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Saturday, 6 March 2010

Where Dragon Warriors went next

I've started the long process of sorting through the Invaders & Ancients material that Oliver and I planned to use for Dragon Warriors books 7 onwards. Still feeling a little dazed to find I still have this stuff. It's as though somebody in Hong Kong turned up a videotape of "The Power of the Daleks". Well, maybe not quite in that league, but it involves defiance of similar odds.

The players' main base of operations was the city of Deliverance, built at the mouth of the delta formed where mighty Ophis river joins the sea. This is where the pilgrims from the known lands of Legend first stepped ashore. Deliverance is now the capital of the Sovereign states, as the race that the Ancients deem "Invaders" call themselves. Here's the description we wrote all those years ago:

Approaching from the sea or from upriver, the first parts of Deliverance visible to the traveller are the white limestone towers of the New Citadel built on a knoll rising above the intense green foliage of the flats. However, as the bend in the river unfurls a far more imposing sight will meet his eyes on the west bank. Here stand the shattered columns and pylons of the Old City laid to waste five hundred years ago by the first Invaders. It is a scene of melancholy grandeur, apparently devoid of all signs of life apart from one or two strands of smoke rising from the grounds of a villa set high on the hill. Should the traveller inquire who deigns to dwell in such a desolate location he will be met with a blank look and the reply that there live the human followers of Shard, vampire lord of the Old City. At night ghostly lights can be seen around this villa and, if the wind is right, the strains of unearthly music will be heard as the vampires disport themselves. The only other vestige of life in this most dead of all dead places comes on moonless nights, when a barge illuminated by many candles drifts over the river to Deliverance. No-one is visible aboard and the city guards prevent anyone wading out to it, believing that it will convey its load into the heart of the deathly catacombs on the other bank.

In contrast, Deliverance is a bedlam of noise and colour. As the traveller's barque glides into the capacious harbour, his eyes will be dazzled by the resplendent crimson sails of the King's fleet, the rich oranges of the hawkers' stalls on the waterfront, and the bales of azure and emerald silks hung at the back of merchants' shops. A pungent rotting odour emanates from the river itself, which is a sewage channel for the whole city, and in the summer a swarm of pestilential flies and nipping insects will descend as soon as the ship loses headway and her sails are furled. In winter the river will be swollen with water and choked with debris it has swept along with it in its thousand mile journey from the hinterland. Rotting animal carcasses and great boughs of trees cause hazards to even the smallest skiff, and the bridge of boats across the harbour market rides nearly as high as the dockland wharves and warehouses. To the south, the shanty town of Keelhaul is awash, with the water lapping at the tops of the stilts on which the houses there are built.

The traveller, if curious, will have the major sights pointed out to him. To the south a ruinous mound of blackened stones - which will be lapped by the floodwaters in winter - marks the Krall, or walled enclosure, of Kuruga I. The Krall was the first land to be settled on this bank of the river. Ragged men and women can be seen squatting around the ruins under wretched awnings, obviously the poorest of the poor. A motley collection of warehouses also lie to the south, but hardly comparable to the mighty edifices of the north that house the richer merchants' goods. Further up the tributary river can be seen the city cemetary, where in winter the hills supporting the high marble sarcophagi of the rich townsfolk will look like barques afloat on the icy floodwaters. It will be explained that the commoners prefer cremation from the cathedral tower in the Citadel.

Turning his eyes to the fairer quarter of the city, the traveller will first spy the dominant twin towers of the Citadel: the aforementioned cathedral tower, and what has become known in recent years as the "Bird Tower" after the flocks of birds that wheel around it all year long. It is whispered that the present king, Mukresh the Mad, sits on a throne on top of this tower, feeding the birds with worms while heedless of their droppings which stain his ermine robe. The birds only disperse when the funeral fires are lit atop the cathedral tower. Then they will veer away with a great screeching of protest. This second tower is not as high as the Bird Tower. If the traveller is of worshipful bent, he may know that it is here that St Hanthar's harp is kept, producing an ethereal ululation during nights of high storm. It is thought that this noise is responsible for the way that glasses shatter untouched in taverns on such nights, but others will persuade the newcomer that this is the work of poltergeists - the souls of long-dead Ancients, returning to exact revenge on their conquerers by disrupting their lives and provoking domestic strife.

