Wednesday 14 November 2018

The Sad Tale of Old Vastroy

In the early days of the colony, the largest, wealthiest and most important settlement was neither Kambyra Town ,the main port, nor Dylaro, the colonial capital: rather, that honour went to Vastroy, a burgeoning town on the river of the same name. This town existed in a state of quasi-independence  from the colonial government, with its own charter from the Emperor. It grew steadily as the staging post for the colonial assault on the interior, as well as an important transit point for the trade goods that flowed in both directions. As the hinterland was gradually tamed, the town also grew increasingly wealthy. Despite much resentment from the colonial administration and the settlers, Vastroy soon had a lock hold on the economy, and its increasingly rich merchant class were the leaders of society on the island. But this wealth bred hubris, and it was this that ultimately led to Vastroy’s eclipse and eventual destruction.
A powerful committee of investors – merchants and nobles from both Vastroy and the Empire itself – decided to make the town’s ascendancy complete by building a new port on the Vastroy River, thus bypassing colonial customs in Kambyra Town, and effectively killing that infamous sink of vice and graft. Massive sums were raised and the work begun. It ran into difficulties almost immediately: the swampy lower reaches of the Vastroy River were ill-suited for any vessel with draught larger than a barge or small fishing boat, and a huge engineering work was begun, dredging the river and building a system of locks and new channels to enable ocean-going vessels to reach Vastroy.
The humanoids dwelling in the swamps had kept – for the most part – aloof from the colonists. The fens they occupied were dangerous and inimical to settlement, and they had been mostly left alone. But now, the colonists were invading the fens and destroying the habitat of millennia. The Lizardfolk who dwelt in the fens withdrew to the north and south, away from the river, but the Boggards, Fey and Goblins who made the fens their home were not so passive. They began to raid the work-camps, destroying supplies and slaughtering or driving off the workers. Delays led to rising costs, and Vastroy’s elite now had to contend with increasing debt, exacerbated by the need to hire mercenaries to defend the camps. The colonial government – and the Emperor – refused to commit troops to the endeavour, which had been revealed as an exercise in foolhardiness.
The mercenaries proved inept in defending the workers – but much better at slaying them when the inevitable revolt began in the camps. Desperate to complete the building of the port, the investors brought in a large force of slaves. These miserable individuals were set to work, and, although many fell to the depredations of the swamp-dwellers, the river’s new course gradually took shape. Just when Vastroy’s elite were breathing sighs of relief and celebrating – somewhat prematurely – their success, catastrophe struck. For time out of mind, a great creature had lain entrapped in the muddy bed of the lower river: a Thalassic Behemoth. Long ago bound by magic and buried by silt and muck, this monster was inadvertently freed by the dredging of the river. It immediately attacked the slaves, mercenaries and engineers, destroying the earthworks and slaughtering everything sent against it. It then moved upriver and laid waste to much of Vastroy itself.  Only the courageous efforts of a group of adventurers saw it captured and trapped in a small demi-plane (the ‘key’ to this demi-plane is said to be held in Dylaro, the summer capital, but this is a rumour put about by the administration to help secure their rule. It is in fact lost somewhere in the ruins of Vastroy).
With their scheme  - and most of their home – in ruins, the merchants and nobles of Vastroy fled the town, leaving it to die an unruly death (most of the investors lost everything, and most died as paupers in exile). Most of the commonalty also left, some going to Kambyra Town, where they established several criminal gangs that plague the town to this day. Others, more law-abiding in nature, founded the village of Little Vastroy to the north, settling for a quiet agricultural life a safe distance from the dangers of the fens.
Only a few fierce and hardy souls remained in Vastroy, and they were terribly vulnerable to the incessant raiding of Goblin and Boggard. Only the fact that these two humanoid races were just as vicious in their struggles with each other allowed the town to survive, though much diminished. Eventually, with the town the merest shadow of its former glory and hugely indebted, the Imperial Charter was revoked and the town reverted to the colonial government. New colonists were assisted by the administration on the condition that they settled in Vastroy and helped to rebuild it. Colonial troops were assigned to protect the town from the swamp-folk, and slowly Vastroy began to recover, although seventy years after the debacle of the Behemoth it had a population only one-tenth of that before the disaster.
Sadly, just as the town was re-emerging from its dark age, it became the last battleground of the Great Insurgency (when the Shokottu Elves made common cause with the Tavarawans in an attempt to drive out the colonists). Although most of the two-year conflict was fought far from Vastroy (and, indeed, the town did quite well as a staging post for colonial operations against the insurgents), the final stages saw the town destroyed once (and perhaps, for all), when, after a desperate effort by the Shokottu Elves to capture Kambyra Town (in order to prevent supplies and new troops from reaching the colonists) failed, the Elves retreated to Vastroy where, after slaughtering the population wholesale, they were besieged for almost six months. As their Tavarawan allies in the interior lost battle after battle, the Elves were completely cut off. After the Tavarawans laid down their arms (a ‘betrayal’ for which the Elves have never forgiven them), the full might of the colonial government was arrayed against the Shokottu. They fought bravely, but were defeated and destroyed almost to the last soldier. 
Now the ruins are a forlorn and forsaken collection of foundations and rotting timbers, with Boggard and Goblin squabbling over possession, and, so it is said, the ghosts of the Shokottu Elves keening their ancient tragedy into the pitiless winds.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Kambyra Town: Beyond the Docks

