November 3, 2018

Swords that Make Me Go Oog

While I do enjoy fantasy art a lot, there is one element that often makes me go "oooog." Swords. There's a good reason the designs we see through history are the way they are, so when I see something that's totally impractical, or that could be even more dangerous to the wielder than to the enemy, it detracts a lot from the total impact of the art for me. Which is too bad, because quite a few illustrations featuring such overly fanciful blades are otherwise nicely done. 

Why am I ranting on fantasy swords? Because I'm searching for visual pegs for Swords of Maruzar, and decided to look at fantasy/scifi weapon designs as well as historical ones. I believe that weapons should be practical, and at the same time convey a distinct cultural identity -- and with the added requirement that the look convey some sense of alienness. I enjoyed Michael Whelan's Renaissance-style rapiers for Barsoom, but that's not the direction I want for Maruzar. I want a greater sense of separation from historical Earth, and from ERB's Mars. Nor do I like the sword styles of Disney's John Carter -- I find it way cool that they're based on Philippine kampilans, make no mistake, but the hilt designs felt crude for the otherwise elevated culture of Barsoom, nor do they jive with ERB's descriptions of Barsoomian swordplay. 

For the world of Maruzar, I'm looking for the following traits: 

First, I'm thinking that over the centuries of battling the armored alien insects of the Swarm, Maruzarian weapons would have been adapted to breaking through hard, tough chitin. I think this would favor swords with heavier blades, falchion types with mass concentrated at the point of percussion. There's a limit to how much widening at the point would be useful, though, as the heavier the tip, the worse the inertia of the blade. On the other hand, estoc-like piercing blades might also be useful. I'm not so inclined to those, though, as they'd look too close to Whelan-Barsoom rapiers. 


Second, I like clean lines. There's a good reason historical weapons have clean lines -- notches and grooves and certain odd shapes weaken the blade, and since Maruzar's fallen back on simpler technologies, they wouldn't have the advanced metallurgy to counteract such weaknesses.

Nice and modern.


Culturally branded design.

Scifi-ey design.

Third, I'm looking for visual cues that will make Maruzarian weapons look unique to Maruzar. This is the hardest one -- my first two criteria eliminate a lot of possibilities. No insanely impractical blade shapes. No stupid jags and notches just because they look cool. No overly fancy blade, guard or hilt designs, because that doesn't match the post-apocalyptic tech levels of Maruzar. 

Chinese dao.

Chinese dao.
Chinese dao, Tang style.

Right now, all these have me leaning toward designs inspired by the variety of Chinese dao swords. Most soldiers will have variants based on the broad, heavy guitoudao and huyadao -- heavy duty cutters and choppers suited for use with relatively little training. Maybe noncoms and champions would carry versions of the very heavy dadao. Officers could carry slimmer swords that take advantage of their higher degrees of training, and nobles could have swords like the slim, two-handed Tang dao -- which is the ancestor of the Japanese tachi and katana. Maybe superior metallurgy gives these nobles' slim swords the same cutting power as the broader, heavier soldiers' swords (they could be blades left from Maruzar's high-tech past). Other historical swords that look right for me are machetes and parangs, and the modern designs inspired by them.

These swords would all have simple round or oval guards, and similarly simple round or polygonal pommels. I've noticed that Chinese pommels are usually round or ring-shaped, so maybe angular polygons could give me the look I want. Besides, it's kinda appropriate for a player character's sword to have an icosahedral pommel, heh heh. 

October 29, 2018

Feral Humans of Maruzar

Feral humans are the degenerate descendants of people who were left behind in the cities after the Shattering, fallen so far that they have forgotten speech and fire. Now these cannibalistic pack hunters haunt the dead cities of the Drylands, living mostly off fungi, small game and vermin, but will eagerly stalk any humans who venture into their territory. The ferals of each lost city have adapted to life after the Fall in different ways. 

