The City is the greatest city in all creation. Vast and densely populated, on a world which is otherwise literally demon ridden and inaccessible, it prospers through its use of Gates – magical devices which allow access to other worlds. The City sits in the middle of a web of trade, conquest, theft, and exploitation almost beyond belief. Control of this vast wealth is a rich prize, hotly contested by the factions of The City - Crown vs Council, Guilds vs Guilds vs Merchant Companies, Citizens vs bare Citizens, Colonists vs Unique Destinationists, Churches vs Colonists, the list could go on.
Fictional Inspirations: Hodgson’s The Night Land; Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser; Piper’s Paratime. Plus a healthy dose of Serenity.
Historical inspirations: Roman Republic, in the era of Sulla and Marius; the Most Serene Republic of Venice, in the High Middle Ages.
Atmosphere: Grungy low-fantasy high magic in a massive but claustrophobic city with frequent jaunts to other worlds. Good and Evil is notably less significant than Friend and Enemy. The noted loanshark Neil the Dead is probably Evil - being dead does give you a particular take on things - but the fact that he could become your Enemy is much more significant.
System: Savage Worlds + Savage Fantasy + Savage Vancian Magic. A (largely) class-less, (largely) level-less quick play system.
Until 3 months ago, the PCs were part of a large mercenary company – Eagle’s 8. It was one of the larger companies in The City, and must have had influential patronage to be allowed to grow so large. It deployed 300 effectives from a barracks with its own medium size gate capable of jaunting 50 at a time. Soldiers were identified as Wave 1-6; with 1 being assault troops to secure the gate nexus, and 6 being REMF.
Eagle’s 8 was sent to secure a valuable site which was probably the equivalent of a magical academy in a world where all the population (at least all that they met) appeared to have become infected with some sort of disease that made them flesh-eating cannibals. It all went horribly wrong, and the unit took 30% (fatal) casualties before it was able to withdraw. Many of the Wave 1-3 troops, along with the Colonel and his second in command, were lost securing the escape of the non-frontline elements
The new commander, Engla Alsadottir, decided the company’s future was a smaller, more focussed, unit, and made cuts on the basis “Everyone works, everyone fights”. (Rumour has it she also didn’t have the support she needed to keep an unusually big company). She also took advantage of the cull to remove a few problem cases at the same time. The cullees generally left some friends behind, and received a partial reimbursement from the disability and funeral fund.
Bran Lostenwood (NPC) was a young Wave 3 trooper, but had a reputation for unnecessary violence and indiscipline, especially in his cups. Being only a bare citizen, and a dwarf at that, he’ll tag along with anyone who seems to have a sensible plan whereby he uses unnecessary violence to earn beer money. The “sensible” part is probably options.
Henry Beck (John Hall) was with the QM in Wave 5, where he was a clerk. Engla’s 8 only needs a QM who can do battlefield repairs etc. Henry is famously dreadful at that sort of work.
William Stevens (Roger Bell-West) was with the Native Advisor in Wave 6, where he was the assistant and general dogsbody to the NA. They were withdrawn very early. Engla’s 8 only needs the NA – there may have been potential for him to replace the NA at a cheaper rate, and he was very popular, but that’s not William’s style.
Modron (Michael Cule) was part of an integrated combat team sent through in Wave 3. His team did OK, and all are still alive, but Engla has a strong view on every one of her mages being able to look after themselves in a straightup fight or ambush. She has kept some of her most experienced mages, but otherwise much prefers soldiers with a smattering of specialist magical knowledge, at the expense of more focussed types. Scuttlebutt has it that Modron was offered a chance to stay on, if he’d spend less time in his lore books and more time in the gym, and that he refused.
The four of them are living in a run-down apartment in a middling-dubious street, scratching a living on training a block militia, body guard work, scribing while waiting for their big break.
Alois “The Whale” Morgan was one of the suppliers for Engla’s 8, and as a result got to know Henry well. When he had a problem, Henry got a visit. Alois is in charge of a garden at the outskirts of town. Crops had been being raided, and a hunting expedition of 2 gardeners found something there. They are vague, but were scared, and are on the verge of refusing to go to some of the plots. He’d like to employ Henry and his crew to deal with the problem.
The group made their way to the edge of The City via magical tram, and spent a day wandering around the garden talking to employees.
The garden consists of ultra-intensive plots, using the best breeds from a 100 worlds, with a magical support that, to a less High Magic, magically dependent, world, would be insane. The light change in different plots, the humidity, even (within bounds) the temperature. From the edges of the cultivated area, the Boundary is clearly visible, and beyond it the ruins of abandoned farm buildings The farmers have deeply ingrained habits of not looking up when facing the Boundary, beyond a (skilled) bare minimum for their trade.
Talking with the gardeners initially went slowly, but William charmed his way into their confidence. The gardeners are resentful that Alois has a budget for hunters to deal with problems like this, but chooses to pocket it instead. They explained that crops had been being raided, with increasing size, for the last week or so. A few gardeners had caught glimpses of something moving in the plots – probably somewhere between man and dog size. One gardener had been bumped into by something – she thought it was hairy rather than furry, and smelt very slightly of cut grass and cinnamon.
Pursuing this rather odd description, the group meet a very elderly, blind, priestess of the Green Knight. When the last of mankind was being forced back to The City, and time was needed to erect the Boundary, The Green Knight was one of the leaders of the resistance. With her unique bond with nature, she made the very earth rise up against the Demon Hordes. Along with many of her fellows, she was closed outside the Boundary when it was erected. Her spirit lives on, and can be called upon by those who seek to till the earth in times of need. Small shrines to her can be found in many gardens. Alice is a very elderly, bird-like, woman whose sight has degenerated. She can be found moving confidently around the gardens, singing an eerie song to reassure the plants that, although far from home, they are loved. She was singing when something bumped into her.
They also talked to the two gardeners who had “gone hunting”. They were deep in the middle of a plot, on the trail, when they cornered something against the Boundary. They described it as a massive hairy beast which, when at bay, doubled in size and flashed red fire from its eyes before leaping over their heads. Investigating where this happened suggested to the team that some of that was true – something strong had jumped into the branches, but it was smaller than the gardeners suggest.
