A Sprawling and Less Than Coherent Summary of the Last Two Sessions of Circus of the Mighty
Currently the crew is on an exploratory/trade expedition on the continent of Darth Lom*, or Nyambe tanda**.
A millennia in the past, the Empire of Darth Lom established a colony in Udra and ruled for more than 200 years. During that time the Lomites had profound influences on Udran culture. But Darth Lom fell and, there followed an 800 year period of quiet as Udran culture, economy and polity advanced and grew. During this time there was almost no trade and many scholars in Urda’s had almost no information as to the changes in Darth Lom since the fall.
A Sprawling and Less Than Coherent Summary of the Last Two Sessions of Circus of the Mighty
Soon after their defeat of the piracy of Cebo [Pronounced “Chay-bo”] the Drowned and while their holdings on the Isle of Jars consolidated, the heroes who saved Udra from Golem Army decided to see what they could do to re-establish trade with the Lomite continent.
They organized an expedition consisting of two ships, The Good Ship Danny Goodman and The Hoberman Sphere, each crewed with more than 30 sailors and men-at-arms, to make the long jump back to Darth Lom.
The leaders of this expedition are seven:
- Sir Chingara the Ranger. The most un-elf-like elf there ever was. Obsessive collector of weapons and obscure fighting techniques. Former student of Galtar, a priest of Morgelt. Teacher of martial techniques on Jars.
- Dour Sir Dwalor the Undying of Glesnok. Dwarven fighting priest of Molna. He who prefers his introductions short!
- Dame Hilda of Jars dit Arren. Skilled tactician, cagey diplomat, indefatigable, and frankly fearsome, interlocutor and favored of Queen Ellen I.
- Helga the Silent. Whose past is largely mysterious but who suddenly appeared at Hilda’s side as her assistant and right hand in recent months.
- Sir Mandark the Partial Fle. Scout and prestidigitator. Another terrible example of the Elven folk.
- Sturj, Son of Durj. Who, in previous employment as a pirate, took the outlandish last name of Barnaclesucker. Owner of a small weapon smithy on Jars.
- Sir Thalin the Masked. Geographer, cartographer, historian, wizard and the scholar/swordsman of the College of the Mirror. Favored former student of Falcon, Mage of Waylon.
The trip to Darth Lom wasn’t entirely uneventful but I will summarize here. It mostly consisted of adding verses to orcish sea shanties. A personal favorite of Sturj’s was:
Makin’ Me Chum
I once met a bloke name Joe
But he looks up and yells out, “No!”
‘Cos just then I cut off his toe!
Makin’ me chum!
Makin’ me chum!
[The chorus usually involves heaving on ropes, weighing some anchors and other nautical flummery.]
I once met a couple o’ Gregs
“Hey cut us some slack,” they begs
But I goes and cuts off their legs!
I once met a talkative Ted
But could never tell what he said
Cause I went and cut off ‘is head!
I once met a laddie named Bart
Now spice is a sensitive art
So I went an cut out ‘is heart!
I once met this codger Gus
And he made such a terrible fuss
But I needed a chunk of his guts!
Now I once met a thing name Colin
But if you gets yer stew a rollin’
Then we can share of bit of the colon!
[etc, etc. etc. ad nausem. Many clans of orc pirates that ply seas of Ednom have been adding verses for centuries. But it usually ends as follows.]
Now I’ve boil’d me a homemade stew
Which I hope I can share with you
‘Cos it might just be someone you knew!
MAKIN’ ME CHUM!
(Victor Lowney 4-16-2005 with contributions from Toby Shaw and Ian Birk.)
Suffice it to say the rest of crew was very happy to see land.
They landed in the city of Kogo on the nor western coast of Darth Lom on the 29th of the month of Vintage.
Kogo is one of a collection of city-states allied in a group called the Kiya Vua Samaki (Pronounced “Kee-ya Voo-ah Sama key.” Which roughly translates “The Western Merchant Princes” or “Western Merchant’s Council”). The Kiya Vua is a confederation of trading lords, none of whom is paramount***. Udran history has vague records that to refer to the Kiya Vua as the Iron Coast.
The Kiya Vua Samaki is a rising power among the hundreds of fragmented territories and kingdoms that replaced the old Lomite Empire. They learned that Lomites are remnant of their former glory, confined to the Matriarchy of Nibomay, located thousands of miles to the east.
Kogo itself is a city that numbers 8,000 and it’s ruler Lord Zuru was very hospitable to them. Zuru was willing to discuss all kinds of trading relationships and he feasted with them on no less than three occasions. He seemed very talkative and patient and extremely curious. It was clear that Zuru saw these new foreigners as an opportunity, not as a threat.
