Street numbering in Istallia

Dear R––,

I know that at the end of our last Fall of Magic campaign, you told me (paraphrased):

I would like to play this game again, but I don’t know I’ll be able to because I don’t think it’ll ever be as good as that game.

I’m writing this because I want to tell you that - as long as you find a group of folk who’re on the same wavelength as you - you’ll play games as good as that.

There’s a few games that I come back to time after time. Some systems, like Apolcalypse World and Dungeon World, came along right as I was entering that halcyon time back in University where you could be in three campaigns at once and not even sweat. I played them so much that their systems and mechanics are like second nature to me. I return to them because I want to tell a story, I want to author something for my friends, and my hands have formed calluses around these systems, they know how to turn the rules to do the thing I want, and when and how to ignore them and let them fade to the background.

And then there’s games whose core premise is so gripping, so interesting, so worth revisiting, that I’ll run them again and again, interacting with them in different ways, letting things rhyme, stealing bits from previous games and incorporating them into the next, and just steeping in them. Games like [Society of Dreamers], games like [Fall of Magic].

I could tell you about all the things our group has explored - about the golems and their weird trance-link mindlinks; about the culture of the Foxes of Mistwood, how they’ve been run out of their home and had to set up subcommunities elsewhere, and their share religions; about the Barley Lord and his annual immolation; about our awkward teenage love triangles aboard the Sea Wing - but these kind of things, momentous or detailed world-building, tend to lose something on retelling.

Instead, I remember some of the diversions we had in our campaign - the fifteen-minute discussion about the statue in the Market Square - and thought you might like to know a similar thing that came up in our game, about how street numbering works in Istallia.

The great city of Istallia can be divided into three major districts, arranged like a set of concentric circles. The largest is the Outer City, sandwiched between the Old and New Walls, the most populous and diverse of the districts. Inside of this is the Inner City, the old city, reformed and re-reformed through the pet projects of a number of successive rulers, and home of the rich and powerful, as well as the esteemed Starfall Academy. And inside that, the Gilded District, the home of the Gilded One herself.

Istallia has always grown in layers. New growth occurs on the edges, and as the edges creep out, the old boundaries become roads and alleyways. Over time, ambitious rulers will tear up the houses along these desire paths to widen them, properly pave them, and turn them into roads worthy of the name.

The issue with the ring roads (and they are important enough and numerous enough to earn their own moniker) is that it’s not just their structure that’s ad-hoc. Street numbering along the roads is a topic of discussion, ridicule, and sometimes even pride from residents. As the streets are formed organically and according to demand, the numbering system is usually agreed upon by residents as required - which means the “start” of the street could actually be anywhere along the circumference of the city. In some cases, the process of paving and widening the ring roads will also result in merging several roads, all of which started at different points along the city’s boundary, and renumbering from whichever road is the largest and busiest.

Even when the city is given the chance to renumber its roads, though, the numbering system varies from road to road. Street number 1 on one ring road may be halfway across the city from street number 1 on its neighbouring road, and the two roads may even be numbered different ways (that is, one ring may go clockwise, and the other anticlockwise). It’s a common trope for a tourist to spend an afternoon wandering a ring road with a map, trying to find the house of a friend.

For the residents of Istallia, the inconsistent numbering scheme is just something to be lived with. People learn how each ring road works and unconsciously remember where each road “starts”. But as Istallia grew and become more of a destination for tourists over the past century, successive rulers have identified the confusing ring road system as something worthy of reform.

Theron of Istallia was Gilded One - that is, ruler of Istallia - many decades ago. Of note to us, he completed his full education at Starfall Academy, and this kind of academic rigour, slightly divorced from reality, tinged his decisions as a leader. It was his idea to try to bring some sort of order to the ring road’s haphazard numbering system. Unfortunately, his plans ultimately made the numbering more confusing, as he was unable to see things through.

Theron attempted this system through a city-wide decree, to be enacted over the years by the city’s council, that outlined strict rules that the roads would follow. Those roads which did not obey would gradually be brought into line, houses renumbered, some torn down - the argument being that a little disruption now would pay dividends down the line.

The first two sections of the decree were somewhat arbitrary but uncontroversial - first, street number 1 for every ring road would be the easternmost property on the road, and second, every ring road would have street numbers going up as the road turns anticlockwise. This was the kind of analytical thinking Theron inherited from his lecturers at the Academy.

But the third section was unintuitive, divisive, and eventually caused the scheme to be canned. It was brought in to settle another, related, issue that always came up with the ring roads - as you went further out from the centre of the city, the ring roads had to cover a longer and longer distance. As this happened, the number of houses on each road increased, and the highest number on the road increased as well. The inner-most ring roads may only have a few hundred houses on them, but by the time you reached the outskirts of the Outer City, roads would have a thousand or more houses on them.

In an attempt to make navigation easier for tourists, Theron decreed that the highest number for any property would be 360 - this being the house just clockwise from the easternmost house (which is, of course, numbered 1). The numbers would mimic the degrees in a circle, with house number 90 being the northernmost house on the road, 180 being the westernmost, and 270 the southernmost. This was no issue for the smaller streets -