Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nidus - The Shifting City

So, I last left my daring players looking for a town. My initial thought was to make some small medievalesque town they could travel to, just big enough to get rid of their loot. But what I immediately became obsessed with was something completely different.

Once, I ran across a picture of a real town in a book that grabbed my brain and transported me. I think it was in Italy or Greece, it showed an old town with stairways leading to doors and a door under the stairs and another set of stairs going a different way, leading to a different door. Doors and stairs. It was like a urban labyrinth. Aha, I thought, what if a whole city was like how I imagined the Tenderloin of Lankhmar or the Maze, in the Sanctuary of Thieves' World to be. Something unmappable, unknowable, dangerous territory.

This is not the same picture,

but similar. The city is not just a maze in two dimensions, it's a nest of stairs and passages, doors and plazas. It is carved from stone and whitewashed. And it is on a tiny island.

Nidus, City of Pirates, City of Thieves, City of Lost Things, of cultists and heretics. The shops and lodging places shift constantly, those doing poorly forced to smaller holes-in-the-walls, those thriving taking over plazas. No one is in charge. No thieves' guild, no demon, no great mage. Nidus, City of Uncertainty.

In my mind it is a visual amalgam of the troglodyte houses of Matmata, Tunis:

the Greek isles of Santorini:

And Elkep Evi in Turkey:

My post about dicey lodgings was my first attempt at embodying this location in rules. But how do I convey this teeming white maze of doors and stairs to my players?


  1. better start drawing that picture, it's gonna be a long night!

    in certain city dwellings, it might be best to insist that they get a guide, request aid, or roll on a table with fun results that shows what happens since they can't find their way back to their inn or usual resting place. in small towns, i don't bother, assuming they'd find their way around easily enough, but with a complicated city, the plot twist potential is huge. City crawls can be boring, but adding the "you got lost, let's see where you ended up before realizing it" option could really liven things up.

  2. That's pretty much what I had in mind. No map of the city will be made, rolls on charts will tell you if you find what you were seeking. And guides would be necessary and expensive.

    Just sounds kind of annoying, but, I imagine there is always the possibility of finding something fabulous around the corner that can't be found anywhere else in the world. Man-gods, carvers of dragon bone, blind painters and holy animals.

  3. This is a very intriguing place. Kind of Escher-meets-Piranesi kind of. You might want to only map out the major streets and toroughfares and have everything run off of tables keyed to specificstreets, neighborhood, districts, etc. That's what I'm doing with Devukarsha. Way more flexible, eminently exapandable and a lot easier that plunking down a ton of empty boxes to represent buildings that I'll never need. A city can be run of of a spreadsheet and flowchart far easier than a map, in some ways, sometimes.

  4. Thanks. Yeah, I actually thought of Escher after publishing this post. And you're right on about the Piranesi pics. I've seen them too, but much more recently.

    About streets, I really want to leave this place abstract but I realize that by going completely abstract I lose landmarks. So I'm trying to think of zones, or neighborhoods I want and what 1 or 2 landmarks I could place there. So players might be wandering for days trying to get out of this place and say "Kraken! there's that giant obsidian phallus statue again."

  5. Perhaps there might be an eidolon or two in the mix?

    Based on your previous comment, someone has taken to pilfering sacred statues off of the Avenue of Eidolons in Riskail. Not the best career choice by any means...

    Now I just have to figure out who the hell put the five-hundred foot bronze lingam in the middle of the street...

  6. Wow, awesome NetherWerks. And I'd never run across the term eidolon. I like it, now that avatar seems commonplace.