Blackpoort, City of Thieves – Crooked Street

By gum, I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger lately. Here’s the Blackpoort post I promised yesterday – I got busy writing Lyonesse and forgot to post. Enjoy.

Crooked Street

Crooked Street (often just called “The Crook”) is a lively street of bustling crowds, where rich and poor mingle. The center of activity on The Crook is the Music Hall [18], of course, and the old street has become a center of the “Bohemian” art set in Blackpoort, drawing jongleurs, prostitutes, street artists, minstrels and clowns at twilight and lasting into the night.

17. Brigtan the Assassin: Brigtan is a young woman of modest means who makes a living as a duelist. Aloof and scheming, she appears to have been educated somewhere, but never speaks of her past. Her home is a single-story brick building with a slate roof and a conservatory in which she raises a number of “medicinal” herbs. Hidden beneath the conservatory, under a removable floor tile, is a small coffer holding 450 pp and a large, leather-bound bestiary. Brigtan is very short, with tanned skin, blond hair that always seems to be falling in her face, and hazel eyes. She is always dressed neatly, in a black doublet (actually a jack of plates) and black breeches, with an ornate longsword on her hip and daggers hidden in her tall boots.

18. Music Hall: Always surrounded by hustle and bustle, the music hall is the center of the Crook’s cultural life. Owned by Leona Tattlewit, a young woman with alabaster skin, dark brown hair cut in a bob and aloof chestnut eyes with a touch of crimson. Tattlewit is tall and thin, graceful and with an airy, sylph-like beauty that belies her very precise and business-like mind. Her former husband, Sceath Tattlewit (RIP) was a well regarded actor, and she inherited the theater when he died. The music hall plays two-penny (well, 2 sp) operas to boisterous, noisy crowds. Halflings work the audience selling greasy viands and fruit and picking pockets (Leona gets 20%). The hall is a building of red bricks painted in bright, garish colors (blue, yellow, purple) and an old copper roof that leaks. Next week, they are putting on a musical production of a new play called The King in Yellow.

19. Foundryman’s Club: This dimly lit social club is frequented by laborers of all stripes in Blackpoort, including poor adventurers. The club consists of a single story brick building with a tall, peaked, slate roof and a long, brick chimney. Inside, there is a common room with three round tables (old oak, varnished by several generations of use), four long tables painted red and a few semi-private booths hidden by lank, greasy curtains. The inn is run by Wolvine, a youthful woman with olive skin, thick, blond hair pulled back in a bun and hazel eyes always cast down in a serious look. Wolvine is a bit heavy-set, and usually wears a peasant dress. She inherited the club from her father, Olvus. The club serves black beer and pungent mead in wooden goblets. Steaming trenchers of eel and white fish are set on the tables every hour, and patrons are expected to drop a few coppers on the trencher after eating their fill. Wolvine, despite her surly exterior, is brave and virtuous. A widower who lost her husband, a man-at-arms, to some damn fool dungeon exploration, treats her patrons like her own children, doing her best to keep them on the straight and narrow and true to their lives and children.

20. The Old Miser: This imposing five story tower is the home of Nevenbak, a wealthy miser. Nevenbak’s home, though once quite grand, has fallen into disrepair. The stone is black with soot and the roof is missing slate tiles. The corners of the roof were once protected by sculptures of eagles, but all but two of them have long since fallen into the overgrown garden. The garden is surrounded by a tall wall with a tarnished bronze gate. Nevenbak lives alone, having long ago driven away friends and family with his over zealous thrift and inhuman lust for money. He maintains a vault beneath his house that has yet to be cracked by the thieves of Blackpoort, though many have tried. Their remains now decorate the vault’s antechamber, where dwells a captive owlbear, possibly Nevenbak’s only remaining friend. Nevenbak spends his days in his counting house in the southern portion of Blackpoort, and his nights in the vault with his owlbear, counting his money (the horde now amounts to XXX and a potion of green dragon control in a dusty wine bottle. One of Nevenbak’s arms is twisted, the hand atrophied into a hook-like claw.

