“Where is Smoketown? Gods blessings, that I cannot say. I don’t think anyone really knows where it is, but I can tell you how to find it. Just take the northeast road from here, and when you get to a big bend with a standing rock, look for a trail going more north. You follow that over the ridge, and once it goes into the mist, Smoketown will find you.
“But I must ask, why? Only the lost and fools go to Smoketown.”
—Deacon Tunburga Swinhall
Of all the towns and villages of the Shadow Realm, Smoketown is something different. True, it is home to an assortment of mismatched folk, mostly tieflings, just like other places. True, it is a backwater, just like many other places. And true, it is a marketplace, and there are many of those in the Shadow Realm. But Smoketown sells something no other town has—pathways to the Eleven Hells. Its most important goods are the services of the guides who make it home.
While the gates to the Eleven Hells are open to anyone, those are the gates for the dead and damned. Only the foolhardiest of mortals bang on these doorways, demanding entrance. Few do, and fewer still survive to regret it. No, to get in—and maybe out—of the hells safely requires a guide, someone who knows the secret pathways the demon and devils overlook. And the place to find those guides is Smoketown.
In addition to the guides or because of them, Smoketown draws the desperate and broken. There are hell’s refugees and asylum seekers, broke and trapped; mad twisted dreamers, looking for dark enlightenment; con men, fortune hunters, and collectors of the grotesque and arcane; cults, good and foul, competing for the faithful; noble paladins, planning heroic raids; and even the occasional demon or devil on diplomatic duty.
Sometimes called the “shifting village,” the “town in the mist,” or simply the “lost place,” Smoketown hovers in the indefinite border between the Shadow Realm and hell, all of the Eleven Hells. It borders all eleven or none at all, all at the same time. The geometaphysicians who have studied it say parts of the town, specifically the gateway and the road up to it, exist in the Shadow Realm while the rest of the town exists in a psychic no-man’s-land, a vague realm that touches all of the hells. Others disagree of course. They say the town is a psychoresonant entity that responds to the yearnings of travelers. Thus it appears where it is needed or wanted and takes the traveler to where it thinks they belong.
The facts are that Smoketown is able to appear anywhere on the border of the Shadow Realms and connects to various places in all of the Eleven Hells. Where exactly is exists is unknown as it is always shrouded behind a wall of mist and fog, but more so, its exact location in the Shadow Realm changes frequently, so finding it is never a simple case of following the directions used by the last traveler.
Through trial and error, seekers have settled on two ways to find Smoketown. Both are rituals of sorts. In the first, the traveler writes a contract expressing their Secret Desire—the passion that drives them to seek the hells in the first place. The contract must state the hell being sought and the fare the traveler is willing to pay. Fares can be almost anything: gold, magic, years of life, dreams, living sacrifices, knowledge, promises of future reward, or whatever seems suited to where the traveler is trying to go and the urgency of their journey. The contract is buried in the dark on a well-traveled path, and the petitioner waits. If everything was correctly worded and the price reasonable, an emissary contacts the person to settle the deal. The emissary may be almost anything: a raven, a one-legged man, a dream, a talking goat, a pattern in the fallen leaves, even a newborn child. There may be haggling over the price, but once that is settled, the emissary provides a place and time where Smoketown will be found.
Others say Smoketown can also be found by those who passionately need it even if they don’t realize it. They claim Smoketown senses the desperate and opens a path to draw them in. When this happens, the traveler simply finds the town without ever realizing they were searching for it in the first place. The traveler has found their way to Smoketown
Whatever the method, the journey to Smoketown always leads the traveler to a trail that will be gone the next time they pass by that way. The path winds through familiar to increasingly unfamiliar terrain. The land becomes shrouded in thick mist as it plunges forward. After an unexpected turn, bend, dip, or rise, Smoketown appears out of the nothing as if it had always been there.
New arrivals are invariably greeted by a distinguished older man dressed as a seasoned warrior, possibly a nobleman. He introduces himself as the Captain, the master of Smoketown. If the town was summoned, the Captain produces the contract the player wrote and buried and politely asks for the payment. Once the payment is made, both sides mark the contract fulfilled. The Captain explains they are now free to find and hire a guide to continue their journey onward. If asked, he points people toward the First Hope Tavern as a good place to begin their search.
If for some reason the player refuses to honor their contract, the Captain will press them to change their mind. He warns they will not like the consequences but makes no overt threats or hostile moves. Instead he asks the players to come with him to the town square. Whether they come or refuse, he still goes to the square and stands under an ancient, hanging gibbet to read out their sentence.
“Citizens, by the voice of your Captain and the authority granted him, know that [name of the one sentenced] has refused just and legal payment for our services. Let no person provide guidance or charity until the proper payment has been made twice over. So the justice of Smoketown is declared!”
With that, he nails the contract to the gibbet pole, and the sentence is complete…
Read more of this and other great articles in Warlock, only on Patreon!