Exploring The Lore Of Gangs Of The Undercity | Interview

July 21, 2020 by brennon

We get a chance with Opti from Fragging Unicorns Games about the lore and background for Gangs Of The Undercity which is currently on Kickstarter. There is a lot to this skirmish miniatures wargame beneath the scraps on the streets of Neo-Babylon.

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Check Out The Gangs Of The Undercity Kickstarter

Let's dive in and find out more about this rather awesome Cyberpunk/Fantasy where Opti talks us through this world's ancient past and what it's like to live (and fight) in Neo-Babylon.

B: First off, can you give us a general overview of the Cyberpunk world that you've created for Gangs Of The Undercity?

Opti: Absolutely! Gangs of the Undercity takes place in a dark, forgotten, underground area of a larger city called Neo-Babylon. It's a city of dreams and dreamers, where anything is possible. Where you can get a spiced coffee and a frostypuff at three in the morning and read all 800 issues of the mythic heroes diginovella. You can find your soulmate, start a business, and resolve to be your best self, then make it happen. But it's also the city that kills prophets, keeps the castes in their proper places, and legalizes theft by renaming it as commerce.

Neo-Babylon City Map

Neo-Babylon City Map // Gangs Of The Undercity

In Neo Babylon’s Undercity, however, the only sources of stability, community, and aid are the Gangs. Unstable magic, outdated Cybertech, and the constant stream of garbage from the overcity, become invaluable commodities underneath. The species dwelling there – dwarves, goblins, humans, orcs, yetin, and elves – fight amongst themselves and each other: alliances formed and broken as just another day’s work.

B: Can you explore, in more detail, the ancient history of this world and what it was like before the advent of technology and its many advances?

O: The ancient history of our Neo-Babylonian world shifted in two very major ways in comparison to the real world. First, magic is real and has always existed alongside the more fantastical species. The second, flowing from the first, is that the Babylonian empire, under Nebuchadnezzar II, was the first civilization to understand and harness magic on a large scale. As a result, the Babylonian empire lasted much longer than it did in the real world.

Azore

Azore // Gangs Of The Undercity

The way Babylon consolidated power, enveloped other cultures, and synchronized all deities and religion they came across, forms the basis for every civilization afterwards. Other species, such as orcs, dwarves, yetin, elves, and goblins came to trade with Babylon - and some of them stayed. Babylon represented taking from everything and everyone, for good and ill. But Babylon didn't last forever. In an event known as the Shattering, a fierce storm of magical energy, sent by the gods, tore through Neo-Babylon and the entire fertile crescent, sinking it below the sea. While the empire died then, Babylonian culture burst outward, pushing that religion and culture to all ends of the Old World.

When the age of exploration began, in addition to uniting the Old World with the New World of the Atlanticas, another continent, Azore, was discovered as well. Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, Azore became a focal point for global culture and economics. It was there that nations united to form a neutral city, with representatives from many nations, and they called it Neo-Babylon. Magical breakwalls prevented flooding in that thriving new city, but 286 years after it's founding, the magic barriers broke during a catastrophic storm. The flooding caused Neo-Babylon's leaders to build upward, leaving the original settlement, and those too poor or helpless to move, forgotten in the Undercity.

B: One of the fascinating things you've done with this world is set it alongside our own historical one. Could you tell us more about why you chose to do that?

O: In one way, we had to. Imagining a futuristic world is hard enough, especially if you have detail-oriented folks on staff as we do. So the world has to make sense. And our thought was, if we make this world TOO different, it will seem inaccessible to the people who want to play the game. So we decided one of the things we wouldn't make people try to figure out is the world itself. Our continents, and many of our countries, are familiar. Our history and religions and cultures, while changed, yes, are familiar. That way, we can focus on the fantasy and cyberpunk elements without having to read a novel to understand what the world is like.

Neo-Babylon's Towering Buildings

Neo-Babylon's Towering Buildings // Gangs Of The Undercity

Additionally, it made it a bit easier on ourselves as worldbuilders. Many, if not most, religious and mythic stories from the old world can trace their elements to Babylon or the Sumerian culture. As a result, we can still riff off of familiar mythic stories, and use familiar names like Gilgamesh, Tiamat, Nergal, or even mention the world-wide flood, and people will have a general sense of what those are.

