Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Qasira, a City on the shores of the Seas of Sand

Written for the Cities Challenge (its rules are "make an interesting city") floating around the OSR discord, particularly #glog-ghetto.

Presented as a series of tables. Yes, the names of cities are ripped from M&B; I make no claims of originality. This city comes from my deep-in-progress desert-naval "Seas of Sand" setting, where sailors travel on an ocean of thin sand, more liquid than solid.

You should be able to hack this into any given system.

1d6 Ships in Port
  1. The Shrike, a privateer, battered and patched; its sails, once black, have run to a dusty brown. 
  2. The Sultana's Fancy, a silk merchant, fresh and trim; its figurehead depicts a handsome young man, shirtless, face hidden behind a cowl.
  3. The Pride of Veluca, a captured warship, cracked and weathered; its hull is in the process of being repainted to Qasiran red. 
  4. The Ariadne, a salt trader from distant southern ports; its crew speaks a strange tongue, and bedeck themselves in bronze.
  5. The Bantu Haya, a "merchant" of unspecified goods; hooded strangers come and go from its grey-painted deck. 
  6. The Laila, a fishing craft, bristling with nets and spears; the fishers aboard always offer up at least a copper coin each in sacrifice before setting out.
1d6 Things Guests are Offered by Rite of Hospitality
  1. A bit of thin metal on the end of a stick, to scrape off the dust from your boots, plus a place to but those boots after entering.
  2. A clay tub full of silken sand, to bathe yourself in—not quite as good as water, but far better than nothing.
  3. A cupful of tea, usually anise or cardamom—almost always made with milk, rather than water.
  4. A simple woolen scarf and quill, in case you have an urgent prayer to make.
  5. A bit of flatbread, about as big as your hand; not a meal, but enough to take the edge off.
  6. A very tiny cup, really a thimbleful, of water; princes will sometimes offer shot-glasses or even tumblers of water to guests.
1d6 Cargo Hauls
  1. Casks of high-proof liquor, primarily tequila; its merchants are reviled by the ascetics, but sailors and decadents of all stripes will pay through the nose for it in public houses.
  2. Amberglass jars of spice mixtures—za'atar, baharat, and harissa—plus their raw components: cumin, coriander, allspice, cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, and black pepper.
  3. Cords of luxurious woods: oak, larch, and pine from the south for ships, plus mahogany, teak, and rosewood for princes' courts.
  4. Bolts of cloth and textiles: linen, cashmere, silk, shahtoosh, chiffon, taffeta, jacquard, and chamois. Princes buy them, yes, but so do common folk at cheap prices, to make into prayer-scarves.
  5. Cuts of meat, both common and exotic: camel, goat, and lamb, always, but also quail, dormouse, peacock, crocodile, and locust.
  6. Skins upon skins of water, clean and pure, barreled from mountain stream and ancient spring. Qasira's great oasis provides for many, but water merchants can always trade their cargo. 
1d6 Common Building Materials
  1. Brick of sandy mud, left to dry and bake. They're cheap, using only a little water, but crack easily; the slums and warrens are made of these bricks almost exclusively.
  2. Hewn sandstone, lifted from the quarry. Brittle but strong, expensive to haul but available in huge quantity. The city walls, both the elder and the younger, are made from this stone, and many streets are paved with it.
  3. Cloth, as for a tent, doorway covering, or stall roof. Usually simple or cheap linen; the more expensive cloths are dyed, usually in red or lavender.
  4. Marble, polished and shined to a mirror sheen. Typically only seen in prince's halls, and even then only in the more opulent and luxurious spaces. 
  5. Thin clay over wood, to make a kind of wattle-and-daub; the wood is nearly always repurposed from shipping cargo and driftwood, but its lighter and less hot than pure clay. 
  6. Limestone and granite; more expensive and rarer than sandstone, but harder and longer-lasting. The foundation of the Unkeyed Hall is made from it, as are the city's Twin Lighthouses.
1d6 Streets and Their Names
  1. A broad, paved thoroughfare: Mercer's Way. It's lined with stalls jostling up against each other, selling cloths, tents, rugs, bedding, prayer scarves, and cuts of fabric all on their own. 
  2. A dried lane, called the Western Runoff, that cuts between the outermost ring of slums and the city's main outer walls. It's mostly used by guards on their breaks, and those who ply to guards.
  3. A twisting maze of alleys and cut-throughs, with no official name; this bit is nicknamed Razor Alley, but it has no defined boundaries. It's a slum, primarily, frequented by the destitute, the criminal, and the ascetic.
  4. Two linked streets, Butcher's Row & Tanner's Lane; the Eastbound Road cuts between them, but there's heavy traffic across. Camelherds bring their stock to the Row for the meat, and then to the Lane for their hides. 
  5. A tree-lined street, more often traversed by palanquin than foot: the Northbound Road, the most elite of the four great Qasiran roads from the oasis. It's where princes and merchants and the decandents travel, to best see and be seen.
