Several years ago (around 2003), I participated in an online collaboration to produce a game setting with all the trimmings and details.
The setting was named Korak’s Reach, a town built on what was literally a flying stone hand that was trapped and positioned between the two walls of a perilous and uncrossed chasm. Being a new and natural trade route, a town grew up there almost immediately.
My contribution was to create one of the sections, built on one of the “fingers” named “The Way of the Road” that was sometimes also known as “The Way of the Rodent” not just for the four‐legged rats that infest the place but also for their two‐legged cousins. This was the lower section, the caravan section. It was not a nice place.
The following are some of the settings and their attendant characters I created for this project.
This well‑named tavern is about as well‑lit as the average dungeon. It was once a cellar, but is now known as a hangout for low level Black Hand members. They keep the fighting and other mischief between regulars to a minimum, but outsiders and strangers are fair game. The City Guard never enters the tavern, but it is widely suspected that they have one or two spies present: the Black Hand has advertised a small reward for their identities, but whoever they are, they have been quite successful in remaining unknown.
Xananthe, female half‐elf Sor3: CR 3; Size M (5 ft., 2 in. tall); HD 3d4+3; hp 12; Init 0; Spd 30 ft.; AC 10; Attack +1 mêlée, or +1 ranged; SV Fort +2, Ref +1, Will +6; AL N; Str 11, Dex 11, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 16, Cha 17.
Languages Spoken: Common, Elven, Halfling, Orc.
Skills and feats: Concentration +7, Knowledge (arcana) +7, Listen +9, Spellcraft +7, Spot +9; Combat Casting, Scribe scroll.
Possessions: +1 merciful dagger.
Sorcerer Spells Known (6/6): 0th — Dancing Lights, Detect Magic, Ghost Sound, Mage Hand, Prestidigitation. 1st – Charm Person, Magic Missile, Sleep.
No one ever suspects Xananthe, the pretty serving wench with the multitude of silken scarves, of being a spy for the City Guard. She passes through the crowd, smiling and flirting with every regular, her very visible presence giving her the most effective hiding place possible. To the regulars, she’s just a failed adventurer who now only wants the security of a full stomach and the privacy of a warm cot at night. To the City Guard who placed her here, she is a trusted source of information, but if she gets into trouble, she’s on her own.
She has no personal contacts with the City Guard. When she needs to relay messages, she uses a coded set of scarves and bandanas to pass along information to an unseen watcher.
The Mercenaries Guildhouse is a three story building of dark red brick with narrow windows only on the second and third floors, situated next to the right of the Scarlet Theater, separated by narrow alley.
The first floor is concerned with the practical matters of running the Guild, including a large central courtyard for practicing and mustering, a hiring hall, interview rooms, a vault to hold payments and fees, and a small kitchen and mess hall. The rear contains a surgery and recovery room, and an office for the healers. It is not uncommon to see individuals practicing in the courtyard at all hours.
The second floor has a large common room in the front of the building, while the left and right sides are both open wards for recovering mercenaries. The rear quarter is composed of small rooms, for mercenaries who can afford a private room, or for the contagiously ill.
The third floor is reserved for long‑term medical care and retired mercenaries, usually ones who cannot fight for medical reasons, but there are the rare individuals who have survived a number of campaigns and decided to retire with all of their limbs attached. Each has a small set of rooms, usually no more than a small sitting room, a bed room, and a water closet. Stygus has a double suite on this floor.
The Guildhouse also has a large cellar, which is used to store a large amount of food stores (some of which is sold at a modest markup to passing mercenary units) and weapons. It has been said that if any one tries to invade Korak through the Low Gate, they’ll run into a barrier at the Guildhouse.
Membership in the Mercenaries Guild is limited to actual members of a recognized mercenary company, and dues are usually deducted from their payment. Membership in the guild provides for free or discounted medical assistance and guaranteed ransom, among other things.
Yevgenii, male human Ftr8: CR 8; Size M (5 ft., 7 in. tall); HD 8d10+32; hp 86; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Attack +13/+8 mêlée, or +10/+5 ranged; SV Fort +10, Ref +4, Will +3; AL LN; Str 20, Dex 15, Con 18, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 12.
Languages Spoken: Common, Draconic, Dwarven.
