Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From the Desert Arises: Microscope City-Building Project for VirtuaCon '15 (Part One)

We're doing a special project for RPG Geek's upcoming online VirtuaCon (Oct. 23-25th). We're collaboratively building a fantasy city using Microscope over two sessions. Then I'll be running games during the con set in the city we built. I'm encouraging others to consider running in the same city as well. Here's the results from the first of two sessions.

We made these changes to the structure:
NEIGHBORHOODS (for PERIODS)
Sections of the city defined by geography, theme, business, or some other characteristic.

LOCATIONS/PEOPLE/EVENTS (for EVENTS)
Locations: Places, Businesses, Striking Features
People: Important or Striking NPCs Unique to the Neighborhood
Events: Festivals, Ceremonies, Recurring Strange Happenings

RUMORS/HISTORY (for SCENES)
Used to say something more about a location, person, or event. May or may not be true. May or may not be well known.

FACTIONS (for LEGACIES)
A group, guild, order, or the like operating in the city

THEME:
A layered city, multiple incarnations of the city built atop one another. Desert city. The layers rise and fall- tectonic movement, so old bits might shift and come up. In between generations of the city, sandstorms wash things away.

PALETTE
ADD:
Vertical Transportation Vital
Generations of Fantasy Race Mixing
Necromancy Not Necessarily Evil
Daily Struggle for water
Ancestor Worship

BAN:
Weather Magics
No Arabian Nights tropes
No “Gonzo”
No dragons

Play Order
Lowell
Misha
Kai
Brian

Turn One Scholarship
Turn Two Wealth and Poverty
Turn Three Military
Turn Four Religion
Turn Five Transport
Turn Six Romance
Turn Seven Government

THE WEBS
Series of high point towers near the outer “wall”. There’s a great network of ropes and bridges running between them. Poorer section.
The Bent Spires: A series of interconnected spires that for reasons unknown keep on bending and twisting like candles in the heat. The seat of The Mirages, the local thieves’ guild, the only ones who know how to traverse the constantly changing environment.
The Sweeping: The tallest tower is home to the leaders of the Dust Hunters, who reach their high perch using elevators and large balloon vehicles.
History: During Queen Sobami’s reign, a piece of extremely long and sturdy cable was connecting the top of the tower and the Firegate. This cable was found by the Grey Robes in one of the ancient layers of the city.
The Branch: Looks like a charred tree branch. There’s a single window or opening at the top of this tower. Some cults believe that jumping out of this window can get you close to the realm of the ancestors.
Marus Sikoma: Appointed district governor for The Webs, has held this position for six months, mission is to finally bring order to this district - the same mission his seven (executed) predecessors had…
Rumor: Did he really employ the Classy Chokers to get rid of the The Mirages leadership?

THE SWEET BOTTOM
A series of caverns with confectionery shops and ice-cream parlors. Nobody knows where do they get the components. Kids are not allowed to visit, but they try to sneak.
Night of the Chokers: The Classy Chokers murdered a group of wealthy young people, starting a series of battles between the Chokers and the Dome Guard.
The Temples of Loss: Hidden in passages at the most distant corners of the Sweet Bottom lies the entrance to the Temples of Loss. Gods from the outside world who have diminished- defeated by a rival or having only a handful of worshippers- send their last acolytes here. They group together trying to sustain their gods and on rare occasions, go forth to try to add more converts..
The Lover’s Delight: Half-legendary shop that sells a kind of magic sorbet, that can be used to tell whether a couple would be happy: if the sorbet tastes the same for both of them, they are blessed by the gods. The location of this shop is not widely known and many desperate lovers were lost in the caverns looking for it.

THE CHASM
A huge open hole in the ground going through all the older layers of the city, with different tunnels branching off in all directions. Explorers love these tunnels.
The Open Tomb: Near the entrance to one of the tunnels, not too deep. Every 100th moon the Guild of Grey Robes celebrates the end of learning cycle for their disciples there. They celebrate and thank their ancestors, who also in some form appear at the celebration.
Rumor: Some say that the Grey Robes do this, not as a celebration, but to put off a curse they suffer under for having stolen a rare artifact. Perhaps not all the graduating students return from the ceremony?
Rumor: The Gray Robes venture out into the surrounding desert to find and harvest the enormous bones of long dead leviathans and dragons, which they use to power sand-ships, elevators, and Portals.
Luminous Fortress: At the 8th layer deep down in the Chasm, it was created to fight back threats coming up from below. It’s called Luminous because it’s constantly lit to get a better look at what’s going on on the lower layers.
Rumor: Spies from the Obsidian City have infiltrated the fortress and are reporting back to their army about its defenses.
The Great Elevator: A giant moving platform that can be lowered into the Chasm to access the different layers of the city. It moves all by itself and even descends past the Luminous Fortress at regular intervals. No one knows what it brings back from its descent into the lowest layers.

MAKER’S TOWN
Large sprawling dirty neighborhood filled with the fabricators, blacksmiths, carpenters, textile people of the city.
Liberty Plaza: Organizers and rabble-rousers yell from here, oftentimes creating tensions between the Makers and the workers. Speakers are protected from violence or retribution while in the Plaza, from long tradition.
Dhastira the Ledger: Slavery is prohibited within the city, and Dhastira escaped when her owner traveled through. Since that time she has been part of a underground of the poor helping to both free foreign slaves passing through and those who have been illegally held in bondage anywhere in the city.
The Weeping Stone: In a forgotten corner in Maker’s Town sits this ancient starstone that supposedly can absorb your memories of love gone sour. If you tell it your story, it will take all your memories of it away… and place it in somebody else’s mind and heart.
Rumor: There are other stones like this that can change not only one’s memory, but also manipulate his affections. It is almost certain that Farkill Eliac uses some of these stones for his dark goals.

