Monday, October 16, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 3.

Click here to view Part 2 on the Pach-Pah Empire.

"They were like children. We all were, back then. That is the lesson to take from our history. That we must grow up as a people."
- Scholar's Guild representative Metok Chicheuilte, offering a surprisingly gentle alternative to the usual stance on the mental faculties of the last reigning Miqhs.

- Inscription upon the steel head of a pickaxe salvaged from an archaeological site in the lower northwest Taneqas region. Dated to approximately 2000PR.

Eccentricities began to develop among the scions of the narrowing bloodlines of the Pach-Pah Yul royalty, as the generations wore on. Given the cult of personality which was fostered around each such individual by that time, especially the Miqh, these tendencies were only encouraged. Thus, long strings of tragic individuals became increasingly hidden from day-to-day matters, left ignorant of how to properly go about their duties when, if even faintly, the hope had existed that they could grow and develop to be wise and competent individuals. But the circumstances of high society had become so convoluted and bloated with a combination of decadence and anxiety that the later emperors did very little which could be seen as "kingly". Still, the reigning members of the family branches remained rather docile, delegating actual work to unrelated servants and administrators, and generally keeping to their own prestige-driven affairs. Civil strife all but vanished, and unknown to the aristocratic heart of the empire, their frontiers became the first sites of cultural and economic contact with the peoples of the lowlands.

But every few generations there was born a strong and vigorous "Great Miqh", often termed "Mad Miqh" in modern scholarship, who disrupted this cycle of maintenance and gentle stagnation and substituted their own idea for the world. For example, the severe deflation of currency in the 38th century PR was caused by the removal from circulation of all copper coins thanks to two successive Miqhs having a rare yet highly pronounced copper allergy. The ruinous war which was fought to conquer the unneeded hill country south of the Pach-Pahs from its now nameless and faceless aboriginal inhabitants was declared by Gulzar Quexo Miqh in 3464PR. Evidently, she had wanted to name the place as her footstool, in reference to the concept of the Miqh straddling the world (i.e., mountains). To this day, the region is said to be so devastated and scarred that not even the ████████████████████████████ bothered to settle the land during the northward push of ███████████████.

The most infamous of the Mad Miqhs was Intli Dzonlar Miqh, consecrated in 3112PR. His love of gemstones and precious metals was legendary, and it is written that his greatest dream was to have his entire temple-palace covered in a layer of gold broken only by studs of garnet. He directed enormous sums of money toward investment in mining, which up to that point in time had been small and relatively primitive among his people. Surface mining in and around stone quarries evolved into the dedicated and systematic strip-mining of entire valley regions within half a century. Numerous styles of mining were experimented with, such that today in some areas vast honeycombs of mining chutes can be seen pocking the surface, connecting with the long-abandoned remnants of shafts and tunnels, all less than a mile away from the edge of spiral-shaped open-pit mines.

It was an invigorating thing for the wealth and economy of the empire, at first. Despite the fact that Pach-Pah religious belief generally placed the roof of the monster-infested underworld approximately one hundred feet below the surface, the quietly ailing empire was given a new purpose, and great rewards for its toil. Trade and fine artifice bloomed as the Pach-Pah people took swiftly to their new, precious medium. But there existed an ever-increasing demand for more bodies to work these gaping wounds in the mountains. Entrepreneurs and the odd ancestral digger did not provide the numbers needed. And so the eyes of the powerful and wealthy turned toward the lowest of the castes which had developed over the centuries. The urban and rural poor, and even the disenfranchised masses of untouchables descended from criminals, political prisoners, and mixed foreigners were relocated and made into miners. The mines deepened every year, and before long the laborers were carving their own semi-permanent homes into the sides of their vast, subterranean thoroughfares, miles from the entrances which their parents and grandparents had initially camped around.

With the marriage and union between the Dongyal Miqh-ma Quya (roughly analogous to "empress dowager") and her nephew Kunak Poma, the last man in the almost unbroken line of purported seventy-seven Miqhs was born in 2704PR.¹ Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah, heir to a dizzying list of hereditary seats and titles², was the result of a tangled family tree, grown through a reproductive bottleneck, opening up into a thimble with one hole poked in the top. Beyond his closely-related parents, Langdah Umaq's paternal uncle was also his grandfather, and the father of that man was simultaneously Umaq's grandfather and great-grandfather. All eight of his great-grandparents were the children of only two great-great-grandparents, who were themselves the products of many cycles of brother-sister marriage originating with the Mad Miqh Intli Dzonlar Miqh himself. Umaq's rule was consecrated in 2698PR at the age of six when his mother and father had died within several months of one another due to what are described in the chronicles as seizures and an attack of the liver, respectively.

