A Sundered World: Mes-Atbaru, City of the Dead

Note: Josh and I had some pretty busy weeks, and had to communicate these ideas mostly through email, which is part of what contributed it to being around a week late. Sorry for the delay, but hopefully it is at least partly worth the wait.

A lot of mortals have rituals where the wealthy dead get buried in tombs or burned with their treasure. Since in A Sundered World the souls of the dead manifest and stick around for awhile, being buried with your stuff would be kind of boring, and burning it would be even more counter-productive because then you would not have the opportunity to interact with (read: defend yourself from) would-be looters.

Besides, rich or poor, not all undead are shambling zombies or brainless skeletons. Being undead means that you do not spend a lot of your time sleeping (typically none, except for vampires), which gives them a lot of free time. Since many at the least retain shreds of their personality, not only are not all of them flesh-craving monsters--though some do love them some flesh--but they can also get bored. What if you could take your treasure and celebrate your newfound unlife?

Normally when I think about a city populated primarily by undead, I envision a bleak, crumbling, hopefully isolated necropolis, filled with undead both unintelligent and free-roaming. Maybe there are some haunted areas, where the scenery changes to force the characters to bear witness--or maybe even become participants--to a past atrocity. In other words, a hostile place for most character builds and creature types.

Mes-Atbaru is, well, pleasantly different. No, I mean that. It is really not a bad place.

Located within the midst of a demiplane with strong ties to the Netherworld, most of the realm consists of a lifeless, black desert. A dark river of icy water cuts through it, nourishing nothing. Mes-Atbaru is nestled within the center, a shining beacon in the darkness where undead can indulge their various hungers and instincts, and prolong their sentience through continual exposure to exciting and changing experiences (which is particularly important for ghosts, who can become haunts or wraiths if their memories wane too far).

Though nothing natural dwells with the surrounding desert or river, the city itself is situated even more firmly within the shadowy grasp of the lingering echoes of the Netherworld. The closer one gets to the center of the city, the more blurred and uncertain the line between life and death becomes, as ghostly figures become tangible and opaque, allowing them to more easily work alongside shades and visiting mortals (and be imprisoned if they become problematic).

To call the city ostentatious is an understatement: the streets are brilliantly lit by magical lanterns that can instantly shift color, costumed skeletons continuously parade through the streets, engaging in carefully instructed performances, illusionary fountains spray multi-colored water, set to flawlessly orchestrated music, restaurants cater to any taste (no matter how exotic or grim), flying undead offer tours above the city, as well as less innocent vices such as brothel houses and gambling halls.

Even for undead living in the city costs something, whether money or memories. For undead and mortal alike, there is no shortage for demand for bodyguards and menial labor as the city is constantly repaired, buildings modified or newly constructed, and the undercity excavated. Skilled artisans, performers, and guides can likewise frequently find work as the city grows to accommodate new arrivals and tastes.

Mortals have a slight edge in that they rent themselves out as temporary vessels so ghosts can engage in various, well, "physical activities", innocent and not. Blood can also be donated to vampires, who are willing to pay extra to take it directly. Both services are often employed by the living servants to help pay for their owners' residence and excesses.

Finally the truly desperate can always opt to pawn off memories; the more emotional and/or rare the memory, the more it is worth, and there are more than a few adventurers that use this secondary market to greatly supplement their income.

The city is ruled by the flamboyantly-dressed and gregarious lich, Lord Theobald Rictus. He is a frequent sight, touring the city to personally observe (and participate) in events, patronize establishments, and, if need be, harshly enforce his will through powerful magic and servitors.

Despite his continual presence and reputation, denizens still sometimes vanish from the streets. Mortals are sold into slavery, butchered as delicacies, and/or have their memories extracted for use in vice dens or sold to information brokers. For undead, ghosts are the ones typically in danger as their essence can be distilled and their memories sliced.

Adventure Hooks 

  • The characters must guide a soul to the city. It promises to reward them with a portion of its treasure on arrival.
  • Smugglers along the transspatial leylines have been engaged in a bloody conflict over the newly emerging street market for ectoplasm, and must stop it at it’s source. 
  • A legendary minstrel has consigned his afterlife to an indefinite regular gig in Mes-Atbaru. Now that his days are numbered, he needs the characters help to renege on his deal with Lord Rictus.
  • A conclave of ancient liches have come to Mes-Atbaru and they don’t really appreciate Rictus’ fresh look on the afterlife. They intend to drag the undead denizens of the city back into the shadows where they belong. What side do the characters fall on?
The Name
One point of consternation is the name of the city. Mes-Atbaru, to me, gives it a suitably ancient sounding name, because the place was not always, as Josh described it, an undead version of Las Vegas with a 24/7 Mardi Gras going on. Josh wanted to go with something more suitably lively and upbeat, like San Lucent. Melissa pitched Datura, which is a kind of witchweed that can induce hallucinations and/or death.

What do you guys think? Do you like any of them, or have something else to pitch?


  1. Mes-Atbaru is a pretty good name IMHO. Player characters that hear about it will be shocked and/or confused and/or suspicious to see a city of the dead so 'lively'. The ancient name will add to the feeling.

    It's a pretty cool place, I think it needs a few more adventure hooks. Most of the ones given feel pretty bland to me, with the exception of the last two (or is it supposed to be one?).

  2. I think Mes-Atbaru is a good name as well. No reason to throw the other two out though. I could definitely see San Lucent being a prominent street name, possibly of religious significance or possibly just a big parade street. Datura might be a neighbourhood, palace/estate, or garden; that last being especially suggestive of the name.

    For an adventure hook idea to possibly appease Anonymous:
    The party receives a cryptic message from an old friend or former PC who has found themselves the victim of the city's underbelly. The character may be alive or undead. I say 'cryptic' as I imagine the character will be playing close to the chest on the exact nature of their request and their own involvement.


    lol why did you use the word 'appease'?
    I was more than a little tired and cranky when I wrote that. Now that I have a clearer head, I notice that they really are pretty OK.

  4. @Anon: Ack, you are right, it is supposed to be one. This is kind of a draft, so we will try to add some more compelling hooks in a consolidated campaign guide. Any thoughts?

    @Svafa: That was my thought, too (well, as the name for establishments at any rate, I had not considered it for a street name). Also, that is not a bad hook, either. :-)

  5. The part that mentions vampires intrigues me. It says that a vampire will pay for donated blood, and will pay extra to take it directly. Can't a vampire pay up front, drain all the blood, and loot the corpse?

    "Despite his continual presence and reputation, denizens still sometimes vanish from the streets. Mortals are sold into slavery, butchered as delicacies, and/or have their memories extracted for use in vice dens or sold to information brokers. For undead, ghosts are the ones typically in danger as their essence can be distilled and their memories sliced."

    How much of a problem is this?

  6. Not if they want to anger the slave's owner. Even if the person is not a slave, it is still considered murder, which has consequences. Still, sometimes things go wrong, and I imagine that one does not normally follow a vampire into a back alley, especially knowing that they are going to feed.

    On that note I am not sure how much it is a problem for vanishing ghosts (or other people). The city is a big place, and despite being a powerful lich Theobald cannot be everywhere at once. I would make it as big a problem as you want/need it to be. Heck, you could drop an adventure hook where he is in on it.

  7. Well, he IS a Lich...

  8. This blog was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped
    me. Thanks!

    1. Assuming this isn't a spam comment which thing in particular?


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