Friday 26 January 2024

The Cape of Four Pleasances

As suggested last time, here's some material put together for Investigating Censor. I have tied this to some of my own Rest of All Possible Worlds - I quite liked the idea of newcomers to the region, and this was a way to do it. A deliberate sort-of expansion pack. The two aren't supposed to be drawn too tightly together, so I haven't been too specific about (say) a newcomer being from this bit of Malmery or that bit of Tsymric. Anyway, off to.....


The Cape of Four Pleasances is quite a way from High Dreaming Citadel, on the South-Westerly tip of the coastline. Largely flat, but still full of plant life, it hooks round to provide ample shelter for ships from the winds. It was once home to four villa complexes, the sea-side getaways of landowning families from the farming valleys deeper inland; a place to send invalids or troublesome younger sons - or to escape plague. Stables, bathhouses and colonnades welcomed guests; gardens, pavilions and gaming terraces entertained them; wall-hangings, scented breezes and palisades surrounded them. 

Those families have now all been killed, or exiled, or subdued. The Cape of Four Pleasances should be the haunt of pirates, turning well-appointed chambers into sprawling plunder-pits or airy courtyards into open-air debauches. But somehow, it isn't: the estates remain empty, slowly decaying in the absence of gardeners, scullions and builders. 

Any successful strike against the Cult of Protection should be welcome news to an Investigating Censor - or so one would imagine. Then, from traders and travellers comes report of newcomers: strangely dressed, heavily armed and highly inquisitive. They are the ones who have driven the pirates back, and created an orbit of relative peace.

The Hub        Port Houndsfair

Port Houndsfair was named for a regular gathering to sell hunting beasts to bored nobles. It nudged a fishing village into a full-blown port town, accommodating the Four Pleasances. There has been no-one to sell scent-hounds or other luxuries to for quite a while, and so Port Houndsfair was slowly decaying, and gradually earning that unfair nickname - 'Muttstown'. So it went, until a few years ago.

There are three principal areas one could divide Port Houndsfair into.

The Harbourside Narrows of the Old Town

Shacks and wharfs and slipways, and smokehouses, and nets in the sun - until you get close, and see the carefully varnished timbers of the buildings, the rows of pink and gilt tide-charms or pale wooden nereid bells hanging from the balconies, the fold-away street booths and the painted sunscreens of taut canvas. 

Most of the Port's well-off families are elsewhere, but there are a few reasons to keep them coming into town - including an increasingly perfunctory set of civic rituals and the annual regatta.

The South-East Processional

Warehouses face each other along a straight new road, with walled gardens and large houses behind them. The new trade has meant that traders of Houndsfair have re-established themselves, to accommodate new volumes of goods going out to Fort Baculum and to house their increasingly prosperous families and retinues. 

This is the place to find both a dozen cartloads of Musth and those dealers in it flaunting their new finery, and gossiping, and thinking of ways to embarrass one another at the next Cartel Assembly. Every two hundred yards of road was paid for by a different merchant, who attempt to outdo one another with elaborately carved man-high milestones, conspicuous scarlet roadside shines or numerous bright flags. 

There is no formal Centre of Gravity to the merchant class of Houndsfair: the Chair of Cartel Meetings is always a carefully chosen second-stringer. However, many individual merchants might show themselves as Key Personalities.

The armed portions of a Merchant's retinue typically carry Man-catchers, Whips, Throwing Clubs and Dirks. Several of them will carry Cur-pipes: lightly enchanted bone flutes that produce a wince-inducing shriek, designed to make crowds clear the road, slinking and cringing into alleys and gutters. 

At night, perhaps one in four will be given Tether Lamps. The retainer wears a large flat pectoral amulet, which attaches to him and sustains (through his heartbeat) a glowing paper lantern hovering several feet above. (It takes a small act of magical will, generally clutching the amulet in the right hand, to oblige the lantern to lower itself to go through an archway.)

The Blue Light District

Trade of a different kind. Small by the standards of the pirate coast, the Blue Light District is at present dominated by a band of cutthroats who call themselves - with desperate, leaden gaiety - the Elephants who Trample Care

Their boss is generally called Trunk, and is a Centre of Gravity in his own right. He owns a bludgeon made of ivory, terminating in a metal spike tip. This looks very impressive but he only recently acquired it and hasn't yet had to use it in anger.

Acuity: d10
Archery: d4
Fetches and Fetishes: d6
Gambling: d6
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d10

The Old Power        The Temple of Suspended Heads

Set down the cape, between the abandoned Pleasances (which it predates), there is a temple complex. This is dedicated to a figure called the Mother of Cormorants and a collection of sea-spirits called the Parliament of Tides. However, this is fairly far down the list of things people remember about the temple, for one very good reason.

