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Y’hog – The Blackest Port in the West

by Geoff Gander from Threshold Magazine issue 5

YhogThe Blackest Port in the West

Think you know all the dens of iniquity, do you? Think youre a man of renown because you spent three nights in the Black Rajahs Pit, in the dark heart of Jaibul? Perhaps you are to the blokes walking about around here, but let me tell you that the blackest, filthiest hole you can find is as nothing compared to the ports of ancient times. Ssugath? Im impressed you know of it, but I speak of a place far darker than that. Its a place hardly anyone knows about now. And thats how it should be.”

A veteran Minrothaddan trader speaks to a companion


When I first created Y’hog in 1997, I had no idea that I had taken the first step in a journey that would ultimately see me create, more than a decade later, an intricate Lovecraftian cosmology for Mystara. At the time I had been reading a lot of classic pulp adventure stories by the likes of Robert E. Howard, which often featured ancient, evil cities peopled by inhuman creatures. The carnifex were perfect villains, and this blend of horror, fantasy, and hard-boiled action appealed to me. I had thought that Mystara would really benefit by having such a place inserted into it, but I also liked the idea of setting this new city in Mystara’s ancient past because doing so would give me an opportunity to flesh out the setting’s backstory, and it would allow me to do so without radically changing the campaign setting of the Gazetteer era – thus making the city more appealing to the broader fan community. But I wanted to put my personal stamp on this, and so Y’hog was inhabited by a degenerate breed of carnifex, creatures intended to evoke disgust.

So I started writing about Y’hog over lunch while at work at my first real job after university. And kept writing over subsequent lunch hours. I don’t remember how long it took me to finish that first draft, but I remember the words just flowing. As I wrote more ideas came. I thought about who the carnifex worshipped, what their rites were, and how their abhorrent mind-set affected their dealings with other peoples. In the end I was satisfied with what I had created – a uniquely evil and alien place set in Mystaran antiquity that could be the source of countless legends and adventure hooks to keep players enthralled, and to challenge them.

Although I moved on to create other things, Y`hog stands out to me as the first genuinely unique piece that I wrote for the community, and I like to think it inspired me, and others, to expand on the Lovecraftian elements of Mystara, which in my view enrich the setting greatly. So now I will return to the source, and tell you more of this infamous black city!

Map of the Carnifex Empire

An Overview of the City of Yhog:

Of great size it was, with walls nearly fifty feet tall, and so wide that three horsemen could ride aside each other along their tops. The gates themselves were of purest steel, and graven with images that no mind must conceive, lest the ponderer flee unto the depths of madness.”

Y’hog – “the most infamous city in history” – was the capital of an empire ruled by a sub-race of carnifex. At their height, these folk ruled a maritime empire that stretched from what is now the Arm of the Immortals to the Serpent Peninsula, and southwards to the shores of the Adakkian Sound. While the majority of the population were troglodyte slaves and lizard man labourers who lived in scattered, fortified villages, the ruling carnifex dwelled for the most part in the great cities that lined the coasts of the mountainous island of Y’hegg-T’uhath, the seat of their power. The oldest, and greatest, of these cities was Y’hog.

The city of was built primarily of basalt, a black volcanic rock that was very common on Y’hegg-T’uhath. Y’hog was laid out in a giant “C” that framed a deep bay, and was bordered on the west by a mountain range, and by plains to the north and south. Although their city was quite remote, and no hostile nations were located nearby, the carnifex built a great wall, dotted with observation and defensive towers at regular intervals, around Y’hog, and sealed the seaward entrance with a massive chain. The inhabitants had enough confidence in their city’s outer defences to neglect to build any inner defences more substantial than city watch outposts. Squads of troglodyte soldiers led by carnifex officers were a regular sight on Y’hog’s streets.

