Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Archaisms and Alzabos

Nathan Anderson

The Book of the New Sun is the story of a morally monstrous and terribly stupid man bumbling his way into highly-symbolic picaresque adventures on a dying planet, and it's one of the finest books I've ever read. A thing of beautiful prose, wondrous words, potent imagination, et cetera and so on ad nauseum. Go read it.

(If you do, I absolutely recommend that you check out the Alzabo Soup podcast, who provide a fantastic analysis of the series and I recommend them without hesitation for those taking the plunge.)

The really important part is that nearly every single thing in Book of the New Sun is fit to be immediately swiped and used in a game. You should do so right now. Daniel Sell did it for Troika!, and Troika! is awesome and should be emulated.

(There was a GURPS book back in '93, but the license expired ages ago.)

But there's a danger in this: making Urth too understandable drains it of the imaginative potency, like how the movie adaptation coalesces all possible interpretations of a character's looks into an actor's face. The summary just doesn't cut it. It needs to be empty space, to be filled in.

So I'm only going to give you the very briefest of openings, a good starting place, and then I'm going to break open this here website and do what Wolfe does - use archaisms in place of making up his own words to give the impression of a thing without exposition of that thing. And I'm not going to tell you what they mean!  Ha ha ha ha!

Apply to UVG and Troika as you see fit.

City at the End of the Sun

The City of Nessus is too large to be effectively taxed, too populous to be effectively censused, and too old for any building to maintain continuity of purpose. It creeps up the banks of the River Gyoll, with each generation moving northward to fresh land and clean water and abandoning the polluted southern stretches.

On the southern margin, in the most impoverished district still part of the city, is the Citadel; a fortress with many towers, home to the remnants of many guilds - torturers, witches, warbeast-breeders, librarians, artillerymen, and so on. This complex was once a spaceport, once the seat of the Autarch before he moved to the House Absolute - but the rockets will never fly again, and the inhabitants have long forgotten that they ever could.

d30 Unexplained Archaisms

  1. "Several members of the family suffered from grotesque alogotrophy. I recommended a swift and severe course of medical poverty, but the jest was not welcomed."
  2. "The balizes, though battered, still stood on the shoreline, giving me a certain amount of comfort."
  3.  "The brephophagist who had terrorized the neighborhood was found and killed early in the morning."
  4. "A cowcat can be hired for a halfpenny an hour, fullpenny for talking, two pennies for shouting, three for violence."
  5. "The criophore atop the fountain had been defaced - one horn and the manhood knocked off and the once-colorful paint stripped away."
  6. "The celebration was to be one of degustation from dawn until dusk - it was popular to appear starving while stuffing oneself."
  7. "He handed over the demijohn  and settled into his hammock, murmuring something about tides and ships and stars."
  8. "Faviform buildings climbed up the hillside - from this distance I could just make out the inhabitants scurrying about. The gunshots followed."
  9. "'Let me consult the festilogy' he said, pulling the tome from its shelf. I was astounded he was able to carry the thing, and from its extensive wear I was more surprised he did not have it memorized."
  10. "The entire household had moved north to the hibernaculum, overnight, leaving her alone with neither husband nor servants. It was, she said, the greatest day in ten years."
  11. "I recalled from boyhood lessons that the creature could inlapidate its victims and at once threw on my cloak, to gain any amount of protection from its touch."
  12. "She handed me a jeton stamped with a bleeding swan. 'Don't lose it," she intoned. 'The armsmen will ask to see it.'"
  13. "He sprayed a lucigen from some capsule at his belt, filling the hallway with light and heat and the smell of burning hair."
  14. "Lychnobites emerged from their tenements in the twilight with silvery eyes and shouldered tools. The rest of the party gave them wide berth."
  15. "Buried in the mulm I could see the glint of the pommelstone. Kicking off my boots, I took a deep breath and dived."
  16. "The bright nacarat banners on the wall were new, as was the armor on the guards."
  17. "A school of nepheliads, freshly emerged from their pools, rose above the treetops towards the approaching thunderhead."
  18. "Among the oose below I found nothing but abandoned stockings."
  19. "The panchymagogue had wrought itself on his innards, leaving him pale and shaking. Without any other aid, I washed him down and wrapped him in blankets."
  20. "A doctor of ptochology was called in to explain matters - I don't think the govenor understood even after over an hour of detailed recounting of conditions in that district."
  21. "Her collection of rarissima was the envy of every librarian in a hundred leagues."
  22. "The schismarch had been executed some months ago, but it seemed that only his followers thought him truly dead."
  23. "Three soleated friars clipped through down the street, singing out donation carols and jingling the box in time with their steps."
  24. "The stagma was among the most pungent I had ever encountered, smelling something of peaches and much more of gasoline."
  25. "The rimestock on the desk was several years out of date."
  26. "A parade of tecnolatrists fell into chaos when the child at its head called the high priest a tremendously rude name." 
  27. "Picking tots out of the sewage overflow was the last resort for many, and the practitioners took a certain amount of bleak pride in it. Two tots from death, they say."
  28. "The homesteaders revere wormcast, and kept a safe and sacred distance from any new mounds, taking care to walk without rhythm."
  29. "A merchant of yetling  goods had struck him over the head with one of his wears, killing the man on the spot."
  30. "The sister zelator had been discharged for turning a blind eye to several instances of sapphism among the convent."

