Saturday 9 May 2020

The Grand Kevuk Championship

Another bit rescued from the Inner Sphere blog:

The shrine of Niyunen, the Giver of Unlooked for Wealth, (an aspect of Hrihayal) is between the towns of Pala Jakalla and Hyatla in Jakasha Province. Starting on the 5th of Langala through to the 8th Langala the humid summer nights are filled with the rattle of dice as the grand yearly Kevuk championships are held. The courtyard of the temple is filled with booths and stalls selling food, drink and drugs, a veritable city of tents houses the festival goers, there are stages for musicians and dancers, and other gambling games carry on apace on the outskirts.

But the main event is in the central hall of the shrine, the Kevuk game. It is an unusual event in that the common street corner players who play for a few qirgal and a round of drinks get to challenge the aristocratic rakes who play for thousands of kaitars; wealth is not an issue here, and even social divisions are relaxed a little. It is all about luck and the fvaour of the Lady.

The selection of players for the final three days of gaming is made by drawing numbered lots at the start of the festival; 1000 play on the first day in groups of 10, the 100 winners play in groups of 10 on the second day, and the last 10 play on the last day, all games starting at sunset and ending at sunrise or when all players bar one are out of tokens. The winner gets to experience as many of the 32 Unspeakable Acts as they care to participate in free of charge (including the inevitably fatal 32nd if they so desire), free lodging at the temple for a year and, most prized of all, a jade bracelet of unusual design that denotes that they have been the favourite of Niyunen for that year.

Since it is first come first served for the big game, the event actually begins as early as late Didom, when hopefuls start to camp out in the temple grounds, and the first dice games inevitably start just to pass the time until the festival begins. Many a player has been reduced to penury by the time the Priests and Priestesses throw their gates open to the players of the sacred game.

Kévuk | Board Game | BoardGameGeek


Saving Utlen

Utlen hiTelsu, a youth of the impeccably aristocratic High Pinnacle clan, has not been seen for weeks. Before his disappearance he was on a determined path of drinking gambling and wenching and in the opinion of his elders possibly over doing it a bit. They have checked the debtors prisons and Ketengku temples and cannot find him there, they are hoping he will turn up at the Kevuk championship.

  1. He turns up as a player not of Kevuk, but Six-Glass, a very decadent game of chance involving six drinking glasses and a bottle of Dreaming Diamond Tsuhoridu. The normal game is played with five glasses of water and one of Dreaming Diamond, which most people can take maybe three or four shots of before passing out into a hallucination filled dream, the loser being the one who passes out first after several rounds of random drink selection. He gets to pay for the Tsuhoridu. The ‘fun’ version Utlen is playing involves five big glasses of Double Diamond (aka The White Mist of Inchoate Dreams) and one of poison. All persons go out after the first drink, but only five wake up half an hour later. They are usually so mashed they immediately set the glasses up for another game. Winner/survivors are considered a) mad but also b) blessed by Hrihayal and therefore gain +2 on any seduction rolls among those who think this sort of thing is cool.

  2. He is in the big game, and he had better win. He has made a side bet with a ‘friend’ of his of some 10,000 kaitars that he will make it to the last round. If he doesn’t he will become that friends property as a slave. The friend, depending on how evil the GM is feeling, may be another foolish rake doing it for a laugh, a priestess of Dlamelish who will just use him as a sex toy for a while, or a priest of Ksarul who needs a good looking youth for a demonic sacrifice he has planned. In any case other friends of his will be breaking the rules by intimidating and/or killing rival players, and his opposition will be trying to get people to swap numbers so he inevitably faces the best players in the field.

  3. He turns up not as a player but a prize. He has been introduced to Zu’ur and is one of a batch of addicted slaves who are being offered as prizes in a high-stakes Tlatlen game.

  4. He turns up as a slave merchant. He is up to his eyeballs in debt and he has hit on a pretty creepy but workable method of making some money back by offering to buy the children of big losers as slaves at a real knock-down rate. He has accomplices targeting those attendees known to have families and inveigling them into crooked kevuk games.

  5. He doesn’t turn up. However it does get about that some bunch of guys are looking for a kid called Utlen and they are inundated with random people called Utlen, drunks and junkies claiming to have seen him and willing to tell them about it for a few kaitars, panderers who know a lovely young lad called Utlen they should meet, variously unconvincing fake Utlens who think they can pass themselves off as him long enough to get access to some of High Pinnacles’ cash etc. etc.

