The City is the enormous, sprawling feudal capital of the Kingdom of the Northern Reaches. The Lord Count and his Barons form a distant, self-serving governance while lesser nobles profit off the labors of the common man, who must band together to protect themselves from those dangers which lurk in the shadows.
Fortunately, those people have heroes. While a population of 6 million will certainly harbor its share of murderers and psychopaths, it gives birth, too, to mighty heroes: beacons against darkness and rocks against the tide.
Against these struggles, day-to-day life plays out. Tradesmen and laborers earn their silver, merchants turn over gold, and nobles host balls and feasts. Exotic travelers come and go with their goods and stories. Rumors spread, and songs are sung. There’s never a dull moment here in The City.
The City is vast, covering roughly 200 square miles of land in dense construction. Most permanent residences are confined within the tall, solid city walls. Since The City has expanded over the course of several centuries, first westward and then eastward from the earliest settled city center, a network of gated walls cuts through the city, partially separating districts.
The city center, called Apex, is the wealthiest fifteen square miles of the city and is situated at the northern end of a hilly ridge. Buildings are tall, vaulted, stone masonry constructions decorated with dark paint, golden ornaments, gargoyles, and stained-glass windows. Just shy of a fifth of the population is wealthy and titled—a fat chunk when compared to the other regions of the city, whose nobles are vastly outnumbered by commoners. The streets are clean, wide and well-lit, even at night, and the guards and Hammerhearts wield most of their influence here. After all, this is where the Lord Count lives. But Apex is not without its dangers: its wealth attracts the most ambitious of the city’s wicked, and it culls them, leaving behind the most cunning and the most deadly.
West of Apex is Tarcken, the next-oldest region of the city. Buildings are mostly of grey stone construction interspersed with ancient wooden edifices that have managed to stand the test of time. With so many of its city blocks having been rebuilt over the years, newcomers find the streets to be meandering and confusing. The people of Tarcken are generally the savviest and usually have intimate knowledge of their home neighborhoods and of the peoples of The City. This produces something of a paradox: many of the most infamous lowlives and scoundrels are born of Tarcken, as are some of the most notable do-gooders and well-liked public figures.
To the west of Tarcken, beyond a wall called the Doomwall, lies the West Quarter, a broad swath of ruined city inhabited by the hungry, roaming undead. Venturing beyond the Doomwall is, officially, illegal, but the town watch has better things to do than to stop adventurers from embarking on such suicidal expeditions. Few remember the disaster that burnt down the West Quarter and left it to rot in undeath—only the oldest of living elves can recall the incident from their adolesence, and its true cause a thing of myth.
Upon the ridge south of Apex and east of Tarcken is Masonrise. The streets of Masonrise are generally more orderly than that of Tarcken and even cleaner than Apex’s. But what sets Masonrise apart from the rest of the city are the homes of The Guild and the Council of Light and Honor: the first, a league of tradesmen from nearly all lucrative trades, legitimate and illegitimate, which has its fingers in pies all over The City. The second is the religious heart for the faithful in The City. The people of Masonrise are defined by these two organizations: they are either steadfast in their loyalty to one or the other, or they grumble bitterly about both being so pushy so close to home.
East of Apex are the twin boroughs of Schwarzstadt (Black City) and Eldeim. These are relatively new additions to the city, founded some years after the disaster in West Quarter, and they amount to a sea of wooden buildings of all sorts: tall manors, little hovels, stout inns and crowded slums. Very few of the people in Schwarzstadt or Eldeim are wealthy; most are common laborers or craftsmen. The dense sea of wooden shops and residences is pocked by open markets and squares, where people of all types meet for business and play. A little over half of the population of The City resides in Schwarzstadt and Eldeim. With such a dense, relatively poor population, the streets are dirty and oftentimes dangerous. Schwarzstadt has earned its name for its tall, interlocked buildings that create several levels of city, some of which never see the light of the sun. Eldeim is sometimes considered, even before Apex, the heart of The City for being the meeting palce and crossroads for nearly every type of mortal being imaginable.
Bordering on Eldeim (to the north) and Masonrise (to the west) is Redgale. Redgale is the most recently settled quarter of the city, having been constructed and occupied only in the last century. Most of the city’s recent migrants live in Redgale, making it a confusing mishmash of humans, orcs, elves, and their thoroughly interbred offspring. They find themselves universally mistrusted outside of their corner of The City, branded as theives and adulterers. Their presence, to self-described “natives,” is toxic. But their money is not. Shopkeeps and innkeeps may keep a close eye on customers from Redgale, but they will grudgingly do their business with them all the same.
