Monday, May 4, 2015

The Invincible City of the Tusk People

It is called the Invincible City because it has never been conquered by an army (though the city's masters have changed a few times).  From a distance, it looks like a loaf of bread.  It sits in the frozen south, the adopted brother among the other Ryvanwall kingdoms.

The Invincible City has always been alive in the most literal sense.


If you believe the tales, the people of Mon Ryva were beset by enemies, and they called out to their god for a place of refuge.  But no refuge was forthcoming, and they were driven to the sea, where their prophets bid them wait.

It was heralded by flotsam.  A door the first day.  Then a mass of broken furniture.  Many thought that there had been a shipwreck.  It wasn't until the beach broke out in cobblestones, like a rash, that the people of Mon Ryva realized that something extraordinary was happening.

Something came in from the ocean that night.  They all watched it approach; they saw its humped back against the horizon.  Chimneys bristled against the midnight sky.  Atop a spine of minarets, brine-spattered flags licked the wind before dipping back into the sea.  Hundred of feet boulevard churned the surf behind it.  Moon-stained windows broke above the surf, glistened, and then dove back under.  The city was swimming to land.

When the reached land, there was an earthquake, and water swept away the observers.  When the confusion died down, there was no sign of it.

And over the next few days, the Invincible City grew from the dirt, an inch every hour.  Miniature houses sprouted like mushrooms, and ballooned.  Larger buildings pillowed over smaller ones and eventually subsumed them.  And like honeycombs, they arranged themselves into squares.

Through this chaos, a network of streets.  Large thoroughfares first that later swelled, and branched into smaller tributaries.  The geometry of vascularization.

The walls grew like weeds.  A mixture of stone, plaster, and other intermediate materials, they encircled the new city like molars.  They were huge and blunt and bit at the sky.  To this day, they still resemble teeth.

The foes of Mon Ryva came for them, but the walls were scarcely needed.  The earth itself opened up and swallowed them all; men and horse alike went tumbling into that gnashing pit.

The City

It is a strange benefactor, the city that Mon Ryva sent them.  It has its own whims, its own whiles.  And it has a secret history that the people are not privy to.

In the early days, , it is said that strange buildings would sprout.  Rounded things that bristled with coral.  Buildings without doors or stairs.  Vertical avenues into the ground, that led to columnar apartments that would only be suited for tenants capable of flight, or swimming.

And there are stories, too, of the cities old inhabitants.  Glassy-eyed fish men found cowering in alleyways, who were snapped up by the cobblestones as soon as they ran for the ocean.  Or people who would open a closet and find a set of sea fans wreathed in gold wire, or a set of pink-lipped amphora of coral.  But then the city would snap the closet shut and draw it away, as if it were embarrassed, and such closets would never be seen again.

Of course that has all changed now that the Invincible City has learned to imitate our cities perfectly; such slip-ups no longer happen.

The city is no one's slave, and it does what it wishes.  It eats people, sometimes a great deal of people, but this is never haphazard, and never without reason.

The city has four immutable rules.
  1. No metal.  Such a hard substance makes the city jealous, for it's hardest stone is still softer than a child's tooth.  Money changers are available outside the city, and they will exchange a traveler's coinage for the money-marbles of Meltheria, or the hakaam (dog bones) and ceremony plates of Fangol.  Metal weapons are likewise forbidden, and all of the nobility of the Invincible City wear chargale swords.  
  2. No digging.  This is a wound in the flesh of the Invincible City, and it will be quickly met with destruction.  You must also be more careful in the basements of the city, for it is closer to the city's heart, and therefore, more carefully watched.  
  3. No destruction nor construction of buildings.  Like digging, this is either an injury or an insult.
  4. No blood on the floor.  The slaughterhouses are all located outside of the city, and if you are wounded in the city, you must be careful not to drip any on the floor.  The city hungers, and sometimes it cannot control itself.
Of course, these rules are limited by the city's attention and senses.  It sees from its surfaces and it tastes with its floor, but these are slow and indistinct senses.

