Sunday, 26 January 2014

& Magazine

Something off topic today.
http://www.and-mag.com/

I thought I would quickly share a recent discovery; & (and) Magazine. It covers AD&D with the aim of filling in the gaps between the old books. Although I wasn't particularly interested in the first few issues, the quality and presentation has been improving rapidly. Being 7 issues in already, I am a bit behind the times, but if you haven't heard of it yet, give some of the latest issues a read.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Walker’s Square



The largest open public space in the city, Walker's Square is so named as all prisoners executed in the city must cross it on their final walk before death. A long, triangular space, it is bordered on one edge by the infinite void. Opposite, the Palaces of Justice in the Night Palace loom over the square. The third side of the square contains a row of wealthy lawyers and their firms. The most notable feature of the square is  Death’s Finger, a long finger of rock reaching out over the edge of the rock.  


Most days, the square is kept relatively empty as the Justicars (the guards of the Palace of Justice) are swift to move on loiterers. The only people with legitimate reaons to vist the square are the clients and employees of the lawyers that line the square. On execution day however, the square fills with people eager to watch the spactacle of the monthly executions. Up to a hundred people are executed in one of these sessions and they are a popular entertainment in the city. The best viewing spots, along the outer edge of the square fill up hours before executions start and peope bring baskets of rotton food to throw. At the ordained time, the condemned are brought up from their 'cells', suspended below The Palace of Justice. They are escorted across the square and onto the finger. Once unshackled, the Justicars will retreat to the base of the finger and let the condemmed take their time. It is considered good form and a matter of honour that the prisoner’s last step will be their own. Of course, this happens less often than not, and results in the prime source of entertainment for the viewers. Everything from rotton fruit to cobblestones is hurled at the condemned, but often it is the cruel taunts and insults that drive the convicted over the edge.
 
The Condemned:
1.       Viktor, local human – Sentenced to death for stealing chickens from a cart, his three children now on the streets, often seen pleading with people to rescue their father from gaol.
2.       Caaom, half-orc – Falsely accused of beating a woman to death in her own home, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Used to work as a barkeeper at The Naked Minstrel.
3.       Gopekeep, orc – A long time smuggler, was finally caught with over a hundred pearls concealed in various locations around his person.
4.       Dai, elf – Successfully poisoned Jarl Hegefer, the head of the whail oil merchants and provisioners. Although she denies any political affiliation, it is suspected she is in league with the druid-orcs of Weem.
5.       Olga, human – Cut the content of her bread with plaster dust and sold it to the Home Hearths.
6.       Bremman, human – Serial rapist, caught ater a citywide outrage. Denies his acts to this day, claiming he wasn’t even in the city during the time.
7.       Milley, human – Kidnapper of the son of the noted adventurer Augurt Jelsion, caught whe she attempted to flee the city. 10 children found in her home.
8.       Begar, Kobold – A first time jewel thief, managed to break into the store, but failed to break open the safe and was caught in the act.
9.       Felis, human – Convicted as an arsonist, but actually accidentally burnt down her own shop after breaking a pot of alchemists fire she purchased from a mysterious stranger. The ensuing conflagration burned almost an entire block of shops and homes.
10.   Ethem, human – Blackmailed Sir Dongness out of a small fortune after threatening to reveal his illicit afair, Dongness tried to keep it quiet, but everything came out out court and Dongness humiliated, fled the city.




Monday, 13 January 2014

The Twin Palaces of the City in Darkness


Although there are many large and grand buildings in The City in Darkness, the largest by far are the Day and Night palaces of the Duke.

The Night Palace

Located on the edge of the rock, the Night Palace is an imposing symbol of authority, if not the actual source of that authority. The warped motifs of the façade do nothing to lighten the impression and as the formal seat of power in the city, as well as the home of the courts, the building is the most hated by the populace of the city. The wing of the place that holds the palace of justice (as the courts are known) is bordered by Walker's square, a large open square and the site of city executions. Other wings of the Night palace contain the guildhalls for some of the most powerful guilds in the city including the grazers and plumbers guilds.
There is a large throne room in the Night palace, but it has been largely unused for generations. The Dukes of the city prefer to live in the Day Palace. The current Duke has never actually entered the Night Palace, preferring to have his servants relay information from the city proper.