The six million citizens of The City must be fed somehow, and so The City is an island in a sea of farmland. Rows of wheat and fenced pastures spread as far as the eye can see, and they spread as far as the eye can see several times beyond that. Travelers can journey outward for days without a change in scenery. Then, suddenly, they will find themselves in The Wilds.
The Wilds are an expansive, uncharted realm of dark forests, misty bogs, and wind-swept plains. They teem with wildlife and danger. Many men and women, over the years, have embarked on expeditions into the deadly wilds, in search of treasure, glory, or knowledge. Some set out alone. Some leave with the sponsorship of a lordling and his armed entourage. Many never return. A few do, and a select few over the years have returned with extensive charts and notes. And yet, invariably, those charts are incorrect: sometimes, so disastrously so that dozens of hardened and armed explorers are doomed by their guidance.
The scant few tribesmen of the Wilds that appear in The City describe their home as a place of spirit and wonder. They say that it can sense the travelers that seek to conquer it, and it deems them unworthy. If pressed for more, the tribesmen invariably reply, “you would not understand.”
The city, by anyone’s reckoning, is very, very old. Hundreds of years of history have a way of pushing structures downward. Beneath the cobble streets of the city, especially in Apex and Tarcken, lie forgotten relics of the city’s architectural past. Naturally, these make great hiding places for predators and thieves.
A popular rumor amongst taverngoers is that there exists a complete underground network of streets and tunnels that can carry a skulking thief to any street in the city above. The town watch insists that most tunnels down below should have caved long ago, but the idea persists.
They never look up.
It’s a bit of lore shared amongst lowlives, vigilantes, and anybody else with more than a passing need to travel quickly and avoid notice. People on the streets, save those who are extremely alert or are trained to do so, seldom pay attention to the rooftops. So those rooftops, with their lack of traffic and preponderance of chimneys, balconies, overhangs, and banners to hide behind, make the perfect avenue and the perfect getaway. The town watch will, at best, reluctantly post archers for public events and near important places. The Hammerhearts usually refuse to have anything to do with heights like those.
Some of the more famous avenues of the Thieves’ highway are:
The peoples of the city.
The major languages spoken in The City, in order of prevalence, are Kingsmannen, “Footstep,” Aldruthi, and Elven.
Kingsmannen (its name descended from “King’s Man-Tongue”) is a dialect of the broader human language family. It was made the official language of King Altrecht’s realm immediately following his conquests, and has functioned since as the primary language of The City, in which almost all business is conducted and most personal conversations held. Of the languages spoken in The City, it has the longest history and deepest body of literature. It is generally spoken at a deliberate pace, featuring closed vowels and crisp consonants.
“Footstep” is the nickname given to a hodgepodge of slang and loanwords borrowed from every conceivable language and used by quite a few of The City’s locals—and many of its criminals. Its main influences are Kingsmannen and the raw tribal orc language of the wilds, from which it derives most of its grammar. It is particularly useful for being difficult to pick out of a noisy crowd, as most of its phonemes sound very similar to those of ordinary Kingsmannen.
Aldruthi is another human dialect whose history is less well-studied than Kingsmannen. It is a distinctive language, spoken with rapidity and flow by its native speakers: the men and elves of the Wilds. Speaking it is a surefire way to earn the distrust of anybody within earshot, for not only is it the language of such a prominent group of outsiders, it is also rumored to be the language of deep and forbidden magic.
Finally, High Elven is spoken amongst the Barons and Count while entertaining. No true court functions are carried out in Elven, but that may be the reason why it is so popular with the nobles: it demonstrates that they speak at their own whim and not under compulsion of the King or his court. High Elven is thought to be a distant ancestor to Aldruthi, preserved in its body of poetry and literature, read by anybody with a classical education but spoken by a scant few.
The City is mostly human. The nobility is entirely so, with the exception of a few notable Barons.
Of the non-human races, the most prolific are dwarves, half-orcs, half-elves, and elves, in that order.
Dwarves are best represented in the merchant classes in the city, which is unsurprising for a race of renowned tradesdwarves and craftsdwarves. Seemingly more often than not, they work on land owned by The Guild or are otherwise connected to it (fostering rumors that The Guild is connected to a thought-to-be-lost dwarven clan, but that’s another story). Most are first-generation immigrants, but owing to their long lives, have been in the city long enough to be welcomed as “native.” They generally speak fluent Kingsmannen alongside whatever dwarven clan dialect they spoke in their old mountainhomes.
Most of the elves, half-elves, and half-orcs in the city have some familial connection, recent or distant, to the Wilds. Most of them are outcasts from the wild tribes, whether by their own desire or not. Like most outcasts, they end up distrusted everywhere. Many of them do little to help that. However, quite a few elves, by virtue of their lengthy lives, are able to establish themselves in communities by spending a few decades learning the local tongue and earning a few friends.
