Monday, 23 November 2015

The city at the road's end

The Great Road is four thousand miles long. It winds across hills and steppe and deserts; it passes through golden cities and holy cities and ruinous cities given over to cruelty and despair. The caravans that pass along it carry silk and spices and drugs and medicines and books and knowledge and the preachers of strange religions. Day after day, month after month, they travel west, towards the sunset.

At the western end of the road there is a city, and the wealth of this city is beyond belief.

'Once she did hold the gorgeous East in fee...'

It soars, palazzo upon palazzo, against the setting sun. Towers and domes and spires, fortresses and cathedrals, and the masts of ships... So many ships. Ships from every point of the compass. When the wind blows, the masts sway like trees in a forest. It's enough to make a kid from the taiga feel homesick.

The Sunset City is a kind of fusion of Venice and Genoa and Constantinople, but really it's mostly Venice. It's huge and rich and foreign; there are gondolas and courtesans and basilicas and giggling contessas in chopines twelve inches high. The city is soaked in sex and luxury and intrigue and there is so much money around that it's gone to everyone's heads; there are feasts and banquets and carnivals and people killing each other to raise the money they need to buy this season's most fashionable shoes. Sell your cargo, count your gold, have one really, really good meal (and the food is amazing), and then get out. Stay and you'll get corrupted. Stay and the city will suck you in. 

Modern platform shoes have nothing on early modern Venetian chopines. Those shoes were hardcore.

Characters from the Sunset City can turn up anywhere; running caravans, or leading missionary expeditions, or acting as crewmen on weird little riverboats two or three thousand miles from home. Their horsemanship is so poor by steppe standards that it makes the nomads laugh out loud to see them, but they are great sailors and merchants and navigators and they make the finest mirrors and glassware that the world has ever seen. More to the point, stuff from the Sunset City can turn up anywhere along the Great Road, treasured and hoarded by would-be sophisticates in dozens of different kingdoms. Here are some representative examples:

Lace and Glassware: The lace and glasses produced by the Sunset City are very light, very valuable, and very fragile. Their value and portability make them very tempting targets for thieves, but any robberies involving them must be carried out with enormous care; a bandit who just shoves a crate of glassware into his saddlebags, or rips the lace cuffs off some preening fop or swooning noblewoman, will end up with nothing but worthless shards and shreds for his trouble. Bring padding. Bring lots and lots of padding.

High-Quality Spyglasses: Navigators and astronomers prize telescopes constructed in the Sunset City, as the skill of its lens-grinders is legendary. A top-end spyglass manufactured there will allow the user to see 10% further than a normal spyglass; on the steppe, this means that if one horseman has a Sunset City spyglass and another has only a regular one, then the first can trail the second without being spotted himself. They are beloved by airship pilots, caravan guards, and bandit chiefs.

Glass Daggers: A blade of thick, sturdy green glass, patiently chipped along the sides to produce cutting edges of quite horrific sharpness. Mostly used as status symbols rather than real weapons. If wielded in combat they inflict +1 damage due to the keenness of their edges, but any miss scored against a target in metal armour (or using a metal shield) has a 1-in-3 chance of causing the blade to shatter, and an attack roll of 1 always means the blade has broken off. If you stab someone with one you can twist the handle to make the blade break off inside the wound, filling their flesh with fragments of broken glass and causing a real headache for whoever has to try to heal them afterwards...

Combat Chopines: The point of chopines is to be massively, spectacularly impractical, thus advertising the fact that their wearer doesn't have to work; if she did, she wouldn't be able to totter around all day in foot-high platform shoes. If you have really good balance, though, then it's possible to learn to run, dance, and even fight in them, a fact that some ladies of the Sunset City have turned to their advantage: people tend to assume that the girl swaying around in her ludicrously impractical footwear is the last person they need to worry about when a fight breaks out. Some have even equipped their chopines with sturdy straps, weights, and spring-loaded blades, the length of the shoe allowing them to deliver razor-edged kicks to people well outside normal brawling range. Such 'combat chopines' inflict 1d4 damage, but using them effectively requires lots of practise and a Dexterity of 15 or higher.

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