Monday, August 9, 2010

On Ibis, City of Sorcerers - Part One

Ibis is a city-state dominated by magic-users and illusionists. Mages hold most political power and form the bulwark of the city-state’s defenses. It is situated on the delta of the River of Death, a landscape of lush hills, sparkling lakes and reed-choked river banks. In ancient times, it was the major sea port of the Nabu Empire, which occupied a savanna that stretched from the shores of the Golden Sea to the rain forests of Cush. Nabu was ruled by an aristocracy of pale skinned wizard kings and queens called pharoahs. These men and women plumbed the depths of knowledge arcane and scientific, and in their quest to bring the world under their yoke destroyed themselves, turning their lush parklands into a terrible wasteland. Ibis alone among the great city-states of Nabu was spared.

In the intervening centuries, Ibis managed to survive and then thrive. For a short period after the collapse of the Nabu Empire, it fell under the domination of the Purple Kings of Ophir (see NOD #2), but that was short lived. Only 200 years ago it was the eastern jewel of the Empire of Nomo, which itself fell due a cataclysm not of its own making. During the Nomo domination, its old university flourished and the city-state began to attract philosophers, sages and sorcerers to delve into what knowledge of ancient Nabu was saved and to quest into the desert to find lost lore. Ibis is again a free state, ruled by a secretive nomarch and beginning to look across the Golden Sea with hungry eyes.

Ibis is ruled by the Nomarch Besheva, a gynosphinx of great antiquity, she having siezed power after the end of Nomoan rule. Besheva is assisted in her rule by a privy council of great sorcerers, warlocks and witches and by a council of commons consisting of the heads of the city-state’s noble families. Besheva dwells in the Old Palace, a sprawling estate of gardens, courtyards, barracks for the pastoral guard and slave-soldiers (see below), a shrine of Bast, guest houses and a manor containing a throne room, living chambers for the nomarch, her ladies in waiting, her major domo and hundreds servants.

The city-state’s high priest is a member of the privy council as well as heading the city-state’s college of priests, the Grand Temple of Thoth and the Eldritch Order of the All-Seeing Eye, a brotherhood of magic-users.

The jewel of Ibis, though, is its University. While small by modern comparisons, it is one of the larger such institutions in (or near) the Motherlands, and over the years has attracted many of the finest young men and women from families noble and mercantyl. While many think of it as a school for sorcery, this is quite incorrect. The university at Ibis teaches rhetoric, history, geometry and mathematics, above all else. Several of its faculty, however, are magic-users of some minor ability and sages who have picked up a spell or two in their day, and these individuals have several apprentices to whom they pass on the lost arts of ancient Nabu – think of them as teacher’s aides who can throw a spell or two but still have to attend Master Hahmet’s lecture on the ninteenth dynasty.

Because the city-state has attracted so many magic-users in its day, it has acquired a reputation for wizardry, and in truth has more alchemists, wand carvers and cauldron makers than the average city. In addition, magical items are more common in Ibis than in other city-states and may be available for trade.

Ibis’ magic-users, like their kind everywhere, are an eccentric lot. Because of their political power, they tend to be more arrogant and overbearing than elsewhere. Those who go to far are punished for the hubris by a clandestine band of assassins.

All of the divinities of the Nabu pantheon (NOD #3) have temples and shrines in Ibis, with the largest temples being dedicated to Thoth, Isis (and her trinity) and Anubis. Foreign deities such as Hecate, Sabazios and Mercurius are represented on the college of priests, and there are also dozens of obscure cults dedicated to saints, archangels, chaos lords, archdevils and demon princes.

Most crime in Ibis involves the black market for magical items and rare spell components, which are supposed to move through the temple of Thoth. Thoth’s diviners spend most of their time trying to suss out smugglers.

The Citizenry
Nabu’s human population is made up of a core of true natives who can trace their families back to the days of the Nabu Empire, the descendants of more recent immigrants (mostly from Nomo and the Golden Coast) and old noble families who, again, can trace their bloodlines back to the empire.

The true natives have dusky, reddish skin and black hair, with green eyes predominating. The noble families have pale, milky white skin that becomes a mousy gray as they age. Their hair is as black as night when they are young, but in their old age becomes whispy and silver. Nobles have large, almond-shaped eyes that range from hazel to a dark brown that is almost black.

Most Ibisians dress in long caftans of bright, cheery colors and wrapped turbans, usually of black or white. Others wear baggy trousers and loose shifts with ruffled collars and long, sleeved robes. Feathers are a common adornment in turbans. Ibisian women of the noble caste wear more form-fitting gowns of silk and adorn themselves with jewelry, especially head bands of cloth-of-gold. They carry ostrich-feather fans to shade themselves from the sun and the eyes of common onlookers.

The people of Ibis speak a dialect of the ancient language of Nabu. It is a poetic language, soft and pleasant to the ear. Almost all Ibisians speak (or at least understand) the common tongue of the Mother-lands, and usually speak it in the dialect of Nomo, as that empire conquered Ibis and ruled it for two hundred years. Educated Ibisians speak elven, and it is the principal language spoken at the University.

Ibisians are an independent bunch. The non-magical folk are hard-working and not entirely enamored with mages and their followers. The common people tend to rally around Isis and her priesthood, while the artisans favor Hathor.

For entertainment, Ibisians prefer dice games, wrestling, and horse and chariot races. Magic-users favor more lofty diversions, such as dragon chess and cockatrice fights. Magical duels are officially illegal, but occur regularly nonetheless.

Ibis is built on the Ishka Delta, where the Ishka River meets the Golden Sea. This is a very fertile area, and the entire delta is under the domain of Ibis. Beyond the delta and river is the demon-haunted desert, which hides ancient ruins and royal crypts.

Ibis’ economy is based on agriculture, fishing, paper-making and alchemical manufactures. Precious metals from the surrounding wastelands and highlands flow into the city-state via miners and is minted into gold, silver and copper coins. Gems are rarely traded in Ibis, as they are too valuable as alchemical components.

Exotic Customs
Animals are sacred in Ibis and not to be harmed or killed except by specially sanctioned priests who perform killing in hidden rituals and only outside the city-state. This makes meat somewhat more rare and expensive (double price) in Ibis than in other places. Fish are not included in this prohibition of harming animals, and thus feature prominently in the local diet. The penalty for harming or killing an animal is several months in the Nomarch’s dungeon and a thorough lashing, with repeat offenses resulting in the loss of a hand and then an eye. Attacks on cats or the sacred ibis is punishable by mutilation or death.

Locals do not speak of the dead without casting their eyes to the heavens and then dropping a coin (usually copper) on the ground. These coins are usually picked up by beggars, who are permitted to do so, but are considered unlucky for others (5% chance of the perpetrator suffering a -1 penalty on all rolls while the coin is in his or her possession).

Foreigners are scanned for magical auras. Each magical aura on the person costs them a gold coin (two if they are using foreign coinage). Naturally, this means that there are moneychangers set up along the road leading to Ibis.


  1. Nice write-up, with so cool, colorful details. I also like the "facts at a glance box." was there a specific inspiration for its contents, or is it your own invention?

  2. The box is my invention - probably inspired by things I've looked at over the years, though nothing specific comes to mind. I'm glad to you like it!


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