Monday, August 8, 2016

Guilder, the City of Green Brass

antikythera mechanism
Out-of-work harpooners, clad in whale leather and shivering from sea-curses.  Salvage divers selling more warped brass machinery, pulled up from the Brass Coast. Inventors looking for volunteers to test their latest diving machine.  Anchovy sandwiches.  This is Guilder.

You'll find a few frustrated biologists, too, huddled over anatomical charts and cladograms.  They are trying to classify the whales.  It is a foolish task; all whales are unique.  (And all lantern oil is made from them.)

Although the harbor is a rotting nest of wood, brass, and barnacles, a great deal of money and patronage flows through it.  Whaling supplies so many of the things that the nobility desire.   Corsetmakers have a small but powerful guildhall where they attempt to secure contracts for high-quality whalebone.  There is a fortune in whalebone.  Men have been killed for a handful of piano keys.

Raggedy perfumers scheming away in odorous basements, attempting to invent a scent that will make them rich.  A corpse cooling in an alleyway, ambergris still sticky on her fingers.  Corset-makers looking to secure a supply of high-quality whalebone. 

The Sharkery makes sure that all of the whale parts are accounted for (as whale parts are always in high demand among necromancers).  They also ensure that the city's fleet of feral sharks remains numerous and well-fed.  Sharks are their first defense against those despoilers of the seaways: merfolk.

You'll see many shark fins out in the harbor, and see many shark tattoos on the sailors.  (Sharks are our wild-hearted allies, in sharp contrast to the doglike cruelty of dolphins and their merfolk masters.)

The prison floats outside the harbor.  During low tide, the prisoners can stick their heads up through the bars and take a few gulps of air.  Between the crests of waves, you can see their slick heads bobbing like seals.  During high tide, they survive with the help of bamboo snorkels (that must be purchased by their family members on their behalf).

The Tyranny of the Blind

There are no rocks, but there is a lighthouse.  

The lighthouse is not a guide, but a warning.  It is rumored that the fires of the lighthouse drive away Oolok, the Long-necked Seal.  This may be a lie used to maintain the lighthouse's privileged status.

The lighthouse is the oldest and the tallest building in Guilder.  It is made from the same brass that litters the floor of the harbor (and indeed the entire continental shelf).  The walls of the lighthouse are not vertical, but instead stacked like a steep ziggurat.  And it is is not just the lantern at the top the rotates--each floor rotates slightly faster than the floor beneath it.  You can tell what time of day it is by the facings of the exterior walls.

The lighthouse is run by the blind.  The Lighthouse Keeper is the de facto ruler of the city.  (The "king" of Guilder is kept imprisoned in the lighthouse.  When the king dies, the Lighthouse Keeper elects a new king and imprisons him in the lighthouse as well.  This is because of several old laws that once made sense.)

They have given up their sight in service of their lighthouse, and in the service of their philosophy.  They believe that light obscures more than it reveals.  For example, sight gives you misleading impressions about a person, depending on whether or not they are especially attractive or ugly.  The blind have no such weakness.

You can join them if you wish.  All it requires is for you to put your bloody eyeballs in the hands of one of their proselytizers.  You will be inducted into their ranks and given the opportunity to purchase some scrimshaw spheres to fill your empty sockets.  

Their most powerful members are blind, but are locally omniscient.  They do not have supernatural senses, and navigate the world with walking canes, or (much less commonly) with sorcery.  They employ dogs as their guides.  (Or cockatrices, when the lighthouse is under attack.)

The lighthouse does not burn anything.  Light is routed from the basement up into the prism at the top.

The basement of the lighthouse is full of light.  It becomes brighter as you go deeper down.  After a few levels it is bright enough to blind you through your eyelids.  Further down, it is bright enough that you will burn to death before you reach the next level.  (It is speculated that the blind navigate it through the use of a garment made from mirrors, or perhaps reflective mithril silks.)

There are other lenses for the lighthouse.  The smoky lens does not shed light, but instead mutes it.  When the smoky lens is inserted, all light within line of sight is muted, and the entire city is plunged into darkness.  Visible light is only possible inside well-shaded buildings, with the curtains drawn and a lantern lit. 

"long-necked seal"


  1. Great stuff Arnold, glad to see you are back.

  2. Great to read your stuff as ever. I love the imagery of this post.

  3. "The basement of the lighthouse is full of light. ...reflective mithril silks."

    I love this. The idea of a dungeon-structure with an intrinsic mystery and unique environmental dangers that increase (and demand increasingly advanced play to avoid) as one gets lower really make me want to run that sort of environment. I like that there are possible countermeasures built into the world, with the understanding that depending on the circumstances, they may suddenly not be sufficient and PCs will still have to scramble to survive, a la The Martian.

  4. Blinded through the eyelids. Great setting! It evoked some of the best parts of Sunless Sea.

  5. Inspiring! Setting reminded me some the best parts of Sunless Sea.

  6. Is very good. I love whales. cf.