This is a summary of the Skype meeting that took place on Saturday, March 7, 2015 based on my notes. The topic was Almas Thirr. The next meeting will probably take place on Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 6:00 PM GMT/UTC. Its topic is to be determined.
A few issues have come up relating to our current version of Almas Thirr, but the topic of fixing them has been rather hard to approach, hence the meeting. The main issues that were brought up were roughly as follows:
Almas Thirr has a lot of ideas going for it, (nexus for land and river trade, pilgrimage site of some sort with monastery, Temple stronghold, town, mediation between House Hlaalu and House Indoril...), but to the extent that its core identity is unclear.
It's also effectively a Tier II city without guilds and with more than a dozen services.
Its Office of the Dispensary and Botanical Gardens, two interiors located in the canalworks, the former devoted to research into the corprus disease and the latter being a botanical garden, don't really fit any of the above concepts for Almas Thirr, the former arguably conflicting with them.
The purpose of the meeting, as such, was to establish a coherent identity for Almas Thirr and put together a rough plan on how to implement any necessary changes. Our results are as follows:
The establishing moment of Almas Thirr was the crossing of the Thirr by Veloth. That is not to say a settlement sprang up immediately, but simply that the site only gained significance through that event. While there is probably a story relating to Veloth's crossing, it need not be explored in depth; for an event so far in the past, any telling of the story we might bother to give could just as well be apocryphal in nature or tailored to suit -- for example -- Temple canon.
With that being said, the current story is as follows, and there's nothing more to it than what is written in this shrine text:
"Upon this stone, Sharai the Herder willingly gave herself to the Star-Wound, mending the path for Veloth and his followers. From her shattered womb came a thousand stars, the first seeds of our Garden. Her waters are a testament of our shared resolve, and that no force, mortal or otherwise may sunder Resdayn from her children."
All of the above does not rule out the possibility that Almalexia also did something important at Almas Thirr at some point, likely before it became a proper stronghold (more on that later): Almas Thirr currently has two shrines in its monastery complex on the eastern bank, one more prominent than the other; either one could be a Veloth shrine and the other a unique Sharai shrine, or one could be an Alma shrine and the other either a Veloth or Sharai shrine. That being said, the general sentiment in the meeting seemed to be that giving Almalexia a story relating to Almas Thirr wouldn't really add anything to the settlement, and that we can give Almalexia interesting stories in all the rest of Morrowind while Almas Thirr is a key stop on the pilgrimage of Veloth and should probably focus on that instead.
Almas Thirr probably began its life as a (broadly defined) settlement as the Bloodstone shrine; either a small shrine or already as the monastery still located on the eastern bank. There may have also been some form of housing and a ferry or something providing passage across the Thirr, but nothing permanent and, as such, relevant to our Almas Thirr. The origin of the town part of the settlement is, in general, unimportant; there is no real history attached to it, and most of its current population probably moved in over the course of the third era.
As such, as far as our Almas Thirr is concerned, the next important development after the construction of the monastery is the construction of the canton stronghold. (We didn't directly discuss when the bridge spanning the Thirr itself was built; some form of bridge may have existed before the stronghold, but the current bridge was probably built alongside the stronghold). The stronghold was built early in the third era for the express purpose of keeping an eye on the newly established boundary between Houses Hlaalu and Indoril.
Concurrently with the construction of the stronghold came an influx of Dunmer refugees from Hlaalu's newly acquired territories as well as the start of a steady but small trickle of mostly transient outlanders. These two groups form the majority of the current town's population.
A rough map for orientation:
The monastery (green) is on the east bank. Either all the rest of the east bank or, at least, the garrison (2) is technically owned by House Indoril (light blue). The east bank is the most significant location for pilgrims, housing the Bloodstone shrine in the monastery as well as the smaller shrine in the garrison, and has little else going for it. (At least for non-Indoril).
The central canton structure forms the Temple stronghold (gold); probably only really the levels above the Canalworks. The Ordinator Order of the Watch -- and perhaps to a lesser extent the Order of Doctrine and Ordination -- basically runs the place. A lot of the Ordinators would be Indoril. Aside from general prevention of open hostilities and mediation, a lot of administrative tasks would be performed in the stronghold, such as the regulation of both land and riverbourne trade. The focus of this area is, as such, on Temple politics and administration.
