The City of Lives
City of Lives
The central city of the campaign, seated at the crux of two rivers and innumerable realities, on the Julian Plains. See the Realm of Lives
To envision the City, begin by picturing Paris just before the French Revolution – impressive, decadent, with an over-the-top aesthetic. But remember, there is a sense of history that will not be denied, of a city whose roots go back longer than memory. A cosmopolitan populace walks the cobbled streets, people from across the world flocking to the center of culture.
Now, take all that and make it more—the City of Lives’ past predates history; the grandeur includes floating building and architecture impossible according to conventional physics; the visitors to the City come from across a multitude of worlds—a dog-faced man walking beside a tentacled blob and a sapient weather pattern. What we would call magic, they call mundane, the streetlamps are lit by living flame, or captured will-o-the-wasps; mystically linked pieces of parchment send messages across the City instantaneously; roots burst through the ground to demolish buildings, or transport them.
Styles, too, come from across the Realms, and mix in unpredictable ways—corset, bowler hat, and fatigues; neon-pink tunic over crotchless chaps. Fashion does have rules, but they are many, byzantine, and always in flux.
The same can be said for the politics and population—the City is, in name, ruled by the mysterious Elder Trio, but jockeying for power between the various noble houses shifts the political—and often physical—landscape daily. Some districts are ruled by a Promethean house that practices laissez-faire, while others are under the tyrannical thumb of Sky-Carvers with the lowest regard for their subjects. None of this is helped by the fact that the City has no official army or police force—the closest things are a loose alliance of Iversdotter street gangs and the noble houses’ own guards.
The City is ruled by the Elder Trio, a mysterious group of Far-Realm beings who run the City with a loose hand, preferring not to get involved at the daily level. Below the Elder Trio is the High Council, a quorum of twelve councilors selected from the ranks of Parliament. Parliament and the High Council are both legislative bodies: Parliament makes laws, and if they pass a vote within Parliament, they are sent up to the High Council for a final vote—at which point the Elder Trio can veto it should they choose.
Laws and Policing
One of the Elder Trio’s central tenets of governments is laissez-faire—to keep the government as small as possible, and keep power in the hands of the people. To that end, very few taxes are mandated (and even fewer are collected), and few government services are funded. Notably, there is no police force. However, this conflicts with the traditional beliefs of the Leovites and function of the High Council. The result is that the Council passes many laws, but has no way to enforce them. Even the court system is small and underfunded—and remarkably corrupt. And thus rose the Thief-Binders and the noble Houses’ Justiciars—with the official law as a guideline (though certain laws are ignored in one part of the City, and others are invented in another), the real powers of the City (the Iversdotters gangs and noble Houses, depending on the Districts) do their own policing and dispense their own justice.
The City holds to many religions from all over the Realms, from Kivian Taoism to Practical Theosophy—but the majority of the populace follows the Church of the Blinding Light. The Church follows a monotheistic deity known as the Light, an anthropomorphization of the sun in the Realm of Lives. The Light’s central tenets are proselytizing and ending sin, and it is the ancestral religion of the Leovites and the now-extinct Sons of Light. The Leovite priests, or Lightspeakers, hold tremendous power both religious and temporal, especially through their associated political party the Canonists.
The City is host to several dozen calendars and dating systems, and, in general, it is notable for is blended nature. The official language of the City is known as the Farrago (literally, “a mixture”), a combination of the linguistic roots of the various bloodlines.
The City of Lives is at least two thousand years old, but records of its early history are sketchy at best, so nobody knows for certain when it was founded. What is known is that a group of humans settled at the crux of three rivers (legend says, at the behest of the Light), and founded a community based on trade. The original inhabitants called themselves the Sons of Light, but soon other Bloodlines arose, as the Sons of Light interbred with other species and Outlanders immigrated to the City. The civilization began by the Sons of Light was powerful, but overshadowed by most other nearby Realms. It was ruled by the Monarch of Light, and the Church of the Blinding Light served as the official state religion.
Approximately five hundred years ago (the three dominant calendars place it at 502, 514, or 526 years), the Elder Trio came to the City. They deposed the Monarch of Light (in an event known as The Breaking and opened the City up to trade and immigration on an unprecedented scale. Quickly, the City became the cultural, magical, and technological height of the region, and it has stayed in that position ever since.
The City of Lives supports a variety of play styles, but always holds a few fundamental principles. First and foremost is the notion of metaphors-made-real: the farmers in the City are not just close to the earth, they grow plants on their skin; a fiery-tempered magician literally bursts into flame when upset; a sneak-thief sinks into the background in more ways than one. The laws of physics in the City take a second place to the laws of metaphor and story.
Second is the idea of shades-of-gray morality. This is a city of intrigue and conflicting attitudes, not a place of Good vs. Evil. Even the bad guys have a point, and the protagonists may well not be heroes.
Third is the principle of class warfare. The class structure is very prescribed in the City, each class different from the others not only in status, but in culture and even physical form. The struggles between (and within) classes for power and recognition drive a City of Lives campaign.
Fourth is a sense of wonder. The Realms are a never-ending variety of worlds, each more amazing than the last. Exploring them should always take the players by surprise. On the other hand, the characters, jaded by lifetimes spent in a world where this kind of travel is no more unusual than traveling from state to state for us. This juggling of wonder and skepticism is key to the mood of a City of Lives campaign.
A City of Lives campaign can be about exploration, or war, or epic quests—but it really lends itself to politics and intrigue. The default campaign assumptions place the PCs as working for one of the noble Houses that run the City, spying, socializing and sabotaging to promote their House’s interests.