Updated: Jan. 13, 6:49 p.m.
This island is a canonical part of the DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND setting. You can still edit it, but aware that the admins may revert your changes if they don't align with the overall vision of the setting.
Actually a city, one of the biggest in the islands (called Kazzal), carved into the high cliffs that ring a circular bay. Vargas is full of casinos, pirates, merchants, mercenaries and all sorts of trouble. It’s a very popular place.
Size: The island its on is small and nobody every remembers its name.
Population: Anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 souls call Vargas home
Components in this Island
Vargas is a city built around a near-circular bay ringed with high cliff walls. The bay had always provided safe and easily-defended anchorage, but as a harbour it lacked any accessible point within where a ship’s crew could go ashore.
Enterprising folks (some of whom must have been miners in previous lives) discovered a vast network of caves throughout the cliffs, and by developing and connecting these natural caverns, created an entire city, most of which is completely underground. Vargas is lit day and night by immense lanterns, and its subterranean streets ring with merchants’ cries, smiths and other craftspeople plying their trades, and everywhere pirate crews looking to spend their ill-gotten gains. This city is a center of trade among the islands, and among its markets and stalls virtually anything that can be bought is available for sale.
Massive gantries have been built that reach out from the cliff walls to the various anchor posts throughout the harbour, ferrying cargo into the dockside markets. The harbour is always crowded with pirate ships, merchant runners and fishing vessels, and dozens of smaller boats carting passengers to and from the larger ships. Visiting Vargas is truly a dizzying experience.
Some of the more famous locations in the city include The Trike Pit, where mad dinosaur stampede races are held; the Golden Lotus, infamous brothel and casino; and the Flying Market, a vast cavern that is five times deeper than it is wide, and is home to a vertiginous network of cables, catwalks and platforms.
Vargas is run by a Moorage Council whose members are a number of pirate captains and ninja clan leaders who have taken over and act as sort of magistrates running things.
A ship coming into Vargas docks at a pier that it is already assigned. Newcomers are not welcome and may not moor — of course, they can anchor outside the bay and row in to see if a Moorage Council member can be appealed to for sponsorship, but there are no guarantees. Vargas is a city that jealously guards its privileges
There are a dozen or so Moorage Council members, each of whom serves for life (or until other duties call them away, for both pirate captains and ninja masters often have better things to do). Each Council member is allotted a certain number of piers (5 or 6, generally), and they are welcome to sponsor as many captains as they like. Of course, too many sponsored ships may overload the available piers, making the Council look foolish and lose business, so it’s a balancing act.
The Council Members are:
- Master Hisakino
- Master Nobukata
- Grand Master Ying
- Master Takamitsu no-Koregata
- Grand Master Shiro
- Grand Master Butterfly
- Captain Lucian
- Captain Rijanamanya
- Captain Hubert “Red-Eyes” Maxon
- Captain Jame Kibben
- Captain Plum Blossom
- Captain Zhang
These folks work together (and stab each other in the back) to keep the huge money-making machine that is Vargas running smoothly. The position is no sinecure, and a number of former Moorage Council members have been found floating in the harbour when they lost the support of their peers.
Once a year, the members of the Moorage Council of Vargas throw the entire city into madness for three days. This is the Salt Festival.
Each member of the Moorage Council is responsible for some portion of the city, centered on a particular shrine. These shrines are attended to with great care (or not-such-great care, depending on the character of the Council member responsible) throughout the year, and revered for their ability to bring good fortune to their neighborhoods.
The shrines are elaborate wooden structures about the size of a large stagecoach, mostly dressed up to look like Imperial temples with tiled roofs, banners, statues and all sorts of accoutrements and attachments. They’re painted gaudily and often done up with caricatures of local personalities, gold plating and other attention-getting decorations. Each is said to be the home of a local spirit that keeps the neighborhood prosperous and safe. They are housed in large buildings (or caverns, as Vargas is entirely underground), where local folks often come to beg for favours or offers thanks for blessings.
But once a year, the shrines are brought out for the Salt Festival, and the “big race”.
The big race is the highlight of the Salt Festival, and takes place on the last day of the holiday. For the two previous days, each neighborhood prepares their shrine and their race team for the grueling event ahead. In many neighborhoods, “preparing” also means spying on the other neighborhoods and sabotaging their efforts. Things get nasty in this race.
The neighborhoods also throw themselves into preparing the race course. The race passes through every neighborhood (multiple times), and each neighborhood tries to outdo the other in lining the course with decorations, hazards, and entertainment.
The race begins from each neighborhood simultaneously — guns sound throughout the city to mark the starting of the big race.
Each massive shrine is hoisted up onto the shoulders of a dozen or more volunteers, who then stagger along the race course, passing through every part of the city on their way to the harbour. The race is so designed so that shrines end up travelling alongside each other at times, and at times end up trying to force their way through intersections in differing directions simultaneously. The huge wooden structures crash into each other and teeter crazily as the race proceeds.
Of course, spilling one’s shrine to the ground is a terrible humiliation, so the race teams are accompanied by spotters and supporters to pitch in if things get unstable. These bands of fired-up youths typically end up brawling with their counterparts from the other neighborhoods, and the violence and mayhem is all just part of the fun.
Pirates firing off their pistols, ninjas leaping from rooftop to rooftop, and the occasional dinosaur getting carried away in the action is all business as usual during the Salt Festival race.
