Concerning the origins of Piarra (fwd)

David Silberstein davids at kithrup.com
Wed Jan 29 13:10:38 PST 2003

I sometimes have sudden attacks of the curiosity, which impel me to
try and search out as much as possible of whatever it was that made me

In this case, I wondered if the name "Zivra" meant anything, perhaps
as a Hungarian word.  Googling on the word found some Czech & Turkish
web pages, but also a few in English.  The ones in English proved to
be the most fruitful in furthur research, and I e-mailed the owner of
one of them, with the exchange you may read below (with a few lines
snipped here and there). 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2003 02:48:43 -0500
From: Robert Sloan
To: David Silberstein
Subject: Re: Concerning the origins of Piarra

Greetings... Reply Inserted...

>From: David Silberstein
>To: "Robert A. Sloan"
>Subject: Concerning the origins of Piarra
>Date: Tue, 28 Jan 2003 15:58:08 -0800 (PST)


>I hope I am not imposing too much if I might ask some questions
>regarding Piarra?

Sure, not a problem! If you've been reading my LJ, you know that
Chazho is in its penultimate stage of editor requested Substantial
Rewrite -- this is final line edits and proofreading. Catching little
continuity problems like a character's name spelled sometimes Deka and
sometimes Decca (I settled on Decca) and other little tidbits. The
fine polish stage, which is going a lot faster than the massive cuts I
did to get it to this point. The book's all the better for the massive
cuts. I lost no details on it, only a lot of pointless adverbs and
some clunky infodumps. Especially when the infodumps weren't all
relevant to this volume and are adequately shown, not told in later
volumes, it's much more fun to leave oblique little clues that should
make the first book far richer on a reread -- yet stand on its own
well. (Evil GM Laugh). 

At the time I did the rough draft of book one, I didn't know all that
was behind the onion layer conspiracies of the bad guys. Reworking it
after five years of more volumes, I now know everything those poor
characters are pulling up and, of course, readers will find out more
in every volume. If I really do this well, you could start on any
volume and explore the Piarra setting novels holistically. I wrote
them chronologically, but they may not be published in that order.

>I have been a fan of Steve Brust's Dragaera stories for a while, and
>he has always been careful to acknowledge yourself as the original
>source for some of those ideas.  I have also seen a few hints that
>indicate that the original role-playing game that became Dragaera was
>called Piarra, but I don't know much more than that.  I tried asking
>Steve for more details about this, but he was unable to explain it in
>other than very vague terms, given that it had been so long ago (and
>it sounds like it wasn't very rigorously defined anyway). 

Way back in 1974, I went to the University of Minnesota where I
promptly started flunking out on cold weather and large campus. I also
discovered Dungeons and Dragons. A few months later, I started my own
campaign with a hand-me-down set of brown booklets and discovered all
my RPG pals, who usually ran 20th level characters (some evolved in
the original playtest group with Dave Arnesen!), knew those booklets
by heart. They ate my dungeon. They just chewed through it with their
freshly rolled first level characters and then kept on about the great
past adventures of their wonderfully developed old characters who were
too tough to play any more. 

Grrrrr. Okay. One embarrassing game session and I was fiddling with my
notebooks, going into writer mode. Gone was every encounter on the
charts. In went anything I could think of that would confuse and
torture them, most of all with plot. I decided one thing early on.
Power was meaningless. 

I had read Conan, all the volumes -- and what they had with old
characters was characterization. What those old characters didn't have
was anything their own size. Thus grew the previous world,
undocumented in anything at all, a Ringworld ala Larry Niven but with
magic. On which I built anything and everything as long as it was a)
interesting and b) tougher than the PCs. Some of my more original
ideas evolved, mutated and came through in the Piarra backstory. I did
a successful campaign based on the King Crimson album "Court of the
Crimson King" and translated every line of that allegorical song into
a series of mythic encounters. I was also reading Zelazny's Amber
series where power did become meaningless and localized, but finesse
and information was everything. 

Then I got the idea of doing an Arthurian fantasy set on an original
world.  I wanted a world unlike any other. I read Darkover -- and saw
how MZB mutated the Lovecraft mythology names of Hastur, Cassilda and
all to create a wonderful, immersive setting that was nowhere near as
close to medieval Europe as it looked. So I started sketching Piarra
and at the time Empress Zivra was the "Arthur" character. I was doing
up that version of "Sword and the Stone" much more than looking at the
love triangle or its tragic end. I had Nightslayer, which began as my
D&D character based on my sword, in someone else's campaign, and so I
sent the young Empress into the Paths of the Dead to find the Orb and
recreate her magical people's lost Empire. 

