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:

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. 

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 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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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