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Leighton’s next zine, Swann Castle, includes a forest with portals to a bunch of other worlds. One of these worlds is The City of Ten Thousand Daggers (another is the world of Diner Punks, which I’ll be writing next). The assignment for the section was to include an introduction, a table of things you might encounter in the world, and a piece of gameable content. My initial draft is below. All links go to appropriate World Anvil pages. For more information on The Lusty Minotaur, Soulfaring, Mad Ndolya, and many other topics mentioned below, check out my Tales from the Lusty Minotaur zine.
The City of Ten Thousand Daggers
Khezvaros is a thousand-year-old city on the far frontier of the Eternal Empire better known to many as The City of Ten Thousand Daggers. It’s a city filled with danger, mystery, and endless wonders. On its grand streets and shadowy alleyways, you may encounter 10-foot-tall imperial nobles descended from the gods themselves; ancient wizards and witches who have traded a fragment of their humanity for arcane power; and all manner of sellswords, hucksters, and thieves in the employ of the various cults, criminal syndicates, and other factions who constantly struggle and scheme for power and dominance.
The City of Ten Thousand Daggers is a place where fortune favors the bold, whether that means a daring clash of arms, a death-defying heist, or a devil’s bargain with someone who’s bound to double-cross you if you don’t betray them first. Those who can learn to navigate this perilous web of danger and intrigue can seize their chance to amass wealth, command influence, and fulfill their deepest desires. Those who misstep might find themselves in a situation that makes them envy the fortunate souls who enjoyed a quick, clean death.
20 Things You May Encounter in The City of Ten Thousand Daggers
- The party hears the sounds of battle and a series of bestial growls and grunts coming from a nearby alleyway. If they investigate, they see a massive horned demon with black skin and enormous teeth and claws standing amidst the dead and dying house guard of an imperial noble who has been ripped in half. As the party approaches, the demon utters an incantation in its harsh language and disappears in a thick cloud of acrid black smoke. Whether or not a squad of imperial soldiers enters the alley a few seconds later is up to the GM.
- A dazed, unkempt man wanders through the streets talking to himself and taking no notice of his surroundings. He is one of the soul-shattered, with a mind ruined from soulfaring, a recreation in which a wizard called a Ferryman casts a travelers’ soul from their body and into another reality.
- As you walk along a crowded street, you hear a woman up ahead loudly sing a fragment of verse about being locked up in the Tower Street Jail. A voice from a nearby rooftop responds in kind, then another voice somewhere behind adds their own lyric to the emerging song. This continues for quite some time, with the original singer frequently singing a new line that seems to direct subsequent responses. If the party follows the original singer, at some point they will turn a corner to find that she has completely vanished from sight and the song has stopped. If they ask the right people, the PCs may discover that the song is called “The Prisoner’s Lament” and that its formulaic but always unique lyrics are a code used by criminals to help one of their own escape capture by authorities or enemies.
- You hear the pained, animalistic cries of hundreds of voices screaming out in anguish from the direction of The Grand Arena. This is “The Howl,” a lament raised by fans (and sometimes foes) of the Wolf Faction when one of its members dies in the gladiatorial games. When an especially popular athlete meets their end, the cry is often picked up by those outside of the arena and travels across the city behind the news of the hero’s demise.
- An old man sits perched atop a folding ladder carrying on an animated conversation with a statue (who does not visibly respond). Further investigation will be necessary if the party wishes to find out whether he’s a madman or a Varosimancer, one of the wizards who specialize in communicating with and exercising power over the city’s spirits of place.
- The party passes one of the city’s many shops, carts, or stands that deals in coffee, a beverage so popular that it’s often spoken of as the lifeblood of the city.
- A PC spots an eyeder–a large, long-legged spider with a large eyeball embedded in its back–crawling along a nearby wall. Eyeders are a common pest unique to the City of Ten Thousand Daggers and are not particularly dangerous or useful despite their strange appearance.
- A woman nearby laughs loudly at a companion’s joke. In doing so, she reveals that her teeth have been filed down to sharp points. When she notices a PC staring, she flicks out a forked, snakelike tongue and flashes a devious smile. The woman is a Wyrmtongue, and the modifications to her mouth were undertaken to allow her to correctly pronounce the ancient words of power from the language of Dragons.
- A group of well-dressed men and women in elaborately-decorated porcelain masks walks down the street flanked by a small bodyguard of imperial soldiers. These are imperial bureaucrats of some stripe and those in the know can decipher their offices and ranks from the masks they wear.
