Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tales from the Ironvast: The City of Skellstadt

 I've developed an entirely new world for my recent D&D 3.5 games. Here's a brief excerpt of one city in this campaign from which a new level 5 campaign kicked off last night. This location of course would work in any version of D&D or Pathfinder. More to come!

Skellstadt Guide

Resting like a grim three-layer cake along the badlands of the Embittered Coast, Skellstadt is a city-state of significant provenance, though also a lingering threat for the northern kingdom of Weldenscar. 

The only city not to pay direct fealty to the king of Weldenscar, Skellstadt is dominated by orcs and ruled by Huram Katitholm, the warlord of the Unification Wars. Katitholm ended the war amongst the tribes but lay down his banner at the end and gave the seven sons of the defeated warlords control over their own lands. He in turn led his tribe, the Skell, to the once ruined city called Untergangstadt and inhabited it, providing a valuable secondary port along the Embittered Coast which was reachable through a network of grottos operated by pirates previously. The Sea Captain Gorman Hux embraced Katitholm’s arrival and occupation of the ruins, which were nestled within a complex web of basalt labyrinths along the upper coast as a stabilizaing force. Katitholm is now nearly 90, and his eldest son, Hrimnar, does most of the ruling in his stead.

About Skell Orcs

The Skell orcs are predominantly lawful and dedicated in a unique way to a sort of modest egalitarian order within the city. They have forged a hierarchy of noble rulership which resembles human feudal systems more than the chiefdoms of the mountain and wilderness clans. They have allowed their kin and other denizens to form guilds, set up a city militia which doubles as guardsmen to protect against murder and crime without cause, and they have integrated traditional forms of orcish honor systems with more civilized and mundane practices of the other species who inhabit the region. Most skell orcs are well spoken and literate; the clan respected diplomacy long before it came into fashion following the Unification Wars of the last century.

Of particular note is that the skell orcs have a nonchalant, almost laconic attitude toward other species, and this has fostered a trade relationship with certain other groups such as the Hemani-descended duskers, dark elves and dwarves of clan Drevas for the last couple centuries. Once the city was settled, it became natural for these groups to have a presence. Where most orcs can barely stand the presence of most other demikin, the skell orcs see only opportunity and possible profit.

Locations in Skellstadt

Skellstadt is like a three-layered cake, with the sunny upper city resting atop the ruins along the tops of the basalt crevasses, the middle layer being the deep canyon-crevasses nestled in the ancient basalt flow throughout which the city rests like a riddled nest, and below which lie the natural lava tubes and rough hewn tunnels that comprise the comfortably darkened passages in which most light-sensitive citizens of the city dwell. There is arguably a fourth lower district as well, The Deeps, which are the gateway to the Lower Dark for caravans willing to trade with the denizens of the endless caverns.

Castle Scoria: Also called the Burning Castle, this immense structure is forged and hewn out of the basalt stone which comprises the great cliff shelves abutting and defining the Embittered Coast and neighboring badlands. Its highest spire is called Emberspire and it is said that the elder king Katitholm observes his city from there each day for an hour. The rest of the fortress is buried in the deep lava bluffs and uses the lava tubes, many of which open up to the sea, as part of its architecture.

Training Grounds and The Temple of War: Below the Capitol can be found the narrow open grounds and tunnels called the Training Grounds, where the year-round king’s army and city militia train. The Temple of War is found here, a monument to orcish planning for all things battle, and this is where Prince Himnar dwells. The temple serves Balar as its principle deity, as well as Emoath, the Bloated Son, Fomori who is said to be the progenitor of all orcs.

The Caves/Lower District: this network of lava tubes have been turned into dozens of neigborhoods from which stone-dug homes have sprung as well as long marketplaces, which connect to and open up in the Channel marketplace. Most sunlight sensitive citizens such as the orcs dwell here. A small clade of drow known as Clan Thurizen dwell here as well. The drow mainrain a small temple to Elatha.

The Channel: this is a wide open cleft in the stone which prevents much daylight from reaching the bottom but is still technically open-air. Many of the lava tubes turned neighborhoods of The Lower District open here. The channel is the location of a long marketplace where goods of all lands and species are collected, the only marketplace of the north commonly known to serve as a direct line of trade between the Surface World and the Lower Deeps. The Order of the Watch maintains its garrison here where Captain of the Guard Halador Grames rules his orcish contingent, with additional human, goblin, dwarf and ogre contingents reflected as well to handle the diversity of species in Skellstadt.

Drevas District: dwarven clan Drevas has a barrio in the city here, mixed with surface level dwellings and dwarven-make tunnel homes. The Clan Drevas relationship to the Skell orcs is unique, and they may be the only dwarves friendly to orcs in the whole of the Ostrican Coast. All told about 300 dwarves dwell here.

The Temple District: ironically there are more taverns and inns in this district to suit wealthy pilgrims than there are actual temples. A major temple to most of the Ostrican and Fomori gods can be found here, mixed freely, for Skell belief does not distinguish between the two and considers the enmity of the ancient gods to be no more than rivalry among clans. A prominent temple to the orcish god Emoath also can be found here, run by high priestess Senea, an orcish cleric who holds prominent sway in local politics and is married to prince Himnar’s eldest son, Kasal. Kasal is a knight dedicate to Emoath, and spends much of his time away from the city questing.

The Blood Holes: the name given to the arena pits in the lowest underground quarter, here cage fighting rules supreme amongst gladiators and both men and monsters or all type and species gather to place bets and fight, sometimes to the death. The arena master Katen Gor, a goblin master, pays handsomely for live specimens which would make worthy monstrous foes in the arena.

Tower of the Necromancer: the orc necromancer Kalod dwells here, and a complex guild of sorcery has grown up around his tower. He was once student to the mad Galak Zurdath, before Zurdath was killed for his intransigence, and Kalod took the tower in his absence. The tower was occupied by the order of necromancers before the city grew up around it, occupying the abandoned ruins of old. The tower will sell spells, even to rival guilds, for a price.

The Old City: mixed in the rocky crevasses and upper stretches of the area are the ruins of a lost civilization known as the Hemani, believed to have been ancient rivals of the Zamurians who were wiped out by the same unknown cataclysm which got their rivals. The bulk of human and other normal demikin as well as some ogres and goblins dwell in the refurbished remains of the ruins, built upon in modern standard. This region, which fills the gaps of the rest, is referred to as the old city and overlooks the highest points of the area.

The Cistern: a vast cistern well which supplies most of the fresh water to the city, guarded heavily by orcish troops. There is a rumor that the bottom of the cistern contains an immersed ancient temple of Ahriman once worshipped by the Hemani. Other stories claim the ruin stands mysteriously unflooded, if you can figure out the secret passages to reach it.

The Deep Markets: there are tunnels rising from below which connect to the city, and from which denizens of the lower deep such as grimlocks, troglodytes, other orc tribes and other subterranean beings will visit to trade. These beings are fearful of the open markets and go no further than the Deep Markets for their trade. Rumors of a mind flayer named Sabel maintain a temple to Cerybdos are probably true.

The Deep Markets are also home to a peculiar race of humans who descended into the darkness long ago, possibly survivors of the lost age of Hemani. These men refer to themselves as duskers, and they were effectively isolated from the surface world, comfortably living in the Lower Dark for centuries before the orcish colonization. They continue to run the operation of the Deep Markets and only a handful now dwell on the recolonized surface ruins. Their stories speak of an ancient catastrophe, and they are especially fearful of the old god Ahriman.

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