Even prior to that age, Umaq was made well aware and regularly remound³ of his own heritage, excellence, and purity of bloodline. He was seated in his court weekly by his anxious cadre of advisers to hear the refreshing of oaths of fealty given to him by those few remaining provincial kings and chieftains who had not been subsumed within the overwhelming single bloodline of the Pach-Pah nobility. Then, once he had heard the praise of these people (who were by this point kept as royal hostages in the capital city, communicating with their home provinces only through messenger), the Miqh would then dismount his ornate throne festooned with silks, beads, and jewelry, turn to face it, and then rehearse the oaths of fealty by himself, for himself, in the names of the seventeen provinces of which he was also governor. He would then bless himself as his own high-priest, and then depart upon a litter guided by his own voice and direction, as the chief attendant to his own royal personage. His very name was like a mantra to him.

Modern re-imagining of those days often casts the government of the entire empire as being an absolute self-parody, and as a case of grand ignorance allowing for the widespread practice of monstrous cruelty. The Earth itself is commonly anthropomorphized as a mother sobbing under the cuts and infantile howls of her own children. but it is impossible to say exactly what the common surface-dwelling man or woman felt about their homeland in the twilight years of the empire- before the revolution, at least.

By Umaq's time, the population of the massive under-kingdom of the Pach-Pahs outnumbered the surface. He was not one of the mad emperors, but his advisers (and most everyone else, for that matter) had become so deeply invested in the way of things that any policy or decree enacted in Umaq's time was liable to be one giving greater freedom to begin mining operations, or more strict insurance against runaway laborers. As the centuries passed, the original houses delved by huddled little mining families had expanded outward into underground towns and cities complete with foreman-governors, and living memory of sunlight and fresh air quietly died out among the dusty masses. With a profound darkness before them and the cracking of their masters' whips at their backs, those who had become little more than slaves could do nothing but press on.

The highly ritualized and religious practice of shipping loads of ore up to the surface was an affair which took months of constant travel along roads of steps and rails, yet news and knowledge from the surface spread even more slowly. After a certain depth, the miners were no longer providing metal and stones for their emperors and markets. They were sacrificing them to the dour and demanding gods of the above-world, and placating the lashes of the overseers who had become instruments of divine wrath. We can only speculate now how these people lived, loved, buried their dead, or governed themselves in the absence of any royal families willing to send their scions into the benighted underworld.

One million candle-lit stories of hardship, artwork, exploration, and ingenuity set against ever-increasing quotas and vanishingly thin resources are lost to history, thanks to what was about to come.

¹ At present, the scarcity of records detailing the names or reigns of various Miqhs following the widespread destruction of chronicles and monuments throughout the Pach-Pah Yul has resulted in only twenty-four emperors being confirmed and identifiable.

² The full list of titles attributed to Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah, as recovered from numerous royal archival fragments, is currently being translated by a most gracious graduate student of the Linguistics Department, and is sure to be available for citation at a later point in this piece as soon as it has passed routine censors.

³ After being alerted by the Committee for the Conservation of Language no less than eight times in the past year of my repeated use of "remound" as opposed to "reminded", I have been well and truly motivated to make "remound" a dedicated part of my lexicon, and I shall share its aesthetic practicality elsewhere, when before I'd have done nothing to propagate its use. All thanks go to the CCL.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 2.

Click here to view Part 1 on the Pach-Pah Empire.
Click here to view Part 3 on the Pach-Pah Empire.

"Hearken to the braying trumpets of the Miqh Pach-Pah.
His head touches Heaven. His legs straddle the Mountains.
The womb of the Earth adorns Him."¹
- Inscription lining the borders of a marble votive plaque set in the wall of a royal tomb which predates the fall of the Empire by approximately two centuries. All figural images depicted therein have since had a line drawn across their eyes or throat.

"The Benighted Age began when first the people of the earth raised one of their own above others, and named him Miqh."
- Tzo-Ngrub Codex, sheet 18. The inclusion of written text alongside more traditional pictoforms within this folding book is a clear indication of its age, making it no older than the end of the Revolution.

Sociopolitical developments and innovations aside, the way in which the peoples of the Pach-Pah Yul live today is not terribly different from their earliest history. They existed as decentralized tribes with areas of highland and lowland under their loose control, taming the rugged land enough to allow their flocks to flourish. They only dealt with their neighbors occasionally, and aside from references to the mountain people as "all the peoples of the world" in recordings of oral traditions, there are few references to them as a single, unified group. This lifestyle remained unchanged for ages before a great hardship befell each tribe in equal severity, regardless of wealth or position in the mountains.

Some chronicles describe the invasion of a foreign people, or a great monster rising up out of the underworld, or even a blight sent down upon the lands by an astral wind. Regardless of the calamity, the solution was for the Pach-Pah to band together more rigidly, and with greater structure. Outstanding tribal elders became chieftains, who became kings, who began to treat with other kings whom they held in high regard alongside themselves, now separated from the common folk by the confoundingly immaterial quality of nobility which we know so well today.

