This is a part of a world that I have been developing on and off for ten years or so. It's gone through a lot of changes; and even more unfinished projects. This is the latest (and final, it seems) incarnation; and I'm really focused on the city itself and life within it. As you can see, buildings are individually represented on the map.
I will try to keep this brief. Welcome to the City of Prosper.
The map is not intended to have a scale or anything. The purpose of the map is to show the locations of the city in precise relative positions ("at the end of the block/three houses down/etc"; and to visualize the flow of characters, traffic, and money throughout the city.
Prosper is the capitol city of a large geographical region known as the badlands, or the bads. Most of this large region is covered by desert and wastelands. To the north of the region is a large mountain range.
The city is built in, on and around a plateau that is colloquially known as Hadley's Hump. This plateau is at the base of the hills that come down around the northern mountain range. Two rivers come together here, with the waterfalls providing a strong current and a fertile basin at the base of the Hump.
Farmland stretches to the east of the city, artifically extended with extensive irrgation from the String river. Eventually the farmland gives way to sparse forests and then the desert.
The northeastern land around the city, where the Hump merges with the hills, is covered with rocky woodland. The area provides no substantial value for farming, but it is (or was) rich with gold and valuable minerals. Large mining sites dominate the landscape around the north of the city.
With the exception of the old palace, the prison, and the city walls, the city is made up primarily of small wooden buildings. This is not a fantasy city with soaring stone towers. It looks much more like a town in the wild west.
To the north, on the other side of the border mountains, is the Wlel Republic. I'll avoid going into much detail here, but it is a strong and ancient society that would be comparable to a world power. One of the defining cultural traits of Wlel is the strict laws that ensure a status quo—the republic has stood strong for thousands of years, and its laws are centered around keeping it that way and preventing change.
To the south of the badland desert is a swampy forested region known as Pacatl. Pacatl has a complicated social system based on tribes centered around an infinite number of gods and goddesses. What's relevent to Prosper, however, is that a number of the citizens of the badlands are of Pacatlan descent and the culture has begun to blend together. The culture blending is far more common in cities in the southern bads, but Pacatl traditions aren't unheard of in Prosper.
For thousands of years, the badlands was not organized. It was a lawless and inhospitable region inhabited by runaway Wlelic slaves and adventurous Pacatlan settlers.
Over time, towns and cities formed. The way of life for many of these settlements was based on raiding into Wlel or Pacatl. On top of that, it didn't take long for badlanders to discover the riches of the land—farming wasn't easy, but the earth was plentiful in gold and minerals. These riches, coupled with the general lawlessness of the region, attracted more and more people.
Eventually, some three or four hundred years ago, Wlel decided to take the badlands with force. Armies marched, there were wars, etc. The badlanders, united under a nomad warrior-leader who came to be known as the Barbarian King, defended their land from Wlel. A treaty was formed and signed, and the Badlands was recognized as a single nation (of course, in typical badlander fashion, the official name of the nation varies—even within the tready itself, it had multiple names).
The Barbarian King's palace was built in the location that has now grown into the city of Prosper.
Prosper is technically the capitol of the badlands, and its laws and structure indeed set a precedent that other cities generally follow. Still, most of the cities in the badlands are thought of as separate states and are connected primarily through mutually-beneficial trade.
One aspect of the cultural philosopy of the badlands, the drive for technological progress, was born directly as a response against the Wlel Republic's ridiculous laws against such things. A large portion of the region's early settlers came from Wlel fleeing the strictly-enforced regulations on science. As a result, the badlands is home to all sorts of technological advances. Laws in the badlands generally encourage invention.
Generally, this puts the badlands at a technological level comparable with the early industrial revolution.
Some areas have electricity. It's not common in every home or building, but the palace, the big arenas, etc, have access to electric lights and other things.
The steam engine is a thing. The railroad is new, built within the past ten years or so and continually expanding to connect the cities of the badlands.
Guns are common. The telegraph machine exists. There are early prototypes for automobiles. People are trying to invent flying machines. Etc.