  6. A series of rough-hewn steps now worn down by time, cut into the rocky bluff overlooking the oasis—the Verdant Stair, leading up to the sacred Mount of Flame. For many of the city's pilgrims and ascetics, the Stair is more important than the Mount itself, for what good is enlightenment without the struggle to reach it?
1d6 Meals Available for Less Than a Half-Skin
  1. A skewer of camel or goat meat, seared over flame and spiced with cumin and pepper. Cheaper places load their skewers with onions or okra; nicer ones keep those to a minimum.
  2. A thin slice of toasted flatbread, laden with chickpeas, cabbage, and a cheese (usually halloumi); good places will serve it with a creamy sauce, worse ones without.
  3. A clay bowl of couscous with a ladle of stew dumped over it. The stew will always have lentils, fava beans, and vegetables, plus the occasional bit of meat. The bigger the stall's pot they serve from, the cheaper. 
  4. A salad of tomatoes and spinach or chard, plus any of: beets, onions, eggplant, carrots, turnips, okra, squash, and garlic. The salad is almost always doused in olive oil; if it's not, the server is being a cheapskate.
  5. A small dish with a dollop of camel yogurt on it, plus a few thin triangles of toasted flatbread, a sliced tomato, and bunch of spinach (or other leafy vegetable). Eateries that serve cool or chilled yogurt are much sought-after.
  6. Two pints: the first is a medium-viscosity drink made from camel milk, not unlike drinking yogurt, but salty and lightly alcoholic. The second is a medium beer, sometimes with a dollop of honey or fruit juice in it. Together, they'll feed you for a while and get you buzzed.
1d6 Prayers and Their Scarves
  1. "May my daughter, Safiyya, return home once again from the war in distant Veluca; if you do this, O Almighty Hunter, I, her mother Rabia, shall offer to you two black camels, slaughtered and burned." The scarf is made of muslin, stained a deep blue.
  2. "I have sacrificed three barrels of water to you, Queen of Sun and Lightning, boiled in dull iron. Please do not bring a storm, of sand or salt or fire, onto my ship, the Dunecutter, when we travel to the city of Ahmerrad." The scarf is made from cashmere, rich and lush.
  3. "Do not let my husband, Yussuf, die from the worm in his belly. Do this, Exalted Sword-Singer, and I, his husband Tariq, shall vow to you one of year of silence." The scarf is made from a bloodstained scrap of linen.
  4. "I, the dweller of #6 South-twist Lane, wish a curse to be placed on my neighbor, who lives in #7 South-twist Lane. I have burned eleven rats to any who will listen, and will burn any more my cat catches." The scarf is made from camel-hair, dyed a dusty black.
  5. "Tomorrow, the merchant ship Saffron Storm leaves port. I, Humayda, wish to land a job their as carpenter's apprentice; I am going to speak to their quartermaster now. Grant me this job, Wise Bearer of the Sickle, and I will carve your icon into the ship's prow." The scarf is made of simple pale wool.
  6. "I, Malek, am to be married tomorrow, and am deathly afraid. I have spent the past two months following a vow of poverty, and I ask you, Lion-Mother and Vulture-Caller, to ensure that this marriage goes well, please." The scarf is made from extravagant white silk. 
1d6 Issues Faced Today by the Conclave of Merchant-Princes
  1. Velucan warships have just crossed the Azure Band, bristling with soldiers and ballistae; they'll arrive in Khemu in less than two weeks.
  2. A diplomat from the Kingdom of Synnius has arrived to discuss the tariffs levied by Qasira and Ahmerrad against Synniot goods.
  3. Two camel caravans both claim to have reserved the Second North Stable for the week; their captains are here, and things are getting heated.
  4. A Kreitene ship from the south, the Allagosa, has overstayed its berth by two days now; they pitched the first customs agent into the sea to be fished out, and stripped the second one down before knocking out his front teeth.
  5. Pirates struck an Ahmerradi salt merchant, meaning prices in Qasira will rocket even higher.
  6. A band of some thirty ascetics have taken up a very loud and aggressive seminar outside of the Smoothed Haft, a well-known sailor's bar and house of ill repute.
1d6 Tattoos Visiting Sailors Get in Qasira
  1. Two matched lighthouses, for the city's famous ones. Usually mirrored, either on the wrists, shoulder blades, or calves.
  2. A set of scarves, one for each important prayer they've offered. Particularly superstitious sailors will get an initial or set of three letters tattooed onto the scarf, to match their prayers. Ostentatious sailors get them on their necks; quieter ones on the collar or shoulder.
  3. An upside-down letter 'A', done very simply and precisely, usually on a knuckle. Initially, it was for sailors to remember the city's well-known ascetics, but now has become just a catch-all fashion statement.
  4. The Seven of Diamonds, drawing from the ancient Codex Cartocartesius, written by a half-mad monk obsessed with fitting playing cards to cities. Nowadays, sailors try to get a full suit or even a full deck; because sailors are terrible planners, these cards appear all over the body.
