The large walls of the city Xen'da'rik rise from the ground as though carved from the bleached bones of the desert itself. The stone walls are a pale cream, only slightly lighter than the sand which drifts up to the ramparts in places. Despite the mutable landscape a swath of road wide enough for several caravans has been cleared; leaving the approach to the massive gate empty and exposed. The shadow cast over the path by the watchtower is long, and the distended silhouette it frames is the only indication that this silent place is inhabited. Beside the main gate the darkness of a small entryway calls with the pained screeching of a metal portcullis moving against the will of sand. Beyond the tunnel the city itself appears as a study in light; each milky building throwing out shadows and creating a quilt of shades. The architecture is a similar pairing of the solid and soft as the precisely straight lines of of the buildings are tempered with corners rounded by the nibbling wind. Every few yards down the desolate streets the monochrome is broken with color from exotic stones and foreign tiles adorning fountains choked with dust.
At the center of the city is the market where a handful of people garbed in white linen wordlessly move about in the shadow of the palace. The skin around their eyes is blackened with pigment to protect from the glaring sun, but the effect is a haunted look as they watch with unnerving intensity. Were it not for the succulents beautifying the circle it might be said this place was void of life. The few specimens of flora are well maintained, practically serving both form and function with showy edible fruits that droop low onto the surrounding paths. Granite paving stones spiral out from the interior of the palace, echoing the curves of the many open arches which give the building impossible lightness despite its immense form. Even from the street it is possible to peer into the heart of the structure as though through the window of a FabergÃ© egg and indulge the eyes with decadent decorations from a prosperity long past.
Three centuries ago there lived a man by the name Xen'ari (translated: Man of Prosperity), often called the 'merchant king'. His fleet of shipping vessels were the lifeblood of the Hotside economy and his control even stretched to the carpet riders of Pointyside. While this Â‘king' had wealth and power to rival that of the ruling Daughter of the Second Sun he owned no land, and longed for a port under his own control. He sent ships far and wide in the search for an uninhabited island until at last news returned of an immense island - perhaps even a small continent - that showed no signs of life. Eagerly Xen'ari constructed his port, free from the control of any authority other than his own. The forest was clear cut, dangerous wildlife hunted to acceptable levels, and bogs drained to remove the breeding grounds for tropical insects. The community thrived, yet Xen'ari returned three months later to find it a lifeless ruin.
Suspecting he had provoked the wrath of a nature spirit Xen'ari summoned the finest rangers from all corners of the Tetrahedron to hunt the creature down. Nine months time passed and Xenari returned to see if the land had become safe for his enterprise. As the stories go upon the shore stood four surviving hunters, awaiting payment. The first accepted his gold and retired to hunt the large game of Coldside. The second accepted his gold and retired to map Pointyside. The third refused payment and retired to safeguard the forests of Flatside. The fourth brokered a deal: there was a small patch of sand roughly ten miles wide at the center of the continent, and he would own the land as far as the sands spread. Xen'ari thought it would be petty to deny the man such a small unusable parcel, especially with land now being plentiful and his coin more scarce, and accepted the arrangement.
The ranger founded a small trading community named Xen'da'rik (often translated as the Vision of Man, more accurately the Limit of Man's Sight) much to Xen'ari's annoyance. For several years the trade empire flourished and soon Xen'da'rik was forgotten. When news that routes across the island had been found leading directly to Pointyside, Coldside, and Hotside Xen'ari sent cartographers out to map them. Upon their return he was completely baffled by the large expanse of desert in the center of his land, much larger than the ranger had originally described. Still it was a pittance to his empire so he resolved to ignore it. Two years later better and even more direct overland routes were found, and goods began arriving through Xen'da'rik rather than the port. Once more Xen'ari sent forth the cartographers in an effort to find even better routes which udercut the city. When the mapmakers returned it is said Xen'ari threw a bottle of fey wine into the hearth in rage and the sylvan fire consumed his study. The desert had again expanded by at least sixty square miles, and the most efficient routes often passed through the flat unvegetated terrain. Xen'ari demanded that the ranger appear before him immediately, and much to the surprise of all the ranger obliged.
