Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Archport -- City of Eternal Twilight

Mapped at Two Miles per Hex
Twilight reigns in Archport.  Sailing up Darkwaters Deep in broad daylight, one should notice an immense dome masking the thirty square-mile city within which sunrays fade, as if one gazed through tinted spectacles.  Stranger yet at night, an eerie glow prevails all about the city despite the absence of moonlight.  Ships sailing in and out bear navigation lamps, their red and green halos reflecting faintly upon the water.

The name, “Darkwaters Deep,” describes the part closest to Archport more than the entire bay.  The rule of night and day prevails beyond Archport’s immaterial twilight cloak.  Fort some navigators, the oddity of it all, or the crew’s ill-informed superstition prove too much, and they make for the more expensive and crowded ports of Ascopal and Charmydon across the bay. These harbors cannot truly compete with Eadrin’s capital city.  Local topography does not permit further expansion.  There, only the fees grow, as visiting ships continually compete for docking space.

Those who know better head to Archport.  Its immense facilities provide all that sea princes might desire and at competitive prices.  In the absence of true night or day, the port and its businesses are always awake and at work.  Locals have adapted well to the dim lighting.  They always seem surprised or perplexed at the mention of Archport’s twilight.  Many do not leave the city.  None among the poorest ever do, and they have no concept of natural daylight.  Citizens would most certainly not leave town without a pair or two of dark-tinted spectacles to protect their eyes from the injury of bright light.  That, their sickly pallor, and the city’s prevailing fashion commanding black clothing, hooded cloaks, and other headgear are dead giveaways in the view of rural Eadriners.  The constant twilight attracts sun-shy creatures, flocking to Archport like moths on a lamp.  Among them stand denizens of faraway Boldavia, who’ve taken great precautions to conceal their Glantrian origins, and who’ve learned to mask their accented speech.

To outsiders, the city appears as a timeless microcosm.  The sun and the moon, vague glows arching across in the sky, can be used nonetheless to account for time.  Most Archiportenes (called "Archies" by the provincials) rely instead on mechanical clocks or other magical devices that are far more accurate and colorful in the way they alert their owners about the time of the day or expected appointments.  The sound of a bell’s deep toll, the scream of a maiden, or the call of a crow in a wizard’s pocket startles many a first-timer in Archport.

The northern and southern edges lie on higher ground, with a steep incline leading to a rocky shore.  Archport’s center occupies the low ground, and is the hearth and bellows of Eadrin’s merchant industry.  Where the port ends and where the city center begins is never clear, since some of the streets form canals leading to private docks and warehouses. The northern district is home to the middle class, the military, and the poor.  The city’s south district houses municipal quarters, the Shadow Queen’s palace, and much of the aristocracy.  Temples can be found throughout.  Dark walls and tall towers surround the city, which many suspect have been studded with nightstones.  The city’s four gates are carefully monitored.  Beyond lies a land of many hamlets, fields, and pastures.  A wealthy monastery owns an extensive domain several miles north.  Aside from farming, its monks are notorious for studying psychic damage from shadow-induced dreams, and relations between shadows and divine immortality.  It also offers asylum to those who lost their minds.

The palace and the courthouse are adjoining structures.  At the behest of Shadow Lords, the rule of law is strictly enforced in Eadrin and overseen directly by the Shadow Lords.  Although the legal system isn’t unfair or harsh, mercy is rarely given to those found guilty.  There is a compelling reason behind this.  The royal palace houses the Gray Circle’s inner sanctum.  At its heart lies a vast chamber fitted with a magical circle built of nightstones, tall pillars, and a high vault.  It is where the top nine Shadow Lords confer.  When not in session, criminals from all around the realms are brought here to be stripped of their natural shadows, which are then trapped within the circle.  Victims of 1HD or less do not suffer the associated level loss, but do instead lose a 2-5 points (total) of Intelligence and Wisdom (see the updated post on Shadow Lords.)

Until they are summoned for other uses, trapped shadows swirl silently amid the circle, from floor to ceiling.  Their owners, partly under a mind-numbing effect generated by the circle, are returned to the Sees in which they had been convicted to serve their sentences.  The latter include incarceration, serving in the Queen’s navy as captive rowers, hard labor in the dangerous nightstone mines of northeastern Eadrin, and indentured service for the Shadow Lords or their alumni.  There is no death penalty in Eadrin which, in the view of Shadow Lords, would be a pointless waste of a good resource.  The worst fate is therefore reclusion in perpetuity.

Shadow Lords do have uses for the swirls of shadows ripped from hapless criminals.  In times of need, the former can be fashioned into constructs and commanded to stand among the Queen’s army or local forces under the Shadow Lords’ control.  Some can fly.  Others can swim or dive beneath the surface.  All reflect abilities and weaknesses of Shadow Lords and, as a result, are rarely used beyond the limits of twilight.  Looking closely, one may perceive the tormented and obscure faces of those whose shadows make up a beast.  They twist and squirm as the construct moves about.  Lamentations of the damned echo when it roars.

