It is an odd experience talking with these city dwellers. Whether they speak the truth or not, they always have another hidden goal when they speak to anyone. — The Journal of Sho Zo-ton from AfarFrom the get go I need to provide some links, because when I do thought experiments like Under Portown I like to heavily lean on random tables. The tables that I used here were provided by one of my all-time favorite tomes produced in this Golden Age of RPGs, The Tome of Adventure Design published by Frog God Games as well as the excellent Holmes Ref 2.0 produced by Zenopus Archives.
Since the start of this whole thought experiment, I wanted my own version of the Homes Sample Dungeon to have factions vying for control of the Dungeon and the powerful magics that can be found therein. Rather than choose these factions, I decided to roll them up on the monster table in Holmes Ref 2.0 and came up with these:
In order to make sense of this, I decided to root these three factions in the implied ancient civilization/classical civilization/current civilization pre-history of Holmes Basic. In other words, one of these groups represents the degenerate remnants of the ancient civilization, one represents either an actual remnant or degenerate remnant of the classical civilization and the last is simply a threat that exists to the current civilization.
Given that there is a place on Cook’s map of the Known World called “Wereskalot” and it is in relative close proximity to where I place Portown in the Known World, it makes sense that the current threat could easily be represented by the Wererats.
I was actually thrilled that troglodytes came up, because I think they are one of those under-utilized monsters that can have a lot of interesting background noise around them. Normally, I’d be inclined to use them as a stand-in for ancients given their underground habitat, but in this case I am more inclined to use them as degenerates from the classical civilization due to the fact that Holmes seems to indicate that this civilization was one that rose up to free dragons, giants etc. from the ancients. As remnants of the classical civilization, they are exploring Under Portown to find ancient magics to help bring Portown to its knees.
To boot, Ghouls seem to be a great way to keep the ancient civilization ticking over time given that undeath can be seen as a way of cheating death. This could be especially creepy if ghouls are understood to be intelligent rather than the best D&D representation of the modern zombie as depicted in a George Romero film (may he rest in peace). Given that ghasts do not appear in either Holmes or Cook, I will give myself the creative freedom to bestow that ghastly intelligence upon these ghouls.
Having assigned these roles to the inhabitants of Under Portown, I now need to define some factions within the City itself. The major ones are represented by the following personalities:
- Lord Fenclaro the Quiet: the current resident of the Lord’s Mense and de facto leader of Portown. He is not seen much in public. Most of his dealings are behind closed doors and there is a rumor that much of his time is used researching some strange magical artifact left to him by his grandfather.
- Drenaboten the Peculiar: this foppish merchant is actually an agent of the Black Eagle Barony. His primary role is to launder money through legitimate business ventures gained by the Barony’s illegitimate support of the slave trade, the Thieves’ Guild and various bandits and pirates.
- Drebb the Daring: this merchant is better known for his gambling habits and his penchant for insuring some of the more reckless ventures of ship captains going north (which somehow succeed more often than not). He is actually an agent of the Grand Duchy. While he uses his gambling habits as a cover to root out information on the Barony’s unsavory activities, he has no qualms about starting rumors himself to further tarnish the reputation of the Baron.
- Haque the Foul: this shadowy persona is more of a title than a person. It is given to the current leader of the Thieves’ Guild. Recently, that position has been taken over by a wererat with the goal of furthering the reputation of Wereskalot as a major power player in the region. He is also coordinating with the wererats currently exploring/controlling Under Portown.
- Endbruteth the Collector: as the head of the University of Portown, he is considered too young to be the curmudgeon he appears to be. The moniker “the Collector” is an inside joke with more than one meaning. He does collect oddities that are oft considered junk by others and he has enough charisma to recruit some of the best mages and scholars from around the world. The real reason for moniker, however, is that he has led the Wizard’s Guild on a secret purge that hunts down and kills anyone or any group that gets too interested in discovering the secrets of Under Portown.
- Tengahn the Mutable: this gaunt but otherwise nondescript merchant is prone to support whichever faction will pay him the most. In truth, he is a ghoul who seeks simply to wreck as much havoc and chaos upon the living that he can, all the while hunting for the weak and vulnerable to have for dinner (literally) with his fellow ghouls.
Finally, there is a heavy reliance in Portown upon mercenaries for personal protection, the protection of goods coming in and out of the city as well as for the defense of the city itself. Some of the more prominent of these companies are:
- The Imperial Lions (employed by Lord Fenclaro)
- The Nameless (thought to be employed by the Wizard’s Guild)
- The Crimson Legion (known to work with Drebb the Daring)
- The Sovnya Riders
- The Ulfberht Blades
- The Pernach Breakers