Curse of the Crimson Throne
As its name implies, Old Korvosa is old. It covers all of Endrin Isle, which rises from sea level along the southern shore on the Narrows of Saint Alika to a 200-foot-high escarpment on the seaward north side. At the foot of Garrison Hill, as this steep incline is called, sits the beehive-like hovel of Bridgefront. Old Dock stands on the relatively f lat eastern protrusion of the island. Atop Garrison Hill stands the stone wall of Fort Korvosa, completed in 4438. The imposing black-marble Palace Arkona dominates Old Korvosa, while the remains of the original wooden palisade slowly rot near the gate into the ward.
Bridgefront: When the people of Bridgefront ran out of room to erect more buildings, they started adding makeshift floors to extant structures. Over time, these makeshift floors gained their own rooftop lean-tos. Spaces between buildings became fair game as well, with ladders and long poles crossing gaps over increasingly narrow roads. Bridgefront occupies a narrow spit of land at the base of Garrison Hill, reaching only three blocks inland from the strait. In those three blocks, though, live more than a tenth of the city’s population, including almost eight-tenths of its poor and destitute.
Fort Korvosa: Less a ward than a moldering citadel, the second incarnation of Fort Korvosa stands atop Garrison Hill and overlooks both Old Korvosa and Conqueror’s Bay. The high granite walls around the fort have received no maintenance since their completion, and have begun to crumble as a result. Thanks to an arrangement made between House Arkona and the city, Palace Arkona, along with its many side buildings, provides the home to the ward’s only permanent residents (the noble family and its servants). On the opposite side of the ward stands the whitewashed buildings of the Endrin Military Academy.
Garrison Hill: Crammed in the narrow confine between the towering walls of Fort Korvosa and the towering humanity of Bridgefront, Garrison Hill rises up on the eastern slope of its eponymous hill. The streets here widen out from the cramped alleys of Bridgefront, although it is more accurate to say they retain their original widths and have not been encroached upon by the spreading mass of shanties. Residents of Garrison Hill struggle against the oozing spread of destitution in the nearby wards.
Old Dock: If not for the festering poverty and unwholesome growth that is Bridgefront, Old Dock would be considered the city’s most run-down and least-desirable ward. In many ways, though, it actually does bear those dubious distinctions. Whereas the people of Bridgefront mostly lead honest if poverty-stricken lives, those of Old Dock rarely burden themselves with such trifles as legality, morality, or compassion. Indeed, rough-and-tumble Old Dock accounts for more than half the city’s violent crimes, despite frequent, heavy patrols by the Korvosan Guard.
O1. Palace Arkona: Palace Arkona is as black a place as its exterior of Janderhoff black marble. Treble-headed elephants, peacocks with sabers, and tigers with carven eyes gaze from the walls of the palace and over the gardens beyond. This massive manor houses Old Korvosa’s de facto ruling family, the inscrutable but feared House Arkona. The bizarre architectural embellishments and decorations of the palace come from distant Vudra, whose imports made House Arkona the power it is today.
A massive black-marble and wrought-iron wall surrounds the property, and guards both human and otherwise patrol the yards and ruthlessly eject trespassers.
O2. Old City Hall: This dark-brick building, sometimes affectionately called the Charcoal Palace, was the tallest building in Varisia for more than 50 years. The Arvensoar in Magnimar stole away that distinction for more than a decade (an honor Korvosa reclaimed with the completion of the North Tower of Castle Korvosa). Charcoal Palace served as city hall for 60 years. It was the first building completed after the Great Fire (it was already half completed at the time) and it remained the city’s seat of power until Remsev Ornelos moved his government to the current city hall in 4489.
O3. Orisini Academy: This famed sword school stands in the heart of the city’s ancient center. Its grand archway and balcony shade a pair of wide and ornate oak doors, the knockers carved in the shape of an imp and pseudodragon locked in mortal combat.
The sound of steel on steel and the soft whisper of leather soles issue forth at all hours of daylight and sometimes deep into the night. Men and women, mostly young scions of noble houses, dressed in white from head to toe and wearing meshed-wire masks practice the many elegant skills of fencing. Vencarlo Orisini himself rarely bothers to instruct these days, allowing one of his senior students, Dengaro, to lead the class in exercises.
