Saturday, 17 March 2018

Clark Ashton Smith: End of the First Impressions

I have finished Emperor of Dreams now, and intend to finish up or follow up any thoughts in this post.

Image result for Emperor of Dreams
From the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks collection. Cover by JK Potter.

That Weird Fiction of the 1930s United States has HP Lovecraft on the East Coast, Robert E Howard in Texas and Clark Ashton Smith on the West Coast seems very neat, if purely coincidental. [I want to see a Raymond Chandler pastiche where Philip Marlowe meets an old down-on-his-luck CAS in a California backwater.]

CAS still seems to like mummies - and has a very strong notion of them, not just as Egyptian themed vampires but as something more. If all monsters are supposed to tap into some kind of existing fear, it is interesting to consider what the mummy might be. Perhaps some kind of invocation of the past and being trapped in it; perhaps some kind of active, worldly malevolent power (Egypt as the oppressor - of God's Chosen, the Israelites) - one that firmly believes you can take it with you.

Same with Gorgons, incidentally. It would be interesting to encounter a horror story around Gorgons rather than retreading Perseus in some form.

'The Root of Ampoi' - decent stuff, this. Suitable framing device, well though through - it doesn't quite take sides, which is an advantage. Make this into a television episode or something [Black Mirror of Galadriel?] and it would become a wonderful salient in the Culture Wars.

There's some real Grand Guignol over-the -top horror here; apply yourself to 'A Good Embalmer' for this sort of thing. I have learnt that there was an adaptation of 'The Sourcerer's Return' starring Vincent Price. This does not surprise me.

Zothique never quite seems to coalesce into anything more definite for me than The Thousand and One Nights with a superfluity of mummies. The good stories set in Zothique never seem to be about Zothique or to rely on the atmosphere of Zothique. That the living kingdoms are outnumbered by the dead is clear - but it never embraces the Dying Earth so well as Vance or Wolfe. Not that we need blame CAS for this.

Averoigne turns into something a deal less delightful than one might perhaps have thought. The tale 'The Beast of Averoigne' is possibly the best in the collection. 'Mother of Toads' just feels rather crass.

Hyperborea continues to delight - 'The Seven Geases' vies with 'The Door to Turn in terms of scope and playfulness. 'The Theft of Thirty-Nine Girdles' is a good straightforward piece of roguery - something which more could turn their hands to, quite free of supposed heroics or attempts to make us get in touch with characters of a very different time and place. However, despite being a rather pure heist story, this tale also ends with the disappearance of a sorcerer - one who was instructed specifically to avoid the occult this time round and stick to chemistry.

It's this sort of thing that cuts across CAS's tales being described as decadent; no-one ever gets to delight overmuch in their wickedness, or so it seems. Perhaps it is not surprising that 1930s America would not publish such; perhaps this is the equivalent of the villainous gangster getting away with crime until the very end of the final reel when the police rush in - but it raises a wider question about 'decadent' literature. Is it ever totally decadent? Surely not, if some moral intervenes. But it would be difficult to call it literature (in the status laden, judgemental use of the word). A tale where a wizard summons up a succubus and has a jolly good time isn't really doing a great deal with the plot or characters, in some ways. It is pretty much pornography - whatever the actual content (IE, a wizard entreats a demon to destroy his enemies - and they are promptly destroyed with no ill consequences to the wizard). This needn't be bad - but it may well be limiting.

(A tale where a wizard summons up a succubus and she turns out to be a person in her own right isn't quite decadent, totally or partially; not so much a courting of otherworldly powers as getting to know someone from another culture. This is different from deliberately embracing that which one knows to be not of one's kind; something of definite otherness and irreconcilable difference. I have not seen The Shape of Water [TOPICAL] but it strikes me as being the former rather than the latter).

CAS's life is fascinating and oddly sad. An autodidact, raised in an isolated cabin in the Sierras, who dwelt with his parents until their death. An early-published poet, who never lived up to early promise and popularity. He never quite made a living from his stories, especially in later life, taking up part-work where he could find it. So, no, he never made it to France. He survived HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, but seems to have lived a life not unlike theirs. CAS was oddly in touch with the needs of reality for an author of such elaborate fantasies.


I am certainly glad to have read CAS's stories, however down on some of them I might have been. Part of this is just taking such a large dose of them; I am doing this with some of Tim Powers's short stories currently. This is a lifetime's work - it should not be odd if things repeat; they were not being written as close to one another as I read them. Take a trip to Hyperborea or Zothique yourselves; the journey is quite something.

