Dragons of Tirenia is back baby!

Morning folks! As we said a little while back, James is getting back into Dragon of Tirenia for real, and in a way where you’re actually going to see the deliverables in the form of self-contained zine PDF modules… rather than a massive deluxe book which may never ever be completed if he continues in his perfectionist ways!

Another part of this effort is his revitalisation of the Dragons of Tirenia blog with weekly articles (possibly more on occasion!). So please, check out his latest post if you are interested in learning more about our RPG setting: http://tirenia.blogspot.com/2021/06/the-not-so-secret-history-of-tirenia.html

An early concept map, very out of date now!

Dev blog #53 – More accolades, and facing the future

On Sunday it was announced that Wonderland Nights: White Rabbit’s Diary is a finalist again, this time for the Across the Ditch category in the Australian festival Freeplay. I am super stoked to be in that list with some amazing devs and dev houses which I sorta look up to like senpai. Once again humbled to be on a list with people like this! I think we might even need to do a Freeplay winners/finalists stream once all this is over because hot damn there are some games I am super keen to play on that list!

You might remember lats week I mentioned I had been attending that festival remotely, and I need to catch up on my viewing still, but it was a lovely wholesome experience, with a digital hangout zone which was a little 2d game. Super cool! Definitely want to go every year now, and hopefully one day in person!

Another fun thing that happened this week was I caught up with Rose for the first time in a while. Aside from hanging out as friends, I let her know some of the ideas I have for follow-ups in the Wonderland Nights series. I have four different ideas for a sequel. We’ll see which one is more realistic closer to the time, but it’s something that I’m pretty keen to start hyping closer to the console release of White Rabbit’s Diary. We both had a laugh when we thought about the future and how people will look back and call WRD our ‘early work’ one day, for both of us as artist and game dev/writer.

What else is happening this week? Planning for the Her Jentle Hi-ness KickStarter continues. I expect to launch that in a month’s time, but the main thing this hinges on is making sure my colleagues are 100% comfortable with the process, especially since I am thinking of offering way more custom options for rewards that my last two campaigns had. Some of these will be in-game content, but more than before, I’m thinking merch. So… more on that soon.

James continues developing the next Dragons of Tirenia zine. In fact, he’s actually got three going at once, but he’s focussing mainly on the Fiumenze City Guide and ‘Death of an Artist’ adventure, which has already been playtested multiple times. The other thing he is considering is running another convention adventure at a gaming convention… not Armageddon this time… but we’ll let you know the details on that once our attendance is confirmed. I personally feel like all the offerings James is preparing are very strong and I am confident in our ability to release two or even three zines before the end of the year. Partly this is because much of the content comes from his 100K+ words he finished writing earlier this year, which he is able to take from and improve on, so half of the content is already written. But also the adventures themselves have largely already been playtested over the years. It’s nice to have a backlog of prepared material we can simply improve on and roll out!

What else am I feeling goal-wise about the coming year, since this blog post officially starts year two of the devblog…

  • Her Jentle Hi-ness KickStarter approx July, release the game before the end of the calendar year
  • Two or three Dragons of Tirenia zines released by end of year, at least one convention game either this year or early next year at a major tabletop roleplay con
  • Development of a secret project in partnership with an organisation which I cannot yet reveal (currently at the prototype stage so I can hopefully be offered a contract and funding! That’s all I will say about it for now)
  • Continuing professional development through attending conferences, meetups, and when possible jams (hard because toddler! but I want to try), and something I am just about to undertake, a certificate in Maori business management
  • Expansion of peripheral content offerings, particularly improving the streaming quality and frequency
  • Whatever the next video game project is, whether it is a follow-up or a new title, I want to make sure I am responding with agility to the needs and desires of my audience, and with sensitivity to the characters portrayed (my particular goal here is making sure I include – and pay for the labour of – people with actual experience with certain lifestyles or life struggles before I try to depict them with any air of authority or claim of “representation”)
  • To take this all seriously as a business, with an eye to one day making it my full time job!

All right, that is a huge list… I’ll examine it more finely over the coming weeks and months to make sure I am aiming for realistic goals with actual deliverables so I can see if I am attaining them. But for now, I have my thoughts down on (digital) paper, which is always a big help to start with. See you next week!

