A Dark, Baroque, Post-Modern Love Letter to Dungeons & Dragons
BLACKSPIRE is a D&D campaign setting in which the evil races of the world have taken control of the planet’s surface. A shaky alliance was forged between a number of insidious races to usurp control of the surface from the humans, demi-humans, and other good creatures that dwelt there. Using the power of the ancient intelligent artifact, The Obelisk, an aura of magical darkness was erected over the planet’s surface, blotting out the sun’s light and making the world hospitable to both subterranean creatures and the undead. Initially, the surface dwellers fought valiantly against the threat of the Dark Alliance for many years, but over time were ultimately laid low by betrayal from their own kind. These traitors to their race sold their allegiance to these conquering armies whom they felt would inevitably triumph. In the aftermath of these great wars, the subjugated peoples found themselves at best second-class citizens, and at worst short-lived slaves or even bred as food for their new masters.
Once the domination of the surface was complete, the different evil races inevitably turned upon each other. To preserve the relative peace that was quickly dissolving, The Obelisk commanded that the great city of Blackspire be built around it (named for its new vanguard and the multitude of dark towers that dominate its skyline). The city was to serve as a diplomatic neutral ground for all groups concerned. What has developed is a city rife with political intrigue, backstabbing, insurrection and mystery, where representatives, ambassadors, and politicians of various races and religions meet to further their own goals and those of their society.
Even though adventures can be set anywhere in this conquered world, the campaign setting focuses on the wicked city of Blackspire and its political environment some five centuries after the founding of the city of Blackspire. Characters will strive against (and sometimes work for) powerful villains such as Illithid senators, Drow priestesses, Beholder aristocrats, Aboleth slavers, undead lords, powerful Chromatic Dragons…or perhaps much worse than even these. Often the most hated enemies of the conquered than these forces are those humans and demi-humans who have sold their souls to serve these lords of Blackspire.
The heroes of this world are various and oftentimes unlikely. Some are freedom fighters, servants of powerful Blacksprians, and members of secret societies attempting to bring about the fall of their dark masters from within the political arena of Blackspire. A number are denizens of the last few realms still free of evil’s control such as knights, assassins, and spies. Others still are part of broken religions that seek the sun’s return, the half-breed children of the Dragon Wars’ survivors, and even the odd Blackspire diplomat who seeks the fall of their sinister brethren. For heroes who would strive for the World that Once Was the odds may seem insurmountable, but as long as there are still such heroes, all hope is not lost.
NOTE: Ambitious game masters may even allow their PCs to chose characters from among the various races of Blackspire high society, and attempt to climb the various social ladders of the wicked city… rather than strive against it. My current Blackspire campaign was based in this premise, but now has a bit of the original flavor mixed back in for good measure.
Although the possession of (unregistered) magic items and the use of spells are forbidden to all save the “master races” and those of the “Plebeian” class within Blackspire, it is not unheard of for the city’s enemies to wield magic against them. Priests who brandish the power of “blasphemous gods” oftentimes find themselves martyred – executed for heresy against the dark gods of Blackspire. Heroes obtain magic from various sources, be it stolen, passed down, or furnished by Blackspirian benefactors or black marketers. Only in the last few free kingdoms is magic openly practiced by any and all who possess the skill.
Despite the fact that the BLACKSPIRE campaign setting is a violent and often deadly world, characters will quickly find that the most direct resolutions to conflict are not necessarily the most effective. Long-term success often depends on diplomacy, subterfuge, and manipulating the Lords of Blackspire against one another. Only once the Dark Alliance is sundered do the dominated races have a hope of overthrowing their masters. Only once The Obelisk’s magic is undone will there be hope of seeing the sunlit world again.
TIME AND CALENDAR
Unlike most fantasy settings, those in the Blackspire world have no (visible) celestial bodies to mark the passage of time with (nor do most people nowadays even know to miss them), and as such are reliant on various timepieces to mark the passage of the hours and days (such as the Clocktower in Aegar’s Square, which has kept impeccable time for centuries, and whose chimes can be heard throughout the city).