21. Madhouse: Blackpoorters usually hurry past this somber, three-story building. Once a manor belonging to the extinct Usher family, the building is now a madhouse under the supervision of the priests of Mercurius, specifically Brother Candle, a well curtal friar with sun-kissed, happy wrinkles framing his eyes and light brown, tonsured hair. Candle’s own mother went mad, so he has dedicated himself to caring for the insane and using what few powers he has to keeping them healthy. The other priests who work in the madhouse consider it a punishment, which is usually is, and often react accordingly to the needs of the inmates. It is also known to be a place where enemies of high placed men and women end up, often without the knowledge of Brother Candle. The windows of the madhouse have thick curtains of black velvet, used to keep the moonlight and its mind-bending power from worsening the condition of the mooncalves, lunatics and melancholics interred within.

Blackpoort, City of Thieves – Guild Street

Clanker Row and Guild Street
Clanker Row intersects with Guild Street in this portion of the map, but is otherwise hemmed in by the city walls. If Blackpoort is known for its soot and grime, Clanker Row is the reason for it. Clanker Row is the chief industrial corridor of the city-state, being home to dozens of smiths and iron foundries. Most of the traffic on Clanker Row is in the form of apprentices, journeymen and master artisans on their way to and from work or other appointments. Coal wagons and other carts carrying raw materials and supplies make their way up and down the street with distressing regularity, forcing pedestrians to the margins of the narrow, brick-paved path.

6. Grizelda the Smith: Grizelda’s smithy is a single-story brick building with a large forge and well tended tools hanging on the walls. Grizelda is a blacksmith, focusing on tools and other non-violent goods, though she is capable of cleaning and making minor repairs to weapons, and might have a few old weapons and shields for sale, taken in trade from down-on-their luck adventurers. A mature woman, she was widowed many years ago and her son, the apple of her eye, serves in the Blackpoort guard. Grizelda has light olive skin, grey hair and green eyes. Her appearance is usually ragged – she is a hard worker, and can usually be found clanging away well after dark. Pessimistic by nature, she is not given to working on account. She has a large diamond worth 450 gp hidden in a wooden box nailed to the inside bottom of a barrel filled with sand and used for cleaning the rust from armor. She sleeps in a backroom.

7. Morgan the Smith: Morgan is a hot tempered and sadistic young man who hates his job, hates his life and hates everybody around him. He has tan skin and sandy-brown hair and always wears a perpetual scowl on his handsome face. His smithy has two stories, with living quarters for two in the upper story. A widower, he drowned his young bride in the Swiven River, attracting the ire of the nixies living there, who have conspired with other fey to ruin the young man’s life.

8. Tatlana the Stable-Master: These stables, owned by Barno [26] and mostly serving the farrier [9] next door, are managed by Tatlana (5 hp), an expert groom and very attractive young woman underneath the grime and dirt she normally wears. With her olive skin, bright, hazel eyes and infectious smile, she has charmed more than a few travelers out of a meal and several mugs of ale – after a bath, of course. Tatlana is a solitary sort who prefers the company of horses to humans (again, outside of a brief tete-a-tete). Intelligent and inquisitive, she can also be quite violent when threatened.

9. Fridd the Farrier: Fridd is an ex-soldier who now works as a farrier, a sort of combination blacksmith and horse veterinarian. A mature man with deep wrinkles on his broad, expressive face, he has olive skin, thinning grey hair and dark, soulful brown eyes. A tape worm keeps him looking thin and drawn, even when times are good. Fridd carries a torch for Tatlana next door, but his craven and argumentative personality keeps her away. Fridd once took a bribe from the assassins’ guild to mis-shoe a horse, causing it to rear and kill its rider, the son of a minor noble.

Fridd: HD 1 (5 hp); AC 9 [10]; Atk 1 hammer (1d4) or crossbow (1d6); Move 12; Save 17; CL/XP 1/15.

