Ghartha, the Tomb-World IV (and Collaboration!)

Firstly, apologies for my lateness on this post. I’ve had to transfer to a different work location as my old one has closed down, and I had to help close it, so time became very scarce in the last week or so. Hopefully my posts will become more frequent now that I’ve settled. We’ll see.

I divine one more post about Ghartha after this one, and I invite you to collaborate on this post with me! I’ll be listing some adventure locations, and if you’re inspired to write one in the comments I’ll add it to list!

I’m really excited about this setting and may use it as my main Dungeons and Dragons Next setting come August, or at least as one of them. After the last post of Ghartha, I’ll be working on an update of my Airship Rules, unifying them into a single post and simplifying the mechanics for better ease of use as well as offering more options for designs and stuff. Sound fun?

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Ghartha, The Tomb-World IV

Adventuring in the Tomb-World

As has been mentioned, adventuring in Ghartha can be both very lucrative and very dangerous. It is a near-common profession for those with little to call their own, and the demand for relics of the ancient past from the dead cities that lie waiting in the dark is always feverishly high. Entire religions can be made, or broken, by the lore found within the crumbling walls of an abandoned temple, and every piece of knowledge is literally power.

There are certain things that adventures need to take into consideration when traversing the tunnels and chambers of Ghartha to ensure survival and some semblance of safety. The most important, of course, being the ever present darkness. Those that live within the cities may forget about how total the darkness can be, for they rely on the light of the vents as well as the artificial glow rods that illuminate the streets and edifices. Without a means of light, you simply cannot see. Though certain races of non humans do have natural darkvision to circumvent this.

The torch and the glow rod are the most common, and needed, item that adventurers pack for long journeys. Torches are made from the woody stalks of tubular cavern plants that grow in thick forests where waterways are present, and are cheap but less reliable. Glow rods are made with the same material, but a piece of abbugirrub stone is set into the top. This stone glows brightly when touched with fire, and remains so for a long while, usually a few hours. It heats up as well, but not as hot as fire gets, and hiding the light is as simple as tying a cloth around it. The stone is fairly common, but expensive due to the extraction processes. Still, many adventures feel the cost is worth having at least a couple of them for their reliability.

Transportation is another concern, and the most common form is by cart. These are pulled by the beasts of burden called orlabs, pink hairless and stout quadrupeds with stubby snouts and blind eyes. They traverse by scent and sound alone, and thus need some manner of steering. Those with coin, however, tend to go for the emesteeds, lean bipedal lizards with long legs and a bony crest over their brows. They can gallop at a very quick gate for a long period of time, and they are carnivorous and can hunt game within the wilderness caverns with striking ease. Well trained emesteeds are very loyal and vicious in battle. Not well trained ones, however, can easily turn upon their rider. Though strong enough for a single rider, they usually can’t drag loaded carts.

Food and water are important as well, for there are stretches of barren rock and earth in the wild places of Ghartha. And water from an untrusted source could have all manner of foul thing, from poison to algae to dark enchantments, lurking within. What can be used for food in the wilds would be the numerous mushrooms found growing everywhere, a variety of stout creeping plants, tubular plants that grow in long stalks in bunches or even forests, as well as wild game. Wild emesteed lizards, for instance, are prized for the meat, but are quite dangerous to hunt.

Locations for Adventure

Listed here is a variety of locations in Ghartha for you to use as inspiration for your adventures. I hope that they detail the variety of strangeness that I hope to bring to the setting. The purpose of this list is more to help bring forth the themes and atmosphere of Ghartha. If you have any inspiration for a setting, please

Abburam

Abburam is a ruined city that sprawls over a gigantic chasm in the middle of a huge hollow. There are three gigantic stone bridges that span the expanse, but two of them have collapsed into the unknowable darkness, and the third seems to be on it’s way. The city seems to have been abandoned relatively recently by Gharthan standards; probably in the last century or so. No living inhabitants have ever been found, and their disappearance has been both mysterious and harrowing for scholars and travellers.

The architecture of Abburam is of low, squarish buildings, with no structure having more than two stories, and of these they are few. They are sprawled in a very geometric way, as if the city was built entirely to some plan rather than developing organically over time. While most buildings are square and cube-like, some are triangular, and still other hexagonal, and those that have mapped some of the city believe that it has a strange symmetrical design if viewed from above.

The most defining feature of the dead city are the silver etchings; throughout the city, along roads and up onto walls and over roofs, are thick bands of metallic etching. They criss cross across the city, all of them part of lines that seem to all group together on the ruined bridges and extend back out into the second half of the city. Whatever pattern they create is impossible to know without seeing the city from above, which is an impossibility. The few scholars who have managed to study the metallic etchings have come away with two features; One, they appear to be magnetic in some way, though their polarity varies depending on where you are in the city, and two, they seem to respond to certain tones of sound, which affects their polarity.

