An Itinerant Screwball's Guide to Death Valley
Contained in this document is much of the common knowledge and proper nouns your character knows. The human geography and material conditions of Death Valley is pretty complex, so all the items are listed in order of importance.
Fifty kilometres of slag heap strewn with Yu’vath archaeoscrap so irradiated it’ll never be gobbled up by the Trantor Metrosprawl to the west. That’s Death Valley, flanked north and south by Mount Spite and The White Wake. It’s cut in half by The Spite Shower, a river formed by meltwater from Mount Spite and named by settlers whose first and only language was Low Gothic. The Spite Shower snakes down east, taking on a sicklier green glow until it pools into the vast Lake Spite.
The northern bank is settled, tended to by subsistence farmers living in the hills, but close to and south of the river is a riot of mutation and chaotic wonder known as the Rad Forest. There free forming uranium deposits sprout into great trees and clans of Haz Stalkers clash against twist bandits for lost technology hidden beneath the overgrowth. It’s the Radspite Combine’s sanctioned duty to harvest the uranium of Death Valley and meet a ravenous demand from The Death Hives of Guelph. Their refinery rests along the shore of Lake Spite, and business has been booming for the past millennium.
If it weren’t for Death Valley’s mineral wealth, not a foot would tread there. Almost all boots on the ground are offworlders. Spite Showers, a settlement built into the falls of Mount Spite, houses more than five thousand of them. It’s a mining hub purpose built to claw Murite out of Mount Spite. Murite is a psychoactive mineral that serves in warp rites and as an active ingredient for Spook, an arcane combat drug. It’s valuable in the extreme, enough to underpay its harvesters. While Murite can come in deposits, it’s found in the guts of derelict Yu’vath machines.
The monstrous pleasure world of Ghibelline maintains a monopoly on offworld shipping and distribution. With their rival, Guelph, hungry for uranium from nearby and suborned Radspite, things can get tense at the best of times. Functionaries from both planets populate the rockcrete upper stratrum, as well as a variety of guilders schooled in contract law at offworld institutions, while much of the population slaves away a hundred metres below them.
The mining of the stuff is deadly business. Warp Pox runs rampant, as does Rustlung and other respiratory cancers, while Everything from covens of sorcerers the Yu’vath’s lost toys lurk in the tunnels. Licensing on hunting equipment is lax, and back when the Murite Miners Union’s collective bargaining was stronger, it was even subsidised. Giant Norvegicus Sapiens are the most common and will come at the miners’ uparmed Goliath Trucks twenty strong in the least.
Geodes are humanoid Murite constructs. They’re psychic entities made sapient through dark rituals and pressed into centuries worth of debt to cover their component costs. In the millennia and change that Spite showers has been occupied by offworld interests, some Geodes haven’t worked it off, while luckier ones chipped their dermis “for only a century” and gloat about having “made it.” The class divide is sharp. Some, like the Commandante, are literally statuesque, sculpted from the finest artisans Ghibelline and The Ragged Helix has to offer. Others like the current foreman of the Murite Miners’ Union get routinely mistaken for a raw deposit.
They form a sizable section of Spite Showers working and administrative classes, kept competing amongst themselves and the human population so that neither can focus on their mutual struggle. Much of the Commandante’s power comes from driving a wedge between the human and Geode populations and mediating the confusion. Factions within The Laughing Skulls rightfully recognise that the Geodes’ struggle is theirs, but Imperial enculturation makes things difficult at the best of times. The fact that Radspite is human-dominated makes matters worse.
The lambent radiation in Death Valley does terrible things to Geodes lacking the proper equipment. Some turn into horrifying plutonium elementals on the spot. But only from Death Valley. Nothing else affects them in the slightest.
The Commandante might be the first Geode in existence, going back before Spite Showers founding. A fair bit of the Sorrowspires oral history and waystones speak of a warp-hued monster with a thick mineral hide that fed on the blood of the helpless. It’s good for a chuckle between shifts, but only in hushed tones. The Commandante is equal parts the dictator of a military junta and a minor celebrity with a rabid following.
They’re a face that’s hard to forget, precision sculpted for the trid screen, dressed in distinctive post-Imperial chic cultivated over the course of several centuries, and bearing an expression as at ease organising a death squad as hosting a function. The Commandante styles themself as walking a golden path between Ghibelline and Guelph with a society of panache and cold callous profit. They promise Ghibelline high culture right within your grasp and Guelphan efficiency to make it earned. Everything they have, the unwashed masses can too, if they prove themselves to their Commandante. Theirs is a slick hustle that plays the egoism of Vortex natives and the hierarchical obsessions of Imperial expats. When it fails, there’s the rack and the firing squad.
Ghibelline is ruled by the Meinloka Clan, which ruled Guelph when the two worlds shared the same star before the Fall of the Eldar. Its main export is advanced weapons of war, especially sonic prayers to She Who Thirsts, as well as a dirt-cheap labour force always outputting expensive product at undercutting costs. The Meinlokas have the planet federated in a dizzying number of districts with their power consolidated through the Libertine Council and the crown Emperor at its head. Their current ruler is Beneus IV, who’s goaded the Council towards an endless pursuit of new and novel imports.
It’s said that the Council’s constant intriguing and internal strife forces the Meinlokas to hustle and grind like demigods, but any Sslyth working security detail can tell you that’s a joke. Through a regime of neural implants, psychic conditioning, and infinite layers of pure monarchal ideology, the Meinlokas’ subjects behave as an extension of their liege’s body. Even when their lordlings are at complete leisure, their thralls work themselves to the bone scheming on their behalf, lest the servants inconvenience their masters and face immediate biological dissolution.
