Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cities of Urbis - Building Bodenwald, Part VII

Continued from Part VI...

Now we come to Berg am Laim, whose name derives from the large clay deposits in the area which in turn resulted in the construction of many brickyards. As Bogenwald has seen massive growth (like most other city-states in the region), presumably they are doing very good business indeed, but this might also mean that there are all sorts of huge, human-created holes in the district where the clay was taken out of the ground. These will likely fill up with water, and those where most of the clay has already been removed won't be drained of it.

There is also a neighborhood named "Baumkirchen", whose name derives from "a church built from tree logs". In Urbis terms, we could make this an actual "tree temple", likely maintained by elves worshiping the Silver Lady. This could be the center of the elven community in Bodenwald, which probably isn't too happy about all the polluting clay extraction going on nearby. Berg am Laim was also the center of a major railway depot, which lots of railway employees living in local settlements - something we can easily port over to Bodenwald.

Trudering-Riem (which had the old Salt Route passing through) has an interesting legend of the "Noble Lady Uta". Her husband, knight Cuno, oppressed the local peasants, but Uta attempted to alleviate this by secretly donating food to the peasants from the castle stores. One day while Uta was away doing this, the whole castle sank into the ground and vanished into a depression that still exists to this day, and Uta donated all the land to the church.

Well, this sounds like a ready-made subterranean dungeon if I ever heard one. Of course, it might be even more interesting if that dungeon seems to have expanded from what was supposed to be a fairly standard castle, with strange tunnels winding all across the district which haven't been fully explored. There is (of course) an archaeological dig site established shortly after the site was recently discovered, but they have only begun to explore the tunnels, and as yet have not found any inhabitants. Thus, there is plenty of exploration left to do for the player characters...

One possible explanation for the name "Riem" derives from a German word for "belt", as the various farms owned by a local noble surrounded a local church like one. In Bodenwald this might mean that the local district is still radiating out from a central temple - avoiding the deities which already have found a niche in Bodenwald, let's pick Kortus - who, as a god of agriculture (among other things) has a rather widespread following.

There is also mention of the so-called "Hüllgraben", a small stream which emerges to the surface in Riem. Since we are building a fantastic world we should exaggerate this and make it a full-fledged river emerging to the surface (likely at the rim of the impact crater). And to make it more fantastic still, maybe in recent months corpses of strange creatures have been washed up on its banks - so obviously someone needs to dive in and explore where these creatures are coming from, and whether they are a threat to Bodenwald. Don't worry, that water breathing spell will last for a few hours...

The history of Ramersdorf-Perlach mentions that the area had some church holdings which passed into the hands of the government during the Secularization of 1803 where an attempt was made to reduce the power and influence of the Church. In Bodenwald, this might have been temple holdings of a religion that became unpopular. Perhaps of the Underworld deity Cryelis? Her temples might be an old holdout from Atalan times (since she originated in the Atalan Empire). But of course, closing the temples won't necessarily banish her influence, and quite a few long-running local families might know where the bones are buried. Literally. And the pilgrimage church Sankt Maria Ramersdorf in Ramersdorf-Perlach might turn into hidden pilgrimage sites to a darker deity in Urbis...

Another bit local color worth mentioning is the "Fasanengarten", a park that used to have an attached pheasanty (pheasant breeding farm) - likely for hunting purposes. It is possible that the nobles of Bodenwald thirst for more exotic birds to hunt - preferably ones that don't fly well or at all. Something like a cassowary would certainly make for interesting prey...

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cities of Urbis - Building Bodenwald, Part VI

Continued from Part V...

I couldn't find anything particularly inspiring in the entry for the Schwathalerthöhe, so let's proceed to Neuhausen-Nymphenburg. This district apparently has lots of mansions, as well as a planned "colony" for artists called Villenkolonie Gern - apparently the planner was concerned about the lack of living space for artists in Munich (which developed a reputation as an artists' city at the time) and built this neighborhood to offer them a place to live. In Urbis, maybe many of the artists in this colony have started to experience rather disturbing dreams of alien vistas which they attempt to express in equally disturbing artwork - artists being more sensitive to the emanations of otherworldly entities has been a common trope since at least Lovecraft. Add in drug use, and you may have a local chapter of the Dreaming Circle, exploring other worlds while they sleep...

Further emphasizing the generally upper class character of this district is the name-giving Schloss Nymphenburg, the summer residence of the Bavarian king. An interesting aspect of this château is its Gallery of Beauties, which consists of paintings of Munich women who were considered "beautiful". As for its Urbis counterpart, maybe some of these women have started to go missing? People at the Court are trying to hush this up to avoid any scandal, while the local guards attempt to solve this crime without making enemies of powerful court members - and the PCs might stumble across this crime spree if they are acquainted with any of the women appearing in that gallery.

