A little prep experiment

So, I've created this awesome location that's going to serve as the backdrop for several crucial scenes in my next session.

It's so good that whatever general feature you think makes for a great location, it's definitely got that.

In fact, it's so good that I don't feel like I could tell it to you all at once - it would blow your mind. So ask me about your favorite part - like "where is the secret exit?" or "where do the characters communicate from one floor to another, for dramatic effect?"

Because it's definitely got that.
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  • how many people/PCs/monsters could fit in there at once?
  • Does it rain?
  • What is the subliminal message that can only be seen from a certain vantage point or elevation?
  • how many people/PCs/monsters could fit in there at once?
    About 600 if it were completely full of people (like a party, or stationing a garrison there for emergency purposes for a few hours), but usually more like 120.

  • Does it rain?
    Yes, but rarely rarely. When it does the rain is channeled down the rooftops into tin buckets chained in a circle. Runoff from the main building is funnelled into the oubliette.
  • What is the subliminal message that can only be seen from a certain vantage point or elevation?
    When viewed from the eastern parapet the whole complex looks like an enormous mantis, bowing in supplication towards the holy mound of the matriarchs.
  • What is the small and hidden place of quiet beauty at the heart of the complex, and what cruel and terrible history does it hide?
  • What is the small and hidden place of quiet beauty at the heart of the complex, and what cruel and terrible history does it hide?
    The sand garden, obviously. Incredibly still, cultivated with an inhuman patience, particular types of sand carefully arranged around ancient precursor stones. Home to the oldest tiny banzai tree in the city, who is husband to two of the spirit mothers.

    Site of the brutal murders of the last highest of the Tong (Yephrettz the Moth) by Kit't'kat'kei. Her dying blow severed his thorax and some of his crucial organs, necessitating his grafting onto his servant, Dor.
  • What's the thing that everyone knows but pretend not to?
  • How are communications sent to control power.
  • What's the thing that everyone knows but pretend not to?
    The Tong who make this complex their home are well aware that there are seditious elements within the city, and fear that their leader Kit't'kat'kei is one of them. But their ritual conditioning does not allow for independent speech or organization outside of the Tong.

  • How are communications sent to control power.
    The key to the communication structure is the Tong masks. Tong carry two masks that represent their role - the light mask of wakefulness and the dark mask of sleep. A Tong signals danger to others by donning the light mask, standing still, and pointing towards where Tong are needed. This tactic is effective because the Tong approach the scene according to their personally cultivated hunting arts. The sight of multiple wakeful Tong pointing towards an area has been known to instill panic in more emotionally delicate species (*cough* humans *cough*). Sorry I have a cold.
  • What's that strange noise coming from the oubliette and why only at those times?
  • edited December 2015
    Is there a celebration of something coming up?
  • Why are no metal instruments (tools, weapons, etc) allowed in the sub-basements?
  • How are those strange "Z" shaped markings in the southern wall related to the martial art that supposedly was developed in this place?
  • Uh. What's it called? Who is there? What for?
  • RyRy
    edited December 2015
    Uh. What's it called? Who is there? What for?
    The Grounds, or more properly the Tong Training Grounds. It is the primary meeting place for the Tong caste of the predominantly insectoid city of Fold. It is arranged like a large connected series of gardens, with trees growing wilder than in other parts of the city.

    While the Grounds are technically open to the public, only those with Tong business, or Tong who are training, go there, and many of the rare fruits growing openly within are in fact poisonous to one or more of the species living in Fold.

    Terrified criminals are sometimes seen walking the Grounds, but rarely for long.
  • RyRy
    edited December 2015
    duplicate

  • How are those strange "Z" shaped markings in the southern wall related to the martial art that supposedly was developed in this place?
    The "Z" shapes represent mantis Tong who died in training in the early years of the city. The simple markers of the dead were etched in the wall first to frighten new recruits. Later they became a marker to burden or even shame the Tong trainers. The development of more sophisticated training methods under the revered monastic Kin'k't'te allowed the Tong to avoid such losses and she remains venerated as the Tong's greatest martial teacher. After her period as teacher, and with the addition of non-Mantisform species to the city, the practice fell out of favour but remains part of Tong caste lore.
  • What's that strange noise coming from the oubliette and why only at those times?
    That hum, heard every sixty days or so for a few hours, is actually from additional precursor artifacts that are embedded in solid rock. The oubliette is the deepest part of the Grounds and was dug to find these artifacts, a few of which are now the rocks of the sand garden.

    Or did you mean the daily monstrous smacking noise that goes on for an hour? That's just the tide coming in - the deepest part of the oubliette is just barely below sea level at high tide.
  • Is there a celebration of something coming up?
    Yes, Kit't'kat'kei is planning his 16 year anniversary party. He will invite several other monastic nobles and other notables to the Grounds, where he will eliminate the ones he thinks are threats to the city (as well as a few he personally dislikes).