O4: Endrin Military Academy: These whitewashed buildings act as barracks for Fort Korvosa’s small garrison of Korvosan Guards and Sable Company trainees, as well as classrooms and sparring rings. Within these storied buildings, foul-mouthed drill sergeants have taught new recruits how to be Sable Company marines for decades.
The academy serves a secondary purpose, as it also trains junior officers of the Korvosan Guard to act as liaisons between the two groups, allowing for joint operations and continued mutual support. These liaisons have proven vital in preventing jurisdictional conflicts between the company and the guard for more than two centuries. In addition to its function as a training facility, Endrin Military Academy is also charged with maintaining a vigilant watch over Conqueror’s Bay, remaining ever alert for the possibility of attack from the water.
O5. Reefclaw Run Market: Fresh seafood remains the order of the day at this market, as it has for almost three centuries. Everything from Alikan oysters (their pink pearls since removed) to jigsaw sharks shows up here over the course of a week. Additionally, many fishing boat captains sell off other wares they uncover in the course of their work, as their wide fishing nets and bottom-scraping crab cages occasionally drag up something of exquisite value or unique rarity. As such, ancient artifacts, giant squids, curious deep-sea growths, and other assorted and sometimes dangerous jetsam occasionally makes it way into the market’s stalls.
O6. Sticky Mermaid: A fixture of Old Dock for more than two centuries, the Sticky Mermaid has seen more than its share of bar fights and death. This unwholesome tavern serves an unruly clientele made all the rougher by fishjack, a particularly potent spirit served only here and garnished with fermented eggs of Jeggare River salmon. Every few months or so, the Korvosan Guard grows tired of breaking up fights in the Sticky Mermaid and shuts it down for a week or two. After the tavern’s owner appeals to the church of Abadar and pays a hefty fee, it reopens. These reopenings usually result in free rounds of the tavern’s special spirit for its returning customers.
O7: Jeggare’s Jug: One of the many small pubs that fill Old Dock and the first drinking establishment built in Korvosa, Jeggy’s Jug (as it’s frequently called) survived the Great Fire relatively unscathed. In the aftermath of that terrible event, the pub served temporarily as a medical bivouac and triage center.
This jaunty place claims to have served its namesake the week before he died. Regardless of the truth of this claim, history can confirm that Montlarion stopped by this pub once or twice a month to purchase bottles of Chelaxian pepper whiskey, from which he drank a single shot before distributing the rest to the other patrons. When Montlarion died, the owner of the time decided to honor him by giving the pub its current name.
O8. Copper-Beater Hall: Copper bars from Janderhoff and Baslwief get dropped off in one of the large indoor bins of this wide building. Inside, dozens of ear-plugged smiths spend their days at wide anvils beating the copper bars into sheets, rods, plates, and other simple forms used in construction or later further refined by craftsmen into tools and decorations. The hammering din outside the building is nearly deafening, to say nothing of the tremendous thunder of pounding within the structure.
O9. Eel’s End: Eel’s End is a clot of ships at the eastern end of the Narrows on Old Korvosa, a tangle of five ships permanently moored to one of the longer piers there. With only a 20-foot gap between these ships and the wall to the south, Eel’s End effectively restricts entry into the Narrows from the east to all but the smallest vessels. Although Eel’s End consists of five decommissioned ships of varying sizes, the entire area is referred to as one location by Korvosans—a location under the rule of a man named Devargo Barvasi, known to many as the King of Spiders for his strange empathy with the long-legged creatures.
The four smaller ships that comprise Eel’s End are the Goldenhawk (now a flophouse for drunkards and derelicts to sleep it off ), the Twin Tigers (a raucous gambling hall), the House of Clouds (a brothel), and the Dragon’s Breath (a drug den). The proprietors of these establishments pay significant rent to Devargo. The largest of the five is Eel’s End itself, a decommissioned warship that serves as Devargo’s headquarters and the base of operations for his various underground pursuits. Devargo maintains just enough legality to keep the Korvosan Guard from interfering with all of the businesses in Eel’s End, but at the same time his regulations of what goes on here are far more strict (and his punishments far more severe) than anything the Guard themselves would enforce.
