In the City of (name blotted out), so it is said, the people worship the bronze bull god, Moloch the King. Moloch apparently demands heavy sacrifices and particularly likes children when petitioners come to him asking for big favors (although he will accept adults in a pinch). The usual method of offering to Moloch is to take the child to the temple and place it in the bronze hands of the furnace-like idol. The priests intone their prayers and pull on hidden chains, and, with a creak and a snap of iron gears and the clanging of brass gongs, the mechanical idol will open it’s mouth and the child will be tossed alive into the roaring furnace within. A large orchestra of brass and percussion instruments plays at ear-shattering volume during this performance in order to drown out the screams of the sacrificed (most older priests of Moloch are usually quite deaf; the loud volume of the orchestra is widely believed to be the cause). When the supply of sacrificeable children runs low or the cause to be addressed by the Bull King is less urgent or important, the still beating hearts of humans or animals removed with surgical expertise by priests can be substituted, although Moloch apparently gets quite petulant over these menu substitutions.
For less important requests, various animals, artworks, plants, food, or even gold or silver or jewels may be offered. Some valuables are not tossed into the fire directly but instead accepted by the priesthood and then (we promise) sacrificed in ceremonies open only to members of the priesthood. Somehow, the temples and rectories of Moloch are magnifently opulent places that rival even the palace of the King of M even though the tithes are quite reasonable — another Moloch miracle. There is some speculation that not every item offered in sacrifice makes it into the flames, but somehow Moloch seems to understand. Perhaps the Bull King feels that his priests should live like lords.
The children for sacrifice are usually selected by lottery… a lottery to which no family in the city other than the current royal family is immune. However, even in the City of (name blotted out), wealth has it’s priveledges. The wealthy and powerful are rumored to purchase ‘substitute’ children on the black market in order to protect their own progeny from Moloch’s sacrifice. Since Moloch usually demands the youngest member of a household, the ‘substitute’ is then sacrificed in his place and the child who has been spared will be provided with a new name and a forged certificate of birth. Rather than risk having to scurry about procuring sacrifice substitutions at the 11th hour (a stressful and difficult activity), the most powerful and wealthy routinely simply have a substitute child ‘on deck’ in case their house is chosen in Moloch’s lottery. The kidnapping of infants for sale on the black market and forgery are booming industries in (name blotted out) and it is suggested that if visitors plan on spending any time there, one should be sure not to be the youngest person in any family group.
Theologically speaking, there is no express prohibition in Moloch’s church from providing a substitute, although openly speaking of the fraud in public is considered impolite. The poor deal with this inequality the way that the poor deal with inequality everywhere: they moan and cry and shed impotent tears.
It is thought that the city of (name blotted out) is crazy for lotteries, since the succeeding ‘royal family’ is chosen at random from a dozen noble families upon each king’s death. When the king dies, ivory plaques bearing the seal of all twelve royal families are placed in a sacred bag made from bull’s hide. The high priest chooses one plaque at random and that family becomes the new ruling family, with the eldest male becoming king, the eldest female becoming queen, etc. Other positions are filled by members of the family as the new king sees fit. Unfortunately, this means there is very little continuity in the governance of the city except in the unlikely occurance that the same family is picked twice in a row (in which case the throne goes to the next eldest surviving male member of the family and other positions are usually retained from the previous administration). Some claim that all families once took part in the lottery but a cabal of the wealthy and powerful passed a series of laws limiting the drawing to the smaller number of families of means and station. Even speaking aloud the possibility that this might indeed be the case is considered a capital crime, and the speaker is likely to find himself tied down on the altar and his still beating heart dissapearing into the fiery god’s idol before he can say, “Ba’al Hammon.”
Blitzenspitz is an unusual location in Northern Losel and the name may refer to either the village (The Village of Blitzenspitz) or the mountain (Blitzenspitz). The more poetically minded who dislike sibilant syllables call the mountain by its fancier name, “Thunderspire.”
The crystals, when filled with energy, glow with a white light. There are many uses for the energy; apparently many mages purchase the jars to power spells or charge magical devices. Some healers claim that the energy can be used to heal as well as harm (although I would be reluctant to undergo any of these experimental therapies). Persistent but unconfirmed rumors mention ancient devices that can be powered by the energy in the crystals; these are strange and dangerous devices that can give the user the power to cast thunderbolt spells like the most powerful of wizards… but this author is certain that those stories are just bullshit.