It is at this point the legends become unclear. Some say the ranger fell to fever while under Xen'ari's care. Others claim he was poisoned. Yet more say he accepted an offer from Xen'ari and vanished into the sands. Most bards favor the tale of an epic duel between the ranger and Xen'ari's champion. Whatever the circumstance Xen'ari claimed control of Xen'da'rik, and the city began to decline. While Xen'ari was a master of trade he knew nothing of the desert, nor of the people he claimed dominion over. The small community was resentful of the poorly managed resources squandered on the King of Sea and Sand and in a bloody revolution. Records from the region indicate a rapid crumbling of the empire Xen'ari had crafted after his demise. An economic depression fell over Hotside, and Xen'da'rik faded from history for more than two decades. How the city survived on a continent of sand without the aid of trade remains a mystery, but after twenty seven years in isolation a single lone caravan reached the islands, telling tales of a magnificent city hidden in the dunes; an oasis for traders from all corners of the tetrahedron. Within a few years the trade routes were re-established and a great age of prosperity was begun, with Xen'da'rik at its heart.
Xen'da'rik was once a highly prosperous trade city in the center of the desert, serving as a trade hub for all corners and faces of Tetrahedron, but the recent past has put the city into a deep decline. Only a handful of trade caravans have passed through in last few decades, and none in the past five years. Supplies are dwindling and a city built to hold hundreds of thousands now houses only one thousand. No one is sure what form of malevolence has caused most of the deepwells to run dry and the byways to become unsafe even for the seasoned expedition crews. None have returned to say. These expeditions have cost the city dearly as many of the best druids, clergy, and guards have been claimed by the sands. The most recent failure took an even greater toll on the city, as when Mother Ashworm returned with the guardian seal of the Fettered's daughter he claimed his own life.
The election of Prosaic Minister Jordan to the position of Fettered was swift, though not without objection by Coterie Minister Ophelia. It was shortly after his appointment that things seemed to truly go awry; the young initiate of the Sublime disappeared into the sands, Father Thom contracted some sort of wasting illness, the second to last of the deepwells ran dry, and a spontaneous fire claimed a quarter of their dwindling food stores - causing a riot which killed seven. The instigators were found and brought to trial in what in any civilized society would consider a mockery of Justice. Each individual was tried and found guilty of seven premeditated murders rather than as a group for unintentional homicide. The difference is that more than two premeditated deaths qualifies for the death penalty, rather than allowing the accused to simply leech food from others while lounging in prison. The whole incident has left the populace bitter, and grown several blood feuds in the small community.
Within the harsh desert climate there is one loose fitting white linen garb which is best adapted to the climate and is worn by all natives of Xen'da'rik when outside their homes. This garb covers all skin except for around the eyes, an area which is then smeared with black pigment to reduce glare. Since the shapeless and nondescript nature of the clothing renders most features of an individual indistinguishable the local people rely on voices and eyes to differentiate each other in addition to the occasional identifying mark or trinket. As such it is very important to make eye contact when speaking with someone because it is a means of identifying yourself and instilling sincerity.
The exception to this unofficial uniform is the city guards. With metal being impractical if not dangerous in the heat and the loose day garb prone to catching or grabbing by weapons the guards wear a light form-fitting suit of bleached dense fibers. The fibers wick away sweat and heat like a second skin, while offering protection from sunburn and most small scorpions. The majority of guards have shaved their heads to accommodate caps of the same material which sport their guardian sigil. Every guardian sigil is an expression of name and rank, blessed by the clergy to help deflect sun, reduce thirst, and keep the wearer safe. It is generally assumed when a guardian sigil is found that the guard in question is dead.
The people of Xen'da'rik, while not reserved or strict as a people, are a pragmatic group of traders who put little stock in the afterlife. No funerals are given, bodies are simply burned and the bones mortared within the city walls to keep them safe from creatures and dark desert magic. Each person is left to mourn privately according to their own customs and gods, and as such it is more common than in other places that relatives of the recently deceased claim their own lives.
Government in Xen'da'rik used to operate on a combination of a guild and parliamentary system but with the dissolution of the guilds and abandonment of most districts the leadership has been condensed to five: Minister of the Divine, Minister of the Sublime, Minister of the Prosaic, Minister of the Coterie, and the Fettered.
The Minister of the Divine is the representative for all deities and divine interests in Xen'da'rik, it is his charge to keep the gods placated and to ensure the favor of the gods does not turn against the city. As the Minister of the Divine is a position granted by the church as a reflection of the individuals wisdom it is a lifelong position. Successors are chosen by a conclave of the clergy, but the majority of the time they elect whomever the current minister wishes.
Often in conflict with the other ministers is the Minister of the Sublime, a druid who is responsible for ensuring that the safety and existence of the city is sustainable in the hash landscape. Like the Minister of the Divine the ministry of the Sublime is a lifelong position, but succession is reserved for the individual specifically raised and trained by the incumbent. Upon ascension it is customary for the student to assume a new name to reflect the beginning of their life as a steward of the desert. While celibacy is not mandated for the Minister of the Sublime like it is for the Minister of the Divine the necessary time spent in the isolation of the desert has led most to die alone in the sands.
