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I can feel the heartbeat underneath the concrete
Just like a kick drum plays
Running in a straight line guided by the street lights
Pushing the dark away

Downwarp is one of the six warps of the Puzzlebox, a run-down metropolis where nothing holds together without effort. Its inhabitants enjoy the challenge, banding together in tribes and scavenging out a satisfying lifestyle by creativity, tenacity, and direct work with the world and powers that surround them.


Imagine, for a moment, that you are standing on a cloud. This cloud is one of many, pillars of ragged thunderheads that rise between two solid cloud decks; one above, and one below. These solid sheets of cloud appear so far away, and so solid, that parallax refuses to betray distance or detail. Instead, one is left only a sense of occupying a dizzyingly large space, clouds stretching to infinity, save a narrow strip of open horizon, in every direction.

Now, replace the thunderheads with buildings in every stage of decay imaginable, composed of rusted metal, fraying concrete and cracked glass. This goes too for the distant clouds above and below: they are actually solid surfaces, gleaming in a palette of textured alloys. An endless, staggeringly large cityscape, buildings of every shape and size, rising from miles below to miles above, that stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction to the distant horizon. All merely a single floor in an even larger, incomprehensibly large skyscraper.

This is Downwarp.

The light of day is always burnished by dust, indirect and indistinct at low angles, permeating from some distant, unseen source and riddled with angular shadows. Sometimes, there is a flash of raw sunlight, reflecting crazily off of some of the larger and more-intact city towers. At night, ancient, crooked streetlights come on everywhere, painting the sky a warm, sodium orange. The loglo from distant streets and towers (and, perhaps, the ill-defined ceiling) stands in for stars.

One might expect a ruined city to be a wasteland, but that's not the case in Downwarp; life here is tenacious, one of the best fighters of entropy there is. It screams defiance through tangled, overgrown parks, vine-carpeted walls, and lot after vacant lot bristling with grass that could be mistaken for wheat. Some inhabitants have even taken up farming, in small rooftop gardens, boulevard strips and a thousand other hangnail plots and makeshift planters.

Visitors from outside the 'Box sometimes recognize streets and landmarks in the ruins of Downwarp, as if the city is formed from fleeting glimpses of a multitude of other cities, all jumbled together. It's not clear how this happens, if the Downwarp versions are copies, actual stolen streets, or even whether the inhabitants sometimes tag along with the architecture. Look hard enough, and you'll find witnesses and evidence for all these interpretations.


Downwarp features several distinct deviations from the baseline Puzzlebox norms, in terms of the motivators and governors of reality. Most notably, entropy appears to run a bit stronger (or at least stranger) in Downwarp. The city seems far more run down than other areas, and despite the theoretically infinite resources available to Downwarp's residents, it remains that way.

Curiously, this also extends to new construction: the bigger and more elaborate a structure, the more likely it is it will quickly wear down to a state of disrepair. This often renders it still useful for some purpose, but never the designer's original intent. The 'pressure' of entropy, the urgency of decay, varies over time in a cycle that ranges from punishingly strong to (relatively) gentle, though never less than 'Box average. This cycle forms the basis for the the local calendar.

The same entropic pressure plays havoc with the instantiator system. While the instantiator is never particularly effective at creating complex objects, in Downwarp it routinely fails at creating anything but raw materials. With a maximum resolution of around one centimeter, the instantiator can create things like iron, silicon and food paste in bulk, but anything more elaborate must either be crafted or salvaged.

Fortunately, Downwarp seems to be a never-ending font of useful salvage. No matter how many times a particular abandoned building or collapsed freeway has been searched, there’s always a chance (however slight) that someone might find something interesting. Salvage is never in pristine condition, however, and there's no guarantee that what someone finds will satisfy their immediate needs. This results in a constant churn of swap meets and flea markets, all brimming with potential treasure. Outwarp researchers have suggested that the robust salvage economy is actually secretly enabled by the instantiation system, creating the salvage unseen and sneaking it into piles of rubble and locked rooms to be found later. Downwarpers, however, scoff at such predictability, relying instead on the adage that "the City provides" to explain the bounties of salvage.

Animism is a common approach to life in Downwarp, and there's more to it than just where salvage comes from. Most inhabitants will at least acknowledge spirits and powers as having a hand in their lives, and some work with them directly. They ask for insight, advice, or even direct intervention and help in their endeavors. As with salvage, skeptical outsiders sometimes put this down to merely being a strange way of accessing the datasphere or Puzzlebox's service daemons, but the response from Downwarpers is that they know perfectly well how to use the datasphere, and an explanation of the difference would be wasted on those casually dismissing such appeals as 'primitive quirks'.


Downwarp's inhabitants are as diverse as anywhere else, running the gamut from organics to technologicals to individuals and gestalts that defy classification. Those completely based on high technology aren't as common, noting that they find it a bit uncomfortable to live in a place that likes to wear things down, but this seems a case-by-case problem rather than a universal issue. Regardless of basis, typical Downwarp personal aesthetic is inclined to the primitive and the technological, usually at the same time, often featuring electro-luminescent body paint and elaborate jewelry made of scavenged computer components.

There is little in the way of large-scale organization, as the ambient ontological decay that prohibits Downwarp's progression into a metropolis also prohibits the development of complex social strata. Large group dynamics don't hold together, but the locals seem quite content to avoid them anyway. Instead, they congregate in small tribes and intentional families, usually with no more than a few dozen members. A tribe will settle down in a particular city block or high-rise floor, building it up according to their own personal aesthetics and letting new members come and go as mood and ideology dictate.

As such, Downwarp factions tend to be fairly loosely affiliated, existing more as general belief systems than organized movements. The two most well-known are the Gridwalkers, urban mystics who believe that everything, natural or constructed, is tied together in a network of willfull energy, and the Eisenstimmen, strong-willed workers devoted to improving their bodies as much as their collectives need, to help them bear the burden of sustaining them.



Opinions provided by Ground-State, Alpha of the Radio Forest tribe

  • Upwarp: Great salvage, as long as you don't either suffocate from the silence or actually try to talk to anyone.
  • Bottomwarp: They know how to throw a party, but you can barely hear anything important.
  • Topwarp: You've worked so hard to refurbish the old into something new, but you haven't bothered listening to what it wants to be.
  • Charmwarp: That sounds like so much work. I'll stick with scraping and scrounging and sculpting.
  • Strangewarp: Wait, what? You actually think that's a real place?

Related Topics


  • Writing
    • Bone Dance, by Emma Bull - One of the best syntheses of magic and technology ever to have been given the label urban fantasy, it's about the search for identity in a ruined future Minneapolis where the Lwa are just as real as the body-hopping psychics.
    • The City, Not Long After, by Pat Murphy - Post-plague urban collapse narrative involving San Francisco housing a collective of dreamers and artists, defending it against militaristic invaders via creative and surreal means.
  • Music
    • Burial - Dark as a city-wide blackout, but with rich and complex layers of bass and modified vocal samples that are never boring to listen to. It's been called dubstep, but it's like no other dubstep you've ever heard.
    • The KLF - Down-and-dirty situationist house musicians who'd rather burn a million pounds on a beach than let success make them boring.
    • The Shamen - Perhaps no one was more serious about making rave culture into a spiritual experience. And "Techno-tribal, positively primal, shamanic anarchistic archaic revival"? That might as well be Downwarp's motto.
    • Dead Cities by Future Sound of London - More than most of FSOL's catalog, this album's pretty close to Downwarp's slightly grungier and ruinous side. Starts out a little more agressive, but fades into more ambient work towards the latter half.