Tuesday 24 October 2023

Crawling To An End

Well, folks, that's it. With the Hive we've reached the end of the mostly-adventured-in area that the Band knew during my pandemic-era online campaign. And although the 2023 stunt is supposed to grind on to the bitter end, for me filling hexes has slowly started to be less enjoyable, and this seems like a natural stopping point.

Thank you to all who have followed, peeked in, left comments, and a special thank-you to all the members of the Band of Bronze wherever they may be!

I'll probably wrap up on the weekend with an overview map of the areas west of Alakran. Will I have enough opinions about games to keep on posting and ranting? Perhaps, perhaps ...

Final farewell do a dead Egyptian pharaoh in his tomb. Liebig card, early 20th century, from a series on the entombment of a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt.

Monday 23 October 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #277: The Golden Hive of Shuddud

Moving due west of Eryptos, we find ourselves eleven hexes northeast, four north of Alakran.


For many centuries the Golden Hive of Shuddud has the pride and comfort of the province of Eryptum. A small group of Mitraic priests tends the Hive in a tall red brick shrine not far from the provincial capital, that looms over a barren stretch of ground. The Hive’s bees make a honey that empowers mighty remedies.

The following rumours, not all of which are true, buzz around the Hive.

1. Many years ago, in the most wicked reign of the tyrant Ushum-gallu, the honey of the Hive turned black. And when in defiance Ushum-Gallu ate of it, he sickened and died within a week.

2. The priests have a fine legend about the Hive. But if you go far back enough in the royal chronicles, you simply find that the priests found a magic beehive near a hole in the ground, built it larger, and put the shrine walls around it for protection.

3. Sages think it no coincidence that the Hive was established a slow day’s walk from the ancient holy grounds of the old god of insects, Apshai.

4. The honey of Shuddud has power even over death. It has revived two kings, two royal heirs, a queen, and countless people of lesser importance.

5. I know someone, who knows someone, who has seen the Hive. It is enormous; a person could easily stand in it. And covered all in gold!

6. The toy mantises in the hands of children are from a festival that protects farmers against insect pests, which was last week—the only time people here hold Apshai above Mitra in their hearts.

7. A good thing they’ve forbidden the old Apshai place. A child was playing near there and got stung by a wasp. When he tried to swat it, it cursed at him and threw a splinter in his face!

8. Never are bees seen outside the shrine, and those who have seen inside say there are no flowers. How is the honey made?

9. It is said of the honey of the Hive, a person may receive its blessing only once in a lifetime. Thereafter, it lies bitter on the tongue, sickly in the belly.

10. The priests of the hive learn the language of bees, which is a kind of a dance.

11. According to the scrolls of the keepers of the Hive, it descended from heaven in response to the prayers of priests during a plague, giving honey to cure the sick and even revive the dead!

12. Sacred texts tell us that of all insects, the bee was the only one to leave the old god Apshai and acknowledge the truth of Mitra. The Hive was given to humanity in honour of the bee’s wisdom.

The Hive was also the site of one of the Band of Bronze's strangest adventures - but that story awaits to be told another time.

Sunday 22 October 2023

Hex Crawl 23: Eryptos 5, Low Life

 Lurking under the surface of life in Eryptos and indeed all of Wahattu are two secret societies. The Band of Bronze is more familiar with the Scarabs. This society started out epochs ago as a heresy who believed in a single deity and an afterlife beyond the official and somewhat gloomy one, in which the faithful would enjoy eternal joy in perfect remade bodies. This credo was spelled out in the frescoes of the chambers adjacent to the so-called River of the Dead in the lowest level of the Shroom's caverns.

Now the Scarabs have forgotten these beliefs and dedicate themselves to the clandestine struggle against Chaos' powers which already have engulfed Dulsharna. They will pay well for relics of the earlier sect, for it is thus that they validate themselves. However, they are most concerned with the doings of the Serpent, who are believed - rightly - to have infiltrated the court of the King of Wahattu.

The Scarabs seek out possible allies or threats through a number of low-level agents, like the short, stout and brusque young fellow, Shallilum, whom the Band of Bronze first met. If the contact warrants serious dealings, however, Nikanur himself will appear - the most active among the inner circle. A tall, bald man, skin darkened and seamed from long familiarity with the sun, in simple dusty-colored clothes and with hard hands, he is tough but measured and fair, and teaches a style of unarmed combat among other mysteries.