The group hunt for tracks and marks, drawing on what they found at the encounter spot, and locate a nest in a massive hollow fruit tree-analog (resembling a giant giant hogweed). It had been made more comfortable with foraged undergrowth, but also lined with a variety of shiny oddments picked up from around the garden. The sharp eyed group notice that these scraps are arranged both in the order of the colours of the rainbow, and the Fibonacci sequence. If the pest is actually a sentient, the game changes …
The group stake out the garden, and Modron the Mighty uses his mystical powers to create an observatory high about the centre point of the garden while his companions search. Eventually they locate the pest – it has an amazing ability to avoid being in the visual field of those looking for it, but the group has made too complex a problem for it to reliably solve. The pest resembles a rock baboon, but is incredibly stealthy. As William finds out, it has the power to project a wave of fear when threatened. Modron the Mighty successfully links to it’s very odd mind and, overjoyed at the connection, the pest decides it has a new best friend. The group discover it has a broken anklechain on one leg, with a makers mark visible when removed.
Convinced of its sentience, the group takes it to the Temple of Ghorgi. The Temple of Ghorgi the Delivery is reknowned for its anti-slavery agenda. A prime principal is that “All should be free to become willing slaves of Ghorgi”. They are a deeply hierarchical, very well organised, group, who the party pretty much instantly take against. Nonetheless, a Senior Evaluator at the Temple is able to make a stronger mental link to the pest. They confirm its sentience, and offer it sanctuary; they would also pay good money to find out where it was being kept, if its keeper knew he was keeping a sentient captive, and if there are any more. They would also be quite interested in finding out which world it came from. The Temple also recount a strong mental image that the pest was still traumatised by – someone being savagely attacked by tooth and claw and killed in an especially brutal manner.
Henry, efficient QM as ever, gets a receipt from the Temple, which he uses to close the case for Alois, who pays a generous reward for such a speedy solution. The group have a new, if creepy, patron.
The group pursues the lead of the anklet, and find the smith who made it. He tells them it was made for Palmer Jacobson, a well-connected merchant in the neighbourhood. Jacobson has a 9 year old son, Sedley, who is passionately fond of animals – the merchant accordingly has a private menagerie of exotic creatures.
The group explore the neighbourhood of the Jacobsons, and through copious application of alcohol and the charm of William, learn of a murder on the street near Jacobson’s house.
A lot of legwork, some light bribery, cross-referencing of records in City Hall, and a spot of nocturnal grave digging, lead them to the body of the victim, consigned to a paupers grave. The remains are consistent with what they had been told – savage claw and bite marks, from in front; wrecked good quality clothes; a weapon belt with a sword and a dagger scabbard; and tattoos which Modron recognises as ancient runes for “Night Guard” over chakra points. The body is returned to rest, whereupon Modron face-palms for not checking for magical fields.
Separately, light bribery of the notoriously corrupt City Guard reveals that the victim had been carrying a purse of money and a distinctive silver dagger when he was found, and that two days into the investigation Palmer Jacobson hold told the Guard to drop it (which they did immediately). Tracing the dagger reveals it to be a silver fighting dagger of a modern design – most silver knives are fruit knives. The group begins to fear lycanthropes – sometimes encountered offworld, and impossible to kill with non-silver weapons.
Henry and William work the neighbourhood in their different ways, which for Henry consists largely of “casing the joint” for a break in to the Jacobson place, and for William chatting to all and sundry. The neighbourhood is in the midst of a gangwar between the established “Blues and Twos”, led by Isabella; and the new gang led by Olompos – a tough who has only recently moved into the area. Olompos has a reputation for being much more brutal than Isabella. Completely confident of his ability to talk his way out of trouble, William visits Olompos in his run-down bar. The discussion ends with William agreeing to pay Olompos protection money for his unspecified interests in the area. Olompos has a slightly odd smell, which William only picks up because Olompos is trying so hard to be intimidating.
Modron meanwhile is spending a frustrating day in the Institute Library, failing to find anything whatsoever out about any “Night Guard”.
That evening, the group are warned by their local gang that a middle aged, tough looking woman calling herself Cynthia had been asking questions about them – possibly about Modron by name first, but certainly by all of them by name. She had even used a ruse to gain access to a room across from their apartment for most of the day.
The group then decides to investigate the large, secure, busy townhouse of Jacobson by night. On their way to a jump off point for a short teleport into a possible entry point, they are ambushed by Isabella and her gang. Bran is restrained from violence, and William talks them out of trouble. Isabella is on the losing side of the gang war, gradually losing people at night, in some cases from locked rooms which are opened from the inside. A tentative alliance against Olompos is made.
The group continue on to their jump off point – a roof garden above a brothel – and Modron teleports himself and Henry onto a balcony in the inner courtyard. A tense and stealthy investigation reveals that Sedley was distressed at the disappearance of one of his animals (almost certainly the pest), that his father told him to forget about it and shut up some days later, and allowed Modron (with the help of the night vision of his trusty master/familiar Max) to sketch the inhabitants of the menagerie. They teleport back out without incident.
Modron confirms from his sketches that all the other inhabitants are definitely animals, but is warned off the investigation by an old teacher. The old teacher is distressingly vague about what EXACTLY he wants Modron to stop doing, but it seems that the Night Guard does exist, is influential in at least the Guild of Mages, and doesn’t like people poking into their business. The old teacher does say he thinks they are good eggs.
The group have become increasingly convinced that Olompos has some sort of animal he uses to give himself an edge on the street, and decide to take to the sewers in order to make a covert entry into his bar. They arm themselves for bear, and for sewer walking (this turns out to be important) but not for lycanthrope. William’s tendency to talk to absolutely anyone about absolutely anything means he has contacts with street people who live in the sewers, and they provide him with a useful map, as well as an interview with a woman who met something in the sewers and has been driven crazy by the experience – she raves about “the swarm, the swarm”.
