City of Angles: A Fate Core Campaign Setting
Based on the City of Angles novels by Stefan Gagne
ROUGH DRAFT NOTE
This campaign setting is a work in progress. It’s very rough and unplaytested, and the Fate-specific mechanics may need to be tweaked. Some core concepts to City of Angles don’t translate very well to an RPG setting and may need GM interpretation. I welcome any and all feedback you may have to help me improve this project!
May 3rd Updates:
- For the Setting section, I renamed "Salvaging and Immigration" to "The Immigration Process" and placed it first, ahead of cubism. Added a GM section with some new arrival tables. Rewrote a few things to improve flow after this reorganization.
- Added the second half of the document; everything from Organizations onward!
Are you the game master, or a player? Half the fun for players is NOT knowing the secret workings of this world. By default, game master sections of the document are hidden, so players can read and enjoy a spoiler free introduction to the City of Angles. To toggle display of game master sections, use these links:
When you toggle the spoilers, a box like this will slide open and closed, revealing more information about the world. In general your players shouldn’t be digging into those mysteries up front; it’s much more fun to reveal them as the story continues!
If you prefer to open all GM sections in one shot rather than selectively, use this link. It’ll toggle open and closed all the GM sections.
Table of Contents
- Welcome to the City of Angles
- The Secret of 23
- Surviving the City
- Aspects, Stunts, and Skills
- Important (and Unimportant) People
- Closing Thoughts
Buildings next to buildings, askew or aligned. Buildings sometimes intersecting buildings, for that matter. Walk down a hallway, end up in a ballroom, double glass doors to a subway station, third exit on the left goes to a lending library. It’s inadvisable to ask if they use the dewey decimal system.
There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it—we’ve got streets which lead to dead ends, roads which criss-cross and loop back around, highways which go nowhere. Literally nowhere, as in "anybody going down that road is not coming back." This is not a good place to wander off unless you like wandering off forever…
Nobody knows where the city came from. Nobody knows how we got here. Nobody knows why any of this is happening. But it’s happening. The city exists. We are here now. It’s growing every day, and bringing new people with it.
We live a life amidst the twisted yet familiar.
If we’re going to survive this, if we’re going to stay alive and thrive, we need to learn to live in the City of Angles.
City of Angles is a campaign setting based on the novels of the same name by Stefan Gagne. It depicts a world which is a twisted funhouse mirror of modern day America, a sprawling and chaotic place that mimics and copies real-world settings and real-world people into an inescapable city of dreams. The struggles people go through on a daily basis are the same kind of struggles they’d go through back on Earth, plus an added layer of existential (and occasionally very physical) crisis.
With Salvager gangs, mad cults, roaming phantasms known as Picassos, and a severely dysfunctional government… it makes a wonderful place to set up camp if you enjoy crazy shenanigans and drama. And odds are pretty good that you enjoy crazy shenanigans and drama, or you wouldn’t be reading a Fate campaign setting, would you?
While reading the books will help give you insight into the world, it’s not necessary; if anything it may help players if they DON’T know the secrets this world holds. Detangling the mystery of what the City of Angles is and how it operates is part of the growth process of its characters. While we’re depicting the setting "as it is" in this campaign and suggesting you develop your own protagonists rather than follow the path set by the existing ones from the books, where you go with it is up to you. Scratch deeply or scrape the surface, whatever makes for the most compelling story. Everything from pulp action antics to deeply weird reality-warping revelation can be found here.
The City of Angles represents a wide cross-section of the American dream. Urban sprawl, suburban sprawl, rolling hills and plains… it’s all there. Cellphones operate. Electricity flows. Sewage gets processed. The core infrastructure you’ve come to expect from 21st century living is present and accounted for.
That means all the core problems of 21st century living are also present and accounted for. Economic adversity, crime, family struggles, relationship strife, it’s all baked right in. There are additional wrinkles on top based on what the City itself represents and how it mimics America, but really, any standard modern story could be told here with a few tweaks.
This does mean that things like magic or fantastic beasts are not present and accounted for. (There are certain ways to bend reality, but we’ll get to that. All in good time.) This setting doesn’t suit high powered fantasy combat or other large-scale impacts on the City itself; the stories are told on a more personal level, even when they threaten the City at large with doom and destruction. In the end, it’s the characters that should be the problems and the solutions themselves.
Cellphones operate, electricity flows, sewage gets processed…
…but HOW is the question. The City is a randomized pile of buildings and people copied from Earth itself, dumped without rhyme or reason across the landscape. Whenever a new building arrives, it’s instantly inserted between other buildings, the entire City shuffling around to make room. Pipes connect to pipes, wires connect to wires, signals cross the airwaves… but it all just sort of HAPPENS without human intervention. At least, without any intervention the people doomed to live there are aware of.
"Doomed," that is, because arrival in the City is a one way trip. People that live here are copies of people from Earth, the source unaware of the copy’s existence. This creates a bit of a personal crisis when you realize not only have you been torn from the life you once knew, but you’re not exactly YOU anymore, on any unique level. For people born in the City, they don’t get what the big deal is… but for those who came here against their will, the deal is very big indeed.
Finally, there’s the threat presented by the tucked away corners of this world where reality goes a little… Sideways. With a capital S. Places like the Sideways, or the Undefined Spaces, or the Endless Highways where the edges of reality go rather fuzzy. With the threat of accidentally getting lost forever between the cracks of existence and the perpetually shifting nature of the City, it’s no surprise many try to stay safe and healthy by never opening their front door and walking outside.
If you’re simply PLAYING the City of Angles campaign and someone else is game mastering… you should probably stop reading now. Slowly uncovering the mysteries at the heart of the City is part of the fun, after all.
But if you’re running the show, you’re going to want to know what the score is. Insider dirt on the how-and-why of the City of Angles is how you’re able to craft your story, even if your players don’t know all the details. And that means ingesting the Big Spoiler.
Here’s where we blow the secret wide open that lurks at the end of the first book in the City of Angles saga. So if you haven’t read it, and you’re intending to read it before delving any deeper, stop here. If you just want the details and don’t wanna plow through three hundred plus pages of (admittedly quite excellent?) writing, read on.
Get comfortable, first. Feet up. Refreshing beverage. We’ll wait.
You have been warned.
The City of Angles is a dream. Specifically it’s the living dream of "Patient 23," a young girl in a secret CDC facility, who for reasons unknown is generating this entire alternate world inside her head and copying people and places from the world around her into it. She’s been doing this for a hundred years now, unaging in her comatose sleep.
Very, very few people living in the City of Angles are aware of this. Surviving on a day-to-day basis means putting a lot of these bigger-picture issues aside, dealing with what’s in front of you. Some dig deep, learn too much, and are broken by the truth. But by and large, the population remains unaware they’re living in a dream world.
All the ways in which the City doesn’t make sense, all the fuzzy parts where the dream gets strange and wild, they’re because of the dream logic upon which the whole apparatus hangs together. The weird entities that warp the dream around them, the girls known only as Bedlam, Echo, and Lucid? They’re all aspects of her personality, representing different reactions to this eternal nightmare. (You’ll be learning about them later, don’t worry.)
The City of Angles books deal with the journey of Penelope Yates, a young girl with a unique tie to the City. Her self-discovery is the discovery of the City’s secrets…
…but that’s not the story we’re aiming to tell in this campaign setting. No, that story will be the story of you and your players. How much they know or don’t know, how closely tied to these mysteries or how distant they are from them, that’s all up to you. Penelope’s story is told, written down in stone. It’s of no interest to us. Your story, in comparison… that hasn’t been written yet.
So, now you know the truth. The question is, how much of it will your PLAYERS know?
One of the major themes of City of Angles is knowledge. Knowledge of self, and knowledge of the world around you… as well as accepting that knowledge rather than hiding from it in fear.
Representing this ongoing growth process can be done by restricting information your players have when starting out. There’s three good approaches you can use here.
Clueless Newbies: Your players are all recent immigrants to the City of Angles, copied from Earth. They have no idea what’s going on or how anything works. In that case, they can build their characters assuming a ‘modern’ game, and then when your group sits down to play you spring this mess on them. Surprise! It’s an easy setup since you retain the mystery and your players don’t need to know any background information.
You could also secretly designate some of them to be connected to the Metadream (details later) and have unique powers… which they are completely unaware of and can’t reliably control until they train up in the Dream skill. Going from +0 to +5 in Dream through milestones and character advancement represents a gradual self-awareness and acceptance of who and what they are, which makes for lovely storytelling.
Honest Citizens: Your players are natives of the City of Angles, or have been there long enough to know the score. To them, this looks like any ordinary roleplaying campaign in a modern setting, with a few twists. But they don’t know all the mysteries yet. They’re not aware it’s a dream world. They’re not aware you may have secretly picked a few of them to have special abilities…
In this case, your players can read this document with the spoiler sections collapsed. It’ll describe the City and its workings, but leave out anything else. Plenty of surprises will remain; even if they know how the City works, they don’t know WHY the City works, and will need to undergo a personal journey as a result.
Again, designating characters to have hidden aspects and Dream related abilities works well here. Particularly well since they end up starting out confident and assure, but then the rug gets pulled out from under them.
Secretkeepers: Your players have become aware of the true nature of the City of Angles, and are even be aware of how unique and powerful they truly are due to their connections to the Metadream. They are already deep down the rabbit hole, and things are only going to get stranger from that point onward.
