Thursday, May 15, 2014

Zankatzu and the Sea of Suloi

This post is about a part of my homebrew world.  Specifically, the Sea of Suloi, Zankatzu, and the surrounding islands.  However, large chunks of it are based on the culture and history of the South Pacific (especially Micronesia, because Micronesia is fucking awesome) so if you ever want to adapt an OSR game to have a South Pacific-ish theme, you can probably scrape some ideas here.

Bruhok and Zankatsu are the biggest islands in the area.
They flank the Bearded Ocean and the Sea of Suloi.

Nations of the Isles

There aren't any.  The islands are covered with hundreds of small cities and towns, each with their own history and heroes.  Some are banded into small confederacies, and some larger towns draw tribute from smaller, conquered ones.  But compared to the great nations on the mainland, they are all small and mostly identical.

The northern islands are considered more "civilized", since more of them have converted to Celestialism.  In the southwest you'll find more things like dragons and beastmen.

The nation of Keldon once tried to conquer the islands.  They had armor and ballista and more advanced magic.  For a while, they made great progress in subjugating the local population.  Their conquest was halted by three things.  (1) Their crops didn't grow very well in the sulfur rich soil, and led to starving settlements.  (2) The southern islands are infested with feral dragons, which quickly learned to fly higher, in order to scan the horizons for the highly visible sails of treasure-laden galleons.  (3) Disease.  The islands are home to some of the nastiest diseases in the world, and without any immunity, the Keldish quickly died.  A great many of them died after raping the locals, after being infected with a particular disease that was harmless in those who grew up around it, but lethal to outsiders.  They called it "rabbit disease" or "carrot-eating disease".

(As an aside, the locals avoid the dragons by traveling in clusters of smaller boats, rather than one large one.  They paint the ship blue, for better camouflage.  They only raise sails at night, and supplement their movement by paddling.  This makes crossing the open ocean dangerous, but it is ideal for island hopping.)

A small Keldish fortification, Fort Rhodoss, is still maintained on Zankatsu in order to give Keldon a safe harbor should they ever return, and also to conduct trade with passing ships.  However, most ships prefer to sail a bit further to the northwest, and stop at Whore Island (see below).

Nowadays, relations between the Keldish and the  are not as bad as they were.  Small numbers of Keldish will be regarded with suspicion, but not outright hostility.  Just be prepared to be teased about your inability to conquer anything.  

And never offer anyone coins;it is seen as an insult.  In the southern isles they use foreign coins as a way to challenge someone to a duel.  If someone throws a handful of gold coins at your feet, don't pick them up--draw your sword instead.

The mainland-based nation of Basharna is also tried to make inroads into the Isles.  It was a gentle approach, involving a dip of mercantilism and a dollop of religious conversion.  In fact, they even claim the entire island of "West Basharna" as their sovereign territory, despite the fact that West Basharna doesn't pay taxes, have any mainland Basharnese laws implemented, doesn't speak the same language as the mainland, and in fact, most West Basharnese couldn't tell you the name of the queen.  

The most mainland-ish city on West Basharna is called Kasmir.  It is a cultural fondue, full of Bashanese, Keldish, natives, marinel, and even a few beastmen.  It's also a very violent place.  A lot of the native religions directly oppose the churches of the new religion (Celestialism), who they (rightly) accuse of stealing converts and supporting the queen rather than their own people.  And there's a lot of old, bad blood between the native tribes that sometimes flares up in the marketplace, and leaves another corpse in a melon stand.

A map of Galipon.
(also Nan Madol was a real place, you should check it out.)
(seriously, twin sorcerers built a town a coral reef)

Galipon is a temple city.  Priests of several intersecting religions live there, where they sactify the temples (wherein their gods physically reside) and perform divinations in exchange for tribute, usually in the form of young adults.  The priests spill their own priestly blood, turn the blood into red ink, and then use this ink to tattoo the young people they have been given as tribute.  These tattoos turn them person into mind-slaves of the priests, and who then use them as mindless servants for the next 8 years.  After the duration is up, the tattoo is removed and the ex-slave is sent back to their village with no memory of the 8 years.