  6. He turns up, but his activities are obscure to say the least. He is disguised as a sailor and is hanging about with the most debauched sorts imaginable but appears to be staying away from most of the considerable temptations on offer. He has in fact been secretly recruited by the OAL to ‘go undercover’ and ferret out Zu’ur smugglers. A bunch of fools turning up and telling everyone that he is a young nobleman will seriously screw things up and put his life in danger.

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Tugo the Lucky

Tugo is a latrine digger (or corpse washer, street sweeper or other yucky very low clan occupation). He also happens to be pretty good at kevuk, and has a knack for spotting when a bird is going to poop on people. He is cutting a swathe through the festival, filling his pockets with small change at the lesser kevuk pits, coin tossing, hoopla and wheel of fortune stalls.

  1. The story of the lucky pleb have got about. A certain priest of Gruganu has a theory; in all the games he is good at some physical object is involved – a wheel, dice, a hoop and so on. He reckons this fellow is a raw psychic with a powerful telekinetic ability and wants him recruited to the temple. PCs must observe him and see if they can confirm or deny this suspicion; teaching him tsahlten and seeing how he does might work. If a mage is available he might be able to detect the psychic energies in his vicinity during a game. He might not want to come with you – threatening or trying to kidnap him might result in some difficulty as he will instinctively use telekinetic force to avoid capture.

  2. As 1. but Tugo is well aware of what he is doing; this is no wild talent, he is a sorcerer in disguise. His temple is one of the dull and straight-laced stability ones that frowns on using magic to affect the outcome of dice games, but he decided to slip out and have a laugh. Apprehending him might prove tricky, as he is well trained with some very hairy abilities.

  3. AS 2, but Tugo is not just any old sorcerer, he is an Undying Wizard, come to this probability and time to find some really awful demon and deal with it. The messing about at the gaming tables is just a ruse to attract the attention of a certain Gruganu priest who lies at the centre of the nefarious and world-threatening goings on.

  4. Tugo is a demon in disguise. He is looking to gain attention from some of the big cheeses at the fair and challenge them to a game of kevuk for a sum unspecified (it will turn out to be their souls…). If they accept a game with a latrine cleaner they are demeaning themselves, but if they refuse, they will never know if they really are the best Kevuk player. With the right style and quantity of charm and ego prodding he might manage it.

  5. Tugo is a very lucky hick on an extraordinary roll of good fortune. This is likely to come to an end, as the PCs over hear a couple of jealous lowlife types planning to relieve the jolly menial of his winnings. He’s a latrine digger, who will investigate or pursue shamtla? Do the players let this happen, mug him themselves, or protect him? What is the decent thing in these circumstances as far as their temple is concerned?

  6. Tugo is blessed by Hrihayal; his astrological chart has some perfect trines and other aspects, he was born to play dice. Someone who investigates his background appropriately might persuade him of this fact, or if not him, then perhaps the temple staff. There would be a big reward from the temple for discovering a person in whom Niyunen is so manifest.
PCs may hear a curious rumour about him – he is allegedly a penis thief! A couple of people near him at one of the stalls ran away screaming saying that their penises had disappeared. If they track down these persons it turns out to be true. This is because they tried to pick his pocket and the goddess Hrihayal exacted appropriate revenge on behalf of her chosen son.


The Law of Chance

An event like the festival needs careful and discreet policing. It can’t be left to run itself, gambling, drugs, drink and sex all in one place in large amounts will almost inevitably lead to something else in even bigger amounts – violence and theft. Various agencies take an interest in the festival and its legal side.

  1. The Order of the Absolute Light of Justice are a lesser sect of the temple of Hnalla (with a few Karakan, Thumis and Chegarra adherents thrown in) who are dedicated to maintaining the utmost standards of probity and decorum in public life. A bunch of puritanical busybodies in other words, and it is their contention that gambling of any kind is an affront to the orderly running of the Empire and probably the universe as well, as all events are preordained by mighty Lord Hnalla and betting on them is blasphemous. Under the rules of the Concordat they cannot ban the Kevuk Festival, but they can turn up and poke their noses into everyone’s business and make sure every petty infraction of the word of the law is scrupulously investigated and the offenders punished. PCs are either a member of the sect trying to uncover as many ‘crimes’ as possible and/or convert the benighted gamblers to the way of Absolute Light, or one of the long suffering policemen who follow them about trying to keep the fools out of trouble.

  2. The Temple Guard of Hrihayal are pretty easygoing lot; fat, lazy and corrupt might be a little uncharitable, but not entirely inaccurate. However the Kevuk Festival does require them to be a bit more on the ball than usual – the provincial governor keeps getting it in the ear from those Hnalla twerps about the amount of petty crime it attracts and they might be forced to scale the thing back or stop it entirely. The PCs are draftees from the Jakalla temple, unsure of the how things are done at the festival and have to try and keep order in a Hrihayal-ish fashion. A challenge to roleplaying if ever there was one.