The vast majority of all half-elves and half-orcs in The City are second-generation arrivals in The City: that is, they are born in The City to mixed parents who are themselves native to the Wilds. Nobody is quite sure why this is.
Most elves of the City hail or descend from the peoples of the Wilds (“wood elves”), but a few claim not to. They speak High Elven and call themselves the Talunos, usually translated as “Equals,” who respect no kings, no vested authority, and no vassalage. Most in the City, men, elves, and half-elves alike, dismiss their claims that they hail from a great city—an elven city, filled with magic and grace, as great as this Kingdom in the north but ruled by no King—as wild tales. But it’s hard to deny their eloquence with their ancient tongue…
Halflings are something of a misunderstood group of people in the City. They are quite prevalent in the world, settling in hamlets and villages all over, and they have a strong culture of multilinguism wherever they are found. This includes the wilds, where explorers have happened upon numerous villages full of the friendly little folk, speaking fluent Kingsmannen and Aldruthi (as well as another, yet-unidentified tongue), only to never be able to find their way back to them. So Halflings in the City—whether or not they grew up in the City itself—are often mistakenly associated with the Wild Tribes, even though the Halflings of the wilds are a settled folk and the other peoples of the Wilds are thought to be nomadic.
Gnomes are even worse understood.
Tieflings number few in the City, but are seen everywhere because they’re simply so easy to see. The reasons given for their heritage are many and varied, but two stand out as important. The Temple of Pelor’s doctrine holds that the Tiefling heritage was born of one man’s transgression, that all of his sons and his sons’ sons may be tainted by diabolic influence. To them, tieflings are dangerous, unwitting seducers, who may repent by committing to a life of chastity, perhaps even joining the temple. Most tieflings, however, tell the legend that the Great Old King (whose name and realm have been lost to time) brought the curse upon his people in return for immortality for himself.
Dragonborn number even fewer. Despite being spread across the city, they form a tight-knit community, sharing resources as well as stories and gossip in their old Draconic tongue. It is said that in days long, long past, the great jewel of the dragonborn empire of Arkhosia stood where the City stands now. The Dragonborn take great pride in this old tale, but for the most part are well aware that the empire is not about to make a second coming.
The Countship of The City is a long-standing institution closely tied to the history of The City. Many voluminous histories have been written about them, and they are seldom discussed apart from each other.
The office is traced back to a man named Johan von Schwarclaes, the nephew of Altrecht von Schwarclaes (King Altrecht I). King Altrecht was a warrior who self-styled as a king after rallying the Tribes of the Northern Reach and leading them to conquer their neighbors to the south and east. He consolidated his power over the region by ordering the construction of a castle on a ridge overlooking the Scion River and a vast swath of arable land. This plot of land, known as Schwarclaes Hold, or simply Schwarclaes, became home to a small town that grew up around the castle for the purposes of its construction.
The castle was completed on Johan’s thirteenth birthday. That day, King Altrecht knighted him “Ritterklinge” Johan von Schwarclaes, bestowing upon him a tribal warrior title (Ritterklinge) and the responsibility of governing The City outside the walls of the King’s new castle.
That was in a day when all nobles were expected to heed the summons of their King and join him in battle. It is said that the first Ritterklinge of Schwarclaes to buck this responsibility was a magister by the name of Alfand Richtir, who detested being parted from his studies for years of tiresome warring. So, late in his tenure, he convinced a pair of renowned warriors to go to war in his stead in return for a gift of land and servants (to their families, should they not return).
In the many years following that, the city exploded in size and the titles and lineages of the many nobles grew tangled and nuanced. Now, the most common noble titles are those of Knight and Baron. The Knights are roughly analogous to the warriors of the magister’s tale: they control fiefs in the city bestowed by the Barons and collect taxes and levies from the peasants that live on those fiefs. The Barons (many of whom have inherited titles besides “Baron” but are often called such anyway, much to their consternation), then, own the vast majority of the land in and around the city, pledging them as fiefs to the Knights in exchange for the promise that the Knight shall answer when the King calls upon the Baron to fight. Finally, the Ritterklinge of Schwarclaes has since adopted the title Count, usually rendered Lord Count in the style of the rest of the kingdom.
Today, there are twenty-five established, landowning Barons in the city and hundreds of Knights pledged to their service. At the top of the heap is Lord Count Suttgart, a man with a barrel chest and a fondness for self-portraits. He spends his time keeping his thumb firmly in place over the Barons, who are content to ignore the daily lives of their peasants while they collect their taxes and engage in grand schemes of public one-upsmanship and private intrigue.
