Welcome, friend, to the world of Midgard. Maybe you’re brand new to this world. Or maybe you’ve been around since the beginning. Either way, stay—all are welcome! Please, sit and listen to the tales. You see, the world has been changing, and oh, the sights to see. It’s a living, evolving realm where things happen after all. So why shouldn’t it have a life all it’s own? Where to start…
[From the Midgard Worldbook…]
The city’s quarters are all quite distinct, from slums prone to flooding along the river, up to the red-tiled roofs of the Citadel where the wealthiest burghers live.
Rising above the northern section of the city, the Citadel defends the river entrance from upstream threats. It also houses the Order of Griffon Riders. This group of scouts, arcanists, and daredevils fly patrols against centaurs and other bandits throughout the Margreve Forest and serve as the city’s eyes and ears in wartime. Their speckled griffons rarely number more than five or six, each lovingly cared for by a staff of grooms and trainers.
As befits his rank as Field Marshall of the Free Army and Captain of the Zobeck Hussars, General Jorun Haclav lives and trains in the Citadel. In time of war, he commands most of the city and can even dictate orders to the Council and (most) guilds. In times of peace, the Citadel prepares for the next assault against the city’s freedoms and strives to expand Zobeck’s influence into the wilder territories of the North. Haclav and his officers frequently consult with all the major players of the city, masters and journeymen of the Arcane Collegium, griffon knights, guildmasters, and even crab diviners (see the Zobeck Gazetteer) when their services are called for. As things currently stand, the mayor, Council, and field marshall all agree that it is a time of urgent preparations. They disagree on whether King Lucan of the Greater Duchy of Morgau or the dragon armies of the Mharoti pose the greater threat. Since both hostile nations have recently seized new territories, the field marshall attempts to make it clear to the trade‑loving citizens of Zobeck that distant drums are coming ever closer, and the city is not prepared for any sustained conflict with larger, battle-hardened armies.
Blue House and Lady Fenyll
Outside of wartime, the Citadel answers to the scarred but outrageously glamorous Lady Fenyll Marack. She is feared for her cutting remarks and her powers as Praetor of the Blue House, mistress of the secret police and any malcontents who can be convinced to serve the city’s greater good. She often approaches talented troublemakers under arrest and offers them a shorter sentence in exchange for “a little work outside town.” Invariably, this involves something dangerous, such as arcane sabotage against the Blood Kingdom, spying on a cantonal merchant suspected of harboring Mammon cultists, or sneaking aboard a flying city of Sikkim.
Lady Fenyll comes from a long line of successful merchants. She is profoundly wealthy and drives a hard bargain with everyone. A widow and a survivor, she is the paranoid mind that helps keep Zobeck free; Sir Jorun’s brilliance in matters of strategy and tactics protects the city when her efforts toward diplomacy, sabotage, and misdirection fail.
As its name suggests, this district’s greatest feature is Zobeck’s famous Arcane Collegium. Lada’s Temple of the Celestial Dawn is its other great landmark (see “Places of Interest,” below). Scholars, scribes, mages, students, and alchemists frequent this district and gather at the Hedgehog tavern or peruse the shelves at the Book Fetish.
The Arcane Collegium rarely opens its doors to outsiders. The most common means of entrance are the Steam Gate that leads into Arcane Square, across from the Hedgehog tavern, and the Water Gate at the docks, which uses a set of stairs down the embankment to a single pier. The stairs are slippery and guards and other traps make them impassable to unwelcome guests. Even when the Steam Gate does open, those admitted are most often hired help, agents of the Collegium, or someone seeking to offer great treasures in exchange for the Arcane Collegiums wisdom, rather than townsfolk with a casual interest.
The Arcane Collegium includes two small courtyards and a dozen two-story buildings (with a mix of gray and yellow stucco and red tile rooftops) housing masters, apprentices, alchemists (near the river), and clockwork servants. The grounds are protected by clockwork traps, gargoyles, and even undead under the control of the masters of the Collegium. Its masters and students claim a black tower, the large gray hall of the summoners, underground labs, and sturdy alchemical bunkers. All the buildings feature tarnished silver runes inscribed along the eaves, gates, and windows.
The Collegium incorporates warded clockwork doors, enchanted gargoyles, a wide-open courtyard and arcade where students can study or at least breathe fresh air, and a series of lecture rooms and wizardly laboratories for practical learning of the arcane.
The Collegium has grown to almost 40 apprentices studying under the masters, including 14 kobolds, a trollkin named Herring, 5 golden-bearded dwarves (brothers and sisters from Mischau), and 19 humans. The staff numbers about 40 and includes alchemists, scribes, maids, cooks, a chamberlain, language tutors, arcane tutors, clockworkers, a priest of the Gear Goddess, a few clockwork scullions, and even a falconer from Siwal named Kaashif al-Rashid.
The Arcane Collegium teaches two little-known schools of magic: clockwork spells and illumination magic (also called stars and shadow magic). The college is an acknowledged leader in shadow magic, though the most accomplished arcanists of that school are the shadow fey, who are loath to share what they know.
