Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Monocracy of Ottersricht

The approach to Ottersricht is an impressive sight. As you pass through the dry plains towards it, you can see it rise up even as you are still a great distance away. When you get closer, however, it is even more peculiar in appearance. A tall, lonely mountain (if you can call it that) extends from the otherwise flat surface. The mountain is surprisingly narrow, although it does have a few gangly peaks jutting from its main body. Much of the slope is shear and cliff-like.

Once you arrive at the mountain, the path up is narrow and winds around the mountain all the way to the fortress. The path itself is wide enough for a cart and maybe a horse alongside it. And it is not very well kept. A local may be able to memorize every pit and crack, but the assent is not kind to a traveler. The outermost level consists of stone walls, referred to as the fortress (somewhat tongue-in cheek), mostly to allow soldiers to defend the town. A large gate stretches across the narrow path. The gate has a set of large, iron doors and a portcullis that can be closed in times of need. The homes in Ottersricht frequently appear to be part of the mountain itself; windows often appear on the side of the sheer surface and bricked in holes can be seen sporadically. There are city streets within the mountain town, of course. They are usually cobblestoned and wind and curve around the natural contours of the mountain and around the homes and other buildings that have been erected over the course of Ottersrichts history. Although narrow, the mountain does have enough space for all necessary buildings of a fortified village as well. The citizens also rely on the copious amounts of tunnels that make their way through the mountain. While many of these tunnels have been dug by the citizenry, some predate the settlement of the mountain and many more are unknown.

Illustration by J. Brisken
The most common method of reaching Ottersricht is to travel the great road across the barren plains. Nothing much grows on the plains as the soil is too alkaline. But the mountain is in an interesting position, for just on the other side of the mountain begin the bogs. Maybe at one point in the distant past the area was a giant forest with a magnificent lake. But those days are long gone and the bogs are all the lone reminder that there used to be something there.

There are two season in Ottersricht: the rainy season and everything else. During the rainy season, the rain comes from all directions while the wind whips across the plains. It is these torrents that lead those of a scientific mindset to assume that the peculiar mountain on which Ottersricht is located was shaped and formed by countless years of erosion. Of course, those of a supernatural mindset look towards the tunnels with curiosity

Regardless of the season, the temperature is often cold. Not cold enough to freeze, but cold enough to sap your energy and encourage sitting by a warm fire. This is another reason for the popularity of the tunnels. The underground stays at a temperature that is much more comfortable than being outdoors!

Due to the poor soil, the citizens of Ottersricht grow little of their own food, relying on trade for much of their diet. Many of the homes have large window boxes that grow a small amount of vegetables and the larger homes even have small terraces, but within the walls, there is not the space to grow more than that. The bog provides fruits, but as these are often bitter, they are mixed into other foods and rarely eaten plain. The bogs also provide plentiful hunting for those adventurous enough to explore far into them. The tunnels do provide some bounty. Rich mushrooms grow abundantly in the caves. These mushrooms are high in vitamins and minerals, but spongy and bland. Additionally, people have begun to farm the large spiders that inhabit the tunnels. These spiders can be kept in pens and allowed to feed on the vermin that already lives in the tunnels. These spiders, while low in flavor, are high in protein.

The town is run by the Monocrat, the single highest ranking government bureaucrat. The Monocrat acts with total authority to enforce and interpret the towns various rules and regulationsboth secular and religious. In the days before, it is said that the Monocrat was appointed by Sigmar himself. Now, it is a position achieved by toiling away until every bureaucrat above you dies or reaches mandatory retirement age. And that includes the Monocrat. This elevation of the lowly government employee has led to countless rules and regulations controlling who can do what and when to an excruciating degree. The only saving grace is that very often the present Monocrat cares far less about the rules of the previous Monocrat. But when in Ottersricht, one must always be wary of what obscure rule may be broken.

The current Monocrat is Kasper Hans. Like most Monocrats before him, he is an elderly man, with sunken eyes, pasty skin, and boney fingers, all from years spent cloistered at his desk turning the wheels of Bureaucracy. As he always has, Kasper spends most of his time still stationed at his desk in his office. After all, one does not rise to the level of Monocrat by taking holidays!

One of Kasper Hans first rules was to pass a tax of all followers of chaos; not that anyone admits to such a thing. This tax is not your normal tax, however, and mere coin will not suffice. No, the followers of chaos within the realms of Ottersricht must pay a yearly tax of a silverweight of their own flesh. And very few have survived paying such a steep tax! This tax has also lead to the appointment of a special taxman, known as the Tithe Collector. He and his Tallymen roam the area looking for those evading Ottersrichts revenue service.

This does not mean that all is well in Ottersricht, however. The Tallymens use of force has roused the bog mutants in colonies, as they are the most frequent victims of the revenue men. Particularly cunning or large mutants have managed to form tribes of mutants for mutual self-protection, and they have begun to launch the occasional raid on lonely individuals and small groups. And to make matters worse, several citizens have gone missing of late in the tunnels, with whispers of their disappearance referring to the stitcher taking them. The towns location on an alkaline plain brings out the lunatic wanders too; and you have to be a special kind of vagabond to survive such a barren environment. But not all travelers are badwhy rumor has it that a merchants caravan full of bizarre wonders is on its way to Ottersricht!

As I spend less time actually gaming, I've found myself spending more time world building in my mind while I paint. After all, how else will I know that the swordsman I am painting is not just some swordsman, but Otto the butcher's son who has been levied into the town militia on his off days? These kind of details help keep me enthusiastic about painting and make decisions about how to paint. 

But such world building is also fun; it lets me tell a storyeven if only to my self. Although, I do plan on using these stories to convince my kids to game 😂 Ottersricht, described above, is set in the Warhammer world, but I've kept it intentionally vague as to which one. It could easily be a city-state in the Border Princes or an isolated town in one of the many realms of the Age of Sigmar. My goal is to be able to tell stories in both games without having to reinvent the wheel, or more importantly remodel my (as yet unbuilt) gaming table. And to not confuse my children who likely won't give a rat's ass about the difference between the old world and the nine realms!

In the coming weeks, I'll be detailing more about some of the personalities I introduced above. The Stitcher and several of his henchmen are done, as is a bog mutant, with a few more partially converted. I just need to take photos of those once my basement remodel is finished (very soon!). Most of the parts for the Tallymen and the Merchants are purchased but a little bit further away. Plus I have some plans for some "NPC" type characters as well. 

Oh, and finally, a huge thanks to Jason Brisken for the artwork!