The Lands and the Seas of the Labyrinthium
The Vicious City hosts every sort and form of pirate and buccaneer in Midworld, allowing them free reign of its oceans so long as they leave the King Slayer’s ships alone. Thus, the Blood of Rhelyeh to the west (sometimes called the Blood of Bat-hala) and the Slavering Seas to the east and south are continuously best by Inthian pirates and buccaneers. Travel in these seas is a hazardous endeavor, but a lucrative one for the fortunate and the well-protected. Only the swift ships of the Riverfolk and the vessels of the Labyrinthium regularly navigate these perils of these waters with ease, everyone else must gamble with the fates at every passing.
North of these two perilous seas are the Islands of Inthia, named for the Inthia ruins that are scattered amongst them and the spell-tower of Inthium in the Vicious City. Assailed by howling storms or by dangerous mists, travel amongst the so-called Sharpened Straits is a deadly risk for the inexperienced mariner. Adding to the danger of jagged rocks, ravenous monstrosities and cruel elements, these passages are choked by the bones of gigantic creatures and broken ships.
Above the Islands of Inthia is the mainland of Midworld. Sunken, overgrown jungles are the norm here. Free tribes of savage Trolls and elusive Gnomes fight off Labyrinthium raiding parties and the resident horrors. Known locales within the largely unexplored jungle include:
– the Strangled Basin: a swath of flooded jungle where the water is never shallower than thigh-deep.
– the Bubbling Bog: a bubbling marshland known to burst with flames and drag down the unwary.
– the Dragon’s Grave: tree-sized bones, house-sized skulls and elemental energies haunt this stretch of jungle
– the Nightlands: several dozen miles of webbing are strung across all the canopies and trees of this shadowy domain.
UPDATE (November 1, 2016 W.R):
The Vicious City no longer stands alone. Two sister cities have risen amidst the tangled jungles north of it: “Gravestone” in the Dragon’s Grave, dominated by the League of Guilders, and “Vigil” in the Nightlands, dominated by the Qabbalim. Each were the tribal territories of particularly large free tribes that were thorns in the sides of the Labyrinthium and are now edifices to its expansion and success.
The Vicious City
Sprawled on the second largest of the islands is the Vicious City, the seat of the King Slayer’s power and the capital of all criminals and outlaws in Midworld. The widest channel to this city, the “Big Barrel”, is heavily patrolled and devilishly taxed, but it has been made safe by the Qabbalist’s Convocation and by the League of Guilders. The City itself boasts three main ports, two of whom have been blasted into the island’s coastline by ancient and devastating magics.
The Vicious City was built upon the tangled canals of a forgotten capital and the blood of thousand feuds. The storms frequently flood these canals, smashing trash, wastes and the unwary against canal walls before washing out to sea. The borders of the City’s districts are constantly wavering battle-lines of the various bickering factions of its denizens. Battles wage even within these factions as Guild fights Guild and Cult gnashes against Cult.
The Qabbalim have their towers and their strongholds based around the eastern harbor, lovingly called the Maw. Four gigantic, half-broken colossi, carved in the horrific images of the Qabbalim deities greet those who sail into this harbor. The coast of the Maw are dotted with shadowed temples of the dark gods of the Qabbalim, the towers of fallen Inthia and the holdfasts of the Qabbalim’s cabals and covens.
The biggest harbor is the Cauldron, which littered with the remains of the most recent naval feud and clutched jealously to the breasts of the League’s “Big Six”. Most visitors enter the Vicious City through the Cauldron and must suffer the League’s tariffs. On the positive side, the League goes to great lengths to protect every merchant and trader that pays their protection fees. The holdings around the Cauldron are feature opulent manors on one side and sweat-drenched workhouses on the other.
The King Slayer Crew guards the smallest harbor for themselves. Called the Slayer’s Court, it requires travel through a mile-wide canal into a gigantic artificial basin that serves as headquarters of the Unshackled and the favored port of Kristoff’s skull-prowed Flagship, the “Bane-storm”. It is believed that the Bane-storm is possessed and/or crewed by demonic entities; its speed is of the very wind itself and it has been known to crash heedlessly into other ships without taking any damage.
