Monday, February 16, 2015

Lapidir, the City of Secret Fire

The Mechanism of Lapidir

The city is built on top of machinery.  What sort of machinery?  No one knows.  It's a flat wheel in the ground, about half a mile across, made from green-tarnished copper.  There are access panels.  You can go into the machine if you want, disappearing amid a cloud of green-grey rust dust.

The center of the city is the center of the mechanism, and this is the Wheelhouse, a castle.  In the castle is the Console, which controls the city.  It flushes the sewers, and controls the venting of gases in the winter.  It is said that there is only a rudimentary understanding of these controls, and that the king himself only dares to push a tiny fraction of the buttons on the console, whose effects are already well known.  

It is also rumored that the console continually counts down, and must be reset every 11 hours.  It is unclear what will happen if it is allowed to reach zero.  

Other rumors state that the city is a weapon.  Or, more popularly, a bomb that will kill the planet.  (This is sometimes used to explain the arrogance of Lapidisians.)

Things that the Mechanism is known to do:
  1. Sewers.
  2. Temperature Control keeps it mild in winter and cool in summer.
  3. Aquifer Pumps provide huge amounts of fresh water to an otherwise dry environment.
  4. Infectious Diseases don't seem to be infectious within the city's boundaries.  Anyone who soaks in one of the city's fountains gets a new save (but only one) against an ongoing disease to cure it.
The city of Lapidir has no walls.  This is because the city can elevate itself, like a screw unscrewing itself out of the ground.  The city lifts itself like a cylindrical plateau, it's flat-sized spiral lifting itself up to 100' in the air, exposing the esoteric strata of an abandoned machine.  This is a slow process that the King of Lapidir only invokes in dire times, since this measure is always accompanied by small disasters.  There will be d4-1 disasters, each described by a d6.

1 - City tilts.  Water pours out of fountains, cows go tumbling down the streets.
2 - Steam.  Unprotected persons in the streets burn for 1d6 dmg/minute.  Lasts 1d20 minutes.
3 - Fire-maddened Civil Serpents.  1d8 of them boil up through the copper cobbles.
4 - Collapsed building + fire outbreak.  1d6-2 people need saving.
5 - Misfire.  Pillar of fire shoots out of one of the sewer sinuses, flies off like a small comet, and does 3d6 fire damage to everything in a random area within 50 miles (100' wide killzone).
6 - Mass Possession.  1d20 people in an area become possessed by ancient ghosts for 1d20 hours.  They will work tirelessly to build some strange device (50%) or engage in strange performances of ancient aristocracy, such as doing strange waltzes in the streets (50%).  They speak dead languages and are hostile (but not immediately aggressive) towards interlopers.  They do not know that they are dead.

Steam Tunnels

The interior of the city is riddled with tunnels and mechanisms.  They are used by thieves and refugees.  Many of these are filled with hot air.

The city lives in fear of copper thieves.  Once, the city worked beautifully, and the mechanisms whirred smoothly, and all was good.

But when a series of unfortunate coincidences caused the collapse of civil order and mass looting, numerous pieces of copper machinery were been stolen from the Mechanism of Lapidir.  The trend has only continued, and every day the city functions more poorly than before.  It is breaking.

The city owes a great deal to Grand Comptroller Uzira Delomangus, because it was she who first began breeding the civil serpents.  Each of these great snakes is attuned to the city, and can smell copper theft from a hundred paces.  They patrol the steam tunnels of Lapidir, and their golden eyes can discern copper thieves from innocents with uncanny accuracy.

Others claim that such a claim is utter nonsense, and that the serpents merely roam the steam tunnels and eat everyone they come across.

Either way, visitors to the city are fond of the bridge the runs over the Serpentine Aquaduct.  They like to watch the snakes entering and exiting the Civil Services Building at the ends of their shifts.

The steam tunnels are cramped, hot, and shift occasionally.  This makes current maps obsolete and sometimes crushes the less agile engineers.

The deeper one goes in the steam tunnels, the hotter it gets.

Level 1 - no heat damage.
Level 2 - 1 dmg per hour.
Level 3 - 1d4 dmg per 30 mins.
Level 4 - 1d6 dmg per 10 mins.

Overheating damage cannot be healed until you go to a cool place and rest for at least an hour, preferably while drinking something with ice cubes in it.

Civil Serpent Generator

AC (d4)
1 - skin (AC 11)
2 - scales (AC 12)
3 - coppery scales (AC 14)
4 - leaden scales (AC 16, speed halved)

HD (d6)
Ranges from HD 1 to HD 6.

