Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Fruits of the Shard-Pit

Summary: This is a location you can visit near Thanofane in the gamebook I’ve been writing. It is a pit of pottery shards owned by a tribe of ex-reavers who charge people to come in, hoping for treasure or insights from the ancient world, and take out whatever they can carry.

    Table of Contents
The Shard Pit
Item: The Creed of the Toxoplasmic Macrophalli
Influence Tale: The Cannibal Lord and the Fifty-Fanged Princess
Item: Silphium Scales
Tradecraft Tale: The Sun-Whisperer
Item: Amphora Hoard
Gunplay Tale: The Miasma of the Moon
Item: Psychofermented Garum
Prowess Tale: The Yoke Upon the Underworld

        The Shard Pit
A man sits upon his heel atop a stela carved like an vertical river. It seems sinuous and alive, and it’s not clear if it’s impregnated with a spirit or if it *is* a spirit.
The man wears a draconian panoply of azure feathers sporting a peacock plume behind his sullen head. He wields a bolt-action rifle cradled about his knees within the folds of his cloak.

Tropical hummingbirds flit silently around this place like butterflies. 

Warriors watch and speak of you in magnificent shades of blue. Each man is like a horde unto himself; his mind rushing, cacophonous, chanting, demanding, consumed and consuming

A man who is clad in a tunic of living ivy approaches you like a wild man, scrimshawed charms clacking with the vines curled about them, half-hidden in the leaves.

He takes your money and bids you to content yourself in the wreckage.

The shards are jagged; hoard and hoard-guardian.

If you search the pit, roll a d8 and go to your result on the page.

        1. The Creed of the Toxoplasmic Macrophalli
This funerary urn depicts an apparent suicide jumping deep into the water, swimming down, drowning with gritted teeth and intense focus. He seems to be backlit by black ceramic sun and ripple lines. An impossibly long, featureless worm is snaking its way out of his body.

This urn contains the religious teachings of the toxoplasmic macrophallus, a contagious cancer that parasitizes by sound. They possess a deep sound-based culture that gathers for unusual environmental vibrations. They see earthquakes as sacred raptures.

There is a macrophallic creed encircling the urn:

“We are victims of the blind flautist that spat out the universe through sheer perversity. Matter is evil, our bodies are evil, and so must be degraded and destroyed so that the spiritual energy within can be freed.
Our people, and the Hallucigenian Diadochi, and the Crag of Songs Killers, and the Cnidarian Vinegaroons, are victims of God. There is nothing but venom in our hearts for those peoples chosen by Him.
Salvation is attained by destruction, or passing through all experience. Our living ancestors have have completed this cycle, but remain on the earth to aid those who join in the project.”

You can sell this item for 50 ounces of gold to a Troutbridge University Antiquities buyer, multiplying this by 1.5 to 75 ounces should you succeed an Influence check.
        2. The Cannibal Lord and the Fifty-Fanged Princess
You find an intact tablet which was once coated in papyrus; ink has stained through into the clay, and you realize that it is from some kind of antediluvian Primer for Princes.

It reads:

THERE was once a Cannibal Lord who was a charmless man. Of poor breath was he, and he did walk like a troglodyte, and of terrible voice was he; for when he walked and spoke, those of the woodland did say, “Forsooth! Hark that most terrible dryad who smells of carrion and sounds of axlespokes and traipses like a marionette, for he is made of bark.”

TO such a plight then came the Cannibal Lord: “Lo, Swamp-Spirit All-Devouring and Wise! I have returned from the land of the Crocodile Wearers, where I besought the hand of the Fifty-Fanged Princess from her father the Lord of Scales. I have been cast off of their land like an herbalist most foul! For whom shall I live my life? With whom shall I share my meals?”

“The Fifty-Fanged Princess,” hummed the brown mist.

“Lord of Peat and Firmament! How might this come to be? Must I bring fire and serpent upon the mighty Lord of Scales and elope by force and subterfuge?”

“Nay, ye obstreperous, myopic, halitolitic and hypertrichotic yokel. Bury thy face in me and breathe, for I shall show ye five men who ye shall share with me upon the platter. In their blood ye shall learn how thine Fifty-Fanged beloved might be won.
BEHOLD, the Marquess of Oxwine. He is a man most well-groomed, for he does wash between the legs and pluck between the eyebrows.”

“Verily! Mayhap he shall be the one I wed!”

“Arrest thy polycephalous wit for I am not finished, thou ill-bred varlet. The next man is Sir Gregory the Tall, and he is a knight most wont to tip his hand, for however tall he might be by natural right, still taller does he stand.”