Passing over the residential district of Moosach, the Milbertshofen-Am Hart Wikipedia entry gives us the interesting historical tidbit that it got started as an "Illungshof" or "hermit farm" where people were exiled to because of sickness or as a punishment. Well, diseases are less of a problem in Urbis thanks to magical healing, and these days the criminal population of Bodenwald has probably soared to a similar degree as the general population, which makes exiling the criminals to a farm impractical. But there are other undesirable populations - like goblins. Bodenwald isn't particularly close to the Gray Hills where a couple of other city-states exile their own goblin populations, so it makes sense for the city to have its own "reservation" for them. Any goblin caught in the city at large by the authorities without employment papers is put on this goblin "goblin farm complex" (though likely not without getting a beating) where they are safely out of sight and out of mind. They are also routinely given alchemical sterilizations to keep their numbers in check. Of course, the goblins know ways off their reservation, but these are controlled by their bosses so that they can collect bribes (and avoid overuse to keep them from being discovered).

Other than that, the district was industrialized early - and presumably the goblins are used as cheap labor here. There will be a steady stream of goblin workers passing from and to the reservation, and corrupt city guards collecting bribes from them.

The district Bogenhausen is the site of the old Royal Observatory, which in Bodenwald means it is likely the site of the Astromantic Society headquarters constructed around the observatory. This also means this district would be located at or near the rim of the impact crater to get a higher elevation - but like in the real Munich, increasing light pollution from the city means that they will likely have another, newer observatory higher up in the mountains. But it is likely that their main gate connecting to Neubodenwald in the Star Mountains (and from there to the rest of the Solar System) is located here, and thus all sorts of industries supporting interplanetary exploration and exploitation will have sprung up there. In Wikipedia there is also a mention of a "Parkstadt Bogenhausen", a planned "park city" neighborhood. I think something similar could be located in Bodenwald as well - a planned neighborhood that serves as a home for all those interplanetary explorers when they aren't away exploring, and a place to stay for their families. While this would look like a fairly normal middle-to-upper class neighborhood at first glance, a closer look would certainly reveal all sorts of oddities...

Speaking of odd neighborhood, Bogenhausen also has an "Atriumsiedlung Bogenhausen", where the houses were built in a Roman style - single-store and without stairs. A full-blown recreation of an Atalan Empire town would certainly not be out of character for Urbis - I did say that the setting had more than its share of Mad Architects, didn't I? And frankly, even real Germany had rulers which built fake Roman ruins like this one:

So it's not as if a settlement like this would be particularly odd. Perhaps they even used stones from actual Atalan ruins in its construction, which might attract genuine Atalan ghosts...

Continued in Part VI...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cities of Urbis - Building Bodenwald, Part V

Continued from Part IV...

The next district of Munich is Sendling. We read that the area had Bronze Age settlements, including numerous finds from the Tumulus Culture. In Urbis, the whole region of the Flannish Cities was once inhabited by savage goblin tribes of the Goblin Mound Builder Culture, which means there are likely plenty of Goblin Mounds in this part of Bodenwald. And perhaps goblins still hide there from time to time, though their tunnels have likely been re-dug countless times over the centuries...

Close to Sendling, in the suburbs of Grünwald and Gauting there are also some remains of Roman settlements - and the Urbis equivalent of that is the Atalan Empire. Thus, one of the major themes of this district seems to be the buried remains of the past - forgotten, but not gone. There also used to be a Roman road - which we can combine with the Salt Road mentioned earlier.

There is a side note on Swedish looting during the Thirty Years' War, which is probably not terribly relevant to Bodenwald proper - but I should probably add a note to the history of Svardholm (my Stockholm analogue) that they were once the center of a large and aggressive empire conquering much of the Flannish Cities at a time. Of more interest is the Sendlinger Mordweihnacht (Sendlinger Murder Christmas), a riveting tale of lies and conspiracies which resulted in 1100 rebellious peasants being massacred by noble-led troops on Christmas Eve. In Urbis, this has probably resulted in major hauntings at the Festival of Lights (the local Christmas analogue), and the locals know well enough to stay clear of any places where ghosts will appear on that night.

Later on Sendling developed into a workers' district, which implies local activities by the Secondaries. As for other noteworthy locations it has the Großmarkthalle München, which is Europe's third largest wholesale trade facility for fruits and vegetables. Looking at the map of Urbis' Known Lands, Bodenwald does seem to be a great spot to trade fruits and vegetables from all over the Flannish Cities with the Siebenbund, the Parginian Rim, and other points south. Given the current focus of Bodenwald, I expect that extraterrestrial fruits also see some trade here. I also expect that their biohazard containment systems aren't exactly up to modern-day standards, with, as the Ancient Masters say, occasional Hilarious Results.