The Day Palace

The Day Palace, the actual home of the Duke, lies on a completely different plane than the Night Palace and the city. A portal hidden deeply in the Night Palace leads to a tiny, idyllic island in the middle of a vast ocean. There majority of the island rises on steep cliffs above the ocean but a few small coves contain beaches and a small port. The port is not commercial however, as no other islands have ever been found on this world, despite extensive voyages by several explorers. The only other inhabitants of the world seem to be aquatic or aerial. This relative paradise has long been the actual home of the dukes of the city. The Day palace is a vast labyrinth of endless towers and halls, completely covering the island. Despite being double the size of the city, only 1000 people live and work in the Day Palace. This then, is a massive symbol of wealth and inequality in the city. Much of the island's buildings lie neglected and abandoned, each generation preferring to build in the latest styles. Since the population is kept segregated, few in the city know the Day Palace exists and even fewer know the extent of the island. Even the guild masters who actually run the city only ever see a few halls and courtyards. Despite the complete lack of actual power the Duke holds, it is a source of pride amongst the people of the Day Palace that they still hold this island paradise for themselves.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Influences


Before diving into some City in Darkness minutia, I thought I should talk a little bit about my influences. This is a broad list, but I know I have forgotten a lot. I have a blogroll over to the right hand side, and these have been my direct inspiration for starting this blog. (Incidentally, I am always looking for more blogs along these lines so please, pass them along).
  • The history of London, especially Dickensian and Victorian London.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld and Ankh-Morpork.
  • Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser - Brilliant sword and sorcery fiction.
  • The Warhammer universe.
  • GURPS: Goblins – A truly classic rpg book.
  • Vornheim - Another great RPG city book.
  • Kingdoms of Kalamar – I love the 'realistic' approach to world building and Kalamar's cultures are just brilliant.
  • Ghormenghast by Mervyn Peake – A grotesque fantasy of manners. Can't recommend enough.
  • The Sword and Sorcery genre in general – Although I don't care to pick out anyone other than Fritz Leiber, I do love the genre.
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess - A recent discovery, I can't get enough books from them. I love the mature and dark themes although not the tendency to save or die from random unforeseen events.
  • The Thief computer games
I think after that list it should be pretty obvious where I am going with this blog. I want to create an atmosphere of Victorian London pea soup fogs, with massive inequality and brutality. I want to create an absurdist society that is nevertheless, fundamentally human. Grounded, gritty fantasy with "real" people. If I am lucky, something original will emerge and I can add something to the genre instead of just aping it.
So, some lofty goals. Next time I will present some more gazetteer style entries, but soon I also want to go back over the original document I presented last week to explain what I feel needs changjng.

 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Original Vision


Welcome to the inaugural post for this blog, The City in Darkness. I hope to show, through this blog, my campaign setting with its focal point, The City in Darkness itself. The idea has been around for a very long time, I have run several campaigns using different game systems here and it has evolved considerably from its first inception. With that said, I would like to present my original write up of the city, which was given to my players in the early years of 3.0 D&D. A lot has changed since I wrote this original post, but it shows the original idea.
Bathed in eternal darkness, the city of Nocte hangs impossibly in a plane of complete nothingness. Flickering light from thousands of lanterns and torches illuminates what one could only describe as a huge rock suspended in space. The top of this rock is covered in closely huddled buildings that aim ever higher at an empty sky.

