Dinosaur Riding Barbarians: Dino-Egypt

Continuing our exploration of the Laurasian deserts of Dinosaur Riding Barbarians, we come to Dino-Egypt. They have mummies, who are usually pretty well-behaved but sometimes come to life and steal people’s life force to sustain themselves.

There is no part of the Laurasian desert where life is easy, but in Dino-Egypt it is at least safe, stable, and prosperous. From a powerful capital covered in shrines and temples that magnify the magical might of the Pharaoh and his sorcerous priests, the rulers of the kingdom command distant cities by virtue of their mighty navy and the mutual reliance of all cities on the royal engineering corps to maintain the vital canals and the royal priest caste to maintain the weather. The Pharaoh’s greatest duty is to keep pleased the god of the river, and thus keep famine at bay.

Every city along the river (and some military outposts built out in the desert for the sake of mining or timber or other resources) is ruled by a hereditary vassal of the Pharaoh who simultaneously serves as high priest of the local temple. This vassal/priest position is known as a nomarch. Nomarchs are required to send annual tax to the Pharaoh and to provide levy in times of war, but are otherwise largely left to their own devices. They can and occasionally do rule over their cities and hinterland as wicked tyrants, but in Dino-Egypt generosity and benevolence are expected of rulers, and to be known as a tyrant is to bring shame upon your entire lineage. As such, outright tyrants are rare, many nomarchs (and Pharaohs) like to make gaudy public displays of their generosity, and there is a thriving industry for singing the (usually exaggerated) praises of the nobility’s virtues. Dino-Egypt is no paradise. The workers have hard (though typically safe) lives, beggars have little recourse and often starve to death, and while the institution of slavery is not nearly as healthy as it is in regions where raiding for treasure and slaves is an annual event, it is by no means banned.

But Dino-Egypt holds a much darker secret than being a more dickish kingdom than we might like that is still less dickish than all of their neighbors by a wide margin. Egypt is best known for its monumental constructions, and while some of these are the massive temples and statues that channel sorcerous might on a kingdom-spanning scale, the majority of them are the tombs. From the small, one or two room tombs of the locally wealthy to the world wondrous tombs of the mightiest Pharaoh, the true purpose of these tombs is shrouded in mystery. Unlike foreign kings who are concerned with conquest and achieving victory over enemies, a Pharaoh’s goal is most often to preserve the status quo. Dino-Egypt is united, prosperous, and stable – may it continue to be so. This mindset carries over to the grand projects the average Dino-Egyptian Pharaoh undertakes, not a military campaign to bring home more resources or conquer a rival (most Pharaohs who launch a military campaign do so to shatter an enemy army and prevent continuing raids, not to claim territory, and even when they do claim territory it is usually to prevent an enemy from regrouping – although occasionally it’s also because someone else beat them to a resource they really want), but a scheme to become immortal.

In the depths of the pyramid, powerful magic glyphs reanimate the royal (or noble) occupant, bringing his ba (the thought and emotion that make a being themselves) and ka (the spark of life that animates living beings) back to his body to reanimate him, so long as he remains within the tomb (lesser nobles have glyphs only on their coffins, and must sleep in the coffin each night to revitalize their ka or else resume the form of a decayed mummy). The reanimated Pharaoh needs only the magic of the tomb to sustain himself, but in order to maintain his standard of living he is buried with great (and extremely durable) treasures, and, darkest of all, the corpses of his favored servants, all executed at his burial so that they might reanimate along with him. This is a mixed blessing for those so selected. They, too poor to ever afford even a small tomb for themselves, shall live forever, yet also they shall lose their family and all contact with the outside world at an earlier age than if they died naturally.