The Knights, as a result, have the most direct effect over the lives of The City’s citizens. They are a decidedly mixed lot. Knights with aspirations to higher nobility tend to behave as Barons, leaving their peasants to fend largely for themselves. Some feud with their neighbors. Some raise crushing taxes. Some impose no tax beyond what is owed to their Barons.
Finally, the Throne of the Northern Reach still resides in the King’s castle (with, astoundingly, the same name as it was created with) in the very heart of Apex. It is currently occupied by King Kalwurz II. The King is an heirless man of thirty with a distaste for Lord von Suttgart, his father’s appointment to the Countship, but he posesses little leverage with which to change the situation. He occupies himself with the outlying territories, having given up on exerting useful control over the nobility of The City.
The bulk of the land in the city (nine out of every ten acres) is held by the various Barons, pledged to the Knights for their fealty, and lived upon by the townsfolk in exchange for taxes paid on their yield. While the Barons and Knights are able to dictate the appropriate uses of their land by their rights as lords and landholders, they do not often do this in practice. The townsfolk are free to pursue whatever vocation will earn them enough silver to pay their monthly taxes.
As a result, The City plays host to a bewildering amount of different activities, both profitable and unprofitable.
Every fief has its share of cobblers, masons, carpenters, innkeeps, and tailors: such are the businesses found in large quantities in any city, by necessity. But each district in the city is said to have its own character, and there’s no doubt that certain professions are more successful in some areas than others. In Apex, wealthy merchants, art dealers, jewlers, and other purveyors of luxury goods and status symbols flock to the wealth of the old nobility. In the older quarters of the city, such as Tarcken and Masonrise, a combination of affluence and tradition supports a flourishing community of musicians and actors, while the bulk of the economy in the districts is supported by carpentry, masonry, and leatherworking. In Schwarzstadt and Eldeim, carpentry is also a staple, but business is dominated by the Scion River. Life in those boroughs is made by shipmaking, the transport of food through the river (which is the cheapest way to get such enormous amounts of grain in from the countryside to feed the city), fishing the river, and all of the unskilled labor involved in those ventures. Redgale, being the home of the homeless and the outcast, is best known for its incredible street performances and exotic goods.
The bulk of The City’s “exports” are the tools and equipment necessary to farm the vast tracts of arable land beyond its walls, though they can hardly be considered exports when the Barons that own those farms themselves reside in Apex. Following that, The City exports culture and military gear to the various other (much smaller) cities in the Northern Reaches.
The working population of The City is prone to cynicism. There are many people who dream to inspire hope, but the most broadly successful are the faithful of the city.
The Council of Light and Honor is the body that governs the joint efforts of the temples of Pelor, Ioun, and Heironeous. It was formed centuries ago at the insistence of Deacon Irlen of the fledgling Monastery of Ioun, who saw that the more-established temples of Pelor and Heironeous worked at cross purposes. They were especially guilty of competing for tithes and courting the same faithful nobles for patronage. A Council of Light and Honor, Irlen contended, could cooperatively sustain the temples’ activities as well as coordinate efforts to spread worship throughout the city.
Each of the three temples retains their own clergy and hierarchy, maintains their own shrines, and preaches to their own followers, but at noon on the thirtieth day of each month, they convene a council. At that council, they select representatives for tithing, patronage, and outreach, coordinate festivals, and hold sessions of joint worship.
Separately, of course, the temples are just as important as they are collectively.
The Temple of Pelor is likely the oldest of the temples, claiming that the temple’s first Primarch was invested by Pelor himself at the Dawn of Man. It’s easily the oldest instituion of worship in the city, as the temple itself maintains records since the first services were performed during the construction of the castle at the heart of the City. And, of course, it’s by far the largest in the city, attracting a majority of the city’s citizens over the course of a usual week for services.
The Temple of Pelor stands for, of course, Light, Strength, and Healing, and all the things that flow from those. It admonishes its followers to keep the light in their lives through daily observance, to lend one another strength in times of struggle, and to mend wounds and fences alike. Services are held daily, differing depending on the weather. The most important service, reserved for days of full sunlight, is the Gadur, the gathering of worshippers under the open sky in the grand courtyards that every temple maintains.
On doctrinal and canonical matters, the Temple is unique in that it allows lay landowners (a tradition rooted in the temple’s beginnings in heavily agricultural areas) to participate in formal theological and canonical proceedings. This has the effect of tying the temple closely with the old nobility of the City, and the old nobility of the City slightly closer to its subjects, in some ways.