Y’hog’s walls had three gates forged of marh-vhol, each of which was 30 feet tall and wide and bristling with magical (powerful wards that activated spell-like effects whenever enemies drew near) and mundane (shielded platforms from which archers could shoot at attackers) defences. From each gate a grand avenue, each 40 feet wide, led straight to the Temple Quarter in the centre of the city. Side streets, each at least as wide as the main roads in modern Mystara’s largest cities, branched off from the avenues. The streets quickly split and grew progressively narrower. Residents of Y’hog were able to navigate this tangled web easily, but outsiders found the layout disorienting. Many of those who visited the city in its heyday and lived to tell the tale remarked that they often ended up at their starting point, and sometimes found themselves in the Undercity without having consciously descended.

The architecture of Y’hog was stark, solid, and grandiose - designed to last for millennia. The buildings in which most of its 650,000 inhabitants lived were angular and constructed of basalt, granite, and occasionally marble, and were many-storeyed affairs – anything with fewer than four floors was a rare sight. The buildings that lined the great avenues and major streets were adorned with intricate carvings depicting their owners and their greatest achievements. No building had windows at ground level, and those that did exist were tall and narrow, and appeared at odd intervals. Rooflines were flat – partly because they were integrated into a network of elevated walkways, but also because they were home to a large number of transient troglodyte labourers who lived in crude huts built on their surfaces. The walkways bridged all but the widest streets, such that it was possible to travel from one end of Y’hog to the other without ever going down to the street level – the exception to this was the Temple Quarter, whose buildings stood far apart and rose above even the walkways. Y’hog (and other carnifex cities) also had many squares and open spaces in which residents could congregate. What greenery existed was obsessively controlled and manicured – if the carnifex could not force a plant to grow exactly the way they wanted it to, they would not let it grow. Often, public spaces were filled with statues, arches of triumph, and other things to remind everyone of the greatness of their city. The dominant impression a human visitor would probably get if they visited Y’hog would be one of bleak sterility.

Although the carnifex were not much larger than humans (they averaged 7-8 feet tall), their buildings were proportioned on a grand scale because they saw themselves as the first great race to walk the planet. Even the most modest carnifex house would be palatial by modern Mystaran standards, with plenty of space for possessions, indoor and outdoor recreation, pursuing studies, entertaining guests, or whatever else the occupant wanted to do. Plus, even the lowest-ranking carnifex had at least two or three in-house servants and/or slaves.

Y’hog was divided into several quarters:

ArtisansQuarter: This part of the city was where Y’hog’s crafters (at least the upper-class ones) lived and worked. The ground floors of most of the buildings were used as workshops, with the artisans and their families living above them. Mixed with these workshops were larger factories, where troglodyte workers would churn out common goods. The latter buildings were often found close to the Workers’ Quarter, so that labourers did not have to walk through the neighbourhoods of their betters (the authorities would not tolerate troglodytes living outside the Workers’ Quarter).

Market Quarter: Although the Carnifex of Y’hog seldom traded with their neighbours, they practised commerce among themselves and with cultures that were loosely aligned (or at least not openly hostile all the time) with them. Much of this part of the city was taken up by a massive square where all of the households would acquire what they needed. Goods from every corner of the Carnifex Empire – including spices, live animals, slaves, gems and precious metals – could be found here. Most of the residents of this part of the city were lizard men, lower-class carnifex, and a small handful of troglodytes who had managed to climb the social ladder.

The Market Quarter was also the location of Y’hog’s port.

Temple Quarter: This is where the main temples to the Outer Beings were located, and where the priests and their servants lived. A canal, in which no water craft were permitted, was excavated to separate this part of the city from the rest, and it was accessible only via three massive bridges, which could be raised during special religious festivals and in times of need. The few foreigners who were allowed to enter the city unmolested were forbidden from entering the Temple Quarter, under pain of death. The main feature of this part of the city was the Star Temple – a massive step-pyramid constructed of obsidian, which was high enough that a person standing on its top was able to see beyond the city walls. The Star Temple stood in the midst of a great plaza dominated by the Obsidian Monolith (a massive enchanted pillar that acted as a magical battery), which was in turn bordered by lesser pyramids. Lesser servitors of the Outer Beings were a common sight in the Temple Quarter, and many guarded the temples and the homes of the most senior priests.