Pick up the collection yourself, or head over to Eldritch Dark for short stories and some of Clark Ashton Smith's art and sculpture.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

A Man of the World

I have written before about the odd position of the Bard class as far as it exists in the semi-realisms of the tabletop. It has recently occurred to me that another manifestation of the social skills-loremaster character could be considered, beyond propaganda officers.

Anyway, there's been a rumbling notion in the back of my brain for a while about an 18th Century setting to put together, which needs a lot of finessing - something called (sometimes) White Hot Sparks from the Crucible of the Enlightenment. This post over at Against the Wicked City is worth considering. Into this, one would not wish to drop the Bard of Early Medieval savagery or the minstrel of Late Medieval courtly romance.

An alternative suggested itself: a social interaction focused character: the Man of the World*.

[*The Phrase fits the class; though it is not bounded by sex. However, those characters from literature I may reference in the course of this post are generally men - just as with wizards.]

So, here's how it breaks down in terms of prospective bard subtypes:

A Bard-proper knows the Iliad.
A Herald knows the Almanac de Gotha.
A Man of the World knows people.
An Envoy knows policies.

What sort of character can I envisage? If the typical wizard is Gandalf or Merlin and the typical fighter Lancelot or Conan, who is the Man of the World?

Well, Friar Tuck might be one example. Experienced, older, a fighter when necessary but not by choice, desirous of worldly comfort - none of which stops him being committed to Robin Hood's cause. (His appearance in Ivanhoe as 'the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst' might be a good touchstone).

Falstaff is more explicitly comic than Friar Tuck - and less moral. Baron Munchasen may be worth referencing.

What has the Man of the World done? Well, I have two conceptions of him.
One is explicitly higher up the social scale: she's done the Grand Tour of Europe (or equivalent), met plenty of people, picked up plenty of skills: gone on campaign . There is something quite picaresque about it.

The other is a veteran, but not a skilled fighter or any kind of elite necessarily: just used to the pressures of campaigning life. He knows where the best billets are, how to find food, what kind of food to find, where to get news. He was in the retreat from Caspianstadt and served on the Guelphine borders.

The character of Captain Bluntschli from Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man is perfect for this (see a quote from his introduction below), however good his social standing.

MAN. I've no ammunition. What use are cartridges in battle? I always carry chocolate instead; and I finished the last cake of that yesterday.
RAINA (outraged in her most cherished ideals of manhood). Chocolate! Do you stuff your pockets with sweets—like a schoolboy—even in the field?
How does the character work? 

Well, as before with the Bard, I dislike songs as magic. The Man of the World's powers come from a combination of anecdotal knowledge ('I saw worse at the Siege of Caspianstadt'), connections ('I used to know the Colonel quite well,'), small but well chosen provisions ('Have a sip of this, take your mind off it...'), promises of relief in difficult times ('I know a fine restaurant in the Wormwood Quarter that does an excellent dinner.')

Let's refer to the Next 52 Bard Class.

The basic stats all stay the same, but the magic is going to be re-trimmed.

Charm-school spells still fit in nicely with the roguish or social element of the Man of the World (even if the more explicitly magical elements take some explaining beyond 'He's just that persuasive' - the Man of the World has to say just why someone should sit up and pay attention).

The spells occur by A) social charm, anecdotes, bonhomie among the party and B) careful use of equipment.

Starting equipment for the 18th Century Man of the World figure I had in mind might include:
'Of course I have a sword, as a man of Quality.'
Box of calling cards
Box of other peoples cards [So he can point to the address of somebody who will vouch for him...]
Box of playing cards
Box of snuff
Box of comfits
Hip-flask of fine brandy
Elegant note-paper, ink, pen and sealing wax
Respectable clothing
Personal grooming tools [Varies with setting/character, of course - shaven/unshaven, men with cosmetics or without, &c.]

Levelling up requires a cash investment generally for new spells and the like: the Man of the World gets more/better luxuries with which to keep people going. (This conjures up the image of a high-level Man of the World trundling along an air hostess drinks trolley full of miniatures: the GM had best indicate to the players that alcohol is only part of the process). Preparing a 'spell' is necessary ('Where did I leave that hip flask?'); making sure you look respectable or producing an actual, written letter of introduction (fake or otherwise) is going to add bonuses.

