Monday, August 17, 2015

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

We're doing a special project for RPG Geek's upcoming VirtuaCon (Oct. 23-25th). We've collaboratively built a fantasy city using Microscope over two sessions. I'm running  three games for the con set here. I'm encouraging others to consider running in this city as well. Below are the combined results from both session. You can see my set-up notes at the first post. I've marked material from session one in blue

The city is called Askelion 

I've posted the recordings for these sessions: Session One and Session Two.

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

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 Grey 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.
    • Rumor: The Great Elevator actually goes deeper than anyone realizes and connects to another city that lies on the opposite side of the world.
  • Obsidian City: Also located on the 8th layer of the Chasm, this cluster of large caverns is home to a long forgotten people who are of pure blood, lacking the intermixing of races. They plot to overthrow the luminous fortress and gain access.
THE DUSKWAR STACKS
Vaults and libraries of the Unspoken Usurper, sorcerer-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.
    • Rumor:  Tar-Tok’s efforts are what cause the water to be unpalatable without using it to make something else -- some say this is an accident, others hint at a darker reason.
  • The Whispers: Theological students debate in this vast, ancient theater, often with the attendance and participation of the Dead.
    • Rumor: Seances are held within the theater with a very selective client list. It’s truly a coup to be invited to one of them.
    • Rumor: Drum circles are fairly common and there is some rivalry between drummers and students for use of the Whispers            
  • The Nameless Heir: Son of the Unspoken Usurper. He is trying to use magic to force a tectonic shift of the cities layers, thereby wiping out the current “top” layer and everyone on it.
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 traveler walking up to the Firegate must pass. At night the dead are supposed to whisper their secrets to the wind.
    • Rumor - If an expecting mother travels through the dune of bones at night, she will find out the fortunes of her her child / children.
  • 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 First Arms and Unicorn: microbrewery with a garden / vineyard on the roof. Nobody knows what a unicorn is, but the house drink (a nice fruity wine) is called The Unicorn, and it’s quite tasty. The basement of the tavern stores the many casks of this wine.
  • The Rabbledracks--a twisty understreet warren of layers of hovels built this age and last in which the poorest and those who wish to go unfound live.  They meander just under the surface, below streets and shops and walls and across districts. 
MAKER’S TOWN
Large sprawling dirty neighborhood filled with the fabricators, blacksmiths, carpenters, textile-worker 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 an 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.
  • Labor Day: Once a quarter, everyone in Maker’s Town takes a day off. By “everyone”, we of course mean the fabricators, blacksmiths, carpenters, and textile workers. The merchants and food vendors have a field day during Labor Day, often counting it as their hardest days but highest profits.
  • Ichei Ferkah’s (Iz-SHAY Fur-CALL) Emporium (The Meat Market): office where necromancers working under the dispensation of Sinviler the Undying create undead to work as day laborers. The smell… is atrocious. The undead workers are often used for work in dangerous places, in sandstorms, their prices increase dramatically.
    • Rumor: Stories always swirl around about the source of the dead to be enchanted as stock for the Meat Market--but the only stories that Ichei Ferkah’s Emporium tries to quiet are that Ichei discards the worn-down undead amid the Dune of Bones without paying the nominal burial tax
    • Rumor: It is said that for a small reward, you can agree ahead of your untimely death to become a permanent worker at the Emporium.
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 an 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.
    • History: 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: 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.
  • The Zizoul Auctions: Heavily guarded, here is where Zizoul is bought, sold, bet on, and speculated for. Zizoul, one of the two components necessary to manufacture Mana to power magic, comes only from the city. It is dangerous to harvest and some use undead to do so, a risky strategy.
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 Grant Vines: The reason that the Petitioner’s Block is center of the city’s bureaucracy despite being situated in such an inconvenient and onerous location is because this is where The Grant Vines grew out in this incarnation of the city.  The longest lines circle the Block as people use their citizen’s once-in-a-lifetime ticket for a chance to pick one of the nuts.  They contain odd objects, of value or of portent, dredged up thru the layers of the city by the vine--and they can change the course of a citizen’s life.
    • Rumor: Throughout history, the bureaucracy has always been built around the Grant Vines.
  • The Sand Paintings: Every morning, sand blows into the Petitioner’s Block and forms paintings that provide commentary on the current events of the city. No one knows how or why the sands appears in the patterns they do. As best anyone can tell it is a natural occurring phenomenon.
THE STORMGATE
The Stormgate is in some ways the jewel of the city, it is the public face to the trade community and is well-lit and well-patrolled.  Because of the desert environment people arrive at all hours as some prefer to travel by night when it is cooler and others choose to travel by day when threats are more easily spotted.
  • The Bazaar of Laruk Fashad: The bazaar is an open area with many tents where all manner of things, both legal and, if you know the right people, illegal can be found.
  • The Little Block: Bureaucratic “outpost” where the main trade is buying places in line at the Petitioner’s Block. They also handle the rubber-stamping of official trade and warehouse manifests
