The conversation with myself continues as I develop a new campaign setting for my game group. Annotations are in italics.
Jeb: So we have a floating city, powered by a god bound in the depths of the hull. What does this mean for the city itself?
Self: The city will have bio-tech devices and conveniences like light, heat, communications, all supported by the blood of the god. For city-wide technology like lights, the blood will be piped through the city in hydraulic lines like veins. For autonomous devices like vehicles, the blood is decanted into flasks or tanks for transport.
I’m fascinated by the idea of gods whose gifts are physical and also finite. For many ancient peoples, the gods were very real entities, so I wonder what it would be like to meet one or talk to one. I’m also intrigued by an ecosystem that contains immortals.
Jeb: So why doesn’t the god run dry of blood? What replenishes the supply?
Self: Maybe it’s a circular ecosystem: the people of the city give their dead back in burial wells, where their bodies are consumed by the god to restore its strength and keep it alive. In turn, the blood or ichor of the god is used by the city and the people, not only as a fuel, but as a powerful healing or vitality potion!
I like this idea. The PCs will have the opportunity to partake of this stuff as well, naturally, and it will be a valuable and potent magic item. That being the case, it should also cause problems…
Jeb: Then why did the people begin to make sacrifices? How did this system change?
I wanted this city to be largely unpopulated when the PCs drop in, so something had to change to reduce the size of the population. Ebola is big in the news, and it’s scary right now, so it’s on my mind. What would happen to a group of people who had no modern science to combat such a disease?
Self: How about this? An outside plague struck, like ebola—virulent, quick-incubating, and deadly. The population dropped drastically, though for a short time the supply of dead increased beyond capacity. The corpses, though, are infected with the plague—so now, the blood of the god is infected as well! Then, once the plague died out, the supply of corpses dried up. With fewer people living, that means fewer dying as well, so the god begins to weaken and the city begins to shut down. So the citizens, in desperation, resorted to young, vital, living sacrifices. Their vitality restores the god and balance is restored…sort of.
Jeb: What would such an arrangement do to the culture of this city? What are the people like?
Self: With powered conveniences provided for them, the people of the city have the leisure to create art, music, philosophy. But beneath all the beauty there is the fear that they or their children will be chosen as the sacrifice. Furthermore, there is an underclass, almost another species, that keeps the machinery of the city working. Where the topsiders are tall, beautiful, effete (like elves?), the belowdecks are brutish, rough, and strong. They cannot tolerate strong light, so they only come up at night. Their food supply is reduced as well, so they come to hunt for anything they can eat—including victims.
Here is one of my personal rules for campaign creation: things have to make some kind of sense. I could draw a map of this city and plop down monsters all over it. The PCs could go dungeon crawl the city, killing the monsters and looting the rooms—but that makes no sense. Instead, I have an almost elven race living in a dying city, hunted by some kind of goblin/orc stand-in—with a story behind them that has its own internal consistency.
Jeb: And what about the plague? It’s still in the blood of the god.
This is where the GM gets to be nasty! Remember the double-edged sword? The blood is powerful, but it’s also corrupted! It has effects that no one suspects!
Self: Right, and the people of the city are consuming it…so maybe they are infected and shaped by the very fluid that gives them life and vitality! Maybe they have strange deformities that they cover with beautiful masks and armor to protect and hide it.
What will happen when the PCs start to show signs of some horrible disease? That’s their problem!