Sometimes, however, something terrible goes wrong. The ba wants to return to the corpse, and the glyph magic required to make this so is relatively simple. However, a dead man’s ka is much harder to work with, and even minor imprecisions in the glyphs and rituals can result in the ka escaping the tomb. This will cause the tomb’s unfortunate inhabitants to begin to rot. As the ka often takes much longer to return to the body than the ba, the corpses are mummified so that they remain somewhat usable even when decaying. When first buried, the ka returns (after a harrowing journey through a magical netherworld that may either be the default destination for the dead or some side effect of the glyph magic used to bind the ka back to the body) as a mummified corpse, animate but nevertheless quite dead, and slowly regains its health as the ka is drawn back in. If the ka should escape, this process reverses, and the life spark drains from the mummy again. The mummy can have their vital spark back if and only if they suck the ka out of still-living beings, which will reinvigorate them – but quite temporarily, as their dead body has difficulty retaining ka for any period of time outside of a functioning glyph chamber.

Criminals are rarely punished with particular cruelty in Dino-Egypt. Tomb robbers are liable to get a hand hacked off, but they are not boiled alive or torn limb from limb as they might be in more brutal cultures, and the most typical punishment for most crimes is usually a painful but not permanently debilitating beating. An exception is made for traitors, however. Dino-Egyptian will sometimes intentionally bury them in glyph chambers that bind their ba, but not their ka, back into their body, dooming them to an eternity of torment as their own body slowly rots away. To prevent these from escaping and stealing ka from innocent Dino-Egyptians, guards are left behind – usually constructs of some sort, to avoid having to construct any ka-granting chambers for immortal guards which may be sabotaged or hijacked by the tomb’s victim (or alternatively, to avoid damning loyal guards to life as undead mummies).

The Dino-Egyptian military relies primarily on the vast size of the levy it can command. It is comprised of almost nothing but light infantry and archers, but it has a whole lot of them. Elite temple guards can serve as a heavy infantry core, but rarely go so far from their cities as a campaign of conquest would require, and thus only fight in defensive wars. One more reason why few Pharaohs are conquerors. The pride of the Dino-Egyptian military is its navy, and as such they have some amount of plesiosaur cavalry, however boats put dinosaurs to shame for carrying capacity and maintenance cost, and are thus the bulk of the navy. Dino-Egyptian nobility ride into battle in chariots drawn by gallimimus or, if they have the wealth to afford it, by raptors. Despite its colossal constructions, Dino-Egypt does not have many sauropods at all. Because Dino-Egypt is a large and prosperous kingdom with trade contacts across Laurasia and out to the Tethys Islands, it isn’t uncommon to see most any dinosaur in a Dino-Egyptian street, including sauropods, but by far the most common, the one you’ll see every day no matter what city you’re in, is telmatosaurus, who pulls their plows and carries their products from farms or quarries to the river, where boats take care of commercial scale transportation.

Working for Dino-Egypt

As a kingdom, Dino-Egypt mostly has their shit together and doesn’t need your help. However, individual nomarchs are often very wealthy and careful of their reputation. Calling a levy to deal with a problem is likely to get the people grumbling in such a way that would require significant public generosity to placate, and it’s often much cheaper to hire mercenaries to deal with a problem. The blow to a nomarch’s reputation would be even greater if they were forced to call upon Pharaoh for help (some slack is given if they’re facing a kingdom-scale threat, but if you can help them with that, you are not working for Dino-Egypt so much as you are allied to Dino-Egypt). Thus, a mercenary caravan might be called upon to bring some persistent and powerful bandits or barbarians to heel, either on their own or as a supplement to the temple guard, or to deal with a rogue mummy (whether a noble whose ka-glyphs failed or a traitor whose subdued his guards and escaped) – rogue mummies are an enormous black mark on a nomarch’s (or Pharaoh’s) reputation and they will go to great lengths to see them contained discreetly.

In addition, Dino-Egypt’s quarries and military outposts in the sandy wastes require regular trade to the abundant river cities to remain prosperous (and alive). Once more than about twenty miles from the river, Dino-Egypt’s nominally controlled territory is mostly lawless (and inhospitable), as the fortresses on the border are spaced fifty or more miles apart from one another and intended to detect and delay invading armies, not maintain a secure border against bandit gangs or barbarian warbands just a few dozen strong. Dino-Egyptian merchant caravans also do trade with other nations in the Laurasian Desert, which are often much more dangerous places than Dino-Egypt’s heartlands.

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