The Old Ones
Vast is Vornheim, The Grey Maze, Holy City of the Denizolic Empire, its towered alleys sprawling through the winds of the polar plain like a long-spined insect frozen in time…
The largest city on the continent is home to thousands of guilds, trade organizations, and scheming aristocratic families who all squabble for influence amid a texture of ever-changing politics and absurd contradictory legalities. Wandering ophidobibliologists travel the world to bring new and arcane texts to the five towered Great Library, resting in the shadow of the Palace Massive.
The typical Vornheim vista is equal parts snow and stone. The streets are narrow, and the basic unit of building is the stone tower.
Vornheim is protected by two walls: one circling Inner Vornheim, and another girdling the outskirts of the city. Remains of ancient walls are scattered throughout the city.
Practically speaking, magic is uncommon, and even the simplest cantrip will provoke awe in onlookers. Magic is never used as a “technology”. However, curious adventurers who plunge into the city will find that there is in fact a great deal of the supernatural below the surface.
There are thousands of guilds and organizations in Vornheim, but few are organized or powerful enough to wield influence throughout the entire city. It is safe to assume there are at least 2-8 trade (price-fixing) guilds for every profession. Associations and small conspiracies metastasize and meld throughout Vornheim like shadows in torchlight, making it difficult, in the interlinked enormity, to clearly divide one from the next.
A number of bridges have been built to facilitate movement between the city’s towers. Many are fully or partially covered to protect travelers from the wind. Many also contain stone pipes allowing them to function as aqueducts – melting snow is caught in the collars around the towers’ pointed domes and channelled to provide water to the lower echelons of the city.
Though the armament laws are unevenly enforced from neighborhood to neighborhood, openly carrying most weapons is illegal for anyone other than city guards, militiamen, etc. Nobles may carry daggers and rapiers. There are a number of sumptuary laws preventing citizens of low station from wearing ostentatious fashions such as pointed shoes and flamboyant hats.
The upper classes of Vornheim are fond of cultivating great gardens in black, blue, magenta and aqua, thick with exotic (and sometimes dangerous) species crossbred to resist the cold. Such gardeners are often fickle – and will abandon unpromising projects, allowing them to grow wild and strange, down alleyways and between towers like narrow jungles while the gardeners move on to grow new plants in new neighborhoods.
Another common aristocratic diversion is the care and breeding of slow pets. Originally conceived as a way for the owner to display his or her indolence (and therefore status), a slow pet can be any small animal that takes an inordinately long time to move and therefore presents the owner who walks it as one possessing an enviable surfeit of disposable time. Among the most popular are: black lobsters, blue lobsters, and alchemically-enhanced turtles with bizarre, shaped shells. Particularly prized are the many varieties of mutant snail – such as the luridly-colored jewelspiral varieties, and the so-called “flailing snail” – a spike-crowned beast.
Located in the upper reaches of towers to protect grain from rats, the city’s granaries are typically surrounded by prides of the snow-white breed granary cat of characteristic of Vornheim. Small, unassuming, vicious and surprisingly intelligent, they’re immune to poison and disease and can climb almost vertically down ice-laced stone.
Some say the system of overlapping and alternating legal processes in Vornheim is cunningly designed so that habitual criminals won’t be able to learn to “game the system”, some say they compose a thicket of unpruned barbaric traditions that’ve outlived their usefulness and some say the judges of Vornheim are simply insane.
At any rate, the law itself varies only slightly within Vornheim (rules regarding public drunkenness, openly carrying arms, and sumptuary laws preventing commoners from wearing clothes above their station being the laws most subject to change) but the trial processes for prosecuting breaches of law differ wildly from neighborhood to neighborhood and even from day to day (local churches, for instance, have legal jurisdiction during feast days). From the point of view of any but legal professionals, the jurisdiction at any given moment is essentially random.
Adventurers compete to bring back ever more exotic and dangerous creatures to display in Vornheim’s immortal zoo for the amusement of the idle rich and the dire experiments of the Empire’s loyal thaumaturges. In the Great Cathedral vaults of Vorn lay the countless comatose and emaciated bodies of the Sleeping Priests of the Somnolent Order – the key to maintaining Imperial authority over vast tractless distances.