Sunday, January 8, 2017

Zyan Above

Zyan Above. Sidney Sime
The great city of Zyan soars over the dreamlands on a fixed orbit. It rests on a rock of reddish hue, seven miles east to west, and four miles north to south. From the bottom of the rock springs the White Jungle, an immense riot of fungal blooms, teeming with life tailored to this inverted phantasmagoria. On its topside, the terrain of the rock has many changes of elevation, with sheer cliffs, hills and hollows. Off the western edge, a small separate island keeps time with its larger sibling. It is connected to the main body by a soaring bridge, on which an honor guard always stands in white lacquered armor, secured by chains against the howling wind.

Bridge to the Sunset Palace. Svetoslav Petrov
The Sunset Palace. Sidney Sime
On this island a palace rises, majestic and elegant, with domes piled upon domes, and towers climbing into the sky. This is the Sunset Palace. Its towers are cleverly fashioned to form narrow channels, where clouds, snared by the inexorable gait of Zyan, roll down towards a central dome, pouring like a heavenly river through the great arched windows of the courtier's ballroom. On the palace's western face a glorious stained window reaches six stories high, rich with the iconography of the royal line of Zyan. Through its colored panes, a council chamber can be glimpsed. At the head of a great table, a monstrous orchid springs through the floor, its petals dangling over a jeweled ivory throne. Ever since the malaise came upon Zyan, this orchid has drooped and lost its lustrous sheen. It is as old as the city, and it is said that when it dies, so too will the hope of Zyan.

Chimes. Dulac
Moving eastward, across the bridge from the Sunset Palace, one crosses onto the raised western plateau of the main island. The neighborhood set atop this great cliff is called Chimes. The buildings here were once bright and elegant; now they have a falling down charm. Between woody hills nestle cozy manses with sunken courtyards and jangling chimes. At the center of the plateau, a great hollow descends gently to mossy woods, through which a sparkling stream runs. Its once manicured paths were stocked with splendid peacocks from which the hollow takes its name. Its paths are now wild and overgrown, and the peacocks have, through generations of haphazard rutting, grown surly and garish.

Along the northern edge of Chimes stands the Stable of the Guides, a clean building with soaring columns, and fine martial statues of bronze. Piers extend from darkened holes out over the Endless Azure Sea. There the Guides once housed their mounts, the great kestrels that soared on the screaming winds that cut across Zyan. The art is all but lost; now only two ancient kestrels, the last of their line, keep the blind stable master company.

A Great Kestral Returns to The Stables. Moebius
Further east, down the cliff that sets the western plateau apart, seven sets of narrow steps run into the three neighborhoods below: Volish Hill, Pentacle, and Cusp. Along the stairs that descend into Pentacle is set the Vertical Market, a series of arcades carved directly into the living rock. Under bright silk pavilions, the merchants hawk their wares. Here spices spill from open tins, beneath dainty candies hanging form colored stings; there lie piles of ancient books, cast off casually from a noble clan's library, their faded titles inscribed in languages no longer read. At last, one comes upon the little cages of jeweled serpents, opulent singing birds, and capering yellow monkeys of the White Jungle below.

Observatory of the Horoscops. Phillipe Druillet
Of the neighborhoods at the base of the cliffs, Volish HIll is the most uneven, with steep stairs that climb past buildings, clinging improbably to the hillsides. Numerous antique footbridges connect high points, sometimes passing over one another. Atop the largest hill, a tower rises like a crooked finger. This is the observatory of the Horoscops, the guild of soothsayers and calendar keepers. From its top, a great telescope, extending from the painted dome, is trained on the heavens above. Copper pipes run from the observatory south, passing from building to building until they snake down the sheer cliff of the rock of Zyan. These are the periscopes trained on the heavens below, relaying crucial astrological information about the movements of the astronomical bodies below.

The wall of Cusp. Ian Miller
In Cusp, the most northerly of the three neighborhoods, the city begins to spill down a great incline to the north that eventually becomes too steep for homes. A wall has been set here, running between tightly packed houses that lean together against the harsh boreal winds. In a plaza in this tilted neighborhood, there is an amphitheater with a festival air about it, with several stages, bleachers, and raised platforms, with ringing bells, and instruments for performers. Leading onto one end of the central stage from an adjoining building are a pair of great doors, fifty feet high, painted in gaudy colors. This is the Theatre of Justice, where the Inquisitors Guild metes out its spectacles of punishment, the most gruesome and anticipated of which involve their cruel puppets.

