Curse of the Crimson Throne
Like the people of any other city, Korvosans concern themselves more with the day-to-day particulars of living than with politics, history, or macroeconomics. Still, Korvosa has a few particular nuances that make it and its citizens unique. The following overview only begins to touch on what it means to be a Korvosan.
At its height, just before the death of Aroden and the departure of the separatists who founded Magnimar, Korvosa just topped 23,000 inhabitants. It lost nearly 10,000 to the resulting chaos of the time, but in the last century it regained half that many. As a result of its rapid contraction and slow re-expansion, many of the affluent sections of Korvosa remain underpopulated. With the buildings it has and the area it covers, Korvosa could comfortably fill out to a true metropolis.
The dichotomy of Korvosa’s underpopulated affluent wards with overcrowded Old Korvosa highlights the city’s greatest failing: the vast gulf of separation between its wealthy, powerful elite and its dreadfully impoverished poor. This gulf between social classes colors the development of the city and led to the creation of some of the features unique to Korvosa.
Those who live in Korvosa respect and admire ostentatious displays of wealth, power, or knowledge. They consider confidence and competence the greatest of assets, and they deride or heckle those who display weakness, indecisiveness, or inability. Korvosans are quick to judge and slow to forgive.
In addition to power, Korvosans love predictability. Korvosans like to regulate their lives, creating strict regimens for themselves that they slavishly follow. Upsetting a Korvosan’s routine can ruin his entire day and likely makes him angry. To this end, Korvosa strictly enforces its laws (which often have harsh punishments far in excess of the law codes of other non-evil governments) and rewards those who play by the rules. That said, Korvosa also recognizes that not everyone plays by the same rules, so it compensates by applying regulations to nonviolent criminals in the form of vice taxes and official recognition of the city’s single thieves’ guild.
By charter amendment, Korvosa does not allow merchants, laborers, or tradesmen to form guilds. Most workers within the city are self-employed or work for a master to whom they were apprenticed in their youths. The city relies on these cottage industries and the skilled workers who make them profitable, so naturally it has one entire volume of laws and regulations devoted to the protection and rights of workers. And thanks to the Korvosan drive to succeed, the city’s merchants do well for themselves.
The city of Korvosa wears its Chelaxian heritage proudly on every building, tower, and rooftop. As the oldest human settlement in Varisia (a claim frequently challenged by Kaer Maga), Korvosa considers itself the founding seat of civilization in an otherwise lawless region. Thanks to it and the spread of its people, Varisia has become a relatively safe place to live.
Korvosa sits at the end of Conqueror’s Bay, where the Jeggare River meets the sea. The city fills the spit of land formed by two sharp turns in the river, covers Endrin Isle (which splits the river at its mouth), and spreads to a few outlying areas on the far shore of the Jeggare. It stands on two hills: Garrison Hill on Endrin Isle and Citadel Hill on the mainland. The Narrows of Saint Alika separates Endrin Isle from the shore.
The city is divided into seven districts, many of which are further subdivided into wards.
The only district beyond the channel of the Jeggare River, East Shore is home to a handful of noble houses closely tied to the military of the city, as well as the struggling Theumanexus College.
Unlike all other districts in Korvosa, Gray’s residents generally keep to themselves and are well behaved. Of course, most of Gray’s residents are dead. The only living creatures who reside in Gray belong to the church of Pharasma and live within the temple.
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 monarchy.
When most people think of Korvosa, they think of the cosmopolitan and friendly district of Midland. As the home district of both the Korvosan Guard and Sable Company, Midland has the smallest number of gangs and gang battles in the city—although the thieves’ guild does a brisk trade in the district thanks to the disproportionately high number of merchants, shops, and other commercial and financial concerns.
The first section of the mainland settled by the descendants of the city’s Chelish founders was Mainshore, at the northwestern tip of mainland Korvosa. That ward houses many of the city’s oldest non-noble families. The greater district of North Point covers the entire northern end of the city and holds Korvosa’s seat of municipal power (City Hall), the city’s courthouse (Longacre Building), and the Bank of Abadar.
As its name implies, Old Korvosa is old. It covers all of Endrin Isle, most of which is covered by Garrison Hill. Atop Garrison Hill stands the stone wall of Fort Korvosa, while the imposing blackmarble Palace Arkona dominates the northwest corner of the island.
