- 1 Lands of Zar, Also known as Ebonstone
- 2 Valleys of Fire - Geography of Zar
- 3 World Within a World - The Isolated Civilization of Zar
- 4 From Dust to Glory - The People of Zar
- 5 Honor, Law and Fortune - Politics and Economy of Zar
- 6 Under the Sand - Dangers of Zar
Lands of Zar, Also known as Ebonstone
The Elder Kingdom of Zar, or Ebonstone as it’s known by outsiders, is situated in an expansive desert valley between two arid mountain ranges. Thousands of years ago, when Zar was at the bottom of the ocean, a section of one of the fabled arc ships that crossed the expanse of space crash landed into the sea. The mission of that particular craft was planet seeding. Engineers at the time designed it as an orbiting station that would eventually have to be decommissioned and crashed into Midian. To avoid too great an impact on extra-terrestrial ecosystems, the ship, composed mostly of a huge biosphere, was constructed with an experimental bio-metal that could not only decompose after a time, but could provide reef habitats in the ocean. And it certainly did that, but after a few millennia coral grew around and in the biospheres’ skeleton, leaving a permanent structure, a fossil of a more technologically advanced age. The sea subsided, leaving an arid valley land with salt flats and jagged hills.
This biosphere is the most remarkable feature of Zar. A city grew around it, and with it a diverse culture of desert people.
Valleys of Fire - Geography of Zar
Zar has harshest of landscapes beneath the sun. And the sun bakes the moisture from one’s skin like an oven, and the skin from a fool’s bones until bleach-white is all that pokes from the crimson sand. There is great beauty in the bleak dunes and discordant cliffs of Ebonstone, a beauty coveted by each pair of eyes born in the Valleys of Fire. To a wayfarer, the seemingly hopeless terrain will produce mirages of crystal lakes and the refuge of shade. To a Zaran wandering in more verdant lands, mirages of the vastness and purity of Ebonstone’s rolling dunes may appear. The Lands of Zar, as lifeless and desolate as they may be, are some of the most magnificent lands under the sky.
Zar has three basic land types:
(SAH-heer) - the quartz rich salt flats where cloudless lightning strikes on the horizon.
(NOO-le-vah) - miles of rolling sand dunes tinted rust red.
(HEEN) – rocky crags and mountain ranges.
Water - The Blood of the Land
The shortage of water has become a daily part of life, and a means by which the wealthy maintain power. Except for the occasional oasis in the Dokar Va Barren, the bodies of water in Zar are all salt. There is even one salt river. With so little water on the surface, infrequent rain, and impossibly deep aquifers, Zarans have had to become more resourceful. The water necessary for irrigation and drinking in the driest lands of the Elder Kingdoms is collected in a number of ways.
Along many of Zar’s salt lakes, primitive desalinization plants can be found. By using sheets of semi-transparent animal skins draped over bodies of water, salt may be separated and sold, while a small percentage of evaporated water collects beneath the skins and is collected. Another method involves collecting the frozen dew on scrub plants in the early morning. The Zaran night can go well below freezing, and what little moisture in the air settles on plants is gathered before the sun can burn it away.
Zarans also farm cacti for food and water and set up fields of skins ready to trap seasonal rainwater, and accumulate sewage for use in irrigation and fertilization. Zaran engineers are also working on filter systems for re-using the water in human and animal waste. When visiting neighbors to the south, one is often reminded of the adage ‘don’t drink the water’. In Zar, you’d drink anything you can find.
Burning Roads – Traversing Zar
There are many ways to die in the deserts of Ebonstone, but most of them involve dying of thirst. It is physically impossible to carry all the water one needs if traveling from one end of Zar to the other. Zarans have made a profitable business out of guiding merchants and dumbass adventurers across the wastes. At each major border, townships have formed around the caravan riders, guides and porters.
Some caravan companies use massive wind-sailing sand skiffs to cross the Dokaar Va. These land ships are pulled by beasts of burden until the sandy wind pulls them across the desert. Smaller skiffs have reached speeds faster than a horse, defiantly much faster than a horse in soft sand.
