Saturday, January 28, 2017

In the City at night

It takes two days of canal travel from the Eastern and Western canal to reach the Docklands after one has passed through the shadowy enormity of the Capital's great walls and the mercenary militia and trade towns that cluster about the gates.  Two days of distant spires, and endless vistas of ruin as the bargemen pole furiously up the green canals - past fishing rafts, and under the black snapping flags above the dens of feral thralls.  Through expanses of arcane lilies that project the ghostly images of ancient beauties from their blooms, and over the fish gnawed bones of thousands of years worth of suicides and murder victims.

Hubert Robert - 1789

The Capital sprawls at the confluence of two great rivers, bound and channeled within the great circuit of it's two hundred foot, bonewhite walls and emerging again as canals that lead outward, rays from a dying sun.  For even though the Capital is dying, the spires of the Imperial Presence still gleam in the sun with its ancient shadow stretched out to cover entire blocks and neighborhoods of insula.  Within however is only a wilderness of dust and great polities of vermin, the street a mazed jungle of imperfection and abandoned buildings.   Imperial tower blocks stand in indestructible bonewhite and magically extruded stone, but the less permanent materials of their interiors are rotted and burnt away to leave only regal shells for the pigeons to roost beneath.

Urban Life is limited to to the North Eastern Quadrant of the Capital, around the foreign quays and the outlanders market where the men of the Resurgent Kingdoms gather to trade the salvaged wealth and mysteries of empire for the earthly dross of grain, dried meat and clean wine. Only here are the canals clean of unnatural life, and the night streets safe from haints, ghouls, blackhearts, and ferals.  Magical sinks cover much of the Capital's Southern half, the once towering factor hives collapsed into themselves, teaming with feral thralls and worse - the roaming sports of curdled magic: parliaments of owlbears, cockatrice, hollow men and even the rumored demon.

Hubert Robert Again

Within the civilized Northern half of the capital the dockyards form a new and growing metropolis of Resurgent adventurers rebuilding from rubble as locust like they plunder the Capital's ancient glories or trade them for necessities and cheap intoxicants. Swaggering mercenary guards, white haired men and women of the Pine Hells, or wilder places that once were the Empire, provide rough security to those who can pay and it is not uncommon to find such oddities as a pair grey skinned, lamp eyed Ibian wrestlers, guarding a hook handed corsair captain from the Southern Isles or a merchant caste family protected entirely by amazons from across the mud sea clad in the corroded golden plates worked from the shells of ancient automatons.

Beyond the dockyards are the mansions of the trade and craft caste families, both afraid of the ways the Resurgent newcomers ignore the all consuming Imperial system of courtesy and caste, using violence as a negotiation tactic, and intrigued the Resurgent appetites for Imperial craft, salvage and trade. Even with the new trade most of the craft and merchant families ape the manners of the nobility and remain immured by custom within their mansions, or possibly extinct - a few bones in the high rooms of a darkened and moldering house.  Here and there though there are signs of growth and life, with gardens that are more then overgrown tangles of magically augmented plants, and windows that glow with light in the darkness.

Surrounding the Palace Spire itself are the Spires of the nobility, a world of their own, still inhabited by the degenerate and decadent remainders of the caste and their servitors.  Many towers are empty, but a salvager can never tell if somewhere within a hundred stories of crumbling opulence a great magus noble remains, surrounded by her pack of dedicated servitors and ready to protect her inherited mountains of rotting finery with fel sendings or life draining sorcery. 

Hubert Robert 1783
To wander the streets of the Captial is too witness broken wonders built on a scale larger then human ambition and abandoned because their care is beyond human ability.  It is to age and decline in every crack and worn stone block and to know that humanity's best days are behind it, to feel one's own insignificance, overshadowed by the past.

