June 16, 2019

Types of Lost Cities on Maruzar

First Empire Cities
First Empire cities are sprawling, unwalled, complexes of colossal towers often more than a thousand feet tall and several hundred feet on each side. The towers are built of fused stone and glass, in an airy and open style with clean flowing lines, elaborate surface decoration, and terraced landing pads for private aircraft on most floors. Many towers are built with complex polygonal cross-sections, and delicate-looking yet sturdy aerial bridges link many of the buildings. The cities however extend as much downward as upward, for their foundations are honeycombs of tunnels, machine rooms, armories, and reservoirs. Quite a few of these ruins still contain a water supply in their depths -- not enough for resettlement, but enough to sustain some Dryland wildlife and even tribes of feral humans. Save for some battle damage incurred in the Nightfall Wars, First Empire structures are usually preserved in excellent condition.

Latter Empires Cities
Ruins of the Latter Empires are either walled imitations of First Empire architecture with its towers and terraced landing pads, or partially, even fully, subterranean. Many are set into remote and hidden or easily defended locations -- hanging off a vertical cliff face, built into a mountain, hidden in the walls of a chasm or sinkhole, and so on. The structures are of stone or brick, with a wide range of quality and decoration -- some towers look like rude bandit strongholds, while those of the rulers may be entirely faced with marble, their delicate windows, minarets and buttresses rife with carvings and inlays of semiprecious stones. Latter Empires towers are always square or round, with a massive, heavy look instead of the towering delicacy of First Empire architecture.

Bandit Kingdoms Strongholds
Bandit Kindom strongholds are usually quite small, built on easily-defended heights or in desert oases, and of crude, blocky architecture as befitted their builders. Many were abandoned when their sole water supply was cut off, and so are good for no more than a night's shelter. A few lost strongholds however may hold interesting surprises. Because of their crudeness, Bandit Kingdom era strongholds are usually found in terrible condition, with many collapsed and dangerously unstable sections. 

Lairs of the Sorcerer Kings
The palaces and fortresses of some sorcerer-scientist kings still lie inviolate in the remotest corners of Maruzar. Most date back to after the Shattering, but some are even older than the First Empire. These ruins vary widely in architectural style, often hinting at the madness of their builders and rulers, and may still hold working arcane technology, stockpiles of treasure or weapons, or even living remnants of the sorcerer-scientists' breeding experiments and transdimensional trapping. Some may even have automated defense systems that still work. 

Anuuran Cities
Anuuran cities, built by slaves for the apparently amphibious Anuuran race, are entirely subterranean save for monuments and possibly religious arrangements of black monoliths at ground level. In most Anuuran sites these monoliths have been cast down or destroyed without a trace, as many human settlements are built over Anuuran warrens.  Surviving monoliths are often said to give off disturbing psychic resonances or worse. Belowground, Anuuran sites are confusing mazes of curving and criss-crossing tunnels, many with canals built into them, and there is always a massive reservoir at the very bottom. Some Anuuran cities have never been fully explored or destroyed, and there are persistent, hushed rumors that this evil race of telepaths may not yet be extinct as most of Maruzar believes.

Neshemite Necropolises
The Neshemites were a pre-First Empire human culture that dominated what is now the northern Drylands. While the cities the Neshemites lived in are now gone or built over by other cultures, many of their necropolises, on which they seem to have lavished most of their art and energies, remain. These necropolises are always set in remote hilly areas and are composed of massive flat-topped pyramidal tombs hewn out of the native rock. Monumental statuary, specially of mythical guardian beasts, surround each tomb and mark the gates of each. Unless previously looted, Neshemite tombs will be found hermetically sealed and guarded by devilish traps and sometimes even by robotic sentinels. 

Eshkorian
Eshkorian ruins are among the most haunting on all Maruzar. Once a mighty coastal empire, Eshkor's cities line the old shorelines of the Opaline Sea. Their simple, elegant architecture can still be seen in what were once verdant garden temples, colonnades, and sprawling palaces artfully blended into the landscape, with many courtyards enclosing pools and fountains -- stark reminders of Maruzar's gentler, wetter past. Eshkorian ruins are considered holy sites in the Irajin, Keshai and Marazhiran cultures, but Spaceclan greed for artifacts has led to renewed exploration and plundering of the ruins. 

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.

February 25, 2019

World of Maruzar: Food!

