Moving sucks – no surprise there, I know. However, this is a very different move than any I’ve embarked upon before, and the end result is that it’s taken more of my time and attention lately than I’d anticipated. For those of you following this blog, I want to say both thank you for reading and I’m sorry updates have been so few and far between lately.
I’d also love it if I could promise things were going to turn around, but I doubt I could deliver on that. I’ll talk in more detail about the forthcoming move, but the short version is that things are going to be a little sporadic for a couple more weeks.
Now then, on to the World Workshop! Today we’ll be discussing City C – better known to its Eladrin rulers as Surilphu and more commonly referred to as the City of the Celestial Blossom.
When I first conceived of this setting, I decided right away that I wanted the region to be defined by two powerful rivals – rivals that grew to become Kungarde and Magwer. While I wanted there to be a war between the two cities to be a matter of recent history, I didn’t want a “great war” that plunged the entire world into conflict. Which is why I decided the war would be fought on the large island between the two cities. My love of political complexity led me to want a city caught in the thick of the battle, neutral with respect to both sides, and surviving only through its own cunning.
Enter Surilphu – a city that is no match for either Magwer or Kungarde on the fields of either war or commerce, yet which somehow manages to outmaneuver both of them time after time.
Surilphu (which is, incidentally, the name of the entire island as well as the city) was founded as a colony of Ravantamar the Adamantine Forest – a kingdom of the northern elves from across the Sea of Sadaelamar. Ravantamar was an elven nation that rose out of the dark age that followed the fall of Arkhosia and Bael Turath, much like the far-off (and now-fallen) human kingdom of Nerath. At its height, Ravantamar was a loose confederation of elven cities, bound together by a dynasty of Alexander-like conquering kings.
Of course, Ravantamar’s height only lasted for 80 years or so, which is why they don’t get much space in the history books. They made a big mistake and picked a fight with those religious nuts over in Magwer. Maybe I’ll tell that story some other time. The punchline, however, is that the war ended with Magwer victorious, Ravantamar collapsing inward and fading from history, and Surilphu ruled not by elves but by their cousins, the eladrin.
Surilphu is, among other things, a city of abject wonder and delight. Its population is almost exclusively eladrin – not because other races are unwelcome, but because they find the Celestial Blossom to be in many ways overwhelming. The city exists in the natural world and the Feywild at once, and as one travels through the city various arches, doorways, and other areas act as natural portals from one plane to the other. Spires of gleaming crystal rise from the earth in the Feywild, mirrored by buildings of marble in the natural world. As once walks down a street, gradually crossing from one plane to the next, the sights overlap and seem to devour one another. The eladrin seem unaffected, but the other races often find the view both beautiful and disturbing. In some places the two planes bleed together.
Furthermore, the politics are a minefield – Surilphu rose out of cunning and intrigue, and scheming machinations are what keep it strong. Surilphu sits between the two great power of the region, and when those powers make war the Celestial Blossom is always at risk of being crushed between them. To that end, the king of Surilphu plays each power against the other, ensuring Magwer thinks Kungarde is strong and vice-versa. It is in his best interests that both court for his favor and that neither ever receive it. The internal politics are no less complex – the eladrin know that scheming and cunning keep them safe, thus a never-ending series of intrigues and schemes serves as a form of Darwinian guarantee that the man (or woman) upon the throne is the craftiest and most deadly opponent in the game.
If M.C. Escher and Niccolò Machiavelli had a baby, it would grow up to be Surilphu’s city planner.
Ultimately, Surilphu exists to satisfy my urge to have a place that is just different and amazingly cool. I might only set one scene of a single adventure there in an entire campaign, but it’s a scene my players will talk about for a long time to come.
Ultimately I like to imagine a dinner party that is incredibly deadly – not because of magic or weapons, not even because of the possibility of poison (though everyone does have their own food taster) but because one slip, one wrong word and ruin will follow. High-stakes courtly intrigue is the sort of game I’ve always wanted to run but never really been able to pull off. Among other things, you need to have an entire group that’s really into the idea of the “bloodless battle” idea – and you need to be a really smart Dungeon Master, and much as I love it I may not be up to the challenge.
Alright, so that’s Surilphu. I realize I didn’t give much detail, just sort of touched on the neat things that make it iconic in my imagination, but that’s all I have for the moment. My players won’t be going there until the paragon tier, at least, so I don’t think I need to get into any more detail about it just yet.
Cartography fans will be disappointed by the lack of mapping tutorials or new maps today. My optical mouse is one of the things I’ve boxed up, and while some people might be able to do precision Photoshop work with a laptop touchpad, I’m not one of them. No new maps until I get to Ontario, I’m sorry to say.