Milton Keynes has now entered the Dresdenverse. Again.
Apologies for leaving you hanging if you’d read the first draft of this write-up (preserved on this blog for historical reasons) and found that it ended halfway through. As mentioned in my previous post, we ended up taking much, much longer over character generation than we’d planned, and given that we’d decided to revise the city burning afterwards to fix some weak Aspects, everything got held up.
Considering that we made a fair number of revisions, and not just to the Aspects, I’m going include some of the previously-posted material in this post as well, with the modifications we’ve made, so this will present the entire result of the city generation. I won’t repeat the general comments I made about the process, though; if you want those, scroll down for the post named “Burning Milton Keynes (Part 1)”.
As mentioned in an earlier post, Milton Keynes is a brand new town incorporating old villages which, in turn, were built on Saxon, Roman and neolithic settlements. It’s lots of places brought together into one. Almost all of its residents are originally from somewhere else. Again, as discussed earlier, Milton Keynes is the “city in the forest”, and is all about the amalgamation of nature and artifice. Everything is green and everything is concrete. The city is best known for concrete cows, after all!
Wolverton, in north Milton Keynes, was at the heart of Britain’s railway system. The Grand Union canal passes through the town, as does Watling Street, built over the Roman road known as Iter II. People who believe in ley lines think that a large number of them join in Milton Keynes. The various strange structures around MK (more on these later) are laid out in a straight line, deliberately joined together.
Milton Keynes is, per capita, the most surveilled town in the most surveilled country in the world. There are CCTV cameras everywhere, watching everything you do. Charles Stross used this fact to great effect in his novella, The Concrete Jungle.
Willen Park – Aspect: Accorded Neutral Ground
At first glance, Willen Park is a pretty standard city park. Then you notice odd things: the buddhist monastery; the giant pagoda built to stave off nuclear war; the tree festooned with ribbons, prayers and offerings to the dead; a labyrinth carved in the soil, punctuated with bronze discs with ancient sun faces; a stone circle built only a few years ago, fusing Celtic and Native American designs and used as a living worship site by local neopagans. There’s also a man-made lake in the centre of the park, with an island in the middle. And, across the road there’s man-made wood with the trees laid out in the floor-plan of a cathedral, positioned so that it’s in a straight line with the other features mentioned and with the old neolithic sacred mound at Secklow and a beacon in Campbell park.
Everything in this place is about old traditions, some of them prehistoric, reinvented for the modern world. It’s the very essence of Milton Keynes. Given the fact that someone has gone out of their way to make Willen Park both peaceful and magically significant, we’ve decided that it is the Accorded Neutral Ground for the city, taking the same role as McAnally’s in Chicago, only with more trees and less beer.
Oh, and the monk who founded the peace pagoda died there in a bizarre lawnmower accident. Given the purpose of the park, if this wasn’t a real accident then whoever is responsible is in for a whole world of pain should they be found out.
Themes: rebirth, reinvention, peace, mysteries, lawnmowers.
NPC: The current head of the monastery, a mortal representative to the Concrete Council (more on them later).
A touch of magic: Well, all these weird features have to have a use, right?
The Lakes Estate – Aspect: Hopelessness and desperation
Milton Keynes isn’t all old villages. The majority of the accommodation is new, and it’s grouped together in cookie-cutter estates dotted all over the town. These estates are somewhere between crowded urban housing and suburban blandness. The houses in a given estate all tend to look similar, if not the same, and the estates themselves are hidden from the outside world by thick walls of trees. You can drive through Milton Keynes for hours and know no more of these estates than names on street signs.
The Lakes Estate is a bit different, in that the quality of the housing is lower (largely pre-fabricated aluminium structures), the standard of living of the residents is poorer and, in general, it’s probably the roughest and most deprived part of Milton Keynes. In other words, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for White Court vampires who feed on despair.
Themes: Contained, man-made, mundane (possible protection from magic), fiefdom.
A touch of magic: this place is a powder kegs of repressed emotions and desperation. The White Court manage it carefully.
NPC: A White Court vampire, shepherding the residents of Bradwell to give him the desperation he needs to sustenance.