The town is composed of ~200 stone buildings arranged on artificial islands on top off and beside an off-shore reef.  Canoes are used to navigate between buildings.  Underwater fences enclose aquaculture farms.  Different pens are used to keep eels, sea turtles, and sharks, which are then sacrificed.  Many houses have "back doors", where a person could swim through narrow tunnels in the reef.  Some of these tunnels are very long, and some have dead ends, making the process dangerous for those who do not know the right way through them.

Galipon is not very welcoming to outsiders.  They've had a few messy run-ins with pirates who raided the town and stole some very valuable things.  But because they think of themselves as best equipped to represent the large and diverse island (and they might be) they try not to turn any ship away who approaches respectfully and with gifts.  For a suitable enough gift, their oracular services can be hired.

The greatest tribute that can be offered to the priests of Galipon is a living whale, usually subdued with harpoons and towed to the city.  The priests with remove the blubber of it's head, excavate the top of its skull, and burn a specially prepared incense on the flesh of its brain.  Then the whale will speak with the voice of men, and give prophesy to the people of Galipon.

Whore Island is a wretched patch of saltwater swamp with a single town called Whore Town.  The town exists because it is located halfway between two places that merchants and pirates would rather be.  A town of opportunity.

Whore Town was founded after the failed conquest of the Isles by a man called Hambogie.  It wasn't called Whore Town back then, of course.  It only acquired it's new name when Hambogie was searching for ways to lure ships away from Fort Rhodoss, because money.  That's also when he changed the name to "Whore Island".

In his quest to attract more pirate money to his island-town, he brought in drugs, rum, and whores.  Lots of whores.  And although the island turned into a true shit-hole, Hambogie got his money, and lived quite happily for a while.

That era of Whore Island's history ended when the brothels, as the most numerous institutions in town and certainly the only organized ones, revolted.  Hambogie was slit belly to neck, and his corpse was hung up in the town square.

Currently, whore island is administered by four large brothels, remnants of the revolution.  Nearly 500 people depend on the four brothels, which now jockey for supremacy amongst themselves.  It's not open war, but tensions are high, and members from one brothel frequently fight the others.  Each brothel-school has its own set of creeds, colors, and fighting styles.

The town remains a popular midpoint destination for both pirates and merchants, in part because the brothels still revolve around their original purpose (despite the politics, you can still get a good fuck in Whore Town).  In fact, because most of the town's leadership comes from the brothels and most of the brothel-workers are prostitutes, most of the town's leadership are whores.  The place is the world's only prostitutocracy.

Gengrimon is the largest city-state on the island.  It's xenophobic and deeply religious.  Death priests ride in amphibious chariots pulled by crocodiles.  Warlords sell tomb-gold in order to buy more slaves.  Sacred anacondas sun themselves in the street, painted symbols drying on their backs.  These great serpents usually eat the pigs that wander through the city, but sometimes they seize a villager and consume him, and it is forbidden to resist or strike back at these sacred snakes.

The priest-king of Gengrimon has eaten nor drank anything in the last four years except for human blood (and believes that he will soon be a vampire).  The city is infested with witches, who seek to end the priest-king's seclusion, and turn the vast machinations of Gengrimon to war, in order to unite the islands.  Failing that, they will kill the priest-king (who they love) with poisoned branches.

Foxentown is another den of pirates and heavily armed merchants.  It was founded by marinel who claim to have sailed over the Elterspine Mountains (see stormsailing).  Aside from having wenches, taverns, and rum, Foxentown also has a semi-reputable institution of knowledge: the Mariner's Library.

The Mariner's Library has the largest collection of maps in the world.  The Library is well guarded, and only accessible for friends of Governer Jaxon Halfspit.  Maps are deeply engrained in the culture of Foxentown, and it is not uncommon for debts to be paid in treasure maps.  Foxentown also has the only bank in the world audacious enough to offer paper currency (worthless anywhere else).  Different denominations of foxendollars have different treasure maps printed on them, which supposedly lead to different treasure hoards.  It is the treasure in these hoards that is supposed to prop up the value of the foxendollar.

