Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Realms - Niontia Unprime 236

We begin with a piece of concept art, for the Dead-Blooded bloodline, and then we will travel to Niontia Unprime 236.

Elexender Gwaiotus - a Dead-Blooded Blightshifter

Elexender is a dour, serious-looking young man in his early 20s. His skin is sallow and unhealthy-looking, his black eyes sunken. Part of his lip has rotted away, leaving his teeth visible. His straight black hair is cut into a style like the wigs of the Revolutionary War. He wears an 18th-century nobleman’s outfit -- waistcoat, breeches, cravat -- in stark, plain black, and it is old and not well-cared-for. He holds a skull in one hand, with the other hand making an arcane gesture at it. The skull appears to be regrowing its flesh. He stares at the skull with an intense look of concentration.
And the image, after the jump:

This image is exactly what I asked Amy for, and yet completely inadequate. That is to say, it made me realize that perhaps the Dead-Blooded aren't very strong a concept as a Bloodline. I don't want to admit it -- they are my babies, the ones that started the City of Lives off as a concept -- but their identity is not very distinct. Part of their concept is that due to their stigmatized nature, they try to conceal it as much as possible. I quote myself (not from the blog, don't worry, you didn't miss anything): 

Dead-blooded appear to be ordinary humans, not dissimilar to the Sons of Light, in almost every way. [here we have a problem already -- the notion of "ordinary humans" means very little in the City, and there's no reason they would look like the Sons of Light unless it was only the Sons of Light who were raped by zombies way back when ] It is the deadblood’s subtle differences that set them apart – their skin tends to be sallow and unhealthy-looking; they age very slowly, living for two centuries easily and without showing any sign of their age until well into their sixteenth or seventeenth decade; their body temperature is low and pulse slow. The other symptoms are variable: some have an uncanny scent of the grave about them, while others find pieces of themselves constantly decaying and falling off, and still others wilt greenery with a simple touch; some find themselves followed by crows, rats, and vultures; some have a low sensitivity to sensation and pain. A deadblood’s blood is thick, almost black, exudes a foul odor, and is a potent venom.

Okay, so not very evocative visually, and the fact that it is designed to be a hidden culture -- a "Jews passing for Christian in Nazi Germany" or "Light-skinned black passing for white in the pre-Civil War South" -- leaves very little room for overt cultural imagery either.

This is why I've made a decision. After some consultation with my playtesters, primarily my fiancee, I've decided to remove the Dead-Blooded as a core Bloodline. Instead, they will be a "supplementary" bloodline -- a character will be a Kipman or Promethean or Pariah, but they may also be a secret Dead-Blood, with all the advantages and disadvantages that carries. We've managed to maintain the coolness factor of the secrecy (and/or stigma), the undead connection, and the emotionlessness, while removing their lackluster culture and fuzzy physicality. Yay for the full win!

And now, for the main topic, Niontian Unprime 236:

You step through the shiftgate, a desolate landscape shimmering into view. Only a few buildings dot the landscape, looking rusty in the the ruddy light of a dying sun -- but you know that you are actually in the midst of a bustling city, which you verify by looking down and seeing the living shadows that whiz around the ground, hissing quietly in their alien tongue... Welcome to Niontia Unprime 236. A colony world of the Niontians near the Realm of Lives, it is a city of deception. A city of evil (or at least, as evil as things get in the shades-of-gray City of Lives world.

But enough about Geography. Let's take a look at Niontia Unprime 236. This is a batch of information my playtesters and I determined about it:

  • The original Niontia Prime is a 2-D world where humans can’t survive.
  • However, Niontia Unprime 236 is a physical world. It has no native life, a low but liveable temperature and oxygen content, and a red giant sun.
  • Unprime 236 was settled by the Niontians because of its location — close to the City and the Shertasi Empire and Ma’ar Commonwealth.
  • The Niontians are involves in the Shertasi-Ma’ar war — either trapped in a situation they can’t escape, or opportunistically taking advantage of distracted opponents, depending on who you ask.
  • Unprime 236 serves as a trading post, shuttling goods and travelers between the City and further Realms. It also imports goods from the City to support its small corporeal population (mostly diplomats and merchants), and exports services like [??... what businesses could utilize 2-dimensional creatures? Any thoughts? Sound off in the comments!]
  • The corpie populace has built small numbers of physical buildings — and a there are also physical structures that provide shade for the Niontians.
  • The central city of Unprime 236 is named Aphotic 9 [ay-FOE-tick] (it's Latin for "no light").
  • Kidnapping people to exchange them for political favors from the dominant is a standard, and fully-legal, part of the local political system.
Okay, so let's ARTT this bad boy out.

Archetype: Niontian culture falls into the category of the-- as typified by D&D's Drow, the Cardassians of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or the Elves/Fairies/Lords and Ladies of Discworld.  Nobody on Unprime 236 trust one another, much less foreigners, so it is a dangerous place for any player character to come to.

Real-Life Inspiration: the real-life inspiration of Niontia Unprime 236 is built out of two pieces: There are the spies and tensions of such a city as Casablanca, and the general mood of the Soviet populace during the Stalinist era or Chinese population during the Cultural Revolution. It is also based around the more corrupt governments that appear in South America, in Africa, and others such places, where bribing police is a standard piece of going about your business, where everyone is considered guilty until proven innocent (or until they have something to bargain with).

Theme: Niontia Unprime 236 is designed to be a place of secrets, and deception in its very fibers. It is a civilization that lives on deceit, that holds kidnapping and falsifying documents as completely natural, and every member of the government -- perhaps even member every member of the populace -- has a side business as spymaster. It is

Twist: The twist here is what I'm working my playtesters through right now. In a culture of deceit, no two organizations trust each other. The Niontians run their government with something akin to British Parliamentary structure, with a ruling party and an opposition party, and those two are always looking for ways to undermine each other -- there is no bipartisan cooperation in 236. While both these parties may be evil from the point-of-view of the PCs, there is an old saying... "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Then again, that saying in Niontian politics goes "The enemy of my enemy is the enemy of my enemy, nothing more, nothing less."

Next time, we will begin to examine Archetypal images and the catlike Ma'ar.