User:Bill/Magocracy of Dholavira

From RPGnet
Jump to: navigation, search

Because I like multilayer stories with frequently recurring non-player characters, I've decided this will be an urban campaign. I've had great success in the past with these sorts of games, though I am forced to admit that D&D doesn't lend itself well to this style of play and the gamers who are fond of the rules may not adapt to it easily. I'm hoping that everyone will give it a shot at least. In an effort to reduce the value and importance of combat encounters, experience will be awarded at a rate of 300pts per session plus an additional 100pts per session to be awarded by group consensus to the most valuable player and 100pts per session awarded to any player for any reason by the GM.



Dholavira is a very large city, approximate population of one million, situated between two storm-water channels, the Mansar to the north and Manhar to the south, in a warm to temperate plain. During the summer months, the monsoon season, these channels flood the plain with run-off; effectively turning Dholavira into an island surrounded by enormous salt marshes. During the winter months the marshes dry, leaving huge deposits of salt that the inhabitants collect for export. Dholavira's primary purpose and source of wealth is acting as a trade center.

The city is heavily fortified and exceptionally well planned. It is divided into three main districts; the citadel, the middle town, and the lower town. The citadel and bailey house the eldrich council, their families, servants and retainers as well as laboratories where the council members continue to expand their mystical power. The middle town is a lavishly appointed district combining temples, the homes of the wealthy, and two stadiums as well as a number of smaller parks. The lower town houses farmers, laborers, and herdsmen, their families and the markets. Lodging for travelers is most common in the lower town, but wealthy traders are frequently hosted by partners residing in the middle town, and dignitaries from foreign lands are customarily given rooms in the citadel. A prominent feature of Dholavira are its many reservoirs and citywide irrigation system; which purifies and stores the water from the Mansar and Manhar, supplies fresh water to the entire population, and carries sewage away from the city. Contained within pipes and ducts, some as tall as a man, water ways and sewers criss-cross the whole of Dholavira.


Currently ruled by a council of magi, elected from the ranks of the Majestic Order of the Eldrich College, Dholivira is actually a form of democracy. Anyone that apprentices under a Master of the College until judged ready may attain the rank of Apprentice of the College, which entitles he or she to vote in the triennial elections for the seven seats on the council and sexennial election of the High Magus. Apprenticeship is customarily three years and very expensive, so franchise in the city's government continues to be limited. After the Eldrich College came to power there was a significant movement by many residents of the city to study magic and gain the right to choose their leaders, but few were able to endure the rigors of Arcane training or bear the expense. However, as a consequence of this movement, the practice of cantrips has become quite common in Dholavira.

This odd system of governance came into being when the sovereign Qingu, last ruler of the Gibil dynasty, bequeathed the city to the stewardship of the Eldrich College, thirty years ago. Qingu had no heir, though rumors of bastards have surfaced several times and Qingu's more distant relatives have accused the college of usurpation, claiming that they are the legitimate rulers of Dholavira. The Eldrich College's charter has always placed the leadership of their organization on a body of seven Grand Masters that advise the High Magus; all of whom are elected by the members of the college. At the time of Qingu's death it was decided that this would not change, in spite of the college's new responsibilities.The system has persisted since then, but not without challenges.

Code of Law[edit]

The commonality of magic in Dholavira changes how law can be applied. The application of spells such as geas and Seals of Binding makes contracts very difficult to ignore or evade; virtually eliminating common civil disputes. Only in instances where no magic has previously been applied or when it has been applied in bad faith, is it necessary to involve a magister.

Magisters are appointed by the Eldrich Council for periods of four years. While there is no law requiring these magisters to be members of the Eldrich College, the vast majority of them are. The number of magisters is not fixed and the Eldrich Council appoints them as necessary throughout the year to deal with the volume of work. Over the course of a magister's appointment he or she is paid a stipend and given a small staff; including a journeyman member of the Eldrich College capable of casting divination and enchantment spells sufficient to wrest the truth from any matter, a scholar dedicated to studying the law, a pair of bailiffs to insure peace in the court, and one mundane investigator to follow up on matters of interest to the court. The staff is paid for by the magister from his or her stipend, and he or she is permitted to appoint anyone he or she chooses to it. In return, magisters are required to hold court a minimum of six hours per week and up to as many as necessary to meet the demands of the people. A magister may step down from his or her position at any time.

Seal of Binding
'Description: A cylinder carved from a single piece of semi-precious stone, inscribed with mystical writing. Rolling this seal across any document binds the holder (as per the spell 'geas) of the seal to honor any terms described within it so long as the document remains whole. It is considered bad faith to enter into any significant business deal without both parties employing seal of binding.
Notes: Strong enchantment; CL12; Craft Wondrous Item; geas; Price: 33,000 gp

Dholavira's criminal law is far more progressive that of other cities as well. Very few crimes are punished with lethal force. Instead restitution is extracted through use of geas. In some cases, most frequently murder, this takes the form of lifetime commitments to serve the state and obey the law. Some have protested this practice of mentally shackling citizens of Dholavira, but few have offered a reasonable substitute.