The 'Veteran' model of the Man of the World is more likely to have high-quality rations and military moonshine than the above list.

Likewise with the Abjuration school spells: these can be introduced via anecdote, &c. But the explicitly supernatural stuff (Holy Weapon, Remove curse) must be cut out.

Planar spells are completely out. No teleporting Falstaff for you. However, by way of recompense, the Man of the World gets the Next 52 Enchanter and Diviner cantrips from the specialist wizard classes. The Enchanter is self-explantantry; the Diviner cantrip derives from sheer experience and is accompanied by an anecdote ('At the Siege of Caspianstadt, I had to dig a musket ball out of my pal's leg with only a fork....' which is why I get a I get a surgeon background word for an hour; 'I was shipwrecked in the Buccaneer's Archipelago and had to live on shellfish for a fortnight...' which is why I get a forager background word for an hour.)

The truth of the anecdote is optional.

Why can't just anyone carry around letters of introduction, comfits, grooming gear, cards &c.?

Well, sure, they can and are encouraged to do so (why not carry round things that may help socially?). But to get a predictable result from it, to one with confidence - this takes time and training. The Man of the World has gained that, somehow.

Why isn't the Man of the World living on an estate somewhere? Why isn't he successful, if he's been at this a while?

Experience robs the Man of the World of a settled life - and money passes through his hands quickly (no-one will take his IOUs). He might have known the Duke of Ruthsay when they were boys, but they have clearly taken different paths. The Grand Vizier or the Old General might spare a little time for the Man of the World - for old times sake, but won't neglect affairs of state on the strength of a old and distant acquaintanceship.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Clark Ashton Smith: First Impressions

I have been reading some of Clark Ashton Smith's short stories for the first time and wish to record a few of my thoughts on a writer so influential in certain corners of the fantasy RPG circuit. To make you aware - I have been working from the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks edition The Emperor of Dreams. Please note that I have only started this collection - there is a way to go yet!
Image result for Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks edition Emperor of Dreams
To begin at the beginning: 'The Abominations of Yondo'. Right away, what does one absorb? The names - Yondo, the Inquisitors of Ong. The somewhat purple prose: 'fallen cedars that rotted by fallen mausoleums, on whose lichen-blotted marble fat chameleons crept with royal pearls in their mouths.' The colour palette is likewise vivid. (Dunsany doesn't quite fall into the same camp, by virtue of sheer mysticism).

A few things to note of this, based on how it re-occurs in later stories. The names conjure up every low-grade fantasy that has been parodied or pastiched, quite possibly deservingly. Overblown names with too many apostrophes; the [PROFESSION] of [PLACE] formulations. You can think of plenty of ways to mock it.

It doesn't feel necessary to do so here. These are short stories: the background, the setting will never been completely filled in (a pencil sketch, not an il painting). Throwing a character of whom one knows little or speaking of an unknown place - that means that certain aspects of (say) the Inquisitors of Ong will forever remain concealed.

CAS is of course, writing in a different age for a different audience. That wasn't uppermost in my mind when reading these, but it means that our media-savvy minds are not quite the correct tools to delve into stuff that may appear cliche or unsophisticated.

Lots of antagonists forces appear to be religious sects and inquisitions: this may be a Gothic hangover  (Cf. The Monk, the Castle of Otranto, The Pit and The Pendulum). Indeed, the one purposefully medieval story so far(one of the Averoigne tales) lacks any mention of the Church (other than perhaps by implication) - quite possibly to preserve the sunny tone.

That very story - 'A Rendezvous in Averoigne' - is oddly breezy for a vampire tale. The assaults of the villain are ineffectual and beaten back with reasonable precautions whilst in his castle. There's probably a good story about vampiric hubris in there somewhere, but this seemed to be more about the Arcadian delights of Averoigne - and the sinister things somewhere behind it.

Another story to comment on would be The Sorcerer's Return. A little predictable (the chap who acts like an evil wizard practices the black arts? Shocker!). But the tone of events, the workings of study, of languages and study and editions - it is the world of the antiquarian, the historian, the palaeographer - MR James, not HP Lovecraft.

The Hyperborea stories are a different kettle of fish people. [Sorry.] For a place so far toward the Arctic, the northern or beyond-northern elements are there, though dimly (elk-goddess, ice age). Could it be any elder age? Perhaps, but CAS works it sufficiently well in to be interesting and textured. The protagonists are often as amoral and callous as Vance's Cugel - see 'The Tale of Satampra Zeiros'.

