Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Neighborhood

I was reading through an old issue of Dragon when I spied this advertisement. A quick search online revealed very little about Neighborhood beyond the fact that it was released in 1982. Does anyone know any more about this game? I wonder if it was anything like Alma Mater when it comes to its treatment of the subject matter, or if it opted instead for a less tongue-in-cheek approach? The ad's focus on throwing rocks, snowballs, and mashed potatoes(?) at your friends suggests it's probably a humorous RPG, but who can say?

Different Worlds: Issue #20

Issue #20 of Different Worlds (March 1982) features a cover by Luise Perenne, an artist I will always associate with RuneQuest, because of the the many illustrations she provided for it. The cover depicts Zarzeena the Sorcereress casting a spell through her scrying stone. Zarzeena, also called La Bella Donna, plays an important role in Steve Perrin's "Zarzeena's World," a "bare-bones scenario" intended to present the setting of a novel by Luise Perenne from a roleplaying perspective. So far as I know the novel in question was never published. The scenario is indeed "bare-bones," since it's more of a sketch of various NPCs and their interactions than a structured adventure. 

Robin Wood's "Heraldry" is a lengthy, 10-page article, complete with examples, that explains the intricacies of European heraldry. I love articles like this, but then I'm a bit strange. On the other hand, Roby Ward's "Giving Birth" is not an article I love. It answers the question, "How should a GM determine whether or not a player-character has gotten herself pregnant?" Words fail me. 

Fortunately, "Race for the 'Specter'" by Doug Houseman is a very good Traveller adventure. It's 9 pages long (including a two-page map spread) and is intended to be competitive. A team of Zhodani characters is assaulting an Imperial research station during the Fifth Frontier War, opposed by an Imperial watch team. The scenario is very well done, with an interesting premise and well presented map, but I do wonder how practical it would be to run two groups at the same time. It's recommended that each group meet in a separate room, with the referee moving between them, something I've tried before but found unwieldy. Houseman also includes notes on "ghosting" the Zhodani, a term I've never heard before but which simply means that the referee runs them rather than a second set of players.

"How to Design Mythology" by David P. Joiner is a decent, if brief, overview of the questions a referee should consider when designing gods for use in his campaign setting. This issue's reviews are a good mix of products, starting with the excellent The Free City of Haven. Also reviewed are Against the Giants and The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, alongside The Iron Wind (for Rolemaster) and several Judges Guild Traveller releases (Tarlkin's Landing, Glimmerdrift Reaches, Crucis Margin). What's interesting is that all of these reviews are positive, in contrast to several previous issues. The issue also includes book reviews, first of The Ice Is Coming by Patricia Wrightson and the Othergates publishing guide. 

The penultimate content of the issue is a short article entitled "The Mimi" by Ernest Hogan, which describes fairy-like creatures of Aboriginal Australian legend. Like most articles of this kind in the pages of Different Worlds, it's completely without game mechanics. Meanwhile, Gigi D'Arn continues to dish the dirt on the buy-out of SPI, this time suggesting that it was TSR, not Avalon Hill, that was looking like the most likely buyer (correct, as it turns out). She also mentions an upcoming Star Trek movie called Unknown Continent and featuring Ricardo Montalban as one of its "guest actors." Never heard that title associated with Star Trek II before!

I continue to be unsure how to judge Different Worlds. Its content is so variable and uneven that, every time I think I can render a verdict on it, I read the next issue and re-assess my perspective. Perhaps that's a good thing ultimately, but I find it mildly frustrating nonetheless. Unlike Dragon or White Dwarf, I don't know what to make of Different Worlds and I suspect that I may never know.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Breaking Free

When I was a younger person, Dave Trampier's Dragon magazine comic, Wormy, regularly confused me. This was partly a consequence of the fact that, by the time I first encountered it, there have been more than fifty previous installments. Another source of my confusion were the multiple narratives, not just with different groups of characters, but also with different settings. I can't quite recall how long it took me to understand that Wormy and his cylcops pal, Ace, were giants and, therefore, much bigger than, say, the ogres or trolls – or indeed the wizard Grimorly and Solomoriah.