- The party enters an open space that allows them a glimpse of Kyra Victorious, a 100-foot tall statue of the Eternal Empress that towers above the city on a hill overlooking the bazaar. The statue depicts the Empress dressed in full battle armor holding aloft a jewel-pommeled sword in her right hand. Her left hand rests on the head of a massive imperial lion.
- A gang of young toughs makes their way down the street, briefly stopping at each shop, tavern, and storefront along the way. As they move from building to building, most of the people they pass or encounter change direction or speed and otherwise give them plenty of room. If the party observes the gang when they enter a shop, they’ll see that the interaction within is sometimes tense, other times cordial, but that each clearly ends with the shopkeeper handing over a quantity of coins. The gang doing the collecting varies from one neighborhood to the next, but protection money is a cost of doing business throughout the city.
- The party comes to a spot from which they can see a hill overlooking the river to the north. Atop the hill is the massive skull of Kirlyok, the dragon who protected the city before it was slain by the Eternal Empress’s concubine, Kelik the Hunter. The skull is controlled by a cult of filthy dragon-worshippers called the Children of Kirlyok and people say that those who earn their favor can enter the skull to gain insight through a sort of vision quest ritual.
- A puppeteer is performing a show on a small portable stage nearby. If the party watches the show, they will see that it consists of multiple vignettes in which a brightly-clad puppet named “The Baron” encounters an assortment of monsters, magical wonders, and strange situations. At the end of each tale, the puppeteer informs the audience that they can see some artifact mentioned in the tale, along with many other amazing wonders, at Baron Furkza’s Museum of Mysteries at the corner of Market Street and Apothecary Row.
- A shirtless man with oiled muscles struts down the street wearing an animalistic leather mask fitted with bull horns, a large gold nose ring, cowhide pants (complete with tail), and large boots with a heel set at a steep angle to suggest a bull’s hoof. The man is a bullguard, one of the bouncers from The Lusty Minotaur, the city’s oldest and most celebrated tavern.
- As they travel the streets, the party occasionally catches a glimpse of movement overhead. If they keep their eyes to the skyline, they’ll see people running across rooftops, and crossing from one building to the next on clotheslines, boards, or just pure athletic ability. These people are using a series of routes called The Rooftop Highway. Those who know how to read the “trail signs” can cross from one end of the city to the other without their feet ever touching the ground.
- A throng of people has gathered up ahead to ogle at a corpse that’s dangling from a third-story window overhead. Its face is painted to look like a stylized skull. If the PCs listen to the chatter or ask questions, they can easily learn that the skull face paint marks the dead man as a victim of the Society of Bone, a cult of assassins who worship The Lord of Bones, a death god who visits Khesvaros’s Necropolis each month to look for victims.
- The party passes a stall with several cages containing creatures that resemble a tiny bipedal bear with large pointed ears and big, adorable eyes. These creatures were clearly made by a Chimerist, who uses a mixture of science, magic, and taxidermy to build new types of creatures. If the party asks, the price for the creatures is quite reasonable, but the vendor stresses that there are some important rules about their care and feeding that must be observed.
- People on the street make way for a palanquin carried by eight very muscular, very attractive, and very nearly naked people of various genders. Inside the open-curtained vehicle sits a tall, pale-skinned person of indeterminate gender dressed in immodest but fashionable purple clothing who inspires feelings of awe and desire in everyone who sees them. Some of the people on the street simply stare, but many bow down because they know they are in the presence of a god; The person riding in the litter is Kreeshka, Mastress of Desire and Debauchery, who makes their home in Madame Xanthia’s House of Pleasure in Old Town.
- A skinny woman in ragged, mismatched clothing with white streaks through her unruly black hair dances down the street towards the party, singing a vulgar sea shanty about mermaids very loudly and out of tune. As she nears the party, she makes direct eye contact at a party member (chosen randomly) and walks directly toward them, changing direction if they move to avoid her. When she gets close enough, she hands the character a clay gambling chip and says “I made this for you. When you want to use it, hold it in your hand and say so.” She taps the character on the nose with her index finger, says “boop,” and skips away before any questions can be asked. Anyone on the street can tell the PCs that the woman is Mad Ndolya, that she is a Fatespinner (a wizard with the power to alter fate), and that she’s quite insane. See “Mad Ndolya’s Chip” for details on how the item works.
- The party walks through a door that takes them somewhere unexpected: maybe another part of the city, maybe another reality.
