Backstory: Sha値ai Cavern and the City of Harrowhame
I hate to open on Backstory, but the world-building is something of a necessary evil. I have a map of this sketched in my notebook, but it's not particularly legible. When I get a chance, I'll redraw it and post it in the thread.
Note: House Urbasano's organizational chart is attached. Yeah, middle-management Powerpoint!
Sha’lai Cavern and the City of HarrowhameLike much of the Feywild, Harrowhame is home to a stratified, feudal society. However, the governance of Harrowhame is far more exploitative and mercantilist than the traditional lord-vassal-peasant system that is common in fey surface societies. This is reflected in the city’s social structures and indeed, even in it architecture and general design.
Sha’lai is a massive oval-shaped cavern, roughly two-miles long by one-mile wide and one-half-mile high. It slopes gently from north to south, so that the northern (upper) structures look down upon the southern (lower) ones. Fort his reason, status is generally determined by how far north and how high up one’s House is located.
Sha’lai cavern is dominated by five major landmark terrain features: the Moonstone, Castle Harrowhame, the Platform, the Tears of Life, and the Rift.
The Moonstone is, as its name implies, a very large moonstone. Set into the north-center of the cavern, this massive gem is perfectly round and roughly one hundred meters in diameter. It is magically ensorcelled to reflect the phases and presence or absence of the moon in both appearance and luminance. When the moon is up in the surface world, the Moonstone glows, reflecting the moon’s current shape and radiance. When the moon is up and full, the moonstone lights Sha’lai cavern with enough light so that even those without low-light vision can function reasonably well. When the moon is new or on the far side of the earth, Sha’lai is plunged into utter darkness, so that even low-light vision will not avail those without at least some minimal source of illumination lighting their way. However, the phases and appearance of the moon do not correspond well to the regular day/night cycle of the surface world’s days, which often has the effect of making a surfacer’s initial stay in Harrowhame quite disorienting.
Castle Harrowhame is an earthmote that floats at the extreme north end of Sha’lai Cavern. It is the home of King Bronner and his House and the source of the Tears of Life. Atop the earthmote, there stands a large black-iron keep, but the earthmote itself must be home to some tunnels and living space as well because there are portal-like windows all across the underside of the earthmote’s superstructure, and on many a night, one can see lights emanating from within the structure itself.
Below the earthmote lies the Platform, a massive plateau that rises some hundred feet above the common level of the city. The Platform is home to most of the nobility of Harrowhame as well as to the Spider, the city’s temple of Lloth. Indeed, the Spider is located directly beneath Castle Harrowhame. This is King Bronner’s crude attempt at symbolism—and a constant reminder to the city’s drow of who is really in charge in the city.
Sha’lai’s major water source is a river called the Tears of Life. Its headwater is Bronner Pond, located at the north end of Castle Harrowhame’s earthmote. From Bronner Pond, the river flows south and over the Upper Falls, falling down to feed Harrow Lake up on the Platform. From there, the Tears trickle south, over the Lower Falls, and down into the city proper. The Tears then wind through the northeastern third of the city until they reach a canyon by the East Gate called the Rapids. The Rapids eventually give way to a bottomless rift, where the Tears fall away into the endless depths of the center of the earth.
The last of Sha’lai’s major landmarks is the Chasm. The Chasm is another bottomless rift that runs from the extreme south of the cavern, all the way up to the city’s center. At its widest, the Rift is roughly three hundred meters across. To the east of the Chasm, one finds a large section of freeholder farms along with the city’s Lower Market, both of which end at a cliff overlooking the Chasm. The cliff is dangerous, but most sentient beings know to stay well away from the edge, and actual falls are rare. The west side of the Chasm is a different story, however. On that side, the ground slopes gently at first but as one progresses down the slope, the slope increases, creating a vast area of treacherous and uncertain footing. Many of the city’s poorest residents live in shanty-town favelas built onto these increasingly treacherous slopes. Mishaps are common there, especially minor building accidents given the shoddy construction techniques common to shanty-towns. Entire families have been known to disappear after rockslides or even when a heavy family member rolls unexpectedly out of bed.
The Great Houses of Harrowhame House Bronner is a fomorian house located on the earthmote of Castle Harrowhame, high above even the exalted Houses of the Platform. From that lofty perch, Bronner is able to look down upon and dominate the rest of Sha’lai. Bronner rules the cavern by virtue of its absolute control of the city’s water supply. Every House and trader in the city pays Bronner for water, and King Bronner himself will not hesitate to cut off the supply if his rates are not met promptly and in full. Thus, since a fault by one leads to punishment for all, those that refuse to pay Bronner’s water rates risk near-instant annihilation by their peers. In this way, King Bronner is able to maintain a loose but rock-solid grip on power in Sha’lai without ever having to get involved in the city’s internal day-to-day struggles.
