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Culture Focus: The Scrap Pile

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 16, 2005 5:25 pm    Post subject: Culture Focus: The Scrap Pile Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

More Culture Focus! This is issue 8.

The Scrap Pile: What Others Leave Behind

Lay of the Land:
A dry riverbed runs through the Atala valley, sweeping around berms and passing under the elaborate and crumbling architecture of a once-powerful empire. The remains of cities so vast that their boundaries have overlapped have been covered with temporary-looking camps, forges, and mountains of garbage that are often as tall as the remaining buildings.

Outside the ruins, the land is hilly, rocky, and speckled with chaparral. The land is a semi-arid grassland, although the massive (if nearly empty) watercourses and monumental dying trees indicate to even the casual observer that this was not always the case. Small farms exist in the countryside, which mostly grow millet and sorghum, although many vegetables are also grown. Hunting parties travel long distances into the hills, and take with them vultures and boars to aid in finding food animals and berries.

Major Cities:
The Scrap Pile is a scavenger city that is itself scavenged. The basic structure is largely a partially collapsed palace and its once-opulent surrounds. Tents have been erected inside a number of buildings whose roofs have since collapsed. Comprising a total population in excess of five hundred thousand people, The Scrap Pile resembles its name in more ways than one, and heaps of trash are liberally distributed throughout the streets of the metropolis. Native scavengers, both beasts and people, root through the piles looking for usable items, and scavengers in teams and in solo are regularly leaving and returning on missions to get new trash for the piles. Of beasts, the piles attract boar, vultures, gulon, pards, rats, gulls, and eagles. The Scrappers chase the gulon, pards, gulls, and eagles away as vermin, while virtually domesticating the boars and vultures. The rats are largely ignored.

Water is a major problem for The Scrap Pile, and ciosterns and barrels are balanced on most raised surfaces. Sewage treatment is in an advanced stage in The Scrap Pile, with large dry drums that are removable being using as toilets. These drums are regularly swapped out and brought to Forgers to be cleaned. While the city rather smells of compost and rust, actual disease is seemingly well in hand.

Iron is a powerful tool, and when fashioned into a hammer or chisel can mark just about any surface without being marked in return. As such it is an unremarkable that a well crafted iron tool is highly prized for its usefulness. However, iron is also the embodiment of the principle of Void, and superstitious peoples all over are quite frightened of it. Its properties are still not understood by most people in the world, and its mere presence is known to adversely (or at least inexplicably) affect some magics. Thus, the presence of iron is in non-useful forms is of considerable negative value to most people.
The Scrappers take advantage of this fact by taking damaged tools, useless iron items, and similar "junk" off of peoples' hands for free. These scraps are taken back to the Scrap Pile where they are eventually forged into new tools and weapons which are then sold elsewhere in the world. The task of carrying away trash iron is considered with enough distaste that in many places a Scrapper will have their basic needs taken care of with the expectation that they will in turn refrain from spooking people by drawing attention to themselves or the fact that they touch a lot of iron.

Scrappers are largely invisible in most societies that they move in, and they have been known to take other forms of trash as well as iron. Strips of leather, animal bones, and spoilt cloth are almost eagerly transported away by Scrappers, and this service is in most places repaid with the leaving of small amounts of food and the like for the Scrappers to eat in their journeys.

Surprisingly, The Scrap Pile itself has no currency of its own. Productivity is encouraged morally rather than with wages or barter. Basic needs can be taken from quasi-public eating areas and the relatively simple shelter that most Scrappers enjoy requires no rent. Noone is turned away from The Scrap Pile, regardless of whether they are human, ormigan, or dragon. There is no physical compulsion to contribute. However, social pressure to contribute to the whole are very strong, and attendence at teaching sessions (which provide information on Scrapper magic, as well as stressing moral values of Productivity, Waste Minimization, and Sharing) are mandatory. Generally only the very young, very old, or very sick are idle for long.

