Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Western Desert

Between Land's End and the High Mountain range is the Western Desert. It is an inhospitable land, rocky, barren, and chapped by vicious winds that blow from beyond the end of the world. Life here is sparse, existing only where it can find refuge in the crevasses and cracks amid the hills, canyons, and badlands. There are no cities, no goblins, no wandering tribes - only a hard expanse to be crossed as safely and expeditiously as possible. The only people in the Western Desert are but passing through.

It is an unfortunate fact of geography that the only way to travel between Kimatarthi's two population centers is through the desert. The Great Rift makes east-west travel impossible. For over a thousand years, Markaz has served as a departure point for caravans heading to the distant southern city of Bryss, and as an arrival point for those coming north and east. The journey can take nearly two weeks, though it is said that daring drivers know secret paths that will cut that time in half.

Scattered across the desert is a chain of caravanserais that serve as way-points for travelers making the arduous journey. Most are ancient structures, built hundreds of years ago. Though they serve as places to replenish water and trade with other travelers, they are little more than rough shelter from the night. 

Though many have traveled its expanses, the Western Desert remains a mysterious and foreboding place. The best worn paths often run very close to Land's End, and it is said that the wraiths and spirits that live in the mists beyond sometimes abandon their sanctuary, seeking human flesh. Indeed it is not unheard of for entire caravans to go missing in the desert and never return. It takes a certain mettle to make the journey, but those who do are those that can profit from being the lifeblood of the world's commerce.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

More Neigborhoods

Here are some more ideas for neighborhoods that I will use to flesh out the city of Markaz. These, along with the others, will provide a few areas to play around with in the beginning, with more to be added as needed.

Bakdunis Market
The biggest market in Markaz is (conveniently) named for the family that currently governs the city. The market is an enormous plaza paved with stones and crisscrossed by a network of market stands, and it sits at the foot of the cliffs, overlooked by the Citadel. Some parts of the market are more permanent structures of stone, wood, or mud, while others are clearly of the temporary canvas variety. At its heart is a huge fountain that is fed by one of the several springs that supplies Markaz. The fountain fills a cistern that spills into an aqueduct that flows down from the market to other neighborhoods. Every demographic in the city can be found here, as can anything that can be bought or sold - it's only a matter of price.

There's always a rug stand, isn't there? (Almosawi)

Gullytown is a slum that sits in a ravine between two wealthy, hilltop neighborhoods. An open sewer runs down the middle, fed by runoff and waste water from about half of the city. A large stone bridge flies high over the shanty, allowing more civilized folk to move between rich areas of town without having to mix with the poor. Many houses here seem to be little more than temporary shelters and they are piled nearly one on top of another. Walking from one end of Gullytown to another will often take you straight through someone's home. During the heavy rains that happen every year or two, the sewer is likely to overflow, killing lots of people. But usually, the high walls of the valley provide shelter from the sun and brutal heat of Kimatarthi.

Garden City
Home to many of the old merchants and elite families of Markaz, Garden City has been able to tap into the aquifers below the hill to provide water for old trees that line beautiful winding boulevards. Large estates and private homes are hidden behind high walls, and lush gardens and terraces provide the public shelter from the brutal heat of the day - unless you're not the right kind of public. It is one of the nice neighborhoods that hovers above Gullytown.

For centuries, Markaz has dumped its garbage at the base of the cliff just west of the Citadel. This area is now a sizable hill where many of the city's poor make a living sorting out reusable scraps from other refuse. Many of the residents live in ramshackle homes built on the rubble. Some of the older, more established families (who constitute an "elite" of their own) live in homes that are built into the hillside itself - though no one is quite sure if these were carved into the earth, or if the original structures were swallowed up by decades upon decades of rubbish.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Microscope: Who Colonizes the Colonizers?

It turns out we were short a key person for our scheduled gaming session this weekend, so instead we pulled out Microscope.  It was an awesome session with the usual suspects.

At the outset, everyone wrote down two ideas for the Big Picture on index cards, and we compared them to see where there may be synergy. After four of five players suggested themes dealing with colonialism, we decided the big picture would be "Colonizers from a different world displace the native inhabitants."

