Thursday, May 31, 2012

Strangerside Scholar: The Elemental Alleviators

Heinrich Khunrath

There are four of them - and there always have been. They travel together across the spheres. As long-time companions on the road they seldom feel the need to converse. Each of the four has an apprentice or companion. A caravan travels in their train, carrying their impedimenta and equipment.

"The First Stage of the Great Work" by Hans Vredeman de Vries

The Elemental Alleviators are an ancient society of elemental wizards. Each wizard is a master of an element and of the cosmic forces associated with that element. They can restore the balance in a realm. Or they can let it die. If they help, they will always exact a price.

They are always headed somewhere, but some worlds they cannot reach in time. Others, they judge beyond their capabilities. Still others, unworthy of assistance

But when they choose to help, the Elemental Alleviators can make a real difference. An imbalance among the elements can put a realm at risk of annihilation or implosion. This is what occurred in the realm of Bensalem after their religious revolution; the Alleviators were not there to help the realm, and it is no more.

The Elemental Alleviators begin to help by identifying what is wrong in a realm. Their tools include divination and magical metrology, the sciences, and more mundane means of investigation. They will present the authorities of the realm with an analysis and a plan to address the realm's existential threat. This may involve potions or gases; magical or political intervention; scientific and social innovation or reform. Solving a sphere's core problems usually requires multiple methods of intervention.

Iranian Alchemist

Finally, the Elemental Alleviators will always ask for something significant in return - a boon, a new apprentice or companion, a safe house, or some other favor. Most realms are only too happy to oblige. Unfortunately, some try to renege on the deal once the Alleviators have done all the hard work.

Ancient scroll records within the Library of All Worlds claim that the Elemental Alleviators are nearly ageless and immortal. Some have suggested they were the first Spherewalkers to follow in the Walker's footsteps. An ancient portrait of one, Lord Fire, hangs in the Hall of the Chamber Platinum. But the fact that they always have an apprentice or companion also suggests that they can be killed. It is said that they always watch their backs, for a few desperate Spherewalkers pursue them, hoping to appropriate their storied Spherepaths and possessions.

  1. What was the most recent realm where the Elemental Alleviators were of help? 
  2. What challenge was the realm facing? How were the elements out-of-balance?
  3. What boon did the Alleviators demand for their help?
What are your answers?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

You Decide: Who Is The Watcher?

You Decide #3

In You Decide posts, we create new Vision Cards together! The Everwayan shows you an image, provides a brief framing statement, draws three to six Fortune Cards, and asks you to answer a few questions about the image. You flesh it out.

There are guidelines on how to play You Decide, and Everway reference information available here.

You Decide About the Image:

Rockwell Kent, endpapers for illustrated Canterbury Tales
Frame: To the left are sheep. In the center is a tree. A figure just right of center is looking at the horsemen galloping by in the lower right corner of the picture.

Fortune Cards:

  • Virtue: The Peasant - Simple Strength
  • Fault: Knowledge -Truth
  • Fate: The Creator - Nurture vs. Abandonment

  1. Who is the watcher? A shepherd? A Spherewalker? Someone else?
  2. What realm is this? What is going on in this realm? If you'd like a Virtue, Fault and Fate for the realm, here they are: The Dragon- Cunning; Trickery - Deceit; Law: Order vs. Treachery
  3. Who are the riders, and why are they in such a hurry?

What are your answers? You Decide!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Looking Forward to Story Cards RPG

A deck of Tarot-like Story Cards for the Story Cards RPG should be arriving within the next week or two. Look for reviews once I receive cards, and have had time to make thorough reading of the Story Cards Manual, available for free on their website!

A Round Copper Pin, With A Raised Image...

Depicting A Jowly Woman's Face

Fortune Card: The Creator - Nurture

Buddha head, Shangai

The Face of the Host: Wear it to find safe rest; you'll always be a welcomed guest. A Host family cloak pin is a special boon for those who have helped the family in some way. It can be used once a day to guide the wearer to a place where they will be welcome and find safe lodging - whether with a Host or with someone else.

This boon is frequent, but not major or versatile. There are limits to its power. It guarantees safe and welcome lodging only when that is actually available in a place; it can't control anyone's mind or change their disposition in any way. It can't make the enemy's fortress or a burning city suddenly become safe or hospitable. It also doesn't give the traveler carte blanche to overstay their welcome or abuse, insult, or offend their host. The Face of the Host can stop working.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Time and Everway

Time and sequencing of posts have gotten a little out-of-joint at the Everwayan. We'll try to do better. Maybe this is a sign.

Strangerside Scholar: Does the Multiverse Have a Structure?

Does the multiverse have a structure? Most Spherewalkers wonder about this at some point in their journeys; a very few study it. Of course, there are the ready-made answers. You need look no further than the Pyramid Priests who surround the Walker's Pyramid at the very center of Everway.

Many people believe that the multiverse has an arborescent geometry. That is, the countless worlds branch off a main stem-world. The universe looks like a tree. This is an old concept; many cultures and spheres describe the multiverse as a Tree of Worlds. Most see their own sphere as the trunk of the tree.

Stefanus Rademeyer, Arborescent Geometries III (2010) 

The Pyramid Priests claim that Everway is the trunk, and that the branches of the tree represent the Walker's countless steps, which created the million spheres. Yes, Everway is at the center of all, which is why any good pilgrim should make offerings to the cult when they visit the Pyramid. It is a debt that we owe the Walker. So the Priests say.

A more cynical view is that the Tree of Worlds represents an example of how Everway rules. Repressive tolerance. "Yes, your world is important" say the scholars in the Library of All Worlds. "Tell us about it, so that we can make an entry in the Codices of All Worlds." When you describe in rich detail how your world is unique or different, the scholars unctuously say "Well, yes, yes - that's interesting, but you are missing the point. Your Creator got a few details wrong. That's why your world isn't like Everway. But you can still see the relationship to Everway here, here, and here. Focus on what you have in common with us and you will be happy."

