Friday, 10 July 2015

The Many Hobbies of the Peacock King

Did you guys know you can just take maps from the internet and add numbers to them and the maps are yours forever?

This is not a sketch of the interior of the Gur-Emir mausoleum in Samarkand, home to the jade sarcophagus of Tamerlane, from a six-volume photographic survey commissioned by Konstantin von Kaufman, Russian governor-general of Turkestan, in the early 1870s. Although that would be a cool thing for it to be! But it is not that and is, in fact, another thing.

1. Entrance hall. An skeleton in a tailcoat and pinstripe trousers, his bones coated in ash, will offer to take your jackets. If you allow him to do this he will scurry off with them and hurl them into the small incinerator in 4. Then he will come back and ask for the rest of your clothes. If you clean the ash from his bones the ritual animating him will break and he will die. He is very persistent and knows a lot about the palace, including the secret of the incinerator, but can only be made to spill the beans if you threaten the peacocks, his charges. He understands you perfectly but has no tongue and can only read and write in cuneiform, which he will scratch onto the ground with a single bony finger. He has a library chip (see 5.) rattling around in his skull.

2. Gardens. Blood-drinking sacred peacocks patrol the grounds. Anyone who sees their fanned tails must save or be compelled to worship the peacocks, slicing open their veins and allowing the peacocks to drink until they are sated (which usually takes about 1d8 hp worth of blood). One of these is worth a small fortune if you can extricate it from the palace, though you might accidentally start a new religion in the process. The first false princeling, a doppelganger created from the substance of Tawus-Shah, the Peacock King, can also be found here, petting the peacocks. Pale, androgynous and clad in the finest and sparsest silks, the fact that he is immune to the peacocks' effect is the only obvious difference between him and the real princeling.

3. Buzkashi grounds. Several dozen horse-mounted players clad in only whips, spiked turbans and boots are busily engaged in dragging a headless, sandpacked goat carcass from one end of the field to the other. The blue team (as indicated by turban colour) is currently winning. Fist-size turquoise carvings of lions adorn the goalposts. The princeling's bodyguard, an enormous albino, is hanging half-starved in a cage in the centre of the field - the players are competing to see who gets to eat her, albino flesh being a prized delicacy among their people. She knows that the Peacock King has created three false princelings and that none of them will burn or suffer if exposed to flame, but she does not know where the real one is. She is consumed with shame over letting him get kidnapped. She doesn't know he went with the Peacock King voluntarily.

4. Incinerator. Discrete cubicle about the size of a bathroom stall, smooth-walled clay shaft dropping down into pit of roaring green flame, eerie and soundless. Anything consumed by this flame will appear unblemished, whole and perfectly hairless, in room 11.

5. Library. The second false princeling is here, browsing the scrolls, which are written in an assortment of dead languages (requiring translation by an expert) and have all been salvaged from libraries long thought burnt. The princeling is wearing leather gloves, which he will claim is to protect the scrolls from finger-oil but is in fact because his touch will char and shrivel the paper. If you are looking for a specific scroll he will happily guide you to it, though he has only a limited grasp of the languages and will often get stuff wrong. He will make no attempt to prevent you from touching the pages with your own bare hands. Any attempt to remove anything from the room, whether it be a scroll, an urn, a fleck of dust, a dropped coin or a princeling, will awaken the obsidian gargoyle who perches above the door and who vomits blue bloodfreezing antimagma, which will preserve you in stasis until the Peacock King comes to get you. Random scroll contents include:
  • agricultural treatise
  • spurious travellers' tales
  • epic poem documenting forgotten war
  • compilation of lewd gossip about important figures of dead society
  • erotic odyssey
  • natural history
  • openly partisan political chronicle
  • bad military advice
  • dry diplomatic missives from one extinct culture to another
  • strategy guide to Hundred Worries, the game everyone is playing in 8. 
  • complete explanation of how to be happy
  • periplus - list of ports and coastal landmarks, in order, along a distant shore
  • golem creation instructions, will result in sad, confused monster who doesn't understand modern world
  • cookbook w/ recipe for peacock stuffing
  • catalogue of ancient curses
All are valuable to the right research wizard or historian.

