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Help with making a fictional city's past (and how it ruined the present)

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  • Help with making a fictional city's past (and how it ruined the present)

    This is actually something for my Let's Read threads over on RPGnet; I plan on the main character of those threads eventually joining the Sworn when the Contagion Chronicle comes out, and so I made a city for him to be in that's riddled by the contagion: New Bethlehem (though it's officially been renamed New Beth, to try and be less offensive), a utopian dream of a rogue Puritan that went horribly, horribly awry from almost day one, and now exists as a decaying husk of a port regarded largely as New York City's embarrassing screw-up of a cousin. The literal American Mafia reigns supreme, crime and drug abuse is rampant, and that's just the mundane side of things; the supernatural world is just as crooked and corrupt, to say nothing of the endemic infection by the Contagion-the city literally changes shape, new districts that personify its vices and urban blights popping in and out of existence, and things are so miserable and disorganized that the mortals simply can't tell the difference between a normal district and a Contagion one until people erupt in barbed wire, tentacles, and chitinous police uniforms.

    Problem is, I also want New Beth to be a setting in its own right, because just being an urban hellscape; the New Beth story arc is about the people trying to save it from itself. So there's something redeemable there-I want it to come off as a city that is less inherently doomed and more a city where everyone who could just stopped trying after a disaster (specifically, one of the families summoning an urbiphage from mythology to ruin a rival utterly, and naturally it fed on the rest of the city too, causing a hideous economic downturn that set it off on its path towards self-destruction).

    So, a little help here? I have the founder as a person who has been scorned by history for his fanaticism-because the Puritans didn't want to admit he was really exiled because he was an idealistic heretic, namely believing that the Puritan place of women was a sign of corruption in the faith, because it was a woman who proved so wise and pure that she was chosen to bear God's son. If Joseph had been more pure, he reasoned, then Jesus would be sent down in physical form without all that mucking about with gestation; no, God wanted the Messiah to have a mother. He still believed that Eve was weak and easily tempted, but one must be tempted to understand that what the Devil offers is nothing worth having. This caused a bit of schism, obviously, and the fact that he was a latent telepath who was capable of sensing the hypocrisies and hidden sins of the elders and husbands (and throwing it in their faces) didn't help ease tension (that may also have been why he became so much ahead of his time-with telepathy came empathy for all people, and the understanding that many teachings about people were simply not true). So, he took a significant portion of his followers and moved to the southern part of what would become New York, and founded the colony of New Bethlehem. Naturally, he was later murdered (though I'd like help on who murdered him, for tragedy without unfortunate implications), and his geist still haunts the city as the Scarlet Preacher to this day, bemoaning the loss of his dream.



  • #2
    I think that history seems a little bit more New England (Like, your backstory more or less literally happened multiple times). I mean, New York was a Dutch colony until like the 1660s. (I dunno, you might not mind).

    Originally posted by Leliel View Post
    (though it's officially been renamed New Beth, to try and be less offensive)
    Might I ask why? I mean, there's already a Bethlehem in New York State. Do you really need a reason to shorten it?

    I'd like help on who murdered him, for tragedy without unfortunate implications
    People from New York arrest him for public order offences and he dies in prison awaiting deportation. Maybe he's killed during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, I gather New York was briefly recaptured, so presumably New Beth would have been captured too.


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    • #3
      Ah! See, I don't know a lot about New England's local history at all. Or that New York State is considered fairly separate from it. So this is all very informative to me!

      So yes, let's move dates around; he was technically after the initial wave of colonization, and he took his splinter due south of New Amsterdam when the Brits bought it-and then was unceremoniously killed by a stray shot during the recapture of the colony. To add injury to injury, a Jesuit mission later started using New Bethlehem (still nicknamed New Beth) as a supply outpost and quite accidentally converted a few important members of the community, and now the dominant faith there is Catholicism. So yeah, basically the dream died in its crib by sheer random chance.


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      • #4
        [QUOTE=Leliel;n1264427]Ah! See, I don't know a lot about New England's local history at all. Or that New York State is considered fairly separate from it. So this is all very informative to me!

        Yeah, I gather it more or less stayed that way till about the 1820s when you start to get large scale immigration.

