Curse of the Crimson Throne
Standing atop Citadel Hill, the Heights District has a commanding view of the rest of the city, which its residents look down on—both figuratively and literally. Nearly all of Korvosa’s power players reside in the Heights, including the queen herself. The Heights District holds three wards: Citadel Crest, Cliffside, and University.
Citadel Crest: Citadel Crest is the wealthiest ward in Korvosa, with more than a dozen noble families and twice that many powerful merchants living within. It contains two of the city’s modern landmarks: the Great Tower and the temple of Asmodeus. The cost of land in the ward more than doubles that of the next-most-expensive ward, Cliffside. Violent crimes rarely occur in the ward, although property crimes, especially burglary, occur with surprising and unfortunate regularity. Alone among all the wards in the city, Citadel Crest has no inns. Visitors instead can stay in one of the three noble-owned bed and breakfasts scattered throughout.
Cliffside: Lesser nobles and not-quite-as-wealthy merchants live in Cliffside. Its claims to fame include the Gatefoot, Kendall Amphitheater, and a section of the Pillar Wall. Most of the ward’s wealth and political power crams itself up into the northern section of the ward and along the cliff that gives the ward its name. Two Sable Company watchhouses along the cliff and regular patrols from the Korvosan guard make this a relatively safe ward.
University: The seat of mundane higher learning in the city, this ward houses the University of Korvosa (thus the ward’s name), the grand Korvosan Museum, and a number of smaller schools and cultural locations of various kinds. Most of the crimes that occur in University fall into the misdemeanor and petty categories, and it has suffered from the fewest murders of any similarly aged wards.
H1. Great Tower: Although the top of Castle Korvosa’s Seawatch Tower soars above every other building in Varisia (thanks to the immense pyramid that serves as the castle’s foundation), the Great Tower rivals some of the Thassilonian monuments as one of the tallest free-standing structures in the region. The tower stands 270 feet high, with a 100-foot diameter footprint and a roof line diameter of 40 feet. It has 19 floors divided into a number of different uses, with an extensive Vault system beneath it. Only two known entrances exist into the tower: the main entrance that opens onto the tower’s third floor (accessible by a gently arcing bridge) and the hippogriff openings of the top three floors. At its base, the tower’s massive granite walls (faced with an inch of black marble with an intervening sheet of lead between) measure 12 feet thick and are reinforced with a skeleton of steel and black iron. As it rises, the tower’s circular curtain wall narrows until it measures only a few inches thick. The internal metal skeleton, an innovation brought from distant Alkenstar, bears an increasing amount of the tower’s structural load until around the 200-foot mark, at which point it bears all of the load.
Queen Domina commissioned the tower in 4684, but
she did not survive to see its completion in 4688. Hoping to
rival even the Thassilonians and seeking to steal some of the Acadamae’s fame (the grand, new Hall of Summoning having just been completed the year before), Queen Domina nearly drained the city’s coffers dry to build the tower. Indeed, the original Alkenstar architect and engineers (brought to Korvosa at incredible cost) designed the tower to rise almost 320 feet, but King Eodred II saw no reason to bankrupt the city over the last 50 feet.
The windowless bottom floor of the tower houses the Sable Company’s main armory, which rumors claim holds dozens of magic weapons and suits of armor. A branch of the Endrin Military Academy fills floors two through six, with classrooms and advanced training facilities to ready recruits for hippogriff riding. Roughly 200 Sable Company marines (about two-thirds of the entire company) live and sleep within the tower, spread throughout the remaining floors below the hippogriff aeries. The top three floors (17 through 19) and the roof all serve as aeries for most of the city’s domesticated hippogriffs.
H2. Upslope House: Between the other two bed and breakfasts (the Frisky Unicorn and Tenna’s) in price but easily the largest of the three, Upslope House is large enough to count as an inn. Citadel Crest has an ordinance, however, preventing such establishments from operating within its borders. Upslope House can accommodate up to 22 people in its 10 rooms.
Rumors whisper that Upslope House stands atop an opening into a natural-cave Vault under the hill, and that servants of some dark power use the Vault for its nefarious plots. Many of these gossipers bandy about the idea of derro as the most likely culprits for haunting the Upslope House’s Vault, although most of those rumormongers have no idea what a derro actually is.
H3. The Frisky Unicorn: The least expensive (but far from cheap) of Citadel Crest’s bed and breakfasts, the Frisky Unicorn is larger than Tenna’s but smaller than Upslope House. The Frisky Unicorn provides little more than a posh room and three meals, and can house up to 13 people in its five rooms.
