Alza’um, the true city beneath the smoke and mirrors. Life is far more controlled than in the port city of mysteries and merchants. However, that doesn’t make life any easier. Only the lucky and the blessed get their way in, without tricky maneuvering. Stowaways and thieves don’t make out too well. For those who make it? It’s a long way down the ladder and back up. Life in the city is a climb towards excellence. Of course, too many refuse to let others into their station.
In the beginning, a large caravan of outcasts, tinkerers, mages and artificers came together with a common goal. They wished to craft and hone their abilities in peace, trading and sharing knowledge within their enclave. For a while, it was a place of common ground and unity. Racial differences of these sages and inventors mattered little, but rather their devotion to their creations and the quality of their work. An ideal lead to a city, which fled underground after conflict with the outside world. This racial harmony ideal lasted… until the denizens of the darkness below found themselves in inevitable conflict with the city dwellers.
Author’s Note: Part 2 continues with the namesake city! In addition, I might make some extra crunch bits soon too. Needless to say, I’m having tons of fun with this.
True Alza’um, the City-State of High Artifice
- Intentionally false and ridiculous rumors about the city are circulated above, especially within the village and Bashar. These range from strange tales of impossible creatures to absurd uses of the city; all of which are fictitious and made to have people lose interest in the city. For some, these rumors have backfired.
- Foundation under persecution plus generations of isolation have made them paranoid and xenophobic. Anyone who gets past their fake village is immediate sought out by authorities. Outcome can range from memory wipe/modification and exile to enslavement to execution. The first one is the most common.
- The area around the city is filled with all sorts of traps to keep adventurers away. These can be sandstorms that popup out of nowhere, wandering monsters/constructs, fake cities filled with death traps and more. Is this effective? Sort of! Plenty of adventurers have explored the area for the thrill, most have perished or returned extremely disappointed.
- Much of the population is human, with a very large population of gnomes and dwarves. And no longer a minority, the ratmen also make up a large population as well. Other creatures native to the underworlds below it have slowly made their presence known within the many wards.
The Fake Village:
A humble way-point that’s populated by mostly guards, soldiers and whatever family wishes to live alongside them. The buildings look similar to the others in the region, but pose as nothing special. The atmosphere is unfriendly and unwelcoming, but self-sufficient.
- Village: A cozy looking desert village. No one dresses in anything that unusual. The guards seem very well trained. The leader is a woman named Xanel’ya, who seems a lot smarter than she lets on. She’s more of a sturdy defender first, a diplomat second. A few smiths dwell here too, unlikely to craft for outsiders.
- Farms: Where cattle and crops are raised. People are doing all they can to tend to both in this harsh land. The nearby land has been altered through irrigation techniques, as well as advanced crop rotation methods.
- The Well: They’ve found a wellspring not far outside the city. The well leads down to a decent water source. The area by the well has been properly irrigated. Likewise, a safehouse for the guards is stationed nearby, as water is a precious resource out here.
- Guard Barracks: For a remote little place, they’re serious about protection. Though, in a hostile environment with civilization a solid distance away, it’s more than warranted. Plus, the guards will inform you of a wide variety of “threats” in the region. While not any better set than the rest of the village, it holds impressive defenses and offenses. Armor and weapons are well crafted.
- Cemeteries: Mostly filled with protected urn jars on monuments in recent years. This is the resting place of people who died on duty (above ground) as well as several below ground residents. Following a plague of the dead, burial was banned and many walking dead were relocated to booby trapped zones, before that too was stopped. Previously buried corpses were likewise cremated, as per regulation.
- Temple of the Forge: One of the few instances of steel in the village. It is here that not only do people come to worship various beings, but also where people craft armor, arms and more. There is very little techno-magic to be seen here. However, you could find a couple of advanced items seen in various human, dwarven or other settlements.
- Medicinal Man: A labeled hut-like building with considerably up to date tools of the physician trade. Three doctors work tirelessly to keep the villagers healthy and strong. Only one of them is a native to the region, the other two were welcomed and assimilated into the culture.
