A Little Mo Nomo

Yes, it’s another pseudo-lazy blog post. I’ve been busy as a beaver writing the latest hex crawl (and you have to assume a beaver would be incredibly busy trying to write a hex crawl, what with their lack of opposable thumbs – dams and hex crawls require completely different skill sets), and haven’t had time to do much non-hex crawl writing. I’m doing pretty good at this point – about 45 more entries to go. This time around, I’m trying to do an entire map in one issue. In the old days (I’ve been writing long enough I think I can call them “old days”) I broke the maps in two, east and west, and handled each in a different issue, sometimes with an issue focusing on cities in between. If I had done the Nomo hex crawl the old way, I would have been done writing a few weeks ago for NOD 31.

The reason behind this move was not a burning desire to work harder, but rather that I had a request for a Mesopotamia hex crawl, and in preparing to write that, I realized that my version of Mesopotamia, the dread plain of Kisthenes, was next door to my Rome, and that the one would actually make more sense if I did the other first, since there’s some cross-pollination in terms of campaign themes stuff.

Which is a long winded way of saying that this blog post will also feature some material from the next hex crawl. In this case, I wanted to highlight a few of the heraldic designs I’ve made using good old Excel, with the hex entries that go along with them.

Talabar | Stronghold

(I mostly liked this design because it involved making up a silly phrase and badly translating it into an Aramaic font. The final came out pretty nice.)

Atop a dusty, rocky plateau rests a grand castle, a large con-struction with outer and inner walls and towers, brilliant white in the blazing sun and quite noticeable against the reddish backdrop of the desert sands.

The castle is held by the Amirah Marusha zal-Sifi and her small force of 24 archers and 48 light cavalry. The Amira is a lusty woman, seemingly as delicate as a desert rose, but with iron sinews and a blaze to rival Iblis in her belly. An adven-turess, she fought her way across the Crimson Waste and Kisthenes and deep into the Golden Steppe to get where she is now.

The castle is surrounded by a collection of rock-and-hide hovels occupied by 540 goatherds, farmers and artisans. The people are a superstitious lot, and easily spooked. Their ex-istence here is tenuous at best, and the Warudi tribesmen, who resent her intrusion here, have left many frightening warnings of what will happen if she does not quit this place.

The castle holds a chapel dedicated to the goddess Allat. It is overseen by Marusha’s boon companion Uvart (LN human druid 3), a stony-faced woman of Kisthenes, with black ring-lets cascading down her back and a cherubic face with bright, darting eyes.

Rama | Settlement

Rama is a large oasis town (pop. 5,250) situated between two long ridges of red sandstone on a wadi that extends from the badlands out into the Crimson Waste. The oasis has rich soil and many springs, and supports the growing of date palms and herds of sheep, goats and horses. The oasis beyond the town walls is inhabited by 42,000 peasants. The peasants grow dates, figs, pistachios and barley using a net-work of canals first built by the Warudi and improved by Nomo.

The town was controlled by the Nomo Empire for many years and served as the capital of their Varudia province. With the disappearance of the empire, Queen Zabbai has declared her independence from Nomo and her suzerainty over all the Crimson Waste, a claim it is doubtful she can support.

The city has an outer wall of white stone that gleams for miles out into the desert air and five gates, each named for an ancient god of the Iremites, but commonly named for the color of the stone facings – i.e. the Red Gate (sandstone), the Blue Gate (lapis lazuli), Green Gate (malachite), Purple Gate (porphyry) and White Gate (marble). The outer portions of the town are given over to the adobe dwellings of the peas-ants and artisans, while the inner town, surrounded by a second wall (decorative, not defensive) is home to the royal family, government officials, priests and wealthy merchants in service to the queen.

The outer town is divided into four sections, each for one of the clans native to Rama, namely the Katare, Mabor, Malbizu and Mandilar. The clans can be identified by the color and style of their headdress and numerous other signs obvious to the locals. They are antagonistic towards one another, but not openly hostile.

The inner town is divided by a grand boulevard 30 feet wide and lined with 30-ft tall columns of white marble. The street runs from the Temple of Baal (dedicated to Jove by the Nomoi) on the east to the Temple of Nergal (dedicated to Pluto) on the west. At the center of the boulevard there is a great marble victory arch. On the north side of the street are the town’s baths, the Queen’s citadel and temples of Nabu (Mercury) and Allat (Venus). On the south side of the street one finds the building of the council of elders and the great Court of Tariffs, where tax collectors levy taxes and tariffs on visiting and local merchants.

Just outside the town proper there is a tall hill on which is built a fortified shrine of Moloch, who the Nomo had re-dedicated to Saturn while they held the town. The shrine is within a defensive tower manned by Moloch’s six priests.

