Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Magical Sewers

The Crossness pumping station
O Cloacina, Goddess of this place,
Look on thy suppliants with a smiling face
Soft, yet cohesive let their offerings flow
Not rashly swift nor insolently slow.

People out in the countryside have a privy out back, with last year’s almanac nailed to the wall. A distant king might be proud of the hot water running through the lead pipes of his palace. Bears shit in the woods.

They are barbarians and fools, the lot of them. Civilization – real, honest-to-gods civilization – is built upon the porcelain back of the Merde Grande.

The Building of a Merde Grande

The creation of a modern magical sewer is a work-intensive process, but the methods of Dr. P. T. Krappier have remained generally unchanged since their introduction over a century ago.

First, a live donjon must be acquired. Most cities of healthy size (and many of unhealthy size) have at least one spare keep going unused. If the city donjon has died, it is possible (though often prohibitively expensive) to transplant one from the wilderness, though those structures have an even higher chance of being long dead or having gone to rot.

Second, the donjon is refurbished (for they are often ruined even if still alive) and consecrated to Cloacina. This change of metaphysical nature will shift the donjon’s root system into something viable for the movement and processing of waste. This was, and in many ways still is, a revolutionary technique; wizards that are willing to dabble in the affairs and powers of the gods of man are few in number, and gods that are willing to put up with wizards are just as rare.

Third, surveyors and excavators will disperse throughout the city, planting markers that will attract the donjon’s roots. Once the major points have been set up, citizens can purchase minor markers for their own dwellings for relatively low cost.

Fourth, the combined workforce of priests and wizards will populate the sewer-donjon with the necessary enchantments, constructs, and beings for it to function: animated water, enchanted pumps, domesticated oozes, wards against gas buildup and clogging, waste-eating beasts, bacteria cultures. After the floodgates are opened their duties will be overseeing and maintaining the Grande.

The end of all this is threefold:
  • A complex maze of layered, tangled additions and recursive expansions exists beneath the feet of thousands of people who ignore the fact that it’s there.
  • An incredibly important, powerful, and wealthy faction that can potentially bring a city to its knees is always sitting there behind the scenes.
  • Easy access to hot running water and toilet paper.
Hellboy on the left, Pokemon Sage on the right

Cloacina, the Cleanser

Cloacina is the doer of dirty deeds (not always dirt cheap). Her image and variants thereof, in icon and idol, are common throughout the world. In places where her sewers have not reached, she tends towards her classic patronage of cleanliness, aqueducts and the sexual act in marriage.

She is immensely popular. An approachable, down-to-earth personality does a great deal, but more important is that Cloacina doesn’t take anyone’s shit. She doesn’t put up with shit. Cloacina deals with shit. Cloacina gets shit done.

Most importantly, Cloacina has the skill, know-how, and immaculate, infinite patience to deal with your shit.

Yes, even that.

When the toilet is clogged, you don’t call on thunder gods. When there’s intestinal distress, you don’t go asking for the god of war. When you hit up the wrong curry stand and have lived to regret it, it is Cloacina that you seek.

She’s a practical goddess, for practical problems.

Nightsoil Priests and Shitwizards

The clergy of Cloacina are difficult to distinguish from academic wizards, and the opposite remains true. The two factions have been forced to work together for so long that they have more or less merged to the point of interchangeability.

They are integral to society, and they know it. Unlike the overwhelming majority of wizards, they demonstrate little desire to lord it over other people – they’re important by default, there’s nothing to prove. Everyone knows it already.

Plus, it’s difficult to be full of shit when you’re dealing with everyone else’s.

Nightsoil priests and shitwizards are easily discernible by their garb, as follows.
  • White jumpsuit marked with sigils of protection against poison and disease.
  • Images or samples of Outhouse Mrytle, a plant sacred to Cloacina
  • Heavy rubberized gloves and boots, the latter of which are often part of overalls or hip waders.
  • A hood (in the case of priests) or a pointed hat with brim (in the case of wizards), with attached mask and goggles in the case of poisonous fumes.

They also instinctively know how to navigate the sewers without getting lost, no matter the city.

The actual Cloaca Maxima

Random Encounters in the Sewers

Sewers, like all donjon-derived environments, tend to develop their own niche ecosystems. Each city’s sewer will be different, but certain creatures can be found nearly everywhere.