I ran the very first game in a Minicon, might have been 1975 or 1976. 
Probably 1975. It started in a hallway and I'd been reading a lot of
Moorcock. I was fed up with the apocalyptic end of worlds as end of
series thing, and thought kicking off at the end of the civilization
before Zivra was a great opener. So I stuck the PC's who could be any
race they wanted or one of the native races, in the city while Zivra's
dad went blooie with the Orb on meltdown mode and they escaped with
some assistance from Sethra Lavode through burning rain, streets of
blood, many cool encounters and so on. One cat-centaur PC returned the
favor by letting Sethra the ancient undead (yes, just as Steve
describes her) ride her back. 

I was throwing together the core mythology at the time and using the
game as ways to develop the world, while pounding on the events before
the players entered so that I'd get some idea of what went into
Zivra's mythic quest. I had the idea that Zivra's reign was a Piarran
Camelot and would wind up revered that way long through history. I
already knew I was going to do geological time, having played with a
calculator and powers of seventeen. 

The magical system originated on the theory that all the magical
systems I knew of on Earth that were real had sacred magical numbers
-- and I wanted one that hadn't been used in reality. Most were
primes. Wow. 17 is a prime number. A bit big but if it was their
zodiac and their moieties and their culture's root they'd have a Mayan
view of time. Way cool. I had fun doing the Cycle. What I did not know
at the time was that I would do the Cycle, get the whole group
brainstorming the Cycle along with Steve, who did name the dzur (This
one has to be a good one, Steve, it's the cats. I am into cats. This
is the cool house). He sneered and pronounced it. I practiced. I
pronounce it correctly. He sneers good. 

Jhereg is compiled from what was once Vereg. I'd created Piarrans who
had a prehensile tentacle, then unnamed, from the base of the skull
down to just above the hips that was their psychic organ. Steve's two
biggest changes to turn Vereg into Jhereg were that he reduced the
psychic powers of the Dragaerans to something reasonable for his world
and eliminated their tentacle, which is now called a lirai since
they'd have their own word for an organ that important. I had the
intent of turning the core mythos into a shared backstory ala
Lovecraft -- and retained right of deciding what was canon. When he
wrote Vereg and turned his character Vlad's adventures into a cracking
good book at a time I was completely blocked (and constantly sick, not
that I took that into account), we came to a friendly agreement. 

Dragaera is a genuine parallel alternate world. We agreed that at the
time of the separation. Steve would make enough changes to make his
world his own but use some shared characters, especially on the mythic
level like Nightslayer and Sethra and Zivra. I would consider my
versions of same to be another world and probably make some changes
along the way in the process. Boy, did I ever do that. I lost the
original Cycle and reconstructed a bunch of times. It's only hit final
form now. I had to add one last House that took the place of a much
weaker House and write a short story about it to get the Piarran Cycle
perfect. So in a way, neither of us is writing Version 1.0, because
that would have to be compiled out of Steve's notes and mine. I lived
an adventurous life and paper didn't last. 

Sadly, the original map of Piarra that I drew and the gorgeous poster
sized map Jim Odbert (illustrator of the Sanctuary map for Thieves'
World and many Analog issues at the time) made for me is also long
lost, so is his ink drawing of a cat-centaur woman. Jim Odbert is
personally responsible for why the cat-centaurs have feline heads
instead of humanoid faces with slightly catlike teeth. She was
gorgeous, it was priceless, I knocked around too much and had trouble
keeping paper. 

>In case you ware wondering how I found you, I recently did a web
>search on "Zivra", since that name occurs in "The Paths of the Dead".
>Of the few hits that were in English, your journal came up, in
>conjunction with the term "Piarra".  On seeing your name, I realized
>that you must be the same person whom Steve mentions in his
>acknowledgement ("Robert Sloan aka Adrian Morgan").

Yes, I'm Robert A. Sloan who used to go by Adrian Morgan. That's me
all right. I am the one who ran the game and started my book first but
took that long to get it right. I had adventures and I was somewhat in
denial on why they never led to my managing to get enough time free to
sit down and write a book, once I'd managed to break through the
terminal writers' block that hobbled me. Recently I've come to
recognize that has a whole lot to do with chronic fatigue and the need
to have uninterrupted time to sit still if I want to get novels done. 
During my New Orleans adventures I finished a short comedy novel
"Wizard's Whoops" and the now-existing SF novel "Raven Dance" during
two brief periods of windfalls that let me drop all the
energy-intensive survival occupations I had-- and I wasn't surviving
by crashing on couches and running roleplaying games. I lived in quite
a few homes essentially serving as traveling storyteller/live gaming
is more fun than TV, so I consider that a great apprenticeship in
plotting. I sang for my supper well enough to eat and still be around
to write! 