I'm the kind of player who likes to know what my character eats, and I like describing food for my players. I've even been threatened with massive damage if I kept on making my hungry players' mouths water a few times, heh heh. And so since the world of Maruzar feels so alive in my imagination, I couldn't help but make a list of the stuff a Maruzarian PC could eat:

Bread
The usual staple is barsa bread, a flatbread made from the starchy piths of the barsa cane. This is supplemented with blackbread, the purplish-black cap of a common fungus. Blackbread varies widely in quality, at best being soft and nutty with meaty hints, but at its cheapest it is fibrous with a dank odor. 

Meat
Breads are eaten dipped into savory stews which may contain the meat of garzah, a flightless reptavian that is the commonest meat animal on the planet, or young gannor, sand cray caught wild or cultured in underground pens, or maybe even sweet canal clams, canal crays, or cavefish. In season the meat is often game, as hunters harvest the migrating herds and fresh meat becomes plentiful. In the coastal cities there are fish and various mollusks, but more popular are the meats of certain marine reptiles. 

Fungi
Fungi are a major crop across Maruzar, as every city can produce them by recycling organic wastes and water. For cities without irrigated fields, fungi take the place of barsa as the primary staple. Fungus farms also provide some measure of food security when attacked, as the farms are protected underground. Many varieties are grown, and many cities boast of varieties unique to their tunnels. Some taste like cheese, or meat, or seafood, some are sweet, and some are mildly toxic, giving diners a euphoric buzz in small quantities, but are dangerous when over-indulged.

Wine
Meals are often washed down with a pale yellow wine made from mace melons, or the sweet and heady wine from thorncrown palm fruit, or foamy barsa beer. The nobility indulge in more exotic tipple such as nineflower wine, made from the nectar of nine different jungle blossoms found only near the Viridian Deep, or wines steeped with expensive spices or psychoactive fungi.

Street Foods
On the streets, you can find numerous stalls selling sand crays and other arthropods roasted in their shells, dumplings and buns of barsa with different mushroom fillings, bowls of noodles in soup, and skewers of grilled meat slathered with suya, a hot spicy paste made from a cactus fruit. Some meats and fish are eaten raw, with a dip of fiery dried suya or marinated in hot spiced wine.

Suya
Every Maruzarian traveler carries a pouch of dried suya powder to flavor their meals, and to treat injuries as the spice is also an excellent antiseptic and antifungal. When injured in a damp environment such as the lower tunnels, suya is vital for preventing parasitic spore infections. 

February 21, 2019

The Vatborn Races

The Maruzarians of the Inland Kingdoms and the Empire breed several kinds of genetically engineered humanoid servitors, rearing them from ovum to maturity in 'vats.' These Vatborn races are stronger and hardier than humans or better suited to certain tasks, but with generally low intelligence. Most Vatborn are created male and sterile so they cannot reproduce themselves. Since most Vatborn are bred to be low in intelligence, “Vatborn” and “spawn of the vats” are used as insults across the planet. 

Zhar
The Zhar are a Vatborn humanoid species bred for battle. Derived from reptilian stock, though warm-blooded as most reptiles of Maruzar are, Zhar stand eight feet tall but with broad wrestler’s physiques, blunt-snouted heads, and four arms. Like most Vatborn servitor races, Zhar are all male and sterile, and of lower intelligence than human average. They are of course incredibly strong and are fierce combatants. Zhar are always given big, heavy weapons - halberds, axes, huge two-handed swords, or huge maces. 

They are also bred for loyalty and courage, and in fact are selected for a very low self-preservation instinct. This doesn’t mean a Zhar won’t defend himself in combat, but his sense of risk and response to it are very different. It’s a desirable trait for the purposes of shock troops or elite bodyguards, but Zhar need a leader or a friend to restrain them at times. Rare and expensive, they are almost exclusively employed as elite bodyguards by Azhiran lords. 

Vyari
The Vyari are the most tragic of all the Vatborn races, for they have full human intelligence, look and act human, but are never considered fully human. Bred to be perfect concubines, Vyari of both sexes are always exquisitely beautiful, tall and perfectly formed, with mellifluous voices, and trained from childhood to beguile. 

Vyari come in all combinations of skin, hair and eye color, sometimes bred to specification by their owners. All of them however are indelibly marked as nonhuman by their large-irised, nearly whiteless eyes, pointed ears, and birthmark patterns that look like delicate tattoos. They have also been bred to be sterile, partly to ensure that only Vatmasters can make more Vyari, and partly because the Vatmasters’ aristocratic clients want concubines who can never complicate the succession.

