Saturday, 19 September 2015

Armies of the Wicked City

The tyranny of the Wicked City is not maintained through overwhelming force of arms: like many real-world dictatorships, past and present, it endures not because it is invincible, but because it's just strong enough that none of its neighbours want to go to the trouble of toppling it. The inhabitants of the surrounding nations view it with superstitious dread, and want as little to do with the place as possible; and the aura of hopelessness that hangs over it like a cloud eats into the morale of any army that does get too close to it, encouraging commanders to rethink their plans and soldiers to start pondering the merits of desertion. Its walls are full of holes, and one real, modern army, with well-drilled musketmen and a decent amount of artillery support, could probably seize the whole place in a week if they really wanted to. But it would be ugly, dangerous work; and as the long, long shadow of the King's Tower falls across them, would-be liberators have a habit of deciding that they don't really have the guts for it after all.

The primary armed force of the Wicked City itself is the King's Men, who defend its walls, patrol its streets, and enforce its unjust laws upon anyone who hasn't paid them a big enough bribe. They are about ten thousand strong, and they're decently trained and equipped (most are first-level fighters), but their morale is terrible: the vast majority of them join up because they enjoy the bribes and the power-trips, not because they actually have any intention of dying for their city. Faced with any real opposition, they will usually retreat and call for backup - lots of backup. Most of them are cheerfully corrupt, and will happily accept bribes in exchange for neglecting their duties, but they are terrified of the Wicked King himself and would never do anything that might be construed as acting directly against his government.

Kazakh warrior:
One of the King's Men. He probably blew a whole month's worth of bribes on those trousers.

  • The King's Men (F1): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 1 (5 hp), +1 to-hit, musket (1d10 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or club (1d6 damage), FORT 14, REF 14, WILL 14, morale 6.
  • King's Men Officer (F2): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 2 (9 hp), +2 to-hit, two pistols (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or sword (1d8 damage), FORT 13, REF 13, WILL 13, morale 5.

Most of the King's Men are perfectly suitable for street-level legbreaking, but they're not much use against determined enemies. Those of them who exhibit a real flare for violence, however, are transferred to the First Brigade, whose members are the shock troops of the Wicked City. The five-hundred-strong Brigade is primarily made up of Blood Men, but its officers are mostly human; it's a bit of a blunt instrument, but when the city's government want to make sure that something ends up really, properly dead, it's usually the First Brigade that gets sent in. Their barracks are just outside the King's Tower.

Chinese Qing Dynasty officer, circa 1900.  The soldiers dressed in traditional Chinese uniforms, carried an assortment of weapons . Many carried old Austrian muskets, Martinis ,Mausers and Enfields rifles but often with incorrect ammunition. Others were armed with ancient weapons, mainly bows and arrows and long spears The morale of the Chinese armies was generally very low due to lack of pay and prestige, use of opium, and poor leadership .:
An officer of the First Brigade.

  • First Brigade Trooper (level 1 Blood Man): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 1+1 (6 hp), +2 to-hit, blunderbuss (1d12 damage, 3 rounds to reload, point-blank only) or huge sword (1d12+1 damage), FORT 13, REF 14, WILL 14, morale 9. Gain +1 damage in melee once they smell blood. 
  • First Brigade Officer (F3): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 3 (14 hp), +3 to-hit, two pistols (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or sword (1d8 damage), FORT 12, REF 12, WILL 12, morale 9.

The lords of the Wicked City have also been swift to take military advantage of the fact that it houses the single greatest concentration of clockworking expertise in the known world. The city's armies are supported by clockwork war machines to a far greater extent than those of most other nations, and it even boasts an innovation entirely unknown elsewhere: the world's first mechanised infantry regiment. The King's Own Armoured Brigade (better known as 'the clankers') consists of a three-hundred-strong fighting force, mostly Brass Men and Steel Aspirants, who deploy into battle in tanks, mecha, and Steam Knight armour, supported by another three hundred human mechanics whose job it is to keep all the machinery running. The Clankers are also in charge of maintaining the army of clockwork soldiers that the city's government holds in reserve, in enormous fortified warehouses near the Grand Bazaar, although these would only be deployed if the city itself was threatened. The biggest of them, an immense clockwork dragon known as The Earthshaker, requires such an enormous quantity of coal just to get it started that its use is reserved for the direst of emergencies.

Card Game Illustration by Yu Cheng Hong, via Behance:
A Brass Man in the service of the Clankers. Illustration by Yu Cheng Hong.