Podcast Episode 26 – A Year of Sky Bear

Can you believe it has been a year of the Sky Bear Games Podcast? Today in the podcast episode we cover a few good memories, as well as two recent events we attended: a hui at Kura Rēhia and the Auckland Indie Game Showcase.

The episode can be found here.

Links for places/people/games mentioned in the episode:
Kura Rēhia: https://www.facebook.com/kura.rehia/
Indie Game Showcase: https://techweek.co.nz/whats-on/2021/indie-game-showcase-142/
Kaupapa: https://speak.maori.nz/products/kaupapa
Hohi 1816: https://hohi1816.nz/
Her Jentle Hi-ness Prototype: https://skybeargames.itch.io/her-jentle-hi-ness
Frame of Mind: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1485250/Frame_of_Mind/
Ten Thousand Coins: https://www.tenthousandcoins.com/
Namtran-105: https://namtran-105.itch.io/
Scorpion Engine for Amiga: https://www.facebook.com/scorpionengine/
Bundle Buddies: https://twitter.com/bundle_buddies?lang=en
Pokemon Time Capsule: https://pokemontimecapsule.wordpress.com/

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Legend of Huma, by Richard A. Knaak

First Impressions: After the second (but not the last!) ‘end’ of Dragonlance, TSR decided that sales of the novels were so good that they wanted to keep going. With Weis and Hickman done, for the time being, they decided on the Heroes trilogy, starring some of the legendary characters of Dragonlance’s history. Well, two random characters and one legend anyway, which is the one that we start with: The Legend of Huma! This book first came out in March 1988 For those unfamiliar with Dragonlance, Huma is the greatest Knight of Solamnia of legend, the first to discover the Dragonlances and save the world from the Queen of Darkness. He’s a bit like Isildur from The Lord of the Rings, except he’s not a prat. Richard A. Knaak got assigned this project, his first novel, on the strength of his contributions to the Tales anthology, two of which were Knight-related and also pretty solid. I’ve heard that this book was extremely successful, thus ensuring the continuation of the Dragonlance franchise. Certainly, it’s the only Dragonlance novel not by Weis and Hickman to ever be adapted into a comic book (which I haven’t read.)

I remember The Legend of Huma being one of my absolute favourite Dragonlance books. When I was 10, we went on a family holiday to England. We went to a bookshop, and I was absolutely blown away by HOW MANY DRAGONLANCE BOOKS THERE WERE! And they were SO CHEAP compared to New Zealand! I can’t remember which books my parents bought me, but I remember the first one I picked was The Legend of Huma. For Christmas that same holiday, I got Tales of the Lance, the Dragonlance campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons, and when we discovered you needed some other books to play it, we tracked down the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, and my first set of polyhedral dice. The rest, you might say, was history.

On with this book! This book has two different pieces of cover art. The original cover, by Jeff Easley, is an absolutely stonkin’ picture of a red dragonrider killing a gold dragon with a stolen Dragonlance. It’s an odd scene to choose, rather than showing our hero on his silver dragon. However, it’s the sort of aerial dragon jousting that Dragonlance always promised me, and while it’s a bit dated, it’s undeniably awesome. Ten-year-old James still gets excited by that cover. The newer cover by Matt Stawicki actually has Huma riding the silver dragon on it. I think Huma’s moustache looks naff, and it’s not as action-packed as the original cover, but there’s nothing wrong with it; I think I just have more of an emotional attachment to that original cover.

Plot Summary: The Knights of Solamnia are fighting a losing war with the forces of Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness. Huma, one of the humblest of the Knights, distinguishes himself when he rescues a minotaur defector called Kaz from the enemy. He attracts the attention of a silver dragon by his mercy. During a rout, Huma and Kaz are rescued by Huma’s childhood friend Magius, a renegade magic-user, who has had dreams of a great treasure hidden in a mountain that might end the war. Huma, Kaz and Magius eventually make their way to Dragon Mountain, where Huma is separated from the others and undergoes three tests to prove himself worthy of the Dragonlances. With the new holy weapons, Huma defeats the evil dragons, foils Takhisis’ magical major-domo Galan Dracos, and finally battles Takhisis in her form as a five-headed dragon, with the help of his silver dragon, who’s been secretly moonlighting as his love interest all along! Huma defeats Takhisis and save the world at the cost of his life, leaving only Kaz to remember him as a man, not as a legend.

