Wednesday, April 24, 2019

S is for "Sanctuary Light"

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard its B/X roots. I got behind by a couple days because of the Easter weekend, but I'm trying to catch up as quickly as possible]

S is for "Sanctuary Lite," AKA Specularum, capital of Karameikos.

What do I mean, "Sanctuary Light?" Well, first you have to be familiar with Robert Asprin's old Thieves World anthology series...if you're not (and if you dig pulpy fantasy), I'd encourage you to check out the books, at least the first two volumes. Asprin had an idea to create a shared setting that multiple authors could use for their characters, a vehicle for fiction that wouldn't require individual authors to conceive of an entire organic fictional world, history, etc. but one that would grow and develop based on each person's writing contributions. Sanctuary is the name given to the rotten city at the core of the Thieves World setting, the place where the characters mingle and adventure and engage in their illicit activities.

A "hell hound" intimidates
a(nother) local.
I haven't yet gotten around to describing my relationship with the Thieves World books and how they influenced and affected my gaming style and assumptions "back in the day;" the TW books provided one of the three distinct "paths" I alluded to waaaay back in July (sorry I haven't had the chance to return to the topic). The "product" I refer to in that post is Chaosium's Thieves World box set, which is a fairly astounding resource (for a number of reasons). I will try to blog about Asprin's books specifically...and the game content based on those books...but it's going to have to wait a little while longer.


Anyway, having spent extensive time reading the various source texts for Specularum, I can't help but notice the many similarities between the Grand Duchy's capital and the city of Sanctuary. This is especially true of Allston's version (i.e. the version presented in GAZ1) which, strangely, bears little resemblance to the layout and presentation of the city as given in Dave Cook's earlier B6: The Veiled Society. Cook's map places Specularum directly on the coast, with the "Mirror Bay" being directly south of the city. Allston's map places the capital on the west bank of the large Volaga (Highreach) River, with the Mirror Bay an opening off the river...a set-up that, now that I look at it, doesn't really make sense for a thriving coastal capital. What the f--- ?!

[oh,'s a map that shows "Specularum Harbor" with "Mirror Bay" in parentheses...but this map of Specularum proper has a separate "Mirror Bay" off the river behind a Seagate. Ugh...either I am confused or the folks making the maps for the Gazetteer failed to compare notes...]

Well, whatever. It's the content of Specularum that reminds me of Sanctuary. Sanctuary has the native Ilsig people (repressed by the distant Ranke Empire); Specularum has the native Traladrans (conquered by Thyatis). Sanctuary has the Maze, the Bazaar, and the Golden Lilly; Specularum has the Nest, the Great Market, and the Black Lilly. Sanctuary has the new (Ranke) temples and state religion competing with the old (Ilsig) temples in the temple district; Specularum has the Church of Karameikos competing with and upstaging the Church of Traladara.  True, the new governor of Sanctuary (Prince Kadakithis, the emperor's brother) is a much more recent ruler than that of Specularum (Archduke Stefan, the emperor's friend)...but the resentment of the longtime residents (and the naivete of their new overlord) is still the same. So is the flourishing (fantasy) Gypsy fortunetellers that populate the region. Heck, even the population is similar (officially 4500, estimated at more than 20,000 uncounted).

[oh, and hill folk...Sanctuary has lots of those wandering around]

But I call Specularum "Sanctuary Light" because it's not nearly as dark and dirty as the pulpy setting of the Thieves World anthology. Specularum doesn't have has "notorious inns." Sanctuary has the Hell Hounds...Specularum has the "Elvenguard." The Veiled Society is a shadowy group that inspires fear; the Hawk Masks operate in broad daylight as muscle and mercenaries. And while Specularum is described by Allston as "a crowded, noisy, dirty place - the epitome of the medieval city," Sanctuary goes into deep detail, describing the filth and squalor, the terrible living conditions of the majority and the manner in which the "haves" happily exploit the "have nots."

To put it another way, the appearance of Emirikol the Chaotic on the streets of Specularum would certainly send up a hue and cry for the town Sanctuary, he'd be yet one more wandering sorcerer best left alone by the general populace.

This is to be expected of the difference in time and style for which both products were written. GAZ1 was written for BECMI at a time when TSR was deep in the process of making D&D more "family friendly" (especially the non-Advanced version of the game); Thieves World was created in 1979 for sword & sorcery-styled fiction writers to dink around in. Whatcha' expect?

Tell you what though: considering that MOST of the authors from the first couple Thieves World anthologies can be found on the "Inspirational Source Material" list of B/X (page B62)...including Robert Asprin, Paul Anderson, Phillip Jose Farmer, Andrew Offutt, and C.J. Cherryh...I'd say that one of the easiest ways to make Specularum more "B/X" in flavor, would be to simply turn up the dials to "full Sanctuary" rather than the light version.

You can easily substitute Sanctuary's map for Specularum (it resembles Cook's town layout more than Allston's)...simply rename the White Foal river the Volaga. The governor's palace becomes the duke's, and everything else remains as named in Sanctuary.

Pretty close to the Chaosium map;
less detail, though.
It would certainly solve the issue of PCs' "magical training" (wandering sorcerers leaving untrained dropping litters of poorly trained apprentices on the street like alley cats). I don't think you need to substitute the 19-year old "Kitty Kat" for Stefan to complete Specularum's transformation, but I think it would be cool to add the Ranke political situation to written background of Thyatis (making the Archduke's move a "self-exile in lieu of possible assassination" type of maneuver), and make his assumption of leadership a RECENT event rather than an established one. Have the Duke residing in Specularum for, say, five years or so, rather than 30, with all his family being Thyatian-born (and hating on the new digs).

Yes, Karameikos does lack the deserts...but deep, dark forests infested with monsters can make for a pretty hazardous terrain. And I'd rather have inscrutable, dangerous elves substituting for the "aloof desert nomad" Reggah...let's break some stereotypes instead of promoting them, huh? Of course, antisocial elves do not make for uber-loyal soldiers, but I wanted to ditch the Elvenguard anyway. I'd rather have Hell Hounds any day of the week.
; )


  1. Aw man, I was already looking over the Thieves World boxed set to steal stuff for my new campaign and now you go and smack my gamer ADD upside the head with this post...

    I hadn't thought of using Sanctuary for Specularum, though I had considered using the City State of the Invincible Overlord (which apparently inspired Asprin and co. to create Sanctuary). Sanctuary as Specularum and the CSIO as Kelvin, now, that would be interesting.

    I really like what you've been doing with Karameikos in this series of posts. I'll be sorry to see them end.

    1. @ James:

      Thanks. Me, too...though (perhaps) it won't be the end, only the beginning...
      ; )

  2. THIS one I am definitely stealing. Great work