In these petty-kingdoms developed greater, more efficient ways in which to extract wealth from the land. During this period we also see a flourishing in the record of material culture, when artwork was produced more often and with greater sophistication, often incorporating the styles of other kingdoms. Trade too was established as a norm between settled states, rather than as an infrequent formality used to cement favorable relations between two transient groups which have encountered one another on the mountain slopes. Today it is believed that these trade connections were fostered via the fictive sacral kinship which developed between petty-kings and their quickly-expanding royal families.

Modern scholarship often treats the transition from many states to one as a simple inevitability, but self-reflective (and perhaps somewhat propagandistic) Pach-Pah narratives of the present day see the transformation as a long, slippery slope with countless intervals in which their people fumbled and tripped, not stopping until they had passed what they perceived to be a point of no return. This point where the early age ruptured from the middle period is typically described as being the crowning of the first Miqh Pach-Pah, an emperor of the people of the mountains.² This emperor was mostly symbolic at first, lacking the ability to mobilize every facet of the territory over which it was claimed that he ruled.

But over time, the formation of bloodlines begun by the earliest kings expanded to encompass a diverse range of high administrative and military offices. Each of these offices was hereditary, and in circumstances where members of two differing kingdom-provinces were betrothed, the titles which were descending through them were joined in any children produced by their union as well. So it was that an only child could become the king of one region and the high-priest of its neighbor. And these royal scions typically were only children, as a means of avoiding the nastiest fratricidal or sororicidal conflicts which are alluded to in legend. Of course fertility is not something which we peoples of the world have perfect control over, and for the Pach-Pah this is no different. In the inevitable cases in which multiple children were born to a couple of royal distinction and lucrative inheritance, either titles were split between them and each child was raised to be as accepting of this as possible, or, particularly in the case of brothers and sisters, they were simply married to maintain the family's sovereignty and control over the future.

While it may only be a rough inference based off of popular literature of the time, instances of sibling marriage seemed to occur progressively more and more often than sibling division or conflict throughout the empire.

One begins to see where this is all leading.

¹ Note that this popular translation does not capture the nuances of the final line. Here, "adorns Him" stands in for "has been made to adorn Him in this manner". While somewhat lacking in brevity, it does better to articulate the Miqh's power over all mines in the mountains, such that he could force the Earth to comply and adorn him with the wide variety of jewelry which can be seen in the plaque itself. Note also that what is rendered here as capitalization is the doubling of characters vertically or horizontally alongside the main body of text for emphasis. The codification of written language and adoption of outside influences on grammar did not occur until about three hundred years later.

² There was of course no "crown" to be worn by the first Miqh, because the mining of precious stones and metals did not occur to any significant degree by this point, and so the smithing required to produce an item of such care would come later. The earliest images of the Miqh do depict them with a scepter adorned with a crystal of some sort however, so it is very possible that interest in such materials was present in the culture, even if access to them was limited by whatever was found on or nearest to the surface.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Furt Digs Into Tequendria: Fantastical Roleplaying by Scott Malthouse.

Well, here goes nothing. I've decided to try a sporadic series of reviews that don't actually use a rating system or come with any kind of deep, profound experience with the subject material at hand. I just really like whatever I've found, and I wanna share it with others.

As my first random not-review, I've chosen Tequendria: Fantastical Roleplaying by Scott Malthouse, published by Trollish Delver Games. It is a Pay What You Want PDF with the very forgiving suggested price of $3 USD. I picked this book up from the DriveThru a couple of months ago for $1, because that was literally all I had left in my bank account at the time. But after having read through it, I will absolutely go back and do justice to the product.

Tequendria is a world of weird fantasy inspired by the writings of the equally weird Lord Dunsany. If that name doesn't ring any bells, he was an early influence on the writings of HP Lovecraft. If that name doesn't ring any bells, I don't know what to say to you. While certainly not dark or cosmically horrific in any way, it's a quirky sort of fantasy with its roots in the pre-Tolkien world of fiction and poetry. There are many small gods with odd jobs throughout the world, travelers and outlanders are strange curiosities, and the grand, cosmic scheme of things rests upon the long but finite slumber of the Dunsanian over-god, MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI

(Here's where I give my major complaint about the setting given the established willingness to include Dunsanian deities: there is a distinct lack of Skarl the Drummer, who is my favorite being from The Gods of Pegāna. Other than that tiniest of obsessive quibbles, all is good.)

It's a world where magic is uncommon and sometimes untrustworthy. There are however ancient crypts to delve into and monster-filled wilderness to explore, and so the makings of a classic adventure as we might know it do present themselves. Just don't expect to amass thousands of gold Shards according to level or have guaranteed magic items and +5 Weapons or Armor while doing so. The geographic regions and place names are all deliberately exotic in that old-timey and charmingly English sort of way, with perhaps my favorites being the Plains of Khartoov, and The Pits of Snood.