The other thing of note in Foxentown is Foxenrum.  It's a bottle of middle-quality rum stuffed down the throat of a taxidermied fox.  They are is mostly sold to ignorant out-of-towners, or packaged for resale somewhere else.  For inexplicable reasons, this tacky export is fantastically popular in Meltheria and Asria.

Cutty is another hive of scum and villainy, although it is the smallest on on this section.  It's notable because it's mostly for islander pirates (as opposed to all of the white people pirates you'll find in Foxentown).  It's ruled by a leper king called The Great Bon Grell.  It has a shark graveyard.  Fishfolk sometimes stop by and do business, usually to buy worked metal.  They pay for their purchases with fistfuls of pearls, gold nuggets, and magical fish.


Fuck coins.  Currencies include beads, copra (dried coconut meat), and cowrie shells.  However, we probably should talk about rai stones.

Rai stones are huge stone donuts.  The largest of them are twice as tall as a man and weigh 4 tons.  A lot of these stones were quarried on a different island (one with limestone) and then shipped on canoes to its final destination.  They're presumably shaped like donuts because that's the easiest shape to transport when you've all you've got is a lot of manpower and some ropes.

Rai stones are money for the same reason that gold is money: because it's just awesome to look at.  But unlike gold coins, you can't exactly tip your bartender with one.  In fact, you aren't going to be moving it much at all.

That's because rai stones don't move, but ownership of them still changes.  It's all transmitted through oral history.  To spend a rai stone, you just publicly announce that you are giving your rai stone to someone else.  Rai stones are rare enough and huge enough that everyone can remember who owns which one at any given time.

Even the "civilized" merchant cities will use rai stones, simply because they are such fungible currency elsewhere.  In places like Fort Rhodoss or Foxentown, however, they'll probably give you a title certificate as well.

Even if a rai stone falls off a canoe and sinks to the sea floor, everyone can agree that it must still be there, and so even that rai stone is worth something, and it was traded and valued like any other.  It sounds sort of useless until you realize that they don't have to carry around any heavy piles of useless gold.  The "average" rai stone is worth about 2000 sp (using the silver standard), but it varies in both directions by an order of magnitude.

It doesn't stop there.

Dowries between chiefs are negotiated for the price of ownership of the peaks of a nearby mountain.  Maybe merchants sell their canoes in exchange for the ownership of a huge, beautiful, immobile crystal on the side of the mountain.  (And you can even find some naturalistic non-materialism in this--if the crystal were ever broken off and brought to market, it would be worth a lot less since it can no longer be seen and shared by the thing that gives it value--the villagers.)

(Actually, all currency is pretty fucking weird, now that I think about it.)

And of course you can trade names.  The title of "Slayer of the Purple Serpent" has got to be worth something.  You can either earn the title by killing the purple worm that is menacing the village, or buy it off of the guy that did.  Names entitle you to better treatment, and they're worth quite a lot in themselves.  The "average" name is worth about 5000 sp (using the silver standard), but it varies in both directions by an order of magnitude.

Interestingly enough, as the name changes owners, so does the retelling of the tale.  Of course, this depends on the storyteller being up-to-date on who currently owns the name.

"  . . . and so did Great Tova build the Eternal Wall, who is the grandfather of Mirok . . ."
"Sorry, Elder Storyteller, but Mirok was the descendant of Great Tova last week.  Now the descendant of Great Tova is Karkoot."
" Ah, then I misspoke.  And so did Great Tova build the Eternal Wall, who is the grandfather of Karkoot. . ."

Truth bends like a tree in the wind.


  1. Awesome post. Great information, especially loved the section about currency.

    But "carrot-eating-disease" is the best thing I've read today. ;-)

  2. This is ace. There are so many great ideas in this post and I want to steal all of them.

  3. Yeah, I concur with C.D. and Kelvin. There's a lot here that I will probably be adapting for my use. I've thought about an island archipelago based on Micronesia for a while now, ever since I read some of the Adventures Unlimited books dealing with the area. Good to see the ideas pre-digested for gaming use.