here. This particular train of thought and conjecture was started off by a quote from Dungeons and Dragons, Volume One: Men & Magic, page 6:
"...the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the 'huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses.'"
A 'Huge Ruined Pile' is one way to refer to the major city-state that occupies/dominates the overall cultural milieu of the Great Rift on Riskail. In many respects, the city-state of Devukarsha is a jumbled, heaped and terraced pseudo-ziggurat carved, hacked and extended out from the jagged cliff-faces of the southernmost regions of the Great Rift, with tiers and terraces, ledges and platforms extending from the gaping maws of the various grotto-seas and the infamous waterfront and estuarial parklands, upwards through the various districts and precincts to the high concourses and the oldest sections of the three tiers vying for the distinction of Primary Tier, and onwards past these and upwards into the very cliff-face and the tunnels that extend far, far beyond the rift unto various crater-domes and worse, and still upwards to the crumbling and neglected rim-fortifications that jut out of the thinnest air into the cold, emptiness outside the Great Rift...places few go anymore these days. So, in a way, Devukarsha is a lot like a 'vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses' that Gygax challenges his readers with in the quote above. Now, undoubtedly, Gygax was thinking more along the lines of a single family sort of castle, not a whole teetering and teeming city-state, but that's just a question of scale. Besides, the various Great Houses that maintain ancestral estates in Devukarsha all have decrepit, run-down fortress-manors that have been neglected for decades or longer right on the top tiers, so you get it all--the whole place is one big mega-castle that contains numerous smaller ruined piles and haunted abodes within it. Like a Russian Nesting-Doll rolled-up in a crazy-quilt assembled by people like Stoker's Renfield during their rehabilitation in Bedlam...
I like to think of it as a combination of the stranger aspects of the sewers of Paris, the canals of Venice, the Forbidden City of China, certain disreputable sections of Machu Pichu, the Valley of the Kings from Egypt, Imperial Rome, and a bit of Potala from Tibet and the cliff-dweller ruins from New Mexico all rolled up, tossed into a blender, and splattered across the walls of an asylum like a Jackson Pollock original. But with touches of Byzantium, and a few other bits stirred in for flavor, consistency and just plain weirdness, like the mushroom-domed skeletal towers of Lujeel that are interspersed across the low precincts of the city where they hum and cackle with weird energies; or the Twelve pylon-flanked River Gates that each pour forth the waters of another world into the great basins, cisterns and reservoirs that in turn cascade down the staggered waterfall at the heart of the city and which ultimately forms the headwaters of the Senube River and all its dependent canals; or even more spectacular, to some, are the Inter-planar Orreries of Kaleng which plot out the variant vagaries and cyclical proximities of the myriads of planar layers that impinge, transgress or intersect with Devukarsha. But much of that can be detailed later, when the maps are ready.
We are interested in Mad Wizards and Insane Geniuses, particularly the Insane Geniuses this time out, and how generations of insane geniuses have left their distinctive marks upon Devukarsha the city, its rival city-states, and the world in general. Mad men and deranged prophets of technology, the self-elected voices of progress, inventors and creators and individuals driven in their imbalanced passions and impious ambitions to rival gods, to challenge creation itself...these are some interesting people to get to know.
Without further ado, please let me introduce you to a selection of Twelve Insane Geniuses of Riskail:
(There will be others, like Kaleng, but that's for another day, another post...)
Dressed in centuries-old style, not from any sense of nostalgic fashion or to make any sort of sartorial statement, Valtame is a wild-eyed genius with a shock-white mass of almost writhing unkempt hair. He is a striking, imposing individual who radiates an intense sense of focus that few can endure. His eyes see into far places and are watching over many, many things that most would be happy to know little or even nothing about, that they might sleep at night. Obsession is a pale and frail word to describe the powerful commitment and dedication that Valtame brings to his life's work. A deterministic materialist, master anatomist, and scientific rationalist, Valtame is duly reknowned for having single-handedly revived and restored the ages-old studies of anatomy, physiology and thanatology as sciences bordering upon artforms based entirely and completely upon his own contributions in those areas. He established the five anatomical theaters of the Academy with the direct investment of his own fortune and hard work. But that was before. Before he began exploring the practicum, having mastered the theoretical aspects of his work. Valtame no longer is on the faculty of the Academy, nor is he mentioned except as a former patron and alumnus whose early works are the classics, the very standards used to teach his specialities. But none can inquire too closely into the fate of Valtame without coming under censure, suspension and sometimes death-threats or attempted assassination, depending on how far one goes in trying to uncover what really happened with Valtame.
