Like All Good Neighbors
Posted By: /dev/grrl
I just got back from a job in this place, an awesome place that isn’t really a city or even a place but is definitely feral. It’s a huge collection of trucks, drones, motor homes, trailers, surplus military vehicles, cargo haulers, and other wheeled shit that wanders around Central Asia. Its “citizens” come from a lot of places and speak a lot of languages, but they all call the place Karavan.
Karavan is like the bizarre love child of a city, a convoy, and a swarm. It is a juxtaposition of old and new cultures, mutual trust and tribal conflict, luxurious objects and makeshift equipment. It is inspiring and feared, constant and chaotic, and a great place for a shadowrunner to prosper if she’s a pro.
THE EVOLUTION OF A CITY
Back around 2060, Turkestan was a wreck, despite the “New Silk Road” railroad and highway system that fed its sprawls. Things were worse out in the country, where nomadic tribes were finding it harder to feed themselves and their herds, and the khan’s power was slipping out of his grasp. Then came Erika Red Crystal, a corporate-sponsored humanitarian aid organization. They brought food, portable shelter, fuel, and other devices and comforts to the nomads of Central Asia in a large zeppelin, the Aman, that could haul a lot of cargo and handle the expansive and broken terrain. In time, some tribes began following the zeppelin from stop to stop, helping dispense aid and sharing their own resources.
The Crash 2.0 cut off the Aman from its parent corporation. It and its crew were written off . Fortunately, the zeppelin and its ground-based companions were largely unaffected because Erika had been using the mission to beta-test its wireless Matrix technology. The nomads following the Aman were sympathetic to the plight of its crew and began to provide for them. In return, the Aman crew began scouting independently for resources for the tribes, leading them from location to location, creating the symbiosis of today.
SILK ROAD 2.0
Karavan has no real geographical location. It moves from locale to locale, rarely spending more than a week in any one place, so it’s almost never where you last looked. It ranges across Central Asia from Transcaucasia to Mongolia and the borders of Yakut.
When moving, Karavan is a collection of two large airships and about three hundred hectares of ground vehicles of all shapes and sizes, most bristling with weaponry and armed passengers. The trucks, rigs, ATVs, and bikes throw up a dust cloud that can be seen for miles. When the city finds a place to settle, the airships land and all of the tribes pitch tents, build yurts, set up campers, or otherwise construct the temporary homes and work spaces that will shelter them until their next move. Some tribes even have entire facilities that deploy directly from trailers or large vehicles, unfolding from motor vehicle to building in under a minute. Usually, each tribe claims space when they arrive. This means the map of the city changes with each move. Luckily, Karavan’s Matrix cloud is sophisticated, so you’ll always find your favorite hangout. If there is no potable surface water nearby, like a river or a lake, then each tribe drills its own well. Each tribe has its own facilities, including food storage and processing, power generation, security, waste reclamation and management, and the infrastructure for all of the above, and all of it can be packed up in a hour or two and moved.
Additionally, each tribe has a few (or occasionally several) specialty services, such as medical or technical facilities. While there is some overlap, many tribes are well known for their individual specialties. The Pjelykosts tribe, for example, is the premier magical tribe, while the Asma tribe is known as the place to find just about any piece of gear, and the Lhassos are expert armorers and weaponsmiths.
CITY OF NOMADS
The vast swaths of territory Karavan travels parallel to the New Silk Road are given over to subsistence farming and isolated villages with the occasional corporate strip mine, gas or oil field. The rare sprawl and industrial city provide oasis of modern civilization in a dangerous and laweless region. Over the years Karavan has developed into a roving bartertown; home to tribes and independent traders who come and go all the time. It has developed into a travelling trading post for the isolated herders, farmers, and corporate enclaves on its route. Karavan is home to around 12,000 people which, depending on where it’s camped, can bloat to twice that many. Most permanent “residents” live in tribes of between dozens and hundreds. While most of them are human, there is a greater-than-typical diversity among metatypes. They are mostly of Turkic descent, but there are plenty of Persians, Mongolians, Arabs, Europeans, Africans, and East Asians, so no one really sticks out.
- There are some thirty-five tribes in Karavan. The tally changes,
what with tribes merging and splitting, coming or going. You
never know if you’re going to find who you’re looking for at any
- Red Anya
The most common spoken language is Turkish, followed by the closely related Uzbek and Kazakh. Some tribes of non-Turkic descent speak another language unique to the city, such as the Kizilkristal, who speak Finnish among themselves. Everyone in Karavan identifies themselves as members of their tribes first and as citizens of the city second. When they have to identify themselves as such, they call themselves Karavanli. An outsider, or yabanci, can expect to be treated as an equal among the locals provided she behaves herself—after all everyone is an outsider until they join Karavan.
