As always, you can find the entire series of these posts here.
A quick cautionary note: this is a dark post in terms of its content. I’ve tried to keep it from being needlessly gratuitous, but Alchova is a bad place, -Peter
A Brutal, Stinging Prison
Alchova is not a nice place. In the terms of the setting, it is a Grim City, which means it is civilized, but Evil has taken over. In much the same way that bad things occasionally happen in The Counties, there’s the occasional good event or person here, but that is definitely the exception and not the rule. The insectoid, fiendish overlords of the city do everything they can to remind the residents that they have no rights and are worth keeping alive only as long as they produce. Alchova gets its name from Lathryn Chova, the founder of the city and one of its former Grim Lords. Lathryn was a human architect, and she had a grand vision for a modern city full of towering skyscrapers and wide streets where millions could live and work. A vision that would bring her fame and glory. Partway through achieving this vision, however, resources began to get scarce, and Lathryn made a deal with a mysterious figure who promised all the labor she could want to finish her project, free of charge. Of course, there were some riders on that deal…
The figure that Lathryn made her bargain with was Hivisith, the Hive Lord, a powerful and ancient fiend from the original Fall. True to his word, he provided all the labor and resources Lathryn could want, mostly in the form of waspfolk, and soon her glorious city was built. The finished city was a grand, regal place, with numerous towering art deco skyscrapers, sprawling parks filled with ponds and tall grasses, massive, cloverleaf highway networks and huge industrial complexes. And that was when Hivisith called in his side of the bargain. Telling Lathryn that her city needed to accommodate those who had built it, he set the waspfolk loose on the new city to do as they wished to make it comfortable for themselves. The waspfolk and their fiendish masters descended upon the city.
That was about sixty years ago. Alchova’s massive skyscrapers remain, but the skyline is marred by thousands of massive hives stuck to the sides of its buildings. Its beautiful parks have been transformed into swampy breeding pools for countless swarming insects. And its non-insect residents have become miserable slaves, brutally worked to exhaustion and pitilessly disposed of if they fall behind. Lathryn herself survived for about 30 years after the city was handed over to the fiends, but she ultimately tried to usurp Hivisith and was slain for her trouble, her body becoming one of the first Useful.
Pride/Humility: Indulger (-1) – Certainly there was significant Pride in the founding of Alchova, but it’s not the dominant vice here.
Envy/Kindness: Indulger (-1) – The hierarchy in Alchova is strict, but cutthroat. Power grabs are common.
Wrath/Patience: Monster (-2) – Alchova is a brutal, sadistic place and life isn’t just cheap, it’s nigh unto worthless. People are executed for things that wouldn’t merit a stern look in other civilizations.
Sloth/Diligence: Monster (-2) – The enslaved population is worked literally to death on a regular basis, but the ruling class barely lifts a finger.
Greed/Charity: Monster (-2) – If you need basically anything at all in Alchova and aren’t a member of the ruling class, you can expect the need to be “fulfilled” with your death.
Gluttony/Temperance: Monster (-2) – The ruling class revels in the despair created by shoving their opulent lifestyle in the face of their enslaved populace.
Lust/Chastity: Accepter (0) – There are a few Succubi/Incubi in the ranks of the fiendish elite of Alchova, but the populace is kept in check with horrific violence, deliberate privation and terror rather than seduction and guile.
Overall Virtue Score: -10 (evil) – Even by the standards of Grim Cities in general, Alchova is a bad place.
Duty/Independence: Exemplar: Duty (+2) – Nobody has any inherent worth beyond what they can provide. In Alchova, if you can’t do what is expected of you, you die.
Efficiency/Artistry: Favorer: Efficiency (+1) – While you might at first glance think Alchova would be an area of incredible efficiency, the ruling class would rather cause misery and death over inefficiency than actually make things more efficient. Random executions and intentionally-disproportionate punishments for tiny infractions chew up a lot of good workers, a price the fiendish overlords are happy to pay by sending slavers into the surrounding areas to boost their worker population.
Meticulousness/Expediency: Exemplar: Meticulousness (+2) – Alchova is a finely-honed engine of oppression, suffering, cruelty, and despair.
Satisfaction/Excitement: Indifferent (0) – Nobody will ever experience either in Alchova if the leadership has their way, unless you consider terror to be excitement.
Sacrifice/Pragmatism: Exemplar: Pragmatism (-2) – Alchova is willing to do whatever it has to in the pursuit of making things horrible for its populace and opulent for its rulers and is very flexible about means. It also demands nothing be given up by its ruling class.
Overall Personality Score: +3 (Neutral) – Again, you’d think a city that’s overlapped with a fiendish hive would be a very orderly place, but oppression is more of a goal than structure. There is a slight favoring of order over chaos, but it’s less than one might expect.