Ruin Runners
Ruin Runners have mastered a unique way of moving through their environment, combining their natural agility with cunning to vault obstacles, run up walls, leap gaps between buildings and so on, allowing them to move very quickly and unpredictably through the ruins. (Yes, it’s parkour.) Thus they avoid predators like the sithan and approach prey from unexpected directions, often attacking by leaping down onto their prey’s back. They are still smart enough to throw stones, and many have crude knives scavenged from the ruins, or made of bone. 

Mogors are brutish feral humans who hunt each other with improvised clubs, knives, and the occasional captured sword or axe. They are cunning, ambush pack hunters who creep up silently on their prey from different directions, then charge with clumsily but powerfully swung weapons. Mogors try not to kill women, but instead try to capture them for an abhorrent mating. They live in small tribes headed by the strongest male.

Worm Children
Worm Children are pallid, stunted, misshapen denizens of the tunnels, physically weak but thriving in large numbers in hive-like matriarchal societies. They worship the Old Ones, and like to drag their victims down into the deepest tunnels for sacrifice followed by a grisly cannibalistic feast. Mentally they seem to be the least regressed of the feral tribes, being capable of speech and advanced thought; they might even know how to use some technology. Their Creche Mothers are sometimes telepathic.

Sand Crone
Sand Crones or Desert Hags are solitary, psychically gifted feral humans. They are the most intelligent of the ferals, and with their telepathic abilities, the most dangerous. Sand Crones are always female, old and wizened, and stark raving mad. Fanatical worshippers of the Old Ones, they always haunt ancient places of power to where they try to lure travelers for a cruel cat and mouse game that ends in sacrifice. Some believe that Sand Crones never breed, and are in fact the original survivors who pledged themselves to the old dark powers in exchange for their lives. 

October 24, 2018

I'm on Patreon!

 Join me on Patreon!

Hi all! It took a while from the first time my friends told me about this new platform to my actually making a move to it, but here we are at last -- I'm on Patreon! Please join me there for access to my short stories, previews of my fiction and RPG work, and access to my RPG settings and adventures! 

October 22, 2018

World of Maruzar: Arrax and Zaurrax

Arrax and Zaurrax are twin cliffside cities, occupying opposite walls of the hidden Tarchonis Gorge deep in the Shangari Badlands. Founded by the legendary sorcerer-scientist warlord Narab Uzir, the twin cities were inherited by his sons, who fell out with each other and destroyed Narab Uzir’s short-lived empire in their civil war. Ever since then the populations of Arrax and Zaurrax have been at war, for both claim more of the narrow strip of farmland in the gorge than the other will allow. 

Cities in the Cliffs
Both Arrax and Zaurrax are built into the high, near-vertical cliffs. Wonderfully built palaces, galleries, turrets and garden-balconies of marble jut from the rock walls like fantastic coral growths on a reef, but now they are scarred and scorched by war. The populace of both cities have retreated into the tunnels and caves cut deep into the rock, and only watchful spies and snipers armed with crossbows or flintlocks haunt the outerworks. The main gates of both cities at the bottom of the gorge have been permanently sealed, and now the only exits are through hidden sally ports scattered across the length of the valley and atop the cliffs.

The cities are ruled by Warlords, descended from the mercenary generals of Narab Uzir’s sons. The populations are likewise descended from the mercenary army and their slaves. Several dynasties of Warlords have risen and fallen in the centuries since the twin cities were divided, but none of them dare to call an end to the war; it has become their defining purpose in life, their only hope for betterment, and their religion.

The War Eternal
Generations of strife have devastated the once-fertile farms that lined the bottom of Tarchonis Gorge. Irrigation canals have been broken, causing patches of the gorge to become barren, while other patches are verdant oases fed by leakage. No one dares to descend to the gorge by day, lest snipers from the other side pick them off. 

By night, however, hunting and raiding parties may descend in search of game and fruit, and to destroy enemy parties doing the same. A savage headhunting culture has developed, as the Warlords took to rewarding warriors who brought back an enemy head. Specially daring raiders sometimes try to climb the enemy’s outworks, hoping to bring back the head of an enemy sniper and his musket. The headhunters’ exploits however have had no effect on the war, for both cities remain as impervious to the other as ever.

