I haven’t written a design diary for a while, but that’s partly because I’ve been busy writing the actual book! As some of you know I’ve left my job at Waterstones, so I have a unique opportunity to write full time for a while and get the book finished much quicker than originally planned. In the last three weeks I’ve completed the third chapter, entitled Running a Campaign, and have moved on to the Gazetteer in which I get to write about all the cool locations the PCs can visit in the city.
Running a Campaign includes the PC backgrounds I wrote about last time. I gave these to the players at UKT4 when I ran my playtest game there and everyone seemed to find one that fitted their character without too much trouble. Seeing as there were a couple of left field PCs including a gnome bard and a pixie warlord called Appleblossom, this was a good sign! The players also enjoyed the setting, and got their heads around it pretty quickly – another big positive – and it was great to get feedback from people who haven’t played in Parsantium before.
I also wrote some of the key themes for a Parsantium campaign in this chapter, such as going up against the gangs of the Hidden Quarter or delving into the city’s ancient past. A Parsantium campaign doesn’t need to have a recurring theme – it can be a series of unconnected adventures – but one or two themes can help give the campaign a bit of focus. The other sections in these chapter are Facilities & Services, Getting Around and Random Events. I had a lot of fun with the latter – I loved the events section in the back of 1st Edition Oriental Adventures and I’ve tried to do something similar for Parsantium so the city feels like a living, breathing place where stuff happens even when the PCs aren’t up to much. This chapter is just over 7,000 words, again coming in longer than I expected. I’m not worrying about this though – I’m going to keep writing and trim later if I need to.
With the first three chapters finished, my attention has turned to the massive Gazetteer chapter which will take up a large part of the final book. I’ve started off with the Imperial Quarter which is interesting for me to work on – players in my Parsantium campaigns will know the vast majority of the action has taken place in the Old Quarter – so my notes on the Imperial Quarter are pretty sketchy in places. It’s coming along nicely though – I finished the Civic Ward and started on the Emerald Ward today. As a sneak preview, here’s the first draft entry for the university district – some proper names (like Tinel) will be changing. Comments welcome!
University District, Civic Ward
The Scholasticia, Parsantium’s university, is situated in the northern part of the Civic Ward and is renowned as the foremost centre of mundane learning in the former Batiaran Empire. Consisting of several grandiose buildings set in attractive grounds with neat lawns and ornamental trees, the biggest, an impressive marble edifice known as the Ivory Towers (it has several, of different heights), houses the 300-seater Auditorium where lectures take place, classrooms, and the offices of the tutors and academic staff. The Great Library and the Imperial Museum of Antiquities, as well as halls of residence and for the students and academic staff, kitchens and a large dining hall make up the rest of the buildings. Standing in the centre of the campus is a 15 ft high complex mechanical clock, with a crescent moon-shaped pointer which causes small doors to open in the side of the structure every hour, each revealing a different music-playing automaton.
The surrounding streets are full of businesses catering to those teaching or studying at the Scholasticia: booksellers and binders, map-makers, scribes and stationers, and makers of musical instruments, as well as numerous taverns and pubs and street food stands. The rowdy Rambunctious Ferret is the current favourite of most students, offering free drinks all night to anyone who can beat the record for drinking its yard of ale the fastest. The university professors prefer the fusty, smoke-filled Three Tomes where they can enjoy a half pint of Stonyfist Pale Ale in peace and quiet and have a grumble about how students today don’t want to learn anything with their colleagues.
Only the wealthy can afford to send their offspring to study at the Scholasticia – the tuition fees are not cheap, and scholars are also required to buy their own books, paper, pens and ink. For those rich enough, though, the standard of education provided is first rate, and many important government officials and judges studied in the Ivory Towers, as did the city’s finest poets and dramatists. Subjects taught include history, law, mathematics, philosophy, poetry, music, languages and literature. Many of the academics teaching at the Scholasticia are the foremost expert in their field in the city, and often the known world, although getting them to part with this knowledge to non-students is usually an expensive undertaking.