“A most stringy piece of meat is Sir Gregory! Mayhap I shall make his shanks into swamp stilts.”

“Better he carry you by your ears til they are wide enough to listen. Gargle muskrat spoor if you cannot be silent, fink, I continue.
WITNESS Constantine Iconophilus, the soprano castrato of Altalibretto.”

“A meal, a meal, a meal is he! Might I make a mallow of the marsh from this mellifluous morsel!”

“Yes, yes, ye are a philistine, but a bog witch may call the weather by chance. Ye will indeed eat this man, but not until I have embraced him in my miasma as ye well have guessed by now.”

“And who is the next fair highborn dandy you would have for the smorgasbord?”

“He is Olifacto Gaspepperus, high librarian of Bilkberry Hold.”

“But he is all beard! I shall be scrubbed by his sideburns and stabbed by his bones!”

At this the bog boiled and the waterspouts spat and the toads exploded.


At this the swamp was silent; not even the water striders dared peep a peep.

“Thou shalt learn something from this stale scrivener though you must needs sit by the dining stump til you resemble your meal. Devour him first of all, thou cur, that ye may offer me some conversation in the days to come, and to thy beloved that ye may not awaken as bare of scrote as the Castrato of Altalibretto.”

“Verily I see what I must do. But these are four of five; who is last in the pot?”

“The brat doth seek dessert before its appointed time of revelation. Bring these men here and devour them before mine eyes, and then ye may be fit for my special treat to thee.”

Thus departed the Cannibal Lord, and thus did he trick or seize by violence the men appointed by the swamp spirit, and thus did he devour them while the spirit did savor the phlogiston of their dying cries.

At the fourth meal, the Cannibal Lord, now much improved by the meals which came before, did speak unto his benefactor, and say, “Lord of Light, Lord of Malice, attend to thy servant for it is at thine right ear that I do seek thy bidding.”

“Yes, most improved one, thou has grown sagacious enough to remember what is in store for you now. And solely by the terms of our covenant do I now show you the last lord of soap and manners that ye must digest.”

“Oh, Master of All! It is none other than the Lord of Scales! Could I not have simply overthrown him from the first, and then seized upon my beloved?”
”Ha! The doddering wit that thou hast imbibed! Had you taken her from the first, she would have died before submitting to thy clutches, *goblin*! Now thou hast a fighting chance!”

“My lord! The magnificence of thy designs!”

“SILENCE! Ye have no time to waste, knave! Scurry up thine host by the snake-trumpet and make war for the hand of thy lady!”

And this was done.

At the last, the cannibal lord knelt choking down the corpus of the scalegirt corpse-king upon the blood-rent battlefield and he did weep over the bones of many friends.

“A most oily serpent thou art,” hissed the bog-spirit as the Lord of Scales expired before his invisible nostrils.

“I am as thou hast made me, milord,” groaned the Cannibal Lord o’er the wails of his beloved.

“Verily, and likewise,” spake the spirit, and in turn became a Marquess, a Knight, a Castrato, a Sage, and the Lord of Scales, “for the clothes do make the man.”

And by this subterfuge did the swamp spirit seize upon many useful guises and wreak havoc upon the realms of men.

Gain 1 Influence.

        3. Silphium Scales
This amphora has two inscriptions in different styles running around its midsection; an original marking and then a latter one, apparently when the amphora was repurposed as a records tablet. 

“Those taken are made serpents; they no longer speak. They are spoken through. It is their voice but the words of Death or demons. It would be best if there was silent contemplation, but we seek their counsel on new things. But they no longer speak.
After slaying the dragon he said that he’d found his treasure, then cut it open and climbed inside its womb. The chamber flooded shortly thereafter and his companions were forced to leave him. This is his last occurrence in the historical record. Suicide? Chrysalis? Corpse-monk meditation? The closing of a circle, re-integration? A union? It is debated.”

It contains silphium. The ancient herb is mixed with unknown azure dry scales which smell of pumice.
Make a Tradecraft check to apprehend the nature of this poultice.

First use: You are invigorated as if awakening from a perfect night’s rest to a day that you expect to be perfect.

Second use: You are existentially cleansed. Your skin problems disappear, gastrointestinal issues and autoimmune deficiencies lift, infections heal, lethargy disappears. Roll a d12; on a 1, go to Sixth Use.

Third use: You awaken to a luminous clarity of mind, accompanied by a slight emotional disregulation. You can reason through just about anything bit-by-bit, but you feel a sense of slight unease about life. Your fingers and forefeet are massively strengthened, to the point you find you can make dangerous climbs for amusement. +1 Tradecraft, +1 Prowess. Roll a d12; on a 1 or 2, go to Sixth Use.

