While plumbing the depths of the Numenera base book I ran across reference to “Neverlost,” a city noted for never being, well, lost. Thought impregnable, Neverlost’s Duke charges a premium for space within his
secure city in times of need. As with all impregnable citadels in fantasy literature, some joker always manages to break down the wall and kill the duke. Initially I had a similar plan for the campaign, with my players skulking into the city and bringing down the walls during a siege, but then I had an idea. Actually, I remembered a book I read which is still among my favorites. “Wasp” by Eric Frank Russell. This sci-fi novel pits a lone espionage agent against an entire society with the stated goal of breeding chaos, uncertainty and paranoia in a time of war. Essentially, he uses a variety of propaganda, direct action, subterfuge and general sneakiness to force the enemy nation to expend resources thwarting his efforts. One man, like a wasp, small but annoying that brings misery far outstripping his relative size.
Now that is much better than just burning down some castle walls! Time to create the campaign.
“Neverlost’s” description in the book states it is well defended, but only held a thousand permanent residents. I modified the city to make it a better petri dish for breeding chaos and misery. First I increased the population to around 100k, made the walls into a living, breathing creature/artifact that self-repairs and make the wall smell terrible. The wall/creature odor allowed me to stratify the city into the “White District” where it smells terrible, so the poor live there and the increasingly affluent rings of the city, each layer representing a slightly higher rung on the socio-economic ladder, with the Duke in the dead, fresh smelling center of the city/fortress. Other than that setup, I really did not prepare much and just let the players go nuts with how to bring down the city.
The party’s benefactor, a slightly sinister character from “The Convergence” (Basically an Aeon priest-like order dedicated to their own self-interest) ordered them to destabilize the city and turn it, to use a modern term, into a failed state. Methods and body count are not the Convergence’s concern. Just get it done. Given one of the PCs has a sick, pregnant wife that only the Convergence could cure was the impetus to get the party moving. Yes, the party has the moral fiber of a rabid cobra and really no ethics, so destroying an entire city to save one person they actually know is a reasonable calculation for them.
Four players attended the game session, each of them took off and began to work out various ways to cause civil destruction. One I predicted, but the others pleasantly surprised me. One of the Jacks began fighting his way up the local pit-fighting ladder (he fights dirty as a descriptor, so he did well) in the poor district and with each successive victory he agitated for a “Grand Tourney” that would test the best of the “White Guard” (the Duke’s main fighting force) against the lower classes in a test of strength and honorable combat. His rhetoric came couched in the language of equality and “we are just as good as them!” I was a bit fuzzy as to the end game, but the player revealed he intended on becoming the pit-fighting champion, compete in the grand tourney against the White Guard, lose and then frame the White Guard for cheating against “The People’s Hero.” Nothing like a sporting event to turn into a riot!
The glaive player hunted down a fringe political party and fed new life into it. Gargarth is an aging warrior whose group/cult agitates for a return to martial glory, think Sparta and ending the weak, soft society that currently exists. Sadly, Gargarth and company are little more than 50 people that march down the streets and everyone ignores them. Our glaive player begins recruiting disenfranchised youth into a “youth groups” that involve basic combat training and indoctrination. I knew someone would latch onto a cult and try to get it up to speed, but the youth group angle caught me off guard. Long-term, this trained group of proto-glaives will form the core of protestors/rioters and help drive the crowd in the face of adversity.
The nano player used his advanced seduction skills to make contacts in the brothels of Neverlost, eventually working his way up to the “Willow House.” Willow House is the elite courtesan house and a favorite among the upper class. Though he tried several times to organize the brothels into an intelligence apparatus, poor rolling worked against him. This operation is still ongoing and may bear fruit long-term.
Finally, the other jack infiltrated the Trade Guild and got a job using his charm and flex skill. The Guild wields significant power in the city and operates the futures market. Determining the futures market a soft-spot, he proceeded to do reconnaissance on the state of “pseudo-wheat” in the countryside. Determining the next crop would be poor, he decided to lie to his employers about the state of the crop and clean up financially on the market when the price crashed.
Until the other players reminded him the goal is to destabilize the city rather than make a lot of shins, so rather than corner the market on pseudo-wheat a new plan emerged. Use the impending food shortage as a spark to set off the city. First, our pit-fighting hero spreads rumors that the upper class is hoarding food because of an upcoming shortage they are keeping secret. Second, the PCs create some White Guard uniforms/disguises to very publicly keep people away from the grain storage in the poor district…right before it burns to the ground. I give the players credit for not just frontal assaulting the grainery in disguise. Using a disguise to keep people away from the grainery and then having a mysterious “accident” adds a patina of conspiracy to the rumor. It should spread well, if they can pull it off in the face of DM intrusions, of course.
This campaign is a slow burn and relatively low combat, but the players seem to enjoy it and the Cypher systems really lends itself to the “sandbox” style of game with only a very light framework and lots of player creativity.
Overall I am very pleased with the campaign so far and I hope to have an update soon that leaves Neverlost with a new name, “Everlost!”
Trask, The Last Tyromancer