Skills and feats: Craft (leather) +10, Handle animal +10, Hide +2, Knowledge (region) +4, Listen +1, Move silently +2, Ride +10, Speak language +1, Spot +1, Swim +16; Ambidexterity, Blind‑fight, Combat reflexes, Dodge, Improved critical (longsword), Mounted combat, Power attack, Trample, Weapon focus (longsword).
Possessions: +2 flaming longsword.
Yevgenii is a rarity: a mercenary who has survived so many campaigns, that he has forgotten the count. Now retired he lives a quiet life in the Guild House, except when he’s training the next generation of fighters. He is the closest thing to a mentor that the Guild House has. In his spare time, he crafts expensive leather saddles for nobility.
Lining the Way all the way from just inside the gate to the Dark Quarter are the market stalls and pitched blankets of the Open Market. Farmers from the surrounding countryside sit side‑by‑side with dwarven metal smiths and hedge wizards selling potions. Competition for space is fierce, with many spaces being held for years.
Hord, male human Rog3/Sor3: CR 6; Size M (5 ft., 8 in. tall); HD 3d6 + 3d4 + 3; hp 19; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+1 Dex +1 Bracers); Attack +2 mêlée, or +4 ranged; SV Fort +4, Ref +5, Will +6; AL CN; Str 8, Dex 13, Con 11, Int 12, Wis 14, Cha 16.
Languages Spoken: Common, Elven.
Skills and feats: Diplomacy +11, Decipher script +7, Disguise +11, Forgery +6, Gather information +9.5, Handle animal +5.5, Hide +11, Intuit direction +8, Knowledge (arcana) +6, Listen +4, Move silently +1, Sense motive +8, Spot +4, Tumble +7, Use magic device +6, Use rope +7; Alertness, Great fortitude, Skill focus (disguise), Toughness.
Possessions: bag of tricks (gray), bracers of armor +1, cloak of elvenkind.
Sorcerer Spells Known (6/6): 0th — Dancing Lights, Detect Magic, Ghost Sound, Mage Hand, Read Magic. 1st — Magic Missile, Message, Summon Monster I.
Hord lives a dual life, as befits his dual professions. First, he is a notorious “fagan”, a term of mysterious origin meaning the adult leader of a child gang. Typically, he has somewhere between eight to twelve children in his gang, all born and bred in the streets and all between the ages of five and ten. Secondly, he is one of Ranulf’s agents throughout the area. He regularly reports whatever is happening in the area to his master.
Roscoe, male halfling (tallfellow) Rog5: CR 5; Size S (4 ft., 5 in. tall); HD 5d6; hp 17; Init +9 (+5 Dex, +4 Improved initiative); Spd 30 ft.; AC 18 (+5 Dex, +1 Size, +2 Ring); Attack +4 mêlée, or +9 ranged; SV Fort +3, Ref +10, Will +3; AL CN; Str 11, Dex 21, Con 11, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 11.
Languages Spoken: Common, Dwarven, Elven, Halfling.
Skills and feats: Appraise +8, Balance +11, Forgery +9, Gather information +11, Hide +16, Listen +10, Move silently +8, Search +5, Spot +10; Dodge, Improved initiative.
Possessions: boots of striding and springing, ring of protection +2.
Proudly independent of the four “masters” of the Caravansary, Roscoe serves two different and conflicting masters: first, the caravans, who depend on his guidance to get to their assigned area, and, secondly, to the Black Hand, who use him to spot valuable items being shipped into town. He’s also a valuable source of information about the area for anyone who pays him a few silver or gold pieces. He never starts a fight, and always tries to avoid one.
Salamander Watch House
The warehouse owners may quarrel, but they all agree that they fear one thing above even taxes or the City Guard: fire. They all contribute to the maintenance of a fire‑fighting force, which has its headquarters on the Way in the middle of the Dark Quarter.
Nicknamed “The Salamanders”, this force consists of over a dozen men who haul carts laden with large casks of water and a crude pumping mechanism to the fires. When that happens, townsfolk and City Guardsmen all pitch in to help out. The Salamanders would like to hire the services of someone who could assist them through magic, but haven’t been able to find that person yet.
The Watch House is located as near the center of the Dark Quarter as possible, in a small warehouse donated for the purpose in lieu of a payment by the owner to the force. The warehouse is just big enough to hold their three water carts and living quarters for about twenty men.
