Yesterday I proposed a new game idea to my group: Let’s build a city, populate it together, then play in it. My basic idea was a city called Torch, with a very flame-focused motif in the common nomenclature of the city and its populace. The idea took hold, and we all threw some ideas around to give it more life. Here’s what we have so far:
Genre and Themes: The city exists in a human-dominated (if not entirely human) fantasy setting, with a feel not too far off from Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar and Scott Lynch’s Camorr. Heavy focus on crime, street-level politics, and the disparity between the upper and lower classes. A very “human-feeling” setting and game, the characters are actual people on both sides of the law, all intertwined into a greater story.
Setting Inspirations: The Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, the Thief series of video games.
System: We’ll be using the Savage Worlds game mechanics, with some house rules. I do harbor the notion of checking out the Song of Ice and Fire RPG mechanics more intensely once the full rules are published in the coming months, and possibly proposing a switch to that in the future.
On Tech: Technology is not all that advanced, with black powder weapons existing but in such scarce quantities as to be rare among even the nobility, and completely unknown to most of the lowfolk.
On Magic: Magic exists, but is so alien and powerful that there are only seven known practitioners, and they are as gods among the men of the world, although lacking in any actual deification.
The Setting: The City of Torch is one of seven major City-States of an undecidedly-governed region in this world. The game will take place primarily (if not entirely) within Torch, but we still established some ideas about the outside world. These seven cities are each ruled by a nobleman monarch of some kind, perhaps a Duke or Lord Governor or the like.
Trial by Blood: Many major disputes of legality are handled by Magistrates of the Bout. These Magistrates weigh the issues brought to them, and if the issues are severe enough, they arrange for two combatants to fight over the issue. Fighters can be chosen, paid for, people can rep themselves, etc. There’s a pretty complex system of bureaucracy behind the arrangement of these bouts, in fact. This Blood-Sport form of legal resolution is actually present in all levels of society, and is the one form of entertainment than binds everyone together. In the lower ranks, fights are often bloody, brutal, and deadly. Higher ranks of society sometimes prefer more “gentlemanly” fights, although rich folk like a good neck-breaker just as much as the lowfolk, if not more.
This whole societal focus on the Bout extends beyond Torch, and is actually a major commonality between all the city-states. The whole concept of “War” as we know it doesn’t really exist in this setting. Major disputes between nations are settled by Grand Bouts, wherein the top champions from each nation are faced off in a series of dramatic clashes, and the victor wins the dispute according to preset terms of engagement and resolution. These top champions, of course, are extremely well-paid, to the point of opulent excess that could make many actual nobles cringe.
Needless to say, an entire culture has risen around these Bouts. Of course, one of the most lucrative businesses is that of gambling, as folks place wagers on the many fights. Fighters, Wranglers, Agents, and Bookies are all over the place. Slavery is technically illegal, but there are many ways that the wranglers have circumvented that, and clever variations of indentured servitude are everywhere. Fighters and agents come from all walks of life and station, and it’s not at all unusual to see a famous noble in the lowfolk areas seeking new talent or sponsoring an up-and-coming brawler.
The Campaign: In this campaign, the players will control two different groups of characters, each group on a different side of the law. One one side we have the Captains, a special unit of investigators for the Lamplighters (aka the City Watch). The Captains are seen by those outside their secret meetings as the elite of the elite in the watch, although this is largely due to their own propaganda machine. They specialize in having a damn fearsome reputation, to the point that their being called in on a case beings some weight to it in the public eye. They could very well be quite capable in their abilities, but of important note is the effectiveness of their propaganda, as well.
The other group is a team of enforcers and get-it-done-men for a low-rung bookie in the dirty ranks of the blood-bout circuits. They are essentially the lowest-rank members of a crime syndicate, and their boss is on the fringes of that syndicate as well. Essentially, they have connections, but not enough to be important, and at the same time not enough to have the Big Boss Up Top’s eye gaze upon them either. When the Boss (the bookie) needs something done (wash my car, take care of my wife while I’m out, deliver this parcel, break these kneecaps), they’re the ones he sends to do it. Kinda like Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction.
The game will alternate between the stories of these two groups of characters, following the lives and actions of their characters, set against a greater backstory that crosses their paths on several occasions.
I’ll post more as it is developed.