Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Letter Column the 1st -- part two

Welcome back to Letter Column the 1st, Part Two... in which we shall finish up pryllin's letter, examine a comment by @kelly, and an e-mail from @anonymous.

@pryllin asks "If the city government is so weak... what does it actually do and why is it still there?" This is, indeed, a dilemma for me. I like the idea of the noble Houses and gangs controlling most of the City -- it's a central conceit of the world. But I also like the idea of a virtually powerless government hopelessly fighting the good fight. And then there's the lassez-faire Elder Trio -- inspired by Discworld's Lord Vetinari and Planescape's Lady of Pain, I'm not sure what their role is anymore, or how their influence is felt, if at all.

So -- perhaps the powerlessness of the City government might actually be emphasized if they have a little more authority. Perhaps a small police force, alternately valiant but outmanned and ridiculously corrupt. The courts do exist and are funded, but are massively overcrowded and backed up. The government manages public works, transportation and foreign policy. That's a start, but maybe there should be more... @pryllin suggests a representative government confounded by too many varied opinions, or a puppet government controlled secretly by the aristocracy, or that the official government is the deciding vote in some kind of aristocratic parliament. I can't say any of these ideas strike me as quite right, but neither are quite wrong. Pondering shall commence.

@kelly points out that Belltown is a district in Seattle. Apparently he hasn't gotten to the post where I discover that and decide to change the name. On the other hand, @anonymous says I shouldn't let the fact that Belltown exists keep me from using it for the setting. Opinions? Use the poll to the right!

@kelly also asks: "What do people in this city eat? Is there some vast extraplanar hinterland that feeds them?" While I think the phrase "vast extraplanar hinterland" is really neat, the City's food source is, by and large, less exotic than that. In the main, their food comes from farms and ranches out on the Julian Plains, just as Chicago gets most of its food from farms across the Midwest. However, as Chicago also gets some food from all across the globe, the City also trades for food and goods all across the Realms, for such delicacies as Blasphemer Pie, Ma'aran Livemeats, and Tuneflesh.

@arrowhen on sensibleerection.com (interesting, but generally NSFW social bookmarking site) says : "I found the few entries I looked at kind of disappointing. I was hoping for insight - more of a "here's the reason behind including Cool Location X" rather that just "Hey, look what I made!"" while @anonymous says "include (especially at the beginning of every blog post, as a kind of introduction) stuff about HOW you are going about constructing this city... this is the kind of stuff I find really interesting. How did you think up these names, where you get your ideas from, etc... you ought to make it more applicable and helpful to the reader who is interested in creating his own RPG--more of a how to." @arrowhen, @anonymous, your points are well-taken. The purpose of this blog has always been two-fold: to share my results, and to share my techniques. Recently, it has drifted too far into sharing my results, with not enough of sharing my techniques. @arrowhen, @anonymous, I shall endeavor to give more informational, design-based posts.

And on that note, let's examine the beginnings of the next stop on our continuing tour of the City of Lives -- Corhurst, the middle-class residential district. Let's see -- what do we know about Corhurst?
  • It is primarily residential, and most of its residents will be IversdottersLeovites, and Pariahs (essentially, the middle class).
Well, that's about it. What logical conclusions can we come to?
  • The Iversdotter gangs are presumably mostly based out of here -- or at least, their leadership probably lives here.
  • The Pariahs have their own ancestral neighborhood, The Clouded Ghetto, so that must be here in Corhurst.
  • Presumably, as the seat of the Iversdotters' power, and with the other two main bloodlines unlikely to cause trouble, Corhurst is very stable politically, financially, and has little crime.
And let's stop here. The Clouded Ghetto comes from a basic conceit of my Bloodline design -- that being, I tried to base each one off of three foundations:
  • Fantasy game archetypes (which I discussed here) -- something recognizable to the fantasy genre, and a good starting point for game balance and player variety of choice.
  • A real-life culture -- basing a culture only on other fictional pieces is not going to result in realistic fiction, much as making a copy of a copy ends up in smudged text.
  • A central metaphor -- all of fantasy fiction (and most fiction in general, IMHO), is based on metaphor. Want to write about terrorism and war, without the inherent political backlash that will come from exploring real-life events in Iraq and Afghanistan? Place your story among the Twelve Colonies and make your terrorist mechanical Cylons, and we've got the amazing Battlestar Galactica. And so should it be not only for your setting, but for each primary element of your setting.
So let's re-examine the Pariahs, in light of that:
  • Archetype: Fallen -- Manipulative, backstabbing, and deceitful. Usually evil, but that all depends on your point of view.
  • Real-life culture: Eastern European Jews (circa the Middle Ages/Renaissance) -- insular, untrusting and untrusted, commonly merchants and moneylenders. Outcasts.
  • Central metaphor: Sorrow They Cannot Let Go
use the other bloodlines. Now, the first instinct in basing them off of European Jews and their stereotypes/archetypes is to make them merchants supreme -- like the Ferengi and Toydarians. But what bout their metaphor and archetype? That implies to me more of an interest in knowledge. In secrets. What better way to avoid being betrayed is to hold everyone's secrets? Thus, the Pariahs are focused on being information merchants -- they know everything and will sell it for a price... except for information on their own, closed-off culture.

Applying this to district-building is easy. A culture so insular must have a neighborhood all their own. Being based on the Jews, I can't resist calling it a Ghetto. Let's name it from the metaphor. Weeping Ghetto? A little too on the nose. Ghetto of Secrets? Doesn't really roll off the tongue. Ah -- a name that implies both sadness and an inability to look in: The Clouded Ghetto. And where is the Clouded Ghetto? Presumably, in the district that houses most of the Pariahs -- Corhurst.

Join me next time as I continue to examine Corhurst and its origins, with How to Build a District: The ART system -- Corhurst