Monday, July 21, 2014

[Monday Memories] Imperial Town of Tell Qa: Northern Bastion of the Falling Empire

So I’m holding Throwback Thursday on Monday; meh, it’s what blogs are for, right?

What prompted this was a bit of interest shown in my city-based products from the AGP days, specifically Imperial Town of Tell Qa and 100 Street Vendors of the City State. I’ve already talked about 100 StreetVendors here, so I’ll merely blather on at length about Tell Qa.

Tell Qa was the first product produced at AGP; in fact, it was produced and printed for Free RPG Day 2007, the inaugural iteration of that event. When I set out to start publishing my version of the Wilderlands, the Wilderlands of High Adventure, with AGP, I had two ideas. First, I wanted to publish a regular magazine, Adventure Games Journal… sadly, much like Hercynian Grimoire, it never really got beyond the first issue (though I haven’t given up on Hercynian Grimoire yet). Second, I wanted to produce, among other supplemental materials, city-based adventures and source material along the lines of the original City State of the Invincible Overlord.

And so I decided that my first product would be an urban setting along those lines. Doing a whole city state was a bit much to tackle at first, so I decided to publish a town setting along the lines of Modron. I’d always been intrigued with Tell Qa and Smyrsis Province in the Empire of Viridistan; here, after all, was a Lawful Good ruler with a demon-loving imperial liege lord, surrounded by other fiendish and demonic co-rulers. How did that all work? And so I created an interesting town setting to combine the odd Mycretian and Evil Empire vibes that one got from reading about Tell Qa and Smyrsis in the original source material (City State of the World Emperor).

I cast most of the Mycretians in the role as the Christians in the Early Roman Empire… ready to passively be thrown to the lions in martyrdom, but also at times active in the war against Evil. The High Viridians, of course, were my stock-in-trade debauched and depraved Greco-Romans, thematically inspired by the Ehleens from the Horseclans series; most are this far out in the sticks because of politically troublesome indiscretions back at home, so are of quite the unpleasant sort. Similarly, the Horseclans-inspired Tharbrians wandering the Plains of Lethe to the north, wandering into the province to raid and trade as the mood suited them. Then there were the Smyrians, a local people of more kindly if rustic sort, caught between the hammer of the Tharbrians and the anvil of the Viridians. Add in a few odd bits here and there – such as the Aelvoress Elves and the Eagol Dwarves – and there were plenty of cultural interactions and conflict; especially plenty of opportunities for adventures to take down icky, nasty villainous High Viridians.

Here’s a sample of one of the locations in Tell Qa
75. TEMPLE RUNE KI (B-4): This temple is dedicated to Shang Ta, the lawful neutral god of the sky, air, law, ritual, and meditation, who is revered by monks, philosophers, hermits, and those seeking something unusual and exotic. His is an ephemeral faith, dedicated to contemplation on unanswerable mysteries of reality and the illusion of life; the philosophy can be best summed up as “Do the best you can and hope for the best.” Grand Lama Xuthaanos the Somnolent (LN male Shardan 10th level cleric of Shang Ta, SL Gentry 13) spends most of his time in a meditative stupor, as do his 7th level Lama, two 3rd level Baunge, two 2nd level Adepts, and 12 1st level Mendicant Brothers; the temple Guru, Eoscma Douurn (LG male Smyrian 5th level cleric of Shang Ta/3rd level Mycretian, SL Gentry 8) follows the more ascetic forms preferred by the Somnolent Order, and is the only priest who is not regularly blessed out on tithweed juice. Eoscma is a good friend of Milos, the Captain of the Guard and Veliik Tocsmek, the Disciple who leads the monkish strike teams. The temple is guarded by a half-dozen Initiates, while the “meditating” priests are served by a dozen slaves. Weekly ceremonies are replete with chanting, the drinking of tithweed juice, the ringing of gongs, weaving of tithweed mists, the discussion of visions, and indecipherable sermons which often dissolve in the Grand Lama frothing at the mouth and haranguing the fellowship in tongues. Daily meditation, usually accompanied by the inhaling of tithweed mist and the chanting of prayers from the holy texts, is required in order to “lighten one’s soul” in order to enable it to “float unto Shang Ta who is one with the Celestial Dream.” Contrary to rumors, the huge green stone statue of a dragon that dominates the central hall is made of cheap stone, not jade, though the huge pearl in its right claw is real, and worth 50,000 gp. If the pearl is ever lifted from the claw, a magic mouth appears and loudly screams invectives at the thief. The temple and its priests are not very active in society, though the dozen Mendicant Brothers of the faith often go out to beg for donations; they can be quite a bother in the markets and streets, and can be recognized by their saffron robes, blue-stained lips and teeth, black and silver Rune Ki Staffs, and simple wooden beggars’ bowls.
I should note, for those interested in finding them, there are indeed some Easter Eggs in Tell Qa… such has always been my way. If you are an old-school fan of Dungeons & Dragons, you might just find them… 
For design of the town I went with something more medieval, and yet also rather more Roman, using the castra-style towns of the Roman frontier as a guideline, making it perhaps one of the more orderly towns you’ll find in the Wilderlands. The footprint was based on historical populations of medieval towns; this means the area is a LOT smaller than the City State or Viridistan. When my own hand-drawn urban cartography proved… inferior to my hopes, Peter Bradley provided the cartographic labors on this map, as he would later on the Rhadamanthia map and other AGP products.

