I wasn’t originally going to post this publicly, but several of you have expressed interest. A few years ago I swiped an excellent writeup by Rodger Burns on the Vaults of Pandius website (dedicated to the Mystaran gameworld). I was looking for a way to procedurally generate the urban ruins of an “alien” culture, and his post about Tslani ruins really fit the bill. I spent some time re-writing it from a Hyperborean perspective, for use in both the Black City campaign and my old Astonishing ACKS game.
As with most of my game stuff, this isn’t my original idea – it’s a re-skin of somebody else’s work. You should check out the original writeup by Rodger Burns, or see his other Mystara material at the Vaults of Pandius.
Little doubt exists that the ancient cities of the Hyperborean peoples are the oldest in the world. However, the spiral towers of black gneiss that dominate both the Black City and Khromarium seem not to have been carved by human hands; neither were they intended to accommodate bipedalism, but rather something altogether inhuman.
Ancient cities of this type can be found throughout the Hyperborean mainland, with Khromarium being the most notable example. Hyperborean ruins can potentially be found in other worlds and places, however, such as the Black City of the Thule Archipelago of Old Earth. In many cases, only the subterranean under-levels still exist, with the surface structures reduced to rubble.
The Hyperboreans who fled Old Earth initially thought that their great capitol of Khromarium was lost. However, they quickly discovered that city – or at least some version of it – existed in their new realm as well. They also found other abandoned Hyperborean cities throughout the continent, but no trace of living inhabitants. Somehow, earlier Hyperborean peoples had managed to travel to this new realm and begun building their own civilization there.
Meanwhile, on Old Earth, human explorers eventually discovered the Hyperborean Black City amidst the retreating glaciers of Thule. They, too, found the city abandoned and have never managed to find any living Hyperboreans – something that troubles and discourages them. Either the Hyperboreans have left, possibly fleeing some terrible fate, or else they somehow managed to destroy themselves in a manner that left no traces of their downfall.
Although Hyperborean cities are notable for the spiral towers that dot their visible skylines, much of the living space is actually contained in subterranean levels, arranged in the shape of an inverted multi-layered ziggurat. (In my Black City campaign, I’m inserting a sewer/caverns sub-level beneath the surface ruins.)
The cities are planned in triangle-shaped city blocks – rotated at 0°, 60°, 120° or 180° to form larger hexagonal arrangements. Each level is on average 50′ high, with multiple storeys of residential buildings and shops inside. Spiral ramps are typically used to gain access to different storeys and levels. Most structures are constructed of black basalt or gneiss.
This is the typical entrance-gate to most Hyperborean cities, and showcases their typical defensive philosophy – create a choke-point in a strong defensive line, ring it with traps and murder holes, and smash enemies as they assault it. While this strategy was ineffective against otherworldly beings, it was most effective against lesser barbarians and rampaging monsters. Buildings past the citadel walls are storehouses for supplies brought in from outside the city or hostelry quarters for lower-class Hyperboreans visiting from other cities on trade or similar business.
The Hyperboreans were not so foolish as to assume that every enemy would be stopped at the outer entrance to their cities. Gate blocks are used to regulate access to exclusive parts of a city, or sometimes to contain a volatile neighbourhood of wizards’ laboratories and summoning sites. Neighboring blocks often have an unbroken curtain wall to support the gate block and force travellers through one of the gates. Outside buildings are mainly residential quarters for soldiers’ families, taverns and similar entertainment.
This is a strongpoint within the Hyperborean city, for use by commanders and quick-reaction forces in case of large-scale riot or invasion. The statue in the center courtyard may be a golem, or focal point of a magical trap.
This block acts as a nexus for traffic between different parts of the city. Buildings here may be housing for the middle class, upscale shops or guard posts.
Wizard-nobles and the wealthy make their homes in these blocks, along with servants, apprentices and other associates. Exterior walls generally lack windows, even on upper levels; the inhabitants instead use ceiling shafts/skylights, windows onto the central court, and magical means to maintain air circulation and connection to the outside world.
These cramped blocks are home to human slaves and servants, the lower class of Hyperborean cities. Most homes and businesses here are only a single room – upper levels are accessed through narrow ladders or steep stepped ramps found outside a building’s entrance.
These are the main industrial sites of the Hyperborean cities – smithies, weavers, tanners, glassblowers and similar. Raw materials are often acquired through mundane means, but are just as often magically conjured into existence (through Hyperborean wizards’ own spells, or through barter with otherworldly beings). Pure Hyperboreans back in Old Earth apparently considered the practice working goods by hand to be a needless extravagance, compared to simply conjuring up a finished product. More modern Hyperboreans, in turn, viewed hand-crafting as the only sure way of producing a safe and sturdy end-work.
This is the main gathering place for workers, shopkeepers and wizard-nobles alike, and the primary access-way to higher levels of a Hyperborean ziggurat-city. Buildings here are often homes or offices for the prosperous, or barracks and other government offices.
(Note: I. was skipped to avoid any possible confusion with the number 1. This was intentional.)
Blocks of this type are always found directly above a Plaza block (see H., above). The central shaft is open both to the plaza below and (if other levels exist above) to another Shaft block further up. This shaft is sometimes used by wizards for personal travel, but mostly to levitate up wagonloads of foodstuffs or other supplies to higher levels of the Hyperborean city; most travellers use the spiral ramps (found elsewhere) to move between city levels.
Blocks of this type are stuffed with buildings used as libraries, classrooms, meditation areas, and other structures important to eldritch research. Magic among the Hyperborean is a fairly competitive endeavour, in its own quiet way – while researchers rarely feud or seek to sabotage each others’ efforts, they will try to one-up a rival’s accomplishments if possible, and working in seclusion is seen as a sign of lack of confidence…
L. Summoning Sites
Much of the creature comforts of a Hyperborean city – foodstuffs, cloth and softwoods, inks and dyes, and similar – are acquired not through working the land or trade, but through magical conjuration. Blocks of this type are set up to allow such frequent summoning spells to be practiced in a controlled area, where a mishap or loss of control can be handled with the minimum of fuss. Additional magical research goes on here as well – but it’s a reckless mage indeed who leaves the only copy of his work-in-progress where it can be discovered by others.
The contents of these city blocks varies. The Hyperboreans of Old Earth worshipped the ancient Greek gods of Apollo and Artemis, and most temples will be dedicated to them. Meanwhile, Khromarium and other cities on the Hyperborean continent will most often contain temples to Xathoqqua; though sometimes they will venerate Yoon’Deh or other entities instead.