When these beasts are killed, individual shadows bound to them are released and return to their owners.  If so, the latter’s sentences are commuted and their time considered served.  If a construct is no longer needed, it is brought back through underground passages to the Gray Circle where it disintegrates.  Its shadows remain trapped in the circle, and their owners to continue serving their sentences.  A Keeper of Time is responsible for releasing shadows from the circle when their owners have served their legal sentences.  A Master Crafter oversees the fashioning of shadow constructs, based upon an enormous grimoire compiled by the Shadow Lords. When convicted criminals die, their shadows vanish from the circle, which explains why Shadow Lords are reluctant to execute anyone.  Shadow Lord alumni often work as bounty-hunters for their masters.  They are empowered to collect from the Gray Circle the shadows of escaped inmates, which enables them to sense the fugitives’ whereabouts.  Some of the more recalcitrant, hard-headed (higher level) prisoners can occasionally overcome the circle’s will-bending powers.

Former criminals retain dreamlike and frightening memories of their captivities, the fates of their shadows, or the demise of the constructs to which they had been bound.  The feeling is ominous enough for many to never stray from the law again, and a certain affinity survives between freed criminals whose shadows were part of the same beast.  In a cynical twist of fate, the brighter ones among these silent fellowships often become wizards who study the world of shadows, or ecclesiastics residing at the Hazemont Monastery.  Former convicts suffer from what is referred to in modern terms as a post-traumatic syndrome disorder.  As a consequence of this cycle, some Shadow Lords prove far less sociable than others, while the monks may appear reclusive, odd, and sinister.

Nearly half of Eadrin’s military means garrison Archport.  Shadow Lord alumni often act as commanders or at least as advisers to non-magically-skilled officers.  Land-based military enforce of the law and the will of the Shadow Lords.  Local wyvern riders are responsible for watching the suburban-like sprawl of hamlets and farmsteads.  Unless a war is brewing, few shadow constructs are summoned into existence.  A handful serve among Eadrin's galleys and subs to watch convict rowers.  They aren't otherwise deployed among the public without compelling reasons.  As can be expected, Archport is a major naval base, with 29 warships of various types.  These include 17 surface vessels, 7 airships (small sailing ships with 90 HP ea.) and 5 subs (small galleys with 100 HP each.)

  • Airships: HMV* Moon Shadow, Storm Rider, Silver Cloud, Gray Squall, Twilight Ark, Veil of Souls, Star Shade
  • Submersibles: HMV Lanternfish, Abyssal Flashglow, Dread Anglerfish, Gray Bristlemouth, Viperfish
  • Sm. Galleys: HMV Spirit of Nafertin, of Shayde, of Adumbray, of Obscurata, of Umbrion, of Ecem
  • Lg. Galleys: HMV Spirit of Archport, of Idongor, of Deipan
  • War Galleys: HMV Well of Shadows, Gray Circle
  • Sm. Sailing Ships: HMV Glint, Glymmerion, Glistenel, Flicketh, Taciturny, Intricata, Shimmerion, Contorta, Disturbia, Halo, Hushen
  • Lg. Sailing Ships: HMV Blackstone, Iron Rose, Twelfth of Cyprimir, Queen’s Will, Immortal Dusk
  • Troops Transports: HMV Gray Shroud, Blackpool

(*) HMV stands for Her Majesty’s Vessel.

The subs’ main missions are to guard the entrance to Darkwaters Deep and the submarine border with Aquas.  Underwater beasties seek to use the bay’s fertile sediment as a reproduction site.  Raids along the coast and inland along river banks will occur if these aquatic marauders go unchallenged.  Airships often provide transport to visiting dignitaries and Shadow Lords traveling the realm.  Airships otherwise patrol, sometimes for weeks at a time, the lesser populated regions of Eadrin and in particular, Pantomime Darks , Parody Peaks, and the Well of Shadows.  Uncontrolled shadow monsters and the few escapees from the mines are the main concern.  The area is legally off limits, and airships will also be looking for intruders lurking about.  The remainder of Archport’s fleet concerns itself with river and coastal patrols.  Sailing vessels occasionally patrol shipping lines to Bellissaria.  Prevailing winds blow from the southwest, while the sea current flows from the northeast.  Surface current is weak as a result of contrary winds, but grows stronger at depth.  Sea storms are common in these parts.

Shadow Lords have been working on means to cloak ships from sight while navigating in twilight conditions.  They haven’t been entirely successful yet, but are making slow progress.  Part of the research takes place beneath the Monastery of Hazemont, in a specialized workshop available to select Shadow Lords.  With the help of the monks, the latter’s research has centered on the creation of secondary containers that could be fitted on ships, and into which shadows of convicted criminals could be transferred.  The idea is to summon these shadows to weave such a cloak, but the result has proven unstable so far.  From an enchanter’s point of view, technical and costly limitations have yet to be overcome in that some or all shadows break free when a ship uncloaks, resulting in a wave of undesirable amnesties back home.  Attempts to replace captive shadows with undead counterparts have all failed with catastrophic consequences, and henceforth remain banned by royal decree.