Mechanically, the game runs on the so-called Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying (USR) System. It is indeed simple, with characters being defined by a mere three attributes, skill bonuses called Specialisms, and the unique Ability and other background elements provided by the Character Archetype chosen upon creation.

The Archetypes available run a wide range of options that help to make each character feel like an outsider in their own world, such as Celador Knights who have taken a strict vow of silence, Long Wizards who stand at over 8ft tall and smoke copious amounts of crushed drake horn, or a lonely little Ember Goblin who just wants friends that don't die in lava.

Three guesses as to which is my favorite. The first two guesses don't count.

Non-combat challenges not dealt with via roleplay are done through Contested and Non-Contested Attribute Tests.

Contested tests involve two opposed actors, such as foot racers. Whoever rolls higher in an Attribute test, wins the test.

Non-Contested tests are for one actor and some force or obstacle which lacks agency, like climbing a gorge. Rather than beating another roll, the character tries to meet or exceed a Target Number, not unlike D&D rolls vs DC. Specialisms come into play here, providing bonuses to one's roll if it's the right type of action. There are no combat specialisms.

Combat functions like a series of Contested attribute tests, with combatants rolling defensively or offensively. The system takes several cues from D&D staples, such as the standard Movement Speed of characters being 30 feet, and being able to make Defensive maneuvers to get a small boost to attack avoidance that turn. But there are various situational modifiers which can complicate battle, such as having the higher ground or one combatant tripping the other. A list of Conditions exists as well, from the benign state of being in Cover, to being Hypnotized, Unconscious, or worse. 

When characters level, they gain hit dice and a bonus equal to 1/2 their levels for various combat rolls, with the exception of damage- the amount of Hits you'll be taking away from an enemy is almost always dependent upon your spell or weapon. This creates a situation where (in my imagination, not having played the game yet) low-level combat can be very lethal to those who are unwary of two d6 attacks in a row. At the same time, high-level play doesn't fall into the trap of combat being a long slog because of everyone having massive hit point pools and comparatively small means of damage. Players and monsters alike are capped at level 10, so death always remains a risk- even for the god or two detailed in the Creatures of Tequendria chapter.

Magic is decidedly unlike more mainstream RPG systems in that everyone casts from Hit Points. As I read through this section, I got both fond and terrible flashbacks to my time playing through the Sorcery! adventure book series by Steve Jackson Game's Fighting Fantasy property. Magic is also a lot more volatile, with casting failures being possible without any outside threats or distractions, though mercifully a fizzled cast doesn't drain your life. Critical casting failures are not so kind, however.

The PDF is 78 pages in total from cover to last page, though 24 of those pages are dedicated to a chapter on Selected Works of Lord Dunsany himself. There are three short stories included, and they each do an excellent job of adding to the feeling and themes of the book. For people who have never read anything Dunsanian and don't know up to that point whether the inspiration is genuinely there in Tequendria, these stories may serve to "legitimize" and confirm it.

I noticed that there were very few pages of nothing but text (aside from the stories mentioned above), as every few columns of information are broken up by small, thematically appropriate images. The 12-point font is standard and the spacing is good, making it difficult to skip over lines or accidentally reread something, if your brain is the type to do that (mine is).

The artwork in this book is quite a mix, but all of it is pleasant. Black and white sketch-styled pieces such as the cover image predominate, but there are also several muted or full-color illustrations throughout. They variously evoke the art styles of 1970s D&D manuals, 19th century watercolors, medieval tapestries, or Dante's Inferno engravings. I also spied a few pieces of modern and seemingly public domain art, such as one of a Flying Polyp (this game has Lovecraft references as well!). But whether the book is a mix of art sources or just very judiciously selected from the internet, it's well-put-together.

All in all, this book is quite nice, and a steal at the gentle asking-price of $3. I would highly recommend checking it out if Dunsanian fantasy is something you're interested in checking out for a small change of pace.

I also think that one could homebrew a pretty sweet Hyperborean campaign out of this, if more chilly and barbaric settings of a Clark Ashton Smith flavor are more to your liking.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Things I Wish They Did More With #1.

Figured I'd break the silence with an odd one this time around, as well as begin a series of occasional out-of-character (out-of-narrative?) posts where I write about what I think of various fantasy thingies.

The premise of this particular series will be to take a look at something that is by itself a very minor part of a larger story, whether it be campaign setting, video game, or film, and then discuss the woeful lack of lore or screen time spent on X.

Or in this case, XII. Because I want to ramble on about something in Final Fantasy 12.

But not this guy.

I never finished this game because my GameFly subscription was about to end and I was out of allowance money for the month, but I spent enough time in the world of Ivalice to find my favorite location, in the form of Bancour. It's an underpopulated region of plains and flatlands which none of the major world powers in Ivalice have taken an interest in, beyond the Henne Mines which are known to contain magic rocks. More on those later. More importantly right now, Bancour was the region within which stretched the Ozmone Plains.