Located outside the town in the desert is the Valley of the Dead, where the locals bury their dead in tombs. Some are simple caves while others are tower tombs or large under-ground sepulchers. The dead of the poor are cremated in the Temple of Moloch and placed in caves in terracotta urns. The wealthy are mummified by the priests of Nergal and placed in sarcophagi, dressed in their bejeweled finery.

Now that the Nomo have quit Rama, the locals have become fairly xenophobic. Foreign merchants with items to trade are permitted in the city, but not welcomed with open arms, and adventurers and other vagrants are kept outside, staying in one of the small roadhouses established for them.

Rama’s army consists of 9 squadrons of town guards, armed and armored as heavy infantry, under the direct command of Queen Zabbai, and 9 companies of soldiers under the command of Queen’s captain, her cousin Thamaba. The town’s cavalry operate outside the oasis, pa-trolling the desert sands and intercepting caravans to give them the once over before they come closer to Rama.

Ursa | Stronghold

(Some of the locales in these hex crawls are based on real places, and some are based on some idea I had. Many are as simple as “a tower keep of a 9th level paladin”, which require me to make up something to make this paladin’s keep different than the others I’ve already written. In this case, it was boring until I started designing the shield, which was going to have a bear on it – Ursa – but ended up with the double-headed eagle because I accidentally double-clicked it. The double-headed eagle made me think of the Holy Roman Empire, which brought me to the Holy Nomo Empire, etc.)

Pixta Adamia Ursa is a paladin of Minerva who commands a tower keep in this hex. She is gathering together a mercenary army of retired legionnaires and other warriors dedicated to the task of saving the empire by leading an army of loyalists into Nomo and dislodging the emperor’s shade from the throne that an angel of Jove might be placed there in its stead. Ursa is assisted in this task by an ex-Vestal virgin named Caia Spadaea Artia, a veritable she-devil with a sword.

So far, Ursa has assembled 25 veteran legionnaires (HD 1+1) and eight elite cataphracts (3 HD) whom she leads personally into battle. They have sharpened their skills against raiding Warudi, but know their toughest challenges lie ahead.

Ursa is now assembling the elements she needs to conjure a powerful angel. The ceremony requires a set of golden plates that are scattered around the region. These plates, when placed together, reveal the true name of Sabrathan, a plane-tar who they believe can become the emperor of a new Holy Nomo Empire dedicated to all the gods of Law.

Horologium | Settlement

(This is one of the “hex crawl jambalaya” sorts of entries, where I start with mechanical men, and then start throwing in all sorts of stuff from the ancient world that involved mechanical men and try to make something fun to visit. So you get Vulcan’s clockworks, and Talos and then Archimede’s laser rays for good measure. I particularly liked the name Artifex Maximus.)

Horologium is an island and city-state left of Vulcan’s creations, just doing their best to avoid corroding in the salty air. The island has a variety of coastlines, including beaches, harbors and cliffs, and many natural springs.

The city-state is contained in a dormant caldera that still has enough geothermal energy to power the creations of the clockworks. The rim of the caldera is fashioned into ram-parts, with nine towers, each equipped with one of Archimedes’ burning mirrors (i.e. laser ray, deals 2d6 points of fire damage each round it is held on the target; small targets require a hit roll each round).

The automata (pop. 168) are metalworkers mostly, mining metals from the slopes of the old volcano and fashioning it into fine weapons, armor and clockworks for sale. They have a fortified harbor on the north side of the island where they permit non-automatons to dock and take on cargo.

At the center of the city-state is the palace of King Talos, a giant bronze man. Talos is attended by 20 golden keledones, maidens of gold who sing and, when their king is threatened, turn into flailing death bots. Silver and gold watchdogs patrol the palace grounds. The captain of the city guard is called Incubito, a man of steel fashioned in the image of a gladiator, with interchangeable weapon arms!

The automatons worship Primus of the polyhedroids as Artifex Maximus. His high priest is the high scientist Excogitatoris, who fashioned the blazing mirrors and guard dogs.

Mantu | City-State

Mantu is the chief port of Nomo. Few vessels are permitted to pass by Mantu towards Nomo, mostly just imperial war-ships or the pleasure boats of senators and such.

The city is enclosed by a great wall on land, and a smaller sea wall. The walls of the city are greyish green, and embossed every 120 feet by the city’s arms. The city is built on a ring of hills that gradually descend towards the sea. The manses of the wealthy and the city offices are on the high hills, with the middle classes living below them and the lowlands, which sometimes flood, occupied by warehouses, tabernas, flop-houses and tiny shrines to a multitude of foreign gods. The buildings of Mantu have rooves of scarlet tiles, and many feature trellises climbed by vines of wild roses. The city is known for its cuisine, which includes roasted mutton, stews of garlic and fennel and lamb, fried fish, barley soup with fish sauce.