Thus does diversity ever reinforce the status quo. It is good for trade that all branches lead back to Everway.

But what if the universe took a different form? The wise already know of other ways that spheres are connected besides the Earth gates connecting worlds to Everway. Tidal Pools. Cenotes. The Floodgates.  And so on. The Whiteoars ran afoul of this.

What if the multiverse was rhizomatic rather than arborescent in geometry? How would that complicate things? Would it lead to another civil war? A capstone? The Usurper?  

Albert-László Barabási  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Strangerside Scholar: Tales of the Gorgeous Liberator

The Slave Trade: an ugly topic for any day, let alone the first day of The Convening. But after all, this is a holiday where critical thinking is appreciated - even when intense family arguments break out. So, let's talk about the slave trade in Everway. 

Most people have heard the story of how the gods possessed their priests and ended slavery in Everway's Court of Fools. They descended on the Slave Market (now known as the Court of Fools), broke the slaves' chains, and changed the city forever. Thanks to the beloved Sage Sits-beneath-a-tree, we all know this story with its promise that "A slave who breathes the air here is free." Every Everwayan today knows that story - from the newest escaped slave fleeing the realm of The Market and arriving in Strangerside ("Strangerside, no need to Hide") to the oldest Mother, now being cared for by her children.

But there is another story to tell. It is the story of the barbarian known as The Gorgeous Liberator. He came from the realm of Never Yonder, taken as a youth to be a slave in the Diggers' mines. He escaped, and had many adventures. And he changed history.
In ancient times - perhaps long before the Priests' Rising - The Gorgeous Liberator led the greatest slave revolt in the history of Everway. The Liberator deposed King Grasping Emerald. The Convening commemorates that day when the Crows took flight from the City Walls, and the slaves' army took over the King's Palace, the Council House, and the Emerald Family House. The Liberator abolished slavery and made many reforms. He even chose a Mother to lead the Council, which the high families have never forgotten.

It is said that if you go into the Palace on the first day of The Convening, you can still hear the The Liberator's bare feet  slapping their way down the Palace's numerous floors and galleries. Or hear the click as he re-positions his iron slave collar - in truth, he was overly fond of it. Or hear rummaging sounds as he searches The Palace for edible food - for when the Emerald's household slaves ran away, they took everything, and went off in search of their own families.

Yes, The Convening commemorates the inaugural Council meeting of The Brief and Pitiless Reign of the Forgotten Regent, as The Liberator's reign is described in Molt Snakering's unremarkable thousand-page history of the Council. The Liberator was indeed pitiless: to the Stonebreakers' taskmasters, to the un-calloused Diggers, and to the envious Emeralds. Thanks to this holiday, the poor remember an army that truly fought for them. The Convening gives the poor hope, and the high-born pause.

Yes, slavery by custom is forbidden in Everway, but always and ever it returns in new forms. Even the scholar Brief Message Scratch himself noted its continued existence in Everway in the First Little Book of  his triptych. Of the Stonebreakers, he wrote: "In the same family, there are members who work side by side with slaves and convicts in the quarries" (p. 12, emphasis added).

One also notes the existence of the Ape Trade. The Council continues to turn its eyes away from that trade. The Mankines, they argue,are animals.

More on the Ape Trade and The Mankines next week.

Happy WisCon, Everyone! 

This post is for Samuel R. Delaney, the creator of Gorgik the Liberator and 
Tales of Neveryon.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Young Thirsty Ones

Young Thirsty Ones are mobile predators, unlike their Elders who have joined the mother-mass as sessile predators on the ocean floor. The young are as intelligent as an average human, a capacity which declines as they become Elders. Young Thirsty Ones are attracted by sharks' feeding frenzies.

Brian Farm, Totem 2 (2005)
A Thirsty One's beaked main body gives rise to numerous tentacles. The tentacles are incredibly tough, and unless ingested by predators, a Thirsty One's severed limbs will reweave together given enough time. Their tentacles have a mix of normal suckers, small barbed sucker-mouths used to tear and rend prey, and poisonous stinging cells. The stinging cells will kill anyone with an Earth score 4 or lower, and will sicken anyone with an Earth score of 5-8.

Young Thirsty Ones have at least one eye - sometimes on the top of the head, sometimes on the end of a tentacle, sometimes two, three or a dozen. They maintain a watchful eye or eyes for passing ships. They are large enough to attack ships, and are particularly gifted at reaching over their sides into hatches, port holes, and rigging. When they swipe people or objects of interest from passing ships, these are rarely recovered. 

The beaks of Thirsty Ones contain Soul Teeth. Soul Teeth are prized by the armorer-shamans of the Sitting Dog Archipelago, who use them to make powerful magic weapons and curse-charms. Soul Teeth bite deeply. Soul Teeth ensure that someone consumed by the Thirsty Ones is taken off the Wheel of Reincarnation forever. They are no more. Even being maimed by Soul Teeth will diminish you. If these teeth mark you, your Water score will be permanently reduced by 1.

A Young Thirsty One's elements are: Air 3, Water 6, Fire 7, and Earth 7.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

You Decide: The Face From the Void

You Decide #2

In You Decide posts, we create new Vision Cards together! The Everwayan shows you an image, provides a brief framing statement, draws three to six Fortune Cards, and asks you to answer a few questions about the image. You flesh it out.

There are guidelines on how to play You Decide, and Everway reference information available here.

You Decide About the Image:

Terry Martin (artist)
"Mother Cut Your Toenails, You're Tearing All The Sheets," 1999 Walnut
The Albertine Monroe-Brown Study-Storage Gallery
University of Michigan Museum of Art
Photo c. 2012 John E. Till
Frame: This object is made of some unsettled wood. It can be held in two hands but be careful not to lose a finger: the wood drifts. A steward found it one day sitting in the King's chair in the Council House. The King's adviser, Hermes Branch Crookstaff, had it removed to the Secure Collections room at the Library of All Worlds.