WorkersQuarter: This area, the largest, was where the bulk of Y’hog’s troglodyte labourers lived. The buildings here were unadorned, uniform, and crowded, and the streets were crammed with huts and other improvised shelters for those who were unable to secure accommodations in the buildings. Although the troglodytes were thoroughly cowed for the most part by their carnifex masters, the ruling class closely controlled their subjects – to the extent that the troglodytes were severely limited in terms of what they could do and where they could travel. Aside from basic amenities such as public drinking fountains, small plazas where residents could congregate and exercise if they wished, and outlets to the sewer system, the Workers’ Quarter was little more than a place to sleep. Most labourers were assigned trades upon reaching adulthood, and were required to stay in the Workers’ Quarter when they were not working. Violators were often conscripted into the legions.

The Denizens of Yhog:

"Of their aspect we know little, save that they were of reptilian stock, and walked upon two legs. Truly they were a fearsome people, such as they learned to stride and run where they ought instead to slither and crawl.”

The Carnifex Empire counted many races among its inhabitants, who catered to the whims of the sorcerous and degenerate carnifex, most of whom lived on the island of Y’hegg-T’uhath. carnifex society was highly stratified, with almost no prospect of social mobility whatsoever – one’s race determined what roles one could occupy. This societal model was re-created by the lizard man sorcerer-kings of Mogreth thousands of years later, but brutal as that realm was it was only a shadow of Y’hog.

Carnifex: The Y’hog carnifex are the undisputed masters of their empire, and have structured their society solely for their own benefit. Comprising 20% of the city’s population, most dwelt in the Temple Quarter, and occupied the most palatial homes in the Market Quarter (but these carnifex considered the dregs of their own kind). Most of them lived lives of leisure, and spent much of their time socialising, broken by an hour or two of official business if they had any responsibilities to govern anything – most routine work was delegated to lizard man assistants. A large number of carnifex had an abiding interest in genetics, and as a result there were a large number of “clubs” where like-minded carnifex could gather to discuss their research. Carnifex rarely left their neighbourhoods, preferring instead to send servants to conduct their business for them.

Lizard Men: Lizard men were a rare sight in Y’hog, comprising only 10% of the population; most of them lived on the mainland, where they represented their masters. Considered to be the most advanced of the servant races, lizard men were given considerable freedom, and many had privileges that allowed them to live at levels approximating those of their masters as long as they were circumspect. Lizard men acted as low- to mid-level administrators, commanded squads of guards, and ran carnifex households. Ever conscious of their elevated status, and the ability of their masters to take it away at any moment (rebellious lizard men often found themselves commanding squads of troglodyte conscripts in the legions), most lizard men were devoted to preserving the regime at all costs. The carnifex raised the stakes for the lizard men by punishing a rebel’s family, as well (good administrators being hard to find, by their reasoning). This enforced zeal often hindered the efforts of rebels, as troglodytes found little reason to trust lizard men.

Outsiders: Most of the non-reptilian inhabitants of Y’hog (8% of the population) was comprised of slaves. Most of these were humans taken from the Davanian nations that bore the brunt of carnifex aggression, and their often brief lives were those of back-breaking labour, ending in being sacrificed on a dark altar. They were kept in vast holding pens located in Y’hog’s Undercity, watched by troglodyte guards. Although most of the guards took out their frustrations on their prisoners, those who quietly opposed the regime often found common cause with the slaves – resulting in many escapes. Former slaves often returned the favour on their way out of the city by passing information to sympathetic troglodytes that helped the latter in their own efforts to revolt.

Sisthik: Although most sis’thik preferred the arid regions of Davania some settled on Y’hegg-T’uhath where their inherent toughness made them useful temple guards, and enforcers in what passed for Y’hog’s constabulary. They appreciated their relatively exalted status in Y’hog society, and the freedom of movement that their duties permitted them, and as a result discharged their duties with relish. The humid and relatively cool climate of Y’hegg-T’uhath was not agreeable to the sis’thik, however, and few of their eggs hatched – despite the ministrations of the carnifex, who saw in them a replacement for the ubiquitous troglodytes. As a result, the sis’thik were never numerous, comprising roughly 2% of the population of Y’hog.

