Friday, November 19, 2010

City Generation - The Lost District

Okay, folks, we've come to the end of our tour of the City's districts. Last, and least (at least, according to the City denizens), is the Lost District. The basic concept behind the Lost District is an old, abandoned junkyard of a district, almost completely cut off from the rest of the city.

Archetype: The Lost District is my bow to the "dungeon-crawl" that has been a part of fantasy gaming since the age-old days of the 1970s. The "dungeon" is traditionally not an actual dungeon, filled with prisoners and guards, but instead some kind of abandoned tomb, mine, mage's tower, or other forgotten area that has been taken over by animals and monsters. The "dungeon-crawling" party will usually explore the hazardous maze (it's always maze-like -- one inspiration for the dungeon archetype is the minotaur's labyrinth), searching for gold, valuable items, and (sometimes) trying to slay some kind of lord of the dungeon.

Now, none of this stuff is particularly in the mood of CoL -- filled with aristocrats rather than monsters (or both at the same time) -- but there is room for a "dungeon" in the ideological confines of the City. However, it needs a twist. Partly inspired by Planescape's central city Sigil's eternally shifting geography, I decided a kind of junkyard would work as a dungeon -- in a city filled with magic, people can throw away not only food garbage and scrap metal, but entire derelict buildings. Worldbuilders move the earth below the abandoned buildings, moving them across the streets; Realmshifters effortlessly teleport them; Forceshifters and Skyshapers pry them from their foundations and carry the wrecks above the city streets. All these buildings end up in one place, and after century upon century of edifices piling up, a maze of destroyed architecture has formed, filled with monsters, Bloodshifted mutants, and tribal scavenger societies.

Real-Life: I am inspired here by the Seattle Underground. For those that aren't Washingtonians, let me explicate. Back in the early days of Seattle, low tidelands and badly-designed indoor plumbing caused massive flooding -- and to fix it, the city designers decided to raise the street level between 12 and 30 feet. For a while, they lived like this, setting up ladders to go down the tremendous height between street-level and the building entrances. Eventually, they turned their second floors into first floors, paving over the old streets ten feet below and leaving a ghost city beneath their feet. While Seattle block off a relatively small part of their City (mostly part of downtown), and have nothing more exotic down there than rats and a few ghost stories, the City of Lives holds far more dangerous creatures looking for shadows to hide in.

Theme: The theme of the Lost District is abandonment. This is where the unwanted go, where things are forgotten... and Lost. Where else can we go with this -- beyond the monsters, who else will have fled to the enforced solitude of the Lost District? What about the Dead-Blooded? They have little place in the City. That is, of course, the whole point of the bloodline -- being outcast -- but their current status as hiding within the other bloodlines gives them little culture of their own, little distinction or reason to play one. Perhaps if we embrace the outcast nature of the Dead-Blooded, and of the Lost District, we can put them together into a richer whole. So -- a community of dead-blooded, embracing their connection to death and surrounding themselves with Blightbound servants -- and even co-citizens.

A short aside: The Blightbound are the City of Lives' version of the zombie. A soul torn from the afterlife and bound to its corpse, most live in eternal torment, aching to return to the peace of the next world, but completely incapable of ever resting. This zombie model gives a minor twist to the traditional archetype -- I like the idea that they are, by-and-large, evil, not "just because," but owing to the fact they have been forced into a pain-filled existence against their will. Also the same concept allows me to tie ghosts in as well -- a ghost is a Blightbound whose body has been destroyed, but whose soul is still attached to its leftover bits of remains, or who was bound to a place or object instead of a body.

Of course, here I have a problem -- the Blightbound "zombies" are angry, tortured beings, and I'm not sure they can live in peace with the Dead-Blooded. Maybe there's another technique that avoids the pain, or their pain is lessened or eliminated by proximity to their part-human descendants; or maybe it is a dark, angry society hidden there in the Lost District, preparing to inflict vengeance on the uncaring living in the rest of the City.

What else can we get out of this Theme? Well, a common aspect of dungeons is ancient, forgotten magic and/or technology, as most fantasy worlds are like Medieval Europe, fallen from a former height of culture and technology with some analogue of Rome. And "forgotten" is part of the Lost District's theme. the thing is, the City never had a bright, forgotten era -- the present is the best things have ever been. I made this decision to avoid the tired idea of forgotten heights, and to fit the notion of the City of Lives as more like the 18th century, when everyone saw themselves as rising to a glorious future rather an trying to recapture a faded past. On the other hand, there was a time in the City's past that was, if not better, then at least different. Before the Elder Trio came to the City, a Son of Light might have set up his own fortress, and now it is left behind, filled with forgotten Relics, or bits of lost history that might shed light on the nature of the Elder Trio.

So, there we have it. The last of the City's districts, and either the simplest or most complicated district of them all, depending on your viewpoint. Next time, we'll examine some of the denizens of the Lost District -- and elsewhere -- as you follow me brainstorming some Monsters!