Monday, November 28, 2022

CALDERA - Twilight City





Caldera lies in a Goldilocks zone. Between the darkness of Tenebris, the cold of Galea, the swelter of Calidum, and the blind of Bright Town lies the caldera itself. It receives fresh air, appropriate heat, and frequent patronage. It is the aorta and lungs of the city - a crossroads carrying denizens and oxygen from the city's beating heart to its minds and muscles. The priestesses say you can even hear the city breathing in Caldera.

The Temple of November
The Temple of the City's namesake - November, the Twilight City. Its priestesses pay tribute and prayer to the personification of the city itself. November, she is called, for she lies upon the twilight precipice of the tidally-locked world. The priestesses declare her "the frontier of civilization" - the last bastion before the neverending frozen wastes of Rim and the lands of the eternal June.

The city is new, and so is her persona. An adult drow woman: broad, sturdy, unrepose. She carries the staff, the knife, and the cloak. Her head is covered by a mask which conceals all but her mouth. Blind, but not deaf. She looks hungry.

November is a living thing, they say. Her bones are the foundations of the mountain. The Pomerium is her beating heart. Caldera is the lungs. Calidum the liver. Hiss the kidneys. Tenebris the intestines. Galea the teeth. Bright Town the hand. Fumo the breasts. She has no eyes, no nose, but she does have a hunger.

The priestesses ask rhetorically: "What does a city eat?" Many things, it turns out: people, dreams, small polities, slaves, wheat and wheat and wheat. It feasts on bread and bloody games, and shits corpses to be recycled into more food.

They at the Temple of November have no allusions that the city is a grisly and morbid thing. The clergy of the 'Gods' Chosen' never gild their awful truths. Instead they abide it willingly: the Temple of November is charged with the administration of sacred Games and Feasts, and providing the logistics for holidays. Their bureaucrats count coins and inspect gladiators for suitability. They receive the Great Houses for their sponsorships, and sanctify architecture in the name of their city.

The Temple is grand: an edifice of pillars and bas-relief, built with a beauty that seems to preclude time itself. The legends depicted showcase the bloody legends of their civilization: invocatio, murders, conquests, migrations and great births.

E1: Woman With Geode Eyes

Legend says she was the sole survivor by an attack of forces unknown. She had plucked out her own eyes with a sharp narrow stone, replacing them with glimmering purple geodes. She never spoke of the attack or the assailants who wiped out her outpost as long as she lived.

Place gemstones on your eyes and pray to the woman. Stones of the right size to hold in the socket are difficult to find, though the quality does not matter.

For the next encounter in which you are encountering assailants in which you have absolutely no knowledge, you will be invisible to them.

The Ghilaeran Baths

Named for Matriarch Ghilaera of House Kordelia, whose daughters hunt monsters and men. Large public bathhouse famous for its gymnasium, which is famous for its extravagant allowances of space and its shrine to Victory.

The baths contain all the amenities one might expect from an upscale public bathhouse: warm, cold, and tepid baths. Salt and freshwater baths. Oil baths (for those with extravagant tastes). Barbers, trainers, conversationalists, socialites. Its surfaces are covered in mosaics depicting famous victories in Drow history - Xadrox Mirrorshield breaking the back of the Ur-Hydra, Queen Rema's subjugation of the Bearded King Mithrium, Rom's crystalline triumph over The Unknowable. House Kordelia makes a lot of claims to be descendant of these heroes. Who would dare challenge the Victorious House on this? Probably no-one.

Halcyon di la Eligos considers herself fixer-in-chief for the Bath's attendees. She knows all the usual patrons and all their idiosyncrasies - when matriarchs and their cohorts will arrive, which masseuses are blabbermouths, and which barbers know how to slice the femoral artery. She's made a lot of friends. Too many friends. Enough that it's more a liability than an asset.


The Gymasium, attached to the Ghilaeran Baths, is a big draw. It sports a racing track - an amenity previously thought ludicrously extravagant in the confines of the Underdark. There are weights to lift and challengers eager to wrestle. The Daughters of Victory, helmed by the sisters Ghili and Ghila di la Kordelia, train their members in the most esteemed of sports: Pursuit, Wrangling, Marksmanship, and Carrying. All the sports that the hunters of men find useful.

Pursuit is essentially a game of dirty tag. One must chase or elude capture, and then roles are reversed. Often the sport is played on a climbing wall or some other inhospitable surface, such as underwater or within a field of stalagmites.

Wrangling is essentially wrestling, though it is often accompanied by the use of tools, particularly ropes. More intense versions of the sport utilize spikes and other hostile objects to snare and grab.

Marksmanship is precisely how you would imagine it - target shooting. Crossbows are primary, with darts being secondary. At the highest levels it is done blindfolded.