The city has complex irrigation systems, as well as a sewage system. Clean water is plentiful and free throughout the city (the map shows blue dots for the locations of public fountains and wells).
There is no strict caste system. There are only two main social classes (other than slaves), and they are not rigid. The lines between the two main classes are very blurry. High social mobility was a defining characteristic of the city since it was first founded. Now, that mobility isn't as easy as it might be otherwise; with the real estate of the city and its surrounding lands all claimed.
The legal distinction between the classes determines the application of laws. More on the law later.
Only under the king himself, there's the nobility. Nobles are wealthy people who live in the palace. That's the big defining factor for a noble family over another wealthy family: the head of the family resides in the palace. Of course, this does not exclude nobles from having estates outside of the palace. Most of them do. Today, nobles tend to be owners of the largest businesses: think of the "robber barons" of the industrial era—the people who own coal mines, the people who build railroads, etc.
Hadley's Hump is a neighborhood that holds a number of homes and estates for wealthy families that are legally not nobility, but they typically act within the social class of the nobles. It would be more accurate to simply call it the wealthy class, though location in the city is a major part of it as well. And there are always nuances, often to do with the current social attitudes of the Hump.
One of the ways in which a new wealthy family can move into the palace (and thus gaining the title of nobility and a voice in the city's governance) is through success at the game of Sey. More on that later.
Then everyone else, sometimes called the Down class or downers. Again, this is blurry when it comes to non-nobles of the Hump or the wealthy people who live in the Downs. But for the most part, this includes the average people who make up the bulk of the city; generally everybody who doesn't live on the plateau can be thought of as the commonfolk.
Then slaves. I will discuss slavery later on.
The government is an unstructured plutocratic mess.
Most common people in the city, at any given moment, will have an unclear idea of who the king is. "The King" is a nebulous title that applies to the most powerful man in the city.
More importantly, "the King" often refers to the collective attitudes of the noble families living in the palace. For example, it might be said that "the king" has a certain feeling regarding a potential law—though the actual king may not have an opinion at all. This is typically how the city is ruled: decisions are by the unvoiced consensus of the wealthy who live in the palace.
There are rarely any kind of official "city council" meetings among nobles, and even then—these meetings are more like one would see among investors in a company. Most major decisions are made in business meetings. The development of the city itself is essentially the enterprise in which the noble have interest.
Often, any noble will claim to speak with the "voice of the king" in order to give his opinion weight. This is rarely done when the speaker would have any opposition to such a claim, and is typically a way of closing discussion on an issue. Speaking with "the voice of the king" without claiming to be the king is a common tactic of the high nobility.
Despite the vagueness of the term, at any given moment only one person can legally be the king. The actual title of king can change quickly and often, but a strong claimant can hold the title for years with the right political and financial support.
The actual title of king can change quickly and often, but a strong claimant can hold the title for years with the right political and financial support.
A claim to kingship is essentially a balls-out "say otherwise" challenge, typically from a position of social or financial superiority over the current king. Anybody can claim kingship, but without the right support, they can fail horrendously. A failed claimant can potentially be imprisoned or sold into slavery, if he is not in a position to shake the current king.
Claiming the kingship can be as simple as a statement of "I am the king" among the right audience. Note the difference between speaking "with the voice of the king" vs speaking "as the king".
Reasons to be the king:
There are no true legal rules for claiming of kingship. In fact—that's the point: someone who claims kingship is essentially declaring that they are above the law (most laws), and daring anybody to say otherwise. However, not anybody can simply go balls-out and start calling themselves king. A claim is typically supported by:
Law in Prosper is both simple and nuanced; like it would be anywhere. There are multiple types of laws:
True laws can be punishable by death. These are the laws that people believe are necessary for any kind of civilized society. They apply to everybody, including the King.
Common laws apply to everybody except the King. These are laws that nobles must follow as well as everyone else. Most laws regarding business (including the minutae of the slavery system) and zoning fall into this category. Common laws are often regulation-type laws.