The Chancellor of the Scholasticia is a female Akhrani poet and literature professor named Latifa bint Abbas. Now close to retirement, the tiny, thin-lipped Latifa is regarded as one of the world’s finest living poets. She rules the Ivory Towers with an iron hand in a velvet glove, making sure the often eccentric and absent-minded staff remember to turn up to their lectures and give their students the finest education money can buy.
The Ivory Towers are also home to the enigmatic Vashnawi, a female guardian naga who came to Parsantium after being drawn there from her home in a ruined temple in the remote jungles of Sahasra following a strange dream. Vashnawi has shimmering rainbow-coloured scales, a cobra-like hood and the face of a beautiful dark-skinned elf; her body is 12 feet long from head to tail. She wears a pair of platinum earrings, as well as several gold bangles on the end of her tail. The naga divides her time between the Towers and the Great Library, and is an expert on the history of Sahasra, the Geomancers of Kadar and the founding of Dhak Janjua. Recently, Vashnawi has been troubled by her dreams again, some of which have featured Vrishabha in his icy prison in the Pillars of Heaven Mountains, and also the PCs! Fearing that there is a plot afoot to free the rajah that the adventurers are mixed up in, the naga is likely to summon them into her presence and send them on a mission to investigate.
This large white marble building, built in the classic Batiaran style, is the most complete and inclusive library in the former Batiaran Empire, housing many literary, artistic and scholarly works of the people of the Empire and beyond. This huge collection has grown over the centuries of Parsantium’s existence, although many valuable works were destroyed or lost when the city fell into the hands of the humanoids prior to the Great Crusade. The Great Library also serves as the centre of worship for the God of Knowledge, Tinel – a large marble statue of the deity stands in the atrium and there is a chapel to the goddess within the building. From the entrance, a visitor can head into one of the numerous galleries on the ground floor or upstairs; each is devoted to a different subject area and full from floor to ceiling with books and scrolls.
The Great Library is run by the Custodian, an ancient Batiaran high priest of Tinel named Zenodotus. Bald and with a grey beard trailing almost to the floor, Zenodotus invented the current cataloguing system for the library and undertook a wholesale reorganization of the collection in the decades following the Great Crusade. He is assisted by several dozen priests of Tinel, each an expert in a particular field of study. In addition, the Great Library employs several minotaurs from the island of Phokris as librarians; these humanoids are able to navigate the confusing layout of the building with ease, and act as doughty protectors of the valuable manuscripts and volumes.
Zenodotus is keen to make sure that the library’s body of knowledge is as complete as possible and to that end the priests regularly hire adventurers to travel to remote locations (including the planes of existence beyond this one) and document their journeys. Sometimes, they are asked to find out the truth of a particular legend or to verify a rumour or tale that has come to the priests’ attention. The adventurers are instructed to keep a journal of their travels and discoveries; these journals are then purchased by the Great Library on their return to Parsantium, assuming they have met the minimum standards of record-keeping expected by the priests.
The library is open to researchers and visiting scholars at a cost of 20 gp per day which includes assistance from the priests in finding what you are looking for. Although everything in the library has been meticulously catalogued, the system used by the staff is not easily grasped by outsiders. Knowledge checks at the library can be made with a +5 bonus after a full day’s research.
The Imperial Museum of Antiquities
This museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts from the former lands of the Batiaran Empire, the deserts of Khemit, and beyond. It was even more impressive at one time but the museum was one of the first things to be looted by the hobgoblins led by Kalgroth Ironheart and many of its treasures have been lost for good. Since the Great Crusade, the museum has been trying to reassemble the original collection, hiring adventurers to track down missing antiquities whenever they get a lead on the whereabouts of an artifact. It is rumoured that the hidden vaults beneath the building were never found by the humanoids – these chambers are said to contain a vast collection of objects that need cataloguing and a handful that are either too valuable or too dangerous for public viewing.