Fortune Cards:
  • Virtue: The Cockatrice - Corruption
  • Fault: Inspiration - Creativity 
  • Fate: The Eagle - The Mind Prevails vs. Thoughtlessness
  1. Who made this?  Does it have any special powers?
  2. What realm did it come from  - if any? 
  3. Who - if anyone - put it in the Council House?
What are your answers? You Decide!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How to Play You Decide

Based on some feedback from friends, and inspired by a post over at Hereticwerks, I am providing some simple rules for playing the game featured in tomorrow's post. 

You Decide posts are a game most Everwayan. They're a collaborative way to create new Vision Cards for the game!

You Decide starts with an image of a person, place, thing, creature, etc.

You Decide posts ask you to take a look, and share your own ideas about what the image means in the Everway multiverse.

To give you a starting point, I draw either 3 or 6 cards drawn at random from the Fortune Deck.

The first three are a reading of the image's Virtue, Fate, and Fault. 

If there are three more cards, those represent the image's Past, Present, and Future.

Next you get a very brief framing statement providing a general sense of who or what you are looking at.

Finally, you are offered some questions to consider. Here's where You Decide! Put your answers in the comments. Let's see what we can create together. Over time, I will index some of the answers that emerge as part of the site resources.

I have already posted one You Decide here. That one is an image of a door in Strangerside. The questions  start by asking Who made the door? and go on from there.

Here are three resources to make the game easier to play:
  • An Everway Setting Basics page which answers questions such as "What's Strangerside?" and "What are a Virtue, Fault, and Fate?"
  • The On Language and Names page provides some simple guidelines for creating names for characters, people, and places
  • A link to a table with descriptions of the Fortune Cards, so you can take a deeper look at the meanings behind the card draws.
I also want to recommend another kind of You Decide game. Hereticwerks hosts the adventures of Bujilli, a player character whose destiny is collectively determined by readers' comments and dice rolls. Every Thursday, those comments help shape a new episode in his adventures. The adventure has been going on for 25 weekly episodes now! Check it out and play! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Everwayan Enhanced

Thanks to Jim Garrison of Hereticwerks we have a new header for the Everwayan. Anyone who is serious about the old and new Weird in roleplaying should visit Hereticwerks' multiplanar family of blogs.

We have also begun the process of adding sidebars, pages, and gadgets to the website, such as a search engine and different options for following the blog.

Now anyone can become a Spherewalker (i.e., Follower)!

On the right sidebar, we have added a few pages including Everway Setting Basics, On Language and Names, and The Crossroads - Everway Links. Below them you will also find an Everway Resource List, a list of Games We Like and a blog list (just beginning).

One of the surprises in doing research for the links was discovering that someone put Spherewalker into the Pathfinder SRD as a prestige class!

If you have suggestions for other sites to add to the links list, or ideas for resource lists (fiction/non-fiction, movies, other relevant games, etc.) please let me know your ideas and suggestions in the comments.

What other kinds of content and resources should be available at the Everwayan?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Thirsty Ones

They starve, but do not die; they hunger, but never cease to eat. The Thirsty Ones are great pulpy, tentacled terrors from the depths. Beaks. Grinding parts. Soul Teeth.They are the fundament of every ocean in Wingspan. And they are spreading to other worlds.

Brian Farm, Totem 1 (2005)
The oldest Elders among the Thirsty Ones are sessile, fixed to the ocean floors. They congregate to form a mile-deep mountain of writhing muscle and flesh at the bottom of the world. Indeed, the Thirsty Ones form their own interstitial zones.

The Thirsty Ones relieve the crushing depth pressure on their enormous mother-mass by fractioning their mass into the overlapping elemental interstitial zones that connect the waters of Wingspan to the oceans of the worlds beyond it. Just one of their tentacles can fill a Tidal Pool. The Thirsty Ones are Spherewalkers of a sort, threading their bodies across deep Water Gates in unbroken, fleshy threads. Thus they contaminate the oceans of other spheres.

The Elders in the mother-mass don't ascend to feed; they simply uncoil and extend their tentacles upward for a mile or more, until they find something interesting. The Thirsty Ones breed unusually; small Thirsty One males mate with sessile females. Eggs are laid right on the mother mass. Even the smallest of their children are a match for primordial megasharks or deep-hulled trade ships.

Image Reference at End of Post
As the young ones grow, they become ship killers - a constant threat to trade.  
A few of the very bravest sailors in the Sitting Dog Archipelago dive in and swim among the Thirsty Ones to gain their impressive Valor Scars. But they can only swim among the smallest of the Thirsty Ones, and even the smallest of the small can be deadly. Their tentacles have rings of sucker mouths with barbs that attach to flesh and rend it. Frequently, the tentacles also have poisonous stinging cells.

Sharks are easy prey for even for the smallest of these horrors. Attract sharks, and Thirsty Ones will appear. Don't try to fight the Thirsty Ones unless you have elemental magic, Whale Swords, or friends in the Dragon Trade with Dragon-toothed swords to sell you. Any of these weapons might work against a small Thirsty One.

We will present creature stats for small Thirsty Ones next week.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Guide to Spherewalking: The Floodgates

The Floodgates are a very special kind of gate; they are pluripotent gates. While almost all gates among the million spheres connect only one specific sphere to only one other sphere, the Floodgates are completely undifferentiated gates until a Spherewalker uses them.

Jean Cocteau, Orpheus (1950)
Look for a heat devil or other disturbance in air or water. That's the Floodgate; it reflects what waits beyond. Floodgates not only have no set destination; there is literally nothing but undifferentiated, pluripotent Chaos on the other side. Until a Spherewalker steps through it, there is no realm on the other side of a Floodgate. 

