Numenera Write-Up, Or: My City Of Echoes

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

As a Numenera GM, I have a love-hate relationship with the game.  I love the setting; there’s just not enough of it.
Which is to say that by the time I got to Planescape, there were fifteen sourcebooks detailing the setting, and I did not have to make anything up.  Now, I’m not opposed to making things up; hell, “generating worlds” is what I do in my fiction.
But when I’m GMing, I want to play with my characters like Barbie dolls, making them walk through the big Barbie Dream House.  I don’t want to make up a town myself; no, I want to fall in love with a town that someone else has made up, and then bring it to life for my PCs!  And so Numenera, which currently has no detailed sourcebooks, makes me a sad GM; I have to take the three paragraphs detailing, say, Eldan Firth, and make it all up.
And what if future sourcebooks contradict my ideas?  What if some day, Monte and Shanna write the Eldan Firth sourcebook, and it’s not at all what I envisioned?  I’m a canon freak, I like playing in other people’s sandboxes, so the idea that they could shatter the concept of what my town is unnerves me.  I want to be faithful to Numenera’s setting, not create some home brew!
And yet Numenera is so awesome as a game that I must make things up, or else I cannot play it.  And so I present to you, my take on one of the classic Numenera cities:
Shallamas, City Of Echoes.  (P. 139 in the sourcebook.)
Shallamas is a city twisted by love of assassination.  Those who murder in the dark here are celebrated folk heroes – even the ordinary citizens cheer when a stranger is abducted and never heard from again, for assassins were all that drove those Draolish bastards from their beloved city.
The history is simple: years back, the Draolish made a push from down South and captured Shallamas.  They garrisoned the town, filling it with their best guards, as Shallamas was one of Navarene’s most prized trading posts – and having captured it in a hard-won campaign, they were determined to keep a grip on it.  The city, which had relied on Queen Armalu’s troops for protection, found itself helpless.
So they did what smaller forces always did: they struck where they could, striking in the dark, chipping away at the edges of the Draolish power.  But Shallamas had a unique issue that made it harder on the locals –
– the echoes.
Without warning, residents of Shallamas will see and hear “echoes” of recent events, so accurate a picture of the past that viewing an echo is accepted as evidence in court.  Knife a man in a back alley at night, there’s a good chance that three days later your crime may be replayed at noon.  And so any criminal activity is extremely dangerous in Shallamar, as the people in power have a decent chance of stumbling across replayed evidence.
The Shallamarians took this as a challenge.
Led by One-Eyed Argrash Provani, the rebellion created a vast set of tunnels and traps underneath the city, to this day proudly called The Murder Holes, where unwitting guards could be tricked, dragged, or abducted.  They wore identical hoods to ensure that if they were seen, no one would notice.  They struck from places no one would think to look in, so even the murder was replayed, who would be watching the rafters?  The Provani used poisons, cyphers, never using the same approach twice, filling the Draolish with fear…
…and eventually, after a celebrated coup known as the Night of the Black Knives that took out three Draolish captains in one night, the Draolish retreated.
Years later, the Provani still rule the town, and assassination is seen as the reason no one else has invaded.  Only servants and peasants wear bright clothing, purposely given to them to mark them as targets; those in power wear loose-fitting robes of black and silver, seemingly identical from a distance.  (Nobles in Shallamas quickly come to mark distinctions in fabric and weave to see which robes are the most expensive.)
The Provani, a large and loosely-bonded family, pride themselves on their ability to still kill quietly.  From a young age, the Provani children are taught that stealing isn’t a crime, getting caught is.  A nobleman who can’t climb a rain-slickened wall or sneak past his own servants is considered a fool – though such noblemen often hire younger assassins to look out for them, a tactic that sometimes backfires.  The weakest of the Provani are assigned to bureaucratic positions, the lowest level of which are the tax collectors; it’s considered a deep shame to have to walk into someone’s house and take money by force.
The Provani are clannish but bored.  They’ve shredded the power of all the competing families, and so have begun to play elaborate power games among themselves.  The prosperity of the town is working against them, as the quiet peace leaves a family of killers little to do, and so the Provani are beginning to fragment as infighting and boredom take their toll.  Only the constant machinations of the current head of the family, Argust Provani, keeps the Provani in line, earning him the name Lord of Intrigues.
As for the people of Shallamas, they harbor the deep suspicion that if an assassin has killed someone, then that person must have deserved it.  They’re still horrified by death – the ideal is someone who vanishes without a trace, never being seen again.  (Clever merchants have discovered that if they can slip out of town unnoticed, they can often abandon some great debts under the pretense of being “assassinated,” so long as they commit to never returning to Shallamas.)  Finding a body in the street has a double horror for the people of Shallamas – at seeing a friend killed, and knowing that they were killed clumsily, doubtlessly by some outsider ruffian.
As such, Argust Provani uses his Shadowlings (secretly family members who he trusts) to stamp out “crime” – which is defined loosely as “Anything that interferes with the goals of the Provani family.”  The Provani, despite their infighting, want the town to prosper through merchant trade, and so merchants find it to be a very safe space.  Anyone who steals from a merchant is likely to find a short and violent retribution awaiting them.  Unless they steal in a surpassingly clever way, in which case the thief might find a highly-placed Provani willing to bring them in as a new “cousin.”
There are four marketplaces in Shallamas – one at each of the three Great Gates that allow entrance to the city, and one in the center.  Visitors note that the walls of Shallamas appear to be stone from a distance, but up close are made of some granular material that shifts slightly when no one is looking, and seems to expand and contract slightly as the day goes on.
The three marketplaces at the gates are split up by what merchandise they sell.  There’s Devour, where all the foodstuffs are sold – a mucky market filled with blood from the slaughterhouses.  There’s The Bleed, where weapons, armor, and training are sold.  And then there’s the Turned Eye, the fashion district.
All three gates are guarded by an affable man called Tryp, a man who used to Exist Partially Out of Phase before a cypher accident caused him to split into three equidistant blurs.  Now he exists in three places; as you talk to him at the Devour gate, he’ll often pause and mutter an aside to thin air as he answers a question posed to him at the Turned Eye gate.  Tryp can no longer be touched or interact with the physical world, a fact he laments, but a squadron of guards at each gate serves him loyally and without question.
The real jewel of Shallamas is The Culvert, the central market surrounding the Provani palace where “all the interesting things wash up.”  That’s where merchants ply the most intriguing wares – almost any numenera can be found here, if you look long enough.  Getting a slot in The Culvert is a highly political thing; many a provider of exotic armor or bizarre foodstuffs has petitioned the Provanis to be put in The Culvert, only to be stuck in the Turned Eye or the Bleed.  In particular, there is a decanted merchant named Liquil who sells exotic animals, condemned to work in the slaughterhouse of the Devour even though he’d be horrified if anyone ate his singing pigs or the brown-winged wagonhauler.
The Culvert bumps up against the batwing-shaped curve of Inviola, the large and mazelike warren-castle that the Provani inhabit.  Made of an unknown black material that makes an unnerving chiming noise whenever rain falls on it, it’s rumored the Inviola was here when Shallamas was created, and the town elders built around it.  What is known is that the warrens seem distinctly unfit for human habitation, with some hallways small enough that even tiny men must crouch, opening up into huge cavernous rooms with alcoves that could not be possibly reached unless you flew or were pulled up.
Some claim the Inviola is the source of Shallamar’s infamous Echoes.  Others claim that’s ridiculous, if that’s the case then why don’t the Provani simply turn them off?  And a third faction claims that the Provani know what would happen if they shut down the Echoes, and the ramifications were too terrible for them to consider.

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