The Good: Wowza! This book is pretty slow in its first half, but once Huma starts undergoing his trials, it bounces from action scene to action scene and never lets up. There’s something viscerally exciting to ten-year-old James about knights riding on dragons, going on quests, saving the world from evil dragon goddesses… Sure, it isn’t Shakespeare, but it does have the same vital mythic energy of Beowulf or Le Morte D’Arthur. A more apt comparison might be to movies, actually: one of the three trials, where Huma confronts a traitor in the Knights of Solamnia, felt heavily influenced by The Empire Strikes Back, while the devastation of war and the quest for the Dragonlance felt inspired by John Boorman’s Excalibur and the Grail Quest sequences in there. I found these allusions added to rather than detracted from my enjoyment of The Legend of Huma.

This story feels like a response to Knaak’s short story Definitions of Honour from Kender, Gully Dwarves and Gnomes. Once again, we have a minotaur and a knight, and the interplay between their moral codes. However, here Huma represents a third pole: not the brutal honour of the minotaurs, or the decorous honour of the knighthood, but the honour of goodness and being a decent human being. A minor recurring motif in the book is mirrors, and most of the story, especially the three trials, reflects Huma’s essential humanity back to us (pun unintended). 

The Bad: This book wanted terribly to be a trilogy to itself. Certain side-characters and subplots get short shrift: in particular, Magius. Huma’s childhood friend drives the action of the first half of the book, but he’s unbearably narcissistic. He then vanishes and has a lot of character development off-stage or implied. By his death at the end of the book, he’s implied to have been a wizard of all three orders (i.e. evil, neutrality and good) as well as a renegade, but we don’t see any of this, except as Huma sees it. As it stands, the first half of the book is extremely dull as Huma does what superiors or Magius tell him and travels around without much purpose. This is simply the fault of the sheer quantity of exposition that Knaak is forced to employ to set up the story. To be fair, just about every plot point that he does establish in the first half pays off in the second half, but by dividing the book into three, he would have been able to split that burden, and have more things actually happen in the opening section. 

The fact that this is Knaak’s first book is also apparent. The prose is generally workmanlike, but there’s a few problems. He has a tendency in this book to break the point of view to switch perspectives to an onlooker, and then return to the original point of view after a paragraph. I found it jarring and awkward each time it happened – at least twice, I wasn’t actively looking out for it. A few sections are awkwardly written, like the introduction of Gwynneth: “She wore a gown akin to that worn by healers of Mishakal, save that no medallion graced her smooth, ivory-coloured neck. The gown did not hide her feminine attributes, and Huma forced himself to look away before embarrassment ruined all.” Feminine attributes? Knaak’s also unable to make the two major plot twists – the identity of the traitor and the truth behind Huma’s love interest Gwynneth – at all surprising. The first is hinted at but comes largely out of left field; the second is painfully obvious, though it does still work emotionally for Huma. Finally, I found a continuity error at the end where Bennett, another Knight of Solamnia, is present at a war council where the Knights agree to make fake Dragonlances to confuse the enemy. The fake Dragonlances wind up being real, and Huma tells Bennett, who now was not present at the council and has no idea that the Dragonlances were ever fake.

The Neutral: This story is set in 2645 P.C., approximately three thousand years before the adventures of the Heroes of the Lance. Huma was referred to extensively throughout the original series and was the subject of a short story in Love and War, which this story over-writes. This story also omits the major Huma myth from the books up to this point: the story of Huma and the white stag, which appeared in the Chronicles trilogy, and then again from the stag’s point of view in Love and War. I think this is another casualty of this book being only a standalone novel rather than a trilogy: there’s simply no space for it. 

The introduction of this book also references a strange timeline anomaly. Quite simply, the Dragonlance timeline was ret-conned at some point in 1987 or 1988, which leads to the introduction, in which Astinus blames this error on ‘Paulus Warius’. The same mistake was also referenced in Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home.