All in all, much of this district would be dedicated to trade and logistics, with major rail connections - while the negotiations will largely happen elsewhere, the physical goods are moved here. This will give the district a somewhat grimy atmosphere - it's not run-down by any means, but it is much to busy to attempt to make it look nice.

Also in Sendling is church that used to be an "entertainment facility" called "Elysium" - from the sparse description it reads more like a feast hall than a brothel, but we can certainly "tart it up" for Urbis. Maybe the feasthall was also used as a temple of the Horned Man, but then the previous owner (not the priest) died and his heir sold it to the church of Thenos which wasted no time in converting it into a proper temple of their faith and kicking out all this unwholesome activity. Needless to say, the priest of the Horned Man and his followers are rather unhappy about all of this...

Looking at the communities just outside of Sendling (and Munich proper) I mentioned earlier, Grünwald has Grünwald Castle, which is home to an archaeological museum. Its Urbis counterpart likely houses whatever remnants of the Goblin Mound Builder culture and the Atalan Empire are dug out of the ground in the region. In recent years all this railroad and warehouse building activity in the district has likely resulted in a steady stream of such artifacts, and the experts probably haven't had the time to examine them all if any of them are... unsafe.

Gauting, on the other hand, is of interest because it has a facility of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (German foreign intelligence service), so the main headquarters of the intelligence service of Bodenwald is likely located there. One of their major activities is likely to keep tab on the space exploration programs of other city-states, and its agents can expect to be frequently posted to other planets. Presumably, they also keep a collection of dangerous extraterrestrial artifacts deemed unsafe to the public there.

Continued in Part VI...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cities of Urbis - Building Bodenwald, Part IV

Continued from Part III...

Next in our tour of Munich neighborhoods to plunder for inspiration is Schwabing. The most relevant information is that it used to be the artists' quarter of Munich back in the 19th century (and we are going for an 19th century feel, after all). And even today there is some interesting artwork, like this guy:

Now, while in our world this was only built in 1995 for the Munich Re reinsurance company, there is absolutely no reason why we can't have giant humanoid statues in Bodenwald even if they are technically "anachronistic" (as if I'd care about that). To make it even more interesting, let's say this statue was originally found on the planet Surtus, with its exact features having been weathered away beyond the ability of magic to restore. In the inimitable way of 19th century archaeologists, the discoverers promptly smashed it to bits in the hopes of finding some treasure, and then transported the broken pieces back to Bodenwald where they were reassembled and put in front of the local art academy (since it wouldn't fit into the sculpture museum mentioned in an earlier post). Surely no vengeful alien spirits will rise up as a result of this sacrilege.

There is also the Studentenstadt Freimann, Germany's largest "student settlement" with a capacity for 2478 students, but once again I think this would thematically be a better fit for the city-state of Praxus.

We also have a historical character who can serve as an inspiration for a noteworthy NPC: Fanny zu Reventlov, also known as the "Scandal Countess" during her lifetime for both her noble title and her lifestyle (which, back then, meant first divorcing her husband and later having a son by an unknown father without being married), although she is mostly known for her satirical writings.

For one thing, Urbis needs more female NPCs. For another, while I've decided to base base Urbis on late 19th century society and mores which also includes a certain amount of that era's appalling sexism, it will be useful to have female NPCs ignore society's disapproval when living their own lives and getting away with it. I might give the "Fanny" of Bodenwald some additional capabilities so that there is less temptation to put her into the "Damsel in Distress" role - since the "real" Fanny studied Art, maybe her counterpart is an accomplished illusionist?

And speaking of authors and satirical writings, Schwabing was also home to the Simplicissimus, Germany's most famous satirical magazine. Something like it must certainly be included, as having the press cover the activities of the PCs is one of the most fun things a GM can do in their campaign, and how much more fun will it be if the PCs get skewered by a satirical magazine? Well, given how PCs are prone to making their displeasure known with violence, let's hope that the editors all have life insurance...

The next district in our list is Au-Haidhausen, another riverside district. It was historically the site of numerous breweries, inns, pubs, and so-called "Bierkeller" (lit. "beer cellars", largely open-air places serving beer and simple, cold dishes). It also houses the Bavarian parliament (I did say that beer and politics go together in a previous post, didn't I?). Its so-called "French Quarter" is not actually named like this because many French people live there but because its streets were named after the sites of victorious battles in the Franco-Prussian War - a charming custom which I think I will leave to more militaristic city-states such as Zuidenstadt.

