Croesus Quarter

Once again, the story of Saskatoon is intertwined with the story of Croesus A. Catsby. Despite his enormous contribution to the city as we know it, he has taken special care to keep his involvement with the city’s development largely under the radar. There is nothing named after him—no museums or office buildings or high streets. The sole exception to this is the Treecross Lanes Housing Project—more commonly known as Croesus Quarter. The Quarter is 2 square kilometers of exactingly-constructed regulation apartment buildings, which at first glance call to mind the architectural stylings of a 20th-century communist state. A closer inspection will reveal a maze of half-hidden criminal dealings, unsolved mysteries, and also a real actual maze.

Croesus Quarter began construction in 2047, after the Saskatoon reconstruction process had begun in earnest. The land—previously the Saskatchewan University admin and development area—was purchased, developed, and leased entirely by Croesus Construction, which by that point had already developed a strong capital base from their investments on Lakeshore Drive. Over the course of the next 3 years, a massive team of almost 2000 workers assembled 221 near-identical buildings across 37 city blocks. Over the first few months, life went on as normal barring a few peculiar rumors; but in 2052, a viral video posted on Chatr revealed the first of Treecross’s many strange secrets: a false wall, concealing a hidden lead-lined compartment some ten centimeters thick, had been discovered in one of the tenant’s rooms.

This first discovery marked the beginning of a decades-long course of discovery which fascinated locals and captured imaginations for almost 50 years. From 2052 to 2098, a small but devoted subculture of urban enthusiasts catalogued over 2300 quirks and faults in Croesus’ Quarter: floors that were several centimeters thicker than those of neighboring buildings; walls that were half a meter to one side; light fixtures that stopped working for 5 minutes at precisely the same time every week. Many of these were initially dismissed as unremarkable deviances in building construction, and attributed to human error; but a portentous number of these revealed such strange things as hidden safes, false walls, and concealed panels in the floor.

This climaxed in 2081, when a hidden cellar beneath the floorboards of one building was discovered to, itself, have a false wall leading to a previously untouched network of hidden tunnels nearly six kilometers long. These tunnels, often terminating in false walls themselves, crisscrossed the whole of the quarter and contained a variety of further-concealed chambers—which were often much larger and more sinister than the ones above-ground. Within these hidden rooms, investigators found evidence of violent struggles; stashes of meticulously-hidden contraband; and in one chilling incident, almost 20 severed heads which all belonged to the same unidentified man.

The final discovery of Croesus Quarter—a relatively unremarkable false wall in the tunnels—was made in 2098, and since then public interest has steadily declined. Today, with the evidence having been scrubbed long ago, the many oddities of the quarter have either been folded into the lives of day-to-day residents, or dedicated in service to a cottage industry of superstitious urban explorers. New explorations into the Quarter’s mysteries are largely confined to online message boards, and a few intrepid locals: it is known that certain doors in the quarter only open in specific sequence, while others are themselves opened; and much research has been collated in regards to this—all possible combinations of doors have been meticulously detailed and tested.

Most of the discussion today chiefly concerns the why surrounding Croesus Quarter, instead of the what. The official line taken by Croesus Construction is that the company’s executive branch had no knowledge of the quarter’s abnormalities. They were blamed in their entirely on Isaac Arthur, the project’s executive foreman. Some two years after the quarter’s completion, Arthur was institutionalized by court order, and treated for schizophrenic tendencies; but while in recovery he was tragically stabbed to death by a fellow patient who went unidentified.

Among conspiracy hobbyists, more scandalous explanations often circulate. One of the most well-known of these is that the tunnels were a secret vault constructed to house illegal liquid assets during the city’s construction; while a more outlandish (yet equally popular) version maintains that the tunnels were constructed on special commission by some shadowy organization. This has often been touched upon in popular fiction—most notably in the conspiracy thriller genre.

Whatever the tunnels’ true intention, they are now often used for a slew of other things: a number of small businesses (schlock vendors, or augmentation clinics of dubious veracity) exist in the honeycomb of hidden chambers; and a number of vagrants will sleep in the corridors themselves during the Winter. Beyond this, though, the quarter has garnered a reputation as a hotbed of unpleasant things: the tunnels are commonly used as temporary storehouses for illegal goods, while the streets and buildings above are known as a bastion of the opioid trade. In 2107, declining property values in the area motivated the Croesus company to sell their leases on the property in bulk, to a multitude of buyers; and over time, several of the buildings wore down. While the district was briefly revitalized from 2230 to 2270 by a wave of neo-bohemian lifestylers, it soon sank into its previous state as a neighborhood of normal people just trying to make ends meet.