The group make their way into the sewer, and near Olompos’ town house are shocked when a swarm of rats squeezes themselves out of the walls of the sewer, and begin to coalesce into a human form. Modron trys to blast it with a lightning bolt, but it is too agile. Bran, relishing the chance to finally hit something, chops it’s head off with a single mighty blow. The head begins to reform. In an astonishingly well-coordinated move, William frightens the creature with a forceful threat; Henry takes off his cloak and uses it to envelope the mass of rats; Modron takes advantage of its hindered condition to blast it with a cone of fire, expertly missing Henry by a fraction of an inch. The burned sack’o’rats is then, for extra security, stomped by Bran.
The group are happy and relieved to have defeated the Beast at the centre of their investigation, and then look into the sack’o’rats. The head is a hideous mix of rat and human, but is recognisably one of the low status goons in Olompos’ gang. It also has the same off smell as Olompos. Concluding that the entire gang may be wererats, the group flee the sewers, and decide to mobilise allies rather than – as Bran would prefer – taking on an entire nest of wererats through frontal assault. A combination of Isabelle’s gang, the Night Guard (presumably), and the City Guard (probably larger sucking their teeth at the property damage caused by the fire at Olompos’ bar), works nicely.
The group have enough evidence to collect their reward from the Temple of Ghorgi. They also receive a substantial bonus from an unknown source - $1000 and a note: “Next time, take silver”.
Modron is approached by Lucy, a PI employed by a firm of inheritance lawyers to find heirs. She is concerned that a number of heirs are dying or disappearing in relation to the estate of Billy Hannerman, whose principal assets are a tenement and a gate. Her visits combines informing Modron he is somewhere in line, warning him she has her eye on him, and warning him to watch his back.
The party lawyers up, and identifies the ten heirs allowed under City Law – if all ten claims fail, the estate goes to the Crown, and the Gate to the Gate Masters Guild. They investigate Billy’s household, and find out he had “a big strike” which was going to solve all his money worries, but required him to borrow heavily from Neil the Dead (a zombie moneylender). He and his partner (#1) went through the gate and never came back. When his assistant gate master, Winona, tried to dial send through a rescue part, the Gate refused to lock.
The team investigate Billy’s affairs. Billy’s gate is in the basement and sub-basement of a tenement building with enough sitting tenants paying rent to cover the costs of the building. The building is run by a caretaker (Maywiddon), a doorman (Jalok, a heavy brow of few words). The gate is run by Gatewarden Maguire, who is clearly senile, and his long-suffering, and increasingly impatient, apprentice Winona. Winona clearly runs the gate, and is bitter at her position waiting for Maguire to die. William Stevens begins a long, and ultimately successful, campaign to get on her good side. Snooping around the ground floor apartment Billy and his partner lived in, Henry Beck finds an old, unexceptional, bound printed text with a slit mark in the binding and a suggestion that something used to live there.
Neil the Dead, and his retinue of zombie defaulters, pops around to make his interests in the debt being paid clear.
The team then find themselves on an increasingly convoluted trail of law and murder. In order of beneficiary, rather than chronological sequence …
Lucius, bodyguard and partner, was the first named beneficiary. He disappeared with Billy.
Loren Bloch, Billy’s elderly maiden aunt and the second named beneficiary, died after he disappeared, but before the legal process began. Her companion indicated that Loren and Billy had become increasingly distant in recent years, as Billy begun to get involved in increasingly dubious activities.
Selina Beureguard, a former prostitute, current madam, and third named beneficiary seemed nervous. She had thrown a celebratory wake for Billy when she discovered she was due in inherit, but recounced the inheritance two weeks later. A substantial amount of prowling around lowlives eventually revealed that she was NOT a full citizen. If this came out – and it is hard to imagine it wouldn’t in a full hearing – she would face serious repercussions, as well as being unable to inherit the Gate.
Jens Hannerman, first statutory beneficiary, was the only son of Billy’s only uncle. Jens owned a ran a small fishing boat on The Sea. His fishing boat, with him and two crew, failed to come back to port the same week Loren Bloch died. A dead body was found the next day by the Fisher of Men (a combination cleric/undertaker/refuse collector with some sort of official status), and may have been a deanimated zombie. The team hire a boat and go looking for a wreck – they find a wreck on the sea floor, with zombies still clutching drowned crew. A rotting finger is pointed at Neil the Dead, but there are lots of people who can make zombies …
Master Hyriam Hannerman, second statutory beneficiary, is the eldest son of Billy’s grandfathers other son. Hyriam had a very long and successful career as an alchemist. He is now in his 120s, very frail, and reclusive. He is a very tough target for an assassin. Initially, the PCs are rather suspicious of him and his retainers, but end up helping him beat up a desperate nightime attack on his townhouse by hired muscle. Hyriam has access to a short-term potion of youth – which he prefers to save for …. personal time – and some excellently inflammable grenades. Hyriam grows comparatively fond of Modron.
Goodwife Annie Wycliffe is the harried matriarch in charge of an inn on the edge of the sea. Her youngest son is a wastrel who has fallen into bad circles. Her worries end in a streak of blood in an alley near her inn.
Eline Snell is the illegitimate son of Billy’s grandfathers other son. He has spent time off world, but has settled down as a shift manager in a bar in the craft district. Eline is eventually revealed as involved in the killings, having hired the goons to attack Myriam, but he turns up dead before he can be investigated.
Modron is the fifth statutory beneficiary, through a single child line from Billy’s grandmother.
Brother Otto Hannerman, the sixth statutory beneficiary, is the son of the oldest child of Billy’s great grandfather. He is a monk of The Order of the Eternal Mother, a religious order dedicated to healing and care of the poor of the City. His Abbot is very protective, and by the time the team get to investigate him, has formed very definite views about strangers asking questions about Brother Otto, and about Brother Otto leaving the precincts of the Order.
Anders Hannerman, Otto’s nephew, is seventh and final statutory beneficiary. He runs a small bodyguard company, and is a tough nut. He also seems to be doing very nicely for himself.
Amongst a growing mound of bodies, a swirl of suspicions, and ANOTHER informal exhumation whose pretext the GM is no longer sure of, the team gradually form a working relationship with Jens. In the end, Hyriam inherits the Gate, and Modron and his team are appointed as business partners and managers of the Gate (“it’s a young mans game”) for “Uncle Hyriam”. They have a gate of their own.
