Five Torches Deep, Underground Heritages

I wrote a blog post about underground cities and decided to make Five Torches Deep ancestries, inspired by their Origins supplement. I’ll paste the cities below if you don’t want to click the link.

Life in the Underdeeps is complicated. Inter-marriage, adoption and all manner of family and clan relationships lead to people being raised in a culture that one might not expect by looking at them. Talk about it with the table and go for it.

These cities are listed from the closest to the surface to the deepest beneath the earth.

Cities 1-3 are in the Overdark, a cold and dank area where the surface dwellers often feel the most comfortable.

Cities 4-8 are in the Underdark Proper, with tunnel highways that are home to bison-sized mushroom-beasts and heated by lava.

City 9 is in a hollow earth jungle, heated by an Illithid-made sun.

City 10 is in the Underdeep, said to be so far underground that planar travel occurs when going that deep and underworlds are easier to contact.

1

Culicid: a castle town ruled by a vampire, a veteran of the war and self-styled duchess. She takes blood from thralls taken from the surface, as Culicid is a major stopping point for the Drow’s thrall-trade. Culicid has the largest population of free humans beneath the surface, policed by the duchess’ immortal children.

Exports: bio-luminescent mushrooms, messenger bats, goats


2

Xenosh T’allotha: In Drow this means, All-Mother’s First Rest, as it is the first place the Drow stopped to rest during the exodus from the skylands.  It is a small town, really a village built around a series of wells and underground waterfalls that has grown out into the tunnels that lead to it.

Exports: Religious artifacts, Riding spiders, Monk bodyguards


3

Anvil: The decrepit holdfast that houses the dwarves who sided with the underground armies. It is ruled by a council of petty dwarven princes who have been trying to elect a High King since the war ended. Some whisper that outside political pressure has thwarted this process.

Exports: Mead, dwarf-made weapons and armor, dwarf-cut gems


4

Titan: The Githyanki fortress city built from the buried fossil of a forgotten lizard demi-god is watched closely by the Drow matriarchs. The Githyanki were allowed to keep control of this city after their attempted coup under the watchful eye of a powerful Drow priestess, along with sending hostages to Endë-Osto and their sleeping red dragons were hidden from them.

Exports: Dream-walkers, Swords-for-hire, Warlocks-for-hire, Domesticated Umber Hulks


5

Quaggothan: More of a meeting place or a camp site than a proper city, this is the ancient site where the Quaggoth elders live out the last days of their life when they can no longer follow the mushroom herds. It is ruled by a Drow-appointed governor who oversees the trading and make sure the Quaggoth feuding never gets out of hand. Merchant caravans always stop here to trade their foods and it has become a hub of trade and news.

Exports: Mushroom bison meat, odd artifacts the Quaggoth unearth in their travels


6

Kitji-Naal: Two cities divided by an underground river and ruled by twin matriarchs who rarely meet, but communicate via magical mirrors. The city is the largest and most populated city in the underdark; its politics are a convoluted mess of ancient feuds, assassin’s knives and inter-House warfare.

Exports: Poisons, Assassins-for-hire, spider-silk, books


7

Sclera: A dank, and dangerous city ruled by feuding gangs of Beholders – each with its own Eye-cult. This is the city with the highest human population in this layer of the underdark. It also boasts the underdark’s only public temple to Asmodeus, the Devil-God.

Exports: Scrying, mirrors, spies, indentured-devils


8

Eämbar: A newly founded city that is a port, connected to the ocean by a series of complicated crystal locks that link Eämbar to the ocean’s crushing depths. All manner of undersea sentient can been seen on the city streets, sometimes in specially made tanks of water pushed by servants.

The matriarch is the youngest to ever hold the title and the most renowned swords-Drow in the underdark.

Exports: Fish, undersea crafts, spider-silk crystal


9

Endë-Osto: The deepest city of the Drow and the Drow capital, is ruled by the eldest matriarch whose throne is said to float weightless in the center of the earth. Her queensguard is made of the most cunning of the drow sword-maidens, who ride dinosaur steeds bred for battle. The city is in a hollow-earth with a bruise-purple sun, said to have been created at the height of the Illithid Empire.

Exports: vegetables, dinosaur steeds and ranger-guides


10

Svinifrilijihirim: Despite Endë-Osto being at the center of the world, this Gnomish city is still somehow deeper, due to a trick of planar geometry. The city, often called Deeptown for short, is home to a powerful ward, created to keep a Pit Fiend in the uninhabited darkest depths. The Pit Fiendwas unleashed by the skylanders into the underdark during the War, has destroyed a Drow city single-handedly.

