Three Kingdoms – Vol II- Extract- Vast the River

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The Chinese classic Three Kingdoms is one of a kind historical novel. An epic drama, mostly about warfare and governing; there and there we can find interesting fantasy tidbits.

That night tremendous fogs spread across the heavens, and the river mists were so thick that even face-to-face people could not see each other. Kongming urged his boats on into the deep fog. The rhapsody « Heavy Mists Mantling the Yangzi » describes it well:

Vast the river! Wide and farflung! West, it laps the mountains Mang and E. South, it grips the southern shires. North, it girdles the nine rivers, gathers their waters, and carries them into the sea, its surging waves rolling through eternity.

Its depths holds monsters and strange forms: the Lord of the Dragons, the Sea Thing, the river goddesses, the Ocean Mother, ten-thousand-span whales, and the nine-headed centipede. This redoubt of gods and spirits, heroes fight to hold.

At times the forces of yin and yang that govern nature fail, and day and darkness seem as one, turning the vast space into a fearful monochrome. Everywhere the fog , stock-still. Not even a cartload can be spotted, but the sound gong or drum carries far.

At first, a visible gloom, time for the wise leopard of the southern hills to seclude itself. Gradually darkness fills the expanse. Does it want the North Sea leviathan itself to lose its way? At last it reaches the very sky and mantles the all-upbearing earth. Grey gloomy vastness. A shoreless ocean. Whales hurtle on the water. Dragons plunge and spew mist.

It is like the end of early rains, when the cold of latent  spring takes hold: everywhere, vague, watery desert and darkness that flows and spreads. East, it blankets the shore of Chaisang. South, it blocks the hills of Xiakou. A thousand warjunks, swallowed between the river’s rocky steeps, while a single fishing boat boldly bobs on the swells.

In so deep a fog, the deep-domed heavens have gone dark. The countenance of dawn is dull: the day becomes a murky twilight; the reddish hills, aquamarine jade. Great Yu, who first controlled the floods, could not with all his wisdom sound its depths. Even clear-eyed Li Lou could not use his measures, despite his keen vision.

Let the water god calm these waves. Let the god of elements put away his art. Let the sea creatures and those of land and air be gone. For now the magic isle of Penglai is cut off, and the gates of the polar stars are shrouded.

The roiling, restless fog is like the chaos before the storm, swirling streaks resembling wintry clouds. Serpents lurking there can spread its pestilence, and evil spirits can havoc wreak, sending pain and woe to the world of men, and the storms of wind and sand that plague the border wastes. Common souls meeting it fall dead. Great men observe it and despair. Are we returning to the primal state that preceded form itself — to undivided Heaven and earth?

In the Maw of the Earth Monster

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Some caves are truly awe inspiring and it’s no wonder people have so often associated them with the sacred. Needless to say, one can exploit such a rich domain to extract gameable/storytelling content…

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Inspiring tidbits:

  • Cave of the 4 Winds
  • Caves of the Earth Lord/ Earth Owner
  • associated with rain and thunder spirits
  • Caves of the Inner Maze
  • Lair of  soul-stealing sorcerer
  • the cave opens its mouth at midnight
  • sacred stalagmites (guardians)
  • stone idols
  • Land of the Dead
  • body preserved by fire and then mummified
  • the Mazatec fear the Masters of the Earth who live underground
  • it is said that thunders are controlled by little old men
  • access to the cave-tunnel is difficult as it lies in a deep, steep canyon filled with enormous boulders; its size dwarfs the human visitor
  • representation of a skeletonized figure whose heart is still in place
  • shell trumpet, incense burner
  • cenotes are sources of evil winds; plants and animals that inhabit them , especially tortoise, are sacred

 

On the matter of Ambivalent Entities

or how to say no to D&D alignment:

From the Nahua perspective, nature is not always beneficient, and absolute good or evil does not characterize the major entities. A benevolent manifestation of the earth mother, tonantsij, may kill if she feels neglected, while even the feared spirit of death, miquilistli, can be entreated to spare a patient’s life. In the Nahua view, nothing happens without a cause.

