#005 – Setting – The City of Esh Efsaket

Founding of the City

The city of Esh Efsaket was founded as part of an unusual peace agreement signed by the humans and orcs, averting a fourth great war. During the previous wars, the Truceians, a tiny independent human nation were the only faction to remain neutral, killing anyone who set a toe past their border. And so they were given stewardship over the city and under their care it flourished.

To maintain parity the city was divided into eight slices. One for each of the major races, one for the Truceians and one remaining entirely free of restriction, to give all the minor races a place in the city. Each race administered their own slice while the Truceians maintained the main city thoroughfares and its center. Because the boundaries were firmly set and immutable, the city, fed by thousands of warriors expecting a war and merchants expecting opportunity, quickly filled and grew vertically to accommodate the stream of hopefuls.

When assigning the slices to the various races, the Gnome’s overriding priority was not allowing any natural alliances to form and endanger the city. Likewise any disturbance needed to be quelled quickly. The human coalition was the most difficult to negotiate with, many of the members eager to proceed with the war. They were given the southern slice with the most access to water, as befitting their large navy. The Truceins took the next best slice for themselves, next to the humans with some space for docks. Orcs were placed next, then the Gnomes to contain the orcs should they become rowdy. Next the Free slice, then Elves, Dwarves and finally the multitude of creatures that made up the far southern lands. No race was next to their preferred allies nor to their enemies. Trade flowed up both sides of the wheel from the docks and back down from inland caravans using the wide thoroughfares or water filled canals.

The Mighty Red Tape of the Gnomes

The mystery of how Truce, a warlike but tiny nation, held off all incursion into its borders was revealed when the entire low level administration of the city was handed over to the Gnomes. Using the Truce as a bulwark, the gnomes supplied fine steel and powerful crossbows, knowing the truculent Truceins would keep all invaders from their own door while they supported the humans against the orcs.

As the cities fortunes rapidily rose it attracted ever more powerful residents. Within ten years of its founding, all seven major noble houses of the Azili had setup in the human quarter. The orcish slice held all the major Orcish Yorek clans and even the mountain orcs had started trading. The free quarter experienced the greatest growth and became a dense warren of competing crime lords and slavers too unsavory to be accepted in their racial sections.

To keep any faction from becoming too powerful the Gnomes bound the city up in reams of red tape. Licenses, tariffs and regulations limited influence while providing a growing deluge of proceeds. The Truceians, completely trusting of their Gnomish allies, policed and inforced the Gnome’s legislation with fair but inflexible zeal.

The Fights

Men and orcs previously ready for war naturally gravitated to the city and seeing the hordes of shiftless warriors turned mercenaries growing restless, the Gnomes heavily promoted the Trucean passtime of boxing. With so many fighting men and so much gold flowing through the city, the sport caught on and quickly mutated into something far deadlier.

Within a year every reputable tavern hosted weekly fight nights. Dedicated arenas were kept busy and the endless entertainment and gambling provided a convenient sink for all the aggression, gold and rivalries the city naturally produced. With the Truceians heavily constricting all other conflicts, the Fights became the goto method for resolving differences, humiliating foes and gaining prestige in Esh Efsaket’s burgeoning aristocracy.

With every faction and minor noble having an interest in The Fights, and with every district and establishment setting its own rules, the fight scene is vast, eccentric and ripe for the player to find their niche. Once players become successful and familiar with the city just moving across town will dramatically change conditions and allow great natural progression.

Low Fantasy, Low Magic, Low Metal, High Disparity

The Elven nations have virtually no metal deposits. Instead elves use intricately carved wooden coins. The precious wood used, level of detail, inlaid gems and artistic ability create scarcity and denote a value, although that value is variable depending on the user’s knowledge and ability to recoup the coins for gold from the elves, allowing savvy cross cultural merchants to make a profit off the exchange.

Before the peace treaty, the world had been wracked by near constant warfare. When the racial powers didn’t battle each other across the whole world, smaller fiefdoms fought within the fractured kingdoms. In such an environment, some nations who weather the repeated conflicts continue to advance and progress. Others fall back to near barbarism as passing armies devastate infrastructure, creating vast disparities in wealth, technology and education. The savage Mountain Orcs and tribal Wild Elves have essentially pre-metal technology while the High Elves and a small pocket of ancient humanity far south approach the renaissance in terms of culture and craft.

Adding to the gulf between nations is the limited availability of metal, especially iron. With the world’s meager deposits concentrated in mountainous terrain controlled by the Dwarves and Gnomes most nations make due with lower metals or poor ore unsuited for weapons and armor. High quality equipment left over from ages when the Dwarves shared more of their iron with the world is reverently passed down from father to son, more valuable than the shiniest family jewels.