Speaking of which: I was always most fond of the strips that featured the wizard and the shadow cat. Grimorly was single-minded in pursuit of his goals and compellingly sinister. He was also the primary window through which readers got to learn about the nature of magic in the world of Wormy. Or should I say worlds? Throughout the comic's run, there were hints from time to time of a bigger, more cosmic picture, one that was never fully explored. 

An example of this can be seen in issue #70 of Dragon (February 1983), when Solomoriah, in order to escape from a battle with Wormy, breaks through the skin of reality into a weird, otherworldly dimension filled with floating spheres. The unstated implication is that each of these spheres is another world, but Trampier never elaborated upon this. There are other strips that touch on these topics and I loved them all, because they presented, albeit in a highly mysterious fashion, a view of other dimensions/worlds/planes that continues to appeal to me to this day.

House of Worms, Session 230

Aíthfo kept his composure upon hearing this news from Menték hiChúritle, administrative high priest of the Temple of Ksárul in Béy Sü. At the moment, the high priest believed – or seemed to be believe, since one never could tell with priests of the Lord of Secrets – that Aíthfo approved and supported the seizure of the colony of Linyaró by agents of the temple. Aíthfo asked what would happen if he, the rightful governor of the colony, were to return. Menték looked puzzled for a moment before asking, "Why would you return? Surely, you can find a better position elsewhere in the Empire?" Aítho continued to press the point, suggesting he needed to return in order to "set things right." He felt that he had an obligation to deal with the consequences of his own prior actions. Menték remained puzzled. "I would highly recommend that you not return to Linyaró." 

Aíthfo thanked the high priest and returned to his comrades staying at the Black Stone clan house. He related what he had learned. Znayáshu was alarmed by what he heard. He suggested that Menték was subtly threatening Aíthfo and that the Temple of Ksárul would likely try to stop him from returning to Linyaró, possibly even going so far as to kill him. With that, they left and met up with Keléno and Kirktá. Together, they sought possible help from the Temple of Keténgku regarding the plague that ravaged the Achgé Peninsula. The temple was located in the eastern side of the capital, across the Missúma River. Along the way, they encountered Grujúng fishing along the riverbank, an activity in which he engaged to deal with anxiety (and he was suffering from great anxiety thinking about his family and clan mates back in Linyaró). 

At the temple, the characters were introduced to a young priestess named Ninggáya hiKadárta. Ninggáya, they learned, had come to the temple recently from the city of Hekéllu. She is known for her unorthodox approaches to the treatment of disease, which is precisely what interested the characters. In conversation, it quickly became clear that Ninggáya is knowledgeable and brilliant but lacking in both social skills – she is very blunt, for example – and respect for tradition and authority. Nevertheless, Znayáshu was impressed with her and explained to her that he and his companions would be heading back to the Southern Continent to deal with an outbreak of the Plague of the White Hand. Ninggáya was quite excited by this prospect, but doubted that it was in fact the Plague of the White Hand. She suggested that it was in fact something else, since the White Hand didn't last nearly as long as the ailment that was seemingly affecting Linyaró.

It was at this point that Znayáshu hit upon the idea of trying to convince various temples and clans to fund Ninggáya's work in the Achgé Peninsula (and make some money for the House of Worms clan at the same time – after all, the clan had missed a year and a half worth of peculation during their absence from the colony). To achieve this, he enlisted Keléno and Kirktá in his plan. He asked that they return to the Palace of the Realm, surreptitiously pilfer reports from the southern Tsolyáni city of Penóm so that he could doctor them to imply that there have been incidents of the Plague of the White Hand there too. The reports could then be returned to the Palace of the Realm, to be "found" later and used to support his contention that Ninggáya's mission – and that of the House of Worms clan – were vital not just for Linyaró but all of Tsolyánu.