From the broad eaves of the temples in the centre of the complex hang upside-down human heads. These are made of every material imaginable - stone, wood, wickerwork, metal, leather, ivory. These are decorated in as wide a set of styles with paint or chalk or gilding or carving, though the heads are all still recognisably human. These are suspended by a variety of chains, rope and cords.

The influence of the heads makes the Temple precincts within the ritual line of the ceremonial gate a sort of magical blind spot. Confused by the myriad symbols of dislocated and inverted sight, auguries fail, scrying produces an absolute blank and witchsight just gives wizards a headache. 

This has made the Temple very popular over the years with people wanting to escape magical detection - and likewise with those who want to conceal themselves from divine attention as well. 

(Which is to say, the Temple is a resting place between sins rather than a place wonderfully suited for one to commit them. The Three-Precinct Master and the temple brethren drive out the more obvious Blue Light types of vice and would be aghast at cold-blooded murder.
[Hot pursuit is bothersome and unpleasant, but only a minor problem.])

Consequently, The Temple of Suspended Heads wields a great deal of relatively subtle power on the Cape, as well as owning a broad estate in its own right. And it has wielded this a long time: twisting the arms of visiting nobles, sprinkling a dust of ritual propriety and moral rectitude over the grasping merchants and truculent fisherfolk of Houndsfair, and baffling Pirate Warlords into a rough semblance of good manners. 

Young Men from Port Houndsfair volunteer (by custom) as wardens at the Temple of Suspended Heads. They spend several non-consecutive seasons in this role, and are expected to live temperately in this time. They wear Lovat green tunics, brass lozenge-shaped ornaments and dull crimson head wraps; they are armed with long poles with a sharply curved blade on the end. From these they take their name - the Pruning-Hook Serjeants.

They are not usually called upon to do more than break up fights or chase off intruders, but will use deadly force in the event someone fails to back down. A Serjeant who decapitates someone in the course of his duties will dine out on the story for the rest of his life.

Centre of Gravity            The Three-Precinct Master

The Arch-Priest of the Temple of Suspended Heads. A deliberately inscrutable and taciturn man, who allows his subordinates to bear the brunt of daily administration and boring meetings. He concentrates on the cycle of Temple ritual, and on what he terms the 'higher mysteries'. Decades of sermons, spiritual tutelage and formal authority give him an aura of power enhanced by the tricolour chequerboard robes he wears.

He possesses the Twenty Cormorant Rosary, a string of jet beads that allow him to dive and glide like a seabird and breath underwater for a surprisingly long time. In the Master's Chambers he also possesses the sinuous enchanted glaive Immortal's Expectorate. This rests on the wall of his chamber and looks like an unused decorative piece - an impression prompted by several ornate nacre panels. In fact, the Three-Precinct Master practices with it daily. 

Acuity: d12
Fetches and Fetishes: d6
Poetry: d10
Prophecy: d12
Prowess: d10

Key Personality        The Vernal Provost

As the name suggests, the Vernal Provost is appointed every spring. No-one holds the position for consecutive years. He acts as the daily overseer of the business of the Temple, and is usually an elder of the brethren. The Provost exercises control over the central temple buildings, the lodging and feeding of the priests and acolytes and minor infractions between them. The Pruning-Hook Serjeants report to him.

The current Provost has been in the post four times previously, and is secretly rather exasperated by the need to put all his projects into the hands of another priest. He would happily prolong his term of office in the case of a 'state of emergency'. He would also happily become Three-Precinct Master, though is (at heart) aware that the position of Master would thrust him into the sort of context where his concerns as Provost would immediately dwindle or shift.

Key Personality        Head Usher

Overseer of the Visitors' Lodge in the Temple. Harried by his duties, he has slipped into a mental and social rut of repetitive cheerful cliche, which is dropped only and shockingly when he must upbraid an underling. A careful tender of power relations and niceties in the mixed surroundings of the lodge.

The Young Power    The Whetstone Pundit

Thirty years ago, a scholar from an obscure cadet branch of a wealthy family moved into one of the Pleasances. He began to teach, providing an elite education for those that could afford it along the coast. 

Twenty years ago, they began calling him the Whetstone Pundit - though whether this is in honour of his flat, stony features, his rasping voice or his ability to bring a degree of keenness to even the bluntest young minds is open to dispute. 