This entire setting book is fair game for folks who are in the know, so this MIGHT be the route you want to go if you want to keep things simple. Y’know, simple by way of making them complex as hell. It does let you launch the game with players with Dream skills fully locked and loaded, if you’re looking to do something that’s a bit more power-based and surreal right from the start.
ROUGH DRAFT NOTE
I’m curious which style you’d want to play your game in. Clueless, so that you don’t need to explain anything ahead of time? Honest, so that they only read the basics? Secret, for hardcore fans? Which do you suspect would be the best way to bring new players into the mix? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Taken at the surface, City of Angles looks like any other modern horror setting. You’ve got cities, guns, crooks, bureaucrats, taxi drivers, hot dog vendors, all the trappings of a realistic scenario… plus the occasional bit of reality-warping madness and scary monsters. Just a pulp urban fantasy setting, yes?
Technically, yes. But the key is in the overall themes of the series. WHY is the world bent in the way it is? What’s really going on, under the surface, and what does it say about people in general? How does it relate to your character, and their own personal journey into self-understanding? A lot of this is represented by the overall mystery, an unfolding secret that teases and tempts before pouring forbidden knowledge in your head. But even beyond the cosmic horror aspect, there’s a personal horror to survive and overcome.
Here’s some key words to keep in mind, as you consider the way this world works and the way you fit into it.
Anxiety and Fear. Life is very uncertain here. The world is uncertain, shapeless, everchanging. Your future is quite uncertain; you could do quite well, or you could fall between the cracks and vanish. Sheer terror keeps so many pinned down in the City of Angles, unable to embrace life and all its joys out of fear that they’ll be ruined in the process. To push through that fear and choose to LIVE your life is one of the major obstacles the City presents to you. Even beyond cubism, fear can drive people to do things they wouldn’t normally do… break the law, right up to committing murder, if the alternative is far more terrifying.
Depression. Things are bad and it’s unclear if they’ll ever improve. People live quiet lives of desperation, afraid of the world and afraid of each other; cubism can arise at any time, turning someone you knew into a bubbling horror. Without a support network of friends and family, people who love you and trust you and vice versa, it’s so easy to slip away in perfect isolation.
Identity. Everybody who lives in the City of Angles has to deal with identity issues. Immigrants are echoes of themselves, the original carrying on without a clue back on Earth. Is the immigrant in the City really a person, if they’re not unique? For that matter, are natives born in the City really people, if there was never an original to begin with? What’s the value of human life if the lives are essentially imaginary?
Chaos and Order. The City is naturally chaotic, reorganizing itself on the fly, changing peoples lives as it does. The natural instinct is to stamp it down hard and forge pure order out of the chaos, through governmentally enforced organization. But is this right? Is it better to learn to live with the City than against it? Doing so is risky, since it means embracing the unknown. Few can make that leap. In many ways, this is the core conflict of the City of Angles… the need to embrace what it TRULY is, versus living in denial.
Us vs. Them. Salvager gangs have bonds of loyalty and family… but it’s to the exclusion of everyone else in the City. "I got mine; screw you." "I’ll defend my friends to the death, even if it means your death." But ‘community’ doesn’t mean your local social circle, in the end… it means the entire City. Having zero empathy for anyone who is beyond your immediate scope of love and affection, selfishly securing their future at the expense of someone else’s, means the long term doom of all including those in your protection. To quote Ben Franklin… "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Short Term Gains vs. Long Term Thinking. Every problem has a solution, but is it the RIGHT solution? Are you slapping a band-aid on a throbbing wound, forcing later generations to deal with an even larger problem because you couldn’t be bothered to finish the job? Are you draining away a limited resource with the assumption that you’ll be dead and buried long before it runs out, leaving later generations high and dry? Is a corporation taking action that will maximize immediate shareholder value knowing damn well it’ll collapse the entire company and leave employees jobless inside of a year? This is where malice and incompetence form an unholy junction.
What’s it like to ‘migrate’ to the City of Angles? What do new citizens experience? That’d be a good starting point for understanding the setting…
New arrivals in the City of Angles are copies of their Earth counterparts. They appear in the City in random places; sometimes in the middle of a crowded street, sometimes in someone’s back closet, sometimes deep within the terrifying maze known as the Sideways. They don’t KNOW they’re copies of the original, of course… nor do they know where they are, or what’s going on. Arrivals are rarely smooth experiences as a result.
When a new arrival is spotted (easy enough to do given they have no idea how they got here and are very confused) a branch of government known as the Department of Orientation swings in to pick them up, educate them about how the City works, and get them acclimated to their new home. (We’ll be discussing the various Departments in more detail later on.)
But with new immigrants often come new buildings, and that’s where things get a little crazy. The City is perpetually strapped for resources. Food, clothes, fuel, machinery, any sort of supplies. Even the buildings themselves are hot commodities; new real estate inserting itself randomly into the cityscape means new opportunities, new places to live or work.
As a result, newly arrived real estate gets swooped in on. The City government annexes new properties for later distribution for the greater good of the City. But gangs of armed Salvagers may swoop in first to loot anything they can, for their own use or for sale on the black market. And if some poor bastard is IN the building that just showed up, well… that poor bastard may find themselves in a bit of a pickle.
New buildings arrive in the City all the time… sometimes silently, sometimes loudly. If you’re looking for a nice loud arrival incident for your players to deal with, we’ve got an encounter table for you! Roll a d20 to determine what arrives, and a d20 to determine HOW it arrives.
|1||Ritzy Apartment Building||Inserts between two similar buildings|
|2||Tenement Slum Apartment Building||Inserts between two different buildings (housing vs. office, factory vs. shop, etc)|
|3||Row of Brownstone Town Houses||Inserts into different economic territory (rich vs. poor)|
|4||Luxury Hotel||Intersects through existing building|
|5||Fly-by-Night Crappy Hotel||Reroutes roadways during heavy traffic, causing accidents|
|6||Crack House||Only half of the building arrives|
|7||Department Store||Shuffles places with existing structure, which is inserted elsewhere|
|8||Shopping Mall||Building arrives fully cubist|
|9||Full City Block (various)||Building arrives partially cubist|
|10||Office Building||Inserts underground, only top floors exposed|
|11||Warehouse||Stacks on top of existing building|
|12||Factory||Structure is riddled with Sideways entrances|
|13||Auto Dealership||Building arrives IN the Sideways, in whole|
|14||TV Studio||Building unstable on arrival, suffers structural damage or collapse|
|15||Public Library||Arrives rotated in a way which doesn’t mesh cleanly with roads and sidewalks|
|16||Bank||Arrives tilted, threatening to topple over, unbalancing furniture / people inside|
|17||School||Immediate Salvager gang response, prolonged looting|
|18||Under Construction Building||Immediate Department of Safety response for reasons made unclear|
|19||Abandoned Building||Multiple Picassos inside|
|20||Solid Block of Bricks and Cement||Everything… SEEMS normal.|
In the end, everything gets sorted out. The immigrants are processed, the resources are harvested, and the City grows. New folks either acclimate to their one-way-trip into the City of Angles, or live in denial.
Nobody knows WHY particular people and places get copied into the City of Angles, what the selection process is, but at least they’ve got a process for dealing with it in the end. And once you’ve arrived and survived your arrival, everything’s fine, right? Right?
Assuming nothing horrible happens to an immigrant arriving in the City, assuming they settle into their new life and come to terms with this strange existence… other dangers await them.
Cubism and the fear of cubism lurks at the heart the City of Angles. "Going cubist," becoming a "Picasso," implies a person or a place becoming a surreal, horribly bent and twisted breakpoint in reality. It’s a terrible fate and even if you can avoid it happening to you, avoiding others who have lost themselves along the way may prove difficult. Avoiding people with a strange flickering afterimage about them, a telltale sign of early onset cubism, isn’t enough; even the building you’re in can go cubist in the most dire of circumstances.
GAME EXAMPLE FUNTIMES
Jason sees a whirling cloud of skewed light and sound, strewn with floating leaves and flowers emerging from the nearby greenhouse. Its owner must’ve gone cubist. He makes a run for it, but his Athletics check comes up short, and the monster is upon him, howling about roses and thorn and proper mulching methods.
He knows he can’t fight this thing, but he’s got no choice but to get swiped at by it at least once. The Picasso gets a +2 to the fortunately low +1 innate Fighting skill the greenhouse owner had before she turned cubist. Jason rolls Athletics to dodge, and thankfully gets a 4 total. His Will stress was already pretty low from an earlier horror he witnessed, so he’s really dodged a metaphorical bullet there. Jason slips away, makes a run for it, and hides until the Picasso forgets where he is and goes back to tending her extremely surreal garden.
As far as people are aware, cubism is an infectious disease of sorts. Come into contact with a Picasso or a cubist structure, and you’ll become a Picasso yourself.
The reality of it is far more subtle; it’s a memetic concept, horror and despair given physical form within the City of Angles. This is why people with clinical depression or other psychological ailments can spontaneously go cubist, giving in to a collapse of the mind, and losing themselves along the way.
