Tanthalas: Asmer’s Hive of Scum and Villainy
The fog-shrouded port city of Tanthalas on Ormrarr Bay on the south coast of the continent of Ertalon, embodies the fierce independence of the Firefall. The city itself is in constant flux, with no rulers except those brave (or foolhardy) enough to claim themselves so. Typically its self-styled lords and ladies don’t last very long.
The only thing constant in Tanthalas is inconstancy bordering on anarchy.
The laws exist only to be used as political weapons, wielded with brutality by those strong enough to enforce them at the time. For example, slavery is technically illegal, yet is a poisoned arrow in many a quiver. Slaves are bought and used not only as servants, but also as a public boast, by those who feel that they are strong enough to foil any political or outright military moves against them. Nowhere else in Asmer is the game of politics daily played by folk high and low more fiercely, or for higher stakes, than in Tanthalas.
There is no real city guard, except for a tired troop of twenty-some veteran adventurers who call themselves the Rovers. Corrupt and far from a cohesive band for justice, usually six or so are active at any one time, and then only when they feel that there is something in it for them. The class of a Tanthalan neighborhood is easily discerned by the number of visible mercenaries posing as guards. So constant is the call for such individuals that it has become an actual occupation; swordar. Swordsmen who specialize in riding the tumultuous currents of Tanthalan politics and serving a variety of ruthless, powerful individuals, swordars who last more than a season or two are warriors who’ve who mastered both the tortuous Tanthalan streets and how to read which way the winds of power are blowing.
Black marketeers across Asmer have no better venue than the wharves and piers of Tanthalas. Through those docks an endless supply of the dangerous, the exotic, and the illegal pour into Ertalon. From Tanthalas, they can be shipped to and from the Harr, Nornar, Irlspyre, and even hot and mysterious Yacathan. Strategically situated between harshly controlled Rheligor and grasping merchant princes of Skalaunt chafing under the Heirophar, Tanthalas has trade that is more than brisk, driven by the wide variety of demands from these two countries.
A unique blend of the utilitarian and the grandiose, Tanthalas hosts a cacophony of architecture. The oldest parts of the city, the Docks, are closest to the Bay, and are the most rundown and in disrepair. The most industrial part of the city, home to few, the Docks are given over to piers and wharves, warehouses and naval outfitters, net- and sailmakers, and boatbuilders. With so many goods of dubious legality and high value are stored there, not even guttersnipes are welcome; warehouse guards and gangs hired by shipcaptains and Tanthalan shippers discourage dwelling in the Docks, so only the most agile and desperate, willing to huddle on rooftops or endure the sewer stinks, call the Docks home. Overhead stretch the thrail lines, an overhead webwork of cart lines connecting docks and warehouses, depots and piers. Traveling and maintaining these lines is dangerous, and the phrase “thrailer’s luck” is often used to say someone is very unfortunate indeed. The better-off shipping houses use a complex system of ropes and pulleys powered by large stationary wheels that someone walks in (like a giant hamster wheel) to move the carts along the rails from place to place. The newly starting or struggling shipping houses have to use manual labor to physically push or pull carts along the rails, leaving them vulnerable to sabotage by rivals. Not even the many thieves of Tanthalas feel traveling the thrail lines is safe.
On the eastern slopes that rise up from the harbor, one finds Fishstink, the crumbling slums of Tanthalas where buildings sag against each other, often collapsing into rubble without warning. The name comes not from the effluvia of Tanthalan chamberpots that flow through this area until heavy rains swell the Hulgul enough to wash them away, but from the cheap fish available to those who live there; tiny, sweet silversmack and oily Dolodraunt smelt. Fish guts are tossed into alleys, and the fish themselves are cooked over open braziers, leaving the entire area blanketed with a constant miasma of decay and misty with reeking smoke.
Above Fishstink, high on the eastern slopes and clear of the worst fish-reek thanks to the constant ocean breezes, is Harborview. Architecturally it is little better than Fishstink, crowded ramshackle multifloored shared buildings, many with external galleries (shared outside porches) wherein dwell most of the city’s common laborers, servants, and staff for the many shops elsewhere in Tanthalas. Literally looking down on the Fishstink, its inhabitants have the constant reminder that no matter how bad their lives may be, at least they aren’t a Stinker. Beyond Harborview to the west is Southsummer, also known as Stormview, where the middle class do their best to ignore both the machinations of those who would rule Tanthalas or the lowly who dwell in Fishstink and Harborview. Burglary and theft are most rampant in this part of the city, though the neighborhood has a history of uniting in vigilant arms to police their streets if things get too violent.
Landrise, sloping up from the Firefall on the north side of the city, is where the caravans unload, with wagoneers and stables readily available. This is where the merchants stay, and non-natives are subtly or not-so-subtly encouraged to stay. Long ago this was one of the prized commercial areas of Tanthalas, it has long been in decline. Dwellings have been repurposed to rooming houses, hostels, and inns, and cheap rental homes mainly occupied by the aged and enfeebled. Here fierce guards protect goods as they go to and from caravans assembled and disassembled in the broad fields on the outskirts close to the river traffic and the roads, but otherwise it as is lawless and every jack for himself as the rest of the city.
The gleaming merchant jewel of Tanthalas is the Serpentsar, a district of genteel boutiques selling the softer (and less smelly) goods and services, often with business offices renting space in upper floors. The merchant houses have their own guards, and are the second largest employers of good swordars. Shops bristle with as many liveried bonebreakers as they do clerks. And it’s not just the criminal element Serpentsar merchants worry about. The commercial game is as vicious as the political, with each house competing for the best contracts with pitiless abandon. The buildings here are all very well maintained, often with lavish facades of dubious taste.
The most prosperous citizens of Tanthalas are divided into two distinct camps. The up-and-coming, the ambitious, and those aspiring to reach the top live in Vareskur. Situated on the westernmost edge of Tanthalas, this is the direction the city is expanding in, with this neighborhood growing with ever-more ostentatious homes and mansions being constructed as the inhabitants vie for prestige. Here are the proving grounds of the wealthy and powerful, where they truly step into the game and see if they can prosper. No one just survives Vareskur. You either win or you fail.
The other area is the most exclusive in the city, the chosen demesne of those who’ve clawed and trampled their way to real power or wealth in Tanthalas. Occupying the loftiest part of the city, the center, it is simply called the High. Mansions, great halls, and even miniature castles can be found here, many centuries old and impeccably maintained; most behind their own high walls. The perfectly cobbled streets are kept clean by a small army of workers, with topiary and statuary lining the broad, winding lanes. The High itself changes little; most buildings altered little since their completion. What does change are the residents. These self-styled “lords of Tanthalas” are locked in constant war that takes place on battlefields of politics, commerce, and society. Getting to the High is only the beginning for the ambitious. Staying there, growing your power, expanding your influence and reach, those are the real goals. As such, the residents of the High change rapidly. The only requirement is to be able to take the residence and keep it. Princes of the underworld, merchant lords, and those with claims to nobility all dwell there.
As shown, Tanthalas is a city constantly on the edge of tearing itself apart, and yet it always manages to survive and even thrive. It is not a place for the weak of heart or spirit; those not ready to do whatever it takes to turn the gears find themselves ground between them.