Ruins of Timberport
All of you grew up in the ruins of Timberport. You’re all familiar with the vast expanse of the bay; the crumbling stone piers, the vast piles of loose rock that form the breakwater, which from childhood experience you know to have no bottom; the omnipresent smell of fish; the hard labor in your garden and pulling rocks out of the common field in the back; and the ever-looming presence of the towers. Taller than trees, they mass on the hills overlooking the harbor. Only the very shortest, closest to the harbor, have ever been fully explored. No one is safe among the deep shadows that lie in and among them, even at high noon; many a scholar has slain himself trying to comprehend their purpose. The Imperials built them, like they did the piers, and some say the breakwater; and departed, long before history began. The priests of the glass room claim it was to honor their god; but the dour and learned warriors of the Queen of Cities gainsay this. All right-thinking people praise Avandra for their freedoms, Sehanine for the night in which they rest, and Melora for the bounty of the seas, which sustains us all.
By common agreement – as all things are done in Timberport – all residents contribute to the common defense. On Avandra’s high holy days, the gates of the inner perimeter are thrown open at dawn and made newly ready to repel the evil lurking at the center of the city. They are closed for the year at moon rise, to honor Sehanine and permit the guards rest. On neap tides, the militia rides the outer perimeter between the city and the woods; in time, the hedgewall will finish growing, and keep all but the most persistent of beasts well away from the settled streets. Between the two, all twisty passages, all alike; only the captain of the guard knows every turning, and many a predator’s corpse has been found by Sehanine’s light, lost beyond endurance in the Imperial’s maze. You were most certainly not permitted to wander there, and managed only the briefest excursion while helping to move the inner perimeter out past the edge of the Tuckers’ farm, when old Zebediah broke his leg and Sam drew the short straw and had to move clear across town to help out, and he had a family just as big as his dad’s.
(Timberport) (the towers) (Imperial) (the priests of the glass room) (the Queen of Cities) (Avandra) (the inner perimeter) (Sehanine) (Melora) (the guards) (the militia) (the hedgewall) (the captain of the guard) (Tuckers)
The PCs are residents of Timberport, and have been since they were little; racially, Timberport is pretty evenly split between humans and halflings, with a very few dwarves, some elves (all rangers or woodpickers), and two eladrin families that, as far as anyone can tell, have been there since the beginning of time. (Note for the players: I will try to be consistent about lower-case being the race, and upper-case being the polity. If I make a typo, your intuition is probably correct as to the distinction, although many Timberport residents don’t maintain it.) The Eladrin maintain a trade factor, [Lord So-and-So], although he does very little business; Timberport doesn’t produce much of anything, much less anything the Eladrin want. (There being humans and elves in the town, there are also half-elves; however, female half-elves tend to identify as elvish, and males as human; female half-elves don’t grow facial hair and thus can never be misidentified as human, however briefly, by the Eladrin. This makes it far safer to work outside the city; see below.)
The town survives by fishing and small-scale farming (kitchen gardens and communal plots). The surrounding forest is exceedingly dangerous, and not just because the Eladrin guard their forest jealously; they don’t appear to be troubled by the fearsome creatures there. They permit only their fellow eladrin free passage; even elves are not allowed too far from the limits of the city. Humans and halflings are limited to gathering deadwood; the factor speaks vaguely of permission for some obscure types of logging, but only the elves understand what he means, and even then will not cut beyond the field in which the hedgewall grows.
Once a decade or so – the Eladrin appear to have only the vaguest grasp of the passage of time – two of the great White Ships of the Eladrin make landfall at Timberport. Massive and graceful, and not seeming as out of place among the giant piers as the fishing fleet, they pay good silver for utterly mundance supplies, especially root vegetables. Their trade factor arranges most of the deals, although never ahead of time. According to him, this helps preserve the White Ships against some unspecified risk; and the goal of their voyage is safety. Eladrin sailors confirm his tales of abundant danger on the Feywild Ocean; for the cargo they carry, even the finest of crews – which even in the fullness of their modesty they must admit to being – can not ensure a safe arrival. Instead, they sail on the Prime Ocean, staying no more than some seven miles of the coast. While none say why, they all report this curious course with great insistence. The good citizens of Timeberport assume that the cargo’s destination lies close to where the two oceans must join, far to the north; but have far too good a sense to ask after it. After some amount of time – usually about two years – the same pair of White Ships make landfall again.