Outsiders coming to Arrax or Zaurrax are usually treated with extreme suspicion, for the rulers and warriors of both cities fully expect any stranger to have dealt with their rival city first and are come as spies.  At the same time, the Warlords will be very eager for any means to tip the balance. 

The Treasures of Narab Uzir
It is believed that Narab Uzir had laboratories and vaults of ancient technology far beneath one or both of the twin cities, but sealed away so that neither of his sons could get at them. If they could be found and opened safely, what treasures might they yield? Neither the Arraxians or Zaurraxians are willing to take the risk, however, as they believe Narab Uzir booby-trapped his vaults with weapons so powerful they could bring the entire mountain crashing down.

Arrax and Zaurrax Adventure Seeds
A tomb robber, swearing he has been inside Arzulis, the capital of Narab Uzir’s kingdom, may have the key to opening Narab Uzir’s vault or vaults beneath the twin cities. But is he right, and where exactly are the vaults? 

The PCs, crash-landing in the Shangari Badlands, are captured by the patrols of one or the other of the twin cities. Initially they will be treated as spies, but if they can convince the Warlord they’re not, they’ll be recruited for some mad scheme to infiltrate the enemy city across the gorge.

Aman Zaor, former Jerdun of Dor Amaris, conceives of a plan to unite Arrax and Zaurrax so he can use their combined strength to retake his city. He of course recruits the PCs to aid him. But what will it take to convince the Warlords to make peace?

October 19, 2018

Creatures of Maruzar: Vashtian Nightwisp

The Vashtian nightwisp is a bioluminescent flying reptile popular among Azhir nobles as an exotic, ornamental pet. Flocks of them are kept in glass-domed gardens, where they perform spectacular light-symphonies by synchronous flashing of their photophores. However, nightwisps are very territorial and will attack any unknown intruders who approach their roosts en masse, and they have venomous claws. 

Lords who keep nightwisps must tame their flocks by gifts of food over at least a week before the fierce reptiles recognize him as a friend. A few nobles have taken to carrying a nightwisp on their wrists, which serves both as a living ornamental lamp and bodyguard.

Nightwisps have four wings, both pairs spanning about eighteen inches, long tails ending in a fin, large green eyes, and blue-gray, scaly skins. The leading edges of their wings, their necks, bellies and tail are lined with photophores that emit a blue light when opened. When threatened, they open their photophores to maximum brightness to dazzle an attacker.

October 18, 2018

Battle for Maruzar

The three skyships rose slowly into the dawn sky, their double rows of wings sculling the air. Tattered pennons fluttered from their superstructures, which were scarred and scorched with the marks of heavy fighting. 

Watching from top of the keep, Aman Zaor murmured an invocation to the spirits of the First Men for those brave aeronauts. With only three frigates to defend them from above, the city of Dor Amaris was likely doomed. Dor Amaris had lost too much in the last war - and it was his fault. But what choice did he have? A Jerdun must defend honor, or he is not a Jerdun. And Lemius Ras, that rakhrid-spawn, still has my twin sister. We’ll settle with Lemius Ras and the Sarissans later. First I must defend my city. 

The sun rose in crimson, sullen majesty, its swollen orb shimmering in the perpetual dust haze of the Drylands. Today though there was something wrong with it — dark motes danced against its face, like dust on water, motes that steadily grew darker and larger. A distant horn blared, and Aman Zaor glanced at his ships. Signal flags waved from their sterns: Enemy sighted east-southeast, bearing for the city. We will intercept.

“Signal to the aircraft,” Aman Zaor ordered, trying to project a calm he did not feel. “Unlock all fulgurator cannons. Fire when ready, but make every shot count.” 

Her dusky face paling, the signal officer dictated the codes to her flag crew. The ancient energy weapons were the most powerful in their arsenal, but so old they grew more and more likely to fail with every shot, and no one in Dor Amaris knew how to repair them. No, no one on all Maruzar knew that secret anymore. It was unheard of to unlock them so early in battle.