Not every crystal can be successfully charged. A few simply shatter or melt when any attempt is made to charge them. Others can be charged and recharged multiple times without a problem. The mine bosses of Blitzenspitz are usually pretty successful in grading the crystals and differentiating those which are not suitable for a single charge from those which can be used multiple times, although mistakes are often made and good crystals are declared to be flawed junk (and thrown on the scrap heap) while bad crystals are sometimes mistaken for crystals of the first water and sold for inflated prices. The best practice is to buy a crystal that is already charged (which will prove it is of at least adequate quality) and then attempt to have it recharged or trade it in after use.
Blitzenspitz has, traditionally, been ruled by the VanDurn family. Everyone who wants to buy powered crystals must pay a high tax to the VanDurns. The VanDurns, in turn, license the harvesters and the dealers and guard the village and the mines. The current ruler, Octavo VanDurn XIV, is a virtual recluse in his ancient and crumbling castle. He hasn’t been seen outside the castle in years, but rumors persist that he (or his agents) obtain a large number of jars of the glowing crystal every week; what they do with the power in the jars is unknown.
Lightning harvesters are well paid for their dangerous work, but spending so much time on the peak of Blitzenspitz is not without disadvantages. The few harvesters who are not blasted to bits or burned to a cinder often become a bit peculiar in their habits as the years go on, frequently becoming subject to bouts of paranoia or depression. In addition, most who have spent a large amount of time collecting lightning will gradually find it harder and harder to touch metal without painful (and, in some cases, dangerous) bursts of static energy. Utensils, buttons, buckles and other common items are made wood, bone, horn, clay, etc., whenever possible. Some common objects, like brass door knobs or pewter tankards, are actually illegal in the village. Most lightning harvesters use carved ivory plaques instead of coins of gold or silver or will have a trusted family member handle the money for them. Lightning harvesters can usually be easily identified by the way in which their hair stands straight out from their heads, like the puff-ball of a dandelion, and the faint whiff of ozone that seems to linger in their vicinity.
|One of the Lords of Oom|
Thule (also spelled Thool) lies just a short boat-ride across the Dunsany Sea (followed by a long hike across Ghent) although even the seasoned traveller would be better served by another destination. The Thulian aristocracy consider outsiders (and the common class of Thule itself) as the inhabitants of The Vales consider cattle: suitable for use as needed or as they see fit.
In order to understand Thule, one must understand the Thulian caste system. At the top, reside the ‘Lords of Oom.’ The Lords are seldom (if ever) seen by outsiders; most common Thulians have probably never seen one either. Their bodies are small and weak, but their heads and brains are enormous (and the Lords are reputed to have tremendous mysterious powers, including the ability to command unquestioning obedience from their followers). Whether or not the Lords of Oom are (or once were) human is unknown.
Underneath the Lords are the Priests of Oom. Every child born in Thule is examined shortly after birth by the Priests and tested; those who fulfill certain qualifications are taken from their biological parents and turned over to either the priest caste or the warrior caste, depending upon the nature of their perceived talents. If the child is selected for the priest caste (a very rare event), they will be placed in a special academy where only a small number will actually survive to graduate. These Priests of Oom emerge as hairless, androgynous beings. They apparently communicate with The Lords of Oom through the power of thought along and it is rumored that what the priests see and know is instantly seen and known by their masters. The priests can be recognized by their white robes, hairless heads and rods of office.
The warrior caste includes both common soldiers and other functionaries (such as the merchants who purchase goods not available in Oom and slaves). The warrior caste is noted for their fanaticism; any member of this caste lacking the appropriate zeal for his or her duties can count on joining the chained wretches being dragged to Oom Ambar for sacrifice or worse.
At the bottom of the caste system reside the common Thulians. Practitioners of skilled trades are considered slightly more valuable than common laborers, but these wretches apparently live and die at the pleasure of their masters. The average common Thulian is a wretched creature; most probably illiterate, and, if a female, constantly preganant. Their lives are short, brutal and unpleasant. Visitors to Thule will find no diverting local festivals, interesting cuisine, enjoyable folk music or dance traditions or other examples of local culture since the common Thulian who shows any interest in any subject other than labor is clapped into irons and dragged off by the warrior caste.
A description of the inhabitants of Thule would not be complete unless one also mentioned the moorlocks. These human-like creatures reside under the capital city of Thule and also, perhaps, in the tunnels under the mountains. Where they come from or what their purpose might be is unknown. The moorlocks are bestial, shaggy hominids capable of tool use who apparently love the taste of human flesh. The priests and warriors may or may not have any influence over them, but since the moorlocks fear sunlight, they hunt at night, making nocturnal strolls in the capital of Thule a very bad idea.