Temples are distributed throughout the city, with the Basilica of Neptune located in the high city. Other temples are dedicated to Salacia, goddess of sea water and wife of Nep-tune, Mater Matuta, protector of mariners, Angerona, reliev-er of pain and sorrow, Dispater in his role as god of wealth, the Aurae (breezes), the Venti (winds), Averruncus, propiti-ated to avert calamity, Hercules and Juno.

Mantu is known for its mines and those occupations related to mining, processing minerals and crafting with them. The traders of Mantu specialize in rare spices from the south. The hinterlands of Mantu are dotted with 49 villa rustica where people herd sheep and miners quarry granite, porphyry, copper and chrysoberyls. Chrysoberyls decorate the staff of office of the legate, who also wears sea blue robes of silk decorated with embroidered white roses.

With Nomo descending into chaos, many powerful families have fled to Mantu. The city-state has hardened its defenses, and there is talk of declaring the city-state independent of Nomo and preparing for war.

The city is protected by cohors I Mantu Nautae, which con-sists of 23 companies of legionnaires, many of them trained as marines, and 5 squadrons of equites. The cohort is commanded by Dux Ailio Cynon Gonzorgo, a veteran of many campaigns against pirates and a key conspirator with the nobles in declaring independence from Nomo (and he’s angling to be named Princeps). The cohort is responsible for protecting the city, patrolling the waterways and protecting the road that connects Mantu to Nomo. The Mantu city guard consists of 9 squadrons of guardsmen.

A Tiptoe into Nomo

Thomas Cole’s Destruction (1836) from Course of Empire

I’m deep into writing the Nomo hex crawl and thought I’d share a few of the encounters with you. I’m having fun writing it, combining a bit of the late Roman Empire + Byzantium about to fall, and running my Latin through a Gaulish filter to make it familiar and strange at the same time. Just north of Nomo’s heartland is the Crimson Waste, a desert that used to be a green and pleasant empire called Irem. The Iremites got into a devil worship and ultimately were destroyed in a war with the Nabu Empire (which you might have met in my Wyvern Coast/Nabu hex crawl from way back in NOD 1 to 3). Now that land is roamed by their descendants, the Warudi nomads, with a few monasteries and settlements that were spared in the cataclysm.

Lots of casual research goes into these things, so I always learn a few things. At the moment, I’m agonizing over Nomo’s legions and their emblems, mottoes and cohorts and such.

Anyhow … on with the show:

0411 Glassy Lake | Monster

This hex holds a vast, pristine lake with a glassy surface that seems unaffected by the wind. The banks are thick with acacias and great clouds of butterflies. At the center of the island there is a small, rocky island topped by a pretty little stronghold of lavender stone, with latticed windows and crenelations topped by golden pyramids. Splashing around the base of the island are pretty children – nixies – who sometimes climb the steps of the stronghold, which descend into the water, and slide through the doors.

Within the stronghold, a tower keep, which the nixies are pledged to defend, there is a throne of crushed shell, tall and fine, on which sits a woman composed of living glass. Princess Vyrna is the spirit of the lake, which was once much larger and much beloved by the Iremites. She was once a nixie queen, but took on her present form when she made a deal with the devil (literally) to save what remains of her home from the cataclysm. At night, the nixies of the lake take on a demonic aspect, and commit horrors upon any foolish enough to be found in the stronghold.

0512 The Snake Women Cometh | Monster

The desert sands here funnel into a deep cave of basalt. As one proceeds into the earth, about 500 feet, the air becomes warm and damp, and pools form on the floor. This opens into several interlocked caverns that are very wet and warm, with opalescent slime growing on the walls in great furry strands. These caves are inhabited by a trio of giant vipers that are controlled by the true masters of the cave complex.

Hidden behind one of these curtains there is a stair that proceeds another 400 feet into the earth. This passage is blocked by an adamantine gate with a complex, electrified lock.

At the base of this winding stair is a complex of ophidian amazons. Tall, statuesque women, they have pale scales that darken to rust on their lower arms and legs and carmine on their fingers and toes. This tribe of warrior-scientists consists of 85 females (lesser ophidians) and 27 smaller males who are left behind to tend the eggs and the machinery that pro-duces the warm, wet air that fills the cave.

In these caves, they work night and day on developing a method to clone themselves using concentrated quintessence, blood and whatever humanoid remains they can recover from their vipers. They have not yet struck upon the proper formula, but when they do, they have plans for Nod.