  • Water Walk - a long low path of stone that has an inch or so of water that runs along the premier stalls in the Bazaar. During the day, the wealthy pay to walk in it to keep cool as they shop.  In the evening, the walk is free and lots of people come down to enjoy the luxury (and spend).
  • The Raised Ridge: Illegal Trading Outpost just outside the Stormgate, nested between two large sand dunes. There is no order, no law. Control changes hands as quickly as the illegal goods that are exchanged here.
THE SWEET BOTTOM
A series of caverns with confectionery shops and ice-cream parlors. Nobody knows where 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.
    • Rumor  Lost Jhirger (Zuu-GERR) is using the matchmaking abilities of the sorbet to create “better people” in her eyes, a kind of mystical eugenics. She is also trying to find an additive to the sorbet to add mind control
  • Sugar Beetles: These grotesque bugs can grow to be as large as a person’s hand. No one knows where they came from, but now that they’re here, and in great numbers, it’s a problem for most everyone in the Sweet Bottom. They burrow their way into the various shops to feed on the sweet ingredients found within.
    • Rumor:  Crushed and dried sugar beetles can be added to the water of the city to make it palatable.
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 Brightness Sanctum: Now sealed and heavily guarded by the city. This temple(?) broke through to the surface some twenty years ago. Soon locals discovered that animals brought into the location and anointed with dust therein gained intelligence and the power of speech. The Queen ordered it closed after a pack of wild dogs elevated themselves and became revolutionary.
  • The Sorrelwing Flights: twice yearly migration flights of waterfowl that path over the city.  These are a major source of food for residents--preserved fowl is a specialty of homely cooking.  Nets & snares are the preferred method to catch the birds--because only the males are to be killed---they are easy to spot with showier plumage.  Many neighborhoods have festivals and their own secret rituals for bait and attracting the birds to land in their area.
    • Rumor: Inecha Gir, priestess of the Lost River, has been collecting the plumage of the birds for the last decade--apparently creating an elaborate tapestry in the Chasm--and people hope it will bring back the River that once flowed through the city
  • Stumpy Tower - was part of the high point towers, but sinkhole formed around it, and it is now two stories high. The many ropes of the webs are still attached, and this is sometimes used as a point of entry or egress to / from the other towers. People can go down into the underground portion of the tower, but there is risk of sandflood.
  • The Long Fall: a long span that members of the Delver’s League use to unwind by jumping from it while strapped to specially enchanted cuts of the Grant Vines which supposedly cannot break and bounce them back to the top
    • History: Eloise the Mad used to abduct two strangers, strap them to the vines that she enchanted, throw them off the span, and make them fight to the death while bouncing and falling through the air. Whoever survived she would pull back up to the top and let them leave to go back to their lives.
  • Starfire Festival: Every year after the last frost this celebration occurs in the Webs. With the aid of the Dust Hunters and their balloon crafts, the sky is lit for hours on end by the fireworks they launch from high above. The spectacle can be seen by those far outside the city of NO NAME YET.
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.
  • The Sun Catcher: Enormous mirror that used to be on the tallest point of the city and was used to focus the sun’s rays into a giant ray of fire to destroy the city’s enemies. After a shift, it now lies on the ground, cracked and covered in dust.
THE WORLD BEYOND
  • Kabaj Tar: This region lies to the east of the city.  The inhabitants practice name magic and there is no trade with Kabaj Tar because the residents of the city despise name magic.
    • History: Investiture Apocalypse: The magicians of Kabaj Tar used their magic to take control of the leaders of the city.  To this day, no leader of the city uses his or her real name.
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.
    • Rumor: The Untapped Reservoir is a vast store of fresh water somewhere underneath the city, and the Blue Circle is keeping its location secret so as to not invalidate their existence.
  • The Grey Robes: A guild of scholars, engineers, necromancers, archeologists, alchemists and paleontologists who dabble in things they maybe shouldn’t.
    • Rumor:  The Grey Robes have discovered a pattern to the shifts and believe one is coming soon.  They may have a way to stop it or encourage it.
  • 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.
  • Friends’ Friends: The justice system of the city seems harsh and unforgiving, but actually has a decent amount of wiggle room. But to keep bribes, corruption, and evasion of punishment orderly, the Friends’ Friends act as intercessors. You can hire them to speak on your behalf to reduce a sentence or gain clemency. They’re skilled beggars and wheedlers. Sometimes they can wear someone down just by dint of constant pressure. 
  • Kolpathi are small monkey-like creatures used as messengers by many of the city’s elite.  They deliver messages based on color-coded addresses but have secretly infiltrate the Brightness Sanctum and are in the very early stages of their own emancipation..
  • The Seedkeepers: An honorary brotherhood of bureaucrats who try to fete the various ‘deep trees’ that grow up around the city--these are looked upon as the ‘little brothers’ of The Grant Vines, and the Seedkeepers try to create myth and tradition around the plants to encourage them to grow and to spread the bureaucracy.
  • Delver’s League - A loose group of mostly crazy extreme people who like to dig down into older layers of the city…They have short life spans, surprise? Dude, they totally parkour underground.
  • The Awoken: Trying to pass legislation to outlaw the use of Necromancy. One of their  faction is a member of the Wheel of Fire.