An Early Colonial Setting for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
Edgar D. Johnson III
Lacuna Locurae is an otherworld, a world in a plane of existence parallel to the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign world, a shadow to the planet Ore. The starting locale for the campaign is Magyaru, a bustling port city of a fading colonial power. The city is host to a trade in all manner of things, a crossroads of sorts to the world's powers, and a place where any deal might be made, for the right price. Nobles and pirates, sages and savages, witches and those who hunt witches might be found in Magyaru, along with any other thing in the world, anything at all.
The main influences over this setting are Howard's Solomon Kane stories and, to be frank, gothic fiction as it has been done in a bunch of shitty movies. The pulp feel should be high, but so, too, should be the pervading sense of both encroaching doom and infinite horizons.
Though Magyaru is ruled by a colonial governor and his captain-general, its merchant houses and guilds are growing in power, aided in part by High Primarch Kraston Moll and clergy of the the Temple of Luz, whose hierarchy has begun to question the governor's leadership and the insidious influence of his mysterious, masked advisor, Her Ladyship Lorenia Rond. She, for her part, is reputed to come from far Silicia, thousands of leagues to the west. None have ever seen even her fingers, let alone her face, for her customs dictate that she be fully masked and robed outside of the Glass Tower. The high clergy of Luz, in fact, suspect the Lady is a witch, and that her shroud conceals tokens of her bedevilment and corruption from the righteous. They would like very much to allow the Inquistors of Luz to put her to the question, and burn her for her crimes against all that is holy. That course, however, is not possible at this time, for the Governor is seemingly besotted of the foreign devil. The governor is the fifth son of Arch Duke Corlo Mythrux, who is advisor to the Empress, Herself, and thus not to be trifled with. His son, Danal Mythrux, however, is little like his esteemed father, and has been sent far from court so that he won't continue to embarrass his family. Captain-General Koban Markoz arrived with the governor, and serves both as military leader of the colony, as well as shepherd of sorts to the Arch Duke's troublesome scion. He is utterly loyal to the Arch Duke, but only barely tolerates his son—a fact which enrages said son, and has made it much easier for Lorenia Rond to insinuate herself into his coterie of sycophants.
The Governor spends much of his time at his cups, or perhaps dandling a concubine upon his knee. He has a particular penchant for the native women among the servants. Though he is not a cruel man, Danal Mythrux has difficulty understanding why this might be a problem for anyone else, particularly the women themselves. He is, of course, peerless in this realm, and deserving of everything he wants (or so he fancies).
The Governor's advisor, the mysterious Lorenia Rond, is, herself, a native of sorts. Imperial colonists arrived in the region only 100 years ago, but her tower, the Glass Tower, already stood atop a flattened area of mountainside, 1,000 feet above the highest spires of Magyaru, itself. The symbolism of this fact is not lost on Captain-General Markoz, though the Governor will hear no ill spoken of Lady Rond.
Magyaru consists of several more or less spacious levels cut into the side of a mountain. Each successive level is smaller than the one below, and the lowest level abuts onto a wide gorge which gives birth to a river entering the harbor itself.
The seven levels of the city above Harbortown are organized largely by function. The highest level of the city proper is (1) the Governor's Palace and associated executive offices, barracks, etc. Below the Palace, in order of importance, are (2) the estates of the noble families (need name for this level), (3) the homes and business offices of the merchant princes and guild masters (need name for this level), (4) the cloisters of sages and clergy (need name for this level), (5) the market square and the shops of skilled tradesmen, (6) the homes and barracks of common laborers, soldiers, and mercenaries (need name for this level), and (7) the hovels of the dregs and remnants of civilization: madmen, indentured servants, and slaves (the Low City). Each level has one or more stairs, elevators, or whatever other means of access; but the higher one goes, the fewer are the "bridges." The Governor's palace only has one stairway, but it is large, sumptuously crafted, and very, very well guarded.
It being customary that the "high and mighty" live on high, as it were, many of the nicer buildings of each level of the city hover at the edges above the next level down. Not coincidentally, the areas near the higher cliffs are less desirable, possibly because the levels drain water (and its various contents) from high to low: Shit literally flows downhill, ending up in the harbor, for the most part. Also, clusters of ramshackle shanties and platforms hang from the cliff sides and fill the hollows between the lowest two levels (Harbortown and Low City). They are inhabited by those whose lot is worst (or whose infamy is greatest). There are occasional "accidents"— fires, collapses, and the like—which result in dozens or even hundreds of casualties among these unfortunates. Rampant poverty and squalor give rise to all manner of crime, though most of it finds victims among those living closest to the misery, not those higher in the city.
The city guard forces of Captain-General Markoz ("greencoats"), are willing to ignore crimes that don't affect the high and mighty. Those who ignore this class barrier will find no mercy from the Grey Court (as the legal offices of the Captain-General are called), which makes a public spectacle of the trials, judgments, and inevitable executions of any who dare to afflict the comfortable. It's not that Markoz is corrupt, but more that he recognizes quality by the color of its coin, and believes that worthiness manifests as wealth, whether the holder of the coin be guild master, merchant, pirate, adventurer, or prince of the underworld. For this reason, the most successful grifters in Magyar or those who are not recognized as criminals at all.
