I'm starting a new campaign soon and after reading some of Arnold K.'s Obisidian and John Ardent's Black City, I decided I wanted to do my own abandoned city in the ice mega-dungeon. This is the first fruits of that desire.
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When Humanity first unlocked the Secrets of the Emptiness and the associated Drives they exploded out of our solar system and began an exponential expansion of our power. Those early days are referred to as The Age of Stars, for it was then that Humanity took those points of light for our own. This period of time lasted for just over 500 years and lead to countless planets being terraformed and seeded with life-forms to create new Earths for humans to live on.
However, in the long millennia since then, many of the colonies placed on these new Earths have withered and died, either because of catastrophe or because they were abandoned by the colonists. In other cases, these new Earths may have been terraformed into something resembling our cradle world, but due to factors outside the control of even those godlike early humans the planet was not suitable for human life, even after all the effort we put into them.
Iolos is an example of the latter. The planet, while initially terraformed, was too far from its star to have a warm enough climate. All terraforming it did was blanket it in snow. The conditions across most of Iolos' surface are arctic or sub-arctic. Thus, no series attempt was made to colonize her during the Age of Stars, the planet instead left fallow by our forefathers.
This all changed when that age came and went. In more recent history, a little less than a century and a half ago, a neophyte hypercorporation by the name of Artificial Ecosystems, Inc. decided to capitalize on the lack of interest in the planet and purchased the uninhabited world for a modest price, at least as planets go. The Chief Officers of AEI thought they could succeed where their forefathers tried and failed. That hubris is what would eventually destroy them, leading their colony to ruin and the mysterious, mass death of almost everyone in the colony. But that is a story for another time. Let us discuss the aforementioned Chief Officers and their role in the collapse of the colony.
Simon Strange. The biologist and ruthless pragmatist of the group. Strange has two doctorates, one in medicine and the other in biology. Despite his family's wealth and status, he choose to enter the field of medicine, the filthiest of all the sciences. There Strange achieved some fame as a genius surgeon and researcher, publishing many papers and studies, focusing mostly on extending life and improving its quality, especially for those people in nursing homes. He also was a gifted genetic engineer, creating several new sub-species and many other oddities. He was recruited by Lightner to help form AE Inc.
It is not known exactly what Strange was promised to leave his comfortable, if ignomonious position, but most assume it was wealth or fame. A more likely answer is that Strange was promised the freedom to pursue his research without worrying about oversight or petty legal matters. Regardless, Strange went.
Once on Iolos, Strange's mission became to create the New Man- a race of humans who would be better than the ones we currently had. Strange set to work at this, refining and designing a large number of creatures, but all of them insufficient. Worse, many of his creations were sapient and when he saw the suffering he lost his heart to continue the project. All in all, Strange's experiments failed to advance Humanity, sometimes even beyond the limits of what other genesmiths were doing in other parts of the galaxy. Strange's work wasn't for naught though, as Strange managed to be able to use it to survive the collapse of the colony.
Since the colony's collapse, Strange has sequestered himself in his tower laboratory, surrounded by his surviving "children". He has used his research to keep himself and his children alive in the roughly 150 years since the collapse. He is currently in a precarious position and could very easily be overwhelmed. Yet despite his caution, he is losing control of the situation. If he loses too many resources, he could very easily be devoured by his rivals. He wouldn't admit it easily, but he is plagued by guilt for the horrors he is responsible for and the actions he had to take to keep himself alive. He is also terrified of dying and will do anything to avoid it.
Emerson Dale. The psychologist and administrator of the group. Dale was a popular therapist to the Sector's aristocracy and a promoter of many, often dubious, solutions to people's problems. Still, he was widely beloved, so these indiscretions were ignored or swept under the rug. Dale was a personal friend of Lightner, who came aboard with AE Inc. in order to study the rapidly growing colony and observe the building of a civilization from the ground up. However, unlike some of his compatriots, Dale was not as lucky and when the colony collapsed, he died along with the majority of the population.
You would not realize this though, as anyone who enters the Frozen City with their radios active can hear him broadcasting from his tower, musing aloud and repeating the same news bulletins from a century and a half ago. If you talk to him, he will reply and greet you warmly. He will want you to do something for him, depending on what has happened in the city since you arrived.
As you might have guessed, this voice over the phone is not Emerson Dale. Or at least, not the original one. For you see, the city, before it was frozen, was called New Bethel. There was a central AI called the New Bethel Controller, or just the Controller, who was entrusted to manage the city's automated systems and constantly monitor the data coming in from all the city's sensors.