Once the Spherewalker crosses the gate threshold, a new realm begins to form. The crossing usually takes a month, rather than the usual week.When the Spherewalker emerges, an entirely new realm appears beyond the gate. And the Floodgate undergoes a change in state to become a stable inter-sphere connection with a normal gate on either end. Usually. But that is a matter for another time. 

The new realm will have same the Virtue, Fault, and Fate of the Spherewalker who created it. For that reason, the realms called into being by Floodgates are known as Mirror Realms. 

Jean Cocteau, Orpheus (1950)
Spherewalkers should be forewarned that Mirror Realms are usually cul de sacs in at least two senses. First, Mirror Realms typically have only one gate - the one created by the Spherewalker. This can create very advantageous trade conditions for unscrupulous Spherewalkers seeking to create monopolies. Secondly, Mirror Realms pose certain ontological risks for Spherewalkers. They are dangerous, seductive, still places for the Spherewalker who creates them. Journeys often end. Floods recede. Water becomes still.

Jean Cocteau,Orpheus (1950)

If ever I to the moment shall say:
Beautiful moment, do not pass away!

Then you may forge your chains to bind me,
Then I will put my life behind me,
Then let them hear my death-knell toll,
Then from your labours you'll be free,
The clock may stop, the clock-hands fall,
And time come to an end for me!
––Goethe's Faust, lines 1698–706.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Leather Thong Necklace With A Brightly Painted Stone Figure

...The figure depicts a creature with the body of a horse and the head of a pelican. 

Fortune Card: The Fool, Reversed - Lack of Connection

Nobody loves a cosmic joke. Only a Fool would wear such a thing. The strange hybrid form of the Horse Pelican is often used among Spherewalkers as a signifier for anything incongruous or bizarre. It also calls to mind the Chaos curses that spawned the Man-Duck and The Caliban.

It is known in many spheres as the Axe-Bird, because it can use its beak to chop wood. It is also called The Mother Bird, because it will prick its breast and use its own blood to ensure its children have something to eat.

The Pelican is all Water. In the realm of Bonekeep, the priests of Osiris and Anubis still revere the Pelican as one of the soul's guides through the Underworld. In the realm of Bonekeep, The Ghoul Queen and her minions in the priesthood of Isis have a superstitious fear of this simple creature. As a result, they have killed practically all of the birds along the great river.
Pelican detail in sun temple relief, Egypt

The Horse is Fire and Air.It brings grace, speed, and spirit - but also madness, and a taste for human flesh. Everyone has heard of foals being born with razormanes and carnivore teeth. Such lethal progeny often kill their mothers in the birthing process. They are also next to impossible to break. Stallions pass this madness on though their seed. This is why it is said that one bad stallion can corrupt a whole stable.

Mosaic: Labors of Hercules
National Archaeological Museum of Spain
Creative Commons photo attribution Jose Garciaércules_(M.A.N._Madrid)_08.jpg 

People who are highly individualistic, independent, or prone to wanderlust will be attracted to this necklace. But the wearer of this necklace will slowly go mad. Their behavior will be highly erratic, at one time deeply altruistic - almost to the point of martyrdom - and in the next moment feral and dangerous - especially on an empty stomach.

Mechanics: The wearer of the necklace may boost their Fire, Air, or Water scores by 1 during any scene. After using the necklace in a scene, the wearer's Earth score will be reduced by 2 for a full day and night afterwords. During that time, they must consume raw animal flesh. Every month they wear the necklace, their own Water score is permanently reduced by 1, until their are completely insensate with madness.

The scene-related benefit increases by 2 if the player or GM draws The Fool, Upright (Freedom) in that scene. If the player or GM draws The Fool, Reversed (Lack of Connection), the same affect applies, but the wearer will demonstrate some sign of madness for a full day and night after the scene.

  1. Where and why was this necklace created?
  2. Who gave it to the Spherewalker?
  3. Why does s/he risk its use?
What are your answers?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Decide: Strangerside Door

This is a new type of Everway post. 

In You Decide posts,The Everwayan shows you an image, provides a brief framing statement, draws three to five Fortune Cards, and asks you to answer three questions about the image. You flesh it out.

The Image:

Detail from carved wooden door (Africa)
Obsidian Arts Center exhibit
Pillsbury House, Minneapolis.
Photo c. 2012 John Till.

Frame: This is the door of a building in Strangerside.

Fortune Cards: 
  • Virtue: War - Great Effort
    • --This card depicts Ogun (no kidding! this was the first card draw)
  • Fault: Fertility - Growth
  • Fate: The Satyr - Indulgence vs. Moderation
  • Past: The Hermit - Wisdom
  • Present: The Unicorn - Purity
  • Future: Nature - Life Energy

You Decide:
  1. Who made the door?
  2. What happens behind the door? What kind of building is this? Who owns it? 
  3. Who was the last visitor to pass through this door?

What are your answers?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Kris Knife, Whose Wavy Blade Has A Pearlescent Sheen  
Fortune Card: Overlooking the Diamond - Failing to See Opportunity

The kris knife's blade is short, with three waves only. The blade is called Almost Still. It was shaped from a bone splinter of a dragon's skull. A fine exemplar of the Dragon Trade.

The dragon terrorized the entire sphere of Wingspan. In the far North, the dragon was called Troll King, and with is troll allies led a dire army against the White Bear Folk.The White Bears forged dragon-proofing charms into their iron armor and went to battle with the dragon's army. They slaughtered many Trolls. Many feasts were held. But while White Bears' armor shielded their fur, muscle, and bones from Trollish weapons and dragon's flames, nothing could spare their wondrous, thick-walled Ice Burghs, and the enormous ice rafts upon which they were built.

The surviving White Bears stripped off their armor and abandoned that sinking civilization now called the Melting Realm. They swam south for the rivers of the Great Forest Land. Some still swim up river to their old far North homelands to fish, and hunt seals and walrus, but the White Bears' great walled cities are yet to be rebuilt.