Down laws are laws that apply to the commoners of the city. Nobles and the King are not held to these laws. Most of the high-class residents of Hadley's Hump ignore these laws as well, even though they are legally not nobility unless their place of residence is the palace.
The primary example of a Down Law is the prohibition of alcohol and drugs. Prohibition is in a category of laws that does not apply to nobility (nobles are, however, prohibted from distributing their own alcohol or drugs to members of the Down law classes). Even among the common people, it's not heavily enforced. Prohibition is commonly used by the nobility as an excuse to arrest people in order to attain land in the city. Because of the sporatic but harsh enforcement of prohibition laws, there is a significant underground of bootleggers. Naturally, this "criminal" network is often connected with people in powerful positions in low class neighborhoods.
Breaking a law will usually earn a stay in Stringside Prison. Prisoners can willingly sell themselves into slavery in order to reduce their sentences. The money from these transactions goes to the city (of course, it likely reaches many pockets before it gets there).
Slaves are people. Unlike slavery in Wlel, slaves are not property. Instead, the person's "papers" are the property—and they can be owned by somebody else. The distinction is subtle but important.
Consider a deed to a piece of land. The name on the deed is the owner of the land. A person can similarly own the deed to another person. But isn't total ownership:
In Prosper, slaves have rights. A slaveowner cannot kill his slaves. A slaveowner must provide housing and sustenance for his slaves. A slaveowner cannot make a slave work when they are sick. Slaves must be allowed one day a week for themselves where they are not bound to serve. Etc.
A common phrase: "better to be a slave in the bads than a free man in Wlel."
Of course, slaves are still not full citizens. There are laws that apply only to slaves. Many of these have to do with the slave's commitments to his/her owner, or the situations in which a slave must identify oneself as such.
Slaves can own money and possessions. Most slaves eventually save up enough money to buy back their deed from their owners, and thus freedom.
There are also slaves that fight in the arenas—pit slaves, or in some cases, trained gladiators. They will be discussed in the following section.
I'm actually going to keep this section intentionally brief; as the game is incredibly complicated. I also have a history of the game, but it's not too relevent at the moment. The important idea is that the game is woven very deeply into the culture of Prosper, and specifically among the people in power.
Sey is the primary pastime of the wealthy, occupying much of their time. It serves multiple roles: primary among them is entertainment. It's also a massive business, of course. Sey arenas are inredibly profitable. No wonder that the major ones are owned by the city itself. Additionally, the games serve as major social gatherings.
Think of a strategy board game like Risk. The players at the table engage in complex political maneuvers to gain control of the board. Game players will have a roster of slaves that will fight in the arenas.
Gladiator fights are integral to the game. These are staged at the arenas throughout the city. The fights tend to include weaponry like swords, axes, etc. Firearms are not allowed in the arena.
Often, fighting slaves are bred and trained specifically to fight in the arena.
Most of the time, games of Sey are simply played for large amounts of money. Sometimes, slaves or real estate can be won. Of course, betting on the games is even more lucrative than the games themselves.
Sey is largely responsible for the social mobility in the city. Accumulating enough wealth to enter a high-stakes game of Sey, and beat out nobles, is a sure way to recieve an invitation to the Hump. Likewise, it isn't unheard of for a noble to lose everything on a game and find himself living in the Downs.
The old palace (7) is built into the cliff wall of the plateau. A large segmented tower runs up the wall and currently holds administrative offices, courtrooms, etc. The depths of the palace, where the noble families are housed, sits atop the plateau. A number of underground passages and rooms connect levels of the tower to the palaces on the plateau.
The city has three newspaper presses:
All of the newspapers report on the the games of Sey played at the arenas. It is the sport of the city.
The Upside Down Crown (12) is a saloon and brothel. It is the headquarters of the dominant criminal gang in the Outer Downs.
Some areas on the map are named for characters in the story I have planned (ex. Culthone Estate Ruins (2)). I will not be talking about the characters or story on this page; as it's not partiularly relevent to the exercise of worldbuilding. I believe that this map tells an infinite number of stories. That's why maps are so fascinating to me.