Friday, 12 May 2017

You say you want a revolution: liberating the Wicked City

The Wicked City exists so that the PCs can make it better. It's not Mordor. You don't need the One Ring. You don't even need the Armies of the Free Peoples. It's one fucking city. Your PCs can manage that, right?

If they can, though, it'll have to be because they've found a better way of doing it than tracking down the guy in charge and stabbing him to death. The Wicked King is not a load-bearing boss, and the cruelty of the Wicked City could easily carry right on without him, with the vast majority of the city's inhabitants not even having any way of knowing he was dead. (In fact, he might well have been dead for years...) It's just about conceivable that a sufficiently diplomatic party could achieve large-scale social reform almost without bloodshed, but it's much more likely that if change is going to come, you're going to have to fight for it.

You're going to need a revolution.

The Storming of the Bastille The fall of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789 helped ignite the French Revolution:
Fall of the Bastille, 1789.

So here are some notes on the city's various factions, and the roles that they might play in one. The Secret Police will definitely fight for the Wicked King, and the Red Brotherhood will definitely fight against him, but absolutely everyone else is up for grabs. If you can establish the right connections with the right people, there's no reason that most or all of the city's armies shouldn't end up fighting against its government rather than for it...

(NB: For ease of comparing the relative power of different factions, each has been assigned a Strength rating, where Strength 1 is roughly equivalent to a hundred well-equipped soldiers with good morale. Given that revolutions tend to be extremely chaotic affairs, however, it is entirely possible that individual factions may end up punching far above or below their weight, based on the specific circumstances involved!)

Faction
Strength
Default loyalty to the regime



The Secret Police
10+
Fanatically loyal
The First Brigade
7
Strongly loyal
The Clankers
8 (16 in battlefield conditions)
Moderately loyal
The Air Corps
3 (10 against massed enemies with no cover)
Moderately loyal
The King’s Men
5 per brigade, to a maximum of 50.
Weakly loyal.
The Clockwork Soldiers
5 per warehouse, to a maximum of 30.
Fanatically loyal unless reprogrammed.
Earthshaker
4 (8 in battlefield conditions)
Fanatically loyal unless reprogrammed.
The Thirteen Ministries
1 per ministry, to a maximum of 13.
Strongly loyal.
The Cobweb Families
1 per six families, to a maximum of 15.
Moderately loyal.
The Merchant Houses
6
Neutral.
The Way of Light
1
Weakly loyal.
The Serpent-Folk
4
Neutral.
The Mindblade Orders
6
Netural.
The Golden Ones
3
Neutral.
The Brass Men
10
Neutral.
The People of the Streets
1 per community, to a maximum of 50.
Weakly rebellious.
The Foundry Slaves
6
Strongly rebellious.
The Canal Slaves
8 (10 with diggers)
Strongly rebellious.
The Mine Slaves
5
Strongly rebellious.
The Farm-Folk
1 per community, to a maximum of 60.
Weakly rebellious.
The People of the Rubble
3 (6 within the Rubble)
Strongly rebellious.
The Red Brotherhood
4
Fanatically rebellious.
The Murder Harlots
3
Neutral.
The Street Gangs
6
Weakly rebellious.
The Steel Aspirants
3
Neutral.
The Blue Necropolis Cults
1
Strongly rebellious.
The Labyrinth Schools
1
Neutral.
The Shining Ones
1
Neutral.
The Hinterland Bandits
2
Neutral.
The Pig-Men
6
Neutral.
The Clockwork Confederacy
1 (4 in tunnels or sieges)
Fanatically rebellious unless reprogrammed.

A Tatar soldier, 16th century:


The Secret Police: The ultimate loyalists of the city's government. They worship the Wicked King as a divinity and will fight to the death in his name. (Besides, if they surrendered, they'd just be lynched by the population.) Numbers unknown, but at least five hundred, well trained and equipped and extremely highly motivated. Strength: at least 10, and possibly much more. (No-one knows how many undercover agents they have, after all...)

The First Brigade: The cream of the city's army, and the ones most likely to actually put up a decent fight in defence of its government. Five hundred strong, and mostly composed of Blood Men. Could potentially be bought off for the right price, and will surrender if obviously outmatched. Strength: 7.

The Clankers: The city's mechanised infantry brigade has access to exceptional military technology - mecha, tanks, steam knights - but much of it is of limited value in urban warfare. If they actually manage to deploy out on a field somewhere then their guns could mow down a whole army before you managed to take them down. Sabotage might be a good idea - one disloyal engineer can sabotage a lot of machines - and given their dependence upon technology, their morale would plummet if they were forced to fight without it. Strength: 8, or 16 if deployed in battlefield conditions.

