(For those who came in late: In the last few posts, I’ve been using my fantasy town creation system to create Dunmoss, the home town of my GURPS solo character, Temian Fell. So far, I’ve created the rough map of the town that you see below. I’ve also started assigning Distinctive Features to each of the local districts.)
Today’s task: to flesh out the “Poor”, “Hazardous,” “Portage,” and “Ruling” districts.
The “Poor” District
This “Poor” district lies at the heart of Dunmoss, and is the only point within the town at which the river can be crossed. As we’ve already decided, this district is considered an undesirable place to live because it’s so low-lying, and thus is a bit swampy and prone to flooding. Other parts of the city are notable for their very impressive stone streets, which were laid down in ancient times in massive, monumental stone blocks. Here in the poor district, however, the ancient streets have been weathered away entirely by a thousand years of spring floods, and so there’s nothing to keep your feet out of the mud.
This district extends across both sides of the river – but how do you actually cross the river, I wonder? My first thought is that there’s a huge, ancient, monumental bridge, made out of the same stone as the streets of the rest of the town – but maybe that’s too fancy, and thus not really in keeping with the “Poor” district. Maybe there’s a punt? With some friendly boatmen (or boatwomen?) who ferry you across?
Well, let’s roll up a Distinctive Feature for this district, and see if that leads us toward an answer.
4,6: “Special Event”. Hmmm….
Ok, here’s an idea: we already know that the spring floods are a problem for everyone in this district. Maybe the special event, whatever it is, has something to do with the floods.
Right. I know how to play it – I’ll start by simply stealing wholesale from the real history of London, and then add some fantasy color.
The Frost Market
Every year on the Winter Solstice, merchants and traders come to Dunmoss from miles around in order to set up their stalls on the ice in the middle of the frozen-over Cairnflood river. This is known as The Frost Market. It’s a very popular festival in Dunmoss – getting out on the ice and celebrating is a great way to break up the monotony of Winter.
The Frost Market is mostly a secular festival, but like everything in Eldervale, it has a slightly witchy feel to it: you can find a lot of fortune-tellers, would-be prophets, and people who claim to “read the bones,” etc, among the stalls.
The festival is particularly large and rowdy because – contrary to what you might expect – cold mid-winter is actually when Dunmoss is at its busiest. Many people who would otherwise be hunting and trapping up in the mountains, or trading on the river, spend the coldest parts of the winter in town, to avoid the harsh mountain weather. Plus the Winter Solstice itself is a time when members of local spirit cults, odd magical traditions, worshipers of minor or forgotten gods, etc, all come together for their own purposes, and many of them meet up in Dunmoss, since it’s so central. So The Frost Market, held right on the Winter Solstice, is a real scene.
The Market lasts for a few days either side of the solstice, and ends with a big sacred festival, which involves blessing the river, making offerings to various gods and spirits, and generally entreating the powers that be to make the coming year bountiful. Residents of this “poor” district often entreat the gods to prevent the river flooding in the Spring to come. Sometimes the gods seem to take this to heart, and sometimes, not so much….
(In the rare event that the river doesn’t freeze over, the Frost Market is held up on the High Common instead. This is widely considered a real bummer – children in particular love having the Frost Market out on the ice – but, just quietly, many of the traders consider it a blessing: the High Common is a much more convenient place to set up a stall).
Great – that’s added some color to Temian’s home town.
Yet it still doesn’t answer the “How do you cross the river?” question. I’d like to take this decision out of my hands a little, so I’ll ask the Solo 6. Does Dunmoss have a huge, ancient, monumental bridge, made out of the same stone as the streets of the rest of the town? (Rolling…) 2: “Yes.” Ok, that was simple!
Let’s say that the ancient stone bridge stretches all the way from the high ground North of the river to the high ground South of the river, thus staying high up above the riverbanks for its whole span. Thus the poor folk of this district actually live below the level of the bridge, on the muddy riverbanks – indeed, some make their homes underneath the bridge itself. This is fine until spring, when the snow-melt in the mountains makes the river swell…
What’s the bridge called? Let’s roll for a few “historical” modifiers, to match the town’s Theme. (rolling, rolling…) “Echo,” “Old.” Ok – old is simple enough. Maybe this bridge had a formal name, once upon a time – but as far back as anyone can actually remember, the people of Dunmoss have called it simply “Oldbridge.” That sounds like a good name for the district as a whole, too.
The “Portage” District
We’ve already decided that this is the docks district. We’ve also established that the west part of the docks district is the roughest part – that’s the part closest to the poor district, Oldbridge. This means that the nicest part of the docks district is probably the eastern end.
What’s the most Distinctive Feature of the docks district?
6, 5: “Valuable Goods”. Wow, that makes things easy. We already know that the river trade is the real source of wealth in Dunmoss, so the docks district is obviously the chief gateway for valuable goods.
Let’s flesh this out by saying that there’s a series of ropes strung across the river at the east end of town, so that boats coming down the Cairnflood from further East can be stopped and charged tariffs before entering. Then, if they want to continue downriver to the West, they pay another toll when they pass under the Oldbridge. (Obviously, for traders coming upriver from the West, the procedure is reversed).