The Minister of the Prosaic manages the city's financial resources as well as what little trade and economy is left in the dying city, his stances on policies classically reflect the interests of those outside the city but with the stagnant trade the position has focused more on its internal affairs. While traditionally the Minister was elected by the guild heads the dissolution of the guilds has since left the position as an open election by the local craftsmen.
As a representative for the people of the city the Minister of the Coterie voices the concerns and interests of Xen'da'rik natives. Much like the Minister of the Prosaic this position was once elected by the heads of Xen'da'rik's various residential sections but is now the result of popular vote.
The title of Fettered is granted to an individual, usually a former minister of the Prosaic or Coterie, who provides the final decisions on matters counseled by the ministers. It was a title chosen to remind the incumbent of his or her obligations to the people and the associated burdens and responsibilities. As a symbol of this responsibility and station it is customary for the Fettered to adorn themselves with some form of decorative chains or shackles.
Persons of Note
Jordan, the Fettered
This dark haired and dark skinned man sits with furrowed brow in hand. The manacles upon his wrist clink gently as he smudges the black paint around his eyes in an effort to wipe away sleeplessness and worry.
While Jordan's predecessors opted for ornamental chains of gold or silver to indicate their position as Fettered he instead found the honest relics of Xen'da'rik's formerly flourishing slave trade and shackled himself, hand and foot, in order to demonstrate his commitment to the dire situation of the people. He has proven a wise and capable leader over the past three years, tactfully handling Ophelia and carefully considering the opinions of each of his ministers in order to make the best decisions for the people. Despite his calm facade the ministers are aware that the difficult decisions are beginning to weigh upon him, and they have begun keeping difficult details from him lest he take his own life like his predecessor. He is smart enough to know this, and wise enough to not press the matter.
Sublime Minister Mother Ashworm
This old gnomish woman has skin so wrinkled and leathery it appears to have been tanned while still covering her bones. Despite her age she moves across the sand with a grace unimaginable for her years.
Lydia, as she was once known, earned her title by trial rather than by training. In her youth she was an intense young woman with a passion for the wild desert. When the Minister of the Sublime met an untimely end before selecting an heir the city decided upon a demonstration of merit for all who would seek the position. While her competitors guided caravans, returned with caged beasts, or wandered into the desert unarmed and unclothed in an effort to prove their skill she put them all to shame. Lydia captured and rode the rare Great Ashworm, symbol of the desert's power, three times around the city walls before releasing it. It was the greatest moment of her life, and while she would not say that she has not loved her years in the desert nothing else would ever compare. Gradually time and solitude wore away her edge and empathy, leaving her an impassive assessor of the desert's condition. She is aware she is in the winter of her years, and hence decided to train a successor. The decision was made less by her and more by Bunny Nash's effervescence, but the pair seem oddly balanced. She has two wishes for the remainder of her life; that she die confident in the city's survival, and that she may lay eyes on the Great Ashworm once more.
Coterie Minister Ophelia
A sparkle in the corner of your eye draws your attention to this bangeld woman as she moves. Her life is a performance, and every action is executed with flair and flourish.
Ophelia is a charismatic woman who clearly wishes to throw her weight around in this small corner of the world. She has designs on the title of Fettered, though none of the other Ministers will ever allow it to come to pass. She serves her office admirably however, as without her parties, festivals, plays and songs Mother Ashworm and Kramo's austerity would have broken the spirit of the people long ago. Her enthusiasm has earned her a small and devout following in the community who believe she should assume the title of Fettered. Superficially a person might compare her to Bunny Nash as both are extroverted personalities, however Bunny does not have a pathological need for people. Ophelia loves others because they adore her in return, and she equates that influence with power. Where she cannot win her desires through affection she becomes catty and vindictive much to the suffering of those around her.
Prosaic Minister Kramo
This fellow is small, even by gnomish standards. He appears entirely uninterested in the world around him though it is difficult to tell through his thick spectacles. As he walks past with a ledger as large as a cat you hear the scrape of his right foot dragging against the ground.