While the PCs are settling into their new, nicer, digs on the ground floor of their apartment building, and William ingratiates himself remarkably well with the grumpy apprentice Gate Master, opportunity knocks. Essnew Sorreson comes calling, with a tale about an unusual gate tuning he had found in the binding of an old book. He does his best to convince everyone that he and Billy had been discussing a prospective possible partnership to explore such tunings, but William is unconvinced. A provisional deal is struck to split any takings from an exploration 20/80 in the Gate companies favour. Modron wants to discuss it with Uncle Hyriam, so they agree to come for dinner to Essnew the next day.
Uncle Hyriam is agreeable, and his lawyers draw up a contract. At dinner, from which Bran is pointedly excluded, the PCs relax and enjoy fine food in a decent, but dilapidated pile. There is an extensive library, which feels like it has been bought by the yard, and has a handwritten catalogue. Many of the texts appear to have bought as a job lot from a bookseller in 804. This will bear exploration, but for the moment Sorreson’s enthusiasm, sadly unpaired to any ability, at cards is far more interesting.
The day, digging into the bookseller suggests that a substantial proportion of the texts were purchased from the library of Guildmaster Inigo the Sharp. A bit more digging reveals said Inigo to have been on the winning side of the violent conflict which engulfed the City in 768 and led to the foundation of the Gatemasters Guild. Inigo was a powerful mage who was often at the centre of this violence, and oft times when the violence may not otherwise have materialised. He personally killed a number of other Gatemasters. He went on to live a long and prosperous life, dying in 803, when his library was sold on.
Back at the apartments, the apprentice Gatemaster tries to explain the tuning by using musical theory (alas, largely unknown to the GM). The tuning shouldn’t work, but one a bit similar was used when Billy went missing, and that worked (eventually). She uses expensive materials to tune the gate, and then tests it by putting through a cargo net with a chicken and a rabbit (this is tradition, perhaps in the distant past there was a hostile environment friendly to chickens). All seems well, and the party gate through to A New World …
Which looks distressingly like the old one. They are in a ruined cityscape, with overgrowth and wild animals. Some of the older, bigger, buildings appear to be identical to the oldest buildings in their neighbourhood. Assuming this is similar to their City, over the centre of the City is a black dome; while smoke is rising from a different direction. The PCs cast around, and then decide to investigate the Dome, but take the precaution of returning home and writing a detailed letter in case they disappear.
On the way, Henry keeps his wits about him, and realises that they are being followed. There have been other signs of life, including evidence of an animal killed and taken away. The party moves towards what (should be …) a square which would provide a bit of room to work if things get nasty. It is a square with one side dominated by an ancient temple to The Gods. The square is quite similar to their square, but the statutes of the Gods and Goddesses have been decapitated and otherwise defaced. Henry slips away from the party and circles back to observe the observers. Who turn out to be a group of bow and spear armed hunter types, led by an older man with better equipment.
The older man leaves his weapons with his companions, and moves to where he can be seen from the square. A meeting between William et al, and Pol (as he calls himself) follows. Pol seems to assume that the PCs are from another tribe, and offers Truce of the Gods. A fairly good natured conversation leads to Pol describing a family of Devil Worshippers who had been discovered living amongst his people when one of their elderly relatives became delirious on her death bed. Unlike decent folks who are protected by their Gods, the Devil Worshippers monster the Devils imprisoned within the black dome, who the Gods protect decent folks from. William suggests that Pol might be the Devil Worshipper, and even his legendary charm is not enough to get away with that. Pol stomps off, offering a reward and hospitality at his village if the foul cultists are caught.
The PCs proceed towards the dome, and while examining it see a wing-ed monstrosity flapping leisurely around – an imp on steroids is a bearable description, but neglects the lack of symmetry and sanity in its design. They see it dive down sharply a little distance away, and the sharp eyes of Henry and Modron see arrows arcing up to meet it. The PCs decide to intervene, or at least observe more closely.
As they head towards where the thing landed, two fugitives matching the description from Pol come running around the corner in a panic, and keep on going. The PCs find the remnants of a camp of the whole family: 3 adults, 2 teenagers, 1 5 year old. The remnants include the remains of 2 of the adults and 1 teenager, and the thing is about to eat the five year old. The PCs intervene persuasively with lightning bolts and dwarven axes and slay the thing. The five year old is dead too. Searching the camp Henry finds an ancient, much folded, map whose main landmark is a perfect circle. Marked inside it, however, are a couple of landmarks which – if the inside of the black dome matches their city, gives them an orientation. The PCs can find their way to the one thing marked outside the circle – “The Eye” – and decide to do so.
The Eye turns out to a powerful Demon who is imprisoned in a mound of rubble. He must be massive, as The Eye, the bit of him visible through a crack in the rubble, is 20 times bigger than a human eye. If he is to be believed, Demons are complex, multidimensional beings who can only manifest directly into reality in high magic realms. The manifestation we see is but a shadow of them – probably Demons have more in common than seems the case to us, but in our reality EVERY demon is different. This includes their character. The Eye’s character is fundamentally, invariably, truthful. He never lies, he always keeps his word. He was part of the Demon army besieging the City, which ravaged the suburbs of the City when without warning the massive dome protecting the whole City collapsed to a much smaller radius. He was a respected major Demon until the fall of the City, used by the other demons as a key adjudicator and guarantor. When the City fell he harboured ambitions to rule the others, and being what he was, could not lie about them. The others struck, and chained him in magical fetters to restrict his powers, burying him under the ruins of a massive church. As the Eye candidly admits, if the PCs were to free him, he would first drain them of their life force, and then move on to revenge himself on the other Demons. In the meantime, the Eye is happy to cause problems for other Demons by telling truths about them. He doesn’t know any way into the Dome however.
The party leaves The Eye to his muses, and heads towards a building that has for a long time been a Bank, near to their Gate pickup point. They find a pile of gear which has been destroyed outside the only entrance, and venture inside, finding literally piles of gold and silver. Bran loses focus, and begins shovelling it into his backpack, but the others aren’t far behind. Henry goes sneaking into the depths of the vaults, but after hearing something far too big and far too slithery in the dark, decides discretion is the better part of valour. Loaded up, the party head back towards the gate point, ready for an emergency gate return at a moments notice.