While Huma didn’t get the trilogy that he deserved, this book was successful enough that it did lead to an unofficial trilogy. In 1990, Knaak got to write a sequel continuing the story of Kaz the Minotaur as part of the Heroes II trilogy, prosaically called Kaz the Minotaur. Later on, he got to write a third Kaz book in 1996: Land of the Minotaurs, as part of the Lost Histories series, and this would lead to Knaak writing even more minotaur-related books in the future, set in the present day.

My final shout-out is to Rob Bricken’s reviews of old Dungeons & Dragons books over on IO9. They were one of the inspirations for my writing this series. Although he has mostly reread Forgotten Realms books so far, he did read The Legend of Huma, and I basically agree with everything that he’s said (about this book, and the other ones as well). Here’s the link to his The Legend of Huma review: https://gizmodo.com/dungeons-dragons-novels-revisiting-the-legend-of-h-1845938062 

Overall: Rushed and poorly placed, The Legend of Huma is also action-packed and mythic in its best scenes. It’s awkward, but I love it. My head says it’s worth a low rating, my heart says it’s worth a high rating, so I’ll split the difference and give it three Disks of Mishakal out of five. 

Dev blog #52 – Interest from many angles

Good morning! What an interesting little week it has been. There has been growing interest in Sky Bear Games in a few different directions:

  • With the Indie Bundle for Palestinian Aid, which you should totally buy by the way, because it’s 1000+ games for $5 and for a good cause! White Rabbit’s Diary has been getting more play, but even more than that, the Dragons of Tirenia adventure Double Cross has been getting HEAPS of attention. And this has spurred James into wanting to release a small adventure module as a follow-up, so watch this space!
  • A group of LARPers in USA is going to be trying out Royal Flush next month, the award-winning LARP which was the ancestor of White Rabbit’s Diary. The guy running it has been in contact with me. So thrilled to hear that other people are getting to enjoy my old work! I still love this LARP and I really should run it again someday!
  • I’m getting emails every now and again asking about the possibility of collaborating over porting my games to console… and to those I have to say sorry, I’m already working on that with Ratalaika Games! But it’s nice to have the interest shown anyway.

Like I said, James is getting a lot more attention now with the inclusion in the bundle and a sudden influx of people interested in Dragons of Tirenia. There is some work to be done between the two of us, but we are reconfiguring our plans for this so we can respond more dynamically to the needs of the people showing interest. Expect to see a lot more smaller releases to drum up awareness and build a loyal fanbase for our work before the eventual Kickstarter. We’re going to kick that process off with a follow-up small guide and adventure module along the same lines as Double Cross, this time with an adventure we have been refining for the last two and half years, Death of an Artist. For more specific updates, check out my update here on itch.io.

I’ve been watching the Freeplay Independent Games Festival talks this week, starting yesterday. It’s over in Melbourne, but they are in lockdown right now sadly, so it is all online! Check it out over here if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWQj9GCj5V0ABAcXicO4Qh9l8oIaH8j3h

I’m honestly so excited about the potential in Dragons of Tirenia right now that I don’t really know what else to say! Sorry I am so back and forth in this blog post. Too much coffee! But other than that, this week I have been tidying up a few things with Nine Lives, such as updating the Steam library assets (the pictures you see when Nine Lives is in your Steam library), adding to the Chinese test build, and trying to fix a possible bug (see here if you want to follow along with it, it’s a real mystery!)

I guess since this is the 52nd dev blog, I should do a little year retrospective now! So what has happened this past year?

  • June – started this blog and the podcast, released Wonderland Nights: White Rabbit’s Diary
  • August – made contact with Ratalaika Games about translations and ports, and was contacted by Grand Vision about Chinese versions
  • October – ran our stall at Armageddon, released the Dragons of Tirenia Double Cross module and the White Rabbit’s Diary voice acting update
  • December – released the Chinese version of White Rabbit’s Diary
  • April – won the Excellence in Narrative Pav!
  • May – released The Nine Lives of Nim: Fortune’s Fool with full voice acting, took part in the Indie Game Showcase

Wow, what a year! No wonder I’m feeling a little bit stressed out right now!!!