Going Picasso is like becoming a poltergeist; Picassos are lost within their own minds and memories, body changed into a whirling ball of chaos and inadvertent destruction. They warp space around them, transforming objects as they pass. For places suffering from cubism, the environment becomes immediately hostile to all life, capable of rending flesh from bone. Cubist spaces become uninhabitable, and are immediately quarantined by the Department of Safety.
The mind of a Picasso is a funny thing. They become disconnected in time, adrift in their own emotions and memories. If you can figure out what ‘moment’ they’re lost in you can interact with them; for example, a cubist Girl Scout may be appeased by purchasing some cookies. The perpetually distracted nature of a Picasso means keeping them focused in on any one thing may be difficult, however.
In combat, Picassos gain +2 to Fighting checks for melee attacks (compared to the people they once were) and the wounds inflicted are severe. Reality distortions can result in lacerations, fractures broken bones, twisted and flayed skin, and so on. In addition, because they exist as nebulous clouds of quantum weirdness, they gain +2 when defending against any attack that isn’t a "splash damage" attack such as fire and explosives. When they run out of physical stress points, Picassos evaporate. They may re-incorporate at a later time, or may be gone forever.
(Picasso on Picasso combat doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, all advantages are struck down and it’s like a human fighting a human.)
Being wounded by a Picasso results in both Physical stress AND Will stress. If a Picasso drops your Will to zero before your Physical drops to zero your game master may turn you into a Picasso yourself. This represents terror and fear overcoming your ability to avoid thinking about becoming infected with cubism.
It’s possible to recover from cubism, but it’s quite difficult, and can require a combination of sedatives and empathy from a loved one to bring you back to yourself. Cubism is largely misunderstood by the populace, which encouraged by the Department of Safety to see it strictly within black and white terms. Better safe than sorry, and the only good Picasso is a dead Picasso.
Game masters, if you’d like to "roll up" a random Picasso, we have you covered in the Sideways Adventures section.
New folks arrive daily, and assuming they don’t go cubist from madness and despair, where are they going to live and eke out a living? That’s where the layers of the City of Angles come into play.
The key to understanding this world is that it exists in three "layers" of reality. Those layers are interconnected by roadways; you can travel from one to another if you know which roads to take, which ones connect to which layers. The shifting effect when crossing over is mildly unpleasant, but otherwise safe. Entrances and exits from each layer are found all over the place, not at the edges.
The "City" layer is an urban sprawl, an iconic landscape like New York, Chicago, or Boston. In fact there’s likely a copy of the Empire State Building somewhere in that mess. Here you’ll find apartments, offices, shops, everything you’d find in the middle of a tightly packed urban environment. Not too many trees, mind you.
The "Suburbs" layer is more spread out, and represents the middle ground between urban and rural settings. Housing communities, shopping plazas, parks and more. Just the place to raise your kids in safety and security, given the dangers of the City… if you can afford it.
The "Outlands" layer consists of wide open spaces, connected by highways and freeways. The largest-scale buildings exist out here, including farms and warehouses. A bustling shipping industry rolls cargo out on trucks, to and from the City and Outlands.
Finally, you’ve got the "Sideways," which interconnect through all the layers. Not really a ‘layer,’ these are the spaces behind the facade, the backstage hallways of the grand performance that is the City of Angles. They’re randomized mashups of rooms, an infinitely spiraling haunted house of terror soaked in low entropy. Generally? You do not want to be there, if you can avoid it. Even if there’s treasure to be found…
(These locales are containers that you can fill with your own ideas; the very nature of the City, an ever-changing mish-mash of places from the American landscape, means you can and should find just about anything in there. Invent your own City Districts! Develop a town in the Suburbs! Find a decrepit amusement park out in the middle of the Outlands! Make a community of slightly insane settlers in the Undefined Spaces! These setting notes are a basis to build on; you can run wild with anything else you feel fits the theme.)
The farther out from the center you go in any particular layer, the closer you get to the Undefined Spaces, where buildings become the idea of buildings more than actual buildings and the world goes all fuzzy. That rule applies upwards and downwards; soar too high into the sky and you sail away forever. The stars? You can’t actually reach them by rocket. Dig too deeply into the earth, and you’ll likewise be lost forever.
"Okay, so random buildings keep dropping in. So what? Demolish them and build something new, something more in tune with the City’s needs."
In the 1930s, that’s exactly what the Mayor of the City did. It was called the New Deal Project, an echo of the original New Deal from Roosevelt’s era, and it aimed to knock down a series of somewhat useless buildings in favor of creating affordable housing, commercial business space, and so on.
It was a complete disaster. Months into the project the buildings began going cubist, one by one. Workers were lost, going Picasso. The entire District had to be quarantined, in the end.
The conclusion drawn by Department of Safety analysts was this: The City must have its own internal logic, its own blueprint that it follows. DNA written in cement and asphalt, as it were. Tearing apart that blueprint in favor of your own ideas results in cubism. Instead, the best route to take is to gut existing buildings and repurpose them, while leaving the structure largely intact.
This is why you’ll sometimes find factories inside abandoned shopping malls, or office buildings turned into economy apartment complexes, or shoe shops that offer dental services. The people can’t control WHAT sort of building lands in their midst… only what they do with the structure afterwards.
The rule of thumb? Repurpose and recycle, or get painfully repurposed and recycled. Go with the flow.
Confusingly, the layer known as "The City" is only a part of "The City of Angles," namely the densely urban aspect of the City of Angles. It was given the name before the other layers were properly identified and explored.
Here’s details on a few commonly known locales, which may be relevant to the stories you want to tell.
The Zag: Oldest of the City Districts, the Zag is at the core. It’s safe, it’s stable, and aside from being very difficult to drive on due to the number of sharp ninety degree back-and-forth turns, it’s quite normal in comparison to the rest of this mess. As a result of its distinct lineage, the rent is somewhat ridiculous. Owning an apartment or a business on the Zag is a mark of prosperity, given there’s not much of that precious space to go around.
Crossway Points: A District which exists as a median between the worst of the City’s offerings and the best of its offerings. Numerous highways cross-connect here, making it convenient to reach from any other part of the City. Shady deals and strip clubs abound, but no crack dens or burnt-out husks full of the lost and dispossessed. This is where business of a criminal nature goes down and goes down unchecked, but it checks itself before it wrecks itself.
Pileup Intersection: Speaking of wrecking yourself, this is a great place to do it. Pileup Intersection is a junction of several highways, similar to Crossway Points, except it’s a LITERAL junction… the roads connect directly to each other in a way that leads to scores of traffic accidents. Lines have been painted to hopefully direct the flow where it needs to go, but since a number of great time-saving shortcuts can be made by skittering over the yellow line and onto a wholly different road, accidents happen with high frequency.
Seventh Street: Originally a blue-collar section of the City, but the shifting landscape moved most of the jobs away from this light industrial core. With them went the families, and crime came in to fill the void. The most notable gang though were the Seventh Street Scavengers, who saw themselves as guardians of this forgotten District rather than predators. When they eventually grew up and became actual adults, what little protection they offered the place faded, however. (If your game takes place after Picasso Friday in the timeline, Seventh Street is being actively renovated by a commune of culture-minded hipsters, trying to revitalize the area. Notably the Greasemonkey, a bar catering to local mechanics, has been repurposed as a poetry dive and art gallery.)
District 23: An outlier, uncomfortably close to the edge of reality. District 23 is a dumping ground for new arrivals in the City who need a place to live and aren’t going to be given the choicest of apartments. It’s well on its way to becoming a ghost town, but those who have no other choice but to live there are civil enough. Very privacy-minded, though.
The Defined Tower: A skyscraper juts out of the middle of the Undefined Spaces, looking very sharp and real compared to its surroundings. It’s known as the Defined Tower, and it’s legendary. Not that there’s anything of interest inside beyond some roaming Picassos, but the fact that it exists at all is strange. In fact, if your timeline is post-Picasso Friday, the word "EXIST." with a period is spraypainted across the windows high up in the tower.
Home sweet home, for those who can afford it. While things still shuffle around as new patches of suburban sprawl are copied and pasted into the mix, life is generally more stable out there compared to the insanity of the City. The commute may be hell, but if you can arrange telecommuting, you can live like a middle-class king out there.
The Housing Sprawls: Gated and un-gated communities, rows of little white single-family houses and town houses aplenty. These are the defining aspect of the Suburbs, sleepy bedroom communities where families wall themselves away from the rest of creation in an effort to pretend it does not exist. Risk-averse families take root here and flourish.
Shopping Malls: Much like 21st century malls, these are on the decline; more rapidly so as online shopping allows people to stay safely indoors and not risk getting lost on the way to buying a new pair of pants. Many malls in the Suburbs have become abandoned refuges for the homeless, who are often chased away from reputable parts of this layer of reality. Still, other malls remain open for business, and do what they can to encourage a sense of community to drive customers to visit frequently.
Public Schools: "What if my precious darling gets on one of those awful yellow buses and never comes back?" is the wildly exaggerated fear behind the social divide between public and private school. If you have the money for an online academy, that’s what you spend it on first and foremost; private schooling allows your child to stay safe at home rather than venture into the open. As for public schools… needless to say, they’re a microcosm of the worst education experiences you can imagine. Teachers who don’t want to be there, kids who don’t want to be there, and few smiles to be found. Sports teams are primarily e-Sports, video games played online; that allows private online academies to compete as well, and allows kids to stay safely indoors rather than get schlepped around in a minivan all over the place to strange parts of the City.