He has become prosperous beyond the prospects of his birth. He is in his 51st year, and could happily retire now and live on his accumulated wealth and the products of his estate. He will not do so, because he is also highly respected. The Cartel in Houndsfair frequently consult him on all matters not linked to personal profit. Indeed, on almost all matters not related to public religion or wholesale commerce, he has managed to enact his ideals for public policy across the Cape. Further, he has managed to do so while retaining the image of a scholar pottering within the bounds of his own (flourishing!) walled garden.

Naturally, he is not alone. The Whetstone Estate has perhaps a score of young students each with a body servant staying there, as well as a household staff and a village of workers. This was intended as a model of harmonious, mannerly rule, and is a charming blend of parkland and agriculture. However successful this presently is, the extent to which it is all a façade has varied from year to year. 

The Pundit also has a trained band of Guards, who have been trained as loyal, ferocious huscarls but largely find themselves acting as night-watchmen and lodgekeepers. They would need sometime to gear up into near-equals of anyone in Fort Baculum. 

Centre of Gravity           The Whetstone Pundit

Never strictly vigorous, the Pundit has remained active in his maturity - including some of the martial skills necessary for a noble. He does not openly embrace the minor magics of Fetishes and Fetches, but will make use of them.

His library would be immensely valuable to someone in Fort Baculum.

Acuity: d12
Alchemy: d6
Archery: d8
Fetches and Fetishes: d6
Flute: d12
Gambling: d4
Poetry: d12
Prowess: d4

Key Personality        Millrace

Millrace is the Pundit's Bailiff and has been busy with the practical application of his principles for decades. She is a squat, tireless woman in her middle years, typically clad in a set of blue-green robes. A common remark by the Pundit's servants is that she is the Iron Hand that allows him to wear Silk Gloves. She is also one of the main conduits of the Pundit's will to the outside world and really enjoys the occasional moments when she gets to browbeat someone far richer than herself.

Acuity: d12
Gambling: d10
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d6

Key Personality        Head Disciple

The Pundit's head scribe, secretary and sounding board. He actually regards him as wonderful, but distant from the practicalities of instructing aristocratic adolescents. This manifests as grousing, rather than resentment. Changing this way of life at his age would be a costly process, though it would not be so very hard to set up himself up as a tutor or similar riding on the Pundit's reputation.

The New Power    Fort Baculum

Strange visitors from another land live here. They arrived in the face of piratical opposition, but fought it off in spectacular fashion, at what they now call the Battle of Journey's End. Revealing themselves to be traders, they acquired land across from Port Houndsfair where they set up a fortified compound - a secure anchorage for themselves, stores for their goods and a battery to ward off pirate raids. Their new goods have enriched the merchants of Houndsfair, as has their willingness to fight in defence of the Cape. 

The residents of Fort Baculum are from Calliste. They represents an assortment of nations and peoples, gathered into a company of merchant venturers based in Datresse. They have an outlandish religion (or, depending on the individual, an outlandish irreligion) that makes them poor targets for the persuasive arts of an Investigating Censor. They have telescopes, coffee, tobacco and remarkable weapons, called fire-arms.

(Unless you'd rather they didn't, in which case they have highly advanced crossbows. There's precedent for that.)

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Several trade runs have now gone from Fort Baculum back to Datresse. It is showing a profit, and Fort Baculum is slowly gearing up for the long haul. 

The Fort itself is a square, boxy affair - with a small stream fifty yards off for water. It has a battery at the tip of the Cape, a hundred yards off as the crow flies, but far further to walk up the series of switchbacks and curves that allowed the Callistans to haul their cannon up to the top. Someone sufficiently active could scramble up quicker, but probably not in armour.

No-one at Fort Baculum can play the Flute, and their poetry is far too elaborate and fanciful.

The Sailors, Marines and Armed Labourers at the Fort carry Boarding Axes, Marlinspikes and Messers - as well as Muskets. Some officers carry long, slim swords - an oddity on the Cape. Their instinct, if attacked, is to stick to prepared defences - the ramparts, stashes of powder and shot, the ditches, the switchbacks up to the battery.  They can be remarkable effective in these prepared positions. If overwhelmed they go into No-quarter-asked-or-given mode, and become particularly paranoid and dangerous. 

Centre of Gravity    Warrant-Holder

Licensed to deal in strange foreign goods, and defend his ships while doing so. Merchant, mariner, fighter, amateur linguist - and here for the long haul. He has people he owes, as well as interested officials that call on him whenever he steps back into port. The only way to get out of this is to make his packet. Then he can settle down and reminisce about the taste of the local hooch and the bizarre shellfish-based cuisine and the erotic frescos. A stable and steady man - until it pays not to be.