It's hard to give a narrative of a Microscope game, since it really captures historical snapshots more than a consistent story. But here are some of the interesting moments we encountered along the way:

  • The colonizers, who arrived in generation ships, had super-human powers, and at least the colonial council (known as the League of the New Dawn) seemed to be dominated by super villains. This is what gave rise to the session's tagline: "Who colonizes the colonizers?"
  • We eventually determined that the natives were smallish, fuzzy and purple with flying squirrel-like membranes, vestigial displacer beast tentacles, and six fingers per hand. The supers derisively call them Lemmings, but we never came up with any other name. They are not exceedingly bright, but eventually learned how to imbue themselves with super traits which they used to massacre the colonists.
  • The colonists had names like Blue Duke, Hollow Johnny, Crystal Gale, and Neurolock. The "Lemmings" had terrible names that roughly paralleled those of their colonizers: Gut Hornet, Lt. Agent Orange Jar, and Mustard Love, for example. 
I'm freakin' Picasso.

  • While the poor Lemmings sat on hoards of unobtainium, which they made into beautiful jewelry, the supers needed it to enhance their abilities and ward off the dreaded Elker Plague. The Trail of Lemming Tears inevitably ensued.
  • One time the Lemmings managed to hijack a generation ship, only to crash it into a mountain! Lulz!

As is inevitable in Microscope, we discussed which eras we would like to run games in. Risus Monkey wanted to play in the Age of Exploration, when the supers arrive on the new world. Oddysey wanted to play during the war the Lemmings and humans fought against the supers. Personally, I'd like to explore the era when the Lemmings somehow get their own powers and seriously fight back against the colonists. Clearly the Monkey is in the idealized Marvel 1602 camp and while I'm over reading Orientalism with Oddysey.

Yeah, our group is kinda awesome like that.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Neighborhoods of Markaz

One thing that has fascinated me about every city I've ever visited is the proximity of diversity. In old cities and in cities that have seen rapid change, the style, look, and feel of each block can be different. Often, the difference is as varied as the number of buildings.

But it's not just cosmetic differences. In a huge city, within just a few blocks you can have completely different communities, different people, different social norms. Cities always have areas that are "off-limits" to certain groups and the difference of a few meters can be the difference between strangers and family. Cities are inherently high-context environments, and as such, they offer enormous opportunity for gaming scenarios.

I see my main city of Markaz as a scratchpad for all the amazing, awful, wonderful, horrible things that have fascinated me about cities. Here are some concepts for a few key areas in Markaz. I think these can serve as interesting locales for the PCs--at least initially--and others can be made up as needed.

The northernmost part of Markaz is the original settlement, which eventually grew into a fortress. It remains a walled town that overlooks the rest of the city. Citadel is home to the Palace, the townhouses and walled estates of the city's elite, and a number of fancy shopping and dining districts. Thought the original city walls and gates still stand, they are mainly used by the elites to make sure that no one too unsuitable is able to wander freely up the hill.

The Empty Quarters
Long ago, when the goblins laid siege to Markaz, they breached a portion the southernmost walls and laid waste to some parts of the city. Since that time, those areas have been taboo and even the poorest of the city are loathe to live there. That does not mean the area is devoid of activity, though. A great deal of nefarious activity takes place in the Empty Quarters, and goblins still live like vermin in burrows between the abandoned buildings. It has become a lawless area, convenient for those who want to avoid attention.

This neighborhood is positioned between the city's Eastern Gate and the hill that leads up to the Citadel. Not surprisingly, Barracks gets its name because the City Guard barracks are here. With so many young soldiers running around, it should also come as no surprise that many of the cities finest boozing, gambling, and whoring establishments are also here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Plugs for Peeps!

It's been a crazy week, and I've barely been able to find time to write these 100 words.

But it's totally worth mentioning that a member of my gaming family has published a small module via Occult Moon! Occult Moon's Toys for the Sandbox series puts out sharp, compact, flexible scenarios that are completely system neutral, so they can be incorporated into any campaign.

Captain's Logs from the Sandbox 03: The Mining Colony on Elkos IV is one of these modules that can be dropped into any space opera campaign. Set on a mysterious ice planet, it lays out several different scenario options, complications, twists, and characters--plenty of fodder to help any GM plan her next game... or help out on those last minute, fly by your knickers nights.