Largely unpopulated, this is where you find honest to goodness wild animals and forests. It’s the spaces between the cities of the American landscape, mashed together… although you wouldn’t see the divisions between each patch of land unless you flew over them in a helicopter or a crop duster. On the ground level, the Outlands look very much like any random splotch of the heartlands.
Farms and Factories: Agriculture is key in the City of Angles; gotta feed everybody somehow, and you can’t rely entirely on food salvaged out of recently arriving buildings. Farm-raised produce and freshwater seafood, vegetables and processed munchables, all of it is put together in the Outlands for sale in the Suburbs and the City. Heavy industry also exists, but since there’s very little mining, salvage is the preferred route. Easier to steal a television from the Sideways than it is to make one from scratch.
Rest Stops: With a large-scale trucking industry, having roadside diners and motels are the key to keeping commerce going. While the City of Angles is small enough that you generally can drive from one place to another within the span of a single day at most, travelers tend to pack several of these "runs" into a single span before going home in order to maximize their productivity. Waypoints to stop at along the way help quite a bit.
Tourist Traps: Folks who live elsewhere looking to get away from it all may take a vacation at a resort complex. It’s less common, since travel is discouraged by the shifting nature of the City of Angles (good luck finding an accurate road map) but there is enough tourism for an industry to spring up around it.
Endless Highways: More than on any other layer, the Outlands is riddled with routes that represent one-way trips to nowheresville. If you don’t have a high quality and up-to-date map, you could find yourself driving on an infinite loop of a road until you eventually die of starvation. This is one reason for the tightly knit trucker culture; it’s mutually assured survival.
GAME EXAMPLE FUNTIMES
Shelby was just trying to find Apartment 6 so she could give her old high school friend a housewarming gift. But now, she’s somewhere else entirely; a maze of interconnected rooms, none of which make sense in relation to each other. The door she thought went to the apartment building’s fifth floor instead went to a hallway which went to a fancy ballroom which went to a car dealership, and, and…
She’s in a panic. She has no idea how to get out of here; an Orientation skill check suggested she should retrace her steps, but the door back to the apartment stairwell has vanished. Shelby may very well die down here if she can’t find food and water, much less an exit to the surface…
Suddenly, two figures come running past; a man carrying a tablet computer with an extensive digital map on it, and a woman firing a gun randomly behind them. Explorers, who came here to look for treasure. Instead, they found Shelby… and now all three will have to escape a Picasso’s wrath together.
Ahhh, the Sideways. A mysterious place, to be sure… a swirling miasma of random rooms and hallways, doors all connected in unusual patterns. The Sideways run in and around and through every layer of the City of Angles, haunted corridors which promise fortune to those willing to plumb its depths for salvage.
The most common type of cellphone in the City, known as a "Cracker" for the tiny crack in the corner of its glass screen, was found by a Sideways explorer… a phone which echoed itself back in place each time you picked it up, producing an endless supply. That sort of legendary find drives people to venture into the Sideways willingly.
Of course, it’s filled with Picassos (likely explorers who lost their way) and strange horrors unseen and if you open a window you might get sucked out into the void of nonexistence, but hey. What’s a little reward without any risk?
Still, few people voluntarily enter the Sideways. More often, they accidentally enter, through an entrance which hadn’t been marked as an entrance yet. An invisible gap in a wall, an open and inviting door, or a bedroom closet in a suspiciously cheap apartment. There’s plenty of ways IN… but few ways OUT. Once inside, the chances of accidentally walking through a one-way door (a non-Euclidian path) rise considerably.
The contents of the sideways can be anything you like; rooms are typically connected in illogical ways, such as a ballroom leading to a swimming pool leading to a walk-in closet leading to a dentist’s office.
Windows overlook a black void, or a clearly false skyline, like a bad theater set. Breaching the walls or windows can result in exposure to vacuum of nothingness, particularly after going extremely deep into the Sideways. Use of explosives is not suggested… even if they’re one of the best ways to deal with the romaning Picassos of the lost.
One nice thing about the Sideways is that their random nature is quite nicely captured by rolling a die on an encounter table! Multiple encounter tables, for that matter.
If you think about the Sideways as a series of connected spaces, each space can be rolled up like so. How they connect to each other is up to you; obvious entrances and exits from a room of that type can mesh with the obvious entrances and exits of the next room in sequence. Branching paths are also possible.
Use a 1d20 to roll on the following tables.
|1||Hallway from an apartment building, many doors|
|2||Hallway from an office building, several doors|
|3||Hallway from a home, photos on walls|
|4||Living room, fully furnished|
|5||Bedroom, master suite|
|7||Dining room, expensive flatware|
|8||Boiler room, furnaces, heavy equipment|
|9||Empty elevator shaft, vertical|
|10||Corporate cubicle farm|
|11||School cafeteria, lunch trays in the open|
|12||School classroom, kindergarten|
|13||Storage warehouse of wooden crates|
|14||Dentist’s office, instruments on display|
|15||Surgical operating theater|
|16||Public library, fiction section, containing unwritten books|
|17||Bank vault, with safety deposit boxes|
|18||Restaurant kitchen with walk-in freezer|
|19||NASA mission control|
Now, let’s see what sort of loot is available. Roll 1d20.
When the loot table says "valuable items," this is shorthand for food, water, expensive trinkets, technology which hasn’t been nailed down, etc. If the table says "Nothing Important," the room will have the usual sort of everyday objects that room has, including any potentially valuable ones. For instance, a restaurant with "Nothing Important" may have food available.
|1||Completely Empty (no furnishings or objects whatsoever)|
|2||Completely Empty (no furnishings or objects whatsoever)|
|3||Looted (no valuable items left)|
|4||Looted (no valuable items left)|
|5||Looted (no valuable items left)|
|6||Looted (no valuable items left)|
|7||Looted (no valuable items left)|
|8||Looted (no valuable items left)|
|14||Lost Explorer’s Cache (some food and water, batteries, maps)|
|15||Lost Explorer’s Hoard (stockpiled canned food and water, makeshift defenses)|
|16||Extra Food and Water (above what would normally be found)|
|17||Extra Valuables (money, gold, jewelry)|
|18||Extra Technology (cellphones and laptops, data storage)|
|19||Weapon Cache (pistols, shotguns, rifles, crossbows, ammunition)|
|20||Repeating Object (one mundane or useful item in the room replaces itself immediately after being removed)|
Now that you have a room and its contents… let’s see exactly how weird that room is!
|10||Uniform color scheme|
|11||Sourceless mechanical ticking sound|
|12||Covered in blood and viscera for no reason|
|13||The same 10 square feet repeated 10 times|
|14||The floor is literally made of lava|
|15||Absolute darkness, even when lights are on|
|16||Horrifying words painted on the walls over and over|
|17||Dead body, with valuable loot|
|18||Dead body, with written journal of last words|
|19||Dead body, partially eaten|
|20||No breathable air|
Lastly, let’s figure out if there’s a Picasso in there. Plenty of Picassos to be found, some passive, some aggressive… all representing people who got lost down here and eventually lost their minds.
Roll 1d20 to determine if a Picasso is present. They’re relatively rare, so we recommend having one show up on a roll of 17-20, or 19-20 at your discretion. Assume all Picassos have +3 for Fighting (including their +2 bonus for being Picassos) and other stats are +1 at best, representing their scattershot minds.
Roll several times, once per column, to develop a Picasso using this table. Their motivations should be in line with their visual motif; someone obsessed with food will appear as a cloud of candy wrappers, someone who was a security guard will have a badge-and-gun motif, and so on. Remember, Picassos are unfixed in time; they float between memories of their lives which define their appearance and their reactions to the world around them. Use that to determine how players can pacify them, or whether they’re aggressive in the first place. (Most are aggressive simply because they exist in a state of perpetual terror.) If motif doesn’t match age or sex, reroll or use your imagination!
|1||F||Child||Crayon and chalk drawings, madly scribbled in the air|
|2||F||Child||Candy wrappers and discarded bits of food, floating clouds of diet soda|
|3||F||Child||Sound and light, pulsing with a strange beat|
|4||F||Child||Sawdust, rusty metal blades, and perpetual grinding sounds (bonus damage in melee)|
|5||F||Teen||Police badges and handguns and bullets in a cloud of snarling hate (+3 Shooting skill)|
|6||F||Teen||Perpetual sobbing sound, many hands covering many weeping eyes|
|7||F||Teen||Arrows and signposts and question mark icons, an explorer trying to find the way out|
|8||F||Teen||Screaming and screaming and screaming and comprised entirely of fire|
|9||M||YA||Whirling cloud of pinball machine parts babbling about special bonuses and drop targets|
|10||M||YA||Overlapping bodies rocking gently in the corner and mutteirng to themselves|
|11||M||YA||A body made of alphabet blocks that spell nothing but obscene words|
|12||M||Adult||Whirling, tangled chains and hooks which ensnare victims|
|13||M||Adult||Flesh and flesh and flesh and lustful moaning|
|14||M||Adult||Sixteen wooden crucifixes, walking in the form of a man|
|15||M||Adult||An orbiting sphere of neckties trying to sell you insurance|
|16||M||Adult||Eyes. Eyes. Eyes. Eyes. Eyes|
|17||?||Adult||Racist ranting that goes on forever, from a stack of speakers draped in five different flags|
|18||?||Senior||Three identical humanoid forms joined at the scalp, welcoming you to join them|
|19||?||Senior||Whirling video scanlines and white noise static spraying across all surfaces|
|20||?||Senior||Appears completely normal at first, very friendly, then makes a horrific offhand remark and the jaw unhinges and opens wide and the body goes inside out and there is nothing no nothing at all only blood and hate and an entire eternity to know each other|
It’s also worth noting the digital counterpart to the Sideways… known as the "Sideways Signals."