Finally, there is the port, proper, its wharfs and jetties a chaos of perpetual activity. There, one can find ship to any place in the known world, arrange for supplies and repairs, and hire a crew or a party from among the sailors and other adventurers who frequent the dockside inns, taverns, and dives.
Above the city, the great mountain climbs into the clouds and beyond. The Glass Tower of Lorenia Rond shines a thousand feet above the city, old beyond measure yet gleaming as if new-made. It stands athwart the best path to the celestial summit of the great mountain. No one thinks to go beyond it, though; no one has ever tested this implicit boundary. No one even wonders why this is so.
The broader region of mountains in which Magyaru is situated is populated by tribes of savage humans, some warlike and some less so. Most of these savages are content to leave the Imperials to their affairs, and trade with them occasionally. Some warlords, though, contemplate at length the riches of the city, and the wonder why they should not have a part of those riches, or maybe even all of them.
The cult of Luz the Purifier holds sway in Magyaru, and guards its prerogatives and official status like a miser guards his gold. The cult is only one of many of the Empire's faiths. However, it is the official faith of this particular colony, having underwritten substantially the founding of Magyaru. So, in most things, other cults go about their business quietly, and without antagonizing the Temple of Luz or its High Primarch. High Primarch Kraston Moll is a veteran of the Imperial temple's politics and is connected at all levels of the city, and can deploy a variety of resources, from spies to his personal guard (which is not inconsiderable). He also is rumored to have a force of temple assassins at his disposal, but it's only a rumor, after all.
Luz the Purifier is a lawful deity, the flame of knowledge and disperser of shadows. The Temple of Luz also is home to many of the Empire's great artificers and natural philosophers. Much of its doctrine revolves around a complex astrology of sun, stars, and moons (the Great Machine), and there are festivals and sacrifices marking significant conjunctions of them. In many ways, the cult makes Magyaru a better place, providing learning and charity to the respectful and law-abiding. They can be ruthless, however, and work hard to suppress magical heresies, the cult itself the only acceptable practitioner of the divine. Those who dabble in the arcane, or who truck with magical beings, tend to become targets of the cult's retribution, though it often is not direct, relying on provocateurs and catspaws among the working classes' faithful.
While firearms are becoming relatively common among the martial classes, they are primitive. The low-velocity, smoothbore, matchlock muskets and pistols are state of the art. Mostly, though, armies still rely on primitive weapons at close quarters, and crossbows are the most common missile weapon.
Plate breastplates and brigandine armors, similarly, are becoming more common than traditional ring- and chainmail, and shields typically are used only by heavy infantry and heavy cavalry.
Artillery exists, but consists of "bombards," huge, unwieldy pieces designed for siege work, and for reducing fortifications. Mobile, wheeled artillery has not yet emerged; and shipboard cannon still are not used. Instead, naval warfare relies on long-range fire with bows, crossbows, and primitive siege engines, and closing with the enemy to engage via boarding action.
Steel and iron are the metals of the age, though good-quality bronze weapons and armor still can be found among the savage tribes of the highlands.
The World Outside Magyaru
The mountains behind the city rise up, past the Glass Tower, up into alpine valleys and highlands, up, up, up, to the stars, some claim. People don't like to talk about what's Above. They avoid talking about it, and take great exception to those who question too much. A variety of savage tribes live above the city, and trade foodstuffs and other products with the city-folk, usually in exchange for iron and steel weapons and tools, gauds and tokens of civilization, and whatever strong drink might be available.
Magyaru produces little of what it uses, and there are few arable acres within the city's boundaries. The sea is mother and father, nurturing life and providing the sternest of taskmasters, and provides everything Magyaru requires, be it trade goods, precious metals, warm bodies, food, or whatever else. The city's harbor is a ravening maw, consuming all the good things that enter it, even if only in the form of silver from resupplying ships making port calls, and from their crews who sample from the fleshpots of the lower city.
From highland savage to Imperial royalty, the races of this world are the races of Men, and come in all kinds, creeds, colors, and flavors. Human ways are pretty much what you'd expect: They glom together in groups because of accidents of geography and parentage, and each group believes on some level it is the most righteous (by whatever arbitrary measure).
Here, in Magyaru, the majority and the ruling classes are one in the same: Imperial mutts of various sorts. People of particular regions who, because of duty to the Empire, lived out their lives far from home, and there found life, love, and an ending. There are, however, plenty of visitors from far-off, exotic climes, with strange and outlandish customs and beliefs. Magyaru is a crossroads, people come here to make deals. They usually tolerate the idiosyncracies of others for practical reasons.
PCs who have come from Ur-Hadad or other places with the demi-human races (e.g., dwarves, Halflings, elves, etc.) will find themselves subject to scrutiny. Dwarves and Halflings, of course, can pass as humans who happen to be shorter and smaller; they also may face additional jibes and petty cruelties because of their size. Elven PCs, on the other hand, at least those who go without the expensive (and concealing) iron-protective raiment, will draw pointed looks, and signs to ward off the Evil Eye. There are no elves here. To the folk of this world, they simply look like demons of legend (which legends, it should be noted, are all eerily similar in matters of infernal mythology, no matter their cultural origin).