THE DUSKWAR STACKS
Vaults and libraries of the Unspoken Usurper, sorceror-king of the previous generation of the city. The vaults of this place are one of the few locations of his reign yet found.
The Black Registrar: An underground market where scholars and students trade in false diplomas, statements of forged scholarship, and stolen letters of recommendation.
Shadestone: Home of Tar-Tok the Lich, professor and alchemist of Necromancy.
The Whispers: Theological students debate in this vast, ancient theater, often with the attendance and participation of the Dead.

THE MARBLE DOME
A well off city-district where the dignitaries of the city live. It got its name from a series of marble domes that block off the sun and keep the heads of the city nice and cool.
Burga’s Balcony: Burga Dhiriorong sometimes goes out of his dome, and he gives a gulp of water for anybody who asks. This can continue for a hour. A celebration for local people.
History: This is one of the very rare occasions in the city’s history when water was given away for free.
Ellulash Moirilyyh: The ruler of the city and captain of the Black Storm Order.
Ellulash’s Ascent: He took over exactly 10 years ago after murdering Queen Sobami and her secret lover. Mandatory celebration.
Great Dome of the Ancestors: Many of the wealthy and powerful are interred here and venerated on a regular basis, in addition to special holy days. From here, the Shade Master explains the past and prophecies the future.
Rumor:Some say the Shade Master uses his necromantic powers not only to commune with the dead, but to commune with dark forces using the city’s dead as a conduit....
Farkill Eliac: Current master of the Pales, the order of investigators appointed by the shattered skull of a former god of the city. They have authority throughout the streets, but play a political game. Eliac himself can be seen flying about the city on the back of a great metal winged bull-gorgon.
Rumor/History: No one knows the number of the Pales, some say only a dozen. Some say membership requires a series of difficult trials and tasks.
The Wheel of Fire: Enormous 8-spoked multi-level building where the 8 powerful citizens of the city, appointed by the Beneficent King, do the actual business of the day-to-day ruling of the un-rulable City.

PETITIONERS’ BLOCK
Adjacent to the Wheel of Fire, it is here where the certification, bureaucracy, and legal wrangling occurs. If you require authority or licenses, you must go here. At the very least you come here to have your business assigned to another court in another area. It is literally made up of giant blocks. There’s a steady business in youths lifting people up the four meter tall segments.
The Measure Day: In the center of the Block there’s a dry well. Once a year, every citizen can bring some water and pour it into the well, but only after it’s measured. Bringing the largest amount of water makes the person a high-ranked bureaucrat in the Block.

THE FIREGATE
The wealthy enter the city via the Oasisgate, the merchants via the Stormgate, and the dregs and dross come in through the Firegate. Badly maintained and often choked with sand, the scant military and rescue patrols of the city launch out from here.
Dune of Bones: This is where the dead of the poor are buried, just outside the Firegate. The Dune - actually several dunes - form a corridor through which every traveller walking up to the Firegate must pass. At night the dead are supposed to whisper their secrets to the wind.
Radania Anjarn: When Queen Sobami was murdered, her lover was supposed to have died as well. But she lived, but only by embracing the last fragment of a god of revenge from the Temples of Loss. Now she bides her time and pays the cost of her existence by serving as the master of an assassins guild with very specific targets...
The Grill: All over the outer city walls metal cages are fixed to the wall. If you commit a crime - any crime - you are sentenced to spend a certain amount of time in one of these. More than two days is usually equivalent to a death sentence. Prisoners are not allowed to receive any water, but are provided food (spicy!). In rare instances, a bucket of water is placed just outside their reach.

THE ZOO
Not suitable for living, so it is currently used for keeping and breeding animals. For instance, the Dome Guard buy their riding snakes there.
Sandalan’s Preserves: Various guilds and merchants have taken to using potent and exotic monsters as beasts of burden, riding animals, and even personal protection. Sandalan has become known as an expert in training these, with a set of secret techniques. He pays for the live capture of certain monster types.
Rumor: Sandalan scoffs at the regulation of some monsters “too dangerous” for the city. He may pay good coin for even these...
The Crone of Improved Maneuvers: The Crone, it is said, helps people increase their romantic prowess through methods both athletic and arcane. She always exacts a heavy price for her services, and sometimes requires payment far in the future.

FACTIONS
The Classy Chokers, a criminal enterprise. Members are known for wearing fancy hats that contain strangling wire inside of them.
The Dust Hunters: The guards and militia who work and patrol the most exposed and sunstruck sections of the city. The outer walls, the Firegate, the exposed marketplaces. They’re often made up of desperate retired adventurers. They’re paid in a meager water stipend.
The Silents: Dhastira’s organization military wing. Their tongues are cut, so in case they are caught they cannot betray their comrades.
The Blue Circle: A group of researchers that tries to find magical ways to create more water. While they claim they need the water for their experiments, others accuse them of just using it for their own private gardens.
The Grey Robes: A guild of scholars, engineers, necromancers, archeologists, alchemists and paleontologists who dabble in things they maybe shouldn’t.
The Seventeen Fates: The job fixers guild throughout the city. They work to find the newly arrived a place to live and work, taking a small commission along the way. Adventurers usually turn to them for advice and hirelings. Those who don’t, well...let’s say they have a lower rate of success and survival.
The Pales: A mystic order interested in politics and power. The skin of their heads are half translucent, and some people claim they can see their skulls. But this is only a superstition.