Scenario Starter: The Story Contest

The player characters are all soldiers of the Commonwealth, wounded in a battle against the Ascians at the northern border. They have come from all corners of the Autarch's dominion, though the destruction of their original companies has brought them together here, in the field-hospital of the scarlet-robed Pelerine sisters.

d10 Terrible Injuries

  1. Broken skull
  2. Shattered leg
  3. Missing limb
  4. Gangrenous wound
  5. Third-degree plasma burns
  6. Fever and delirium
  7. Mental trauma
  8. Mauled and trampled
  9. Impaled
  10. Exsanguinated

In the ward there is a woman, Folia, who has had her fill of soldiering and wants to settle down. With all her potential suitors (the PCs) of similar financial situation (poor, wounded veterans) and equally acceptable as far personal chemistry goes, she has laid out a contest: whoever tells the best story (as judged by a third party, being a sickly weirdo in black) will win her hand in marriage.

Each player should get a short time to tell a story (or the summary of one) of or from their character's homeland or personal history. Given the far-future dying Earth nature of the setting, basically anything goes. Use this for background and setting building. Steal every hook you can.

Over the course of the storytelling, there will be several NPCs around the ward, to interject and be interacted with.

  • Severian, journeyman torturer - The creepy guy in a tattered fuligin robe. Recovering from fever caused by infected wounds. The judge of the story contest.
  • Loyal to the Group of 17,  Ascian prisoner of war - Folia can translate his rote aphorisms into discernible speech. The Pelerines, though they consider him to have been stripped of his humanity, still tend to him.
  • Ava, a sister of the Pelerines - Very knowledgeable in theology and medicine. Debates Severian over the nature of the Pancreator and Conciliator and regularly astounds him with basic logic.
  • Winnoc, a slave of the Pelerines - An older man who changes bandages and delivers food to patients. Sold himself into slavery.
  • Chatelaine Mannea, directress of the Pelerines - Head of the field hospital.
When all the stories are told, Folia will announce that final judgement will take place tomorrow. Severian will be summoned by Mannea for an urgent task elsewhere.

The field hospital is hit by an artillery strike during the night.

What follows is to the players - to the north is the battlefront. To the south is miles and miles of wilderness: Lake Diaturna, the rainforests, the mountains, the pampas, and eventually to Nessus. To the east and west, who can say what other lands are within the Commonwealth?


  1. Go read it. Highest possible recommendation.

  2. Lexicon Urthus by Michael Andre-Driussi is a great source of world/novel info and obscure word meanings from the books.

  3. What a fantastic idea for a first session or a sort of session zero!

    1. It is my favorite part of the entire series