Carrying is much like The Highland Games meets an obstacle course, with categories based on the method of transport: dragging (including tool-assisted or not), on-body (carrying without dragging), or assisted (in which multiple people carry the same object or person).

Stoneshaper’s Guild

"She who creates has a maker's knowledge of her objects, and complete mastery over them."

A grand school of architecture and earthly magic, where mastery of the spell Stone Shape is practiced. The façade contains twelve marble pillars inscribed microscopically with all the names of all the masons the school has produced. Thousands over a thousand years. Twelve pillars for the twelve Grand Masons - Kethan, Balace, Elvoyss, Zarra, Saradreza, Hera, Sabia, Rica, Sabia II, Flora, Petrina, Zarlochar.

These people are responsible for building this city. Their magic of stoneshaping builds new amenities, villas, and houses. Their knowledge of architecture keeps the city from collapsing under the weight of the mountain. The guild’s directors, chiefly: Zarlochar di la Kaisar are in charge of the sacred task of city planning. They are priestesses as much as architects, responsible for housing the gods as well as people. And in doing so they receive tremendous patronage by the richer houses, eager to sponsor various projects for wealthy and fame and the public good.

Few would deign to test them, being by far the most powerful of the Guilds. For no other guilds are guarded by lictors - wearing red robes and wielding heavy hammers, provided by senators rich enough to be able to donate their state-sponsored bodyguards.

Having a Stoneshaper as an ally can grant one access to virtually any house, building, or temple in the city. And so they are greatly respected and closely watched.

Estate Kaisar

The House of Knives is a lot nicer than its name might suggest. It's said that every room, every person, every single object hides a hidden knife. Kaisal is a cruel god, but his patron House is rich and powerful. The estate sports three private gardens, two private baths, a temple complex devoted to worshiping and protecting the Kris of Dark Waves and the knife-sculpture Idol of Kaisal. It promotes its priestesshood with patronage equivalent to a major temple. Matriarch Laetha de Kaisar is the matriarch's matriarch - the platonic form of the matriarchs of old: conservative, austere, thin, powerful, ruthless, wealthy, coercive. She is pious and her family is mighty.

Kaisar is an old, old House. Older than the stones, its priestesses say. As old as the first knife, used to kill the first elf. It has quite a legacy to live up to, something that its members are keenly aware. Many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Laetha and her sisters go on to become priests and priestesses. Her third daughter Zarlochar is grandmaster of the powerful Stoneshaper's Guild. Every temple of any import probably has a Kaisar in it somewhere, usually towards the top.


"She that shapes the jewel, makes the world." - A common phrase among jewelers of November.

The jewelers of Twilight City have a great legacy that they fail to live up to. The glaziers of the fallen city of Glazz'gibrar, long succumbed to living nightmares, were said to make gems of glass that captured souls. It's known that they possessed the secrets to eternal life, to lichedom, and to navigating the Plane of Forms. They all died along with the royal House.

...And only one has ever come back: Amatus the Apprentice, once-died, once-risen. Apprentice to Amatia, his mother.  He is a zombie in the possession of House Grachus. Cracked lips, short patchy hair, and thick hands. Though he was but an apprentice, even in undeath he has reverse-engineered the secret of making jewels that capture light.

They are dark, swirling things before the light occupies them. There are gems for capturing sun light, warm light, bad light, and toxic light. Bad light and warm light make for the best jewelry - the merchant-patronesses and nobles will wear them plentifully. Sun light and toxic light make the best magic items.

Metamorphic Apartments

A peripherally-located neighborhood bordering The Metamorphic Stair (also called The Warped Stair), which bridges Caldera and Calidum, and goes from Hiss to Caldera to the Pomerium. Considered by many to be a good place to live. It's spiraled red-and-black stone walls show off a profound natural beauty. The apartments have become home for well-to-do folk: merchants, bureaucrats, lay assistants, professionals, educated slaves. The spirit of the stair is said to be a spirit of glass, and that people pray to it for good or ill change.

The Glazen Spirit is said to manifest as a black reflective glass where the fated befall their sight. It is an oracle that heralds significant change, granting glimpses of the glimpser's future. Those who gaze into its reflection see their future selves - successful, rich, powerful, with child; or crippled, impoverished, ragged, dead. People pray to it for good change for themselves and their families, and ill change for their enemies.

E2: Altar of the Girthy Mother

A similar altar is commissioned every time a Drow gives birth to triplets. Up until 50 years ago there had only ever been three - one every two thousand years. Now there are thirteen. Miz'ra, Matriarch of House Grachus has devoted three.

She is a brass Venus holding three children with three great arms.

Kiss the Mother's well-worn feet. The next time you roll a '3' on a d20, it instead becomes a '13'.