This is just as well, as they are ambushed by six demons, each a hideously individual individual. They gate back, and while enjoying a post-jaunt cup of tea realise that two of the backpacks of loot are empty. Less than ten minutes after their return, a squad of the Guildmasters Guard break through their doors and into the Gateroom. No violence is offered, and two mages in the team satisfy themselves that no Demons are present, although they do say that the Gates are set to prevent Demons entering the City. The party may have been bringing back a Demon disguised as loot. What could be a grim situation improves somewhat when the GMG realise that the party had left notes on their experience just in case, which they tie in with a good reference from The Day Watch; William then chances his arm to negotiate payment for a lead to a whole library stuffed with dangerous tunings. The GMG accept the deal with alacrity, and the team get enough money to pay off Neil the Dead, and all they have to do is dob in Essnew. Essnew sends a note a few days later indicating he considers himself to have been betrayed by them.
The PCs receive a formal invitation to call upon an official in the Office of the Undersecretary to the Council – an Honourable Deidre Hansannan. Deidre doesn’t have a very high profile, but contacts reveal that she has a reputation as a Crown appointee who has managed to avoid alienating anyone too much. She has quite a range of duties and offices, and her critics say she has her nose in anything. Deirdre’s private office is large, neat, and has some unostentatious, but on close examination tasteful and incredibly expensive, statutes and decorations. She is 50 or so, overweight and unimposing physically, but clearly sharp as a knife.
Deidre has a proposal. The PCs are clearly capable people, and most of all have shown that they think about the welfare of the City alongside prospering themselves. Their actions in a Demon-haunted plane (see A New World) showed that – a lot of mercenaries would not have thought to arrange information survived their own deaths. They are also smart – smart enough to know what the real threat to The City is? After a fairly oblique discussion, they pass the first test in identifying the existence of parallel Cities as the threat with which she is concerned. In the process they learn that cultural references to gate travel deliberately stress travel to very odd worlds, that there are probably very close parallel worlds but Gate technology doesn’t allow access to them, but that “forbidden tunings” can allow access to comparatively close parallels.
The City has been skirmishing for some time with at least one alternative, The UnCity. Deidre runs a small agency (the Band) which focuses on internal security against the UnCity. A lot of this is keeping an eye on off-world territories to see if the UnCity is seeking to destabilise them. The PCs are particularly well suited to undertake a simple mission for the Band, which could be taken as something of an audition. If successful, they will become valuable, if covert, servants of the Crown, with favour and pensions to look forward to.
Deirde explains that the missions concerns Faranage, an extremely wealthy and powerful magnate who has pretty permanently retired off world to his Pleasure Islands (an alternate reality where the planet is much hotter, with a higher water level and survival of (for instance) megacrocodiles). A message from one of the Band, now deceased, suggested that one of his inner circle had recently been suborned by an UnCity agent. If they influence the magnate, the magnate could influence the city more widely. They will need to determine the identity of the agent, and deal with them. She then passes them over to their liaison, Sam Gunnson, a chirpy elderly man who has something of the air of a high class gentleman’s outfitter.
Sam explains that a twice a year, Fanarage throws massive parties to remind clients and others of his wealth and power – the next event is coming up in two weeks, and Essnew Sorreson has been invited (probably because of family connections with his Aunt). The Band knows the tuning for the Pleasure Islands, but the sea level could pose practical problems for many Gates, and the megacrocodiles (the GM kept returning to the mega-ness of these crocodiles) could also be an issue. It is also trivial for a wealthy man to arrange an alarm triggered whenever someone Gates in (although much less trivial to get a location of such gate use).
The PCs decide to take up the challenge, and have two weeks to do any preliminary work and work out a way to join the party.
Playing to their strengths, Modron spends most of that time in the archives, or playing the Mage’s Guild Card; Henry in working out what gear could be taken to the pleasure islands covertly or if the party use their own gate (in the process acquiring 1 water-breathing pill for each of the others, and 3 for himself); and William worming his back into Essnew’s circle. The latter requires some ready money, but Henry (and a careless party goer) help out. Henry shows an unexpected flair for cartography in producing a map of the pleasure islands in relation to public and commercial (i.e. known) Gates.
At the end of the two weeks the three of them have an invite to join Essnew’s entourage to be impressed by HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT HE IS THAN THEY ARE; and have gathered some potentially useful information on the Pleasure Islands and Faranage and his inner circle.
The Islands are pretty much all luxurious, although the servants quarters are less so. The main party is happening on four large Islands with connecting ferries (magical sailing ships). Fanarage and his inner circle normally mingle during the two day party, but they do their business in his residential Island, which is resolutely not part of the party. Faranage inherited the Pleasure Islands from his father, but has done pretty much all the building work since.
The Pleasure Islands have a very good security team – astonishingly, Bran earns his keep by talking rather than fighting, and learns that they operate in squads of four (one of whom is always a Mage), and are very paid and loyal. The PI security is led by Ander MisAnder, a retired mercenary with a fearsome rep. During the parties, Faranage security is withdrawn from other parts of his businesses and replaced by hired security – no outsiders take on security work during the parties. Security has a reputation for being a bit harsh – at least one servant arrived in the City for trial for theft in a bad way, and there are rumours that others have gone to the mega-crocodiles.
Faranage has a reputation for appointing very good CEOs for businesses he controls, and keeping close scrutiny on those he has an interest in but doesn’t dominate, rather than being a control freak. His father ran a mining/lumber company that found itself with other interests: he runs a conglomerate. Leaving aside people who deal with him only in relation to a particular business, he has a small inner circle, all of whom are well regarded and loyal. Apparantely it takes Faranage a long time to add to it – he obviously has a philosophy about recruiting the right people.
Feandor Witte (first secretary). Head of Faranage’s personal business. Used to be an advisor to his father. Conciegle, rarely stirs from the pleasure Isles. Old stories that he handled the transition very well, and if anything was less assertive to the son than the father. Has a rep as a collector of a particular sort of off-world art, best categorised as Elvish.
Antone La Mais (second secretary). The most visible member of the circle, as he spends a lot of time doing “audits” on Faranage businesses. Not wildly popular, and there are some stories suggesting he lacks personal courage and is jumpy off world (some of the business colonies of the City are pretty rough places).