Magic is also limited, working primarily on the molecular level, with energy required to shift more molecules from one state to another. While this makes fireballs and grand spectacle impossible it does allow endlessly strong and subtle effects to be applied over long periods of time and focus.

In Game Terms

The player will usually start the game as a new immigrant to the city, armed with whatever resources their background provides and a starting license good for a tiny dwelling and up to seven staff. As part of the license fee they will be provided with a Gnomish seneschal who will act as guide to the game as well as providing essential skills for running the school. From there the city is open to the player. They are free to setup shop in their racial slice of the city or in the free quarter, hire staff and begin advancing in the city.

The seven employee limit allows players to focus on one aspect of the city; those interested in The Fights can support a small team of gladiators, trainers and rookies. Those interested in crafting can focus on a couple of crafts with attendant helpers and servants. Likewise the physical space limits how varied your school can be. The idea is to give the starting license the ability to compete at the highest levels of a single discipline or to dabble in a bunch of aspects by having a few fighters, craftsmen, agents and servants.

The end result should be a huge city crammed with tiny shops, schools and surprises, with huge cultural and flavor shifts as the player crosses from one racial boundary to another. The fact that the city is relatively new and many of the races within have peaceful contact with each other for the first time naturally spawns endless adventures, opportunities and plots for the players to partake and influence. And as the city becomes the de facto method to wage proxy wars between the world factions, huge world changing events can spiral out of the choices the player makes.

All About the People

This is really a game about people. Tremendous effort is expended on making an underlying engine that allows each procedurally generated character to be unique, coherent and self actualized. The player picks who staffs  their school and so picks the personality of that school. Again, the idea is to give you a vast playground with thousands of individuals bouncing around so you can craft the exact school you want, and then pit that philosophy against everyone else. I’m very excited about the elegant and elaborate combat system we have, but fighting is just one business. By focusing on the right talent you can absolutely run a thieves guild, information broker or tasty bistro.

Complementing this naturally emergent engine will be a silly number of hand crafted CYOA adventures. A new recruit can be anything from a common peasant to a prince in hiding, and the player’s reaction to discovering their staff’s background shapes the city, world and player’s reputation. The focus on community, free availability of creation tools and modular nature of the data means that every time you boot up the game you could experience a whole new paradigm as we and users create new characters and adventures to drop in seamlessly.

Let’s say your daily trips to the flesh markets reward you with an unusually gifted physical specimen from a savage background. You could hand them an unfamiliar sword and throw them in the ring and probably do well for a while, as your phenom’s natural abilities beat conventional foes. If you’re lucky the prospect will win long enough to organically learn the new weapons and techniques on their own, before they rise up in rank and competition and face a well crafted fighter that beats them despite their physical superiority.

You can also focus your entire school on elevating this rare gift. Translators and coaches can be hired to begin exchanging information. Craftsmen can be employed to produce appropriate weaponry and arms. Agents can be deployed to gain advantages and favorable matchups to slowly build up skill and prestige. Given enough time the whole trajectory of your school can change, as you earn specific reputation, becoming known as a novel school with a savage, brutal champion. The fighter’s style influences the school itself and future prospects evolve along the same lines. The popularity of your unique weapons spreads and other schools adopt them, creating a market for weapons which you’re the master of producing. None of this requires manual setup from the designers, it can all naturally emerge from the system of character backgrounds and motivations and the way the city’s individuals decide where to spend their money and who to cheer for.

The World at Large

While the game takes place entirely in Esh Efsaket, there is a wider world around the city. The extent to which world events affect the city and vice versa is still up for testing and represents a sort of stretch goal. At the low end are scripted, story events that alter gameplay with some random variation. At the high end is a minor procedural engine which dynamically creates both starting conditions and ongoing realistic events. The extra effort should pay off in considerable replayability and emergent goodness. There is also the tantalizing prospect of making that higher layer accessible to dedicated players in the form of political meta. But it is quite a bit of extra effort and so barring a wildly successful kickstarter this would likely be a free addon after release, assuming the game gains an audience.

It should also be noted that the known world is just a small part of the entire game world, roughly equivalent to the size of Rome’s empire at its height. And because I like to get way ahead of myself, I already have free download packs in mind as the rest of the world gets attracted to the city and brings their strange cultures with them. It’s one of the advantages of going so granular and unbalanced  – once the structure is set up adding new races, professions and equipment is relatively easy.

What’s Next?

Next we cover all the basic details: price, single vs. multiplayer, customization and some extra features we’re debating. Then to finish off the series we’ll talk about why this will actually get made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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