A narrow turret rises from one corner of the Frisky Unicorn, which in theory grants guests an opportunity to see Conqueror’s Bay and nearly the entire city. In practice, though, most guests refuse or simply cannot ascend to the highest floor of the tower, as it houses a nest of capricious and relatively tame pseudodragons. These pseudodragons remain a fixture of the Unicorn thanks to their love of driving off imps from the nearby Acadamae. Despite their occasional usefulness to the establishment, the pseudodragons do make pests of themselves whenever guests flash shiny objects or uncovered food.
H4. Temple of Asmodeus: Built quickly in 4608 in the hopes of appeasing and attracting Cheliax’s new leadership, the star-shaped temple underwent almost yearly maintenance and refurbishments for seven decades. During those remodeling attempts, two different star-point wings collapsed, killing a cleric once and maiming a pair of laborers trying to shore it up the other time. The church of Asmodeus
considered the building an insult until 4683, when Queen
Domina included a rebuilt temple as part of her extensive (and expensive) building push.
Archbishop Ornher Reebs dedicated the new temple, with the help of the Acadamae’s
headmaster, in an appropriately infernal way, sealing a pact with an erinyes using the blood of 13 virgin sacrifices. While all of these virgins volunteered for the dedication, some
observers speculate that a few were charmed or otherwise magically compelled to join the “festivities.” The conclusion of this dedication sent shockwaves through the city, and Korvosa’s citizens threatened to riot, raze the temple, and topple the monarchy. Queen Domina calmed the city by expending her own personal wealth to import a powerful cleric, who then attempted to return all 13 sacrifices to life. Only four of the virgins refused the
service, and most of the other nine are still alive today.
From the air, the building looks like a large red five-sided star (the holy symbol of Asmodeus) with low, white square sections connecting several of the arms. A red-glass dome stands in the center of the star. The arms of the star rise 30 feet, while the white connecting structures stand only 15 feet high.
Inside, the red star forms a single room, with an altar dedicated to Asmodeus in each point. Doors open into the wide additions, which serve as living quarters and administrative offices. Rumors persist throughout the city that the temple of Asmodeus actively supports and encourages the slave trade. Frequent searches by Hellknights, Korvosan Guards, and Sable Company marines always turn up nothing, leading to further speculation that the temple hides a secret entrance to the Vaults.
H5. Gilded Orrery: Most of the profits made by the semi-independent Gilded Orrery funnel directly into the Acadamae’s coffers. Specializing in items and texts in support of conjuring, the store nonetheless stocks a wide and impressively deep selection of other magical wares and books of arcane lore. The Gilded Orrery deals in such a high volume of conjuration supplies that items related to magical summoning frequently bear discounts of up to one-quarter less than the normal price.
Every student of the Acadamae knows of and shops at the Gilded Orrery, as it works with the college to ensure it stocks the texts needed for every class each semester. Apprentices who graduate may sell back their texts to the school, albeit at such a low rate that most students consider it not worth the effort. Those graduates of the Acadamae who go on to make names for themselves can feel secure in knowing that any tomes they pen shall appear for sale within the shop. Book signings and discussions therefore occur frequently, usually at the pace of about one per month.
The proprietor of the shop, a plump little woman with wispy gray hairs and an easily formed if mirthless smile, is named Gasta Weagra, and is the niece of the Acadamae’s headmaster, Toff Ornelos. Gasta only sells to those affiliated with the Acadamae, those who can impress her with a bit of (non-damaging) arcane magic, or those of House Ornelos or its agents. She absolutely refuses to sell to the monarch or anyone affiliated with the monarchy. Members of the public and outsiders can browse the shop and listen in on readings, but they cannot make purchases.
H6. Jittery Quill: This low-key establishment serves both ale and coffee, making it the favorite haunt of university students and faculty alike. It stays open all hours, six days a week, closing every Oathday at noon and reopening at dusk the next day.
H7. Jeggare Museum: Built and operated by House Jeggare, this large museum houses hundreds (some say thousands) of artifacts pulled from ruins and Shoanti camps all across Varisia. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Montlarion Jeggare, the family has long held a penchant for exploration and discovery.
In addition to its extensive collection of local artifacts, the museum also has a small but impressive assortment of items brought to it by treasure hunters who travel the globe. As such, it holds an Osiriani funerary mask, a tribal shield of an indigenous hunter-gatherer from Garund, a Minkai robe known as a kimono, and even pottery shards from distant Arcadia.
One wing of the museum displays Golarion’s natural history. Among the wonders presented there are mermaid armor, a collection of boggard spears, the head of a gorilla king, the complete skeleton of an owlbear, an unknown device from distant Numeria, and the hollowed-out egg of a red dragon.
Mercival Jeggare, the museum’s curator, happily buys artifacts from “freelance treasure hunters” (i.e., those who aren’t members of the family) for reasonable prices.