Yoli Mitta (portfolio advisor). Famous for her ability to spot an unexpected bargain, there are also rumours she actually runs an extensive industrial espionage network for Faranage. She has a (generally not known) reputation as a high stakes gambler, but one who so far is managing to lose a small fortune rather than a large one, and who seems to not have a major problem. William is very interested in getting to know Yoli better.
Sage Drinnor (legal advisor and accountant). Spends a lot of his time making life hell for the firms main lawyers, but also protecting Faranage interests in minority holdings. He is a patron of the Sages School for Poor Boys. Modron explores the Sage’s School as a possible alternative way of getting to the party, but doesn’t need to take this too far. He has, however, got himself on the Sage’s School mailing list as a possible benefactor. He will need to be able to cast Limited Wish to stand any chance of being removed.
The team put on their best clothes, in the case of Modron supplemented by spell ingredients for his loaded spells, and in the case of Henry best not to ask where he has put some of the things he has brought with him. They join the flocks of the beautiful people gating to the Pleasure Islands.
In the Pleasure Islands, after checking into the suite they share with Essnew, the three go their separate ways.
William persuades Essnew to go gambling, and better still to believe it was his idea, and manages to join a game with Yoli. He impresses her, and gets an invitation to a midnight game in one of the Island hotels (not, alas, the HQ island).
Henry scopes out security, and keeping an eye open for anyone else who may be working on the Island “professionally”. Rumours about security are confirmed, and no obvious ferry service to the HQ Island is spotted. He does however get a flavour for how nasty security can be with the hired help, as a waiter is accused (correctly as it turns out) of stealing a silver napkin ring. It’s pretty nice, and there is a whole set for the massive party, but Faranage decided to use the ivory one’s instead – so the thief thought they would not be missed.
Modron scouts out, and hears rumours that La Mais has died recently, leaving someone called Sally Booch distraught. La Mais seems to have taken a skiff out into unprotected waters late at night, and been attacked by a mega-crocodile. Only a few bloodstained shreds of cloth and slivers of flesh were left to bury. Modron heading for a square where Faranage is known to call in the evening, and while there spotted three women dressed in morning. They were too far away to eavesdrop on in their open balcony, by a familiar’s climbing skills, good hearing, and cuteness, soon solved that. One of the women was called “Sally”, and she had been worried that “Antone” had something on his mind ever since she came back from Blue Mountain. Grief, unassuageable even by a cat, prevented any more being learnt.
At this point, Faranage makes a grand entrance, and delivers a great speech to the assembled crowd. While scoping out his security, Henry spots that amongst his jewellery is a very very good fake silver ring. The group mull over a number of possible explanations, including sentimental value, some sort of powerful magic ring that makes it worth wearing, an Uncity control device. Parking this for the moment, the team go gambling. William does well, and snags an invite to Yoli’s house for a farewell gamble the next day.
The next morning, over breakfast, the team remember where they have heard about silver before – the decision to swop all the silver cutlery etc for the alternate set; and the idea that silver is uniquely potent against shapeshifters. A quick survey of their possessions reveals a silver ring worn by William, and a silver napkin ring “picked up” by Henry. A visit to a tired face painter/body ornamenter adds silver painted fingernails to the lineup. The team are ready for their next session of gambling.
William doesn’t do so well, losing most of the money he has gained elsewhere, but continues to make a good impression on Yoli. Faranage makes a social call, and the team are introduced to him. William lightly scratches him with his silver talons. Faranage flinches, and Henry notices that as he shoves his right hand into his pocket, the places it was touched with silver are beginning to redden. Satisfied they have proven their case, the team make their apologies and leave, sort of.
They are intercepted at the docks, and although heavily outnumbered by Faranage’s security, do their best to escape. For William, this consists of standing very still and thinking about who he is going to fool next. For Henry, a smooth dive and a fast underwater swim with waterbreathing, terminated by a hold spell and goons. For Modron, a waterbreathing aided trudge across the seabed, accompanied by a very happy waterbreathing cat. Modron is intercepted by goons, but Max gains him just enough time to cast his trademark extra-dimensional space spell. The resulting flood of water sweeps Modron to safety, and he snatches up Max shortly afterwards. Farange’s goons include a substantial number of mages, however, and they soon dispel his magic and capture him.
The team are secured in a cell, where Faranage visits them. Initially the interrogation is looking bad for the team, but Faranage then reveals he wishes to defect, and wants to send one of them to arrange a meeting. Modron is deputised, and returns with Sam Gunnson. A negotiation follows, which for the team crucially ends in them returning to the City intact.
Sam explains that “Faranage” means not only to defect himself, but to bring his entire clan – which may be his entire species – over with him. The Band recognise that he’s a multiple murderer, who can copy anyone whose death he is present at, but see his species as a valuable weapon in the war against the Uncity. “Faranage” has a gate setting for his homeworld, but it is an Uncity setting, and working out how to translate one of those is going to be taxing. When it is decoded, the team get to go to his homeworld and evacuate his people from under the aerosol silver bomb holding them hostage, while avoiding the threats of a homeworld so dangerous the sentient species are natural chameleons … In the meantime, “Faranage” will stay in place, working for the Band, and the PCs have passed their entrance exam.
O it’s shifter this, an’ shifter that, an’ “Shifter, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Shifter,” when the band begins to play.
The band begins to play my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Shifter” when the band begins to play.
The PCs receive a note from their Band handler, Sam Gunnson. “Take the Logan contract, and build trust with him. We will double the fee”. Hot on it’s heels, Nadrek Logan arrives at their office.
Nadrek is a nervous looking, late-middle aged man. He is a moderately successful shipwright specialising in producing ships for assembly off-world). He has two sons, Orry and Max, who don’t get on. The younger has never wanted to continue in the family firm as second to his brother, and has spent some time finding his place in the world. Max’s most recent enterprise has been as initial scout for offworld trade prospects. He did surprisingly well at it – Nadrek hints his son has always been a smooth talker and personable, and doesn’t lack courage – and persuaded his father to invest in a business to carry out investigations of his own tunings. Max has not returned on a follow-up visit to one of his prospects, and a fellow Master of the Shipwrights Guild, Ilona Hastings, recommended the PCs as being good people for a search and rescue mission. He gathered $500 was their standard price? He has not been in touch for two weeks, and is three days overdue.