Sight in the moonlit Capital Streets, random Locations (A-Z or 5D6)

5. Architectural Oddity - A statue in the center of a ring of green, an egg shaped building of eccentric and absurd tastes, statuary forever blocking cart traffic in the comical poses of a popular farce several hundred years forgotten.  Eclecticism without meaning, nothing more now then a convenient landmark.
6. Bedlam - Fluted bonewhite spires around courtyard pools still have the beauty of Autumnal Imperial construction, and a since of solidity and scale appropriate to the hospice this once was.  Cracked dry basins filled with trash, and filth smeared walls below high iron barred windows are the Late Succession era reality of this private prison for the mentally ill or inconvenient.
7. Canal -A sluggish torrent of green water, beautiful despite being slick with oils and marred by bobbing trash.  The great arcane engines that once churned the water to push traffic turn only rarely now, and grind slowly when they do, but the canals remain, enduring evidence of Imperial mastery over nature.  The embankments in the Capital are uniform bonewhite and other then a surface layer of grim remain as sound as ever.
8. Decorative Excess - Artistic flourishes from crude and often phallic graffiti to gilded mosaics, and commemorative plaques are common, but this piece is extraordinary in it's size, opulence, significance and artistry.  Filing an entire block of building and streets, the same devotional work to a long dead emperor or bankrupt merchant house covers everything with crumbling colorful tile, peeling fresco and vandalized statuary.
9. Embouchre - A small canal, choked with lilies, weed and heavy growth of unwholesome looking algae that pools before to a series of corroded locks in the wall of some ancient factor of machine house, once providing power to the devices within. 
10. Fountain - Decorative fish and frogs, their breeds refined by ancient sorcery to survive almost any circumstance dart among the fallen chunks of smaller statuary in the reed bed at the bottom of this bubbling fountain, while a great bronze sea-beast hulks above still pouring a cataract of fresh water from its mouth.
11. Garth - An excess of intention grown wild around an ancient monument that shines, incorruptible at the center of a briar of exotic plants.  Eyes glitter in the undergrowth and the strange scent of jungle flowers fill the air.
12. Hippodrome or Arena - Stone stands remain unchanged by time and neglect, but the gilded dome is fallen in places and the sand floor of the pit reveals rotten flooring and gaps dropping into the darkness of the hypogeum. These places of ancient blood are known to be a favored home of haints, spectres and blackhearts.
13. Insula -A block of apartments, still partially in use, the lower floors containing the lively signs of a few dwellers - descendants of the original owners, squatters or the descendants of squatters, it doesn't matter, there is no lack of empty housing in the Capital.  While the lower floors hold life, the upper floors are abandoned to the pigeons except for the occasional fortress of whatever street gang controls a this block of insula.
14. Judicatory - Stately columns, marble bench, bar and an execution post make this as a place of justice, a lawgiving judicatory, long gone are the bewigged barristers, robed justices, hooded executioners and shivering penitent, only a certain cold majesty a perhaps a seller of river fish remain in this dusty square.
15. Kabzeel - A gathering of the God Emperors, these Imperial holy places range in size from untended mound of rustic clay statuettes at a crossroad, common shrines with a single devotee or sometimes priest, to principle temples of one or more God Emperor with gilded tabernacles, priests, guards and a constant haze of incense.
16. Laver - A private canal debouches here into a bonewhite basin surrounded by bright leaved willow hybrids that lean above the water.  The bottom of the laver is covered with muck but a mosaic of gold and glass still glimmers beneath the water.
17. Manse -  The stately home of a merchant or craft clan, still alive, or taken over by Resurgent immigrants.  A man in dusty livery stands guard by the gate, but his refusal to acknowledge visitors is evident from his blindfold and sutured stumps where his ears once were.
18. Neglected Market - This store or market of rag roofed stalls offers a few essentials of local life, canal carp, candles, meat beasts, imported grain, cheap cloth and bad wine.  With luck and the hawker's approval the local smuggling cartel can also arrange shipments of more useful items.