The Order of Heironeous is also an organization with a rich history going back centuries. They claim that their founding member was one of Heironeous’s Angels, referred to in scripture as Commandant, a being who still serves in the heavens. Therefore, the ranking officers of the Order are the four Lieutenant Commanders, who are said to be granted council with Commandant when Heironeous senses great need.
Beneath the Lieutenant Commanders are the Knight-Captains, a group of a dozen peers, famed for their nobility, martial prowess, and intellect and who are equal in responsibilities. The order they lead strives to be a meritocracy of the highest form, where the hierarchy guides justice, yet any member, no matter the rank, may be called upon to make sacrifice for the greater good.
The Order leads services, sometimes alongside the Temple of Pelor’s, and sometimes specially for Knights and soldiers. All are welcome to join in the worship of Justice and Order, and all are welcome to take up the Order’s banner in the name of Righteousness. But to join the Order’s hierarchy is difficult, requiring a special strength of body and spirit.
A peculiar feature of the Order’s theology is that “Just Kings” rule at the behest of the heavens themselves, and so the King of the Northern Reaches is (roughly) equal in rank to Commandant… and, though they are on different chains of command, the Lietenant Commanders are roughly of equal rank to the Lord Count. The Lord Count, much to nobody’s surprise, rejects this peerage.
The Monastery of Ioun is, too, an ancient institution, but one that traces much of its history outside the Northern Reach. Fragmentary records and attestations suggest that, while Ioun has always been regarded as a divine entity, her worship and the general traditions of monasticism may have been born in the south, perhaps even influenced by the Talunos. Regardless, the Monastery, and the life of contemplation and study that its members live, are well-established in the City. The Monastery holds sessions of worship and learning daily, drawing a small but devoted following.
The Monastery believes in the power of Knowledge and its use to elevate mortals to be more worthy and more perfect. Its “doctrine” and “canon,” however, are almost non-existant. Instead, the Monastery maintains a vast library of documents known as the Inscribia. Any monk in full standing may choose to add anything to the Inscribia, meaning that a dizzying array of different documents may be found, including histories, poems, recorded conversations, court records, geneaologies, polemics, and even children’s stories.
The Monastery’s central tenet is that the sole source of Knowledge is spiritual truth. Mortal intuitions may be occasionally faulty, but spiritual truth never is, and so all knowledge ought to be derived from moments of spiritual truth—it is these moments that are recorded by monks in the Inscribia.
The Monastery is famed, strangely, for its warriors. One of the oldest traditions in the Monastery is the search for spiritual truth not only in readings and in contemplation, but also in movement and bodily action. Many of these warriors choose to carry out their “Monastic” life in the form of travel, seeking the spiritual truth far afield, someday to return and share with their peers.
Most citizens of The City are faithful to the various Temples of Light and Honor or they are kin to someone who is. Those Temples have theologians, cosmologists, and theorists; and though they acknowledge that the Astral spheres touch and insersect with the Material Plane, they are prone to rendering “religion” as some concept separate and distinct from day-to-day life. Most of the people of The City, then, see religion—their time at worship—as altogether separate from the banalities of their working lives.
The Old Way, however, is a way of life.
The Old Way is a phrase first used in an obscure treatise by a theologian in the Monastery of Ioun to refer to a diverse but related collection of ancient practices taught in the Wilds. Those practices survive to this day, both in the Wilds and secretly at home in sleepy corners of The City (espcially Redgale). For the most part, those practices are mystic activities that are meant to influence the vagaries of fate, characterized by chants, rituals (short and long), invocations of “names of power,” and the use of certain totems and symbols. It is said that, behind all of these rituals and incantations, there is a set of sacred teachings and beliefs in forgotten primordial gods. The Druids, with their secret language, are rumored to be the very keepers of these teachings.
By an official definition agreed upon by the first meeting of the Council of Light and Honor, the term has come to mean ancestor worship, druidism, animal sacrifice, unsanctioned divinations, soothsaying, trafficking with demons, and an assortment of antiquated (and taboo) arcane disciplines. This, of course, muddies the water terribly. The Old Way is considered a Heresy to the Temples of Light and Honor, though the temples have, to this day, not been able to agree on the punishments warranted. The Order of Heironeous punishes heretics by imprisonment, the Temple of Pelor by banishment, and the Monastery of Ioun by mere excommunication. Nevertheless, the legal status of The Old Way makes it a common scapegoat for community problems, and it makes lives difficult for those accused (rightly or wrongly) of its practice.
Many secret and semi-secret societies vie for influence in the City.