When the traveller disembarks he will be surrounded at once by clamouring hawkers, eager to sell worthless trinkets to the unwary. They will grab the hem of his cloak as they jostle for his attention - offering themselves as guides, touting for hostels, waving sickly-looking pastries in front of his face or hefting plump eating-monkeys. At the same time, cutpurses may very well be divesting him of his wealth by more direct means. If they are successful, or if he has no wealth to begin with, the traveller may have to opt for the squalor of one of the inns of Bazaar district or (even worse) one of the decaying hostelries in the shanty town. But a more fortunate traveller will install himself in one of the better inns grouped around the base of the Citadel. Unlike the ramshackle wooden constructions to the south, the buildings north of the tributary are on the whole fashioned of limestone, which is quarried from cliffs further up the Ophis river.

Particularly impressive is the Cathedral Square. To the east, the Avenue of Victories heads straight to the distant military tower of the Mirdaum Gate and the bleak edifice of the Tower of Jalfrezi the Howler, where lunatics are penned at the King's pleasure. The cathedral itself is constructed of pale grey rock and in its pillared porticoes the ubiquitous street vendors sell religious mementoes and votary candles. Sometimes they are driven off by irate priests, but more often they pay over a share of their profits for a "portico license". Occasionally, devotees of one of the military orders will swagger out and begin a duel in the forecourt; the richly-robed merchants scuttle past attempting to avoid embroilment.

Strange sounds assail the traveller's ears as he draws near the Citadel gates. These emanate from the royal menagerie, where a thousand creatures squawk and screech. The gate leading into the Citadel is known because of this as the Monkey Gate - although officially it is named after King Haramba the Munificent, who built it. The western pylon of the gate incorporates the weatherworn features of a colossal statue that stood here in the days of the Ancients. Four others once stood beside it, all now merely visible as tantalising fragments, building blocks of the Citadel wall. Would-be guides will try to drag the sightseer off to the right, into a side street running parallel to the wall where part of a troll's arm (so they claim) can be seen fossilised into the surrounding masonry. The guides explain that this is one of the trolls who were turned to stone during the erection of the city walls in 45 SC. If the traveller suggests that it may be just another part of one of the colossi he will be answered by a frown and an outreached hand. As far as his guide is concerned, he has been shown a genuine troll's arm; he should now pay a gratuity for being led to this wonderous sight.

Returning to the gateway, the traveller will see on either side an array of dirty cages. These are the pens of the menagerie, and from them wafts an agglomerate of animal stenches to assail the traveller's nostrils. Inside the pens, back amid the shadows, one can observe brightly coloured parrots, macaws, shrill peacocks, hemarobia, monkeys, rhinocerotes, iridescent lithocarp beetles, and other spawn of distant lands. In the murky depths of a pool it is just possible to discern the shapes of octopuses, tectevulti and liveried gogo fish. On some days a servant will come to spear one of the animals for a feast. Some guides murmur that the King keeps strange were-beast hybrids in the dungeons of the Bird Tower. Once one escaped and was responsible for a spate of killings, leading to the imposition of a two-day curfew while the King's Guard hunted it down.

Our traveller will not be allowed to pass into the massively blocked Citadel, but is free to wander the environs of the inner curtain wall. He will see the elegantly serried steps which lead down to the amphitheatre, around whose perimeter stand crystalline sarcophagi encasing the mummified bodies of great heroes. An inscribed metal plaque in front of each sarcophagus announces the name and lineage of its occupant, but for the deeds that made him great one must attend the doubtless embellished narratives of the guides. Dressed in antique armour, many with quizzical expressions on their faces, the mummies gaze out over the two hundred metre long stadium. In their sarcophagi they are taken up and paraded through the streets on Foundation Day, when the games are held in the amphitheatre. Some of the crystal sarcophagi, however, are empty - shattered by the mad plangency of Hanthar's harp on stormy nights when the spirit of evil was abroad and the sarcophagus' occupant strode out once more to do battle.