Pictured: Not a geographer's best definition of a plain.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that the "plains" are just as craggy, segmented, and broken up by hills and tiny mountain ranges as any other traversable map in the game, I'm still very fond of this zone. The weather changes from sunny to cloudy to rainy and back periodically, the skybox is simple yet pretty, and the foliage just faintly hints at something of an African savanna belt inspiration. Ruined old structures and strange rock formations jut out of the ground here and there, suggesting that the place has seen a fair share of violent history. It's peaceful, without being empty or boring- assuming you stay the hell away from the Sylphi Entite on your first run through the place. Aeroga hurts on top of Silence and Sleep effects.

At the far edge of the Ozmone Plains rests a fenced-in village built in and around what I never could determine to be either a ditch, or a dried-up riverbed. But given that the land immediately around the village is much drier than that of the surrounding plains, I think there might have been a drought which didn't receive mention in-game. The village was located upon one of the elevated areas of ground, so that it had several levels, several of them connected by wide bridges. This is the village of Jahara.

Within this village are members of a fascinating species named the Garif. The Garif are powerfully built, broad-shouldered with long arms and patches of what might be reddish-brown fur here and there across their bodies. I say "might" because they wear leather and hide clothing in the classically patchy and impractical fashion of all Final Fantasy humanoids, so it is a bit difficult to determine where the clothing ends and the skin begins. They are also tall, taller than adult Humes/humans by about a head, even while they are stand with the ever-present hunches in their backs, possibly caused by their opulent headgear.

Unless those are real horns. Again, it's hard to tell.

The Garif are each given masks imbued with personal and cultural significance at a very young age, and they wear them for their entire lives, only ever removing them when alone, or in private with extremely close or intimate companions. Because of this, and my party's lack of interest in going native and dwelling among the Garif for several years instead of dealing with that Empire of Archadia or whatever the heck it was called, I never got to see what they look like beneath all of that paint and carved bone. The Garif also live sex-segregated, with men and women typically occupying entirely different villages. As such we never see a female Garif, much the same way we don't male Viera.

The Garif seem to organize and orient themselves around a tribal hierarchy of chiefs and sub-chiefs. The Great-Chief and leader of the Jahara Garif is one Uball-ka marked by his truly giant and ornate mask, but underneath him there are also several Low-Chiefs, and at least one current and one retired War-Chief. The former War-Chief had to retire after receiving serious injuries in battle, suggesting that the positions are not held for life. We can only guess at how chiefs are chosen, however. But because the new War-Chief was brother to the old, it wouldn't be far-fetched to speculate that the roles are passed down familially, and sometimes laterally.

To the Garif, the land is sacred. Their religious matters are guided by geomancers, and it is refreshing to say that "-mancer" is more accurately used here than in other fantasy contexts- although I don't doubt that a Garif geomancer could unleash a wicked Quake spell if he had to. Recall the magical rocks I mentioned back at the beginning of this ramble? In Ivalice, those are called Magicite, which are to Ivalice what Dragonshards are to Eberron: multipurpose crystalline objects that can be extracted from the earth and used to power magic, magical technology, or magic-users. The Garif however do not use them as power sources, or as weapons, unlike virtually every other sentient species on the planet. They merely worship these stones, and the gods which they believe them to be representative of.

This is because the Garif are so singularly dedicated to upholding their Old Ways of technological simplicity and closeness to the earth, that they wouldn't manipulate those powers in order to become a major player in the world. They never appear, but there are said to be many tribes of Garif, and all of them united could be a powerful force indeed. But that isn't their way, and no one has been able to convince them differently- not even their own gods, who are otherwise very successful in manipulating people with the promise of power or greatness.

I won't say anymore on that last point in case any of my Burrowers intend to play the game and have a spoiler-free experience. Although that game was released in 2006, so... you might want to get a move-on with that.

The Final Fantasy Wiki, which I've been ruthlessly gutting for every shred of information I can find as I write, includes in its Trivia section the possibility that the Garif may have been based off of the real life, multi-ethnic Garifuna people. I would say that's an extreme stretch, beyond the similarities in the name itself, and the possible West African or Afro-Caribbean influences on Garif personal names such as Kadalu, Sugumu, or Yugelu. Nothing in their material culture or mode of living strikes me as similar, and it is more likely in my mind that it was just a coincidence- the same way I inadvertently named the sadistic healing deity Najis after a state of ritual impurity found in Islamic jurisprudence.