- SECRET ENTRANCES:
- Within the barracks is a secret entryway in the captain’s quarters. It’s magically sealed and bolstered by their strange tech. Opening the doorway reveals a stairway to the elevator chamber. The only time people are NORMALLY allowed to enter/exit is changing of the guard (including the “civilians”) Others are known to exist, but they’re well guarded secrets in the like of Bashar.
- The Temple of the Forge has a secret room behind an alter. The room itself is a humble meditation room with various holy icons upon shelves and a rug on the floor for meditation and prayer. The icons, when arranged in the right order, turn the rug into a portal that leads to the same place as the Barracks entrance.
The ruins of long castaway and forgotten societies, well before the artificers of Alza’um first make their claim. Much of these old lands have been picked dry by adventurers long before Alza’um. But, that didn’t stop the tinkerers from excavating the rest, while laying all sorts of traps for snooping eyes, plus just a few bits of actual treasure, to keep the facade up. These old remains of cities, temples and palaces now exist as bait to throw off potential threats. The only population? The living dead created by the primitivists and successors… and sometimes the reanimated bodies of fallen adventurers and explorers. So far, no one has taken control of the walking corpses. Village residents always divert wanderers towards the ruins.
Very little life is supported out here. It is arid, brutal and scorching. To make matters worse, all sorts of mad experiments created by the less ethical denizens of the city were released out here, in an effort to not be caught. Some of these monstrosities have adapted quite well.
The Great City:
Underneath a desert dune, surrounded by a fake city above ground. It’s a multi-leveled city under the rock, sand and earthy crust. Through magical tech and clever building, one can take an elevator cart between the various “floors”. Before moving into a new floor, a checkpoint station blocks entry and exit into a level.
- Wonders Floor: The Guests Ward. Here, lucky outsiders are given the chance to gaze upon wonders beyond their dreams.
- The Private Market: An assortment of magical and constructed wonders that the state allows to leave the settlement. Special guests permitted from Bashar and the Village have access to these wares, with the proper amount of coin, of course!
- Hall of Wonders: A place to marvel at incredible creation, mostly for bragging and showing off to themselves and the few lucky guests. This museum/propaganda space is heavily guarded. Secret exhibits are available to more exclusive donors from the city.
- The Muse’s Fancy: An over the top tavern and inn, rife with the theme of the city… taken to an exaggerated level. Locals hate how tacky the establishment looks, due to how extreme it looks. However, it’s main purpose is to keep guests out of trouble and in one general area, while providing an assortment of luxury and care.
- The Elite: Where top of the top dwell, as well as the wealthiest of the merchants and creators. Restricted access to anyone below their own social rank.
- The Golden Clockwork Society: A secret society that meets in an illustrious building. Much of the Council is included in membership. Many things talked about here include secret agendas for the city as a whole, as well as indulgence in exclusive meetings and activities.
- Heavenly Heights: The dwellings of the extremely wealthy and powerful. The houses line semi-circular roadways, with the finer things in life nearby.
- The Fine Arts and Sciences District: Food, entertainment, crafts and more. All of these things surpass a lot of what even Bashar has to offer! Those who make their way here are truly spoiled. Some say that they have the means to make visitors not only cleansed of impurities and ails, but basically make them immortal. Only the best researchers and physicians are allowed here, after all.
- The Regulators: Where political matters happen. The council meets here, “law” is practiced here, sentences are given here.
- Alza’um Officials Office: A hall of endless records; taxation, personal property, disputed cases, criminal records, private historical information, copies of public record and so on. Access to anything is strictly unheard of, unless there’s a good reason for it. The proprietors are notorious sticklers for law, punctuality and proper conduct. They’re more interested in organization, than interaction.
