View Full Version : [City] The canyon city of Zarnosa

2005-07-16, 06:32 PM
Intro (like you couldn't guess)
A traveller entering Zarnosa likely rides on an eagle or other aviary mount from an outpost on the edge of the desert through many miles of canyon. The walls of the canyon are craggy and the orange-brown color of sandstone. To either side of the canyon, thereis a massive desert. In the bottom of the canyon is a winding river, surrounded by marshy landscape. A thick fog obscures the marsh from anyone flying to Zarnosa. Above the canyon, great rocs fly overhead occasionally, hoping for a caravan braving the surface, or an eagle rider not skillful enough to fly within the walls of the canyon. The first sign of the city is the watchman outposts, caves in the side of the canyon walls with platforms extending over the edge, and massive horns on each. Gusts of wind blow through the canyon with extreme force, and these watchmen blow the horns if one approaches the city. When the city approaches, the eagle fly towards an island formed from a diverge and then a converge of the canyon. The island has three hangars, or simply deep cuts in the side of the island, one at a low level, one at a high level, and one in the middle. The high one is reserved for people of a high status, the middle for messages and government personnel, and the lowest for everyone else. From there, visitors can access the rest of the city, which is built in and around, as well as on top of, the canyon walls and island, through a network of gliders, retractable bridges, and elevators. Most elevators are simply large dumbwaiters, but there exist fancy ones which operate by levitation and feather fall spells.

size:Large City
demographics: isolated 70% lizardtouched (I'll explain later)
23% human
3% half-lizardfolk or the like
1% gnome
1% dwarf
1% elf
1% other races
max exchange value: 0gp (once again, I will explain this later)
Zarnosa is a majestic and breathtaking city. It is both built with tunnels, on platforms and supports projecting from the wall, and on the surface. The supports of the buildings built on the walls of the canyon are made of wood and metal, as well as tenser's floating disks. Inside the walls, arches, domes and pillars are the major architectural style. Outside, vertical cylinders and triangles are very common. Altogether, the city is 3 miles tall, from the surface down to the marshy regions where lizardfolk tribes live. The lizardfolk fight wars against the city every once in a while, and other times are at peace, allowing them to mingle with the populace and over time breed some of their traits into the citizens. When lizardfolk, led by their king ashartak, raid the city, they divide 150 lizard warriors into 15 groups, scatter throughout the marshes below the city, then scale the walls of the canyon and enter the city. They tend to only take prisoners and an occasional piece of jewlery. Most of the populace lives withing the middle mile, far enough up to be clear of the lizardfolk, and low enough to be out of the heat of the sun. Also, the city is only a half-mile long, just longer than the size of the island.
At the far side of the island is a slender, towering pillar, with its base in the marshes and its top at sand level. Its surface is covered in runes and writing that looks like cuniform. The pillar has stood there for as long as people can remember, and many myths exist about it. The one certain thing about it is that it defends the city from the rocs. Anything flying object above sand level within a 2-mile radius of the top of the pillar is fired upon as if by a a disintegrate spell (but with a massive range), dealing 20d6 points of damage. The pillar can fire twice per round. It functions as a trap with a proximity trigger and an automatic reset.
Further beyond the pillar, down in the marshy region, lies an expansive airship graveyard for as far as the eye can see. The masts and hulls of them sometimes are revealed on a day when the fog is especially low. As with the pillar, many myths and stories surround its origin, and the most likely guess is that they were shot down by the pillar. Nobody knows much about the history of pillar, graveyard, or city, and yet it is almost certain that a plethora of secrets could be revealed if only a bold adventurer would accept the task of climbing down into the marshes and searching the ships.
There exist two other races in Zarnosa - half-lizards and lizardtouched. These are the product of interbreeding with the lizardfolk of the marshes. Lizardtouched are similar to humans in all ways, except they lose the extra feats and their favored classes are Druid and Barbarian. They gain a +1 bonus to str and con, and a -1 to intelligence. THey can hold their breath for 2x their constitution modifier rounds. They have a +2 racial bonus on swim, climb, and balance checks, and a +1 natural armor bonus. They consider themselves human, but are seen by foriegners to have a yellower tint if they have green eyes and a redder tint if they have brown eyes. Their noses are flatter and wider, like that of a lizard. Thicker nails and slightly tougher skin are also racial traits. On the other hand, half-lizards gain a +3 modifier on those checks, a +3 natural armor bonus, can hold breath for 3x constitution modifier. They have +1 to str, +2 to con, and -2 to int. They also possess the multiattack feat as well as a lizardfolk's natural attacks, yet lack the bonus skill points of the lizardtouched and humans. They have a climb speed of 20 ft, but a walk speed of 30. The lizardfolk that live in the marshes are climbers, and thus have a climb speed of 30 ft. They can choose to take 10 on a climb check, even if rushed or distracted, as well as substituting the +4 racial bonus on jump in the MM for a like one on climb.