The Serpent agents are more shrouded in mystery, and may indeed include some of the shape-shifting serpent men of ancient lineage. What is clear, though is that Eryptos has no petty crime, for fear of the influence of these societies. If someone is killed or something is stolen in Eryptos, it is because someone wanted them killed or robbed. Even the Scarab are not above a little targeted crime to benefit their operations and thwart the schemes of the Serpent.

Of course, sin is not the same as crime, and all sorts of indulgent whims are catered to in the semi-respectable Lantern District and the no-at-all-respectable Furnace quarter on the other side of town. The custom among the aristocracy is to wear veils or masks when visiting these places, Now, while the upstart trade class proudly wish to be seen in the Lantern, in the Furnace they mimic their betters and hide their faces -- to the great chagrin of the latter, but who would want to make a scene in the Lantern, in a bawdy-house almost certainly run by the agents of the Scarab or the Serpent?

Saturday 21 October 2023

Hex Crawl 23: Eryptos 4, Trade and Commerce

Unlike Gesshed, the business of Eryptos is not done out in the open. Indeed, there are markets for common food, common cloth, and whatever else is hawked to common people. But the business of the noble and trade class is not advertised. It takes place in shops that occupy the time-worn houses of Eryptos, and only reputation and word of mouth can direct the visitor to the finer opportunities for buying and selling.

For example, there is a district of precious goods near the streets of the Mongoose and of the Dove (as might be guessed, street names have nothing to do with the shops. Here is the high-end jeweller's establishment run by Hunca, marble-fronted, and the less prestigious gem shop of Warassa, of the red awning. Both are notable for their utmost discretion, and goods found or burgled from outside Eryptos can be passed off there in perfect confidence.

Notable also is the establishment of Lishlim, with a lapis-lazuli door lintel. Heir to a traditional business of gilding horns, patronized by the Black Gazelle legion and other status-strivers who ride around pulled by horned beasts, she has also branched out into decorative dentistry for humans and canines, and can fit you with a golden smile, or your pet wolf with a silver bite. It was in dealing with Lishlim that the Band of Bronze found out the Eryptan taboo and phobia of shapechangers, with no opportunity to explain that their sandwalker was of the good kind and merely wanted a set of silver tooth-caps for her wolf form to deal with the real, bad, werecreatures.

These shop-dealers form a kind of staid secondary society in Eryptos, their dealings sealed by family marriages. Around them in that social circle dance the more exciting and volatile travelling merchants, among whom Mery-Tina, friend to the Band of Bronze, is a rising star. The divans and salons of the shop and merchant set ape the events of the true nobility, with more high-minded exotica from the merchants' far-flung and exotic connections, and a studious avoidance of vulgarity that is, itself, a kind of vulgarity.

Friday 20 October 2023

Hex Crawl 23: Eryptos 3, Alchemy and Sorcery

Eryptos is also a hub of many different approaches to science and the supernatural. The sorcerous scene is dominated by two rival wizards. Both of them were apprentices of Kul-Gattur the Mahal, and feel very keenly that they have not yet reached the cosmic heights of their master's understanding.

Syrioth, level 9 - A gaunt woman about 40, dark skin and dyed golden hair, antique garments that almost form a costume, eyes hollow and staring from madness, nonetheless attentive and prone to insightful if paranoiac observations. She has few if any boundaries, and casts spells with a vulture-headed golden crook.

Abru the Obscurer, level 10 - A tall, muscular man about 45, light olive skin, bald with henna-dyed braids on the side. He wears heavy dark robes cut from foreign cloth, and has a hairless pet cat (a familiar, perhaps?) who is always under his feet. Abru's reputation is aloof and secretive with sparks of curiosity. He projects a forceful gaze, and a no-nonsense manner. His spellcasting uses a ponderous ring of lead and silver that spans the first three knuckles of his left hand.

The influence of these two is such that other would-be wizards, warlocks, and dabblers have either left town or keep their profile very low. Each of them has selected favorites in the court intrigue but sees no profit in pursuing it.

It is also worth mentioning the clandestine shop of magical artifacts that can be found behind a door round the back of a shop that sells discs of dried meat. Knock five times rapidly; a door opens, a wary eye looks out. The shop itself is lined with dusty shelves in a richly appointed miniature salon whose air is gummy with perfume. It's run by an effusive Dwarf of Yagan known as Vinnit. The shop will have 2d4 minor magic items and d4-1 major magic items for sale at standard prices plus a 20% markup. Vinnit will also buy wondrous objects, to the limits of his treasury, which is about 5000 gold. 