All in all, I think the Garif are fascinating. Which sucks, because everything I've typed thus far is the entirety of what they were used for. They haven't appeared in any subsequent Ivalice-centered games to my knowledge, not even the Tactics series where other species have subsequently been made playable like the rotund and porcine Seeq. Not even the in-game lore-collecting Clan Primer which allows you to gain pages of info on background material and monsters you've fought (including one respawning Garif Adventurer) offers any more insights into the Garif, because after the first rudimentary entry about them the series gets swept up in a completely unrelated fable about a dragon picking a fight with God.

That's all a shame, because I believe that a Garif protagonist, even if he or she were just a one-off party member or traveling NPC, could offer a really different point of view on the fustercluck of a world that they live in.

I can see why they haven't figured more prominently, though. They stand out, physically and culturally, in such a way that doesn't exactly make Final Fantasy hero material, and within the context of Final Fantasy 12's storyline itself, the role of secluded, naturalistic, and vaguely elf-like wise folk was taken up and carried on by Fran's Viera buddies in Eruyt Village.

Still, one of them being in the main cast would have been better than being stuck with Vaan.

You should have died instead of Reks!

*Edit* Wiki link for your perusal.

Also added more on chiefs.

Aaand I forgot to include the Clan Primer bit.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hylek's Hundreds, Part 1.

"The Hundreds stand high, unbowed and unbreakable!"
- A common rallying chant of the Hundreds.

"Tens of thousands, alike but better, have fallen before us. What chance have you?"
- Acting Commander Fextaenius, to the free-bodied masterminds of the Rioter's Syndrome Rebellion at Ul-Qib. They had precisely no chance at all.

"Hah! You think a knife in the heart will kill me? They tried that already, you churl; it doesn't work!"
- Dornarseh, Breacher-Captain of the Forlorn Heap Hundred.

It would be naive of me to assume that the entirety of my (admittedly limited) readership has not heard at least a handful of the tales passed down from generation to generation about the exploits and deeds of the legendary mercenary company known as Hylek's Hundreds. But I would be remiss not to offer at least a cursory overview of their history for the sake of outsiders, the uninformed, and those who might stumble upon this record in a day when they have passed from memory, inconceivable as that sounds and has sounded for the past four hundred years.

Hylek's Hundreds are said by the archives at both Deneroth and Nambar to have been founded in 124 P.R. by the eponymous Gertisch-Haraalian warrior Hylek. Physical evaluation records recently recovered in Serminwurth support this, giving the names of several high-profile and particularly exquisite specimens among the Hundreds dated to 109 P.R. Hylek drew upon the masses of soldiers left unemployed by the conclusion of the Third and final Trade War, which had escalated to the point of wide-scale mobilization of armed ground forces alongside the more typical naval powers which had more-or-less carried the last two conflicts along. As a result of this, the original composition of each Hundred was culturally and ethnically varied, though most tended to hail from the lower classes of Ersuunian society- independent officers from moneyed families tended to have far easier times landing peacetime careers in many parts of the empire following the War.

Beyond these few concrete facts--Hylek's first decades of activity and the original Hundreds--little else is known that doesn't read like fantasy and propaganda, even coming from the most reputable of sources. The Hundreds, always numbering ten such miniature legions and totaling one thousand soldiers beside captains, adhere to this magic number rigidly. To the point that they give the impression of their members' immortality. Each morning after even a savage battle, the ranks remain perfectly filled with the same number of men as had been preparing to fight the day before. Even in the most inhospitable of environments, bereft of a baggage train or follower camp, these spontaneous reinforcements seem to find a way- if they are reinforcements at all. None of the Hundreds are ever known to suffer disease or malnutrition, both known as sometimes supreme killers of soldiers everywhere. The remarkable physical condition each member of the Hundred showed, even from the earliest days, was what led to those valuable examination files being recorded by the morbidly fascinated bodily experts at Serminwurth.

Only, it is difficult to disprove these heroic myths. Even under the supremely close surveillance of onlookers drawn from miles around to watch the few battles which the Hundreds are contracted for, not a one in his distinctive blue uniform and armor has ever been found among the dead or gravely wounded. They come up clean, year after year, as the victories unfurl before them, and in the history of their entire company, not a single retired member has ever been encountered, or even recognized as a possibility. There are even academics among the much-reduced intellectual class of Meroth who believe that Hylek still leads the company in private, despite necessarily being several centuries old by this point.

Even now, we are to believe that he contributes to the undying legacy of the Hundreds as moral soldiers of fortune, only ever supporting the cause of those whom they deem righteous. According to tradition, the current face of the company, one Fextaenius of Porylus Mons, bluntly refuses each proposal made to them. Then, the perpetually-wandering host departs with all haste, leaving the prospective employer in their dust. In most cases, that is that. But in the rarer instances where one ultimately succeeds, it is only after repeated and spectacular efforts are made to catch up with the Hundreds once more, pleading more dearly each time than the last, until at last the person in question is moved to give a rousing speech which can adequately extol the virtue of their mission and all which it stands for. Only then does the hidden Hylek reveal himself, and give his word. In an unusually large percentage of contract records dug up from the Coin-Keepers of Abbas, the spontaneous omen of three eagles appearing before the would-be hero bearing olives and arrows is recorded no less than fourteen times within the span of forty years.