Areas of Interest:
(DOH-kar vah) The Dokar Va Barren is a mix of the Hene and Nula Va land types. Red sand hills flow over and around rough buttes and deep canyons. It is home to The Scar and the majority of the remaining nomad tribes. When traveling in Zar, one must at one time go through the Dokar Va.
The recent climate shift that caused worldwide famine dried up Zar’s largest freshwater lake, now called The Scar. This tragedy forced the desert people to readjust their way of life, as the centrally located lake was Zar’s main water supply. Now the abandoned buildings circling the dry gulley are used as shrines, holy reminders that the world is harsh and no gods will provide water for the weak.
(ma-RA-kon) The tallest mountain in Zar is Marakohn, or Heaven’s Pillar, as the locals call it. At it’s peak in the mountain range named after it, sheets of ice and snow form in the winter months.
(ai-EEN) These miles of level salt plain is a highway for sand skiff merchants and nomad herders. It is said that there are no enemies in the Ayin Salt Flats, that all must work together to survive passage. Were this completely true, one still wouldn’t feel safe in this area. Salt is whipped by merciless winds as the ground soaks up the sun’s fury and boils the blood of travelers.
(you-lon) It is said that the burgundy sand of the Ulon Dunes became that way from the blood shed during centuries of battles. Today the captivating dunes provide hazards for many Zarans who make the pilgrimage to Nokaas Zar.
Earthquakes, flash floods in Hene land, Sandstorms, Lightning
“Fool, were you born on the sun? It’s HOT.”
- Anonymous Zaran guide.
World Within a World - The Isolated Civilization of Zar
Zar is a theocratic monarchy, ruled by Queen Rei Zar and the Prophet Dulan. The king, Amon Zar, who is also Rei’s brother, is kept in a chamber filled with water at all times, (hence the term in Zar, ‘To live like a king’) his thoughts interpreted by a psychic, then carried out by the queen and her prophet. No chance of corruption there.
The three provinces in Zar are run by sons of the queen. These princes have only basic control over their lands and act more as liaisons from local governments to the queen. The rest of Zar, each town and city is run by relatives of the original Zar family. Cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles run Zar. This system has been in place for generations, but with a minimal amount of inbreeding. Females born in the family are usually not allowed to marry or procreate. The Queen of Zar will have no man or woman without the name Zar seeking power.
Divided into three provinces, and an area in between for the capitol city:
Nokaas Zar (NO-KAHS-zar) – Capital City. A small province of it’s own.
Midian merchants often tell of a land in the Elder Kingdoms that has city-sized markets filled with oddities and rarities that can make a man wealthy in one trip. It is true that Ebonstone has many useful and luxurious items in greater availability and quality than much of the globe. Teas, spices, silk and lizard pelts, tequila, and much more.
Most Zarans speak bizzantine and their own language, Zanir. Anglan is less commonly used, as is an ancient form of Zanir, using pictographs.
When traveling to most Zaran towns, one may hear the cheer of crowds echoing from the city walls. Zarans cheer for only two things; rain and battle. Gladiatorial battle to be exact. The largest arena for the games is in Nokaas Zar, the capitol city, beneath the dome. This arena is split into three and is always hosting a game or race. More modest towns have at least a pit with bleachers for bloodsports.
Cities and towns:
(NO-KAHS-zar) The capitol and holy city of Zar. Located at the mouth of the fast-moving Nor River, Nokaas Zar is Zar’s only port city, and only safe harbor for miles in either direction. The most amazing feature is Zar has to be the calcified remnants of an ancient starship. A massive dome, shaped with a pattern of hexagons and circular beams, covers about a quarter of the city, towering hundreds of feet in the air. Malan Zar, Ebonstone’s capitol building is built on the craggy earth in the center of the dome.
