Friday, January 2, 2015

I wanna be a Jaguar Knight

I'm trying to do this more often this year. That's not exactly a promise but I resolved to quit smoking like six 12/31's ago and that's still going so let's see how this works out.

Must have been at least eight years ago, I picked up WOTC’s Map Folio II for some reason. It’s a series of maps that (apparently) originally appeared on their website, and depict a city in the Mesoamerican-based Maztica kingdom. I’ve never used it.

Map Folio II. I loaned it out without taking pictures first.
I showed it to my friend Grant the other day, and he wants to stock it and run it. I told him I’d post some stuff I thought he could use. There’s already these two posts if he hasn’t read them yet, and a lot of really detailed articles at Saurondor.

Grant told me that he’s thinking of this city as a thriving metropolis, which makes stocking it a fundamentally different exercise than if we were talking about a decrepit ruin. The first part of the job, as I see it, is to look closely at what the maps can tell us about the people living there, and the second part is to figure out what the hell to do with that. This is probably going to have to stretch across a few posts. I don’t have the map set in front of me since my friend’s borrowing it, but I’ll see what I can come up with from memory.

The city is a highly planned settlement that looks as if it would probably have been built pretty much all at once, in the shape of a vast amphitheater. The individual maps include a watchtower, a temple, an observatory, a forge or smelter, and a palace, as well as examples of upper, middle,* and lower class neighborhoods. Right off the bat, the forge tells us that this civilization is using technology that real-life Aztecs and Maya didn’t have access to when they were building cities. Similarly, the lower class apartments imply that society has been restructured around this technology. That statement might require some explanation.

Not from the Map Folio.
Look at the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The elite, which consisted of warriors, priests, and royalty, was centrally located, while the rest of the poor schmucks were spread out in blocks of floating gardens that fed the city. In contrast, the city in the map pack has replaced this agrarian economy with an at least semi-industrialized one. Poor folks aren’t spread out and living on the small farms where they work, they’re living in small, tightly packed apartments, presumably because they all work at the same place — the forge.

One way to explain all this is with a brief alternate history exercise. In this version, when European murderhobos like Cortez and Columbus got to the continent, the native kingdoms recognized the apocalyptic danger they were in, and united against them. In real history, Cortez probably would have gotten his heart cut out and thrown onto the sacrificial fire, if he hadn’t formed alliances with the surrounding kingdoms to bolster his tiny and poorly disciplined** invasion force.

If the Spanish conquest fails, then Aztec influence spreads (due to the alliances that kept them alive) and Montezuma II orders that the secrets of steel and black powder are mastered before the next wave of white devils hits the New World, whether by analyzing the equipment of dead conquistadors, interrogating the shit out of the many European captives they’d have taken, or a combination of both. This city was built after that, and is likely the youngest city-state in the empire. It’s most likely to be located at or near a major iron deposit. If that iron deposit was caused by a massive meteorite falling to Earth millions of years ago, then the impact crater explains the shape of the city as a whole.***

So that’s the boring stuff out of the way. This is going to have to be a series. Later posts will be about setting-specific factions and monsters, interesting treasures, and a super-narrow discussion of Mesoamerican religion. Plus anything else I think of.

*This living space also includes shops in front of the apartments, like the tabernae in Trajan’s Market. The general layout of the city was probably pretty closely based on that ancient shopping mall. Do anthropologists know more about how Romans lived than Aztecs, or was there some other reason for the artist to mix the cultures?

Trajan's Market
**The incident that sparked war between the Aztecs and the Spanish (in real history) occurred when Cortez had to leave some of his men in Tenochtitlan under orders to play it fucking cool. As soon as they saw their first human sacrifice, they went totally apeshit and started shooting and stabbing. Also, there was also at least one of his followers (Cristobal de Olid) who, when entrusted with his own command position, went all Colonel Kurtz and tried to set himself up as a king. Cortez himself went to put down the rebellion, but Olid's own men had already done the job.

***Mesoamerican city builders (or at least the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca) were all about reflecting the landscape surrounding a city in its architecture, and allowing the natural and the man-made to coexist harmoniously. I wonder if that’s where Frank Lloyd Wright got the idea. Anyway, many of the Roman-influenced aspects of the city’s plan make more sense if you think of it as being sort of built onto the slopes of a gigantic impact crater.


OH SHIT WHAT ABOUT THE JOESKY TAX

Here's a map of a cenote cave system. If you don't know what that means you really should google it. Maybe I'll decide what's in it tomorrow.



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