Thursday, September 3, 2015

HMS Apollyon - Player Introduction from Player Guide

The gates of the Bleeding Gaol opened, and the stiffness from your cramped confinement, the chaffing from the fetters and the psychic scars of darkness and uncertainty has finally left you over the last day or two.  Now there is only the Rustgates and the near certainty of a bad death.

You were born and raised among the stews and fleshpots of the Cannery, Pickbone Square, The Pool or even the Sun Rookery, but that hardly matters now.  Likewise, the pleasures and pains of the life you lived there are all just memories - that you were the shift leader on the can line, or the fastest scrivener in the factor house is as immaterial as if you were the worst copyist in the Queen’s Scriptorium or a lay-about Vory thug who never managed to savvy The Code.  Whatever you were is stripped away by the brand of ‘flotsam’ on your right wrist, and whatever you did to get here matters little.  Even guilt and innocence are unimportant, as only social status offers survival in Sterntown: access to food, protection from arbitrary violence, the freedom to move about town, availability of shelter, and the right to purchase proper supplies and equipment all depend on who you know and who finds you useful.  Even if you once were, you sentence means that you must again prove your value to self-interested and capricious judges.  You are an exile, a criminal, and outcast so  it’s your lot to live the rest of your days in the festering favelas and dense scaffold slums of the Rustgate, where you can either die or  find a thin accommodation with survival by pulling treasures from the haunted hull.


The Rustgates - almost accurate map of street level
The Rustgates are a small, even more densely populated area of the already cramped Stern.  Like all “decks” of the Apollyon they consist of a series of 100’ tall vaults of green-black orichalcum – unworkable “ship metal” formed by the long lost technology of the builders before the great marooning.  Unlike some other areas of the vessel, the Rustgate (and most of Sterntown) contain few orderly sublevels and whatever cabins, gangways and working spaces they once held have been ripped out, their stone, steel and wood repurposed to build a sprawl of scaffolding, balconies, poorly ventilated tenements, storefront shrines, bars, burlesque houses, gambling dens, fighting pits, noodle shops and flop houses. 

While at the deck level there is some semblance of a street, only on the “Golden Way” running in front of the great Gilded Exile Burlesque House do these streets reach from the metal of the lowest deck to the buttresses of the ceiling.  The majority of the space within the vault that makes up the Rustgates is tangle of buildings, shacks and scaffolding piled atop each other, forming a crazy web of shanties and hovels above the more prosaic buildings below.  
The principal industries of the Rustgates are vice and scavenging from the hull, and the powers of Sterntown profit from it anarchy and hidden order as the Rustgates provide an influx of treasure and raw materials from the rest of the hull that Sterntown’s industry and luxury both depend on, while also offering a productive way to dispose of citizens who defy, disrupt, question or inconvenience them.

The population of the Rustgates is truly made up of the vessel’s lowest and unluckiest.  Factorial workers maimed by machinery and cast out of the grim, tidy tenements of neighborhoods like Pickbone Square, and every other variety of madman, cripple and urchin.  Gangs of feral urchins (widely believed to be cannibal) nest high above the streets in the blower ducts and descend to rob, kill and run confidence games on the slightly less impoverished  denizens of the Rustgate’s lower levels.  Scavenging, trading in scavenged goods, and sybaritic entertainment are the only jobs within the Gates, and except for those too far gone to injury, madness or addicition the community’s leaders expect everyone in the Gates to work or starve.  The Gates principle factions control all life, and a longtime resident who offends the gangster “block captain”, the Steward thug,  or even the street preacher of Lyriss, may suddenly find themselves going hungry as even the stand where they’ve bought kelp and dried fish for ten years turns them away.  Only the three public fountains, great stone pools surrounded by chipped, hull-plundered statuary, whose faces have been re-carved many times to honor entire lineages of Uptown philanthropists are open to all and provide clean water and a sort of watering hole sanctuary to all. 

