Sunday 14 June 2015

The Wicked City: Origins

'Tower of Babel' by Marten van Valckenborch. You can see a larger version here.

Out of the wreckage of the Wars of Faith arose a wicked king, perfect in injustice, cynicism and intrigue. He gained his throne by plausible lies, and maintained it through audacious cruelty, until his wickedness permeated every part of the city which he had claimed as his own. The people grew bitter and sick at heart, and the will to resist perished within them. Those who dared to speak out against the wicked king were visited, sooner or later, by six men without faces. No-one ever saw them again.

In the centre of the city the cruel king built himself a tower, and this tower rose so high that its summit could only be guessed at. Around it, his henchmen and hangers-on built towers of their own, albeit far smaller; and between these towers there grew up a fantastical cobweb of lines and walkways, across which servants and messengers scurried by day, and through which spies and assassins crawled by night. Beneath the shadow of the Cobweb, the city grew dark and ruinous; yet those who tried to flee were met, on the road, by a man with frozen pebbles instead of eyes. Few tried to flee a second time.

When the king grew old, he gave orders for statues of himself to be built on every corner; and then he withdrew into his tower, and was seen no more. Some say he is dead long since, and others that he lives on, sustained by sheer malice; but something still watches the city through the stone eyes of the statues, and listens through their stone ears, for those who trespass against his unjust laws are inevitably captured unless their deeds are done in those impoverished districts where the statues have all been smashed to rubble and the king's men do not dare to go.

By rights, the Wicked City should have collapsed into desolation years ago, ruined by its own corruption and despair; but somehow it not only survives but grows, drawing the greedy, the vicious, the hopeless, and the desperate from all lands to it by some secret spiritual magnetism. The unscrupulous sometimes travel there in furtive caravans, to purchase goods and services which could not be sold openly in any other land; and thieves and spies and murderers travel with them, hoping to make their fortunes high up amidst the tangled intrigues of the Cobweb. A single determined army could scour the Wicked City from the earth; and yet the kings of the surrounding lands view it with superstitious dread, whispering - as so many do, now - that the Wicked King has attained some kind of terrible apotheosis. Some outcast cults have even begun to worship him in secret, muttering secret prayers to him to bring them success in deeds of such spite and cruelty that all other gods would look upon with mere contempt... 

* * *

The Wicked City is both the main setting AND the main antagonist for ATWC. It's a bit like ancient Babylon and a bit like Victorian London and a bit like modern Dubai. It's huge and sprawling and labyrinthine, and it's built on cruelty and lies and exploitation, soaking up people and resources from the surrounding countryside and giving nothing but evil and pollution in return. Think of the very worst part of the very worst city you've ever visited. Now imagine visiting that place while tripping out on some very bad acid. That's what the Wicked City is like.

I'll be posting more about the Wicked City over the weeks to come...


  1. I'm not sure where the best place to ask this question is - so I'll just put it here.

    So I've been actively trying to run a ATWC game for a while now, reading up, prepping & prepping.

    One of the things that really captured me about ATWC was the progression that you've built into it, the players start with base classes and explore in the area, but as they progress they meet all these displaced communities ( and end up expanding class/race options as they go) across potentially many different pc re-rolls and slowly but surely band some (if not all) of them together in rebellion, eventually storming the center tower it's self.

    That's.. wonderful honestly I love the idea so much. But the only thing Im not 100% about is whether or not I can portray the WICKEDNESS of the wicked city to point the players know they need to do something w/o railroading them.

    Maybe it's because in rpgs we have games where cities are literally dedicated to devils/demons so it's personal context?

    1. First off, I'm delighted that you're planning to run a game using the setting! I understand your dilemma, though: how do you give the campaign a focus without limiting player freedom?

      I actually don't think that just amping up the horribleness of the Wicked City is likely to be an effective solution: players can shrug off any amount of awfulness if they're not interested in getting involved. Instead, I'd suggest just setting things up so that every storyline, sooner or later, points back towards the Wicked City.

      So they go to the steppe, and they befriend a shaman, and what she wants more than anything is to get her son back, who was carried off into captivity years ago... to the Wicked City. Or they go to the deserts, and they befriend an order of mystics, and their head Sufi tells them that he'd love to teach them their ancient secret techniques, but he can't do it without their holy books... which were stolen by agents of the Wicked King. It should become increasingly clear that the Wicked City is at the heart of virtually everything that is wrong with the world - and that, as a result, almost regardless of what their objective is, taking on the Wicked King will have to be (part of) the answer. Faced with a couple of plotlines pointing away from the city, and a dozen or more pointing towards it, even the stubbornest of parties should eventually take the hint...

    2. Really? Do we?


      The Wicked King