Bletchley Park – Aspect: Buried Secrets
Bletchley Park is a manor house in the south of Milton Keynes. It is best known as Station X, the centre of Britain’s code-breaking efforts in the second world war. It was here that Alan Turing’s team broke the Enigma code, providing the allies with vital intelligence. Also, vitally, this was the birthplace of the first electronic computer and, hence, of the information age.
Now, Bletchley Park is a museum, but one badly short of funding. It’s hanging on by its fingertips, a but shabby in places and in imminent danger of closure.
Themes: the manor house, decaying glory, old technology, birth of the information age, where it all changed, dangerous experiments.
A touch of magic: In our Dresdenified Milton Keynes, Bletchley Park has additional significance. The magical basis of Milton Keynes will be discussed a bit further on, but a part of it is that Bletchley Park was more than just the centre of the code-breaking effort; it was also central to Britain’s magical resources in the war. The mystical forces of Nazi Germany were fought here by British wizards, and in doing so they tapped into the forces dormant in this town, to potentially disastrous effect. Again, though, more on that later.
Also, from a magical perspective, this is where it all changed. Wizards have trouble with modern technology, and this is where it came from. Maybe in the old relays and valves of the Colossus machine and the Bombes there could be the genesis of a technology that wizards can actually use. For this reason alone, some wizards are very interested in what happened here.
NPC: The curator of the museum, a secret White Council wizard.
Wolverton – Aspect: Multicultural
Wolverton was the home of Wolverton Railway Works, where much of Britain’s rolling stock was built and maintained. It was such a driving force for the area that three towns, Wolverton, Stony Stratford and New Bradwell) were effectively built to house the workers (all three existed before, but in much, much smaller forms). It was a shining example of Victorian enterprise and engineering. Now, Wolverton works is partly derelict, and the rest of it is now a large Tesco supermarket. The town itself, while not too run down, is definitely a shadow of its former self.
Themes: The railway, decay, overcrowded, rich ethnic mix, canal, ancient history, lost town, starvation, the secret garden.
A touch of magic: Wolverton is built on the site of an ancient village whose residents were starved out by the local lord. There has to be some psychic residue from that! There are also a number of old festivals that are still followed to this day (like the lantern festival), a secret garden hidden down by the canal, with all sorts of odd features, including a stone spiral, and, outside the main shopping centre, a statue of a South American fertility god. All of this points to some slightly clued-in mortals who are trying to do something with magic, maybe to protect the town or maybe to build power.
NPC: The head of the town council, who knows just enough about magic to make himself unintentionally dangerous.
The Centre:MK – Aspect: Surveillance
Not that long ago, The Centre:MK (as it’s now called) was the largest shopping mall in Europe. It’s since been eclipsed, but it’s still pretty damned big. As with all things in Milton Keynes, it’s also pretty damned unusual.
There is an old Saxon meeting mound, ripe with magical importance, tucked around the back of the Centre. To this day, local pagans conduct surreptitious rituals here.
Midsummer Boulevard, which is reputed to line up with the sunrise on Midsummer’s Day, runs into the Centre. In fact the sun actually rises slightly off from the boulevard, but the rumour was actually started by the town planner who designed it. In the real world this is just a bit of fun. In the Dresdenverse, there could be more serious reasons.
When the new wing was built a few years ago, a condition of its construction was to preserve the historic oak tree that was already there. The designers built a court around it, turning it into a feature. Despite this effort, it is none too healthy. It has also been surrounded by concrete cows. There is a plaque in the court saying that these are the Concrete Cows, but they are still quite visible in Bancroft, so something strange is going on here.
Themes: Integration of history, magic and architecture, blatant names, hiding in plain sight, commerce, artificial, the tree, the other concrete cows, statuary, the homeless.
A touch of magic: In the Dresdenverse version of Milton Keynes, the tree was preserved because the Summer Court deemed it important and exerted influence to keep it intact. The importance is ostensibly because a very old dryad lives in it, but the real reason is that she guards a weak point between the mundane world and the NeverNever. In fact, this location is so important to both courts of faerie that they have surreptitiously bought the Centre:MK and take turns in managing it. At present Winter is in control, but there are a number of agents of Summer, hidden amongst the city’s homeless community, keeping an eye on the place.
