Calliope is a pocket dimension inside a music box. A castle stands on a hill surrounded by fields, themselves encircled by a deep, dark forest.
The box has an eldritch intelligence like that of a child. It travels the Material Realm, seeking to make playmates of anyone interesting, brave and adventurous by taking them into its world.
The only way to leave Calliope is via another music box, kept deep within the castle treasury. This is currently known only to the king, though the princesses have their suspicions.
All tables are d10.
Scattered Whispers, Leading to Calliope
Before the music box itself is encountered, there may well be signs of its passing in the nearby area. These are scraps of knowledge heard or found on the road, which might form a picture of the box in the traveler’s mind, like gathering pieces of a jigsaw without yet truly understanding their worth.
1: A children’s rhyme. “Round-a-round-a-round it goes, castle on a hill. I pray that I shall never grow – then I might go there still.”
2: Their child went missing, years ago now. The heartache is dull but will always remain.
3: A mad knight accosted them on the road. Yes, they were drunk, but they swear on their mums the horse was made of gold.
4: A key that turns a music box, very pretty but useless without its counterpart. The salesman paints lurid fantasies to try and flog the trinket – it could even lead to that fairytale kingdom!
5: A book of folk beliefs, incongruous in a library of academia. It tells of the storied land and recants the rhyme.
6: A fable, written or recited. A boy seeks the dream kingdom of Calliope, finds it and becomes king, but begins missing his parents. He searches every day for the rest of his life, but can never find his way back – the moral being to stay within the comfort of one’s true home and not go on any silly adventures.
7: Clockwork is a type of wizardry. The old woman who makes music boxes is like the old woman who lives by the forest and makes potions; wise and needed, yet feared.
8: In a particular land, there is a well-known fable of the race that led to the animals of the zodiac taking their respective places: pig, zebra, dog, tiger, dragon, stag, mouse, ostrich, peacock, unicorn. Children are told of a far-off place where all these creatures frolic together.
9: The castle or the box itself are depicted in a piece of art, symbolising the innocence of days gone by. Critics or curators will gladly talk at length about this cultural reference.
10: “Why don’t you just go and jump in a music-box?!” is a common expression of exasperation, directed at someone who is acting childishly.
How the Music Box is Found, or Makes Itself Known
If the box wants visitors, it will let them know. This might come in the form of a sudden desire to obtain it once it is seen, or a strange and creeping knowledge that this thing is important somehow.
1: At an auction. A pretty thing, but a trifle compared to the other wares.
2: Hanging by a silver thread from the oldest tree in a quiet wood, as travelers go by.
3: In the treasure hoard of a lowly monster’s lair.
4: In a reflection, but it shouldn’t be. Breaking the mirror frees it.
5: Its song is heard on the wind each night at camp. It follows.
6: On the body of a man who did not deserve to die.
7: Given away by a shop owner who delights in magical mischief.
8: As part of a dowry or left in a will, another in a long list of heirlooms.
9: A half-mad scholar or wizard believes there could really be a world inside his music box, and will hire those willing and able to enter it and explore.
10: In the pocket of a lonely thief.
You Enter Calliope
Once the box has you and your companions, it sucks you in. The manner of your arrival in Calliope might vary, but the locals are unlikely to be particularly surprised. You cannot get back the same way you came in.
1: Woken up from a nap beneath a tree by a knight astride a colourful horse. He bids you welcome, and advises you head to the castle yonder in time for tea.
2: Falling upwards out of a rabbit-hole in the fields outside the castle walls. Children playing are startled by your appearance and insist you come to their house for dinner.
3: Tumbling out of the sky, you land softly on a large picnic blanket, just as a young couple are about to lay out a luncheon. They invite you to join them, and are as polite and curious as one might be with tourists.
4: Dug up out of the ground like turnips and dusted off by a kindly scarecrow.
5: Appearing from inside a kitchen cabinet in a family’s home, just as dinner is being served.
6: Out of the clear blue sky, into a farmer’s cartful of soft hay. They are headed to the stables, and offer to take you into town.
7: Popping one by one from a giant teapot, a display piece in the castle town’s china shop. The owner greets you, smiling, and enquires as to your interest in their little ceramic figures and doodads.
8: Floating to the surface of a fountain pool in the town square. A crowd of children briefly stop their game to watch you emerge, then go back to playing at guards and robbers.
9: You are in the dark, at the bottom of a well in the castle town. A rope hangs by which to climb into the daylight above, and you hear shufflings in the shadows around you.
10: Emerging from a pie as the cook cuts it open to serve before the king. He is delighted by your sudden appearance, while the princess is hungry and less amused.
Time Within Calliope
Time is a funny thing in Calliope, not fully understood and largely ineffective at keeping its own structure. There are a few events that occur each day by which residents mark a kind of cultural clock, and by which appointments are made.
Most people don’t so much do things at set times in Calliope, as those times seem to cause doings in people – although sometimes people must start the doing themselves to help time move along. Seasons come and go, if they ever do, at a whim, and weather seldom strays far from fair.
1: The sunrise. Folk find they somehow always sleep through it, unless they specifically get a good night’s sleep in order to be up at dawn.
2: The cock crows, a melodious sound. Nobody has ever seen such a bird, but they know that cry means morning.
3: Breakfast. A hugely important meal, shared by all – if someone is not partaking, they will be ushered in with smiles to sit at the first table they pass.
4: The big parade, or horseabout. The knights march on their steeds all around the town before setting off to patrol the forest after lunch.
5: Lunch. A nebulous thing compared to the other meals, and the least fixed point on Calliope’s clock. It sometimes doesn’t happen until a picnic is found in the fields outside.
6: The afternoon. Along with the wee hours, it is a period of time rather than an event like the rest, and therefore more malleable. Can stretch and skew in length, often only ending when interesting things stop happening or people begin to grow tired.
7: Dinner, or “tea”. Not as fun as breakfast, but still important. There seems to be a coin-flip’s chance in whether it occurs at the most ideal time or the most inconvenient, but whenever that bell rings for the evening meal, everyone comes. Manners become very important at dinner, all of a sudden, and offenders are cast out – free to roam the town while the feasters are distracted, but left hungry.
8: Bedtime. Each person is themselves in charge of when they go to sleep, and nobody would dare enforce anything so horrid as a curfew. However, most people tend to go to bed right after sunset, and if anyone doesn’t it could be at least a little incongruous.
9: When the moon is at its highest, or “midnight”. Perhaps the only fixed point in time recognisable from the outside world. Anyone not asleep by this time finds it hard to avoid suddenly succumbing to slumber, unless of course there is adventure afoot.
10: The wee hours. If a person could hypothetically stay up this late, they could get away with any shenanigans or tomfoolery. If someone eats all the baker’s jam by night, for instance, the most that will happen come morning is a cry of “well, isn’t that a funny thing! My jam’s gone!” (while, of course, jam-theft by day is a most serious offence).
Places Within the Castle Town
The lay of the land outside the town is very simple: in all directions there are rolling fields and meadows, and then a thick forest (“if you must go, be careful, and be back by tea”).
Within the castle town itself are most of this little world’s details and peculiarities.
1: The round road, a street just the other side of the walls that runs a full circle around the town. Homes and guardhouses, with a wide street for the daily parade.
2: The old well, at the centre of the square past the main gates. Supposedly a creature lives down there – but it can’t get out, so not to worry.
3: The shopping street. Clothing and ceramics, grocer’s and bakers. Bustling but never too busy.
4: The artisan’s lane. An inventor’s workshop, a theatre and rehearsal rooms, a cafe or two. Intersects and blends into the shopping street, but with a more residential air.
5: The stables, a large section of the inner town devoted to the care and upkeep of the knightly mounts.
6: A park. Wide, calm, green, paths through flowerbeds, framed by trees. Many quiet spots. In its centre is a statue of a young boy.
7: The ramshackle district, all crooked alleyways and mismatched buildings whose upper floors are wider than the lower. Run by a ring of pickpocketing children who live in a big treehouse and only steal items of sentimental value.
8: The weather-watchers' tower. It’s bright and sunny so often in Calliope, the wizards and psychic cow-folk who work there mainly just sit around, play games and read comic books. The only place in town that’s as tall as the castle.
9: The noble district. Insular, clean. Residents are too busy turning their noses up at one another or following the latest expensive fashions to attend court or do anything useful.
10: The royal palace. Behind its own vaulted walls, right at the centre of town. Banners and bugles.
Common Folk and their Conversations
The average resident of the town is a simple, smiling peasant in clean and simple clothing, a patchwork of supporting players that make up the backdrop of castle life. It’s entirely possible that they are indeed “part” of the castle – that they were here before the box appeared and the first visitors came from the world outside.
When these people converse, whether with each other or with visitors, it’s normally about the same few topics. (They can still have normal conversations about other subjects – but visitors will likely hear about most of these particular things after being in Calliope only a day or two.)
1: Isn’t it a shame about the poor dear prince? Killed on a hunt in the forest… Still, the princess’ new fella is ever so dashing – a foreign chap, don’t you know.
2: You know, I was by the old well the other day, and heard the most horrible wailing! I am ever so glad that beast can’t climb out. It’s a wonder we don’t board the thing up to make certain.
3: It’s been a while since I saw a good play. The puppet show stopped a long time ago, and that place with the fancy new moving pictures isn’t nearly as fun as a live performance.
4: The cheesemaker is so quiet, and her shop is often closed. She must be hiding something.
5: Such lovely weather we’ve been having! Not like the other month when all those flying fish blew in – everyone appreciated the supper, sure, but the streets stank for days. Next time I hear the shout from the weather-watchers' tower, it’s a clothes peg on the nose for me.
6: Isn’t the princess Lucia a darling? And so pretty – takes after her late father I expect. She must be the apple of her grandfather’s eye.
7: Have you seen what the kids are wearing these days? The work of that tailor from the artisan’s lane, I expect. Don’t know what she’s thinking, it’ll never catch on.
8: Oh, I wouldn‘t go through the ramshackle district if I were you! I had my best bobby pin stolen the other day. Honestly, those little blighters... I expect their treehouse is a treasure trove of tat by now.
9: Whatever happened to that one knight who went missing in the woods all those years ago? Y’know, some say he married a nymph and they lived happily ever after beneath the water.
10: The knave of hearts has struck again! Jam, stolen from the castle stores - and in broad daylight! Though you’d think there must be something in the castle worth stealing more than jam.
There are almost as many names in Calliope as there are people, but here are some normal ones for the common folk.
4: Frederic(k/a), “Freddie”
Royals and Nobility
The nobles and notables of Calliope’s castle town. If anything interesting is going on, one of these people will no doubt have some connection to it.
1: The king, Bertholdt Sauvage. The first child to ever come here – it’s unclear how many years have passed in local time, but he is now an old man, head full of uniquely Calliopean wisdom and little else.
2: The princess regent, the king’s daughter, Emilia Sauvage. Rather more sensible than her father, she can be curt but is of noble bearing, remarkably composed for someone under the sundry pressures of running a kingdom.
3: Amir, prince of a foreign land, and the princess regent’s suitor since her late husband’s passing. He is somewhat quiet, not yet fully accustomed to life in this strange land.
4: The princess Lucia, daughter of the regent, grandchild of the king. She puts up with courtly proceedings but makes her distaste for them known, and has a rebellious streak a mile wide.
5: The Duke Bellamy Blossomtop, an old man in charge of various boring official business in Calliope. He is a little twitchy and often nervous when he needn’t be, but basically good-hearted.
6: Armistice Batwit, commander of the knights of Calliope. His steed, Augustin, is a kindly old porcelain unicorn, whose grandfatherly temperament counterbalances his rider’s brusque manner.
7: Amelia Klempt, chief of the royal guard. Stern but kind-hearted when it counts, her guards keep the peace and round up ne’er-do-wells and scallywags.
8: The minor nobles. A gaggle of gossiping upper class twits with nothing to do and more money than sense. None of them are capable of doing anything meaningful.
9: The knave of hearts, a famous and mysterious phantom thief. Always gets away at the last moment through some elaborate scheme. Secretly the offspring of a minor noble.
10: The late prince, the king’s only son, killed nearly a year ago while out hunting.
The Knights of Calliope
The pride of the town, a cavalry that embarks on daily patrols of the forest and helps keep peace within the castle walls as well.
Each rider is permitted their own mount of preference, whatever that may be. A mount and its rider often have a special bond, and it is said that each will live only as long as the other.
Flip a coin: Heads = Horse; Tails = roll a die.
5: Serpent, legged
9: Swan or peacock, with a horse’s gait
10: Unicorn or qilin
(This list, in this order, also happens to be the zodiac of a certain land in the world outside the music box, but with a mouse instead of a teacup.)
As well as being highly intelligent, with many possessing the power of eloquent speech, the mounts are outlandishly elegant in appearance, naturally sporting strange hues, baroque patterns and even metallic trim.
1: Roll again, but add gold or bronze trim, or a feathered headdress.
2: White with painted flowers
3: Patterned blues.
4: Striking ruby red.
5: Tasteful sunflower yellow.
6: Chequered, like a games board.
7: Gold and sea green.
8: Crimson and black.
9: Powder pink and white.
10: Pure gold. Roll this one more time, it’s silver, then gold again, etc.
Deep in the Forest
Deep, dark, foreboding, but full of the scent of adventure which keeps so many a questing knight coming back. It encircles the small kingdom and appears to stretch beyond the horizon.
1: A questing beast, of the kind that slew the prince. Head and neck of a serpent, body of a deer, legs and claws of a leopard, its venom means death.
2: An apple with golden skin and pure white flesh. You recognise it from a fairy tale in which it was given as a gift at a royal feast – despite its small size, which drew jest and jeers from richer gift-givers, the queen loved it so that she forsook all other fruits, and took the poor merchant’s daughter who gave it away to be her bride.
3: A circle of mushrooms. A meeting-place for fairies, but none are here. Wait and hide and they will surely come.
4: A bitter old tree man who hates all people, with their axes and kindling. Never again will he let them taste his fruits! A sorrowful dryad loves him dearly, and tries to soften his heart to no avail.