The capital of Thule is Oom Ambar, a city seldom visited by common Thulians or outsiders (and most visitors apparently tend to be of the unwilling sort; tales tell of great slave caravans dragging hordes of unfortunates into the tunnels that lead to the city proper). Oom Ambar itself is in a small valley ringed by mountains. Most gain entrance through the well guarded tunnels under the mountains (although crossing the mountains themselves on foot is probably not entirely impossible, this writer has yet to hear of anyone having successfully done so). The city is reportedly neither interesting nor picturesque. In the center is the great ziggurat on which the Lords of Oom perform their mysterious rites. The slave caravans entering the city normally take their miserable wares direct to this ziggurat where those unfortunates are never seen again. Tunnels under the ziggurat are the probable final destination, but whether these slaves labor, are sacrificed or put to some other fate is unknown. The ziggurat is surrounded by barracks for the guards and structures used by the warrior caste. Surrounding that are the slums and workshops of the lower castes. Most of the structures are unadorned and utilitarian in nature. There are no museums or interesting bazaars; goods are distributed by members of the warrior caste as directed by the priest caste.
(Illustration of ‘The Super Brain’ courtesy of Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blog; one of the best sources of scans of old comics on the web that I have been lucky enough to find)
Note: Travellers in Aldeboran are advised that while the authors have made every effort to provide the most accurate and up to date information within this guide, the Northlands region of the continent is subject to periodic political, cultural and genocidal upheavals. Although this constant state of flux makes Aldeboran in general and The Northlands in particular a very diverting place to visit, risk to life and limb on the part of travellers to this fascinating region should be assumed as a given, not just a possibility. Protection in the form of magical wards, armed guards and escape spells are not to be considered ‘optional’ by the traveller who wishes to survive the trip.
EORD (variant spellings: ORD, ORRD), City of: Called ‘The Jewel of the North’ by her admirers, this ancient city is currently ruled by Lord Mandras Delayn. Lord Mandras assumed the throne under a bit of a cloud following the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, Lord Glarion. The majority of Glarion’s heirs and relatives (with the exception of his cousin, Mandras) either found reason to be elsewhere when the succession was announced or vanished to such a great degree that neither well trained bloodhounds nor divination magics could locate them. Perhaps it goes without saying that the writers of this guide think that Mandras is a wonderful, magnificent monarch and Eord is lucky to have him… and our writing that has nothing to do with the relative talent of the king’s inquisitors nor the dampness of his dungeons.
The history of this ancient city predate the Lenaran conquest and subsequent dissolution of the famed and feared Dragon Empire. During the years of Lenaran rule, a city and garrison was established by the Imperials. Following the great Lenaran Catastrophe and the Hinterlandian revolt, the city and garrison became the seat of Alberc, now called ‘the First King’ (even though he really wasn’t — like many of the ‘young race’ residents of the Hinterlands, the Eordians consider history as having “started” when the Lenaran Catastrophe occured). Before the arrival of the Lenarans, a trading center is known to have stood on the site and, based on archaeological evidence, seems to have traded hands (or paws or claws) several times over the eons. Portions of previous fortifications which have been incorporated into the city’s current defenses and might be described by the architectural enthusiast as ‘cyclopean’ are probably a “must see” for the serious tourist who wants to understand the city’s origins.
The City of Eord is also the focal point of the defense of the Eordian kingdom against swampy Mystik and The Sinking Lands, their near neighbors to the north-west, and is strategically situated to offer a ready port to the Strait of Belaring, the Inner Sea and the Dunsany Sea. As a result, the ports and docks of Eord will be filled with the vessels of many nations, giving the city an appealingly multicultural aspect.
The City Proper: Avoid the slums and slaughter yards to the south. Although beds, beer and board might be cheaper than within the city proper, the ‘inns’ you are likely to find here will usually consist of places where watered beer and stale bread is served and the beds (if availible) will be flea-infested mattresses with soiled sheets. Historically, the periodic attacks upon the city usually result in the destruction of the dwellings outside the walls, so structures in this area will be of wood or wattle and bear no historical or aesthetic interest.
Eord City proper consists of a series of ringed walls, and the general rule seems to be the further you penetrate the encircling walls, the more magnificent the structures. The innermost ring contains the palace, also known as Castle Eord. Outside of that, one finds the noble quarter. The noble quarter, in turn, is surrounded by ‘The Merchant’s Quarter (also known as “The Old City”). The outermost ring is known as ‘The Commons’ and is generally considered to include the seafronts and docks.
