Sunday 17 February 2019

Sharne's Clockwork Market - Intro

Here's an idea for another module in the vein of Ynn and the Library

Sharne is the ghost of a world. Fundamentally dead and barren, with nothing left but to dissolve before the remorseless caress of entropy. Once a functional reality like many other pocket-realms, it has reached the end of its life-span.
Above a dry, dust-choked ruin a red sun hangs bloated and low in a foggy sky. There are no plants, save for the desiccated skeletons of long dead trees. No birdsong, nor scavenging animals, nor even the buzz of carrion flies. No breeze disturbs the streets as, brick by brick, the place crumbles away.
In the distant past, when humanity first carved writing into stone tablets, Sharne was a bustling place. The residents were tall, elegant beings, as if carved from jet and alabaster. Possessed of alien grace and minds brilliant like the blue flame of a blowtorch, and a mastery over magic and science that rendered them the undisputed masters of their domains. On earth, the fledgling races of mankind called them by many names; the Annunaki, the Sidhe, the Shining Ones, the Nephilim.
They built this place - using the same huge machinary as that of Ynn, Stygia and Laputa among many others - to be a thronging bazaar, a densely-packed market-town where they might buy and sell anything, no matter how esoteric. For an age of the earth, it was at the centre of a web of trade that extended across many worlds.
Eventually, the civilisation of these beings fell to decadence, then to cruelty, and then to civil war. As their world-engines ground into an all-consuming conflict, ever greater weapons were developed. Black-holes of the mind that negated all meaning, memetic viruses that would drive all who knew their secret to insanity, quantum-prions that reconfigured atomic matter into thrashing plasma, slaved titan-minds capable of unthinkable feats of will and strategy.
Worst of all, the deplorable weapon. The forbidden spell, Power Word - Kill Everything.Armies gathered in the rolling plains around Sharne, each vying for control of the trade-dimension. One commander, seeing their forces outnumbered and cut off from retreat, in a fit of imperious rage, spoke a single syllable, and the world died. 
How do you get to Sharne?Reaching Sharne is not easy. A prospective visitor must demonstrate that they have the means and willingness to trade. To open a gate, the following steps must be followed:
A gateway, with two pillars and a lintel, must be constructed out of ivory. From the lintel, a curtain of silk must be hung to obscure the other side of the portal. The whole construction r will likely cost around five hundred silver in materials and labour costs.
Once created, the gateway will always function so long as it is not damaged.
To pass through, the entrant merely need speak the words 'I seek entry to Sharne' and step through the curtain.
There is a toll to enter, paid every time for each entrant. The machinery of Sharne claims something intangible. (There will be a table for 'intangible costs', things like memories, years from your lifespan, slivers of your soul, artistic inspiration, and so on. You roll each time you need to pay something like this, and might adjust your stats accordingly). Those unwilling to pay the toll find themselves entangled in a silk curtain in the real world; those who pay pass through and find themselves in the bleak ruins of Sharne, an open door of ivory at their back. 
Why go to Charne?Although dead, the ghost-world is not entirely uninhabited. Those things which never lived were unafected by the deplorable weapon. The trading automata stand vigils, their inner workings slowly rusting away as they wait for customers that may never return. Here, by discovering the right machines, an explorer might purchase all manner of esoteric rewards. Beauty, genius, and murderous potency can all be purchased here. Among the slow-collapsed ruins, the encroaching dust and the piled rust and rubble, all manner of fabulous treasures can be found.
And there is life here, of a sort. Not native life, but rather things that found their way in from other worlds. Sometimes, a merchant-prince of impressive means from the real world will lead a caravan through elephant-sized ivory gates. They come in search of rumoured wealth, driven on by the rumours of their fellows. Some return, others remain in the sand-choked streets forming their own bizarre culture of pauper-merchants. There are stranger visitors, too, drawn to long-fallen Sharne in search of whatever their society prizes most.
That's the basic setup. The obvious inspiration is it's namesake Charn in C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. Likewise Jack Vance's Dying Earth novels and the paintings of Zdzisław Beksiński. I expect that there will be some references to modern automated commercial culture; vending machines, drive-thru restaurants, ATM machines. The dehumanising effects of unbridled capitalism. Clockwork and throbbing tubes.
And, at its heart, in the deepest recess of the adventure, will be Power Word Kill Everything. Here's what it does:
Spell, level 1. Learned from scrolls or spell-books like any other MU spell. Clerics who encounter it likewise add it to their repertoire. Same for other variant spellcasters and wielders of magic, although you might need to bend it into shape to fit odd magic systems. Upon casting, immediately and without any possible countermeasure, every living thing in the reality inhabited by the caster dies instantly. There is no saving throw allowed. Resistance to magic, counter-spells, contingencies, and extraordinary resistances do not apply. Upon casting, all living things in the caster's world die. (Non living things such as robots and zombies are unaffected. This need not end the campaign, as it only affects the caster's current world, plane, layer or dimension.)