Understandably, Keléno was reluctant to participate in this plan. Not only did he feel it mildly ignoble but he worried about the possibility of its being found out. Consequently, he enlisted Kirktá to handle the details. Kirktá had no objections to doing so, but asked that he might be allowed to remain with Ninggáya to talk with her at greater length about her methods of treating disease. Kirktá had long had an interest in such matters, but it was also clear that the young priest of Durritlámish also had an interest in Ninggáya herself, a fact that Keléno also noticed. Later, he would upbraid Kirktá for his behavior and warn him against becoming too involved with the priestess of Keténgku. 

As it turned out, Kirktá's efforts bore fruit. Ninggáya's plan involved isolating individuals afflicted with the disease in separate rooms, regularly cared for by an attendant. Kirktá judged the plan likely to succeed but at great cost. The resources necessary to scale up to a major outbreak would be immense. Rather than being unhappy about this, Znayáshu was pleased. He felt this would make it even easier to solicit large sums of Káitars from clans and temples, since this "innovative, new approach" demanded it. Others were skeptical, but deferred to Znayáshu, as he had greater experience with these kinds of financial maneuvers. He also hit upon the idea of dispatching a note to Avanthár, asking their patron, Prince Mridóbu, for funds. To his surprise, the prince replied positively, a week later, gifting them a large sum of money to support their efforts. Emboldened, Znayáshu penned even more letters, using the fact of Mridóbu's involvement to encourage others to provide more money.

Elsewhere, Nebússa was dealing with the preparation for his upcoming wedding to Lady Srüna. Much of his time was spent running interference between his imperious betrothed and his clan relations, each of whom had very clear ideas on how best to put on an affair that would be long remembered in Béy Sü. In the midst of this, one of his relations approached him in a panic. He explained that Kettukál hiMraktiné had consented to come to the wedding and that he would be bringing with him his "nephew," Kágesh. Nebússa was confused, particularly by the clear suggestion that Kágesh was no nephew of the Tsolyáni general. The relative explained that Kágesh was a pseudonym adopted by Prince Eselné when he wished to travel incognito. When in Béy Sü, he would sometimes appear at social gatherings in the guise of Kettukál's nephew so to avoid some of the usual restrictions on his movements. At the same time, he was still an Imperial prince, an heir to the Petal Throne, and there was no way one could not acknowledge this, even if it had to be done subtly and without drawing undue attention to his presence. Doing so would not be easy, given the fiasco that had occurred some months previously when Eselné attended another wedding.

On top of this, there was another delicate matter. Nebússa's Golden Bough clan is a proud, even arrogant bunch. Though pleased with Nebússa's work over the past few years, they were less impressed with some of his companions. House of Worms is, after all, a merely medium-ranked clan; under normal circumstances, there'd be no expectation that they'd receive invitations at all. However, in deference to Nebússa's long association with them, Golden Bough would allow a few invitations to be extended to them. In the course of negotiation, it was decided that Aíthfo, by virtue of his position as a governor; Keléno, by virtue of his marriage to Nebússa's clan cousin, Hmásu; and Grujúng, by virtue of his military rank in the colonial legion, would all receive invitations. Everyone else would need to stay in the courtyard of the clan house, where various "satellite" celebrations would be taking place. 

Meanwhile, Znayáshu consulted his astrological charts and ephemerides, so that he could cast horoscope for Nebússa and Srüna on the eve of their wedding. To his surprise, he saw no evidence of anything dire in their immediate future. Aíthfo, on the other hand … 

Pulp Fantasy Library: Thieves' House

I've said it many times before, so many that long-time readers are probably tired of my saying it, but, if I had to choose a single author whose writings best exemplify what I mean by "pulp fantasy" as it pertains to the literary inspirations of Dungeons & Dragons (at least in its Gygaxian form), I'd choose Fritz Leiber. More specifically than that, I'd choose Leiber's tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, the first of which was published in 1939, just three years after the death of Robert E. Howard, another serious contender for the title of the single most inspirational author on the creation of D&D. 