In Settat Also known as Water Town, Meder Gor has the advantage of a shallow aquifer and numerous springs. This is where the majority of Zar’s armies amass.
In Karem The bazaar city of Luak is an oasis of savings! Being the closest city to the border, Luak not only serves as a portal to the rest of the Elder Kingdoms, but as an entrance to the vast wastes of Ebonstone.
In Karem One of the oldest cities in Zar, the buildings and streets of Lasfar are continuously built on top of one another. It is rumored that many gates to other realms, and possibly other areas of Midian exist in Lasfars forgotten alleyways and ancient buildings thought gone and buried.
In Essaria Melia is a mainly a town used as an outpost for the many farms in the area.
In Essaria Safi was once buried beneath the sand. Only in recent years did people discover it and rebuild it. Safi is an invaluable archeological site for those studying the history of Zar, but even more valuable to the people who now live there, as the ancient wells covered by a sandstorm centuries ago have not gone dry.
In Essaria The only residents of Kutma are the occasional rolling tumbleweed and the dead. This ghost town is scarier than it looks, as the real danger lies in the abandoned gold mines that it covers.
In Essaria Emper is commonly known as the City of Thieves. Emper is a lawless town reminiscent of the old west. Fights are common in the middle of the street as dark business transactions take place in twisted alleys.
From Dust to Glory - The People of Zar
Zarans are an absolute and no-nonsense people. They appreciate their warriors and hunters, and they worship those in power. But Zarans are also artisans and craftsmen who understand beauty and form in architecture and design. They are warrior poets who may not fight hand-to-hand on a daily basis, but who struggle with the environment. An often more deadly foe.
Workforce (able bodied citizens): 310,000 Standing Army: 25,000
Draftable Army: 45,000
- 67% Himeres (high-mere) – theocratic class
- 29% Je’epar (jeh-PAR) – minority tribal class
- 4% Barbarians, Ogres, Orcs, etc.
Himeres are the ruling class of Zar. With slavery abolished but not dead, the dominant race in Zar has set out to start a renaissance of cultural understanding and bridge the differences between an oppressed people, the nomadic Je’epar, and the more economically, educationally and militarily advanced Himeres. If there’s any money in it. Though the more influential Himeres still have Je’epar serving them tea in the afternoon, they have to pay them. About as much as Wal-Mart does, effectively. Which is not much.
Once the dominant race in Zar, most of these leathery-skinned nomads were used as slaves as Himeres became more prominent. Today, with slavery abolished and a more tolerant policy of racial and religious acceptance taking root, the Je’epar are free, but lost, as most of their wandering lands have been settled.
Merchant class This class used to be reserved for Himeres, but has since been opened to Je’epar and even foreigners who meet the right requirements. If you smoked opium in the last twenty years in Zar, you probably got it from a Zyrab.
Though not exactly a class, the Gifted Ones are any Zaran born or has had an increase their innate psychic talents. One in every one seventy children in Zar is born mute, or blind, but also with extra innate psychic talents. These souls may seem like sad cases, but after a few years, a blind child may tell you the color of your shirt, by touching it, feeling it in the air, or tearing through your mind for the information. You feel a slight headache coming on...
Common Zaran names:
The most common names in Zar are Din for males and Ara for females. They are as common as John and Mary.
Zar maintains an army and a small navy. Zaran soldiers are easily recognized by their copper shoulder plates, blue-green tunics and long-bladed pikes. They are excellent bowmen, each carrying a long and short bow. Zar’s elite guard, known as Imerians, have been conditioned to wear full bronze and copper armor, and use only gladius’ for weaponry. Their tunics are burgundy and armor highly polished. There is one Imerian for every fifty regular soldiers, often leading as strategic war planners and by heading first into battle.
Rogues of Zar
The rogues of Zar have taken the ‘honor among thieves’ bit a little further. Zaran thieves operate by a strict code called Tema Va (TEM-ah-va), roughly meaning ‘steal with a tip of the hat’. The code has many rules that are often bent or broken, but the main themes are;
• Steal only from those who are wealthier than yourself.