The newest district, South Shore became a part of Korvosa only a quarter-century ago. It contains the Pantheon of Many, a massive temple dedicated to most of Avistan’s most popular deities. South Shore’s population consists mainly of the city’s nouveau riche hoping to escape the cramped conditions found elsewhere in the city.
Five major landmarks give Korvosa a distinctive skyline: the ancient and massive structures of Castle Korvosa, Pillar Wall, and Gatefoot, as well as the more practically sized Great Tower and Hall of Summoning, which have stood for less than 50 years. In addition to these landmarks, several locations unique to the city bear mention.
Shrouded in secrecy, the campus’s 30-foot-high walls only barely conceal the grand Hall of Summoning. Visitors and residents cannot hope to ignore the presence of the Acadamae, and since very few people unconnected with the college know what happens within it, the place births abundant (and sometimes ludicrous) rumors.
The centerpiece of the city, Castle Korvosa towers over the Heights. Multiple lord magistrates, seneschals, and monarchs have added to the castle over the past three centuries. As such, despite a relatively consistent neo-Chelaxian styling, the castle’s main towers and interior buildings are crammed together haphazardly.
Permanent and semi-permanent homes, roads, and safehouses appear on roofs throughout the most crowded parts of the city. These rooftop communities and the pathways that connect them are collectively known as the Shingles.
Most cities have sewers. Some can even claim dungeons beneath them. Yet few have as complex a system of subterranean tunnels quite like the Vaults of Korvosa. Modern Korvosa stands atop the remains of at least two other civilizations and integrates both of them in its design.
Three military groups police and protect Korvosa: the Korvosan Guard, the Order of the Nail Hellknights, and the Sable Company. Each one focuses its efforts in different areas and interacts with the monarchy in its own unique way.
The Korvosan Guard serves the city of Korvosa first, the government second, and the church of Abadar third. It works closely with the city leaders and the high priest of Abadar to maintain order in the city, acting most often like a police force but turning into a military organization whenever the city is threatened by external forces.
The Sable Company does not answer to the king of Korvosa, but rather to the seneschal of Castle Korvosa. These hippogriff-riding marines defend the skies and waters of Korvosa and provide aerial and amphibious support to Korvosan Guard operations.
Hellknights are fanatics of law, adhering only to their harsh, Cheliax-born vision of order and their own unyielding sense of honor. Like most Hellknights, those of the Order of the Nail believe themselves to be above morality, caring only for the establishment of righteous order at all costs.
The Cerulean Society is Korvosa’s thieves’ guild, and it monitors, controls, or influences almost all illegal activities of any noticeable size in the city. More than a dozen gangs work the streets, Vaults, and Shingles of Korvosa, but most of them answer in some way to the Cerulean Society (or else do not survive long). Hastily hushed rumors put one of the noble houses as the de facto leadership behind the thieves’ guild.
Conflict, misery, and division define the history of Korvosa. Founded as an island fortress at the edge of a hostile and untamed land, Korvosa evolved over time into a bustling and energetic trade center. Several distinct periods define the history of Korvosa from its blood-splattered founding to its current turmoil.
Before the city’s founding, the site on which Korvosa stands was sacred to the Shoanti, although most have forgotten why. They knew only that the large pyramid atop the hill at the mouth of the river was to be guarded at all costs and that no one was ever to enter it. For hundreds of years, they kept this promise.
In 4407 ar, Field Marshal Jakthion Korvosa rescued an abandoned group of Chelish marines trapped on a hostile island and founded Fort Korvosa. The settlement acted as a strong defensive position and trading post for settlers, pioneers, trappers, and explorers in the area. After much of the settlement burned during a Shoanti raid (an event known as the Great Fire), an influx of Chelish gold and tradesmen strengthened the settlement’s defenses and allowed its residents to move onto the mainland.
An ill-fated insult against a very prominent Korvosan noble family sparked the Cousins’ War, in 4502 ar. The war ended Korvosa’s role as a military outpost and—with a further influx of Chelish nobility—made the settlement into a true colony. A period of great wealth followed, leading to a steady increase in size.
Korvosa’s prosperity came crashing down in 4606 ar, when the unexpected death of Aroden kicked off a civil war in Imperial Cheliax. Cut off from its homeland without a word, Korvosa survived these dark times. Today, the city prospers again, thanks to (or in some cases, despite) its selfappointed royalty.
The People of Korvosa
Buildings, infrastructure, and politics make a city livable (or intolerable, in some cases), but the people who live in a place truly make it a city.
