Friday, February 21, 2014

A Holiday in The Scarlet Sun

The Nefarious Nine after more than a year are back on the trail of one of their longtime White Whales, the Golden Barge that I mentioned the other day here. After a number of NPC horse trades the current resting place is in the hands of a fiendish satrap in the hitherto blank(ish) spot on the map, the Scarlet Sultantate.

Which is all just to say “yay” by me as it gives me an excuse to hone down on creating some new real estate in the campaign. Here's a first stab.

The Scarlet Sultanate
No other human land gets as much verbal abuse, naked envy and off-color joke-making in Overkingdom conversations as does the Scarlet Sultanate. To be sure the land called Himyar by its inhabitants, a name that roughly translates into Vulgar Hyperborean as the “human nation that is not shit,” is a dizzying place of refinement, great beauty, baffling mores and terrifying mystery.

The sun-dappled northern and eastern edges of the mini-continent are quite pleasant year-round in climate, dominated by ancient chaparral-covered low-rounded mountains punctuated by broad, citrus-groved valleys, willow-choked box canyons, bizarrely-twisted iron-woods, wide black-sanded beaches and languorous red-walled cities. Further in the mountains rise up high and the northern faces are covered in thick cedar forests and cratered moonscapes with small clusters of mountain-clan towerhouses clinging to cliff faces here and there. The southern reaches--tucked into the rain shadow of the Persimmion Sea--are a bleak and cold rocky desert, only made more terrifying by the vast cyclopean ruins in its stony interior.

The People
While culturally the peoples of the coastal areas are fairly homogenous, a curious divide exists around skin pigmentation between the albino “Whites” and coal-hued “Blacks.” Though there is literally no biological, social class, or other meaningful distinction between the two “races”, Himyaris tend to socially segregate among these lines.

Supreme power is held by the Scarlet Sultan, an anonymous monarch chosen from the youngest son of the royal family of scarlet-skinned “Reds” who overthrew the insane, devil-worshiping “Yellows” centuries ago. While absolute in his power, by tradition the monarch does not sully himself with the dirty work of anything like ruling. All real political decisions goes through the Barren Mothers (a court council of ritually-sterilized Reds), a shadowy network of assassin-mystics, and the White and Black necromancer-satraps of the provinces.

Traditional Himyari religion revolves around the worship of  “Ilmuqah the True Moon”, a third white moon that believers say is so pure in its divinity that it cannot be perceived by the inadequate human eye. Popular representations of the deity present him as a massively-ripped, vine-draped man with a bull's head who masochistically rips himself apart with raw lightning in the shape of a sickle once a month. This divine self-mutilation is said to be both a training regimen for his annual “ass kicking” of the Sun Lord on the first day of winter and a self-imposed penance for the self-evident horribleness of human existence.

In recent centuries traditional worship has been replaced in the sophisticated coastal cities with the abstracted doctrine of the Thousand-Seeded Pomegranate, a belief system that is so multi-faceted, highly-theorized and internally contradictory that it stubbornly defies explanation to heathen northerners. The mountain dervishes while outwardly professing old-time Ilmuqah religion are said to worship in secret a tribe of demon dancers.

Metagame Feel and Inspiration

Think Umayyid-era Al-Andalus with healthy doses of pre-Islamic southern Arabia. Throw in some heavy doses of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique and 19th century Orientalist painting (so, so terribly sorry Professor Said).

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