 

Overview: No one knows why the gods created this place, a plane of nothingness, of no significance except for the occasional lump of rock, some stationary, some moving, that inhabit the plane. One such rock holds the city of Nocte, one of the oddest cities in the multiverse. No one would ever think to live in such a place, let alone build a city there except for the presence of the portals; doorways to many other worlds that make Nocte a unique place for trade and transportation. Nine different worlds are reachable from these portals, each holds diverse cultures and goods, all of which meet in the marketplaces of Nocte.
Power Centers: While Nocte is technically ruled by the Count Vanus, he is considered by the general populace to be insane and ineffectual. Many religious organizations as well as the guild of merchants and traders fill this power vacuum and hold sway over the everyday affairs of the city. Artagne Vanus is scarcely an oddity among the nobles who rule domains throughout the multiverse; he is unintelligent, vain and incredibly self centered, but he differs in one respect, his extreme phobia of He throws extravagant balls and

 

The reality is quite different; The Guild of merchants and traders basically runs the city itself taking care of things such as the various organizations that protect the city, municipal and bureaucratic issues and most importantly, taxes. A modest sum is paid to the count and the guild of merchants is happy to keep it that way, they relish the fact that while they actually run things, they can use the Count as a scapegoat for almost any controversy. The third axis of power in the city are the churches. While organizations like the home hearths may not seem to play a great role in the running of the city. The power they hold over all the denizens of Nocte cannot be overlooked.

 

History: The rock upon which Nocte now stands was first discovered by an explorer from the world of Tredegar in the decline after its third age of Magic. Many of the portals that existed throughout Tredegar that linked its major nations as well as several other worlds were weakening and dying but the portal to Nocte, previously undiscovered, remains stable up until the present time; surviving two ages of nature and one of technology. Thenim Baytree, the halfing who discovered the portal saw no immediate use for this portal, leading to an empty darkness and promptly ignored it for over three decades, using it only to dispose waste. A mage friend of Thenim however, recognized the significance and through the use of divination magics, discerned that a giant rock existed near the portal. After investigating further, this friend, who has remained anonymous, discovered the other portals and aided Thenim Baytree to build a bridge from the rock out to the portal. Exploration, the urge to discover something unique and exciting motivated Thenim into entering several of the other portals. One led to an ocean, another to a deep mountain valley but the third one Thenim investigated changed both the world of Tredegar and the newly contacted world of Copia. The portal emerged several meters above a wide, well made road and Thenim soon made contact with it's inhabitants, amazingly humans and dwarves just like on Tredegar. After several weeks of investigation in this new world, Thenim had managed to pick up enough of the language to start trading.

 

Ten years on saw the founding of a road leading from the town of Aton through the lands of Thenim Baytree, through the portal and onto the capital of the largest nation of Copia, Qentis. Thenim, of course started to tax the increasing stream of diplomats, traders and travelers moving through 'his' portals. Thenim though, by now was an old man and started to rely more on his mage friend whose life had been unnaturally extended by various magics. Another short few years and this unnamed mage had taken control of the small group of tax collectors, Guards and services that Thenim provided for travelers. The reason this mage remains unnamed is because it was about this time that he started to refer to himself as 'The Master' and expected others to do the same. The Master, obviously had become arrogant but he had also become greedy. Taxes started to rise and the merchants began to get angry. Tensions rose between The Master and increasingly frustrated groups from both worlds. Eventually it was decided by a coalition of merchants, styled 'The Unmakers', that enough was enough; they moved with force against The Master and his armed guards. The Master fell and The Unmakers assumed control over the portals and the rock that connected the two. They constructed the first permanent building on the rock, a large stone fort, with the aim of protecting the precious trade route from counter attacks from opportunist rivals. They called this fort, and the rock upon which it stood Nonche (this later matured into its modern usage Nocte.) and taxed the trade fairly and wisely for almost half a century.

 

What broke the harmony of the now well established trade route was the discovery of yet another portal that led to a populated world, the world of Ubertas. This world however, saw the portal as a threat. The xenophobic nation that the portal was located in declared immediate war on The Unmakers, sending a large force through the portal to besiege the fort (and now large trading post) of Nonche. The Unmakers responded by hiring a huge force of mercenaries from the stipends of the trade route and taking the conflict back through the portal to the aforementioned xenophobic nation of Exteraz. Almost ten years of bloody conflict followed, The Unmakers were forced to the point of bankruptcy funding the war but they prevailed and victory was theirs, they secured a treaty with the Exterian leaders that gave them access to the more moderate nations of the world and it looked like again, the harmony of the previous fifty years would resume. The Unmakers did not count on the mercenaries they had hired to fight their wars and their leader, Vikt Konlev; a charismatic powerful figure who felt that they had not only secured The Unmakers source of wealth but provided them with yet another source of income. Vikt Konlev demanded more money of The Unmakers, a percentage of their profits. The Unmakers were not in a position to argue, being too poor to buy more mercenaries to fight the ones that threatened them with destruction. Vikt Konlev was elated by this concession but decided to stay close to The Unmakers to make sure they did not renege on their deal. Vikt Konlev and his mercenaries set up camp on the rock of Nonche.

