The Voyage of the Golden Dragon
A Vistor’s Guide to Sharn, The City of Towers
Sharn, the largest city on the continent of Khorvaire and one of the defining locations of the nation of Breland, looms atop an inhospitable outcropping of rock near the mouth of the Dagger River. The City of Towers rises high into the cloud-filled sky, growing upward within the limited space available on a plateau bounded on the west and south by the Dagger River and its eastern tributary, the Hilt. To the north and east, steep cliffs define the city’s boundaries, while deep chasms formed by volcanic action cut the plateau into five distinct regions: Dura on the west, Tavick’s Landing on the east, Northedge to the north, and the Central Plateau and Menthis Plateau in the center. Along the Dagger River at the western edge of the city, the neighborhood of Cliffside is built upon and into the steep riverside cliffs. Above the highest towers, the neighborhood of Skyway floats over the city. The city also extends underground, into sewers and long-forgotten ruins, and deeper to the furnaces and foundries of the Cogs.
Sharn sits within a manifest zone linked to Syrania, the Azure Sky. This manifest zone enhances magic related to flying and levitation, which makes many of Sharn’s magical wonders possible. The vast majority of the magic items used within the city to facilitate flight only function because of the manifest zone, and work less well or not at all beyond its boundaries. See Chapter 5: Heroes and Magic for more information about the manifest zone.
Most of Sharn’s neighborhoods are vertically stratified. For example, while Menthis Plateau is known as a center of entertainment, the type and quality of entertainment available varies among the different levels of the towers. The upper levels(usually referred to as “Upper Menthis”) offer high art in the forms of opera, theater, and symphony, as well as housing Morgrave University and a thriving community of writers and other artists. The middle levels (“Middle Menthis”) house a thriving theater district with more affordable shows, a large number of professional minstrels, acrobats, and similar entertainers, and a year-round circus complete with animals. The lower levels (“Lower Menthis”) contain a very different sort of theater district marked by burlesque shows, a red light district, and a great number of taverns for cheap and bawdy entertainment.
A long wall rings the Central Plateau at its lowest level, interrupted by towers along its entire length. Inside the wall, structures rise higher and higher toward the tallest towers near the middle, creating a great artificial mountain at the heart of the city. Mostly populated by the upper and middle classes, the Central Plateau houses the seat of the city’s government, its wealthiest citizens, and its finest businesses. Embassies from other nations, important representatives of the dragonmarked houses, and banks are found here as well.
Menthis Plateau serves as the entertainment hub of the city, and is home to Morgrave University and a variegated quilt of different races. Certainly the most trendy of Sharn’s quarters, Menthis is a popular tourist destination. No walls surround Menthis, though its tallest towers are spread along its outer rim. The enormous dome of Morgrave University, ringed by five tall, slender towers, stands near the center of the plateau.
Northedge, the most residential of Sharn’s quarters, contains everything from towertop penthouses in the heights to tightly packed apartments on the lower levels. Aside from a marketplace district near the bottom of the towers, Northedge is a quiet neighborhood with little commerce and little crime.
Dura, the largest quarter in Sharn, covers the great expanse of the western plateau from the cliffs overlooking the Dagger River to the crevasse of the Western Cog. It is also the poorest, excepting the Cogs, with even its topmost levels solidly middle class. Dura mixes various businesses and housing, never approaching a true residential district but holding
a number of apartments, tenements, and (near the bottom) slums. The lower levels of Dura include a large population of immigrants from Darguun and Droaam, forming a neighborhood of goblinoids and other monstrous residents.
Cliffside is a neighborhood perched precariously on the side of the cliffs above the Dagger River and Sharn’s waterfront. It includes the waterfront businesses far below Dura, as well as towers built up from the cliff face and a shantytown of caves dug into the sides of the southern cliffs overlooking the Hilt. The businesses of Cliffside are either directly related to shipping or cater to boat crews, adventurers, and other transients.
Tavick’s Landing, at the eastern edge of the city, is in some ways defined by being the terminus of the Orien lightning rail line and trade road. The lower levels cater to travelers and traders entering Sharn by rail, and include an entire city district that has been converted to provide housing for refugees from the Last War. The middle and upper levels are broader in their purposes, including a variety of trades, services, and residential districts.
Skyway is magically suspended above the city on gigantic disks of force, like Tenser’s floatingdisks taken to a fantastic extreme. These disks are among the many magic items and effects in the city that work only because of the presence of the manifest zone linked to Syrania. Not a cloud palace but an actual extension of the city, Skyway includes some of Sharn’s finest inns and restaurants, exotic and upscale trades, and a number of mansions belonging to the very richest citizens.
The Depths is the generic name for everything that lies beneath the city’s main plateau, excepting Cliffside and the Cogs far below. The upper levels give way to active and inactive sewers, some of which have their own inhabitants, as well as the mostly forgotten ruins of earlier settlements built long before the towers started to rise. Far below and accessed by well-maintained tunnels and shafts, the Cogs sit at the very base of Sharn and serve as an actively populated center of industry. In fact, the roots of modern Sharn’s towers lie underground in some places, buried by the passing of centuries.
The Cogs are the churning heart of the city, full of forges and foundries powered by steaming geysers, molten lava, and bound fire elementals. Extending far below the foundations of Sharn’s towers and built along the banks of the great chasms that divide the city, the Cogs incorporate elements of ancient ruins and natural caverns.
