Lankhmar: Carnival of Swords
For the next three years, the Years of Leviathan, the Roc, and the Dragon, they wandered the world of Nehwon south, east, north, and west, seeking forgetfulness of their great loves and their first great guilts and finding neither. They ventured east past mystic Tisilinilit with its slender, opalescent spires, which always seemed newly crystallized out of its humid, pearly skies, to lands that were legends in Lankhmar and even Horborixen. One amongst many was the skeletally shrunken Empire of Eevamarensee, a country so decadent, so far-grown into the future, that all the rats and men are bald and even the dogs and cats are hairless.
-- Fritz Leiber,
"The Circle Curse"

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I've divided the background material into three sections:
  • The Stories: Info on the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, including recommended readings
  • The World: Quick descriptions of Lankhmar and nearby places, plus links to more extensive sites
  • Tone: My take on the swords and sorcery genre, the feel of Lankhmar, and how this will be instantiated in the game

The Stories

Lankhmar and Nehwon are the creations of Fritz Leiber, the setting for his famed sword and sorcery stories starring the tall barbarian Fafhrd and the small thief the Gray Mouser. These stories have been collected in many different editions over the years, most of which place the stories in order of the series' internal timeline.

Lankhmar: Carnival of Swords is set early in two heroes' career, a few months after the events depicted in "Claws from the Night". Though there are nearly a dozen stories which take place before this point, I've selected three which I think will provide the best introduction to the Lankhmar:

So that's it! Read three short stories and you'll be an expert on the game's background. I've included links to those volumes available via Amazon, but you can also borrow copies from me or many other players who've offered to spread the word and get others hooked on Fritz Leiber. (The first book's free!) For a more complete bibliography of the Lankhmar stories and the rest of Leiber's works, check out The Fritz Leiber Home Page.

For those of you (and I'm sure you're the majority) who don't have time to read the stories, in the next section I've tried to pull together some quick and dirty descriptive info in the next section, in addition to the Leiber quotes scattered liberally throughout this site. But before giving up entirely, I can't help including one non-Leiber quote: "READ A BOOK!" -- Handy, "The Tick" animated TV series

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In the Plaza of Dark Delights, which lies seven blocks south of the Marsh Gate and extends from the Fountain of Dark Abundance to the Shrine of the Black Virgin, the shop-lights glinted upward no more brightly than the stars glinted down. For there the vendors of drugs and the peddlers of curios and the hawkers of assignations light their stalls and crouching places with foxfire, glowworms, and firepots with tiny single windows, and they conduct their business almost as silently as the stars conduct theirs. There are plenty of raucous spots a-glare with torches in nocturnal Lankhmar, but by immemorial tradition soft whispers and pleasant dimness are the rule in the Plaza of Dark Delights. Philosophers often go there solely to meditate, students to dream, and fanatic-eyed theologians to spin like spiders abstruse new theories of the Devil and of the other dark forces ruling the universe. And if any of these find a little illicit fun by the way, their theories and dreams and theologies and demonologies are undoubtedly the better for it.
-- Fritz Leiber,
"Bazaar of the Bizarre"

The gods in Lankhmar (that is, the gods and candidates for divinity who dwell or camp, it may be said, in the Imperishable City, not the gods of Lankhmar -- a very different and most secret and dire matter) ... the gods in Lankhmar sometimes seem as if they must be as numberless as the grains of sand in the Great Eastern Desert. The vast majority of them began as men, or more strictly the memories of men who led ascetic, vision-haunted lives and died painful, messy deaths. One gets the impression that since the beginning of time an unending horde of their priests and apostles (or even the gods themselves, it makes little difference) have been crippling across that same desert, the Sinking Land, and the Great Salt Marsh to converge on Lankhmar's low, heavy-arched Marsh Gate -- meanwhile suffering by the way various inevitable tortures, castrations, blindings and stonings, impalements, crucifixions, quarterings and so forth at the hands of eastern brigands and Mingol unbelievers who, one is tempted to think, were created solely for the purpose of seeing to the running of that cruel gantlet. Among the tormented holy throng are a few warlocks and witches seeking infernal immortality for their dark satanic would-be deities and a very few proto-goddesses -- generally maidens reputed to have been enslaved for decades by sadistic magicians and ravished by whole tribes of Mingols.
-- Fritz Leiber,
"Lean Times in Lankhmar"

...Ilthmar with its treacherous little inns and innumerable statues and bas-reliefs and other depictions of its rat-god.
-- Fritz Leiber,
"The Circle Curse"

The World

Lankhmar is the name of both a city and a nation. Lying south of the Inner Sea, and separated from most other lands by the Sea of the East, the Sinking Land (an isthmus of land between the two seas which literally sinks below the waves for long stretches of times), and the Mountains of Hunger, the wealthy grainfields of Lankhmar fear no outside invaders.

The city of Lankhmar lies in the northeast corner of the land, wedged between the mouth of the River Hlal and the Great Salt Marsh. The walled city is immense, containing a vast population devoted to shipping Lankhmar's vegetable gold out to the rest of Newhon and, more importantly, skimming a profit off of that trade. With its combination of low-lying terrain and crowded conditions, Lankhmar is famous for its lingering smokes, smogs, and fogs, which often render the air both unhealthful and opaque.

