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Thread: City on a Turtles Back

  1. #1
    Guild Artisan madcowchef's Avatar
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    Default City on a Turtles Back

    For my next RPG campaign I want to make a city on the back of an outsized sea turtle. It will be a trade port with an older very run down section and a newer fancier part from renewed commerce. I've not pinned down what style I want to try to execute the map in, aside from that it will be fairly top down not isometric as the size of the city and my desire to track movements on a scale down to house-to-house make isometric unwieldy. I've only gotten some base details of what I want for the world and would invite any of the many world builders in the guild to toss in ideas if they like.

    The Map: The turtle in question has a back of which the none submerged section is several miles across in either direction, unlike an actual sea turtle it has a more ridged back (like that of a snapping turtle) that form a series of oddly regular hills. The turtles head is to be avoided so there will be a light house there, and the tail section is prone to irregular currents from the motion of the turtle swimming. Said turtle doesn't have much vertical motion in the water. The city is large, makes most of its wealth through trade, and supports itself through a combination of trade and fishing (the turtle seeks out the richest fishing grounds making harvests well above average). The city is newly popular after having been in long decay so new sections are springing up among the derelict sections. I could use some suggestions on what patterns of urban decay and renewal are most likely as I have no idea at all about such things. I've tried searching for some good examples of representing terrain height in a city, but aside from using topography lines I didn't find many. This might just be due to my poor seach skills.

    TLDR RPG related material: The world will have embodied animal gods, different gods like to throw around their divinity differently. In the case of turtles its thrown out a number of truly outsized specimens (because when you are a turtle the best thing you can be in bigger and tougher than anything else, why mess around with anything thoughtful or clever?) that have become competing merchant cities (they sink way less often than actual ships and can carry a huge amount of goods). This gods are by no means immortal, but the divinity gets recycled when they are destroyed. I'm considering one of the other turtle cities has recently died off opening a better territory for the turtle that our headline city lies on thus the reason for its changing fortune. I want a number of places for the party to explore that they will have little or no knowledge of, not too much time spent getting to these unknown lands, a good urban sprawl environment for city adventures, and good stable of familiar NPCs to continually interact with. A moving city seems a good solution to all these problems. Magic will be physical, animal based, and limited to a smaller section of the population. The lack of fireballs and ice-storms will make magic less of an army breaker in the direct death sort of way, but leave it powerful information gathering wise. That's really all I've worked out so far so any brainstorming type ideas are welcome.

  2. #2
    Guild Artisan Domino44's Avatar
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    Very cool idea, this something that I will have a lot of fun watching as you develop it. The first thing that I think you need to make sure you do is have a clear idea of the size of the turtle so you can plan and build your city accordingly. I wish I had more ideas for you but you are doing so well on your own...

  3. #3

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    This sounds like an interesting city, but I can imagine it will have a number of technical problems to confront.

    First up, you might want to refer to some other cities for architectural styles, urban form, and size: Venice, most obviously, comes to mind--trade city, once great but now decaying, and it is even on water.

    Regarding scale, the City of London (as opposed to the suburbs of Greater London) is often called the Square Mile, because that really was its size. And despite that small size, it was a major trade hub. I mention this just to show that a compact city (as all old Europeans towns tend to be) doesn't need to be physically large to house a large population and/or lots of commerce.

    Now, regarding your idea, the top problems I see are (note: I have made a number of assumptions about your world, so make corrections as necessary):
    what building materials do they use and where do they get them?
    If they are using local materials, I think driftwood would be too scarcely found to provide the primary material, but seaweed, bones, and maybe coral might be abundant. Otherwise they must import from elsewhere. Reeds and grasses (eg bamboo) might conceivably be able to be grown on the turtle's back.

    what do they eat?
    This one might be relatively easy: fish, but a diet only of fish is probably not very healthy. Is there space on the turtle's back to grow their own food (as I suggest with the bamboo thing), or must they import it?

    where do they get clean water?
    This is going to be a major problem for them.

    Also
    --what does the turtle eat, and how does it get its food?
    --wouldn't a lighthouse on the turtle's head weigh it down and force it to be permanently underwater?
    --where did the town begin and in which directions did it expand first?
    --how/where are noxious industries like tanning located?
    --same as above for industries that use fire (bakers--if they have wheat--potters, smiths etc.)

