Bashar. It’s a city of splendors! A glowing beacon amidst sloshing sea and dead desert. Beyond it? A wasteland riddled with pillaged tombs, booby traps and a rare village or two. Those who do make the voyage are treated to a gathering place of delights and fancies. The bazaar attracts and sells some of the finest wares in the world, as well as domestic items beyond words. It is here that new forms of magic have been unveiled as well as incredible forms of technology dubbed “magitech”.
However, life in this metropolitan hub is not what it seems. While a paradise for the discerning buyer or the exotic seller, a sinister shadow is caste upon those who live within the dusty streets and winding alleyways beyond the market. Few care or look out for each other. While backstabbing is rarely literal, there isn’t much trust between neighbors. Help is looked upon with a sense of dishonor and ascension up the social ladder is rife with self-sacrifice or betrayal.
Your ship is closing in fast to the docks ahead. Greetings traveler, welcome to the Bazaars of Bashar!
Author’s Note: I’m back at trying my hand at world building once more! And like always, I bend things away from typical pseudo-euro high fantasy and towards other genres and ideas. I’ve always been fascinated with massive urban hubs, even in fantasy fiction. One of the earlier cases of this was the setting of many Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, which provided a level of inspiration. Beyond Lankhmar, Planescape’s Sigil, Conan the Barbarian, Arabian Nights and Magic the Gather’s Ravnica have proved to be fair resources for ideas. Anyway, this is what I have so far! Enjoy!
City of Bashar – The Quirky Market Puppet-State
Population: 10,000 (60% Humans, 11% Dwarves, 9% Gnomes, 9% Ratmen, 6% Halflings, 5% Others)
Ruler: The Trade Division (In reality, a Shadow Government run by Alzaum)
Politics: Market Liberalism, Oligarchy, Shadow-Rule
Technology Level Equivalent: Estimated equal to roughly 19th – early 20th century Earth in some developments, otherwise mostly mid-late 15th century Earth.
Military: paramilitary, militia and private security; roughly 1,200 people
Religion: Reverence to pro-trade oriented churches, as well as some underground cults revolving around revolution or corruption
Currency: Commemorative Desert Flower Coin (worth 5 Gold Each), accepts standard gold, silver and other metals.
Many consider the city to be quite artificial, held together by “miracle market glue”. Beyond suspicions when entering the city, very few know the whole truth in regards to the city. Many suspect ties to criminal syndicates or other underground clientele.
Many forces of Alza’um proper study those who come into the strange city-state. Those who prove themselves in the eyes of the mysterious watchers are given chances to see how closely they align with the hidden territory itself. Those who prove themselves are given the privilege of discovering the way through various secret underground tunnels, magical wards and portals that lead into Alza’um.
The areas surrounding the city are riddled with all manners of traps. Makeshift sandstorms, wandering monsters/constructs, fake cities filled with death traps and more line the wastelands beyond Bashar. Foolish adventurers who survive their ordeal often come back empty-handed and sorely disappointed. Officials say that this is a means of deterring bandits. Those who dig deeper discover a cover-up excuse, to funnel clients into the ports rather than travel through the desert. Of course, that’s not the real reason.
In all truth, city itself is entirely a facade, much like the traps in the desert. From the beginning, this city is a means of helping to finance Alza’um itself. That doesn’t mean direct contact occurs often, despite the city above existing as a mere puppet state for Alza’um’s influence. Many domestic vendors are just agents for the city below, masquerading under a culture that they proclaim is ancient, when in reality was fabricated to act as the body for Alza’um’s spirit. The closest things to actual culture were just remains of beliefs and identity held by tribes that Alza’um assimilated into the emerging city. Much of the culture and feel was appropriated to create an exotic locale.
Wards of the City:
- The Grand Bazaar: Here is the cornerstone of the city’s commerce and trade. Sprawling streets line the bazaar, crammed with stalls and tents, merchants hocking wares to anyone with a discerning eye and curious ear. All sorts of oddities crafted “within the walls of the city” are showcased to particularly fascinated and wealthy patrons. However, other oddities are available for those not interested in tacky devices and surreal contraptions. Fine food and drink, clothing styles and the arts await. Not to mention, exotic creations fill the market all the time, due to an influx of travelers from around the world.
- The Halls of Record: The officials/government branch of the area. It is here where taxes, record keeping and other services are handled. The state building towards the end of the promenade holds all variety of meetings over ordinances, hearings and trials. Next to that is the “Halls of Justice”, which contains law enforcement officials as well as the militias that gather there for either assignments or duties. The force patrol has either been regarded as brutal and pedantic or ineffective and incompetent. These opinions are often generated with bias though.
- The Black Market: Usurped by pirates who became content with staying in city limits, this outer stretch of the bazaar quickly descended into a seedy corner of shadowy activity, crime and debauchery. Narcotics, bootleg substances (which have roots in Alzaum), advanced/experimental contraptions and artifacts and then some line this underground. In addition to pirates, many crime families have claimed stakes here. Many illegal services have been sold here too, including on hits. Many will tell you that the Black Market is just “a part of the ghetto”, but they’re just trying to either cover themselves up or keep you from a dismal fate.