The PCs devour notes from Max’s first visit to Finniston. A basic reading of them will highlight some important facts about Finniston.
Finniston as Max saw it.
Magic level: Low. [The rules for low-magic settings apply] Natives are unsurprised by magical effects, including translating devices; and there are a number of colleges which train mages (note, no monopoly trainer). Large scale magical manufacture does not appear to happen, however, so there would be a good market in magical devices.
Climate: City Standard. There are additional lakes to the south of the city.
Flora and Fauna: Unexceptional, although the local healers seem to be skilled herbalists, so there may be some native plants which could be useful exports. A cultural emphasis on diet and herbs as healthcare may make them open to imports of herbal products. Ironwood grows well, and is a common (and low price) alternative to metal for most applications. A predator common in heraldry appears to be an unusually massive bear, but it may be either mythical or extinct. May be popular with tourists.
Politics: Finniston is a provincial capital at the northern edge of an Empire based on a city called Kagigton. The empire is ruled by an elected Emperor, elected by and from (normally hereditary) rulers of each province. For a very martial society, stability is fairly good, at the price of a fairly robust approach to any threats to the provincial rulers, and common (rule bound) war between these rulers. The current ruler of Finniston is Prince Yuri, who inherited from a long line of rulers. Any interference with local politics is strongly counterindicated.
Trade: Advanced money and credit economy, with a combination of silver, gold, and paper money circulating freely. Trade with foreigners is quite acceptable, as far as he can tell in all products, but more dominant in the southern cities of the Empire. A traders license is required for large scale transactions. Bribery is accepted by some officials, but not a way of life.
Culture: Very hierarchical, with a degree of subtle gradations that escape him. A key feature here is the language which is used in conversation – there are multiple cues which reveal not only your own status, but how you perceive the other persons status. Standard translation gear seems to accommodate what the listener is expecting to hear, which avoids offense, but makes intimidation or surprise difficult. Colours worn, and especially accessorised, seem to carry a meaning here too. Black seems to be pretty neutral. “Wealthy Foreign merchant” seems to be middle-class, given more respect by professional classes, guild members etc, than by labourers and the poor. A sufficiently big social gap appears to allow the superior to beat or kill the inferior with impunity – not clear on this, but recommends caution. In particular, anyone wearing sky-blue, even as an accessory, should be treated with tremendous care, and certainly toadied to.
Military: No restriction on personal weapons, and upper classes are routinely armed, but missile weapons in the town draw comment. Armour uncommonly worn, and seems to be associated with fairly low status bodyguards – although upper classes definitely wear it for ceremonial and warlike purposes. Militia doubles as police force, and does not seem to face challenges worse than brigandage.
Resources: Max has hired an old knackers yard within easy walking distance of a number of gates (including the PCs), and right over a large commercial gate (Ulverston 4). It provides decent accommodation for a trade mission, and with a little work could give the privacy for a gate landing, plus warehouse space. He has a number of friendly contacts in the local guilds, including a functionary in Prince Yuri’s Palace. Unfortunately neither the off-world base, not the contacts, are named.
The PCs travel to the tuning, and soon find Max’s base. In the process they come across a friendly gang of street-urchins, run across a bunch of sword wielding thugs who start a fight with Bran for fun and then kill their companion when he loses, and are very polite to anyone who looks high caste. Nosing around suggests that Max had made particular good friends with Mistress Cyndria, a hugh class herbalist. He appears to have gone to a dinner party she threw, and never came back.
Further nosing around, including with competitors of Mistress Cyndria, reveals that his behaviour at the dinner party was sufficiently disturbing to make it clear that he was mentally ill. Kindly, she arranged for him to be transferred to The City Asylum for treatment. At this point the PCs realise that there is not only no religion in this world, but no conception of the possibility of religion.
The party head out to to The Asylum, and combine burglary with asking questions. Modron realises that his translation magic works for both spoken and written language, and spends a happy hour going through the medical records. Max had been diagnosed as delusion, but responded well to the (fairly humane) treatment regime. Unfortunately, during a chemically enhanced therapy session he revealed that he was still completely wed to his delusional mind-set, but clever enough to nearly fool the doctors. The same rummage reveals an anomaly – the notes for Doctor Argyle suggests he was transferred to Dr Zan, the notes for Dr Zan don’t suggest so.
The PCs confront the Director of the Asylum in the middle of the night, and combination of unspoken threat, and the danger of embarrassing a high-status lady, combine to ensure cooperation. Max is gone, and there is no clear idea where he might be. But fairly soon after it is discovered that the nurse in charge of the last therapy session, Merv Ewart, has not come into work for a few days, citing an ill grandmother. Searching her lodgings in town reveal no grandmoth, but a pile of journals. Older entries of which are tremendously tedious but identify her as a seeker, or rather a Seeker, who knows not what they seek. The last complete journal finishes a month ago, on the last page. The older journals talk about a Study Group she leads, and include discussions of each member. She talks about how useful it is for the group to have “retreats” in Apprentice Scribe Schul’s family cottage out of town.
Soon the PCs are at the family cottage, and confront Ewart and her cultists. They are a remarkably mild mannered lot, and the situation is resolved with some smooth talking, and offering of much more knowledgeable theologians to teach the study group all about <insert name of church prepared to pay best for first crack at a new market>.
Typical Empire retinue.
An urgent message is received from the Band handler. On reporting, the PCs learn that the City has recently found an unusually interesting tuning, which exceptionally has been taken under direct Crown control. It is a world where dinosaurs, and their descendants, still rule the earth. The sentient species, the R’Ka, is a smaller than human sized, sentient, bipedial dinosaur. The world of the R’Ka is a high magic world, where the R’ka have been focussing on bioengeering magic, and improving the proportion of the population which uses magic, for centuries. Compared with the City, they are a massively populated world with a vastly higher proportion of mages (as it turns out, around half the population has magical aptitude, and around 2/3 of them train as mages. A potentially valuable trading partner, but also an obvious threat if they even get Gate magic – and they do now know the concept of Gate travel. The R’ka is a state secret, as is the The Eye in the Wall (see earlier write up). The Band are distinctly disturbed to find a fragmented of a highly encrypted message referring to both. Frustratingly, the Band refuse to disclose to Modron any more about the message than this.