Acuity: d12
Archery: d8
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d12

Key Personality    Wizarding Matross

You can either pay through the nose for Wizard College, or bugger off to the ends of the earth to dodge the debt collectors. Somehow, she did both. The Matross is a key component of the Fort Baculum battery, speeding cannonballs into pirate vessels with uncanny accuracy. The trouble is, there is only one Matross in Fort Baculum. She spends most of her freetime on a rough cot in a shack near by the guns. 

The Matross has no desire to visit the Blue Light District and cut loose, no time to engage with the local culture and no immediate prospect of going home. The Warrant-Holder still feels the Cape is not yet secure against pirate raids. 

Acuity: d12
Alchemy: d6
Archery: d20

Key Personality    Second-Son Scholar

One officer of the Fort nurses a set of ambitions - to apply his scraps of magical knowledge to this new world, starting importing to Calliste fetishes and fetches - or making them himself. This could make money. This could build prestige. This could make a name in the lecture halls and wunderkammern and salons of Calliste.

Except, of course, that for the Warrant-Holder, it is already huge. No need to push the envelope too far when we barely know the language and are making quite enough money already. The Warrant-Holder, naturally, has more shares apportioned to him of the Fort's trade. 

Still, the Second-Son is trying. He probably has less of natural gift for languages than the Warrant-Holder, but he's using his in so many more different new contexts - and gradually building a far better cultural understanding of the region. Apparently. 

Acuity: d10
Archery: d4
Fetches and Fetishes: d4
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d8

The Empty Pleasances

These are now haunts of wild beasts, desperate beggars and bandits. Anything valuable was sold or removed long ago. There is one notable exception, however.

A Pirate Intelligencer has arrived and is making slowly gathering news of the Cape and Fort Baculum. This is generally accomplished through prompt payments of large amounts of hard cash or interesting new drugs, and the Intelligencer needs somewhere to store these. The Intelligencer has chosen a Pleasance to do this*, for their remoteness and ill-repute. Any beasts or itinerants were driven out and the crumbling manse has been rigged with numerous traps. 

In theory, one of the Pleasances would be the first choice as an operating base for a Pirate assault on the Cape, but the Intelligencer has not got anywhere near making this a reality. 

*Possible Variant: Hide the Lady. The Intelligencer is in one of the old Pleasances, but has booby-trapped all three.....


  1. This was so much fun to read. Love the combination of RoAPW and Investigating Censor. The sonic weapon (cur-pipe) is cool, and the heads! That's such a great execution of the protection from scrying idea, well done!
    I also love the Head Usher, picturing him giving an absolutely vanilla greeting to a visitor and then spying an underling doing something wrong and just launching into a vicious diatribe worthy of Basil Fawlty or something.
    Last, it may be juvenile of me, but I guffawed at fort baculum.

    1. I have to say, when I put down 'The Temple of Suspended Heads', I knew I had at least a cornerstone for a full post.

      Fort Baculum (chosen in part for the Latin usage) draws as much from 'argumentum ad baculum' as any other meaning, but the idea that baculum means something very different on the Cape to back in Calliste is too good to pass up!

  2. Goddamn, this rules. So much potential energy, just begging for some reckless players to kick over one of the hornet's nests. Not as funny as the name Blackout highlighted but I love "the Elephants who Trample Care."

    1. Still not quite sure how "The Elephants who Trample Care" came to me. Maybe there's a bit of Lord Dunsany in it?

  3. Very pleased to see this! Some great prose, for example "Shacks and wharfs and slipways, and smokehouses, and nets in the sun - until you get close, and see the carefully varnished timbers of the buildings, the rows of pink and gilt tide-charms or pale wooden nereid bells hanging from the balconies, the fold-away street booths and the painted sunscreens of taut canvas." I was also fully transported by the Temple of Suspended Heads. It's great to see you apply this template to The Rest of All Possible Worlds, and that you've creatively blended it with the world of Investigating Censor.

    1. Excellent, the HCK seal of approval!
      Reading back and comparing with Lacquermere, I probably should have slotted in a little more 'Potential Recruits' material. What happens if an IC gets hold of the Whetstone Pupils?

    2. Could be a high-reward, high-risk situation; I invert the normal order because while you might get their staff and minders to tag along awhile for free, serving their indentured masters, the guards may eventually decide to liberate the students from you if you haven't enough Writs... or perhaps they are always Disloyal, in the sense that their higher loyalty will always be to their institution over you