It was the fifth day since Magdelyn Arhaus’s murder. One-by-one, the town had already hanged four men by the gallows. Somebody had to hang. But not a single one of their deaths had made anybody safer. Each night, somebody else would turn up dead. This time, a grandfather of six; that time, a devoted wife.
Six men, some friends, some strangers, some in mourning, and some merely seeking a challenge, met in a room that evening armed with steely determination and a detailed map of the little town. The legends say that they argued until the sun went down—and then until their candles had burnt down, and then until their lanterns ran out of oil—until, by the dying light of their last lamp, they discovered the solution that had eluded them.
The next morning, one more body turned up dead: a wicked, hulking beast with the upright gait of a man and the fur, head, teeth, and paws of a wolf. The townsfolk found it sprawled across a bed of belladonna upon the gallows.
The Midnight Oil is the oldest “secret” organization in The City, having continuously operated since long before any detailed histories of The City existed. It is a vigilante group that protects the “common citizen” by hunting down “predators”: most often, deadly monsters such as lycanthropes, shapeshifters, and demons that can pass as normal people. Sometimes, however, “predators” can extend to include assassins, thugs, and thieves.
The Midnight Oil makes no secret of its existence, but most of its day-to-day operations are carried out away from the prying eyes of its enemies. Individual members choose for themselves whether to keep their membership secret from others: members of the Midnight Oil are hailed as heroes by the citizens of The City, but public glory comes at a steep price when enemies wait around every corner.
The organization has a flat hierarchy: every member is fully instructed in the techniques and lore of the group and is a peer to every other member. No orders are given, and there is no chain of command. In practice, more senior and more experienced members take the lead, and members generally drift toward duties within the organization that suit them well, whether as investigators, hunters, contacts, or any other roles the Midnight Oil could benefit from.
Being vigilantes, they have a complicated relationship with law enforcement organizations. The town watch, interested more in order than in safety, distrusts them greatly. In the districts run by more jealous Barons, the watch may arrest members on sight. Outside of those Baronies, the outcome of an encounter between the Town Watch and the Midnight Oil depends on the individuals involved, the Knight in charge of the fief, the nature of the Midnight Oil’s recent activities, and sometimes, whether the officer of the watch has had his morning ale that day. The Hammerhearts are arm’s-length friends with the Midnight Oil, admiring the vigilantes’ sense of duty and spirit. Thanks to the terms of their contracts, however, the Hammerhearts are unable to fully endorse vigilantism.
While the group is not religiously affiliated, a disproportionate number of its members are devout followers of the Temples of Light and Honor. In particular, Pelor’s exhortions to spread the light against darkness and Ioun’s teachings of skill and knowledge seem to produce many citizens willing to carry on the vigilante tradition. Nobody is sure whether this is brought about by the shared symbolism, the teachings of the priests, or simply coincidence.
Fane Street? It was horrible. Residents are… were… family of six. Man was a stonemason. Wife and three kids helped with the work. His youngest brother was a priest at the High Temple; lived with them. Not… not any more. I got there, and first foot I set in the little house was into a pool of blood. Everywhere, blood. Couldn’t tell at first how many had been killed in there… had to pick up body parts, then try to figure out which limbs belonged to different people… I couldn’t. Most of the furniture was shattered and sticky with blood; I think some of the torsos were impaled on them. I can still smell the blood. I can’t get it off my boots, I can’t get it out of my mind…
Gnolls, the brutish hyena-men that they are, are not well-known for eluding capture in a city full of enemies and witnesses, nor are they known for cleverness or subtlety.
The Black Fang is a Gnoll Demon cult that defies these expectations. They aren’t a tribe of dumb brutes looking for their next meal and maybe some favor with an otherworldly being. They’re a cunning cult of Demon-worshipping murderers. Their mark is unmistakable: their victims are butchered. The aftermath is sickening to look upon. Most witnesses die with the victims. Those who survive describe, hysterically, the screaming and bloodbaths.
And somehow, they remain at large. They have never been seen all in one place. Vigilantes and law enforcement have claimed small victories by eliminating a three-gnoll cell or apprehending a single cultist, but these victories are soured by the knowledge that the main body of the cult is always lurking somewhere, plotting their next horrific slaughter.
Once a great white knight in steel came riding down the way, He sought to slay the vile fiends that preyed upon the weak. A grey old man did tug his sleeve and softly did he speak: “Cowards sneak, but Evil weaves the avenues by day.”
Most nobles in the city are content to coast through life on lavish inheritences. Even the more ambitious aristocrats do little more than float their fortunes upon the backs of mistreated laborers.
But not all of them.