The current Meinloka holding Spite Showers’ Murite compact is Lady Lyubov of the District of Helix Tesseract, who conducts her business through her cloned sisterhood of Council Agents, whether that business be finance, subterfuge, or targeted paramilitary action.
Ghibelline’s rival in the galaxy’s most unrequited arms race. Unlike Ghibelline, Guelph was shunted downwind of its native star and its ecology was destroyed beyond repair. In the wake of mass rioting and resource shortages, and with the Ur-Lord Meinloka suspecting his royal advisors played a hand in ruining his homecoming to Ghibelline, Guelph industrialised to a radical centralised economic scheme and mulched its noble class for fertiliser. They still prepare to mulch the one on Ghibelline, but it’s been a work in progress, with millennia worth of setbacks and desperate pacts to Nurgle. More atomics are necessary. Far more.
In reaction to the Meinlokas’ aggressive territorial and industrial expansion over the past half-millennia, the Ministry of Defence and the Folgrat Revolutionary Guard retaliated with a widespread campaign of mutual aid and resource denial. For tenuous regions like Death Valley, it’s meant centuries worth of agent provocateurs trying to wrest Radspite out of The Commandante’s hands and deliver it into the Commissaries’. The Radspite Combine wouldn’t object, but aid’s meagre at best. Ministry of Defence policy pushes in one direction while the All-Union Supply Corps fights back to keep the uranium coming. There’s been sightings of the Kimigstad Brotherhood of Warpsmiths poking through the Yu’vath ruins whenever infighting between Radspite and The Commandante is at its highest, inaugurating the situation as a true circus.
The Laughing Skulls
For the past five years, Radspite was guarded by this warrior lodge. They were, and still to an extent are, led by a Plague Marine known as End-of-Days. They subscribed to a philosophy called The Purge, which is everything your drunk Imperial expat uncle thinks Nurglites are about. It scans. Many of The Skulls are broken Margin Crusade veterans venting their pet traumas and keeping up their combat stimm addictions. Seeing these screwups become one of the biggest forces for change in the region is cause for concerned awe.
The former guard among their ranks train and instruct any recruits they can get their hands on, forging them into paramilitants a cut above your average reaver crust punk. Meanwhile the unionites under their protection spread “The Word” of syndicalism without fear of truncheoning. They’ve since moved from The Purge to a syncretic jumble of Nurglite resignation and Thorian liberation theology. Like anything wielded by a guardsman it’s rough, ready, and reliable. Their word’s sunk into the Murite Miners Union and none of the Commandante’s riot suppression can extract it.
They have no demands, only items to implement once their vanguard overwhelms Spite Showers and shatters the Commandante into shard dust. Not an easy task when they numbered fifty guardsmen and two hundred militant menials at the start of the conflict and the Commandante’s switch from company scrip to Ghibelline livres whittled them down to half strength. However, The Skulls cut their teeth fighting asymmetrical and psychological wars in the crusade’s Greyhell Front and know how to outmanoeuvre the Commandante’s thugs. Their de-facto leader, Rike, is an ex-Throne Agent and Kriegsmarine medic. She’s an obvious Guelph plant, but too immune to administrative subtext to follow their script.
Many of the planetary natives consider Death Valley to be a cursed land, one haunted by forbidden machines and malign warp radiation. They’re correct. The only clans who break this pact are the Great Confederacy of The Sorrowspire, a people in exile in the mountain ranges surrounding Death Valley from a mysterious catastrophe that created all the radiation below.
The Sorrowspires have a vested interest in ousting offworld elements like Spite Showers and reclaiming what’s theirs. They’re in talks with The Laughing Skulls toward that end. It’s tenuous business, to be called when The Skulls can manipulate some archaeotech that Rike and a few other unruly “comrades” have been infighting over. For the time being, their alliance means that the average capra-herder on the northern bank of The Spite Shower takes some time out of their day to pothole and heap scrap on the roads leading into Radspite. That alone’s allowed the Skulls to secure territorial dominance in the contested part of the valley.
The Lunar Protectorate
The Lunar Protectorate is a recent player among the powers of the Vortex. It’s a collection of void stations and colonies under the ownership of the Black Legion Terminator Lord known as Iron Blooded Tarkus and his Crescent Lodge. Tarkus rules what’s at best called a constitutional monarchy and at worst a postfeudal administrative nightmare abandoned to his grieving over the death of Horus. The upper and lower houses of the Lansraad keep the Great Crusade spirit of hypermeritocracy and wanton imperialism alive. The Protectorate maintains a stranglehold in the service sector and has a constant demand for cheap and expendable labour from outside the imperial center. They’re obsessed with individual initiative and excellence, and they see unrestrained void commerce as its purest expression. If you have business, The Protectorate will get up in it. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Behind its overtures of personal liberty, The Protectorate has a dirty open secret. The Lupercal, the Protectorate’s main currency, is valued on the price of slaves sold to and emancipated by the state, a holdover practice from Tarkus’ early conquests. This ties the stability of Tarkus’ domain with the viability of the slave trade. While your average Lunar living in the core maintains a comfortable state of middle-class existential unease, The Protectorate enforces the instability abroad with a ceramite plated boot. Trantor, a metrosprawl west of Death Valley, is their largest foothold in Corpus V. Even in Death Valley, the Protectorate’s presence can be felt since they own many of the roads. The Trantor Highway Patrol prowls them, enforcing their remit to combat Death Valley’s groundbike gangs by levying spot fines at gunpoint.