Whenever there is a wind blast coming, heralded by the watchmen, people retract the bridges, close doors to the outside, run into their homes or some building, and cease the gliders. The winds blow 2d4 times a day, with a 10 minute warning before hand, always blowing from the outskirts of the desert to the city, then into the aircraft graveyard. They last for just d6 minutes, but in that time are devastating (hurricaine force wind). Any loose article is blown away, and bridges not retracted are destroyed after d8 minutes of exposure (thus some can survive). Vision is limited to 10 feet, and voice 5. Characters medium or smaller that are caught outside must have some sort of cover, holding on in some way, or be lying prone, in which case they benefit from +5 to the wind effect fortitude saving throw DC20 (cumulative). Eagles going toward the city caught in the gale who fail their fortitude throws are thrown forward, rather than back (because the wind blows from the eagle's back) and are thrown d6x5 feet in any direction to the side. Regardless of whether or not they fail, they are reduced to clumsy maneuverability.
There is no real art trend in the city except for the architecture, for nearly all of the buildings are designed by the town engineer. At the bottom of this article are several examples of buildings common to the town.
Instead of using coinage, generally citizens trade favors for goods. If person A gives person B a loaf of bread, not only does it tie the two families closer together, person B is expected to help out person A at a later date. Visitors that do not know of this custom may search for hours trying to find a vendor of food, while they likely could get room and board by just asking (however they may be asked to complete a quest in exchange for long accomidations). For more expensive and rare items, such as the artifacts and fossils that are excavated nearby, folks barter instead for them. Archaeologists and collectors often come to the city to dig on the surface of the sands within the protection of the pyramid, for many rare and exciting discoveries happen there. However, should a party of excavators move unwittingly outside the protection of the pillar, they could find themselves roc food. The only other reasons that people come to the city are geology and lumber. The trees found in the marsh are of a unique quality and begin to make creaking sounds when they are near breaking point. Other than that, it is identical to normal wood. Geologically, any sandstone canyon shows millenia of history. The erosion due to the river forms a cross-section of sedimentary layers.
The city is ruled by a duke, who appoints officials from his family. He and other of his family reside in a palace at the top of the city and on the far side of the center island. Other noble families occasionally usurp the duke, as the position is not a divine one, but it is simply a traditional one. The only position not appointed by the duke is the town engineer, a lofty and respected position. Due to the nature of the city, with the fact that houses hang on to the edge of cliffs and are cut into passageways in the rock, much of the complex architecture and building that goes on in Zarnosa is overseen by the town engineer. When the town engineer gets old, he or she chooses an apprentice, almost always from the pure humans (since lizardfolk have a racial penalty to intelligence), and trains he/she until the engineer hands over the reins to the apprentice. The current town engineer is a level 10 LN expert. He is short, choleric, middle aged, reclusive man who often falls ill, and never really recovers. If an adventurer tries to gain an interview with him, they likely will be disappointed, for he is arrogant, and views his position as above even the Duke. Should they succeed in meeting them, they will do it on his terms. His abode is three hundred feet above the Duke's palace and even onto the surface. However, if you meet him, he will tell you he is a busy man, and will cough a few times into a golden hankerchief he produces from his pocket. His skin hangs about his face and he appers twenty years older than he is. He appears feeble and his wispy hair is unkempt. He answers all questions in a raspy, deliberate sentences. But once you engage him in conversation, especially if it is about city lore, geography, or architecture, his eyes emit an aura of knowledge, and he becomes quite an interesting speaker, belieing his choleric nature with spurts of amicability. However if you make demands to him, or are ungracious, or in any way displease him, he grows purple in the face and simply dismisses you. If you offend him greatly, he will use his influence with the duke to have you accused and punished for crimes.
Crime is rare in the Zarnosa, and what keeps it so is not the captain of the guard, but rather family relations. If a would-be offender goes off to destroy or humiliate some other family, his own family members will attempt to dissuade him on the precepts that that would ruin relations to their family, since all families are intertwined as trading partners, either directly or indirectly. On the occasion that someone does commit a serious crime, is tried officially (before a judge who is appointed by, and of the same family as the duke), and is found guilty, they are often sold to the lizardfolk as slaves or meat. Should that option be unavailable, the convict is pushed off the cliff, or locked outside during a wind gust (which has the same effect).