These are unlisted cable television channels, bits of the radio spectrum that exist between the numbers, or websites that you can’t reach without a cubist keyboard to type the URLs on. They’re fractured ghosts of the digital world back on Earth, filled with data that may or may not have existed in a sensible online universe. Generally speaking they’re just as dangerous as the physical Sideways, as observing the Sideways Signals can subtly or unsubtly twist the observer’s world around.
Accessing them is difficult, however. You’d need a hacked cable box, a cubist computer, a jailbroken cellphone. Tools of the trade for hackers who specialize in exploring and capturing these signals. Sanity is a precious resource to spend when you routinely wander the Sideways Signals; few who make a living this way make a very LONG living of it.
…so, yeah. Sideways. One way or another, you’re gonna have a bad time.
This should very, very rarely come up in your game given its strange nature. But, if you feel confident enough with the lore…
The "Metadream" is the dream of the dream. It’s another layer of consciousness, or rather a different perspective through which the dream of the City can be viewed. Only those who have tight connections to the Metadream are capable of visiting it, and almost always only during their sleep.
As an abstract representation of the City as a whole, this metaphorical can be explored… but is VERY easy to get lost within. Metadream and Orientation skill checks are a must to navigate and find what you’re looking for, then find your way BACK to where youc ame from. Anyone lost within the Metadream eventually fades away… becoming something not alive andnot dead, no longer tied to the objective reality of the City.
While it LOOKS like the City, it’s vague and abstract, much like the Undefined Spaces. Everything has meaning and nothing is real. In here, all people are represented by points of light, their position relative to each other not a matter of physical space but emotional space. Any insightful Metadream abilities are vastly amplified here, and if you’re powerful enough, you can forge connections that allow others to use Metadream abilities as well. (See the Metadream Skill and Hidden Aspects for more information.)
But mucking about in the Metadream can have severe consequences, and an exclusive few are even aware it exists. Any adventures that venture here are stepping in dangerous territory, as they’re entering the realm of pure imagination, where anything is possible. Use your discretion when allowing players to dig this deeply into the City of Angles.
The best way to get your head around the Metadream is to think of it this way:
All of reality is continuous. The dream is the dream; people choose to view it as concrete buildings, as lungs that draw in air and expunge CO2, because that’s a safe and stable image they can grasp in their mind’s eye. But the spectrum is drawn with the City proper at one end, the Sideways in the middle, and the abstract Metadream at the other end. It’s all the same place. Just different levels of commitment to hammering the dream it flat as a pancake into a solid reality.
In order for characters to embrace and manipulate the actual, factual Metadream at a high level, they need to ascend to a higher level of consciousness themselves… understanding and accepting that thought and matter and reality are one. After all… life is but a dream. Why would it be any other way?
ROUGH DRAFT NOTE
I’m not sure how to really explain the Metadream, given by definition it defies explanation. You can’t describe it with rules because it’s a dream, and dreams rarely follow rules. I’d omit this entirely if not for using it as an engine to explain the Hidden Aspects later in the game.
While the dream of Patient 23 is the City of Angles… the dreams of OTHER patients within that CDC facility are quite different.
Each one has its own internal rules, its own personality aspects in conflict with themselves. The only thing they have in common is that the ‘echo’ effect which pulls people and places into the City of Angles is universal. Someone copied into the City is copied into other dreams, as well. Each one has their own filters in place and their own means of how new arrivals appear, but chances are good that if you found yourself one day within the City of Angles, you ALSO found yourself within a number of other dreams as well. None of these copies aware of the others.
Now and then, for reasons which are FAR too spoilery, a bleed opens up between worlds and it’s possible to cross between dreams. This is how the Citadel invades the City of Angles, for instance.
Your campaign could involve these other dreams, which can be anything of your own design. It could be a way to bring magic and mayhem into the City of Angles, or vice versa. Each world operates using its own dream logic, and that carries through when people cross from one dream to another. A connection to the Metadream is a connection to the Metadream, and is persistent even if the body relocates itself.
This is some pretty advanced science, and cross-dream invasions don’t technically happen until later in the timeline. But it’s your game. Do as you wish!
There’s guys who run the show. There’s guys who you don’t wanna cross. And there’s allegedly ordinary guys, doing allegedly ordinary things.
A number of different groups can be friend or foe within the City of Angles. Deciding who to trust can be difficult, with the mysteries and secrets floating around out there. Knowing a guy who knows a guy is key to survival, so being IN the know improves your chances quite a bit. Let’s get in the know.
The City Council, comprised of the duly elected Mayor and representatives from each of the Departments, rules over the City. They decide the laws, allocate the funds, choose the direction society will take. While the Mayor steers the ship, the Departments tend to act autonomously… and with very questionable moves. They’re the real power in the City, and dealing with them is something any citizen’s going to have to do at some point or another.
The Department of Safety
GAME EXAMPLE FUNTIMES
Kirby’s on the run. He was at ground zero when the guy next to him at the bar went cubist, spontaneously becoming a pillar of crushed glass and alcohol, shredding everyone in his wake. Kirby’s lucky to be alive… but as the only survivor of a massive cubism incident that quarantined off a whole City block, he’s a wanted man. Wanted by the Department of Safety, who want to make sure he wasn’t "infected" with cubism himself.
Not like he feels any different. If he’s going nuts, it’s only because the guys with badges are hunting him down. He’s gotta find a place to chill while this blows over… maybe get a new identity. He’s left a lot of shady deals in his wake that would be nice to escape, and this is enough of a push to get on top of that. What he needs is a guy who knows a guy… and a few good corrupt officials in Orientation he can get forged paperwork from. Kirby’s going to come out on top of this. All he has to do is be quick, and clever.
Responsible for all manners of public safety, from basic law enforcement to quarantine protocols. They’re keenly aware of the weirdness of the City and eager to stamp it out whenever it crawls into the light. They mark off Sideways entrances with quarantine tape, they send out hit squads armed with flamethrowers against Picassos, they publish endless propaganda aimed at controlling cubism (while spreading terror and mistrust). It’s in the nature of the DoS to step down hard on any problem elements in society, in the name of keeping everybody safe and secure.
They’re not EVIL, exactly. Most of them are punch-clock villains, or genuinely interested in protecting the public. The problem comes in the low tolerance for strangeness they hold, a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, and a culture of internal secrecy that masks many of their questionable actions behind a cloak of classified information. If the Men in Black ran your local police precinct, they’d be the Department of Safety.
Other public health functions such as hospitals and disease control fall under the umbrella of Safety. Given that diseases in the City of Angles are sometimes not entirely biological, secrecy abounds in the medical field as well.
The Department of Resources
In charge of making sure the City’s scarce goods are distributed properly, while respecting the right of free enterprise. If you guessed they were fantastically corrupt, you’d be right on the money. All newly arrived buildings are the property of the Department of Resources, to be allocated or sold off as they see fit… and individual members often pocket a few choice items or give preferential treatment when handing out contracts. Annexation of existing private property in the name of City resource needs is rare, but possible as well.
The simple fact of the matter is that there’s just not enough to go around for everyone. Food, shelter, money, gadgetry, anything. The Department of Resources makes sure everything continues to flow in a capitalist economy, by making adjustments here and there and acting as a funnel for all incoming property… but the works are gummed up with greed, and ordinary folks get caught up in the mess.
The Department of Orientation
New arrivals in the City of Angles are dealt with by this department. They handle training immigrants in the ways of the world, and getting them an initial housing assignment and job. Not that the cheap apartments they offer are anything more than holes in the wall, not that the jobs are any better than entry level dishwashing positions. For all their well wishes, Orientation is desperately under funded and ignored by City government. After a token level of support, immigrants are largely left to their own devices. Sink or swim.
Orientation also deals with public education and adult career training. They organize community centers and public recreation facilities. Anything which is directly beneficial to the ongoing support of human needs and requires empathy is typically dumped in their laps.
First Action Response Teams
A joint task force of all three Departments, the FARTs (a very unfortunate acronym) are rapid response specialists who are dispatched to each newly arrived building in the City of Angles. Their task is to secure the structure against looting (Safety), index all available resources within (Resources), and locate and aid any new immigrants (Orientation).
The job is not particularly pleasant, since chances of running headlong into an ambitious Salvager Gang are high. New buildings are hot commodities and once one arrives, the race is on to see who gets to it first and who walks away with what. Few stay within the FARTs for long, opting to seek transfers to higher levels of their respective Departments.
Dealing with the existential crisis of the City of Angles can drive people down odd mental corridors. Everybody has their own philosophical or theological take on why the City exists, and depending on how far around the bend they’ve gone and how much charisma they can sling around, fanatic factions can form around these ideas. Dangerous ideas, dangerous people.