In the marketplace, a man draws a metal sword and stabs an enemy.  He quickly sheathes his sword, and nothing terrible happens to him.

In the marketplace, a man dapples the bricks with his blood.  He moans and cups it to keep from running, and his friends leap to bind the wound with their shirts.  Nothing terrible happens to him.

These men are lucky.

For every round that you use a metal tool, or drop blood on the floor (from a piercing or slashing weapon, for example) there is a 2-in-20 chance that you will draw the ire of the Invincible City.  This chance increases cumulatively with exposure, so after the third round of using lockpicks, there is a 6-in-20 chance of being noticed.  Taking measures to disguise your metal (such as wrapping a mace in leathers) will cut this probability in half.

If the city is annoyed at you, and watching you more closely than others, also increase the chance by +2-in-20.  If the city loves and adores you, you may wear metal freely and bleed where you wish, but the city loves no one save Angra Blacktongue.

If the city wishes to kill you, this is what happens: the street suddenly yawns beneath a man's feet, and it closes around his torso.  A moment of crying out, a stunned alarum, and then the cobblestones part slightly and the man is sucked down and swallowed, slurped up like a noodle.

Beneath the ground, the people say, the cross-sections of the underground are neither brick nor sewer but something streaked with red and white and blue that is thick like clay.

But to tell stories of such incidents is to exaggerate the malevolence of the city.  Obey the rules and you will be fine.

Playing House

There are no taverns in the Invincible City, because there are plenty of houses.  Buy some food from a vendor in the street, and then find an uninhabited house.

However, the city has expectations.  If you want to occupy a family house, the city will expect you to act like a family (not a bunch of adventurers).  Failure to do so can lead to leaky roofs, stuck doors, rats, and other signs of the city's disapproval.

The Secret Names of the City

As you'd expect, this produces a lot of curiosity.  Wizards and sages have done their own research, and the city usually eats them for their trouble.

By all accounts, the Invincible City has other names, true names, dating back from when it was something else, somewhere else.

By all accounts, the Invincible City has a mind.  There have been many attempts to speak with it; but there have never been any responses.

By all accounts, the Invincible City is capable of speech.  It merely chooses not to respond.