6. Anti-art gallery. The Peacock King despises perspective and has, in the four rooms of this corridor, abolished it. Anything in any one of the rooms appears the same size to anyone in any of the other rooms. Anyone can step instantly to any of the rooms from any other. Anyone in any one of the rooms can make a melee attack against anyone in any other room and can pass things back and forth, etc. It's all very confusing. Within the rooms you move around as normal, you can't step from one corner to another but only in between them. The walls are inscribed with complex geometrical patterns that seem to come alive if you look at them for long enough, though they don't. Two nomad-philosophers in spiked turbans and boots are taking a break from buzkashi to study the walls at length, happy to chat about what the hell's going on. They know there is a secret room and that to get there you have to "destroy yourself and be reborn". They also know a lot about sacred mathematics. Any objects of pure art brought into the gallery will, after a round has passed, come alive and try to attack anyone who commits the sin of looking at it. This will break the curse on the culture hero in 9., but only for as long as he stays in the gallery.

7. Smoking room. To the north is a kitchen and pantry, to the east is a long dining-hall with a table running down the middle. Low comfortable couches everywhere. Miniatures on shaded walls of attractive nude youths, gold leaf around edge of paper probably worth something. In the centre of the smoking-room stands an ornate glass hookah twice the size of a man being puffed away at merrily by a couple of sleepy nomads (does not count as an art object for purposes of 6., since it has another function). One of the nomads is holding a scroll from the library and has in her left boot a chip of obsidian with the cuneiform for "debtor" on it. This is a library chip. It will allow you to borrow up to three scrolls out of the library without angering the gargoyle, but you will first have to pay off the nomad's late fees, which are calculable at a single human tooth/day. The scroll is currently three days overdue and is a guide to hydraulic engineering. The skeleton butler comes by every couple of hours to add coal to the hookah and hand around glasses of orange sherbet. Anyone smoking the hookah for more than a couple of minutes will go into a light trance, possibly falling over and hurting themselves, and awaken 2d6 hours later with vague memories of wandering the bowels of a vast ziggurat and being spoken to earnestly by a lammasu. For 4d6 minutes after they wake up they will find themselves able to comprehend all dead languages and no living ones. Every subsequent time they smoke the hookah, the effect lasts twice as long and they become more compelled to do the bidding of ancient gods. The dining table is set for a great feast and a skeleton chef labours in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the stuffed sacred peacock that will be its centrepiece. Other dishes include olive, hummus, halvah and albino-flesh kebabs.

8. Gaming courtyard. Open to the sunlight. Hexagonal stand in the middle manned by skeleton barista dispenses thimble-sized cups of insanely strong honey-scented coffee to extremely old people who lounge on cushions playing a kind of tile-based three-player strategy game called Hundred Worries. The board is five-sided, the rules are simple but hard to master, the game is designed to create situations where two people gang up against a third. There can only be one victor. It gets political. The Peacock King will grant a wish to anyone who wins a game that he plays in (which is to say, doesn't come second) but if you play a game with him and you don't win he will not allow you to leave the courtyard until you do. Reigning champion has paid off skeleton barista to serve his opponents decaf, crippling their game, could plausibly be blackmailed about this. Knows that the Peacock King has a treasure chamber somewhere in the palace that "only the foolish can enter, only the wise can leave".