The Free RPG Day version of Tell Qa, the Imperial Town of Tell Qa: Northern Bastion of the Falling Empire ended up being 16 pages long; 1,000 units were printed for Free RPG Day (there was also a short run using my own map, 21 copies I printed at a local Staples to show at the GAMA Trade Show in 2007).

Tell Qa was also included in the 2007 Gen Con Special, XXXI, which included 20 new, unique encounters, plus information on Mycr and the Mycretian class and two new races: the Nguak Duck-folk and the Liowan lion-folk. All new rules elements were for Castles & Crusades, as all AGP products were designed for use with Castles & Crusades. XXXI, named thus as 2007 was the 31st anniversary of Judges Guild, had a print run of 310 units.

Tell Qa remains available in PDF format thanks to Judges Guild.

And finally, as a bonus, here is the original History of Tell Qa, which was cut due to space considerations:

Many millennia ago Tell Qa was merely an outpost of the ancient Smyrian civilization. Then the Smyrian queens turned away from their gods and became enamored of evil. In 100 BCC the capital city and the mountain valley that was the center of Smyrian civilization was destroyed in a terrible earthquake, the vengeance of the Smyrian gods. Chaos ruled as monsters debouched from the ruined Valley of the Dead Queens and strange beasts multiplied and thrived in the Eagol Ruins to the east. Then began the migrations of the Wild Men and a thousand years of chaos…

By the time the Viridians arrived from the Immortal City and conquered Tell Qa in 1203, they were welcomed not as invaders, but as liberators from chaos. Tell Qa thrived as a border town of the Empire of Viridistan. It was the center of Viridian operations during the incursions of the Tharbrians in 2097, and the Vasthosts that destroyed the horde at the Battle of Glint Valley camped around the walls of Tell Qa. The Golden Age of Tell Qa followed, as the lands between the Flee and the Sharryn were absorbed into the empire, and wealth poured through the town gates. The empire was re-organized in 2101 by Reddisorn the Golden, and Tell Qa was made the capital of the new Province of Smyrsis.

Then the Great Plague ravaged the populace at the end of the 25th Century, and the city, which was nearly four times its current size, shrank to little more than a large village surrounding a citadel, the whole standing amidst a vast field of ruined and empty buildings and crumbling walls. When the Tharbrians invaded again from the north in 2817, the few remaining Imperial Vasthosts met the horde in the east, were destroyed at the Dark Battle of Havocia, and the empire lay wide open to invasion by the Tharbrians. The remaining cities burned, villages were razed, and whole populations extirpated. Fortunately for Tell Qa, several Imperial Vastthrongs had been held in reserve in Smyrsis. Though they were unable to hold back the Tharbrian raiders, after the Tharbrians moved on, the remaining soldiers regrouped around the citadel of the Shah. They rebuilt Tell Qa from the ground-up, tore down the ruins of the old city, and atop it built a new town. But it still took centuries to recover.

By the time the World Emperor restored his supremacy over the Invincible Overlord at the Bloodless Battle of Barrad in 3788, Tell Qa had regained much of its wealth, power, and security. Unfortunately, though the emperor’s Goblin War of 4130 was highly successful, and the lands of Lyoophiath returned to his domain, the rest of the empire was thrown into turmoil, as the resettlement of the eastern lands drained even further wealth, men, and resources. Tell Qa fell further into decline as the border patrols grew lax due, the farmers and herders grew chary of the tax-man, and barbarians and monsters once again lurked in the dark corners of the province, crowded for space by bandits, rebel peasants, and mad cultists. Then the empire descended into 30 years of civil war when the emperor was assassinated in 4196. Fortunately for the survival of the Empire, Cneninadus the Mycretian eventually rose to power. Like Reddisorn the Golden, with whom he was often compared even in his lifetime, Cneninadus was one of only two good-aligned emperors to rule Viridistan. It was exceedingly rare for any True Viridian to embrace Mycr and Mycretianism; for such to rise to the Imperial Green was unheard of! It was only through dint of the great powers granted by Mycr that Cneninadus gained the throne, and that he held it for as long as he did.