- Town Square: Almost always joyous and festive in celebration! This lively district showcases far more arts than the bizarre, for sharing rather than sale. The main feature is a huge fountain with the sculpture of a marid woman on top. This landmark is the dead center of the square. Rumor has it that the decoration was actually a real genie who lost in a fight against a medusa spawn. No matter the truth, the statue radiates a faint but detectable magical energy.
- The Ghetto: Crowded and ramshackle buildings filled with low caste and outsiders. Those who dwell here are regarded very poorly by the rest of the city. And even worse, many people here were travelers that became stranded after running out of money. This resentment causes a lot of bandits and thieves to dwell within the darkest allies, waiting for a fool with easily parted coin to walk by. Petty crime and gang conflict rule the day, where other order fails. This has only gotten worse after attempts to provide service and aid to this ward were shut down by the authorities. However, those who manage to catch a break by speaking to the right people have found themselves able to work their way into a better part of the metropolis… or not find a way to leave outright.
- The Docks: Besides use for transportation and oceanic trade, the docks are most frequently visited by sailors and workers. The dripping of sweat is just as, if not more so, important as a hefty bag of coin. Supply shops and taverns line the front to help ease any burdens and aches of sailors who’ve made a long voyage. In fact, more “pleasureful” inns have opened up to aid sailors and workers in other ways. In addition, this is the place to be for authentic and local style meals.
- The Premiums: The nickname given to the residential area of high-class merchants, nobles and highly regarded celebrity figures. This ward of prestige and privilege holds some of the most magnificent architecture that the city has to offer, lined with abstract shapes and swirling arches and beams creating buildings that range from the artful to the alien.
Locales of Note:
- Marid Fountain: The fountain draws many gawkers and curious onlookers. Few know the tragic tale behind this marvelous looking statue. While many have tried on a dare to “free the genie”, they have failed. In truth, the only way to do so is to track down the medusa spawn who did this, kill her and then use magic to lift the rest of the curse. Strangely enough, the spawn is a resident of the city and periodically visits the statue in macabre mockery of her triumph. She is well disguised and will do anything to keep things that way, to maintain her glamorous lifestyle.
- The Leaky Wizard’s Hat: A particularly surreal attraction. This tavern and inn has a roofing structure build to mimic a pointy magical hat. Painted in a regal blue with motifs of white stars around it, the building is very hard to miss. None the less, that hasn’t stopped it from “ceasing to exist”, as many have commented. Those who frequent the tavern have no idea what this means. In some cases, patrons have reported stumbling out the doorway and into a whole new land. This is usually dismissed as drunken nonsense.
- The Emporium of Incredible Splendor: A showcase and vendor hall of impossibly rare and beautiful goods. The patron is all too eager to get the buyer to purchase as much as possible. In reality, the vendor is an extra-dimensional being that sells transformed worthless junk, coated by illusions that the most insightful eye can barely detect. The creature itself is from a race of beings that exist to starve out their competition through any means necessary. Thoroughly evil, they are enabled by the city’s somewhat loose policies to exploit whoever they can.
- Halls of Justice: A towering and intimidating building of multiple floors. Build from a stark grey stone, the building provides an eerie contrast to the rest of the city. Two bronze doors open up to private offices on one side and murky depths that trail off into dungeons and prison cells on the other. The appointed supreme chief of law often works within the way back of the offices, processing revenue, fines and rent; while researching case matters for the council. None disturb him out of both admiration and fear.
- Morton’s Magnificent Mysteries: A common vendor who shows up in a pitched, eccentric looking tent. The tent, in all actuality, is a portal to a demiplane. Mort’s wares are seemingly endless, in a massive building with endless rows and shelves. The tent is just a disguise to sucker in potential customers. And even stranger, items purchased here have a habit of magically appearing at a desired destination within a day, if the buyer cannot take them with.
- Bashar Community Clinic: An underwhelming facility at the edge of the ghetto. A small group of physicians work within a dingy and grimy facility to the best of their abilities. While they could have opened up their center in a more prestigious location, they wanted to aid the less fortunate denizens. While they’re unable to perform their abilities for free, they figure workable payment plans through the state payments and debt agencies, without extra charges or gradual interest. Minor illness and injury is the usual cause for visit. However, their limited staff and tools make it hard to tackle more serious or urgent issues. And to make matters worse, the number of patients only increase as situations in the ghetto ward continue to be neglected. Members of the Chymists have offered aid, in exchange for a decent pay grade. Desperate for help, the clinic flounders in frantic trouble.
- Shadow Alleyway: A duel between three mad wizards has permanently scarred one alley within the bazaar. Several warning signs attempt to redirect visitors. But, should the visitor have a death wish, they may move into the alley. Upon doing so, they are transported to a warped and shadowy version of the city. Instead of the cheery vendors, horrific entities move in ways that are near impossible. The streets are lined with terrible creatures that crave outsiders for food, rather than filled with gullible customers and foreign treasure seekers. Simply walking backward into the alternate reality alley will bring the victim back to the regular world. Few are sure where that gateway leads or why monsters haven’t came from it.