Troglodytes: The majority (60%) of the population of Y’hog, as well as the other, lesser cities, was comprised of troglodytes who kept everything running. They cleaned the streets, performed most of the manual labour, prepared the meals, disciplined slaves, and submitted to sacrifice if there were not enough prisoners. Most of them were so thoroughly indoctrinated from infancy to revere the carnifex as deities that few of them questioned their lot in life – it was enough to be alive and under the protection of their masters. The fact that the troglodytes themselves had been genetically manipulated over several centuries by the carnifex, and no effort was made to conceal this, only emphasised their subservient status. If any of them got “uppity”, as happened from time to time, the carnifex dangled the prospect of being conscripted into the legions and being used a cannon fodder. Often, a couple thousand would be shipped to the mainland – regardless of whether they had done anything wrong – to drive the point home. The carnifex also cultivated informants among the troglodytes, and rewarded these toadies with favours such as improved living conditions, opportunities to climb the social ladder (to a limited extent), and wealth. However, favours and recognition were given out so seldom that anyone displaying any sign of improved status was immediately suspected by his or her fellow troglodytes as being a spy. These suspicions were rarely wrong, and the few who actively opposed the regime simply went deeper underground.

Law and Government:

Y’hog, and the Carnifex Empire as a whole, was highly centralised. The Great Conclave, which consisted of the seven highest-ranking priests, ruled the empire from their chamber near the summit of the Star Temple. All decisions were made by them, and then implemented by a small army of lizard man bureaucrats. In addition to their duties towards the empire as a whole, the members of the Great Conclave also oversaw the day-to-day administration of the Mainland territories, which were divided into seven provinces – one for each member. Y’hegg-T’uhath, being the political centre of the empire, was governed by the Great Conclave as a whole, with each member taking a turn once every seven days. Although efforts were made to ensure consensus on major policies, each member had his or her unique governing style and focus. Criminals reacted accordingly, and as a result it was often possible to predict what sort of criminal activity would occur on which day in Y’hog. So long as the criminal element kept a low profile, bribed the right officials, and targeted low-status individuals, the “long arm of the law” was rather short.

The legal system devised by the carnifex, which survived in modified form in the Empire of Mogreth, imposed severe penalties on all lawbreakers except their own kind. The accused was hauled before an Inquisitor (usually a lizard man but occasionally a low-ranking carnifex) to have their crimes, as well as their likely punishment, read out. The accused was then provided an opportunity to beg for mercy, after which a judgement was rendered. Carnifex who broke the law often ended up in prison, or exiled to the mainland territories, for a decade or two – after which all record of their wrongdoing would be erased. Other races were punished with mutilation or imprisonment for minor offenses such as theft, or execution for major offences (which included any crime in which a carnifex was a victim). If the Inquisitor was feeling merciful, he or she might commute particularly harsh sentences to a lifetime of service in the legions.

Features of the Black Port:

"Their black towers cast long shadows upon the land, and there was nowhere where their touch was not felt. Many a living thing today bears in some way the mark of their tampering, a mute testament to their audacity.”

As a city conceived by inhuman minds and dedicated to beings that were, by their very nature, inimical to reality, Y’hog boasted many features that set it apart from any other Mystaran city at that time. Many of these were destroyed prior to, or during, the sinking of Y’hegg-T’uhath.

Altar of AkhAll: This altar, which rested at the summit of the Star Temple, was carved from a single piece of basalt and measured eight feet long and three feet wide. It was inlaid with 40 palm-sized rubies along its edges and contained a shallow depression in its centre, from which narrow, deep grooves radiated outwards. Auspicious sacrifices were carried out with this altar, and the carnifex believed that the souls of those who were put to death on it were wholly consumed by Akh’All Himself (rather than the Outer Beings as a whole, as was the case for lesser altars). As such, fervent devotees of Akh’All would sometimes ask to be sacrificed here, just so they could be close to their patron forever. There was some truth to those beliefs, as the altar was actually attuned to Akh’All. After a sacrifice the soul of the victim was trapped in one of the rubies, where it would remain until the priest invoked Akh’All, who then consumed it. Alternatively, a priest could drain a ruby in order to heal themselves (each ruby restored 1d6+1 hit points), or to increase the effectiveness of any spell cast within 20 feet of the altar. Each ruby drained would add an additional damage die to a spell (damage could exceed 20 dice), improve protective or offensive modifiers by +/- 1, penalise the saving throws of all opponents within range by 1, or ensure maximum healing for one spell recipient. Draining a ruby in this way destroyed the soul trapped within it. The priests of the Star Temple made sure that the altar was “full” as often as possible.