Head (d8)
1 - Snakey
2 - Leonine
3 - Horse
4 - Eyeless snake
5 - Tubular snout snake (spits acid, 1d6 for 2 turns)
6 - Snake skull (counts as undead)
7 - Snake tongued (on a bite, tongue also bites for 1 dmg + poison (1d12 poison dmg, save for half))
8 - Ouroboros

Feature (d10)
1-5 None
6 - Travels by rolling self up into a wheel.  (2x movement speed)
7 - Super long with anchor tail.  On a hit, Str contest (Str 15) to drag prey away.
8 - Flying.
9 - Intelligent and vocal.  Knows 1 level 1 Magic-User spell.  Probably sleep.
10 - Poisonous.  Save or have a seizure for 1d6 rounds, taking 1 damage each round.

Number Appearing (d12)
Roll a d12 and divide by the snake's HD.  Minimum 1.

Civil Engineers and Discourteous Engineers

There is a quiet war being fought beneath the city.

Thieves will steal essential parts of the Mechanism and sell them to the salt-trains coming out of Truaga.

The city's own Civil Engineers (job requirements: bachelor's degree in engineering, a fondness for snakes, Con 9+) work to undue this insidious erosion of their beloved city.  They index all the parts of the Mechanism, and when one goes missing, they forge a new one to replace it.

This is difficult, because the "rooms" inside the mechanism move around sometimes, and the original parts are of excellent quality, and because they sometimes get eaten by serpents.

The Civil Engineers are directly opposed by the Discourteous Engineers (job requirements: bachelor's degree in engineering, a hatred of snakes, Con 9+), who work to oppose them at every turn.  They are members of the old Fire Cults, or at least sympathizers.

Fire Cults

The Church of Centerra primarily displaced the old Fire Cults.  (This is a misleading name, because not all of their gods were fire gods--just most--and there were as civilized and formal as the Church that replaced them.)  The fire temples have all been shipped to the Holy City of Coramont (where they have been piled together to form the Holy Mountain) and the fire gods have been bastardized, franchized, and married off the sundry undergods of the Church.  

(The Church doesn't destroy religions, it assimilates.  Centerrans believe that gods literally live in their temples, so by kidnapping the temples, they have kidnapped their gods, and now the Church writes their mythology.  See also: god prisons.)

Because the Mechanism of Lapidir is associated with fire, some of the fire cults believe that one of their gods is imprisoned within the city.  Specifically, Lagganoth Who-Remembers-Volcanoes.

City Culture

But most of the stuff in the article isn't immediately useful.  It's not what PCs will notice when they enter the city of Lapidir.  Things they will notice.

- It's not steampunk.  It's not industrial.  Don't let the smokestacks (steamstacks) fool you.  It's more like a family of mice living inside a tractor engine.

- The pillars of steam above the Wheelhouse.  They go up and up and do not become diffuse.  They look like columns of chalk stretching unsteadily into space.

- The Festival of Pretzels.  Especially notable are the pretzel swords, with which dueling is common.  Winner gets to eat the loser's sword. 

- Their mint their own coins, which resemble loops or rings.  These are carried on strings, and a string of pennies is an especially common weapon in a street fight.

- An abundance of green and copper-colored clothing. 

- It is illegal to go barefoot, except for prostitutes and bakers, who must go barefoot at all times.

- Everyone eats mints, like, all the fucking time.

- The actor-beggars.  Each beggar has a professional persona that they assume during the day.  One will claim to be Mismerelda, Queen of Lost Lykorum, and another will be Turamooth, her assassin, who is destined to kill her (and will "kill" her, every day, around 2pm in the marketplace).


  1. Nicely wrought and wonderfully evocative

    I want to make one like this but half as good and I will be satis bene

  2. Presumably an Ouroboros Civil Serpent doesn't bite and just rolls over you, like a Buer.

  3. Is this city named using the Hebrew words for Torch + City?

  4. This is a super interesting bit of world-building!

  5. The night came, and the bus moved slowly, and its lights were lighting up the dark, dull and desert road. At the optional station in Lapidir, in the middle of the agricultural road, I glimpsed from a distance, in the light of the lantern, a man who pointed his hand to the driver. Martio slowed the bus, then stopped and opened the doors. And the man went. And he swore that he had already set his foot on the bus ladder, when he changed his mind, and suddenly changed it, so he turned around and ran away at a pace.