The town (brown) exists around the above core, both literally and figuratively. It should not be presented as the focus of Almas Thirr; it simply exists as a satellite of the core settlement. This is doubly true for its services, most of which will be outdoor services which are supposed to represent the flow of goods through Almas Thirr, rather than Almas Thirr being a market town. A lot of NPCs are only passing through, especially the sailors, pilgrims and merchants.
All of that being said, though, as far as the reality of gameplay is concerned players will probably spend most of their time in the town area due to its wealth of services and travel connections. (The latter still have to be added; the most popular plan appeared to be to add a small dock on the north side of the canton, where the water is of sufficient depth to allow both for a ship and a siltstrider. I've very roughly given an idea of how such a dock could look in the above image, though I may have drawn it too large).
The town somewhat extends into the canalworks, which should feature a temple, an expanded public tomb, and perhaps other public services such as soup kitchens for the poor and perhaps some sort of school.
As an important, centrally placed location, Almas Thirr is somewhat of a meeting place of people and ideas, and provides ripe opportunity for exploring several complex faction and faction trope interactions, notably:
-the Temple and House Indoril. House Indoril has established a garrison on the east bank of the Thirr, ostensibly as a show of support to the Temple stronghold. They also naturally provide the stronghold with much of its manpower and leadership, and likely provide for the settlement in other ways as well.
Whether well-meaning or not, however, all of that support undermines the stronghold's mission to act as impartial mediator between House Indoril and House Hlaalu. As such, between the seemingly mutually supportive factions there will be a subtle tug-of-war between cronyism and principals.
-the Temple and House Hlaalu: not explicitly discussed in the meeting, the natural interest of House Hlaalu is in gaining influence over Almas Thirr, whether through trying to make Almas Thirr economically dependent on House Hlaalu, in some way damaging the relationship between the local Indoril and Almas Thirr, etc.
-House Hlaalu and House Indoril: in this case explored more or less through a proxy war, with the Temple getting most of the flak.
-Velothi and the Temple/Ordinators: in the interactions between the town and stronghold. The town -- being on the Thirr rather than on either bank -- is probably controlled by neither House, and interacts directly with the Temple through Almas Thirr. The Temple, in turn, provides many services for the locals, especially in the canalworks, while at the same time regulating a lot of what goes on there.
-outlanders and Velothi/traditionalist Dunmer: showcasing the difficulties outlanders face in gaining a foothold -- let alone acceptance -- in eastern Morrowind.
Role in the Tribunal Temple:
Almas Thirr will probably mainly be featured in the Temple questline as a location on the pilgrimage route of Saint Veloth. The relationship between the Temple and House Indoril and, more broadly, the Temple's role in House politics may also be explored.
Role in Thirr River Conflict:
The Temple attempts to perform its role in Tribunal society of protecting the peace and stability of Morrowind and insuring civility in House relations through Almas Thirr. It will collosally fail, likely as much due to the actions of House Indoril as of House Hlaalu; rather than regulating the Houses, Almas Thirr essentially becomes a pawn in their conflict. This will demonstrate the weakening of the Temple, as well as give an idea of how House Indoril and House Hlaalu are not only contributing to their own eventual downfall, but to the downfall of Tribunal society as a whole.
Majordomo of the Crossing Sandor Ormero -> leader of the local Ordinators and, effectively, of Almas Thirr. May be related to Ilvi in some way, but attempts to maintain neutrality.
Raransi Silveth -> leader of local Indoril guard; essentially acts as an Indoril lobbyist.
Avon Hlaalu -> visiting Almas Thirr over a trade disagreement to negotiate with the Temple; effectively represents House Hlaalu's interests in Almas Thirr.
Celdora -> Altmer service provider who more-or-less acts as spokesperson for the outlander minority in Almas Thirr.
Dadas Blarvam -> Dunmer ascetic located in the Bloodstone shrine.
Hetman -> elected representative of the townspeople to the Temple authorities, and effectively the leader and spokesperson of the local Velothi.
Important Temple fellow -> leader of the monastery and neither an Ordinator nor especially involved in the politics of Almas Thirr; mostly significant for Temple members.
While Almas Thirr will have a lot of merchants, the majority will either operate outdoor stalls or work in craftmer halls or tradehouses. As such, they'll have a limited selection of wares and a limited amount of barter gold.
Temple and Indoril players will probably have access to additional services of some form as well; at least beds.