One thing every Karavanli has in common is that they are always armed. Everyone carries at least one firearm and any number of blades, grenades, or other weapons on them during almost every waking hour. By the time they are old enough to be unsupervised, the children of Karavan know how to safely carry and use weapons from knives to assault rifles. This level of preparation is more due to culture than necessity; actual violence within the city is quite rare. But the Karavanli have a proud tradition of standing ready against the forces and fortunes of an outside world that abandoned them.
THE KURULTAI AND THE YASSA
If Karavan has anything like a governing body, it is the Kurultai. The Kurultai is made up of all of the leaders of all of the tribes that call Karavan home. It gathers only when at least twelve tribes call for a meeting, and then only when the issues at hand affect the entire city. The Kurultai can make pronouncements on individuals, but not entire tribes. It can also make changes to the yassa, the set of laws that apply to everyone in Karavan.
The yassa is somewhat convoluted, but can be summed up as “do not harm one another.” Also codified is the near-adoration of all medical practitioners and clergy members, as well as the entire Kizilkrystal tribe, which lives in and operates the two zeppelins that guide the city from place to place. The yassa prohibits murder, rape, assault, theft , slavery, lying, and marriage within a single tribe. Every Karavanli is expected to enforce the yassa. Punishment ranges from harsh to brutal beating, and tribal leaders have the authority to execute proven offenders.
- In many of the backwater areas Karavan travels the locals subscribe
to one variation or another of the animistic Islam that’s so
common in Central Asia. It’s no surprise then that the yassa is two
parts tribal custom and one part Islamic sharia.
- Red Anya
Life in Karavan is a series of journeys and stops, punctuated by resource gathering and trading (and the occasional raiding). Th e guiding force of the city is the Tagnuul, the two airships that are owned and operated by the Kizilkristal tribe. The tribe runs a fairly sophisticated intelligence operation to spot likely locations where Karavan can find, gather, or take the resources it needs. When the tribes of the city have collected all they can from an area, the Kalabalik and the Aman Iki make preparations to lift off and head to the next location. The rest of the city takes this as the cue to pack up and follow the zeppelins, which are usually in the air and moving by the time the other tribes get going; Karavan is usually on the move within three hours of the zeppelins’ powering up. The journey to the next site usually takes a few days. The Tagnuul chooses routes that the ground vehicles can manage. In the event of an attack or ambush, the city keeps moving, but attacks are rare, as the Karavanli might as well be an army and have become very good at defending themselves and one another.
- If you’re slow, wounded, or breaking down, you get help without
hesitation; leaving stragglers to themselves violates the yassa.
Karavan offers visitors a free download of the yassa on arrival.
Once the Tagnuul reaches the new site, the zeppelins land and unpack, followed closely by the rest of the city. The Karavanli then begin going about the business of the city while the Kizilkristal begin reconnoitering and exploring potential sites for future moves. Most tribes gather nearby resources, including crude oil, flora and fauna, minerals, or even reagents. Many tribes organize trading parties to acquire resources from farms, small towns, or even the fringes of a sprawl. In some places a raid is organized by one or more tribes, an act permitted by the yassa. The tribes also bring tributes to the Tagnuul and talk about their tribes’ specific needs, which the Kizilkristal includes in its planning. Then, after a week or so, a new site is chosen and the cycle begins again.
- Since they are relatively small and get tributes from all of the
tribes, the Kizilkristal is the richest tribe in the city. The insides of
their zeppelins are almost opulent. If you want to live it large in
Karavan, the Kizilkristal are the people to know.
- Traveler Jones
THE SHADOWS OF KARAVAN
Even with its yassa, the Kurultai, and “us against the world” culture, Karavan is rife with power struggles and hidden agendas. It ranges across a dozen national borders and occasionally gets caught up in local power struggles, though woe be it to a regional governor or warlord who decides to stand in its way or demand tax for passage.
Karavan’s laws prevent overt hostility between tribes and encourage cooperation, but a mere text fi le can’t prevent the struggle for resources and business opportunities between tribes, no matter how revered it is.
There’s usually work a plenty for runners who visit Karavan. Tribal leaders sometimes seek runners for runs on other tribes; or strong arm local townships or reluctant corporate managers to part with their money and goods; the Kizilkristal sometimes hire runners for intel on new sites; the city makes a good clandestine meeting place, so outsiders sometimes drop by for a private chat; and, of course, Karavan is the perfect place to do some black market trading.