    That's all I can think of for now. If my comments are useful, I'll happily answer any other questions you have.

    Good luck with it.

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  4. #4
    Guild Expert Azelor's Avatar
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    Is the turtle a male or a female ? (Terry Pratchett)

  5. #5
    Guild Artisan madcowchef's Avatar
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    Thanks THW, always full of wisdom. I'll find some old maps of both those cities.

    The turtle is several miles across I'll call it two wide by three long in none submerged area. Its shell is thick enough that fire short of burning the city down doesn't much catch its interest (should that happen it might decide to put out the fire which would be bad for the citizens and makes a good cautionary tale for what happened to another turtle city). Fuel wise and building wise they are reliant on it coming close to shore periodically this has the down side of meaning its not always available and the upside of not exhausting the resources around it quickly and having to import them from further and further away. The inhabitants were originally land dwellers so their building style is what they know wood and stone. The turtles shell is many feet thick, and though you wouldn't want to put in a lot of basement sinking support posts many feet deep doesn't catch its attention (I was picturing it as having something between an actual turtles shell and an earth like crust).

    Farming would be limited to the areas between the "hills" were enough dirt has gathered and insufficient for the support of the city . Fish is as mentioned abundant for the dwellers of the city, the rest of the food must be imported. Your points make me think that I should have the turtle frequent inhabited waters, which makes sense as it eats fish and the deep ocean is a vast desert from the biological perspective. Its always on the move seeking out the richest fishing grounds for its fantasy sized appetite. The light house is on the shell nearest the head as the head is mobile, dangerously bitey, and less constant in its vertical position.

    The city started closer to the rear on the left side of the turtle (port side if you prefer) as a fishing village, the swirling currents where a great place to drag a small net to catch some of the dazed fish left in the turtles wake, just a poor place to land a laden cargo ship. The city spread forwards from there the population boomed and then through some political or economic nonsense I've not yet worked out (and would welcome ideas for), busted. Now its on the upswing again and folks are flocking to the city (or arguably just waiting for the city to come to them).

    Water is the most problematic resource. Either I have to make the oceans fresh water(I'm from the great lakes and secretly believe all water should be unsalted anyways), have the turtle stay in high precipitation areas, sweat fresh water, or come up with some other solution that is more fun than hand wavey magic. I'm up for good ideas on this resource.

    And yes Azelor its turtles all the way down.

  6. #6

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    No worries, MCC. I'm trained as an urban historian (sort of), so I tend to get kinda obsessive about the details of fantasy cities (a mixed blessing, for sure).

    Regarding the turtle's visits to coastal waters, another possibility is that it goes to shore to lay eggs (although I don't know whether god-turtles reproduce or not), which would pose all sort of opportunities and dangers to the inhabitants.

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  7. #7
    Guild Artisan madcowchef's Avatar
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    Obsession about details is just what I need. In this case it really is a feature not a bug. Cities that form through a attention to detail are often times far more interesting, have more noteworthy locations, and a better feel than generic fantasy megaopolis Hammerheavendor.

    A four mile long turtle climbing onto the beach to bury eggs the size of houses is a terrifying prospect, does have the right element of fantasy about it. All the ships have to take off, people tie down everything loose as the thing lurches and wobbles onto the beach, it would make a earthquake look mild by comparison. On can only hope there isn't a city where it decides this all needs to take place. Would certainly lead to some political tension between communities built on sandy tropical shores and the turtle cities.

  8. #8
    Guild Adept Neyjour's Avatar
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    I love this concept! Really looking forward to seeing what you do with it.

    Here's an idea that popped into my head: What if there were a couple (or more) baby turtles with small fishing/gathering communities on their backs, that periodically return to the "mother" to offload their sea harvest? Ropes could be thrown (or swimmers could pull them across) to secure the babies to the mother while everything is offloaded (either by small boats/canoes, or by pulling a rope bridge across). These smaller communities could be like "villages" with fixed families, or they could be made up of temporary workers who are swapped out each time the babies "pull into port".

    And here's some top-down images that might be useful for reference, and some artwork for inspiration.