  1. Rat-faced Bastards A non-indicative name, as they are actually rats with the face of men. They are disgusting creatures, can grow up to the size of a dog, and breed excessively. It’s a common prank for drunkards to give one of their friends a sword and send him down collecting rat tails.
  2. Alkahest Ooze The strongest of the varieties of janitorial slimes employed in the sewers. They are called in to clean out clogs, undo blockages, and have a tendency to dissolve almost anything in their path. Hedge alchemists will pay a shipload for samples, as the creation of alkahest is guild property.
  3. Methane-Eater Little gasbag creatures that glow with a faint phosphorescence. They are harmless, but a good indicator that the air in a region might be dangerous to breathe.
  4. Cloagator There are, in fact, alligators that live in the sewers, feeding on blind fish and wayward adventurers. Scraggle-feathered birds with hooked beaks pick shitshrimp out of their teeth. The lack of decent food has made them astoundingly patient, and terribly emaciated.
  5. Merde-morloc – It’s very easy to get lost in the Grande, and these unfortunates have made the best of it. Sure, it’s best not to ask what they eat or how they entertain themselves, but just because they’re pallid inbreds doesn’t mean that they’re evil. Often cannibalistic, but then again, who isn’t sometimes?
  6. Cleaner Crabs Colonies of these hardened crustaceans feed on the slime molds and bacterial mats that coat the walls of older sections of the Grande.
  7. Maintenance Zombies Nothing much to see here, just the boys from the 509 Local. Sometimes accompanied by a priest or wizard on their rounds.
  8. Digesticative MawIt has to go somewhere, doesn't it? Processed waste is excreted on the surface.
  9. Fatberg An ambulatory mass of hair, grease, feces, used condoms, and the occasional corpse. Tend to weigh dozens to hundreds of tons. Always hungry for more.
  10. Sewer-stalker Stiltlike legs and claws like carving knives, eyes bugging out of their sockets as if ready to bursting and a crook-hooked beak. Runs too fast, for something that never seems able to take a steady step. A distant figure at the end of the tunnel, a moment in the light, then it runs.
  11. Someone who isn’t supposed to be thereThe sewers are a good place for bad people.
  12. THE BULLWORM It fills the entire tunnel with its bulk. Coming out of nowhere, going into nothing, an ouroboros with no destination but the endless crawl through the dark.

Traveling in the Merde Grande

When using the Grande as a means of transit between surface locations, treat it as a wilderness environment instead of a dungeon. Random encounters happen, people can get lost, but you don’t need the room-by room breakdown.

If the players do get lost, there is a 1-in-6 chance of discovering an exit. This will, of course, be in a completely different district of the city, but it will be an exit.

It is entirely possible for the roots of the Merde Grande to go too deep. Feel free to break out the Veins of the Earth here.

A pool at Hearst Castle

Shitwizard Spells

Honey Pot
R: 30’ T: Area D: Indefinite
Cleans the area of blood, feces, ooze, slime, grime, gristle, gunk, rust, dust, detritus and effluvia, storing it in an enchanted jar or other sealed container. This container can store [dice] uses of this spell before it can be used no further. The jar can be thrown as a grenade, doing [dice]d6 damage and spraying its contents everywhere.

Cleaning House
R: Sight T: [dice] persons D: Instant
The target is cured of disease, but must succeed on a CON or Poison save. On failure they will be cured by violent expulsion and take a -2 penalty to all checks until the next morning.

Unblock the Path
R: Touch T: Material D: 1 hour ÷ [sum]
A material obstruction is removed from a path, passage, or doorway. This takes 1 hour ÷ [sum] and dispersing the matter makes significant noise.

R: 10’ square T: Plants within AOE D: Indefinite
Plants within the effected area grow at an unnatural rate. Crops mature in minutes, trees grow gigantic, plant-based creatures gain [dice] HD.

R: Touch T: Piece of cloth D: [dice] hours
When held over the mouth, the affected material provides immunity to airborne toxins.

Rites of Cleansing
R: Touch T: Person D: [dice] charges
Target gains advantage on saves against poison, possession, and disease.

Drain Snake
R: N/A T: Rope D: [dice] x5 minutes
Conjures an animated rope of [sum] x10 feet. 50% chance of being a tapeworm.

R: ½ mile T: Self D: 1 hour
Target can find a lost item within the sewers with [dice]-in-6 odds. Requires another item owned by the same person to work.

(The poem up top is traditionally credited to Lord Byron, though there's no hard evidence for that.)


  1. I'm a big fan of these spells. What are the stats/mechanics of the drain snake?

    1. It's just a piece of rope (or normal tapeworm) that you can give directions to. Treat it like a familiar (If you want stats, it'd be a snake with no bite)

      You'd probably be able to give an order as complex as "squeeze under that door, come back, and tie yourself into a slip knot if there is someone there, a square knot if nothing", but it wouldn't be able to tell you who is actually in the room.

  2. Does Cloaca do it for the worship, for the love of hygiene or for all that potent fertilizer? It's not a bad business model in any case.

  3. What exactly is a donjon? It seems to be some kind of dungeon "seed," based on what I'm reading here, but google-fu has not brought me much. How do dungeons work in your setting? I'm intrigued with what little I can get from this.

    1. Donjon is just an old French term for castle keep. In this context, I like the idea of a split between normal dungeons, and living, genius-loci donjons.