NPC: The Winter Court emissary, currently running the Centre from behind the scenes.
Stony Stratford – Aspect: A place to tell stories
Stony Stratford is an old town on the northern edge of Milton Keynes. It was where the young princes supposedly murdered in the Tower of London by Richard III were captured; it saw combat during the English civil war, with the historic Eleanor cross located there being destroyed in the fighting, and it is the birthplace of the phrase, “A Cock and Bull story”, after the gossip exchanged between two of the pubs on the high street, the Cock and the Bull.
Even today, the town has a very old-fashioned feel to it, with lots of winding little back-streets, and is crammed full of old pubs.
Themes: History, Cock and Bull stories, difficult to get around.
A touch of magic: the pubs of Stony Stratford are still a living grapevine of gossip for the supernatural community. While none of them have the accorded neutral ground status of McAnally’s in Chicago, the general truce in Milton Keynes does prevent all-out warfare from breaking out here, and it’s a good place to find out what the word on the street is.
NPC: The publican of the private drinking club located in the cellar of The Bull.
Elder Gate – Aspect: Gateway to the City
Located at the other end of Midsummer Boulevard from The Centre:MK, and housing the Central Milton Keynes train station, Elder Gate is the first place many visitors to Milton Keynes find themselves. It itself, it’s a pretty unremarkable building, surrounded by offices and covered with reflective glass, but the name hints at its true purpose.
Themes: train station, bus station, mirrors, Elder House, gateway to the city, midsummer, sacred geometry, station manager
A touch of magic: this is the point where the barriers between worlds is weakest. People have been drawn to this spot for as long as there have been people in this land, and they’re not the only ones. The spot is guarded by a mysterious family line of magicians, each known only by the name De la Croix or the title Station Master. Their job is to preserve the sanctity of this place and to stop it being misused or something leaking out and corrupting the town.
NPC: The current Station Master is not a true De la Croix, as the last one abandoned his neutrality and his duties, leaving an emergency stand-in behind. This is a recipe for trouble.
Woodhill Prison – Aspect: Red Court Stronghold
HMP Woodhill, opened in 1992, is a high security prison on the western edge of Milton Keynes. It has housed many of the UK’s most notorious prisoners.
Themes: high-security, microcosm, concrete sheep, secrecy, vampire stronghold
A touch of magic: in the Dresdenverse version of Milton Keynes, the Red Court was central to the creation of the town. They used their influence over mortals to mold the city to what was required, and ended up doing a great service to all, even if it was just in the cause of self-interest. And Woodhill Prison was their ultimate reward.
The prison is secretly run by the Red Court. It operates inside the justice system of the mundane world, but the Red Court use its strong walls to protect their presence in Milton Keynes. The prisoners also make a handy source of food.
NPC: The Red Court emissary to Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes General Hospital – Aspect: White Council Stronghold
As with most towns of its size, Milton Keynes has a large and sprawling general hospital. It also has two psychiatric units tucked around the back of the main buildings, including a secure unit. Also, as with most of Milton Keynes, it is home to some bizarre artwork, including a large totem pole covered with leering faces, right outside one of the psychiatric units.
Themes: Psychiatric units, warren, illness, badly-lit, White Council presence, warped reality
A touch of magic: In the Dresdenverse, one of the psychiatric units is in fact run by the White Council. They use it for the treatment of wizards who have become mentally ill; no mortal hospital is capable of dealing with such a thing. There are rumours, however, that the purpose of the unit is not to treat these wizards but to use them as weapons or power sources for the struggle against the other factions in town.
NPC: Dragdna Voronova, Russian Wizard, old friend of Linden Thorn and now manager of the White Council unit.
Who cares about the city?
Pretty well everyone, and this will take some explaining. Building on the idea that there have been settlements here since prehistoric times, but that Milton Keynes itself didn’t come into being until the late 1960s, we devised a new, secret history.
Simply put, this is the place where the barrier between our world, the NeverNever, Hell and the realms beyond the Outer Gates is weakest. As a result, it has become a nexus, a place of power and a grave risk to humans and supernaturals alike.
