Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The City's Shadows Alphabet: F-J

F is for Festivals

The streets of the city are crowded and vibrant on even the slowest of winter days, but when the seasons turn or the stars align in their proper places, the city erupts in cacophonous celebrations. Revelers, penitents, pilgrims, and merchants arrive to participate in the annual festivals that occur within the city walls. For the duration of these festivals, the city becomes unrecognizable from its day-to-day fa├žade and even lifelong residents are reminded of the city’s many visages.

The nature of these festivals is as diverse as the city’s population. Some are somber events held in memoriam of ancient deaths or turbulent battles. Others are jovial bacchanalias where masked revelers take to the streets accompanied by food, drink, and laughter. Some festivals are stranger still and are held to appease odd gods or weird powers that require bizarre rites to incur their favors. Regardless of purpose, festivals are a time when even the most downtrodden residents of the city can forget their troubles in something larger than their daily lives and a time when the shadowy world of the city can grow fat off the riches, tithes, and tributes these occasions bring. Adventurers are bound to find Excitement during the festivals but not always to their benefit.

G is for the Guilds

While the Lord Mayor and his council may rule from the halls of power and hold dominance over the whole of the city, their edicts are often distant concerns for those in dwell in the shadows. Down here it is the various guilds that impact the daily lives of the Lower Class more than any well-dressed city official. It is far better to break the laws of the Lord than it is to run afoul of the guilds.

The guilds, both legal and otherwise, are the power blocs of the shadows. With numerous members banded together by Obscure rites and a shared common purpose, the guilds dictate policy between themselves and over the residents alike. Sadly for the common folk, these policies are usually in the best interests of the guilds, taking little account of the betterment of the people. The guilds guard their trades zealously and any new arrival or independent operator is bound to come into conflict with the guilds’ long established rules and regulations. The only options for these newcomers is to either join with the guilds, usually at great personal cost in both money and obligations, or to tread carefully in hopes of avoiding notice. Should such attempts fail, however, it won’t be long before the guilds come down on them like a smithy’s hammer. If the transgressor is lucky, they will only have to deal with their profession’s guild instead of the Assassin’s Brotherhood.

H is for Hedge Wizards

Magic, like any commodity, is controlled by the rich and the powerful. While noblemen might have access to the skills and talents of arch mages and high sorcerers, those who live amongst the city’s shadows have a much shallower pool from which to draw from. The practitioners of magic who live in the city’s underworld are no mighty wizards dwelling in high towers. Instead, they are men and women who possess the merest skill in the magical arts and reside in rundown shanties in the Alleyways of the city.

Such hedge wizards make their living by dispensing cantrips, ointments, and philters – all of varying potency and power. Often they make just enough from these services to keep them in enough wine or drugs to kill the despair they feel at the loss of their dreams of being shapers of worlds. Unforeseen events and poor decisions have stripped those dreams away from them, forcing them to eke out a meager existence down here in the shadows. Occasionally, one might discover a hedge wizard or witch who has chosen this life in order to hide their powers from those who seek their destruction but such individuals are rare. If discovered, it is only usually because they seek some service from transient adventurers who wouldn’t be missed if that service goes awry. Adventurers must weigh the benefits of such employment against the possible consequences of displeasing a powerful and secretive wizard.

I is for Inns

The adventurers’ home away from home or, for some, the only home they will ever know, inns become as familiar to those in the shadows as the Knives they carry. Like those selfsame knives, the inns in the city’s shadows are just as well worn. Down here, one does not find much in the way of amenities at the inn. A flea-ridden bed and coarse blanket in the common room, accompanied by the snores of drunks and the well-practiced false moans of prostitutes is the best most have to offer. If the adventurers are lucky, they might have enough coin to rent a private room for the night, meaning only that the entire party must squeeze a drafty, roach nest of a room instead of keeping careful watch on their belonging until dawn. Some inns offer what passes as an opulent chamber in the shadows for an evening’s repose. The price is steep but the lodger is guaranteed privacy – until the innkeeper slips into the room via a secret passage to slit his guest’s throat in the night and steal his possessions.