It is said that Valtame has withdrawn to some private laboratory-manor, possibly even in some far off minor city-state where he can work undisturbed and in anonymity on the logical, rational next phase of his great work which is the galvanic, chemical and mechanical manipulation of so called 'dead' flesh in such means and manners as to reinstill a form of life, or at least animation into the defunct cells, to create fresh new life from out of the cast-off, out-worn and deceased members, corpses and cadavers that his agents acquire for him by hook or by crook with no questions asked. The products of his various processes have outraged the Necrosophics and his researches have provoked the ire and enmity of numerous necromancers, cadaverists, reanimators, and worse.
Eccentric even by conventional standards, Budoji has taken-up residence in the deep exurban precincts past the mainstream grotto-colonies. He has set-up a walled and terraced estate that occupies the entirety of a black island of limestone-capped basalt thrust up in the far third-part of a spacious grotto lined with lustrous crystals. It is from this isolated redoubt that Budoji commands his inhuman servitors, conscript laborers sent to him by arrangement from the penal-chateaus of Angeif doomed to work towards a freedom they'll likely never see, and others -- some claim that he even enslaves cadres of the undead -- all of whom are taken down into the depths, equipped with various tools and in some cases breathing-gear, and set to work digging-out more and ever more madly sprawling tunnels, galleries, chambers and shafts that some say are intended to reach down to the very roots, the core of the world itself. But of course this would be quite foolish, and Budoji is insane, not a fool. His efforts are not aimed at the center of this world, but rather he is designing and constructing the greatest, most magnificent subterranean domain of all time, a realm that extends downwards and outwards not just deep into the crust of Riskail. No, that would be too plebian and beneath the refined tastes of a genius such as Budoji. His vast palace of cultivated caverns and sculpted grottoes, exquisitely carved chapels and chasm-spanning suspended towers and so forth extend unto an untold number of other worlds, each one of which is a hollow shell-like structure, more or less, depending upon Budoji's skills and the refinement of his techniques when he first began cultivating and developing them. Not content with delving into the deeper regions of one world, and quite aesthetically appalled at the prevailing conditions of his native world, Budoji has taken it upon himself to create his own series of worlds that conform more completely to his personal vision, worlds that wrap themselves up around a central sun-like mass of technologically-maintained volcanism, or perhaps even --should the means ever become his-- a world wrapped around a star like a sphere. That would be his ultimate ambition, his artistic triumph, the goal of his peculiar ambitions.
Tall, crisp and well-groomed, Lujeel comes from some inconsequential immigrant family, possibly refugees from some failed tyrannical enclave or one of the dome-states of the polar regions. No one is entirely sure. In any case, Lujeel has systematically transformed the lowest precincts of Devukarsha and numerous other city-states have been clamoring for him to come and do for them what he has done freely for his adopted homeland which continues to ignore him even as there are those amongst the aristocracy who revile and rebuke him openly and publicly for his aesthetic transgressions. Some have gone so far as to attempt to drive him out of the Academy, blacklisting him in all the best social clubs, and sending hired gangs of ruffians and derelicts to trash his laboratories. All because he built a series of towers. Elegant black-iron towers of skeletal scaffolding that flare outwards at the top into mushroom-like domes that are covered with millions of tiny spike-like rods like cilia, each tower humming softly, rhythmically, unobtrusively as it pumps the shimmering electro-telluric energies of the world upwards and outwards to make it freely accessible for all who need only reach forth and draw it to them. But Lujeel has been blocked form extending his towers past the Lower Districts, ostracized and derided in the press, spitefully banned from most Academic functions and rendered a social exile for his unseemly and irresponsible digression into unsanctioned infrastructural tampering and incipient anarchism. Perhaps the adoption of new forms of sorcery by the various urfolk communities in the proximity of Lujeel's Towers has had something to do with this backlash? Giving power to the people, especially previously disempowered minorities, is a dangerous thing, is it not?
