City of Brass
I chose “City of Brass” as a name and inspiration for this campaign for a few reasons. The name conjures visions of deserts, ifrits, jinn, and magical lamps—and killer kings and slavery. It has been interpreted over and again in different ways in gaming and literature. Its origins are political and religious, and frankly, non-Western.
You might recall its treatment in One Thousand and One Nights, where Emir Musa encounters a dead, dusty city with grave inscriptions warning the reader to make good of life, for God takes all eventually. “Here was a people whom, after their works, thou shalt see wept over for their lost dominion; And in this palace is the last information respecting lords collected in the dust.”
Old gamers like me remember the mention of it in the old AD&D Manual of the Planes (1987). Set in the Elemental Plane of Fire, it’s a place of oppression and awfulness. Unless you’re one of the Ifrit elite, of course.
New gamers may know the Necromancer Games D&D 3e product (2008). I bought a PDF copy, but I must admit I just learned of its existence. I haven’t had time to read it, but it looks to be a deeper treatment of “plane of fire”-style pseudo-Arabic mythology.
Rob Kuntz created a City of Brass product (2003) for Kenzer and HackMaster. I’ve never seen it and I don’t have hundreds to drop on a print copy.
Magic: The Gathering players probably have seen the City of Brass card. “Tap to add 1 mana of any color to your mana pool. You suffer 1 damage whenever City of Brass becomes tapped.” (Yeah, that’s the Arabian Nights version of the card text. I’m old school, okay?) A city that hurts you when you use it for its diversity. Excellent…
There’s also a marvelously wrong-headed poem by Rudyard Kipling, written in 1909, about the ills of the Welfare State. I think it’s a bit overwrought and tortured, but damn, it’s some fine rap lyrics, if you can wrap your flow around anapestic pentameter. I certainly had Kipling’s version of the City of Brass in mind—ironically—as I chose the name.
In the end, I wanted a big city with a mythological feel that wasn’t strictly Western in culture. I wanted something political. All the gaming treatments of the City of Brass envisioned a pretty stark social stratification, with Grand Viziers lording over a slave population. My vision of the City is grim, but not quite so extreme. It lives in the gray area where poverty makes slaves of people in all but name. My City’s empress will probably be an ifrit with a horde of marids at her command, but the city’s main inhabitants are humans and elves and dwarves and halflings and other “normal people” (for a fantasy setting).