Aside from a well rounded and interesting NPC, nothing makes me happier as a DM or Player than a good city. From the Free City of Greyhawk, to Waterdeep and Menzoberranzen...from Tanelorn to Amber to Shadizar and all of the fictional cities we have journeyed to in fiction and role-playing, these places have become familiar and friendly, dark and dangerous though they might be.
Places such as these enter our shared cultural conscious and if you're like me, they seem as real as New York or L.A., London or Moscow. Some time ago, as I began to build my Nth hombrew world for a game of Castles & Crusades, I decided to take a closer look at the villages, towns, and most importantly the cities that I was placing on the map as my game started to take shape.
What is it about these places that make them sit so firmly in our memories, dig their roots so deeply into our psyche? I'd be lying if I said I was 100% sure of the answer, but my best guess is this... the People. The NPC's who inhabit these spaces and the interaction with characters we know (like our PC's or the lead characters in a novel or short story) lead to momentous events, and these events leave us with deep impressions of the place. There are other factors to be sure, such as the narrative description of the architecture, the history and events surrounding the place in question, and a host of other factors but it is through its people that we really learn about a place and decide if it will take up permanent residence in our personal atlas.
It was with this focus, the people, that I came to begin my personal exploration of an important, if not prominent, city in the land my players would be inhabiting.
I'm no artist, so I usually let the Fantasy World Generator handle the work for me. It's pretty robust and while it may not be the look/feel I really want, it more than makes up for it in time spent fiddling about and ultimately being unhappy with the end product. I prefer to focus more on the contents of the world itself. But this time I didn't allow the software to pregen my populated areas. Instead I dropped the completed map into Photoshop and began to plan myself the starting point and potential trajectories of my players and game.
The world grew organically as we played, starting from a small rural village along a river to a port city on an inland sea, but time and time again my attention shifted far to the north and west, towards a range of mountains where I knew the focal point of my game would rest. After a few months of gaming, the party finally arrived at the gates to my new mountain city, one I had been focusing most of my time and attention upon. They had come to a city of mages, sages, thieves, artists, cooks, mercenaries, and not least of all, an ancient order of monks with a dark and terrible secret.
They had arrived at Elbion.
If you have a copy of my module, A Baker's Denizen, you'll know that Elbion appears early on in the descriptive text for the start of that adventure. By the time of its writing, quite a bit of the City of Elbion supplement I had been working on before the module had been completed, but I wanted to take a bit of a break and decided that writing an adventure module would be a nice change of pace. Initially I was going to release the larger work, a city supplement focused on the work I had done writing about the City of Elbion and its people, places, spaces and most importantly, its secrets, as a polished .pdf on RPGnow.
Then I decided...screw that! What I really wanted was to start putting it up here, in installments, and for free.
I have no art for Elbion. If you read these posts and decide you'd like to contribute to the project with some art, that would be great! I would love for someone to bring the city fully to life with some illustration. If the project is ever released in its entirety, it will likely be free or PWYW and in either case I would never use the art in any way to profit without direct permission from the artist.
It has been too much fun writing about Elbion to keep it locked up, incomplete and languishing on my hard drive as I constantly add, edit, and tweak the thing to death before dropping it into inDesign to spend even more time being endlessly adjusted to my liking. I think the project is far better served by being free and available for folks to use, change, or ignore in their own games. I may still release the work as a whole, but for now you can drop by every now and again to check and see if new pieces have been added, and all will be tagged with ELBION.
In the coming weeks and months, I will be releasing snippets of Elbion, from city locations to deeper histories and mysteries, but primarily the bulk of the work remains NPC's. What I hope I have created is a place that is the sum of its people, and that these interesting, colorful, and oftentimes dangerous folk will somehow find a place in your game world. Everything in Elbion is currently system agnostic, though I may stat-block the NPC's for general OSR usage.
So just what is The City of Elbion all about? Read on...
THE CITY OF ELBION
Elbion, some say, is as old as the Mountains that cradle it, safe in their stony embrace from outside attack or interference from any king, lord, or chieftain. Set atop an expansive plateau, it is a bastion of learning, a strange and unsettling place that houses the Library of Antiquity. It is the oldest and densest collection of books, scrolls, atlases, and codices ever assembled. The Citadel and the Library it houses is the Jewel in the crown of Elbion, sitting atop a large hill central to the city. It can be seen rising above the city walls from well below, reaching for the clouds from the mountain pass that is the only road in, or out.
Not surprisingly, Elbion houses a community as odd and diverse as the contents of the library that it surrounds. The Librarians, essentially the governing body of Elbion, have a very liberal outlook on the state of affairs in the city below. A collective of librarians, arcanists, and artisans has many eclectic tastes, and plenty of strange and uncommon folks to cater to those who care to indulge.
With a varied and unique population comes benefits, as well as dangers. Together, we will explore them. Welcome to the City of Elbion and to the Library of Antiquity!
Like most places, Elbion didn’t start its life as a city. Instead, and more unusually, atop the hill where the Library of Antiquity now stands was a small stone monastery. This was the secluded home of the Brothers of Implacable Thirst, who paid homage to the deity Faros, Lord of all knowledge and Learning.
Deep in their mountain retreat, the monks amassed a wealth of knowledge, and through their prayers Faros gained in power. Pairs of monks were sent into the world, armed only with their intellect and the power of prayer, to collect scraps of legend and pieces of forgotten lore and return with them to monastery. Soon, this collection of rare and often arcane wisdom was sought after by wizards, sorcerers, and other practitioners of the art. The library grew, as did the monastery.
Faros reveled in the prosperity of his priesthood, and he protected his flock from the many dangers of the world. The monks became powerful clerics who also understood and practiced the arcane arts, but such power came at a terrible cost. Faros demanded both abeyance and abstinence in all mortal pleasure, instead demanding that his clerics seek the truth of pain, and his priests obeyed lest they lose their connection to his grace and power. In doing so they lost their humanity and in some cases, their sanity. Mutilated and misshapen by their self-induced torture, they hid from the world and sought refuge deep within the heart of the monastery, surrounding the structure with a grand citadel, a fortress to house the ever growing Library of Antiquity.