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[TSoY Prep] What is in the ancient Zaru capital?

Started by Frank Tarcikowski, June 26, 2007, 01:14:16 PM

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Frank Tarcikowski

So, in our World of Near, I am using Harald's interpretation of the geography: The Zaru now live in the Zaru delta, but the peninsula to the north is the ancient Zaru, with lots of ruins of former days. Khale is more to the west, with direct borders to Ammeni, Oran, and Qek. Now, the protagonists have had some quarrels with an Ammenite plantation in the swamps, and a rebel camp in the lower mountains. They have discovered an ancient inscription that led them to the even more ancient capital of old Zaru.

They used the Secret of Contacts to make friends with a tribe of Goblins, and killed a giant water dinosaur beast protecting the entrance of a cave with a pig stuffed with dynamite. They discovered some ruins in the cave, and the trespass to the ancient city, decorated with the shattered remains of dozens of raiders. They discovered that the only way for save passage was using "Zu" as a syllable of power, which three of four protagonists then did. The fourth one could not, for he has killed. So he braved his way through magical stalagmites hammering at him at master level and dealing +4 harm.

We quit play just as they enter an enchanted vale where the ancient capital lies, the scent of flowers and the song of a thousand birds bidding them welcome. That was good, because I don't have a clue what's inside the city. I recently read a Conan comic about Hyperborea which inspires me a little, but I'm still mostly clueless. Clueless as to everything: How did the ancient Zaru live when they still had the power of Zu? Did they quit their old capital before the Sky Fire? What happened after the Sky Fire? What's going on in the city now? Surely it's not just some deserted old rocks.

What do you say? What is in the ancient Zaru capital?

Oh, the protagonists are:

An elven sorceress with the Key of Glittering Gold and a self-made Key of the Magician.
A human trader/sorcerer with the Key of the Impostor and the Key of Glittering Gold.
A goblin ne'er-do-well with the Key of the Masochist and a self made Key that is all about being accepted into a community.
A human warrior and tomb-raider with the Key of Reknown and the Key of Bloodlust, and an intelligent sword that drinks blood.

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Eero Tuovinen

My first idea would be to go sword & sorcery style: the ancients were long, thin and white, with flowing robes and large foreheads. They lived in crystal palaces powered by their mighty magics. Now all that is left are ruins, with ape-men and other beasts lurking in the dark recesses of the buildings mostly reclaimed by nature.

As for what happened, I figure that when the language of Zu started spreading outside the vale (a story for another time, this probably happened centuries before the Sky Fire), the people of the First City followed suit: the language grew slowly weaker and could not sustain the large population of the time, so the Zaru were forced to expand at a constant rate into the Zaru country. The slow decline was interrupted by the arrival of the Maldorite Cultural Inspection Unit (like Gloranthan Godlearners, sent by the Threecorner Academy to study native magics and beliefs to integrate them in the threecorner theory in the works at the time) a decade or two before the Sky Fire, when the city had already been in decline for a couple of centuries. At this point Zu was endemic in the world and quite well known in the Threecorner Academy as well; the mission of the CI unit was to pillage the city of any Zu secrets not yet released to the public (remember, at this time Zu worked differently, the same word could be duplicated to anybody who wanted to learn it), to suborn any masters living in the city and to bring back enough experts and data to enable threecorner theorists to perfect tools for manipulating Zu via Threecorner secrets. (As we know, the goal of the Threecorner Academy was to build a synchretistic magical theory based on Maldorite folk magic and rigorous academics.)

The CI unit was welcomed in the First City, but something went wrong despite the initial friendliness. The vale was lost, and is now being rediscovered. What, specifically, I would put in there on first thought:

  • Key of Community: A goblin tribe lives there. Really primitive, and pathetically grateful to any civilized being who treats them with kindness. However, they want their benefactor to join the tribe and swallow a sharp, fist-sized crystal chunk broken off from a mysterious building. "Tribe of the Crystal" identity crap, with perhaps an attached Secret. The thing is, non-goblins die of internal bleeding, while goblin anatomy ousts the crystal halfway, so it gets stuck on the outside of their tummy as a glowing tribal sign. The goblins know that humans die of the crystal, which is why they don't trust humans.
  • Key of Glittering Gold: The aforementioned crystals the goblins use are really valuable, but they're also sacred, and dangerous to get (the building they come from might be radio-active, for instance), and you have to be a master artisan to polish them, unless you harvest directly from live goblins, whose stomach juices polish the crystal into an etheric shine during initiation.
  • Key of the Magician: Is this more about generic occult knowledge or specifically about revealing the roots of the Threecorner tradition? Either way, there's an ancient elf from the aforementioned Cultural Inspection unit trapped under the city. (Either he's mad and falsely thinks he's a grey elf, and therefore afraid to die, or some ancient zaru magic is making him reincarnate in the same place every time he kills himself.) He has a manuscript called Formulae Trianguli Zuonis Condita, a handbook in the works for unifying Zu and Threecorner magic. He also knows where the Threecorner Academy is, even after all these years. He might send dreams to the surface dwellers, perhaps causing distress to the aforementioned goblins.
  • Key of Bloodlust: The aforementioned goblins have a bane to their existence, a huge lizard monster that hunts them during the night. The monster smells the elf entrapped in the city and lairs nearby because it used to be a CI unit member/pet, loyal forever. It is near impossible to defeat in battle after growing for centuries inside the magical city. If it is injured seriously, or the elf is harmed, the lizard is quite willing and intelligent enough to follow the explorers outside the vale, perhaps causing trouble later on.
  • Key of Glittering Gold: There is gold in the city, certainly. It was used by the inhabitants for bribing away barbarians and trading what little they needed from the outside world. The gold is branded with beautiful images, for Zaru did not even then have a written language. It is all stored in a large, beautiful building near the middle of the city, and the goblins know it. The building is quite seriously haunted by the Sasha of a dozen ancient Zaru leaders; the elf trapped in the ruins still remembers them and won't let them disappear. (The spirits were killed and summoned by a member of the CI unit as part of their investigation, after shit hit the fan all those centuries ago.) They are only too happy to lead the inquisitive treasure hunter to the treasure, but only in exhange for him killing the elf first. Even if found, the gold will have to be remelted, or otherwise any Zaru elder will recognize that it has been stolen from some ancient Zaru ruin.
  • Key of the Impostor: The goblins will require deception, crave it in some cases. The elf under the city will be quite willing to be fooled after centuries of imprisonment. Also, while the aforementioned Sasha might be very powerful and wise, they can still be fooled by false identities. The enterpreneurial adventurer group will walk in and out with lies on their tongues.
  • Key of Renown: There are several opportunities for renown in the above scenario: the beast, the elf and the Zaru elders entrapped by foul Qek magics are all great adventures in their own right. The thing is, you might want to have a NPC (perhaps a cocky Khalean, young Khalean men have that habit of adventuring outside their homeland; an Ammenite might be interesting as well, as he'd see the potential in enslaving the Crystal Goblins) contest the adventures a bit later; perhaps somebody followed the party to the secret valley and stumbles upon them at an opportune moment? The NPC wouldn't be particularly incidious; rather, he'd be very willing to join forces for a share of the treasure, with useful skills for the situation. The trick is, he has the Key of Renown as well. And chances are that he will be much more proactive in creating and upholding his legend once the expedition gets back, even willing to lie to grow his legend.
  • Key of Masochist: Seriously, I got nuthin'. If there's a non-dramatic key in the world, this is it. Basicly, the character will just make choices for getting injured, and there should be plenty of those in the city.

Hmm... rather barbaric stuff. No idea I had a D&D adventure in me. And looking at your description of the last session, you might not want to have more goblins and dinosaurs again. Anyway, some Crunch to work with the above:

Secret of the Crystal
The character integrates with a mysterious crystal from the First City with a successful Adaptation check. (Failure causes Harm level 4, success Harm level 2.) The crystal is plainly visible, embedded in the character's skin and collecting sunlight to power itself. Apart from social privileges, the crystal piece permits the character to store and use a Zu syllable without having the Secret of Zu or the language itself. (The crystal sings the syllable when pressed correctly, either by the muscles of the character or an outside force.) One piece of crystal stores one syllable, and the activating character (who needs not be the character with the crystal, assuming cooperation or imprisonment) uses any musical ability instead of Zu for any required checks. The character with the Secret pays any Pool costs for using Zu. A character may have several crystals, but the Adaptation check result required goes up by one per additional crystal. Requirements: Be a goblin.