Inquisitors Puppet (15' tall). Sha Sha Higby
Beyond the walls here, where the rocks spill steeply down to the edge of the island, narrow ledges jut, supporting lonely twisted trees that cling in the harsh wind to barren rock. Here one may find among the stones--if one know where to look--an ancient stair leading down to tunnels. On the northern side of the island, the cliff face is riddled with baroque gates with blowing grotesques, facing the Endless Azure Sea. Past the gates the tunnels can be seen, with aquamarine tiles, and strange statuary. These are the Catacombs of the North Wind, built when the Zyanese still nurtered the hope that they might propitiate--and perhaps control--the demon winds that blow across the Endless Azure Sea. Bitter experience taught them the futility and danger of such hopes.

Floating Islands. Roger Dean
Past the shore of the main island here, several small islands float, making a broken and irregular barrier against the biting North Wind. Here fantastical birds nest by icy pools of turquoise water. The last island is long and thin, ending in a jutting spire of rock. From this isle dangle cages that hang from chains, spinning over the depths of the Endless Azure Sea. This is the Farthest Isle, where traitors were made to hang until their flesh, cut and frozen, gave up the semblance of life.

As one moves east, past the strange neighborhood of Pentacle with its obscure shrines and eerie mirrors, the neighborhoods become seedier and more dilapidated. In Gutter, the crowded buildings and narrow streets, with their networks of tautly stretched clotheslines, give way to sudden hollows, where silver grasses grow, and groves of forlorn trees stand. An especially steep hollow cuts through the neighborhood like a gash, with a dark narrow wood winding along its base. Nearby a building rises above the shabby dwellings, with outdoor altars of an evil aspect, dangling censors, and elaborate drains that empty into the massive sewer grates below. This is the Abattoir of the Fleischguild. In porcelain chambers, the carvers here sacrifice a constant stream of beasts and men to propitiate the endless hunger of the unrelenting archons.

Abattoir of The Fleischguild. Alan Lee

At the eastern end of the island, one finds Turnabout, most wretched of the neighborhoods of Zyan. Here the dwellings are crumbling and overtaken by nature. The cats of Zyan swarm here most of all, holding their secret councils beneath rotting floorboards, where the rats are plentiful. Among the of half reclaimed buildings of Turnabout sits a large monastery, imposing in its modesty. Within its courtyards massive dinner tables stand at which the abject receive dialy sustenance. Over them presides a statue with a fat belly, its swollen limbs contorted in strange and painful poses. Through other windows one can glimpse rows of hospital beds, and penitents cells filled with instruments of self-torture. This is the Monastery of the Benefactors, who see in the neediness of Turnabout an opportunity to injure themselves through the giving of charity. It is said that the madhouses and leper colonies they maintain beneath the monastery are places to be avoided at all costs.

The Lotus Dens of Turnabout. John Blanche
The denizens of Turnabout cannot afford to maintain the trappings of decency, and so wear masks of paint, often cracked and running. Having lost their fruitless ambition, what coin they can scrounge buys reveries on the rotting cushions of the lotus dens. Strange cults flourish propounding heretical eschatologies and bizarre practices. It is whispered that even dolorous Golumex, the shunned archon, finds his adherents here. The population of Turnabout has already lost all hope. Perhaps this is why the rest of Zyan Above has turned its back on their need. For they see in their painted faces the future of Zyan and are ashamed.

A Heretic Praises Golumex. John Blanche



  1. Great-feeling Dreamlands descriptions.

    Isn't the first illustration also Sime?

  2. You are correct. Edited. Thanks!

  3. Ben, I love your setting. It's really fantastic work. Would love to see your full campaign map. What system do you use?

  4. Anthony, thanks! I'm using Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, with various house rules, new classes, and supplements. But, basically, it's AD&D lite.

    I have campaign maps for only Zyan between (the undercity and sewers) and levels 1-4 of the White Jungle. I do not have a detailed city map yet, only a vague sketch of neighborhoods and key locations, because so far the campaign was first focused on the under city, and then on exploration of the White Jungle. Everything the party knows about the city of Zyan, including the contents of this post, they've learned second hand. I certainly will have a (somewhat) detailed city map eventually.

    For the base of the campaign in the waking world, I use Judges Guild campaign map 18, Ghinor Highlands. The door to the dreamlands is located in the city of Rastingdrung on the shores of Lake Wooling. Mostly the focus is on the dreamlands, although recently there's been some faction play with regards to the waking world.

    1. Really cool. Wish we lived closer, would love to check out the game. I'm in Austin. I run a str8 AD&D 1st Ed campaign.

    2. Are you on google plus? I run it online through hangouts (most-ish) Thursday nights 830pm CST. If you are on gplus I'll send you an invite to the community for the game.

    3. I am on google +. I think we might have followed each other... (anthony huso)

    4. You make some amazing props! I bet your game is pretty great.

  5. Just found your blog today and it is AMAZING! Great stuff! Love it! :D You saved my monday! :)

    1. Very glad you found it Logan, and that it's blunting the grim force of yet another Monday.

  6. Love this, and have your zines- looking forward to more. Was reminded of it via the Questing Beast review on Youtube. Thank you for this.