Mad Ndolya’s Chip
This is a brightly-painted but seemingly normal poker chip made out of clay. When used by the person for whom it was intended, it has an effect that is potentially helpful. When used by someone other than the intended recipient, the effect is less predictable. The chip is activated by holding it in your hand and saying the word “so” (or just concentrating really hard and making a successful Brain roll). Roll on the table below to see what happens, using the “Wrong Person” information if the chip is used by someone other than the person Mad Ndolya gave the chip to.
1. The character experiences Synesthesia for 2d6 rounds and it is somehow helpful, giving the character +1 to all rolls. Wrong Person: Roll 1d6: 1: The Synesthesia is unhelpful, giving the character a -1 to all rolls; 2-3: The Synesthesia is trippy but has no effect on rolls; 4-5: Chip works normally; 6: The character vividly hallucinates a conversation with an erudite cosmic chimpanzee and gains insight that permanently increases their Brain by 1.
2. The chip summons 1d6 stray dogs who follow the character around for 1d12 days. The dogs are friendly and will obey the chip-user’s commands. Wrong Person: Roll 1d6: 1: The dogs attack the user; 2-3: Rats appear instead of dogs; 4-5: Chip works normally; 6:No animals appear, but the user steps in dog poop.
3. The character’s muscles grow larger, giving them a +1 to all strength-based rolls for the next 24 hours. Wrong Person: Roll 1d6: 1-2: Character’s muscles atrophy, giving them -1 to all strength-based rolls; 3-4: Chip works normally; 5-6: The character’s strength waxes and wanes with the sun, giving them a bonus or penalty depending on the time of day: -1 at night, 0 at dawn and dusk, +1 in the morning and afternoon, +2 at mid-day (10am-2pm).
4. Anyone who looks the character in the eyes finds them incredibly charming, personable, and attractive. This gives the character a +1 bonus to all rolls to persuade or influence people for the next 24 hours. Wrong Person: Anyone who looks the character in the eyes finds them off-putting, funny-looking, and weird. This gives the character a -1 to all rolls to persuade or influence people.
5. The character’s combat ability increases for the next 24 hours, giving them a +1 to all combat rolls and 1d6 temporary HP. Wrong Person: 1: The character becomes worse at combat (-1 to all combat rolls) and loses 1 HP/round due to a nosebleed that lasts 1d4 rounds. 2-3: The character gains either the +1 bonus to combat rolls OR the temporary HP (50/50 chance of either), but not both. 4-5: Chip works normally; 6: The character becomes timid and afraid for the duration. They can defend normally, but must make a successful Nerve Roll to get up the nerve to make an attack; failure means they chicken out and take no action that round.
6. The character gains the power of ESP for 24 hours. They can read anyone’s thoughts by looking them in the eye and winning a resisted Nerve roll against the target. Wrong Person: The character imagines that they can read other peoples’ thoughts. Roll 1d6: 1: The character’s (imaginary) mind-reading reveals that everyone hates them; 2-3: The character’s (imaginary) mind-reading reveals that most people don’t really have a strong opinion of them; 4-5: The character’s (imaginary) mind-reading reveals that everyone loves them; 6: The character’s (imaginary) mind-reading reveals that everyone knows the character’s most embarrassing secret.
7. The character gains the ability to become invisible at will for the next 24 hours. Wrong Person: Roll 1d6: 1: The character automatically fails all stealth rolls; 2-3: The character becomes instantly invisible and cannot become visible again until the duration ends; 4-5: Chip works normally; 6: The character instantly becomes invisible, cannot change back, and produces no sound when they try to speak for the next 24 hours.
8. The character gains the ability to fly for the next 24 hours. Wrong Person: Roll 1d6: 1: The character feels heavy and moves at half their normal speed; 2-3: The character gains the ability to fly once in the next 24 hours, but the ability ends when they land; 4-5: Chip works normally; 6: The character floats up into the air 1d20 feet and cannot come back down; The character’s floats like a balloon with no control over their movement unless they have something to push off from or pull themselves along by.
9. A messenger arrives and gives the character a book titled “Things You Need to Know.” The book is written in a language nobody can understand, but if the character it was given to thinks of a question and opens the book, the answer will be written on the page in a language the character can understand (illiterate characters see informative pictures). The effect works 5 times before the magic wears off. Wrong Person: The book contains no useful information, only dirty limericks and off-color jokes.
10. The character gains the ability to shapeshift into any animal at will for the next 24 hours. Wrong Person: Roll 1d6: 1: The character turns into a talking possum for the next 24 hours. 2-3: The character gains the ability to turn into a rat at will for the duration; 4-5: Chip works normally; 6: The character’s head transforms into the head of a donkey. This effect is permanent.