O10. Exemplary Execrables: Refurnished with gaudy gold-colored paint and massive glass “gems,” this former temple of Aroden has found a new life as the home of a perverse and detestable theater of all things foul, gore-slicked, and unnaturally pornographic. The theater’s owner, a repugnant sore-covered human named Pilts Swastel, employs the city’s “best and brightest” performers of unmentionable acts.
Numerous acts rotate through the theater, with any particular performer putting on a show four or five nights a week. The theater’s acts include gore-filled plays with faux tortures, false murders, fake rapes, and other fabrications meant to horrify and sicken the audience. By far the most popular act, though, is the so-called “death play,” in which a masked performer gruesomely “murders” a volunteer from the audience for all the rest to enjoy.
Some spectators and officials wonder how many of the acts use stage effects and chicanery and how many might actually perform what they purport to only represent. Volunteers sometimes turn up missing after a performance, and the theater has a high turnover rate for young and pretty assistants (Swastel claims the latter is due to admittedly low wages and the squeamishness of “the delicate sex”). Due to these and other complaints, the Sable Company has attempted on multiple occasions to infiltrate and investigate the theater, and the Korvosan Guard has called upon Hellknights to prematurely end shows more than once.
Nearly as controversial as the theater, Exemplary Execrables also offers an attached museum (with a separate admission fee, of course). The museum offers exhibits such as “Two-Dozen-and-Three Severed Heads,” “Unwanted Fetuses,” and “Instruments of Torture and Murder.” This last exhibit, the most popular of them all, features a working guillotine from Galt, complete with an attached chalkboard counting the number of fingers lost to overcurious patrons (the current count stands at 37). All other instruments and devices in the exhibit have been disabled or blunted to hinder inquisitive fools from maiming themselves or others.
O11. Temple of Aroden: Old and crumbling, the temple of Aroden has lost almost all of its former splendor. A pitiful trio of clerics attempts to maintain the building as best they can, holding services every Sunday for a constantly shrinking number of curious observers and older holders-on. Twice the city has threatened to raze the building and raise a new temple to a different god, but each time the trio was able to muster enough support from citizens to spare the building.
O12. The Travelling Man: This small tavern’s main claim to fame is its proximity to one of the otyugh plugs used by the city to feed its otyugh allies. People flock to the Travelling Man every Oathday, when a small contingent of Korvosan Guards winch open the plug and throw in relatively fresh meat and produce. The attraction isn’t the feeding, it’s the chance that a otyugh decides to rampage and burst out of the plug, which happens once or twice a year. As a result, the front wall of the Travelling Man is exceedingly thick, as are its barred windows.
O13. Hessim, Newby, and Sage Paint Manufactory: This curious place is a twisted and sagging shopfront that displays hundreds of tiny jars and pots, brushes, canvases, and easels. Even from the street, the building smells of turpentine, linseed, and oil.
For the past 108 years, the manufactory of Hessim, Newby, and Sage has made the rich pigments of Old Korvosa into paint, a fact the trio of smiling, ingratiating elderly owners is proud of. The three men are incredibly short and wear thick optics to see. Although soft-spoken, the old men are both nervy and strangely defiant. From the simplest flake white at 1 sp a pot to the most dazzling Newby Violet at 40 gp a jar, the pigments of Hessim, Newby, and Sage are unsurpassed for brilliance, realism, and permanence.
O14. The Ironworks: One of the largest buildings in Old Korvosa, and indeed the city, the Ironworks takes in pig iron from Janderhoff and recycled slag bought for almost nothing and, in turn, spits out wrought iron works in a wide range of quality. More a factory and less a smithy, the Ironworks focuses on simple and functional wrought-iron goods, emphasizing quantity over quality. This allows the city’s few blacksmiths to remain in business, as they can focus on high-quality goods or customized jobs.