Between the Cauldron’s rim, the Slayer’s Court and the Maw’s shadow is the island’s ramshackle interior. The worst district is the Trench at the sunken center of the island. The smoke of burned dung permeates these flooded, maze-like streets and burns the eyes of the enslaved, the dishonored and the destitute. The Trench is where the poorest Inthians live and where the feuding is the bloodiest. Thus, Trenchers are the most unfortunate of the Vicious City’s children; but those who manage to escape their homes are also the hardiest, cruelest and most capable of adventurers.
In the anarchy wrought by the King Slayer’s rule, there is only two laws that can truly be applied in the Labyrinthium: the Strong rule and the Weak serve.
Thusly, the King Slayer is the strongest force of his Kingdom. It is known that even the brute strength of the Unshackled, the wealth of the League and the magics of the Qabbalim are unable to stop his assassins and his thieves from taking what they want.
On the open seas and in the wildernesses beyond the Vicious City, law is almost completely non-existent. However, inhibiting those under the King Slayer’s employ or even those under the rule of the various Inthian Power Groups is sure to bring wrath upon one’s head.
Within the City itself, the law changes and morphs according to location, catching the incautious and the reckless. In the districts occupied by the Qabbalim, they apply the edicts of their doomsday religions upon those who enter. Save for those who travel beneath the King Slayer’s banner, Blasphemy (disrespecting the edicts of the Four Vigils) and Heresy (being of another Religion) are punishable by public torture and execution. The sacrifice of sentient beings are a daily occurrence in this hellish place and the Qabbalim needs only the slightest excuse to arraign and execute a guest to their districts.
League-controlled districts are far less stringent. The promulgation of Trade and the continued dominance of the “Big Six” are the main goals of Guild law. Enforcers walk the streets in great numbers to ensure that these laws are served.
The Cauldron’s Rim is often beset with feuds and even street skirmishes in broad-daylight. Getting caught in the crossfire of these battles is always a risk when traveling in this area.
The Trenches are a true vision of anarchy, being the pit of despair where all the poor, the slaves and the dishonored are shoved into. All things are legal within the Trenches and everything here is done, often to the detriment of its residents. Trencher uprisings are an uncommon phenomenon, but the combined powers of the City’s ruling factions are more than enough to stomp out any rebellion.
The King Slayer’s direct domain is awash in the refuse of the Mortal Races and thick in criminal activity. Amidst this chaos, Unshackled patrol these streets in great numbers and will kill anyone with the slightest of provocation. Only within the King’s Quarter and within the reach of the Unshackled can the Qabbalists and the League even treat with one another peacefully. However, poisoning, subterfuge and assassination are rife as rain to the Islands of Inthia.
There can be no peace within the King Slayer’s domain – and that is how he likes it.
Because of the variety of cultures and peoples with the Labyrinithium, family ties amongst can range from the tightly bound to the non-existent.
Orphans: Those unfortunate enough to be orphaned within the Vicious City are usually stolen away and forcibly recruited, enslaved or sacrificed by the first Power Group that finds them alone. However, many orphans are adopted by men and women in need of their talents or an extra hand. Some orphans band together, thriving amidst the deplorable depths of the Trenches and growing up to a life of crime.
Racial Traditions: The confines of the Vicious City, with its constant importation of new denizens and constant casualty rate, makes for a rapidly changing culture. Traditions and rituals are in constant flux as new ones are brought in, old ones are remembered and most of these are forgotten or tossed on the wayside.
That said, some Races still maintain a measure of their own culture’s traditions.
Human: Human families feature a basic unit of father, mother and children. Oftentimes, the Mother raises the children alone while working. The Father figure also works and is considered the main breadwinner until vice or disaster takes him away. Most of the time, a family isolates itself from its other relatives. Humans are one of the most common Races in the Labyrinthium, but they also occupy its lowest and highest rungs.