The Air Corps: Airships and gyrocopters can drop bombs and missiles, but urban warfare means that everyone has access to lots of cover, so their main value would probably be as scouts and transports. If deployed against an army out in the open, they could bomb it to pieces with impunity. Strength: 3, or 10 if deployed against large numbers of enemies with inadequate cover.

The King's Men: The city's main army consists of ten thousand-man brigades, but it's horribly corrupt and most of its members have no interest in risking their lives unless they really have to. Their morale is high in battles that they're obviously going to win, but will simply disintegrate in the face of determined opposition. Two or three brigades will usually be out pacifying the countryside around the Wicked City at any given time. Strength: 5 per brigade, or 50 if the whole army gets involved en masse.

The Clockwork Soldiers: The Ministry of Technology maintains six huge warehouses full of clockwork soldiers, waiting to be wound up in case the city ever comes under attack. A sufficiently sudden uprising could probably achieve its objectives (and/or blow up the warehouses) before most of them could be activated. A sufficiently well-prepared uprising wouldn't even start until rebel engineers had sneaked in and reprogrammed all the clockwork soldiers to fight against the city's government rather than for it. Strength: 5 per warehouse-full, or 30 in total.

Earthshaker: This giant clockwork dragon eats so much coal that the city's government won't even think of activating it unless they believe a threat is really serious, and even with all its coal-powered autowinders spinning at full speed it will take several hours for its mainspring to get wound up enough for it to stumble into action, but when it gets going it's a potential army-killer. Imagine a clockwork Godzilla covered in bronze armour plating and you'll understand why you don't want to end up fighting it. If your infiltrators only reprogram one clockwork robot, make it this one. Strength: 4, or 8 if it's deployed out in the open where it can stomp enemy armies beneath its giant metal feet.

Tomris Katun:

The Rich and Powerful

The Thirteen Ministries: Collectively, the Thirteen Ministers command over a thousand guards, assassins, burly servants with clubs, and general-purpose legbreakers who are personally loyal to them, most of whom are very well equipped. (The Ministers take their personal security extremely seriously.) Most of the Ministers would probably respond to the outbreak of a revolution by barricading themselves inside their offices and waiting for the shooting to stop, but a rebellion which managed to enlist some of them as allies - perhaps by offering them places in the new government - could make use of their soldiers as well. Strength: 1 per ministry.

The Cobweb Families: If the hundred scheming families of the Cobweb could be persuaded to put aside their differences and pool their guards and servants into a single army, its power would be impressive: many families are rich, vain, or paranoid enough to see to it that their guards are excellently equipped, and generations spent isolated in the miniature world of the Cobweb has induced a near-fanatical loyalty in many of their minions. The trick would be in persuading them all to work together. Strength: 1 per six families, to maximum of 15.

The Merchant Houses: Individually insignificant, the merchant houses collectively employ enough bodyguards, caravan guards, and miscellaneous mercenaries to form a considerable fighting force. Unless their assistance has been actively secured in advance, though, their priority is likely to just be protecting their own estates. Strength: 6.

The Way of Light: The priests of the state religion are a cowardly and demoralised bunch, likely to hide themselves inside their temples at the first sign of trouble. If their faith in the Full Moon Sage could be rekindled they might be persuaded to join a revolution, but they are likely to be valuable more because of the gold they can provide than because of the (frankly unimpressive) force they could gather on the battlefield. Strength: 1.

The Serpent-Folk: There are only a few thousand serpent-folk in the Wicked City, and they are not warriors; but their community is tightly knit, and if called upon to fight for (or against) a rebellion they would do so as a disciplined and well-organised force. Their mastery of healing, drugs, and poisoning would make them assets to any force which employed them. Strength: 4.

The Mindblade Orders: If the city's half-dozen Mindblade orders were all to call their members together, they could collectively muster several hundred mentally unstable but battle-trained psychics. Wherever they go, expect lots of poltergeist activity and exploding heads. Strength: 6.

The Golden Ones: Skilled in healing and beloved by the people, the Golden Ones would be an asset to any rebellion as healers and leaders. They don't technically lead the cult of the Sage of Gold - all the highest-ranking priests are serpent folk - but it's the Golden Ones whom the faithful actually listen to, and if they joined a revolt then the followers of the Sage would flock to it, regardless of what the official temple hierarchy had to say. Strength: 3.

The Brass Folk: The thousand-odd Brass Folk who call the Wicked City home are potentially a very powerful force, as there are effectively no noncombatants among them, and their powerful metal bodies mean that they have little need for weapons, and none at all for armour. Their impressive clockworking skills also mean that, if mobilised, they could potentially unleash all kinds of clockwork beasts and traps upon their foes. Strength: 10.