The Government of Sharn
Bureaucracy mires Sharn’s political landscape. In addition to the massive amount of work involved in maintaining the city itself, Sharn also administers Brelish law to the surrounding region, collecting taxes and revenues on behalf of King Boranel. The city is filled with ministers, beadles, bailiffs, and minor functionaries of all shapes and sizes. However, it is unlikely that a player character is going to become intimately involved in the repaving of roads or the system of agricultural tariffs collected by the ministers of Sharn. As a result, this section focuses on the pinnacle of Sharn’s government: the people at the top, who have the power to set adventures in motion.
THE CITY COUNCIL
Many make the mistake of assuming that the Lord Mayor of Sharn holds the greatest power within the city. In fact, the City Council appoints the Lord Mayor, and the commanders of the Sharn Watch report to the Council.
The Council of Sharn is comprised of 17 councilors: one from each of the wards of the city, with Cliffside merged into Dura and a single councilor representing both Ashblack and Blackbones. The precise method by which a councilor is appointed varies from ward to ward. In theory, it is a diplomatic selection made by the leaders of the ward, but what it takes to be a “leader” varies considerably. In some wards, anyone with a certain amount of income or property can participate in ward councils and elections. In others, ward elections are entirely in the hands of trade guilds, noble families, or other power groups. While in theory each councilor has an equal voice, in practice the influence of a councilor is derived from his backers. The local merchants of Lower Menthis support Savia Potellas, and she knows better than to openly oppose Caskar Halavik, who has the backing of the Boromar Clan. If she stirs up too much trouble, she might wind up at the bottom of the Dagger River. However, she finds other ways to deal with Caskar and pursue her own goals—including hiring adventurers to upset his plans. Likewise, while each councilor is supposed to represent the interests of his or her ward, a councilor usually puts his backers first, his personal
district second, and his ward third.
Thus, the three councilors with ties to the Boromar Clan usually vote as a unit. The City Council commands a variety of powers. The Council establishes the laws of the city, although if they wish to pass a law that completely contradicts the Code of Galifar or the traditions of Brelish Law, the crown or parliament might have something to say about it. Laws may vary per ward, allowing a councilor to shift the traditions of the city to benefit his backers. The Council also determines how to use the resources of Sharn, from taxes to the power of the Sharn Watch.
Finally, the Council appoints the high officers of the city, including the Lord Mayor. The councilors do not appoint the city’s representatives to the Breland Parliament; following the democratic traditions of the nation, the three legislators are elected by popular vote, with every legitimate resident of Sharn having the right to participate. However, the Council manages and administers the election, and councilors can usually exercise a considerable amount of influence over the voters in their districts, whether through charisma or graft.
THE LORD MAYOR
While the City Council holds the true power in Sharn, the Lord Mayor is still a force to be reckoned with. The Lord Mayor represents the interests of Sharn in any direct contact with the Brelish Crown, including interaction with the King’s Citadel. He also appoints the lesser officers of the city and oversees all issues of daily administration. He has the power to establish trade agreements with foreign governments, to pardon criminals, and to order arrests and even executions. His worship Cathan ir’Demell has been Lord Mayor of Sharn for twenty years, and he enjoys the luxuries and privileges of his position. He is unlikely to take any actions that would anger Javan Tomollan or Bestan ir’Tonn, his strongest supporters in the council, and he usually consults with these two before making any major decisions.
THE KING’S CITADEL
The City Council and the Lord Mayor represent the interests of Sharn; they are not direct servants of the king. The King’s Citadel looks after the interests of the crown, and can assert jurisdiction over any criminal matter or issue concerning espionage or national security.
THE SIXTY FAMILIES OF SHARN
Twenty-five of the twenty-seven noble families of Breland have strong ties and interests in Sharn, along with all of the dragonmarked houses. But the majority of the wealth of the city lies in the hands of the gentry: merchants and landowners who have built their fortunes through centuries of hard work and clever investment. There are hundreds of powerful families in the City of Towers, but a few stand out from the rest. These are known as the Sixty.
Sharn was built with the gold of the ir’Tain family, and today the ir’Tains are the most powerful and influential family in the city. Once each month, they hold a grand party for the aristocracy—The Tain Gala. When the ir’Tains were building their new manor on Skyway, Lady Shala told the architects to make the banquet hall large enough to seat sixty families and their servants.
The Sixty of Sharn are those with standing invitations to the Tain Gala—the clear sign of success. It should be noted that other people may attend the gala, as it is uncommon for all sixty families to bring all of their family members and servants, and the hall was designed to hold entertainers as well as guests. But a single invitation, while prestigious, is entirely different from being invited to join the Sixty.
While many members of the Aurum are also members of the Sixty, the two organizations are quite
different. The Aurum is a highly organized conspiracy that carries out carefully orchestrated plans to provide its members with greater power and wealth.
The Sixty is more of a social club—a visible manifestation of the most powerful families in Sharn. Members of the Sixty discuss politics and business at the Tain Galas, and these discussions can have an impact on adventurers, Sharn, or even Breland. But the Sixty almost never act as a concerted unit, and many members are actually bitter rivals beyond the walls of the Tain Manor.
All of the noble families and the dragonmarked families are members of the Sixty; this means that any Sharn resident with the ir’ or d’ prefix on his last name could be found at the Tain Gala. Other members are generally identified as such in their descriptions. A standing invitation can always be revoked to make room for a more deserving candidate; one of the greatest fears of Councilor Sorik Senso is that his family will be displaced to make room for Councilor Javan Tomollan.