- The Den of Vice: A gambling hall and brothel at the edge of the ghetto and the bazaar, secretly run by collaborating crime families. Here, one can procure all sorts of contraband (with the aid of the pirates) as well as find finely produced narcotics and other addictive substances. Next to this junkie den is a brothel catering to a variety of desires. Due to a long standing ban within the main part of the city, such occupations have turned to the underground. Most of the prostitutes hate sharing space with a drug den. In the case of both, access warrants knowing someone and getting past the magical wards put in place to keep away prying eyes. Their existence hinges on the very trust they don’t have for outsiders. Undercover agents for the justice force have heard rumors of such a place, especially with the ousting of a criminal syndicate in recent time.
- Alza’um Secret Tunnel: Below the vaults of the council building’s basement lies a secret doorway to a long, dark and cool mineshaft. Barely used, dust and dirt has settled throughout the old shaft. The mine tunnel looks harvested clean, branching into several other barren passages leading into seemingly nowhere. However, with the right series of twists and turns, a large portcullis doorway awaits an intrepid explorer. Beyond there? That’s where the fabled city of legend lies, Alza’um! But, that is a story for another day.
- All trade conducted within the city is fair trade.
- Only give away goods if you can charge a premium to make up for it.
- Show the world that there is much to learn, but learning is never free. Services warrant money, after all.
- Acts of charity only drain you and others in the long run. Do little to spark incentive in the populace and they will stagnate.
- Alignment: Majority Neutral-based, Evil is uncommon, Good is rare.
Power Groups and Influencers:
- The Trader’s Division: The closest proximity to a government that this land has. This informal council of merchant princes, nobility with a claimed stake and sneaky bureaucrats come together to form some sense of order within city limits. Of course, they try to keep their influence from being too noticeable, so guests and residents alike don’t pay too much attention to them.
- Pirate’s Guild: If you can’t beat them, join them. This secret group has made their own claim within the ports and the ghettos since several crushing defeats at sea. Many illicit goods and contraband have funneled their way into markets thanks to them… and they don’t plan on stopping. They deal in secrets too. In fact, they might have found a way to access the hidden city below as well!
- Chymists: Arcane traditionalists and alchemists. They believe that magic must be free, a part of one’s own expression. They have a disdain for the strange pieces of “magitech” that are the norm for the quirky marketplace that they live in. Their interest focuses primarily on the buying and selling of magic; scrolls, books, rituals, alchemical components, theories, etc. If you see mystical secrets and ancient lore, they are a trustworthy resource. However, they prefer bartering with magic over coin, to the chagrin of other groups.
- Mechanists: Arcana is an energy source, harness it to create works of wonder! Their mission is to help build a new age through innovation and creativity. Their expertise lies in the forging and building of magical-infused or powered technologies. While their creations sell for an exorbitant sum, their aspirations have always been about advancing the world into the next age.
- House Gwinnidair: A recent addition to the city, populated by merely one noble. This “lost house” seeks to reclaim former glory, as the family was betrayed by internal corruption.. or so Aldero Gwinnidair says. He is very dead set on getting a spot within the Division council.
- The Helper’s Commune: An altruistic charity that seeks to undermine the establishment, while helping the less fortunate stuck in the strange city. The group is filled with missionaries, anarchists, rebels, pirates and more. However, some get overzealous in their “stick it to the establishment” ideal, resulting in violence in the streets. This guild hangs on by loose threads deep within the ghetto, as there have been attempts to eradicate them.
- Church of True Ascension: Once a cult producing weary looks, this religion has made a name for itself within the shining jewel beside the sea. The church’s tenets involve self-improvement, enhancing one’s self through empowerment and eventual ascension beyond the mortal plane. While many find the last point to be quackery, the rest of their teachings have been seen as motivational and helpful. However, their actual goals are to harness the energy of those who align with them to resurrect a dead “god” that their church continues to worship in secret.
- The Justice Force Patrol: Despite the hokey name, this is the hired and built up law enforcement of the land. While many of the officers are mercenaries, militiamen and the like; many work out of a devotion to law, order and justice. While corruption has weaved its way into this ascended guards post, many still do their best to maintain peace, albeit usually within the status quo. Agents and officers patron in armor forged with an aesthetic of pure intimidating menace. Sharp shapes twist to make the patrol look like some kind of wrathful celestial. Their leader is a tall and bustling behemoth of a man with a complexion as grey as the stone that built the headquarters. Supreme Chief Suar-hajriun is dour, grim and humorless; leading some to speculate that his stone-like appearance is literal. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a skilled and tactical warrior, when his skill set is called into action.
- The Scarred Rodents: A troop of displaced ratmen from a “distant warren” who have set sights on making as much scratch from the city as possible. They play dirty and care little for the “morals of man”. Within the ghettos, they have created secret hideouts deep within the actual ground itself. Held up and warded off through strange sorceries, these warren-like tunnels hold all sorts of fascinations to behold. Of course, they’re not interested in sharing that easily. As few have survived to learn about the secrets below, no action has been taken yet.
IMAGE CREDIT: scifi desert landscape – bawarner; Bandar Bushehr by Eugène Flandin
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