  3. As 2. but life is made a tad more complicated by the presence of a gang of lads from the Chiteng Temple. They are supposed to be providing muscle to back up the Hrihayal guards should armed force be necessary, but seem to be more intent on getting drunk as lords, spending their pay at the gaming booths before they even get it and getting laid. Being Chitengi, they doing all of the above with maximum aggression, seeing how many people they can intimidate and/or beat up and/or impale for public order offences along the way.

  4. as 3, but not to worry, a cohort of the Legion of Gusha the Khirgari are on leave after a long and boring garrison duty in the Pass of Skulls, and have turned up on a regimental day out to the festival without their officers a day after they received three months back pay.

  5. Zu’ur is on sale at the festival. The OAL want to know who is selling it, and where they got it from. Keep your knives hidden but keep them sharp, Zu’ur smuggling gangs are nearly as well organised and vicious as the OAL itself. Fortunately the forested garden of the Temple of Niyunen offers many places to set ambushes and hide corpses.

Luck and Death

There is of course a distinct possibility that PCs may just want to turn up at such an event and have a game of dice and bit of a laugh. The following options are mere random events and situations they may encounter at the festival.

  1. Lucky Kuruku Feet are on sale, a must for any gambling man looking for an edge. Trouble is they are not quite dead, and may randomly reanimate in the dead of night, grab something small but valuable and finger walk their way back through the gardens to the villain who is selling them.

  2. Scandal at the Tsahlten tent erupts when players accuse one of the judges of bias. Tsahlten is a high class game for the well heeled, and the poor judge, a mere low clanner from the Bright Sword, cannot act against the high clan complainers. To make matters worse his honour is being further impugned by another judge from the Clan of the Balanced Stone who says he definitely was cheating. A matter of honour is rapidly escalating out of control, duels may be fought.

  3. A popular side show among the lower clan types is the contest to see which woman attending the festival has the biggest breasts and which man the biggest penis (don’t titter, this is deeply seriously religious stuff to a goddess like Hrihayal!). The appropriate organ is weighed and a prize of the equivalent in silver is awarded to the winner, or their owner should they happen to be a slave. The PCs may want to enter, trawling the slave markets of Jakalla for a suitable contestant, or may have been asked to find a sponsor for the contest if they are followers of Hrihayal or Dlamelish. A prize slave dancing girl, Orella, a lass with a chest like two chlen-calves fighting over a turnip, has gone on the run – if she makes it to the festival she would probably win the prize and if not buy her freedom, at least make enough cash to get home to Salarvya.

  4. An utterly bizarre funeral is taking place at the festival this year. Lady Gashon hiYtlenu has finally expired from the side effects of her deep devotion to Hrihayal, and as a final act of piety is donating her preserved corpse to the temple for use in certain necrophiliac rites. The funeral procession is a sight many will not forget in a long while, and as for those privileged to see the ‘interment’…
  5. Shen shouldn’t gamble really, they become addicted too easily and they are poor losers. In fact that big one over there is such a poor loser he is running amok with a sword-axe and, oh look, he is heading your way...

  6. A fantastic new game is sweeping the festival – cat racing! The Clan of the Hidden Hand have created tiny carts and puppet cart-drivers and hitched them to tiuni. The spectacle is chaotic but hilarious and it costs a lot just to get into the pavillion and have a look, let alone put a bet on. Aficionados of the dying art of dog-racing, a sport much like greyhound racing on Earth using saluki-like tlekku, are appalled and want the farce banned forthwith.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Many years ago now I had a blog called 'The Inner Sphere' entirely devouted to EPT. Events in James Maliszewski's 'House of Worms' campiagn has reminded me of something I wrote about the nefarious workings of the temple of Ksarul, so I have dug it out.

All of the following is non-canonical, but if I am GMing EPT excpet some of the nonsense below to be true in my game...

Ksarul, Ancient Lord of Secrets

Ksarul is the Tsolyani god of secrets, mysteries and magic. Like all Tsolyani deities his religion is a complex business with 62 different recognised aspects (plus a few local ones), a close relationship with his 'cohort' Gruganu and his 27 aspects.

Ksarul goes by numerous epithets; the most common is 'The Doomed Prince of the Blue Room', alluding to his aeons long imprisonment in a room hung with deep blue curtains, permanently asleep, surrounded by ten impregnable magical walls. Even in this comatose state Ksarul is a mighty god.

