Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The Wodlands 12 - The Imaginary City

Hey, this is finally done.

1. The Plains of Anaesthetic Fire.
2. The Antigoblin Empire.
3. The Whetstone Ridge.
4. The Painted Plain.
5. The Vermillion Sea.
6. The Large Goblin Collidor.
7. The Wodlands.
8. The Necropolis of Glass.
9. The Incoherent Isles.
10. The Maw.

11. The Umber Woods.


South of the Wodlands, between the Umber Woods and the Incoherent Isles is the Imaginary City, Narcissolis, the city with the wall of glass.

Narcissolis is literally an illusion, grown from an uncontrolled spell or a reality breakdown, it was once simply a town, and before that perhaps a village, and before that it may have been one single building.

Narcissolis spreads, and survives, based on the belief placed in its existence. It spreads its own fame as a form of self-defence. Its glass wall is unbreakable, so long as the majority of its inhabitants believe it is. When conquered, its conquerors desire Narcissolis so much that they renew it in its own destruction. It can be destroyed, only if forgotten. To attack, or alter it, is as much a grand performance as it is anything else.

Pressed against the glass wall (the city needs to be seen), are the Derivative Slums, then the finer streets, then some of the finest examples of architecture in all the styles which reality can hold; the Goblin-Gothic, Alien-Modernist, Hive Style, Neo-Victorian, Generican, Pseudo-Ottoman, Sinochure, Cyclopean, Hypnagogic, Ethereal and Fae.

At the centre is the Lathe, the tallest building in the world and the throne of the Illusory Lords.

Narcissolis looks like a storybook city, or a comic book city, each part drawn by different artists at different times.

Though Narcissolis is inviolate, it requires continuity of memory and imagination, and warps physically in times of hysteria or changed belief. Its chief enemies are the Apocalypse Wasps, the Blurred Raiders from the Incoherent Isles, its own rulers, the Conspiracy Kings, and anyone not paying attention to it.


"You are here, really.
In the City
Which is really here."

It to be regarded and rewards those who do (and punishes and expels those who do not.

Information control is vital to the cities existence, every news-sheet, performance, announcement, article, book and even state-sanctioned rumour, is carefully censored by the thought controllers, who are also effectively its architects.

Since the city itself is a performance, new parts can only be constructed by a kind of mass-performance

Building sites are vast area with great black sheets over the buildings being created or demolished - the builders are performers, actors, elaborately staging the process of construction.  Materials are brought in in vast quantities (actually invisibly cycled out in the night and brought in again), the noises and sounds of construction can be heard, burly builders file out on lunch breaks and take up space in nearby cafes, making noise. Occasionally shouts and gusts of smoke and dust spout forth from under the sheet.

It is easy to believe that something large is being made.

Major buildings have staged controversies in which Nimbys object to the architecture, aesthetic, placement or some other element of the building, causing protests and arguments. Sometimes these cross over with real, actual protests.

Or financial or political scandals can be performed, sending shockwaves through the city as some act of embezzlement or corruption is exposed or denied. Every building has some kind of human interest story behind it, a lost dog, someone allegedly buried in the foundations by mistake, a strange fetish of the architect, or some other thing which a local can inform you of as you pass. All of these things act as a lock on the communal memory of the place.

There is nothing happening behind the sheet but theatre. But if people believe in the building, whether they hate it or love it, when the sheet comes down, it will be there.

So does the city expand, on the bases of shared memory and belief.


Of the brilliant, unkillable, genius but increasingly deranged rulers of the city, much has been written already. Existing only as thought forms, they can only be deposed by another like themselves, and their imaginary corpses are carried in great state to the Glass Necropolis, a complex built to convince the ethereal Tulpas of despotism that they are actually dead and should stay there.

The 'Conspiracy Kings' invariably occupy the top floor of The Lathe, in the centre of Narcissolis. They communicate with their people, citizens and functionaries by leaving orders, policies, memorandums and instructions written at the bottom of tankards, crayoned base of plates, stuffed into shoes, stitched into the lining of jackets, scrawled with chalk on the backs of broad-shouldered men. One a note pinned to your wig when you lift it to scratch, tied to a bird that feeds from your hand.