Every day, each cart is drawn to the nearby river; its casks are hand‑filled, and sometimes the water blessed by a rotating series of clerics. Citizens consider it lucky to be helping when the water is blessed, so the Salamanders often get all the help they need for this job from passers‑by.
Orm, male human Com3: CR 2; Size M (5 ft., 11 in. tall); HD 3d4; hp 10; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 11 (+1 Dex); Attack +3 mêlée, or +2 ranged; SV Fort +1, Ref +4, Will +4; AL LG; Str 15, Dex 13, Con 11, Int 14, Wis 17, Cha 12.
Languages Spoken: Common, Orc, Ignan.
Skills and feats: Climb +7, Handle animal +7, Hide +1, Knowledge (religion) +4, Listen +10, Profession (firefighter) +8, Spot +8, Use rope +7; Alertness, Lightning reflexes, Skill focus (listen).
Orm is the leader of the Salamanders. Always cheerful, he frequently discusses religion with the priests as they bless the water. He wants to get a team of horses to draw the water carts, but he has yet to figure out a way to stable a team of horses in the Watch House, and he is worried about the horses panicking after they reach the fire.
The Scarlet Theater
Across the Way from the slave pens is the gladiatorial arena known as the Scarlet Theater. Not visually impressive, it is a simple, windowless, three‑story domed building of dark stone. A large slate on the front wall announces the bouts for the evening, with rough chalk sketches of the gladiators and opponents for the illiterate. One large door for patrons and guests fronts the Way, with smaller doors for combatants, contestants, and uncooperative victims on either side. Rumors of doors opening on to secret underground passages are mostly rumors.
Strangely enough, the building was originally designed to be a theater, but it quickly fell on hard times. Stygus (along with the help of his unseen partners) quickly bought the property and refurbished it as a fighting arena.
The first floor is twice the height of the other floors. The front entrance leads into a large vestibule, though which the sounds of battle and shouts of encouragement or despair can be heard. The vestibule also has two large doors, behind which large, semi‑circular staircases lead to the upper levels. Two smaller doors on the sides lead to the wings on the left and right wings of the building. One thing this floor does not have is any established place to buy food or drink: that is done by wandering vendors, who sell watered ale and fruit juices and meat pies of almost respectable origins.
The arena is set into the first floor, surrounded by a low wall, surmounted with an iron fence. There are two doors into the arena. One leads to the gladiators’ private areas, and across the arena is the door to the animal pens, which is also used all other participants: criminals, automatons, and aberrations. The ceiling above the arena is domed with numerous skylights, which were boarded over by Stygus.
The left wing is devoted to maintaining the gladiators. Except in the case of Bruuhl, the arena champion, none of the gladiators live on the premises. He has a Spartan set of quarters situated along the front of the building, and the rest is divided up into several smaller changing rooms. Below this area are the bathing facilities, including a steam bath and massage room, a small clinic and the passage leading to the arena itself.
The right wing is devoted to the opponents: the fighting animals, criminals, and anything else that might appeal to the crowd. (In the past, gladiators have fought everything from swarms of goblinoids and Dire Rats to freshly‑caught Rift Spiders (hobbled for the spectator’s protection, of course) and Rust Monsters to Skeletons and Zombies.) The first floor is used for little more than the receiving room for the cages below. Below this area are the cages, all of which lead out to the arena through a common ‘run’, a large, well‑stocked meat locker and a crude veterinary clinic. Cages are 6’ high and are made of interconnected iron bars, so that the handlers can force animals out to the arena, but there are two 10’x10’ cages of thick stone for larger and more dangerous prey. The ‘run’ is controlled remotely from the rear of the cages.
The second and third floor is reserved for balconies and private boxes. Both floors have two private boxes in the rear, with heavy draperies concealing the occupants. The private boxes are connected to the rest of the floor through a set of secret panels; the boxes can also be reached through the secret underground passages and a climb up the narrow stairs inside the support columns. This area was originally the area behind and above the stage, but they were refurbished for private use after Stygus purchased the building. The second floor also has Stygus’ office, while the third floor has a large room that is often used for private meetings.
The arena is owned by several individuals, but the only one publicly known is Stygus, a former mercenary and dwarven tunnel explorer.
At night, members of the Mercenaries Guild are always in attendance for the fights, and Stygus can always rely on their support for additional security. During the day, Stygus rents the arena for practice sessions and duels; members of the Mercenaries Guild get special discounts.
