Gods of the Fall: The Nightland, Part One

So, since I’m giving Gods of the Fall a deeper read after yesterday’s skim, I’ll post my thoughts and observations on it as I go. Today, I’ll be looking at what seems to be the meatiest chapter in the Setting section, covering the civilized yet accursed region beneath the shadow of Nod, the Nightland.

Right off the bat, we’re told that there are a dozen nominally independent city-states in the Nightland, but they all grudgingly give their allegiance to the Dragon Nulumriel, the self-styled Empress of the region and the one who gives the Order of Reconciliation their marching orders. There’s an explanation of why this cursed land is still the most civilized around – the Ruinlands were (surprise!) ruined in the Fall and the Verge was never really settled in the first place. Credulity is slightly stretched there – somewhere in what I skimmed yesterday I read that the previous Age, with the Gods around, lasted somewhere around 25000 years. Humanity not expanding into every nook and cranny by then seems off, but I’ll let it slide for now.

Next up, we learn that the weather of the region is literally cursed; the storms that come howling off the perpetual storm where the heavens fell come through here, and they all bring a chance of curses with them. Sounds lovely; remember to pack your antimagic poncho when you visit.

Next up, a segment of background info; what it means living in both literal and figurative perpetual darkness. The Nightland, despite being the most civilized part of the Afterworld, is still a place with a visible reminder that the gods are all dead that keeps the sun from ever shining. Slavery is legal, the right to kill can be bought, and generally it only counts as civilized by virtue of people living together in cities. There’s a listing of Descriptors that might fit PCs who grow up in such a situation, and then we’re off to the harder geographic material.

Corso, the largest city in the Nightland (and likely in the world) has a population of roughly half a million. It’s home to the Tower of Reconciliation, which serves as host to the Order thereof and the throne for the empress to rule from. As fits a place that’s been painted as Civilized Hell On Earth so far, the city is built with black stonework, dark stone sculptures scattered all over, and lamps that burn with bright red flames. Clothing is depicted with a Dark Victorian vibe – dark longcoats, scarves, and impressive hats. Elephant-drawn carriages reinforce the original feeling of this setting having an Eastern vibe, while we’re told that monstrous beings like the nefar of the Verge get to strut around and all you have to do to get away with things like torture and sacrifice in public is pay a fee to the city watch. Essentially, if you’ve got cash the only law in the city seems to be paying to make a temporary law for your own benefit. I don’t recommend visiting unless you’re rich and heavily armed.

We get a snapshot of the city’s layout, each district getting its own little section. Low Corso is the undercity – the ‘proper’ city is raised above the surrounding terrain, which gives ample excuse for all that black stone to be put to descriptive use – complete with a beggar-thief lord. Then there’s the Book District; it seems that if you’re a scholar, this is going to be your home, as Corso is unique in having a glut of books to read – and we get to learn that there’s a specific kind of magic performed by a certain type of sorcerer, known as bibliomancy. The Slave District is… Well, it’s about what you’d expect. I imagine quite a few campaigns will involve trashing the place.

There’s the Docks – inevitably, a city like this has to have a docks region for the kind of hijinks that happen, and I’m glad to see they didn’t stint. It even has a tavern built from a large ship to carouse in. After that we get the Markets District, which includes an interesting shop that offers something called memory tailoring, allowing people to forget troublesome memories. After that we get the Mage District, with a rather unique guild; I’ll wait until I get to the section of organizations to talk about them, but they’re involved with the moon, Nod.

Then there’s Castle Farran, which is the secretive center of the resistance to the rule of the Empress and a place full of all kinds of mysterious secrets even the owner knows nothing of, and the Tower of Reconciliation which the Order and the Empress are housed. Nice place, really, if you aren’t a nascent god and you’re willing to kiss the foot of a powerful sorcerer in order to get a position of some power. That wraps up Corso, which really seems like the kind of place I half-expect to find drow faffing about being generically wicked and evil.

Continuing the trend of exciting naming schemes (which, if we’re being honest, is completely true to life in how things get named), the next area is the Dead Wood, a place of dead trees whose ghosts apparently haunt the place. It’s got mushroom farmers, a flock of erinyes that have escaped from Soulrest, and the occasional grove of not-quite-dead trees that can be harvested for significant profit. Just… Mind the spiders. They get rather large.

Next up we get a description of the Golden Bowers that feed the cities, speculation about how the magic lamps that make them possible are made, and then a bit on a particular golden bower that has an unusual guardian; that said guardian resembles petrified bodies in the Ruinscape’s depths and that it can hear the golden lamp talk adds to the mysterious plot hooks.

Ancient stone formations apparently dot the landscape, reputed to be dead cities that were denied access to Soulrest by an angry god in the deep past. They got razed and now carved chunks get sold to either ward off ghosts or attract them. Sometimes they apparently manage to attract a ghost looking to take the chunk back to the dead city it came from, usually costing the owner’s life in the process. I suppose that adds some weight to the theory of them being god-cursed cities.

Cryserech is not a sneeze; it’s a city deliberately built to resemble a necropolis. Most of the residents are animate corpses, with their spirits bound to their bodies in order to avoid going to the disaster that Soulrest has become. Before the Fall, when Soulrest was a good place, this was regarded as deep black magic; it’s just a bit more acceptable now, since it means that Uncle Fred won’t get his immortal soul devoured by the Hellmaw. I can’t say I blame them for it, even if it’s apparently the sort of existence that leaves you feeling like you’re interacting with the world through a thick blanket. As a result, the undead residents go out of their way in pursuit of hedonistic stimulation, giving the place a reputation as the seediest kind of party town.

We get a section on the process of becoming one of the living dead, which has a hefty price tag just to get in the door and then you get to spend a day expiring painfully. (I think perhaps this is where the numbness comes from; being in excruciating agony for a while tends to leave you numb to everything else after a while, and corpses probably don’t heal well.) If you need to kill one of them, look for the iron stud piercing, it’s cursed and binds their soul and mind to the body.

Then there’s the Crypt of Pale Delights, which doesn’t employ slaves at all and is the place for rich corpses to go for high-quality debauchery, including voyeurism as the main bar gets to look in on all the other rooms. Don’t go here if you’re still mortal, I suspect, or at least not if you’ve got any inhibitions at all. Then there’s the Grand Hunt, wherein criminals, slaves, and the occasional animate volunteer spend twenty-four hours hiding from very enthusiastic hunters in hopes of being set free. It’s exactly the kind of morbid sport you’d expect to be practiced by a society of animate corpses in a perpetual shadowland. Last up for the place is the old cathedral that used to be dedicated to the Three Judges (no, at this point I don’t know who they are, either, other than beings in Soulrest who’re apparently carving the place up into their own kingdoms). It’s now the central hall of an order of assassins known as the Tranquil, who offer contracts as thorough as killing the target’s soul, and insurance against being assassinated. I bet I know which one fills their coffers the most.

That’s all for today; tomorrow I’ll pick up with the Sea of Shadows and hopefully we can make it out of the Nightland and off into the Ruinscape. Check back to see what other nightmarish and horrific things await us in the shadow of Nod!

Gods of the Fall: The Nightland, Part One

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