One prominent local custom is the ceremonial opening of malt liquor barrels ("Starkbieranstich") at the Nockherberg terrace. This takes place during carnival and comedians are invited to make fun of prominent politicians, many of which will be in attendance - sort of like the White House Correspondence Dinner, only with more beer. This event has sparked at least one riot in the 19th century, and for Urbis purposes it might trigger conflicts when one of the politicians in attendance vows revenge for some slight committed that evening...

Finally, one local institution is the Sudetendeutsches Haus, which houses various organizations representing the Sudeten Germans - ethnic Germans who lived in parts of Czechoslovakiaand Poland until they were driven away after WWII. While this particular event hasn't happened in Urbis, exiles from the Kingdom of Gorchov - now the Sunset Province - could fulfill a similar role and lobby for the rights and support of their fellow countrymen.

To be continued in Part V.

Cities of Urbis - Building Bodenwald, Part III

Continued from the previous post...

As we continue to read the Munich Wikipedia entries for ideas to plunder, we come to Lehel. We learn that Lehel used to be a riparian forest criss-crossed by many streams outside the proper city limits where many poor people lived who weren't allowed into the city itself. Let's say that this also used to be true for the Bogenwald equivalent (which we will call Auewald, which is German for "riparian forest"), but in recent years aggressive urban construction has spread which attempts to make this riverside district a showcase of modern architecture, mixing residential and commercial areas. They also built numerous drainage channels to get the frequent spring floods under control, in which they succeeded... for the most part. In the places where the architects and engineers overestimated their abilities to control the waters, squatters hide out in the muddy, crumbling ruins of only recently-constructed buildings. A few druids might also live there in order to preserve what is left of nature in the area.

The next Munich district is Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt, to the southeast of the city center. The Wikipedia entry has several items of interest. It's the site of the "Hauptbahnhof", the main train station, which is important in a setting that features trains as heavily as Urbis, though I still need to think of a way of making this train station memorable. It is the site of the Theresienwiese, where the Oktoberfest takes place - the real one, not one of those cheap American knock-offs. And of course Bodenwald needs an equivalent as well - in the Real World all sorts of Important Foreign Delegations just happen to arrive in Munich during the Oktoberfest, so the Urbis equivalent (let's call it the "Wiesenfest") has the potential for international intrigue and drunken debauchery - an irresistible combination for many adventurers. Of particular note are the tables reserved within the festival tents for specific companies and organizations, so meeting gnomish representatives of the Gemeinschaftsbank or the local chapter of the Athanatos Club should be easier here than elsewhere (and I should note that politics and beer festivals have always been closer intertwined in Bavaria than elsewhere...).

The district also used to be home to resin gatherers, which gives us the name for the Bodenwald equivalent - "Pechersdorf" (from "Pecherei", the German word for "resin gathering"). To give this more of an Urbis touch, perhaps they got some expert plant manipulators from the city of Grüngarten to make their resin plantations more efficient - the trees there now generate so much resin that they are called the "weeping trees" by the locals and require lots of care from the owners in order to survive. Hmmm, perhaps those were renegade plant manipulators, since Grüngarten prefers plants to be healthier...

Of further note are 19th century cavalry barracks (perhaps using unusual riding animals? I will have to go through the Pathfinder SRD again), former plague houses that turned into modern clinics (perhaps now specializing in extraterrestrial diseases and parasites, some of which may have escaped into the many local streams), and the Museumsinsel, a small island in the river where the Deutsches Museum (dedicated to science and technology - which in Urbis would also include magic) is located. While the headquarters of the European Patent Office are also of note, the Urbis equivalent would better fit into Praxus.

The next district is Maxvorstadt (I think I will call the Bodenwald counterpart "Moritzstadt", if my German readers can forgive the pun). One of the first things I read is that this is a planned district, with a prominent grid pattern (which are rather unusual in German cities, which tend to grow along star patterns from a circular center). In Urbis, this means that this district was fairly recent and built so that it would optimize the azoth output from the local nexus towers - which means not a grid pattern as such, but a street pattern that converges towards the towers. As a fairly new district planned from the ground up, it should have some prominent locations - universities (like in the original), and quite likely the headquarters of the Astromantic Society. It would also probably be appropriate to put some fraternities into the area - the type that goes for dueling scars, that is.

Continued in Part IV...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cities of Urbis - Building Bodenwald, Part II

Continued from the previous post...

Let's continue with plundering the Munich Wikipedia entry for ideas for the city of Bodenwald. I note that the symbol on the Munich Coat of Arms is this:

This is the so-called "Münchner Kindl", or the "Child of Munich" in monk's clothing. Originally it was an adult monk which over the centuries was gradually portrayed in a more child-like manner. But we can be a bit more literal for Bodenwald - perhaps a powerful creature of the Fair Folk had the appearance of a child, allied itself with the monks of the abbey and took to wearing their clothing? Perhaps it is still around as the self-appointed "guardian" of the city...