The race winds down to the one beach on the harbour, where the shrines are carried right into the water (made of wood, they float. Usually) and pushed out to float anchored a spears’-cast from shore. On the float waits whichever Council member won last year (the Salt King or Queen), protected by two hand-picked bodyguards. Race teams have to crash their shrine into the float, then clamber on board and get past the bodyguards to tackle the Salt Monarch.
The whole affair is pretty hard on the shrines, the race teams, the Salt Monarch and pretty much the whole city, so running it once a year is considered sufficient. But people have a whole pile of fun, and for visitors to Vargas, it’s a sight to see.
Elderly and stooped, but still nimble and with a vital gleam in his eye, Master Hisakino presides over Shadow Claw Clan, personally training every ninja in the clan in the art of dealing death.
He is cheerful fellow, small and unremarkable for the most part. People who don’t know him pass right over the smiling old man in the market, and may wonder at the exaggerated courtesy with which he is treated by the locals. Even the toughest, most disaffected gang members bow and give way before the little old man.
Led by the elderly Master Hisakino, the Shadow Claw are a small clan, known for their adherence to strict tradition and a very serious attitude towards swordsmanship.
They focus less on stealth and such tactics and more on straight-up butt-kicking. It’s well known in the streets of Vargas that going up against a Shadow Claw ninja is suicide if you don’t outnumber him at least ten to one.
But they are not a wealthy or influential clan, and despite Master Hisakino’s reputation and position on the Moorage Council of Vargas, the Shadow Claw clan are on the edge of extinction. Being extra-righteous always makes plenty of enemies, and the Shadow Claw don’t make it easy for anyone to like them.
The Glorious Dragon clan, led by showy and infamous Grand Master Shiro, are the most powerful ninja clan in Vargas. They are more like a criminal organization than a ninja clan, however, and run a series of casinos and money-lending scams throughout the city. This is an enormous ninja clan, with hundreds of members, so not everyone involved is actually a criminal or even fully aware of the clan’s more nefarious activities.
Shiro is forever scheming to get rid of the Shadow Claw clan, as their “more ninja than you” attitude really honks him off. But as formidable a swordsman as the Grand Master is, he and his minions are no match for the stern and dedicated warriors of the Shadow Claw clan.
Imagine a vast pit, an abandoned quarry several hundred feet across with a floor of thick churned mud. A long ramp winds down to the mud along three-quarters of the pit’s circumference, wide enough for several massive dinosaurs travel abreast.
Which is lucky, because this is the Trike Pit, home of the most outrageous sporting event in the islands.
Every few months, various members of The Moorage Council and other wealthy citizens sponsor great triceratopses, three-horned riding beasts with savage tempers and tendency to stampede at the slightest provocation, to compete in the wildest race ever conceived.
Each race sponsor enters a riding beast, and also a rider. The riders are famous throughout Vargas and beyond, and treated like high nobility. There is no doubt they are brave, and skilled in a wide variety of arts — for this is a race where not just winning, but simple survival is a question of desperate odds and heroic action.
When the gun sounds, the trikes (the colloquial form of triceratops) are sent stampeding down the ramp. Their riders, not yet on board, must touch a particular stone monument at the top of the ramp, and only then make their way to their designated beast (already in motion), scramble aboard, and then hang on as best they can.
The trikes plunge down the ramp (those that aren’t driven over the side by their maddened herd-mates) and into the mud, plow a wide circle around a massive post in the middle of the pit, and then charge back up the ramp.
The first trike to reach the top of the ramp with an eligible rider (that is, someone who touched the Starting Stone after the gun sounded) on board is declared the winner.
Those familiar with races will note that these rules do not say that the rider who finishes on the winning trike need be the rider who started on that trike. It is common in the race for riders to switch from one trike to another, and bloody duels have been fought on the backs of plunging, bellowing triceratopses as riders seek the honour of guiding the winning trike to the finish.
Some sports boast of having no rules except “No edged weapons.” The Trike Race has not even that much civilization. The riders are each and every one dangerous warriors, skilled acrobats and are, by any reasonable standard, completely insane.
Of course this event is wildly popular.
“The Drunken Beauty” of Vargas, Captain Plum Blossom is the subject of plenty of gossip and rumour. Desired and pitied by many, she is a popular figure amongst the commoners of that city, even if no one really knows who she is or where she comes from.
The truth is Captain Plum Blossom is a former Imperial noblewoman who fled the country after her family was destroyed and murdered by the goons of the East Chamber. Her real name is Lady Pak Xiu-Mei (elegant plum). She runs a small pirate fleet (after being inducted into the Rex brotherhood) and is noted for her savagery towards Imperial crews. Her primary investment in Vargas is her floating tavern, the Serpent’s Nest, where she can often be found when in port, washing away her hard memories in one jug of wine after another.
She used to sail with Jihanna the Demon, and together they terrorized the island waterways. But then they assaulted the wrong ship. They took a ship carrying documents and treasure bound for an official named Pak Siu Ming, a eunuch serving in the East Chamber. Amongst those was a portrait of this worthy fellow which provided Plum Blossom with enough evidence to know the name was no coincidence. Her little brother wasn’t dead. And he was serving the administration that had destroyed their family. In shock, Plum Blossom retired from the seafaring life and bought a place on the Moorage Council ten years ago.
While she remains a formidable captain and has no problems when she is at sea (which happens more and more rarely these days), she is a helpless alcoholic on shore and is almost permanently drunk. Fortunately for her, she has many loyal crew members who stand by her resolutely and look after not only her health but her business dealings. She herself barely knows what’s happening from one day to the next.