'The Door to Saturn' is the best of these thus far - a super example of the Weird as a mix of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Both the starting tale in Hyperborea and the journey undertaken are fascinating - with an inquisitor again, you'll note. The very alien landscape of Saturn (of which I want a little more) is good; the names and languages change agreeable - names 'foreign ' to the 20th century reader change into names 'alien' to the human reader. This is how unpronounceable names are done well, if you will. The tone is quite light - despair is not in the foreground, whatever the plight of our protagonists.

One Zothique story so far - 'The Empire of the Necromancers'. A good idea, well executed, but not very good at implying a sense of place or setting in the same way as other Dying Earth stories. I must see how this develops.

A few final thoughts: Was CAS ever actually in France? What was his education? [Yes, there is a chapter on this in the Afterword.]
I never quite seem to be certain of the shape of things; this need not be a problem - but there is plenty of architectural description.
This might be called The Emperor of Dreams, but it seems too fine shaded, too pointed in all aspects to be entirely dreamlike.

Crystal Substitutes

As you may or may not be aware, crystals are currently rather contentious in certain corners of the internet.

Therefore, for those of us wishing to remove all crystals from our Rings of Power, Amulets of Might, &c, I have hastily composed the following table of substances that may be put in their place.
  1. Amber
  2. Jet
  3. Pearl/Nacre
  4. Ebony/other exotic wood
  5. Ivory/Bone
  6. Horn/Claw/Tooth (cut to shape or au naturel)
  7. Hair/Fur (in a suitable sealed container)
  8. Scale (dragonscale particularly desirable)
  9. Brightly coloured plumage/butterfly wings (in suitable sealed container)
  10. Skin (in a suitable sealed container)
  11. Tiny oil painting
  12. Polished stone (none-precious)
  13. Petrified wood
  14. Calligraphy on paper (in a suitable sealed container)
  15. Porcelain
  16. Enamel
  17. Stained glass
  18. Millefiori
  19. Mirror
  20. Two of the above; roll again
Roll 1d20: or, if you feel that amber, jet and pearl are crystalline by association, broaden the 'Roll again' option by two.
Image result for eye ring fitzwilliam museum
Better than any crystal.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Lasers from the Heraldry Dimension!

In musing on my last post, it occurred to me that I had rather downplayed colour as a portion of the ray gun. This needn't be a mistake, but it set the cogs in motion.

Here's how it goes: the newness and the strangeness of the beam from a ray gun might come about from a number of ways. Let's think of visuals: I shall apply some short-hand in the form of referring to other works.

So, the contemporary medieval fantasy is, for better or worse, going to draw on the HBO television adaptation Game of Thrones  - as part of a knowledge base, a shared understanding, a cultural reference point. If you have seen it, you may observe that the visual tone - as shown in costumes, sets, locations - is often rather muted. I might equally point to the 2010 film True Grit.

Either way, a brightly coloured laser from a ray gun is going to look deeply out of place: imagine the brilliant red of the ray against the grim grey hill side. All in keeping - my premise being that the ray should look unreal, otherworldly.

Therefore this ray might be said to come from a different dimension. A dimension of bright, uniform colours. A dimension of American comic books of the mid-twentieth century. Or of the brilliant, carefully contrasted abstractions of heraldry.

Thusly, I turned to Iain Moncrieffe and Don Pottinger's Simple Heraldry - Cheerfully Illustrated (a charming little book if you can get a copy) and produced the following table for your laser shooting beams from the heraldry dimension.

What colour is the beam of your ray gun? [If you need a crib, you may find it here.]
1. Gules/Sanguine
2. Tenne
3. Or
4. Vert
5. Azure
6. Pupere
7. Sable
8. Argent
9. Ermine/Contre-ermine
10. Vair

What shape, in cross section, is the beam of your ray gun? 
1. A fess (rectangle, longest side horizontal)
2. A pale (rectangle, longest side vertical)
3. A cross/a saltire
4. A pairle (Y-shape)
5. A chevron
6. A roundel
7. A trefoil/quatrefoil/cinquefoil
8. A label (bar with three descending tabs)
9. A lozenge
10. An eschuteon (shaped like a shield with a flat top and pointed base)

Go forth; wield your trusty ermine energy blade to put a Y-shaped hole through Ming the Merciless and save the day!