I only glance through the Architecture section of the Wikipedia entry, but the Temple to the Roman Goddess Diana in the palace gardens does capture my attention. Perhaps some of the ancestors of the current king built shrines to all the known gods around the world (over the protest of the priests of Thenos) in order to gain their favor (or at least avert their disfavor)? And as the world is explored, more shrines to newly discovered gods are added to the palace gardens, which certainly might make them the focus for some interesting scenes...

As I pass through the "Culture" section, I note the Glyptothek - a museum dedicated to classical sculpture - and the Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst (State Museum for Egyptian Art). As ancient artwork often tends to be a trigger for the kind of Lovecraftian adventures we all adore, we certainly need something similar for Bodenwald. Perhaps the collection originally started with sculpture from the Lake of Dreams region, continued with the surrounding areas, and finally ended up with wings on pre-human and (now that the city has strong interests in that direction) extraterrestrial artwork. As the Ancient Masters said, what could possibly go wrong with this?

Now let's move into the descriptions of the individual districts of Munich. The entry for Altstadt-Lehel mentions the Graggenauer Viertel, a name derived from an older word for "Crow". Which brings across a district where large numbers of crows flock for some reason... watching everyone and everything. The Graggenauer Viertel was home to the well-to-do gentry, but to make the "Krähenviertel" of Bogenwald a bit more moody let's say that the nobles have largely moved on to more fashionable areas, giving the district a patina of faded glory where rich people still might live - but not the respectable kind of rich people. This means underworld bosses, shady businessmen... and adventurers.

Another interesting neighborhood is the Kreuzviertel, which used to be home to an abbey of the Order of Saint Augustine, an order of mendicant monks - not the same abbey which was connected to the founding of Munich. Mendicant orders are called "Bettelorden" - "Beggar Orders" - in German as they are dependent on charity. In Urbis, such monks would likely be connected to the goddess Dahla, and a major concentration of such monks would likely be located near or in the poorer districts of the city. Let's name the district "Eremitenviertel", the older, alternate name for Munich's Kreuzviertel.

The section on the Angerviertel mentions that this neighborhood was home to many craftspeople who made use of water power deriving from the many small streams coursing through it. Let's call the Urbis equivalent the Grabenviertel ("Ditch district"), and as the industrial revolution is changing manufacturing many traditional craftspeople are left behind, making this part of the city also somewhat run-down. It certainly doesn't help that all those ditches and old, crumbling houses are ideal for hiding the odd corpse or two...

Continued in Part III...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cities of Urbis - Building Bodenwald, Part I

If I want to get serious about publishing Urbis, I need to flesh out the city-states of the Flannish Cities region, the industrial heartland of the setting. Two of the cities - Dartmouth and Nimdenthal - already are fairly detailed (including rough city maps), and the cities of Grüngarten and Praxus also have quite a lot of district writeups already (though no maps, so far). But the rest have only bare-bones descriptions, and I need to change that. Let us go through them in alphabetical order. The first one is Bodenwald, which is described thusly:

"In Bodenwald, the Astromantic Society was founded, and the city still serves as its headquarters. Thus, Bodenwald serves as the center of most activities involving the exploration and colonization of other planets, and many people who hope to start over on a new world come here. The city has become rich by trading exotic goods and minerals from the colonies, and its zoological gardens, which feature many creatures from other worlds, attract many scholars.
Bodenwald is one of the few Flannish cities with a surviving aristocracy, and despite the fact that an elected parliament governs the city, the eccentric and wildly popular King Maximilian III can certainly influence politics when he puts his mind to it. He has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Astromantic Society, and the riches its efforts bring to the city have reflected well on him as well."
There are also some details on the Bodenwald Protectorate - the land the city-state controls - but no description of the city itself yet. The primary inspiration for this city-state is late 19th century Bavaria and Munich, though I might also look at Stuttgart for inspiration.

Let's start with the basic geography. Wikipedia tells us that Munich lies on a plain, which is convenient for building cities but is less interesting for adventure settings. So how can we make it more interesting? Well, perhaps the "plain" is actually an ancient meteor impact crater (like the Nördlinger Ries, which is also in Bavaria) - this would nicely emphasize the connection to space the Astromantic Society stands for. The locals have therefore given the city the nickname "The Cauldron" or "Kessel" (in German). Furthermore, the Munich plain was covered by glaciers during the last Ice Age, which have left their marks with moraines and glacial erratics - leftover stones and detritus carried by the glaciers. So let's say large boulders are scattered across the crater which are traditionally believed to be the home of the fey - but those fey also try to stay away from the parts of the crater where fragments of meteoric cold iron are buried.