This system of tolls and tariffs is very effective, since the Cairnflood river is the lifeblood of Eldervale – even with the tolls, there’s simply no faster or easier way to transport goods and people over long distances. For that matter, even medium distances are petty hard going by land, since the whole region is so mountainous and rugged. The river traffic is also the main way in which the people of Eldervale remain in contact with the more civilized realms to the West – places like Rasitar, Whitevale, and above all Valiroth. All of this is just to say that the docks district really is the central source of wealth in Dunmoss, and thus the system of tolls is pretty lucrative. (Which is lucky, because this is rough, unpromising country in other respects).
What kinds of goods might you see being traded on a typical day in the docks district? Well, the fur trade is pretty big along the Cairnflood: hunters and trappers from all over the mountains of Eldervale, and even sometimes from as far away as the Wistwilds or the Dimlight Ranges, bring their furs here to be sold to traders, who then take them further down river. Most of those furs end up in Valiroth, which is a big, rich market, but the wealthy and sophisticated Rasitanians also purchase a lot of it. Some of those furs even make it all the way down the river, and then up the coast to Frith. (If you want to see how trade works, you might want to take another look at the World Map)
But the trade is more than just furs. The Redthrone Dwarves of Duzundigath dig iron out of their mines in the Trackless Peaks and then send it down the river in exchange for cloth and basic foodstuffs. Sometimes they even send gemstones or dwarf-made goods of one kind or another – both are equally prized. Very occasionally some of the dwarves themselves pass through on their way to visit their richer kin in far-off Dwimilzund.
Added to that, there’s also all the things necessary to the daily life of Eldervale itself – cattle, pigs, grain, cloth, people…. Almost everything that needs to be transported along an east-west axis within the Region goes through the Dunmoss docks at one time or another. So for a medium-sized town in a fairly sparsely-populated region, Dunmoss has a surprisingly bustling dockside – there’s really no end to the list of interesting things you can find here, if you care to look.
Ok, that’s enough about the docks – time to move on!
The “Ruling” District
Earlier, we decided that this “Ruling” district is the seat of the Council of Elders, and that they’ve built their council chambers here to take advantage of the higher ground (and also to be close to the docks, since most of them make their money via the river trade). This is the most desirable and expensive of the town’s districts, since it’s high up away from the mud, while not being as pockmarked with ancient ruins as the North side of town. The views from this hillside are excellent, too.
What’s the most Distinctive Feature of this district?
4,2: “Local Attitude”.
What kind of attitude? Well, given what we know so far, this question seems easy enough to answer: the people who live up here tend to be snobs. They’re living right in the most expensive and desirable part of town, close to the levers of power – and they know it. And they want you to know it, too. Having grown up with the Struggling [-10] disadvantage, Temian probably hasn’t spent too much time up here – it might well feel a bit uncomfortable to him.
What should we name this district? Well, given the snobbery, maybe I’ll roll up a few “Rich” thematic modifiers, and see what that inspires.
On the first roll I get “Sable,” which fits so well, I think I might keep it. After all, many of the people who live here probably acquired their money through the fur trade. Let’s call this district “Sable Hill” – or, more formally, The Sable Hundred.
Nearly there – only one district to go! So let’s keep moving…
The “Hazardous” District
So far we know very little about the “Hazardous” district. What’s so dangerous about it? Earlier, we said that perhaps this area of town is built right on top of the more-or-less intact, but buried, ruins of the ancient city, which means that there’s a buried district right underneath the live one. This makes the foundations of the streets and houses very unreliable, and so buildings here have a tendency to collapse or cave in.
Let’s see if our “Distinctive Feature” roll confirms or revises this.
6, 2: “Strange Magic.”
Well, that’s excellent, and certainly adds another element. Let’s say that the whole district is built right on top of the buried ruins of an ancient temple of some kind. Once, millennia ago, this hillside was the site of an impressively vast religious complex of some sort – no-one knows quite what was being worshiped, but whatever it was, it was being worshiped in style. (I say “no-one” knows, but it might be more accurate to make that “non-one in Dunmoss” – presumably, the learned loremasters and sages of Valiroth might be able to hazard an educated guess…)
Anyway, it appears that some kind of – what? force? aura? energy? – still lingers here, because odd things happen in this district. This is especially true after the foundations of one of the houses collapses (which happens pretty regularly), and part of the buried city is revealed. Nothing too dramatic – no monsters bursting out of the cellars, or anything like that – but people sometimes claim to have had strange experiences – typically, odd visions or strange dreams.
At any rate, despite its lovely position on the hillside overlooking the river, this district has a very mixed reputation. Some people live here quite comfortably, and swear by it – but can you really believe them? Even those who love the district admit that the ground does sometimes subside in alarming ways, especially after heavy rain – and it’s true that many people seem to experience unusually vivid dreams in the days following. Children who grow up here are sometimes considered odd by their peers in other parts of town – they can be obsessive about seemingly irrelevant things, or distracted and dreamy. Some become infected with wanderlust, and long to see far-off parts, and explore strange ruins…
And I think we might just have found Temian’s home district, too.
Now we just have to name it. I’ll roll up a few Magical thematic modifiers, and see what sticks…
On the first roll here I get “Shrouded,” which I like a lot – I imagine this hillside in the early morning, shrouded in mist from off the river…. At the same time, it occurs to me that this whole district is just the wrong side of Sable Hill, in a sense. So let’s call Temian’s home district Shroudside.
Right! That’s it for today – I think that in Dunmoss, we’ve now got the bones of a pretty rich gaming environment. Stay tuned for a future post in which I sum it all up in a proper Gazetteer-style entry. And thanks for reading!