H8. University of Korvosa: While it pales next to the grandeur of the Acadamae and does not carry with it the additional prestige inherent in magic, the University of Korvosa nonetheless possesses its own reputation for greatness. Founded by Lady Jessa Leroung in 4488, the University of Korvosa consists of five major buildings in close proximity, forming the main campus, as well as three satellite buildings nearby and two in other wards.
a. Leroung Hall: Both the oldest and largest building on campus, Leroung Hall houses the university’s academic offices, the 210-seat Jessa Auditorium (second-largest indoor seating hall in Korvosa),11 and a handful of classrooms. The ivy-covered brick-and-marble building anchors the university, standing as it does at the southwestern end of Leroung Plaza. Two tall statues, one of Jessa Leroung and one of Terathan Jeggare (the university’s earliest benefactor) flank the main entrance to the hall.
b. Black Hall: Named for the black marble used in its construction, this newest building has an austere and imposing look increasingly popular in the city. The building’s few windows make its interior spaces feel gloomy and oppressive. Students and faculty both dislike the building, but, because it houses the most classrooms, nearly all of them find themselves in it at some time. Those who remain in the building after sunset sometimes report strange noises on the top floor, as if people were walking around on the rooftop. Since the university does not connect to the Shingles and all attempts to investigate these reports come up with no leads, most staff and Korvosan Guards consider these ominous rumors as attempts to have the building closed. Still, the rumors persist, and they have even become more frequent lately.
c. Jeggare Library: The window-filled walls of this building house the university’s private library, where students and faculty alike spend long hours copying books and searching for just the right source. Jeggare Library houses the largest collection of private journals in the city, including the original journals of Saint Alika Epakena, Montlarion Jeggare, and Queen Domina. These journals are stored beneath the library, in a Vault that serves as an actual vault. The Korvosan Guard constantly patrols the library, as does an abjuration student of the Acadamae (the protection of irreplaceable city relics outweighs the semifriendly rivalry of the two institutes of learning).
d. Instructor Offices North: This square, brick and blackmarble building holds the offices of three-quarters of the staff.
e. Instructor Offices South: Identical in appearance to Instructor Offices North, this building houses the remaining staff offices. The remainder of its space contains several conference rooms and classrooms.
H9. The Wise Dragon Inn: Prospective students of the University of Korvosa fill this large inn in the spring and summer months. During the school year, though, activity drops off sharply (usually just parents visiting their university students) and rooms are always available. The inn serves no alcohol in its attached restaurant, but it does have two small sitting rooms and a tiny but nonetheless diverse library (which includes Eidolon and other works of Cevil “Redwing” Charms, a noted scholar of Varisia) At its peak time ( Sarenith to Arodus), the inn charges a gold sail more than the city’s average, while at its slowest ( Abadius and Pharast) it charges five silver shields less.
Maybe as an attempt to acclimatize prospective students or simply because the owner has one as a familiar himself, the Wise Dragon harbors a handful of imps who formerly served as loyal familiars to students and faculty of the Acadamae. Unlike the free imps who live in the Shingles above Old Dock, these imps gained their freedom unintentionally when their former masters died.
H10. Tenna’s: Smallest of the three bed and breakfasts in Citadel Crest, Tenna’s stands on Volshyenek Loop across from the manor grounds of House Ornelos. While the most expensive, Tenna’s makes up for its price by offering the most amenities in Korvosa: scented baths, massages, manicures and pedicures, a valet, and three lavish meals, to name only a few. Tenna’s can hold up to 11 guests in four rooms.
H11. Marbledome: This gleaming fixture is home to Korvosa’s opera company. Owned by House Jeggare but managed by the tyrannical Touran Palastus (known more for his temper than his managerial talent), the opera company produces mediocre performances that bleed gold. House Jeggare considers a performance that breaks even a resounding success. Performers here receive poor pay and poorer treatment, and they quickly lose their love for the arts. Many leave the city for distant Magnimar or Sandpoint, seeking better treatment even at the cost of prestige.
Lately, Touran’s near-sadistic bile-spewing outbursts and abuses have become milder and less frequent. Some wonder if he has possibly found love. Others more cynically assume an addiction to pesh.
H12. Kendall Amphitheater: Korvosa’s proximity to the sea and its extensive and famous Vaults make sinkholes a relatively common phenomena in the city. For the most part, these sinkholes measure no more than a few feet in diameter, leading the church of Abadar to send out crews of volunteers to patch up the streets or flooring. Occasionally, though, these sinkholes expand to as much as a dozen feet or more in diameter. The open-air sea cave under the Posh and Turtle ( entry N10) resulted from one such collapse. In 4579, the largest recorded sinkhole in Korvosa’s history opened up just north of the Pillar Wall. Engulfing an area nearly 300 feet in diameter, this immense hole fortunately swallowed only a few buildings (thanks to it occurring in a relatively unpopulated part of the city).