Hilda dove into the native culture with a passion and was soon speaking the native tongue well enough to hold a conversation, if a slow and halting one. Soon she was dressing in the finery of local matrons and ladies of power and generally shaking hands with all the powerful. It’s what she was always good at.
Thalin followed her and Helga around as a technical advisor and learned very disturbing things about the culture of Nyambe tanda****.
Dwalor spent his time astonishing the locals by wearing heavy armor stifling armor with no ill effect. The stink of Dwalor’s sweat was horrific! Despite is his magical precautions that saved him from heat prostration and sun stroke, he could do nothing about his sweat which if anything seemed even more profuse, perhaps as a side effect of the spells he cast. The jungle rot began to rapidly erode his underwear and small clothes.
Chingara almost exclusively studied the strange weapons and martial techniques of Kiya Vua. He discovered cavalry is almost unknown here as horses and camels contract horrible wasting sicknesses visited by flies. Thusly all the armies of Nyambe consist of fearsome infantry, pretests and archers. Some of these gamba (The local word for mercenary, warrior or soldier.) wield enormous axes designed for hamstringing war elephants. These elephant axes made halberds look like toothpicks. Chingara frothed at the mouth and immediately bought as many as he could for him and Sturj.
Mandark initially stayed on the boat, having contracted an illness. Sturj also stayed on the boats. Apparently there was a very strong prejudice against orcs and half-orcs in these lands.
This apparently stemmed from ancient history when orcs, called ngokolo or kosan by the locals, ruled the entire continent. These kosan seemed nothing like the orcs of Udra, the orcs Sturj knew. They were highly intelligent, skilled and diverse magic users and extremely ambitious. They seemed to respect no authority but their own. These were not the ant-like troops clichéd in so many armies of evil, but non-orcish, wizards. The Kosan only respected their own rulers.
Of course they were still horribly evil and their brutality was without bound. In the end, and perhaps not surprisingly, their evil tyranny was destroyed by hubris. The fall of their rule marked the beginning of the Empire of Nyambe tanda, The Empress of Nibomay, the Imperial Empire of Darth Lom. At least that was what Thalin later learned. In the thousands of years that passed since that time it seemed that few kosan orcs survived. The few that did, degenerated into the ngokolo bandits reviled by most of Nyambe. These ngokolo seemed more like the orcs that Sturj knew.
But mostly Sturj sat on the boat with growing frustration. Time was passing and he was gaining nothing by it.
In short Nyambe, Darth Lom, seemed very different from Udra but there were striking similarities.
The Story so Far
They have been on the northern coast of Darth Lom for nearly 5 months now, learning, trading and exploring. Our story begins on the 14th of the Month of Rain, 6247 SC. [I said at the start of the session Sunday that it was the month of Snow but I’m changing this.]
3 months earlier, their first expedition into the interior of the continent was a disaster. This was not merely due to Sturj’s attempts to gain favor with the locals and transcend their suspicions of orcs by cooking frogs for them.
Following the lead of a trade caravan, later discovered to be utterly incompetent, they were attacked by a bizarre and hideous form of undead known as mangabangabana (Roughly translated as “Those who are divided.”) and later by a hideous giant whose skin appeared half-melted from smallpox. Thalin identified this last as a gorgomosh (“The thing that shambles.”). They had escaped with their lives and returned to Kogo, aside from a short stop in a small village to cure Sturj of a disease he contracted in fighting the gorgomosh but, they were determined to take extensive precautions before sallying again.
Chingara spent the next two weeks acquiring two trained work elephants, one which they sent home on the Danny Goodman. The other, whose handler was a 17 year-old by the name of Ojo, was named Whirlwind and Chingara was immediately infatuated with this creature. When Sturj saw the elephant being loaded on the boat, he too fell in love with it.
Hilda spent weeks building connections in the markets and meeting houses of Kogo. This time she would make certain to set out with a huge, well armed, merchant caravan.
In the process she learned some interesting bits of news. For example she learned that there was growing alarm and paranoia about the activities of something called the Leopard Cult. As near as she could gather, this was a group of religious shapechangers who can take the form of a leopard or a human. The officials of Kogo are not sure who is a human and who is a shapechanger. These cultists seem to be involved in local organized crime as well.