There is a reason why the city hasn’t been studied more closely, despite it’s relative nearness to actual points of civilization. At certain times, the bands will appear to pulse with vibration or energy, and from the chasm of the city a strange sound will erupt. It has been described by witnesses as an almost animal scream or roar while at the same time sounding like the scraping or twisting of metal. The piercing sound fills the city, and many who hear it simply flee. One group of scholars and adventurers went to the city to stay when the sound was made, however.

Later, only one of the party was found, or at least part of him. The scholar’s torso with head still attached, though little else, was found lying along one of the metallic etchings. All of his wounds were cauterized, and seemed so surgically precise that it must have taken hours to remove his limbs.

The Crypt-City of Loighoif

One city, quite far from the current city-states, reachable within months of travel from one of the ‘border’ cities, is Loighoif. Loighoif is a city made entirely up of tunnels; rather than being built in the large geological chambers where cities usually develop. None of the tunnels are natural, all being carved from the living rock with great skill. There are a number of entrances into the city, and some adventurers have inadvertently found new ones while exploring tunnels. The true size of the city is unknown.

The tunnels are a huge maze of an almost hive like structure, with stairwells, inclines, and cross sections built upon each other in such a confusing way that only the areas directly near the most well known entrances have been mapped. While it must have been a city, it also seems to have doubled as a tomb, as throughout the complex sarcophagi of black stone line the halls and tunnels. Whoever have lived here must have lived their day to day lives with the dead beside them.

What decoration is in the complex seems to be based around using the black rock they used for the sarcophagi as well as gold, which seems to have been abundant for the city. In fact, the main interest for adventurers taking the long journey to the city is to find the legendary gold mines of Loighoif. Though never seen, the amount of gold used in decoration and jewelry found on the corpses suggests their existence. Finding anything in the complex maze of tunnels, however, has thus far been an impossible task.

The most notable treasure found in Loighoif wasn’t gold, however. An adventuring party had found a new entrance while traveling somewhere else entirely, hundreds of miles from the next nearest entrance, that led into lower chambers. These chambers were far more ruined than the mostly intact upper levels of the city, and many of them had flooded from some ground water spring. The sarcophagi had been smashed from some powerful explosion or quake, and many of the skeletal corpses were simply floating in pools of murky water. Here they witnessed as well strange lights that floated above the water, like little purple flames, but could find no explanation for them. After a full day exploration, they came across a huge inner chamber, larger than any other part of the structure found thus far, that was built in an almost stepped amphitheater style. In the middle of the room on a raised stepped platform sat a very ornate sarcophagus without a lid. Lying in the casket was a figure wrapped in shrouds of linen and silk, with a golden mask covering it’s face. In the arms of the mummified figure, clutched to it’s chest like a child, was a large tome of gold plates.

The casket, the corpse, and the book were all removed from the crypt city and taken to the merchant city Tel’Brakk, where the adventuring group started a cult based around the shrouded figure and the book. The gold plates of the book were written in a language unknown at the time, but the now high priest who had been the leader of the party claims to have received the wisdom of the masked one to divine their meaning.

Scholars who have been able to look at the book are skeptical of the cult, and some say that the book is simply one in a series, due to the unfinished nature of the story told by the pictograms.

Ever since the book had been removed, it should be noted, accidents and disappearances have begun within Loighoif, when before it had been deemed pretty much safe for the wary scholar.

Yakka-makka

Yakka-makka is a very ancient city, noted for it’s advanced ruined state. Many of the buildings are crumbling and the air is filled with chalky dust of ages. It is within a smaller geological chamber, not being very large compared to modern cities. It is said to have been very beautiful once, as the place is filled with the remains of fountains, gardens, and aqueducts that must have once filled the city with water from some source.

The city is built around a large courtyard area, which must have once been filled with gardens of plants that no longer grow. Here the dusty ruins of the city are in the worse state, with no free standing building within sight. Just piles of rubble and the foundations of what must have once been exquisite buildings. Why the city is in such a great state of decay few can tell; the architecture seems like it should have withstood the test of time, and many point to some war of ancient times beyond reckoning. There is nothing within the city, seemingly, of any worth, though a strange phenomena leaves it the top of the list for both scholars to study, and for adventurers to stay far, far away.

Throughout the cobbled roads of the city in piles are bones, scattered about randomly. It would be difficult to walk the roads of the city without stepping on them or kicking them. And, as if controlled by some unknown cycle, at certain points in time, a chiming can be heard in the city, though no bell has ever been found.