House Bronner also controls Harrowhame’s West Gate and a large public park called, not surprisingly, Bronner Park, located in the northwest corner of the city just below the Platform. Tariffs for the use of both the park and the West Gate provide a substantial second income for the lord of Sha’lai Cavern.
House Macjyata is a drow house located in the north center of the Platform, below and to the west of Castle Harrowhame. Macjyata controls the Spider and the Sword—the temples to Lloth and Bane, respectively—as well as the Upper Guilds, those guilds rich enough and powerful enough to have headquarters on the Platform. These include the Wizards’ Guild, the Clerics’ Guild, and the Janissaries’ Guild. However, while Macjyata has primacy of place in Harrowhame second only to House Bronner, its finances are not nearly as strong as those of either House Urbasano or House Temujin.
House Ellir is an illithid house located at the extreme west end of the Platform. Ellir serves as the city’s primary bank and counting house. Indeed, the Ellir have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of capital despite having few true commercial interests outside their specific sphere of influence. They underwrite the ventures of the guilds and the other Houses, and they control and maintain of the city’s Grand Arena. Beyond that, few in the city know anything at all about the Ellir.
House Urbasano is located at the eastern edge of the Platform, above and adjacent to Artisans Alley. While most of the House is located on the Platform proper, parts of the house have been carved down into the rocky terrace of the Platform itself, and with this, the House has managed to acquire a considerable slice of territory on the city’s main level. From this position, Urbasano is able to dominate the Upper Merchant Quarter and the city’s northeastern gate, colloquially known as Urbasano Gate. Indeed, most of the House’s revenues come from gate tariffs or from informal levies (i.e. “protection money”) paid by the merchants of the Upper Quarter to House Urbasano. In exchange, merchants are allowed to do business in the Upper Market, located just below the Platform and adjacent to Urbasano gate. This is the city’s premier business location because it is close to both a Gate and the Platform and because it is regularly patrolled by Urbasano soldiers. House Urbasano also operates Harrowhame’s primary slave market, the Pen. The Pen is located at the extreme southern end of the Upper Market.
House Temujin is a drow house and the only noble house in the city that is not located on the Platform. Temujin is the least of the drow houses by place but the richest and most powerful in terms of its sheer control on the populace of the city. This is because House Temujin territory encompasses both the Plantation and the Grove, and it is adjacent to the Lower Market and the lower city’s freeholder farms, both of which pay a protection tariff in exchange for permission to exist. Collectively, this gives Temjin control of the vast majority of Harrowhame’s trade in foodstuffs and common goods, an essential—and therefore lucrative—field to say the least.
Though the Temujins are publicly devoted to Lloth, their property borders Harrowhame’s shrine to Melora. Many find it curious that the Temujins have allowed this shrine to stand unmolested, but perhaps this isn’t so curious when one considers that so much of their financial success is dependent on the goddess of Life, Nature, and the Harvest.
Persons of Interest in House UrbasanoThere are something like a thousand people living and working in House Urbasano, not counting kobold foot soldier/fodder. The vast majority are non-drow slaves. Perhaps two hundred are common drow and/or drow artisans. A mere handful are House Nobles.
Some of the major players are listed below.
Matron Uriel. Uriel is the matron of House Urbasano. She is a mature drow lady, beautiful and deadly and at the height of her powers. As slaves, you’ve seen her but little. You get the feeling that she is not much involved with the day-to-day affairs of the House.
Weapons Master Adius. Adius is the Urbasano Weapons Master. As such, he is the senior male of the house and somewhat outside the House’s regular chain-of-command. Adius was the first of Uriel’s consorts and is the father of her three senior daughters—Sha’quira, Tailen, and Breva. As Weapons Master, Adius responsible for training all of the House’s warriors in the military arts. He reports only to Matron Uriel.
Maester Quellan is Urbasano’s House Wizard, charged with keeping the Arcanum. This includes the House Library as well as the Laboratory. Quellan was Uriel’s second consort, and he is the father of Uriel’s fourth daughter, Katarza.
Malakus. Malakus is an horrific war demon and Uriel’s current consort. A walking horror of pain and punishment, he strides the halls of House Urbasano as if he owns them, swinging his Painblade and Cat o’ Nine with reckless abandon. He has been known to chastise even the senior daughters of the house, and there seems to be little that anyone can do about it. Fortunately, Malakus is rarely present. Where he goes and how (or why) Uriel summons him is something of a mystery… but not one that slaves need concern themselves with. Nevertheless, Malakus is a constant threat to any and all in the House, and when he is present, slaves are wise to make themselves scarce. Malakus is the father of Uriel’s youngest daughter, Nymeria.
High Priestess Sha’quira. Sha’quira is Uriel’s eldest daughter and heir. As such, she is in charge of the House’s day-to-day operations as well as the House church. Sha’quira is wicked and powerful, but fortunately, she stands well above you in the House hierarchy.