Lastly, it gave us a chance to create a world where many of the mistakes of our past are obviated and fictional terrors take their place. While we can still address some universal themes, avoiding direct analogues with real-world racism, sexism, and more allows our escapism to be more accessible and respectful of a broader audience, which is something a lot people wanted: a game where they didn't have to confront their real-world struggles just to have fun.

B: Could you tell us a little bit about the history of each of the major factions that are involved in Gangs Of The Undercity and make a name for themselves in the game world?

O: Absolutely. The two main factions we're starting with are the Valkyrs and the Flaming Skulls.

The Valkyrs are exiles from the elven nation of Val Broceliande. They fought in the Fairy Wars, and, due in large part to Sorcier General Adalante and her Valkyr Company, her people were able to retake their homeland. But Adelante and her Valkyrs believed elves have a birthright to rule others, so when Val Broceliande stood liberated, the Valkyrs were dismissed, their elven prejudice and brutality became a liability.

Valkyrs Logo

Valkyrs Logo // Gangs Of The Undercity

The Valkyrs refused to capitulate their views and were exiled from Val Broceliande, whereupon they fled to the Undercity of Neo-Babylon to hide and plot. They don’t care what or who they destroy; they have formed their own nobility, with their own rules, and when they are strong enough, they’ll retake their birthright in Val Broceliande from the pompous nobles they once served.

The Flaming Skulls are what people think of when they picture out-of-control gangs running amok in the Undercity. They've been around for years, but their leadership has been a rotating cast until recently. They have a mysterious benefactor pulling the strings, while their field leader, Vengeance, takes care of everything on the ground level. They seem to have a flair for fear and intimidation, but many of them also seem to have a mystical connection to fire and bones beyond simple intimidation.

Flaming Skulls Logo

Flaming Skulls Logo // Gangs Of The Undercity

They don’t cause trouble in their own turf, but they stay on the offensive, taking fights to other communities to keep theirs safe. Using fear and explosions to dominate and intimidate, the Flaming Skulls attract the misfits and losers that don’t fit in elsewhere. If they have a plan, they don’t show it, but woe to anyone who gets in their way.

Beyond those two main groups, we have others, like the Lawjacks, who don't officially police the Undercity, but behave like a corrupt gang when no one is looking. There is also the Bulls of Heaven, who arrived from the Old World as refugees from war and are made of entirely of yetin, that is the larger species of ogres, sasquatch, yeti, and bugbears. There is also the Shadow Caste, who began long ago as assassins in Southeast Asia but grew into a secret cabal embracing all cultures and having cells in them all. There are the Neverkin: escaped human slaves who are now rugged survivalists. And we have plans for many more!

B: In a follow on to that, do you have a particular favourite faction?

O: The first faction I created was the Flaming Skulls and their field leader, Vengeance. 

Vengeance

Vengeance // Gangs Of The Undercity

They are the wackiest visually and I have such a fun time playing them, writing them, and painting them. I like that they accept anyone as they are, but no one remains the same after being with them long.

B: What is life like for a normal citizen rather than a ganger within the walls of Neo-Babylon?

O: For those in the Overcity of Neo-Babylon, you can imagine life goes on much as it does now in the real world, but with a larger gap between haves and have-nots, an arcanist council rules instead of an elected government, magic performs much of the mundane functions we take for granted in our world, such as celebrities and athletes are by-and-large magically empowered, plants and medicines are grown and crafted magically, etc.

Undercity In The Daytime

Undercity In The Daytime // Gangs Of The Undercity

But for those in the Undercity, things are much different. The lawjacks don't police the Undercity, at least not unless commanded to do so. Corporate security makes sure any factory or generators are protected, but the only protection communities can count on in the Undercity is the gangs. This means, gangs aren't seen as a blight, nor are they hated. They are simply who is in charge, who protects, who leads. Everyone has a gang, even if they aren't part of it. That is just how you survive downside.