- The Courts of Law: Not only a place where trials are conducted, but also a meeting place for rulings and sanctions. In addition to the judge, additional support can be supplemented by the council in other ways. Plus, classes on law and order are held here, and at a fair price too. However, subjects that detail personal rights are often glossed over in brief. More on that is brought up in private, should someone hire a proper counselor of law.
- The Maximum Correctional Holding Center: A prison, more or less. Those guilty of minor crimes are held here until put on trial. Should they be found guilty, they are taken to the darker depths below. The more definite holding cells are terrifying chrome boxes, devoid of any personality or pleasure.
- Annex Barracks: An additional barracks area nearby the holding center. While stations are made all over, with the primary one at the top of the city, this one acts as an additional enforcer of order. Their duties focus more on protection of the innocent, as they’re closer to civilian areas.
- The Statesmen’s Hall: The central seat of government. Personal matters within the state are contended with here, long before they’re discussed in any court setting.
- Work Place 1: Lavish guildhalls and incredible forges for creation.
- Ordo Chymist Divinus:
- The Consortium of Machine:
- The Supreme Artifice:
- The Average: Modest housing and quarters for the typical citizen. It’s pretty good here, nothing to special. They still enjoy the technical marvels of Alza’um. Plus, this is the place where the clergies and allowed churches dwell.
- Work Place 2: More supportive tasks are done here, like farming and gathering basic supplies.
- Clockwork Sun: A construct made to create a simulation of sunlight for various plant matter, to help them grow. It operates in cycles over the farming reserves.
- The Rabble: Where beggars, brigands and slaves dwell. Such a place is often forgotten and in bad shape… at least until new digging projects mean residents are displaced while a new ghetto is formed.
- The Quarantine Zone: Tons of lowly locals have fallen ill to a sickness. While not the same as a vicious plague that caused the living dead, it’s still quite wretched. Those who enter alive, almost never leave alive… and it’s usually because they’re trying to escape. There is no tolerance for infected. You enter, you stay.
- Work Place 3: A gnarly factory like set up, mostly for menial tasks too demeaning for those of “proper” station to handle. Slave drivers typically standby to make sure work is well done.
- The Power Mills: Backup Batteries are powered by raw, physical labor. In the event power should go down, these “workers” are called to act as a living engine. In the meantime, batteries are created to help make life easier too. Though, the crew is still used, regardless.
- Baseline Assembly: Where various bits and scrapped are hammered out and crafted for later use in other projects. It’s repetitive, it’s meaningless, it’s boring.
- System Operations: Where teams of workers are sent to contend with dangerous machinery vital to the city. Many rebels have attempted to sabotage, resulting in the entire team suffering. In many regards, these workers are likely the most important piece of the clockwork puzzle… at least until the energy supplies and other functions can operate themselves.
The Smolderforge Warrens:
Below the actual city. It is here the Ratfolk dwell. Once, they were lower than the lowest (literally!) Ever since a ratfolk joined the council, things have been changing. Tunnels link up various hovels for living quarters and contraption filled spaces for work, and some more ornate spaces for the more respected members of their society (Shamans, Chiefs, High Artificers). In more recent years, this space has turned from a glorified ethnic neighborhood to more space for work, as many of the ratfolk have moved into the city.
- Industrial Tunnels: Converted space by ratmen engineers, these halls were once cavernous rock, now sprawling square-shaped metal walkways in between workshops and the rest of the trench-like passes of the warrens below. This converted space also acts as a buffer between any pollution from the industry above.
- Workbench Hovels: Personal micro-forges, primarily used by ratfolk workers, for all sorts of chaotic and unsupervised creation. Most residents avoid these laboratories, as explosions aren’t outside of possibility. Many illegal experiments have been found in these work spaces, leading to arrests by the Council Above or the Elders below.
- Rat’s Nests: Despite being bolstered by technology, these living spaces are similar to traditional ones. Life here is still very communal and space is somewhat packed in. Those who haven’t moved into the city remain here. Despite less breeding couples, the numbers haven’t really fallen that much.
