giovedì 21 marzo 2019

Zyan: so beautiful, so scary, so sad

Settings are like rats: there's too many, they look all the same and they feast on scraps. Read ten random "original" fantasy settings and you'll feel like visiting ten different McDonald's in the same city.

When a good setting comes by it's a thing to celebrate. I found one: it's called Zyan and it's supported by Mazirian's Garden blog and a wonderful zine called Through Ulthan's Door. It's written by Ben L. who is a nice person, a philosopher and a true "author".

Zyan is a city that flies over the Dreamlands, or Wishery, as Ben calls them. You probably know a lot already about it so I won't go into details: this thing I'm writing, after all, isn't going to be read by anyone if Ben himself doesn't share it. So, Ben: please share!

Why should you consider playing in Zyan? First of all because it's so intense it compelled me to draw a map (many, many years since I tried my hand at a city map).

Second: it's unique. In my campaign I use it as a base for Planar missions, a sort of Sigil. Sigil is unique and uniquely irritating. Bloated descriptions that don't describe enough. That jargon ... maybe sounded like a good idea in the 90's, now it's such a drag ... Zyan, on the contrary, is so terse it takes only a handful of blog posts and a zine to FEEL it.

It's a disturbing place, full of morbid mysteries, unknowable rites, obscure gods and weird traditions. It is, at least for me, a deeply sensual place, in a very twisted, freudian way. A place of sin, decadent, byzantine, full of subterfuge and deadly ennui. "The stuff that dreams are made of ..." and yet ... fully playable. This is a small miracle: how many times have we read something that had atmosphere but no substance, that you couldn't bring to the table without titanic efforts (see: Vornheim)? This nightmare comes table-ready.
I'm 44, I've got a full-time job and a 3 years old son. I sorely need table-ready stuff. 

Zyan reminds me of the grotesque baroquery of Jean Pierre Jeunet's & Marc Caro's City of Lost Children (sorry for the obscure citation ... I'm an ex movie-critic).

Of the exquisite madness of Terry Gilliam's Baron of Munchausen.

It has body-horror, butcher-priests, a lot of theatre, killer puppets, pig-men, faceless lions and cenotaphs lost in a jungle of giant mushrooms hanging upside down from the city's rock. It has a sewer river and entire subcultures living exclusively underground. 

Most of all, in my humble opinion, it's about the loss of hope (beautifully exemplified by the struggle between the two crowns who hold the city in an eternal standoff). This, in a way, puts Zyan more in a "Dying Earth" context than a Dreamlands one: the marmoreal, escherian vistas are lovecraftesque and dunsanian, but the nihilistic push is more like Vance meets William Burroughs. 

Anyway, if we go past the somewhat lazy game of naming possible inspirations, what we have it's Ben, his psyche, his vision. No wink-wink references and no old-school obligations to drag it down.

I dare to make a wish about Zyan's future: a beatiful illustrated manual giving us everything we need to play in Zyan Above, Below and in-Between. That would keep me busy for the years to come! 

So: wear your mask, say your prayers and jump into Zyan: such pleasure and such pain are waiting there for you!

4 commenti:

  1. Good post and a fabulous map. It looks like a jawbone or a vast spoon - reminds me a bit of Evlyn Moreau's work. I'll be following this blog for sure.

    1. Thank you very much! I'll do my best!

    2. It reminds me more of a whale or a piece of a moon, but yes, the map is beautiful and the writing of the article is very passionate as well.

    3. Thank you Kyana! When I look at it I see an old ship, like a Spanish Galleon but I don't know if Ben meant it that way or if it just .. happened..