Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Cities of Fantasy: Dunwall

Dunwall is a sprawling, industrial city located on the south coast of the island of Gristol. Dunwall has existed for centuries, dominating the whale oil trade around the Isles, but in recent decades it has grown in importance and become the capital city of the Empire of the Isles, spanning the major islands of Tyvia, Morley, Gristol and Serkonos. It is a city riven by internal strife between the aristocratic class and the workers, which has led to violence and, occasionally, outright rebellions.

Dunwall is located on the south coast of Gristol, at the mouth of the enormous River Wrenhaven as it twists and turns before meeting the Ocean. The city commands the head of a wide bay opening out into a gulf formed by Gristol to the north and the island of Serkonos to the south. Regular ferry services run across to the city of Bastillan a few dozen miles to the south-west on the north coast of Serkonos.

Physical Description
Dunwall sprawls across approximately twenty square miles. The city is cut in two by the Wrenhaven. There are three significant bridges in the western part of the city, but in the east there is only Kaldwin's Bridge, which is tall enough to allow large ships to pass underneath it. Frequent ferry services run between the north and south sides of the river in the eastern part of the city.

Draper's Ward, the Clock Tower, the Boyle Mansion, the Estate District, the Old Waterfront, Tower District, Dunwall Tower and Coldridge Prison are located in the northern part of the city. The High Overseer's Office, Slaughterhouse Row, the Legal District, the Golden Cat, the Distillery District, the Hound Pits Pub, the Old Port District, the Chamber of Commerce and the Rudshore Financial District (aka the "Flooded District") are located in the southern. Also significant is Kingsparrow Island, topped by an enormous lighthouse, located several miles out into the bay.

Other locations include the Civil Service District, Tailors' District, Dunwall Water District, the Rust District,

The Mutcherhaven District is located to the north of the city, outside the old city walls on the river. The infamous Brigmore Manor is located here. The New Mercantile District is also located in this region.


An ancient civilisation once existed on Gristol, more than four thousand years ago. The fate of this civilisation is unknown (but may be linked to the Great Burning, an ancient cataclysm which marked the beginning of the modern calendar), although it is known to have practiced black magic. One of the consequences of this magic was the apotheosis of a young man to become the Outsider, a trickster being of formidable power. Three thousand years later another kingdom or empire arose on Gristol which worshipped the Outsider as a god and created numerous magical trinkets or artifacts. The destruction of this empire saw many of these artifacts thrown into the sea. Over centuries, many of these totemic items have washed back up in Dunwall.

Modern Dunwall began as a small whaling village. It rapidly grew in size and prestige, it's strategic location seeing it attract huge amounts of traffic from passing ships. The town's centralised location behind sturdy walls and located on bluffs towering some 125 feet above the surrounding territory meant it was very difficult to attack, and it slowly began to expand in military power and prestige.

Within a few centuries Dunwall had come to conquer all of the island of Gristol. Its economic power became indomitable and it came to command all trade on the southern seas, to the irritation of some of the other cities. The sea lanes to the north are harder to traverse and downright dangerous in winter, when icebergs can threaten ships, so Dunwall's dominance of the southern sealanes became a major problem. Finally, approximately 1,620 years after the Great Burning, the four islands fell into warfare. Gristol's economic and military might, not to mention its huge population, saw it win the War of the Four Crowns in 1625; Tyvia, Morley and Serkonos surrendered and accepted Gristol's rule. Finlay Morgengaard I was duly crowned Emperor of the Empire of the Isles in 1626.

The Empire's power was further consolidated by the rise of a state religon, the Abbey of the Everyman, which was founded in Dunwall in 1701. Dunwall had formerly been a religiously tolerant city, but the Abbey brooked no opposition, deeming all followers of other gods and creeds as heretics (and reserving a special hatred for the Outsider). Under the leadership of the first High Overseer, John Clavering, the Abbey led the Rectification War, cleansing the cities of Gristol of heresy. The war ended in 1708 with the Siege of Whitecliff. In 1711 Emperor Yefim Olaskir decreed that the Abbey was now the State Religion of the Empire.

By the end of the century the Empire had further consolidated its power and began the widespread exploitation of Morley, particularly its mines and its fertile fields. The people of Morley came to feel mistreated by the Gristolians, and were particularly resentful of the Abbey forcing their beliefs on them. In 1801, enraged by religious strife, famine and oppression, the people of Morley rose up in rebellion. They launched a military uprising which caught the imperial forces by surprise and secured territory on Morley before launching attacks on Gristol. Rebels from Morley managed to infiltrate Dunwall and assassinated Empress Larisa Olaskir in a surprise attack; the reprisals by the Empire were swift and terrifying.