Gnome: Initially inducted into the Vicious City as servants, Gnome families are denied the typical isolation that they seek and most of the familial traditions they used to follow have been forgotten.
Fortunately, their aptitudes for magic and for stealth are usually recognized by the higher ups of the City. Gnome families are often inducted into a Guild or the Qabbalim, as slaves, Guilders or initiates. From this stock are the strongest and most powerful taken and given the tools to become true weapons for their organization. Gnomes are a rarity in the Vicious City as those in power typically work in the background.
Trolls: In the wild, Trolls tend toward big tribal communities, with strong ties among extended relations (cousins, grand aunts, etc). In the Vicious City, these communities acquire a territorial gang-like mentality, the Trench being especially full of them. Particularly strong Trolls are often recruited as brute strength by the Unshackled or by one of the Guilds. Many Trolls still follow the ritual cannibalism of their tribal counterparts; Troll Priests of the Gorthag have elevated this tradition into lavish banquets.
Shaedling: Twilight Elves in the Vicious City have Matriarchal families where the eldest matron rules over her extended family until her designated heiress replaces her.
Shaedlings are often found in or near positions of power. Those who aren’t powerful spell-casters or in the upper ranks of an organization are manservants or courtesans to the higher echelons of a Power Group.
Nightkin: While their “accursed” blood lowers their status in other Kingdoms, the demonic heritage of the Nightkin actually does them a great amount of good. The Qabbalim, especially the Vigil of Dark Mother, are reverent of Nightkin, absorbing them into their ranks whenever they are found amongst the Trenches. All the other Power Groups are more ambivalent of an individual’s demonic heritage, but they regard one’s demonic powers as a “plus” rather than a disadvantage.
Families within the League:
While the League has Guilds that operate and recruit in a professional manner, certain Guilds have a dynastic, familial structure seen in mafias and tongs. People that enter these tightly knit organizations and pass their initiation rites are considered to be closer than family.
Some of the League’s “Big Six” follow this path; the pirates of the Burning Dawn, the mechanics of the Black Chalice and the money-lenders of the Red Scales all consider even novices to be part of the “family” and react passionately against perceived betrayals and even assaults on “family members”. For these Guilds, the Guild Leader acts as a “padre de familia”, a patriarchal figure to be beloved, not just feared.
Those born into these Guilds are considered to be apprentices when they reach the age where they can work. After they are taken to a workhouse, these children do menial labors and are trained in their Guild’s trade. When they are ready, they must complete the necessary initiation ceremony that will pass them into full Guild membership and allows them to better serve their people. Children that continuously prove themselves unable to participate in the necessary tasks are either slain, cast out or enslaved.
The religious amongst the Qabbalim structure their cults and churches as grand “families”, with the High Priest serving as the primary arbiter of all decisions and all conflicts. Children born to the Qabbalim are inducted and indoctrinated into the doomsday churches, becoming powerful Priests and magic users after they pass the perilous initiation ceremonies that make them adults and give them the insanity that fuel their divine zeal.
The Vigil of Dark Mother is the greatest example of this structure. The Favored Son is the family patriarch that orders his brothers and sisters to do the Dark Mother’s will. Like the other Vigils, these Priests actively recruit and evangelize. However, those of the Dark Mother are especially fond of using seduction as a tool to draw new souls into the fold. The other Vigils are more likely to use promises of power or coin to lure their victims to servitude.
In these organizations, the High Priest serves as one’s spiritual guide as well as the holder of familial power. Even one’s blood parents must bow to the High Priest’s wishes if the two conflict. The early life of these children consists of academia, cat
echism and prayers to the Dark Gods of the Labyrinthium. It is common practice among the Qabbalim, especially the Vigil of Rhelyeh and the Vigil of Halak, to pit their young against one another. Oftentimes the situations end up with a child slain or sacrificed to the Gods, but such is the life amongst the cultists of the Qabbalim.