 

Another ten years pass in relative peace. A lucrative three way trade route is in full swing and both the mercenaries and The Unmakers are enriched by the taxes that the trade generates. Vikt Konlev had not been wasting his time in that decade however; he had arranged a marriage to the young daughter of one of the merchants of The Unmakers and had infiltrated their ranks with allies of his own. Vikt Konlev struck while his young wife was in labor with her first child; his agents within The Unmakers killed all the inner circle of Unmakers and declared Vikt Konlev the first count of Nonche. Vikt reorganized The Unmakers into his own bureaucracy, stripping them of their name, status and power. Vikt however, was getting sick, an ancient battle wound, reopened during the scuffle with The Unmakers, festered and became infected. Despite his wife buying the best medical healing available, Vikt Konlev died within the year, leaving his wife of 19 years and an infant daughter behind to rule in his stead. The former members of The Unmakers saw this as a great opportunity to gain back their power and over the next twenty years, managed to strip the inexperienced Yena Konlev of much of her husband's power. They formed the Guild of merchants and traders and transferred much of the regent's power to it, eventually leaving Yena merely a figurehead of Nonche.

 

Over a century has passed since Vikt Konlev died, his wife and daughter ruled for many years and bore a new generation to rule Nocte. As leaders came and went, all descended from Vikt and Yena Konlev, their power waxed and waned. New portals were discovered and a mine established, penetrating deep into Nocte's core. With more portals and more worlds, came more trade and Nocte grew to cover the whole surface of the rock. When space became scarce, people started living up, in higher and higher buildings, and down; in the pits, shafts driven deep into Nocte surrounded by layers of housing. The Guild of merchants and traders expanded into a large bureaucracy and the various religions established a foothold in the new city.
People: Almost 30,000 people call Nocte home, not including the thousands of merchants and travelers who pass through the city daily. About 40% of these are humans of various origins; another 20% is made up of the Halflings who lived around the original Tredegar portal. 15% of the people of Nocte are dwarves, many of whom migrated to Nocte to work in the now defunct ore mine. Another 10% is made up of the goblins of Exteraz who have fled their oppressive government. The final 15% is made up of many different races from nine different worlds. Significant in this number are the Kobold people and the seafaring Orcs and Elves of the original ocean world that Thenim Baytree discovered.

 

Economy: The lifeblood of Nocte is trade, without it, the city would certainly not exist. Goods of all kinds flow through Nocte. Almost anything conceivable has passed through Nocte at one point or another but notable goods that stay in Nocte are, of course, foodstuffs, building materials and fuel for the thousands of fires that keep the city lit. At one point, a vein of Adamantine was discovered running through the rock but the mine that it spawned was short lived as . . .

 

Military: Some of the very first settlers of Nocte were the mercenaries of Vikt Konlev and a certain martial tradition has been passed down in several families of these mercenaries. These families form the core of the various private military forces that are employed to defend the city and keep the peace. The Cerv family provides a city watch like service to the guild of merchants and traders, they investigate crimes and patrol the main streets. Several other family organizations patrol more specific areas and there is a sometimes violent competition or 'turf wars' between the various families. The Count also maintains a ceremonial guard, recruited from military academies on many of the worlds Nocte connects to. This ceremonial guard, officially called The Opus Guard, named for the blue Opus flower design worn on their white uniforms, is supposed to protect the count from attack but in practice, exist only to look good and to help drunken revelers home from the counts raucous parties.

