|Ambassadors of the Uplands, Mun Kao.|
Zedeck Siew & Mun Kao’s A Thousand Thousand Islands are works of superb storytelling, weaving interesting locations that present information with a voice that speaks to a life lived in the world. Exposition never feels forced, the uncanny is spoken of with a weight to facts; locust-headed witches, crocodile archaeologists, and cat-masked shape-shifting assassins exist and you’d do well not to cross them, but they are natural parts of this world.
In the past I’ve used broader OSR assumptions and bits of Yoon-Suin to make use of content from A Thousand Thousand Islands, which can do a disservice to the work by not allowing it to exist independently of other settings. Given that the creators just put all their zines up on itch.io, including two I had never seen before; I felt I ought to give some thought on what and how a game set in the Thousand Thousand Islands should look like; with considerations to origins and ability.
But, one should consider that while playing a crocodile or a cat agent might be fun, they are also what make the setting exciting to encounter coming from a societal default wherein such things are far and away from where the players are from.
In the first issue, Mr-Kr-GR the Death-Rolled Kingdom, we get a glimpse at the Uplands; a land whose people must enter through these crocodile infested lands to reach the wider world. There is a point of contention, Margessa the Third Queen of Mr-Kr-Gr wants to close down the borders; which would surely lead to disharmony with the Uplanders. And the Uplanders as we are shown come from three groups (in this issue anyhow); Lost Merating, the Tohey tribes, and realm of the bear-people called Kandis.
Lost Merating seems a cursed and strange place, the Tohey are emigrating towards Mr-Kr-Gr and have their own internal issues, and Kandis doesn’t care for Mr-Kr-Gr nor broader humanity. I feel these are interesting places to begin from, venturing down from the uplands, shuffling into Mr-Kr-Gr in the hopes of getting to the wider world, dealing with agents of the Wan Kisi who anticipated your arrival and wish to use you, getting displaced in a time-shriven forest, and seeking out wealth and weapons in Andjang.
So I’ve cooked up some randomizers and origins a la Whitehack for use in play. Extrapolations are all my own.
Of Lost Merating
To be of Merating, Lost Merating, is to live in a place of thick darkness and great uncertainty. To put your faith in another is to risk trifling with a witch. Bargains for power will not keep you safe in this land, but dealings with such beings might see you marked and tasked with a service elsewhere in the Thousand Thousand Islands.
Beings of Lost Merating are vulnerable to the predations of witches, and must honor all their dealings with others--so baked into their existence is the knowledge of crossing a witch and its consequences. Beings of Lost Merating may be of any class, though only Wise characters may have a vocation related to serving as a Guide. Affiliations for beings of Lost Merating come as easily as they do to any other human culture, though perhaps a bit more easily when made with witches or beings of dark power. Beings of Lost Merating have a normal XP rate and should roll on the following tables for additional fun, as applicable to whether your character is a Witch or merely has suffered their proximity.
Mark of the Bewitched [d8]
1. Was born with antennae on their head, long and impossible to ignore.
2. Milky-white eyes which obscure dangers and draw the attention of the hantu.
3. A voice that grows smaller and more distant, the more important the things it says.
4. Fungal spore rashes on the flesh which spell out cursed desires.
5. A smile which disgusts those who would hold them kindly.
6. Missing a bit of tongue and two fingers, payment for services rendered.
7. Teeth like a shark which can never pierce fruit or chew rice.
8. Hive pock marks around the neck, where insects once dwelled.
Mark of the Witch [d8]
1. The head of a katydid, with maddening eyes.
2. Clawed hands, like two dancing spiders.
3. Breath like death, repulsive to all but spirits.
4. Glowing light like fireflies beneath their digits.
5. A toyol which nurses at their breast.
6. Vicious tusks of a boar, leftover from a possession.
7. Slithering tattoos of naga.
8. Mushrooms which grow from the earlobe and whisper deadly truths.
Of the Tohey
History is a sword of many edges, it can be held aloft to unite a people but just as easily can those people see every little cut they’ve ever suffered. Such is the lot of the Tohey, many of whom have begun to emigrate to Mr-Kr-Gr and beyond. Together they are strong, they sing the old songs and give the world to their children; but each know the feuds and rivalries of their ancestors.
To be of the Tohey is to know yourself, to be resilient against forces which would seek to manipulate the faith you have in yourself and in your boon companions. The Tohey may belong to any character class, but when choosing their vocation they must also determine a vocation that belonged to an ancestral enemy; to whom this character will have to resign their bitterness with if they wish to cooperate. Those of the Tohey have a normal XP rate and should roll on the following tables to determine why their ancestor hated another group of Tohey, and a boon of their ancestor to which they will suffer no insult.
1. They betrayed your ancestor on the night of a crucial battle.
2. They did not assist your ancestor when a loved one was sickly.
3. They claimed credit for a deed your ancestor performed.
4. They performed mockeries when your ancestor was suffering.
5. They were perverse and insane towards your ancestor.
6. They sought to usurp the authority of your ancestor.
7. They did not act in the best interest of the Tohey people, to their pain.
8. They performed wicked rites to dark spirits, which none of the Tohey should abide.
Ancestor’s Boon [d8]
1. They used stealth and cunning to survive an important battle and tell the story.
2. They made tough choices which kept the tribe healthy in a time of plagues.
3. They told the tales of their friends so as to keep their memories alive.
4. They roused the morale of the tribe during a time of terrible strife.
5. They were famed for their passion and mirth by all their neighbors.
6. They cast down a cruel chieftain for the benefit of the Tohey.
7. They enriched your family by making dealings with cats and crocodiles.
8. They battled dark spirits alone, so as to spare the rest of the tribe.
Bear-person of Kandis
Surrounded by perfidious humanity, the bear-people of Kandis bide their time. They know patience as well as they know heroism, both things are tiresome but necessary when the moment calls for it. They are beginning to venture from the Uplands again, plotting, scheming, hungering for new flesh on which to sate their appetites.
A bear-person of Kandis is large and powerful, but often a bit clumsy; as such they cannot belong to the Deft character class. They hold prejudices against other species of the Uplands and beyond, having a hard time suffering the affiliations of crocodiles and humanity. They must consume double the amount of food per day as a human, though they are skilled at foraging and utterly unafraid of bees in any capacity. They have natural weapons in their claws which damage like short swords, and they can carry a bit more equipment than humans but find it uncomfortable to do so. Bear-people of Kandis must gain an additional 10% XP per level when seeking to advance. Roll on the following tables to determine a notable physical feature and a belief you hold about others which is clearly 100% factual.
Notable Bear Feature [d8]
1. Chest whorl like the hood of a cobra.
2. Chest whorl like a full, blazing sun.
3. Chest whorl like a crescent moon over the ocean.
4. A tongue as long and flexible as a python.
5. Long, exceptionally floppy ears.
6. Cream albinic fur or pitch black melanistic fur.
7. Broad, sharp teeth that could crack a tortoise open with ease.
8. Long, manipulative claws the envy of other bears.
Notable Belief about Others [d8]
2. Humanity lacks natural claws because their purpose is to hold, not to strife.
3. Humanity walks on two feet at all times but cub for the natural world is denied to them as they age.
4. Humanity makes petty wars within itself because it awaits to serve Kandis with its best and strongest.
5. Humanity and Crocodile are similar in that both grow bloated and lazy, yet are incapable of the long sleep.
6. The meat of a crocodile tastes like the saltiest of chicken. The meat of a man like the anus of a pig.
7. A witch cannot curse a bear, as a bear is of greater nature than a witch.
8. The boats of men are often aligned with the goals of crocodiles, as they can seldom handle the importance of a bear.