Everything surrounding Hylek and his men is unnervingly perfect and made for the grandest of narratives and praise-poems, and I cannot find a single piece of evidence to bring these miraculous accomplishments into question.

Which is precisely why I believe them to be miracles.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Gender & Family in the Fokari Tribes.

"What should we name her, when the day comes? She needs a beautiful name to grow into."
"How about Alyah?"
"After your aunt? She had a nose like a falcon's beak! Better to choose Golnaj, in honor of my mother..."
"You mean the one whose face is like a salt flat?"
- Fokari parents bantering over the cradle of their newborn.

Generally speaking, there are two genders among the Fokari. These are male and female, and again generally speaking, each of these genders encompasses a broad range of roles, customs, and expectations for those included within it. The most visible example of the sexual division of roles in a Fokari tribe is the existence of the Speaker and Seer. The former, a tribal archivist and overseer of youths within various age groups, is always male, while the latter, the preeminent or sole shaman of the community, is always female. This lines up somewhat appropriately with the general Fokari worldview of dualism and differing halves. But there are more divisions of labor less ritualized than either Speaker or Seer, and there are many more scenarios where these spheres may overlap in daily life.

Women are the commodity powerhouses of sorts in each family, weaving, felting, doing needle-work, and more rarely woodworking or clay-making, when available plant matter and water permits. Men will scrimshaw, tan hides or process meat, or work metal in exceedingly rare cases, but they more often attend to hunting and the maintenance of the tools relevant to it. War is ideally a male affair, but then again war is ideally avoided whenever possible, and pragmatism often calls on all to defend kith, kin, and yuum herds. Both men and women may tend to the tribe's herds, often in larger numbers of shepherds per animal head than in cultures where the use of domesticated horses is common. These house industries are overseen by the elder married couple of each family, with active parents generally exempt from the most rigorous and time-consuming projects unless a grandparent can manage their children for them.

Fertility and the bearing of children is not a private matter for families in a Fokari tribe. Because of the fluctuating access to resources common on the wasteland fringes, the family heads and other elders try to maintain a certain population range from generation to generation, encouraging marriage and reproduction here or discouraging it there. The range has initially soft limits at either end, but the sudden and severe under-or-overpopulation of a tribe's territory can lead to either voluntary assimilation into another band, or the cleaving-off of groups into new tribes. Allegations of adultery arising from unexpected children are dealt with in the same discreet manner as other disputes, with a mish'khiltah rarely ever being needed. Couples who plan for a single child and receive twins or triplets are celebrated as being gifted by the spirits despite the extra burden, but couples who do not limit themselves after multiple instances of childbearing face social stigma of varying severity, mother and father alike. The exposure of newborns is rare due to an association with blood-guilt, but it is not an unheard-of practice. Children who are both needed and desired must still survive the challenging first two years of life before having a celebrated and official name-day.

Being one of the few hereditary roles in Fokari life, chieftainship is passed down from parent to selected heir. As a general rule, the chieftain selects their youngest adult child of the opposite sex who is unmarried, in the belief that this will ensure the new chief's full dedication to their duties, as well as prevent a dynasty of personality from forming through successive generations of fathers and sons or mothers and daughters. Of course succession does not always come to pass in this way, either because of fate, or by personal choice of the chieftain.

Marriage may still occur when children are unneeded, and there is nothing to stop a married couple from constructing their own tent and living together within it. But a low fertility does not mean that infertile or discouraged couples are forever without children. Attrition and challenges to life expectancy are found at all age ranges, and in the event that a youth is orphaned of both parents, or a nuclear family unit is overwhelmed with needs, a foster pair may take them in. These foster parents are typically of the same extended family through one side or the other, so it is not uncommon for these children to be raised by aunts, uncles, or cousins. Often, these foster parents are couples which include one nyaak partner.

Literally meaning "mirrored", a nyaak Fokar is one who identifies and behaves as the gender opposite of the one they were born into. In mythic traditions held by many tribes, they are the result of a spirit being incorrectly clothed in flesh during the movement from the spirit realm to the physical world. A Fokar cannot identify as nyaak until they are of the age to be able to complete the adulthood rituals typical for all members of the tribe. But after that point and upon completion of these events, they are treated in accordance with their truer, unfleshed self. A male is for all intents and purposes a woman, and vice versa. From a certain sociological perspective, couples including one nyaak serve to limit population growth somewhat, and so they are valued as naturally-occurring moderators despite their rarity in the tribes overall. In this way a dualistic binary is maintained, but a mode of transportation between the two points is made available.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 1.

