Points of Interest
1: The Parade Grounds
A vast open field always serves as the carnival’s heart. By day, this space offers dozens of free shows and events to lure in the cheap and idle, and by night crowds gather watch displays of magic and fireworks imported from distant Achera and Tarsas. Vendors wander the area constantly selling food, streamers, and flowers, though the carnival’s guards (N human warriors 4) aggressively repel outside peddlers.
2: Big Top
The Umbra Carnival’s big top houses an astonishing assortment of shows, from traditional clowns and acrobats to music recitals and dramatic plays—whatever Almara believes will draw a crowd or the crew has taken a recent interest in. Inevitably, the star attraction is Jherizhana, the “ferocious performing sphinx only barely held under the ringmaster’s magical control.” She frequently “breaks free” and terrorizes the audience during shows.
Entrance fare varies widely, depending on what the local market can bear. In smaller communities, tickets may be a mere copper for daily shows and 2 cp for an evening show, while in wealthier urban areas ticket prices for an evening show climb as high as 5 sp. A visitor may stay in the big top as long as she likes, but reentry requires payment should she leave.
3: The Midway
On the caravan’s previous trip through Borael, Almara coaxed a small crew of dwarven engineers from Khazak-Ur to join them, crafting several mechanical amusements powered by beasts of burden.
The midway’s games of chance charge a single copper and challengers usually need to beat a DC 13 skill check of one variety or another, hit an AC of 13 with a ranged or improvised weapon, or succeed at a DC 12 ability check to beat whatever challenge is presented. Prizes are cheap but memorable: paper dolls, dried flowers, ribbons, and sweets from distant lands.
4: Traveling Zoo
The down-on-his luck Boraelan noble Berthold Flavion runs the zoo. He personally grew the zoo’s collection, starting with only the trained lapdogs owned by his own family. The zoo is the only portion of the Umbra Carnival in which Almara takes no interest. Ever eager to master new creatures, Berthold often travels between the carnival’s destinations with only a small team of handlers, always watchful for new beasts and monsters to expand his displays. while most of the zoo’s cages feature mundane creatures from across Zaldara, a few genuine monsters never fail to wow locals, including three animated skeletons, a manticore, and a monitor lizard being passed off as a baby dragon. Admittance to the animal tent and zoo is always free, but the animals’ handlers beg aggressively, often with smaller animals in hand to accept donations.
5: Crew Wagons
Regardless of their position, the carnival refers to all its permanent residents as crew and affords them wagon space behind the big top. While Almara Delisen, the carnival’s Yulanian proprietor, cares little for who joins her travels and for how long, her studious Ornish accountant and paymaster, Clerk Selevan Skewes, demands some level of reliability, otherwise he confines travelers to the Winding Market and its throngs of unofficial hangers-on. Six full-time cooks work constantly to provide meals, while a crew of a dozen carpenters constantly maintain the carnival’s wagons, tents, and equipment. Crew are encouraged to deal with trespassers as they see fit, so long as they leave no marks.
This eccentric collection of trinkets and biological oddities serves as the carnival’s true foundation. Part museum and part freak show, the sideshow boasts ancient artifacts, foreign costumes and jewelry, and a variety of magical artifacts and technological innovations. The objects include a colorful blend of genuine valuables, creative fakes, and dangerously mislabeled oddities.
Like the museum, the Umbra Carnival’s freak show includes both genuine geeks and creative fakes. A sword-swallower, a fat lady, and a tattooed man headline most locations, but the carnival’s “orc” (an obese Acheran woman with a deformed nose) and “fire giant” (an extraordinarily tall, redheaded Jossian who can “breath fire”) draw thrill-seekers and young men looking to prove their courage. By far the biggest draw is the elusive “Saggy Man,” a Ornish boogeyman played by a farmer’s son with an unusual skin condition.
Sideshow admission rarely fluctuates from the standard 1 sp, but individual exhibits and performers frequently move out to separate tents for a day or two at a time with individual prices of only 1 or 2 cp a peek.
7: Winding Market
In every town, large or small, local merchants pour out of their shops to set up stalls in this snaggled, disorganized knot of tents and walkways adjacent to the festival to take advantage of the crowd it draws. Other merchants, performers, diviners, and prostitutes travel alongside the show longer-term for the same reason, journeying to the next town. While the Winding Market is not officially a part of the Umbra Carnival, Almara’s guards collect a healthy tax from its residents or else wisely coax them into traveling elsewhere. Venlok the Scourge, chief of the carnival’s enforcers, ensures that the members of the market pay promptly and that the criminal element among them preys on the various settlements visited rather than the rest of the carnival.