So, inspired by reading through Dyson Logos' amazing maps and geomoprhs, I want to create a city. I've wanted to run a "Thieves Guild" game for a while, and I almost got one going before real-life interjected. So I wanted a city that could handle (Non-Modern) Urban Fantasy, for a game more focused on politics, inter-faction battles and the occasional bit of cat-burglary. I also want something I can easily drop into any number of campaigns with very little tweaking (I know, I don't ask for much). I'll start with a brief overview of the main groups within the city, and build it up from there.
To start, Valerian's Reach was a small port town beside a large ocean. But local Princes granted areas of land around the town to various Nobles and Barons, so a fair amount of trade lines and caravans were set up. Over time, Valerian's Reach grew out from its humble beginnings, eventually enveloping the Noble lands and making them part of the city proper. Now, it's the main trade area of the country, and is always growing.
Due to the influence of a few corrupt Nobles, the city has slowly descended into lawlessness - the black market is so thriving, it practically outpaces normal trade in the area. And while each Noble family ensures that their "lands" are kept pristine and well-guarded, they need someone to do their dirty work within the city - while some have their own street-gangs and mercenary bands, some need other assistance - enter the Thieves.
As with most large cities, Guilds have popped up to ensure fair treatment and a share of resources amongst those in similar professions - the Guilds of Sailors, Merchants, and Smiths are particularly well represented due to connections to various Noble Houses. However, some of the other gangs, sick of the sheer brutality and scheming of the Noble houses, banded together to form an unofficial Guild of Thieves. It's pretty much an open secret - the Guard knows about their existence, and by extension, so does the local government, but they're too valuable to keep down - mainly through their use as tools of the Noble Houses, and for the amount of information they hold on everyone in the city. A few well-placed communications to other cities, and they'd be at under siege for years, for crimes against trade, religion and decency.
The Thieves are mainly after their own goals - mostly, the accumulation of wealth and power, hopefully enough to outpace the Nobles and make the Port their own. Some are even double agents, working for the Guild under the cover of some minor retainer within a Noble House. Any who are found by their employer are often executed, or at least excommunicated and branded as Thieves. Take a note - if you see someone with a Thieves Brand, they're probably not very good at it.
As mentioned, the Black Market of Valerian's Reach pretty much holds the city together - it underpins all transactions, and account for something like 90% of the city's holdings. From slaves to assassins to necromantic ritual components, if it's not welcome in other places, you can buy it here - for the right price, of course.
Unlike most places in Delraith, which are segregated by race/origin, Valerian's Reach is highly mixed and cosmopolitan. Most of the population is human - from areas around the continent, and further afield (like the Southern Reaches, the Western Plains, and even a few who claim to come from somewhere referred to as "The Pole States"). There are few Elves or Dwarves - those who live here are outcasts from their own race, trying to find a place to fit in, frequently dropping to criminal activity as a result. More 'civilised' goblinoids, like Hobgoblins and the less-warlike Orcish tribes, are fairly common - mostly as private guards and mercenaries (House Cassimere is known for having an entire Hobgoblin tribe on retainer). Halflings, cropping up wherever there are humans, are a regular enough sight. Less common, but more noticeable, are the black-skinned Drow - outcast Elves who talk rarely of their past, their origin, or of their kin. Many take the opportunity to become bandits, raiders and pirates - their great dark ships cutting a fair sight on any horizon. There are also a number of individuals from more unusual races - like Thraka, the Half-Ogre guard (used in large battles/riots, more like a walking artillery piece than a true Guard), K'ski'f, Illithid Black Market Merchant/Loanshark (you really don't want to get behind on your payments... or ask where he gets his stuff), and Saris Windstrider, an Air Genasi warrior-poet who resides with House Belladonna.
House Cassimere (The House of War, The Armourers) are a House built on bloodshed and battle - many of the armies and adventurers of Delraith are supplied from the forges of Cassimere, regardless of allegiance. Those with the greatest coin are friends of the House - indeed, it is relatively easy to get anything made for you in the Iron Citadel so long as your money is right. The Head of House is a position filled democratically (much like the head of any big business), rather than through family lines.