Though they are invariably completely mad, the Illusory Lords are almost impossible to destroy, and can achieve feats of perception, deception, action and analysis that would baffle ordinary actually-existing minds. They can respond to any event anywhere in the city (albeit indirectly) and their genius-level prognostications mean that, though tyrannical, Narcissolis often retains the edge in its military and economic relationships and conflicts.

It is no small thing to be ruled by an unbeatable genius, though they be mad, and do not actually exist.


As fancy and performative as the citizens are, and as Byzantine and hysterical as their social networks and invisible hierarchies are, they are generous, egalitarian and welcoming of newcomers.

They are especially happy to talk about the city.

Every pair of eyes and every witnessing mind, and every story of the city spread far and wide, is another small brick in the bulwark of its fragile existence.

They want you to have a memorable time here - an adventure. They are little overly insistent on it actually.

They also have a huge respect for imagination and the arts, which are also very ruthlessly controlled, since the city is itself a performance and the power to persuade en-masse is in Narcissolis, the power to create and destroy.

Those with this capacity are treated like Soviet Ambassadors, afforded very high status, treated with respect, continually watched, always followed and carefully controlled.

There are very few homeless in the city - every pair of eyes is valuable to Narcissolis.

To some extent, people in Narcissolis are valued for individuality and their ability to generate specific memories, or conversely, for simply having a very good memory, especially for spatial elements.

The popular aesthetic turns somewhat to splendiferousness. Everyone wears makeup to increase the definition and specific nature of their face (it’s very bad in Narcissolis to 'blend into the crowd'). This leads to them having an appearance similar to cell-shaded animation. Small mirrors are often worn as decoration. Everyone wants you to see their house (and have an interesting experience there). There is competition over experience and originality, this is part of what makes the city such a vortex for cultural products, 'events', stories etc, drawing them in from all over the world.


Narcissolis has a dark side. 'Crime Mimes' perform specific acts in a convincing manner in order to subtly or strongly alter reality so they might gain access to private places, or perform stranger and more abstruse crimes.

There is a parallel subculture of Dark Memory Formation. This is formally looked down upon by bourgeoise society, certain aspects of it are allowed - grand guignol, murder stories, ghost tours, fake snuff performance provocations, but there are always rumours, currents of darkness, and murders. Nothing seals in the memory of a place like death and trauma, and in Narcissolis, attention and memory are the strongest currency there is.

There are dark suspicions that serial killers who commit the most graphic, exceptional and memorable crimes are allowed to get away with it, or at least, not chased quite as fervently as they could be, to the extent that the police force sometimes is forced to publish its accounts just to prove it is finding overtime for catch particular killers.

The criminal networks of Narcissolis spread all over the Wodlands and beyond. Each crime gang is ruled by an adventurer caught in a mirror while invading the Glass Necropolis. Though this is vastly illegal and dangerous in Narcissolis (no-one wants a 'deceased' Illusory Lord getting out), nevertheless, meeting a Mirror Master, or being involved with a crime or conspiracy, is a deeply memorable event. And the Masters themselves, being trapped in the mirrors, can do nothing other than observe Narcissolis. Not only that, but they must investigate and memorise and explore its darker and less-visited corners, and absorb themselves deeply in its built geography and processes, something of great use to the city.


Building belief is complex and involved, building communal belief almost as difficult as designing a real thing.

You can't just imagine whatever you like and make it exist, you have to *believe* it, and the strength of your belief has to strongly outweigh the beliefs of anyone else about the same space.

But some people have a great surfeit of belief, children, fanatics, the dumb and the insane, and if one of those people gains access to an ignored, forgotten or un-shaped part of the Imaginary City, things can go completely to shit.

Minds alone can collapse consensus reality and open recursive burrow-holes in the world

Sincere, but fervent beliefs, like those of schizophrenic conspiracy theorists, or the more pleasing but still-dangerous imaginings of children, or the musty, unreal, or hyper-bright memory-realms of the abandoned old, can open the way to halls of paranoid imaginings - the vast conspiracies contained in terrified minds boil into existence behind cupboard doors or under manholes.

This is very dangerous, and very rare.