Three, in particular, are not satisfied with material wealth: Lord Wilhelm von Tolhost, Lady Alyssa Colvin, and Lord Baelin Blane. In public, they fulfil the roles of their Baronies: upholding the law, attending public events, and actively pursuing political agendas. But, unbeknownst to their subjects and their peers, they practice dark arts deep within the sanctums of their estates.
The Midnight Oil has given them nicknames: the Lord of Whitebone Tower, the Lady of the Astral Court, and the Lord of the Bloody Banner. This is partly a nod to their favorite arcane perversions (necromancy, the Far Realms, and human sacrifice, respectively) and partly a way to speak of the corrupt lords and lady without publicly accusing them of heinous crimes. To level such an accusation against such an influential enemy would be counterproductive and extremely dangerous. And so, no matter how many rumors damn the three Barons, no citizen ever speaks of them above a murmur, and those who have pledged themselves to fighting their evil must fight it in secret.
- 860 torsion wrenches
- 1720 steel lockpicks
- 200 suits leather armor, ready for tailoring
- 50 suits steel chain, with tabard
- 200 crossbows
- 8000 crossbow bolts, steel-tipped
- 2 jars, roc poison
- 100 halberds
- 5 battle horns
- 2 vials, dust of disappearance
- 500 lbs. hops
- 600 lbs. malt extract
- 700 lbs. barley
- 400 barrels with tap
- 10 velvet handcuffs
- 15 whips
- 100 yards black lace
- 100 needles
- 100 yards thread
- 1 barrel perfume, lily
- 10 bottles oil
Delivery expected within two weeks. (Signed)
The Guild is a business venture, headquartered in Masonrise, capable of providing almost anything that could be asked for in exchange for money. They employ thieves, assassins, mercenaries, spies, bankers, prostitutes, brewers, farmers, blacksmiths, and even common laborers. The less-than-legitimate aspects of the enterprise are never officially acknowledged. Most of them are operated through fronts and run by wealthy people, some commoners and some noblemen, with unassuming pseudonyms.
Being the most significant non-noble landowners in the city, they draw ire from Knights and Barons alike, whose very notions of what is right in society are threatened by The Guild’s existence. But their influence, cunning, and ability to simply lay low in times of trouble have kept them safe from the old landowners.
Their operation is efficient and adaptable, being a distributed hierarchy that evolved from a handful of haphazard alliances. Political infighting within the organization is kept to a minimum by a small group of mysterious people known within the Guild as the “Oversight,” who are virtually unknown outside the guild.
Most citizens interact with The Guild on a daily basis one way or another—they might buy their shoes or food from a guild member, hear their news delivered by a guild crier, work in a shop owned or constructed by the Guild, or merely gossip about the Guild. For most citizens, it is merely another group of people working to get by in town. But the more one learns, the more one realizes just how much is going on beneath the surface… and the more one risks becoming an enemy to the Guild.
Elsie turned the dark street corner in a panic, clutching at her dagger in its sheathe. No good: she saw the glint of intelligent red eyes down the alley. She wheeled around and looked toward the rooftops for an easy climb to the thieves’ highway, but she could only see blood seeping down the stony walls. She threw herself into a nearby wooden door, which opened with a crash. It was silent in here. She slammed the door, panting with exhaustion. Then her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she was staring into a pallid, gaunt face wearing the most wicked of grimaces. “Good evening, mortal” it said.
Among common citizens, the Landt Vampire Clan is the subject of rumor and idle gossip. It’s said that, centuries ago, they once ruled The City, growing ever more powerful on the blood of their underlings. Then, a single man, Oswin the Burning Blade, expelled them from the city’s governance in a single year of incredible tumult that finally culminated in Lord Count Orrik von Landt’s fiery demise.
To those in the know, the Landt Clan is alive, if not well. After the Burning Blade cut through their ranks, their succession became muddied, and so now nobody but the Landts themselves know who their shadowy Lord Master is. In fact, few but the Landts even know who the Landts are any more. Their clansmen and thralls—depraved and vile to the bone—lurk throughout The City, sating their bloodlust and biding their time. For someday, their Lord Master may claim the Countship that was his birthright.
The half-orc, his left hand still balled into a fist, let go of the urchin’s collar and looked around. Somebody had shouted something at him, and he couldn’t tell from where…
“Down ‘ere, yeh big stoopid lug!”
He looked down as the urchin scampered off. It was a dwarf, only four feet tall, but nearly 300 pounds of muscle and heavy steel armor. Emblazoned on his chestpiece was Moradin’s Hammer, and in his meaty right hand he hefted… well, another hammer.
“Yeah, you. I don’ care if he was gon’ take yer gold. It’s our job to keep th’ order ‘round here, not yers. Hear me?”