B: What are some of the big recent lore moments which have happened within the world of Gangs Of The Undercity that have influenced the current situation

O: Within the last generation of our history, there are a few things that have altered the status quo. The first was the Fairy wars, about 25 years prior to the current day. There are some non-humans that have fae-blood, who live a bit longer than others, but mostly think of themselves as better than those who aren't fae-touched. Over the last few centuries, some fae touched individuals planted seeds for a coup in Val Broceliande, Neo-Babylon's neighbour to the South. This erupted into full-blown war when these Fae took over and exiled the old leadership. This led to the Alliance of Azore, in which Neo-Babylon, Churuq, Santso, and the leadership of Val Broceliande in exile made war to take back the elven homeland. The resulting win produced a powerful alliance, now militarized, that has continued to broaden over 2 decades, and is now considered a global police force with Neo-Babylon as the default leader.

Adelante

Adelante // Gangs Of The Undercity

At the same time, Neo-Babylon annexed the surrounding cities of Hamsu, Baytown, the Silver Coast, and Le Sanctuaire, along with the area between them, and they became districts of Neo-Babylon. No longer under independent control, but subjects to Neo-Babylonian rule. This was also the start of the Lawjacks. This new police force did away with the old form of law-keeping and replaced it with an armoured, occupying army. Their authority is punitive, not protective, and when people break the law, they are sent to the newly created purgatoriums, where you are sent to work off your sins. And now, in Neo-Babylon, all crime is equated to a cost of debt. When you break the law, nearly any law, you can pay the fine and move on. But if you can't pay, you are sent to a purgatorium to work off your debt, then released.

B: What are some of the outside influences that you drew upon when it came to collating the lore for this world and developing its flavour?

O: Obviously, the Babylonian legends and lore was front and centre when we started creating the culture and lore for our world. So epic of Gilgamesh, the Enuma Elish, and the myths of Anzu were big influences. And when it came to writing other cultures with cyberpunk/fantasy influences, we went on the lookout for authors from various parts of the world to help us flesh them out.

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Dieties & Demigods Cover // Dungeons & Dragons

So folks from various North American tribes helped us create the Atlantican civilizations, a Chinese author helped us form Yangguo, etc. I mentioned this before, but since Babylonian mythology finds itself so deeply embedded in our culture, we are able to draw from everything from Greek and Norse myths to Lovecraftian horror, to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures, and of course, 40+ years of the roleplaying community putting out great works both highlighting and improving on all those fantasy and cyberpunk RPG ideas. So really, it is all over the place.

For the cyberpunk parts, we really couldn't help be influenced by works from William Gibson, but probably more by RPGs like Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun.

B: Are there any elements of the lore that you've not had a chance to flesh out just yet that you'd love to give more detail for in the future?

O: Yes! We have lots of fantastic creatures, both malevolent and benign, that we want to highlight. As I mentioned earlier, the myth of Anzu features a gryphon-like demon who steals from the gods. We were so enchanted by the theme there, that we have made gryphons a sort of mythological beast apart from the others, with their own special place in our lore.

ancientartmain

Gryphons // Gangs Of The Undercity

I'd love to write more about them, but also on the more mundane side, we have the corporations and ruling Ukkim council in Neo-Babylon which I'm dying to do more with. Thankfully, we have an RPG in development, in the same world as Gangs of the Undercity, where a lot of that stuff, like capricorns, lamassu, satyrs, etc. will get to be more fleshed out.

B: What are some of the elements of the lore that you're hoping players take from your work that helps them tell stories on the tabletop?

O: That the Undercity of Neo-Babylon is vast and there for the taking! The underground is so big that any number of gangs could exist there, and we hope to be able to feature players' gangs and show them off as time goes on. At its most basic, Neo-Babylon is a futuristic, cyberpunk city ruled by wizards. But the Undercity is ruled by gangs - your gangs, made up of elves, orcs, and goblins sporting metal arms and flinging fireballs. That would be enough to get you playing!

B: Thanks for chatting to us Opti and we hope that the campaign goes really well!

O: Thanks so much for having me here!

And there we have it, a rather fascinating breakdown of the complex history that surrounds the world of Gangs Of The Undercity and the lore that you have to look forward to when you dive into this game. Make sure to check out the Kickstarter...

Check Out The Gangs Of The Undercity Kickstarter

...and get involved by watching some of our content HERE OnTableTop where we're done Interviews, Let's Plays and more.

What do you find fascinating about the lore of Gangs Of The Undercity?

"Obviously, the Babylonian legends and lore was front and centre when we started creating the culture and lore for our world..."

"Our continents, and many of our countries, are familiar. Our history and religions and cultures, while changed, yes, are familiar..."

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