Secret of Formulae Trianguli Zuonis
The character has learned the incomplete magical theory for suborning Zu for Threecorner magical practice from the era of Absalon. The character may learn Zu syllables and use them with Threecorner focuses: Creation for Nouns, Enthrallment for Verbs and either Transformation or Enchancement for Modifiers, whichever fits the usage better. The character may only combine several Zu syllables by crafting a spell; a spell with Zu components works exactly like a normal Threecorner spell, including Pool discount and required Ability checks, and may be taught to others who do not know this Secret. The user of such a spell does not need to know the syllables used in the Spell. However, a Zu component of any spell ceases to function immediately if the same syllable is used elsewhere during the duration of the spell.

Ritual of Possession
The character, a roho, sasha or zamani, may possess an empty body without the help of a Zamani. The ritual is near instantaneous in living time, but the body may resist with Endurance, in which case the cost of Possession goes up by the success level. Possession only works on living, breathing bodies. Cost: 1+ (Endurance check) in Instinct Requirement: Secret of the Walozi, or be a sasha or zamani.

A large lizard monster
Vigor: 15
Instinct: 10
Reason: 5
Endure (Vigor): Master
React (Instinct): Adept
Resist (Reason): Unskilled
Ripping apart Prey (Vigor): Grandmaster
Sniffing out Prey (Instinct): Adept
Loyalty to Master (Instinct): Grandmaster
Serving Master (Reason): Competent
Secret of Domestication
Secret of Lone Predator
Secret of Engulfing
Secret of Mighty Blow

Secret of Domestication
The animal has learned to trust an intelligent being and looks to it for leadership. It may refresh pools by interacting with it's master. Requirements: animal-level intelligence.

Secret of Lone Predator
The animal is by birth a lonely predator. It may make one Passive Ability check per week to regain the success level in Ability-appropriate Pool points, as long as it continues living according to it's instincts. Requirements: instincts of a lone predator.

Secret of Engulfing
The character is large and beastly enough to swallow his enemies whole. After gripping a considerably smaller enemy in his jaws (usually a separate matter of conflict), the character may, with a successful resisted Ability check, swallow his enemy. This works in or out of BDTP. The gulleted enemy is doomed to a particularly gruesome death, unless it is indigestible or the character is slain almost immediately afterwards. The enemy action is sharply constrained by the compromised position, to say the least, and the gulleted enemy suffers level one Harm per round of BDTP spent in the gullet. Cost: 5 Vigor. Requirements: a lizardly anatomy.

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Frank Tarcikowski

Eero, you are incredible. Seems I'm good to go. Anybody else who has an idea: You can just throw in a single sentence, though a fully developed scenario is appreciated. :-D

If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Frank Tarcikowski

If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.

Rob Alexander

Quote from: Frank Tarcikowski on June 27, 2007, 01:05:06 PM
Anybody else who has an idea: You can just throw in a single sentence, though a fully developed scenario is appreciated. :-D

I think Eero pretty much is The Man. Tho I can try for a couple more Key conflicts ---

Key of Bloodlust versus Key of Glittering Gold: the monster is has some kind of value alive, perhaps as a beast of war.

Key of Bloodlust versus Key of the Magician: as above, but the beast has magical uses


Eero Tuovinen

Let us know how it goes. And don't downplay the Zaru elder spirits, if you decide to use them; they would have a HUGE importance for any Zaru of today, despite none of the characters being Zaru as far as I understand. I would have them send important messages to their living descendants with the characters, just to mess with them. Or, if it came to that, Possessing a character to go themselves. Of course they're naive and fragile beings of a gentler age, so that can only end sadly. Ammenites would make mince-meat of a Zaru elder from a "wiser, gentler age" if one came to them to negotiate for the freedom of their people...

Oh, and Rob's points are excellent, of course you'd want to put the Keys in opposition as well. More elaboration:

Zaru gold: Heavy implications for community acceptance and Renown. Perhaps one of the Zaru elders could have a different agenda, and he'd ask the characters to take the gold to the Zaru resistance, to fund the struggle. He could offer blessings and secret signs that would be recognized by genuine Zaru elders, and all but ascertain community acceptance among the traditionalists. A character strutting ancient Zaru gold would be received like Moses among the rebellion, I imagine.