Continuing with the Munich Wikipedia entry, I note in passing that modern-day Munich has a fairly high percentage of resident foreigners - 24.4%, which reminds me to figure out the resident minorities of Bodenwald. Looking at the map of the Known Lands, that likely means some Siebenbund halflings and gnomes, likely a higher number of immigrants from the Parginian Rim (as that region is poorer than the Siebenbund) which might result in some Discendenti activity, and a smattering of expatriates from Thenares and some Avareen elves. There might also be some minor dwarf holds in the hills and mountains of the protectorate.

Next up is religion. Munich has Roman Catholicism as its single largest religion (as it is the case with most of southern Bavaria), so let's make the predominant faith that of Thenos, the largest "monotheist" faith of the setting - but unlike the more austere version practiced in the coastal city-states, the local branch is very ostentatious and is famous for its passion plays (like those in Oberammergau, also in Bavaria).

The name of the city "Munich" derives from "Mönch", the German word for Monk, and as far as anyone knows the city founding was connected to Schäflarn Abbey. Thus, Bodenwald was originally built around an abbey as well. Possibly this abbey was guarding something - either a huge chunk of Meteoric Iron or sealing one of the Fey Stones. I will make that decision later...

Another interesting detail from the history of Munich is that a bridge was built across the river Isar as a crossing for the Salt Road, a trade route for salt. But salt was also used to ward against ghosts in some cultures. Was a Salt Road established through Bodenwald to ward against some major ghostly incursions - perhaps the ghostly remains of the local Goblin Mound Builder culture which were slaughtered by the human invaders? And was the abbey founded to safeguard against the goblin ghosts?

To be continued...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My Gaming Projects, Part II: Urbis - A World of Cities

After discussing my Doomed Slayers setting in a previous post, I turn to my Magnum Opus: Urbis - A World of Cities.

It all started with the famous Wizards of the Coast "Setting Search" of 2002, where the company was looking for a new D&D setting and opened a submission process where the finalist would receive the sum of $100,000 (though they would have to use some of that money to develop a "setting bible") - an enormous sum in an industry where most authors can't make a living with their writing. I submitted my own idea, and despite rumors to the contrary my submission (like 10,900 others) washed out in the first round (Eberron was the final winner - which I don't begrudge at all, since it really is an excellent setting). But I liked my own idea enough to develop it further on my own from that first, one-page summary, and developed it through a number of iterations - the latest of which can be found in this wiki.

So what are the central ideas of Urbis? Well, at the time I was heavily influenced by the Obscure Cities - a parallel world/comic book series by the Belgian artists François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. This world conjured vistas of grand, majestic cities that had Mad Architects the way pulp settings have Mad Scientists:     

This meant that I wanted my own D&D world to have vast cities as well - with populations ranging in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of inhabitants. This also meant avoiding Medieval Stasis - instead of the usual psedo-feudal arrangements, the basic units of society and government would be independent city-states surrounded by large protectorates.

Since this was supposed to be a D&D setting, I started out with all the usual components of D&D (or the d20 system) - all the races, all the monsters, all the magics etc. - and then added a new element that would drive a Magical Industrial Revolution and thus cause the rise of the city-states. This new element is azoth, a potent universal magical ingredient which allows for industrial-scale production of magic items and which is generated by so-called nexus towers, magical architecture which converts the ambient life energy generated by people living nearby into magical energy.

Of course, this was only the start. I had to describe entire regions in detail, examine how the various D&D races would fit into such a changed world, work out a pantheon, create interesting organizations that could help or hinder the PCs, describe the economics, society, a sample city-state, and much much more...

...and I am still not done.

I still want to publish the setting as a PDF product on DriveThruRPG and elsewhere though (likely using the Pathfinder system, unless D&D 5e offers a new Open License) - but I am beginning to realize that the huge mega-setting book I originally envisioned may be a bit too ambitious. Perhaps it would be wiser to publish a more condensed PDF first - concentrating on the Flannish Cities region, which I consider to be the "heart" of the setting. Each city-state in that region would get a one to two-page writeup, while the other major regions would only get a short overview - and detailing them could be left to later supplements.

Of course, I need to focus my attention to actually get to the publication stage, and I can't do everything at once. So I ask you, gentle readers: What would you like to see published the most (and perhaps buy)? More Doomed Slayers material? A publication of Urbis - A World of Cities? Development of the Dreaming Stars setting? Or something else entirely?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dreaming Stars - A World Template

After I have randomly rolled up a sample world for my Dreaming Stars setting, it's time to put that world into a coherent form. To simplify the process for future occasions, I want create a template into which I can fill the details. Here is what I came up with (loosely basing it on the Talislanta region writeups):

[World Name]

[World Map]

[A short summary of the world]
[Geographical layout of the world - main continents etc.]