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Azoth: Ray gun as nightmare fuel

Recently having re-read Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun, I am drawn to the azoth in the text. It is better and simpler, perhaps, just to transcribe passages of the original text first rather than try to describe the salient features.

'..the other object was shaped like a T. The stem was cylindrical and oddly rough, with a single, smooth protuberance beneath the crossbar; the crossbar itself seemed polished and slightly curved, and had upturned ends. The entire object felt unnaturally cold, as reptiles often do.'

' azoth is supposed to be controlled by something called a demon.'

'There was an unfacetted crimson gem (he vaguely remembered having heard a similar gem called a bloodstone) in the grip. It was too flat and much too highly polished to turn. He gripped the azoth...and pressed the crimson get with his thumb.
Reality separated. Something else appeared between the halves, as current divides a quiet pool. Plaser from the wall across the room fell smoking onto the carpet, revealing laths that themselves exploded in a shower of splinters with the next movement of his thumb.
Involuntarily, he released the demon, and the azoth's blade vanished.'

[All the above from Chapter Six of Nightside the Long Sun - the reader's introduction to the azoth.]

Image result for litany of the long sun
Litany of the Long Sun, containing Nightside the Long Sun and Lake of the Long Sun.
This edition by Orb Books, an imprint of Tor Books.

One take-away from all this is (though, given Wolfe, hardly the only one: the connection of demon and sword is perhaps also notable) the azoth as an interpretation of the lightsaber - a device in a science fiction work resembling the hilt of a sword, with its own power source that produces a blade made of energy that cuts through most everything.

(The quoted passage above only damages a domestic wall; rest assured it can do more. The line about reality seperating ought to be troubling enough without an example of widespread destruction.)

I hardly imagine the azoth just came about from Gene Wolfe watching Star Wars and thinking 'That seems mighty terrifying,' - but that's an angle to take away from it. It is beyond other weapons: we have a notion of bullet-proof or blade-proof: however terrifying a person wielding either might be, there is notion of escape. Not so the azoth: Silk, protagonist of The Book of the Long Sun would rather jump out a window than face one. It's a good way to think of the lightsaber or similar - a manifestation of the power of the Force, in terms of the structure of not the canon of Star Wars: an incomparable weapon, whoever wields it (therefore, let us hope it's the White Hats, not the Black Helmets).

Anyway: the central premise 'This cuts through anything' ought to be absolutely terrifying. 'An elegant weapon for a more civilised age.' Hardly! Swords and slug guns do not compare; the image a blade or built may do is real and conceivable. The azoth is invoked as demonic, otherworldly - devastating in a whole new way. (Of course, in the The Book of the Long Sun it has limits. It is nonetheless terrifying).

I have been casually throwing a few scattered science fiction remnants into certain sections of my Terrae Vertebrae setting of late - I speak of the Qryth. The High Medieval shading through to Renaissance setting of Terrae Vertebrae barely has gunpowder or the printing press. Magic is comparable, but not quite so banal - one has to chant and make mystic gestures, not just pull a trigger and point.

Either way, there are some settings where a ray gun, even a ray gun of the most ludicrous type from pulp science fiction or children's cartoons ought to be new, strange and terrifying. Terrae Vertebrae should be one such setting. The tables below allows for a variety of technological terrors to be produced.

"Tell me, what was the ray like?"
1. "Like a single thread of fire, stretching towards his body!"
2. "A rod of blinding light, a foot in length!"
3. "Nothing that one could see, a ripple of heat haze in the air!"
4. "Forked like lightening and just as swift!"
5. "Rings! Wide rings, like ripples in water! Hanging in the air!"
6. "He pointed, and there was a surge of light - think of that which hangs in the Northern Sky!"
7. "Three thin beams came out - then they joined, like the legs of a stool!"
8. "An orb, the size of a man's fist - moving with dreadful purpose!"
9. "Just as the foam on the tide as it rolls over the shore, so this moved in the air!"
10. "Bright and swift, like the sparks from the forge , leaving such sparks in its wake!"

Image result for sky captain and the world of tomorrow ray gun
Still from the 2004 film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
21st Century pastiche, but it gets the point across.