She also learned that in the neighboring city of Isili (Pronounced “Ee-SEE-lee”) corruption has grown so bad that the other city states of the Kiya Vua are considering military action. It is likely that such would plunge the Kiya Vua into civil war but, Hilda has learned that the Zamara (As the people of Kiya Vua call themselves.) have a dangerous fanatical zeal to stamp out
This seems to stem from sensitivity that the Zamara people seem to produce more than their share of M’Chawi (Pronounced “MMM-Cha-wee.” The evil wizards that Thalin learned of earlier.). Why this nation out of the many human nations of Darth Lom is so tainted with the M’Chawi curse is unknown. Despite their business acumen and expansionist trading policy, the Zamaran people of the Kiya Vua religiously scrupulous in their pursuit of evil magic.
[If I may metagame for a second here, the Zamara are sort of like Barkers, Quakers or Puritans or perhaps like the Muslim traders of North Africa–great at work, business and trade but rather scary in a religious, witch burning, mass hysteria sense. I’m pretty certain Wade is glad to have Thalin out of Kogo!]
She also learns that the merchant lords of the Kiya Vua are growing unhappy with their relations with the neighboring and richly endowed nation of Mabwe (Mahb-WEE). This suggest they may come to war at some point and Kogo happens to be close to the border of Mabwe.
All in all, it seems prudent for foreigners to leave, despite the obvious attempts by Lord Zuru to gain their favor. Hilda and Thalin think that some of cheaper prices and easy purchases made in the market of Kogo were enforced behind the scenes by Zuru.
Meeting the Strange Gnomes of Nyambe tanda
With their purchase of Whirlwind, their hiring of Ojo and their joining of the Great Costal Caravan (Which for reasons that are still unclear is allowed to trade between the mutually suspicious nations of Mabwe, Mademba (Mah-DEM-Bah) and the Kiya Vua Samaki.), the Circus sets out toward kitunusi (Kit-Too-NOO-See) lands.
Kitunusi is the local word for gnome. Gnomes are very rare in Udra, almost unheard of so everyone in the Circus really doesn’t know what to expect.
Here in Lomite lands gnomes are common but even the locals think they are very strange. The traders of the Great Caravan inform Hilda and Thalin that they make some of the best raiment, fabric and textiles in all of Nyambe. Apparently for these gnomes, cloth is a deeply sacred thing. There are stories that stealing cloth from a kitunusi somehow deprives him or her of identity. It seems to be akin to the theft of one’s soul. Theft of cloth is not merely a crime it’s a profane act.
The traders also warn them that the gnomes appear to have a extremely complex bureaucracy where all transactions are passed through elaborate rituals. Thus trade negotiations for fine gnomish cloth take very long even by Kiya Vua, who love leisurely and tricky negotiations, standards.
Because the Circus is traveling with a well armed and huge caravan, the three month trip is free from any mysterious events. During this Sturj manages to continue to build his collection of exotic frogs and toads. The problem seems to be that Darth Lom seems to have so many different types of frogs and toads that Sturj would need many wagons or litters to carry them in. Sturj could spend the rest of his life here and still not discover and categorize all the frogs that Nyambe is home to.
Before the first month of the trip is finished Sturj has already filled his jars, boxes and jugs with dozens of croaking, chirping and singing frogs. The racket is intolerable at night.
Sturj managed to assuage this a bit by cooking and eating some of the loudest frogs which were not too pretty. But even with three courses of frogs a day, Sturj finds that he simply can’t keep up with the biological powerhouse that is Nyambe. Eventually Hilda puts her foot down.
“You got to stop this Sturj. No more frogs. The rest of the caravan is grumbling. I think they may kick us out if you keep it up.”
“But, but– Wasn’t last night’s soup tasty? The one with the onions and the cream for bread?”
Hilda actually had to admit to herself that it was but, she sure as hell wasn’t going to give this orc pirate any satisfaction. Being leader meant she had to pick the battles. This was one of the battles. “No. That’s it. You can keep a few, the pretty ones, but two more months of this is out of the question. I catch you hiding any more frogs or toads and you’ll see the bad side. You’ve seen that side, right?”
Sturj, a former orcish pirate, fighter of many sea battles with no quarter, source of half the verses of “Makin’ My Chum,” inventor of the phrase “death from above” had a brief vision of Hilda’s interrogation of Lord Zhou Dogfish and shuddered inwardly. “Yeah. No problem. I’ll just keep a few o’ da pretty ones. They’re fun to lick!”
Hilda rolled her eyes, quickly constructed a detailed contingency plan for dealing with a drunken and hallucinating orc and walked away.
Two months later, they arrived at a kitunusi village.
The gnomes lived in holes in the ground. Not caves, but mined pits dug in volcanic rock. They were something like a small, artificial canyon with doors leading to dwellings along the walls. There was little ornamentation. Everything was very simple and very functional. Apparently these strange creatures concentrated all their creative effort into their droning language, their governmental organization and their beautiful textile art.