Soon after Kramo began to walk it became abundantly clear he would not follow in his father's footsteps and join the guard. This was no great hardship as his mother, like his grandmother before her, were unparalleled weavers whose work graced courts on all four sides of the tetrahedron. Unfortunately with his limited dexterity and poor eyesight this avenue was soon closed as well. There was, however, an aspect of the weaving business at which he excelled and that was managing the finances. Kramo is at his heart a man of simple joys, and the greatest joy he knows is that of balanced accounts. Were Kramo to construct a perfect world all formulas would balance and be multiples of ten. His head for figures soon became so well known he was nominated for Minister of the Prosaic at the age of fifteen. It is through his careful calculations in concert with Mother Ashworm's counsel that has allowed the city to survive as long as it has. He has little opinion or desire for anything outside of accounting and would allow Ophilia to waste the entire monthly budget on whatever frivolity she wished - but her attempting to exceed the budget by so much as a copper piece is entirely unacceptable and will result in a raised voice.
Divine Minister Father Thom
From the loose skin around his arms it is clear this man was much more rotund not too long ago. While the majority of the city is gaunt looking there is a sickness here beyond age or hunger.
Father Thom would have surely been elected Minister of the Coterie for his jolly disposition if he had not joined the clergy after finding divinity in the bottom of an ale mug. He is neither conniving nor dense, neither as frivolous as Ophelia nor as rigid as Kramo. Father Thom is the middle ground, where many come to find the balance of reason and emotion. Regardless of their burdens or sins the Father has a cheerful manner which eases the heart and brings clarity of purpose to all he gives counsel. As Ophelia draws strength from the support of others Father Thom draws strength from supporting others and watching them succeed. Unfortunately it is his great love of people which is also his great flaw, as he is incapable of making difficult decisions which might harm anyone regardless of how necessary it may be.
This halfling wears the hint of a smile as he works his rosary with downcast eyes. He finishes with a slight sigh and his face takes on an unexpected sullenness.
Brother Draedi was plucked from the wreckage of a caravan by Mother Ashworm when he was just an infant and brought to the church. It has since been a long-standing joke that Mother Ashworm made a mistake, and should have raised the sober Draedi as the initiate of the Sublime and left Bunny to the joyful Father Thom. As a young boy Draedi grew concerned and asked that Father Thom arrange a switch, to which he responded 'Draedi, you are exactly where you need to be.' It has taken Brother Draedi years to understand the wisdom of those words but he has grown from a dour and ambitious prosthelytizer into a more calm and good natured steward of faith. Bunny Nash can attest to his growth, as he no longer ruthlessly chides her vivaciousness and vibrance. Instead he politely inquires if she will be attending mass and offers long mildly-disapproving looks at her colorful dresses.
Captain Sahara Nash
Tall and dark of skin this woman is as impressive as a polished statue of bronze gleaming in the sun. Smiles seem to come easily to her, but fade just as quickly as she dons her cap.
Saharah was the closest friend of Bunny Nash ever since the two were babes. Together they terrorized the fellow townsfolk with their energy and joie de vivre. Saharah was always the more grounded of the pair and while she too enjoyed the adventures of the desert she was far more cautious. Her years keeping Bunny safe out in the sands is part of what drove her to join the town guard in an effort to protect others. Today when Mother Ashworm is absent Sahara is tasked with keeping the city safe from the dangers outside the walls and rescuing those who stray too far. Unofficially some consider her the Minister of the Just, though she prefers the title of Captain. Outside of her occupation she enjoys playing dice games with her husband (Bunny Nash's youngest brother) and her only son.
A riot of colors flashes past in a whirlwind of energy before doubling back and coalescing into a halfling with a bright smile.
Hailing from a loving halfling family of three healthy grandparents, a mother, father, and four older brothers Bunny has lived a rather sheltered life. Bunny, however, was at a very early age deemed far too energetic for a trade. Unable to sit still for even the shortest time, her parents and siblings often booted her from the house that they could work in peace for a few precious moments. With nowhere to go, she took to the desert. Always in watch of the city guards, mind you, but still far enough to get into trouble. More than once the guards had to come to her rescue, and chastise both her and her parents for letting such a helpless girl wander the sands. As her mother and father fretted before the captain Mother Ashworm walked in from the sands. Bunny, for once, stood still. She was transfixed by the druidess, the picture of the desert's serenity. Wrinkled and leathery, unblinking in the harsh suns, she strode past. Bunny followed quietly and without notice. Several minutes later a frantic search of the desert ensued, and her parents mourned the loss of their only daughter to the cruel sands. When dark arrived she was found beside Mother Ashworm at the fire, completely attentive and still. Too relieved to be angry and too pleased with the development to question it her parents quickly secured a position for Bunny as Mother Ashworm's pupil. It was only a year ago that she returned from a desert exscursion that seemed to be the culmination of her training as not even Mother Ashworm knew how far she wandered. She tells stories of adventures with a group of friends, but gets an edge in her voice when she insists they will be joining her soon.
