdomen.

The Chained Gods
Chained Gods cultists believed that the Azhiran Empire 'enslaved' the ancient gods and imprisoned them in hidden tombs scattered across Maruzar. A brainwashing campaign then led the rest of mankind to forget about these Chained Gods, so their powers remained in the hands of the conquerors. By reviving the worship of these deities the cult hopes to free them, an event that will trigger an apocalyptic war and liberate all oppressed peoples of Maruzar. Cultists explore ruins hoping to find artifacts of the ancient gods and uncover lost religious practices, and practice human sacrifice. 

Ahriazar
Ahriazar, the Black Sithan, is an ancient god secretly worshipped with human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism. The cultists believe they gain power through consumption of human flesh, particularly those of telepaths and Azhir. 

March 6, 2019

Designing the Yarguun

My personal brief for designing the Yarguun was simple but formidable: create a barbarous humanoid alien capable of standing toe to toe with a Thark or Warhoon, even Tars Tarkas himself, and make him worried. Have I succeeded? You be the judge. 

The Yarguun are an ancient species that pre-date man's arrival on Maruzar by eons, and they are perfectly adapted to its arid wastelands. Originally a servitor race of the Old Ones, they are savage warriors, periodically launching massive raids from their subterranean strongholds in the mountains to seize captives and plunder. They usually eat captives in sacrificial feasts; only a few useful individuals are kept as slaves. 

Yarguun stand about 10 feet tall when standing erect, but have a naturally stooping posture; their bodies and limbs are gaunt, almost skeletal, gray-skinned and totally bald, with huge red eyes, no external ears, four short tusks curving out from their lower jaws, clawed hands and feet, and have long, whip-like tails. Their hind legs are jointed like a heron’s, and their feet are clawed. Like birds, their bones are hollow. This lithe, long-legged build makes them fast and tireless runners, moving everywhere at a run and never using mounts. 

Holy terrors in battle, most Yarguun use only one weapon, a curved blade on a long haft that is somewhere between a sword and a polearm. They seem to be everywhere at once as they fight, running and making soaring leaps, so it's very hard to defend against one. Worse yet, only a few know that Yarguun are immune to telepathy. Many a telepathic warrior has fallen when they relied on their talent to predict a Yarguun's moves as they would a human opponent.

March 4, 2019

World of Maruzar: Living with a Mad God

Every few years, the crimson moon Balaor comes close enough to Maruzar to blanket the planet with its telepathic sendings. These can fill unguarded minds with dark and perverse visions, inciting dreams of malice, cruelty and violence. This psychic plague can last several nights in a row, during which violent crimes of passion, bouts of madness, and the blood-mad Ravenings of Red Moon cultists are rife. 

Guarding the Mind on Red Nights
The Red Moon's malevolent sendings fortunately cause far less damage than they could thanks to a variety of defensive measures. In the cities, the Primogenist priests muster all their telepaths to broadcast calming thought-waves whenever Balaor approaches. This is not one hundred per cent effective, but it does reduce violent incidents during Red Nights by a great deal. The Irajin tribes do the same thing, as do most of the Sand Marud. The Zomiin sand monks make sure to be alone in the desert so they can face the Red Moon in meditative trance, but have no nearby targets in case they should lose to Balaor’s sendings.

Those without these psychic safety nets can mitigate the Red Moon's influence by drugging themselves into deep sleep. Yet others find that it's easier to guard their minds while awake, and so stay awake all night, sleeping only after moonset, when Balaor’s influence is no longer felt.  Many will spend these nights at the temples, chanting and meditating under guidance of the priests. The sendings also don’t seem to reach far underground, so those living in the deep subterranean cities are usually not disturbed.

But there are also those who, instead of trying to resist the Red Moon, use its influences to heighten their dark pleasures. Such practices are banned but popular among some bored nobles and wealthy merchants, who get together on Red Nights to watch illegal gladiator fights (banned at these times), or to watch slaves being tortured, while sipping wines steeped with powerful and exotic drugs. The Red Moon cultists recruit actively in these circles, knowing these decadent folk to be easily enticed into greater heights of madness.

Ravenings 
Worshippers of Balaor secretly get together on Red Nights to offer blood sacrifice, and pray for their dark god to cleanse the world of unbelievers. The masked priests will harangue the cultists with fiery sermons, feed them maddening drugs, and make them share in the horror of sacrifice by torture. 

The priests’ intent is to whip the cultists into an insane, ecstatic, suicidal fury; if this happens, the priest then leads his flock on a murderous rampage through the city, killing, breaking, and burning, until they are all killed or sunrise ends the spell and the cultists scatter, dazed and not daring to recall what they had done. These bloody uprisings are called Ravenings by most Maruzarians, but captured priests of the cult often refer to it as the March of the Worm. 

The spell does not seem to affect the priests themselves, who remain clear-headed throughout and usually manage to disappear before the Ravening is destroyed or sunrise ends the madness. The priests then rebuild their flocks, to have a new army ready for the next approach of the Red Moon.

The Wakening of Balaor
While the Red Moon has been around since before the First Men arrived on Maruzar, it was just another celestial body for millennia, a big airless rock in space. Scholars still debate when Balaor the errant minor moon became Balaor the dreaded demon-moon, some tracing the change to reign of Ilharion the Accursed, last Emperor of the First Empire. 

What happened? No one knows. Some say the Accursed awakened Balaor with his unholy rites, and it was Balaor’s influence that led to the Nightfall War. Yet others say Balaor only awakened after the Shattering.  Most are agreed, though, that the Red Moon’s influence is getting stronger over time. 

Theories about the alien intelligence responsible for the sendings are also divided: some say it’s the last of the Zhurakarians, others say it’s a powerful extradimensional being trapped in the moon, some say the entire moon is one titanic prehuman artifact, and yet others say that the Old Ones fled to the Red Moon when defeated by the Azhir Crusade. 

The Red Moon and Other Races
Only Maruzarian humans, and races descended from humans, are affected by the Red Moon. The Seafolk, the Beastmen, and feral men are specially susceptible, and may continue acting on Balaor-given impulses for days after the moon has receded from range. Most Vatborn are only mildly disturbed, easily assuaged with drugs, while it seems the Yarguun, Sammari, and Gliders, are not affected at all. 

The Spaceclans dread the Red Moon. Shortly after their arrival in the system they tried to explore it, but every attempt met with horrible disaster on nearing Balaor; computers and engines failed, crews went mad, and the Directorate destroyed the one exploratory vessel that came back in fear of what it carried. Not even the fully robotic landers worked. Convinced that there is nothing in their power they can do about the moon, the Spaceclans choose to flee it, retreating into deep underground shelters or taking off in their ships to park on the other side of Maruzar from wherever the red moon is shining. 

It is partly this fear of Balaor that drives Spaceclan research on psi. Of all the psychic feats the Maruzarians have accomplished, it is the mind-shielding broadcast of the Primogenist telepath-priests that impresses the Spaceclans the most, and they want it for themselves.
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