There are two very noteworthy examples…
The Cult of Bedlam
Active primarily during the 1980s, this underground cult of the homeless and dispossessed were said to worship a chaotic entity known only as "Bedlam," goddess of the Sideways. They saw Picassos as an ideal state of being, and actually kidnapped citizens to sacrifice to their goddess, turning them cubist. The Department of Safety eventually put a stop to them… but rumors abound that they didn’t fully sink back into shadow.
The Echo Chamber
Less dangerous than the Cult of Bedlam (they pack pamphlets rather than curvy knives) but devoted to the notion that this City does not exist, nobody here is real, and all life is needless suffering. They’re responsible for breaking the bad news of the ‘Echo Revelation’ to new immigrants, telling them how they’re copies of real people rather than real people themselves. Rumor has it their leader is a charismatic young girl named Echo, but in general members of the Chamber refuse to talk about her.
When the Department of Resources fails, it’s up to the people to fill basic human needs on their own. Banding together into groups, to loot the Sideways for anything of value, or to pillage new buildings before the government can get to them. These are the Salvager Gangs, thieves who exist for mutual support… and in many cases, mutual profit. While many are a cross between Robin Hood and the Neighborhood Watch, others are simply bands of violently greedy thugs.
Gangs are highly territorial, with watchers and spies all over their turf looking for new building arrivals… or rival gangs encroaching on what’s rightfully their stomping grounds. Gang wars are frequent, particularly in economically collapsed Districts with little Department of Safety presence. When the government in general turns a blind eye to a sinking District, sometimes the gangs are the only ones honest citizens can turn to for help.
Individuals or small companies that specialize in deliberately venturing into the Sideways, in search of treasure. The maps they create can be sold on the open market as well, which is always thirsty for current information on the City’s topography. Unlike Salvager Gangs, mappers tend to be more on the level… they declare their finds to the Department of Resources, in exchange for certain rights and finder’s fees. Hoarding information for your own use rather than selling it on the public market is a Salvager Gang thing.
The lives these mappers lead are incredibly dangerous. They willingly face the horrors of the Sideways such as Picassos, usually in small teams of explorers and bodyguards. Using special echo-location software and hardware, they identify one-way doors, create digital maps, and get out alive a few days later with precious information and cargo in tow. It’s a rewarding life, if often quite short.
And then there’s the rest of us. Trying to get by day-to-day, painted into a corner by the ever-shifting city of dangers. Leading lives of quiet anxiety and terror…
But some only SEEM ordinary. Some have strange connections to the City itself, whether they realize it or not. They could go their whole lives feeling slightly out of place, without ever figuring out why… or perhaps they awaken and learn the awful truth of who and what they are. Then wish they could go back to sleep.
Maybe you’re one of these somewhat ordinary people. Maybe.
Let’s talk secrets. The City’s packed full of them… but none so overwhelming as the true nature of its origin, Patient 23.
The entire City is the dream of a young girl with no name, only a number. This fact is known only by a select few, who also know another fact… that the three mysterious forces which manipulate the City behind the scenes are all ‘aspects’ of Patient 23’s personality. (Not aspects in an official Fate sense, mind you.) Each one represents a different viewpoint of the patient in how she sees the City, an avatar of that perspective, loosely connected to the dream world and intensely powerful.
But these aren’t monsters to slay. For starters, they’re basically immortal; if the City exists, so do they. Second, they have some valid points to make…
The first aspect is Bedlam. She comes in the form of a smiling young child made of writhing shadow, with green glowing eyes and impossibly bright teeth. The number of eyes and teeth vary wildly from moment to moment.
Playful and random, she’s madness incarnate… embracing the wild and chaotic nature of the City, adoring the beauty that can be found in its randomness. In her view, everything should be consumed by terror and nightmare because that’s an absolutely wonderful state of affairs. No need to be scared of the monster under the bed when you ARE the monster under the bed, after all.
She’s the friend of Picassos, and often ‘befriends’ an ordinary person by forcibly turning them cubist. However, her natural domain is the Sideways; she doesn’t surface from its depths very often, and does seem to fear the same things Picassos fear, fire and explosions and the like. (If she can feel pain, she’s unlikely to admit it.)
While she’s intensely dangerous, she’s not unkind. She loves her friends and wants them to be happy, even if her idea of what would make people happy is… somewhat questionable. Her ultimate goal is a fully cubist City, where everyone is wallowing in absolute insanity. However, she’s VERY easily distracted and unable to make headway towards that goal without serious outside help, and anyone crazy enough to help her probably is too crazy to carry out her schemes effectively either.
The second aspect is Echo. She comes in the form of a sorrowful young girl wearing a pretty but simple 1900s era dress, in white and blue. Her hair is shock white and her eyes are blue, to match. Unlike Bedlam, her image is very stable, although she always seems to be floating underwater. Echo only appears in mirrors, glass, and other reflective surfaces; she doesn’t seem to be able to move beyond them into the ‘real’ world.
Echo is quite empathetic, and feels sorrow at the ongoing suffering of those within her City. She feels this entire City should not exist in the first place; it’s a nightmare world full of non-people, needlessly enduring the pains of a life they were never meant to have in the first place. Therefore, the best way to make everybody happy is to destroy the City entirely and end the dreamer’s sleep. She advocates suicide and oblivion as effective ways to solve every problem, since every problem is a futile and avoidable one.
Calm and rational, Echo is a severe threat to the City. Her kindness is absolute and her viewpoint unwavering. However, bound to the mirrors of the world and quite conservative in her moves, she has no intention to take bold steps… not unless she feels she can succeed with absolute certainty. No need to make mistakes and worsen the pain her friends are feeling.
The third aspect is Lucid. She’s the least defined of the three, with no clear physical form beyond an affinity for visual metaphors with a red color scheme. She has little to no representation in the reality of the City, unlike Bedlam who wanders the Sideways freely and Echo who traverses reflections. Lucid is a hazy concept, a nebulous idea, an urging at the back of your mind or a thought that filters through your dreams. Her touch on the City is light… but extremely effective, as she makes very calculated moves.
She is defined entirely by her perspective… the desire to live, to thrive, to prosper, to live and love and exist within the world. She’s ally to all those who struggle in the City and refuse to give in to despair and death. This world is not a nightmare to her, but a wonderful dream, which could be made perfect one day if people would only embrace it fully.
While Lucid is far more behind-the-scenes than her sisters, her manipulations are quite powerful. She favors oracles, men and women connected to the metadream in curious ways, people with deep empathy who can use that empathy to better the society within her dream. And if that’s not enough… there’s an ace up Lucid’s sleeve, in the form of a living, breathing mortal avatar of her own self… Penelope Yates.
But, this isn’t her story. It’s yours.
The core of a good story is conflict. Much conflict can arise from the nature of the City of Angles itself: the unique challenges it presents residents with. Understanding the sort of hazards and disasters you can run into, from personal scale to world scale, is key to telling a great tale within this setting.
Life is like a hurricane here in the City of Angles. But to figure out which way the winds will be blowing, you’ll need to know where you stand. It’s worth figuring out WHEN in the original story’s timeline you want your games to take place. There are a few world-shaking events that happen at the end of each book, ones which will affect the availability of certain locales, associations of key NPCs, things like that.
Prequel Era: The easiest way to run this game is to have it take place before any of the books. Volume zero, if you will. No grand mysteries are revealed, few in the original cast have met each other, and nothing major is going down. You don’t need a lot of knowledge of the original books to play a campaign here. Therefore:
- The Department of Safety routinely issues propaganda to encourage fear of cubism and the City in general.
- The director of the Department of Safety is Seth Dougal, secret leader of the Cult of Bedlam.
- The Cult of Bedlam either hasn’t started their antics, or haven’t gotten very far with them yet.
- Echo and Lucid are generally not involved in world events, outside of manipulating a few individuals.
This is the recommended setting for a Fate campaign in the City of Angles setting; with most of the secrets yet to be revealed, anything is possible. You can alter the setting to suit your needs, change the origins of the City, whatever you like. No further reading of the books is required (although they are fun and you should read them would you kindly).
Picasso Friday Aftermath: If your story is set after the first book, that means Picasso Friday has happened… an incident of mass cubism across the City, people spontaneously becoming monsters of terrifying insanity. The incident itself only lasted an hour, but the repercussions have been felt ever since. Therefore:
- Many lives were lost when 10% of the population went spontaneously cubist on Picasso Friday. Others recovered from their cubism, but may have lasting psychological issues.
- The Department of Safety is largely quiet, and focuses on ruthlessly efficient problem solving.
- The director of the Department of Safety is now Miranda Walker.
- The Cult of Bedlam is no more.
- Echo and Lucid are becoming more involved in the affairs of the City.
This timeline’s setting is useful if you want less focus on the Cult of Bedlam and the culture of fear, and more on the secretive and ethically questionable heroism of the reformed Department of Safety.
Memorial Stadium Aftermath: If your story is set after the second book, people are also aware of the Memorial Stadium Incident and may be aware of the Blue-Eyed Plague.
- Although it was largely covered up by the Department of Safety, a strange ‘suicide sickness’ spread through the City, where your eyes would turn blue and you’d happily kill yourself. After the Memorial Stadium Incident, no new cases of the Blue-Eyed Plague emerged.
- Memorial Stadium, normally host to concerts and sporting events, briefly became a singularity on the night of a concert by pop musician El… a place where anything and everything was possible. The event passed and the building was evacuated, then quarantined by the Department of Safety.