>Given that you are in fact still working on Piarra (as a universe), I
>was wondering if you could give some more of the details about:
>1) What was Piarra, when it was first created as a game?  From what
>Steve mentioned of it, it sounds as though each player made up their
>parts of it - was it more of a joint collaboration?

It was my world, intended as the setting for the untitled Empress
Zivra novel, and I was using the roleplaying game to thrash the
details. I got waivers from all the players that I might use their
characters in a book, and also explained my Lovecraft-styled series
concept: that I would be happy to share the Mythos as I developed it,
would credit additions to the Mythos, would keep continuity for the
Mythos and not ask money for things other people wrote in it as long
as they ran it past me for continuity and I had final say on the
Canon. Only one of them was remotely interested in writing in it:
Steve Brust. 

Steve was the only Vereg player. Steve had a lot of influence on House
Vereg. All the players contributed alien names, we did some
brainstorms of syllable juggling. He also developed the Eastern
culture where Vlad's ancestors came from. I'm sure they migrated from
Hungary. He did a great job adapting them to a high-magic alien world,
and since that Eastern kingdom was his, it kinda dropped off my map at
the separation. I'm not sure either of us named it at the time we were

Some of his artistic differences had to do with the over the top magic
I used, which was intended to counterbalance hideously powerful MCs
and ultimately create a theme that runs through all my novels. Much of
what I built wasn't relevant to Steve's plotlines. Everything he
wanted to change was integral to mine. Piarrans gesture with their
lirais. Piarrans look at lirai, not eye expressions, something a few
plot points hung on in a couple of Piarran stories. The race prejudice
was there. Jheregs are a lot like veregs, but four legged thanks to a
great cover artist Steve got. 

Everyone always knew I was going to write it. I didn't know how long
it would take for me to do it -- but I didn't have Steve's night job,
determination and immediate circumstances. I wandered, he wrote, he
sold Jhereg and we renewed our agreement after sorting out that yes,
Draguera is his and Piarra is mine and they're *similar* due to that
parallelism. We just might have created the first Non-Earth Parallel
Worlds thingie, though I couldn't say for sure. 

>2) How does Piarra differ from Dragaera, as you understand it?  I note
>that at the very least that you make mention of the 17 Houses, at
>least one of them with the same name (Dzur) as in Dragaera.

Okay. He had the original Cycle. He made some changes. I lost the
original Cycle. I made a bunch more changes. I dropped some of the
Houses entirely but created equally colorful ones and so the
underlying structure of a Cycle of 17 is still there with some points
congruent and some emphatically NOT. This is going to make it very
interesting when worlds collide. 

Phoenix, Dragon, Dzur, Hawk -- the first four Houses are the same. It
goes in and out from there. Vereg and Jhereg are parallels, House
Vereg is the House of Corruption and a whole lot like Jhereg, I didn't
change it much. However, I have developed many different aspects of
it, and on Piarra I've paid a lot of attention to the Left Hand. Also
with some more esoteric, mystical aspects of Corruption that Vlad
never got into because he was an Easterner and a witch. I've even
fiddled with Second Empire flying castles like Castle Black... and
Morrolan, who was John Robey's character, had an influence on both
worlds. Character on Dragaera, he also had a parallel (reconstructed)
on Piarra who will appear more in the Zivra novels -- which begin more
at her childhood now. I've got the opener of her novel sketched along
with its premise, including of course her quest into the Paths for the
Orb. I now *finally* know why she had to go naked carrying the Sword
in order to do that without major blasphemy against Cosmic Powers. 

I developed quite a bit of the backstory long after, but I had it all
sketched in during the game. What I've done now is deepened what I had
and explored a lot of its more magical corners. And continued to make
changes up to the final version of Chazho, since anything unpublished
is still mutable and subject to random chaos. :D

>3) How you currently envision the Piarra Multiverse?  How many novels
>do you have planned for it?

