Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The City's Shadows Alphabet: K-O

K is for Knives

Although kingdoms are carved from the wilderness and settled with the help of the sword, once the walls of the city have been erected it becomes time for another weapon. The knife takes the place of the sword as the need for utility replaces that of brutality, with one being worn on the belts of tradesmen, fishermen, and farmers alike. But in the shadows, the knife is often put to more violent use.

Unlike the sword or axe, both of which attract attention, the knife can be concealed easily on the body. Stashed in boot-tops, at the nape of the neck, inside boot soles, concealed in belt buckles, or strapped to the forearm, the knife provides security without alerting your opponents to your advantage. Usable both in close quarters and thrown from a distance, it is no surprise that the knife is the most versatile and common weapon to be employed in the city’s shadows. Even the smallest blade, once coated with a liberal application of venom, becomes a lethal weapon in the hands of the smallest opponent. Adventurers used to the clash of long blades in the dungeon corridors are often surprised when the most benign looking resident of the city suddenly flashes steel in hand and plunges it into an unsuspecting back before slipping into an Alleyway, purloined purse in hand.

L is for the Lower Class

Although the city has its share of noblemen, wealthy merchants, and rich clergymen, such individuals are seldom encountered down in the shadows. Other then the occasional slumming nobleman’s son or a merchant lord of Guild business, the majority of the seedy side of town’s residents are members of the lower, if not lowest, class. Unwashed, illiterate, and often loutish, they eke out a meager existence half a step ahead of Death.

Due to modern assumptions about the lower class, most players might believe that this social niche is composed solely of the impoverished. This is not always the case. It is quite possible for members of the lower class to be cash rich while remaining status poor. In addition to the poor, the lower class consists of professional actors and performers, gladiators and pit fighters, tradesmen who practice professions deemed unclean by cultural or religious mores (tanners and butchers might fall into this category), apprentice and journeymen Guild members, prophets, sages, and grave diggers, as well as transient adventurers such as the party members themselves. It is not always money that separates the classes and even if a resident has enough money to buy his way into polite society, he may never escape the stigma of his profession.

M is for Money

Whether it takes the form of brass bits, copper benders, gold marks, gleaming gems, rare goods, or a less seemly form, money is the lifeblood of the city. Down in the shadows, money becomes even more talismanic than it is elsewhere, if solely for the reason that it is so rarely found here. Murders are committed over sums that nobles wouldn’t deem to bend down to retrieve. To display currency or wealth in a vulgar manner down here is to invite a swift and brutal death.

Adventurers visiting the big city with a plethora of coins may have become used to the fawning servitude that such wealth usually engenders in the villages, towns, and hamlets outside the city walls. They may even have this impression of the residents of the shadows at first. Time will quickly dispel any such notions when they discover that honor and loyalty is indeed for sale down here and the cost of such is very, very cheap. A silver guilder tossed to stable hand to ensure good treatment of a horse comes back to haunt them once the stable hand has sold this fact, along with a crude map of which room the adventurers are staying in, to the Thieves Guild for three silver coins.

N is for the Night Market

You can buy whatever your heart desires in the city, provided you have two things: the money and the knowledge of where to find a seller. For many adventurers, flush with coin pried from the dungeon depths, the first is not a problem. It is finding a seller that complicates matters, especially if their heart’s desire is something rare or illegal. By asking the right questions and parting with some of that coin, however, they can learn the location of the city’s night market.

Called by other names such as the “black market,” “the thieves’ market,” or in cases where magic is the prime commodity, “the witches’ market,” the night market can be either metaphorical or literal. In some cities, the night market earns its nomenclature due to the hidden locations and secretive measures practiced by its merchants. In yet other cities, the night market is a true nocturnal phenomenon. As night falls, stalls and vendors suddenly appear in formerly deserted plazas and squares, springing up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Dim illumination provided by small oil lamps, jars of fireflies and glow worms, mystic incantations, or magical glow rods turn these plazas into deadly fairylands of commerce. In this gloom, illicit goods and services are hawked, money passes from deft hand to deft hand, and the entire market vanishes at dawn or at first sign of a Watch patrol. Although there are measures of caveat emptor in any business deal in the city, it is especially true when dealing with the night market.

O is for Obscurement

The underbelly of the city is not referred to as the city’s shadow world without reason. While the broad marketplaces and wide avenues of the city rarely lack illumination, even in the dead of night, the back streets and narrow Alleyways of the city are seldom so clearly visible. Leaning buildings throw shadowy gloom over narrow streets even at HighMarch and the thick grey fogs that flow off the Docks limit visibility to a mere hand span’s distance. Once the night has fallen, darkness fills the streets of the city’s under belly as many of the street lights and lanterns have been stolen or are arranged to go dark to abet some clandestine crime.

Visibility to the eye is not the only obscurement that takes place in the shadows though. This concealment also applies to the plans, plots, and the identities of its denizens. Anonymity is the key to both survival and success down on the mean streets. Every plot or Vendetta is obfuscated by double blinds, lies, and half-truths. Disguises are worn to conceal the identities of criminals or to throw the Watch off their trail. Even simple tavern tales have grown tall with the telling or have been made more elaborate with blatant lies to enhance the prestige of the teller. If these lies cause the deaths of those foolish enough to believe everything they hear, it’s of little consequence to the liar. He’ll always find another ear to tell his stories to in exchange for a purchased tankard of ale.


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