Tales of Nibomay
The caravan made it’s way from this village to the capital of Mademba, which is itself called Mademba.
There the Circus parted ways from the caravan and stayed to learn more of Mademba’s relationship with Nibomay (“Nee-bo-may”), the former glorious heart of a mighty empire that stretched over the whole of Nyambe-tanda. According to Udran records, the capital of the Empire of Darth Lom, was Kitsana (“Keet-sana”) which was located on the Eastern coast. This city is now called Arabo (“Ah rah-bo”) and is the capital of Nibomay.
Many thousands of years ago Darth Lom, Nyambe, was ruled by the orcish Kosan Empire but, it was the women, who would later found the matriarchy of Nibomay, who would be the first to rebel against this evil tyranny. Nibomay’s armies, lead by female generals and elite amazon archers and swordswomen, the Ahosi (“A-ho-see”), rapidly filled the power vacuum created by the fall of Kosan.
This new empire, lead by human women, became Darth Lom, the empire that eventually colonized Udra nearly a thousand years ago.
Nibomay is a matriarchic, matrilineal and matronymic society. Women hold most of the significant positions of government and lands and wealth pass through women from mother to daughter. There is polyandry among the wealthiest of women. There are very strong traditions concerning the raising of children; men are expected to assume most of this burden. Women, past child bearing age, are expected to assume positions in public life. Their religious leaders and magic wielding classes are almost exclusively women. Men can and do assume roles in the military and the government but mostly as rank and file or in a limited role as advisors.
800 years ago the Nibomay fell into decline and now only rules a kingdom of the eastern coast of Nyambe-tanda. Currently it’s embroiled in a struggle with the rising power and wealth of Mabwe, which brings us to the importance of Mademba.
Mademba is the independent gnomish nation that borders Mabwe and the western border desert of Nibomay. Nibomay has for centuries been cultivating an alliance with Mademba, allowing the kitunusi nearly total autonomy in return for close military alliance. If war comes between Mabwe and Nibomay, it may start in Mademba.
[Here I’m going to revise things a bit.]
In the capital, Mademba, Hilda and Thalin conversed with diplomat from Nibomay, Lady Momble Lome (“MOm-blay LOm-ay” Remember the “o” is a long one.) Lo. She informed them that it might be easiest to deal with her than to extract help, information or trade from the kitunusi leaders, mired as they are in hopelessly inscrutable bureaucracy.
Lady Momble was very polite, friendly and hospitable. Hilda immediately suspected the reason for this was similar to their treatment in Kogo: foreign trade eventually translates into political power. The current empress of Nibomay, Jamikadi Kinah holds visions of returning Nibomay to it’s former glory and apparently has instructed all her officials to always search for means to achieve this.
Thalin had also explored Mademba’s small and poorly maintained library. The heat and moisture of the place was clearly ruining all the books there. Thalin offer to pay a 1000 gold for the restoration of library. Momble was very impressed by this.
The Hounds of Stone
Anyway, over the course of discussions, Hilda and Thalin learned the news of creatures that threatened and killed prospectors in the Ginko Taaba mountains, known for their mineral wealth and growing strategic importance. A reward of 5000 gold was offered for their destruction, plus the hunters could keep what they found at the lair. The creatures appeared to a pack of huge hounds numbering between 15 and 20. The three survivors said that they fled in horror upon seeing their comrades turned to stone by the creatures.
The Circus had spent most of their money on acquiring trade goods and paying for Whirlwind’s upkeep. This seemed like a good opportunity, albeit with risk, to acquire money and trust without getting involved in the local politics without means for extraction. The Circus voted to take the job.
They set out away from Mademba’s coast toward the Ginko Taaba, a range notorious for flowing, and occasionally explosive, volcanism. Lady Momble mentioned that the mountains were a source of gems, mostly mined and traded by the utucheckulu (“oo-too-cheh-KOO-loo” The Nyambe word for dwarves.). Momble had many other stories about the Ginko Taab, including one about war between the dwarves and a mysterious race of undead, ghost-like giants called the Rom.
After several weeks of uneventful travel deep into the foothills, the Circus told their native guide and Ojo to stay at a camp with Whirlwind. Chingara and Sturj agreed it would be very bad news if the elephant was turned to stone with no chance of recovery.
Leaving the natives, they proceeded slowly and carefully to where the survivors told them the lair might be. Thalin, Dwalor and Chingara prepare defensive and offensive spells and decided on plan of attack that would protect them from the petrifying clouds these hounds apparently breathed. Chingara and Mandark scouted around and heard sounds of growling, chewing and rending. They decided the best way to approach would be over an outcropping of rock overlooking the clearing where these creatures gathered.
