History and overview
The island of Kyper lies in the northern reaches of the Diarchal Archipelago. Even less hospitable than its neighbors, for centuries its largest sign of civilization was the thrice-rebuilt city of Vickelt, a sea-town with decent natural protections against foe and weather and rich waters to live off of.
Four generations ago, Vickelt was decimated by a tsunami. Some of the survivors rebuilt, of course, and live even now within the protection of their town’s partially-collapsed walls. Most moved about half a day’s travel uphill. They followed the Tall River, only stopping when they came within sight of the series of cascades and waterfalls that give the stream its name. There they founded a new city, which they called Fair-Vickelt-after-the-Flood. Now, the two communities are commonly called Low Vickelt and Fair Vickelt.
Fair Vickelt sits astride the Tall in an ancient lava scar turned flood plain where the rich soil supports intensive farming and the open land allows some advance warning against monsters and raiders. There have always been plans to build a wall, of course, but perpetual bickering over the details has left everything but a pair of gatehouses on the river unbuilt. The citizens of the town instead rely for protection on a rather chaotic, even mazelike collection of ditches (which double as a sewage system) and stone, earth or wooden stockades, palisades and fences, many of which now lie within the town proper due to its growth.
And it has grown, to a city of nearly 12,000 souls, with about five thousand more under its jurisdiction in Low Vickelt and the lands around. A rich vein of copper has been opened in the nearby cliffs, several food- and cash-crops are raised in the flood plain’s soil, and a thriving community of guilds attracts craftsmen from the nearby islands.
Although it has survived and flourished overall, Fair Vickelt has had its share of problems. The original close-knit refugee society has grown, large enough that it is vulnerable from within to factionalism and infighting, but still small enough to be vulnerable from without to monsters and bandits. It is a city complex enough for criminal organizations to form, but not yet protected by a robust system of laws and enforcers and social contracts.
Government and major players
The Diarchy itself is represented in all reasonably-sized towns and cities in the Archipelago. Fair Vickelt houses a Levy-Master and his aides, and the druid of the island Kyper’s own spirit answers directly to the Insularch. But these two, despite their authority, don’t govern the city directly.
Fair Vickelt is ruled by the Guildmaster Consortium, a plutocratic oligarchy. This loud and confusing council is filled with representatives from almost every mover and shaker in town: landowners, craftsman’s organizations and other actual guilds, the Order of Magi, various churches, noble and wealthy families, and even one of the Levy-Master’s personal secretaries. Because the standard way of things is to do for yourself anything that needs doing, the council is mainly a venue for foisting off onto others the responsibilities that must be fulfilled but that your own interests aren’t particularly served by, or for harming your business rivals through the manipulation of tariffs and duties, or for getting elected Chair so that you can make your enemies shut up and sit down.
As a result, the Consortium’s chambers are one part social club, one part brawl, and one-tenth of a part actual governing body.
There are three organizations in the city of some military strength: the Wergild Mercenary Guild, the Crystal Blade Academy, and the Magistrate.
The Wergild Mercenary Guild is a union of sell-swords and similar rough workers. They receive commissions for bodyguard work, judicial posses, anti-bandit military ventures, monster hunting, construction, hauling, and other physical labor. Their worker base consists of any freelancer who cares to wander in and look at the notice boards, so quality can vary. But workers with good results tend to get first pick of the jobs that come in, so employers here tend to get what they pay for, and everyone’s happy. The guild stands out first, because it offers a “death bonus” to the next-of-kin of those who fall in the line of duty, and second, because it remains unrepresented in the Consortium.
The Crystal Blade is a military academy that stresses excellence of character as well as in the handling of spear, short sword, and bow. Its founders are a married couple, Dale and Tawny Heartforge. Dale left Fair Vickelt years ago as just Dale, and returned with skill, idealism, a last name, a beautiful and formidable wife, and the translucent sword that gave the school its name. The school will take anyone with coin or the willingness to work off their debt, but will only officially sanction its graduates – and fewer than half of those who enroll have the strength of arms and spirit to make it through the training. Crystal Blade graduates are among the most sought-after bodyguards within a hundred leagues.
The Magistrate is the priesthood of The Third Lord of Law, a god of Dream who favors strict (and, if necessary, violent) justice. This is the largest organized church in town, and its (sometimes heavily armed) acolytes are the closest Fair Vickelt has to a police force. Nobody cares to oppose them, in part because they operate with legal and divine sanction, in part because they do the dirty work that nobody else is willing to do in the case of certain crimes, and in part because, well, they’re organized and heavily armed. The head priest is technically an inherited position, but blood relations who fail to show sufficient zeal for Justice tend to be disinherited and acolytes who do, adopted. Any criminal in either Vickelt can tell you that the worst part about the Magistrate is not how harsh they are, but how incorruptible.
Every once in a while, the Magistrate grows sick and tired of trying to interpret and enforce the increasingly opaque and self-contradictory mass of rules the Consortium produces. It forces through a massive wave of simplifications and reforms, after which the process begins again.
The most widespread religious belief in this part of the archipelago is the prevalence of household gods. About eight of ten households in Fair Vickelt have family gods, dwelling in figures or shrines or other objects. To serve these people, a unique magical-tradition-cum-priesthood has grown, called the Interpreters of Dreams. Although not serving a god of their own, these spiritually-sensitive individuals are trained in channeling the faint energies of a family god to benefit the members of its household. In rare cases this can produce deadly results, but in general the religion is benign enough that the Order tolerates it as a harmless folk-practice.
Overall Alignment: Chaotic Lawful.
Major resources: crops (beef potato, raptor root, long-grain rice, tart oranges, sugarcane); seafood from Low Vickelt (shellfish, clawfish, tallfin, kelp, star-wrack); other sea products (pearls, mother-of-pearl, craggy hairworm chitin); mining (copper, gold, gems, obsidian); lumber (bamboo, spongewood).
Major industries: ship-making, jewelry, milling, martial training, money-laundering.
Major imports: hardwoods, iron and steel, foodstuffs, pottery, oil.
Economy: robust but plagued by inefficiency, corruption, and crime.
Religions: the Interpreters of Dreams, the Magistrate, the druids of Kyper (the island) and Belsaucus (the local sea-god), various minor druids, Matna (a god of Dream, the fierce mother and defender of the home, often pictured with a kitchen cleaver in hand), Wee Boss the Spry (a fickle but cheerful god of Dream with an interest in chance, travel, commerce, and cliff-doves).
Neighbors: none of note. Perhaps half a dozen other communities on the island vary between raiding and trading, depending on their moods. There is enough room to go around, in this region, that none of the nearby city-states have any particular conflict with the Vickelts.
Attitude toward adventurers: What with the bandits, the monsters, the crime, and the city’s high population of sell-swords and veterans, nothing an “adventurer” does is even particularly out of the ordinary. People will keep a close eye on you if you walk around armed, though. And even if you don’t, there are a fair number of people who can tell from your posture exactly how much time you spend with a weapon in hand and how well you use it.