5: A puppet from a children’s show who grew tired of the business and fled out here to make a new life. He has a “family” now (a mother bird and her eggs, none the wiser), but he is starting to pine for the stage once more, and his acting partner wants him back.
6: A Beast! Huge and hairy, thickly muscled, sharp of tooth and claw. Wants to be seen as a real person with emotions and dreams, not just a romantic fantasy for housewives.
7: Pockles. Vicious little goblin-men, one for each day of the week. Each of them delights in causing harm and wields a different type of large weapon, the only thing he values.
8: Water nymphs. They desire a mate, but cannot leave their glittering pool. To wed a nymph would mean a life spent beneath that water’s surface – your child, however, would inherit all your wealth and possessions, as well as some of their mother’s power, and be free to roam.
9: An old knight. He thinks he’s only been in the forest a month or so, rather than the several decades he’s been missing.
10: A fairy. The lesser are tiny and dressed in leaves, while some are larger and more like people – and yet somehow the opposite of people, if such a thing could be said to exist. All are beholden to their queen, a beautiful and unknowable creature.
From Foreign Lands
It’s unclear where such lands lie; certainly no commoner from Calliope has made it much farther than the outskirts of the forest, let alone to whatever might lie beyond it.
But still, the few valiant knights who manage to go “out there” and come back do so with the strangest of tales and souvenirs. Sometimes the people of those lands come to Calliope, their customs and manner new and exciting.
1: Frog-men in fine livery, elegant of speech and puffed of sleeve.
2: Beautiful, tall folk in twirling coral armour, carrying bannered pikes astride giant swans.
3: Boxy trinkets of burnished metal, retrieved from crumbling stone ruins.
4: A swarm of flying fish, blown in on north-westerlies.
5: The land from which the princess regent’s suitor hails: sands, silks, spices.
6: Winged giants with skin like marble, aloof and austere.
7: A gaggle of woodland animals walking upright, dressed smartly. They are schoolchildren on a sightseeing trip, led around by a kindly but exasperated teacher.
8: A travelling merchant, peddling colourful treats. Gobstoppers that let you breathe underwater, liquorice rope that won’t break without biting, trained sugar mice, and more.
9: Pale men, explorers trying to map the world. They have utterly failed, their map is almost useless, and they don’t know where they are or how they got here.
10: An old man, wild-eyed and weary from years of travel, who looks a bit like the king and claims a right to the throne.
Requests Made of Those Visiting
Newcomers in Calliope are treated kindly, for you never know, they may very well end up liking it so much, they stay here forever.
Sometimes, Calliopeans may approach newcomers with interesting propositions – after all, such visitors are certainly of an adventurous nature, or at the very least up for a lark.
1: The Duke is worried that something From Foreign Lands poses a threat to the kingdom, and would like you to investigate it thoroughly. Either prove its innocence to him categorically, despite his irrational xenophobia, or discover an actual conspiracy.
2: A secret club have plans to set one of Calliope’s many nobles against another, and need undercover operatives to plant a letter as evidence. It’s unlikely much will change, but they pay handsomely – as would the royals if you turned them in to the guards.
3: A little girl has heard wailing from the well by night, and hopes for some kind soul to go down and see what is bothering the thing living there – the thing all in town believe is a horrible monster.
4: A patchwork dragon-serpent, long of beard and once a noble steed, asks for your help in searching the forest for the knight he lost within many moons long ago. The poor man may well have died, but it’s likely his fate was even worse, and he is lost to the fairies.
5: A nervous inventor's “moving pictures” are unpopular, dull affairs. He wants your help in creating a rip-roaring adventure flick, and will need strange creatures to play monsters, prohibitively expensive dishware to use as props, and a leading actor – either you or someone you find. If the opening night is a success, he will likely recruit you to test further inventions, including a flying machine.
6: A talking bear has gorged on sweets and grown too fat to leave his house. Find some way to help him out without damaging the property. He knows that a travelling candy merchant sells shrinking violets, and there are doubtless other magics or methods to be found.
7: A playwright has been asked to put on yet another production for the king, but the monarch’s constant demands have emptied him of inspiration. Let him follow you on an adventure – any adventure! – and he can write his next masterwork based on your exploits. He is poor, but can reward you with tickets to see the resulting performance from the royal box.
8: A young stable hand rides stays up late to ride in secret. A grand race is to be held soon, with riders from all corners of the world coming to compete, but all are rich or well-bred, and the stable hand is not. Help him enter into the race, whether fairly or by deceit, and any prize he wins is yours - he only wishes for the thrill of the competition.
9: A tailor wants high profile people to be seen wearing her daring new designs. That probably doesn’t include you, so find someone famous who’d look good in a new frock and persuade them to parade it about. You’ll have sharp duds for life if you do.
10: The princess Lucia takes a shine to one of your travelling band, and would have you as a lover, or even spouse. She is likely to lay eyes on whomever would displease her mother most.