10. Iron Monger’s Guild: This ornate, four-story building is home to the Humble Brotherhood of Iron Mongers. The iron mongers own mines and sell iron to the local smiths and export ingots of iron and steel to merchants and smiths in Antigoon, Lyonesse, Pfeife. The front door is made of iron and covered in bas-relief sculpture of oreads and miners in mines. It is flanked by caryatid columns (non-animated) of miners carved from porphyry. The current master of the guild is Yavvoo, an old man who immigrated from Kirikersa as a youngish man who tired of his life at sea. Yavvoo has swarthy skin, curly black hair and green eyes. He only wears the latest fashions from Antigoon, and generally cuts a fine figure, all 5-ft of him strutting down the avenue with a gold-tipped walking stick and two burly guards in mail. Yavvoo has three wives and many children at home, and thus often sleeps in his room in the guildhall. A sober and honorable man, he indulges in no vice but does have a rather short temper that often leads him into confrontations he regrets.

Honestly, I don’t remember where I found the art above, but there’s about a 90% chance that it came from Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

Blackpoort, City of Thieves – Introduction

And so we begin the new year with another city-state of NOD. My goal is to write a city-state a week over the next three weeks, posting a few sneak previews as I go. Up first is Blackpoort, first mentioned in NOD 6 as a shadowy city of thieves and corruption. So, once more into the breech, my friends …

Cathedral Square
The cathedral of Mercurius is one of the central gathering places for citizens of Blackpoort. From haggling merchants to canny thieves and politicians, anyone who needs to make a deal or garner some spiritual assistance to get ahead eventually finds their way to the cathedral to make a quid pro quo sacrifice of something shiny and expensive.

The square is paved in dark red bricks in a sort of staggered diamond pattern. A band of postulant monks and nuns keeps the square clean with brooms and selling bits of useful junk and found items on the side.

1. Cathedral of Mercurius: Mercurius’ cathedral is a large, weathered construction of dark grey blocks of stone faced with sooty, yellow limestone. The building is covered with beautiful architectural details, including mulitple bas-reliefs depicting the adventures and accomplishments of Mercurius and his many children and consorts, including a large, cherished bas-relief of a voluptuous Venus on the northern face of the cathedral that attracts many offerings from hopeful lovers in the form of kisses from painted lips and garlands of white flowers.

The cathedral is surmounted by a tarnished dome of brass etched with protective glyphs and runes and several towers, each with a pointed roof and containing a large bronze bell. These bells are rung at midnight to call thieves, scoundrels and prostitutes to prayer.

The interior of the cathedral is dominated by a large sanctum containing an idol of Mercurius on the wing carved from white marble and coated with gold leaf. An altar before the idol contains slots through which offerings of coins and small gems are accepted. Vermilion robed priests are always on hand to advise petitioners and guard the locked iron boxes into which the offerings flow.

Surrounding the sanctum are a number of chambers used as storehouses of vestments, candles and other priestly paraphernalia, as well as offices, living chambers and rooms used for exorcisms, congress with departed souls and summonings. Secret doors in these ritual chambers lead into the subterranean levels of the cathedral, where the bodies of Blackpoort’s deceased aristocracy are processed for their journey to the Ethereal Plane. The priests of Mercurius, now robed in sable cloaks and wearing bronze gorgon masks, remove the heads with a silver axe, anoint them with costly, fragrant oils and seal them with beeswax. The heads are then placed in terracotta boxes and placed on shelves in the flooded catacombs under the cathedral. The bodies are then loaded onto barges and poled to one of many grottoes that connect with Blackmere, where they are sold to the strange denizens of the black lake or sorcerers in need of bodies for their explorations into the unknown. The priests do a good business in bodies and funerary rites.

The head of the cathedral is the Archbishop Wontan, a delicately featured man with high cheekbones, creamy skin and curly brown hair usually kept under a skullcap of vermilion silk. Wontan is the eldest of many siblings, all of whom are merchants and tradesmen. He is married to the abbess of St. Autolycus Abbey next door and has a son named Bode, a rapacious little snit who sits on the city council for his father.

