Some cultures in Cobrin’Seil are nations. The Eresh Protectorate, with its connected string of city-states, boasts a half-billion souls across all its cities though if you believe the bookkeeping is another affair. Some cultures are very small — mostly homogenous little groupings like the Orcs or the Dio Baragh or the Gnolls. Even amongst those, there are large communities with thousands of members, from which adventurers can start their stories.
Some cultures are pretty small, though, and sometimes that size is a function of material concerns. The example today is the city of Torrent, nestled as it is around the Doval monastery. The material concerns are the town’s resilience against any kind of external authority, the city’s ready access to lightning powered magical technology, and of course, the way that a portion of the population are violently immortal.
It’s a bit of a conversation kick off.
Torrent is a city of almost twenty thousand people, perched at the top of multiple mountain roads. A dammed lake serves as a source for water and fish, with wildlife in the surrounding forests. The city trades with nearby towns, on lower elevations, selling raw materials including food and grain to Torrent. Since the mountain paths can be treacherous during winter, the Torrent tradition with food is to stockpile in warm months, then make long-lasting preserved food for the remaining time.
The town is heated by lightning-powered coils, which also are set up to keep the lake from freezing over in the cold winters; long metal rods are sunk into the lake down near the base, and then the metal is warmed by charged lightning. These deep rods are protected from the wildlife by mesh cages, and the result is a lake which is very warm to swim in, and stocked with fish and wildlife that are much more likely to be in warmer waters than you’d expect near the top of a mountain.
One of the traits of Torrent as a city is that people often build their homes in a way that seems ‘inverted’ to most; while most people would put a resting or sleeping room on the top of a house, to benefit from sunlight and pleasant views, most homes in Torrent are sunk into the ground, as windowless basements. They’re also very heavily insulated and soundproofed. It’s also very common to keep some long-lasting well-keeping food stored in a bedroom – a holdover from earlier times when a snowy collapse or heavy storm might trap someone in their basement bedroom until the weather warmed.
Where most mountain villages of its ilk tend to be built around a castle or fortress, what sits in the center of Torrent is the Doval monastery. This monastery does share many of the traits of a fortress – its original architecture was to make it unassailable and difficult to attack from any angle but its reinforced, protected gates – but over time paths and routes have been carved to make the monastery more accessible to the people of Torrent.
By the way ‘monk’ is a term with two pretty common genres in the real world. There’s monks, which is typically used to describe Catholic robed folk who make beer in little flat buildings in Europe, and then there’s monks, which is typically used to describe a whole variety of Asian disciplines and focuses as expressed in the documentary Kung Fu with David Carradine.This monastery is in your European style — with a bit of complication.
The Doval monastery is a heavily walled, fortified building built around a central building in a central courtyard. The fortification is much more about enduring the impact of the weather and the nearly-constant lightning storms the peak experiences — and invites! That central building, known as the Anvil, has an enormous towering metal spire jutting out of it, and that spire captures lightning bolts. Every night, booming thunder and lightning teem around the Anvil, and every night, vast turbines and glass chambers built into the monastery convert this lightning into usable forms of energy for Torrent.
This is a practice taken by the Doval monks. These monks isolate themselves from society in devotion to an ideology not of pollution or corruption but rather because it’s the most convenient way for a city-sized experiment to go ‘hey stand back and hold this.’ The monks of Doval came to the monastery in the name of Schwartzstrom, a demigod of storms and thunder, believing the mountaintop to be a holy site where their goddess once did battle with a god of hatred. When asked, Schwartzstrom said ‘I dunno, it sounds like something I’d do,’ which is engraved on the base of the Anvil in very formal script.
Doval monks are a people split equally between those fascinated with the limits of their own body, as expressed in athletic experience and consumptive experiences, and those fascinated by the capacity of uncaring nature to outpace them. At essence, Doval monks are equal parts experimental alchemists and junkies for physical experiences, both jock and nerd and united in those two perspectives’ embrace of the phrase I Wonder What Happens If I–
Doval monks philosophy is however, almost entirely internal; Doval do not, for example, pursue a variety of sexual experiences with a huge variety of partners (necessarily) because the focus is not on how other people make you feel, but rather about how your body feels about those feelings. Sure, they do endurance training in the snow of the surrounding mountains to the degree that is definitely not healthy for most people, and sure, they compose alcohol and drug concoctions that are best treated as if they catalyse metals rather than feed humans. Doval monks are extremely well-versed in ways the body and mind can link to one another, and have pursued research into the way that stimulants and relaxants work on the body to interface with the mind.
It’s a monastery full of jock nerds who treat PTSD with molly and weed, okay? They do experiments with tesla coils and lightning strikes and the reason they can pursue this fantastically stupid mix of chemically altered science is because there are, amongst them, the Anvilgard: People who have stood in the Anvil and been blessed by the storm.
Anvilgard are immortal. They do not, at the current metric, die of old age. The first Anvilgard are still around. They do not die of violence; all Anvilgard when killed, reform in the Anvil, with an almighty lightning bolt, without their goods and with only scars from whatever injury killed them. This does mean there are Anvilgard with multiple decapitation scars from periods in history when things got spicy about these irreveerent adventure idiots. Over time, there is some suggestion that Anvilgard memory fades – for example, the oldest Anvilgard largely do not remember much of their early life beyond some sensory experience. This is also a field of study – with Doval monks seeking to find ways to provoke and preserve memory, which means that since this phenomenon was discovered, the Doval have become assidious archivists.
There’s an element at work here that needs to be navigated carefully, though. Because, to pull aside the curtain on this one, twenty years ago when this demigod was first invoked, Schwartzstrom was just a namey-sounding name that separated the character from the immediate now. She was created as a sort of Hercules-style godhead who could express some rudimentary ‘mythic hero’ stuff, and I plonked her into the space of, basically, Thor.
Chances are you don’t speak German, but if you do, you’d have noticed that ‘Schwartzstrom’ doesn’t really mean ‘black storm,’ the way that say, a dumb teenager would think. Instead, ‘Strom’ is more like the word ‘flow’ or ‘current,’ like you’d see in a river, and therefore, gets used in conversations about electricity. Schwarzstrom therefore means black current, which, when said aloud in Australia, refers most often to a type of berry that we make juice out of. This juice tends to be associated with little kids, as it’s really sweet. This makes the name very funny in that it’s clearly an idiot’s choice, but also, kinda awesome as part of it. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and feel free to giggle.
If I’m keeping this name though, and I honestly don’t mind, it seems appropriate to me that she, as a character, has a misunderstood German name that looks most appropriate airbrushed on a van, but if I’m keeping this name then I’m going to be blocked into a language space that needs to be preeeetty carefully monitored. Why? Because German words, especially words related to ‘storms’ and ‘blackness’ are really dicey as a place to build your language from and you wind up making some things that are uhhh
Anyway, Schwartzstrom is just a cool dumbass jock god who runs around saving animals and punching monsters. She is her own airbrushed stoner van mural of an identity, surrounded by an adventuring party worth of other divine story characters. There’s stuff that can be done in her name, invoking her, but her response about how it works or why it works if she ever encounters it is: I dunno?
Okay, so there’s this little culture, a town that sends out adventurers to go fight, but they also have a population of only a few thousand, and there’s no heritage hegemony. Any given person can come from here, and they accept everyone.
What then, do you use to represent that you’re from Torrent? Why, that’s a bunch of mechanical malarkey, and you can check that out tomorrow!