People of Sakhalin island off the far east coast of...:

The Poor and Desperate

The People of the Streets: The ruinous streets of the Wicked City are home to hundreds of thousands of people, divided into dozens of tiny enclaves. The people are beaten-down and dispirited, and only have access to improvised weaponry; but there are a lot of them, and if raised en masse they could shake the city to its foundations. Strength: 1 per community, to a maximum of 50.

The Foundry Slaves: If freed from their chains, the toiling thousands who work in the city's foundries would be very eager to strike back against their hated masters. Many of them are in no condition to fight, but the able-bodied among them would be very highly motivated, and many of them understand the workings of the machines they have been chained to much better than they let on. Strength: 6.

The Farm-Folk: The farm-folk of the Wicked City's hinterlands substantially outnumber the inhabitants of the city itself; but they are scattered, malnourished, and demoralised. Even if they could be rallied, they would be armed only with farming tools, and it would take weeks for all the individual peasant bands to be gathered together into a single force, making them vulnerable to being crushed piecemeal by the city's armies. Strength: 1 per community, to a potential (but unlikely) maximum of 60.

The Canal Slaves: The work gangs of sweating slaves who dig the city's irrigation channels are, on average, healthier than those who work in its furnaces or mines; and if liberated from their chain gangs, they'd be delighted to sharpen the edges of their shovels and start digging holes in their former owners, instead. Strength: 8, or 10 if they also get their hands on the giant clockwork diggers and can turn them to some military purpose.

The Mine Slaves: If the multitudes who labour in the city's coal mines were freed from their bondage, they would eagerly seize any chance to avenge themselves for their years of living burial in the tunnels. Many are in very poor physical condition, but their skill in digging holes in things could be very useful in any kind of siege. Strength: 5. 

The Red Brotherhood: Although relatively small in numbers, the Red Brotherhood have the enormous advantage that they've been planning for this for decades. They have no intention of throwing their lives away in a hopeless revolt, but if they think an unfolding rebellion actually has a decent chance of success then they can transform from a network of seemingly-ordinary people into a formidably-organised revolutionary militia within hours, arming themselves from hidden stashes and rallying together in key locations under the command of long-hidden leaders who have spent years hiding in the tunnels of the Maze, waiting for just such a day to come. Strength: 4.

The People of the Rubble: Expert hunters and street-fighters armed with hilariously deadly poisoned arrows, the People of the Rubble are well-equipped to punch above their weight in any clash that breaks out within the Wicked City. They would be especially dangerous if they were engaged on their home turf, where they would be able to use their networks of traps and knowledge of the Rubble's unstable terrain to their own advantage. Strength: 3 (6 if fighting within the Rubble itself.)

Zeybek / Zeibek / Ziebek warrior from the Izmir region. Some of them engaged in the Ottoman army as irregular soldiers.   Photographer: Pascal Sebah, Istanbul, ca. 1880.:

Oddballs and Outcasts

The Murder Harlots: There may only be a few hundred of them in the city, but they're absolutely fearless in battle, and their athleticism and reckless disregard for their own safety would make them superb commandos. They're not exactly idealistic, but their nihilism is such that they might join a rebellion simply because it offers a chance for some violence and excitement. Strength: 3.

The Street Gangs: If the thousand-odd gangsters and criminals who plague the Wicked City were ever assembled into a single army, then... they'd probably immediately start fighting each other over old gang rivalries and who was wearing the most fashionable turban. But if you could somehow get past all that, you'd be left with an ill-disciplined but enthusiastic force of urban irregulars with considerable knowledge of street fighting and an impressive capacity for violence. Strength: 6.

The Steel Aspirants: The Aspirants are not numerous, but if they could be enticed from their foundry-temples they would make excellent shock troopers. Even the lower-level aspirants, whose bodies are still mostly flesh, have enough metal plating to be natural heavy infantry; their elders, who now resemble monstrous armoured crabs or scorpions more than anything human, could be absolute terrors on the battlefield. Strength: 3.

The Blue Necropolis Cults: Given that they're already strongly committed to changing the city for the better, the various murder-cults of the Blue Necropolis could be valuable revolutionaries if they could only be persuaded that organised political action, rather than blood sacrifice to horrible undead monsters claiming to be their ancestors, was the best path to national salvation. There aren't that many of them, but they are pretty hardened to killing people. Strength: 1.

