Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chigan: Trade, Travel, and Striding Pavilions


Because of the difficulty of transport by water in Chigan, most travel happens over land. Roadways are cut across steep hillsides, switching back and forth in order to reduce impossible ascents to merely difficult ones; a journey can easily be five to ten times the straight-line distance between start and destination. The roads rise to passes to adjacent valleys, some of which are closed seasonally by bad weather, while just about all passes and the roads below are subject to temporary closing because of avalanches and storm runoff. A patchwork of bridges stitches up the gaps caused by less negotiable dips and depressions, as well as cobblestone paving and retaining walls to shore up fragile roadways, but most roads are unpaved, muddy in the wetter seasons and strewn with jagged rubble when dry.

Travel is complicated by a lack of good beasts of burden. With a lack of good pasture, large animals don’t thrive in Chigan. In addition to the water buffalo kept for agricultural use, some horses and camels and even a few elephants are kept by the wealthy and long-distance merchants. But none travel particularly well on the rugged high mountain roads. Hardy goats are sometimes pressed into service as pack beasts by semi-nomadic herdsmen, though they can’t carry enough to make them worth using for serious trade and transport.

Most shipping within Chigan is done by the striding pavilions. Striding pavilions defy easy categorization beyond “miraculous.” They combine aspects of plant, animal, architecture, and mechanism. Pavilions start as a wild plant growth, appearing randomly and infrequently in uncultivated areas of the lowlands. They grow ten to twenty years; longer-growing pavilions are larger and stronger, but marginally slower. They start as a dense, woody shrub, but grow into the shape of a covered octagonal pavilion. As the main trunk grows up, roots grow out to cover the surface of the ground like a wooden floor. A canopy of branches extends from the upper part of the trunk and drops long shoots from its edges to the ground; these turn into subsidiary trunks around the edges of the root floor. By the time it reaches full growth, it becomes a partly enclosed space, with roof, floor, and usually partially screened walls of tangled creepers and branches around the edges. The top sports a domed cupola, big enough for a person to sit comfortably.

At that point, the pavilion becomes markedly more animal-like. Using thick bundles of roots as legs (a pavilion can easily have eight to twenty such “legs” up to three feet long), the pavilion tears itself from the ground and begins to move around. A pavilion which has become ambulatory acts like an exceptionally docile if fairly stupid and senseless beast. It ambles across the countryside, sometimes bumping into solid objects, changing direction and wandering away if it does so.

It is at this stage of its life that the pavilion becomes useful. Long ago, the people of Chigan discovered that drumming on the pavilion in the vicinity of the top cupola causes the pavilion to move. A driver sitting in the cupola can, with a set of sticks, steer the pavilion like a vehicle or riding animal, making it go faster or slower or turning it in a desired direction by modulating speed and points of impact. Once the drumming stops, so does the pavilion.

Beyond that, however, pavilions seem more machine-like. They are all but immune to any other kind of stimulation. They clearly feel no pain, do not react to sound, and give no sign of reacting to heat, cold, light, or darkness. A “wild” pavilion is sensitive enough to the feel of the ground beneath its feet that it is highly unlikely to walk off of one of Chigan’s many cliffs, but a mad or just unwary driver could easily send it over one. Pavilions do not appear to tire, but their drivers do, and at any rate travel on the precarious mountain roads at night is exceptionally dangerous.

Ownership of a pavilion varies from valley kingdom to valley kingdom. In some places, any new-grown pavilion becomes the property of the ruler or temple in charge. In others, it’s the property of the very lucky landowner, who may sell the new-found shrub for a modest but tidy sum or a full-grown pavilion for a great deal more.

Though expensive and difficult to obtain, striding pavilions are a prized form of transportation, having a much greater capacity and being much cheaper to keep and easier to work with than beasts of burden. They are their owners’ most prized possession, so much so that there’s a considerable industry in decorating them. Pavilions are elaborately painted, fitted with decorative carved panels, and bedecked with elaborate lanterns, banners, icons, and other bits of d├ęcor to show off the owner’s wealth and good fortune.

Ironically, much of that decoration isn’t visible during transit. Pavilions are typically loaded as heavily as possible, and since they can carry loads which overflow their internal volume, bundles are piled on top of the roof and hung over the sides. Drivers may accept some passengers as well, but they must ride on top, finding places among the cargo and sitting in the open air. The journey ranges from uncomfortable to downright unpleasant depending on delays and the weather, but it’s preferable to walking.

Striding Pavilion Stats



Vehicle
ST/HP
Hnd/SR
HT
Move
LWt.
Load
SM
Occ.
DR
Range
Cost
Locations
9' pavilion
149
0/3
12c
2/6
16.5
13.3
+1
1+7
3
-
$20K
SO
12' pavilion
171
0/3
12c
2/6
22.4
17.5
+1
1+13
3
-
$26.5K
SO
15' pavilion
196
0/3
12c
2/5
30.3
23
+2
1+20
3
-
$34.5K
SO
18' pavilion
215
0/3
12c
2/5
37.4
27.7
+2
1+28
3
-
$42K
SO
21' pavilion
234
0/3
12c
2/5
45.2
32.9
+3
1+38
3
-
$50K
SO