 

Religion: Although many worlds exist beyond the portals and these worlds have many religions, religion in Nocte is dominated by the religions of the world Tredegar. This is for several reasons; firstly that the majority of people in Nocte are still of Tredegaran origin and more significantly, Tredegaran clerics are the only ones able to use divine magics within the entire plane where Nocte is situated. The theological implications for this are immense and are widely debated but the common explanation given by most clergy of both Tredegaran and otherworldly origins is that the plane in which Nocte lies, is within the sphere of influence of the gods of Tredegar , that is to say that the plane has its strongest connection to the Tredegaran cosmology.

 

The major religions followed within the city dominate most aspects of city life. The prime example of this is the home hearths of the god Anwyn. The home hearths are more than just temples, they serve as communal kitchens, with great ovens, fires and other cooking devices lining the walls and huge dining tables dominating the center of the temples. Almost all of the residents of Nocte gather at these temples to eat and converse at least once a week with the majority of the poorer population eating at the hearths every night. Obviously this puts a great deal of power into the hands of the Halflings who run the hearths but they rarely use this power to influence people in the city (with notable exceptions, see History above). A major festival is held every year after harvest where huge amounts of food are donated to the hearths and a huge feast is held throughout the city.

 

When the mercenaries of Vikt Konlev settled in Nocte, they brought their religion with them, the worship of Terak; the god of war, valor and unity. Today, a huge temple of Terak stands at the southernmost point of the city holding over one hundred clergy. Another, older temple lies closer to the palace and was constructed soon after the mercenaries settled in the city. Nocte is considered to be a complete region (with one lord commander and six commanders) in the Terakian faith and is completely autonomous. The worship of Terak continues to be popular today as it is one of the driving forces behind the cities multiculturalism, the temple believes in equality between all races, a popular belief especially among the goblin and other minority groups.

 

In a city so dependent on trade, it would be an easy guess to say that Darmon, the god of merchants, diplomats and trade, is widely worshipped. This guess would be correct, but less so than one would think. True, it is Darmon's name that is invoked after almost all transactions made in the city and his is the name invoked by the guild of merchants and traders during meetings but worship of Darmon is not actually popular. His church, the house of Darmon is present in the city but it acts mostly as a bank, its stone façade dominating one of the major squares of the city.

 

Magic in Nocte: The city
of
Nocte is a magical place, it is obvious that the presence of portals and even a giant rock hanging in space is magical but magic in Nocte is not just wondrous major effects and artifacts. Several mages throughout Nocte sell their services, and a number of specialised spells to the denizens of Nocte.


 

Underworld and Security: Privatised 'security' companies employed by the various factions controlling Nocte form the ranks of the watch. Of these, most important are the guards of Terak, the Unmakers and the largest watch group, the Keeper's guild. The guards of Terak keep the peace in Nocte, forming an elite squad of law enforcers that, unlike the majority of watchmen in the city, can cover the entire city as no rival watch group would dare interfere with the church of Terak. The Unmakers are a splinter group of the guild of merchants and traders, named after the guild's original name, the Unmakers patrol the main trade routes and protect tax agents of the guild. The final and largest group of note, are the keeper's guild. A private firm that is nominally contracted to the Count, they patrol the entire northern half of the city. Noted in the cities underworld is a goblin named Dinji. Officially he runs a tannery, but unofficially he is the leader of a small group of thieves and pickpockets that prey on unwary travelers, the fact that none of the watches do anything about this is a fact that is constantly brought up in conversations around the city.

 

Interesting Sites:


The Pits: Nocte, while being a large rock, is certainly not large enough in conventional terms to hold such a large population as it does. The Pits were the answer to the constant overcrowding problems the city had, at least until the extra space they created was filled. The pits themselves are a group of shafts driven into the city, some using the old mine shafts, others driven fresh into the stone. Around these shafts are levels of housing that in the larger pits are almost thirty stories deep. The Pits have become the homes of the city's poorest citizens, the homes carved out of rocks are barely more than hovels with no facilities, waste is simply thrown down the central hole where it is then cleaned out and brought back to the surface by slaves, prisoners or in rare cases golems. Illness is rife in the pits due to the horribly cramped living conditions, sometimes three of four families will be living in one room. There is very little privacy and in many cases where walls have collapsed, rooms are open for anyone to see in. When it rains, despite specially designed covers and gutters to prevent it, everything gets soaked.