• Never gang up; match man for man and muscle for muscle when raiding a caravan. Tema Va states that if you plan to fight a man with a broken arm, you must tie your own arm up.
• Don’t buy what you can steal, and don’t steal what you can’t sell. • If you steal from another thief, make sure you rub it in.
• Don’t steal from the dead, unless they steal from you.
• Take a man’s money, not his water.
Zaran archetypes and personalities:
The Undead Cowboy. Years ago, the dunes of Zar were blessed with a carpet of lush grasses, grazing land for the then booming cattle and horse industry. But as the climate shifted and fertile plains became scrub land and bone-dry sand oceans, cattle ranching died out. Legend has it that a fierce outlaw that terrorized the green fields of Ebonstone returned from the land of the dead and wanders the deserts still. Zodiac is a tall man wearing a wide brimmed hat. He has been spotted overlooking travelers in the desert, brooding on his simple brown horse. He wields a sword with a crossbar near the end of the blade, giving the weapon the look of an iron cross or hands of a clock. Some have approached him for directions, and he’ll politely give them, speaking in a long-lost accent. He may then disappear into thin air and meet the travelers at the destination he recommended.
Sportsman and gladiator A hero to the dusty children of Ebonstone, Kareem excels and gladiatorial fighting and games. Slim and nearly nine feet tall, after winning he may pass a weapon from the arena to a boy in the crowd – from the arena floor.
Bandit leader Spag is an Ogre bandit with a tendency to pick people up by their ankles and shake the money out of their pockets to the ground. If a person doesn’t have any money falling from their pockets he may shout ‘make a wish’. The folk in the area he is active, Meder Gor, have taken to keeping loose change in their pockets just in case.
Honor, Law and Fortune - Politics and Economy of Zar
Money separates modern Zarans from their more barbaric ancestors, but that doesn’t mean it makes everyone play nice.
Salt, quartz, semi-precious stones, mica, obsidian, bone, gold
Crops and Exports: Cacti, fruits and vegetables, barley, wheat, wine grapes, citrus, spices, teas, coffee, clove, tobacco, Poppy plants and Opium (the spice is the life).
Livestock: Horses, cattle
Items of interest (for sale): Seabed fossils, technomantic fossils, exotic lizard and bird pets,
- 1 Dirham = 1 Bizzant
- 25 Dinar = 1 Bizzant
The country’s taxes are tailored for each citizen. Each Zaran must submit a log of their earnings to Zar’s massive census council who in turn determine a fair amount to squeeze out. Most people in the land think the system is quite fair, as the poorest are not taxed at all, but the bulky and slow bureaucracy of the Zaran government isn’t usually fast to met out improvements to the quality of living. A Zaran taxed today may never see the pothole outside of his house fixed, but may see the lamppost that his grandfather complained about replaced. The Zaran militia has a squad of efficient, well trained, and well dressed tax collectors to enforce the collection of earnings, and to justify high taxes.
Breen(s) – Currency exchange and tax offices.
Every town has a currency exchange station called a Breen, and the major cities have one at each gate. Merchants won’t accept foreign currency, but barter and trade are a fair substitute. Outsiders
There is a saying in Ebonstone, “Remain in the sands of Zar too long, and you’ll be buried beneath them.”
It is evident from the secretive nature of Zarans that outsiders shouldn’t meddle in their affairs. But business transactions, that’s a different matter. Travelers to the red sands of Zar might remark that it is the most hospitable land they have ever come across. The harsh land and scorching sun has tempered Zarans into highly honorable and respectful people. They see the importance of foreign business and welcome it whole-heartedly, but don’t get too comfortable. Most Zarans are descendants of nomadic tribes, and have fought hard for the land they have settled, foreigners interfering with local politics for power or wealth has disrupted Zar in the past. So conduct your business, stay for no more than a month, and may the sun be kind as you part.