        So yes, let's move dates around; he was technically after the initial wave of colonization, and he took his splinter due south of New Amsterdam when the Brits bought it-and then was unceremoniously killed by a stray shot during the recapture of the colony.
        I'm not quite sure if you're suggesting this, but you could just make the founder Dutch. I gather the governor-general was pretty religiously hardline and mandated membership in the Dutch church so it's not difficult to imagine a splinter group leaving.

        To add injury to injury, a Jesuit mission later started using New Bethlehem (still nicknamed New Beth) as a supply outpost and quite accidentally converted a few important members of the community, and now the dominant faith there is Catholicism. So yeah, basically the dream died in its crib by sheer random chance.
        That seems very unlikely simply because there's legal persecution of Catholics for a long time. I gather that it's more or less only with the revolution that the anti-Catholic ordinances start to be rolled back. Jesuits are even more unlikely because they're about the most feared organisation in the Catholic Church and the English/British just wouldn't have let them in.


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        • #5
          Ah, ok. The problem is that I already brought up the founder was a Puritan exile; I hate retcons. But sometimes it can't be helped. Besides, given how much of him in written history has been distorted, it could be that was another distortion, and a sign New Beth doesn't actually know very much of its history. One of many things that has decayed about the city. Everything else is good.

          But, really, the founder is simply another part of the story. I'm also looking towards how the Mob got to be such a problem. One of the things that makes New Beth the wreck that it is is that the Mafia is effectively the real power in the city; not only are many local politicians bought, but so is the police force and much of the supernatural community. New Beth mobsters are notorious for being creepy, made even more so by how well-informed and mysteriously effective they are. It' even rumored the leader of the largest can turn into a crow (to which old Richard "Cuckoo" Colombo will wearily correct you-it's a blue jay. He just said "corvid" because crows are scarier to people who aren't orinthologists. "And you do not want to work a mile near any skin thief who's got a hummingbird totem, let me tell ya").

          So, yeah. Also looking for reasons the Mafia is still so powerful there, beyond general urban blight


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          • #6
            Originally posted by Leliel View Post
            given how much of him in written history has been distorted, it could be that was another distortion, and a sign New Beth doesn't actually know very much of its history. One of many things that has decayed about the city.
            I really like that angle. The city is incongruous, but most people just don't notice.

            So, yeah. Also looking for reasons the Mafia is still so powerful there, beyond general urban blight
            Well, perhaps that has larger consequences for the city. I mean, the mafia seems to have been combated by bringing in the FBI and use of the RICO act, but if New Beth is just falling apart, then maybe no one with any reach cares to do much about it.
            Otherwise, you could just add that to the incongruity of it. The mafia has kept a much tighter hold here than elsewhere, no one really knows why. Maybe the place even takes a kind of perverse pride in it's status as the last real holdout of the real mafia.


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            • #7
              Originally posted by Leliel View Post
              Ah, ok. The problem is that I already brought up the founder was a Puritan exile; I hate retcons. But sometimes it can't be helped. Besides, given how much of him in written history has been distorted, it could be that was another distortion, and a sign New Beth doesn't actually know very much of its history. One of many things that has decayed about the city. Everything else is good.


              Well, considering where this is referenced, you could always make the retcon an explicit point - Demon Pacts in action.


              Originally posted by Leliel View Post
              But, really, the founder is simply another part of the story. I'm also looking towards how the Mob got to be such a problem. One of the things that makes New Beth the wreck that it is is that the Mafia is effectively the real power in the city; not only are many local politicians bought, but so is the police force and much of the supernatural community. New Beth mobsters are notorious for being creepy, made even more so by how well-informed and mysteriously effective they are. It' even rumored the leader of the largest can turn into a crow (to which old Richard "Cuckoo" Colombo will wearily correct you-it's a blue jay. He just said "corvid" because crows are scarier to people who aren't orinthologists. "And you do not want to work a mile near any skin thief who's got a hummingbird totem, let me tell ya").

              So, yeah. Also looking for reasons the Mafia is still so powerful there, beyond general urban blight
              One thing to keep in mind is one of the things that brought the mob to prominence and allowed it to flourish - Prohibition. They made made money and influence by supplying something many/most people wanted, despite laws against it.

              It's still illegal to sell alcoholic beverages in Indiana on Sunday. Maybe this town/country has even stronger ordinances? Prohibition never ended there (by the demands for drink never lessened).


              Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
              Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Vent0 View Post

                Well, considering where this is referenced, you could always make the retcon an explicit point - Demon Pacts in action.[/SIZE][/FONT][/COLOR]

                [COLOR=#252C2F][FONT=Helvetica][SIZE=13px]

                One thing to keep in mind is one of the things that brought the mob to prominence and allowed it to flourish - Prohibition. They made made money and influence by supplying something many/most people wanted, despite laws against it.

                It's still illegal to sell alcoholic beverages in Indiana on Sunday. Maybe this town/country has even stronger ordinances? Prohibition never ended there (by the demands for drink never lessened).

                Good points on both.

                Hm. I'm getting the sense that religion can be a major idea here; I was mostly intent on Catholicism because of my pop-idea of the Mafia being pretty keen on Catholicism, but I've realized that ultimately, faith is secondary to profit; I'm getting the image of a Lutheran advocacy group, still clinging to laws meant to fill the gap left by the repeal of Prohibition, not-so-secretly funded by the New Beth Mob. The longer there's a need for speakeasies, however smaller than the 30s, the longer the good life lasts. Also shows how deep the New Beth Mob has its talons in the social fabric of the city; even religion ends up becoming a tool for them to get more money.

                Also, trying to figure out what street crime there is; the American Mafia, in particular the Big Three (the mostly mundane-with-some-microtemplates Colombo family, the mage-backed Bertoldi, and the rising stars of the Vota and their changeling smugglers) reign over the underworld, but there's a lot of smaller-scale gangs that the Big Three don't care about so long as they don't infringe on their turf. I'm thinking about what kind of gangs you'd get up there-something similar to New York, since New Beth is a cousin city to the Big Apple.


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                • #9
                  Supernatural criminal groups:

                  Vampire drug pushers (might also work the flesh trade)
                  Bound protection rackets (they also might do smuggling).
                  Werewolves seem ideal for hired muscle.


                  Malkydel: "And the Machine dictated; let there be adequate illumination."
                  Yossarian: "And lo, it was optimal."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Nice start! A few background points:

                    1. One of the key elements that makes the CofD "dark" is not grimdark-deathhorror, but that it is suffused in mysteries. Things just are... despite all natural law and sense indicating they should be something else. Things are downright weird, and no one notices--or buries their notice deep because life is tough, yaknow?

                    The more of this: the contradictions, the retcons, the incongruities, the festering historical lies locals repeat as gospel despite them being just not so--the more of these you build in the more your players, whether foreigners to the city or old hands "waking up" to reality, will latch onto them as themes and plot points.

                    Let me briefly use my own effort as an example. One of the themes is "time is a spiral", so there is time travel, anachronisms, history that's bent, and history that's explained best only afterwards as the trail of wreckage the PCs leave behind them is digested into what is "known to be true". In the case of New Beth, you're picking key themes and phrases and finding ways to hang the city off of them. It makes things more coherent.

                    2. Organized crime. That tends to happen in places where there is social demand for the services offered, and weak or corrupt law enforcement. Once started, of course, it acts as a corrosive element in society and breaks down attitudes toward authority--supplementing legal, traditional authorities (the state, families, church) with its own framework--often with much higher violence and depravity. Well-entrenched organized crime makes it easier for new organizations to take root if it itself doesn't dig them out.

                    You could, in fact, look at organized crime as a parasitic element that invades, depresses the immune system and rewrites the genetic code of the host [community] to accommodate itself further. Oh... and to repel efforts at extracting it--in this case by state and federal agencies. You can, within the CofD perspective, perhaps see parallels with how spirit Hosts and stranger things attack humans? Only this is a mematic attack on the city as a community of humans... and New Beth has succumbed so far that it as host is metastasizing into a staggering bomb, gravid with criminal elements only waiting for the distended flesh to fall and burst, spreading them far and wide. Spreading the meme.

                    3. Historically speaking US organized crime has been unwound first through application of federal financial (tax) law, and then the RICO act once it was available. The strong, external pressure of the FBI and Secret Service (which handles currency crimes and certain other such things) actually shifted criminal efforts to invest in more "legit" business ventures as a financial shield against losing riskier, illegal operations. Oh, and they'd pretty much maxed out what they could do without causing severe state, federal and local backlash--I'm sure in the CofD things could be pushed further.

                    If the supernatural criminal linkages in New Beth could act externally and keep at bay the powers occupied who would otherwise be called to investigate and dismember city organized crime, then the place could continue as a haven for so long as not TOO much noise is made. And noise of course is limited to who spreads it, how fast and among how many. All factors that can be damped down by design, and doubly-so in a place where the spiritual elements at work actively want the situation to continue generating tasty essence.