In addition to Guildmaster Orlando and Lector Radovich Streck, the other prominent members of the Collegium include Master Necromancer Konrad von Eberfeld (rarely seen above ground, and said to serve as informal ambassador to the Ghoul Imperium), the Master Illusionist Ariella Scarpetti (whose illusions sometimes aid Lady Fenyll and the Blue House in feats of subterfuge); and Master Diviner Rudwin Whitstone (who retains excellent relations with the enchantersmiths of Templeforge in the Ironcrags, as well as with the priesthood of Rava in Zobeck). The positions of Master Summoner and Master of Stars and Shadows were last held by Linnea Thorn and Sariel of Morgau, respectively. Mistress Thorn was recently murdered, and Master Sariel retired to the mountains. The position of Master Summoner has been filled by the perpetually mosscovered Janock Vandereich (NG male human wizard 6), and the position of Mistress of Stars and Shadows has been taken by the rather nocturnal Ottily Riverbend (CN female shadow fey wizard 9), a good friend of Ambassador Glaninin Thelamandrine.
Also called the Gullet—and one of the busiest areas of the Free City—the docks along the Argent River are the center of the city’s trade, slightly eclipsing the Great Northern Road. Its wharves, alleys, and thoroughfares see traffic from merchants, barge polers, and stevedores at all hours. Its taverns, gambling dens, and bordellos stand beside warehouses, dry docks, and other industries of the water trade. Brawls are common, and the City Watch heavily patrols the area to ensure the smooth continuation of commerce. Despite its reputation for drunken violence, the district works hard and moves a huge volume of cargo on and off the river’s barges.
Blue Barbers of Wharf Street
This group of a dozen blue-haired gnomes arrived some years ago and was met with immediate suspicion from the praetors and bullying visits from city guards and hussars. They are, strangely enough, not Niemheim gnomes at all, but claim to hail from the Court of Midnight Teeth, a shadow fey court of long standing in the Shadow Realm. Their proficiency with razors, moustache wax, and restorative hair tonics has slowly won them a loyal following among the Griffon Knights and hussars and some of the city’s dwarves. Others mutter that the Blue Barbers are not merely gossips and barbers good with a quip and a tale, but actually serve as smiling spies and assassins for the shadow fey.
A young, smiling, and hardworking man such as the bargewright Maesker is rare in any town, and Zobeck is lucky to have him building and repairing its barges quickly and cheaply. Many ship captains share information with him in passing; he seems remarkably well informed. He keeps a small team of halflings, humans, and ravenfolk very busy, but he won’t abide kobolds; the scars on his arms are souvenirs of many knife fights and brawls he has fought against the scaly folk down at the Fierce Lynx fighting pit.
The Gear District lies on the city’s western side near the Dwarven Gate. It is primarily a region of tin and brass merchants, gear grinders, and gearforged repair shops. Here one sees the greatest concentration of the city’s gearforged, and here the best dwarven clockwork mages and engineers create wondrous creations in iron and brass.
The entire region revolves around the Steamworker’s Guildhall and the Geargrinder’s Emporium, two structures built at enormous expense with ribs of cast iron. The tin toys and sharp knives sold here are very well made, but the greatest prizes are the new gearforged given life each month through the combined efforts of mages, geargrinders, clockworker kobolds, and dwarven engineers, all at phenomenal expense. Despite the cost, one new clockwork guard emerges each month (some believe the Free City is slowly building an army of loyal gearforged soldiers), and most months, a privately funded gearforged does as well. These independent gearforged must pay off the cost of their creation, and most do so through service to a wealthy family, temple, or guild.
From time to time, dwarven mule trains from the Ironcrags bring in shipments of iron and unusual alloys, jewels for precision gearing, and offerings for the temple of Volund. His shrine here clearly shows the dwarven influence. An ever-burning altar and anvil stand before his statue, and his dwarven acolytes call out his name in Dwarvish as they tap out the rhythm of Volund’s hymns and songs of praise. The noise of worship is often lost in the district’s other racket.
The Kobold Ghetto, a warren of streets no more than 6 feet wide (at best), lies adjacent to the Argent and Derry rivers. Throughout most of the Ghetto, roofs meet overhead to keep out the glare of the sun for the nocturnal inhabitants.
The Ghetto has only two official entrances, the Ghetto Gate and the Water Gate, each carefully watched from both sides. Multiple kobold “kings” or tribal chieftains rule the district, retaining power only as long as they keep their relatives and minions in line. One king, the King of Kings or Queen of Queens, holds the others in check until their united strength undercuts the monarch.
Five years ago, Queen Clarhida ousted Kuromak, the 7th of that name, to claim the leading position. King Quetelmak ousted Clarhida two years later. Few kings last more than a few years. Some barely last a year.
