Setting is a key part of any roleplaying game; In S3, the default backdrops are gigantic industrial megacities that have arisen out of historical urban centers. Each of them has a different flavor - from the coal-blackened sprawl of Beijing to the towering beehives of Hong Kong - designed with different styles of game in mind.
The Qing DynastyEdit
Though often referred to as "China" by foreigners, the Qing dynasty is a vast and multi-ethnic empire ruled by the Manchus, a semi-nomadic people from Northeast Asia. It was initially founded by the Emperor Nurhaci in 1616, but most historians date it's formation as 1644 - the year the Manchu's invaded China proper.
Whereas in real history Qing dynasty soon conquered all of China, Silk, Steam, and Steel draws a division in the historical timeline; the Manchus still conquered China, but only down to the line of the Yangtze river.
In the modern era, the Daicing Gurun (Qing dynasty) has become one of the largest - if not the single largest - land empires in the world. Stretching from the mountains of Central Asia in the West to the coasts of the Pacific Ocean in th east, from the Yangtze River in the south in the Arctic Ocean in the north. Much of this land is cold, harsh, and sparsely inhabited, with large cities around the coasts and in China proper.
Beijing: An Industrial SprawlEdit
A sprawling industrial wasteland, with horizon after horizon of smokestacks belching smoke into the air. A city like a great mechanical octopus that crawled onto land, and languishes with iron tendrils spread out in every direction. A sky that has been turned yellow-gray by pollution, a grimy haze blotting out the sun. Weary factory workers march from labyrinthine residential hutongs into massive factories for another fourteen hour shift, their faces covered by soot-stained bandanas and facemasks to keep out the polluted air. Autocycle gangs clash in the gas-lit streets at night, tearing down the cobbled streets with lance in hand and boiler at full steam, warring for territory and unconcerned with who gets hurt. Manchu princes scheme against one another, ever weary of anything that might give them an edge against one another.
Welcome to Beijing. This is the beating mechanical heart of the Manchu war machine, driving the ceaseless conquest and expansion of the Great Qing Empire.
Beijing, the capital of the Qing dynasty, is a city that grew outwards. Sprawling across the land like a mechanical octopus, endless horizons of factories belch out smoke as they manufacture everything from textiles to airships.
Beijing can be broken into two main sections: The Inner City and the Outer City.The Inner City is marked by the still-standing Beijing City Wall, and serves as the home of countless Bannermen, government and military officials, and the Emperor himself. The Inner City could be considered "posh" as far as Beijing goes, but most Nanjing and Shanghai residents would still find it a crass and harsh place.
The Outer City lies beyond the city wall, and is home to the countless factories and untold workers who run them. The Outer City is largely a lawless place, and the only concern of the government is that the factories keep running. Crime and gang warfare are a constant fact of life in Outer Beijing.
"What's the difference between BeIjing and Nanjing?"
Beijing is the epitome of a working class town. Every day, thousands of migrants arrive in Beijing, leaving behind harsh and impoverished lives in the countryside for marginally less harsh and impoverished lives as factory workers. Life in the Outer City, for most, is defined by lengthy shifts in factories, turning out everything silk and porcelain to airships and autocycles.
The outer city is a lawless place, and street crime is rampant. As long as the factories keep running, the government has little interest in the welfare of the common people. If a few migrants go missing, there will be plenty more ready to replace them the next day.
The Inner City is defined by the Bannermen, the Qing Dynasty's warrior-aristocracy. Every single Manchu is a member of the Eight Banners, as well as a large number of Chinese and Mongolians.
The emperor of the Qing dynasty is a well-aged man, and in his later years, has completely lost any interest in matters of statecraft and running his empire. Instead, he spends his days in the inner chambers of his palace with the company of his many, many concubines.
The matters of running the empire instead fall to the emperor's prolific brood of sons. The Manchu princes are in a constant state of scheming against one another, looking for ways to aggregate their own personal power. Often, it is the common folk who suffer under these conflicts.
The Underworld Edit
Once upon a time, bandit clans hid in the outskirts of Beijing, ambushing caravans as they left the city. As the city grew, however, the city consumed the bandit's traditional hiding grounds, as their hideaways were paved over with factory roads.
As the greenwood gave way to industry, the bandit clans changed in their horses for autocycles, and adapted to their new circumstances. In time, they coalesced into the four biker gangs that rule the Outer City, taking the names of the guardian deities of the four directions: The Red Phoenix Gang in the South, the White Tiger Gang in the West, The Green Dragon Gang in the East, and the unfortunately named Black Turtle Gang in the North.
The Red Pheonix gang are famed for their love of two things: anarchy and arson. Viciously anti-establishmentary, they have a more than strained relationship with the other gangs as well as the Bannermen.
The White TIger gang - the largest and most powerful of the four - are quite tight with certain parts of the Eight Banners. Manchu Princes have been known to enlist the White Tigers for clandestine dirty work.
The Green Dragon gang are led by a Daoist adept, who claims to have mystical powers and to be over a hundred years old. Equal parts religious cult and street gang, the Green Dragon's are strange and enigmatic fellows.
