Sunday 17 January 2021

The City of Brass

In the Lady’s Ward of Sigil, there is a campus, upon which stands a ramshackle building. It is encrusted entirely with dark spires, oddly placed balconies, dramatic porticoes and massive, filthy windows.

This is the Municipal University of Sigil, founded in ages past by a group of very rich Guvners and certain planar academics, who chose to remain tastefully anonymous. 

It was once one of two great educational institutions in the city, along with the Tzunk College of Academic Arts, a flashy and garish place founded by a Prime archmage called Tzunk, who was obscenely rich and entirely tasteless. 

It is often said the Cage has no universities left, despite the very obvious fact that the Municipal University still stands. Tzunk’s College was inherited by The Fated through an obscure contract clause upon his death in the Plane of Fire – while the Municipal University has suffered a fate perhaps more akin to undeath. It is a slow decay, a loss of funding, a dwindling student base, and an increasing amount of professorial positions dominated by out-of-town liches with tenure.

Entire wings have been shut and the hearths put out to conserve heat and money. The remaining students cluster in the central building to learn nonsensical courses like physics, chemistry, and literature.

For History and the Arts, one would be better served by the ancient Bardic Colleges of Arborea and Elysium. For Economics, the courses offered at the Exchange in Tradegate are unparalleled, if expensive. And all the best lawyers are trained in Dis.

This is all, of course, an utter digression.

Certain radical scholars yet gather in the dusty halls of that ancient and much maligned institution, to discuss a theory – there are only really three cities in creation.

It is such a maniacal and sweeping statement as to astound – but there is method in this madness. For all of recorded history, these three cities have been constants. All others are their imitations and their shadows. Each holds a claim to being the first city ever built, and each distorts around it the weft of history and politics. They are arranged pleasingly: one on an Outer Plane, one on an Inner Plane, and one at the very centre of everything – perspectivally speaking. They even follow the rule of three.

The cities are Sigil, Dis and The City of Brass.

And Brass is the one I want to talk about.


The City of Brass is the biggest city on the Inner Planes. It is probably the second-biggest city in all creation – Sigil is definitively more populous, but Dis eludes the conventional census. It sprawls across a massive artificial island that spikes up from the wind-swept, ashen shore of the notorious Sea of Fire.

The Sea is not magma, as many suggest, but an elemental liquid which is fire. It breaks all the rules of physics and logic, and mentioning this will paint you as a Prime quite quickly (or a crude, as the Inner Planars would put it).

Here, the Sea of Fire sweeps up against the mind-boggling expanse called the Desert of Ash, a plain of ash in every tone from grey to black that swirls, churns, shifts and burns, ever changing in size and deadliness.

The lack of water is absolute – open water in either of these locales is more likely to become a steam explosion than salvation.

What better place to build a city? It is, of course, made of Brass. Or at least, the famous parts of the old town and the docks are. The slums are baking stone, and the fortresses are steel, heated cherry red by the flames.

A powerful enchantment lies across this place, laid by the ancient founders. The heat here is almost unbearably cold for the locals – and only dangerously hot for outsiders, as opposed to instantly fatal.

From here, the founders and rulers of the city – the powerful Efreeti – base their power, conduct their trade, and proclaim their rule over the entire Plane of Fire. None of the other Genie polities are so bold.

The Efreeti are apparently a natural occurrence – like all genies, they are formed when a soul left adrift becomes saturated with elemental energy and creates a body from will and concentrated elemental power. The Efreeti are raging fire and shifting smoke.

Among themselves they are, I am told, as kind as may be expected from any folk. But the face they present to visitors to Brass is one of power, decadence, and brutality. Perhaps there are those Efreeti who wear the mask too tightly, and forget how it can be removed.

The Efreeti are ruled by their Grand Sultan, who resides within the vast and opulent Charcoal Palace, within the district known as the Furnace. The Grand Sultan, whoever they may be, has not provably left the Furnace in the last ten millennia. Efreet do not age, so perhaps the same flaming hand has guided Brass all that time? Or have a hundred scandalous successions come and gone?

Cynical foreigners wonder aloud in the cafes of The Plume: is there even a Sultan at all?

Whatever the case, the Sultan’s laws reach across the city, and far across the Sea of Fire, to the City’s distant colonies upon shores of magma and coal. The punishment for each and every infraction is common knowledge: Slavery.

Brass is built on it. Dis is built on suffering, yes, but it is the esoteric suffering of those judged sinful. Not so in the City of Brass, where the hot metal collars clamp the necks of the innocent and the accused. 

The buildings may be brass,’ goes the saying ‘but the foundations are bone.

Of the three million people reportedly living in Brass, at least a million are slaves. Nowhere – even in the lower planes – is such an unparalleled crime against liberty committed. It should not fall to me to tell you, this is unacceptable. Many in the multiverse – not least the marids and djinni who oppose the Efreeti – would see this injustice ended. But the Efreeti are powerful, and Brass is even stronger than them.

The sufferings of the enslaved are inescapable in Brass, and every interaction with the city is viewed through that lens. The markets, cafes, and boulevards are choked with slaves. For those coming from the almost ungoverned streets of Sigil, the change is unsettling.  

(If your players are anything like mine, they’ll want to topple the Efreeti and free all the slaves. Let them, if they put the work in. Make it the whole campaign, if they want.)

Some of those self-same heretical scholars whisper a story: That Brass is no mere city. That Brass is alive, that Brass has within it a mind – perhaps similar to the L__y of P__n, but of course, not too similar.

The words of ancient elementals carry strange implications. A dead god of fire, magic and metal. A screaming delve. A magmatic titan, cast to the shore in the eons when the gods were young. A foundation built not just on the bones of slaves, but also on the bones of gods.

Does that ancient voice still speak? Do the efreet hear it?

Who truly rules the City of Brass?

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