The chiming starts, and then from far away the sounding of some flute or pipe. The sound is both sweet and discordant, as if played by someone who was once a master musician but age has taken much of skill away. The piping starts slow and sorrowful, but begins to pick up. This is when the bones begin to form. Drawn by some force, they skid across the stones and begin to form skeletons, and as the pipe or flute begins a very jaunty jig, the skeletons begin to simply dance in a frenzied manner. All throughout the city the skeletons of the ancient civilization dance, though not in any certain way. The jerking way they move is said to be nauseating and horrible, even though the music seems to be bright and happy.

The most horrible thing, however, is that as the jig reaches a crescendo, any living listener cannot help but join the dancers, dancing about in a seizure like way. Any caught within this enchantment can’t seem to stop, even as they scream for help and cry out in pain. The dance lasts for days, and when they finally collapse, they seem to have been dead for hours yet.

The only witnesses to bring the tales of this danse macabre are elves, who seem to be unaffected by the enchantment, if not the horror.

The reason for the dance is unknown, and much of the city remains unexplored due simply to no one wanting to travel there, despite the intense interest of scholars. It has become common to refer to a fool’s errand or a very dangerous task as a ‘trip to Yakka-makka’ due to this.

Ziggalophet

This huge ancient city is infamous as the origin for the Mascedian halfling peoples. It was here that the entire race was subjecated as slaves for labor, service, and the sick pleasure of their masters, whose name have been forgotten in the fog of time. Ziggalophet is sometimes called the city of pits, because between a lot of the foreboding monolithic structures are huge pits that are ringed with spikes, where once the slaves of the city were kept or pushed through like cattle through a run.

The city is very large, and has various levels and structures built upon each other. Many of the greater buildings reach high, being the former pleasure palaces of the overlords, raised high to escape the stench of the below city. Even now, the huge number of flaming vents within the city give it a smoky reddish glow. The brutalism of the architecture, lacking any decoration or adornment, gives the city an oppressive atmosphere.

The city is more or less intact, and the true fall of the city was more social than physical. The overlords, it was said, growing corpulent on the pleasures of life, without needing to work thanks to their huge number of slaves, ever sought more and more extreme pleasures. Often this involved pain and unspeakable acts, usually committed upon slaves. Magical lore, too, was sought after as a way to further explore the pleasures of the universe, and many dark acts were committed openly, with many sacrifices made during the almost theatrical rituals. During the time right before it’s fall, it was said to be a place of such horror and blasphemy that blood and rot permeated the air many miles beyond it’s entrances.

The degenerate overlords were overcome by their own slaves in the end, with a huge revolt that was said to have become a week of butchery. The madness of some of the overlords was said to be so great that many ran into the spears of the slaves, laughing and exulting in the pleasure of pain and death. The creatures were dragged down and butchered where they were found, and after the week the slave army simply fled, leaving the smoke and blood filled pit city of flame alone in the darkness.

Contact was reestablished with the city relatively recently, though those that saw immediately knew it to be the city of the Mascedians. The vents still glowed and spurted flame and fumes, making it one of the few dead cities that could be reestablished. However, due to it’s reputation and it’s simply terrible atmosphere, this is not seen as a viable course of action by many. The current denizens of the city also have proven to be very dangerous.

Adventurers who have explored the city have reported monstrous humanoids haunting the rigid stone structures. Gray or pale skinned, they are fat in the body but skinny on the limbs, and walk on all fours despite seeming bipedal. They’re fat faces are almost frog like, and are said to constantly be using their fat tongues to lick about their lips. They are completely silent as well, creeping along the shadowy passages, and ambushing strangers. They use no weapon, they simply grab and beat upon their victim, crushing their skull against the stone, and dragging the body away. They are cowardly, but attack viciously when they can take a target unawares.

They seem to worship a demon, for adventurers who have fought and killed some have found flat demonic idols on rough fibrous cords around some of their necks. The depiction of the demon is one of great girth, with a crown of spikes, and a face that looks as if the bottom jaw had been ripped off. A long tongue hangs down where the ruin of the mouth is.

Speculation among scholars is that the strange denizens are what is left of the former overlords of the city, the natural evolution of so degenerate a race. The existence of the demon is debated, though those that visit the city for loot seem to avoid the vents, for those are believed to be tunnels into the lower levels of Ghartha where demons lurk.

As mentioned before, I would love if any of you readers want to add your own strange location, filled with cyclopean ruins and horrifying creatures to my list here. Post it in the comments and I’ll add it in. Thanks!

(to be continued, one more time…)

2 thoughts on “Ghartha, the Tomb-World IV (and Collaboration!)

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