Religion is a minor issue in Zarnosa, as temples as well as clerics are few here. All members of a single family tend to worship the same diety, and when marriages occur, there rarely is controversy over the children's religion. The majority of the populace worships Shemuna, which is simply an error in translation from the lizarfolks's diety's name (though those who follow Shemuna follow completely different principles than the barbaric lizardfolk).
Currently there is much conflict in Zarnosa: nobles trying to usurp the Duke, lizardfolk raiding the city, the pure-human populace and its feeling of superiority to the lizardtouched and half-lizard, as well as the conflict with nature, and all her elements (gravity, wind, rocs). There are three noble families trying to usurp the Duke right now, The Finnwicks, the Treboradds, and the Lindels. The Finnwick family is the only one that is purely human, and tries to exploit that to increase its prestige (most of the populace believe that they are pure humans, and thus look up to people that exemplify this). They have never been in power throughout all of the city's existence, and many of its members are mages. The leader of the Finnwick family, Oslow Finnwick, is a True Neutral 8th level aristocrat/ 4th level wizard (by virture of the fact that he is attempting the throne of the Duke, he cannot be lawful). He tries to persuade newcomers to his side by depicting the rest of the inhabitants of the city as monstrous, barbaric creatures. The Treborads are the next most human in its ancestry, and are mostly artificiers and scientists. They hope to have the next engineer picked from among their ranks, for that would open up enourmous possibilities for sabotage. The head of that family, Naemog Treborad is an overseeing widow who maintains strict control over marriages and inter-family relations. She is a LG 9th level aristocrat. Even less human are the Lindels, who control most of the transportation in and out of the city, as well as run many of the temples. They are represented by the LE 6th level cleric/5th level aristocrat, Shaore Lindel. They alone know the truth about their diety, that it is simply a misspelling of the lizardfolk god. However, rather than disclosing that information, they would desire instead supersede the Finnwicks in influencing newcomers, as well as spread the rumour that the current ruling family is the most lizardlike and base of all noble families. In fact, this rumour is true, and the Duke Neil Thorbot's mother was a half-lizard, as well as a few other relatives. This is why he has such influence with the lizardfolk ruler of the marshes, Ashartak, the CN 9th level barbarian (Duke Neil himself is a LN aristocrat of 12th level). This works to his advantage, seeing as he can dissuade Ashartak from attacking many times, and most of the populace enjoy not being attacked by the "Demons of the Marsh". The Duke is an imperious fellow, impeccably dressed, and at least 6 feet tall.
As for the raids of the lizardfolk, they are led by the leader himself, and are all skilled climbers and warriors. Every 200 feet of smooth canyon wall, they drive pitons into the wall, or attatch a grappling hook. For the rest of the time, when the canyon wall is rough and there are ledges, the lizardfolk simply use their climb speed, and run up the wall. At an altitude of 1 mile from the bottom of the canyon there is a large ledge where mounted repeating crossbows are used to fire at lizardfolk attacking. Should they pass this one, there is a more heavily armed barrier a half mile above. Past this, much of the city is undefended except by random patrolling guards. The captain of the Guard is Marchio Thorbot, the Duke's nephew. He is a naive, LG 2nd level aristocrat, 4th level fighter.
The conflict with nature is the most demanding. The Town Engineer, a LN 10th level human Expert, is charged with this battle. He is described above, and will often ask adventurers to go bring some wood from the marshes below, or aid in the construction and repair of structures.
Adventure hooks:
1 Since the defensive pillar is simply just a large wand with a lot of charges, the pillar could run out of charges. This would send the PCs possibly into the aircraft graveyard, where many undead live, as well as the ghost of the admiral of the fleet
2 The Duke is found to have been dead for six months, and Ashartak, his mother's cousin, has actually been ruling both the lizardfolk and Zarnosa since then.
3 The Watchmen are found drugged, and fail to alert the city of an incoming wind gust.
4 The Engineer is bribed to sabotage the city
Motivation and Inspiration
Obviously the Grand Canyon was a big inspiration for this idea. The other place where I was inspired was the airship graveyard being similar to a horde of grounded airplanes in I think New Mexico.
The Island was similar to Ile de la Cite in Paris, with the Duke's palace as Notre Dame (but completely different architecture). The pillar I drew inspiration from the Obelisk of light from Command and Conquer. The fact that different families governed the way they did, as well as Zarnosa being situated in a desert, is similar to ancient Mecca, as described by Larry Gonick. However, the main thing that motivated this entry is the fact that I had 2 plane trips +3 days to figure everything out, as well as carry on other things in life (eating, sleeping, packing). Every other day I've been gone at camp, or will be gone at camp. Thats where you get the name. It's completely random. I also haven't had time to review this post and make edits, or like others do, post in succession. So please, criticize.

P.S. For brevity's sake, it might be good that I had no time to work on it.