  • Why are no metal instruments (tools, weapons, etc) allowed in the sub-basements?
    The stated reason is to ensure no one starts tunnelling. But in fact certain metal items react to the precursor stones.
  • Who really built it and what was its original purpose?
  • RyRy
    edited December 2015
    Who really built it and what was its original purpose?
    The original purpose was as a Great Mantis bastion against the Fluttermantis forces, before the peace. But even this is something of a lie.

    Both races were manipulated by the battle for dominion occurring among a race of (non-mobile) sentient trees. The two factions sourced their dispute on a genetic line that splintered among trees at the site now called the Holy Mound (Mound of the Matriarchs). They were able, after many attempts, to produce pollen that conveyed their hatred into the minds of the local transient apex predators (mantises). Thus the future site of Fold became a contested ground in a multigenerational holy war between the two mantis species. The slug like shum were also present at the site, dwelling in the underground waterways that made the area relatively verdant, but they were immune to the pollen and indifferent to the religions.
  • Tell us about the place that gives off the odor that causes panic. Where is that and what's going on? Why hasn't it been remediated?
  • Are you referring to the ringing sound coming out of the oubliette, the hate-pollen of trees on the Mound, or the panic caused by multiple Tong pointing at something in or near the human ghetto?
  • Oh, the hate-pollen! What's the deal with that?
  • I feel like I'm revealing too much, but for you guys, OK. This isn't really about the Tong grounds, but it IS about my prep experiment so here goes:

    The trees engaged in a kind of genocidal warfare against one another over the perceived impurities of a few trees on a hill that is the site of the Mound. This warfare was fought by water usage, blocking light by growing above, spreading seeds in different forms, strangulation, tiny changes in pollen, and in a few rare cases suicide attacks (i.e. allowing creeping vines to build up around oneself and then draping them over enemy trees). Hand-to-hand fighting took place over decades and battles took several centuries. This went on for 13,000 years, and in the natural course would have gone on another 50,000 or so if it were not for the innovation of modifying pollen to sway the behavior of the ambulatory apex predators that dwelled in the region. These were the fluttermantises and the great mantises, both of whom included the trees, renowned for their variety of fruits, berries, and other seeds, in their respective mystical traditions. Until this point, the mantises and trees were unaware of each other's time-dialated sentience.

    The deployment of the pollen technology caused an immediate (in tree terms) and catastrophic die-off in the population of sentient trees. By the time they had realized their mistake (about 160 years), only a few dozen trees were left alive anywhere on the planet, including four at the site of the Mound.

    At this point in a desperate attempt to survive, the remaining trees began emitting pollen that had a much more pacifistic effect on the mantises nearby.
  • RyRy
    edited December 2015
    The trees then engaged in a frenzied process of learning how to communicate with the mantises. In this they were finally successful, and brokered peace between their sometimes-squabbling thralls before they went completely extinct.

    Trees got safety and protection.

    Mantises got long-life, provided by specially developed fruits with ruby-like seeds, and the ability to stably coexist with other species (the populace is ceremonially exposed to large amounts of pollen at certain festivals, causing hallucinations and feelings of oneness even to humans). The ambulatory species of Fold have further developed these marvels into the craft of grafting one insectoid creature onto another.

    The great mantis and fluttermantis monarchs of the day and subsequent years of course added their own spin on this arrangement, codifying the Law and later incorporating species who represented external threats into the population.

    (The slug/spider/ewok-like Shum were also present on the site at this time, but were assigned to worker/drone caste as a matter of course)

    Again, this is all the backstory stuff that I created to explain how we got here. These days the city sees more love pollen than hate pollen, but if you know the right tree, get access to the Mound, and are *really* patient you can get hooked up.
  • How does one communicate with a tree on the Mound?
  • If you chop down a tree, can its wood be used for making any kind of enchanted item?

    Is it true that the slug-like shum, when prepared a certain way, are a rare, gourmet treat, or is my companion playing a prank on me?

    What are the ruby-like seeds used for in the city?

    How can the pacifism pollen be detected, before it's too late?
  • What's the basic layout of the city like?