    Saltwater Turtles
    Sea Turtle by Autodesk Premium
    Green Sea Turtle 06 by wolverine041269
    green sea turtle 1 by meihua-stock
    turtle stock 21 by hatestock
    turtles 2 by fa-stock
    Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) by NOAA, Jack Javech
    Black Turtle HD Wallpapers
    Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) by NOAA, Jack Javech

    Freshwater Turtles
    Turtle by Touchy-Stock
    Turtle.2_Mind-Matter by Mind-Matter
    Turtle by MACN3XU5
    Turtle - 1 by ElaineSeleneStock
    Turtle 01 by aussiegal17
    Turtle by lindowyn-stock
    Turtle Stock 7 by Squirt-Stock
    oh noes more turtle :: 004 by Linkch-stock
    turtles 3.2 by meihua-stock
    TemocStock243-turtle- by temoc-stock
    Yellow-Blotched Map Turtle by Tennessee Aquarium
    Turtle Top View Wallpapers

    Land Turtles
    franklin agian by DeadlyStryker

    Alligator Snapping Turtles (excellent species for "mountains" reference)
    Alligator snapping turtle by Gobius
    Alligator Snapper
    Alligator Snapping Turtle Shell by Bone Clones
    Alligator snapping turtle - Macrochelys temminckii
    Alligator Snapping Turtle by Dr. Andre Mursch

    City Layout Idea
    Pattern 4 - Turtle Shell by PoppyLady

    Artwork Inspiration
    Turtle City by nydwyngreendragon
    Turtle City by manillalu
    The Moving City by my-wishful-thinking
    Turtle Island by KenHuys
    A Very Big Tortoise by R-Tan
    turtle city by nclclaudiu
    Slow Motion by DarkAngelPandora
    Cast Away by pranjal22
    Collapse by KaiserFlames
    The Underwater City by ti-DESIGN
    Tortuga voladora by Pintoro
    Scrap by Pintoro
    Untitled by Pintoro
    Negotia by CoolCurry
    Lepus: Page 03 by JoeWierenga

    Maybe the city could generate a magical domed shield in times of danger, protecting everyone and everything inside while the turtle is submerged? (think: Stargate Atlantis) Or, maybe this happens periodically anyway, when the turtle feeds. It gorges itself for a period of time (a few days, a week, maybe more?) and its body stores the food so that it doesn't need to feed again for a few months?

    Underwater City by TracyGiza
    Last edited by Neyjour; 04-01-2014 at 01:49 AM. Reason: typo

  9. #9

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    MCC, you should create some sketches or diagrams to show the direction you're heading in. In the meantime, though, I've had a few more ideas:

    --the turtle is the main platform for this city, but the city does not need to be limited to the turtle only. The inhabitants could also have extensions of the settlement on rafts that drift behind the turtle, on nearby ships/platforms (or other turtles, as Neyjour suggested), or even underwater (clinging to the turtle's belly, or floating freely, but tethered to the main city) if they have a waterproof material. By allowing the city to exist beyond the confines of the turtle alone, you can make the best use of the limited amount of construction and farming land (as I said before, old cities don't need a lot of space, so I imagine farming would be the key).

    --defence: how safe is the city? It seems a bit like a silly question at first (a moving town is automatically rendered some level of protection) but it probably wouldn't be too hard for pirates to board an undefended city, and trading success always makes something more of a target. My suggestion: the inhabitants wouldn't rely on walls and towers for protection (they are clearly going to be impractical to build and maintain in the circumstances), so a strong and fast navy would be the first line of defence (if I was running things).

    --even with a navy, you wouldn't want to leave things too much to chance. A fortified position might be the smart move, and if it was my town, I'd give the lighthouse some fortifications.

    --water: I don't know where the inhabitants get their water from, but maybe they could create enormous waterproof sacks that float beneath the turtle. They wouldn't significantly slow the turtle's movement, and they could provide secure cisterns. Also, the natural runnels in the turtle shell could be used to the advantage of water collection and irrigation.

    --it seems probable there would be people whose jobs are to tend to the turtle (cleaning it, removing parasites, perhaps tending to injuries caused by other animals or accidents). Furthermore, there would be people who need to spend a lot of time underwater. A lifetime of training can let people stay underwater for long periods, without any need for technological assistance.

    Anyway, I'll leave it there for now.

    THW
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  10. #10
    Guild Artisan Gracious Donor Lingon's Avatar
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    I love this idea! Really looking forward to watching this. And I think Neyjour's idea about baby turtles is pretty awesome
    For fresh water, they could boil sea water and collect the steam. Would give them salt as well, so they can stock up on meat when given the chance and preserve it.

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