Captain Tailen. Tailen is Uriel’s second daughter, in charge of the House Guard. This makes her something of an apprentice to Adius, though there is no formal master-apprentice relationship. Under the House Guard, one will find three separate areas of responsibility: House Soldiers (i.e. drow), the Armory, and the Common Foot (i.e. non-drow slave fodder). As all slaves occasionally fall into the category of Common Foot, you’ve had dealings with Tailen on more than one occasion. She is a soldier—tough but fair, and more interested in accomplishing her mission than in punishing for the sake of either her desires or her religion.
Breva. Breva is Uriel’s third daughter, charged with running the household. She is shorter, fatter, and far less imposing than her sisters, which unfortunately tends to make her mean as a snake to those whom she can bully. Breva is in charge of the housekeeping, the Kitchens, the Seraglio, and any other mundane House-related things that need a House noble to manage them. You’ve all had your fill of Breva from time to time, and it’s never been a pleasant experience.
Maester Katarza. Katarza is Uriel’s daughter by Quellan, and she is Quellan’s apprentice. She is also the House Librarian.
Nymeria. Nymeria is Uriel’s daughter by Malakus. A monstrous half-demon bastard with bat-wings, fangs, and a scorpion’s tail, Uriel is the House’s one true horror. Like her father, Nymeria strides the House like a queen at court, doling out pain and punishment simply for the joy that the suffering of others brings to her. Unfortunately, Uriel delights in her youngest child and dotes on her. She recently named Nymeria as Urbasano’s House Champion and Master of Sacrifice and Punishment. This puts Nymeria second only to Sha’quira in authority and gives Nymeria leave to kill or maim virtually anyone in the House with impunity. Nymeria still walks lightly around Adius, who is a virtuoso with a blade after all, but the rest of the House lives in a constant low-level terror these days.
Joq. Joq is Urbasano’s House Armorer. He’s a drow male commoner and a more-than-competent blacksmith. Unlike the House nobles, Joq’s isn’t a complete bastard. He’s merely a guy trying to do a job.
Modred. Modred is the Commander of the Common Foot. He’s a massive axe-wielding minotaur with a mean streak a mile wide, but fortunately for you, the very vast majority of Modred’s time goes to the breeding, management, and training of the House’s nigh-infinite kobold foot soldiers.
Orga. Orga is a former eladrin pleasure-slave and current overseer of the House’s house slaves. This is a position somewhat akin to Head Butler and/or Majordomo in a surface world castle. Orga isn’t a bad person, but she’s in a tough spot since she has a massive area of responsibility, and she reports directly to Breva. Which is to say that Orga will have you beaten at the drop of a hat, but she won’t enjoy it.
Vedra. Vedra is a wizened old goblin crone who’s in charge of the House Seraglio. She ensures that the House courtesans are clean and as well-educated as their masters desire them to be. She also ensures that no unwanted pregnancies occur amongst the female staff of the seraglio. Like Orga, Vedra’s not a bad sort, but she considers a courtesan’s life to be easy living—a contention that may put her at odds with some of the House’s actual courtesans.
A Note of the Religions of Harrowhame Lloth. Most drow worship Lloth, and indeed, Lloth’s temple has primacy of place in Harrowhame. However, House Bronner is not a House of Lloth, and moreover, King Bronner himself snubs the Spider Queen at every opportunity.
Lloth is an unusual goddess in that she is the only goddess whose domain is in the Abyss, part of the Elemental Chaos. All the rest, even the Arch-Devil Asmodeus, have domains in the Astral Sea. Thus, where most gods use angels as messengers and servitors (and Asmodeus uses devils), Lloth uses demons, especially yochlol. Hence, Uriel’s taking a demonic consort is something of a religious rite, and her naming Nymeria as House Champion is theologically appropriate, if somewhat unorthodox.
Bane. Worship of Bane is also widespread in Harrowhame. In fact, Bane’s temple The Sword is the city’s largest temple, for all that it’s located in the Upper Merchant Quarter rather than on the Platform with the noble houses.
Asmodeus. With such a large demonic presence in Harrowhame, it is perhaps no surprise that Asmodeus has taken steps to establish a temple in the city as well. Indeed, The Temple is located at the north end of Southtown, allowing Diabolic evangelists to minister to the city’s sick and downtrodden at will. This is permitted because no one wants to admit that it needs to be stopped, and as such, the Arch-Devil has developed a substantial following amongst the city’s poor. In fact, diabolic missionaries hand out food and offer comfort to the poor every day, a compelling contrast to the demonic followers of Lloth, who offer nothing but pain and oppression to the masses.
Other religions. Correlon and Melora both have shrines within the city, though neither has an active clergy. Correlon’s Arch is located at the foot of Bronner Park. Melora’s Shrine is located on the north side of House Temujin, opposite the Lower Market.
Final note: It's not up to me to determine where your Character works. But I would like to know. So feel free to post that--along with any questions--below.
Also: I'll be adding to this thread periodically over time.