- Bedlam and Echo, while they have their own ideas of what kind of salvation the City needs, are no longer undergoing any large scale scheming as they have a truce with Lucid.
This timeline is useful if you’d like to use Memorial Stadium, or present your own version of the Citadel invasion story. Perhaps a different dreamer connects to the City, changing the course of events.
Citadel Invasion Aftermath: If your story is set after the third book, the City was recently invaded by citizens of another dream world, and are recovering from the long-lasting effects of that war.
- For a period of two or three weeks armed forces from the Citadel occupied the City. At first they pretended to be allies, here for diplomatic reasons… but soon this turned into a full-fledged takeover of the City. Lives were lost during skirmishes between protestors and soldiers, and many citizens and resources were outright stolen by the Citadel before they retreated. The exact reason for the retreat is not well known.
- The City government is undergoing a massive shakeup; it’s not clear what structure it will take after the previous regime fell to corruption from within.
- Bedlam, Echo, and Lucid are starting to take a larger role in shaping the future, even if they’re keeping their existence largely secretive.
Far Future: I refuse to give spoilers here, but you can also shape your campaign based on the final chapter of the series, "Out of Beta." The shape of that world will be largely up to you.
ROUGH DRAFT NOTE
Is this useful information? Should I simply place the setting in the "Prequel" era to keep things simple, or is it better to have the options available?
So, you know how the City moves and grooves, and you know when in its history you want to set your story. What now? What sort of problems will your characters run head-on into?
The City presents a number of things for people to deal with. This is a small sampling of the possibilities…
Lost and Found: Obviously, accidentally wandering into the Sideways is kind of a problem. So is getting trapped on an Endless Highway. It’s actually quite difficult to become permanently lost; the Department of Safety is (usually) vigilant in marking off Sideways entrances with quarantine tape, and good maps will always steer you true. But the City is constantly changing… and that means your maps may not hold up to scrutiny for long. It’s like crawling a dungeon looking for loot, except the loot is your continued existence.
GAME EXAMPLE FUNTIMES
Polly was driving home from a grocery store run, when she realized her home wasn’t there anymore. The entire house was simply… gone. Her husband, her newborn daughter, both gone… the two neighboring houses squeezing together to fill the gap. As if there never WAS a 23 West Oak Avenue in the first place…
Shuffles happen, sometimes. City blocks swapping places with other city blocks. But no matter who she asks, nobody knows where her home went. The Department of Safety promises they’ll look into it, but they’re dealing with a series of shuffles across the City already, affecting far more people. Days go by, living in a hotel, with no word from her husband. Polly needs help. She needs someone with an innate understanding of the City… someone deeply tied to its true nature. And that someone is you.
The Ever-Shifting City: New buildings drop into the City quite often, changing up the topography of the land. Sometimes buildings swap places, shuffling around, leaving you with a new street address for your home. Dealing with the changing nature of the City is the primary obstacle to living a comfortable life… particularly if you get moved to a bad part of town.
Going Cubist: No matter who you are, there’s always the risk of becoming a Picasso. A collapsing mental state, intense depression, high anxiety, all these things can lead to losing your grip on reality and going cubist. It’s possible to come back, but it takes concentrated effort and outside help from friends and family… which may be the core of your adventure, to rescue someone lost to cubism.
Roaming Picassos: The flip side of that coin is stumbling across a Picasso in the wild and trying to avoid being flayed alive by them. Picassos are rarely cruel or violent, but they’re extremely confused, lost within themselves… the damage they cause to the world around them is intense but inadvertent. Surviving an encounter with one can be quite the tale to tell.
Cultists and Prophets: Everybody has their own take on what the City of Angles is, and when you mix religion into the fold, things get scary quickly. Cults pop up all the time; notably the Cult of Bedlam, which embraced the lost souls of the City with promises of freedom and madness. With so many questions and so few answers, the City can drive people to the brink when it comes to explaining it all.
Salvager Territorial Squabbles: Gangs of Salvagers, who loot newly arrived buildings for anything of value or delve into the Sideways looking for treasure, are just as subject to the shifting nature of the City. Territory which was a mile apart yesterday could be overlapping this morning. When egos come into conflict and the guns come out, participants (or anybody unlucky to be caught in the middle) are gonna have a bad time.
Scarcity of Resources: The Salvagers aren’t just in it for profit… sometimes you have to steal to get the things you need. Economic disparity is a very real thing in the City of Angles, and newly arrived imports from Earth don’t have a penny to their name. Getting what you need to get by means knowing a guy who knows a guy, or working with corrupt Department of Resources officials. Running a business or simply keeping your family fed can be a struggle when the City simply doesn’t have enough of anything to go around.
So, that’s all the background information. But you could learn all that by reading the books, or even the TVTropes page. What about the GAME? What about Fate Core wackiness?
Opening up the setting as an RPG campaign opens up a lot of possibility. This is no longer a specific story pressed between book covers, it’s the tale of your characters. They are the special ones, connected to the City in strange ways they may not be aware of. They should feel like they’re the ones who are deciding the "fate" of the City of Angles. If you see what I did there.
The best way to do that is to give them abilities that are similar to the ones the protagonists of the books have… or go beyond the books and design ones of your own. These are a starting seed for your imagination, to get the gears turning. What you do with it is up to you.
ROUGH DRAFT NOTE
The actual Fate mechanics may not be applied very well here. I welcome any seasoned RPG veterans who have suggestions about how I can better apply them to these concepts.
The standard Fate Core skills apply quite well to the City of Angles.
- Athletics: Getting chased down alleys? Dodging incoming gunfire? You’ll want this.
- Burglary: Crime does in fact pay, and can in fact keep you alive. Learn to pick locks and be where you shouldn’t be.
- Contacts: If you’re a guy who knows a guy, you’ll go far in this world.
- Crafts: Not basket weaving, we’re talking repairing discarded or broken items. Salvaging and repurposing them.
- Deceive: You need to keep your secrets safe, if you want to keep yourself safe.
- Drive: This is less useful since few people own cars, but it helps to know a driver.
- Empathy: A very important skill in a world where everybody guards their worries and fears jealously.
- Fight: Punch a guy! Throw a guy into a guy! Stick a guy with a knife! Then run for your life.
- Investigate: Things are not always what they seem, but you need to know what to look for.
- Lore: You’ll want to specify what SORT of Lore, in general. Lots of things to know in life.
- Notice: Situational awareness is key to avoiding a horrible fate.
- Physique: Being able to take a beating and keep on, well, beating is quite important.
- Provoke: Poking at someone’s ego is sometimes useful. Sometimes incredibly inadvisable.
- Rapport: Do you have the moxie to smooth-talk someone you just met?
- Resources: In a City where resources are your lifeblood, having your own stockpile is handy.
- Shoot: Gunfights are quick, brutal, and very effective.
- Stealth: Hiding from reality-warping monsters or gunmen looking for your head? Good idea.
- Will: Keeping your wits about you when everything in the world is going insane is critically important.
Will in particular is a useful thing to have in City of Angles. Will stress, when drained, could very well mean going cubist and becoming a Picasso. Sanity is a hard currency to spend but it must be spent when dealing with terrifying unknowns.
Two new skills in addition to the standard Fate Core skills are suggested for the ongoing survival of your citizens…
Finding your way around the City can be difficult. If you have a map, it’s straightforward… assuming the map is accurate. If you’re lost and need to get your bearings, or if you’re undertaking a deliberately difficult journey through the Sideways, you need the City-unique skill of orientation.
Successful Orientation skill checks allow you to have a good sense of where you are in relation to where you want to be, what’s likely up ahead, and where you shouldn’t be if you want to keep breathing. People who live in the City long enough get a feel for its patterns, and it becomes second nature to them to know which way to go.
This is not the same thing as a Notice, Lore, or Investigation skill check; this is an innate understanding of patterns and structures within the City of Angles. Other skills can help with your immediate surroundings but may not be enough to survive as a professional mapmaker or to escape the Sideways. That requires a learned or innate talent.
- OVERCOME: A successful roll helps guide your decision making when figuring out which way to go. It can help you recall a similar situation you’ve been in and how that may apply here. It’s also useful in creating accurate maps.
- CREATE AN ADVANTAGE: When trying to set up a situation which tilts outcomes in your favor, getting an instant lay of the land with your Orientation skill lets you leverage your surroundings well.
- ATTACK: Primarily used during chase scenes, this lets you guide your quarry down a path that will dead-end them by knowing what’s up ahead.
- DEFEND: Again, during chases, you can escape capture if you have a better feel for your environment than your pursuer.
You don’t need to worry about this one. You’re completely normal and definitely not weird at all. You don’t even need to know what this skill is named; it’s classified by the Department of Safety and you don’t have clearance. Move along. Move along.
Many individuals with strange and unusual abilities are connected to the Metadream. Perhaps they’re oracles with prophetic dreams and uncanny insight. Perhaps they modify the structure of the dream itself to their advantage. Regardless, if they gain these abilities through a connection to the greater abstracted form of the City, this is the skill that is used to enact their will upon the City itself.
Failed rolls can simple piffle out, offer no useful insights, or go spectacularly wrong and have negative effects. It depends on the nature of the connection and the ability being used.