The quietly ascended the face and at it’s summit and Thalin cast down a fireball. The creatures had heard them but the detonation was too quick.
There were seven feasting on what appeared to be two mostly petrified corpses of wildebeest before a cave mouth.
The detonation horribly burned but did not kill three and lightly singed the remaining four. Mandark and Chingara, under the influence of a hasting and a flight spell, proceeded to dispatch the badly wounded and bestow more wounds to the lightly singed with a blur of arrows. Hilda and Helga, also hasted, fired arrows and exchanged weapons to swords for close combat.
Sturj and Dwalor, hasted and with enormously boosted strength, size and mass, advanced to the meet the bounding dogs and within seconds sliced the remaining four to cutlets. The ones outside had all been killed before getting a chance to breathe their petrifying clouds.
There was a lull of a few seconds silence and then howling and baying emerged from the cave mouth.
The cave mouth removed Chin and Mandark’s flying advantage so they opted to stay outside with arrows trained on then entrance. Thalin rendered himself invisible and bestowed flight on himself. He wondered if his magical mask would protect him from the petrifying breath as he advanced into the cave with Sturj, Dwalor, Hilda and Helga bringing up the rear.
Through a short, twisted path the cave mouth opened into a large space where Thalin, silent and invisible, found the remaining hounds. There were sixteen. He detonated another fireball and fell back to the other’s at the cave entrance.
The fireball badly wounded 7 but only lightly singed the remained. They bounded up to Thalin and Hilda and breathed.
A wave of nausea passed over Hilda but, to her relief and astonishment, she was still made of flesh! Thalin held his breath, although he knew it would probably be useless, but apparently his mask actually protected him as he hoped it would.
Sturj, in a good natured manner, berated Thalin for not bestowing flight on him. Sturj always enjoyed flight!
Thalin ignored him and cast a wall of wind for protection.
The remain hounds ran up to the line the Circus had now formed and sensed the wind. With animal cunning they knew their breath would be useless. They fell to rending flesh with teeth.
But it was for not. Dwalor and Sturj’s weapons, driven by superhuman strength and inertia, sliced through the hound’s flesh like paper. The remainder fell under a biting, black cloud of arrows loosed at superhuman speed and accuracy by Chingara and Mandark.
It appeared to be over. The party was only lightly wounded.
Mandark proceeded to search the cave very carefully. He found a small fissure in the wall toward the rear, barely big enough for a body to pass. He crawled through this and came upon a ledge over a large vaulted, underground crevasse that had a small stream lava passing though it. The heat was oppressive and the air rippled with it. Spying opposite, Mandark saw another ledge. Still under the influence of a flight spell, he cast himself to it. Searching further he found a small dead end and nothing else unusual.
He returned to the rest of the party and explained what he found. They decided to make camp on the opposite ledge for the night before returning home, just to see if there were any more dogs out hunting. Chingara cast a magical alarm on the cave entrance and they set up a watch.
Dwalor discovered what appeared to be a vein of mineral in the dead end. He struck at the mineral with the haft of his axe. They all heard a hollow vaguely metallic ping. “See? Nothin’ but opal makes that sound. That’s opal! With tools and time, we could mine it out and see how deep it goes. Beautiful stuff opal is!”
Hilda, while interested, decided the Circus should shelve that project for the moment. Sturj kept making jokes about Thalin being stingy with the flight spells until they turned in.
During the night Chin’s alarm went off.
Thalin cast flight on Chin and Mandark and they flew out to see what set off the alarm. They made a careful search but found nothing. The remainder of their watch was tense but quiet.
In the morning, further search found nothing.
The Circus gathered their equipment and returned to the base camp with Ojo and the native guide. From their they returned to the capital.
It was just past the Kitemaker’s Festival back in Udra. It was the First of Wind, 6257.
* As it is known to Udran scholars.
** As it is known to the natives of those lands.
*** This leads to complicated politics and Hilda and Thalin noted that striking similarities between the Kiya Vua and Cantons of Udra.
**** For example there are no wizards in the traditional, Udran sense. Magic that is not closely associated with the gods, called orisha by the locals, is assumed to be deeply tainted with evil. All practitioners of non-divine forms of magic are hunted down and destroyed as threats to the public good.
This made Thalin very uncomfortable but, he was favored by lucky coincidence. His disfigurement required him to wear a mask at all times. Among the peoples of the Kiya Vua, masks are seen as very sacred things, signs of the gods in this world.
Thalin’s mask bought him an audience with a open minded old holy man who seemed to understand that things are done differently in foreign lands but warned Thalin to be extremely care with his magical abilities, lest be hunted down by the magic eaters and burned as a witch!