  • Clanker Steam Knight (Steel Aspirant 2): AC 20 (steam knight armour), HD 2+2 (11 hp), huge mace (+1 to-hit, 1d8+5 damage) or swivel gun (-4 to-hit, 2d8 damage, ignores 4 points of physical AC, 8 rounds to reload), FORT 12, REF 13, WILL 13, morale 7, tech rating 3.
  • Clanker Tank Gunner (Brass Man 1): AC 15 (Brass skin, though usually protected by the armour of the tank itself), HD 1+2 (7 hp), +0 to-hit, tank mounted swivel gun (2d8 damage, ignores 4 points of physical AC, 4 rounds to reload), FORT 13, REF 16, WILL 14, morale 7, tech rating 1.
  • Clanker Mech Pilot in One-Man Mech (Steel Aspirant 3): AC 20 (mech armour), HD 3+3 (17 hp), +2 to-hit, giant sword (1d12+6 damage), FORT 11, REF 12, WILL 12, morale 8, tech rating 4. (The mech itself has 40 HP and is immune to missile weapons smaller than a swivel gun.) 

Another area in which the technological superiority of the Wicked City has permitted it to gain a military advantage is in the establishment of an air corps. The large colony of serpent folk within its walls manufacture enough lighter-than-air gas to keep a small fleet of airships afloat, supported by gyrocopters built by the Steel Aspirants; this rudimentary air force is based on the floating cloud castle that the Wicked King stole from the Blue Folk, which is usually to be found hovering high above the city. They are mostly used as scouts, spies, and messengers, although if war came to the city they could also be used to drop bombs from an enormous height.

An off-duty gyrocopter pilot with her vehicle.


  • Air Corps Airship Crewman (Traveller 2): AC 10, HD 2 (9 hp), +1 to-hit, musket (1d10 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or sword (1d8 damage), FORT 11, REF 13, WILL 13, tech rating 1.
  • Air Corps Artificer / Gyrocopter Pilot (Scholar 3): AC 10, HD 3-3 (11 hp), +1 to-hit, pistol (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload), FORT 12, REF 12, WILL 10, morale 7, tech rating 4.

Finally, the most feared warriors of the Wicked City are not part of its army at all. They are the the agents of its omnipresent Secret Police, whose organisation is completely opaque, and who answer to no-one except themselves (and maybe Head Office, whatever the hell that actually is). At any given time, many of its agents will be living in deep cover, posing as ordinary citizens, bureaucrats, or soldiers for months or years at a time while secretly reporting back to their masters in the Ministry of Information; their pervasive presence fills the Wicked City with fear and mistrust, as its inhabitants are painfully aware that even the people they believe to be their closest friends may in fact be reporting everything they say or do to the authorities. Those who are not undercover travel in squadrons of at least six, masked and silent and armed to the teeth, and people give them as wide a berth as possible. No-one's quite sure how they recruit new members; and when a once-trusted colleague suddenly pulls on a death-mask and executes three of his co-workers in the name of the Wicked King, it's not at all clear whether that's because he's been recently initiated into the Secret Police, or whether he's been one of them for years or decades and they've only now decided to pull the trigger on his operation.

spring collection, diving bell whole-face balaclava teamed with double-breasted Bavarian cavalry jacket and black marigolds:
Secret Police agent in full uniform. (Obviously, when they're undercover they look like everyone else.)
The King's Men are easily bribed or intimidated; but the Secret Police are another matter entirely. They are all initiates of the cult of the Wicked King, and revere him as a deity, regarding the destruction of his enemies as a sacred duty which he has entrusted to them, his mortal representatives. Their officers (whoever they are - they wear no distinguishing markings) are the priests of his cult, and command the absolute loyalty of their subordinates. Most dangerous of all are their notorious death squads, seven-man kill teams in full combat gear who occasionally come stalking out of the King's Tower to track down and execute some luckless enemy of the state. Even seeing a Secret Police death squad is regarded as an omen of extreme bad luck by the citizens of the Wicked City, who have long since learned that when such people are involved, the less you see and hear, the better.

A Secret Police death squad in action.

  • Secret Police Agent (Fighter 4): AC 14 (chain shirt), HD 4 (18 hp), +4 to-hit, sword (1d8 damage) or 2 pistols (1d8 damage, 3 rounds to reload), FORT 11, REF 11, WILL 10, morale 9. 
  • Secret Police Death Squad Commando (Renunciate 5): AC 15 (breastplate), HD 5+10 (33 hp), +4 to-hit, musket (1d10 damage, 3 rounds to reload) or crazy ninja weapons (1d10 damage), FORT 8, REF 10, WILL 8, morale 10.
Secret police agents carry suicide pills, and will use them if they are in danger of being captured. If one is about to be taken prisoner, make a morale roll for them; if they pass, they will try to swallow a suicide tablet instead.

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