Withdrawn from Polite Society and hermetically-sealed behind the ornate beryllium-bronze valves of his personal estate, a featureless black blister perched precariously atop one of the twenty-seven needle-like pinnacles that stab upwards from out of the frothing waves of the Near Sea, Darlaim has turned his back on all but his own unknown schemes, contemplations and dreams. Once a year his servitors flitter outwards from the great valves of the only entrance to his retreat, each one bearing a sealed invitation for a specific guest. Few refuse the social summons of Darlaim. The feasts that he hosts are legendary, the conversations life-changing, the repercussions sometimes staggering. No one knows how it is that one so cut-off from all else can have such a grasp on the very pulse of what is about to be. It is as if he could predict the future where all others can only speculate, obfuscate, or mumble platitudes. There is no poetry in this prognostication, but there is a form of terror, both in what is revealed and the price of what is chosen as a consequence of Darlaim's revelations.
Once a botanist of some reknown, Kilverrin has transcended his previous mammalian incarnation to become at once the guiding consciousness, host and genetic matrice-trellis for the millions upon millions of plant species derived from his core genome. His spores have spread across dozens of worlds through the diligent efforts of his bee-descended servitors and the various forms of green-men who attend to his garden-domes, hot-houses, and herbariums. The floralisti come to Kilverrin's gardens to commune with his consciousness that has become an ecology unto itself. His pods allow the urfolk to recover their dead, his fruits feed the orphans, and his pollen is hyper-toxic to the clades of the Great Houses, so much so that they have banned, condemned and damned Kilverrin for his geno-political transgressions and expressions.
Old, wizened and a confirmed geriatric, Nithulme persists in her existence enshrouded in a translucent bubble-like sac of fluids that hovers in the air under the effects of a permanent levitation field that renders her intrinsic micro-environment mostly weightless. She is the consummate and pre-eminent golemista of her generation and every subsequent one up to and including the present. Today's students learn the basics from her texts, her notes, her lesson plans...unless they move beyond the sanctioned studies of the Academy and begin to plumb the depths of her various rivals' all too conveniently proscribed, censured, and withdrawn works. Nithulme has played the academic game very well in her tenure, almost too well. There are any number of clandestine coteries of golemistas who trade and exchange the shreds of censored notebooks and scraps of outlaw and prohibited techniques derived from authorities, experimenters and pioneers whom she would rather no one knew about. She has personally revised the established history, the accepted methodologies, the inherited traditions of her art to serve her singular vision, and her intellectual tyranny is coming to an end as those who have seen past her facade and her falsehoods have begun to challenge her in the tiniest, most discrete and inconsequential of ways. But perhaps the fecal golem dancing a jig on her desk was going a bit too far.
A frustrated and thoroughly unpleasant prosthetician from Ninapure, a city-state notorious for the voracious molds and fungalish-rot seeping out from its very walls, Jaalkis was driven from his sordid homeland for going too far even for the inherently corrupt and festering abhuman folk of that center of pestilence. Not being content with crafting artificial limbs for those afflicted with the pernicious rot that defied all forms of regeneration and regrowth, Jaalkis built special prosthetics that he forced upon the bodies of somnambulists whom he abducted from their cabinets and willfully mutilated in his crimes against all decency and sanity. These beings he reshaped and sent out to do his twisted bidding as limb-cullers, hulking monstrosities of blades, pincers and shears who wandered the twisted, fungus-choked streets and avenues of Ninapure stalking the citizenry and severing limbs from everyone they met in the dismal fogs and miasmic mists. It is said that Jaalkis was not satisfied with merely drumming up an increase in his particular business, but that he used the gathered limbs that his trance-cultic servants brought to him, that he fashioned unwholesome things from assemblages of limbs as though they were found objects or the parts of morbid puzzles. He has had several showings in the cellar-galleries along the Misericorde Canal.
Tempestuous, boisterous and belligerent, Grigmar of Zudane was driven out of the company of the L'undans L'autre Primitivists, banned from the Moulin Blue, and scornfully rebuked and cast out of the Neo-Gradivaists. In fact Grigmar has been kicked out of more movements, cliques, circles and schools than just about any other would-be artist in recorded history. Some think that he has in fact made his reputation on his tendency to be rejected more than through any real work of his own, but his subjects would give the lie to so casual an assessment. Grigmar is obsessed with a peculiar and often-times violent form of assemblage. He forcibly binds two or more things together that ought not to be bound together, and does so in a way that is both horrifying and repulsive in the extreme. A sadist and a biological conflationist, Grigmar surgically alters animals, plants, and human bodies into spectacularly painful works of depraved and profane art that defy description, despite several critics' attempts to catalog his collective 'works' if only as a cautionary measure. Grigmar defines outrage, gives form to the worst sorts of things that writhe about in the depths of the subconscious that often-times would best be left unknown, unexpressed, safely mired in oblivion.