During his rule he placed the empire on firmer footing. He promulgated a new currency and development of new lands, encouraged the arts and education, enacted laws against human sacrifice and demon-worship, increased the rights of the lower classes and non-Viridians — in essence, did everything in his power to upset the status quo and alienate the remaining eleven True Viridians, who preferred to rule as amoral virtual demigods! Fortunately for him, for decades they were too busy attacking each other, jockeying for position, to bother with him and his programs. That came to an end in 4283 when the Evil High Priest of Armadad Bog, Hautulin Seheitt, and his wife, Murielle Eidn, finally eliminated the last of their remaining competitors and then assassinated Cneninadus with the assistance of eight demons. Seheitt ascended to the Imperial Green as the Green Emperor, and thus began the year-long Great Slaughter of Pain, as Mycretians and their allies were purged from the Immortal City. Many Mycretians and their allies fled north, where they settled in Tell Qa under new names, seeking to rebuild what they had lost.

As even the Golden Age of Cneninadus was unable to purge Smyrsis of its bandits, monsters, and nomad troubles, the province remains a hotbed of troubles generated from within and without. With the Green Emperor’s attentions mostly elsewhere — first, in Lyoophiath, to repel an invasion of demons at the Great Battle of Pohtega in 4343, and of late, to the north, with concerns for the machinations of the Witches of Marmon, Smyrsis is left to its own, as long as the tax moneys and other tributes arrive on time. 40 years ago, upon his deathbed, the Shah requested that the master of the Holy Order of the Somnolent Dragon, the local monastery dedicated to the Rune Ki Temple, be named his successor. As the Emperor’s Grandhee reported that the monks had been vital in the maintenance of the province’s bureaucracy, and that the master was a loyal and a-political old man, the Emperor agreed, and so the rule of the province fell to the capable hands of the master and his men.

20 years ago, before the Shah passed away, he named Kijdawr Aenekosii, his successor as Master of the Holy Order, as his successor. The elite in Viridistan were much less pleased with this choice, as Aenekosii had proven over the years to be less politically disinterested than his predecessor, opposed to many policies of the Imperial High Council, and most troublesomely, seemed to be more interested in justice and the good of the commons than in enriching his own coffers and maintaining the status quo. Unfortunately for the other members of the High Council and their cohorts, Aenekosii was also extremely competent, and regardless of his weakness regarding the common weal, the Emperor allowed his succession to the throne as Shah.

Today, in 4433 BCCC, the Shah rules the town and province with an even and light, if open, hand. Aenekosii seeks to maintain balance in a domain that is hard pressed on all sides and from within. He is most desirous that the evil eye of the Green Emperor does not fall on his lands and his peoples, and so he keeps troublemakers contained, and tries to make peace and alliances rather than expend treasure on costly and uncertain battles. Unfortunately, the world does not provide the shah with the peace he prefers, as the kobolds of Shimmertree Vale are on the move, the Eagol dwarves of the vast ruins to the northwest are appearing in greater numbers, the Tharbrians are on the move, the orcs of the Pinnacle Mountains are ever more active, the barbarians of the Berserker Wastes have been raiding from the south of late, and there are rumblings among the allied Elphan cavemen to the north of possible rebellion and even invasion! And of course, the Green Emperor has doubled taxes in the last seven years and has called for a special “Wall Tax” at least once each year.

To exacerbate the situation, over the last 15 years, Mycretians have once again been able to operate in the open — even in Viridistan itself — though quietly, subtly, and not in such a fashion as to appear interested in overthrowing the status-quo. However, over the last five years they seem to have run rampant in Tell Qa, seeking to do good deeds and confound the best efforts of those seeking pleasure or wealth through questionably moral or openly evil, if legal, activities. Their actions run the gamut from giving away curing spells and potions to the needy; robbing wealthy (and legal) slave merchants and money lenders and giving their ill-gotten goods to the poor; and disrupting the ceremonies of the evil temples, especially those who perform (legal) human sacrifices! Though the Shah has vowed to put a halt to the activities of the Mycretians, to date his decrees and policies have had little luck in stemming the tide of vigilante goodness.

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