The PCs are asked to join the existing diplomatic mission. As cover, they are a team sent especially to investigate a trade good – focus rings which give +1 to final spell casting rolls in a high magic setting like the R’Ka or the City, but (as it turns out) allow the wearer to act is if in a low>medium>high magic world. Valuable for the City, a bit odd for a world that doesn’t have Gates, and a plausible cover. Getting their affairs in order, and leaving Bran behind (see “a diplomatic mission”), the PCs pass through the Crown Gate into the world of the R’Ka.
The City embassy is a comfortable, secure but not stifling, building in the R’Ka capital. Coroner Huntersen. Crown servant, leader, wily old bird.
Thirken.Huntersen’s maid of all work. Cooks a wicked stew.
Master Dwight. Official magical advisor. Has responsibility in the mage’s guild for apprentices. Is known for a morbid phobia of rats and mice. Modron later begins to speculate that the intractable nature of this misfortune may indicate an immunity to mind reading and mind control. Amiable but mind-blowingly patronising.
Apprentice Xavier. Dwight’s sidekick. A bit old for an apprentice. Has a vast knowledge of animal control and repelling spells. Is a member of the Band.
Watch Commander Wirth. Military advisor. He has been around the block a lot, and sees the R’Ka mainly as a threat. He also thinks they have taken the presence of alien’s amongst them surprisingly well. He is not convinced they are ignorant of Gate travel.
Post Commander Savalli. More lively second in command, and effective commander of the security detail. Reknowned crossbow shot.
Reverend Merchant Alpin. Trade advisor, family business in soft furnishings.
Apprentice Merchant Batten. Assistant to Alpin. Oddly, not one of her apprentices. Apparantly her apprentice left under a bid of a cloud while the mission was being prepared, and he was slotted in.
Senior Watchman Maddox (Centre). Watchmen Theon Mayer, Jamelia Salt, Selina Grant, Qasim Trejo. Lamar Evans. Think Secret Service with (magical) swords and (magical) mail.
The PCs cover story seems to be accepted, and the mission arranges for them to get a liaison officer to focus on the rings. They get Algernon.
Everyone in the mission seems to like Algernon, and he’s a very bright lad. He speaks a surprising number of phrases of City, before relying on magical translation, and seems to understand humans surprisingly well. The PCs speculate he has been bred for his role – the R’ka seem to breed for everything. He is also well connected socially – he has an uncle of some kind who runs a focus ring manufactory and oftens to take the PCS on a multiday tour.
A sizeable retinue of Algernon, saurs of burden, 12 guards (2/3 gold caste, presumably magic users; 1/3 grey slave caste but armed) escorts the PCs (magically disguised as R’Ka courtesy of Algernon) to the quarry. A multiday journey with lots of chat, some philosophy, some gambling, and fairly good naturing circling around possible deals. Algernon assumes humans would want to improve their blood line if they could, and sees R’ka technology allowing that to be done as obviously desirable. Modron is rather less convinced. The R’ka also happily use slaves, with bioengeering being used to reduce occasional outbursts – sometimes contagious – of slave madness (or “revolt” or “desire for freedom”, depending on your point of view).
The Quarry is a large concern, combining extraction of some sort of ore with preparing with very fresh plantlife immediately. The plantlife is not familiar to the PCs (think prehistoric), and maybe the R’Ka are right on saying purchasing rings may work better than tech transfer. The PCs have just got sample rings, when things go pear shaped – without any warnings from the sentries the PCs had passed on coming to the quarry.
The first wave is a stampede of wild herbivores. The quarry is well set up to deal with that, and golds begin to exercise control over the animals, not expecting the flurry of preternaturally accurate cross-bow bolts that drop them. As greys emerge from the woods to close into melee, a second wave of fast moving carnivores deploys. As the defenders shift formation and strategy to deal with them, they open themselves up to more crossbow attacks. Even with clairvoyance, the PCs don’t see how this works out, but it’s looking bad.
As things turned pearshaped, Algernon order the PCs and half his retinue to hole up in a deserted mining gallery. The door is destroyed by a carnosaur, doing itself a lot of damage in the process. The R’Ka guards deal with it swiftly, but were not expecting an invisible something that threw a (chemical?) bomb into their midst. Scratch the R’Ka guards, one of whom falls on Stevens pinning him to the ground, but not Henry (despite getting a face full of the green goo eating at preternatural speed into the R’Ka around him) The party execute an emergency gate return, just as a purple globe gets lobbed in by something shimmining, and once they stop being violently sick, are rushed to hospital for a few days to recover.
The Band want them to return to the fray, while Modron wants to go in all guns blazing as official investigators. A compromise is reached where they are returned, still under the original cover, but with additional letters of authority to investigate treason, to use if necessary.
Upon their return, Algernon (who survived) is incredibly glad to see them. He had mentioned that if anything happened to them he would be crucified (he was not being metaphorical), and his superiors feared the guests had been stolen by wild slaves. He sticks firmly to the idea that the attack was by wild slaves, and explains that the poverty of the City in terms of magical devices probably makes them think the raid was better equipped than that would explain. He offers to make it up to them in a ‘raptor fight that evening.
Before he can do so, the PCs return to the embassy, and arrange a meeting with the Coroner. Modron decides the direct approach is best, and after a fairly brief conversation with their enhanced bona fides on display, proceeds to mentally dominate the Coronor. She checks out, which is unfortunate in some ways, as when released vows eternal vengeance on Modron for the soul-rape; only slightly modifying the anatomically (and species) specific nature of her vengeance if the PC sort everything out and make sure she gets the credit.
An understandably stiff dinner is broken by an invitation to the Emperor’s palace – a first. Everyone except two guards and Thirken answer the summons. The grand audience hall is pretty impressive. The Emperor – a super-gold – is impressive. Less impressive, but potentially more interesting, are the two retinues of humans (but not, it seems, City humans) waiting in the hall when the PCs enter.