While peering ahead through the horizontal vacancy between the main-top-sail and top-gallant-sail, he raised a gull-like cry in the air. "There she blows!—there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill!"Legends abound of the town of the City of Stove Boats, the Whaler's Grave, the Barnacle-Town. The town is known by many such names, but one is used above all else: Gamburg. A rather appropriate name, for what is a gam but a meeting of ships, and what is the town but a great gam out on the waves, floating on the back of every ship's common quarry.— From an unnamed sailor's journal
The Great WhaleGamburg's most striking feature is the location upon which it is built. The town does not rest on soil, nor stone, nor clay, but on the living flesh of the great white whale, Wrong John. Miles long in all dimensions, the cetacean titan glides lazily along the surface of the Pariah's Tides, back baking in the sun, as the inhabitants of Gamburg scramble around on its back. Though labeled as the "white whale," Wrong John's skin is not actually white. Instead, it is the thick layer of bleached coral and dead barnacles that encrust its body that give it that alabaster hue. This armor of pallid corpses is so thick, in fact, that there are few places where the Wrong John's actual flesh can be accessed. The inhabitants of Gamburg come to the cursed place for one reason, and one reason only: to kill the very whale the town rests on. Indeed, it is thought that the only way one can find Gamburg is if one has such a goal. Throughout the Pariah's Tides, there exists a terrible affliction, known as the Whaleman's Creed, which encourages its victims to hunt and kill the creatures of the sea. It is this affliction that eventually guides them toward Wrong John and Gamburg, where they spend the last of their days trying to kill the massive beast. Not all of Gamburg is populated by these Creed-wracked, and they are in fact outnumbered ten to one by their crews and those others who come to the town for trade or some other reason. Still, even those not afflicted by the Whaleman's Creed often share their captain's goals of killing Wrong John, even if they don't share their supernatural urge to do so. This is, of course, not exactly an easy task. Wrong John is gigantic, which already makes killing it rather difficult. But even so, the greatest of giants can still be felled with enough work. Wrong John, however, is no ordinary giant. Its body heals at a prodigious rate, and even great craters blasted into its flesh by explosives heal in a matter of hours. This certainly doesn't stop the Creed-wracked from attempting, however, and over time an entire town devoted to Wrong John's slaughter has encrusted its back, like a great wooden barnacle.
FlotsamEvery Creed-wracked arrives at Gamburg in the same way. After seeking the whale out, they blindly ram their ship into it and anchor their harpoons into its armor, firmly attaching ship to whale. From then, either their ship is dashed to pieces, or they miraculously manage to hold on and the ship becomes a part of Gamburg, instead of its wreckage being repurposed in various constructions. Luckily for the Creed-wracked, their ships, like them, are made of sturdier stuff than others, and most of the time both survive. Surviving whole, on the other hand, is another thing. The City of Stove Boats is a rather accurate nickname, for no ship in Gamburg is truly whole. Each one is ruined on its introduction to Gamburg, and later further repurposed into more of a home (or other building) than a ship. Each one, however, is still more or less seaworthy. Or, if not seaworthy, it can at least float without too much leakage. This is because of a certain event which occasionally occurs in Gamburg: a Dive. A Dive occurs, as one might expect, whenever Wrong John decides to dive below the waters of the Pariah's Tides, whatever its inscrutable reasons for doing so might be. Some believe that it feeds down there, but what could possibly satisfy the hunger of such a mammoth whale? (Yes, mammoth whale, I know it's confusing, I'm running out of words for big so you can just shut up.) Regardless of its motivations, a Dive is a tumultuous time for the residents of Gamburg. Few, even the Creed-wracked, are courageous (read: foolhardy) enough to try and cling directly to the whale as it dives, and those who do are typically never heard of again. Instead, most opt for the only slightly less dangerous option of reeling out their harpoons and allowing their shoddy excuses for ships to be pulled along on the surface of the Pariah's Tides. Many unprepared or unlucky souls are often lost during every Dive, as they fail to make it to their ships in time or their vessels are lost, either dislodged from the whale's back or reduced to splinters. Even those who survive do not make it out unscathed, as Gamburg is never the same after a Dive as it was before. Ships don't stray too far from where they are anchored, but lines are often tangled, resulting in ships being switched around all over, and streets — or the closest thing to them Gamburg has — are rearranged entirely.
A Brisk TradeUnfortunately for the residents of Gamburg, one cannot survive on only what Wrong John has to offer. Most arrive with nothing, their supplies almost entirely if not all the way gone, their ships already half-sunk. A bit can be repurposed here and there; sails make excellent makeshift clothing, and barnacles aren't half bad once you get past the shell. But for the most part, they are left destitute. Their Creed-wracked captains will be fine, but starvation will soon set in for those not unnaturally bolstered by the Creed. This is where the Boatman comes in. He is a mysterious figure, but he somehow appears to be capable of navigating to and from Wrong John with ease, something which cannot be said for others. It is thought that only the Creed-wracked can find the way, but no Creed-wracked would ever leave Gamburg of their own free will. He arrives frequently, boat laden with food, cloth, raw materials, assorted tools and supplies, and anything else that the inhabitants of Gamburg would desire. In return, he only asks for one thing: oil. The Creed-wracked may be locked in a neverending quest to slaughter a titanic god-on-earth, but that doesn't mean they can't make a few pennies while doing so. Flenser is the name given to those who seek to bore deep into Wrong John's flesh and extract the valuable substances hidden within. Wrong John's flesh is protected almost everywhere by its bleached armor, but there is one place that remains open: the blowhole. Flensers descend into this cavity, into Wrong John's ever-shifting, alien insides. It's not quite possible to accurately describe what Wrong John is like below the surface. Flensers have tried, and failed, many a time. The most that can be offered is the following quote from an experienced Flenser: "It's meat, mostly." When the Flensers' dangerous work is done, the waxy substance extracted from Wrong John and pressed into oil, the Boatman takes it from them, bottles it up, and repays them with all the supplies they could ever dream of. He also pays exorbitant amounts for certain other materials extracted from the whale, such as any bits of its bone that can be found, but since such things are so very rare he is primarily known as a purchaser of oil. It is unknown what he does with the oil after he leaves, but presumably he sells it.
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I really love the whole concept of this town!