Extract from Chapter 2, Rites of Passage and Other Ceremonies in Caves, Doris Heyden.

Liane the Wayfarer

I recently read the first of the Dying Earth books and was much delighted by the inventiveness of these short stories, with so many colorful characters…

Of course Cudgel the Clever is the most well-known, but here’s another, at least as unforgettable in my opinion:

Liane the Wayfarer

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Art: Konstantin Koborov

You could easily  be deceived by his looks, this guy is, in fact, a bonafide murderhobo!

I mean, beside being an overconfident jerk…

  • He tortures a couple (killing the woman in the process) so he can get a lead on some sort of bounty-hunting.
  • He wants to steal an object (one half of a tapestry), just so he can have his way with a beautiful woman.
  • He must hide his identity in a city, less his own nefarious reputation brings him unwanted attention.
  • He kills a helpful old man in cold-blood after questioning him ’cause there’s a slight chance, very hypothetically, that he serves someone he wants to steal from!

The romance of archeology: extract – V

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C.The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

Chapter Eight: Archaeology in British Isles, p 173-174

The stone huts cleared of sand are large, with ceilings as high as ten feet, but the doors are low, so that even a short man must stoop to enter. Inside a typical house were found stone tables, stone cupboard shelves, a fireplace, and scattered household articles of a seaside home of the Stone Age — bone laddles, drinking cups of whalebone, simple earthenware dishes, and polished stone axe-heads. in addition there were beads and amulets of walrus ivory, which the fishermen and their dark-haired wives wore to set off their costumes of animal skins or to ward off evil. An unexpected discovery was that huts were connected by a network of indoor streets made of roofed-over stone passages. The untidy villagers cast kitchen refuse on the roofs of these indoor streets, and at times even built campfire there and cooked their meals.

In the corner of one cottage the archaeologists discovered a mysterious grave containing two skeletons. These appear to be not the remains of inhabitants of the stone house but victims entombed by some gruesome rite when the house was built. Barbarians elsewhere have been known to sacrifice a victim at the foundation of a new building in order to confer a magic stability upon its walls. The meaning of the burials is carved in plain view on a slab in front of the grave; but the marks have defied modern scholarship. They are like, and yet unlike, runic letters.

The romance of archeology: extract – IV

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C.The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

Chapter 5: The Glorious Past of Hellas, p107-108

In the argolid, on a mountain spur 912 feet high, Schliemann in 1876 first found a double ring (87 feet in diameter) of stone slabs. Twenty-three feet below the surface he came upon the first of five graves. In it and the others (a sixth grave was discovered later) were found face masks of solid gold, bracelets, rings, daggers (sixty swords and daggers in one tomb), ivory, amber, silver, bronze, alabaster, diadems, pendants, grasshopers of gold with chains of gold wherewith the royal ladies attached them as ornaments on their dresses or in their hair; more than seven hundred ornaments in all. Nothing to equal this had ever been found before. Small wonder, it is not, that the world got into training for an archeological race?

The romance of archeology: extract – III

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C.The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

Chapter 3: Glamor of the Gift of the Nile, p67

Reisner believed  from the first that he had discovered, not a burial, but a reburial. Pharaoh Sneferu had made a tomb for his queen Hetepheres near his own pyramid at Dahshur. Sneferu died and was entombed. When Hetepheres died, her son Cheops placed her mummy in the prepared tomb, as is proved by inscriptions. Thieves broke into Queen Hetepheres’ tomb, but were discovered, and of course killed, before much treasure, if any, had been carried away. Cheops, seemingly, was having a secret tomb prepared near his own pyramid, but did not wait for its completion, but removed his mother to it at once.