Sample Laws[edit]
  • It is unlawful to utilize summoning magic (defined as the application of any natural or unnatural power that calls into existence or makes manifest any form of animal, elemental, or other being, intelligent or otherwise) without the express permission of an officer of the Eldrich Council.
  • The practice of magic (defined as the application of any natural or unnatural power that causes a person, thing, or deity's will to be worked on the world without direct application of labor) is prohibited without a license.
  • The brandishing of arms (defined as any implement that can be used to inflict bodily or mental injury by accident or intent) is unlawful.
  • It is prohibited to assault any person without just cause (such as in the defense of oneself and loved ones in the face of immanent threat).
  • Defacing (defined as intentional or unintentional harm rendered unto an object or structure) the public offices (defined as any structure commonly used for the execution of a public servant's duties) of the government or any monument (defined as a statue, golem, or other work of art owned by the people of Dholavira) is unlawful.
  • The production of enchanted arms or armors (defined as any magical device, poultice, or potion that may be used by intent or accident to improve a combatant's success in a contest of arms) without a license is an act of treason against the city of Dholavira and her citizenry.

Taxation & The Economy[edit]

Dholavira's economy is in many respects tax-based. The city has very limited natural resources. Literally all that is produced by her labor base is rice and salt. However, since the foundation of the city its rulers have extracted as much wealth as possible from those who would do business within the protection of its walls. Virtually every transaction includes a levy that must be paid to the government. Ostensibly the revenues of these taxes are used to support the civic works that enable Dholavira to thrive in the hostile environment of the Rann and the substantial might of the city's military. Many citizens grumble that the taxes are too high and that they make it impossible for the commoner to aspire to anything greater than a full belly.

The large number of mages in the city does make the export of magical wonders possible; but the most lucrative of these works magical weapons and armor are restricted by law to domestic production for the armies of Dholavira herself. Licensure to do so is strictly regulated by the Eldrich Council and illegal traffic in magical arms and armor is considered an act of treason. It is one of the few offenses in the city that is punishable by death. The heavy taxes levied on spellcasting for hire and the sale of magical items completely negates any reduction in price that would be expected from the increased availability of the service. In other words, yes it is possible to purchase virtually any magical item ever imagined in Dholavira; but it isn't any cheaper to do it.

Additionally, the legal constraints on enchanted weapons and armor makes it very risky to produce either except in service to the state. All prices for magical weapons and armor will be doubled and possession of a magical weapon or piece of armor without documentation of its import into the city is a crime. Documentation is easy to get, but the documentation itself must be enchanted to ensure its authenticity; which will cost approximately 100 GP per item. Documentation is non-transferable as well, so magical weapons and protective devices are one of the few goods not traded in the city. Please note that all magical items, including but not limited to wands, staves, rings, and wondrous items with a damaging or protective effect fall under this description.


The armies of Dholavira fall are officially under the direct command of the Lord High Magus. The Arch Magus of Metal is responsible for the readiness and upkeep of the city's forces though. Dholavira presently counts 100,000 men as her regular army with a militia force of around another 100,000 men. In addition, every member of the Eldrich College, approximately 50,000 including apprentices, is sworn to protect the city in time of war. Supplementing this impressive force is the automaton legion; about 1000 golems of all shapes and descriptions.

Many ranking soldiers of Dholavira trace their ancestry back to the band of rugged defenders that proclaimed the city's independence under the leadership of Siduri. Some even trace their lineage to Siduri himself. Since Quingu transferred leadership of the city to the Eldrich Council, the military has become one of the few avenues to power left open to these nobles.

The regular army of Dholavira has benefited immensely from the Eldrich College's patronage though. Every man in service to the city is fitted with enchanted arms and armor that greatly enhance his ability to defend its walls. Every platoon is accompanied by an apprentice or higher status mage of the Eldrich College. Every battalion is assigned a journeyman or higher mage. During times of peace the military serves as a city guard and patrols the territory around Dholavira. During the annual siege of the gnolls the army repels ambitious gnoll assaults.

The automaton legion is the legacy of the Eldrich College's Master of the Art exam. Every master of the Eldrich College must animate a construct and command it to obey the ruler of the city. Over the last century it has become something of a contest among up and coming young masters to create more and more powerful golems for their test. This has resulted in some of the most fearsome constructs in all the world defending Dholavira's gates.


As a cosmopolitan trade center with visitors from several neighboring cities, and as a center for mystical study with visitors from several neighboring planes of existence, Dholavira's middle town hosts temples and shrines for over a dozen pantheons and a hundred gods. Festivals, feasts, and holy days dot the calendar. Seldom can a week go by without priests, acolytes and the faithful of one religion or another performing a spectacle.

During the reign of the Gibil Dynasty, several temples vied for the favor of Dholavira's rulers. Most frequently the sovereign favored Pelor and would keep a priest of the god as a personal advisor. Since Quingu bestowed custodianship for the city upon the Eldrich College, many of the temples have come upon hard times.