I’ll wrap up with a quick mention of my tumblr blog, https://www.tumblr.com/blog/skybeargames and share my Pride Month mood board, which is VERY nerdy indeed!

Dev blog #51 – Little bugs, big fun

Since the re-release of Nine Lives, a Twitter friend of mine let me know about two bugs they found. One, it seems that the Achievements page in the menu has been wiped at some point, though when it comes to Steam all the achievements are still unlocked there. Very strange! It shouldn’t be possible! I will have to investigate further. And two, it seems like some of the images in the Steam store still have Prince of Cats as the title. That should hopefully be easy to fix if I just have a dig around in Steamworks.

So otherwise, the voice release went off without a hitch!

The big fun thing that happened this week was the Indie Game Showcase. I took along Her Jentle Hi-ness and stood there nervously waiting for things to happen. But then people started to play, and some people even laughed at every line of text! I got to meet:

– the guys from [Sample Text] Studios whose game Frame of Mind is the one I raved about on the Pavs reviews podcast episode, the winner of the Student Slice. They all made the time to come and play my game and send their friends to it, and I got some real good reviews and pointers from them
– Cynthia from TL-Tonic, whose game Ten Thousand Coins I was alpha testing for a little bit at the end of last year, and she was there with her game Kunekune Shopkeeper which is CUTE AS HECK
– Nam, whose game Darkness and Haven was a project for his university (Masters I believe? Or was it doctorate?) and for a game about depression, the script was funny as all heck!
– I met the guy who makes the Scorpion Engine for Amiga – you can build games to play on old Amiga hardware, or an emulator if that’s not an option
– An awesome team of three students from the Media Design School who made a game caled Cybr in just two weeks! Couldn’t find any links, sorry.
shadestagramm, whose name I did not catch, but we had a cool conversation about the different directions that we came at game development from

There were lots more people there who I didn’t get a chance to meet, and I didn’t even get the chance to try any VR, or the game Denari which was there and I really wanted to play it ever since the Pavs. Big thanks to Coby and all the others at GridAKL and the associated people who made the day happen. I had an amazing time. Here is the one photo I remembered to take:

If you missed out, don’t worry! I’d still love to hear your opinion, and reward you with a credit as an early tester. Please try the game here: https://skybeargames.itch.io/her-jentle-hi-ness and answer the survey questions here: https://forms.gle/SgaeazCmjfjGB9836

Over the weekend James had his mates around to play the next installment of his Dragons of Tirenia: Ruins of Auromia campaign. He’s maybe two sessions from finishing? Then we might be playing another one with me involved. You can see his session reports (eventually) here: http://tirenia.blogspot.com/

Also, just on a personal note here, I am raising funds for health services for the LGBTQIA+ Community right now at: https://sweatwithpride.com/claire-dunning . Please consider donating!

See ya next week 🙂 it will have been a year! Time for a retrospective probably 😛

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home, edited by Mary Kirchoff, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: This is the first of the four Dragonlance almanacs (for lack of a better word). This one was published in February 1987, just before the Tales trilogy. I guess I got out of order; my bad! Leaves and its successors contain a series of articles on literally any subject at all related to Dragonlance. It seems primarily aimed for readers of the novels, taking a lot of its content from the Dragonlance Dungeons & Dragons adventures. Only one cover this time, and Claire and I quite like it! While it’s got the usual ‘gully-dwarves-are-stupid-hur-hur’ joke that’s painfully not funny, the overall mood is quite peaceful and sweet, with the old friends and the old Inn where it all started.

The Good: This is a real grab-bag of contents, so there’s a few very interesting articles in here. I liked the framing narrative about the Inn of the Last Home. It was very nostalgic, wth lots of familiar faces returning. Some of the basic reprinted information must have been appreciated by people who hadn’t found the adventure modules at the time, although I imagine it would have been frustrating for people who had those and were looking for new information. I really liked the in-character sections from Lord Gunthar, leader of the Knights of Solamnia, about the military history of the War of the Lance, the dragons, and the Knights. Finally, while I normally find the cooking sections in these books ridiculous and loosely themed at best, I must admit that I have made the famous spiced potato recipe on several occasions: it’s dead simple and very tasty.