The Black Turtle gang are the smallest and the last to be formed of the Four Gangs, and by that time, the guardian deity theme had been established. Do their rather embarrassing name (because really, who wants to be in the biker gang named after turtles?), they have a tendency to overcompensate with excessive posturing and violent behavior. Though they are the least powerful, they are perhaps the most overtly dangerous.
The Ming DynastyEdit
Established after the fall of Mongol Rule in China in 1368, the Ming dynasty is one of the oldest surviving empires on Earth. Consisting of the territories south of the Yangtze River and many of China's outlying Pacfic Islands, the the Ming dynasty is much geographical smaller than the Qing; however, given that this land is much more urbanized and inhabitable, it is more populous than it's neighbor to the North.
The Ming maintains a large army and a very large navy, growing every year that the threat of a resurgence of open war with the Manchus remains.
Nanjing: Refinement and AristocracyEdit
A clean, glittering city, where lavish pagodas tower over the waters of the Yangtze river. Bridges and skyways cross the city, so the rich can literally walk over the poor. In world-renowned universities, scholars debate how to form a more perfect society; in massive garrisons, generals prepare for the next invasion of the Manchu Empire. In quiet cafes, radical thinkers share ideas, talking of revolution.
The capital of the Southern Ming empire, Nanjing is a city where class consciousness is made into geography.
It is a city of layers; tall buildings connected by bridges and skyways, so the rich never need have their feet touch their ground. The citty is effectively broken into three layers. The ground layer is the home of the poor and the working classes, those who must actually walk in the dirt of the street.The middle layers belong to the petty bourgeoise: merchants, clerks, some wealthier artisans.The top layer belongs to the ruling class - scholars, officials, and aristocrats who run the city and run the empire.
Compared the grime and dust of Beijing, Nanjing is a clean, elegant city. Armies of public servants fill the streets, keeping them clean of debris and refuse. Nanjing is home to many beautiful parks and gardens, wherein scholars may relax and meditate.
Nanjing is one of the most highly educated cities in the world. It is home to a variety of world-famous universities, where students study everything from history and statecraft to chemistry and engineering. and it is here that elite scholars from across the empire come to take the top tier of official examinations. Many wealthy foreigners send their children to attend the universities in Nanjing, and students from as close as Japan and Korea and as far as Germany and America can be found there.
Given that Nanjing is both the capital city and sits on the border with the Qing empire, it's military presence is massive. Tens of thousands of soldiers are garrisoned in Nanjing, including the mysterious and elite Automaton Guard, a battalion of mechanical warriors loyal directly to the Imperial Throne.
In contrast to the aging Qing emperor, the emperor of the Ming dynasty is a five year old boy incapable of ruling. As such, de facto power in the Ming dynasty falls to a menagerie of court officials, department heads, and family members of the child emperor. They, too, are in a constant state of scheming, and political intrigue is the order of the day in Nanjing.
The Underworld Edit
Depending on your perspective, Nanjing has either the most or the least organized crime in China. On the one hand, it has very little in the way of traditional underworld crime syndicates. On the other hand, it has th Nanjing Police Department.
The Nanjing police are notorious for their brutality. Whereas the military exists to fight external threats, the police exist to fight internal threats. They see the common folk of the city not as people to protect, but rather as enemies to subjugate. Racketeering, petty bullying, and beatings are commonplace; radical intellectuals, protesters and rabble-rousers often find themselves secreted away in the night, never to be seen again.
And despite it's pristine appearance, Nanjing is indeed a hotbed of unrest. University students and young radicals have more and more turned to the teachings of Mo Zi, a contemporary of Confucian who rejected prescribed social order in favor of universal equality and the welfare of the common people. The Neo-Mohist movement often clashes with entrenched power, and the seeds of revolution are well-planted in the city's soil.
Shanghai: Where Silver is King Edit
A city where concepts like "urban planning" and "building ordinances" are completely unknown. A foggy harbor town, a maze of back alleys and twisting corridors. Massive airship platforms blot out the sun for city blocks, while gaudy red lanterns light up seedy districts of town. Sailors and gamblers spend the last of their copper coins on frivolous entertainments, while criminals and corrupt officials grow wealthy and fat off of their excesses. Welcome to Shanghai.
Concentrated around where the Yangtze river meets the Huangpu river, Shanghai is one of the key port towns of the Ming Dynasty, with the addition of being perilously close to Qing territoy. Rather than growing upwards or outwards, Shanghai is a city that grew inwards; a maddening maze of twisting roads, back alleys, and cull de sacs, seemingly designed to confound visitors. The entire city seems to have been hobbled together, with houses being built on top of other houses without the consent of the tenants below.
Whereas a sane city might have built it's airfields on the outskirts of the city, Shanghai has large airship landing platforms scattered over the city proper, erected on massive struts and overshadowing multiple city blocks each.