- Passages of the Ancients: Ancestral caverns containing ancient artifacts of olden tribes and classical ways of life. This space acts as a living museum, upheld by caretakers and chroniclers who embrace the old ways. While not aligned with the Primitivist cults, they refuse to undermine them in any way.
- Grounds of the Ritual Circle: A non-sectarian religious space used by a variety of beliefs; whether to the gods of commerce and artifice above, the traditional rat spirits below or strange new cults that have formed in more recent ages. It is said that the ancestral spirits that sometimes commune in this space greatly dislike other humanoid visitors.
- The Dark Below: Caves that wind and twist, only lit by the luminescent fungus that grows throughout. Mysteriously, all other light begins to fade. Brave explorers foolish enough to continue further discover a horrible underworld of alien creatures, sinister reflections of overworld humanoids and vile forces that the above world is ill-prepared for. In fact, a mixture of Smolderforge and Alza’um patrols have been sent to keep an eye out and combat such threats. Even then, that’s not enough. Beware the Dark Beyond!
Locales (and Locals) of Note:
- The Dark Below Expedition Guild. With several halls and outposts in the lower wards of Alza’um City and into Smolderforge, this is a joint effort to help expand the growing colony, oblivious to the new forms of resentment this might cause. These bases are filled with the city’s own brand of adventurers, eager to see what the world at large has to offer.
- The Table Turner Inn. Owned by ratfolk with a dark agenda. Enraged at the treatment of their people, they’ve gathered ex primal cultists and alchemists as both “regular guests” and staff. While not in operation, strange things happen after hours. Whether it’s crafting toxic and disease-ridden chemical weapons or finding new magic to turn the tides of eventual revolt, this is the meeting place for would-be revolutionaries. It’s a quick turn past the industrial tunnels and near the residential burrows beyond.
- The Manor of Duke Hillenwood. An older version of the council government had a mock emulation of the very nobility they escaped from. They became too obsessed with divided power and service to a king-like figure, and it was the fault of a Alec Hillenwood. Needless to say, revolt removed the influence of the autocratic rulers and caused the demise of the corrupt “duke” himself. His mansion remains in decay and ruination within the otherwise beautiful elite ward. It was the only time lower denizens weren’t stopped from accessing a wealthier part of the city. Even guards helped in raiding and ransacking the home. All who pass it get dark vibes, immediately rushing past it or evading it entirely.
- The Alternate Planar Research Department. A secret laboratory deep within the government ward. Their intent is clear, research into other planes of existence and means to access them. Funding from the council was horribly slashed after an “incident” resulted in horrible monsters ransacking the area. A small number of troops were slain to eliminate the threat. The remaining team are eccentric and obsess over bizarre possibility. However, they also believe in the ideals of the city with utmost confidence. Research Lead Strickenore, a dwarven artificer, seems confident that the city can expand into a multi-dimensional empire through this research, pushing the regime into a glorious imperial age.
- Garden of Unearthly Delights. A beautiful park space that resides in between the floor open to visitors and the dwellings of the elite. Private events allow for outsiders to view incredible hybrid plants, as well as artificially created projects that could have never existed in a while. A fine array of color always lines this mixture of eternal greenhouse and arboretum.
- Headstone of the Founder. A grave site dedicated in memory of Supreme Artificer Z’chry. After his body was cremated in a private sanctum, the ashes were placed into a monument right outside the back of the primary state building, the Hall. While mostly a tale made by disgruntled villagers and workers, it is said his spirit returned from sheer shock of all the changes that have been made to the fair city, a mix of awe and sorrow. And at early hours in the morning, someone can hear the confused, amazed and disgusted outbursts of a mysterious older man.