"Tell me, what sound did it make?"
1. "As unto the crack of a giant's whip!"
2. "Like the terrible sound of thunder, from clouds just above your head!"
3. "Its passing was like ten thousand arrows in flight!"
4. "I heard only screams!"
5. "A titanic blade on the grindstone!"
6. "Great and monstrous buzzing, like a swarm of bees!"
7. "High and sharp - a mosquito's whine!"
8. "Hard, vast and unrelenting - a monstrous, tuneless bell!"
9. "Distant, high and hungry, like the eagle of the mountains!"
10. "Like water running out of a narrow drain - everything was being sucked away, displaced!"

Colours  (if you need them)
1. Red
2. Orange
3. Yellow
4. Green
5. Blue
6. Indigo/Violet
7. Brown/Beige [Bonus points to the first person to make a Beige laser pistol terrifying!]
8. White
9. Black
10. "Unnameable and terrible!"

Add Jale, Ulfire, Dolm, Fuligin, Octarine or Garrow in your own time.

All terribly melodramatic or hyberbolic, I know. But they have just witnessed something unreal, world shattering - or at least capable of shattering the substance of the world in a way nothing else can.

Qryth Questions

OR, What's a nice four-armed green thing like you doing in a place like this?

For those new to all this, or who want a refresher: I've been floating Punth and the Qryth for a while now, giving a somewhat fleshed-out introduction alongside a specific hexcrawl.

So, I shall go over the questions about Punth and the Qryth that might ask for an answer - and haven't quite been answered elsewhere.

What surrounds Punth?

To the North: A mountain range*; beyond that, southern provinces of the Nirvanite Imperium.
To the East: The Mountains of the Spine of the World.
To the West: The Inner Sea; beyond the sea, the Coastal Emirates.
To the South: ...well, I haven't written this yet. But let us say that it is divided between Zanzibar-style East Africa  Emirate-influenced trade ports and the tribal kingdoms and confederacies of the interior.

What's the terrain and climate of Punth like?

Fertile Crescent-Mesopotamia, with Arabian Empty-Quarter regions and a single coastline. Settlement is centred around the rivers, but the more deserty regions have Qryth occupancy and thus distort the typical model of population (as in the Hexcrawl).

What's the history of Punth?

See here.

How's Punth governed?

As the hexcrawl article above suggests, the Qryth rule. To take this a little further, this resembles an aristocratic republic like Ancient Rome or Carthage, but with the sort of domination by the Qryth that utterly crushes any democratic influence. There is a 'tribune of the plebs' equivalent for human Punthites, but this is not a position of power. An emergency powers role - a Shogun or (Roman Republican) dictator - can be granted, but has rarely become a cross-generational feature. Qryth cultural strength restrains it.

All this is without taking into account the Codes and the power they offer. That very clearly puts a new light on things, whatever the parliamentary practices might be. It becomes much more reminiscent of a one-party state in the Twentieth century. But the Qryth have been at this for centuries. A position in the Assembly or the Codification Group is politically fraught, but a disgraced Qryth Assembly member is going to be to be sent off into the distant provinces or to an estate than to be executed without trial. Parliament, not Politburo. Oligarchical collectivism? Not quite.

Is there a Punthite religion?

Not really. The Codes are a pragmatic device for working in the world - though they are so all-consuming that they might be said to have the status of a religion.

Is there a Qryth religion?

Again, not really. As space-farers, the original shipwrecked Qryth had the sort of faith that had become rather abstract. However, Qryth culture is an obsession: keeping the torch burning, sticking together, rather than becoming a scattered people, permanent exiles.

...the features of Qryth culture being?

Of course, if the ancestors of the present-day Qryth or their people beyond the stars saw all this, they would be deeply confused. The most foreign element is the interpretation of the Codes and the leadership of the Punth: this is part of the life of each Qryth. Magisterial scholarship and jurisprudence dominates the academies of the Qryth. But this is acknowledged as duty distant from their essential 'Qryth-ness'.

The Qryth culture in Punth, then, involves learning a great deal of history, learning and living in a traditional Qryth manner (the greatest of the Qryth tread a fine line doing this: the more they spend in Reserves or Retreats, the more they embody their culture, the more status they gain - but their own power and influence may suffer). The crew of the Qryth ship that crashed were adventurous explorer types, pseudo-military even - hunting and athletics pursuits are typical. This has a distorting influence on Qryth art, as if a predominant theme of sculpture was Rugby Union and the Venus di Milo wore a scrum cap.