The rebellion ended after two years, the Empire proving victorious due to its superior navy and vastly superior resources. Several cities in Morley were destroyed and there were widespread atrocities. Famine swept the island and thousands died, hundreds of thousands more fleeing to other islands. It would be generations before Morley would begin recovering from the rebellion, and the lesson of what happened to those who defied the Empire was not lost on the other islands and cities.

By 1810 the Empire had begun explorations of the vast Pandyssian supercontinent located several months' travel to the east of the Empire of the Isles. Exploitation of that landmass proved impractical due to both the vast travel times and also to the continent's own hostility, particularly down to the plagues which seemed widespread there. In addition, the Outsider, relatively quiet for centuries, took a sudden interest in those who had travelled to Pandyssia and returned.

In 1825 Jessamine Kaldwin became Empress of the Isles. A trusting and honourable ruler, Jessamine was concerned with justice, fairness and ruling for all of the citizens of the Isles, not just the aristocracy and merchants. Her willingness to stand up for the poor and to try to improve their lot, as well as an apparent coolness to the ruthlessness of the Abbey of the Everyman, soon won her a lot of enemies in the Empire. Kaldwin was protected by a bodyguard, Corvo Attano, a warrior without compare, and advised by Hiram Burrows, the Royal Spymaster, whose ability to root out plots against her was legendary.

Eventually, Burrows turned against the Empress, apparently distraught by her trusting nature, her refusal to take a husband, and the fact that the Empire seemed destined to pass to Jessamine's daughter Emily, a bastard born of unknown parentage. In 1835 the Rat Plague struck Dunwall, killing thousands, and Jessamine's response to the crisis was insufficient; in 1837 Burrows commissioned the assassin Daud to kill the Empress and frame her Royal Protector, Corvo Attano for the deed. Attano was imprisoned in Coldridge Prison whilst Burrows assumed the mantle of Lord Regent and imprisoned Emily Kaldwin.

In events that are now well-known, there was a popular uprising against the Lord Regent, Burrows was killed (betrayed, in part by Daud, who came to bitterly resent what he had done) and Corvo Attano, aided by the Outsider, rescued Emily and restored her to the rule of the Empire. Fifteen years later, in 1852, the now-adult Emily was deposed by the Brigmore Witches. Aided by Corvo Attano, now confirmed to be her father, Emily escaped to the southern city of Karnaca, gathered resources and allies and then retook her throne.

Origin and Influences
Dunwall is the primary location of the 2012 video game Dishonored and its expansions, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches (both 2013). It also appears at the start and end of Dishonored 2 (2016) and in its stand-alone expansion Dishonored: The Death of the Outsider(2017)

Arkane Studios created the Dishonored franchise for their new owners Bethesda, wanting to create and develop a new video game series in which players were given objectives but also total freedom on how to achieve those objectives, either with blood and violence or stealth. They were heavily inspired in structure by both the Deus Ex and Thief video game series, which had been dormant for many years when development began. New instalments in both series surprisingly arrived during and after development of Dishonored.

The visual design of the city of Dunwall was led by Viktor Antonov, who had created the starkly beautiful City 17 for the classic 2004 video game Half-Life 2. Whilst City 17 was inspired by crumbling post-Soviet Eastern European and Russian cities, Dunwall was inspired by Victorian London. Indeed, the first design document for Dishonored had it set in the real London of 1666, the last year of the plague and on the eve of the Great Fire. This shifted when the designers decided to incorporate elements of magic and steampunk design, but not before Antonov had visited London and Edinburgh and taken substantial amounts of photographs to help inform the later design of the game.

During development, the city of New Crobuzon (from China Mieville's Bas-Lag novels, most notably Perdido Street Station) was cited as a strong inspiration. The City, the steampunk setting for the Thief trilogy of video games, was also an influence on both the design of Dunwall and the gameplay. Although the game originally had a historical setting, the decision to move to a fictional one resulted in the designers creating a substantial amount of lore and worldbuilding for the game.

Dishonored was released in 2012 to immense critical acclaim, which only continued with its expansions and sequel, the latter set in the more Mediterranean-influenced city of Karnaca. It is assumed that Arkane will return to the setting with more games.

See also: Dunwall at Dishonored Wiki.

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Brett said...

Any guesses on how big the Isles are supposed to be? Pandyssia looks enormous (super-continent-sized) on the in-game globes, but it's virtually impossible to find the Isles on them.

Jens said...

Your Cities of Fantasy series is a great idea has been executed in the excellent fashion I've grown used to on your site.
That said, I'd have one suggestion: Given that not everybody will be familiar with all the different settings, did you consider adding some info at the beginning of these essays to which fictional universe these cities belong?
Maybe it's just me but I wanted to know what kind of beast Dunwall is and was scrolling through pretty much the entire essay until I got the info I was looking for ("from the video game Dishonored") in the last chapter.
Just a thought. ;-)