Deeptown is home to a powerful council of wizards and it is a great city for finding tutoring or for apprenticing one’s self to any of the Schools of Magic. It does boast the underdark’s only Bard College that is home to one of the finest libraries in the underdark, rivaled only by Kitji-Naal and Endë-Osto.

Exports: Wizards-for-hire, Bards-for-hire, magic items, alien gems, gates to other worlds, spell components


And once you’re done and you want to make the place a political mess – A Web of Cities.

If you liked the writing above you might like one of my pdf’s with more than a dozen pages of inspirational tables…

https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?author=Judd%20Karlman

In which we begin Book 3, Nara and the Burning Wheel

The Ballad of Bina Janos as a rumpled softcover.

Sean and I playing Burning Wheel started out because a Blades in the Dark game we both played in had a few nights a month where he and I were the only players who could make it. I suggested a BW side-game and now, several years later, that campaign is still going. Having just purchased a map making program I made a map:

The map helped. It forced me to name things and gives things shape. The human dukes were divvied up into 3 groups that I think of as the Gold Dukes, the Iron Dukes and the Wyrd Dukes. That will help when I need to make up a human on the fly. I can see where they are from and know a bunch about what their political life is like. Naming the dwarven holdfasts wasn’t something I thought about but became important later. Only now have I started to get more firm ideas about Ostofair and Andune.

I knew the BW system wouldn’t be an issue with Sean. He might hate it (and that would be fine (but he didn’t)) but he wouldn’t bounce off it the way I’ve seen some folks do. So I asked him to take a look at the BW Situations I had tweeted and one of those tweets grabbed him.

When I imagined this campaign, I imagined a conscripted soldier who returned home to farm and just wants a peaceful life but is very aware of the perils of war. Instead, Sean burned up Bina Janos, a servant who worked in a tower at the crossroads, serving the knight there. It was not what I expected at all. The game straight up made me nervous. There aren’t many (any?) fantasy books about Bina Janos. She didn’t secretly have magic powers nor was she secretly the lost child of a queen or a knife murder goddess in hiding.

Bina was a mother who married a decent guy, a wheelwright (and it is a Burning Wheel game…huh? get it?) and had a daughter, Nara, with him. She had been taken from a nearby village during some feuding and never went back home. She got by with a skill called Soothing Platitudes, being good at her job and knowing the local gossip.

That first campaign was an exercise in GMing failure without beating up the player. In following Bina’s journey we learned and made up a bunch of mythology in the world. The Burning Wheel, an actual physical artifact that could be seen like an arcane beacon atop a northern mountain and its church. The lore behind the dwarves and the elves that was leading to war. The 17 Great Debts of the Dwarven Princes. The politics behind the human dukes and the songs of the human peasants. There are immigrants from a faraway continent who have traditionally guarded the gold mines and the caravans that take the gold from the mines to the capital after a few local knights turned bandit or rebel lord, trying to control the wealth.

During the game it was clear that a dragon still had an important elf, a consort to the elf queen, and so the second book was about a working class dwarf in charge of tunneling into an abandoned holdfast that was being squatted in by a dragon. The dragon was trapped within but still, there was real imminent danger there.

Into the Vault as a worn softcover you might find burned under some dirty towels in your cousin’s hatchback.

Pellara the Pillar would become Pellar Dragonsworn and also Prince Pellara Dragonsworn of the Vault through the course of play. That was not at all my intent. I wanted to stay away from noble games but she was born to and was the matriarch of a working class family. To be honest, having a game about a strong woman taking control of a political situation driven into the shitter by born noble princes felt pretty damned good. All of those dwarven holdfasts at the top of the map suddenly became very important. I made notes on each prince and what made those places unique.

I was making stuff up as I went and adjusting to the beliefs Sean made but I daydreamed myself enough content to give myself structure so I wasn’t ever making shit up in a void.

Arcs

In a subreddit someone asked how GM’s make character arcs. It might look like I very carefully planned everything. Book 1 and 2 are both nine sessions long.

I didn’t. I didn’t plan a damned thing. There was no arc in mind. I didn’ tknow where Sean’s beliefs would take us. I know how I want to push on them but once I push, I have no idea how Sean will react to that pressure. I didn’t want each game to be 9 sessions long and I don’t mind if Nara’s time in the campaign takes 3 sessions or 99 sessions.

Here’s what I wrote in the thread:

Just let he players deal with the problems and cool stuff and arcs will happen naturally because we are humans and we like to find patterns and familiar rhythms in things. Don’t plan the solutions, just put forth the situations filled with problems and wonder and see what happens.