Almas Thirr will have a siltstrider and boat, each with the maximum amount of destinations. (Four each). It also has a lot of shrines around the place. It does not, however, have much in the way of guilds. There will be at least one inn as well as a pilgrim's hostel, and perhaps a cornerclub or two if there's space.
Almas Thirr's planning document needs to be brought up to speed. We sorted out a rough plan on what needs to happen to the interiors which could use some tidying up and then implementation. The same goes for exterior adjustments, though I think only adding the small dock with siltstrider and ship access is really necessary. Once the interior and exterior have been altered to fit our vision, we can perhaps revisit NPCing. The list of interiors, for those whom it may interest:
We also found time at the end to address other issues, though not in great detail:
Thirr River Region:
A concern was mentioned in the Skype meeting that the Thirr River Region seems too much like a backwoods region, with its relatively low population density and extensive forests, and may also not stand out much as a unique region, being roughly halfway between the Ascadian Coast and Lan Orethan in appearance. The former point is notably very much counter to the population density map (attachment B) in the current Master Plan document -- though I'll be the first to point out that that document represents an early draft likely intended to get discussion going rather than being a thoroughly discussed plan we are bound to implement -- but even disregarding that I think a dissonance between our concept for TRV and its current appearance exists.
The issue has been somewhat mitigated through the addition of Vhul as well as planned settlements at the border of the TRV, namely the Hlaalu settlement of Hlan Oek to the south of Indal-ruhn and the Hlaalu town I proposed for eastern Roth Roryn, but I don't think the root problem has been fixed with those changes.
As we will have plenty of unused interiors at our disposal with our above planned changes to Almas Thirr, and have a dearth of available interior claims with plenty of capable interior developers as it is, adding new settlements wouldn't really be out of the question.
As far as the relatively untamed impression the region gets through its forests, and its lack of defining features, the possibility of replacing the trees with new models has been proposed, (here are some very rough sketch of corkbulb trees), as well as recolouring the grass to a more yellowish hue to allow transition between the Ascadian Coast and Othreleth. And, for that matter, Roth Roryn.
While both solutions are doable and would improve the region considerably, however, (while the latter requires new assets, someone did express interest in trying a hand at them), they're not really a priority. While TRV certainly isn't perfect, it's hardly broken either.
Roads, Ancestors and Veloth's Route:
Right before the Skype meeting, I messed around with the latest Indoril-Thirr file exploring various ideas relating to roads, Veloth's pilgrimage route and infrastructure.
Nothing new, actually; I have already implemented this in the St. Felms hamlet, but include it here anyway for the sake of comprehensiveness: Velothi settlements in Indoril lands too small to have a temple instead have a small, generally outdoor shrine dedicated to their patron saint. In the above case, the focus of the pictured village being farming and labour, the saint in question is Saint Meris.
Roadside Ancestor Shrines:
While it has always been Dunmer tradition to send ones dead to Necrom, especially after the establishment of Ghost Fence, many Dunmer have historically not possessed the funds or means to send their loved ones on that journey. These Dunmer would leave the bones of their dead in deposits along or near Veloth's route, and considerate pilgrims would take what bones they could carry along with them on their pilgrimage to Necrom.
Many of these deposits were later provided with aeolian gourds, which served both to draw the attention of pilgrims to the shrines, but more importantly to call out to wandering spirits who have not found their peace in Necrom or have been bereft of their chance to protect Morrowind in the afterlife through powering Ghostfence. These spirits would gather at the shrines, from where they would join the grand procession to Necrom.
To drive home the fact that Tribunal culture, the ideal of which is best presented in Indoril lands, is both very advanced and very stable, I think Indoril roads should have extensive infrastructure, with rest stops both for Indoril nobility travelling between castle estates and commoners, as well as ample lighting. Road signs still need to be discussed.
Aside from its ancestor shrines and having many important locations along its route, such as Kragenmar, Almas Thirr, Almalexia and, of course, Necrom itself, I think Veloth's pilgrimage route should have a unique (at least for application as mainroad) texture, perhaps the texture shown in the above image. This would both set it apart from other roads, establishing its premier importance in Dunmer society, religion and history, but also to a degree could evoke the regular stream of pilgrims and processions of corpses that is supposed to flow towards Necrom but cannot be adequately featured in Morrowind's engine.
Anyway, that's it for another week. Sorry for the (ever-increasing) delay in posting -- and writing, for that matter -- the summary; someone might take over for me next week.