The incredible density of life in the Rustgates allows about eight thousand residents to be crammed into a space that is about two city blocks square, but built up in an overlapping mass of stories and half stories as high as a ten story building.  Like almost all of Sterntown it is lit only by artificial light, mostly by dim bluish gas lamps fueled by decaying waste piped from processing centers on the level above.  Private light sources are common as well, from the stub of tallow candles used by the beggars and addicts to light their pleading faces to the strings and bouquets of gay multi-colored glow kelp bulbs that advertise even the dingiest dive bar or knocking shop.

The Golden Way, the short ‘U’ shaped street that runs from the Rust Gate fortifications past the Gilded Exile Burlesque House and to the gates of the Bleeding Gaol is the most brightly lit, busiest and safest spot in the Rust Gates. Uniformed and relatively polite Steward gendarmes patrol the Golden Way’s starboard arm, while clusters of nattily, even foppishly, dressed syndicators openly bearing advanced weaponry such as block magazine rifles and drum feed, self-cocking arbalests.  The street is lined on all sides by theaters, gin palaces and fancy brothels and designed to appeal to both the most successful of scavengers and the wealthy Passengers who flock to its ‘seedy delights’.

Attractions and Factions of The Rustgates
(1) The Gilded Exile – The premier house of leisure and debauchery in the Rustgates, and perhaps all of Sterntown.  It attracts a wide clientele to the otherwise benighted Rustgates, even including passengers.  The Gilded Exile hulks from floor to roof, covering an enormous amount of space and extending deep enough into the hull to contain two arenas, several ballrooms, tens of brothels and over a hundred restaurants and bars.  The entire edifice is ruled by Madam Deirdre Introuvebibi , Madam Bibi to her friends, the Vice-Queen of the Gates.  The Madam is a syndicator of great power, so merciless and and her black clad thugs and Merrowman enforcers provide law and order in the Rustgates with a cunning, brutality and disciple that protects the Madam’s principle business of taking money from those who visit the Rustgates and providing them with sordid addictive pleasures.  Unsanctioned violence, robbery and hooliganism are not permitted by the Gilded Exile Vory, making the warren of the Rustgates far safer then its wild anarchic appearance suggests.

(2) The Bleeding Gaol – This stained column of welded metal is a principle fortress of the Stewards, Sterntown’s primary military and sole legitimate internal security force, and serves as offices, barracks and arsenal for the Rustgates, which in addition to being Sterntown’s slum district are it’s primary fortification against inscursion from the bow reaches of the vessel.  The Stewards are a clannish and insular lot, most are related to each other and few interact with the crew castes of the vessel except to threaten or harass them.  The Stewards of the Bleeding Gaol are less active and more approachable than Steward detachments in other areas, perhaps because they are responsible for manning Sterntown’s outer works and stare directly into the abyss of the hull.

The Bleeding Gaol also serves as a prison and courts but contains relatively few cells as most factions have their own means of detaining, holding and sentencing those who violate their rules or public order.  

(3) House of the Tendfold Sea – A sprightly tenement built against the walls of the Bleeding Gaol and a short distance from the “Whale Fountain” (itself named for the vast bronze fish that trumpets water into its public basin.)  The House of Tenfold Sea is openly rumored to be the secret shrine of the Cult of the Leviathan, but the taciturn froglings that always seems to lounge on its steps and claims to maintain the building’s wide variety of bioluminescent window box plants deny any knowledge of such a cult.  

This obvious lie fools no one, as the House is the starting point for the Leviathan Cult’s much loved quarterly parades, where robed and masked dedicants of the Sea’s mysteries fling enormous amounts of fresh and preserved seafood to the crowd from atop floats depicting whales, sharks, squid and other more fanciful sea creatures.

(4) Shrine of the Ship Spirits – Once a thriving temple dedicated to the multitude of Ship Spirits popularly worshipped amongst the crew, this large building is still a burnt wreck and the mambos and houngans whose altars it once contained are dead or scattered.  The fire that destroyed the Rustgate home of Sterntown’s most populist religion has been blamed on a ‘gas leak’ by both the Stewards and by the Gilded Exile neighborhood watchers, but that the valuable building remains and empty place of bones and ash, avoided even by urchin packs, suggests the cold fury of the Madam Bibi to most who have even the slightest understanding of the Rustgate’s politics.  Ship Spirit worshippers still leave small offerings here, but their numbers have declined, at least partially because of the toughs and thugs who often loiter here watching and taking names.