One of the primary reasons I choose Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser over Conan as prototypes of the D&D adventurer is not their larcenous goals – which they have in common with Conan – but rather because they operate as a team. Lots of people like to point to the Fellowship of the Ring as the closest literary antecedent to a D&D party and I can certainly see why. If one's preferences in fantasy lean toward the epic, the Fellowship isn't a bad model, but, as I've tried to argue here for more than a decade, Dungeons & Dragons makes much more sense if you look to the pulp fantasies that inspired Arneson and especially Gygax. With that firmly in mind, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser inevitably loom very large indeed.

The story "Thieves' House," first published in the February 1943 issue of Unknown Worlds, amply demonstrates what I mean. Krovas, master of the Thieves' Guild of Lankhmar, seeks to recover "the skull Omphaal, of the Master Thief Omphaal, with great ruby eyes, and one pair of jeweled hands," which was "stolen from the Thieves' Guild by the priests of Votishal and placed by them in the crypt of their accursed temple." Krovas wishes to recover it so "that it may be given the proper veneration in the Thieves' Sepulcher." Unfortunately, the skull is hidden behind a door "reputed to be beyond the cunning of any thief to pick" and watched over by "a guardian beats of terrible ferocity." Because "men still shudder when they speak of the crypt of Votishal," no one within the Thieves' Guild would dare attempt to recover it – but "there are those outside the Thieves' Guild who can." 

Unsurprisingly, Krovas is referring to "a certain rogue and picklock known as the Gray Mouser" and the "huge barbarian who goes by the name Fafhrd, but is sometimes called the Beast-Slayer." Krovas sends one of his underlings, a man named Fissif, to employ the Twain in this endeavor. His reason for wishing to hire them isn't simply because of their skills as accomplished burglars but because the Thieves' Guild has a score to settle with them for their past crimes against one of Lankmar's most powerful institutions. Fissif is described as "the smoothest of double-crossers" and Krovas expects him to use Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to recover the skull Omphaal and then set them up for a fall.

One aspect of "Thieves' House" that's very striking is that, after the initial build-up about the crypt beneath the temple of Votishal and the difficulty in breaching it, Leiber describes neither it nor the bold theft to find the skull. Instead, he picks up after Fissif has double-crossed Fafhrd and the Mouser, as he flees back to the Thieves' Guild, with the goal of luring them inside. As the brothers in arms pursue the fat thief, Fafhrd senses that this is exactly what Fissif intended, but his friend initially dismisses the idea, claiming, "I know these thieves, Fafhrd. I know them well." Upon reflection, the Mouser concedes that "there may be something to what you say" and he becomes warier.

It's at this point that the story truly begins. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser sneak into the headquarters of the guild, the eponymous Thieves' House, with the goal of finding not just Fissif but the skull he had stolen from them. Shortly after entering, though, they're set upon by guards, who try to stop their advance. Working together, they evade the guards and rush toward the guild master's chambers where they assume Fissif must now be. Once they reach the room in question, they find that, in addition to Krovas, it holds a red-haired woman who quickly snatches up the skull and flees beyond a secret door. Their attempt to open the door fails, at which point they recall that Krovas the guild master is still in the room with them.

But the black-bearded man had not taken any notice of the commotion. As the approached him slowly they saw that his face was bluish-purple under the swarthy skin, and that his eye bulged not from astonishment, but from strangulation. Fafhrd lifted the oily, well-combed beard and saw cruel indentations on the throat, seeming more like those of claws than fingers. The Mouser examined the things on the table. There were a number of jeweler's instruments, their ivory handles stained deep yellow from long use. He scooped up some small objects.

"Krovas had already pried three of the finger-jewels loose and several of the teeth," he remarked, showing Fafhrd the rubies and a number of pearls and diamonds, which glittered on his palm.

Fafhrd nodded and again lifted Krovas's beard, frowning at the indentations, which were beginning to deepen in color.

"I wonder who the woman is?" said the Mouser. "No thief is permitted to bring a woman here on pain of death."