So there's some treasure to give your PCs. Think of it as a mutually-assured-destruction insurance policy against railroading.


  1. Liking this a lot!
    Any thoughts on combining your Ynn/library schtick with the astral projection rules you posted?

  2. If Sharne was advanced enough, then there could be not just trading automatons, but farming and mining automatons. Enchanted mechanical horses to cart goods and restock the trading machines.

    Reminds me of something from Nick Bostrom's book on Superintelligence. He explores the idea of a hypothetical future in which artificial human-like minds can be created. But rather than remaining human-like, they could be modified to be more economically productive. More efficient at whatever task they are designed for. You wouldn’t want your trader automaton to feel romantic love. It would be pointless, not to mention cruel.

    ”We could thus imagine, as an extreme case, a technologically highly advanced society, containing many complex structures, some of them far more intricate and intelligent than anything that exists on the planet today – a society which nevertheless lacks any type of being that is conscious or whose welfare has moral significance. In a sense, this would be an uninhabited society. It would be a society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit. A Disneyland with no children.”

  3. Exciting news.

    Charn always had a faintly Mesopotamian air (think there was a reference to djinn); this and the reference to the Anunnaki has me wondering if that will persist into Sharne. Perhaps the image of the Silk Road has struck me too hard.

  4. Very nice. How would one learn the existence of power word kill everything, though?

  5. I am always looking forward to your work, especially your build-as-you-go dungeons. Besides powerword kill everything, what else will lie at the heart of sharne? Rather, if the powerword is the "treasure", what would the "encounter" or "location" be? Stygia, with it's theme of accruing knowledge, had the necromantic super computer, and the whole dungeon was built to support that.

    Maybe there will be different automata vendors which center around different aspects of consumerism, like you mentioned? One for fast food, one for games, one for clothing, one for makeup, etc. And the great vendor at the deepest reach's could sell ANYTHING. Even powerword kill everything.

  6. I would put Power Word: Kill Everything in my home campaign, though I might modify it a little. Killing everything is just as interesting as killing everything with <100HP. Just you and the biggest nastiest things now.

    I wouldn't even hide it that well. Just put it in a place that nobody in their right mind would think of exploring. Sounds like a fun conclusion to a campaign!

  7. I will buy the hell out of this! Always wanted to see something that drew inspiration from Charn in an RPG..

  8. I recently came across both the stygian library amd the gardens of ynn. I have been working for somw time on creating a playable setting for gormenghast castle and your mechanics have made that possible. I was able to write some new tabels (actually still perfecting those) and bu miximg the three together we have an elborate and fantastic setting to work with. Thank you for all that you do.

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  10. I wrote up a Nobilis adaptation of Power Word Kill Everything and Sharne. It's over here:

    Just wanted to let you know. I love the concept by the way. I hope you decide to write it as a full Garden's of Ynn style supplement. I'd totally buy one.

  11. Hi,
    Any word on how this product's going? Still really looking forward to it!