2. Domen the Baker: Domen’s bakery is a single-story structure of blackened brick with three large chimneys that burn coal. The bakery has a 15-ft ceiling, a large work area that employs a dozen bakers and apprentices. A narrow strip facing Swindle Street has several tables for patrons to enjoy hot, buttered bread, frothy mugs of black beer (imported from the countryside) that is sometimes spiced with cinnamon and cloves and plum tarts. A private room in the back of the bakery is a favorite meeting place for rivals to make marriage deals beneath a small idol of Priapus, fertility god and son of Mercurius. The master of the establishment, Dolmen, is a self-effacing man with pale skin, beady grey eyes and short-cropped brown hair. Unbeknownst to the good people of Blackpoort, Domen is a maniac who wanders the streets at night murdering people and collecting their thumbs.
3. Fridaz the Barber: Fridaz is a strange man, lovely ivory skin, curly, golden hair and crimson eyes surrounded by a palpable melancholy. He rarely speaks, cutting hair (man of his customers are priests keeping their tonsures well clipped), shaving faces and pulling teeth, all with gentle competence and imparting a strange sense of calm and peace to his customers. Fridaz employs two apprentices, local boys who can only aspire to their master’s skill. He also owns a large, golden cat who lazes about the shop, opening its emerald eyes when people enter the shop and giving them a long, hard look. Fridaz dwells above the shop in a simple room with his cat, gazing out the window late into the night, studying the stars. Fridaz is a fallen angel, come to Nod a decade ago to deliver a message to the Archbishop from Mercurius, and then staying on too long. He developed a taste for the night life and fell in love with a dancing girl.

4. Old Curiosity Shop: This shop is run by an antiquarian called Bodur the Bald, an old man with a crooked spine, thin fingers twisted by rheumatism and a deeply creased face. Bodur has all manner of useful items in his shop, most of them quite old, but sturdy. Bodur knows a story behind most of the items in the shop, from simple lengths of rope to a singular brass lamp lamp with inlaid ivory panthers that he will not part with for less than 1,000 gp, explaining that it was carried by St. Oglethwit in his ancient and well known explorations of catacombs and tunnels that now form the foundation of Blackpoort’s undercity.

5. The Screeching Maiden: The Screeching Maiden is a decent quality coaching inn on the High Street and next to Cathedral Square. The inn is named for its “sign”, an old figure head over the entrance that is connected to a copper pipe that runs from a vat of water next to a hearth. As steam builds in the vat, it finally bursts forth from the maiden’s mouth, giving off a loud whistle.
The entrance to the inn is via a double door in the inn’s courtyard, where a groom awaits to take a horse and/or carriage to a shed just south of the inn, or by a cellar entrance on the High Street.

The Screeching Maiden has three floors, the upper floors given to a dozen private rooms and a large common room. The first floor has quarters for the staff and the owner, Clerren, and his family. There are two taverns, one in the south wing that serves the city-state’s famous dark stouts and a menu of sausages, roast pigeons, sour dough breads and honey cakes for desert. One can usually find Nevin, a baronet, holding court here with his retinue of rakes and doxies. Nevin is a seductive man who spends money much faster than his manorial village can make it.

The more popular tavern for adventurers is in the cellar, where rot-gut liquor and heavily fortified wines and food brought down from the kitchen. The cellar is usually crowded, noisy and fun. A large hearth is shared with a “secret” room that holds a large tub of water available for private stews with the tavern wenches, Dawn (a mousy blond), Thomka (a tall, pasty faced red head with an infectious laugh and sparkling green eyes) and Xalta (a buxom emigre’ from Mu-Pan with a round, pleasing face and a sultry voice). Gorlaf, a baudy jongleur who performs in his pantaloons and with a painted face, entertains most nights in the cellar, reciting dirty limericks and performing juggling tricks with daggers and wooden balls.

The landlord of the inn, Cleren, is a retired soldier who still carries his broadsword on his hip. He is married to Nemaeri, a woman from the countryside with a bit of hobgoblin blood flowing through her veins. She has reddish skin, black hair worn in long braids, and a chiseled, though pretty, face. She stands 7′ tall in her stocking feet and is built like an amazon. Sturdy and voluptuous, she gets plenty of stares from the patrons in the cellar tavern, which she runs, but nobody is stupid enough to whistle. Clerren and Nemaeri have three children and employ ten servants.