The Bad: Oh dear.

Firstly, the topics in this book appear to have been chosen at random, with everyone just writing about subjects in which they were interested. There’s no information about the characters or the geography of Dragonlance, both fairly important topics. I can understand having only a few maps, with The Atlas of the Dragonlance World (which I won’t be reviewing) coming out the same year, but information about the cities and cultures would have been appreciated. The religious information is extremely scant, with some gods receiving almost no attention at all. The history of the world, however, is covered twice – once in a four-page overview, and then in an eight-page timeline. One or the other would have done, I think.

There’s a lot I could say about what they did choose to include. There is a truly ridiculous amount of space given to numerology, rune-lore and folklore, and it’s pretty rubbish. If you wanted to include new-age material in here, talking about the Talis cards which came in the D&D adventures would have made more sense than having a page about how to tell if it’s going to rain, or the interminable breakdown of the names of the Heroes of the Lance. I do think there’s a point to some of this sort of thing – tarot cards are a great tool for self-reflection, for instance – but this section is self-indulgent and pointless. Meanwhile, I disliked the poems the first time around. The inclusion of sheet music for them is hilarious – did anyone ever play any of these? Most of the recipes are only tangentially related to Dragonlance at best, with Fizban’s Fireball Chilli being a prime offender.

The reason I decided to include this book in my re-read, which is meant to cover the novels, is the presence of a short story in here: ‘The Manuscript of Dunstan VanEyre.” It’s the story of two young Aesthetics from the Great Library of Palanthas going on a quest around the world, interviewing members of different nonhuman groups. Unfortunately, it’s pretty dull. The majority of the story, as I said, are ethnographic interviews with a draconian, minotaurs, elves, dwarves and finally a dragon. Our main characters are not described very well at all. The interview subjects are generally quite unlikeable as well,  and the overall theme that comes through is that everyone thinks they’re right, but that the ‘good’ elves and dwarves, and the ‘evil’ minotaurs and draconians, are not so different – good and evil are just the names of the teams for which they’re playing.

The Neutral: A lot of material from here is repeated from other sources. “How The Companions Met” is reprinted, with minor expansion, from DL5: Dragons of Mystery. It will soon be superseded by the Meetings Sextet (1991–1993), and then by “The Soulforge” by Margaret Weis (1998). “Bertrem’s Essays on the Races of Krynn” originally appeared in Dragon magazine. Other unspecified sections were taken from the DL series for Dungeons & Dragons – without checking, I’d say the information about the pantheon, the history of Krynn, the magic items, and some of the legends. The poems are, of course, from Chronicles and Legends.

Final Rating: One and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home ambitiously subtitles itself ‘The Complete Krynn Source Book’ but it’s got too much reprinted information, too much superfluous information and too much omitted information. The various Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting guides make this completely superfluous, as far as I’m concerned. One for the completists only.

Dirwin, Born to be Wild: Episode 2

Below is the continuation of the adventures of Dirwin, my 13th level Druid, who has been around since the end of 2014 in various guises. It has been nine months between the first half of this episode and the second half! But I am so relieved to be back to journaling Dirwin’s story. Next week or so I will work on recategorising this site so it is easier to navigate to all the different sections: Devblog, Dragonlance, different D&D character diaries, and all the other things we’ve done over the years!

Coming out of Seshall’s case, I look at the word ‘Sign’ on the scrap of a diary entry. Could it mean Sign of One? Their faction hall is rumoured to hold a gate to the Beastlands. We go to find our tout Kaiakos again to follow-up on the three names listed on that paper too.

At an intersection on the way back, we see crows pecking at a corpse on a gibbet. Then they start attacking the crowd! I try to speak with them in raven form and calm them but it fails. So instead I open my decanter of endless water and control it, splashing them to douse their wings. The people are grateful to be safe now but many are injured, and one is even dead. I offer to reincarnate him, to the tiefling crying over the body of the half-elf, but it turns out he was a petitioner visiting from Arborea, so his soul is gone forever! How frightening.