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This religion is a mystery cult writ large. Believers accept that the 'Outer Doctrines' as taught to lay members are essentially false, and that as a priest rises within the temple more and more of the true 'Inner Doctrines' are revealed to him. 

What constitutes real promotion in the temple is complicated by the presence of three major mutually mistrustful sects and the presence of the secret 'Inner Sphere', the membership of which is unknown and which directs the actions of the temple through secret meetings and subtle pressures.

The Temple of Ksarul operates on a paradox - everyone is expected to behave with utter faith and sincerity, doing what their higher ups tell them is the will of the Doomed Prince at all times and without question, while at the same time making it perfectly clear members of it's clergy are not only expected to tell lies to those below them in the hierarchy, it is their religious duty to do so.

This is Zen Stalinism, deliberate belief in a dictatorship that you know is lying to you, in order to gain sufficient knowledge and power to become a liar yourself. Add to that the fact that there are several different interpretations of what the will of the Doomed Prince actually is, and that it is difficult to know precisely who your superiors are when the most important ones - the Inner Sphere - lurk within the temple as spies on their own people.

Never, ever question whether a superior is telling you the truth. He is probably lying and certainly keeping various salient facts from you, possibly for your own good, possibly not, but never come right out and say it to their face, or even subtly imply that you do not trust the smiling goon as far as you can throw him/her. 

However Ksarulites are not gullible, far from it, the religion values intelligence (as opposed to wisdom, the domain of Thumis). And thus ambitious types are always on the lookout for opportunities to work out what kind of conspiracy is really going on, to spy on each other, steal documents, use blackmail and so on in order to ensure that they on the inside of any conspiratorial cabal pissing out and not one of the urinated on.

Of course all temples are like this to some extent (even those snivelling Thumis wimps) but with the Ksarulites it is tacitly accepted, and a follower caught in the act of any number of petty treacheries and misdemeanours will get off comparatively lightly - and might even be marked for promotion as being a person with a bit of flair and ambition and a suitably change deity attitude to stuffy stablity-favoured things like precedent and hierarchy.


Ksarulite Masks

Priests of Ksarul wear black robes with silver masks depicting the blandly smiling and friendly face of their deity, and square mortarboard like head-dresses, female priests have black wooden masks of the same kind. 

This kit is stiflingly hot, and unless they are attending a ceremony most priests will just wear the hat with a black and deep blue collar and a black kilt with a silver belt. Unlike priests of other religions Ksarulites do not usually wear insignia depicting their Circle rank; you often have no idea if you are talking to a junior clerk or a temple commandant, and given the vagaries of the Inner Sphere system the junior clerk may in fact have more real authority.

When they talk to the laity or say a chant or prayer in their role as a priest or priestess they use a droning sing-song voice that makes it hard to tell one from another. You will know whether it is a priest or priestess, but that is about it.

It is a tale the Ksarulites like to spread that the truly powerful among them like to circulate among the lower clergy and laity incognito and with deep cover indentities. That sweeper who works in the lower cloister, with a cast in one eye and muutters to himself? May well be the Chagun Hikkolei, Commander of Energies and Powers, a sorcerer outranking the High Priest himself... 


Sects of Ksarul

There are three major sects within the temple, each with its own spin on the theology and mythology of Ksarul; the reasonably open Society of the Blue Light, the ultra secretive Refulgent Blue Curtain Society which dominates in Tumissa and the Chakan provinces and the feared Ndalu society which conspires to gain greater political power for the temple. (See the Temple of Ksarul netbook and Mitlanyal Vol 2 for further details.)

There are numerous lesser sects, three of which are detailed below.

Cartographers of the Luminous Pylon

This is a group of two dozen adherents of Ksarul and Gruganu (and one of Dlamelish) based in Tumissa who are trying to map the many alternative demon planes. They are seeking to do this not through visiting these mostly lethal places, but through visions and scrying. They are of the opinion that it ought to be possible to use psychic methods to look into the other planes just as it is possible to use clairvoyance and telepathy; it is just a matter of getting your mind into the appropriate state of consciousness. They mostly do this through immoderate use of drugs. They communicate their findings through pictures and poetry, trying to capture the true otherworldly essence of the places they have seen in bizarre abstract paintings and incantations that appear to be gibberish.

Serious magicians regard them as dangerous loonies and disdain their methods and loathe the provocative and ungrammatical way they express their ideas, but the Cartographers are sure that they are onto something, perhaps the biggest revolution in magical theory and practice since Llyani times. The temple hierarchy will not stamp them out however; perhaps they secretly think the Cartographers will produce something useful, perhaps they are useful to the temple as a fertile source of false and confusing doctrines to baffle the uninitiated as to what Ksarul worship is really about.