Castle Eord: The palace (well, a ‘palace’ by Eordian standards; proper Lenaran nobility would turn up their finely chiseled noses at the idea of this structure being termed a palace) which currently stands upon a promontory known as ‘King’s Hill’ in the center of the city is much expanded from the structure that King Alberc re purposed from the previous Lenaran governor. Frequent mention is made of layers and tunnels beneath the palace which predate even the Lenaran occupation and, perhaps may even predate the arrival of humans in the Hinterlands but the veracity of these claims cannot be verified, especially since the palace in general (and the dungeons in particular) are not open to visitors. Most ‘tours’ of the dungeons tend to be a last stop for the unwilling ‘tourists,’ and, despite the fascinating history to be found there, investigation of the palace or dungeons is strongly discouraged. Although portions of the palace might catch the interest as particularly well preserved examples of pre-catastrophe Lenaran territorial architecture, they are best admired from a distance. The structures are picturesque, but artists who have attempted to capture their glory on canvas or in a sketchbook have also brought unwelcome attention upon themselves from the inquisitors; the artistically inclined are strongly encouraged to choose other views.
Temple Quarter: Any visitor to Eord should plan on devoting at least a day or two to exploration of ‘The Temple Quarter.’ Found in the eastern part of ‘The Old City,’ this quarter is dominated by ‘The Street of The Gods’ which stretches from Old City’s East Gate to the Noble’s quarter. Many of the structures are among the oldest in the city and may even predate the Lenaran occupation, although temples tend to change hands fairly often so establishing the exact provenance of one structure or another may be difficult. A description of a few of the more popular temples and their worshippers follow:
- Temple of The Rat: Tourists are advised to tour this temple in the day; at night, the increased presence of vermin can be somewhat off-putting. Located on the north side of the street near the Eastern Gates, the Temple of the Rat has a long history. It can easily be spotted since the structure itself is adorned with thousands of carved representations of rats. Crowds assemble almost daily for sanctioned sacrifices which usually involve the tossing a live goat into the rat-filled sacrificial pit; persistent rumors tell of invitation only events where less prosaic sacrifices are offered, but one shouldn’t credit everything you hear. Sources disagree as to weather the large rubies used as eyes in the statue of the Rat God are real or fake.
- Temple of Yth: Now closed due to the execution of the priests by Lord Glarion more than twelve years ago, the Temple of Yth still presents an imposing edifice. The front of the temple is of pale green stone rumored to have been imported at fabulous cost from old Lenara and the cast bronze doors are a work of art (although the subject matter, which involves the Serpent God devouring sacrifices, may be considered a ‘bit strong’ for some audiences). Note the gilding (now, sadly peeling) on the domes. Rumors persist of fantastic mosaics within the temple, but, given that the practice of Ythianism has been outlawed locally, no arrangement to tour the interior is currently available. Despite being located on a prime bit of real estate, the temple still stands empty.
- The Followers of The Bleeding Head: The followers of The Bleeding Head can be easily recognized within the temple quarter since many of them practice frequent devotional blows to the forehead with a mallet and/or the wearing of thorns as a crown. The cognoscenti consider this ‘cult’ an annoyance, but one cannot deny that their followers are the model of dedication. Their temple is a fairly modest structure of little interest to the student of architecture, but the followers of the Bleeding head do most of their worshipping/proselytizing and forehead malleting in the street itself.
- Temple of the Allfather: One of the most powerful new religions in Eord and surrounding countries, the Allfatherians are also noted for their lack of tolerance towards elves, dwarves and other ‘demi-humans.’ Although Eordian law does not permit persecution of demi-humans, the Allfatherians are not shy about making their displeasure with ‘unclean’ races known. Elven, dwarven, gnomish and even halfling visitors are advised to avoid the main temple (decorated with a red cross on a white banner) or any large gathering of Allfatherinas (usually bearing banners with the red cross on white or wearing tabards of a similar pattern).
- Temple of Umma: Although Umma (the She-He or Sister-Brother) has slipped in popularity in recent decades, Her/His followers still maintain a respectable temple in the district and Her/His hermaphroditic preists are still a common sight in the Temple District. Worshippers of Umma are not to be confused with worshippers of Ammu (the He-She or Brother-Sister), which was outlawed by official decree following the Lenaran Catastrophe. The red stone temple of Umma is a good source for love potions, aphrodisiacs and relationship advice.