The altar was destroyed during the sack of Y’hog, but so infamous was its reputation that no effort was made to recover its rubies. Most of the rubies sank to the sea floor with Y’hegg-T’uhath, but some found their way to the mainland before the sinking. These could easily be found in a treasure hoard.

DM Note: Trapped souls are conscious and retain all of their memories up to the moment of sacrifice. They are not aware of the passage of time outside the ruby. When a ruby is picked up, the person holding it has a 50% chance of receiving flashes of the occupant’s memory, and if this happens the soul becomes aware that someone is “outside” and they may communicate telepathically with them. Naturally, a soul will seek to return to mortal life, and will try to enlist the aid of the person who found the ruby. Doing so is possible, but requires powerful spells – such as wish, reincarnation or magic jar.

Obsidian Monolith: The Obsidian Monolith was a pillar measuring 100 feet tall and 20 feet wide at its base, which rotated slowly several inches above its base (one revolution took ten minutes). Its entire surface was covered with softly-glowing runes in the carnifex tongue that seemed to writhe when viewed in one’s peripheral vision; they moved elsewhere on the monolith’s surface when the viewer looked away, even for a second. The monolith was crafted by the carnifex to act as a battery for magical energy, and it was linked to all the temples in Y’hog for this purpose. Priests would discharge unused spells at the end of each day into obsidian statues of carnifex bearing wide-lipped cups, and the monolith would absorb the energy instantly. The monolith was capable of storing 10,000 spell levels, and its store of energy could be determined by examining specific runes that did not move – specially-appointed priests were responsible for tending the monolith, and ensuring that its magical stockpile remained high. Spellcasters had to be within 200 feet of the monolith, or within 50 feet of ten-foot-tall replicas, in order to draw on its energy. The replicas (which weighed 2,000 lbs. each) were moved as necessary by slaves.

The Obsidian Monolith was taken as booty by victorious Lhomarrian armies following the sack of Y’hog in BC 7031. The ship bearing the prize sank in a storm while en route to Lhomarrian lands, and its whereabouts remained a mystery until all of the nations of that epoch fell. Since that time the monolith has become forgotten, and now it lies buried along the northern shores of Davania, awaiting discovery.

DM Note: If recovered, the Obsidian Monolith would require extensive study to decipher, but once its nature becomes known it would become a desirable prize for many nations. Although crafted by the carnifex, the monolith is not irrevocably attuned to the Outer Beings. The careful removal of the right runes would sever the connection to them, after which the monolith would become a battery for arcane magic (no Immortal would allow their holy energies to touch the device, even if the connection to the Outer Beings was severed). However, Outer Being cultists would certainly learn of the monolith’s rediscovery, and would take steps to acquire it.

Horn of Yurrgh-Thal: The Horn of Yurrgh-Thal sat on a landing halfway up the Star Temple, and pointed towards the sea. It measured seven feet long from end to end and was shaped like a corkscrew with a widely-flaring end, and was fashioned of marh-vhol. Only specially-appointed priests were permitted to blow the Horn, and when they did so they could sacrifice their own life energy in order to summon servants of Yurrgh-Thal to do their bidding. The priest decided exactly how much life energy (i.e., hit points) to sacrifice, and each hit point sacrificed summoned one Hit Die worth of servants, who immediately attacked the nearest non-believer unless ordered otherwise by the priest. Such summoned creatures remained on the Prime Plane for one hour per level of the priest, after which they returned to their home dimensions. If a priest sacrificed his or her own life in blowing the Horn, creatures were summoned permanently.