  5. A lime, for a sailor who participated in the much-loved Festival of Limes. The traditional lime is placed on the upper chest, usually on the side of the pectoral.
  6. A bowl full of yogurt, usually on the foot or ankle. Given the city's southern position, it can be a first stop for many in the Seas, and thus is the first time many sailors have tried the food.
1d6 Well-Known Qasiran Landmarks
  1. The Mount of Flame, and the Altar of Ash atop it. Here is where ascetics, pilgrims, faithful, and other enlightenment-seeking individuals go—to hear seminars, sacrifice offerings, reflect on the world, and meditate.
  2. The Twin Lighthouses, on the northern and southern sides of the city. They reach roughly 250 ft. into the sky, towering over everything but the Mount itself.
  3. The Green Oasis, at the city's center, where most of the water is drawn and most of the crops grow. In ancient times, the oasis was believed to have healing properties, and some zealots still wash themselves in its murky waves, but this has fallen out of fashion.
  4. The now-ruined-but-enhanced Adamant Gate. The Gate stood at the western edge of the city for some four centuries, but close to a hundred years ago, a merchant-prince antagonized a glasswyrm, who came and melted the gate down to slag in vengeance. Now, atop the twisted adamant core, there are strange congealed glass structures, which still wink in the sun.
  5. The Unkeyed Hall, a gilt structure of marble and glass, where the Conclave meets. Famously, the gates to the Hall can only be sealed from the inside, meaning that once the Merchant-Princes have shut the doors, only they can open them again.
  6. The Ascetic Pits, a squatting ground / lecture ampitheatre / philosophical deathmatch arena / charity service yard. Essentially, a series of loosely-descending conical pits, where the city's ascetics dwell in squalor; charitable often come by with food and water, which they leave in exchange for narrow chance they might receive some new bit of knowledge to lead to Enlightenment.
1d6 Pleasures This Particular Qasiran Ascetic Has Decided to Give Up
  1. Light. This ascetic wraps themselves in cloth so no sunlight touches their skin, and they hide their eyes with bandages. 
  2. Metal. This ascetic only uses clay, driftwood, and cloth, and refuses to touch any metal, worked or otherwise.
  3. Speech. This ascetic not only refuses to speak (as vows of silence are relatively common), but has also clogged their ears with dry mud, so they cannot hear any speech.
  4. Grooming. This ascetic is completely naked; their hair and nails grow long, their teeth are yellowed, and they reek of mud and sweat.
  5. Touch. This ascetic has coated and buried themselves in mud, so as to feel as little as possible. Their mouth (and sometimes face) is exposed to eat and drink and breathe, but otherwise they touch nothing.
  6. Violence. This ascetic refuses to engage in harm, anger, hatred, pain, contention, or any other form of attack, assault, or conflict; these ascetics never partake in debates.
1d6 Highly-Coveted Works of Decadence
  1. An entire robe made from legendary nimbus silk, said to be as light and as strong as the very clouds themselves. No matter what the wearer engages in, a light breeze tugs at them, to keep them cool and waft their robe dramatically.
  2. A suit of armor forged from a thousand interlocking pieces, like the scales of a serpent. The armor is as free and light as wearing nothing, but is inlaid with gilt.
  3. A huge glass case of locusts, marinated in the juices of lime and dragonfruit, and then spiced with ginger, amchoor, and galangal.
  4. A camel whose hair has been brushed and combed to a mirror sheen, and has been bred for speed from birth. It comes with an intricately-made saddle and bridle, fit for a slim and youthful rider.
  5. A vial of poison from the infamous Imperator cobra, among the most dangerous of the Seas' beasts; its venom is said to sap the will of humans and bind them to the poisoner's mind.
  6. A decanter of thrice-distilled Kreitine moonshine, spiced with cinnamon and left to mature in a cask of ancient southern redwood.
1d6 Rumors In and Around Qasira
  1. Smugglers are bringing in salt by the crate, pulley'd over the walls or broken up into myriad pouches; any merchant with half a brain will get any salt they can, no matter its legality.
  2. An ascetic in the Pits has learned the secret of levitation, but will only teach it to the most worthy and able of apprentices.
  3. A popular pub has some dug a true well in their cellar, and will sell skins or even barrels of water to the right buyer.
  4. If a weapon is anointed in the blood of its wielder, smith, and mortal foe and then placed on the Altar of Ash, it will burst into flame.
  5. The Northern Lighthouse also encloses the tomb of three of the ancient Sand Kings beneath it, but the key to the tomb in question is only found in the Unkeyed Hall.
  6. A Merchant-Prince seeks to defect to Veluca, but will not reach out to the the city's military for fear of Qasiran reprisal.
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I hope you enjoyed these tables. Here are some other blogs that have posted cities for the challenge:
As always, feel free to rip, tweak, and adjust this content however you choose. 

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