Sunday, 29 January 2023

Floating Dragon Bar (Swords of the Serpentine)

Sag Harbor

The swampside docks off the upriver end of the city are in the worst industrial section of town. This is the area where the unmentionable businesses are: the tanneries, the slaughterhouses, the nightsoil collections. It’s where sludge from dredging finds a temporary home, mostly because there’s a surreptitious market for people who want their enemies’ homes filled with the stuff ...

Night Markets

Daytime Sag Harbor is a sprawl of slums and unsavory neighborhoods. Nighttime Sag Harbor (at least along the edges of the District) is a riot of Night Markets. Every night when the sun goes down, the lanterns light and market tents pop up intertwined with the harbor docks and the sprawls of fishmongers, tanners, dyers, outlanders, and other lowlifes. Roving pubs pitch their tents and tap their kegs ...

Family Business

You may be a prestigious member of the ancient nobility, the merchant princes behind a major Mercanti guild, or even a close-knit family of commoners who have taken up a life of crime. For you, family is everything — and when family and friends get threatened by personal or political enemies, you turn to heroics to get your own back ...

Black Lagoon

Let's take some of the principles we've used for Bookhounds and plant them in Serpentine soil.

Assumptions I'm making: this is a Family Business chronicle set in Sag Harbor, the least salubrious part of Eversink. There's no useful law, no second chances. If you fail here, it's a shallow (or watery) grave for you. 

The Family Business runs a night market stall that sells beers of all kinds, brewed by the family in hidden breweries. Given it's Sag Harbor I'm assuming the local water sources are mostly hard (full of minerals) and better suited for stouts than pilsners. The players, as the owners of the business, get to decide what kinds of stout they make, how they sell it, and all the other things that go with running a successful business.

Finally, of the many possible OPFOR I'm assuming that the Monstrosities are the main villains. Other factions powerful in Sag Harbor are Commoners, Sorcerous Cabals and Thieves Guilds. There are plenty of other options of course, but I don't want to get bogged down in the fantasy version of feature creep. Those four will do. 

I'm calling the Family Business the Floating Dragon purely for illustrative purposes. I'd expect the players to actually name it and come up with its features but this is an example, not a full-fledged chronicle. The Floating Dragon sells beer. That means they need a stall, a place to set out their equipment, advertising, servers, security, maybe a barker. All these are roles the players can take, or they can invent new ones. 

So, where does that leave us? In the Night Market - at least to begin with. That's where the action happens. That's the Building, in this narrative.

A night market is where you go to find cheap, small things, easily portable. You don't go there to buy a grand piano. Street food, yes. Illegal stuff, yes. Drugs, books, toys, ornaments, cloth, jugglers, performers of all kinds. Minor sorceries, perhaps. Peculiar carnivals. Freak shows ...

In Eversink everyone knows about Night Markets (or think they do) and even the wealthy and privileged might sneak out of their walled mansions to wander round a Night Market, perhaps in disguise. More often the people you see there are the poor, the desperate, the ones out for a bargain who don't care how they get it.

The Night Market is the focus of the game, Sag Harbor is the outlying district (ie. the place where things not part of the focus happen) and the rest of Eversink is, from the characters' POV, terra nova. They've never been. They know it exists; they've heard all kinds of stories. But from the chronicle's perspective Eversink is London and the characters are on Great Junction Street, Edinburgh. They might as well be on the moon.

For that reason the Night Market gets four markers, Sag Harbor one, and Eversink one. That is, the Night Market gets four detailed areas of interest, Sag Harbor one, Eversink one. Each of those markers gets four descriptive features, one of which has to relate back to the main opposition - the Monstrosities, in this instance. Like the Brotherhood of the Pharoah in the Bookhounds example, the Monstrosities are where all this is going. All roads lead to Monsters.

The Night Market

The Strazzaruola are the other family business, the rivals, the no-goods. If a Strazzaruola did it, it must be wrong. Worse than wrong. You never met a Strazzaruola you didn't hate.

Four things:
  1. The Strazzaruola run loan sharking in the Night Market and there are few stalls that don't owe them money or favors - often both.
  2. Isabetta Strazzaruola is a sorceror, or at least everyone says she is. Dripping with corruption, no doubt.
  3. Baldo Strazzaruola is a notorious duelist, when he's not drunk off his ass. Dangerous, certainly - but unpredictable when drunk.
  4. Monstrosity: Several Strazzaruola are Drowned.
Zavatera's Marvels is a carnival show with fire-eaters, sword swallowers and the Halls of Mystery. They came from nothing and one day they'll go back to nothing. 