- The Bloody Bucket. A tavern of ne’erdowells, miscreants and scum, located next to a cheap brothel. A fixture in the Rubble ward of the city. Somehow still is business, the upfront tavern is literally a front for all sorts of insidious action. Underground fighting arenas, trade of contraband, smuggling of lifeforms (whether as pets, getting pirates and spies into the city or far more malevolent trades) and aid to illegal groups only outline a few things this depraved establishment of rumored of. While no proof has been put behind accusations, the owners know their days will be numbered sooner or later, so they ride the slippery slope into debauchery without a care in the world… or at least, they pretend to be a legitimate business to any onlookers. That isn’t to say some good unlawful behavior is outside of question. The location has also been a hiding point for rescued slaves, as well as a means of hiding secret information that’s beneficial to the public. In fact, victims of unfair law have found temporary refuge in this place.
- The Morticium. Not just a place for dealing with the dead, many of the onsite staff also oversee maintaining undead assistants and ensuring that these bodies aren’t capable of more thought than following orders. Buyers can also visit the establishment, should they be in need of an untiring servant. However, this isn’t widely advertised (as well as only discussed in hushed whispers) and these undead are sold at an exceptional price.
Viewpoints and Ideology:
- Through hard work, you become your own master!
- The Council’s order is only there to ensure success of yourself and the city. Your council would never betray you or do things against your interest.
- Through the wonders of invention, the gods are defeated so that man could prosper. And in the place of the gods, the concept of invention was put on the pedestal. (However, deities of innovation/artifice and commerce/wealth aren’t hated!)
- All who come to the city are equal in identity, but judged by work (in theory).
- Beware the Outsider! They are the spy, thief, saboteur and warmonger! Fight back before the city suffers dearly!
- ALIGNMENT WISE: Mostly True Neutral, shades of Lawful Neutral and Neutral Evil
- The Supreme Council: The primary governing force over the entire city… and beyond. This includes Bashar and nearby land territories. As long as an idea or law benefits the city, profit or productivity; they’re all ears! However, their rule is much harsher than people realize. In the end, their regulations help to enforce the status quo that keeps this very strange realm of clockwork and stranger contraptions running efficiently.
- Roaming Eye Guard: Officers, soldiers, citizen militias; all banded together to enforce order within the city. They strike down those who go against the very ideals of Alza’um and brutalizing the less fortunate into submission. But, ideally, they have helped to stop all sorts of genuine crime, ranging from the unethical to the downright dastardly.
- The High Artificers: Tinkerers and creators who have proven their worth, developing and creating some of the most advanced works in the colony. They’re revered as something almost holy. When a fantastic new idea is unleashed, it was likely crafted by one of these skilled inventors.
- Ordo Chymist Divinus (or Order of Divine Chemistry): A conservative group who wants expansion of technology and magic to go at a slower pace, while more traditional forms of magic maintain a valuable place within society. Their splinter group of the Chymists acts as their eyes within Bashar.
- Consortium of Machine: A futurist group that believes that investing in new methods for magic and technology is the way to better civilization. They believe in rapid progress. Likewise, the Mechanists are their extension within Bashar.
- Primitivists: Luddites who hate advancement of magic or tech. They want an agrarian society that reveres nature. Everyone else in the Alza’um Territories hates them. However, most of them reject the terrorism of their predecessors.
- Smolderforge Nationalists: Loyal to their chieftans, they see the council as usurpers and dishonorable conquerers. They not only want sovereign independence, but to overthrow Alza’um outright. Some are vengeful enough to want to take it over.
- Alza’um Patriots: Exceptionally racist and proud in keeping Alza’um a city-state, they want little to do with Smolderforge. The current law keeps them from doing direct harm to the ratfolk, but they’ve found other ways to cause suffering.
- Pirate’s Guild: They aim to exploit Alza’um’s follies for personal gain, spread technology to the outside world, possibly subvert hierarchy and gain a stake in all of this. In the end, they want to either take down the city or take hold of it. They’ve just started to catch onto the angry underground that’s bubbling up.
IMAGE CREDIT: London Bridge Underground – Sagesolar, Council of Rats – Gustave Dore, Page 10 from Punch – Public Collection
Made by Doctor Necrotic, for Doctor Necrotic Media. all rights reserved.