All Vyari start life as slaves, but some gain their freedom by escape or manumission by their masters. These free Vyari often end up as freelance courtesans or performing artists, often with ties to the criminal underworld or as secret agents for a lord. They also excel as physicians and surgeons, instructors of the arts, merchants, or any profession that requires high social aptitude and empathy, or fine physical coordination. There have been Vyari swordmasters, assassins, heads of merchant guilds or crime syndicates, skyship captains, and so on — but they’re always rare.

Druj
The Druj are genetically engineered laborers. They appear as short, stocky, hairless humanoids, with carrot-orange skins and dark, whiteless eyes. They are much stronger than a human, but are generally peaceful and timid. Their minds are so simple that they are given only the simplest tasks to perform alone. Druj will rarely ever fight, but they have been known to charge with clumsily flailing fists to protect someone who’s been kind to them. Such treatment however is tragically rare.

Drujan
The Drujan are larger, more intelligent versions of the Druj, bred to be soldiers. Like the Druj they are squat, hairless humanoids, with dark, whiteless eyes, but have dark, rust-red skins. They are very strong and have a stolid, stubborn nature which makes them carry out orders with great determination and perseverance. This makes the Drujan ideal as defensive infantry and guards. Drujan soldiers are usually issued spears or halberds, plus heavy falchions. Their role in battle is to protect the human archers and arquebusiers, and to support assaults by human swordsmen and cavalry.

Dirinn
The Dirinn are small, furry humanoids bred to be companions and domestic servants. They have big ears and big eyes, bushy tails, and a peaceful, affectionate nature. They are also quite intelligent, sometimes much more so than their masters think, though their minds are more given to play than anything else. Most noble households in the Empire and the Inland Kingdoms keep a bevy of Dirinn servants. These beings will only ever fight in self-defense, and then only by throwing small objects to distract their attacker so they can get away. 

Monstrous Experiments
Individual vatmasters sometimes create unique Vatborn creatures, sometimes as deliberate experiments, sometimes by mistake. Sometimes a living human is genetically Reshaped as punishment for a crime, or for some sadistic purpose. Often these creatures are impaired in some way, usually sterile, diseased, or mentally unstable, but have strange and powerful abilities. The worst part of this experimentation though is that the genetic base used is always recognizably human. GMs should feel free to create unique Vatborn or Reshaped creatures for their adventures. A couple of examples of such experiments are given below.

Ophidian
The Ophidian is a blend of human genes with those of Maruzarian serpents. This creature has a serpentine body and head, but it has six humanoid arms on which it crawls. It can rear up on its last pair of arms and its tail,  enabling it to use the first two pairs to manipulate objects or wield weapons. Its fangs carry a powerful venom. Ophidians may be bred as guards, as hunters — they are excellently adapted for the tunnels — or for the arena. It’s also possible to have an Ophidian PC, if the GM allows it, for players who want to explore the stigma of being a monster.

Homunculus
The Homunculus or Psislave was created by a mentalist vatmaster to amplify his powers and act as a psionically capable servant. It is said to resemble a fetus, enlarged to the size of a ten-year old child, with a hideously enlarged and deformed cranium and open eyes that are black, unreflecting pits entirely without whites. It can help its master with psi work by allowing the master to tap its Power. However, the homunculus is permanently dependent on an elaborate and expensive life support system, unable to ever leave its glass sustainment tank. Homunculi would make interesting ‘familiars’ for mad scientists or would-be tyrants, or can be played up as strangely innocent villains causing havoc through their willful manipulation of minds.

Atavar
An atavar is a human that has been Reshaped in a gene vat to undergo a reversal of evolution, progressively losing intelligence while becoming increasingly ape-like over a span of several months. In the early stages the atavar is painfully conscious of what is happening to him or her, and fights to stay at a human level of mentality. Over time the atavar loses the power of speech, forgets how to use tools and operate devices, and acts increasingly on raw instinct. The torture of experiencing this fall will usually madden the atavar with hate, so at the last stage, when all ability to reason is gone, the atavar is nothing but a savage beast that will automatically attack any human being. Final stage atavars are often sent to the arena. 


February 19, 2019

The Zomiin Sand Monks

Mysterious, ascetic wanderers of the desert, the Zomiin sand monks are a puzzlement to people of the cities, an icon of hope to the oppressed, and a nightmare to outlaws and marauders when the monks’ aid is sought against them. 

Zomi Motives and Ethics
The Zomi order is single-mindedly dedicated to pursuing the Answer to some metaphysical question that is not well understood by outsiders. To this end the sand monks wander alone or in small groups through the desert, sometimes stopping to contemplate a ruin for days or weeks on end. Questions about the order’s true purpose and its practices are met only with cryptic answers. The main tenets of the order appear to be self-abnegation, cultivation of the mind, body and spirit through asceticism, benevolence, compassion, and justice.