The Beast: As Rob said. Perhaps the hypothetical Khalean/Ammenite (or both, who am I to say that a whole townful of NPCs haven't followed the PCs into the vale) Renown-hound could be used as a cat's paw to point out the possibilities. Heck, it's not that far out for a Khalean or Ammenite to have a Secret for taming the monster. PCs might want to learn something like that, too.

The Renown-hound: It seems obvious to me that the way to meet this guy would be to stumble on him, gravely injured from the cave trap earlier. He could reveal that he's with a larger group, the rest of which stayed outside while he scouted the interior. The implication would be that if the characters tarry in the valley for several days, the larger group of competitors might come in and interfere with them. Or if they hurry out, they'll have to deal with the campers outside. Either way, my agenda here is simple: you need more human participants in the city to have SG mouthpieces and an outside perspective on the parochial priorities of the goblins, the elf and the Zaru spirits.

Encouraging Imposture: I don't know about your players, but mine often benefit from gentle hints for where their Keys might be put to good use. For example, the Zaru elder spirits might outright ask anybody coming to their temple whether the strangers are their Zaru descendants. The same with the elf, he might ask the first thing whether the first visitors in decades (centuries, depending on your take on how long the Darkness lasted) are Maldorite/Academy resque group sent to save the CI unit. Giving a blatant opportunity like this is a good technique in a game where the point is not for the player to be clever in finding opportunities, but rather be sensitive in choosing when to use them, and how to carry the consequences.

Secret of the Beastmaster
The character has exceptional sympathy with the beings of the wild, and may try to tame even normally untameable creatures to his side. A successful Animal Handling (I) check versus the animal's Resistance (R) is needed to tame the animal. This can only be tried in amiable conditions or with the animal in captivity. The check is needed even if the animal wants to be tamed. The character needs to buy Secret of the Beast Familiar for any creature tamed in this way, unless the interaction is only temporary. Cost: 3 x (highest Ability of the target) from Pools based on the method of taming.

Secret of the Beast Familiar (familiar)
A given beast is tamed and cooperative with the character. The player of the character plays the beast as well, although the SG may require checks of Animal Handling (I) vs the animal's Resistance (R) in exceptional situations. If the familiar is lost for any reason, the Advance spent on this Secret is lost. Requirement: Success in taming the beast.

By the way: It seems to me that you have a quite traditional "adventuring looters" wibe in the game. Have you written any actual play descriptions for this group? I'd be curious to check out how this kind of adventuring goes with TSOY; we always end up playing highly personal social drama with the system for some reason.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


The elf in the crytal only lives because he knows the Zu syllable for "life, live, living"...

Frank Tarcikowski

We played on Sunday. I used a lot of Eero's ideas, but replaced the giant lizard by a pack of raptors (we already had a giant dinosaur beast last time) and tossed out the Goblins (we also had a Goblin tribe last time). Instead, I decided that the Watchers have discovered the old capital and now hide a lot of Zu Syllables here. I used the town creation rules from Dogs as an inspiration to include "something wrong" in the community. I made the ghosts of the Zaru elders a little more twisted and vengeful than Eero imagined them, as a contrast to the peaceful Watchers. That explains why the Elf is trapped: The ghosts keep him trapped as their ultimate vengeance. To make things even more complicated, I tossed in a tribe of white ratkin, just like those who inhabit the Three Corner Academy.

The Watchers have a conflict between pacifist an none-pacifist members, and one of the none-pacifist members, influenced by the vengeful ghosts, approached the PCs, proposing to loot the treasures of the ancient temple and use the gold to hire a company of mercenaries or two to free Zaru, for the war with Khale is binding all the Ammenite armed forces. (The Watchers learned through their information network that the Ammenites just suffered a major defeat in the forests of Khale as one of their forces was lured into a trap and wiped out.)

At the same time, the PC goblin was making friends with the pacifist Watchers, who were treating her much more kindly than her fellow PCs. The elven sorceress PC had a dream of the elf entrapped in the temple by angry ghosts. That brought up the question, what is a dream to an elf?

We then did some classic adventuring, the PCs sneaking their way past ratkin and fighting the raptors in the temple garden. We quit as they entered the temple, where treasures, ghosts and the elven wizard await. I think it was our best session so far. Thanks again to Eero and everybody else for your ideas.

- Frank
If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.