There is no additional briefing material available to characters who are originally from this nation beyond what is presented below.FAQ
The focus of the Empire campaign is on the Empire and on the actions of it's citizens, so every player must play an Imperial citizen following the normal rules for character creation. If you are fluent in one of the languages spoken in this nation then you can create a character who was originally from here but who has now become a citizen of the Empire if you wish.
Far to the south of the Bay of Catazar, on the wide, winding delta of the Umshalla River lies the tottering ramshackle city of Sarcophan. More commonly referred to as the Delves, this great metropolis is said to be home to both the wealthiest, and the poorest, people in the world. The Bedelaar Huisbaas (usually rendered as 'beggar kings' in Imperial, or abbreviated to Bedelaar) of Sarcophan head great merchant families whose wealth is founded on the bounty they harvested from the tombs of their predecessors centuries ago. A relatively young nation, whose people see wealth as the highest aspirations, the Sarcophan have a not-entirely-undeserved reputation for ruthless pursuit of profit regardless of the cost.
The Sarcophan Delves occupy the mouth of a great river, an the northern shores of a continent that is largely unknown to Imperial explorers. The tribes, kingdoms and nations near Sarcophan seem to view the city, and the people who live there, as accursed. There have been several wars and skirmishes between the Sarcophan and their neighbours, often using mercenary troops. For the most part, the Sarcophan people are markedly outward-looking, seeking beyond their borders for any opportunity to turn a profit and increase their own fortunes, and the fortunes of their houses. Sarcophan explorers and merchants might be encountered in almost any part of the known world.
Of particular interest to Imperial citizens is the role Sarcophan plays as a port, open to trade with the Empire. The Sarcophan Delves are also the source of the ilium provided by the Steel Fist Seat on the Imperial Bourse. The swamps and marshes are said to have a number of very rich deposits of this rare material.
Surrounded by marshes and swamps, the air is often filled with clouds of blood-sucking insects, and is ripe with the stench of marsh gas and rot. The great city of the Sarcophan Delves, occupies the remains of a much older city, a great urban ruin of stone monoliths and sunken plazas, partially reclaimed by the swamps on one side and the sea on the other. The palaces of the Beggar Kings, the great guild halls and the Sarcophan markets are all constructed amid the tombs of an earlier civilisation, one whose citizens vanished centuries ago.
Outside the city itself, the poorest Sarcophans make their homes on shifting islands subject to subsidence and erosion, meaning entire villages regularly need to migrate. Even settlements founded on drier land tend to look like open-cast mines, shored with warped planking and scavenged ropes. Rickety buildings lean against each other, while swaying rope bridges connecting settlements to the mainland. Most incongruous of all are the mud-stained icons and monoliths that loom from the marsh in places, watching over the looting of their dead peoples’ ancient places with uncaring stone eyes.
A little over four hundred years ago the ancestors of the modern Sarcophan people were bandits and tomb-robbers who came to the mouth of the Umshalla river in search of wealth. They discovered a dead kingdom, a sprawling necropolis devastated by pestilence whose last surviving inhabitants had walled themselves and their families into their own tombs to await for inevitable death. The practical Sarcophan ancestors looted the palaces and tombs of this dead kingdom, building their own city amid the ruins of their predecessors. The great families that rule Sarcophan today are descended from the most ruthless and most successful of these tomb-robbers.
The people of the Delves are descended from a surprising array of immigrants, exiles and even colonists. It is a common saying in some parts of the world that "nobody is native to Sarcophan," although the Bedelaar Huisbaas might contest that. The swamp-city is not a welcoming environment, and its people have a paradoxical reputation for simultaneously being sickly and healthy as oxen. Disease is rampant in the city, and the physically weak are likely to die unless they are rich enough to afford the best medical treatment. Unsurprisingly, the draughir and briar lineages are very common in this nation and their supernatural blood helps them to thrive in the festering atmosphere.
Today the Sarcophan people are considered to be ruthless and morbid by outsiders. They are known for a dry sense of humour, and a commitment to doing whatever it takes to achieve their goal - which is usually the accumulation of wealth. Their religion (such as it is) teaches that their place in the afterlife must be purchased at great expense, and even the poorest are constantly searching for ways to improve their lot.
Sarcophans rarely throw anything away; wastage is considered unpleasant. Even the richest Bedelaar would rather repair a fine coat than buy another one. It is traditional for Sarcophans to hand-down goods they no longer have a use for, either to family members and friends or to the priesthood to sell to the poor. This spirit of thrift applies to food and drink as well as clothing and other goods; the lower down the social ladder one goes in Sarcophan, the more spices are used in the food to conceal the taste of spoiled meat, sour milk and spoiled vegetables.