Hang on, Terrae Vertebrae has magic and clerics and so forth - do the Qryth have souls? What happens to the Punthites after death, given their moral status?

The Faith of the Eight debate this intently. They have come to the notion that some sort of Purgatory is provided for the less malevolent of the Punth. The Qryth are damned for their tyranny or complicity in tyranny. The various Crusades into Punth are a consequence of this.

So, can the Punthites do magic? And the Qryth?

The Punthites can, but it's an up-hill struggle given the thought-dominating status of the codes. The Qryth are outsiders to this 'magical biome'; it is a real struggle for them to master even the basics. This is exacerbated by the lack of a Qryth magical tradition, both pre- and post- shipwreck.

What size are the Qryth?

Ten foot or so. Green-ish skin, four arms. Slim corded-muscle bodies. Pretty much Tharks. Twice as strong as a strong man.

So, like Tharks, they have males and females? Do they bear young like mammals, or hatch eggs like natives of Barsoom?

Yes to males and females. They are similar in appearance is most respects, more so than humans. Social division along such lines is present though limited: Qryth women can live like Spartan females, propped up and supported by plenty of helots.  Eggs are hatched, as Barsoom - but individually by families and without the Green Martian natural selection element. Child rearing is very important to the Qryth, to sustain their culture - and to make sure the children aren't going become like the Punthites. Contact between Qryth juveniles and humans is limited.

Does Punth trade a great deal?

Not really; it has had to be self-sustaining at many points in history during wars. Even pre-Qryth, it wasn't a seafaring state and the deserts and mountains make trade difficult.

Ports exist on the coast, but the economy of Punth, while not as such centrally planned, puts a great deal of stress on coordination for the purposes of the Qryth; there is no regular trade deal due to Punth's status as an outsider on the international stage and those traders that do come to Punth are rarely greeted warmly. This is due to being outside the Codes, a mercurial commercial policy and Qryth snobbery.

It might be compared to Western merchants travelling to the East Indies in the Sixteenth Century. While there isn't so far to travel, there is no established diplomatic link or trade policy in place; who knows what the Local potentate or governor will think of you; the culture shock is acute; and making a deal, let alone a profit is shaky proposition at best.

What's the architecture like, what with ten-foot folk living besides five-foot folk?

All public buildings are Qryth-sized - compulsory under the Code (besides being useful in places that function-wise have to accommodate plenty). Some private buildings are regularly sized, but a Punthite of wealth will have a Qryth-sized home or reception space.

The prominent feature of Punthite architecture is the ziggurat: a defensible citadel, a reminder of their history, a court for the Qryth officialdom. Qryth cultural impulses on the part of the shipwrecked crew preserved smaller things than buildings - just as stranded humans might preserve the Iliad with more ease than Classical architecture. The oldest and grandest ziggurats were built with advanced technology and thus are the best examples of Qryth architecture. The original crash site was also heavily fortified - but the pre-fabricated huts that the spaceship carried have long since gone and the walls alone remain from those days.

Speaking of advanced technology, what's left among the Qryth?

The occasional ray-gun and communicator. A few medical devices, with ritualistic instructions and limits uses (the automatic doctor can reattach legs good as new - but it takes time to set it up, during which time the patient might bleed out and it can only reattach legs).

The sort of standard of these things is indicative in one of those old machines that has been maintained to this day. It makes armour from ingots of iron and with plenty of time to charge up the solar panels. But what it can make is very close fitting pieces of metal, perfectly weighted and shaped for a given individual, of a very high quality steel. But a team of craftsmen has to attach straps, buckles and pads to these pieces of metal and make the whole thing workable.

What do they eat?

The Punthites can eat what humans eat. Their diet is perhaps limited and functional rather than extensive, but is not utterly bleak.

The Qryth spent some time doing genetic modification to make local plants edible and nourishing for them, as well as generally more healthy, bigger &c. They have applied this to a number of beasts as well (hence the game reserves, though some Qryth-beasts can be reared for food rather than just hunted).

Are there any further questions?

*I quite like the idea of the presence of a beleaguered Armenian or Georgian equivalent in these mountains, sandwiched between empires (IE, Byzantine and Persian) - though without the Black Sea. But to give Medieval Colchis and Lazica and so forth their due, this really needs a little more research. Also, there are Dwarves which I want to do something with, mentioned in the Beyond Vertebrea post.