The Adamantine Stair

Also known as the "Long Stair", or the "Amantine Stair", after the revered Second Spider Queen Amantia. It was she who created the priesthoods, consecrated the first temples, and stole the first gods. She created the backbone of the society, and likewise her namesake stair is the backbone of the city. The priestesses of the Temple of November sometimes call it: "The Spine".

It is the longest stair in the city, running the entire depth from Tenebris to Hiss to Caldera to Galea. Along the Caldera portion it is as wide as a two-way city street, with steps of a dark blue stone as hard as diamond. It gets frequent use by the Stepmonger's Guild, who hawk their services along its portals.

The spirit of the Long Stair is known as "Long-Neck". The Mongers pray to it, and sometimes offer it leaves and berries at its spotted shrine.

Berry Merchant

A novel development in the profession of grocers is the proliferation of surface foods, previously thought to be such an extraordinary delicacy that they must be offered first to the gods. Now they are beginning to be so flush that even ordinary people might get a taste.

Sweet berries are one such food, and Bene the Berry Merchant makes an absolute killing off of them. She is sweet, thoughtful, outwardly homely, and certainly not above sabotaging her competitors. She is presently organizing cultivation efforts in the Feyfjord to the north to produce mulberries and blueberries in previously unthinkable amounts, with sponsorship from House Mendar. She hopes to discover the secret of cultivating Goodberries, which have completely eluded domestication.

The establishment gets absolutely swamped around the time of the Sanguinia, as berries are considered a novel, thoughtful gift for men, thought to promote fertility.

Estate Grachia

The House of Guards, repository for the internment of Grachus the Gate, the end of beginnings and the beginning of ends. House Grachia and its matriarch Miz'ra are powerful incumbents in the fields of necromancy, law, and necromantic law. The guards who watch Estate Grachia do not sleep and do not blink.

Within the halls are interned the righteous ancestors of House Grachia, residing within their cold stone homes. There they live the long life, dreaming the dreams of undeath while contemplating the affairs of their dynasty. Parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all reside together in perpetuity. There are grand villas isolated within Estate Grachia, and villas within villas housing a thousand years of death. No other house has kept their dead for so long. Grachia playing the long game has now paid off, with a thousand years of knowledge now contained within their walls.

The Grachian Triumph is a triumphal arch dedicated to House Grachia's defeat of the monarchy. It tells the story of the regicide: the abductions of the matriarch's sons, the bloody riots, the rebellions of the captive gods, the unleashing of the Nightmare, and the exodus from the city. The story of the rebellion is one of Grachus's domain - of endings and beginnings, and two thousand years of potential energy bursting forth all at once.

Calderan Market

A grand market for all manner of food and goods. Numerous stalls sell wheat, mushrooms, protein, jewelry, clothes, tools. Sometimes they even host foreign merchants such as the Kobarans and Chronuleans, though their goods are often heavily taxed (food exempt).

The Grand Mistress of the Market is Acilia de Glasya, a stout drow woman with a noticeable birth mark on her lips and beady little eyes. She resolves disputes between merchants, customers, and clients. She receives a lot of bribes, and is the present custodian of the Grey Cauldron.

The Grey Cauldron is featured centrally within the Calderan Market, and contrary to expectation it is in fact made of black stone. Massive and plain, it contains The Grey - a mystery gruel said to be continued since the days of the monarchy. Any who contribute an ingredient are allowed a stone bowl of The Grey and a bit of flat bread.

The Grey is said to promote vigor, and will keep one from being hungry for up to a week. Foreign merchants in the market either avoid the stuff or sweat by it. "Praise The Grey!" says the Chronulean merchant, as he slurps his third bowl today.

Wine and Bread

A pleasant and popular tavern with well-to-do plebs and merchants alike. Known as a place to do business and get connections. Whole meat and meat soup is frequently served. One will notice various cliques around the place: guilds-folk, lesser Houses, and maybe members of greater Houses with allowances.

Managed by Mistress Narcelia, a very polite woman who knows her meat and wine. Her family creates an ornate mushroom wine called Beetlebrew which has become a mainstay of the inn.

Ruined House

A stone's throw from the Calderan Market is an uncharacteristically dilapidated house in a courtyard of trash and junk. People have taken to throwing their waste at the House. Piles of garbage accumulate in tepid heaps. Rumor has it that it's cursed, but even cursed real estate often ends up with occupants in this city. The windows are broken, the smell is revolting, and white rats with silver scales patrol its borders. Patrol, not skulk.

Sometimes children spot a black inky fox in the broken windows. It laughs at them, and they're not sure why. It's said that there's a shrine in the basement to a new god - a god of ruin and garbage, of forgotten and broken things. A god, or a dragon. Oftentimes it's hard to tell one from the other.

Property values have plummeted nearby, yet nothing has been done. Efforts to clean the courtyard have been in vain, and several temples have taken note of auguries in the House's presence, and declared it Sacred Presidium, which means none may legally interfere with its ordained state.