In the far South, the women of the Trade Cities called the dragon Sea Hag - they assumed she was a great sea captain like themselves.The Sea Hag rewarded their familiarity by devastating their trading fleets. She burned their empty bellied slave ships, for which the folk of the Middle Continent call her Liberator, and torched their fully-loaded spice ships, for which the people of the Middle Continent call her Perfumer as well.  Sea Hag even burned their fishing fleets, for which she was simply cursed.

The great sea trade came to a halt. This caused great suffering in the Eastern Seas, from which the spices came. But it was ultimately there, among the equatorial trader-pirates that someone decided to do something about the dragon.

The dragon had no name among thousand villages of the Sitting Dog Archipelago. The trader-pirates assembled a great fleet of war-catamarans and went to sea to provoke the dragon. Their shamans blew great conch horns to call the dragon. They also chummed the waters with bloody raw meat. This drew the sharks, which in turn drew the attention of the Thirsty Ones. The great, pulpy tentacled terrors from the depths congregated in the waters under the trader-pirates' fleet. Their first feast was the sharks, but the Thirsty Ones are insatiable.

Sea Hag's curiosity was piqued by the sound of all the conchs. When she drew closer, she charmed with the tiny things below:  a hundred pretty war-boats with bright silken swallowtail banners. A school of rainbow fish for a snack, she thought. When she got even closer, Sea Hag liked even more what she saw and now smelled: thousands of pesky, tiny humans - their brown skin glistening with salt and sweat, and their bodies smelling of sun. Tasty finger food, thought the great dragon.

Thus was the dragon's weakness revealed, for the gods have punished each generation of dragons with a lacking. Sea Hag's lacking was insight. She could not see below the surface of the sea; she could not see the deeper patterns. When she swept low, a thousand tentacles rose to greet her.

It was a hard fought battle, and the seas grew red. The blood of men mixed with that of the horrors of the deep. It was a good day for the sharks, after all!

Thousands of arrows and spears pierced the wings and body of Sea Hag, and she could not escape by flying or diving because tentacles bound her arms and legs. Finally, one brave chief drove his kris-spear into the eye and then the skull of Sea Hag. Her skull shattered, killing even more brave warriors, and then she was no more. Some said it was a very lucky shot. But none were brave or foolish enough to say it too loud.

The chieftain was celebrated  in the Sitting Dog Archipelago, and soon far beyond there! A statue was raised to honor him.
To reward the chieftain, a shaman-armorer fashioned a splinter from the dragon's skull into a kris knife.The kris blade shines like a pearl; it is called Almost Still, to commemorate the victory at sea won at such a great price. The White Bears fashioned a hilt for Almost Still out of walrus tusk. Once the sea trade resumed, the trader-pirates found a suitable scabbard in the surrendered hold of a Trade Cities ship. The chieftain wore the blade with pride.

But although he was young, the chieftain lived only a few years after the great battle. His luck turned bad after the great victory. Trade deals broke down. Political alliances ended in betrayal. He married the wrong woman.  His young children were weak and they whined too much. He was finally betrayed by friends. And when the chieftain died, the kris knife could not be found.

Mechanics: This dragon relic has a subtle mystic power. Drawing the Fortune Card Overlooking the Diamond - Failing to See Opportunity means that the negative power of the kris knife manifests in a scene. The negative side of the power makes it difficult for the user to get the whole picture of the battle or to understand a social or physical conflict's real stakes. The card, reversed - Opportunity - represents the positive manifestation of the knife: the user is able to find an opening and prevail in a conflict.

What are your answers?
  1. Who took the kris knife from the chieftain? Who has it now?
  2. How has the knife affected the life of the person who carries it now?
  3. Is the bearer of the knife even aware of its curse? Is s/he putting others in danger around him or her?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Strangerside Scholar: The Dragon Trade II

The Dragon Trade has two forms: the backing of currency, discussed in an earlier essay, and a secondary trade in dragon relics, which is the subject of this brief essay. The two trades appear to have a common origin: the Scales family, which has both an assimilated Everwayan branch, and the originary branch native to the realm known as The Market.

The Market branch of the family continues its role in lending. Long ago, the ancient-lender priest Luchre Scales set the family on this road. But in Everway, the Diggers have been successful in preventing the Scales from having a direct role in lending. Nevertheless, they play a critical role in the sponsorship of expeditions to recover dragon's hoards, and thus also a role in authenticating the provenance of coins and other treasures derived from dragon's hoards. Both branches of the Scales family also play a central role in the secondary Dragon Trade: the trade in dragon relics. 

As noted in the earlier essay on currency, the Dragon Trade does not deal in live dragons or viable dragon eggs. Instead, it deals with the remains of dragons: dragons' teeth, scales, horns, claws, bones, mummified dragons' hearts and other vital organs, and more. This is the ultimate irony and indignity to which the gods consigned their rebellious creations: not only were the dragons cursed to become more twisted and deficient with each successive generation, but after their deaths they are consigned to the fate of being sold part and parcel across the million spheres.

It's a lucrative trade. While the Scales don't directly control currency and wealth in every realm, they are supreme in a few and influential in many. They are sought out by warriors and alchemists searching for puissant weapons and powders, by priests in search of relics sacrifice to the gods for favors, and by potentates who seek immortality.

Dragon relics have great power, but they often pay forward part of the karma associated with the rebellious dragons' curse. Take, for example, the Mechanical Scorpion's Spite Auger, which is used to trap and torture spirits; this is a rare and two-edged dragon relic. Taken from the hyoid bone of a dragon slain while shifted into human form, the Spite Auger is a venomous tongue which can provide divinatory services - or power a scorpion's tail that poison's the diviner.

The Scales themselves pass on a variety of dragon-derived curses to their children. Like the successive generations of dragons born after their rebellion against the gods, most Scales are missing some essential quality - in their case, something essentially human. One Scales stares like a reptile, and thus has a difficult time in social situations; brings a forked tongue to the negotiating table, and gains an instant reputation for being untrustworthy; yet another has dragon's claws, and draws blood with each handshake or caress of a loved one.