Flora and Fauna

[The main characteristics of the native ecosystems]

[Intelligent Species]

[The Species template - seen below - is repeated for each major intelligent species calling the planet home.]

Notable Creatures

[One or more example creatures calling this world home.]

The Species template looks like this:

[Species Name]

[Description of their appearance]


[How this subspecies of humanity/alien species came into being]


[Basic social structure]


[Strange behaviors the PCs can run afoul of - or play up to, if they are from that species]


[Who is in charge]


[What they believe in]


[The most common psionic ability among that species]

The Arts

[Major art styles produced by that culture.]


[How they defend themselves against attackers.]


[What they trade with]


[What they see as important in life.]

Places of Note

[The most important cities and other sites for that species.]

Is there anything important missing from this template?

Friday, October 18, 2013

[Dreaming Stars] A Sample World, Part 5

Continued from Part 4...
Now we come to the last content provided by the Random Nations generator...


The Height 611 event is Russia's most famous UFO incident, and it is notable among other things for the unusual metal fragments it left behind. Perhaps something also crashed into the mountain range where the headquarters of the church are located, likewise leaving behind strange fragments - and a short time afterwards, the first prophets of the new faith started preaching, claiming that they had been given visions by spirits who fled from the earlier universe which had fallen to Evil. What had crashed then was their interdimensional travel capsule, and fragments can still be found to this day.

Also a short time later the first incidents of madness among the otter people began to emerge (see the earlier comments on the "Grease Devils") - which also included bouts of manic laughter. Needless to say, this caused people to take the new faith more seriously.

Furthermore, perhaps these first prophets were hit by some of the splinters of the travel capsule, which gave them a direct link to those entities - tying in with the last random element.

Dominant Terrain

We have already established that islands and mountains are major terrain features in this world. "Rivers" is a new one, though. So let's say that while the rain shadow side of the vast mountain range produces the enormous desert where the Reptilians dwell, the other side has created a vast flood plain where mighty river systems frequently change course.

Famous Locations

And let's say that this flood plain is covered by old mounds akin to those of the Mississippi mount-builder culture (which produced the Angel Mounds). There were frequent attempts to settle the flood plain, since the region is tremendously fertile - but it is also prone to disappearances, like the Alaskan Bermuda Triangle, and in far too many cases the inhabitants vanished without a trace, leaving the mounds behind (ironically, the Native American inhabitants of the real world Alaskan Bermuda Triangle blame the appearances on the Kushtaka - our otter people...). These many lost "Roanoke Colonies" give the region a cursed reputation - but of course also make it of interest to adventurers searching for Lost Treasure and the like.

To be continued...

Monday, October 14, 2013

[Dreaming Stars] A Sample World, Part 4

Continued from Part 3...

Once again we turn to the Random Nations Generator to create a first world for the Dreaming Stars setting.

Major Races/Species

OK, let's see... The Kushtaka is a human-otter shapeshifter, but radical mass changes like that are a bit extreme even for soft science fiction settings like Dreaming Stars, so I'd like to keep them to a minimum. But perhaps the dominant human subspecies on this world has some otter-like features - fur and some adaptations to a semi-aquatic environment. Perhaps much of the world is covered with vast archipelagos where such modifications would be useful. And the fur indicates that the climate there would likely be very cool.

On the other hand, perhaps there is one large continent which is largely desert where the Reptilians thrive. Are these simply another human variant with scales and other modifications suitable for a desert lifestyle, or a native sapient (or semi-sapient) life form? Perhaps then the aquatic modifications of the first group was also intended to ensure that the two species don't share the same environment - just as the aquatic humanoids would feel uncomfortable in the desert, the desert-dwelling Reptilians would not like it among the moist islands...

Two major groups of sapient inhabitants should be enough for any planet in the setting - and we also have those genengineered cat-people dreamers, remember? So what to do about the "Kitsune" entry? Well, presumably the otter people have tails for better movement in the water. But perhaps there is a rare mutation in the population which causes birth of children with more than one tail - and perhaps these don't have the standard Precognition psionic power native to the species, but instead powers of Luck Control and/or Illusion...

Significant Creatures

Just like Talislanta had a wide menagerie of strange creatures, we want to come up with strange creatures inhabiting our world as well. The random generator provides us with:
The Rat King implies that some kind of vermin which grows in power and awareness as more of the creatures come together and form a hive mind. But let's not use rats - let's use beetles instead. Perhaps they come from the desert continent and thus didn't bother the otter people before - but now that they have reached a higher tech level, they need some more dry spaces in their cities where those creatures can spread. Presumably they are most of a problem in the foreigners' quarters' where the Reptilians and people from dryer worlds gather...

