I ran across this (http://www.jessevandijk.net/g_08_76.html
) a few years ago, and it's set in the back of my mind ruminating for most of that time, I finally think I have an idea for a setting based on it. Additional inspirations to possibly include: Thief, MtG: Ravinica, Sharn, Europa nonsense
, Dwarven empires both great and small...
The world: Magical post-apocalyptic.
In the time of the Forebears, a great was was fought, leaving the surface of the world inhospitable. The Godkin, children of the Forbears, founded the great cities to escape the blighted surface.
The cities are connected via the Dark Roads, massive tunnels cut into the rock connecting them with each other. The cities themselves more or less leave each other to their own business, and war, while not unheard of, is rare. The surface is inhospitable to say the least, extended exposure to the surface will lead to magical mutations, many of which are inimical to life, and the cost of magical healing to get ride of them means that any battle between the city-states needs to be fought in the tunnels, limiting it to a wall of 10-20 men on each side fighting each other with more in the rear. Not exactly an epic battle.
During the war, there was much dabbling in the use of magic to create different sub-species of man, of which 3 have survived in addition to the base human stock.
Godkin: Elves by any other name... The ruling class, long lived and given to Fae-like excess. They rule from the bottom of the cities, given to feuding amongst themselves, dancing, drinking, and generally not really caring about anything other than themselves.
Delvers: A stunted race originally created to dig the cities and tunnels, and now viewed as a sub-human slave race.
Orcs: Surface dwellers, with an inhuman resilience to magic breed into them when they were first created during the Blight War, they are the only ones who can safely live on the surface, combined with a reproductive rate on par with rabbits, there is no shortage of them, or their hatred of the "Underdwellers". This just about sums up the way that the city dwellers view them: "If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order." While, as a whole, they're not quite that
bad, quite a few tribes, especially those living closest to the cities more than exemplify this quote.
The surface: Inhospitable doesn't really begin to describe it, even now, millennia after the war. More than 2/3rds of the surface was turned into desert wastes, and lingering magics still cause mutations in those brave, or foolish, enough to travel to the surface. Mechanically speaking, every 24 hours spent on the surface brings a ~16% chance of causing a mutation, anything from your skin growing as tough as rock or inhuman strength, to your kidneys shriveling up to the size of raisins.
The cities: Depth almost directly correlates to wealth, with the near eternal twilight of the deepest layers being inhabited by the ruling Godkin, while the Delvers and eternally poor living almost on the surface.
Life in the upper levels, to quote Hobbes, is nasty, brutish, and short. If the life of nonstop, back-breaking labor on the farms, the orcish raids, the mutations from being regularly exposed to the surface, or the disease doesn't kill you, a knife from a random mugging likely will. Those few that make it into their 30s are viewed as old timers, and 50 is downright ancient. On the flip side, being this close to the surface, and interbreeding from Orcish raiders, traders, and the occasional adventurer that ends up taking an Orcish bride has given those on this stratum a resistance to the surface induced mutations: ~8% chance every 48 hours, and they're far more likely to develop a beneficial mutation. (Note: the smoke from the forges et al further reduces th chance of mutation inside the city to 1 check a week for anyone on this level, and once a fortnight for those born on this layer.)
The next level down is the forges, and other industry. (Favor later
Below that is the middle class type stuff, skilled labor, overseers for the level above etc. (Favor later