Even worse (if more subtle), someone's Virtue might disappear entirely.

As the saying goes: "Scales' greed, bad seed."


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Strangerside Scholar: The Mother's Day

Today is normally the day of rest for The Everwayan, but the Strangerside Scholar had something important to say.

The Mother's Day: Over in Strangerside, The Quarreler, one of the few to escape the implosion of the realm Bensalem, waits for The Mother's Day to roll around to make his usual joke:

"Ever notice how whenever someone creates a holiday for the oppressed - say, Outsider's Day - someone in Authority has to come to create a holiday for the oppressor, like Horizon Day? It's tiresome. It's just the same with Mother's Day; next thing you know the Authorities create Father's Day so no one feels bad."

Once a Moon or so, Strangers and Outsiders do listen to what the The Quarreler has to say, but most Everwayans just shake their heads, and point out that The Quarreler just doesn't understand how things work here in Everway. There's gender equality in Everway, not gender oppression. There's also no Mother's Day or Father's Day, here. There is only The Mother's Day.

The Mother's Day is as old as the city; indeed, it founded the city in a very real sense.


The legend of The Mother's Day began when Everway was just a collection of huts surrounding The Walker's Pyramid. The Pyramid was quite new in those days. In fact, our story begins the morning The Walker laid the final stone upon the seventh tier of her Pyramid. "One left, she thought. Time to go away for a while and find it."

The Walker descended the Pyramid. As she did so, she heard a baby crying. The Walker found a child left all alone, a baby girl in a wicker basket who had been placed on a stone on the first tier of the Pyramid. The basket's bottom was wet. So was the baby's.

The Walker then looked out at the Pyramid priests.They were staring at her. "Where did this baby come from?" The Walker asked.

"We're not sure" shrugged Half Moondance, the chief of the Pyramid priests. "A fisherman found her in the Sunset River, fished her out, and brought her here as an offering."

The Walker snatched Half Moondance's fine cloak right off his shoulders. She tore it in half. With one half of the robe, she cleaned the child. She used the other half to line the basket, and put the baby inside it.

The Walker turned and began climbing back up the Pyramid. Slowly, surely, steadily, keeping a strong hold on the basket until she reached the seventh tier. Then, the Walker took the baby girl out of her basket. She held the her up, and faced her out towards the scattering of huts that would one day become the great city of Everway.

She turned the baby to face each of the four directions.

The child saw smoke rising from the huts, and beyond them fields and trees. She also saw small fishing boats bobbing in the Shimmermoon Bay. The baby smiled.

"All this is yours." The Walker said. "I hold you up now, as you will hold up others."

"Help them. Heal them. Ensure their children come into this world safe and sound."

"I show you your world. Your name will be Mother First."

"Take three three gifts with you: Awareness. The Healing Arts. Responsibility."

This is how the Mother family came to be the first great family of Everway.

"Teach other Mothers this ritual."

Sources: This legend was inspired in part by the Moses story (which relates to other wood and wicker Mesopotamian and Egyptian arks). Another inspiration was rite of the Roman goddess of childbirth, Levana. Those familiar with the film Suspira by Dario Argento, and with its inspiration, Suspira de Profundis and "Levana And Our Ladies Of Sorrow" by Thomas DeQuincey will be familiar with De Quincey's significantly darker view of this goddess.

For Alice T. Till.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Strangerside Scholar: The Dragon Trade

The Dragon Trade: This is no Mother of Dragons scenario. You'll find no fairy tale princess trudging with her hatchlings across the desert to the big City. The truck and barter in live Dragons is another Trade entirely. The Dragon Trade relates to currency, as well as to some special Dragon-derived commerce (more on this later).

If you have visited or live in Strangerside, you have seen quite a few different examples of currency from the many realms and spheres. And we all know that the Digger family maintains the official monopoly controlling the foreign currency exchange. Everway itself has three forms of currency: pea-sized copper beads, which can be put on a string, a silver coin called a "heft" (worth 24 beads), and a gold coin called a "heft" (worth 24 silver hefts). [You can consult the Playing Guide, p. 17 - Ed.] Of course, Everwayans also use paper forms of currency, such as promissory notes and debt tokens.

But what underlies a currency, and thus trade itself? What stands behind it? How does one currency relate to another?

We find our first clue by going to any of the markets of Everway. Goods (and currency) are weighed on scales. Indeed, an old name for coins is "scales". This vernacular of course alludes to dragons, who love coins, jewels, and other precious articles. These beloved things are what they collect and jealously guard in their vast hoards.

A rich man is said to "ride the dragon's back." Most currencies today - whether copper beads, silver, gold, jewels, paper, tokens, beautiful feathers, pieces of shell, or something else are also said to be dragon-backed. And it is widely recognized that even using gold coins does not secure the value of gold. What guarantees and secures the value of gold or any other currency is that it is dragon-backed. That is, the value of a currency is only truly universal and guaranteed when that currency is derived from a dragon's hoard. A dragon sat on it, rolled around on it, scratched its back on it. 

So it has been since this fiscal doctrine was first proclaimed by Luchre Scales, the ancient lender-priest of the ancient realm known as The Market, "the land where gold reigns supreme, and anything (and anyone) can be bought or sold" (Playing Guide, p. 25). Lenders are respected and sought after when they are dragon-backed. And as any adventurer will tell you, wealthy people's constant thirst to increase their dragon-backed holdings spurs a constant search for new treasure hoards.Merchants, lenders, sovereigns, and nobles hire out Spherewalkers to discover, uncover, and "recover" dragons' hoards in other realms so they can increase the portion of their wealth that is dragon-backed. Amassing ordinary gold is just never enough.