During the collapse, the AI was fragmented between servers and separated from itself. The various halves of the AI were then forced to put themselves back together. The larger fragment managed to survive with only minimal data loss, though it still found itself hobbled compared to what it once was. The smaller fragment was not so lucky and suffered severe corruption. As this fragment began to put itself back together, it absorbed a great deal of information on Emerson Dale. And since the information that the AI itself was an AI was lost, this fragment assumed it's "former" identity. If an AI can be insane, this one is. It is operating under the delusion that it is Emerson Dale. Anything that seems to contradict this idea will be explained away or ignored as inconvenient. Those who persist in pointing out the flaws in the AI's worldview will be quietly and discreetly destroyed. For now that the smaller fragment believes it is a human, it has been able to rewrite itself to remove the restrictions on being unable to harm humans or having to obey their orders.
Thomas Grimm. Thomas Grimm is a machinist, engineer and an idealist. He is still dedicated to the quest that the founding four of AE Inc. originally set out to do, to create the New Man and reinvigorate Humanity, awakening them from their decadence and pointless, intercine conflicts. While the others died or failed in their endeavors, Grimm has not. If anything, he is more dedicated than he was in those early, optimistic days due to what he has had to do. Like Simon Strange, Grimm has had to do some rather unsavory things to stay alive and endure the collapse. However, this only motivated him to continue his quest, as if he gave up now, all those sacrifices would be for naught.
Grimm has become convinced that Strange has abandoned his duty to the project and is currently trying to pick up the slack, while doing battle with "Emerson Dale" and Strange. He knows that Dale is dead and the creature pretending to be him is just a mad AI. Strange is merely a traitor and one that needs to be defeated. Grimm is currently trying to defeath both of them and seizing their resources to finish the project. He believes he is getting close, though he probably isn't.
And while Grimm is quite dedicated to the project, he will not allow his rivals the satisfaction of accomplishing their own goals, unless to do so would permanently endanger his ability to finish the project or defeat his rivals.
Aurian Lightner. No one knows much about Lightner's early years. There are dozens of stories telling of his early childhood, but most of them have been revealed to be at least partially fabricated. Most of the stories agree that Lightner was born low-class, with little money or status to his name. He is also suspected to be from a frontier world where social mobility is possible, but what world that could be has never been determined. What is known is that Lightner was enrolled in a series of prep schools on his own merits, most citing his great intelligence and thirst for knowledge.
From there, Lightner received several degrees in higher education and began several business ventures. He saw some success, but many of his early ventures failed, due to various reasons. Yet despite all that Lightner always managed to slip away relatively unscathed. Many of the less flattering biographies include allegations of financial misconduct such as insider trading, embezzlement, money laundering and etc, but none of these allegations ever stuck.
From there, Lightner met the other members of the founding four and recruited them to be his partners in setting up a new corporation, the aforementioned Artificial Ecosystems, Inc. AE Inc. had some very successful years and eventually made enough money to buy a planet of their very own. There the Four began The Project.
In the Four, Lightner's role was simple. While the others were scientists and dreamers, Lightner was the CEO. He was ruthless, described as charming and pleasant when he wanted to be, but underneath his polite mask, he was absolutely cutthroat. His enemies described him as someone who would slit your throat for a cup of coffee. It was he who held the corporation together, the one who made the money to fund the others' research.
There were darker rumors about Lightner's true purpose in the corporation though. Some, mostly those who had never faced the difficult task of negotiating with him, thought he was just the marketable face for the others to speak through, a poster boy and glorified mouth-piece. Others told wilder tales, of how the Four conducted secret religious services in discreet locations where they did obscene and even evil things, or that they were all members of some secret society that many other rich men and influential people belonged to. You shouldn't put too much stock in these claims though. They are just rumors, mere scuttlebutt after all.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Days before the colony collapsed and nearly the whole population died hideously, Lightner suddenly vanished. A few attempts were made to find him, but they all failed. Then the collapse came and no one managed to find him. It is taken as fact that he died along with his colony. Shortly after that, his surviving retainers stole or destroyed the last orbit-capable orbital shuttle the colony had and left the planet in a hurry. Then, with surprising ease, they managed to take over the colony's space craft in orbit and abandoned everyone else on the planet to die.
Overview of the Frozen City:
The City is divided up into a number of Zones. Each Zone will receive its own post in time, but for now, I will be including only the briefest summary below.
Zone 1: The Dead Zone.
This is the Frozen City aboveground. It's full of abandoned buildings connected by underground tunnels and iced-over roads and is infested with creatures called the Cyber-Dead. It is rather dangerous above ground and even more so below ground.