Neighborhoods of the City

Architectural Features
Roll 2x for each neighborhood
  1. Caged balconies dipping into the street.
  2. Migration of windows, moving across the surface of building as if through molasses.  Despite this apparent softness, they are not any easier to remove than normal windows.
  3. No streets.  This syncytial neighborhood is one big, connected interior.
  4. Small earthquakes.  This doesn't disturb the buildings, but other things (shelves) might fall over.
  5. Waves traveling through the cobblestones, as if they were floating on top of a thick ocean.
  6. No exterior doors on the first floor.
  7. Buildings have a freakish abundance of doors, placed at all levels.
  8. Buildings made entirely of glass windows.
  9. Buildings are sideways and built into the floor.
  10. Rats behaving like ants.
  11. Grinding sounds coming from beneath you.
  12. Sudden senses of vertigo.  People in the street (including you) are wobbling as if drunk or dizzy.  Everyone has lost their sense of balance.  Tripping people is fantastically easy, but attempting anything more complex than a walk risks falling over.
  13. No buildings, just hills made of cobblestones with doors in the side.
  14. Underground.  The size of the corridors changes to reflect how much the Invincible City likes you.  Beloved people come and go easily, but enemies are nearly smothered.
  15. Flooded.  Water up to the waist.  Thousands of fountains erupt from the street.  Sharks police the streets.  Canoes.
  16. Uneven floors.  Not one surface in this neighborhood is level, and most are quite steep.  Buildings lean drunkenly into each other.  
  17. Continental drift.  New buildings erupt from a miniature fault line, travel across the neighborhood, and disappear into another fault line.  The whole process takes less than 3 days, and most people change their addresses daily.
  18. Streets and buildings are reversed.  Huge network of branching hallways surrounds courtyards.  The courtyards are private residences, while the hallways are public streets.
  19. Hungry houses.  The buildings here are carnivorous.  There is a distinct smell of blood.  Locals travel through these neighborhoods, but know better than to enter an untrusted building.
  20. Sealed houses.  No doors, no windows.  Locals mostly travel through this area, but you may find a few of the poorer people camped out on the porches.
  21. Archetypal Slum.  Urine trickles from between crumbling bricks.  Deep mud lines the streets.  Scrawls of graffiti display a startling self-awareness, yet a lack of understanding of proper context.  "I will kill the diggers." "Poor people."
  22. Archetypal Aristocratic.  Mansions.  Balconies.  Plaster walls.  Golden filigree in the lintels.  Locals know better than to scrape off the gold.  Many are multiple stories tall, but only have one story inside, with very high ceilings.  If multiple people are in a house, the city expects some to behave as servants and others to behave as nobles.
  23. Ordinary buildings, magnified into towers. 
  24. Yawning pits in the middle of every intersection, emitting gases that cause temporary blindness.
  25. Monotonous repetitions of the same building cause travelers to be lost. Getting out of this neighborhood requires longer than usual.  If the person leading the party fails an Int check, roll a d6: 1 extra hour, 2 extra half day, 3 extra day, 4 extra week, 5 extra month, 6 extra year.  Even a success causes the party to be stuck there for an extra hour.
  26. Stunted buildings.  5' ceilings.  3' doors.
  27. Overgrown buildings.  Doorknobs too high.  Stairs difficult to ascend.
  28. Malformed buildings.  Stone is soft to the touch, streaked with reddish bits of stone that look like veins.  Slouch against each other.
  29. Buildings are ready for war.  Gutters as wide as moats.  Most buildings have drawbridges instead of doors.  All windows are barred.  Murder holes.  Arrow slits.  Spikes.
  30. An intrusion of the sea.  The first story of all the buildings is submerged in ocean water at high tide.  Urchins prickle the walls, and the streets are awash with silt.  Grey, fat-bellied bull sharks.

Roll 1x for each neighborhood.  Some of these are unique, and the city will only have one.
  1. Pit of Justice.  Judicial and honor duels.   Fights are always to first blood (and death).
  2. Ecstasy Den.  Alchemically infused prostitutes deliver ecstatic drugs through their own body fluids.
  3. House of Blacktongue.  It spirals up like a rose, and sinuous curves of wood support the supple flesh of the stone like spreading veins.  A woman inside a house inside a courtyard inside a house inside a courtyard inside a wall.
  4. Mercenary Barracks.  Long and low and smelling of sulphur.
  5. Garden.  False trees.  False flowers.  Stone benches.  The sound of water, but no sight of it.
  6. Marketplace.  A network of narrow canyons through smooth-walled buildings.  Merchants loom in shadowed alcoves, selling snakes, spices, and chargale swords.  The density of corners means that they all appear suddenly.
  7. Harbor.  Whalebones and alehouses.  Lantern-oil sellers, demonstrating the quality of their wares, spilling fire.  Bone harpoons.
  8. Flesh market.  High quality slaves sit unattended atop pedestals, shouting out their prices and extolling the quality of their breeding.  Lower quality slaves do the same thing from cells embedded beneath the road, peering up through the slats at you, stating their worth, sounding doubtful.
  9. Military Command.  Real soldiers, sober and attentive.  A grey-walled building, stained as if from a millennium of rain.  Trained walruses, eager for a chance to test the strength of their ropes.
  10. Cult House.  The sign of the tusk painted on every wall.  The smell of ash and vitriol.  The yellow-robed clergy of Zala Vacha.  Sounds of bloodless sacrifice.
the sign of the tusk

Then a wizard named Oshregaal came to the Invincible City and precipitated the rise of the Tusk Clan.  They are led by Angra and Gaskin Blacktongue, and their depredations will probably have to wait for a separate post.

1 comment:

  1. This is incredible.

    Thought you might like this street in Austria.

    My mental image of those early days of the city springing up has the Game of Thrones theme stuck in my head.