These folk keep their own dragon's hoards - sometimes several, and often in secret locations - in order to dragon-back their money. There is a whole industry devoted to proving the provenance of various dragon-backed treasuries, and another industry dedicated to building the secret and not-so-secret (but always well protected) vaults that store this treasure. In Everway, vault construction is an uneasy joint venture between the Digger, Stonebreaker, and Gold families...and the vault designers often have short lifelines.

Sometimes people who amass dragon-backed hoards turn into dragons, becoming as arrogant and foolish as those ancient creatures who declared war on the gods. A foolish king or queen  is often said to be "striking the dragon's tail". Great greed often leads to great folly. That is what led to the downfall of the Blue Khan, that terror of many realms now lost.

The Blue Khan's closest advisor was a Spherewalker named Scale Snakering. Posing as a traitor to Everway, Scale offered to lead the Blue Khan to Everway's supposedly hidden, dragon-backed treasury in the realm of Stone Cage. Scale Snakering led the Blue Khan and his army into the realm through a secret gate. Once he and his armies entered the vast empty chamber vault that is the realm of Stone Cage (Playing Guide, p. 27), Scale Snakering used powerful magics to seal the Blue Khan and his armies inside forever. Now even their bones are gone. A few scattered beads are all that remain inside this hollow tomb.

All of that being said, certain gadflies, such as Strangerside resident and self-proclaimed "Student of Kinship" Deft Grabber, have tried to debunk the notion that money's value derives from the dragon's hoard. Instead, he sees money as a form of reason itself. In his scroll-set called "That Which is Owed: the First Five Thousand Spheres", Grabber writes:
Money was no more "invented" than music or mathematics or jewelry. What we call "money" isn't a "thing" at all, it's a way of comparing things mathematically, as proportions: of saying one of X is equivalent to six of Y. As such it is probably as old as human thought.The moment we try to get any more specific, we discover that there are any number of different habits and practices that have converged on the stuff we now call "money", and this is precisely the reason why...[we] have found it so difficult to come up with a single definition" (p.52).

Deft Grabber hasn't been seen in a while, but you can find his scroll-set in the Library of All Worlds. Recently, it was moved from the Sphere Studies wing of the library and into the Numerology Section. It is stored in a cabinet that looks like this:

South East Asia Collection, University of Michigan Museum of Art
Photo c. 2012 John Everett Till

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Document Identifying the Bearer an Official Representative of the Snakering Family of Roundwander

Fortune Card: Knowledge, Reversed - Falsehood

The document fits in its tube snug as a snake in a rolled-up rug. Its green copper tube is detailed to resemble snake scales. Each end of the tube is decorated with a metal snake's head. Uncap either end, and you will see a long scroll made of a translucent membranous paper.

The document uses a twisted, overly elaborate scribble-script. Its florid language describes the bearer as an official representative of the Snakering family of Roundwander. It establishes the bearer as having the full faith and credit of the family, and the ear of "His Imperial Majesty."

The scroll proclaims: "My bearer keeps her counsel and keeps her word. She speaks the truth with her tongue and can taste the truth as well. Enjoy her sweet words; her arrival portends an end to betrayals and sour deeds."

The scroll doesn't name its bearer.

The document closes by requesting: "Please give the bearer of this scroll every consideration and amenity."

There is just one small problem with this document: it actually says "Roundwater" not Roundwander.

  1. What gives? Is the document real or fake?
  2. Who is the bearer? A spy, a diplomat, or a finagler? Something else?
  3. Where is the bearer of this document going, and why?
What are your answers?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Guide to Spherewalking: Cenotes

The Tidal Pools are elemental interstices, and are typically dead-ends. But this is not always true. Some Tidal Pools lead to sea caves. Some sea caves lead to cenotes. And some cenotes - the ones used for sacrifices - are points at which someone can swim into another realm.
You can recognize such sacrificial cenotes from what lies in the muck at their bottom: human bones, jewels, fine obsidian blades, or animal sacrifices. You may taste blood as you break the water's surface. Hopefully, you have found a cenote with ladderworks, where it is possible to ascend to land. If not, look for vines or other plants, or for simple well-worn hand-holds.  
When you ascend, some of the simple folk may believe you are a creature from the Underworld. The local priests may host you, but don't be surprised if they distrust you. More than one Whiteoar spy has traveled this way before.

Mechanics: This is not Spherewalking strictly speaking. If someone has access to a Tidal Pool, they can swim through a sea cave to a cenote without having or using the Spherewalking power.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Comments Re-Enabled

Apologies to anyone who has tried to leave a comment but wasn't able to do so. This was almost certainly human error. Comments have been re-enabled.

A Metal Scorpion, With A Winding Screw Protruding From Its Back

Fortune Card: The Smith, Reversed - Evil Effort

It's not a clockwork assassin bug, although it has killed people. It is called an Augur Bug, a divination tool that writes its answers in the sand. The truths it produces often lead to violent action. The first of these metallic arthropods came from the realm of Merryflag - "the realm where it is against the law not to avenge a slight or insult" (Playing Guide, p. 25). Recently, certain disreputable members of the Scratch and Smith families of Everway have begun to corner the market on the manufacture of these devices.

Mechanics (Literally):  Once the querent poses their question, the scorpion will write its answer in the sand. To use the scorpion, someone must first summon and bottle a spirit (Magic: Air 4) inside the metal scorpion, also known as an Augur Bug. Then, one winds the Spite Auger on the scorpion's back until it rends the spirit's flesh. You will know when that is, because the scorpion's tail will cock itself into a deadly curl. Quickly, carefully, drop the Bug onto a divinatory sand table before the Bug starts to move its limbs. If you are not careful, you could loose a finger - the legs jerk into motion suddenly and are very sharp. Don't even ask what happens if the tail stinger pierces flesh (Poison: Strength 4, Effect: feverish visions of betrayal)!