Praise Avandra, there is no government in Timberport. Of course, in a society whose three main gods have all elected to exhibit female aspects, the gossip of matrons is law. Indeed, the high priestesses of Melora, Sehanine, and Avandra meet regularly; sometimes they even permit the ambassador of the Queen of Cities to attend. the priests of the glass room make no protest at their exclusion, seemingly content to produce the occasional miracle from their high and luminal places.
There are, however, institutions. The Embassy of the Queen of Cities maintains a free academy for literacy and numeracy; the associated college instructs academy graduates in natural philosophy (arcana) and history. Of course, the learned warriors also instruct anyone willing to listen in (their) theology. Their compound also houses the instructors at the adjacent Craft School, in which crafters too old for regular work prepare children for their apprenticeships. Alternatively, some crafts may be too dangerous to learn in the field; for instance, the steel-harvesting expeditions out beyond the inner perimeter must work quickly, even when heavily guarded.
The other religions, of course, maintain their own free theology programs, and also teach their clergy healing. the priests of the glass room, conversely, refrain from proselytizing, but will teach anybody willing to listen about healing.
There are four secular institutions: the fishing fleet, the rangers, the guards, and the militia. The fleet, of course, leans towards Melora; it governs the Timberporters on the sea. the rangers manage Timberporters outside the inner perimeter. The guards man the inner perimeter, break up fights, and officer the militia. In normal times, the militia is the smallest of the three fighting groups, consisting almost entirely of archery instructors.
the rangers and the militia share archery ranges; with the guards, they maintain a set of barracks, a kitchen, an armory, and the like. Timberporter families inevitably volunteer their children for militia training, which is almost exclusively bowmanship; adults keep their hand in to avoid embarassing themselves in the contests during Sehanine’s equinox festival.
the guards practice group apprenticeship; that is, the guards are collectively responsible for training the apprentices, and the apprentices individually answer to any of the guards. (An effective military force, Timberport has (re)discovered, entails a formal heirarchy; by not creating individual master/apprentice bonds, the guards hope to instill the habit of obedience more generally. Of course, this training is not entirely in concord with the principles of anarchy, so an Avandran priestess oversees basic training; she ensures that the habits of obedience are tempered with equally strong habits of barracks lawyering.)
Consequently, the players should not be limited in their choice of class, although the style and flavor will be informed by the circumstance outlined above. For example, a wizard from Timberport could not have studied spellbooks; he would be more of an inventor than a scholar, advancing the practicum of natural philosophy, not its axiomatic groundings. A Timberport warlock would be more likely than most to have agreed to the pact without really knowing what she was getting into; and some may believe their powers come from their gods, not their true source, whatever it may be. (Fighers and warlords, of course, are in the guards; rangers with, well, the rangers; clerics, avengers, paladins, and invokers with their religion; and bards, sorcerors, and rogues tend not to have formal training anyway. The primally-powered classes would naturally gravitate towards the rangers, although the more exotic powers (druidic shape-shifting, shamanic spirit summoning) would generally be an open secret among the rangers, and unknown to the townsfolk.)
To follow up on that thought: this setting should not have the typical high-fantasy feel; it’s post-apocalyptic. There is very little obvious magic (at least, what the reader would recognize as such): a battle cleric’s Righteous Brand leaves a guiding mark because he just hits you that hard. Members of the wizard class are not subtle and fearsome; a wizard is a crank, a tinkerer, and conducts his research on the tops of of towers so that less roof falls on him; all natural philosophers are crazy. In Timberport, wizards are alchemists, not ritualists. A cleric’s Healing Word is indistinguishable from an Inspiring Word from the captain of the guards – both are about giving people their (metaphorical) “second wind.” Very few people see obviously (or inescapably) arcane effects – eldritch blasts and magic missiles (rarely) show up on battlefields, but never in town, not even in conversation. Given the rumours of what happened to the Imperials, people don’t want to… tempt fate; Timberporters don’t talk about magic in front of the children. They also tend less to distinguish between power sources, and more between mental and physical training. (Even in Timberport, spells proper aren’t mysterious or inexplicable, just arcane – you do this, and that happens, and anybody can become a wizard. To prove that your powers are safe – that is, they are spells or prayers, and part of the (super)natural order – you have to teach one of them to someone else before “graduating.”)