Individual monks however are free to interpret the order’s teachings regarding interaction with others as they will, and since compassion is a tenet of the order, a monk is free to act in whichever way seems best to alleviate suffering or achieve justice when asked. The monks are strictly bound to help only when asked — they must not interfere on their own whim. This has led to some interesting situations where Zomiin monks find themselves opposing each other in the name of aiding different people. 

The Zomiin as a rule will not aid Inland Kingdom princes or the Emperor, nor their officers and servants, nor the Jakharan bandit tribes; they are likely however to aid small communities, travelers in distress, Harrani, and the Irajin. When the Zomiin decide to lend their aid it is a point of honor and a spiritual commitment to see the matter to the end, which has led to some epic last stands. 

The city of Myphune in particular still secretly honors the Seven Faceless Champions, who accepted a request to aid the city in its rebellion against the Empire and were all slain in the long siege that followed. Myphune is still part of the Empire, but the Seven are commemorated on the anniversary of the siege’s end with breads stamped with the Seven’s masks, and the city’s lords have never been able to stop it.

Zomiin Abnegation Masks
As part of their abnegation of the self, Zomiin sand monks wear full-face masks. Each monk designs and makes his own mask, and so despite their purpose the masks highlight individuality through their designs. Zomiin masks must all follow the basic form of a human skull; beyond that, all the features are up to the monk. Monks are only allowed to remove their masks when absolutely necessary or when told to do so by a senior monk. 

The masks are made of thin metal sheets, sometimes sewn or riveted onto a close-fitting leather hood. Additions that show vanity are forbidden, so no mask may have plumes, crests or horns, nor use precious metal or gemstones, nor use surface markings that have no practical purpose. Designs thus revolve around variations of the skull, the shape and arrangement of eye and ventilation slits, articulation of the plates making up the mask, rivets, and calligraphic inscriptions identifying the wearer. 

Syndics eagerly collect Zomiin masks as art objects. There is thus a strong black market in these masks. As the Zomiin monks never part willingly with their masks, there’s only one way to get them. 

February 15, 2019

The Rings of Maruzar

One of the core concepts of Maruzar is that the planet has rings like Saturn (or rather Boazania, heh heh), formed from the shattering of its closest moon. A fragment of that moon hit the planet, creating the Viridian Deep (aka the Amazon Basin of Hell). At first the rings were just cosmetic -- but then I started to realize that there should be more to it than that. 

Thanks to this excellent article on Mythcreants, I got some good leads on what the rings should be for Maruzar:

Maruzar’s rings are the most outstanding feature of its skies, one of the first if not the very first things an offworld visitor would notice. Not only do they look amazing, they are also a major factor in daily life and culture. Nor do parents allow their children to forget that the rings are the result of the cataclysmic Shattering, a constant reminder of why life on the planet is so difficult now.

The rings are made up of rocky fragments from the moon Varan, which was destroyed during the Nightfall War. These fragments orbit Maruzar exactly above its equator, but it’s not a stable orbit so meteor showers are frequent in the equatorial region. While most fragments simply burn up completely, larger bolides sometimes strike the Opaline Sea causing destructive tidal waves, fish kills, and even sink unlucky ships. For this reason there are no cities in the equatorial zone except deep underground. Travel through the equator is risky, so crossings are made as quickly as possible. The meteors have also ruined aqueducts, damaged ancient monuments, and worst of all infested some oases with Varanite life.

The rings are visible day and night, forming a luminous arc from horizon to horizon: silvery by day, crimson at dusk and dawn, golden at night. They are so bright that nights on Maruzar are brighter than full moon nights on Earth, and only the brightest stars can be seen against their glow. They are brightest on summer nights, so ring-viewing parties are a cultural fixture of summer in both hemispheres. Since they’re exactly above the equator and always visible, the rings have become the main celestial reference for navigation. Latitude is determined simply by checking the height of the rings’ midpoint — at the poles this point is just above the horizon, at the equator it’s directly overhead. 


February 13, 2019

Insectoids of Maruzar

Hi all! Been silent for quite a while, but I've been working quite a bit on the Maruzar sword and planet setting. I've said before that I have red sand between the ears, and up to now the sword and planet genre still feels like my 'home' genre. It's like I have this voice in my head that wants to keep telling me more about Maruzar, so I gotta write it down. 

These are the newest concepts for insectoid monsters of the Viridian Deep. Basically the Amazon Basin of Hell, the Viridian Deep is a massive rift or crater valley that's infested by an alien, jungle ecosystem. This ecosystem mounts a yearly invasion of the outer world via flying swarms.