Fourth Use: Your look in the mirror and find that your irises have turned azure, and when you murmur about this, your voice is velvet might. +1 Influence. Roll a d12; on a 1-4, go to Sixth Use.

Fifth Use: You find geode-colored scales burgeoning under your skin. Feathers are budding about the nape of your neck like a ruff, and your nails have grown and hardened. Your azure eyes have gained a viperish ovular pupil, and your body is gradually lengthening. -3 Influence, +1 Gunplay. Roll a d12; on a 1-8, go to Sixth Use.

Sixth use: Autotransition. If you’re fighting anybody, you have a vague impression of devouring them before you swim away through the air.
You break into sunlight and ascend, feeling the sky like the rippling water.
You fly over a lake and look down. You have become a kind of human-feathered snake hybrid, and a serpentine feathered tail ripples behind you like a streamer. You thank the Gods you still have arms. You can no longer realistically complete your mission to Passwall, but perhaps there is some good you can do in this world.

        4. The Sun-Whisperer
You pick up a tablet depicting people being smote by lightning bolts. You realize that the lightning bolts are actually tiny strings of text.

They read:

There was once a boy who was swallowed by a lightning bolt. He was brave, and he lingered at Lightning Rock longer than any other boy was willing, and so he was carried off by the god of fear and fire. A lightning bolt is an umbilical cord to a star, and this one led to the mightiest star of all, the Sun.
The hero knew he was hidden behind the earth and no help would be coming from his friends; nobody’s eyes were upon him, and he was a captive in the land of the lightning spirits, and thus he was doubly free of the law of both lands.

He opened his ears and drank the Sun til it was very hungry, and then he whispered of a place of mighty metal in which the Sun might slake itself. Panting and engorged, the clouds grew turgid and swollen over the Bloodblessing Boulder of the Bigamite Bandits who for generations had harried the clan of the sun-captive lad, and there unleashed such an ecstasy of thunder that the Bandits were annihilated to a man.

When the sun was making its last spasm behind the clouds and about to fall into a spent and feeble slumber, the boy slipped down the last beam of light, greased by the Sunshine in his heart and blood. So much like the sun was he that the Sun did not notice him slipping away, thinking him another fire, and he took the melted treasure of the bandits and put it in a sack and carried it back to his people, and it was heavy but he was toughened by his imprisonment and longed to see his people, who were made a great clan by the riches and he was made first among equals and was made the husband of the most beautiful woman of the tribe, who naturally turned out to be the heiress to the richest civilized castles of the land and in this manner he became the one who we know as the Sun King.

Gain 1 Tradecraft.

        5. Amphora Hoard
You step on a clay pot that is hexed like a strange, geometric tortoise’s shell. It breaks apart logically, like a pineapple grenade.
It contains a trove of coins: a rashly-hidden hoard or embezzled donative. The coins are a visual comparison of the cities; Mandala was a virgin girt in colonnades, Atrialia a whore spreading in a seaside meadow. Gain 2d4 x 10 ounces of gold. 

        6. The Miasma of the Moon
You pick up a strange tile; it appears to be a form of white rock. It contains ground-in etchings.
They read:
Our people were drowned by the miasma of the moon, and mist of dust like powdered marble swirling on the darkest mornings.
The rock-wounded elbow of the hero ached for mother moon in the morning, and the hero raised his arm to it as he lay in his web of fishing silk, soft bulwark against the dust. Finally in desperation he threw his elbow to the moon and with it his spear, for he did it without thinking and with great intent.
Such was the alignment of his throw that he plugged the hole in the moon and saved the breath of his people.

Gain 1 Gunplay.

        7. Psychofermented Garum
This amphora is painted with a precursor angel; a holdout benefactor from prehuman times.

It is cracked and faded but several streams of text are visible:

It was born when the sun made love to the moon, and it forever stands between them
What began as a sacrament became a brothel in time
He does not have a snake’s tail; the snake is inside him, filling every part of him. It *is* him

This tiny amphora of garum has fermented to the point of extreme instability.
Make a Tradecraft check. Success will tell you that this will have psychoactive properties that could prove useful if you can handle them; if not you will be debilitated in an unpredictable way.
If you consume it, make a Hard Prowess check.
If you succeed, roll d4 and go to your result on the success table.
If you fail, roll d4 and go to your result on the failure table.