The arena was deliberately built on the side of The Way closest to the Way of the Gods and its temples, so that the souls of the slain would find an easier way to their ultimate destination that way. In other words, its builders arranged it so that the dead souls are the responsibility of the priests rather than the owners of the arena. Even so, Stygus has an arrangement with several of the temples to have the arena exorcised and purified on a regular basis.
Stygus gets a cut of all betting, and is ruthless in enforcing this rule: 1 silver coin for every ten silver coins won, or 1 gold coin for every 20 gold coins. Any one who tries to cheat him faces expulsion from the Arena, or, worse, becoming the attraction for the next bout.
Alya, female half‐elf Brd5: CR 5; Size M (5 ft., 5 in. tall); HD 5d6; hp 29; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 13 (+2 Dex, +1 Amulet); Attack +4 mêlée, or +5 ranged; SV Fort +1, Ref +6, Will +2; AL CN; Str 13, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 17, Wis 12, Cha 17.
Languages Spoken: Common, Dwarven, Elven, Sylvan, Undercommon.
Skills and feats: Bluff +13, Disguise +3, Diplomacy +13, Intimidate +5, Listen +11, Perform (harp) +11, Perform (wind instruments) +4, Profession (entertainer) +10, Sense motive +13, Sleight of Hand +10, Spot +3; Negotiator, Persuasive.
Possessions: Amulet of natural armor +1, hat of disguise, pipes of the sewers, masterwork flute.
Bard Spells Known (3/4/2): 0th — Daze, Detect Magic, Flare, Lullaby, Mending, Prestidigitation. 1st — Charm Person, Cure Light Wounds, Hypnotism, Sleep. 2nd – Hypnotic Pattern, Silence, Suggestion.
Known for her penetrating voice and commanding presence, Alya acts as announcer and performer in between bouts from her usual position in the back balcony overlooking the arena. During bouts, she passes through the crowd, picking up rumors and information to pass on the Stygus. Alya would like to be a partner in the Arena, but doesn’t have the money: she does, however, know the identities of just about every one of Stygus’s hidden partners. In addition, she actually performed in the old theater before it closed, and so she knows the existence of the hidden stairways and tunnels underneath the Arena. What she plans to do with that knowledge remains to be seen.
Bruuhl, male half‐orc Bbn6: CR 6; Size M (5 ft., 11 in. tall); HD 6d12+18; hp 68; Init +5 (+1 Dex +4 Imp); Spd 40 ft.; AC 14 (+1 Dex +2 Bracers +2 Ring); Attack +10/+5 mêlée, or +7/+2 ranged; SV Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +4; AL CN; Str 18, Dex 13, Con 17, Int 9, Wis 15, Cha 10.
Languages Spoken: Common, Orc.
Skills and feats: Climb +7, Intimidate +9, Jump +11, Profession (gladiator) +6, Swim +11; Improved Initiative, Lightning reflexes, Weapon Focus (waraxe).
Possessions: +2 waraxe, bracers of armor +2, ring of protection +2.
Bruuhl is the most popular gladiator in the Arena. A shrewd warrior, he would rather join an adventuring band and is only staying because he is working off a debt to Stygus, who obliges him with relatively easy opponents. For the past three months, the two have been building up the reputations of other gladiators and beasts, then the supposed underdog Bruuhl defeats them, winning Stygus and Bruuhl a lot of coin. It’s a con that is rapidly beginning to unravel, so they are looking for one final big match.
Stygus, male dwarf Ftr9: CR 9; Size M (4 ft., 1 in. tall); HD 9d10+36; hp 82; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 20 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Attack +11/+6 mêlée, or +11/+6 ranged; SV Fort +10, Ref +5, Will +4; AL N; Str 15, Dex 14, Con 19, Int 11, Wis 13, Cha 12.
Languages Spoken: Common, Dwarven.
Skills and feats: Climb +6, Listen +5, Move silently +8, Spot +8; Alertness, Blind‐fight, Combat reflexes, Endurance, Two weapon fighting, Weapon focus (waraxe, dwarven), Weapon focus (handaxe), Weapon specialization (waraxe, dwarven), Weapon specialization (handaxe).
Possessions: dwarven waraxe +1, masterwork handaxe
A former tunnel fighter, Stygus soon realized that it was better to have others do his fighting for him. That doesn’t mean he’s grown soft: he practices regularly and has been known to enter the arena himself on rare occasions.