The remainder of the story concerns the Twain's efforts to recover the jeweled skull and hands that had been stolen from them and discover exactly what happened to Krovas. In doing so, they explore the twisting corridors, secret passages, and labyrinthine cellars of the Thieves' House. It's a fun story, filled with plenty of action but also with lots of great character moments, allowing Leiber to give us greater insights into his protagonists – who they are, what they value, and what they mean to each other. It's that last bit that most interests me, I think. As I said at the start of this post, Fafhrd and the Mouser are a team. They're true friends and, while they frequently bicker and even occasionally fall out with one another, when the going gets tough, they've got each other's back. I find this quality of the Twain both admirable and touching and much more reminiscent of my experiences playing D&D than the lone wolf adventures of Conan, however exciting. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Play by Post

 I am contemplating refereeing a play-by-post campaign parallel to my real time online campaign of The Vaults of sha-Arthan. My primary reason for doing this is so that I can put the setting and its rules through their paces by exposure to as large a number of people as possible. However, to run a play-by-post campaign properly, I'll need a platform to host it and I have no experience with any of them. Do any readers have any recommendations in this regard? I don't need anything fancy, just a means for myself and players to make posts, both public and private. Some capacity for posting images, like maps, would likely be helpful too.

Thanks in advance!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Donjonlands

Stephen Wendell is the player of Aíthfo hiZnáyu, the adventuresome governor of the Tsolyáni colony of Linyaró, in my House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign. That campaign has been going for more than six years now – it began in March 2015 – making it one of the longest, continuous RPG campaigns I've ever refereed. During that time, I've not only had a great deal of fun, thanks to the participation of Stephen and his fellow players, but I've also forged friendships that mean a great deal to me. It's not exaggeration to say that those friendships played a significant role in giving me the courage to start blogging again after so long an absence.

Stephen is a man of many talents beyond roleplaying my favorite Tsolyáni on the make. Since the start of this year, he's been blogging over at Donjonlands. There, he's using the Holmes rulebook and Monster & Treasure Assortment – as well as his considerable creativity – to stock and explore a 179-room dungeon map produced by another dear friend and player in my House of Worms, campaign, Dyson Logos. It's a fun and inspiring project, especially if, like me, you take pleasure the simple joys of stocking a dungeon from random tables and then trying to make sense of the results.

As I prepare The Vaults of sha-Arthan for play later this summer, I've been thinking a lot more about how to stock and present a large dungeon for weekly play in an unusual setting. Stephen's posts have given me even more to think about and I expect they might do the same for you. Take a look if you have the time.

Random Roll: DMG, p. 28

Page 28 of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide contains numerous short sections about the minutiae of combat. I'm not going to discuss them all in this post. Instead, I'm going to focus on those that I find noteworthy for one reason or another, starting with the section on helmets.

It is assumed that an appropriate type of head armoring will be added to the suit of armor in order to allow uniform protection of the wearer. Wearing of a "great helm" adds the appropriate weight and restricts vision to the front 60' only, but gives the head AC 1. If a helmet is not worn, 1 blow in 6 will strike at the AC 10 head, unless the opponent is intelligent, in which case 1 blow in 2 will be aimed at the AC 10 head (d6, 1–3 = head blow).

I've mentioned before that this is one of my favorite obscure rules in AD&D. It was certainly one I regularly sought out, because I knew it was in the DMG somewhere; I just couldn't always remember precisely where. For the most part, this rule makes sense and is probably an improvement over OD&D's silence on the subject, despite the fact that a helmet is included in the equipment list. 

Next up are magic armor and shields, which have interesting properties.

When magic armor is worn, assume that its properties allow movement at the next higher base rate and that weight is cut by 50%. There is no magical elfin chain mail.

Again, this is reasonable. I only note that Unearthed Arcana, penned by Gygax himself, includes magical elfin chain mail. 

Magic shields are no less weighty than their non-magical counterparts, but they are non-bulky with respect to encumbrance. 

I wonder why magical armor is less weighty but not magical shields. I don't object to the ruling, but I am curious as to Gygax's thinking. In any case, he continues to talk about shields and their use. Gygax begins by noting that

The shield can be used fully only to the left or front of the right handed individual. Attacks from the right flank or rear negate the benefits of a shield.

As a southpaw myself, I appreciate the acknowledgment of left handed combatants! More interesting, though, I think are his combats about large shields.