Inside the tomb chamber was a marble sarcophagus, over which lay a number of faïence-inlaid sheets of gold. On the floor were several chairs overlaid with gold, and a set of eight marvelous toilet jars of alabaster. on what was left of a palanquin and bed were four identical inscriptions which, when translated, say: « the mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Follower of Horus, the guide of the ruler, the favorite one whose every word is done for her, the daughter of the god of his body, Hetepheres.  » Inside a gold-encased box […] containing deben rings,  » were found two sets of ten anklets. These rings for the legs are inlaid with dragon flies of malachite, lapis lazuli, and red carnelian. They are of different diameters, graduated in size to fit the leg. On the floor also were discovered three cups of gold, two gold and five copper razors, three gold and four copper knives, as well as several flint knives and many pieces of pottery and alabaster. To the dismay of the excavators, when the lid of the sarcophagus was raised, no mummy was inside. It must have been hidden somewhere else.

The romance of archeology: extract – II

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C.The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

Chapter 3: The Glamor of the Gift of the Nile, p 58

Queen Hatshepsut’s temple architect, Senmut, seems to have been this Egyptian Elizabeth’s Essex. In building the temple for his queen, he introduced his own portrait behind various doors in it. In the season 1927-1928, the Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian Expedition found he had also dared to start a tomb for himself deep down and directly beneath her temple. Only one room of his tomb had been decorated before his downfall. Its ceiling represents a chart of the heavens, the best, and one of the earliest astronomical charts thus far found. Senmut also brought down from Assuan to Karnak two granites obelisks 97 1/2 feet high for the Queen’s jubilee. They were the tallest obelisks ever made with the one exception of that erected at Heliopolis by her enemy (and also her half-brother and nephew), Thothmes III […]

The romance of archeology: extract

 

I’m gonna put a bunch of these extracts on my blog. I fucking love this book. The writing… the entertainment value is incredible!

Magoffin, R.V.D, Davis, Emiy C., The romance of archeology, Garden City Publishing Company Inc., 1929, New York

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Chapter One: The spade is mightier than the pen, p10

The recall of the veterans to arms was sponsored by Alcibiades, handsome, aristocratic, very rich, and very clever, and quite the most gifted in effrontery of any Athenian of that time; and in the sequel he proved to be the most debonair of all the plausible rascals of history. The soldiers, and boys under military age, and the discharged veterans all leaped to the call of opportunity. Our veteran in Euboea got together what little he needed, and then, before he left his new little house, he buried in a terra-cotta pot under his floor the balance of his money, among the pieces being a number of the new coins that had been minted that very year and paid to him when he was discharged. He hurried to Athens, was enrolled, and sent on board the fleet which was so eager to go that the ships raced one another down the Saronic gulf, as all the women of Attica on top of the houses at Piraeus waved them bon voyage. The expedition was the greatest debâcle of history. The entire force was killed or captured. The pot of coins, after 2,333 years, turned up accidentally by a spade in 1921, is one of the thousands of pitiful mortalities of that ill-starred expedition now archeologically authenticated.

Robin Hobb’s Elderlings are Dragonborns well done

I recently read the amazing Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb and one thing that leapt to my mind is how much more interesting the Elderlings are compared to D&D Dragonborns.

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In my actual (Chult) campaign, to contrast with my human-centric previous one, I’ve let the players choose any character race, « even the dumb ones » I said. I was kind of relieved when none of them chose to play a Dragonborn as, for me, this race is certainly one of the dumbest fantasy race out there.

 Shaped by draconic gods or the dragons themselves, dragonborn originally hatched from dragon eggs as a unique race, combining the best attributes of dragons and humanoids.

A cop-out if there ever was. At least there’s no sexually deviant dragons copulating with puny humanoids, oh wait, that’s where Half-dragons come from! Sigh…

Dragonlance’s  Draconians were not much better (I mean, how much stolen dragon eggs you need to make whole armies?!) but at least they replaced the overly used orcs.

Now, what about Hobb’s Elderlings?

They were ancient humans that pretty much lived side by side in a symbiotic society with dragons. Because of their proximity with these powerful beings’ essence and the occasional use of special rituals, they have acquired variable degrees of draconic traits: scaling, greater height, bright eyes, longevity and so forth. The culture of the Elderlings, what few glimpses we have of it, is also quite intriguing. All in all, much more convincing origins…