The Cartographers have no hierarchy as such, just a charismatic leader, Zuthau hiTlekku of the Dark Fear clan, who pays for much of the 'work' out of his own pocket. Meetings of the Cartographers take place at Aubshoi's Palace of Alchemy shop in the Arcade of Three Lamps. They often start out like poetry readings or art exhibitions, proceed into drugged and drunken debauches and fairly frequently end in fist fights over disputed aspects of transplanar theory. Once in a while they will try an experimental incantation, which even more rarely will, after a fashion, work. 

They were banished from the temple proper when a particularly annoying plague of demonic teleporting crickets spewed forth from one of their nexus gates and infested the temple for weeks.

Stalkers of the Indigo Night

A secret organisation dedicated to protecting Ksarul and Hru'u pilgrims on the road to the shrines at the ruined city of Hmakuyal. Most people are well aware of the shrines, but the official line is that they are secret, and certainly no non-worshipper is allowed into the underground complex beneath the city, and access for most lower order clergy and lay members is seriously restricted. The Stalkers are made up of members of the Temple guard from Ksarul, Gruganu and Hru'u, and given the sinister nature of these cults are likely to have other functions as well as policing.

Whisperers in the Velvet Dark

This is an order of dedicated seers. Every major city temple will have a few such and a special secret chapel and cloister housing them. The fully initiated Whisperers are not allowed to be in the presence of light of any kind, if they are exposed even to lamplight they lose their gift of prophecy and incur an arduous period of re-purfication. Their apprentices are sometimes seen around the ordinary lamp-lit levels of catacombs, flitting to and fro unmasked but with their eyes sewn shut, touching the wals to feel the carvings that guide them around the temple. The novices stumble about even on the upper levels at night blindfolded learning this craft.

The priests of this sect are needed to perform the Acts of the Velvet Dark, and also perform divinations for the higher priesthood. Rich laymen may also consult them, being led blindfold through unlit labyrinths by the apprentices and allowed to listen in on their whispering rites from adjacent cells. 

Once a year they issue an almanac of prophecies for the laity, a nice little earner for the temple scriptoria, but since the originals are written by blind people working in total darkness and in black ink on black dyed vellum made from the hide of unhatched Shuoleth demons scribal interpretations are by neccessity a little free.


The Inner Sphere

The most important institution in the Temple of Ksarul is the Inner Sphere, a temple within a temple, the knowers of the most secret secrets and paracticioners of the most potent magics.

This is not be confused with the 'Inner Temple' - this is merely the holiest part of a physical Temple, the sanctuary made in the form of the Blue Room and its subterranean adjuncts like the Cloister of the Velvet Dark, the Hall of Encroaching Nullity and Halls of the Priesthoods of Shadow.

Nor has it anything directly to do with the 'Inner Doctrines', the succession of secrets a priest may be initiated into as he rises from circle to circle in the 'Outer Sphere' of the temple, its outwardly apparent hierarchy.

The Inner Sphere is a network of cells within the temple and occasioanally extending to the laity. Each member will know a few bits of spycraft that enable him to stay in touch with his cell. He or she probably not know the identities of his fellow cell members with any certainty, as they only ever meet masked and robed and using tricks and magic to disguise their voices. Each cell will have a grandiloquent or utterly mundane title like 'The Jilted Lovers of Kriyag', 'Zanatl's Hidden Blades', 'The Thirteenth Day Luncheon Club', 'The Collectors of Ji-Flies' or some such.

One member of a cell will the the 'First' and will be a member of a higher cell. Some will in turn be the first of a lesser cell with people to reporting to them. The orders passed down to each cell are every much on a 'need to know' basis, and allegedly utlimately originate at the Doorway of the Blue Room, where demons sit in communion with the mighty dreaming mind of the Doomed Prince himself. In addition each cell may make local adjustments to plans, submit reports to higher cells and manipulate the action of lower cells. 

And there are plenty of False Spheres, those who are told only fake secrets and given meaningless rites and tasks to perform. A given worshipper will never know whether they are in a real Inner Sphere cell or one of the False ones. There are quite defintely spheres made up of only the stupid and least adept at spycraft to create a lot of silly so and sos sneaking about as a diversion from the real secret societies. 

One of the few religious crimes the Ksarulites will act upon (through secret assassination of course) is the heresy of suggesting that all Spheres are false spheres, that the whole arrangement of cells is circular and the secrets passed about no more than 'Livyani whispers', spin and distortion piled on rumour forever recirculating and that the Doomed Prince is in fact dead and says nothing.