Grease Devils are an urban legend in Southeast Asia about people or spirits covered in grease attacking women. I don't really want to introduce entities into my setting whose sole purpose is to assault women, but maybe there are otter people who instead of banishing their negative emotions into artwork like all the other faithful try to suppress them instead - until they finally snap and become near-mindlessly violent. As a side effect, their oil secretions (which all otter people have, in order to insulate their fur and skin from the cold water) go into overdrive, but the real bad news is that they spontaneously develop new psionic powers which amplify negative emotions in those they attack. The dominant religion, of course, uses this as a warning of what happens when people don't follow their dogma...

As for the Hag, let's turn that into a humanoid reptilian creature distinctly related to the reptilian desert dwellers. It walks semi-upright and could be mistaken for one of the otter people from a distance, but while cunning it is not really sapient. And it is much better adapted to the colder and wetter regions where the otter people live. While it can tolerate being in the oceans for a while (which is how it spreads from island to island), it prefers to live inland instead where there is less competition from ocean-going apex predators.

Cultural Influences

While we have a fair bit on the dominant religion, let's see what other cultural influences we can put into this world...
As a large, arid land Ethiopia is not exactly the model I would have chosen on my own for the island-dwelling otter people. But the Random Nations Generator rolled it up, so let's see what we can do with this. I think we can take the long-running monarchy which was converted to the dominant faith by missionaries from elsewhere - perhaps early Dream Travelers? And the monarchy was deposed only fairly recently, while the faith still remains strong. Since Ethiopia also exports a lot of livestock, maybe the otter people don't just fish the oceans but actually herd the aquatic animals they kill for food - and possibly these herd animals also produce other valuable items even when they are alive.

Meanwhile, Bolivia doesn't even have a coast but is entirely land-locked - and what's more, it is extremely mountainous. But presumably the desert continent has a huge mountain range blocking all the rain - and on the rain side the weather might be humid enough (and cold enough, at the higher elevations) to make the climate tolerable enough for the otter people. Perhaps their main religious center is high up the mountainside, and pilgrims climb the path up to there on foot...

The Cathars are, of course, another religious group - which also believes in Dualism, like the main faith! But they were also heretics in our world, so how can we create a similar heretic group in this one? Perhaps they believe that bad emotions cannot be purged via artwork alone, but just via meditation and prayer - since creating artwork just anchors one to the physical world, which was created by the evil deities of the previous universe...

To be continued...

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Gaming Projects, Part I - Doomed Slayers

My interests as a role-playing gamer are varied, and I have a large number of gaming projects going on at any one time. In this series of posts I want to present an overview of the most important ones.

Let us start with the most successful one - "successful" because it has actually resulted in a published product:

It all began with some thoughts about the role of classical fantasy RPG "adventurers" - diverse groups of heavily armed, dangerous people who travel from town to town and kill creatures and people for money and treasure. In recent years they have often been called "murderhobos" and for good reason - from the point of view of the typical, upstanding citizen of a fantasy world they must seem like dangerous sociopaths best to be avoided.

So why do the authorities of a typical pseudo-medieval fantasy world tolerate them at all? Why aren't they seen as a threat to the peace of the land to be stopped as soon as possible before they get out of hand? If you play something like D&D the answer could be "because they are tough enough to take out whole armies once they become experienced" - but that's not a very satisfying answer, because then you need to explain why the adventurers haven't simply taken over.

I then realized that I could make all this make sense if I treated adventurers as their own distinct social caste, analogous to the nobles, priests, peasants and so forth you find in feudal societies - the difference is that anyone could join this caste, but would then be expected to follow this caste's strictures which conveniently justify all the usual behaviors you see in adventurers.

In this RPGNet thread, I worked out the basic duties and privileges of this caste - called "Slayers", as the main reason for their existence is to hunt down and slay dangerous monsters which threaten civilization. The duties are:
  • Go where you are needed, help where you can (the duty to slay monsters above all else).
  • Do not tarry where you are not needed (don't linger and cause trouble in places where there are no monsters to slay).
  • Own only what you can take with you (don't own land or houses which would encourage you to settle down and lower the local property values).
  • Fight the monsters, not your kin (basically, "stay out of politics" if it's not involving monster-slaying - though that works out better in theory than in practice).
Of course, Slayers also have some unique privileges to compensate for their dangerous way of life:
  • Pay them what you can, appropriate to what you ask of them (pay them a fair wage, if you have the means).
  • Do not bar their way (freedom of movement across national boundaries, freedom from tolls and taxes at such boundaries).
  • What they find, they keep (right to plunder in monster lairs).
The response in the thread was overwhelming, convincing me that I had a winner. To showcase how such a subculture of Slayers would work in practice, I created a suitably generic fantasy world where all the major tropes of fantasy RPGs would have a place: