Black Lord of bale and fear, master of all confusion!
By thee, thy prophet saith,
New power is given to wizards after death,
And witches in corruption draw forbidden breath
And weave such wild enchantment and illusion
As none but lamiae may use;
And through thy grace the charneled corpses lose
Their horror, and nefandous loves are lighted
In noisome vaults long nighted;
And vampires make their sacrifice to thee —
Disgorging blood as if great urns had poured
Their bright vermilion hoard
About the washed and weltering sarcophagi.
-- Ludar's Litany to Thasaidon.
On The Staircase by Rodney Mathews has little to do with this post but Zothique always seemed like the lands of demon haunted swords & degenerate humanoids to me. Rodney Mathews artwork is used without permission.
When it comes Clark Ashton Smith's Death of Ilalotha, The (1937) isn't one of his stories that get mentioned when Zothique get's brought up. Even from it's beginning it sets a tone of decident decay & horror; "According to the custom in old Tasuun, the obsequies of Ilalotha, lady-in-waiting to the self-widowed Queen Xantlicha, had formed an occasion of much merrymaking and prolonged festivity. For three days, on a bier of diverse-colored silks from the Orient, under a rose-hued canopy that might well have domed some nuptial couch, she had lain clad with gala garments amid the great feasting-hall of the royal palace in Miraab. About her, from morning dusk to sunset, from cool even to torridly glaring dawn, the feverish tide of the funeral orgies had surged and eddied without slackening. Nobles, court officials, guardsmen, scullions, astrologers, eunuchs, and all the high ladies, waiting-women and female slaves of Xantlicha, had taken part in that prodigal debauchery which was believed to honour most fitly the deceased. Mad songs and obscene ditties were sung, and dancers whirled in vertiginous frenzy to the lascivious pleading of untirable lutes."
Where do the PC's come into play?! There are a variety of roles that Castles & Crusades adventurers can have within the walls of the palace of Queen Xantlicha. Exotic mecenaries spring roundly to mind here. Mercenaries that have been hired to act as both ornament & entertainment. Hidden within the body of Clark Ashton Smith's Death of Ilalotha is the subtle but creeping corruption of dark magicks & the foulness of sorcerers of long eon's past. These dark forces have their influences within the legacy of this story of Zothique. And its this that adds to the undercurrent of darkness within the palace walls of Queen Xantlicha. For C&C there's plenty of opportinies for fighters, thieves, clerics, & even a wizard or two.
Queen Xantlicha palace is the site & focus of some of the events of The Death of Ilalotha. But the spectre of magick most foul I believe is the actual cause of the events of the story & the legacy of alien undeath.
And within 'The Death of Ilalotha' there's opportunity. And that is too take over the kingdom once the events of the story has passed. And then the PC's are going to have to deal with some dungeon & tomb delving to clear out the former royals or what they've become actually. There's an entire kingdom for the PC's to seize & take over. Why?! Because of the fact that a population actually does need a group of rulers to take over.
However 'The Death of Ilalotha' proves that Zothique is a tourist world and one that does not welcome adventurers per say. Zothique is a demon haunted world & the 'The Death of Ilalotha' takes this to it's logical conclusion. Sometimes royals & tombs should be left alone. But these are adventurers here & players seldom leave the ruins & tombs alone.