The Aqueduct: Despite occasional rains, Nocte needs a supply of water and the aqueduct provides this need. One of the first things that The Unmakers spent money on was the diversion of a river from the mountain valley discovered by Thenim Baytree into a stone aqueduct then stone and wooden distribution systems throughout the city. The Aqueduct truly is a marvel of engineering though, in the mountain valley, the aqueduct reaches a height of almost one hundred meters, held up only by special stone strengthening magics. Within the city itself, the main stone aqueduct dominates the cities skyline as it winds from the portal towards the original city fort, now much expanded into a palace of the count. From this central aqueduct, smaller wooded sluices transport water all across the city into public fountains (usually within the home hearths), private buildings and industries. Many of these sluices leak continually, creating a constant cloud of steam over the small area of the city dominated by foundries and making the cobblestones slick with mould.

The Palace: The Palace of the count is known to the populace of Nocte as the 'Palace of Fine Art' due to the massive amount of art, sculptures and other frippery that dominates the exterior and interior of the palace. Massive balls and parties are a regular occurrence at the palace and since the count has the nobility of countless realms of nine different worlds to choose from, the guests at the palace are numerous and varied. The palace once started as the original fort built on Nocte but quickly expanded and became less of a protective structure and more designed to impress. Both the Unmakers and then a successive line of Counts and Countesses have added to the grandeur of the palace making it a building to impress.


The Guildhouse: When the bureaucracy of Yena Konlev established the Nocte guild of merchants and traders, they constructed a modest guildhall on the edge of the rock to serve as a base of operations and to manage its various responsibilities. Nowadays, this guildhall is one of the largest buildings in Nocte and is a nest of tax agents, bureaucrats and fat merchants.

Ten Thousand Tavern: So named for the extraordinary claims of its founder that it could hold ten thousand patrons at once, the Ten Thousand Tavern is a vast sprawling building of six levels and countless rooms, the tavern is by far the most famous in Nocte. People of all persuasions visit the ten thousand; some for private meetings, others for the gladiatorial style battles fought in pits below the bar areas.

The Shrine of a thousand faces:


 


 

Through the Portals:


Benoch: A world of myriad races, nations and creeds; The inhabitants of Nocte are still majority Benochian. Just beyond the portal is the Halfling homeland of Towling, a verdant land of forested glades. South of the portal lies a large trading nation with many ports and comnnections to the rest of the world.

Copia: The origjnal world discovered by Thenim Baytree; Copia is a world dominated by vast mountain ranges and its human and dwarven inhabitants.
Ubertas: The nation of Exteras lies through the portal, a large xenophobic nation of humans and red skinned goblins.
Ilum: An oceanic world in which elves and orcs live in vast ships, following the giant schools of sea life that swim the oceans.

 

Character Information
Religions Available (plus domains)
The temples of Terak: God of War and Valor
Domains: Good, War, Law, Protection and Strength (Favored Weapon: Axes)
The Home Hearths of Anwyn: God of home, hearth and servants
Domains: Home, good protection and fire
Darmon: God of wealth, joy, trade etc.
Domains: Chaos, good, knowledge, trickery, travel, luck
Other gods available (I just can't be bothered typing them out!)

 

House Rules
Drama Dice:
Borrowed from other systems are Drama Dice. You start with 2 Drama dice and gain one per level. You also get drama dice for doing cool, dramatic, funny or otherwise good stuff.
You can use Drama Dice for:
Getting extra turning attempts or similar (/per day abilities)
Gaining +10 to hit on one attack roll (no multiple attack effects)
Automatically pass a save (must be declared BEFORE you roll)
Automatically Stabilize when below 0 HP
Minor narrative points
Diplomacy Checks:
I use an opposed Diplomacy roll. This is all you need to know!
Healing
Level + con mod when resting
The random one that I forgot
I know I have forgotten one rule that I am using for this campaign so bear with me while I try to remember!

 

So there it is. As I said above, many things will change, after all, it has been over 10 years since I ran my first campaign here. Still, it is nice to look back before moving forward.