Moon Spider
Moon spiders are horrific flying arthropods whose sole purpose is to feed their young with live prey. Moon spiderlings hitch rides on zoas by the millions, spending the days of flight mating and then devouring each other. Eventually only one female spider is left on each infested zoa (the females being stronger than the males), upon which she lays thousands of eggs into an eggcase stuck to her thorax. She then steals the zoa's hydrogen, filling her abdomen with it so that it becomes her balloon. 

The moon spider is now in its final and deadly phase. She hangs head down from her balloon, scanning the ground for prey. When she spots prey of sufficient size to feed her brood, she detaches from her abdomen to drop on the prey, relentlessly attacking with her poisoned fangs until it is subdued. Her eggs then hatch, and the spiderlings feed on the paralyzed prey while the mother dies. If the spiderlings can then find a zoa tree, they will climb it and wait for its zoas to bud so they can repeat the gruesome cycle. 

Mature moon spiders have a translucent, globular abdomen filled with hydrogen at least ten feet across, while the cephalothorax is about the size of a large dog. The spider has twelve legs, the same number of eyes, and a pair of six-inch fangs filled with paralytic poison. When she drops to attack she can run faster than a gannor and is much stronger than a man. However, she only has the energy to attack for three to five rounds of combat, after which she dies.

If the mother succeeds in paralyzing her victim her spiderlings will hatch and begin to feed; any attempt to drive them off will cause them to attack as a swarm. If the mother fails, your party has a couple of minutes to destroy the egg sac before the spiderlings hatch and swarm. 

Colossus Beetle
The colossus beetle is a titanic insectoid that never leaves the Viridian Deep except to die. This mysterious creature spends most of its life deep in the alien jungles, but when infected by parasites, it climbs out to die. Nobody knows why. No human being has ever encountered a living one. However, colossus beetle carcasses are a precious resource that adventurers, merchants and even cities will fight over. Its chitin is simply one of the hardest, toughest, and most beautiful materials known on Maruzar.

Looting a colossus beetle carcass however is an epic challenge in itself. The chitin is so hard that it takes a long time to cut even with acetylene torches, and the exoskeletons are huge, often exceeding fifty feet long, thirty wide and near twenty high. Moreover, the carcasses always harbor at least one dreadworm. For a long time only the driest, already crumbling exoskeletons could be harvested, until some bright merchant came up with an ingenious solution for taking the whole thing at once. 

Now adventurers harvesting colossus beetle shells enter them from beneath, to insert and inflate hydrogen balloons. This is done until the whole interior of the beetle's shell is filled with gasbags, and additional buoyancy is provided with levor spheres lashed outside. Once the shell becomes lighter than air, it can be towed by a skyship to civilization. It usually takes two to three days of work to get a colossus beetle shell airborne, more if there are delays in cleaning the dreadworms out from its insides.

Dreadworm
The dreadworm is a horrid, disgusting parasite and carrion-eater that is encountered inside colossus beetle carcasses. It appears like a pallid white, slimy, rubbery centipede, 15-20 feet long, with a segmented body sporting a pair of flipper-like legs at every segment save the head and tail. Its head is large, eyeless, and armed with a parrot-like beak, which consists of some exotic substance that can easily cut chitin and even metal armor. 

When disturbed, a dreadworm immediately attacks. It has a pair of sensitive ears in every segment, allowing it to hear even the smallest motions and attack with precision even without sight. Fortunately it can't always distinguish what their target should be, and will attack the closest object disturbing it. Moreover, the whole worm is always coated with a thick, slippery mucus, and fighting one with melee weapons will often get at least one's hands slimed; this makes it extremely difficult to hold on to a weapon. 

While no dreadworm has ever been captured alive, nor have dreadworm-colossus beetle interactions ever been observed in the wild, scholars now believe that mature dreadworms are aquatic creatures that attack their titanic hosts when these come to drink. The worms chew their way into the host, and there lay eggs. The larval dreadworms then eat the colossus beetle inside out, and when the food starts to run low, they begin cannibalizing each other. Thus only one, rarely two or three, dreadworms are left inside a carcass when it is found. 

The savant Teren Sua Zil has even suggested that the reason why colossus beetle carcasses are always found at the edge of the Viridian Deep is because the beetles are making a last desperate attempt to deny their parasites the chance to infect a new host. By dying in the drier environment outside the Deep, with its thinner and poorer atmosphere, the colossus beetle traps the last dreadworms inside it. 


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