Alchova would be a magnificent city if not for all the insects, fiends, and half-starved, despairing people milling about. The buildings where the ruling class reside are kept in immaculate shape and are impressive edifices of brick, stone, steel, and glass. Rooftop spires are common. The former park areas are swampy and full of stagnant ponds full of filthy, insect-infested water. Roadways are functional and well-maintained, and usually filled with traffic day and night as the industry of Alchova pours luxury into its ruling class, suffering onto its populace, and raiding parties onto its neighbors. The exterior of the city center itself is surrounded by a high wall full of gun emplacements.
Alchova does allow certain companies that aren’t of its own origin to operate facilities within its borders, and these buildings are scattered around the areas closest to the wall and those districts could almost be mistaken for a normal city, if one with incredible amounts of security. The closer you get to the city center, however, the more horrible it gets.
Fresh water is drawn from the Salac river that flows through the center of the city. The water is relatively clean, if for no reason than the ruling class knows that rampant cholera would spoil its malicious fun. Food is bland and/or disgusting. The populace subsists mostly on insect protein and hardtack until you get into the upper echelons of society where exotic foods from all over the world are found on tables.
An Ancient Hatred
If there’s one thing that will get you killed quickly in a panic by Alchovan authorities, it’s anything to do with spiders. Spiders are the ancient enemy of insects, spinning webs to entrap them and feeding on their essence and also have a lengthy history as elven iconography used for a particular militant group that actively supports the resistance and fights Alchovan forces wherever they venture out of the city’s borders. Spiders and spider-like monsters are killed immediately with maximum surety whenever they’re found, and the local resistance has adopted a spider’s web as their calling card.
The Hive Patrol: The much-feared security forces of Alchova are made up of Waspfolk and Tieflings who keep the population cowed and in line through whatever means they see fit. Waspfolk warriors wear a special magical bracer that contains a suturefly (see Tome of Beasts by Kobold press for information) and carry rifles, using their flight to maximum effect. The Tieflings patrol on foot and typically wear heavy armor and carry shotguns and heavy melee weapons, engaging targets at close range. Most are fighters or rangers, but warlocks (fiend patron) or evil clerics (Order domain from Unearthed Arcana or Punishment domain from Compendium of Sacred Mysteries) are sometimes seen among their ranks as magical support. If they’re expecting an unusual amount of trouble, they may be backed up by giant insects and/or fiends of one type or another.
The Crimson Avengers: A cult that purports to be part of The Church, it is actually run by “angels” who are in fact erinyes devils. They train up brutal paladins of vengeance and conquest and use them as vicious elite enforcers and shock troops in external operations or to fight the resistance. The Crimson Avengers typically ride around in gray-and-red cars with high performance engines and some degree of mounted weaponry. They will often attempt to punish the original communities of misbehaving slaves, and will hunt down fugitives in The Wilds and The Counties. They are not unique to Alchova, but a lot of them reside there.
The Useful: Executed criminals with mostly-intact bodies (in other words, ones not fed to monsters) are turned into The Useful, a specialized type of mummy with a hollowed-out torso that’s been replaced with an insect hive, normally some sort of vicious, stinging wasp. They are used for additional security and certain key construction tasks, and may be found in the company of Hive Patrol units or Crimson Avengers.
The Resistance: Unsurprisingly, a horrible place that maintains its worker base through slaving has spawned a number of resistance movements, and their resistance enjoys a fair amount of outside support. On a number of occasions, entire shipments of “slaves” have been trained covert operatives, spellcasters and others who can blend into the normal population and cause problems. Despite this, they haven’t gained much popular support because the authorities generally retaliate to the tune of 20x their own losses and spread about half of that punishment out over the city as a whole rather than in just the area where the act of resistance occurred. This distributed punishment tends to make any “troublemakers” very unpopular. This means that a lot of resistance activity in recent years has been much more subtle. Rather than assassinating leadership and engaging in sabotage, resistance cells smuggle in food and medical supplies and smuggle out people being hunted by the authorities, documents showing the state of affairs, and the occasional defector from the Hive Patrol, Crimson Avengers, or Useful. This is often done through shipping resources belonging to the neutral companies that do business with the ruling class, but more straightforward escapes have happened as well.
Bug Eat Bug, Fiend Eat Fiend
As one would expect from a city ruled by evil insect monsters and actual fiends, the upper echelons of Alchovan society are basically a roiling mass of betrayal, one-upmanship, and power plays. Professional assassins make an excellent living, provided they are very good at their job, and those who can provide luxury of some type are also valued, if looked at as especially useful tools. The constant power jockeying occasionally gives the resistance some room to maneuver, but oftentimes the upper class will take its frustrations out on the lower classes regardless of whether they had anything to do with it. Innocence and non-involvement are no protection in Alchova.
That’s it for this set of areas. The next post will deal with The Church (I need a palette cleanser after writing this, frankly) and then from there I’ll probably move onto another batch of areas or maybe some organizations. As always, I welcome any feedback you might have.