There are 20 hours in a day, marked by a progression of chimes. The Bells mark the first half of the day (traditionally a sharp note) and the Tolls mare the latter half of the day (traditionally a flat note). The last chime of the day Last Bell is often a short medley of some type, and the last hour of the day (traditionally referred to as the Dead of Night) has no chime.
|1st Bell||2nd Bell||3rd Bell||4th Bell||5th Bell||6th Bell||7th Bell||8th Bell||9th Bell||10th Bell||9th Toll||8th Toll||7th Toll||6th Toll||5th Toll||4th Toll||3rd Toll||2nd Toll||Last Bell||Dead of Night|
Blackspire is a city that never sleeps, but certain divisions of the days are broken up into shifts (1-5 Bells, 5-10 Bells, 9-5 Tolls, 4th Toll – DoN) and most citizens (who are not slaves) tend to work at least two of these. Craftsmen and skilled Laborers tend to work either the Bells or the Tolls. Merchants tend to keep to a 5th Bell through 5th Toll schedule (called the Highs) while menial labor is usually scheduled during opposite shift, the Lows. In this sense, one could consider 5th Bell to be like “Dawn”, 10th Bell “Noon”, 5th Toll “Dusk” and the Dead of Night “Midnight”, though much of that terminology has been lost (or perverted) in the modern Common tongue.
There are ten days in each week, and three weeks in each month meaning each month has an even thirty days. There are ten months in each year meaning a year is 300 days long. Each month of the year (and its corresponding day of the month) is attributed to some aspect of the Dark Alliance, and as such most holidays and festivals fall in appropriate months.
Tenebras – this month commemorates the Dark Alliance and its dominion of the world. By scholarly reckoning, the current year is 550, marked by the founding of the city of Blackspire.
1. Grand Council – the only annual meeting where every member of the Blackspirian Senate is expected to be present.
2. The Beggar Games – a vast gladiatorial spectacle held annually at the Red Sands Coliseum (and free to the public).
5 & 10 (each month). Considered holy days to Tiamat, most dragon-owned businesses (like the Bank) are closed on these days.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Poetry and Literature
14-16 (each month). The Lunacy: an odd time for lycanthropes
30. The Gargoyle Games – a competition of the city’s various gargoyle tribes and clans
Obeleska– this month commemorates the The Spire, the god-like Obelisk whose followers The Cult of the Spire are integral (in one way or another) to most of the organizations throughout the city.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Dance
12. Festival of the Spire: a celebration unknown to those outside the Cult, it is the one day of the year where every member of that religion is not in the city proper.
Yvs– this month commemorates the Illithids (the term “mind-flayer” is considered a racial slur) and specifically their spiritual leader Yvirkilthe, founder of the Church of the All-Mind.
3. Psi-Day: Holy Day of peace and reflection for followers of the Church of the All-Mind.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Music
15. Druids know this day as the Vernal Equinox
17. Nifelheim: an annual performance at the grand Opera Hall by a troupe of Dwarves where they lament the fall of their great empire and read aloud from their (constantly updating) Book of Grudges. Most of the Blackspirian aristocracy consider the show a “hoot”.
Tyrannis– this month commemorates the Beholders, specifically the two great Hives that joined the Dark Alliance: the Grythant and the Occulari. In Undercommon the name they use for their own race translates to “Eye-Tyrant” but they don’t seem to mind being referred to as “Beholders”… the name their enemies (now their conquered foes) gave them.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Geography
24. Tyrant’s Night: High Holy day for worshipers of the Great Mother.
Tiamatis– this month commemorates the Dragons, specifically the four Flights (Red, Blue, Green, and Black) who are worshipers of Tiamat, the five-headed Queen of Dragons. In the Blackspire world Tiamat is usually depicted with her four “loyal” heads attacking her fifth white head. The White Dragon Flight did not chose to join the Dark Allliance at its foundation.
1. Last Man Standing – a semi-annual gladiatorial competition held in the Grumchucker’s Square Arena. The winner may challenge the current champion of the Arena.
5. Dragonhunt – a holy day to dragons where they go forth to collect tribute for Tiamat and her most chosen servants.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Drama
15. Dragonfeast – a holy day to dragons where they come together to feast on their collective bounty.
25. Dragonwar – the holiest of the dragon holidays, it commemorates their great victories in war. To celebrate various offending creatures (often captured white dragons) are released into the city for the dragons of the city to hunt.