Two thoughts wrestled in the half-orc’s mind listening to the little man speak. The first was irritated discretion. The second was furious indignance. Indignance won, and he swung at the stout creature with his still-clenched fist. There was a crunch as the dwarf shouldered the blow with steely plate, breaking the half-orc’s knuckles, and a crack as the dwarf hammered the half-orc’s ribcage. There was a thump as the half-orc hit the ground, and then there was silence.
“Ah, yeh’ll be fine in a few hours… Serves yeh right.”
The Hammerheart is a dwarven mercenary company of some renown in The City. They make their bread contracting to the various Barons and the Count to assist where more than the paltry town watch is needed to keep the order—high profile executions, festivals, escorts, and coronations. They make extra gold by leveraging their people’s oft-celebrated smithing trade. They’re professionals, and they’re well-known for honor in the face of adversity and even-handedness in face of chaos. They also have a reputation for being indomitable ale-hounds off-duty.
Bright sunlight shone down on the square as a curious crowd gathered around the gallows, shuffling and chattering. Nearby temple bells were ringing, and a broad, robed clergyman was administering last rites. But Erik wasn’t interested in whatever poor druid or thug was getting the axe today. His eye was caught on the man in the jet black cloak in the crowd with only his gleaming silver eyes visible under the hood. This strange, dark man watched the proceedings somberly, and despite appearing wholly out of place in the bright sunshine, went unnoticed by the people around him. Erik elbowed the bearded man standing next to him, nodded toward the cloaked man, and whispered, “who’s that?” The bearded man replied, “that, my friend, is the Raven Watch. We don’t really talk about them.”
The Raven Watch is a nickname given to a mysterious group of people whose members wear outifts of complete black. And under those outfits, they have glassy, silver eyes. They don’t speak. Even when present, they seem to have no presence at all—they pass beneath notice in plain sight. They can be seen, if looked for, at all major public events, including executions, tournaments, and processions. They’re also found, watching, in taverns, alleyways, and rooftops. Only they know why they watch and what they’re watching for.
In the few cases where members of the Raven Watch are accosted, the moment they are restrained or harmed, they vanish, leaving behind an empty cloak.
Kalwurz von Stahlstein II was born to King Rodrick von Stahlstein and Queen Maria von Feuerhander and was named after his grandfather. He grew up in the ancient Schwarclaes Keep surrounded by all manner of nobility. It is said he was enamored with tales of honor and chivalry as a child, and he left for the Eastern Territories with Sir Stanley Reddown (a captain in King Rodrick’s armies) the day he became eligible for squireship. He spent his teenage years as a squire and his early twenties as a Knight, immersed in the study and direct application of battle tactics, wartime leadership, and diplomacy with foreign peoples.
When King Rodrick died under mysterious circumstances, Kalwurz returned from the East (now twenty-six) to personally serve in his mother’s honor guard—an extremely unusual measure. One year later, she was taken by fever. Kalwurz was coronated two weeks later, his face clearly still drawn with grief in the public ceremony.
With his extensive and excellent military record, King Kalwurz II has the nearly unanimous respect of his subjects. The Barons and the Lord Count, however, have sensed the threat posed by such strong public opinion, and have taken it upon themselves to flaunt and consolidate their power. As a result, the King has found it difficult to curb the Lord Count’s influence, and he finds that his only real power is over the ongoing military campaigns out East.
Oswin von Feuerhander was born to Sir Arden von Feuerhander and Lady Astia von Eiheir during the height of the Landt dynasty. He was the son of exceptional circumstance: his father was a Knight raised to a position of nobility for valiance in service to the throne, and his mother was the most powerful Baroness in Tarcken. He had the city’s finest tutors in the classics and theology as well as one of the most famous martial instructors in the history of the realm: his father.
The legends describe him as a bright young man, impressing his parents and tutors alike with his rapid progress. Oswin’s parents both passed when he was eighteen, and he disappeared from The City for two years. He reappeared as a mystery entrant at the end of a tournament, where he challenged the foremost knight (and most feared vampire) in The City, Sir Hauer von Landt, to single combat and emerged victorious, slaying his foe with a burning hand-and-a-half sword. Lord Count Orrik von Landt ordered his arrest, but Oswin slew the guards and escaped. Over the next year, he was blamed for the murders of forty Knights and Barons as well as two Clergymen: all bearing the family name (and the family curse) of Landt.
Finally, he caught up to Lord Count Orrik von Landt and laid him low in a battle that burned down one of the oldest quarters of Apex.
After that, he set aside his sword and returned to his Barony, where he eventually married and became known, too, for his patronage of the Temple of Pelor. He died at the age of fifty five, survived by his son.