(5) Scavenger’s Union Hall – Part flop-house, part trading floor and mostly dingy bar, this low bunker-like building is the home of “General” Mecham’s Scavenger’s Union, which claims to represent and organize the numerous scavenger teams of the Rustgates.  Mecham may be one of the rarest sorts of individuals, a true populist, striving to improve the lot of the citizens of the Rustgates, but he is also certainly a canny lunatic.  The Union provides a safe, but barebones place to sleep for its members and a place to swap tales of expeditions, sell treasure to the Factors through the Union’s auctions and to display trophies.  Basic membership costs 50GP to anyone who has ventured into the hull and provides a ragged armband of green cloth as well as access to the building and its basic services of affordable food and shelter.  The stores, map room, hiring hall and artificers bound to the Scavenger’s Union require greater proof of devotion to Mecham and his ever changing cause.

(6) Unified Factorial Office – There are many merchant organizations in Sterntown, and all have representatives, fortified receiving houses and chandleries located along a curved street (Coin Lane) in Port/Stern quadrant of the Rustgates.  Within this neat structure, well protected by guards and magical wards factorial agents buy scavenged goods that are hauled through the nearby gate to the Warehouse district.  Of more interest to scavengers, goods prices, commissions and bounties are posted or negotiated here. The entire region of Coin Lane is a rather civilized and bourgeois place, with tidy shops and snug pubs along its length and austere apartments above to warehouse the scriveners, agents and guards that make the Scavenging business run smoothly and profitably.  The Lane’s sleepy appearance conceals a slumbering violence and fear, as the majority of its residents are uncomfortable living in the lawless feeling Rustgates, and vigilante mobs or brutal squads of factorial enforcers will descend almost instantly on troublemakers and strangers.

(7) Hope Favella – A great round drum of a building, once one of the more sordid and wretched dwellings in the Rustgates has fallen under the sway of The Temple of Lyriss and its stern Patriarch Sem the Prophet.   The Militaristic religion claims to be devoted to victory, the human spirit and mutual self-help, but to many watching from the outside it seems like a rapidly growing militaristic cult that shuns outsiders and meets any intrusion or slight with murderous, efficient violence.  During recent civil unrest the entirety of the Favella was seized as the Temple expanded from its original rooms on the lowest floor.  Some residents were forced out, while others swelled the temple’s numbers. Now the sounds of industry and drill pour from the Favella, as the Temple trades handicrafts and light armaments for large amounts of food, clothing and other essentials.   The exact goals and numbers of Lyriss’s flock, like the nature of the goddess herself, are unknown  but Hope Favella is the forbidding fortress of an alien deity, barricaded, loop-holed and patrolled by squads sober, hard-faced soldierly deacons in grey garrison armor. 

(8) Church of Watchful Monarch – Newly converted from a former gambling hall this opulent church is devoted to The Orthodoxy of The Returned Queen, the favorite religion of the Stewards and Pasengers, and its teachings of hierarchy, wealth as worth and obedience.  It is a popular sight as once a week a column of Stewards parade from the Gaol to the Church for sermons and absolution conducted by the Rustgate’s Inquisitor in Chief, Brother Beedle.  At first the sight of the somber looking Stewards in their blue and white striped uniforms next to their scrubbed, red and lumpy faced children in starched white pinafores were a source of amusement for the Golden Way’s wits, but mockery soon ended.  Rumors of gold, red and black clad inquisitors snatching the loudest or rudest members of the crowd and the only lightly suppressed knowledge that the Queen’s sacraments do not preclude human sacrifice have made the Steward’s Parade a quieter affair.

The Church is not only a place of worship, but also a charity and it will provide any who ask a bowl of thick hearty stew and a tankard of watery wine three times a day if they are willing to ignore the ‘scared spittle of disdain’ in the bowl, and listen quietly to a sermon on the evils of necromancy, the righteous chains of duty or the superior intellects and souls of the Queen’s anointed passengers.  The Queen’s charity is not limited to soup, however, and the wealth of the church allows it to provide cash loans to the needy, alms to the destitute and healing services.  Beedle also offers supplies for combating the undead and has a standing reward for items and scholars of necromantic magic that he will offer for sacrifice on his altar.  

