“Morbion created these four pools of olive slime by using stone shape to create two-foot-deep hollow depressions in the floor. He then transplanted a batch of olive slime to each and has been cultivating the four over the past several days in an attempt to develop variant forms of the ooze. So far, his experiments have met with failure and he’s only grown four patches of ordinary olive slime.”
Sunday, 7 April 2013
a city without a name
I wanted to imagine
building a city for D&D.
No. Not true. I was
fantasising about being asked to build a city for D&D. Someone important
was saying ‘well you are a genius Patrick, Veins Of The Earth was a huge success, everyone is thinking, what are you going to do next?'
I was saying ‘well I
could do the ultimate Drow sourcebook but to be honest if I did it I would want
to go full out and not hold back anything and if I did that it would be mainly about slavey and way to
dark and upsetting and trigger-warningy for mass production so I better not.
Plus, thinking about all that dark shit for a long length of time would get me
down. So instead I would like to do a signature city or place for one of the
good guys. Like those 4th edition modules, but good. Like the module
as you remember it through the haze of childhood fifteen years after you
actually read it. With all the crap forgotten and the good stuff embroidered by
the inventions of time. Then I thought of this picture-
And I said DWARVES.
Imagine you are
coming to the painful end of a long life. You can feel your body decaying
around you. You have Alzheimer’s, you can feel your memories and sense of self drifting
away moment by moment. You are alone. You are afraid. You are living the last
moments of your life in the direct presence of annihilating despair. A void of
meaning. But, let loose from all calculations, at the end of every possible
hope, instead of collapsing, or crying or silently breaking down, what if you
were to rise up?To surge. To throw
yourself carelessly into deadly adventure? To coil every fading memory, every tenuous
pale flame of selfhood and every dying ember of self-respect into a charged
spring of action and then to hurl yourself madly and violently into the face of
evil and madness for the cause of all mankind?
Imagine if instead
of a person, that was describing a civilisation, and that civilisation was
encoded in a single city. That is the city I would write.
I don’t know what it’s
It’s lying tilted
and falling in the mouth of a volcano. A good third has already fallen in and
bits and pieces are going all the time. The whole thing could just side away
The volcano leads
straight to hell and daemons spew out every night.
The kings of hell hate
this city. It is the city of the Dwarves. The Dwarves were great and mighty in
ages past. They were sombre and grim and dwarfish and sang long low songs, but
they were hard as fucking nails, so instead of getting decedent and pervy,
whenever their civilisation got bored, they would collectively find the evilest
creatures and forces across all the cosmos and they would just fuck with them.
Just to ruin evils day. That is what the dwarves did with their spare eons.
Century over century over century of tracking down daemons and liches and
diabolic dragons and creatures of the outer dark and just fucking with them, killing
them, wrecking their plans, freeing their slaves, bringing down the dark towers,
just for the pleasure of doing it. That’s how you run a culture.
So now the age of
dwarves is done. Their civilisation is dying. The kings of hell have sworn to
drag the last city of the Dwarves down into the fire. Who is going to stop
The City is a place
where every night hell unleashes another apocalypse to destroy it, and every
night the anarchist remnants of the Dwarven people (and anyone else who wants
to turn up) fight them off, just to ensure another day goes past.
There would be big
tables to decide what kind of apocalypse is happening tonight, they would all
be utterly different. Yes, big red devils with wings, but also living creatures
of despair, evil plots, strange magics, ghosts of evil dragons, fallen angel
deathsongs, diabolic brass siege engines, never the same thing twice. Never the
same kind of thing twice.
And because this is
a place where you are guaranteed to come face to face with ultimate despair
every night, only the coolest, craziest, bravest people go there. The kind of
people who are either massively good, totally at the end of their tether, or
just don’t give a fuck.
this girl is there, she looks cool
There is no real
central authority. There might be a king but he is pretty busy foiling endless
evil plots to worry too much about what you are up to, so it’s cool. It’s
mainly Dwarves. Strange mad brave dwarves. They are old and weird with the
knowledge of forgotten centuries and dead friends, or young and careless in the
face of destruction. There are lots of other types of people there as well. All
the people who couldn’t get along anywhere else because they were too real for
the system. No-one is too fussed about normative conduct because you have probably
signed your own death warrant by coming there. It’s generally assumed that you
are going to spend your time doing something unspeakably heroic. Because if
everyone in the city wasn’t doing that all the time then the city would be
There are endless
halls and catacombs and ancient libraries and museums and strange crypts. They are
full of the knowledge and secrets and treasures of the Dwarves. Accumulated and
guarded over millennia. The secrets are all about fighting evil. Every night
demonic forces surge into the city and try to wipe out the collected memory of
civilisation. Every night, teams of anarchist kamikaze librarians do battle to
preserve the memory of the past so that future generations will know how to successfully
fuck with evil too.
(There is also lots
and lots of gold and treasure which needs to be rescued from hell.)
When the sun comes
up and the city is still there, people throw a drunken dwarven party. There
will be big random tables and rules for partying and what happens then.
In the day while
living hero’s sleep, the ghosts of the heroic dead guard the city silently against
invisible evils no-one else suspects. So even if you die in the city then that’s
just the start of a bigger adventure for your ghost.
In the points
between fighting evil, partying and sleeping, people try to run a (sort-of)
normal city. They fix sewers, shop, deal with infrastructure. There are normal
jobs but the people doing them are the best possible versions of the people
doing them anywhere because everyone here is slightly mad and heroic.
And that is the city
I would make. (art by John Blanche)