Therefore, large shields are treated as but +1 to armor class rating without a shield. Optionally, you may allow them to add +2 to this armor class with respect to small (non-war engine or giant hurled) missiles

The last point Gygax addresses is one that I've struggled with many times, namely the matter of weapon versus armor class adjustments. This is something I want to include, because it seems obvious to me that different weapons were created and wielded precisely because some were more effective in certain circumstances than in others. At the same time, the complexity likely required to address this worries me, which is why I've generally never found a system I fully embraced. AD&D includes such a system, but I've never found it very workable, for reasons Gygax discusses.

If you allow weapon type adjustments in your campaign please be certain to remember that these adjustments are for weapons versus specific types of armor, not necessarily against actual armor class.

This is something that's also stated in the Players Handbook, but I think it's important that Gygax reiterates it, lest the table there be misunderstood. That said, he also reiterates another point that I think militates against the system's ultimate utility.

In most cases, monsters not wearing armor will not have any weapon type adjustments allowed, as monster armor class in such cases pertains to the size, shape, agility, speed, and/or magical nature of the creature.

This is exactly why I was never able to adopt the weapon adjustments. If they generally don't apply to attacks against monsters, the most common opponents of characters in Dungeons & Dragons, what's the point of such a system? Worse still, I think Gygax's statement that monster armor class is reflective of size, shape, agility, speed, and so forth throws into question just what "armor class" in a broad sense means. This tension has always existed in D&D's combat system, to be sure, but I can't help but feel that, in trying to include and make sense of weapon adjustments, Gygax has opened up a can of worms that threatens to undermine the entire system. That's why, despite my keen interest in modeling differences between weapons, I nevertheless favor a simple and abstract combat system, which, while not "realistic," at least avoids being incoherent. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Original Conan Fiction on the Way

Conan Properties just announced that, starting in May 2022, Titan Books would begin "a program of original new publishing featuring Robert E. Howard's most famous character, Conan." The announcement goes on to say that "the new fiction will stand firmly within the Conan canon, beginning with a novel and two short stories to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the character."

Honestly, I never know how to feel about announcements like this. On the one hand, I'm always glad to see Conan and other foundational pulp fantasy characters celebrated, especially nowadays, when so much of popular fantasy is so thoroughly deracinated. On the other hand, precisely because of that deracination, I wonder just how well this new fiction will reflect the work and worldview of Howard. Given how well such an effort went down in the 1960s under the stewardship of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter (i.e. not very), I am not sanguine. I suppose a great deal depends on who these "finest authors" Titan plans to employ are.

Only time will tell.

House of Worms, Sessions 228–229

The journey by riverboat from Avanthár to Béy Sü was short (just under two days) and peaceful, a welcome change from the chaos and upheaval of the last few weeks. Also traveling on the boat was an older clan mate of Nebússa, Qeqélmu hiSsáivra, the Dritlán of the first cohort of the First Legion of Ever-Present Glory. Since his younger days, Grujúng has been an admirer of Kettukál hiMraktiné, the Kérdu of the said legion. He used this as an opportunity to approach Qeqélmu as a fellow legionnaire and to trade war stories. To his surprise, Qeqélmu proved to be much more approachable than either his clan or exalted position would suggest. From him, Grujúng learned about more about the war in the northeast involving Yán Kór, Sa'á Allaqí, and Milumanayá, as well as Tsolyánu's wait-and-see attitude about the conflict. He added that he was returning to Béy Sü to deliver new orders to Kettukál from the Petal Throne.

At the end of the journey, the characters split up to seek places to stay in the city. Grujúng and Lady Srüna headed to the Golden Bough clan house in the northern part of the city. Since Keléno's first wife, Hmásu, is a member of the same clan and cousin to Nebússa, he joined them, as did Kirktá (who has, more or less, become Keléno's "apprentice"). Meanwhile, Aíthfo sought out the Black Stone clan house, along with Znayáshu, Chiyé, and the Ksárul sorcerers who had accompanied them. Black Stone is the clan of Aíthfo's new wife, Ta'ána, as well as that of Lára hiKhánuma, leader of the sorcerers. Grujúng had no interest in traveling with either group, preferring instead to seek out lodgings in the barracks of the temple guards of the Temple of Sárku. 

