Zibaba in the local Chon dialect of the region, can roughly be taken to mean ‘‘Animal Krall’‘. And one can certainly see how this rough-and-ready place deserves that name. Everything about Zibaba, from the beer huts to the sprawling bazaars, carries the assorted odours of the jungle, reminding one constantly of the roots of this wild settlement and the commercial life-blood that nourishes its residents.
In the preceding century, an embassy of officials from Powlgraff made a journey into the Yokuran province of Zhoku with the intention of obtaining from the local vassal of the great Yokuran king, the approval of the former to purchase raw commodities from the native traders that were much in demand among the ruling elite of their city. In those days, Powlgraff was still a young city, vigorous and vibrant, and its rapidly affluent nobles were was quickly developing a ravenous appetite for exotic curiosities and luxuries hailing from abroad. Tales of Zhoku’s abundant natural wonders had been brought back to the city in previous ears, borne on the eager tales and accounts of returning travellers whose imagination had been stirred by the rich pelts of wild animals prepared by the local tanners, and the alive specimens of the wondrous animals that had produced them, both of which were freely available for sale in the few bazaars that had existed in Zhoku during that period.
The zeal for procuring the fantastic natural marvels of his domain was not lost on the local chief, who after some consultation with his counsellors, shrewdly agreed to permit unrestricted trade between his people and the merchants of Powlgraff.
Within the span of just fifteen years, what had previously been a mostly rural backwater subsisting mostly on millet cultivation and river fishing, experienced a truly astonishing transformation as a vast flow of foreign trade inspired the local government and people to lay the proverbial foundations stones of what would soon become the most magnificent city in Yokaru, second only to the royal seat of Tiboko.
Taking root almost overnight, Zibaba was a project haphazardly brought into existence by its chaotic and disorganized builders, and this shows in the way the city is arranged. A great wall made of wood and further reinforced by undressed stone-work, encircles the environs of the city. Four major gates lead into it, and all are manned by spear wielding warriors who are quick to ensure that travellers who seek entry into the city, are prompt in paying the mandatory tax for entry. Supervising them with a critical eye, are the scrupulous guard commanders whose job it is to ensure that their subordinates do not attempt to extort from merchant caravans to line their own pockets.
But beyond those barriers and those who man them, lies a settlement that resembles no other built by human hands. Emerging in a wild disarray like giant ant hills, from the black, almost cement-like mud that cakes the surface of this country, are large mounds of varying sizes. Thatched with palm fronds, they range from from tiny diminutive edifices standing no more than five feet tall, to towering masses that soar up to heights of thirty meters. All of them are the dwellings of the city inhabitants who continue the ancient practice of shaping their dwellings from the thick, cloying soil found in such great quantities. The smallest mounds are only cramped hovels with a single living space, while the largest, belonging to the wealthy ruling elite, are very big and spacious. Often subdivided into numerous apartments, they boast a level of luxury almost comparable to that found in the mansions of most Haracon nobles. Myriad folding screens draped by costly exotic animal hides or a screen of beaten silver worked in the traditional method, partition the vast central space into numerous sections. In this way, the home of a wealthy citizen can be divided into numerous ‘‘rooms’‘, with the one at the back being used as a privy for the collection of excretement. Every two hours, diligent servants will enter to empty the copper chamber-pots into the closest rivers, returning afterwards to liberally purify the air of this primitive toilet with the fragrant scents of expensive scented woods.
Located on a verdant stretch of river bank found on the outskirts, the biggest of these mounds belong both to the ruling family, and the clan the Keepers hail from. Lacking the typical earth black shade of most of the other dwellings, they are instead white-washed with a certain white glaze derived from the natural juices of a native growing lime. Intended as a symbol of nobility awarded uniquely to the ruling clan, all others are strictly forbidden from using them. Only the Keepers on account of the enormous wealth their trade has brought this city, have been conffered the position of honoree nobility, allowing them to decorate their family homes with the white glaze. This is a sore point with many lesser chiefs who bitterly resent a purely mercantile clan bing rewarded with an honor rightfully reserved only for those who can claim common descent with the great family of the current ruling dynasty, but chief Mukongo of Zibaba is a practical man. Well aware that the trading empire of the Keepers is the main source of the city’s revenues, he has turned a deaf ear to the complaints of those unhappy with his decision. Exceeding even his own clan in terms of pure wealth, Muknongo has done his best to ensure that the Keepers continue to maintain their ardent support for him.