Law and Order:
The laws of the Scrap Pile are unwritten, and many of them are secret. The Scrappers have several major and minor gangs which enforce slightly different interpretations of order, and which occasionally come into conflict over territory, methodology, or personality. Though relatively small in number, the Vulture Gang is relatively well respected, and is often consulted as a mediating third party. Their word isn't exactly "law", but an individual or gang who publicly went against the Vulture Gang would find themselves in a perilous situation of simultaneously being shunned economically by the other gangs and being seen as a "free" target to be picked upon by other gangs.

Some of the Forgers are associated directly with one of the gangs, but others put themselves away from gang politics. The Forgers generally have a very loose structure, but they will unite to deny services to people who Forgers have condemned as dangers to The Scrap Pile. Praise and derigation are quite important amongst the Scrappers, and most will conduct their activities in accordance with the Scrapper principles to the very best of their abilities.

Magical Traditions:
Most members of the Scrap Pile are immigrants and refugees from elsewhere, this means that there is little unifying theme in the basic magical skills of an average Scrapper. Once a person has joined the Scrappers, they are taught as a Scavenger, or as a Forger. It is the purpose of the Scavenger to procure useful items that have been discarded and it is the purpose of the Forger to remake those discarded objects into new and useful items.
The iron that the Scrappers collect is unnerving to most people. The tangible feeling that it is out of place stays follows not only the scraps, but the Scrappers themselves. Many Scrappers learn to harness this property of Iron and become difficult to notice, and even harder to remember, using a power they call the Blur. This property increases in strength as direct evidence of the Scrapper's presence becomes more remote, whether temporally or spatially. A Scrapper finds it much easier to blend into the background, and traces of her passing become incomprehensible to even accomplished trackers and scryers.

Iron is harder and stronger than flesh, and the Forgers of The Scrap Pile have an industrious program of replacing flesh, which is weak, with iron, which is strong. This program has achieved limited success with people, but has had great success with beasts. The forges of the Scrappers infuse the bodies of vultures and boars with iron, creating the Stymphalian and the Kara-Shishi, which are now used by the Scrappers as guards, mounts, and spies. These creatures benefit from the Blur as well as any person.

The Forgers of The Scrap Pile have a number of cleansing techniques that allow garbage to be reclaimed into useful matter. Furthermore, the strongest steel known is produced in the forges of The Scrap Pile, and is known as wootz steel. It is formed from selected scraps of various compositions and purities. The proper mixture of impurities generates steel that is both harder and stronger than the purest iron.

There are several layers of government of the Scrappers. The most immediately obvious level is that of the Gangs. These range from small clubs of four up to unofficial armies of hundreds. The Gangs usually have an animal mascot of some sort, and all the cool animals have been taken. Gangs often pool resources in some way and lay claim to some section of the ruins or even The Scrap Pile itself. Gangs almost always provide protection, or at least vengeance, for their members and affiliates.

More complex is the relationship with the Forgers. These people inspect the garbage brought in by the Scavengers and judge its utility. Those who bring in trash that has good potential are in turn publicly praised by Forgers, and those Scrappers are accorded first pick of the new equipment, the best of the food, and great success in romance. There is no public acknowledgement of these benefits, but they are obvious to even the casual observer.

Foreign Relations:
The Scrappers fulfill a service that most other nations value. Scrappers wander throughout most civilized regions collecting refuse and selling ironwork with minimal oversight from the local powers. Tensions exist in Redarkhan, where Scrappers wander about on foot (which is illegal), and trade directly with the Earthbound (likewise illegal). Scrappers are not allowed into Atayala, and Scavenger teams don't even try to gain admittance. Trade is conducted with Hive Acatl, but it is highly limited because that hive has its own reforging operations and is entirely unwilling to allow the Scavengers to have their scrap metal. Trade with Hive Moskitia is much more organized, as their drive for personal excellence leaves them quite willing to dispose of all second-rate inputs.
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