Four Things:
  1. Stefano the carnival barker is a truly remarkable public speaker (Firebrand) with a novel line in insults
  2. Everyone knows you can get sucked, fondled and fingered in the Halls of Mystery - but the price can be more than you may be willing to pay. Stefano keeps a little black book full of potential blackmail victims.
  3. Paulina the sword-swallower has a thing going with Baldo Strazzaruola. If you want Baldo and he's not in his usual drinking hole, he's probably in Paulina's hole. If so, he won't be moved.
  4. Monstrosity: several of the rattakan-fighting orphans (p 264 main book) have found refuge at the Marvels, but only Paulina believes their stories (and she not very much).
Rocco the Scrivener is a bookseller and letter-writer. He's the one you go to if you want a romantic poem for someone you have your eye on, or a nasty letter sent to a reluctant debtor. He's also the Night Market judge; everyone goes to him to settle disputes.

Four Things:
  1. Rocco is in deep with the Sorcerous Cabals, though few know this. He'd do a lot to keep that quiet.
  2. Rocco is an accomplished forger who can manage almost anyone's signature. They say at least three aristocratic families owe some very favorable wills to his talented pen.
  3. Rocco is an art collector and his house, it's said, is wall-to-wall sculptures, paintings and valuable antiques.
  4. Monstrosity: Rocco is a front. A Vampire is using Rocco as a go-between. This bloodsucker lives in Rocco's house and is the one who really likes art; Rocco can't be bothered with the stuff.
Galeazzo's is the light show. If you want candles, lanterns, candelabra, fireworks, illuminations mundane and magical, you go to Galeazzo's stall.

Four Things:
  1. Galeazzo has a sideline in narcotics. She calls them Denari's Holly, little pills that make the cares of the world easier to bear. She says she gets them from a private underground stash which in this case is the truth; the fungus she uses comes from the sewers.
  2. Her sky lanterns are her biggest sellers; even nobles come to purchase them. Legend has it if you write a wish on one of her lanterns and let it float up to the sky, the wish comes true. 
  3. She owes the Strazzaruola a remarkable amount of money and, while she always pays on time, nobody knows what she spends the money on.
  4. Monstrosity: Galeazzo thinks she's working as a spy for the Inquisition and uses the money she borrows to pay off informants. In fact, she's working for the Rattakan, and would be horrified if she knew.
That's enough about the Night Market for the moment, and more than enough to kickstart a few plots.

What about Sag Harbor?

This is where you put the small stuff. Remember what was said in the Building:

When designing a setting, think about how people live and what they have to do in order to live well. Not just the big stuff, like which Camarilla faction holds political sway after dark, or whether ghosts are secretly controlling the police force. I mean the small stuff. What do people do for fun? How do they get their food? Do they have light when night falls, and if so how is that managed? What happens when it's hot? What happens in the rainy season?

Four Things:

  1. The waters around Sag Harbor are polluted and stinking, and sometimes catch fire. This sudden exhalation is preceded by a peculiar sound, like whales sneezing. Those caught in the blast usually don't last long enough to regret their mistake.
  2. The only time Sag Harbor feels clean is when it rains. In downpours people come out to stand in the rain as if it were a crystal-clear waterfall, filling whatever containers they have with rain water. It's the only way to guarantee freshwater supply.
  3. There's always barges and carters carrying things to and fro. Night soil, dyes, leathers, meats fresh and not-so-fresh, day in, day out. The best way to get in and out of Sag Harbor without being noticed is by one of these barges, and all the Guilds - Thieves and others - know this. So do the law, but you don't see them poking their noses where it doesn't belong.
  4. Monstrosity: the Drowned and the Rattakan are jostling for position in Sag Harbor and while this underground war goes unnoticed by those above, its aftereffects do not. Whole buildings collapse and their demise is blamed on some shifting under-structure; yet those who know the hidden currents understand what really happened.
I could add more about Eversink in general, but hopefully you see the pattern by now. There's enough information to paint a picture, not so much information that the players feel they have no place in the narrative. After all, this picture is about their characters and their stories; it isn't a canvas for you alone.

In each case there are Four Things, one of which is Monstrous since this is a game that ultimately leads to Monsters. So for the Commoners, Sorcerous Cabals and Thieves Guilds - the major factions in Sag Harbor - there will be Four Things. All of them play a part in the narrative too, like cogs in a larger machine. The interaction between these cogs - the Commoners and the Night Market, the Sorcerous Cabals and Sag Harbor, the Commoners and the Thieves Guild and so on - is what provides plot.

Next week I'll start putting some scenario ideas in this Building and see what pops.


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