19. Ossuary Avenue - Great urns of black marble line the wide avenue of square cut stone block.  Moss and dandelions erupt from the cracks, and the urns themselves are cracked and occasionally shattered.  Shattered urns reveal drifts of ancient bone - this is a place of burial.
20. Pile - Huge and ruined, this once great house was built over centuries and eons, turrets, gables and additions atop one another in exuberant profusion.  Where once the architectural abundance may have been jarring, it has all sunk to a uniform grey with age and decline.
21. Quay - A set of working piers, stone and bonewhite fingers reaching into the wide canal, and guarded by a metal archway with the faded and meaningless name of the factor, merchant or union that once controlled it.  Where once commerce bustled now there is only mud and a heavy growth  of horsetails filled with ominous amphibian sounds. 
22.  Rathskeller - Light and mirth climb from below, a garden above: ragged vines of white fragrant flower, and tumbled pillars serve as benches for revelers overflowing from the common house below where crisp white beer and the blue liquor of the North are both served in the vaults of a ruined town home.
23. Shambles - Reeking of blood and with the lowing of uneasy kine the butchers work even at night behind these ancient arches colored and smooth like ribs.  Gutters from within run with blood and swarm with fat red rats, their generations fed on blood for so long they recognize no other food.
24. Trap House - glowing from within with red light that leaks through thick curtains, it may be a small insula or the wing of a ruined manse, but the trickle of damaged humans that furtively slip in and out of its well guarded doors - eyes crawling with the madness of addiction and ragged clothing reeking of strange chemical intoxicants are clear evidence that before all else it is a parlor for the sale and use of dangerous drugs.
25. Underway - A dank mouth of moist stone leads into the underways of the Capital, a tunnel going down into the urine fragrant darkness.  Most underway entrances have been sealed, but this one still gapes open, a parade of carved stone imps in the frieze above the ramp leading to a subterranean hell of former warehouses, sewers, slums and even shopping districts - now all abandoned.
26. Viaduct - On ponderous stone plinths or yellow-gold archways of alchemical steel the road passes over another of the innumerable canals, a filthy torrent rushing beneath.  Decorative reliefs of commerce, the dead emperors and playful animals are cracked, twisted and only emphasize the danger of a span where the guards and railings have been bent, broken down or carried away to make  the edge of the viaduct a convenient latrine.
27. War Memorial - A great pile of captured arms and armor, magical fused into a single rusting monolith.  A arch of wind ripped stone covered in unintelligible images. An equestrian statue of an unknown man in antique armor. A gleaming bonewhite wall of ancient names.  All are equally forgettable, innumerable and pointless.  The glories the once represented have been forgotten or eclipsed, time doing what then enemy could not and blotting the terrible power of Imperial arms from the world.
28. Xenolith - A small square decorated in durable and inedible alchemical hybrid dwarf orange trees is dwarfed by the presence of plunder from the Imperial conquests.  A Xenolith, 80' tall, shining like opalescent gold and marked with the language of a dead kingdom far to the North stands at the square's center - waiting.
29. Yard - A ruin or garth, cleared of wasteful, archaic excess and put to productive use.  Rows of corn, gardens of fat purple-black fleshed squash, a flock of goats and a creamery built into an old shrine.  The yard is productive and protected by burly young Resurgent serfs or 'civilized' thralls and despite the affront to Imperial dignity it represents appears to be thriving.
30. Zikurut - A temple to foreign gods subsumed into the Imperial cult, the architectural folly of a rich noble, or the grave marker of a forgotten conqueror? This impractical building's decorative stone facing is falling away and mounded earth is trickling through the rough cut stones beneath.  Long steps lead up a terraced side covered in dead and dying trees, whose roots push the building's seams apart.


  1. Wow, very evocative. I've always liked the idea of adventures set in a fallen civilization. A mixture of grandeur and barbarism amidst the ruins.

  2. Having been to both Venice and Rome, this was wonderful to read. I may use it. Bravo!

  3. Is this going to become a published setting or something

    1. It's published right here - who needs more? It's the Fallen Empire setting - my version of vanilla D&D. Though likely with a OD&D mechanics chassis.