The Labyrinth Schools: The various remaining followers of the Labyrinth Doctrines who hide in the remote tunnels of the Maze mostly just want to be left alone, to pursue their paths towards what they believe to be spiritual enlightenment. If they could somehow be mobilised they could be potentially useful as guides through the Maze, which they know better than anyone - they built it, after all - but decades of ascetic meditation in total darkness has left them badly unprepared for actual battlefield deployment. (Besides, they'd worry it might retard their spiritual progress.) Strength: 1

The Shining Ones: This bunch of shivering, hyperactive drug addicts don't usually have much of an interest in politics, but their shared visions of the Sage of Gold could potentially be played upon to herd them into rebellion in the name of a sacred struggle. (The assistance of the Golden Ones would make this much easier.) They're too unhealthy to be much use in a straight fight, but their hypercharged metabolisms make them excellent scouts, messengers, and watchmen. Strength: 1.

The Hinterland Bandits: The hinterlands of the Wicked City are infested with bandit gangs, who live by robbery, scavenging, and extortion. They compete with one another over loot, and scatter whenever the city's armies pass through, but a sufficiently plausible revolutionary might be able to unite them all with the promise of rich enough plunder. Strength: 2.

The Pig-Men: Both the tunnels beneath the city and the underground aqueducts outside it are infested with pig-men, who wandered into them from some unknown underworld years ago. They're too stupid to understand the city's politics, and wouldn't care who ruled it even if the situation could be explained to them, but if they could somehow be bribed or tricked into rising up their numbers, strength, and savagery could make them a powerful (if hard to control) military asset. Strength: 6.

The Clockwork Confederacy: This crew of eccentric reprogrammed mining robots have very little understanding of the world outside the abandoned mine tunnels they inhabit, but they are adamant foes of all forms of slavery and would eagerly align themselves with any rebellion which promised both to liberate the city's slaves and to upgrade its automata into consciousness. They'd be of limited value in a straight fight, but very valuable in tunnel-fighting or siege warfare. Strength: 1 (4 in tunnels or sieges).

12 comments:

  1. Excellent. So when's it coming out?

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    1. It is starting to look suspiciously book-like, isn't it? But I've got so many academic writing commitments that I doubt I'll have the time to do anything serious with it until 2018 at earliest. It's only the fact that I've been able to write it as a series of scrappy little blog posts, rather than a proper joined-up project, which has allowed it to get as big as it is!

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  2. What about the possibilities of a foreign force coming to liberate the City? Say the PCs are owed a huge debt from a few of the steppe Kahns? Or they had the souls of a coven of Bone Witches ready to destroy? Or if the implied repressed/perverted spirits of the City where finally free? Or one of the Oasis kingdoms finally does something about it's horrible neighbor?

    In other words you've done an amazing job weaving a network of interesting factions, not only IN the City, but beyond as well! You are great and this blog is great.

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    1. Thanks! But state-level interventions are beyond the scope of this post, as in it's terms they're likely to be off the scale. If you have an entire steppe khanate horde behind you, exactly which street gangs are also on your side probably isn't going to matter so much!

      (The trick, as I've emphasised, would be persuading them to invade in the first place. The Wicked City's aura of despair will undermine the morale of all but the most highly-motivated of invading armies...)

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    2. Oo, I like that explanation. You've stated that the City is a huge source of wealth for many, so it's like "I don't like or support sweetshops generally, but it's kind of okay because they are far away and I can pretend they don't exist and my t-shirts are cheaper" type moral apathy.

      I like that it is a finite City scale conflict, keeps it personal in the tradition of romantic fantasy.

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    3. Yeah, pretty much. The Wicked City is horrible, but it's horribleness is mostly inflicted on its own people; it's not trying to take over the world, or anything. So other nations may talk a lot about how terrible it is and how someone should totally do something about it, but there's a big difference between that and actually marching your armies within musket-shot of the city walls!

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  3. Reading this blog has made the city in my home game much more oppressive and grim, and I love it

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    1. Now that's a result I can be proud of!

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  4. The final overthrow of the Wicked City is bound to be like a magical/clockwork version of the Battle of Stalingrad. What a desperate and glorious way to bring a campaign to a close.

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    1. Well, it depends a bit on which approach the PCs take. If they're willing to compromise with elements of the existing power structure then it could be more like a coup, without the need for mass bloodshed. But if it comes down to claiming the city one block at a time against entrenched opposition, then, yes, it'll be a meatgrinder. Grim, no doubt, but hopefully memorable to play through!

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    2. Even if it's done as a coup, the existence and (heh) secrecy of the Secret Police should end up creating a situation where paranoia is the rule. The PCs would never be sure who will end up being a secret assassin. Acting suspicious of faction members could easily drive them into opposition against the PCs, while being trusting could mean death from a faction member who's also Secret Police.

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  5. Is all very New Corbuzon - I like.

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