I have written 29 novels in the Piarra Multiverse, not all of them on
Piarra. Some relevant events took place off Piarra, but Piarrans came
into the books when they wound up way outside the known gate realms.
I've developed my version of the Tuatha (and apologies to any elf fans
who want a united explanation of what Elves and Tuatha are, mine are
the ones I wrote just as my vampires are the ones I wrote) and a
prehistoric Empire as vast as Piarra that is its mortal enemy -- the
culture that the Demon Goddess Vala (Verra is her sister or her
daughter or her clone or something)  originally flew from,
colloquially termed "Hell" in the Vala scriptures. She has a great
mythology worked out in much more depth. Several major deities support
her: the Four Pillars are the Orb, the Sword, the Paths and Dzur
Mountain. Yep, Sethra's a goddess. However, so is any individual
hasatsyi, so it's a matter of how *skilled* a goddess she is too. They
were just 'sacred undead' in the game but now I've coined a term. 

Nightslayer, the Sword, is Vala's First Consort and the first male
thing she respected, alternately the first male thing she loved. She
was a *little* angry at men when she abandoned Hell for Ascension. She
got over it and retained her succubus nature, developing fertility and
a passion for creation. She also marries the male gods of any place
Piarra conquers, resulting in the "Valakedra" ritual at the big walled
city I renamed Jhandavor because it used to be Chandrasekhar and I
didn't realize I'd named Jim Odbert's 'Gods, Jim, that's the size of a
country!' city after the doctor in 2001: A Space Odyssey. She got
bisexual with goddesses. She had affairs with mortals and elevated
them to deity. She slept with the animals of the Cycle in a pretty
neat little bit of folklore I wrote recently and might post on my
website, resulting in at least one sentient race for each House of the
Cycle in addition to the Piarrans, whom she created. She brought in
humans and settled them in the East with the Spine of the World as a
big natural barrier to prevent permanent conquest of either. The idea
that her cult was a lot like Hinduism with multifarious deities, yet
as absorptive as Roman and holding a bit of Shinto element with the
ancestor worship deepened to a well developed religious structure. I
still use gods as characters in some novels, just as I did back in the
game. I have let people roleplay gods, since most ancient gods can
encounter heroes who can whip their butt. 

Basically, the Piarra Multiverse is my favorite setting. I attach
everything to it a lot like a future history. I am now working on some
early historical stuff, the Cycle of Darthavan stories and the Zivra
novel to finally explore her period, having done most of my books way
in the future. Chazho connects Piarra in the reign of Emperor Kynan
with Earth in 2001 -- an Earth, there are more than one naturally. I
also intend to expand the circle of writers who will either pick up
their periods of history or their variations, depending on whether
they write with permission within the Canon or just next door to it
the way Steve did. 

Steve and I kicked around the idea of a collaboration establishing how
Dragaera and Piarra connect, it does look to me as if his world took
more of the blast in the Chaos Spot since Piarra only has Juvonanka
Swamp in its place -- of course there's been a lot of time for that
bit of meltdown to settle down and be absorbed in the vegetation. The
concept will probably involve his assassin-hero Vlad teamed up with a
Piarran assassin-hero of House Dzur and a completely different
tradition of what assassin means. 

>I might want to forward your reply to the Dragaera mailing list.
>Is this something that you would be OK with?

If you don't mind its being this lengthy! I've been keeping it under
wraps for a while, and it's fun to think back to what I was doing when
I first came up with it. Don't presently have a bibliography of titles
I have done in rough, but eventually I'll get that sorted out. Of the
29 existing completed rough drafts, at least one is getting trashed in
favor of writing it again from outline to make it congruent with the
series it's in, and most are being broken apart from a "series format"
to separate stand alone novels, pairs of novels, trilogies and one
seven-volume series of fantasy sea stories. Dorayan of House Dzur,
hero of Chazho, will have a series -- but most of the books feature
other main characters even if they're in the same time frame and many
take place mostly on worlds other than Piarra. 


 is my authorsite, connecting all three of my Weblogs. I have one on
Blogger as well as the LiveJournal and I've started a third,
Prolific's Progress, which is mainly a listing of daily progress on
writing projects. It became hard to chart the final polishing rewrite
of Chazho because I have to do it as one giant Word document, but I'll
post it when it's done and sent. 

Then we all cross our fingers and wait. :D

The rest, you can get from my LJ -- I'm doing "2003: Year of the
Rewrites"  and the great restructuring will let me send out other
Piarra novels and Piarra related novels simultaneously with Chazho and
the beginning of Dorayan's saga. He's still my favorite hero. Though
that could be simply that I'm working on his first book at the moment. 

The best thing I've ever written is always the book I'm working on
right now. :D