Back in neolithic times, wise men and women, along with entities from the NeverNever, worked rituals to keep the gateways stable. Their magic was strong, and while the area was still a natural crossing point between worlds, the barriers would hold and, most importantly, entities from beyond the Outer Gate could not get through. The first De la Croix was created to guard the barriers, although history has lost the name they used before the Normans brought the French language to the land.
Then, during the second world war, everything changed. As has been revealed in recent years, Bletchley Park was the home of the British code breaking effort, and the birthplace of the electronic computer. In the Dresdenverse, there was also a magical component to the work, with scryers and diviners working in an isolated block (called M Block) away from the delicate machines. The intelligence they gathered was also vital to the war effort, and when the Nazis started to use the various magical artefacts that Heinrich Himmler’s Ahnenerbe SS had gathered as weapons, it was M Block that formulated the wards and counter-attacks.
The secret war with Germany escalated, though, and great magical power was required to veil Operation Overlord from Nazi magicians. At this point the wizards in M Block realised they were sitting on one of the biggest magical power sources the world had seen and made the desperate decision to tap into it. While this was a success, it greatly weakened the barriers put in place thousands of years before, and trapped some of the staff of M Block between worlds.
Over the next twenty years, things got worse. The barriers weakened further, and various factions normally hostile to each other found themselves working together to save their very existence. In the end, it was a Red Court vampire who came up with the answer: they would build a great magical grid in the shape of a town, using the principles of sacred geometry, and the various factions would keep a presence there to keep it powered up and the barrier contained. The Red Court took the lead in manipulating naïve mortals into creating the new town of Milton Keynes as this grid.
For the last forty years an uneasy truce has held between the different factions involved. The main players are the Red Court, the White Council, the Summer and Winter Courts of Fae and various clued-in mortals. Members of all these factions meet regularly to try to keep the peace; various smartarses call them The Concrete Council. There is a White Court presence as well, although unofficial, and various other supernaturals come to Milton Keynes to take advantage of the comparative safety, as no one wants to risk starting a war on a powder keg.
More recently, other players have become involved. The British security services have a department that looks after supernatural risks, called The Cleaners. They don’t participate in the Concrete Council, and do not enjoy the same protections that the other players do. They do, however, take action when others are afraid to do so.
There is a small local group of religiously-motivated monster hunters, called The Order of St. Guthlac. They aren’t necessarily as clued-in as they think, and they are dangerous fanatics, but they are also on the side of the angels.
There is also another human faction, calling themselves The Sons of Man. They know of the existence of non-human entities in the world, and see themselves as the protectors of mankind. Their idea of protection involves killing anything that isn’t human. Whereas one could see The Order of St. Guthlac as, for example, Opus Dei, The Sons of Man have more in common with the KKK or Combat 18 in their apporach, and are largely secular.
The current situation in Milton Keynes is a bit like Berlin during the cold war: none of the factions trusts each other and each would happily kill the others if they thought it was safe. There is a lot of politics, backstabbing and scheming, but little open hostility. This does not mean that bad things do not happen; they simply happen when no one is looking.
Who keeps the peace?
The peace is mainly kept by the Concrete Council, but this is a very shaky, tenuous peace. They don’t care about individual transgressions or injustices, only events that could threaten the stability of Milton Keynes.
The Station Master – currently the acting, ersatz De la Croix – acts as a neutral party to guard the barriers themselves and make sure that nothing crosses through that shouldn’t.
The Cleaners take short, decisive action when anything happens to threaten the well-being of the human population or the interests of the British government.
How do normals cope?
Mostly by being completely oblivious to what’s going on. The Concrete Council tries to keep supernatural activity in Milton Keynes as quiet as possible, and an average citizen will rarely see anything too strange happening.
Also, as mentioned, The Cleaners, The Order of St. Guthlac and The Sons of Man take different approaches to protecting the human populace.
What kinds of supernatural communities are there?
We’re covered this in earlier sections, but just to recap:
- The Red Court have a stronghold in Woodhill prison.
- The White Court have a small presence feeding off the inhabitants of The Lakes Estate.
- The Summer and Winter fae both have presences in The Centre:MK, with the Winter Court currently in control.
- The White Council run a psychiatric unit in Milton Keynes General Hospital.