So, at long last I’m running an Iron Kingdoms game after having owned the setting books for years. First port of call is… well, finding a port of call. Where is the adventure going to happen?
To find out where, I want to look at what. What sort of game is this going to be? The irregular availability of players means that I can’t do anything too continuous – any plot arcs and changes to the setting will have to happen behind the scenes and quietly influence/be influenced by what the players do, be there for the noticing but not integral to what’s happening unless there’s a short run of shared availability for most of the gang. It’s got to be quite sandboxy and incorporate space for tactical as well as theatrical roleplay, and I want the whole “explore an area, conserve resources” aspect of old-school roleplaying to be prominent as I’m trying to get away from long-term political intrigue and mainly social conflict. Sort of a sandbox crawl, then, with the capacity to return to a base of operations and break between sessions so that the same people don’t have to be able to make it next time to carry on.
I’ve mentioned before that I have a bit of a thing for industrial wastelands (in fact, I live on the edge of a small one – the old Marston’s Brewery site just to the west of Wolverhampton), and that my take on the dungeon crawl involves exploring run-down canals, decrepit factories and overgrown stretches of desolation between them rather than venturing through some catacomb or castle cellar. The Iron Kingdoms are a licence to industrialise the fantasy experience, but since they’re climbing toward the peak of their military-industrial revolution rather than experiencing the fall therefrom, unlike the surroundings that inspire them, there needs to be some reason that the industrial sites are not only abandoned, but old.
Enter Fisherbrook. Fisherbrook, according to the World Guide, is a small city in northern Cygnar, on the edge of the Thornwood Forest that delineates the border with Imperial Khador. A hundred years ago it was a prosperous port on a major trade route, but the advent of steam trains and the closing of the national borders has turned things for the worse, and for the last century the place has been slowly decaying. From the Warmachine background, I know that Fisherbrook has been sacked at least once (by the Protectorate of Menoth) and currently lies just inside the new Khador-Cygnar border, delineated by the southern edge of the Thornwood and the Dragon’s Tongue River.
So far, so good. A hundred years of decay capped off by recent battle damage, on a national border (to get that whole Cold War feel that I so like about the Iron Kingdoms as a setting), with swamps and forest to one side (for a change of pace from bricks and mortar), used to be a port (lots of canals running off the lake) and recently occupied by an imperial power.
What immediately springs to mind: Khador owns Fisherbrook now, but let’s say there’s something stopping their army from just rolling all over it. Maybe they can’t send too many troops in – with Stonebridge Castle only on the other side of the lake, that would constitute an act of war for which they’re not ready, not yet – but they can commission deniable assets to explore the ruins and surrounding environs on their behalf. Perhaps there could even be some sort of Job Board available, on which interested parties from various factions could advertise for hired labour of an adventurous disposition?
Now, I could sketch out a city map from scratch, but I am a lazy bum and would always, always rather cheat and use a real place as the skeleton. This isn’t just lassitude, I swear – I’m not a city planner and there’s always a chance that if you leave me to my own devices I’ll site the midden too nigh the well or something. So what I need is an industrial town with wilderness to the north and a body of water to the south.
A few years ago, when I was first looking at universities, I took a trip to the industrial North and stayed in Hebden Bridge, which – before being colonised by charming bohemian types in the Sixties/Seventies – was a post-industrial wreck. Elements of that still abound, particularly in the small villages on the outskirts of the town, part of it in all but name. Witness:
Tumble those houses in the background down a bit, extend the general state of decay, and you’re heading in the right direction. Plus, if we have a quick look at the town –
– we see a correctly aligned river (standing in for the northern edge of the Thornmere, some pockets of conurbation with small windy streets, and some delineated areas of wilderness between them. That’ll do for some urban exploration shenanigans. Time to dress the map up. From the World Guide, I know of a few notable features; the Gobber’s Mill, a lakeside arrangement for merchant houses bodged together into a sort of combination factory, marketplace and extended, sprawling shanty village, and the Woodsman’s Folly, the fortified inn from which the town had effectively been run before the war. Concentrate that stuff on the southern side, the shores of the new lake, and that gives the rest of the town to be explored, heading northwards.
The following barbarously defaced map indicates which parts of the original town’s surroundings have been turned into either lake (teal) or boggy, gnarly forest (dark green). Gobber’s Mill is marked in bright green and the small Khadoran garrison, based around the inn now known as the Anvil, in red. All the rest is desolation and ruin, ready to be explored.