The Overcome, Create an Advantage, Attack, and Defend uses vary depending on HOW a person is connected to the Metadream. Even if one skill rules them all (the innate ability to manipulate the City’s dream) we’ll study them on a case by case basis below in the Hidden Aspects section.
Techically you could have your players take a few points in the Dream skill ahead of learning that they’re a weirdly special snowflake, but it’s better for them to gradually grow into the skill. Allows for more mishaps as they learn how to use it.
Hidden aspects? What hidden aspects? You’re simply you, plain and simple. Your game master doesn’t have any strange things lurking under the surface of your skin, waiting to bubble up and reveal themselves. In fact you should just forget you read anything which suggested otherwise. It’s the best way to continue enjoying a happy, normal life.
These characters appear within the pages of the City of Angles books. If you need a run-in with a government representative or a noteworthy and unusual individual, they’re quite handy.
Seth Dougal, Department of Safety Director
Middle aged and balding but with a very well managed snow-white beard that offsets his dark skin. Nicely honed physique. Rarely seen outside of a sharp suit with a green power tie. Small round lenses on his glasses. Bright smile with white teeth.
Has the City’s best interests at heart, really. But is quite quick to forewarn of the doom and dangers of this world, stirring up paranoia and fear in the populace. He’s often found behind a microphone, cheerfully explaining the many reasons why people should stay at home and be ever-vigilant against the menace of cubism.
Seth Dougal is the leader of the revitalized Cult of Bedlam. As the last human sacrifice of the cult back in the 80s, young Seth encountered Bedlam and became her friend. Since then he’s been quietly moving up through the ranks fo the Department of Safety, gathering the resources he needs to see Bedlam’s crazy ambitions realized. Despite being quite insane he’s very composed and confident… the stable counterpart to Bedlam’s randomness.
In the timeline, past the Picasso Friday Aftermath event, Seth Dougal is no more. His ambitions ultimately failed, and he vanished into the Sideways forever. He was replaced as director by the next ranking officer in line, Miranda Walker.
- I Am The Law
- Smooth Talking Press Conference Jockey
- "Who’s in charge here?" "I am." "Not anymore you’re not."
- Sideways Affinity
- +5 Deceive
- +4 Will, Dream
- +3 Physique, Rapport
- +2 Lore, Orientation, Shoot
- +1 Fight, Notice, Provoke, Resources
Stress: 4 Physique, 4 Will
- Create Sideways Entrance. Roll Dream to spontaneously generate an entrance into the Sideways.
- Expository Monologue. Roll Will vs. Rapport to avoid being entranced.
Miranda Walker, O-2 Officer / Department of Safety Director
(Depending on the timeline, Miranda may be in charge of the Department of Safety, or may be a very high ranking officer.)
A no-nonsense woman in black, who prefers to keep her moves on the down low. Smart black jacket and dress shirt, comfortable slacks. Dark skin and hair in cornrows.
She has no interest in stoking the fires of public paranoia, preferring a knife in the dark to a shot in broad daylight. Although she’s perfectly willing to get her hands dirty, she does have a burning desire to protect her City and protect its citizens from the weirdness around them. No need to bother them in the process. Despite having a dry and snarky wit, she is 110% serious at all times. Humor is simply her way of continuing to breathe despite the insanity around her.
- No, Seriously, I Am The Law
- Need-To-Know Basis (And You Don’t Need To Know)
- "Who’s in charge here?" "I am." "Not anymore you’re not."
- Willing to Accept The Weird For What It Is
- Enemies Are Just Allies You Haven’t Recruited Yet
- +5 Investigate
- +4 Will, Notice
- +3 Shoot, Resources
- +2 Physique, Atheletics, Rapport
- +1 Provoke, Empathy, Orientation, Fight
Stress: 3 Physical, 4 Will
- Crime Scene Lockdown. Summon and control a location completely using Department of Safety authorization, preventing any information about it from leaking out to the press.
- I Have Leverage. +2 on Rapport roles against people in captivity.
Leonard Spinks, Department of Resources Director
A weasley little bastard, pushing beyond middle age and going up a few waist sizes each year. Pale skin and a terrible 70s porn moustache.
He indulges heartily in life and all its fruits, and is in a great position to do so; as the leader of the Department of Resources, he’s corrupt as hell and half of his working day (when he is actually working) is maintaining a series of shady side deals. He can get you anything you want… if you get him anything HE wants.
- Benedict and Judas Have Nothing On Me
- Everything and Everyone Has a Price
- The Original God-King of Procrastination
- +5 Resources
- +4 Contacts, Rapport
- +3 Deceive, Lore
- +2 Will, Burglary, Notice
- +1 Physique, Drive, Crafts
Stress: 1 Physique, 2 Will
- What’s Yours Is Mine: Regardless of legal jurisdiction or due process, annex an entire building in the name of distributing vital City resources. May need Deceive rolls if the circumstances are highly suspect.
Hollister Avenue, Department of Orientation Counselor / TroubleSolvers Social Worker
Popped collar and spiky blonde hair, with a winning smile and a thumbs up. Looks like he stepped straight out of the 80s.
Hollister is the go-to man for getting what you need. He doesn’t do much of anything himself, but he knows everyone and anyone, and can make the social connections needed to solve any problem. By day he works for the Department of Orientation to counsel new immigrants to the City of Angles… work which pays very little, but he’s always felt is a position which lets him do the most good for people, since new arrivals haven’t a friend in the world.
(Depending on timeline, Hollister may be working instead for the TroubleSolvers, doing the same work he normally does but freelance.)
- The Guy Who Knows a Guy
- Office Hours Are For Lazy Chumps
- A Gift Shouldn’t be Squandered Or Hoarded
- Everybody Knows the Avenue
- +5 Contacts
- +4 Resources, Rapport
- +3 Will, Deceive
- +2 Drive, Lore, Notice
- +1 Orientation, Physique, Investigate, Stealth
Stress: 2 Physical, 4 Will
- The Art of the Slightly Funny Deal: +2 to Deceive rolls when he’s bluffing as part of a greater scheme to aid someone else in trouble.
Generic character templates you can pull out of your butt when needed. Give them a name and a tragic backstory and you’re good to go!
A nervous citizen living on the edge, having had one too many scares over the course of his or her life. It won’t take much to push them over the edge into full Picassodom, but they can still be saved.
- The Straw That Will Break The Camel’s Back
- Hiding In My Protective Blanket of Fear
- The Universe Always Dumps On Me
- +3 Notice
- +2 Rapport, Stealth
- +1 Atheletics, Empathy, Lore
Stress: 1 Physical, 1 Will
Just a guy doing his job, or likely trying to avoid doing his job by passing the buck whenever possible.
- It’s Always Someone Else’s Fault
- Red Tape Is The Best Tape
- Business Hours Are Flexible
- +3 Lore
- +2 Deceive, Will
- +1 Rapport, Notice, Investigation
Stress: 1 Physical, 2 Will
To enforce the laws, and protect the safety of honest citizens. Not equipped to deal with the strangeness of the City, but mundane problems like gangs and thieves and murderers, they’re on the ball. May be a stand-up officer or a corrupt one, competent or incompetent.
- I Am The Law
- Lock Down and Contain the Crime Scene
- My First Instinct Is Probably Correct
- +3 Notice, Physique
- +2 Investigate, Shoot, Will
- +1 Empathy, Orientation, Fight, Drive
Stress: 2 Physical, 2 Will
Armed with flamethrowers and grenades, the specialist has one job and one job only: put down the rabid dog known as the Picasso. Relentless and cold, they show up at the scene of a disaster, deal with the mess, and then leave. It’s up to others to clean up the wreckage.
- Only Good Picasso Is a Dead Picasso
- Get The Job Done, At All Costs
- Island Of Stability In a Sea Of Madness
- +4 Will
- +3 Physique, Shoot
- +2 Fight, Athletics
- +1 Notice, Investigation, Drive
Stress: 3 Physical, 3 Will
- Anti-Distortion Blinders. Headgear which filters out the visual chaos of a Picasso, and helps track its core to improve aim. Gain +2 Shoot against Picassos, and +1 bonus on any skill roll against surviving in a cubist environment.
- No Kill Like Overkill. Flamethrowers and grenades mean flat out ignoring any defensive bonuses a Picasso gains, but also can deal massive property damage. Specialists pack portable fire extinguishers to put out any incidental blazes they cause, however.
What’s yours is yours, and what’s not yours is going to be yours eventually. Packing heat is a good start, but a massive ego and bravado that swings around like a tetherball are also handy in your arsenal. Thugs typically run in packs, wearing similar colors or fashion accessories to identify them as members of a particular crew.
- Easily Distracted by Loot
- Loyal to the End (or Until a Better Offer Comes Along)
- Hard Drinking, Hard Living, Hard Consquences
- +3 Burglary
- +2 Shoot, Athletics
- +1 Will, Physique, Deceive
Stress: 2 Physical, 1 Will
The City of Angles is a rich playground for psychological horror, surreal adventure, or basic relationship comedy. Life, with a twisted twist. It presents strange situations, yes, but in the end humanity rises to the challenge to reclaim a normal life amidst the strange. This is your tale, your struggle to deal with the fears and anxieties of modern living in an ever-shifting world.
We hope you enjoy your stay in our fair City. Play safely, and play well with others.