30. Druids (and some “heretics”) know this day as the Summer Solstice.
Primordius – this month commemorates the mysterious aquatic Aboleths, very few who make a life for themselves in the city proper. Those that do tend to be involved in the very lucrative slave trade of the city. The Aboleths have their own bizarre religion that is not practiced above ground.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: The Arts (painting, sculpture, etc.)
26. The Call – an eerie gathering of followers of the Cult Primordiae.
Necrodius – this month commemorates The Legion, a collective of undead groups (such as the Vampire Princes and the College of Necromancy) unified under the infamous Liche King and supported by his vizier the dracolich Ghalkanis.
7. Sevenday – a day to commemorate the Seven Dooms visited upon the world by the Liche King.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Natural Sciences
17. Doom – (un)holiest day to the Legion, commemorates a world with Death Triumphant. The infamous Prince’s Ball (free to any who can get there) is held each year on this day in the Black Palace within the Necropolis.
27. Long Night – a much more unpopular Legion holiday, this is a vigil to watch for the coming of the prophesied Dark Harvester.
Lolthis– this month commemorates the spider goddess Lolth and the various dark elf Houses that sever her, known in this world as Lolthians (and known on other worlds as the Drow). Here, the Elven word “drow” shares the same root as “ditch” and “drain” and so calling a Lolthian the “d-word” is implying the Underdark is a sewer and they are “sewer-people”. Thus the word is now considered a very offensive racial slur, even by non-Lolthians (who may also trace their lineage to the Underdark). Lolthis is considered a (un)holy month to the Lolthians, and is considered a formal truce among all dark elves for the thirty day span. Very devout Lolthians will even envelop themselves daily with Fairy Fire in observation of the month of Lolthis.
8. Festival of Lolth – Lolth’s high holy day and her Cathedral is always standing room only as the Matron Mother, high-priestess Bahkeziel channels their goddess.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Mathematics
15. Druids (and other heretics) know this day as the Autumnal Equinox. This is also the traditional date of the Kumi-Tae martial arts competition in Jade Town.
Dox– this month commemorates the now little remembered chosen champion of the Spire, Dox Paroth who has long disappeared.
11. Gorgonate Symposium: Philosophy
19. The Auto-da-Fé: a day of public torture and execution of enemies of Blackspire. The Cult of the Spire, the Incolúmnita (the Illithid Inquisition) and the NOSFERAT (the vampire Secret Police) all host events on this day.
25. Dragonknocker’s Night – a dragon festival to commemorate their victory against the Cult of Set.
Harvest– this month is also the month where the servants of the Black Dragons go forth and collect all the taxes due to the city (by any means at their disposal). Taxes must be extracted by the end of the month, and so this is often a very turbulent time, especially in the poorer sections of town.
1. Last Man Standing – a semi-annual gladiatorial competition held in the Grumchucker’s Square Arena. The winner may challenge the current champion of the Arena.
11 – 13. Gorgonate Grand Symposium: Competition where the Muses of each artistic discipline are chosen.
21-23. The Harvest Games: A yearly grand gladiatorial spectacle held at the Red Sands Coliseum.
30. Harvest-Night: The final day the city can collect taxes for the year. Druids (and still other heretics) know this day as the Winter Solstice. This is also the (un)holiest day of the year for the secret followers of Nrith the Dark Sun.
The ten days of the week are also named for the ten corresponding months of the year. However, the terms “day”, “noon”, and “night” refer here to which of the three weeks in the month the day actually falls on. So for example, the first day of the first week of the month would be called “Darkday”, while the first day of the second week of the month would be “Darknoon”, and finally in the last week of the month it would be “Darknight”. These days also have a collective name, so for instance if you had a weekly delivery on the fifth day each week, you might say “I’ll see you on the Taks”.