I was met at the docks by Lord Veviot’s equerry. He may have discerned, by the curl of my lip, that I was unimpressed by what I beheld, for he whisked me away to my waiting coach, oozing sweat and apologies in equal measure. I instructed him to lower the blinds as we made our way through the port district, for I had no wish to see any more of that place. Nor did I wish the folk of the ports to see aught of me.
            An excerpt from the Earl of Zastenuto’s “The Empire Abroad: An Exile’s Travels Throughout The Colonies”

If there is a true centre to Kambyra Town, it is the port district. There – if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and can endure the company of the disreputable and the dangerous – you can obtain most anything: rare items, drugs and poisons, unusual pleasures, secrets and favours. Or so I have heard.
            Calvid Rhoak, the Wandering Scrimshander

Although Kambyra Town is somewhat decentralised, lacking an easily identifiable hub, the port district is the oldest and busiest part of the town. The streets are narrow and poorly maintained, but throng with folk from every corner of the Empire and those lands which do commerce with it. Here and there one might espy haughty N’tilian dervishes glaring from beneath their strange, peaked hats, swirling their swords with an idle, miraculous dexterity. Or one may see a Half-Giant from Kanderundle, surging through the crowds like an Illustari cutter, or sailors from many nations. Kambyra trades with the world – admittedly on a small scale compared to the great ports – and the port district is the town’s front doorstep.

Most of the buildings are commercial: larger constructions of volcanic basalt and slate roofs signify the presence of great traders or powerful moneylenders, whilst the slapdash buildings of leaning timber and reed thatch denote inns, taverns and less successful merchants. Finally, there are the canvas shelters that are home to the poorest traders and street hawkers. Here and there are precarious-seeming tenements wherein dwell the workers of the port: dockers, fisherfolk, labourers, servants and prostitutes.

The port district occupies a narrow but tight-packed sliver of land that describes – with a certain amount of poetic license – a squashed and elongated figure-eight. It is almost, but not quite, cut in two by the rocky spine of the Claw. It is backed by the broad arc of the Jovost III Plaza, a wide cobbled space that is a more effective partition than any wall: any port folk seeking to leave their ‘proper place’ must cross the plaza, beneath the suspicious gaze of the Fourfooted and the scornful gaze of Kambyra’s powerful as they idle beneath the leafy shade of the trees of the Empire Garden (a remarkable space wherein trees and plants from every province of the Empire are grown with loving care. Only those with gentle status or their guests may enter).

The Port District has two distinct areas, each drawing its character from the harbour it serves: that which abuts on Noriklo is slightly more orderly, a little more urbane and a great deal more cosmopolitan: Noriklo is Kambyra’s major point of entry, and many travellers pass through.

That part of the Port District that serves Sudiklo is in some ways less appealing, due to the fact that it serves local fishing fleets and those small-fry trading vessels that cannot afford the berthing fees of Noriklo. The accommodation is worse, the rule of law weaker. On the other hand, Sudiklo is an admirable point of entry for those of a more nefarious nature, and this is reflected in the thriving black market in drugs, forgeries and weapons.

At the very southern end of Sudiklo is a small enclave that is, for the most part, segregated from the rest of the port and left largely alone by Sudiklo’s raucous inhabitants. Here there are a few quiet streets, lined with hedges and spindly trees, behind which sit small houses, well-constructed of wood and tiles, with windows of glass (hugely rare in the Port District, except in the larger inns and trading-houses). These streets are regularly patrolled by unusual guards: short men and women clad in loose-fitting purple robes wielding long, curved swords.  These unusual individuals are members of the Djinn Guard – those sworn to defend the High Merchants of Velkhiranu (a mighty archipelago of free cities and oligarchies far to the east). There are several High Merchants present at any given time, Velkhiranu having been granted a lease-in-perpetuity over the southern end of Sudiklo after defeating the Empire – three times – in war. The colonial administration tries to ignore the Velkhiranu presence as much as it can plausibly do so. It is impossible, in any case, to directly threaten the High Merchants, as they are protected by treaty. It is equally impossible to place spies in the Velkhiranu enclave (a few unfortunate incidents were required to demonstrate this to the satisfaction of the obdurate colonial bureaucracy).

The High Merchants keep to themselves, however: they trade with Kambyra just enough to maintain an appearance of commercial activity. Their true purpose on the island is unknown, and for now, unknowable.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

When Life Intrudes...

Well, it's been a while - too long really - since I posted. There have been extenuating circumstances - the passing of my Dad, for one - and I have been loth to post whilst completing a writing project I've been working on. Also, I've encountered a new system, Blood & Treasure, that I really like, and I've been busy contemplating and reflecting upon that as well. In brief, its an OSR-ish version of the 'very popular game", but with a fair amount of input from later incarnations of that game. it's quick and clean, with not too many rules to worry about but many options for an option-hungry GM like me.

Anyhoo, after a lengthy hiatus, I'm back and hoping to flood the decks with new material whilst tying up a few loose ends. Much of this new material will be multiple-statted for B&T, other OSR games and Pathfinder (maybe a certain recent edition of a very popular game too, if I can be bothered. Ought I to be?), with references to Rolemaster and/or HARP where I'm confident of not violating copyright (I'm certainly looking into posting HARP/B&T conversions of classes, spells and other stuff I like from Pathfinder).

I'm particularly keen to continue with The Chelmsey Series and the Island of Kambyra and re-statting the NPCs mentioned in previous posts for some other systems (check back at those posts from time to time if at all interested). 

Wolves of War: The Ulfarga for Blood & Treasure (& RMFRP)

  Ulfarga (Lupine Beastkin) Wild-hearted but honourable wolf-like humanoids, Ulfarga represent one of the largest populations of any Beastki...