S1: You begin to dissociate from your body; it’s as if you’re watching it from the outside. You can think and move, but pain and expected limits are ephemeral hints, nothing more.
Every time you make a Prowess check, gain a +1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

S2: You become lightheaded. The world takes on a yellow visual tint and swims without negative valence. It seems like a wonderland of potential, a welcoming freeform explorascape built solely for your enjoyment. You find yourself to be profoundly genial and loquacious. Words and insights spill out of you as gently and relentlessly as rain.
Every time you make an Influence check, gain a +1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

S3: Your muscles begin to clench and your pupils radically dilate. You find yourself fixating upon minutiae, each piece of which seems to explode with potential when merely pricked by your attention. The connections become semi-boundless, only perceptible in local space but absolutely clear therein. You know why things are and how they came to be, reconstructing events by the placement of their litter. 
Every time you make a Tradecraft check, gain a +1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

S4: Your vision begins to flash and you fall to a knee, gripping your pounding face. Your heartbeat reverberates into your brain like a humming wardrum of taiga-times. You feel your empty hands clench and unclench, seeking purchase upon a weapon. You raise your head and mark the blue-plumed tribesmen spattered here and there against the forest and sunshine, and you find yourself longing to hunt them like the overripe peacock turkeys they are. You place your hand upon the grip of your pistol and grin with an electric thrill; you have flashing, sodden visions of hurling it between the eyes of a gaping jaguar emerging from the leaves, or into the soft haunches of a fleeing wildebeest, or into the cowering bodies of savages you have smote. How easy: a pointing-javelin. “Now to find somebody to point it at,” you slaver and slur, your mouth watering and your head throbbing with all-entombing desire.
Every time you make a Gunplay check, gain a +1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

F1: All is connected. Meaning can be found in the least of forms, and anything constructed by the hands of man must need reflect existential forms embedded usefully in our psyche by millennia of harsh refinement. These forms must manifest through our actions in the order that they are made apparent as they reflect and then teleologically extrapolate their existential relevance.
You stagger up from the depths of the shard pit and begin constructing a small nest out of your own hair; it is derived from you, and thus it is most suitable to manifest the guiding meaning hidden in the interrelationships of the environment and your psyche.
The nest takes shape; ribs of locks, struts of leg and arm hairs, and a soaring pubic dome. Not a nest- A SHIP!!!
Every time you make a Tradecraft check, take a -1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

F2: You sit back and feel a feeling of profound peace and lassitude. To what end, harming mankind? For you are of the same stuff, of one flesh, divided by distance perhaps, but only as the atoms that comprise one form are divided by irrelevant space. Why should another flesh die while yours lives on, when whatever the aims of the part, the whole advances to fulfill its ultimate purpose? Better that you go than another unit, one that is so energized with lust and passion that it would vibrate to the point that it might break you. You will go about your appointed quest, playing your part as is natural, but you will not seek to curtail the whole of mankind, even at the edges. Well- why did you plan to take life before? Mmm… a jarring thought.
Every time you make a Gunplay check, take a -1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

F3: You go woozy and your vision collapses into a corona of light; you make an uncontrolled fall forwards and smash your face into the jagged shards of the pit, gradually coming to with a mind-oppressing buzz of existential pressure, widening like a tunnel being bored. You try and get your hands beneath you but rake them across the shards, gasping through slightly-parted lips. Finally you mount up on your knuckles and lift your dusty head, drip-dropping luminous blood on the half-buried terra cotta below. You get up and stagger forward, your legs running beneath you like a rolling barrel. You manage to stand up without crashing from momentum and look up to the edge of the pit; tribesmen are kneeling with expressions of utter mirth, shaking with laughter with their hands on each others’ backs.
Every time you make a Gunplay check, take a -1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

F4: Your thinking grows staticky and highly sequential. A world of objects, devoid of intrinsic meaning. People, objects, and the signals within them. Objects in motion but otherwise inert.
You have only your impulse assigned to you by causality. There is nothing to do but execute it. People might as well be cockroaches. Their minds are as alien to you as stones. They are impulses, a mere averaging of directed chemical impulses. You will bend them to your impulse or destroy them, for that is the arrangement of the soulless universe.
Every time you make an Influence check, take a -1 and then roll a d4. On a result of 4, this effect comes to an end after your check.

        8. The Yoke Upon the Underworld
You find a lump of charcoal which has been primitively etched by someone who was perhaps lead-addled; there is a bit of text but many illustrations.
“The underworld was a city half-inhabited but harried by harpies and huecuvas that was struck by a wandering hero expelled by his forge and made an outpost of the forge men, but never civilized; a restive serf. The first mine.”
The hero is depicted wrestling a shard spirit in a bear-hug, a mighty position balanced on his center of gravity.

Gain 1 Prowess.

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