- Dark – collectively called “The Darks”
- Spire – collectively called “The Spires”
- Psi – collectively called “The Psis”
- Eye – collectively called “The Eyes”
- Takis – collectively called “The Taks”
- Aquiths – collectively called “The Aqs (Acks)”
- Legion – collectively called “The Skulls” – “Legionnoon” is instead referred to as “Doom”
- Lolths – collectively called “The Webs”
- Paroths – collectively called “The Roths”
- Scythe – collectively called “The Sickles”
There are many languages spoken in the Blackspire world for players to choose from, with many more being lost to time, or are so rare or forbidden (such as Black Speech) as to not be worth listing below, for they would need to be discovered and learned in game.
|Aklo||Common||See Dwarven – Nearly identical in spoken word to Dwarven, however Duegar, Derro, Morlocks and Svirfneblin use a pictogramic form of writing this language (based on primitive Morlock “braile”)|
|Aquan||Common||Spoken by Aboleths, Kuo-toans, Locanaloths, Sahaugin, Merfolk and other aquatic creatures.|
|Arcusian||Rare||A lost language of an ancient empire, it exists only in a written hieroglyphic language.|
|Arradian||Rare||A lost human tongue. Writing or conversing in this language is an arrestable offense.|
|Auran||Common||Spoken by a vast array of intelligent flying creatures.|
|Common||Common||Formerly Undercommon, though it has many “dialects” this is the principle tongue of Illithids, Beholders, Medusae, and now the City of Blackspire.|
|Draconic||Common||Spoken by Dragons, Dragonborn, Talos (Lizardmen), Kobolds and enslaved Minotaurs.|
|Druidic||Rare||secret language of the Druids, requires Druid 1.|
|Dwarven||Uncommon||See Aklo – technically spoken by more than just Dwarves, the Dwarves insist on using their own runic alphabet when writing this language.|
|Elven||Uncommon||mostly “lost language” outside Elven homes and rarely spoken in the presence of non-elves.|
|Gelder||Rare||A lost human tongue, uses the Giant alphabet.|
|Giant||Common||Spoken by Giants, Ogres, Minotaurs, and Trolls. Note: Trolls use the Goblinoid alphabet when writing this language.|
|Goblinoid||Common||Spoken by Goblins, Hobgoblins, Orcs, Bugbears, Gnolls and other humanoids, its crude alphabet is limited to only 13 letters (only one of which is a vowel) .|
|Jian-Tzu||Uncommon||Language of the Shadow Dragon Empire, considered Common in the Jade Town neighborhood of Pickett’s Ward, Blackspire.|
|Legalese||Common||The language of Business and Government, terminology, “Programming” and contracts. Grants +2 synergy on Linguistics when combined with Scientificae (where appropriate).|
|Lolthian||Common||Spoken by Drow, Driders, Aranea, Ettercaps, Elven slaves, etc. shares many roots with Elven.|
|Lolthian Sign Language||Uncommon||Nonverbal language of hand gestures, requires Lolthian, considered Rare to non-Drow.|
|Nekrossian||Common||Language of the Necromancer aristocracy, primarily spoken by humans.|
|Ninja Sign Language||Rare||Nonverbal language of hand gestures, requires Jian-Tzu, Ninja 1.|
|Old Common||Rare||Formerly Common or “Oathspeak”, this shared language was used among Human, Elves, Dwarves and others. Writing or conversing in this language is an arrest-able offense.|
|Reptilian||Rare||Ancient tongue spoken by Naga, Yuan-ti, primitive Troglodytes, and Setite cultists. Shares linguistic roots with Draconic but uses a hieroglyphic depiction similar to Arcusian.|
|Scientificae||Common||The language of Science, terminology, labels, symbols, numbers and mathematics. Grants +2 synergy on Linguistics when combined with Legalese (where appropriate).|
|Solonian||Rare||A lost human tongue. Writing or conversing in this language is an arrest-able offense.|
|Sylvan||Rare||Sometimes called “Hin”, the written language of Halflings, Gnomes and feyfolk is lost to history, but survives in oral tradition.|
|Terran||Common||Spoken by Gargoyles and other earth-based creatures.|
|The Secret Math||Rare||For lack of a better description, it’s “The Language of the Structure of the Universe”. Requires Scientificae + Construct &/or Int 20.|
|Thieves’ Cant||Uncommon||Language of the criminal underworld, “dialects” vary by group, requires Rogue 1 or Black Market Connections feat.|
|Vordic||Rare||A lost language, combines elements of Gelder, Goblinoid and Draconic, uses characters from all three alphabets.|
Hey, why isn’t Ignan, the language of fire-based creatures on this list? Good question… for while it certainly exists, it is about as well known in the Blackspire world as the idea of extra-dimensional planes is commonly known (that is, almost not at all). You may also notice Celestial, Infernal, and Abyssal (to say nothing of the Black Speech) missing from this list, and for much the same reason.