9. Baths. Hook by door for hanging turbans on, racks for keeping boots. If searched one boot will yield three gold coins!! The boots themselves are probably more valuable than that. Another has a library chip in it. Western room filled w/ pools of extremely cold water, tiny arctic shrimp that nibble dirt from skin and leave you rejuvenated. Marble fountain in room's centre of strongman wrestling serpents is actually ancient culture hero locked in time by divine curse, serpents are later addition, water run through pipes in their bodies is cooled by excess stasis energy from curse and fed into pools. Eastern room pressure-locked (doors open inwards), currently filled with flesh-meltingly hot steam. Third false princeling can be seen through glass panels from outside, apparently enjoying himself. Nomads lounge in cold pools, bickering and reciting poetry, irritated that the princeling is taking up the sauna but too afraid of steam (and the wrath of the Peacock King) to do anything about it. The tunnel that usually vents steam outside the palace is currently blocked off, magnifying the heat in the room tenfold. Very thin woman in central bath is trusted advisor of the Peacock King, knows that he despises most of the nomads and would never allow the real princeling to be exposed to their covetous gazes, will provide useful advice if you can get the fake out of the sauna. It's her library chip in the boot. She knows that it will allow you to leave the treasure chamber but has no idea how to get in.

10. Bedroom and harem. Pillows, giant mirrors, beautiful pale boys with scars on their inner arms from feeding the bloodstained albino sacred peacock that wanders the room and that they treat as a beloved pet. Skeleton playing the zither unobtrusively in the corner. Floor descends in steps like inverted ziggurat, air gets hotter and hotter as you descend. Curtains of white silk, illuminated from with, part to reveal huge clay-walled firepit set into floor, dangerously bright, flames leaping into air. The Peacock King is grappling in his vast blue hands the ash-coated bones of his most recent lover, mourning his own insatiability and trying to put the boy back together. Every so often the skeleton butler will bring in a cartload of coal and refuel the fire, which will kill the Peacock King if it ever goes out. The Peacock King usually appears as a huge blue jolly naked fat man in a fez. He can be any size, take any shape and appear anywhere in the palace at any time. He can create servants from his own substance but is limited to three or four at a time. He will burn anything he touches. The skeletons of people he kills in this way are bound to serve him. They feel the same way towards him that they did in life - all the ones you will meet in the palace are former lovers of his who still feel tremendous affection for him. An iron grate in the firepit opens onto a tunnel that leads to 11. If the Peacock King dies everything in the palace except for the nomads and the real princeling will crumble to ash over the space of twenty minutes.

11. Treasure chamber. The real princeling is being kept here among huge piles of gold and jewels. The Peacock King promised that it would be a matter of days at most before he figured out a way for them to consummate their love without anyone getting turned into a skeleton. This was weeks ago. He's since been denied the liberty of the grounds and meals are becoming increasingly erratic. He's not aware that the Peacock King is consoling himself with flame-duplicates of his beauty, a practice basically akin to masturbation. He holds no real grudge against the Peacock King and mostly feels sorry for him, but also he would very much welcome rescue. A trapdoor in the floor leads to the firepit in 10. An obsidian sarcophagus against the north wall will transport a single person to the library if the door is closed on them while they are holding a library chip. The centrepiece of the Peacock King's hoard is an enormous golden statue of a lammasu that whispers in dead languages, creeping the princeling the fuck out and causing him to doubt his sanity (he's been alone and hungry for a while now). It is actually the ancient god who cursed the culture hero in 9. It will ask you (in a dead language) to sacrifice an albino to it. If you do it will break down the wall to 10. and try to kill the Peacock King for imprisoning it millennia ago.


  1. On one hand, for you this is Saturday. On the other hand, this is fucking brilliant.

  2. This is *also* awesome and I want to run it immediately (and I might).

    What is the secret room in the anti-art gallery? I cannot figure out the riddle, nor find it in the write-up.

    1. I don't think there is a secret room in the anti-art gallery! Did I say there was or something? Because if I did that's probably a mistake.

      *reads back over it*

      Oh wait the philosophers talk about a secret room. That just means the treasure chamber, they're talking about jumping into the incinerator. This wasn't, like, proofread or anything.

    2. You should put this in one of your Abasinia hexes. Your players would be impressed as shit I bet. "Oh yeah this is just a normal hex, they're all like that for me, I just knocked a few off over the weekend".