But for the other people I am able to give small amounts of healing out, and regenerate one person’s lost eye. One guy doesn’t want healing, and his suspicion seems to be related to his alignment with the Revolutionary League and not trusting authority. A little old lady panics, saying she has no way of paying her. I tell her no worries, it’s free. She is grateful then, asks my name, gives me her talisman of Thor’s Hammer, and tells me to run along in case the Harmonium don’t take too kindly to my unlicensed healing.

We flee, and take Kaiakos out to lunch with us. He helps us with two of the things listed on the paper. The Planar Trade Consortium is a huge web of capitalist transaction, and has a branch here on the planes. The Cup of Freedom is a landmark in Sigil – a free library run by the Revolutionary League. Knowledge is the key to throwing off the shackles of oppression, or so they say. Kaiakos says he’ll follow up on Parts and Pieces, as he doesn’t know this one, but his other tout friends might.

On the way to the library, we see a halfling preaching on two soapboxes, saying that it is good that people are acting on instinct. Obviously from the Transcendent Order. Not sure how I could explain to him how unnatural this whole chaos is.

Arriving at the library, the bauriur librarian, Firey Polk, greets me as comrade. The library is chaotic, and Polk, good-humoured and intense, seems to want a donation before he’ll help me. I’m happy to contribute to the cause. He remembers Seshall coming here, and what books he was reading, so he pulls me out ‘The Dark World of Dreams’, ‘Turt’s Guide to Planar Cats’, and ‘The Big Book of Evil’. Books go sliding and flying everywhere during his chaotic search.

It’s hard to understand why he wanted these books. The first does mention dreamhunters from Bast’s realm on Ysgard who chase down nightmares. And yet Bast lives on Arborea, I hear. Polk mentions to me that people are blaming the Revolutionary League for the current unrest, which makes him unhappy, since it is unfounded.

Returning to Kaiakos, he has found the info we needed about P&P. It stands for Parts and Pieces, a shop in the Great Bazaar, which is through a gate whose key was rats’ teeth. The proprietor is Seamusxanthuszenus (I really did not know what to expect with a name like that) and yes, the Parts and Pieces were what I feared – body parts.

The Great Bazaar is, as always, a treat for all the senses. I see efreet unpacking literal lava lamps at a stall; a sign above a food cart made of sparrows flying and forming the word ‘EATZ’; a beautiful feathered woman protesting against the Harmonium; ancient children; a Beholder with a judge’s wig on each eyestalk borne on a palanquin carried by the eye beams of two other beholders, the rider on which shoots tiny lasers at the feet of any who get too close; bottles of colourful smoke, and much more. 

We find the sign by the archway of the gate, and to my relief, there is already a bowl full of rat teeth by the gate. Through the portal, we enter a dimly lit and reeking corridor. An amateur sign written by an unhinged mind proclaims Seamusxanthuszenus as the purveyor of death, and lists his stock, which counts among other not-so-savoury offerings stuffed naga, a nightmare’s head, and other gore.

The proprietor turns out to be a dust mephit, which is somehow still surprising to me even after all the surprises I’ve had today. After A LOT of preamble, I slide multiple generous garnishes over to him to fish for information about Sashell and why he came here. It turns out he was interested in some of Seamus’s suppliers, specifically a group of them who carried the same triangular symbol as I have found, who wear red and green furs, and most recently brought in the tentacles of a Varth, the wings of a varguyle, and liquified farastu – all of which, I realise, hail from Carceri. Seashell had also been asking for something to protect himself from cats. Seamus tried to swindle him with the fangs of a hydra or some such, saying they were the fangs of the Lord of Cats.

I end up buying the nightmare’s head, since it is still alive (for a given value, sentient is perhaps a better way of putting it). Seamus throws in three quills and a feather, and opens the way out for us – which I suppose would not have opened had we not made a purchase! After listening to the skull berate us, and try to sell us off as “two used idiots” as soon as we returned to the Bazaar, Toledo and I made the executive decision to stick him on top of a post in the marketplace where he could become something of an annoying landmark. I guess I can’t save them all!

Seamusxanthuszenus from the pages of Uncaged: Faces of Sigil