Lhomarrian soldiers destroyed the Horn during the sack of Y’hog, and sought to cart the scrap marh vhol away as treasure. However, the unwholesome nature of the alien metal sickened all who touched it, and so it was left behind. The remnants sank with Y’hegg-T’uhath, and now lie buried under the sand.

The Black Port Today (the Gazetteer Era):

The former location of Y’hog is now marked by a great whirlpool, which has never entirely stopped raging since the sinking, near the Strait of Izonda. Local sailors do not know what lies at the bottom of the maelstrom, but all give it a wide berth. If one were to enter the whirlpool and survive the ride, they would find themselves floating roughly 500 feet above the silt-choked ruins of Y’hog.

The island of Y’hegg-T’uhath broke up after it slipped beneath the waves, and now it is a vast, sandy plateau whose monotony is broken by the occasional rocky outcropping – remnants of the mountain range – and the ruins of Y’hog itself. All of the other cities of the carnifex, lacking the favour and protection of the Outer Beings, have long since been buried under several metres of sand and debris.

The massive walls that guarded Y’hog for centuries still rise high above the seafloor; although they are broken in many places. Undersea plants and animals have colonised the outer face of the walls, but life ends abruptly on the inner face, which, although heavily cracked, still bears the millennia-old towering carvings depicting decisive moments in carnifex history. Most of the outer districts of the city, including the original port, are now buried under a thick layer of sand and rock – save for the remnants of some of the taller structures which rise from the seafloor like bony fingers. Most animal life, sensing the unwholesome presence of the Outer Beings, avoid the ruins if they can. Anything encountered is there by choice, or by compulsion.

The portion of Y’hog that remains largely intact is the Temple Quarter, where the influence of the Outer Beings remains strong. There, the top two-thirds of the Star Temple rises above the sea floor; although the plaza that surrounded it is now buried – except for the depression in which the Obsidian Monolith once rested. The lesser temples also still stand.

The reason why animal life avoids the sunken city is because it is bathed by the mental emanations of its inhabitants - at least, those who have survived millennia of suspended animation. In the last days of the Carnifex Empire, when it had become clear that Y’hegg-T’uhath was doomed and the Immortals would not allow the inhabitants to escape a watery grave, the most powerful carnifex retreated to their refuges beneath their palaces. There, they sought a means of protecting themselves until such time as their followers (or their descendants), could free them and begin the process of restoring the empire. Most of those who entombed themselves have long since died - their enchantments gave out, their ruined homes collapsed on top of them, or in some cases their spirits wandered away from their bodies, and have long since become lost. Those who fled to the catacombs beneath the Star Temple, however, managed to survive, and it is these carnifex (who number slightly less than 100) whose dreams of empire and the glory of the Outer Beings cause such disturbances.

Most intelligent species will feel uneasy once inside the walls of Y’hog, but those with an Intellligence of 10 or higher will be able to understand the thought-emanations on an intuitive level. Prolonged exposure (i.e., more than six hours) will require a saving throw vs. Spells to be rolled once per hour. A failed save means the victim suffers the effect of a fear spell, but remains in that state until they manage to leave the city. The saving throw is penalised by 1 for every point of Intelligence higher than 10 - thus, an explorer with an Intelligence of 17 will make a save with a -7 penalty. At the DM’s discretion, prolonged exposure to the carnifex’ thoughts, or failing a save by a wide margin, could result in some form of insanity.

The other part of the city that largely escaped destruction is the Undercity, the network of sewers and catacombs that was frequented only by the truly desperate (such as escaped slaves) back in Y’hog’s heyday. Nothing sentient lives there now; although the ancient spirits of those who once lived here do roam the flooded tunnels and caverns. Some of the grander homes of Y’hog had specially-designed sub-levels that their owners used for storing important treasures. Although many of these have collapsed, a handful survived to the present day and some are accessible via the Undercity. What kind of treasures await discovery, and whether recovering them will do more harm than good, is something for the DM to determine…