- Captain Sahara is organizing the annual sweep of the uninhabited parts of town to clear it of unwanted denizens and needs volunteers.
- The last of the deepwells has run dry, and needs to be restored immediately. Who says there can't be underwater sewer missions in the desert?
- Ophelia has decided to throw a festival the likes of which this generation has never seen. And the next will not see on account of the city starving. You must sabotage her plans, while avoiding her ire and keeping it from being directed at others.
- Mother Ashworm has spotted a trade caravan on her latest excursion and returned to the city for support defending it. Escorting the caravan safely to Xen'da'rik is vital.
- Mother Ashworm insists her strength is failing and wishes to see the Great Ashworm before she dies, you must find the creature and coerce it back towards the city that she may pass on in peace.
- Father Thom is concerned that his wasting is unnatural and that there are forces beyond the simple harshness of the desert at work in the decline of his and the city's health. It is up to you to find the source of this mystery, and to save Xen'da'rik! Kramo insists there is no room in the budget for an adventuring expedition. You must find the funds from somewhere, perhaps looting the abandoned parts of town, foraging the wilds for food (now the only valid currency), or a city wide bakesale.
- Father Thom has finally passed away, and Brother Draedi has been selected as the next Minister, yet he is refusing to take his vows. How will he decide between love and duty, and how will the city deal with the outcome?
- Bunny Nash's friends have returned, just as she said! But something doesn't feel quite about them - and she hasn't stopped referring to them in the past tense.
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? Responses (10)
Update: This city was created for a campaign based on a world shaped like a tetrahedron, with several moons, several suns, and each side named relative to the prevailing element. Hotside, Coldside, Pointyside, and Flatside for Fire, Water, Earth, and Air respectively.
Rather Star Wars ish.
What makes you say that? I'm not a huge fan of the series, so I don't remember anything from the movies nor have I read the books. I would have thought it would be more like Dune but then again I haven't read that either.
Very interesting sub. I enjoyed reading this.
Very in-depth, PA. I love it! I love the story behind the merchant king and the trickster Ranger who managed to take ownership of half the land due to the expanding sands.
One thing I would like to know (I may have missed it in the sub itself) is why the sands expanded as they did.
Whatever the case, this has plenty of information, interesting npc's, useful plotlines and engaging history; enough to keep a GM going in this desert city for some time! 5/5!
I had one or two thoughts on the sands. The first is that it could be an entirely natural process based upon the weather; in fact the idea of the expanding sands came from the Sahara growing by n square miles per year.
The other more interesting theory is that 'nature spirit' the rangers were sent to destroy is somehow related to the desertification. This explains how the fourth ranger was able to predict that the island would turn to sand and why the third ranger refused the coin - from guilt knowing that what he had done would eventually destroy the island ecosystem.
I say 'nature spirit' because it is never actually revealed what the rangers encountered or did while on the island. Xen'ari assumed it was a nature spirit and hired the people he thought would be best suited to the assumed task. Whatever it is might still be on the island, slowly and vengefully grinding the city of its imprisonment into dust.
A very comprehensive sub on a location. The formatting is good and makes it extremely easy to read thru despite the length. I think the Legend, the Persons of Note and Plot Hook sections are done very well but I like the other sections quite a bit less. In particular, I have the following issues with them:
1. Recent History: it's still well-written but I would have appreciated more sign-posting (i.e. tell me to refer to persons of note section for the personages). Currently, the various names mentioned in a short paragraph has a slightly overwhelming effect on me
2. Culture: currently, the majority of the section is concerned with what garb ppl of this city wears. I agree that's one part of culture but I would have appreciated sth more in-depth on cultural aspects. You did go into mindsets of the ppl and beliefs in after-life later but I guess what's bugging me is the inbalance b/w the more 'shallow' aspects of culture (what they wear) and these more in-depth aspects.
Overall, a high quality sub that achieves its purpose of describing the city very well.
I think this is great, well conceived, well formatted, and found the written descriptions of the physical as good as any writing I have paid for.
I agree with Moonlake: culture could use some more...culture. I know it may seem silly to ask for more because this is a very complete sub. But it is ambitious, and that ambition means it might need more.
I like the people a lot.
This is very good, though I think a clear explanation of what happened to cause the desert to grow so precipitously would help - that part seemed to beg for more details.
May end up drawing off of for a campaign so I am Honor bound to vote on it =)