Finally, there is a Street of Alchemists filled with various quacksalvers and only two or three of the real deal. One of these is Zagum, who is secretly connected to the Scarab Society, and is constantly on the lookout for new substances and recipes. He certainly found these in abundance when the Band of Bronze opened up the dank halls of the Sinister Shroom, and even voyaged to those caverns to pick up samples of biomass and tantalizing glimpses of the Shroom's own records on the matter of the creation of semi-vegetative life through various serums and oozes.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Hex Crawl 23: Eryptos 2, High Life

At the apex of the Eryptan social pyramid is the Prince and Heir, the Radiant Gemsbok of Autumn, who will receive a proper name on his eighteenth birthday. More or less invisibly, a network of protectors, tutors, and informants surrounds him. Because the kings of Eryptos distrust their sons while they are alive, the network is also a restraining and distracting one, indulgent of the Prince's hunting and carousing. The main guardian of the Prince is a tall eunuch (Wahatti custom recognizes self-castrated men as a third gender), Gugalanna the Precious Fragment, with a cutting, no-nonsense style about them, and feared as a poisoner and anatomically skilled assassin. His tutor and advisor is Belzarbi, a philosophical greybeard who holds the lad back from dissipation to prepare him to rule as much as he can, given that Gugalanna actively encourages it.

The opposing faction favors the ten-year-old Exultant Cricket to inherit the throne, son of the King's oldest concubine Kishar (as opposed to his legitimate wife Aa). It is led by one Gahal, the Hissing Peacock, a vain and histrionic man of wealth currently on his sixth wife. Quietly and secretly, the machinations of the Cricket faction are carried out by the supreme crafter of innuendo, the white-veiled widow Kug-Bau nicknamed "[Who Scatters] Infamy like Dust." Their supporter in Mu-Asharru is the Royal Minister, Zakirum, known as the "Bitterest Teardrop."

The Prince himself has three dwellings: the towering and mostly empty Palace that  rises above the city, where he conducts official business; a secure compound next to the District of Lanterns, where he stays when in party mode; and a secluded and mostly unknown pied-a-terre at the end of the Street of Goldsmiths where he goes when he wants privacy. A large piazza surrounds the Palace, and the mansions of the great and noble families cluster with their front gates to the piazza, observing the comings and goings from the seats of power. The mansions are massive, but necessarily lower than the Palace, and unlike that austere building, their owners compete to furnish the lushest and most fragrant gardens on the property.

A second ring around the mansions holds such establishments as academies, old and dignified temples of Set and Mitra, libraries and archives, and the seasonal residences of visitors from the capital, Mu-Asharru.  It is in this isolated environment that the high and mighty circulate, a delicate dance between the Prince and his detractors, a duel of innuendo and power moves carried out through exclusive invitations to salons, high-minded musical concerts, poetic and philosophical symposia, and the privileged offices of worship services. 

Servants and tradespeople live outside this circle, and the nobles do not treat with them directly, but through their household staff. Adventurers? Just another kind of servant. Only through great favor, or through deception and infiltration, will visiting wanderers see the high life of Eryptos.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #276: Eryptos 1, The City

Nine hexes northwest, five north of Alakran.

At last we are arrived at Eryptos, capital of Pnokath and watchword for culture, dissipation, and intrigue. The district around the city is as mundane and agrarian as the city itself is fullof life and wonders. The four hamlets of 500 people or so only provide services to the scattered homes of farmers who till the fields, in soil well watered from the flow and winter floods of the river Kathithi. These honest folk prefer to deal in the outlying villages, than to tread the dangerous and epoch-worn paving stones of the city. And who can blame them?

The floods also affect the wall-less city, through which the river runs, and in winter nobles are carried about in palanquins while others restor to platform soles to stay dry or simply endure wet, chilly legs and feet. The great residential towers of the Principal Palace loom like pale ghosts over the lower buildings and provide a constant landmark and reminder of power. But power is contested, the city is built to deny power to the royal heir and keep him dissipated and distracted. The political game is played between those who would strengthen and elevate him, and those that would destroy him utterly in the name of the Cricket, rival son of the King's oldest concubine.

We will linger here almost a week as further aspects of the city are revealed:

2. Layout and Landmarks

3. High Life

4. Sorcery and Alchemy

5. Trade and Commerce

6. Low Life