0610 Dirhab | Stronghold

Dirhab is a dervish abbey from olden times. The abbey is constructed of white marble, pock marked after a thousand years of windblown sand. The walls are 40 feet high, and there is a 50-foot tall tower at each corner. The gates of the abbey are composed of ebony, and are 1 foot thick, 10 feet tall and can only be opened using a winch found on the inside.

Within the front gate there is a broad courtyard, rectangular, that supports numerous flowering bushes. The courtyard is floored in reddish tiles decorated with white lilies. On the walls are mosaics of Marduk’s battle with Tiamat and Kingu, and his creation of humanity.

From the courtyard, one can pass into the living quarters and temple of the order. The buildings that surround the courtyard are three stories tall. The halls are hung with rich tapestries depicting the destruction of Irem by avenging angels raining down fire and the scattering of the Warudi across the Crimson Waste. In each of the towers is a large bell of meteoric iron, the dervishes striking them at noon and midnight to call the order and their families to prayer.

In a second courtyard, well-protected, are kept dozens of small white goats with pearly horns. These goats are kept as sacred animals, and are feted on Marduk’s holy day from silver bowls while the priests dance and play flutes carved from lapis lazuli.

The patriarch of the order is old Gazim (NG human cleric 10), whose body has twisted as he has grown older. He has lived through 500 summers, as all of the dervishes are extremely long-lived due to the blessing of Marduk.

The abbey houses 18 dervish priests, 40 dervishes and 180 noncombatants. The dervishes are mostly armed with shields and kaskaras, though 20 of them carry light crossbows and wear leather armor. They all fight like berserkers.

0927 The Sea Phantoms | City-State

Deep beneath the waves of this hex there stands a tall spire, raised from the sea floor, 40 feet thick at the base and 200 feet tall, rounded at the top and carved from top to bottom with skulls in an alien, geometric design.

Around this spire is a town of 1,500 sea phantoms, men and women of the Ethereal Plane with only the merest presence on the Material Plane. These people are not undead, but they are insubstantial and appear indistinct to people who dwell wholly on the Material.

These sea phantoms survive on the dying screams and lamentations of doomed sailors, though they are never the cause of these dooms. They merely float to the surface when they detect fear, and holding out their hazy hands collect these collected sufferings in the form of a black nodule that is not unlike a large, black pearl. They place these pearls, which exist on both the Material and Ethereal Planes, in the eye sockets of those aforementioned skulls. These pearls bathe the Ethereal Plane in a strange radiation which nourishes and sustains the enigmatic sea phantoms.

On the Ethereal, the sea phantoms appear as normal human beings with pallid skin, silvery hair and slate grey eyes. They dress in gauzy robes and carry thin silver swords and daggers at their sides to fend off ethereal marauders and other such dangers of their plane. On the Material Plane, they appear as vague, shimmering outlines of human beings, with eyes like faint lights gleaming through a thick fog, and their voices, normally quite distinct, sound hollow and wispy. Their buildings and houses look like white shapes seen through a thick fog bank, and feel to those on the Material Plane like cold, slushy water.

The sea phantoms are not evil, nor are they good. They want nothing from the Material Plane beyond the desperation of doomed men and women. They seek no agency over the material world, but are willing to communicate the secrets they have gathered to people if they are willing to pass through to the Ethereal Plane with rich gifts.

1719 Natanos | Stronghold

Natanos is a small fishing hamlet (pop. 50) on the shores of the Green Sea. The hamlet consists of several stone cottages on a gentle rise overlooking the beach. Within the hamlet on will find a mysterious staircase between two buildings. The stairs are painted many colors and seem to climb nowhere. Numerous orange cats sit on the stairs.

The cats are intelligent, and live with the sorceress Philia. The stairs head up to her tower, which is tucked between dimensions. The tower, if one could see it, is about 60 feet tall and pure white, topped with a conical azure roof. The interior is elegant and simple, with many bookshelves, blue carpets and furniture that is best described as “Danish modern”.

One chamber holds a small gallery of abstract art, all of it carved from blue stone, ranging from light to very dark blue. Another holds a pool of sea water and an elegant white boat – the pool serves as a portal to the sea, and is activated by pouring wine mixed with a drop of blood into the pool. All of the chambers equipped with floor to ceiling mirrors, for the only thing Philia loves more than her cats is her own face.

Philia is in the middle of the process of forging a magic staff, and she is using the pounding surf and sea winds to do it. The staff is being held by a living statue that she has sent out into the waves – only its forearm and hand, and the staff, are visible to those on the beach, and one might guess it is nothing but a bit of driftwood.