                    I'm sure there are a variety of offices in the state and letter agencies, who sit in abject frustration at New Beth.

                    4. Now, modern organized crime has more varied avenues for expression: drugs, alcohol, sales tax evasion, financial structuring (income tax evasion), human trafficking, prostitution (not necessarily the same thing as trafficking), blackmail, theft, murder, and all the protection rackets that spring from the same. Then you have cyber crime, counterfeiting, hacking, electronic fraud and even stealing electricity for bitcoin farming!

                    Now, consider that all this works fine in one dimension, and add several more to it: the Hedge/Arcadia and the Shadow, both of which can richly reward the entrepreneur who can navigate their dangers and deliver desired products and services....

                    5. Are you picking an analogous location for the city? If it's on the coast, you can just create something in New Jersey where there is not a big city, or Delaware--something on the Delaware bay would work fine. If you want to shove aside another city I'd suggest Philadelphia or Wilmington. Otherwise? Maybe eastern Long Island roughly where Riverhead is located? That might be too close to NYC however.

                    ‚Äč--Khanwulf

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Khanwulf View Post
                      2. Organized crime. That tends to happen in places where there is social demand for the services offered, and weak or corrupt law enforcement. Once started, of course, it acts as a corrosive element in society and breaks down attitudes toward authority--supplementing legal, traditional authorities (the state, families, church) with its own framework--often with much higher violence and depravity. Well-entrenched organized crime makes it easier for new organizations to take root if it itself doesn't dig them out.

                      You could, in fact, look at organized crime as a parasitic element that invades, depresses the immune system and rewrites the genetic code of the host [community] to accommodate itself further. Oh... and to repel efforts at extracting it--in this case by state and federal agencies. You can, within the CofD perspective, perhaps see parallels with how spirit Hosts and stranger things attack humans? Only this is a mematic attack on the city as a community of humans... and New Beth has succumbed so far that it as host is metastasizing into a staggering bomb, gravid with criminal elements only waiting for the distended flesh to fall and burst, spreading them far and wide. Spreading the meme.
                      Wow. All that is good, but that is actually really, really thematic with the Foetia plotline.

                      More is spoilers, but disease, and the Contagion, is a huge thematic here.


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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Leliel View Post

                        Wow. All that is good, but that is actually really, really thematic with the Foetia plotline.

                        More is spoilers, but disease, and the Contagion, is a huge thematic here.

                        Yeah, as I was writing that I realized that what was coming out was a aspect of the normal spirit/host and urged/claim mechanics, only applied to concepts and locations writ large instead of individuals. So what do you do with the spirit of [civilizational decay?] as a host? I mean it probably didn't even exist as such when Father Wolf was wrecking stuff and his pangaean prey were breaking apart to survive... but perhaps it's an idigam that's emulated pangaean host methods? How would you even fight that?

                        And of course, there's the Contagion. Let me leave with a conceptual note drawn from what little I know: contagion is memetic spiritual chaos--the breakdown in social ties and order under inflicted stress. Stress that magnifies and amplifies at the harmonic frequency of the human soul, until it breaks. It's "do what you must to survive" and while acting rewrites the meaning of "survival" and "must" into more depraved and extreme forms until the common bonds between humans do not exist and it's very difficult to discern differences between them and beasts. In the meantime, of course, civilization collapses and fragments survive only by walling themselves off from the chaos (often ruthlessly, or by accident) and carefully husbanding a bit of light in the darkness.

                        There may be physical manifestations as a supernatural side-effect to the Contagion--or not. I haven't read enough to know the writer's take, but the above paragraph is enough of a hook to hang reactions by the usual splats. Each could and would understand what's going on differently and attempt to unravel it using their specialized tools. Everything a nail, etc.

                        Further, if you look back at history you can pick out periods of intense collapse and assign them as Contagion incidents. My favorite is the Collapse of 1200s BC. (Link only one of many article on it.) Other less intense periods could include the Roman Crisis of the Third Century.There are example as well from Chinese and Indian civilization records. The point being that the situations were similar: interconnected civilizations brought to a tipping point by a combination of factors slide quickly and violently into disassembly that takes centuries to recover from the loss of human, informational and physical capital.

                        --Khanwulf

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