Quiet, unassuming, even shy, Jarmaldo works day and night in his cluttered garrett studio with the feverish frenzy of a man possessed. He is one of the last in a line of hereditary trance-cartographers who have mapped-out the realms of places, spaces and destinations both known and unknown, whether they existed previous to their expert and diligent efforts or not. Jarmaldo sometimes sells some of his lesser maps, often the scraps of old pieces that have been damaged by the mice in his walls, or the crude sketches left-over from previous commissions. He can be found in the markets and sometimes in the cheaper street cafes peddling his maps and seeking commissions in order to afford a drink of Pernod or some brandy with his usual fare of rutabaga soup and leek pate on rice crackers. Jarmaldo is a mild-mannered man, humble and given to whispering more than speaking, relying on gestures where they will suffice. He rarely discusses what unfortunate event or events brought him to his currently low estate, but it is much gossipped about and an amzing number of contradictory rumors are in circulation regarding various supposed scandals, peccadilloes, or misfortunes. Were anyone to ever find out the source of Jarmaldo's fall from grace, it might prove illuminating and potentially socially significant knowledge one could use to gain entree into some otherwise fairly elite and closed circles.
Dour, sour, and almost always apron-clad, J'romin is an exile from the island of glassmakers. Some say that he was apprenticed to a great master amongst the craftsfamilies that rule over his ancestral homeland. Others say that he is a pretender, a talented and visionary artist in his own respects, but one that they think hides behind a false story that detracts from his work more than it offers any romantic patina. He has worked around glassworks, kilns and glazes for all his life and it shows in his mastery of the various crafts. His works are highly sought after as the products of a true genius. The crude bits and pieces that J'romin completed as part of his early efforts as a child learning his trade now fetch exorbitant prices on auction. His ornate mirrors, stained glass tableaus, and blown glass confections of nested orbs and other shapes are some of the most highly regarded and salable works on the market. He designed the panels mounted within the great Arcolossi of Ethribrune as well as personally overseeing the casting and installation of the panels used in Juthir's (revised) Panopticon. J'romin's experiments with armonicas and water-organs produced a craze for the peculiar musical instruments that resurfaces from time to time despite the melancholia-inducing tendencies of the things. What few realize is the true extent of how much of himself J'romin has put into his works, nor do many ever fully appreciate that they may well have dealt with a mere reflection of the true man who is bound up in his work in a way few could ever hope to fathom.
Bald and hideously wrinkled, Zon Duur is a travesty of humanity, having become more like his beloved grubs than even he could imagine possible. Bloated and rugose, his flesh riddled with the collpased burrows of dermal-grubs and his skin pocked with the suppurating sores left in the wake of each grub that burst forth from his flesh to take its place within Zon Duur's ever-growing bioarmy of fanatical grubsibs. They are almost completely of a mind, one harmonious gestalt of grub and vestigial humanity caught-up in the mad theremin-accompanied fever-dreams of a being that no longer belongs to any species, race or creed. In their massed ranks the sibling-grubs of Zon Duur stand alone.
Tall, narrow and incredibly (lustrously) hirsute -- she is very well-known for her all-body topiary hairstyling -- Paj Taluume is a dedicated disciple of Everyday Enigmas and Cultivated Insanity. Her impressive body of work consists of hundreds of autonomous installations that have configured themselves according to obscure algorhythms derived from antique advertising media salvaged from the primordial data of the earliest datanets by informatrix agents, scavenger-viruxes, and a host of other even more odd, repellent and outre methodologies and means one does not talk about in Polite Society. It is whispered in certain unkind quarters that Paj Taluume may well consort with hackers, though no one will come out and accuse her of being one herself. It is also more than a little suspicious that all Paj Taluume's former lovers have gone spectacularly insane in the most artfully contrived ways. Each of them is maintained as a living work of art within a private gallery-asylum, each one available for viewing by special appointment.