If one would like to stay in Zar longer or become a regular merchant, a Sponsor would be required. Sponsors are always locals with some sort of clout. Be it an established merchant or politician, a sponsor may vouch for a foreigner as if they were a member of the family. The process is not fast, sometimes taking decades. While a foreigner is awaiting approval of sponsorship, he or she may obtain ‘Sias’ (SIGH-az), or half- citizenship. A Sias may deal in business like anyone else, but may not own property and has a cap on the wealth they may gain. And they may never, ever marry into a Zaran family until full sponsorship. There are many unmarked graves in Zar that contain the foreign half of an elopement.
Foreigners are taxed voluntarily in Luak or at the gates of other cities. This voluntary tax translates to about three bizzants a head and an arbitrary amount based on the travelers goods. Although payment is not required to enter, those who tip get better service. At each Breen (exchange station) a record is kept of the people who enter Zar legally, and the number that they were taxed. The higher the number the better treatment and protection they will get. Short change Zar, and you may regret it when you mouth gets dry.
Places of Interest
In Emper Din began building clocks around age seven, and before he went completely blind by his seventieth year, constructed a booming business around devices for animal trapping, security and machines of war. His factory in Emper designs unique weapons and traps for the wealthiest of Zarans, and the simplest of thief-stoppers for the more modest homes.
In Luak This luxury hotel has hundreds of rooms surrounding a gladiatorial arena. One may drink all night and walk onto their balcony in the afternoon and watch bloodsports. Then tell them to keep it down. The hotel also has a grand ballroom and casino.
An intrepid merchant has set up a chain of taverns along the main trade route. You can’t go ten miles without seeing a sign to lure travelers that say things like: Thirsty? Who isn’t! Visit the Thirsty Thief, or If someone is going to take all your money while in Zar, let it be us, the Thirsty Thief. We’ll leave a torch lit for ya’.---
The Last Pilgrimage - Faiths of Zar
Some travelers have remarked that the Lands of Zar have more gods in their heavens than stars. Polytheistic study in Ebonstone can be daunting, as there are hundreds of gods, patron gods and demigods. Himeres worship the Circle of Twenty, a council of the most powerful gods. Je’epar may say a blessing to any number of gods, depending on the situation.
Zarans of all classes take the Last Pilgrimage in their lifetime, if they can. It is a treacherous route around Zar that ends in Nokaas Zar. Often times elder Zarans will take the pilgrimage and drown themselves in the sea, stating that they survived the harshest of Zar, and lived as long as they wished. Though the suicide associated with the pilgrimage is not encouraged, no one would get in the way of a Zaran and their gods.
One temple in Ebonstone holds a precious holy item, a mysterious palm-sized sphere that projects some sort of history of a civilization long past. In reality, this is a holo-spere of The Three Amigos, starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase. May the gods help us.
Under the Sand - Dangers of Zar
Cults and Secret Societies
Numi (noo-mee) Brotherhood – mystics and psionosicts Shadowmancers – Another name for Zaran Phantoms
No one is really sure if the strange pods that can be found protecting oasis’s are plant or animal. They are four foot tall cocoons, wrapped in dark green skin or leaves, and they grow on the sides of trees by the water. If one gets too close, the cocoon opens and ejects poison spines that may cause dizziness and unconsciousness for an average human. Over the course of a day, a Di’ak pod can drain a horse of it’s fluids with thin tendrils that grow out form the bottom of the pod. Di’ak pods can be carefully caught and used as traps in a home, as they are used in some of Zar’s less reputable merchant houses. If one can get close enough to a pod to cut it, the water stored inside is safe to drink.
Ruark are huge vulture-like birds with up to ten foot wingspans. They are capable of lifting a man off his feet, but usually only scavenge corpses. The sight of a flock of these circling overhead when one trudges through the desert chills the spine. And sometimes one may come down for a bite.
Yeah, like in Dune. Not as big, and you can’t get high and have an orgy when you drink their blood. Wait, I want them to have SPIKES. And shoot lightning.