Go download it from RPG Now - Now!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prehistoric Fauna

There’s an art to using prehistoric animals as templates for beasties in a campaign. Unless you’re actually running a “Lost World” style adventure, you run the risk of diluting the theme of your own campaign. I’m all in favor of dino campaigns, but sometimes that’s not what you want. All you really want is a cool looking animal that makes your campaign exotic and unique without using a xorn or some other ultra-fantastic critter.

I bring it up because Jeff of gameblog fame pulls this off perfectly in his recent Doom of the Jaredites campaign. In an epic move, he casts chalicothere as the Jaredites’ cureloms, which he re-envisions as a kind of pack-ape—and everything about that is pretty freakin’ awesome. His entire campaign concept is downright inspired, I might add.

I’ve also looked to prehistoric animals to populate the wilderness of my campaign. My challenge is that Kimatarthi is a world that is only slowly coming to realize that it is a high-fantasy world. So while there are some built-in fantastic elements—like the edge of the world that drops off into mist—I want these to be modest enough that they could be dismissed as mundane—in other words, the Perfectly Normal Beast phenomenon. I want variety beyond wolves, lions, honey badgers, etc., but I don’t want wyverns, either. So the kinds of imaginary beasts I’m leaning towards are stirges, slives (from Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera), large spiders, an occasional roc – fictional, but non-magical beasties.

Prehistoric animals fit this bill, too… as long as they don’t look too prehistoric. Lots of prehistoric animals have a look that just screams “Lost World,” but that's not what I want. No saber-toothed cats for me—they’re too iconic. Instead, I like these guys.

Pakicetus: ancient whale, wandering monster (ArthurWeasley)
The pakicetus (which will have a different name) fits the bill. It has a unique look without being too Lost World. Even though these were probably amphibious in real life, I’ll make them into very clever pack hunters. The pic is just a cool way to add flavor. For additional coolness, this thing’s decedents evolved into whales! How awesome is that?

Patriofelis: rock-climbing dire otter (DiBgd)
I also like patriofelis because it looks like some kind of rock-climbing dire otter. This works well with all of the rocky regions that define Kimatarthi. It’s catlike, but definitely not a cat. Again, it’s the look and the flavor that appear to me.

At some point in the future, I’ll flesh these out with stats and give them a run. I’ll do the same with the slives, which are pretty badass.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The City of Mudun

Real life is still a bit hectic with a new addition to the family. I've only just made it back to the gaming table after hiatus of two and a half months. (There's a good write-up of our session here.) Hopefully, I'll get in more game time and more blog time. I've been asked to do some more posts that describe my world of Kimatarthi and lay off the mechanics for a bit. ...ok, so it was my lovely (but non-gaming) wife who made the request, but I thought it a wise suggestion anyhow. Hey - I have at least one regular reader!

The City of Mudun

Like most cities, Mudun was destroyed in the Goblin War. Anyone who didn’t flee met an unspeakably brutal end. The city was sacked, and only a vacant, crumbling shell was left. It remained like that for several decades until an exodus known as the Great Rebuilding. The overcrowding, disease, and poor quality of life in Markaz eventually began to create agitation and instability in the city. Desperate, the rulers organized a military campaign to retake Mudun and reestablish a human presence east of the Lowlands. It was the last great Bakdunis campaign against the goblins. After clearing the city and the surrounding area, thousands of civilians were sent to reestablish Mudun.

The original city sat on either side of a river, but the goblin threat is still very real and Mudun is a frontier town. To bolster the defenses, the rebuilt Mudun exists only to the  north of the river, and all but one bridge connecting the banks were destroyed. On the south side of the river is the scarred and crumbling ruins of the old civilization… and the vast majority of the region’s wealth.

Mudun was chosen as the first city to rebuild because of its proximity to arable land, pastures, and mineral resources. Yet the sheer number of goblins continues to make access to these resources perilous. Each day just before dawn the Bridge Gate is opened, and people flood across to do their work in goblin territory. Each evening at dusk the gate is locked again. It makes work life difficult, but it is the only way to preserve the city from the ever-present goblin danger, as those unfortunate souls who are occasionally stranded on the wrong side of the river would attest if only they could be found.