    What is especially compelling about the city's building architecture?
  • Clarification: the general populace (mantis, clicker, human, Shum, whatever) kid completely in the dark about the trees.nthe council of matriarchs is said to have 4 "hidden matriarchs" who are variously described as spirits, immortal recluses, hiding among us, or fictions depending on who's talking. Only the other matriarchs and some select monastic attendants know the truth.
  • How does one communicate with a tree on the Mound?
    For matriarchs (local custom refers to the one male monarch as a matriarch, also) only: Write a letter, run it by a monastic that is very out of touch with reality, who converts it to a chant with a weird cadence and verb phrasing and is usually fifteen to thirty times as long as the original. This is translated back by another monastic to confirm the meaning and tone. Once confirmed (usually three or four attempts for first timers) monastics perform ritual for a period of two or three weeks then remain in communion with the tree recording minute changes until, six or seven weeks later, the message is decoded. Even at this point it is often cryptic and brief. However, this is also long enough that the tree may have metabolized something and produced a leaf or seed that is amenable to further interpretation (or ingestion).
  • How does one communicate with a tree on the Mound?
    One more point - although it was originally a hill the dome of the Mound has actually been built over top of the entire hill. A honeycomb shade lattice covers the top of the dome, letting in optimal light but still providing a final redoubt if ever the city were to fall.
  • If you chop down a tree, can its wood be used for making any kind of enchanted item?
    The cellular "factory" structures contained in certain pockets of the tree would be of great interest to microbiologists, but once cut down the trees are more or less poor extinct firewood.

    HOWEVER what you may not have realized is that the trees have grown roots, and even sprouts, all over the city. These are genetically identical to and functionally extensions of the central 4 trees, but bear a wide variety of fruit which provides a crucial component of the city's sustenance. Being cut down would therefore precipitate

    1) a setback for communications with the trees
    2) A tree permanently losing coherence / sentience, or create a vector for disease or wear to ultimately kill it
    3) Reduce the trees' collective ability to calm the various races enough to tolerate such close proximity to one another

    but really only sustained and coordinated mapping effort, or some city-wide catastrophe will *kill* the trees outright.
  • Is it true that the slug-like shum, when prepared a certain way, are a rare, gourmet treat, or is my companion playing a prank on me?
    Your friend is not a friend. There are rumours of Shum being eaten this way by monastics at their lavish parties.

    However, these stories are clearly of insectoids only, since

    1) eating a Shum is certain death for a human - humans have been known to fall ill after just touching a Shum.
    2) humans never rise to the monastic caste
  • What are the ruby-like seeds used for in the city?
    They are the key ingredient in rejuvenation potion, which extends the lives of monastics and matriarchs but can be further turned towards the black art of grafting.
  • How can the pacifism pollen be detected, before it's too late?
    it's already too late - the pollen (and related substances that certain species eggs are ritually treated with) is the basic reason that the city can exist. If all 3 of the surviving real trees (I.e. The ones that aren't taken over by a sentient alien fungus, shhhhh!) were destroyed then the city would tear itself apart within a generation (6 years to cycle sexually active male clickers, or the nearest year when the sleepers awaken on their 17 year cycle, whichever comes first).
  • What's the basic layout of the city like?

    What is especially compelling about the city's building architecture?
    I had despaired that I had made the city's layout impossible but I had a new idea and I will try a sketch tomorrow.

    As for architecture - I almost never find architecture compelling so I struggle with that one. so it's sort of like Sigil from planescape if Tony Diterlizzi had used this as a baseline

    http://www.flickriver.com/photos/swan-scot/4554950452/

    So lots of adobe buildings, also lots of stone and brickwork, some reclaimed vegetation or something, and then these Major Sites that are these complexes that define whole neighbourhoods.
  • The city itself sits on a set of plateaus (like terrace farms but bigger steps) where a river once made its descent to the sea in a series of wide waterfalls. The river is now underground and buried. Notably the lowest cliff towards the sea is still 50 feet high at the lowest point, so the city does not actually have a harbour or any major seaside commerce. This state of affairs is maintained because the sea is crawling with hungry fish men who have eaten most of the "free" humans that used to live along the coast. Go humans.
  • That was a lot of text. Why am I still awake? Did someone ask about what's under the city? Shum fish farms in the caverns, definitely.
  • (With this kind of - amazing! - information, I can't imagine why you'd find prep intensive, stressful, or demanding. :) )
  • RyRy
    edited December 2015
    (Well this process has 3 things that make it easier:

    1. You guys are interested on some level. You're interested enough to *ask* and probably interested enough to read the answers to your own questions.

    2. We got a bit "off track" and we're starting to draw on the already-imagined world rather than the blank space that was the Tong Grounds at the start of this.

    3. I'm not holding this exercise to the standards that I hold my prep to. )
  • (Oh, yeah, this is a great way to prep. I dig! My comment was rather off-topic, really.)

    What's the one thing which decorates this place which is really incredibly out-of-place, and doesn't - or shouldn't - belong here?
  • (is it a great way to prep? It's a great way to create forum posts where I get to be a low-budget Judd Karlman, but I only a small portion helps prep the actual game I'm actually running with humans. BUT that's for the postmortem, which I'm going to do pretty soon.)
  • (looking forward to it!)

    If you were looking to prep something fairly specific, you should have asked for a certain type of question. Otherwise, people follow their own interests, which might diverge from your goals for the process.
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