Due to the heavy taxes levied on structures in the middle town, most temples are actually dedicated to an entire pantheon. Only Boccob, Wee Jas, Delleb, and Moquol have their own temples. As an added consequence of this taxation, divine healing is seldom free in Dholavira.

The whole of the Eldrich Council and many other members of the Eldrich College to practice one faith or another, but very few of them do so with any great show of commitment. The Lord High Magus makes a point to attend all major religious festivals and rights that he is invited to, so as not to show favor to any of them.

Unsanctioned Cults[edit]

In addition to the mostly benevolent religions represented by temples and shrine houses in the middle town, small groups worshiping demons, devils, and evil deities flourish in the lower town. These disruptive and antisocial organizations are officially outlawed by ruling of the eldrich council. However, in a city of one million it is often difficult to flush them out.


Dire rats infest the underground portions of the city. The eldrich council has enacted a bounty of a half silver for every carcass.

Every year at midwinter, the Gnoll tribes that stalk the salt marshes and barren plains surrounding Dholavira invest the city for one phase of the moon. It is said that they are testing the resolve of her defenders and offering the gift of carnage to their twisted god, Karaan. See my Gnoll Revision for additional details on how gnolls will be depicted in this game.

Immigrants are a common sight in Dholavira. Many people of many races come to the great city seeking fortune and fame. Some come seeking power. The charter of the Eldrich College permits anyone, regardless of race, gender, country of birth, to attain membership. This attracts creatures with dark ambitions to seek apprenticeship. Fortunately most Masters of the College are scrupulous enough to deny these monsters their desire. Sadly, not all are immune to the lure of power that some of these creatures offer and others are down on their luck.

Mohenjo-daro, a Yuan-ti city to the north of Dholavira, attempted an invasion of the city twenty years ago. While their representatives are now welcome to trade in the markets of Dholavira, the relationship is not yet amicable. The serpent people are not trusted by those who remember the war and their adoration of Merrshaulk fills many with dread.

Poverty amongst the residents of the lower town drives many to crime and the worship of evil beings. The eldrich council attempts to stamp out criminal syndicates and destructive cults with haste, but locating them can be a challenge and for every group put down by the secret police and their allies another two seem to appear.

Shambling mounds, large crocodiles, and will-o-wisps flourish in the marshes during monsoon season.

Summoned Outsiders do not always go home. Either due to poorly worded contracts or the being's desire to remain on the material plane the city has become home to many entities that simply do not belong to this world. The eldrich council turns a blind eye to those it perceives to be beneficial and those that maintain a low profile, but occasionally must rouse itself to banish the more destructive and disruptive outsiders. Officially, summoning is forbidden within the city itself due to the carnage caused by animals and other entities that may run amok.

Undead stalk the streets of the lower town. Reports of ghouls attacking lone travelers in the night have spurred paranoia among the population and few dare move about without a companion. Those suspected of having been bitten by one of the monsters have been beaten to death.

Wraiths menace the trade routes. Seldom killing more than a person per night, wraiths are a common threat to traders moving to or from Dholavira. Frequently they will attack a sleeper and carry away her soul before any alarm can be raised.


The way I've written the background, anything would work. What sort of characters and group structure, if any, the players want will have to be discussed. My personal preference would be for the group to create low level (ECL1-4) characters and play this game as a sandbox. Each player would then be free to explore the portion of the setting that interests he or she most while his or her character develops. That would provide me with time to get to know the group as well. All characters will be generated using the elite array of ability scores regardless of what else the group agrees to. I do not care for random ability scores in general and won't use them under normal circumstances.

Sandbox style games can present problems in terms of group cohesion, but I have some experience overcoming these issues. The key, in my opinion, is almost always creating characters that have some form of common background tying them together. In D&D, the easiest way to do that is make all of the characters blood relatives. This immediately eliminates racial conflicts and dramatically reduces incidents of in-group betrayal. It's just out of character for most folks to murder their siblings, especially heroes. Other options that have worked for me to varying degrees in the past include creating a shared narrative, basically describing one or more adventures that the characters have previously accompanied each other on, and creating a shared antagonist, capitalizing on the enemy of my enemy effect. How ever the group wants to handle it is fine with me except of course, "we met in a tavern." That is completely unacceptable in my opinion.

Additional Notes[edit]

As I indicate above, I am attempting to de-emphasize combat encounters. To put it another way, this game will frequently be biased towards social conflict rather than physical. Keep that in mind when deciding how your character should be built and what races will be best. Just a hint, anything huge and brutish is going to have a hard time dealing with people that can't be threatened with violence. You may also benefit from taking a couple sub-optimal feats that grant your character social advantages.

While any race would be acceptable, with few exceptions only humans are native to Dholavira. Any native of Dholavira may take the Magical Training feat at first level.


Sandbox games like this require significant numbers of NPCs to work well. I'll be cataloging them here. Players participating in the game are encouraged to take some control of the game and detail one or more of the NPCs themselves. Any character that I have not written something for is fair game. Similarly any player may add NPCs that are important to his or her character's background.



I've already said that this game is for D&D 3.5. I could easily adapt the work I've already done to another rule set though.