The issue of the political nuances involved with house painting aside, Zibaba is still a very unusual place even by the most liberal standards of imagination. Roads are virtually non-existent in the thick, slushy mud, meaning that the more fastidious are compelled to do most, if not all of their their travelling about the city prescinds, aboard the backs of Bokarian camels, pernicious beasts, that though endowed with prodigious strength, are known to drive their passengers quite ill with the jolting movement of their clumsy bodies and bad-tempered snapping. Wealthier personages can avoid the hazards of the camel express by opting instead to travel in veiled litters carried by masses of slaves or hired menials. Comfortable and almost completely protected from the mosquitos that plague this place through the extensive use of netting, it is easily the best way of travelling in Zibaba. And when you consider the fact that many of these mosquitoes are the carriers of virulent diseases, it is also the safest.
Roaming the ‘‘streets’’ of Zibaba, are numerous troops of baboons. Large and aggressive, these dangerous primates are actually employees of the local city government. Taken from the wild in their infancy and subsequently trained in policing the public grounds, the baboons are the terrors of Zibaba, quick to deliver a vicious and painful bite to anyone caught disrupting the peace or attempting to rob another person of his valuables. Many brawlers and robbers have had their appendages chewed off by enraged baboons taking their duties very seriously. Fed extremely well on a plentiful diet of bananas, eggs and a whole assortment of other kinds of food, the animals are eager to satisfy their employers, knowing that their aggression in confronting hoodlums is responsible for the excellent treatment they enjoy. Add that to the fact that the creatures are naturally vicious and are always searching for an excuse to maul someone, and you get an absolutely incorruptible and fearsome police-force.
The vast multitude of straw lean-to’s found on almost every unclaimed patch of turf and that hawk everything from barbecued locusts to gold ornaments, are also policed by animal enforcers, though these are of the four legged kind. Powerfully muscled hyenas keep a baleful watch besides the stalls of their owners, ready to shatter in their massive jaws, the bones of anyone stupid enough to swipe something from the merchandise. A fearful sight, they are sufficient to visibly unnerve the throngs of travellers from Haracon that jostle among the pressing masses of natives in the hopes of purchasing an extremely valuable leopard pelt toga, or one of the silver folding-screens at bargain price. An understandable but hardly at all justified reaction, since the ugly beasts only attack if the wrath of their employer is provoked.
Dangerous hyenas do exist, thanks to the more unscrupulous city residents that organize illegal hyena pit-fights that place the most ferocious of these animals in gory battle against a variety of opponents that range from human gladiators to wild leopards, but these ‘‘killer’’ heynas as they are known by the city’s authorities, are rarely allowed to roam free. The penalty for raising such an animal is death, serving as a powerful incentive to the owners never to be so careless as to let their prize fighter escape out of their cages. Unfortunately however, such an animal does occasionally break out despite the best precautions, leaving great devastation in its wake until it is finally despatched by the ever watchful baboon law-enforcers. If one were to ever find himself menaced by such a brute, it would be best to start screaming for assistance if the hope that a baboon enforcer will overhear his cry and rush to his help with its fellows in tow. No one else would dare to intervene.
