After trying to shoehorn City State of the Invincible Overlord into a usable Asian-inspired feel, Greg has turned around and discovered this gem: Ryoko Owari for Legend of the Five Rings. We never played this setting or ruleset but I was aware of it. This big-boxed-set (OMG, I love it already) promises to both give the correct architectural and linguistic feel to the game, but also give occupations and motivations that are instantly applicable to the feel I am after without modification.
Here’s a useful overview:
Kawa no Kin (Golden River): The river divides the city in half, widening to be the “Bay” of Drowned Honor between the Moment’s Edge Bridge and the Bridge of Drunken Lovers. Just south of the city proper it runs around Teardrop Island.
Leatherworker’s Quarter: This slum lies on the south eastern edge of the city. It is populated by the people who handle the city’s wastes, the dead, torturers, and tanners. As such the region has a particular odour that is quite unmistakable. The most notable features of the region are the city’s crematorium (there is no graveyard in the city) and the marketplace where you can purchase mostly fertiliser for farmers, but more importantly black-market goods are also available here. The quarter is notable (other than for its aroma) for being flat (no buildings of more than 1 story largely), brown (unpaved roads and mud covered dwellings) and bright (it is spread out allowing a lot more light in than most of the rest of the city). This is the part of the city where you are most likely to find “evil” races such as goblins, kobolds and orcs as they can trade with the less scrupulous elements of the quarter.
Fisherman’s Quarter: This quarter lies on the eastern shore of the Bay of Drowned Honor and is surrounded by city wall. Much like the Leatherworker’s quarter to the south this part of the city has a distinct odour as well, fish and smoke. The Fisherman’s quarter is where the cities craftsmen and sailors live, work and play. It contains smokehouses, warehouses, opium dens, taverns, brothels, inns and the homes of its residents. The roads of the quarter are narrow and cramped, some so narrow that a person in heavy armour cannot pass through! Most buildings are low to the ground still but their closeness and the haze of smoke that hangs over the quarter can blot out the sun. The number of fires, and the wooden construction of many of the buildings makes firemen among the most important people in the quarter. Unfortunately the city’s governing nobles do not supply these people, instead they are the drawn from the local populace. As a result of this the firemen are the quarters most dangerous gangs, resorting to extortion, bribery and violence to ensure they control the quarter.
Mechant Quarter: Across the Bay of Drowned Honor from the Fisherman’s Quarter is the Merchant Quarter. Dominated by warehouses and merchant stores this quarter is loud, wealthy, bright and fast. The buildings are tall with dramatic curves of roof that carve the sky into crescents. This quarter runs the gamut from wealthy merchants carried in palanquins to new merchants dressed as well as they can manage but mostly wearing an aura of greed as they hustle, scheme and above all sell, sell, sell. This is the quarter where people from outside the city most attempt to come, and where the nobles mix with the common folk, and with its wealth it also brings taxes and corruption of the more financial sort. It is here that characters will hear the most talk of lands beyond the city, in fact the merchants are particularly dissatisfied with the land’s treasurer feeling he (unlike the city’s governor and her lord) unduly taxes the cities residents, using taxes as a weapon because he cannot do anything else to affect the city or its lords.
Temple Quarter: West of the Merchant Quarter lies the Temple District, the single largest building in which is the temple of the god of wealth (Daikoku (Big Money!) in Rokugan, Waukeen in FR, etc), a structure that is so large that part of the quarter is known as the god’s shadow. The quarter is one of the quietest of the city’s quarters, the street-side vendors wait for customers instead of crying out, the chants of monks blend with the songs of birds as you walk the wide sunlit streets. The quarter is so placid that even its firemen are respectable! Aside from the massive temple to wealth there are a few other notable faiths, the prominent god of the kingdom (Amertarasu the sun goddess in Rokugan) has a temple here, as do a few other favoured local goods such as the God of Trickery.
Licensed Quarter: On Teardrop Island there is only one business, entertainment, and the island is a world apart from the rest of the city. Here horses are rare, and the sounds of music and laughter (and other pleasures) are common. Here are play houses, brothels, taverns and opium dens. Here a noble can relax their guard as weapons are not permitted on the island, here a noble can enjoy their wealth without the strictures of society at large. Here decadence is sedate and refined and suits the appearance of the clientele. The whole island is now manicured to create a sense of relaxation and pleasure, the buildings are carefully signed, and sedate in design, the gardens are well cared for, and lanterns (magical and otherwise) keep the island well lit throughout the day and night. Here it is easy to relax, enjoy and forget the troubles of the world outside. One thing stands out here from all the others though, the House of Foreign Stories is a tavern & play house run and staffed by people from distant lands or other planes (in Rokugan theses are simply people from outside the Empire, but in DnD these could be Gith, Succubi, Fey, and so on).
Noble Quarter: High on a hill to on the south eastern side of the city sits the Noble Quarter. All the smells of the city seem to commingle in the noble quarter, every delicacy finds its way here when perfected, and here the houses are the largest, the buildings the most graceful, and the gates and gardens the most well kept. Even the paved roads are kept smooth and even to be comfortable beneath the feet of nobles and their steeds. If a thing is good in Ryoko Owari eventually its best comes here, of course this means that the intrigue of the city is at its peak in this quarter. Here is where you are most likely to end up dead for a mis-step in an intrigue, not because your opponent kills you personally, but because you are left ruined and are arrested for execution.