Despite the limited luxuries of the inns, they still remain common meeting places for itinerant adventurers and mercenaries. More than one fortune hunt has begun in the tap rooms and dining halls of inn with such names as “The Torch & the Rat,” “My Sin Inn,” “Rest N’ Pieces,” and “The Wayfarer’s Last Chance Inn.” Such quests are usually spawned by winning a map in a game of chance, the last utterances of a gut-stabbed brawler, or drunken boasts, however. Mysterious, cloak-clad, old men are usually blackjacked and rolled for their money pouches before they can saunter up to unemployed adventurers to send them on quests. Such is life in the city’s poorest inns.

J is for Judgment

Life in the shadows often requires the residents to bend, if not break, the laws of the realm if only just to survive another day. A stolen loaf of bread or the rolling of a nobleman’s drunken son is often all that stands between the Lower Classes and the Reaper. Although such actions are commonplace, this regularity does nothing to mitigate the consequences if one is caught in the act. For those unlucky souls, the hangmen and the axe both await with insatiable hunger.

Some high-minded or kindly-hearted souls speak of the merits of justice in ensuring a civilized city and protecting the lives and liberties of all its inhabitants. Those who live in the shadows mock such lofty ideals for they know nothing of justice - only judgment. Without the money or influence to buy "justice," they know that if they are ever apprehended by the Watch their fates are predetermined. After all, what’s the loss of another impoverished soul compared to the preferred ordered and carefree world of the wealthy? The desperate are not cowed into submission by the threat of death, for it shadows their daily lives at all times. It is better to risk the noose and feed a hungry belly than it is to adhere to empty ideals while starving to death. They know that one day the rich and powerful will face judgment at the hands of a higher power and then it will be their turn to scream when they learn there is no justice. That is if they don’t meet judgment at the hands of the mob once the citizens of the shadows have finally had enough and rise up against their oppressors. Certain secret bands work tirelessly to ensure that day comes sooner than later. When it does, the axe will swing often and the nooses shall be legion.



Mike D. said...

This is great stuff, I hope you publish this in a zine or put it out as a pdf when you are done.

Anonymous said...

I agree with mike d.
It would make a great little pocket book with illustrations to use as kindling for dms.

Kevin Mac said...

Ah, FESTIVALS. Use them so much in my games. I usually have new campaigns begin around a major holiday so that there will be festivals and faires around. Having worked So Cal Ren Faires for around 20 years, I was able to incorporate a lot of my experiences there into full and immersive festivals, in the big city and the little towns.

GUILDS. Oh man, I have had at least three long, major campiagns set in thieves guilds. You never see as much comraderie in a party of adventures as you see in them when they are in a guild together. Like family.

INNS - the DM's bread and butter, especially in the early days. It's where you saw the wizard posting an annoucement looking for brave adventure types. And the bar fights! 9 times out of 10 if I have the PC's at an inn, there is going to be some fisticuffs!

HEDGE WIZARDS - I don't know why, but I immediatly thought of Dan Ackroyd's character Ray from Ghostbusters when I read the description. "give my best to the coven" as he hands out the spell books and cantrips to a warlock.

>well-practiced false moans of prostitutes<

And my last girlfriend.

Michael Curtis said...

Sorry for the delay in replying to everyone's comments. It's been a pretty crazy last two days as you're all no doubt aware.

I won't rule out a contribution to a zine or perhaps a .pdf version completely but at the moment I've got way too many irons in the fire to contemplate doing so. We'll see what the future has in store when it gets here.

Michael Curtis said...

@Brunomac: I really like throwing festivals and street fairs into my games. Sometimes they'll be like Carnivale and other times like the Day of the Dead - but with more undead.

Inn are of course bog standard fantasy but one that I like turning on its ear whenever I can.

Hedge Wizards are love simply because I have a feeling that if I lived in a fantasy world and possessed mystical powers, I'd probably be the guy living in the run down shack at the edge of town and blasting boll wevils with my mighty magics rather then get my ass eaten by some monster or killed in a spell duel. Though not very powerful, hedge wizards have a much higher survival rate.