More than 90 years ago, the kobolds were slaves to House Stross, and the Ghetto was their pen. They were chattel used by the family to do the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs so that humans and dwarves could work at finer crafts and live comfortably. Kobold slaves mined silver, built clever clockworks, and worked deadly steam boilers for the constructs and automatons that fueled Zobeck’s industry. History largely ignored them, but some believe the kobolds helped invent the everwound spring, the aeolipile generator (a steam engine used in places where water or muscle power won’t suit), and the reciprocating balance wheel, thus laying the foundations for Zobeck’s fame. These centuries of enslavement form an indelible part of the kobolds’ culture, and despite their relatively short lives, no kobold in Zobeck has ever forgotten the indignity.
Now, the Ghetto is a place of free kobolds, the legal equal of any man or woman of the Clockwork City. They remain a people apart, however: physically, culturally, and habitually. The single biggest obstacle to full equality is their nocturnal nature. Kobolds labor all night and return home before dawn to spend the day in sleep and rest before venturing back out shortly before sunset. Their unusual entertainments include rat fights, owl races, and pigeon hunts, visiting the Fierce Lynx gladiator pit, and pursuing amateur alchemy, often with hilarious results.
Under Quetelmak, the kobolds have built several small bridges using linked iron chains and barrel floats to connect their territory to other districts—and even to span the Argent over to the Margreve side at night, when traffic is low. These chain bridges are a clear route for smugglers avoiding the gate taxes that fund city coffers, and they might allow passage to Mharoti spies or cultists of the dark gods. Mayor Olleck hates the chain bridges, but whenever the City Watch attempts to seize them, the chains and barrels are cut loose (and later recovered). Mayor Olleck is coming around to the position that these bridges are useful to the kobolds, and she is negotiating with King of Kings Quetelmak for a way to impose a new “Bridge Tax” on smugglers. The king sees real merit in the idea of a kobold-controlled portion of the city treasury.
Pit of the Fierce Lynx
Miles of warrens, homes, workshops, and smugglers’ tunnels run under the Kobold Ghetto—but so do less domestic and less savory locales. One of these is the Pit of the Fierce Lynx, a gladiatorial arena where a friendly, scheming fight promoter named Yshka Bishka (LE male kobold rogue 8) runs a bloody business in fighting roosters, hounds, and humans, with occasional knife fights or honor duels by kobold lovers for variety. Fights are held weekly, in a round pit that is easy to sluice clean after each evening’s butchery.
Winners at the Lynx are treated as kobold royalty for a day or a week, and the whole ghetto finds the fights enthralling. The setup is wildly illegal, and the mayor has made it clear that she wants to shut it down. So far, she’s not willing to send in the number of Watch guards required to actually end the practice, but a recent proclamation offers 500 gp for anyone who brings Yshka Bishka in for “questioning or burial, for crimes against nature.” The mayor would be perfectly happy if he showed up dead.
From the smallest district to the largest and even underneath, Zobeck holds wonders—some undiscovered even by its residents.
Cartways: A series of tunnels lies under the city. Before the Great Revolt, the city’s wealthy used these old kobold mining tunnels for their private highways, and noble revelers used them to travel to and from Stross-sponsored Winter Festival parties in the underground cavern called Winter Hall. Although the city has officially closed the Cartways, thieves, smugglers, and undesirable residents use the tunnels to conduct business or lair within them.
Lower Zobeck (Ashmill): Ashmill is home to the Free City’s poor and unskilled working classes, though a few merchants such as the Kappa family have purchased large chunks of space near the Moon’s Grace Temple and the shrine to St. Charon (Charun). Lower Zobeck also houses the Wheatsheaf Tavern, a favored drinking hole for smugglers and rogues. Merchants selling foodstuff, livestock, and spices do brisk business in this district.
Market District (Vineyard District): Merchants selling carpets, cloth, leather, wine, weapons, alchemical powders, poisons, and goods from distant lands hawk their wares from tiny stalls in this district. This includes elfmarked traders from Dornig, dwarven ironmongers from the Cantons, horse traders from Trombei, Mharoti carpet sellers, and sometimes shadow fey traders with goods from the Shadow Realm, sold in the gloomy halls of the Shadow Fey Exchange. Most anything can be found for sale here, in season and for the right price.
Merchant District: Weavers, cobblers, coopers, carpenters, jewelers, armorers, and other skilled workers maintain shops lining this district. Some of their wares are sold in the Market District, supplementing their income, but these artisans work to order and have enough orders to keep them busy. Many merchants reside in the upper levels of their shops, though the wealthier ones maintain residences in Upper Zobeck.
Temple District: Temples to the Free City’s five main deities—Lada (her largest temple in Zobeck is here), Perun, Rava, Volund, and Holda—dominate this district; a few smaller shrines to St. Charon, Ninkash, and St. Pirun are tucked into corners. The structures surrounding the temples house their staff or store goods and livestock to support the clerics.
Upper Zobeck: The Free City’s government centers, including the Council Hall, City Archives, the Redrock Bailey (jail), and the Civic Courthouse, cluster in this district. The opulent, painted-brick houses of the city’s richest and oldest families stand in the Crown Square portion of the district, where the great Old Stross Clock tolls the hours…
But this is where we must stop for now, my friend. My mind, it wanders so at times. Do come see me again, though, for more of the wonders and surprises of Midgard. (OGL)