As one may imagine, it takes a very special brand of mariners to crew a submersible.  These vessels come in a variety of shapes, and are fully enclosed.  Hulls and decks are made of various woods like oak, teak, cedar and pine, reinforced with metal, usually magically-shaped and -riveted bronze or copper.  Eadrin’s subs feature two main decks.  The top level and conning tower house the crew and their officers.  Aside from a carpenter, a healing cleric, a few servants, and a handful of officers, the crew is essentially responsible for handling levers and pulleys controlling the sub’s maneuvers.  They otherwise concern themselves with launching large harpoons fitted within a boat’s prow.  Launch tubes are fitted with one-way energy fields preventing water from rushing in.  Tubes can be physically sealed from the inside.  A small opening into the Elemental Plane of Air provides a breathable atmosphere.

A few portholes allow sight through the hull (the officer’s mess, the captain’s quarter, the chart room) and from the conning tower.  Shadow Lord alumni typically command subs, since their Clear Sight abilities enable them to defeat the near-total darkness prevailing at depth and, to some degree, the aquatic blur.  Although subdued, light aboard is permanent and magical.  During combat, it dims further and switches to green, blue, amber, or red depending on the vessel’s make.  A few small cargo bays provide necessary supplies for the mission, or can be used as a brig.

Submersibles generally fall within the category of galleys.  This is where the lower deck comes into use.  It holds the condemned rowers, known as galerians.  Rather than heaving on traditional oars, their chore is to turn metal cranks connected to the boat’s propeller.  Spectral chains bind their wrists to massive crenelated shafts, and their bare feet to the deck.  At the stern sits a large shadow construct requiring neither air, nor sustenance, nor sleep.  It makes ample use of a ghostly whip which grows out of its shimmering monstrous hide.  At the fore, an invisible servant marks the beat on a large drum, as ordered through the flared brass tube connected with the conn.  Hatches to the upper deck are wizard locked.

The worst criminals are assigned to subs, those serving life sentences.  For most, their numbed-out minds allow them to survive the squalor, fatigue, and despair reigning on the lower deck.  The ghastly sensation of the shadow beast occasionally peering into their minds to ferret out those seeking to rebel would otherwise be enough to render a normal person insane.  Although unwillingly given, death is the only escape from Eadrin’s submersibles.  The latter sentence is the official line and reflects the vast majority of cases.

It may happen that a galerian’s shadow is released, possibly as the result of a construct’s demise elsewhere in Eadrin.  It should become evident at some point that the former convict regained its ability to cast a shadow.  By law, the galerian must therefore be released.  In the limited confines of a submersible, however, the unusual event is likely to result in the individual being roughly thrown into the brig.  An opportunity will come along to cast out the former galerian, be it a port, some other vessel sailing by, or a deserted island, whichever comes first.  For the likes of these survivors, Hazemont Monastery is their only solace.

Note from the Author: game mechanics for the Shadow Lords were updated on the 27th, explaining how Shadow Lords go about to capturing natural shadows.  If you haven't read these changes, they are listed at the end of the initial Eadrin post.  Click HERE to skip back to that post.  

Coming Soon: Warrior-Mages of Randel


  1. Bruce - Been a big fan of your for decades!
    I am loving this blog and the further details you have been providing for Mystara!

    I do have one question and perhaps small request :
    Do you have any plans to provide more information or dominion stats for Qeodhar and the Yannivey Islands north of Alphatia? Would love to see that! Many thanks!


    1. I'm glad you found a place you like to dig for more info on Mystara. Yes, Qeodhar/Yannivey are part of my overall plan to refurbish Alphatia. They figure late on the list, but they're definitely on it. It's perhaps a good thing since, as I go through this process, I find more of a tone to flesh out these kingdoms. Being low on the list is perhaps a good thing, though I do expect a second pass to bring everything more or less to the same level.


  2. Beautiful work! Love the city description. A very cool place to go adventure :)

    Canon-wise (or so, from the Dragonlord Trilogy books) about 500 years ago the city of Archport was attacked by gemstone dragons (i.e. ruby, amber, onyx, jade dragons, etc.) who destroyed the harbor and the docking ships. The attack was to induce the Alphatians to declare war on the chromatic dragons (red, green, blue, white dragons, etc) who, at the time, were enemies of the gemstone kin.

    The giant dome above the city could have been built after this event, as a way to protect the city from further attacks from the sky (or, more likely: the Shadow Lords easily persuaded the terrorized population that the shadow-casting dome was the best way to protect the city from further raids). Even the origin of skyship patrols in the countryside could be traced back to this time. Maybe some kind of anti-aerial defences could have been built above the dome as well.

    Dragons and dragon-related themes/iconography could not be well met in the city still now.

    1. Thanks!

      It's really funny that you would bring up this topic since it ties into my plans with Randel. Archport's dome of twilight was logically a progressive achievement as the Shadow Lords learned to increase their power and more nightstones were incorporated to the city's stonework. But yes, the logic could have been that if the Shadow Lords grew stronger, they would dissuade further schemes from gemstone dragons involving their city. Historical resentment could be exacerbated if Randel wizards had anything to do with dragons, chromatic or gemlike.


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