Unfortunately for the city, the sinkhole did not occur naturally, and for the first time the people of Korvosa came in contact with ankhegs that continue to infrequently plague the city. Completely unprepared for anything like ankhegs, the city fell into a panic. Desna’s good luck shined on Korvosa, though, as the Scions of Puris—an adventuring band of some repute at the time—happened to be nearby. Without hesitation, the Scions of Puris delved into the sinkhole and, over the course of a few days, cleared it of ankheg threat. When they emerged the final time, though, they brought out their beloved leader, Mina Kendall, in a blood-stained bag. In conjunction with the church of Abadar, dwarves from Janderhoff came down and stabilized the ground around the sinkhole. They built a series of supporting walls with narrow doorways that allowed access to the newly discovered Vault beyond, allowing additional construction near the hole. Three years later, the Scions of Puris returned to Korvosa to witness the grand opening of a massive open-air auditorium the city named after their beloved former leader.
Today, Kendall Amphitheater partially hangs suspended above the sinkhole’s opening. A complicated series of arches and pillars holds it aloft, while two concealed sets of stairs allow descent into the large Vault beneath it. Most of the bowl that forms the seating area for Kendall Amphitheater consists of carefully smoothed basalt. The benches, stage, and partial roof are all built of Varisian spruce. Directly beneath the stage hangs a second
floor made of red pine that houses various mechanical contraptions to lift platforms up to the stage. While the amphitheater primarily hosts open-air performances (as well as performances done beneath the vast sloped roof covering most of the stage), it does
occasionally present games and contests. Due to safety concerns (as ankheg seem drawn by the smell of blood), none of the games involve actual combat or bloodshed. Instead, feats of strength, races, obstacle courses, and other such contests prove quite popular with the patrons and amphitheater owners.
Kendall Vault, the large cave complex beneath the amphitheater, occasionally receives visitors in the forms of explorers seeking new passages, Korvosan Guards patrolling for new outbreaks of ankheg, and Janderhoff dwarves looking for subtle clues of further erosion. Even after more than a hundred years of stability, the dwarves staunchly insist on performing the inspection twice a decade. They remind their short-sighted human friends that a hundred years means as little to stone as a second does to them.
Plaza of Scions: Directly northwest of Kendall Amphitheater stand tall statues of the Scions of Puris: the beautiful Mina Kendall (in the center), irascible Nurin Dutirrinog (to the south), and ever-pious Xanen Ptal (to the north). These statues mark the divide between the covered stage of the amphitheater and the brick-paved Plaza of Scions.
H13. Crested Falcon: One of the most expensive (and easily the most over-priced) restaurants in Korvosa, the Crested Falcon caters to the whims of the city’s elite. The menu changes each day and only relates what the kitchen has in stock. Patrons may request any meal made from the listed foods on hand, and only find out the cost of their meals during the check-out process. To ask for the price ahead of time is a serious social faux pas. Those who receive the bill and cannot pay in full are subjected to magic that compels them to serve the restaurant until they work off their debt. These unfortunates often begin their service washing dishes, but they quickly graduate to wearing sandwich-board advertisements for the Crested Falcon. Rugged and capable-looking clients receive more fitting tasks, such as hunting pheasants, fishing for jigsaw sharks, or trading for thileu bark with Varisians.
Clientele of the Crested Falcon go there to see and be seen, and the quality and expense of the food never truly concerns them. Nobles more interested in substance than style cross into North Point and dine at the Posh and Turtle.
H14. Temple of Sarenrae: The turreted temple of Sarenrae stands in a relatively sparse area atop Citadel Hill, where it can absorb the sun’s warming, healing light unobstructed. Built of white marble brought to Korvosa at considerable expense, the temple remains the priciest building in the city per square foot (part of the cost of which was footed by the city of Korvosa itself ). As a temple dedicated to healing, though, it constantly attracts beneficent gifts from wealthy patrons and offerings from the endless crowds swarming around the building.
H15. The Overlook: Teetering on the edge of the Merciless Cliffs, the Overlook gets a little closer to falling into the raging surf below every year. This hint of danger carries over to the tavern’s offerings: Asa Hemrich, the Overlook’s owner and bartender, offers a drink he calls This-n-That. This-n-That has no recipe and no definite look or taste. Whenever a brave-hearted patron orders the concoction, Asa creates the drink with whatever he has on hand, including wine gone sour, dishwater, his own mucus, and—of course—copious amounts of alcohol. Anyone who can finish off a This-n-That earns Asa’s respect and gets to drink for free the rest of the night. Asa makes a This-n-That several times every week, but he only has to give away free alcohol once or twice a month.