Inside Lankhmar are numerous districts and neighborhoods. The three which will appear in the game include:

  • The Rainbow Palace: Home of Lankhmar's Overlord, Glipkerio Kistomerces. At the north end of the city, it sits on a headland overlooking the Inner Sea. Decorated in a sea motif, the Palace is most noteworthy for its staff. The servants are shaved of all head and body hair, carry platters balanced on their heads, and wear chains which prevent their hands from moving far from their waists, all customs which reflect Glipkerio's morbid fear of hair in his food or having it touched by human hands.
  • The Plaza of Dark Delights: An open market dedicated to all things expensive, exotic, and pleasurable. In the Plaza one can find drugs and poisons from distant lands, arcane tomes and instruments, rare wines and other delicacies, bizarre trinkets and jewelry, and prostitutes catering to various specialized clienteles. By ancient custom, no bright lights or loud sounds are allowed within the Plaza of Dark Delights. All dealings are conducted in the quietest whispers, and even the courtesans carry tiny scarlet lanterns barely brighter than a firefly.
  • The Silver Eel: One of Lankhmar's many less reputable taverns, the Silver Eel is situated on Dim Lane, halfway between Cheap Street and Carter Street and backed by Bones Alley. It is the favored watering hole of Fafhrd and the Mouser. (See the quote on the sidebar of the Characters page.)

There are also a few other areas which won't be in the game but which are fairly important and may be referred to in the game's plots:

  • The Street of the Gods: The gods in Lankhmar (not to be confused with the gods of Lankhmar, see below) are a diverse and constantly varying lot. Traditionally new religions arise in the east, and their prophets or preachers enter the city through the Marsh Gate at the east end of the Street of the Gods. This is a poor neighborhood, in which the priests compete in the street for the attention of the rabble and, if they're lucky, solicit enough moldy vegetables or stale bread crusts to stay alive. If a priest gets a large congregation during his service, he'll take advantage of that to literally muscle his way up the street, usinghis followers' mass to gain a better stretch of the Street. The further west he goes, the better the neighborhood and the wealthier the followers. Eventually, a priest may raise donations sufficient to rent or buy a temple on the Street of the Gods, again with the better locations lying to the west. Nobles and wealthy merchants, of course, will only worship in the exclusive and posh temples at the west end of the street, where priests live in fabulous luxury. Unpopular religions tend to slide back down the street, eventually getting pushed back out the Marsh Gate. Lankhmarites believe strongly in survival of the fittest, even for their gods.
  • The Temple of the Gods of Lankhmar: At the far west end of the Street of the Gods, right next to the giant grain silos which line the wharves along the River Hlal, stands a squat, black temple with a single unused bell tower. No one has entered it in ages, and most people avoid even looking at it. This is the temple of the gods of Lankhmar.
  • The Thieves' Guild: At the intersection of Cheap Street and Death Alley lies the infamous and powerful Thieves' Guild of Lankhmar. Few but its members have been inside its walls, and it is a source of fear for anyone who hasn't paid off the Guild in advance.
  • Other Places: Some other streets named in the city include the Street of Thinkers (Atheist Avenue), Cash Street, Pimp Street, Plague Court, and the Street of the Silk Merchants. Besides the Marsh Gate in the east, there are three gates on the south side of Lankhmar: the Grain Gate, the Grand Gate, and the End Gate.

As the cultural and economic hub of the Inner Sea, Lankhmar also attracts visitors from throughout Nehwon. Some of the more common places from which people might hail include:

  • Ilthmar: Not far from Lankhmar, Ilthmar lies just across the Great Salt Marsh and the Sinking Land, at the edge of the eastern deserts. If anything, Ilthmar is even seedier than Lankhmar.
  • The Eastern Lands: A generic name for the many kingdoms and lands which lie east of the deserts, and from which exotic spices and silks come. The chief city of the Eastern Lands is Horborixen, seat of the King of Kings.
  • Sarheenmar: Further up the eastern coast of the Inner Sea, Sarheenmar is the gateway to the Mingol Steppes.
  • The Mingol Steppes: The Mingols are stereotypical eastern nomads, complete with inscrutable customs, a harsh, blood-thirsty religion, and a tendency to form great hordes and descend on their neighbors. Nevertheless, Mingol traders are a regular sight in most trade marts of Nehwon.
  • The Land of Eight Cities: The half-tamed lands north of the Inner Sea are joined in a loose confederation. Most of the eight cities are more akin to frontier settlements, bases for the tall, fair-haired hunters and lumberers who work in the vast forests filling the Land.
  • Quarmall: A bizarre and mysterious underground kingdom south of Lankhmar. Though few facts are known about Quarmall, there is much speculation, including that its rulers are powerful magicians and that its economy is based almost entirely on slaves.

The Eastern Lands

For many other details about Nehwon and Lankhmar, take a look at The Scrolls of Lankhmar. (Note, this site is illegible when viewed with Netscape.) To see some excellent maps of the city of Lankhmar itself, see Maps and Information. (You can safely ignore most of the text on this site, which is derived from the execrable D&D Lankhmar supplement.)

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