The cathedral tower rises up from the middle of the Citadel area, and is frequently surrounded by the funeral parties that have come to cremate their dead. Priests wearing coloured robes stand at its entrance and forbid access to all but fellow priests, initiates and mourners. Many of the other buildings in this area are crumbling with age. A place of special note is the Chapel of Skulls - a low, dimly lit, granite building where the skulls of those nobles slaughtered in Fainel's rebellion of 313 SC are kept for public view. An even smaller building is the Church of Pons Caela. It would seem utterly insignificant if not for the small group of worshippers who file in to view the sacred relic: the bracelet given to Mirendam the Helmsman during the Invaders' "journey through the stars". This legend is now largely discredited, and the church does not improve its image by hiring thugs to collect an extortionate entrance fee from the gullible pilgrims.

Many of the tenements here, inhabited in the early history of Deliverance, are ruined and rat infested, their occupants having moved to more salubrious areas once the protection of the Citadel walls was no longer needed. The traveller may stumble across the domicile of a seer or lunatic here, though the area is worth avoiding for that reason. Such men are always unpleasant to strangers. They can be seen to descend to the waterfront plaza late on moonless nights to see the barge drift over from the Old City. Sometimes one swims out to it and is never seen again.

As the sun sets, the traveller winds his cloak around him and urges his guide to lead him to a tavern. There are none in the Citadel, and it an extremely bleak and depressing area to be in after dusk.

To the east lies the district that has come to be called The Steps, because the plush villas situated here have been built on terraces descending the steep cliffs beneath in Citadel walls. Few of the rich merchants who live in these villas wish to make the arduous climb up to the Citadel, so there are always hordes of palanquin bearers to be seen lolling on the stepped avenue waiting for passengers. Occasional street brawls break out in this area over matters of disputed custom or unpaid fares, but these are rare. Three gangs run the criminal affairs of the city, and most hawkers and litter bearers pay protection money to them. This ensures that everyone knows his place in the street pecking order, and minimises the risk of disputes. A hard-up newcomer may think that an easy penny can be had on the streets of Deliverance, but he will soon find himself mixed up in such underworld affairs if he is not very careful.

One of the most desperate areas of franchise warfare is, naturally, the Bazaar - a huge area to the east of the town where honest peasants from the surrounding countryside barter furiously with the petty crooks of the city. It is easy for strangers to become lost in the maze of stalls selling everything from turquoise trinkets to scented inks, from ruby dripping jewelery to sides of meat from the nearby abattoir. The area is infested with flies and disease as there is no sanitation; newcomers are frequently struck down by some foul bug after visiting it. The Square of the Great Victory, to the west, is similarly not a place to loiter. It is infested with orators, dissidents and drunks. To the north-east is another area of wharves where the hunters of the surrounding lagoons congregate in their flat-bottomed boats.


This is the players' overview of the city which is to be their base of operations through most of the first scenario book. Along with the maps, it provides players with their only pre-game information about the city. Anything else they wish to know must be discovered in-character. The Games Master is provided with a number of plot strands currently at work in the city: plots against the King, guild rivalries, rumours, mysterious goings-on, etc. Out of the interaction between these plot strands and the players' actions is woven the game narrative.

4 comments:

  1. By which power was Deliverance founded and ruled ? I would have thought of Ferromaine but the mention of "King" contradicts its republican régime. Anyway, your description seems as good as what you did for Crescentium in the Assassins' Port (often referred to as the best gamebook ever written)

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  2. The pilgrims who settled the new continent did not owe allegiance to any one state. They were a rag-tag of religious sects, political malcontents and mercenary guards, all having the joint aim of fleeing the coming apocalypse. Indeeed, there was no king right off the boats; it took a couple of centuries for that tradition to fully re-establish itself.

    Many thanks for the words of praise. Assassins' Port was presumably Blood Sword book 3, ie The Demon's Claw in the UK?

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  3. Yes it was the Third Book of the Series; look at the comments here:
    http://www.bibliotheque-des-aventuriers.com/serie/epee_legende/03_port_assassins.htm
    (Indeed, I played it in English, as the French version was no more available, I had to download it from the now defunct Underdogs website...)

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  4. Nice review, thanks for pointing that out. I especially liked this bit: "...Pirates des Caraïbes n’a rien inventé!" Lol.

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