Thursday, 20 April 2017

Merchant houses of the Wicked City

Traffic on a mountain pass in Afghanistan.:

Even in its decayed state, the Wicked City remains a major centre of trade in six commodities: clockwork technology, medicines and opiates, coal, guns, metalwork, and slaves. No foreign merchant likes visiting the place any more - although some of them guiltily look forward to it, as a chance to indulge in various horrible vices which the rest of the world has quite rightly forbidden - but as long as the prices stay competitive, then what are they supposed to do? Business is business, after all - and if they don't take advantage of the economic opportunities that the city offers, then their competitors certainly will.

And so the caravans continue to trek through the desert to visit the Wicked City, even though they assure the kings and holy men of their far-off homelands that they will give the place as wide a berth as possible on their long, long journey across the Great Road. They bring wine and grain, dye and coffee, cloth and silk and carpets; and they leave with bundles of guns and bales of opium and files of jerkily-marching clockwork soldiers, which they sell in distant marketplaces in order to enable the perpetuation of old and ruinous wars. When they return home again, who is to say which part of the money in their purses came from this trade, rather than from any other? The face of the Wicked King, after all, has never been stamped on any coin...

This trade is overseen (and largely controlled) by the merchant houses of the Wicked City. Before the city's decline, they were great merchant consortia, who traded across the length of the Great Road and returned with wealth to rival that of kings; and while their stature has shrunken along with that of their city, what they have lost in size and reach they have more than made up for in greed and guile. Their dilapidated mansions fill the streets around the Grand Bazaar, their rooms piled high with mouldering curios imported by their adventurous ancestors: stuffed animals from distant jungles, relics from far-off ruins, and books written in languages that no-one has spoken for a thousand years. Legendary treasures are rumoured to lie rusting in their hidden vaults, guarded by devious traps and unsleeping clockwork sentinels. Maps of half-mythical foreign kingdoms are pinned, sagging, to their stained and crumbling walls. And amidst all this decayed splendour their scions sit looking out at their soot-stained courtyards, their fingers heavy with antique rings, sipping strong coffee and clicking the beads of their abaci, calculating the profits of their trade. They know their city is corrupt, and that they live amongst evil and violence and squalor, but still - one must balance one's books, must one not?

Uzbek  traditional Ikat chopan (coat) w/ a great Niello /Silver concho type belt,19th century. Uzbeks.:

There are dozens of such merchant houses in the Wicked City - far too many for it to be worth detailing them all individually. To generate one, use the following tables:

Primary Business (roll 1d12)
  1. Exporting coal. (Will have strong connections with the city's mines.)
  2. Exporting metalwork. (Will have strong connections with the city's foundries.)
  3. Exporting clockwork technology. (50% chance of being Brass Folk; if they're not, they will have very good contacts in the Brass Folk community.)
  4. Exporting medicines and opiates. (50% chance of being Serpent Folk; if they're not, they will have very good contacts in the Serpent Folk community.)
  5. Exporting guns.
  6. Importing and exporting slaves.
  7. Importing silk and textiles.
  8. Importing wine.
  9. Importing grain.
  10. Importing coffee.
  11. Importing horses.
  12. Importing gold, silver, and jewels.
Divriği - Ulu cami and Darüşşifa (Hospital). Main room of hospital with octagonal pool:

Their mansion is... (roll 1d6)
  1. Built around a single large courtyard, once bright with flowers and water, now blackened with smoke and soot.
  2. Built around a series of smaller courtyards, each one opening onto the next.
  3. Built like a small fort, with thick, heavy walls and narrow windows ideal for firing muskets out of.
  4. A large building surrounded by lavish gardens, which are in turn surrounded by a high wall to keep the people of the city out.
  5. A sprawling building containing a confusing labyrinth of rooms, connected to one another apparently at random by corridors, balconies, and staircases.
  6. Built around a large central tower, in imitation of the spires of the Cobweb.
Their mansion contains... (roll 1d20 1d3 times)
  1. Networks of concealed rooms and secret passages.
  2. Hidden treasure vaults that even the current family don't know how to find.
  3. Ingenious clockwork traps installed at strategic points to immobilise and/or kill intruders.
  4. Vast networks of half-collapsed storage basements, which ultimately connect to the Maze.
  5. A set of rooms which no-one goes into because everyone believes it to be haunted.
  6. A staff of ancient, creaking clockwork servitors, who wordlessly serve the family in place of human servants. 
  7. An exceptional menagerie of exotic animals, some of them extremely rare and dangerous.
  8. An exceptional menagerie of clockwork animals, some of them extremely rare and dangerous.
  9. An extraordinary collection of art from a far-off nation, collected by one of the current family's ancestors.
  10. A secret room containing a miserable-looking peri in an iron cage.
  11. Extensive alchemical laboratories, in which one of the the current family's ancestors sought the secret of eternal life. (1 in 6 chance that she sort-of-succeeded and is still down there, her withered body connected by dozens of metal tubes to the cumbersome alchemical apparatus which maintains it in a semblance of life.)
  12. Marvellous fountains and water gardens, full of exotic fish.
  13. A collection of fossilised dinosaur bones from the Cold Desert, including 1d6 complete skeletons.
  14. 1d3 ravenous Storm Worms imprisoned in a hidden pit. 
  15. 1d4 technically-not-quite-dead elder members of the family, their brains preserved within clockwork bodies so that they can continue to act as advisers for its business affairs.
  16. An extensive collection of antique weapons and armour, drawn from many cultures.
  17. Maps of a far country long believed to be entirely mythical, which the current family swear that their ancestors actually visited.
  18. A small but impeccably-equipped observatory at the top of a high tower, complete with high-quality telescopes from the distant Sunset City.
  19. A great library of poetical and philosophical works, written in many languages.
  20. A large collection of notes, plans, and charts written by one of the previous heads of the house, relating to a never-completed expedition to investigate (and, if possible, seize and carry back) the Bronze Gods of the Frog Men.

From an album "Kazakhstan" by photographer Sasha Gusov. October 2013.:

The current head of the family is... (roll 1d12)

  1. A ruthless social climber who aspires to their own tower in the Cobweb.
  2. A loyal scion who dreams of restoring their family to its former glory, and is working steadily to turn that dream into a reality.
  3. A scholar and a mystic, much given to abstruse philosophising while under the influence of opium.
  4. Secretly a member of the Red Brotherhood, covertly channelling wealth towards resisting the wickedness of the city's government.
  5. A once-ruthless merchant grown old and fearful, who now spends money lavishly on religious donations and holy relics in the hope of averting the wrath of heaven.
  6. A decadent wastrel who squanders the wealth of their family in hedonistic self-indulgence.
  7. A depraved cultist who worships the Wicked King in secret, and regularly purchases slaves for ritual sacrifice in a hidden shrine beneath their mansion.
  8. An impractical dreamer, helplessly watching the fortunes of their family decline and longing for the better days of the past. 
  9. A once-dutiful individual made reckless by desperation; they know that their family faces ruin within a few years unless some radical change occurs, and will do anything to save it.
  10. Sick at heart of the cruelty of the Wicked City, and secretly planning to emigrate to somewhere less horrible while taking as much of their family and fortune with them as possible. 
  11. A fearless merchant-adventurer, who has travelled through many lands and suffered many hardships, and boasts that they have seen all the wonders of the earth.  
  12. A sleepless stimulant-addict, hooked on coffee and liquid brightness, who roams their mansion by night shaking and twitching, watching fearfully for some nameless threat to come creeping in from the darkness outside...

along the silk road:

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