Life in Croesus Quarter

The Croesus Quarter of today is, at the absolute most, serviceable. It is glum, utilitarian, and utterly displeasing to the eye—even after its brief artistic resurgence. Each of its 221 buildings share identical grey-and-black facades, constructed in homage to the 20th-century modernist style. Each building is 13 stories tall and 117 meters wide, each containing 169 different 20 square meter apartments—a pathetically small space, which would have been unheard of before I-day. On the ground floor of each, 7 apartments are arrayed in a solid line against one wall, directly opposite the entrance, with 3 more apartments on either side of said entrance. On higher floors, this plan is repeated; but the empty space, instead of an entrance, is set aside for a commons area. The stairs and utilities for each floor are located at the end of the hallways formed by the space between the apartments, so that the hallways each resemble a squashed letter T.

The cost of living in the quarter is roughly what one expects from downtown Saskatoon. Lease rates rarely dip below 8000 a month, but as a rule do not climb higher than 15000; meaning that 2 people working full-time jobs can happily afford an apartment between them. This, for a building with running heat and water, is an incredible bargain; and so the quarter has been more or less filled to capacity since its creation. Its 4 great banes are its lack of subway access, lack of elevators, narrow streets, and infamously thin walls. The lattermost of these is so commonly known that it has been joked about in movies and stand-up comedy; while the first 3 have kept the rent low and engendered a stereotype regarding the considerable girth of the residents’ thighs.

The streets between the buildings are so notoriously difficult to navigate that motorists almost unanimously avoid the quarter. While they are technically double-laned, they are significantly thinner than most other streets, and suffer from accursedly tight intersections. At the time, this was meant as an expression of new urbanism—the idea that the quarter, along with Hope Point, would form a self-contained walkable neighborhood. As anyone who’s ever been in downtown traffic will tell you, that went over like a lead balloon.

During the 2100s renaissance, the quarter enjoyed a rich and vibrant street life; but with its decline into obscurity this slowly withered away into nothing. Today, the street life consists entirely of a particularly large vagrant population: the tall buildings and narrow streets do a remarkable job of keeping the windchill at bay, making it an attractive prospect for the residentially challenged.

USING CROESUS QUARTER

Croesus Quarter provides several tools to the enterprising game master. It can be an ideal setting for downtime and danger scenes alike, while requiring little preparation but allowing for a very great deal of it.

As The Players’ Lodgings If you are running a campaign, it is a popular move to put the players in financial difficulty at the start. An excellent way to establish their dire straits is to have them quartered in Croesus Quarter: perhaps as neighbors, or even sharing a single pitifully small apartment. The poor living conditions and the threat of missing rent can provide an excellent impetus for a life of crime. Contrarily, the cramped space can subtly reinforce the idea that the players are dependent upon each other and help to foster a healthy team dynamic.

As a setting for action! The cramped quarters and dark hallways of Croesus Quarter can make for some incredibly tense moments. Combat inside an intact building will become a dangerous game of ducking and diving between the small rooms and narrow corridors, where limited avenues of movement will force players to manage sight lines and make heavy use of smokescreens, shields, or portable walls. Fighting on the streets, or inside one the crumbled buildings, can plunge the players into a less strict engagement where crumbled walls and open windows offer new sightlines or movement paths through the claustrophobic battlefield. The tunnels below are a tangled web of tight corners and hidden hallways, where characters cannot easily evade each other. Here, the players can be forced into a dangerous high-stakes game of cat and mouse; or baited into a melee where retreat is not an option.

Sample Prompts: The players are conducting a drug deal on one of the upper floors of an apartment, and discover they have been double-crossed: they are pinned down in the middle of the floor while opposition floods in from either side! Pinned between two walls of police, gangsters, or both, they’ll have to think fast if they want to escape. Will they improvise a clever escape, fight their way out, or take advantage of the crossfire?

Heavily-augmented assassins are loose in the quarter, and out for the players’ blood. The players will have to take advantage of the short sight lines and corners to escape detection, and turn the tables on their pursuers. Gang warfare has broken out between two neighboring buildings! All up and down the façades, people are taking potshots at their neighbors—are the players involved with one side, or are they just trying to get some shut-eye while their obnoxious neighbors noisily murder each other? Either way, they’re going to stop it—by any means necessary!