"You people price chipped rocks for almost half as much as a silver and turquoise brooch!"
"No one was murdered or starved to deliver these finished "rocks" to you."
- Banter heard upon the traders' streets leading to Addas Bazaar, a place uncommonly reached by highland traders.

"Their guild-heads' tendency to collect and ship off to the regional capital the vast majority of each community's earnings is almost as confounding as each denizen's mighty enthusiasm to have it done."
- Jor Lertuul, A Travelogue of the Southern Reaches.

To the inhabitants of the enormous basin which makes up the purported heartland of the Ersuun-descended peoples, the distant Pashel mountain range to the south-by-southeast is no more grand than the closer Oron'er Range, but not nearly as tantalizing to those with a belief in the fantastic. It does not figure heavily in most local mythic traditions either, although a remarkable and compelling argument has been made in recent decades that the Pashels are one and the same as the legendary Yorl'di peaks which were said to cradle the folk-hero Haraal. This argument was formulated and contributed to extensively by our own late Berschut Groz, Head of the Department of Comparative Mythology.

May Our Eternal Scholar Laizij keep him in His vast libraries, forever favored and tenured.

Putting briefly aside the mythical (and I emphasize "briefly"), I believe it is in the interest of current geopolitical discourse to synthesize and appreciate the full scope of our records on the Pashels, particularly concerning the civilization which thrives there, and which has thrived for thousands of years already, separated from us by only a relatively few miles, plus several thousand feet of elevation.

To begin, a small linguistic observation is in order. To many of us northerners--or perhaps "lowlanders" is a more appropriate term in this context--the mountains are named the "Pashels" in each of six or seven language families, depending on how one treats the branching theory of Middle Misrel. But to the denizens of those mountains, they are named the Pach-Yul. Because of this I believe that all other variants are in fact derivative of that original term, which translates literally to "Land of the Earth".¹ Similarly, these mountains are inhabited by a remarkably homogeneous people self-identified as the Pach-Pah, or "People of the Earth". To others somewhat less sensitive to the realities of divergent humanoid polymorphism, they are often referred to by names and slurs derisive of their height (or lack thereof).

It is true that Pach-Pah (there is no difference between singular and plural forms of the name) tend toward short heights, relative to those of Ersuunian or Nambarish stock. In the absence of concrete statistical data, I must rely on anecdotal evidence that their people can have individuals of roughly four-and-a-half to five feet in height, with the former apparently treated as quite average and the latter having a very slight stigma for tallness.² But the Pach-Pah possess quite proportionate limbs despite their adaptations to the height and cold of their homeland, and with that I would like to discredit the vulgar assertions of their stuntedness or malformed nature which can be found within the libraries of our very own University. Short as they may be, they are men and women, as akin to us as the famously tall and hearty Reossos trailblazers of the east are. And might I add that some among the Pach-Pah may very well view us as goofy and aberrant in our height. Would you have these stereotypes persist and contribute to the regrettable gulf between our vigorous cultures?

The Pach-Pah lead diverse lives today, though their traditional mode of life was one of semi-permanent herding centered around several species of graceful and woolly (if hypersalivating) even-toed ungulates adapted to their precipitous and rocky home. This proud old tradition continues to exist and today, and its supplies the people with clothing, meat, and dairy products (including a certain cheesy alcohol fermented from them). Alongside these herders exist the remarkable vertical farmers of the lower slopes, whose history and immunity to a fear of heights is deserving of a volume all of their own. Other roles include trading, both internally and with outsiders, though the two are distinguished from one another by a system of barter and favor-keeping within, and a more traditional currency-based system without. There are also craftspersons dealing in a wide range of disciplines and materials. Each livelihood is both protected and regulated by fairly nebulous and permeable bodies of workers and administrators which may be glossed here as being trade guilds, though it should be noted that these groups combine vocation with heritage and bloodline in a way unseen in more local cities.

Stonework holds a special place in the culture of the Pach-Pah, for many of their dwellings are made of earthen material set partway into the ground as a means of enduring the coldest winters on the mountains. Smaller, finer types of stonework exist as well, with the cut and polish of sedimentary pebbles being said to rival the luster of a diamond.

These sayings are a somewhat dubious honor to the Pach-Pah craftspeople in question however, owing to their people's long and sordid history with precious metals and gemstones.

¹ This direct translation unfortunately lacks the rich and subtle connotations of each syllabic unit, which draw in suggestions of elevation, majesty, motherly nurturing, and proto-nationality.

² "Upon being dubbed "Inti the Tall" in good-natured jest, Inti the Diplomat reportedly punched Sornes of Meroth in the gut and demanded recompense while in the presence of his entourage, only to privately apologize to Sornes later on and explain that it was a matter of personal honor and familial dignity." Manjus Terg, Salvaged Records on Pre-Rupture Foreign Policy at Meroth and Deneroth, parchment 23.