Sterntown is a tightly packed city of perhaps 60,000 souls, built vertically, from Deck 5 upward to the Weather Deck, where the sun filters down amongst the few fortified towers of the Passenger Class that make up Uptown.  A sad pressure boiler of civilization, Sterntown claims to be the total of human existence - crammed into the upper half of the port quadrant of the great vessel’s stern with the vast expanse of haunted hull on four sides, the grey sky above and the cruel sea on the sixth.

The Rustgates likely represent the borders of any scavenger’s world, but the rest of Sterntown covers a space many times as large and contains brutal factories, mushroom farms, greenhouses, canneries and suburbs of grim, syndicator ruled tenements for their crew caste workers, as well as some other areas of less regimented life.  The Pool is a great flooded vault where cranes allow access to the wild sea, it is home to Sterntown’s fishing fleet and the clannish fishers that man it.  The fishers sometimes seem alien to most Sterntowners, wearing their salt stained, embroidered sea-leathers and speaking in a harsh cant that  borrows many words from the croaking ritual language of the Froglings.  It is hard to tell where The Pool ends and the floating demesne of Boss Wug’s Frogburg begins. The Froglings and Fishers work and live closely together in the boats, dredges and aquatic farms of the Pool, providing a great deal of Sterntown’s food and raw materials.  

Uptown is another alien world, the vine draped towers of Sterntown’s elite caste of Passengers.  For hundreds, likely thousands of years (time runs in odd ways aboard the Apollyon) the Passenger Class has ruled from the upper deck of the Apollyon.  Their  sorcery and otherworldly allies protecting humanity from the undead, the demonic and the corrupted.  They live in luxury, served by slavishly loyal flying monkeys and growing stranger and more decadent with every generation and every influence of blood from the outsider entities that they have pacted with for protection and power.

The hulls is the haunted and mysterious land of childhood nightmares and the bragging reminiscences of the oldest Sterntowners.  The legends of humanity’s rule of the entire ship, and the history of the great war two generations ago that drove mankind from its established cities Amidships tell of wealth and comparative ease, but the recollections of the war itself are tales of horror – endless lines of refugees driven to exhaustion before the grey hordes of the Ash Plague’s dead legions.  The relentless fighting retreat, where neither man or bound devil could stand against the sorceries and thralls of the Plague Kings and Queens.  The foolish, brave and ultimately pointless sacrifices of Man, Frogling, Monkey and Marine. 

The wise (and some children's rhymes) name the Ash Plague a vengeance wrought by history's blunderings.  More usefully they name 10 plague kings and queens:  Ma'At the Golden, Languid Serhkat (or Scorpion), Mernieth, The First Unknown, Tsar Lud, Sea Queen Moab, Jana Khrae, Blood's Lover, The Grey Philosopher and The Least King.

The Ash Plague is not the only danger in the hull, they are not even the only undead, and it’s drowned, rusted and crumbling vaults are filled with all manner of killers, flesh eaters and woeful beasts: unbound devils, craydogs, crawling death, merrow, ichthyomorphs, wild froglings, ghula, revenants, feral men, walking mushrooms, cannibal cults, the black gang, demon khans, exiled passenger clans, kraken, monstrous hound packs, rat kings and salt haints.  All seek the flesh and souls of humanity.  Yet despite the danger there is enormous wealth to be found among the pitch dark wrack of fungal ruin and decay.  Not only the treasures of vanished civilization and the wonders of the ancients, but the new magics, food sources, technologies and artifacts of the adversaries themselves, all waiting to be plucked and carried back to an adoring Sterntown by the lucky, the ruthless and the indomitable. 


  1. HMS Apollyon stuff is great!

    Can't get enough...

  2. Do you plan to publish HMS materials as a campaign setting or sth? I'd be glad to give you some monies for this ;)