Some feral orc tribes live in the swamps and they occasionally become a real threat, but usually the Sarcophans have little the orcs particularly want and vice versa. When they become too problematic, the Sarcophans usually engage in a simple war of extermination until the threat goes away - the Sarcophans are not a slave-owning society and see little advantage in taking orc prisoners. To some outsiders it seems odd that a nation so ruthless in the pursuit of profit is averse to using slaves to get it, but the Sarcophan believe it makes perfect sense. While some may become involved in the slave trade their fellow Sarcophan look down on slavers. As one of their philosophers said "There are few jobs so dangerous, so dirty, so demeaning, that someone will not do them for a silver coin; and I do not need to give anything to a labourer beyond my coin - not housing, not clothing, not food, not drink, nor a funeral."
Rather than slaves, the Sarcophan make great use of the ongelukkig; corpses animated through the practice of zielweven ('soul weaving') that perform tasks too dangerous or unpleasant for human labourers. Many ongelukkig are made from the corpses of the poorest Sarcophan people, who sell their bodies to the zielenwever before they die either to pay off debts, or to provide wealth to their loved ones in the hope they will be able to improve their position. It is considered shameful to be so poor that one has to sell one's own dead relatives to the zielenwever, but is a common practice among the lowest levels of society. Other ongelukkig are made from the corpses pulled from the river and the swamps by the corpse-collectors; the zielenwever pay a small bounty for each unclaimed corpse given over into their care.
To call a living person ongelukkig is often a serious insult; it implies that they are only fit for work more properly done by animated corpses.
The nation is dominated by the Bedelaar Huisbaas, the beggar-kings and beggar-queens of Sarcophan. Each of these merchant-monarchs leads a family founded on the tomb-banquet - the wealth claimed by the original settlers from the tombs and palaces abandoned by their predecessors. Each of the great houses has a seat at the 'great table' - a massive circular stone table that stands at the top of the palace of beggars and is the heart of the nation. Every month the Bedelaars meet here for a feast, during which they discuss trade and decide upon matters that affect the nation as a whole. Three of the seats at the great banquet are not held by members of the great houses. One seat is left empty (for death herself, it is claimed); one is offered to the highest bidder each month at auction; and one is assigned by a public lottery, available to anyone with a silver coin to spend on a ticket.
Competition between the great houses is very fierce. Several times a smaller association has managed to overcome and consume the status of a larger house, claiming their tomb-banquet (the wealth in their vaults) and taking their place at the 'great table'. Outsiders often claim that Sarcophan is "one good meal away from anarchy" but their society has existed in its current form for over two hundred years; while there have been occasional outbreaks of violence and rioting, the great houses have always managed to restore order.
The 'great banquet and those workings of government that the Sarcophan Delves possess are overseen by the Bloedzuiger, the Sarcophan priests. Their role is largely ceremonial, and they are lead by the 'high priest' of Sarcophan, an allegedly immortal priest who ensures that the traditions of Sarcophan are kept alive and that no great house breaks the various unwritten rules of their society. According to some sources most of the Bloedzuiger suffer from disfiguring diseases, while others claim they endure a powerful curse placed by the former rulers of the land that is now Sarcophan.
The magicians of Sarcophan are experts in the ritual magic of Spring, Autumn and Winter; they have little interest in or propensity for the magic of Day, Night or Summer (beyond a few rituals which potentially increase the profit they can glean for the great houses) and practitioners of those realms are apparently quite rare. As with many other elements of Sarcophan society, the magic of the Delves is directed toward wealth and profit. Magicians are encouraged to be merchants. While every great house has some magicians, several distinct guilds, separate from the great houses, peddle their skills to the highest bidders.
The most influential of these guilds is that of the zielweven - the soul weavers - who bind spirits to corpses to create the ongelukkig workers upon which a fair amount of Sarcophan trade depends. These animated corpses labour in mines and swamps, but they also man the oars of the great Sarcophan galleys that ply their trade all over the known world. Tireless, requiring neither food nor water, but requiring regular attention from a zielenwever, these useful tools seem to have more in common with the Urizen ushabti than the husks created with rituals such as Quickening Cold Meat.
A lot of Sarcophan magic has a distinctly funereal feel. Many of the cultures upstream of Sarcophan believe in putting their dead on the Umshallah river to be carried to some afterlife. The Sarcophan Bloedzuiger gleefully harvest these floating corpses and pack them in special stone chambers filled with sacred moulds and apothecary preparations. According to the Bloedzuiger, flesh prepared in this way can be consumed to transfer the memories and even the skills of the person being devoured to another, creating a popular - if gruesome - narcotic. This substance is especially popular with the large draughir population of the Delves.
The Sarcophan are not a religious people Their 'faith' such as it is seems to be based around the idea that the wealth one amasses in life ensures one a place in a shadowy afterlife they call the houses of silence. Most Sarcophans would be considered blasphemers by Imperial priests - they believe that only the poor and indolent reincarnate, because they have not amassed enough wealth in life to purchase a place in the afterlife. Efforts to communicate the Way to the Sarcophans have largely failed, although there are a few congregations who have embraced the teachings of ambition and prosperity they are very much in the minority.