Shanghai nominally has a municipal governor, appointed from Nanjing. Power in the city is essentially a diumverate, shared between the actual government and the kingpins on the underworld. Here, police and thieves are not enemies - they're coworkers. Corruption is so rampant that it's hard to see where the government ends and the criminals begin.
Shanghai is a city of vice. Attracting sailors and travellers from around the world, it becomes a melting pot of people looking to enjoy themselves, often in the most self-destructive way possible. Thus enter the Golden Bell Gang; a syndicate of gangsters who run the many "Pleasurable vices" of Shanghai: Gambling, drinking, drugs, prostitution, opera, fine arts - the Golden Bell gang does it all.
The Golden Bell Gang is run by Jin Baiyu, a decadent gangster who's seemingly effeminate and hedonistic demeanor belies a ruthlessly cunning mind. Jin Baiyu is well acquainted with Shanghai's notoriously corrupt governor Wu Chaoran, and the two share control of the city. The Golden Bell gang headquarter themselves in the House of Ten Thousand Delights, a massive five story pagoda that rises out of Shanghai's red light district.
Hong Kong: A Towering Cosmopolitan Hive Edit
Hong Kong is a city that grew up, then over, then back in, then up again. It's a three dimensional puzzle box of a city, like Shanghai folded on top of itself. Surrounded by water on one side and rugged mountains on the other, geographic boundaries forced Hong Kong to grow upwards, which it did in the most haphazard way possible. Buildings built on top of buildings, with upper floors sometimes only accessible by skywalks from across the way.
After the Chinese won the Opium Wars, Hong Kong was made the only place where foreigners could legally take up permanent residence; many do take up permanent residence elsewhere, they just do so illegally.
As such, Hong Kong is a particularly cosmopolitan city, and many a Westerner who "went native" have set up shop therein.
Yucheng: The City on the SeaEdit
A city floating on the sea, a bustling hive of humanity in the middle of the ocean. Countless thousands of barges, battleships, rafts, sailing vessels, and floating platforms, ranging from tiny scooners to massive warships. A wretched hive of scum and villainy, a haven for pirates, outlaws, smugglers. Rigging and gangplanks form a connective tissues for the city on the sea, an infrastructure that builds up over time like barnacles on a hall.
Welcome to Yucheng.
The exact size and shape of Yucheng is constantly in flux. Old ships leave, new ships arrive, pieces of the puzzle that is the city change position. On any day, there might be between fifty and a hundred thousand souls living in Yucheng.
For it's haphazard nature, Yucheng boasts some of the technologically impressive infrastructure in the world. Massive floating de-salination plants turn at all hours of the day, purging the salt from the ocean to create fresh, clean drinking water. Hydroponic farms grow crops of algae and other vegetation. Fleets of fishermen and whalers operate out of the city, where they can easily access the less heavily fished deep seas away from the coasts.
Yucheng is ruled by a ruthless pirate queen, Jiang Er, known as "The Red Queen." It is said that in Yucheng, there is only one rule: Don't mess with the Red Queen.
Jiang created the city in her youth, using part of the fleet to create a permanent base of operations. From there, more and more pirates and smugglers and fishermen joined on, and the city grew to the metropolis it is today. The Queen operates a massive pirate fleet - as well as a smuggling fleet, a fishing fleet, and a whaling fleet - that prowls the oceans, preying on merchant vessels foreign and domestic. Skilled navigators are able to predict the location of the floating city as it drifts through the sea, returning home with their spoils.
Yucheng doesn't have an undersworld; it is an underworld. From across the globe, outcasts and criminals gather here, a place safe from the far reaching long arm of the law. The city is a true gangster's paradise, with no established laws or regulations. Everyone is the king or queen of their own ship, making and breaking whatever rules they see fit. Unless, of course, they mess with the Red Queen.
In Yucheng, it is perfectly acceptable to kill a man in broad daylight - and such a thing happens not too rarely, with business deals gone awry, jealous rivals, and upset gamblers taking out their anger. The Queen is not interested in maintaining any sense of law and order in the city, unless her own interests are threatened.
Tibet: The Not So Hidden KingdomEdit
Despite it's reputation as an inaccessible and remote land, Tibet has had a rather storied history of international politics. The Mongolians, the Chinese, the Dzungars, the Gurkhas, and all the rest of their neighbors have a long history of meddling in Tibetan affairs.
With the recent advent of high-altitude airships, trans-Himalayan trade routes between China and India have once again made Tibet a central point inf international affairs. Abutted by the Chinese, the Manchus, the British, and the Russians, Tibetan autonomy is a rather delicate situation.
Not being a particularly militaristic nation, Tibetan rulers have become cunning masters of diplomacy. Tibetan Buddhist monks are sent as envoys and spiritual advisers to foreign rulers, subtly influencing their decisions for the benefit of the homeland.
Himalayan Airship Piracy Edit
With air travel comes air piracy. The rugged mountains of the Himalayas make for ideal hiding spaces for airship pirates, and foreign merchants make for ideal targets. The hinterlands of Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan have come to be home for airship pirates of every nation.