Just as outlawed as the battling hyenas but infinitely more agreeable to the dissolute traveler seeking to evade the restrictions of the laws of his nation, are the seedy beer hunts. Strongly reeking of a number of substances whose nature a person would do well not to dwell too closely upon, it more than compensates for its lack of salubriousness by serving a potent beer distilled from fermented millet and the mildly toxic venom of the common tree snake. The latter is a unique ingredient that induces pleasant hallucegenic effects when it is ingested, permitting unrestrained bliss to the drinker of this marvelous draught. If he succeeds in ignoring the initially foul taste, he will be in for a very satisfying ride indeed. So satisfying that it comes as no surprise for the natives to see some wealthy visitors from Haracron frequenting these places in the hope of briefly forgetting the troubles they face back home. Preachers in Harcon are fond of warning that if consumed in excess, the ‘‘accursed pagan poison of the savage’’ can wreck tremendous damage to a man’s senses, grim reminders that are often ignored by the desperate.
Exotic as these tourist attractions may be by the standards of Haracon, hyenas and beer huts are very mundane, at least when compared with some of the other things to be found in Zibaba. Journey to the furthermost boundaries of the city where human settlement gradually gives way to the dark jungle, and you will see with your own eyes, the true commercial nerve center of this city. Large settlements of makeshift huts that have sprouted in many remote forest villages, these encampments are stocked with a mind-boggling array of sturdy bamboo cages that come in various sizes, from huge things that could hold massive gryphons, to tiny match-box sized frames designed to carry exotic Red Crickets, an insect greatly prized for its jewelled eyes. Run by a trustworthy and loyal relation of the head of the Keepers, these establishments serve as a depositary for the fantastic wild beasts captured from the great jungle running through much of Yokaru. Destined for the lucrative Haracon pet market in the illegally smuggled exotic animals that it wealthy nobles so crave, much of the creatures collected by the various tributaries and branches of the Keepers briefly reside here until they are finally transported into Haracon itself. The din set up by the many caged inhabitants can be very fearful, serving as a reminder that some of these captured animals are very dangerous indeed. It takes a certain kind of man to work as a handler here, explaining why many of the employees were former warriors in the chief’s army.
Also daring, are the many native guides that arrange dangerous visits into the perilous heart of the Yokuran jungle for young Haracon nobles eager to put their valour and mettle to the test by braving the manifold menaces of the jungle, from flesh eating giant leeches capable of neatly removing a man’s heads with their maws, to ravening head-hunting tribes that cheerfully eviscerate any trespassers. Lounging in beer huts, these guides lie in wait for some adventerous young man of wealth who will hire them to take him into the the wilderness to face both these threats, and a whole host of many others. Of course, not all these guides are brave and trust-worthy souls. Some of them have been known to rob and then abandon their clients in the jungle, leaving them to the many dangers that slither in it. Like everything else about Zibaba, they are as unpredictable as the great Yokuran jungle itself.
Threats to central authority in Zibaba are rare, but they do exist. The most violent faction among these elements, are the disgruntled heads of traditional religious authority, the witch doctors, who feel deeply aggrieved that the greedy Keepers auction off the very animals that have produced many of the ingredients required for their potions and elixirs, to pampered and spolit foreigners,. This feeling of betrayal has slowly merged with some general xenophobic feelings against foreigners, sentiments nursed by those fearful of an eventual annexation by the army of Haracon. A farfetched possibility, albeit one that does incite the murder of a missionary, or an employee of the Keepers every now and then. They would do far worse if it were in their power to do so, but the high level of security afforded to the Chief and the senior members of the Keepers effectively rules out hopes of assasinating more important individuals in the heirachy of power.
-An excerpt from Marcus Horad’s Illustrated Guide To The Barbarian Lands Beyond The Empire.
Murder in Zibaba-Sent to investigate the murder of a missionary, the PC’s find themselves coming into conflict with a dangerous anti-Haracon cabal.
Stranded Friend-A companion of theirs has been left to his fate in the jungle by a treacherous guide, and it is now up to them to rescue him.
Envy Most Foul-The PC’s find themselves hired to weaken and undermine the Keepers in accordance with the wishes of a lesser chief who craves a white-washed home of his own.