House Belladonna (The Wenches, The Courtesans, The House of Diplomats) are mostly known for their use of politics and subtle manipulations to get what they want. Most of their most prominent members are women, but a small core of men are around for use when dealing with some of the more "traditional" Houses. Many a Bard or entertainer throughout DelraithDrow (and due to their natural enmity, they are careful not to work with each other), Halflings, and a few Goliath Stone-Speakers (storytellers, passing down oral history and great deeds through song). There are a few members who are either kept under wraps or disguised for their own sake (like the changeling Annah, who has several civilian identities, and acts as a spy when necessary, or uses her natural shape shifting gifts to be a very popular handmaiden).
House Sharn (The Black House, The Merchants of Death) originally started as a cabal of necromancers - but have expanded out to become one of the forefront producers of magic items and spell components in the city. If you need anything magical, or dark, or disgusting, you want an agent of Sharn. While necromancy was their main focus previously, more and more practitioners of other magics flock to their banner, forming something of a Magocracy within the House - those with the most knowledge of the Arcane become the new leaders. While there is no small amount of nepotism in who is chosen, anyone can apply and challenge the current Head of House, so long as they can prove themselves in test of sorcerous might. Due to the leaders having more magic-sense than business-sense, many hire up outcasts from House Nisseer, or pinch them before they can join, to shore up the holes in their business strategy. Rumour has it some of the higher-ups are actually Undead, such as Vampires and Liches (or it could just be that Valin The Charming is really hot, and old Ressigar does look skeletal under the right light...)
House Nisseer (The Traders, The Mercantile House) are a collective of traders, merchants, and craftsmen - they supply the essentials to Valerian's Reach. Many of the black market routes were originally set up by members of this house, even though they are now owned by others (though many still pay some small share back to the House). They hold charge of large swathes of The Docks, tithing those who come to trade to ensure "safe passage and guaranteed peace to trade". Some even claim they have trade links that stretch beyond this world - and having K'Liv, the unnaturally tall, blue-grey tinted trader in their ranks (actually a Mercane) helps to fuel the speculation that they might have some links to the Planes Beyond (what can I say, I like having an option for Planescape!).
Fashions and Customs
There are few temples within the walls of Valerian's Reach - few self-respecting Gods would want anything to do with such a hive of scum and villainy. But, some persist - Addrig, Minor Deity of Thieves, Gamblers and Scoundrels has quite the following, her temple being almost as large as a Nobilite mansion. It's also a favoured meeting place for Thieves Guild members (after all, there they are just parishioners - and the Nobles haven't yet got the power to ban religion). There is also a small temple to Varily, God of Truth and Valour - a missionary place, dedicated to helping those few honest folk who still make their home in The Reach.
Most weeks, there will be a minor celebration - from racial ones (like Winterfast, the Halfling coming-of-age parties where, each winter, those who turn 14 need to abstain from food for a month, barring what they can catch themselves - and should they succeed, the taverns will be full of Halfling families and friends looking to feed them back up), to religious (Addrig's Day, where worshippers play games and engage in acts of daring and games of chance).
While its cosmopolitan nature is shown in the dress sense of its peoples, there is still a standard "Reach look" - normally, darkened leathers or cotton, heavy cloaks (to keep out the worst of the coastal winds), and heavy hoods (to keep out the worst of the Guard's stares). Standard "thief/rogue/bad guy" clothing, if you will. Those of Noble birth are frequently seen wearing ostentatious displays of their wealth - fine silks (a favourite is the Phase Spider silks often touted by Drow merchants, known for its many and varied colours and magically-reactive sheen), jewellery of gold and gems, and the odd magical adornment (for example, many of the House Belladonna girls are seen with items that can create small illusions, such as changing their hair colour or skin tone, to subtly adjust themselves to be most attractive to a given client, and the bizarrely well-kept facial hair of the men of Cassimere is tempered with a combination of depilatory cremes, magically-enhanced razors, and the odd touch of magic). Many Thieves looking to disguise themselves (or to throw off the scent of the Guards) will take on such adornments, pretending to be wealthy eccentric Nobles to distract from their true intentions.
Next up (when I get scanner access) will be a map, a few important NPCs, and some more Noble Houses.