Aside from the dragons, who still mostly insist on doing business in actual gold currency (though only with each other) the rest of Blackspire society instead uses the commonly minted currency of the city. Gold is of course still inherently valuable, but is not a particularly common form of legal tender.
The standard unit of currency is the Lisk, also known as a “Disc”, or more commonly a “Crown”. This steel coin is the equivalent to 1 gold piece (GP) in a standard adventuring world. This is the baseline currency for the upper classes. Think of it as a $100 bill.
The Illith, or more commonly known as the “Octo”, this (slightly lower quality) steel coin is the equivalent to 1 silver piece (SP). 10 illiths = 1 lisk. This is the baseline currency for the middle classes. Think of it as a $10 bill.
The copper Arach, more commonly known as a “Bug”, is the equivalent to 1 copper piece (CP). 100 arachs = 1 lisk. This is the baseline currency for the lower classes. Sometimes they are even cut up further into “half-pennies”. Think of it as a $1 bill.
The Gznalthla, more commonly know as an “Izor” (eyesore) is made of a magnetized iron so the coins can easily by stacked together (and as such is also prone to tarnishing). 1 gznalthla = 10 lisks, the equivalent of a platinum piece (PP). The Beholders prefer to deal in units of this coin, and most other races prefer to eschew them. Each one would be the equivalent of $1000.
The Dracnah, or “Dragon Coin” is minted from actual silver, and is the only unit of Blackspirian currency actually comprised of a precious metal. This is the baseline currency for the most elite of the upper classes.1 dracnah = 100 lisks (or $10,000), but additionally each dragon born in Blackspire is minted their own personal dracnah out of pure gold (so those coins are rarely in circulation, but would be worth 1000 lisks (or $100,000 to us). Purportedly there are also 100 platinum dragon coins in existence, each one representing a vote on the Concillium Magus (the Blackspirian Senate) and while priceless due to the political power they represent, they’d at least be worth the equivalent of a cool million bucks just monetarily speaking…
Note: gold coins minted in the Old World are not commonly in circulation, but each ancient GP would carry the same value as a silver dragon coin (100 lisks).
Income Taxes – each business in the city of Blackspire is expected to surrender a minimum 10% of all income to the tax collectors (and the final percentage is always up to the collectors). 10% is a common unit of “taking a cut” and is often referred throughout the city to as “Paying the Pinkie” (alluding to having to chop off one of your fingers). Having to pay 20% is “Paying the Ring”, 30% is “Paying the Fucker”, 40% is “Paying the Pointer”, and the dreaded 50% cut is “Paying the Fist”.
Life Tax – each citizen, regardless of class, is expected to pay their own yearly Life Tax (a rate based on the current “Value of a Life” market-value, set daily at in the Slave District). Of late the number has been hovering around 10 crowns, which means each person (regardless of age) owns that much to the city each year. For the rich it is a pittance, but for the poor its an exorbitant fee. Maybe who cannot pay for themselves (or family members) often find themselves enslaved, or some other even more unsavory fate to settle the debt to the Spire.
Slave Tax – slaves are not expected to pay taxes, but their owners are. A slave’s owner must pay 10% of the slave’s purchase price in taxes each year. After 10 years taxes for that particular slave no longer need to be paid.
Ownership – In Blackspire, ownership is closer to 99/100ths of the law. This is a world where might makes right, and you’re only as mighty as your personal power, your alliances, and associations (who have your back). “Justice” so-called usually favors to the more powerful of as dispute. If you own something, you better be able to protect it. While, many Beholders patrol the streets of the city, their interest is far more focused on keeping public order than they are in preventing (or solving) crimes. For instance, if you are able to occupy a property for 30 days, that property becomes yours in the eyes of the city (as are its tax liabilities). This is the sort of situation that regularly falls to the purview of whatever tax collector has been assigned to that property.
Blood Money – people kill each other all the time in the wicked city of Blackspire, but a good way to prevent receiving vengeance from the victim’s family or associates is to pay them a gift of blood money. Challenge Rating x Highest Faction level x 10 GP is a good baseline calculation for an appropriate monetary offering, but it is up to the offended party whether or not this gesture (or amount) is satisfactory compensation.