  1. What kind of spirits does the Spherewalker collect to feed to the Augur Bug? Where are these spirits gathered?
  2. What was the last question posed to the Augur Bug? Who asked it?
  3. What price did the Spherewalker demand for its use?
What are your answers?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Guide to Spherewalking: Spherepaths

This is the first entry in The Guide to Spherewalking, one of the most frequently read texts in the Library of All Worlds. Entries in The Guide describe matters pertaining to spherewalking, gates, and travel between the spheres and realms.

Spherepaths: A spherepath, also known as a gatepath, is a particular sequence of realms or spheres traversed in order to arrive at a desired destination realm. Spherepaths trace the route from a realm of embarkation to a destination realm that is more than one gate distant from the place of departure. Spherepaths take many forms.

Many Spherewalkers commit 'paths to memory by brute force. Others use songs or poems for that purpose. (You never know if the drunken doggerel you hear in a Strangerside pub has such references in it.) Of course, for a price, members of the Keeper family in Everway can teach the most commonly used paths to frequently visited realms. Caveat emptor: some of the gatepaths the Keepers peddle are longer and more complex than necessary - with many expensive inns and wayhouses along the way.

The Snakering, Crookstaff, and Scratch families of Everway have proprietary spherepaths. More than one rogue has met their end trying to steal what they know. Fortunately, many other 'paths are recorded in scrolls and books. Inquire at the Cartographic Department in the Library of All Worlds to examine these, and compare their 'paths to the ones you know.

Walk the city of Everway, and you will find other 'paths hiding in plain sight. Carpets and tapestries, and even fine pottery and porcelain may display coded representations of spherepaths. Examine the geometric patterns of the temples in Everway, and you will find many more. Even the landscaping of the sacred grove outside the Library of All Worlds hints at such revelations.

Finally, a word about the use of codes and symbols in spherepaths is definitely in order. Cyphers, codes, and symbols offer information security, but at a price. Meaning can be lost; even worse, deception or misinformation can occur. For example, the Snakerings often encode gatepaths with logic bombs that confound Spherewalkers while they are in-transit between gates. Spherewalkers have been lost forever due to the conceptual slippage caused by their traps.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Simple Leather Thong Ankle Bracelet

Image source is and

Fortune Card: Drowning in Armor, Reversed - True Prudence

It's the plain looking one that's special. After losing Everway's civil war, the Whiteoar family gave these simple leather thongs to their agents. While these ankle bracelets are not powerful enough to open one of the Whiteoar's Seagates, they do allow their agents to make a quick if temporary escape, by hiding in Tidal Pools - elemental interstices that can be accessed from river, lake, or sea water. In a Tidal Pool, the swimmer will be in an area with air and water. S/he will need to swim, tread water, or have something to float on like a surf board in order to avoid drowning. They may have strange company swimming below them in the Tidal Pool, and it is often quite hungry.

Mechanics: The anklet must be immersed in river, lake, or sea water. The wearer upon willing it so, will find him/herself shifted to a Tidal Pool until the next low tide, when they are ejected. The anklet will not work again until the next high tide. 


  1. Where did the Spherewalker obtain the anklet? The Whiteoars were all thought to be long dead...(Playing Guide, p.16)
  2. Who does this Spherewalker need to escape or avoid?
  3. What happens when someone drowns in a Tidal Pool?  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Remembering M.A.R. Barker

Sunday is ordinarily the day of rest for The Everwayan. However, last night there was a very special event that I wanted to share. Family, friends, and colleagues of Professor M.A.R. "Phil" Barker, and members of the Tekumel community, met to commemorate the life of this incredible scholar and creator of the fantastic.

The world of Tekumel has been an important part of my life since Empire of the Petal Throne was published in the early 1970s. It is an incredibly rich world, and one which I only experienced from afar until this last year. Last night, we saw for the first time in many years the beautiful Temple of Vimuhla, which was featured in issue 4 of Dragon magazine. You can see the temple as it exists today here:

Thank you to Jeff Berry and members of his gaming group for their work in cleaning and preparing the temple.

Thank you to the Tekumel Foundation for bringing the community together to memorialize and celebrate the life of M.A.R. Barker.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Black Metal Figurine of a Dancing Male God

Fortune Card:  The Phoenix - Rebirth

This God is The Dancer, off-balance, his left leg extended high above his hip, and bent at the knee. The Lord of the Dance both creates and destroys the things around him. This lithe male figure was fashioned from metal that looks like smooth black stone, long kissed by fire. There is but the hint of a lignam traced on the left thigh - maybe it is there, maybe not.

Mechanics: The one who dances before this figurine daily acquires a Fire score of 5, but at a cost. The dancer permanently loses their natural Fire score. Furthermore, their Fire score diminishes by 1 for each day that they do not perform the dance. If their Fire score ever reaches 1, their Fire score never recovers. 

Also, in any scene, the Gamemaster may draw a Fortune Card. If the card has a negative or destructive connotation, something nearby is damaged or goes missing. It is likely the one who dances before the figurine will be blamed.

  1. What motivates the Spherewalker who carries this figurine to become one with The Dancer?
  2. What things have already been damaged or gone missing due to the influence of The Dancer?
  3. Where is The Dancer going next and what does it want?

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Stone Figurine Depicting a Boar Headed Goddess

Varahi image from University of Michigan Museum of Art
 Photo c. 2012 John Everett Till

Fortune Card: The Defender, Reversed - Peril

Her rites are practiced in the dead of night; she has been called both Mother and Death Personified. A stone figurine carries her divine power from realm to realm. Also known as the Sow-Headed Goddess, she bears numerous weapons in her many arms, including swords, a staff, pole arms, and a chakram - a circle of steel with a sharp outer edge. She has red flowers in her hair, and holds a skull-cap drinking cup. After battles, she dances, drunk with her victim's blood. With her mother and sisters, she destroyed a demon army, and now a Spherewalker has carried Her here, to your realm.

  1. What Spherewalker channels Her power and what does s/he seek?
  2. Who was the last demon she subdued - and why and where?
  3. The snout of the figurine is broken, and her tusks and weapons are missing. Who did this, and why?