And if you are going to have a post-apocalyptic world, the most defining feature should be the ruins of cities. Ideally, the ruins should outnumber the living cities. The clouded brows of dead cities should loom over the tallest spires of the living cities, and the glories of lost civilizations should outstrip anything the present has to offer.
So here's a dead city.
|This looks nothing at all like Tabernach, but the mood is right.|
by Stefan Celic
A city of cubic buildings, built from black basalt at the bottom of a steep valley. A river runs through it, filled with fat fish. There are gates and gardens. There is a park, where a parade of stone animals still stands in revelry, roaring over the silent boulevards. Dire otters sun themselves on the stones of sunken docks.
They have tried to make the city habitable, those certain people. You can see where they've stretched poles across the street, and canvas hung between them. It was done in order to turn the roads into tunnels. But now the poles are broken and the canvas all slashed. The tatters blow through the streets like bandages.
The Largest Building
It was clearly an observatory. The rusted remains of a telescope are still visible, peering out the apex of the tower like a scared bird. This landmark is well-noted, and people have journeyed to Tabernach in order to loot the great lens (precision optics are always among the greatest treasures of the age that mints them).
But the wooden stairs of the building have all rotted out, and those that have made the perilous climb to the top report that the glass is too heavy to easily lower. And so the great lens remains there, an unplucked fruit.
A Central Building
There are still a few footpaths in Tabernach. Many of them convene here, at this small prison. The few dozen people who live here often choose to sleep in the prison, because they can lock more doors. They feel safer in there, father from the outside.
The people who live here are criminals, runaways, and exiles. Smugglers and travelers sometimes pass through. Tabernach is a good place to disappear into.
Mousehead deals with the smugglers, mostly. He and his family ensures that their goods remain undisturbed and their exiles remain unnamed. He is a large man with a soft beard. He always struggles to maintain eye contact, and so many who meet him do not suspect that he is capable of prodigious violence.
Mousehead is satisfied with the status quo, and anyone attempting to change the city in any significant way (such as excavating the temple) will meet lethal resistance from him. He will also expect a cut if the lens is ever successfully removed.
Fiddleback deals with the spiritual needs of the exiles, when he is sober. He knows more of the history of Tabernach than anyone else. Like everyone else, he has his theories about what is wrong with the sun. Unlike anyone else, however, he is correct.
Fiddleback would never admit it, except to a trusted friend, but he is writing a book about the shape of the sun in Tabernach. He has been studying shadows and pinhole camera projections, which he believes to be safe. (He is mostly correct.) His has a folio full of drawings which can be used to piece together the shape of the sun, something that he has been hesitant to do (and rightly so). With total knowledge comes total insanity.
Still, Fiddleback knows enough that the truth of the city's demise could be discovered in a library (one of the mansions holds a sufficient library) and the curse dispelled.
A Small Building
A shack near the docks contains a spread cowhide and a trio of sodden barrels, sprouting mushrooms. The barrels were once filled with a small fortune (2000s) of pepper. Now, the rot is so bad that only a small amount (100s) can be salvaged by a patient hand.
Another Small Building
A two-story house, the perimeter secured by strings and trip-wires. It's filled with shoes, many still containing a foot. The owner is Chapparung the Shoe-Thief. He'll be back soon. HD 3, unarmored, Axe 2d6.
The paint has faded and at least one steeple has toppled, but it is still the most highly stylized building in the city. It's composed of an outer building, a courtyard, and a small inner building.
The outer building holds a dozen small shrines and a central chamber of worship, all of which have been looted and defaced long ago. The buildings only inhabitant is Gogo, a lonely who man who was unfairly driven from the prison because of his obsession with his own feces. He's lived here peacefully for years, but has never ventured into the inner building, since he suffers terrible nightmares whenever he does so.
The inner building is a small sanctum. There is a small pedestal where a larger statue once stood, but aside from that, the room is empty. The only other thing to note is that the floor is made with pale tiles of rhyolite--an oddity in a city where absolutely every other stone is black basalt.
If the tiles are pried up, the ground beneath them discovered to be made from human bones, broken and mixed together.
If these bones are are removed (a process that takes about 10 hours of labor), a staircase is revealed, leading down into the basement level. Every cubic centimeter of space is in the staircase and basement is filled with broken bones, from floor to ceiling. Before even a mouse can explore the lower levels, the bones must be removed.
The process of clearing the bones takes about 1000 hours of labor. The bones belonged to approximately 160,000 people. The bones all appear to be of equal age, and all demographics are represented among them.
The sun does not shine down on Tabernach. Although the light is the same shade and intensity as the sun's light, it is something else entirely in the sky.
People who go down into the valley of Tabernach do so at night, and they do so quickly.
Those who see the sun (through a peephole, mirror, or even a pinhole camera) go insane. Their first actions are usually to open all the windows, destroy any awnings, and encourage their friends to look at the sun as well.
Those who are seen by the sun suffer a worse fate. They are snatched up, screaming into the sky as if by a giant hand. Their remains are usually returned to the same area, usually within a few hours, and dismembered usually at the joints. There is a great deal of variety in this process, though.
And there is one last oddity: all of the shadows in Tabernach are twinned, as if there were two light sources instead of one. (The eyes of Satan, some say.)
Another common story is that there is an invisible giant prowling the city.
Another story, the one told by Mousehead, is that there is another sun behind the first. And behind that second sun is another world--another planet, called the Opponent. (This is known as the Heliocentric Heresy, since it is known that the sun orbits the earth, not the other way around.)
But if there is such a thing as the Opponent, it would explain where the crawling men come from.
The Crawling Men
They exist only in rumor, and the rumor is this:
the crawling men are knights (or perhaps large beetles) with large, round heads. They have long arms that allow them to move swiftly on all fours. Their heads sag, either from the weight of their own skulls or because they are always searching the ground for scents.
The crawling men are accused of killing dogs, stealing weapons, poisoning food, and removing shade. No crawling man has ever been killed, or any piece of their armor been recovered.
They may not exist. In fact, they probably don't. But if they did, they would have the following stats.
HD 2 Def plate Rusted Sword 1d8
Move dwarf Int 8 Mor 5
Bloodseeker - Crawling Men always know who has the least HP, and attack that target preferentially.
Skittish - As soon as someone is killed (either a PC or a crawling man), the crawling men will attempt to grab the person and flee. This is the only time they will ever fly (as a giant beetle). They will fly about 200' away to a place of relative safety, slit the person's belly open, and lap up their blood with their long tongues (which fit perfectly through the round mouthparts of their armor). This process takes about 10 minutes, after which they will return to fight again.
A platter of fresh blood is irresistible to them.