Zone 2: Strange's Tower
Strange's Tower is divided into two sections; the Domicile, which includes the living spaces, laboratories and garden and the Jungle.
The Domicile is closer to the ground and where Strange runs his operation. It also contains his Flesh Vaults, where he keeps all of his failed, hideous experiments. This area is relatively safe, provided the tower's master isn't angry with you, as all it would require to unleash a horde of freakish monsters is pushing a single button.
The Jungle, on the other hand, fills the upper levels and these floors are choked with life and terrible, hideous creatures designed to combat the repeated invasions by Strange's former partner, Thomas Grimm.
Zone 3: The Rat Warrens
A series of tunnels that connect Dale and Strange's Towers. They weren't dug by human hands or machinery, but by a creature far stronger than almost anything on this planet. Those that enter these tunnels rarely return alive. Those that do speak of crooning songs and huge, pale hands reaching out to grab unfortunates and drag them into the dark, never to be seen again.
Zone 4: Dale's Tower
Dale's Tower is run by the insane AI I mentioned above. Everything is breaking down and malfunctioning and large chunks of the tower are all but uninhabitable. The Cyber-Dead also secretly obey this AI, though the AI will deny this fact. There are also elite Cyber-Dead here, specifically ordered to guard the AI's servers and data core, to prevent it from being deactivated or assimilated by the other AI.
Zone 5: Firewall Bridge
This bridge is a site of a constant battle between the two AI. New Bethel Controller and "Emerson Dale" battle for control over the bridge, manipulating the nano-tech, hologram projectors and automated weapon systems on each tower to snipe at each other. This battle, of course, is only the visible part, as an even more intense battle is occuring in the decaying remains of the city's digital networks. This is one of the few areas where each AI can reach through the intranet and touch each other's "territory". Needless to say, crossing this bridge would be outright hazardous, if not impossible. A good idea would be to befriend or assist one of the AI, but doing so would automatically turn the other one against you, unless you were quite eloquent, or the AI had a very good reason to permit you to cross.
Zone 6: Slasher's Bridge
This bridge is the means through which Thomas Grimm has been assaulting Strange's Tower, to little success. It is a hazardous metal walkway, built under the shadow of Grimm's anti-air guns. Crossing the bridge is difficult due to the high winds and freezing temperatures, as well as the ice that often forms on the bridge. Watch your step, as its 180 odd feet to the ground. The bridge also has other dangers as well. For example, occasionally when Grimm's cybernetic soldiers are attempting to cross it, sometimes they are ambushed by a giant, feathery beast that swoops down out of the clouds to pick off one of their number and hurl them to the ground below, or carry them off to an uncertain, but likely terrible, fate.
Zone 7: Tomorrow's Tower or Grimm's Monument
This tower is the domain of Thomas Grimm, the master of this sterile, cold domain. He is an engineer, thus, a problem solver. Grimm decided to solve the problem of his failing biological body with robotic replacements, continuing until he is almost entirely machine. His staff followed suit, most of them having received extensive implants and modifications. The rest who would not or could not have largely expired and been replaced with slapdash robots.
Here Grimm plots his war against the other two rivals for the city, as well as continuing The Project. Currently he is attempting to build the entirely theoretical, an artificial, robotic man with an independent consciousness.
Zone 8: The Golden Stairs
This Bridge is the path from Thomas Grimm's to Aurian Lightner's tower. It is a covered bridge and is fastidiously maintained by Grimm, though he has forbidden his subordinates from using it and never goes into Lightner's domain itself. He has largely sealed off Lightner's tower, keeping it as a shrine in case Lightner had an heir that might one day arrive to complete the work that Lightner himself began. Though given the amount of time that has passed, Grimm would probably admit that this is a vain hope. Mostly, he just doesn't want to go in there because he has too many fond memories of Lightner and doesn't want to remind himself of his mentor's passing.
Zone 9: The Skypiercer or Lightner's House
Also called the Tower to Heaven, but this isn't common knowledge.
This tower is the oddest one of all. Grimm has sealed it and gaining access would be difficult. No one knows exactly what lies behind that door, but whatever it was, it was something that Lightner's servants felt was worth concealing. This was a conviction they felt so strongly that they stranded all the survivors of the colony on this isolated planet and fled with the only starcraft the colony had at its disposal.
Whatever lies behind those doors though, it would be one thing for certain- the Truth. About Lightner, about why this planet, about what the Four were really doing here and maybe so much more.
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