At the Golden Bough clan house, Nebússa intended, first and foremost, to speak with his fathers and mothers. When he left Béy Sü several years ago, he did so under the cover of being a sybaritic wastrel, an identity he'd adopted for his work with the Omnipotent Azure Legion. Most of his clan (aside from Múresh hiQolyélmu, an important figure within the Legion) had no idea that his public persona was a carefully constructed pose. Up to this point, Nebússa had been a disappointment to his clan; his family was therefore overjoyed to learn the truth. 

Nebússa followed up this new by introducting Srüna, his betrothed. As a relation of the Disposer of Méku, the hereditary governor of that city, Srüna greatly impressed Nebússa's class-conscious relations. They asked him how soon the pair planned to wed. Nebússa admitted that he and Srüna had not yet set a day. Another question followed: how long was Nebússa planning to stay in the capital? He replied that he had no fixed schedule, though his original intention was to leave in a few days. His family was disappointed; they explained that, since they could not publicly celebrate his activities as an agent of the OAL, they now hoped that they might be able to host his wedding to Srüna in high style. After all, what sort of celebration could he hope to have in far-off Linyaró? 

After a few minutes of discussion, Nebússa and Srüna agreed to the clan's plans, even though it would take time to arrange. For one, it would three weeks at the earliest before Srüna's clan in Méku could be contacted and arrive in Béy Sü for the nuptials. Furthermore, there would need to be many invitations sent to people of significance in the capital. As Nebússa would later learn, one of those invited was Tíkuru hiTlaktonái, clan master of the Tlakotáni holdings in the north of the Empire. Though not a member of the imperial line, Tíkuru was nevertheless an important man in Béy Sü. His attendance at the wedding would be a huge boon to the position of the Golden Bough. Likewise, through one of Nebússa's fathers, an invitation was sent to Kettukál hiMraktiné – another coup for the clan if the Kérdu should choose to attend.

Keléno found little of this of interest. He set off for the Palace of the Realm to meet with its prefect, Di'iqén hiSayúncha, to gain permission to look into Engsvanyáli records about the Southern Continent. Di'iqén received him and happily granted his request. Keléno, aided by Kirktá, then settled in to scour the records. Keléno he might gain greater insights into the current situation on the Achgé Peninsula. The other members of the House of Worms clan spent their time sightseeing in Béy Sü, visiting the Pyramid of Ssirandár III, the Great Square, and the elegant shops and prosperous businesses of the city. After a time, all three groups met up and exchanged information. Znayáshu was slightly vexed to learn about Nebússa's upcoming wedding. He did not wish to remain in the capital for three weeks, suggesting that they needed to return to Linyaró as soon as possible. Unfortunately for him, no one else saw the urgency and instead thought they should take advantage of their current situation. After all, when would they be in the capital of the Imperium again?

Keléno and Kirktá returned to examining records, while most of the others set out to buy themselves attire appropriate to the wedding celebrations. Aíthfo, on the other hand, thought this might be an opportunity to check in with the local Temple of Ksárul seeking an exchange of information. He assumed, as a devotee of Ksárul himself, as well as the governor of Linyaró, he'd be well received, Instead, the temple's administrative high priest, Menték hiSayúncha, met him with some suspicion. It took Aíthfo a long time to convince Menték that they had interests in common and, even then, the high priest remained aloof. Aíthfo explained that he simply hoped to learn more about what he had happened in Linyaró and that, if anyone would know, it was the Temple of Ksárul in the capital. Menték seemed flattered by this suggestion and opened up somewhat. As their conversation continued, Menték admitted that all was well in Linyaró and that "the right people" were keeping the colony safe, by which he strongly implied he meant the Temple of Ksárul. Aíthfo feigned pleasure upon hearing this and learned as much as he could – which was not much, given the distance between Linyaró and Tsolyánu – before leaving the temple and heading back to meet his companions.