Sarcophan priests usually wear ornamented death-masks when they are performing their ceremonial roles, and their hooded vestments resemble burial shrouds. The priesthood concerns itself primarily with ceremonial functions, especially funerals and marriages, and with also fills a role similar to that of the Imperial civil service (although on a much smaller scale, and prone to a great deal of corruption). Most Sarcophan people give little thought to spiritual matters, considering the soul to have little relevance to the day-to-day struggle for survival against their inevitable mortality. "Death claims everyone," is a common saying, usually accompanied by a shrug.
Especially distasteful to many outsiders is the institutionalized practice of ritual cannibalism as part of funeral services. It is traditional for a dead body to be cooked and prepared, and consumed during the memorial service by the family and friends of the deceased. These cannibalistic wakes are usually accompanied by the finest food and drink the family can afford, and many rich Sarcophans in their declining years scour the known world for exotic consumables to accompany their funeral feast. The living remember the dead person, but they also strive to take some of their strength and character into themselves by eating their flesh. Dying in a way that does not leave a body behind - or worse, being forced to sell ones body to the zielenwever - is seen as a tragic circumstance by most Sarcophans.
Another area that the priesthood concerns itself with is warding off death. Many priests are also physicians and apothecaries, and are experts at treating and preventing the many diseases, infections and parasitic infestations that plague the people of Sarcophan. While not all surgeons are priests, those who are not adopt the same ceremonial death-masks that the priests wear, although usually without their shroud-like vestments.
Look and Feel
Sarcophan clothing tends to be sturdy and hard-wearing, and is often patched and mended; most Sarcophan would rather mend something than throw it away and buy something new. Colours tend to be muted and dark.
The Sarcophan love jewelry, and will wear as much of it as they can afford. Gifts of jewelry are common, and the most valuable jewels are those that have been handed down from the original tomb-raiders as part of the tomb banquet.
The Sarcophan make a great use of perfumes and incense, both to keep the buzzing insects at bay and to mask the stench of the swamps. The draughir and briar are less likely to use these preventatives.
Clean water is very valuable to the Sarcophan, and most citizens carry a bottle or waterskin with them at all times - not to quench their thirsts, but to wash any open wounds they suffer. A wound that is not quickly cleaned and bandaged will usually become infected very quickly in Sarcophan, leading to expensive medical care, the loss of the limb, or even death,
The dominant language in the 'Delves is Sarcophan, represented by Dutch. This is the language of the original settlers of the region, and most official documents and all trade takes place in this language. Due to its status as a trading city, many residents also speak Imperial (English), one of the Asavean languages, or the Gemeinsamesprache of The Commonwealth. An influx of refugees from the Sumaah Republic has seen a marked rise in the number of citizens conversing with the languages of that distant nation..
The Sarcophan Delves in Play
For all the morbid and death-obsessed elements of their culture, the Sarcophan are first and foremost merchants. They have a strong drive to acquire wealth and comfort, and few scruples to get in the way of achieving that goal. A Sarcophan will see no problem in breaking open a tomb to get at the wealth inside, or moving a tribe of people out of the way of a valuable deposit of weltsilver. They'd much rather employ members of that tribe to help them dig the weltsilver up, but if they refuse they will do whatever it takes to remove the obstacle they present - although many will stop short of simply murdering to get what they want, this is by no means a universal trait.
The Sarcophan are frustrating to many Imperial scholars; they live among the ruins of an older civilisation but have no real interest in learning about it. They smash through priceless murals to get at the burial goods in a tomb, and think little of demolishing a structure that has stood for centuries to get building materials for a road or new house. There is no place in Sarcophan for scholarship for its own sake.
The great houses of the Sarcophan are mercantile-guilds closer to the carta of The League than traditional noble houses. Competition is fierce, and lacking in sentimentality; a Sarcophan is likely to greet an Imperial citizen who has aided his house with a smile, a handshake and a query of "what have you done for us lately?"
The Sarcophan are not 'evil'; they use animated corpses, and eat the flesh of their relatives but they are not 'comedy bad-guys'. They are culturally very different to the citizens of the Empire, but they are capable of being just as moral as any other human. They don't eat the flesh of strangers any more often than anyone else does, and while their particular breed of free-market capitalism is lacking in scruple, they combine it with a strong streak of thrift and are quite capable of charity when it suits them.
Archaeology is not something the Sarcophan do; it is possible that an Imperial citizen might have spent time there studying the ruins, but almost everything of interest has been stripped out of the tombs and buildings. While it is acceptable to have a few trinkets from the Sarcophan predecessors (especially if they are rumoured to be cursed), a background in which a character discovers some secret of the predecessor people is unlikely to be accepted.