Barely more powerful than the lord magistrates who preceded them, the monarchs of Korvosa must share power with the strict governmental entities existant at the founding of the monarchy. The command King Erodred II exerts over the city is constantly checked by the arbiters, magistrates, and nobles, the city’s most politically powerful groups. More than judges, the arbiters not only determine the guilt or innocence of defendants in a court of law, but also have legislative oversight. No one exactly knows what the 23 magistrates or their staffs do, but most Korvosans suspect the entire purpose of city hall is to waste the time and money of the city’s people. Finally, two overlapping divisions define Korvosa’s aristocracy: the five most powerful families bear the coveted title of Great Houses, giving their members special privileges within the city, and 21 noble houses make up the Dock Families, allowing them to charge berthing fees on one or more docks in the city.
Listed here are many of Korvosa’s most well-known names, be they famous or infamous.
Korvosa’s government is split into three groups. The arbiters serve as judges, trying criminal cases and settling civil disputes. The magistrates handle the day-to-day bureaucracy of city management. And the monarchy serves as Korvosa’s diplomats and defenders.
The current leader of the Korvosan Guard, Field Marshal Cressida Kroft is an even-tempered woman whose practice of openly encouraging adventurers and mercenaries to aid the Guard in the city’s defense has earned her some unfair criticism by the city’s elite.
Eodred Arabasti II:
The King of Korvosa is a man whose spendthrift ways are moderated somewhat by the numerous good works he has spearheaded.
Queen of Korvosa, Ileosa is barely a third the age of her husband. Rumors say that she holds much of Korvosa in contempt, and that she seduced the king into marrying her simply to advance her own wealth and riches.
Often called “the most hated man in Korvosa,” Garrick Tann is the Magistrate of Commerce, the man who oversees the collection of taxes in the city.
Once a priest of Abadar, the current Magistrate of Regulation is tasked with the maintenance of weights and measurements—much of her office’s time is spent seeking out faulty scales, shaved coins, and other attempts by merchants and customers to cheat one another.
Marcus Thalassinus Endrin:
Commandant Endrin is the current leader of the Sable Company, a man whose dedication to tradition and honor sometimes blinds him to what might be best for his own career.
The seneschal of Castle Korvosa, Neolandus Kalepopolis commands the defenses of the castle itself, and is regarded as the second most powerful individual in the city, behind only King Eodred II.
Severs “Boneclaw” DiVri:
The intimidating and mysterious commander of the Order of the Nail, Lictor DiVri is a towering man who rarely leaves his post at Citadel Vraid.
If Garrick Tann is one of Korvosa’s most hated officials, Magistrate of Expenditures Syl Gar is one of the most loved—his responsibility is to see to it that city taxes are spent properly and efficiently on public works.
Known as the Hanging Judge, Zenobia is Korvosa’s senior arbiter. Her reputation is justifiably fearsome among Korvosa’s criminals.
Citizens of Note
From the lofty perches of the city’s aristocracy down to the market’s entertainers, merchants, and criminals, many of Korvosa’s citizens are well-known figures.
One of the city’s most beloved and reviled heroes, Blackjack is more of a symbol than anything else—a legendary masked hero who has fought for Korvosa’s downtrodden for hundreds of years.
The guildmaster of the Cerulean Society, Korvosa’s thieves’ guild, Boule is feared by many and respected by few.
The Archbanker of the Church of Abadar, Darb Tuttle is one of Korvosa’s most powerful clerics.
Known to some as the “King of Spiders,” Devargo runs Eel’s End, a collection of ships that double as a brothel, drug den, and gambling hall.
The patriarch of one of Korvosa’s most powerful noble families, it is rumored Glorio has ties to most, if not all, of Korvosa’s criminal underworld.
The Bishop of the cathedral of Pharasma, Keppira’s stewardship over the city’s Gray District has kept the presence of undead at an all-time low.
Pilts owns and runs Old Korvosa’s Exemplary Execrables, a playhouse that caters to those seeking perverse and morally-questionable entertainment.
Many rumors surround Queen Ileosa’s bodyguard, not the least of which is that she and the queen are secretly lovers, yet none can deny this imposing woman’s loyalty to the crown.
The Acadamae is the most prestigious school of magic in Varisia, and as its headmaster, Toff is one of the region’s most respected and powerful wizards.
Owner of the renowned Orisini Academy fighting school, Vencarlo’s outspoken disdain for Korvosa’s government has earned him trouble on several occasions.