Riddles in the Dark, Lost Version

Saw this linked on Teleleli the other day and thought it was worth sharing.

Ring Game has posted a side by side comparison of the first and revised editions of Riddles in the Dark from the Hobbit, showing the greatly differing accounts of Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum.

It can be found here.


A strange and bitter drink, brewed by the alchemists of Polaris, Shuul is a potent drug used principally by the inhabitants of the DreamingCity for either recreational or religious purposes.

Both the ingredients and the manufacture process of Shuul are unknown to any outside the City, though its effects are known to most, via word of mouth, from travelers along the Long Road in Gatlia.  When imbibed, Shuul induces a comatose state in which the user is said to have fantastical, highly lucid experiences in a dream-state.  Surviving writings of the late Northern Civilization which remain in Polaris also refer to the dream-state itself as “Shuul”, the Land or Kingdom of Shuul.  It is not known whether the dream-state derives its name from the beverage, or if the beverage itself is named for the dreamland of Shuul to which it supposedly transports its users.

Shuul is thought to be fatal if consumed in sufficiently large doses.  The legend of Jorgora, which has been passed down to us through Polaran fragments, is more than likely a simple parable extolling the dangers of excessive use, conveniently utilizing an unusual geographical feature as a prop for the tale.

Of note, the efficacy of Shuul as a portent aid (or any of its psychotropic effects, for that matter) seems to correlate to the proximity of the user to Polaris.  There have been a number of theories on the reasons for this.  A popular belief is that the beverage is a key to the gateway (to the Land of Shuul), which itself is in proximity of the DreamingCity.  However, a more likely explanation is that the active psychotoxins in Shuul break down fairly rapidly after it is brewed.

For example: it has been said by merchants who have had the opportunity to consume Shuul within the dreaming city itself, that they would often sleep for the better part of a day, sometimes more, depending on the amount consumed, and experience every hour of sleep and dream as though they were waking.  However, reports of Shuul being consumed even only as far away as on the road south to Norigon have shown far less significant results; though a potent sleep aid, the dreams of the Shuul-user are said to be only somewhat more vivid than normal.  Usage further south along the Long Road than Syflanis proves to be no more potent than your typical tavern-swill lagers.  Hence, Shuul use is virtually unknown throughout much of the Empire, and this drink, while having both tremendous potential for use as a recreational drug and a reputation for its mystic connections to the lost Northern Civilization, is rarely traded for by merchants or even particularly sought after, except by the odd noble who swears by its acquired bitter taste.


The City State of Polaris

Known colloquially as “the DreamingCity” or “City of Dreams” throughout the southern empire, Polaris is the northern-most occupied settlement of the Cirsovan Empire.  First, it is important to note, while throughout this Guide, Polaris is referred to as the northern most city of the Empire, it is also the southern most city of the now lost Northern Civilization.  In fact, all that is known about the Northern Folk, their religion and culture may only be gleaned from Polaris and the known ruins at the southern end of the great ice sheet.  Hundreds, if not a thousand, years ago, the Northern Civilization, whose name seems lost even to their descendants in Polaris*, flourished to the north of what are now Gatlia and Ungoza, however a cataclysm of nature must have struck the far north, and the cities were subsumed by an encroaching sheet of ice, making the lands uninhabitable, and the cities of a once might people were buried under a sea of white.  Even within recent history, we have seen the ice force the near abandonment of Old Cratera (though many other factors were in play here as well).

Polaris is widely known throughout the empire for the intricately carved crystal goods fashioned by their craftsmen (it is for this reason that the Long Road exists!) to take the milky green and white crystals from the great crater of Ungoza to the city of Polaris, to be transformed into all manner of wonderment.

The methods by which the crystals are transformed from their natural state to the intricate, sublime and sometimes grotesque graven goods is a secret of the Polaran tradesmen, none of whom have ever been seen at their work, at least by visitors who chose to wrote what they saw of the city.  As all but the poorer common folk, or those in the most isolated parts of the Empire, know, the craftsmen are able to make all manner of ornamental item; indeed, a successful merchant in any port town might have a piece of Polaran cutlery in their drawer.  However, it is said that many of the finer, and larger, items make their way into the homes of the wealthiest nobles and gentry, who acquire the pieces out of a fascination with the lost culture of the Northern peoples, of which Polaris is the last remnant, or merely an obsession with the truly grotesque wonders which the greatest masters of the craft, all of whom must be certainly mad, have wrought from their own drug addled dreams and frozen forever in glassy green.  A less scholarly or more ill informed mind might think that these trinkets and fetishes may be imbued with some lost northern magic, rather than the fevered nightmares of their creators.

Polaris gets its name, “City of Dreams”, for its pastime.  Merchant and travelers who make it to the far northern city will often never see any of its inhabitants, save those they are engaging in trade with or being entertained by.  From those who have visited, we have learned that a potent drug known as Shuul is brewed from an unknown plant or substance and imbibed for either recreational or spiritual purposes.  The drug allows the user to engage in long bouts (ranging from half a day to three days) of uninterrupted lucid dreaming.  Therefore, it is thought that most of the inhabitants of Polaris are spending their days hidden away, dreaming of the past glories of their once mighty civilization.

Polaris’ status within the empire is something of a mystery, understandably, to the common folk of the Empire.  It is typically seen to be something of an independent city state with vassalage owed to the Gatia, though its only known political linkage to the empire is through a token delegation of four Lordly Representatives sent to represent the city in the Gatlian seat of Syflanis.

Polaris is, and has been for some time (at least 150 years), ruled by a woman known as Gaciall of Many Things.  The accounts that exist all describe her as “the White Lady of Polaris”, wearing “shimmering gossamer”; her title “Many Things” seems to refer to strange things which the travelers were shown on the occasions she entertained guests.  Additionally, all accounts (over the 150 year span of writings that bear mention of her) describe her as a young woman, though other physical details seem inconsistent.  Therefore, it is not known whether Polaris has had the same matriarch over all these years or if “Gaciall of Many Things” is merely a title passed down to the current “White Lady”.

It is said that the only people in the empire who have any real knowledge of Polaris, their culture and customs, are the Gatlian councilmen and their staff who have direct dealings with the envoys of the city (who are rarely, if ever, present within the city, much less the council offices) and the hardy traders who partake in the final leg of the Long Road, ensuring that shipments of crystals from Ungoza make their way safely across the Highway of Ice.  Our Emperor seems perfectly content with this; as long as the trade routes remain open and the graven goods from Polaris make their way to the Capital and throughout the Empire, Polaris may have its reclusive ways.  Some historians claim that no representatives of the Dreaming City have set foot in the Imperial city since the original agreement which made Polaris part of the Empire.  In fact, outside of fairy tales, no one is known to have encountered Polarans outside of the province of Gatlia for generations.  Therefore, much of what is written about the Northern Folk and Polaris is speculative.

*: In the language used by the people of Polaris, the portmanteau “Tyuravelinai” appears infrequently to mean “People of the North”; whether this is the proper name for the lost civilization is unknown.

A brief introduction

Cirsova is the heartland province of a great empire (sometimes known also as the Gatian Empire, after its capital of Gatia).  To the south of Cirsova are Karuras, Paelnor and Ortia, each stretching down the peninsular empire.  Northwest of Cirsova is Gatlia, and Northeast is Ungoza.  Further north, only ice and ruins are to be found.