'Popping' childish sub-realms is a common parenting skill in the Imaginary City. Invading and shutting down schizophrenic or dementia-bored mind-labyrinths and alter-realms a more serious and often more dangerous business.


Buildings in Narcissolis can be constructed from almost any conceivable material, in any conceivable style - so long as they are remembered. So they compete with each other for the attention and memory of the observer.

This leads to complex ecologies of attention and aesthetic.


The slums of Narcissolis are as great and magnificent as the monumental centres of other cities. They are slums because they clash.

Buildings in the slums almost at war with each other in their need for attention and memory - competing in brightness, loudness, discordancy, strangeness or unlikely nature.

This Hobbsean architecture means everything has to be even more bright and even more ridiculous and 'novel' to outshine everything else. This results in a staggering eye-burning parade of wild forms and deranged colours and materials, and a rapid turnover of buildings as places, as distinctive as they are individually, are simply lost and forgotten, bot blending in but ignored in the discordancy.


Here, the architectural competition between buildings has become a kind of exchange of attention so that the styles and forms, while still opposing one another, also re-enforce one another in opposition, an opposed, and clashing but not a discordant miscellany.

Here it is easy to remember, for instance, the palace of bone opposite the circus of sausages, the prism tower facing the cumulo-nimbus arcology, the church of pink marble opposite the marble rose.

Here is chaos, and extreme novelty, but also a form of reciprocity of thought, and the development of a memory and attention system that only grows more complex.


Rare, prized and dangerous to live in, these streets are extremely high-status, though their instability means that many governmental buildings are on discordant or duelling streets instead, or crammed dangerously into the Lathe.

Radically, as in music,  the individual parts of a harmony are often not memorable or surprising on their own, but instead support and sustain one another, flowing into each other to create a continuous, pleasing, unexpected but correct and fitting surprise of form and beauty, each element unique and each one part of the whole.

These streets are the high art of Narcissolis and some of the most beautiful places to exist anywhere.

Unfortunately, as with any harmony, the construction is delicate. One small un-noticed flaw, and disharmony can creep in, poisoning whole streets as-one, leading to disaster.


It’s hard, in Narcissolis, for buildings to be very tall and still useable. Creators can imagine shapes and known materials but its difficult to develop and precisely imagine the mechanisms for elevators. A handful of tall buildings have them, drawn on winches turned by remarkable things

The Lathe, for instance, has a giant winch turned by painted elephants and employs a team of engineers to imagine, observe and remember its mechanisms.

Bylaws say that each new elevator must be powered by a distinctly different, and memorable method, so as not to infringe on those of others. (Though this is generally considered a deliberate tool of suppression to maintain the status of the Great Imaginings.

The Lathe itself, palace of the illusory lords, is a giant art-deco spire in the centre of the city.  Supporting opal buttresses spread out over and into the city like spider limbs. The east side of the Lathe is stained and etched pale red in patterns of flame so that in dawn, it flashes as if on fire as the sun rises. The west side is similarly etched with curling waves in blue, but the red light of sunset reacts strangely with the colour to make it gleam pale white as night falls. Inside, floors and departments become more frightening, symbolic and unreal as you go up, more like dark theatre or enacted nightmares. No one ever goes to the top.


  1. Thank you for this (and also, once more, for all of the Woodlands). I like how there is an actual structure and tangible principle in this place, and it isn't amorphous heap of imagining.

  2. Agreed with Kyana, this is a great bow to tie together the coherent wonder (wondrous coherence?) of the Wodlands.

  3. Pure awesomeness, as always.

    I wonder if certain streets or buildings in Narcissolis can actuall overlap in physical space, being imagined into existence by rival owners/builders. Like, when approaching you see ghostly outlines of two intertwined structures, but as you focus on one of them, it becomes real (for you, not necessarily for your companions), while the other one disappears.

  4. Running a game in the Wodlands would be something of a difficult task I think but well worth the effort even for a short campaign.I could see it as a place in the Weird of the Hill Cantons or some setting where you could have some bastion of normalcy before plunging into the Wodlands.

  5. "The city is a narcissist"

    Have you been to New York?

    1. No but I think most cities must have some of the same qualities, perhaps exemplified and concentrated by that most cityish of cities?