The Jerdun raised an ocular to his eyes. The leading wave of the oncoming Swarm could be made out now. At the very forefront, drifting with the air current, were the translucent, gas-filled sacs of the windgrazers. Already a few early ones were sailing overhead. The rest of the Swarm migrated to follow them — and this year, the winds were bringing them to Dor Amaris. Droning behind the windgrazers were thousands upon thousands of gaunt, six-winged shapes, their fighting limbs with their terrible serrated blades folded, quadruple emerald eyes seeking prey. Vaspids. All too soon those horrific eyes were turning downward. 

Thunder rolled above, as the three skyships shot coruscating balls of blue-white lightning. They struck the leading elements of the Swarm with a sickening sizzle that could be heard all the way to the palace bastion, and hundreds of the winged things plummeted in cinders. 

“That’s it! Good shooting, do it again!” Aman Zaor cried, and the warriors around him cheered. 

The skyships loosed another actinic broadside, and then another. There were noticeably fewer lightning balls in the last one, though, and one ship signaled a black omen: Fulgurator Cannon Two has failed. Capacitors of Cannon Two red-lining. We shall close in where we can do the most good. May the First Men guide our swordarms. 

“No, damn it! Lieutenant, signal them — abandon ship and get down here! I want every single man to fight as long as he can!”the prince said.

But the skyship captain ignored the Jerdun’s signal flags, and broke formation to head into the dark river of wings that now filled the sky. It salvoed a few lightning balls again, and then, as the winged shapes closed in, its decks spurted jets of orange flame. The flamelancers cleared a hole in the mass of the Swarm, but they didn’t have much fuel. Dor Amaris had never been a rich city. The flames inevitably sputtered out, and the dark mass closed again. 

Then the sky flared as the failed energy weapon’s power source burst. 

And then there were only two ships in the sky, both under heavy attack. Now some of the Swarm broke off to begin landing on the walls and tower terraces. One flock was headed right for the Jerdun’s keep. Aman Zaor drew his sword. “To me, battle-companions! Fight as you have never fought before! You fight not for your Jerdun, but your children!”

They followed him with a roar. 

They fought for what felt like centuries. As often as the archers and swordsmen cleared the roofs and battlements of the insectoids another wave landed, and ever the line of defenders grew thinner. In the odd lulls Aman Zaor dimly thought he saw the last of his skyships covered in black winged shapes as it began to accelerate nose-first toward the sands outside the walls, saw the collapse of his defenders at two bastions, the rivers of predators rampaging through the Lower City. Dor Amaris was dying before his eyes. 

Suddenly there was again a multiple thundering in the sky. Aman Zaor looked up. A flotilla of strange skyships was diving down from the north, energy weapons flaring as they sliced vast swathes of sky clear of the invaders. The newcomers were far larger than any Dryland prince’s skyships, blocky and lacking the multiple wings of Maruzarian aerodromons, and their weapons fired not lightning balls but beams of topaz light. 

Then the ship’s bellies were vomiting winged forms of their own, which quickly resolved into warriors in wingcloaks. While their comrades from above sent arrows and musket balls raining down upon the aliens, the cloaktroopers dived onto the towers and rooftops of the city, whipping out swords or flamelances as soon as they touched down and engaging the vaspids in well-coordinated teams. 

Their helmet crests identified them as Sarissans.

Well, hope y'all enjoyed that ... My mind's been on a sword and planet bend again for the past several months, and I'm thinking of coming up with a new sword and planet setting of my own. What do you think? 

September 5, 2018

I Still Live!

Wow, I've been gone from this blog for more than a year now. Real life can really get one down sometimes. But as John Carter would say, "We still live!" Things are finally starting to look up again for me and the missus, and it feels good to be helping an indigenous community start up an ecotourism project. The creative juices are finally starting to return as well. The Hari Ragat game will come out, and so will a return to what I consider my home genres, sword and sorcery and sword and planet.

In the meantime, my thoughts are with the people of Western Japan. Typhoon Jebi hit them really hard.
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