Me, saying stuff, link above

This third book’s situation is more vague. We found out in the first book that Bina’s daughter, Nara, was Gifted and might be destined to be the next Arch-Mage. What does that term even mean? Arch-Mage. All we know is that an Arch-Mage is a wizard who picks up the Burning Wheel, braves its sorcerous fires and takes it down the mountain. We know that her destiny is wrapped up in that mess. I am relying on the lore we’ve built and the fact that we’ve barely scraped the surface. There is still so much that Sean doesn’t know and Nara can learn.

I’ve started writing notes about how Arch-Mages are selected and the previous Arch-Mages and how each of them has led to the current state of affairs in wizard society. We will get to see Wheelholdt from a very different point of view. I’ve been daydreaming about wizards, apprentices and how they learn, what their hierarchies are like and how they interact with the rest of human society.

B1: I’m supposed to carry the Wheel down the mountain, but nobody will tell me why! I’m going to find out what happened LAST time an archmage did it.
B2: To take the Wheel I must master the School of Fire. Great, more mentors! Ah well, fighting this prophecy has never worked out, I better get to it. I’ll find a praticioner to teach me.

One of the things BW does well is learning. Seeking out teachers and reading books can be a big deal.

I’m glad we’ve got an empty third belief to start off with, it allows Sean to jump on something that comes up in play as we get to know Nara.


Here are the playlists for the first two books. Come join us in a week for the beginning of the the third. I have no idea what is going to happen. Or…I know some stuff but have no idea how Sean is going to play Nara. We’re going to find out about the history of wizardry and Arch-Magery. We’ll see where Nara fits in all that mess and if she agrees with the prophecy told to her mother years ago that said she was destined to pick up a fiery magical artifact created by a sorcerous fire god.

We’ll be at the Actual Play twitch channel next Friday at 9PM EST or so, please stop by if that kinda thing is your cuppa tea.

Also, Sean put the first book’s games into a podcast if that is a better format for ya.

The Ballad of Bina Janos, Book 1
The Rise of Prince Pellara Dragonsworn

I’m adding a link to the third arc’s playlist just so they are all in one place:

Book III Nara and the Burning Wheel

The Servant and the War

The game starts at around 56 minutes in if you want to skip the character burning and belief writing.

The Situation

Our scoundrels were not going to make it to the table tonight, so we went to the Burning Wheel Campaign Ideas and chose one. Sean got stuff ready so we could stream and he got it up in about fifteen minutes; it was a heroic effort.

Sean narrowed it down to 3 and he chose some of my favorites from the list. In the end we chose this one:

shoeless situation

BW campaign idea: You are a shoeless peasant. The armies of the dwarves, elves and humans will soon clash near your home. #burningwheel

Burning

Sean did a great job of walking through the lifepaths and teasing out the setting implications of his choices. Bina was a captive of war turned servant who married into the village, built around a tower at the crossroads. Bina has a husband who is a wheelwright and a lover who is a hunter. She has a 4 year old child. She serves the lord knight who rules this tower at the crossroads, where farmers from all over meet for market.

To the north are the mountains, ruled by dwarven princes. To the south is the ancient forest, ruled by elves. To the east is the capital, ruled by the human ducal council. The elves forbid anyone from going too far west.

I peeked at an old article, Elves at War, on the BW forum written by Luke.

burning battles

Wheel

Beliefs

  • Convince Deek to flee.
  • Keep Bodnar from raising the alarm.

Instincts

  • Keep Bodnar’s flagon full.

We got up and moving pretty fast. In that time we cleared up our expectations. Sean seemed to be expecting a fast and furious one-shot but I’m more into a long, slow burn with BW. I’m glad we cleared that up.

Sean definitely burned up a character who gave me plenty to work with but it was challenging. Bina is not a traditional fantasy novel protagonist and I liked that. As the situation demanded, she is a normal person swept up into an epic and dangerous event.

Deek Nandor – Bina’s husband, a wheelright

Nara – her 4 year old daughter

Sir Bodnar Butond – the knight in whose tower she serves

Vas – her hunter lover, tired of waiting, wants to run away with her

I prodded at Bina for a few hours. We rolled some dice, played out the consequences – did a Duel of Wits and learned how far Bina will go. We got to know the place, this lonely tower at the crossroads where farmers and shepherds brought their goods to market. We got to know the important people in Bina’s life a bit. I left Sean with a terrible choice, putting the life of the lord-knight directly into her hands.

We’ll find out what choice she makes next time.

 

Art

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “The Two Armies” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1530. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/d576ac40-e6d6-0132-8b89-58d385a7bbd0

Edited by me using pixlr.