Zuktovardos, from the Gazetteer of the Speaking Lands

Friends, I have been waiting to share the Zuktovardos entry with you for a long time.  It’s one of my very favorites, combining my love for etymology and dungeon-delving.

I’m very proud of this one, and I’m not going to waste any more time introducing it:


Quite possibly the most ubiquitous single word in Ipeiros, ‘zuktovardos’ is used across cultures and language groups with an abandon and lack of precision that makes linguists scream into the sky and cry themselves to sleep. There are countless meanings—some detailed below—but the throughline of nearly all uses of the word is the connotation—not denotation—of danger, recklessness, and great (if questionable) reward.

Most children first encounter the word when adventurers ride into town. The child’s older peers might throng around the exotic stranger and, for lack of a common language shout ‘zuktovardos!’ In the adventurers’ wake, the children might whisper about how the bravos were very zuktovardos, or speculate on what zuktovardos things they rode out of town to confront. Zuktovardos is a magic word, often strange and hard to pronounce, its meaning kept as a secret only known to initiates in the ranks of older children.

Older children, prone to stretching their legs and getting into trouble, might goad each other to join their ill-advised schemes, promising that “it will be zuktovardos!” The word is especially leaned on to describe the spoils that glitter at the end of youthful misadventures: that jar of honey to be collected from the distracted hive, the golden ritual implements of the heretics that got run out of town, that forgotten cache of probably-not-actually-cursed swords. The honey, the icons, the cursed weapons: all of this is some real zuktovardos shit.

The town elders, the city council, and the local crown might write the word out, on signs and seals and wanted posters. Some need to be taught the foreign letters, but thanks to the diaspora, the sylvan alphabet is well-known. Signposts over roads that have become unsafe to travel will have the name of their destination scratched out, replaced with “Zuktovardos.” When the old outpost in the hills is relieved of its strange wizard occupant, the stone above the sealed door is inscribed: Zuktovardos. And in the town square, above sketches of the worst criminals and bandits is inked the same word… followed by the hefty reward on offer.

Not everyone uses the word with stars in their eyes, of couse. The town’s craftmasters, in need of materials that can only be acquired through dangerous ventures, will gripe about needing to hire ‘filthy zuktovardos hooligans’. Cautious strategists may dismiss a reckless charge as zuktovardos nonsense. Any big dream, really, can be derided by any stick-in-the-mud grouch as “zuktovardos.”

It is only when poring over a map that one might find the word in its original, native habitat. The word is inscribed over the distant, dangerous parts of the world, such as the hostile bastions of ork warlords, grottos infested with nymphs, and the tumultuous summits of the Sainted Trio. Young adventurers have been known, in fact, to take their cues from such map legends, plotting expeditions out into the territory labelled Zuktovardos. While it can yield good rewards, this strategy’s price is often high. Many adventurers die seeking zuktovardos without ever knowing the word’s literal meaning.

A loan word nearly everywhere, zuktovardos hails from the Sileni language, spoken in the parts of Wildermarch near the city of Dion. And so the word’s use was perfectly natural when the Bardic College there compiled its maps. It labels the most dangerous and strangest corners of the world. The places where one should not go without forewarning. The places—whether blighted by monsters or under ancient curse or subject to complicated and vicious politics—where you should know what you are walking into. The literal translation of zuktovardos is “consult a bard.”

And now, let’s consult a bard for the next week’s entry…

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