1. Cyphergate: The enigmatic Cyphergate looms large over Riddleport’s harbor, a constant reminder of the transience of life and even civilization, since few can even imagine what society might have raised this architectural wonder. The arch rises 350 feet above the water below at high tide, rising from the rocky crags on either side of the harbor mouth. Rectangular in cross section and 35 feet wide, the sides bear massive runes and glyphs. It is of an unidentifiable stone of almost supernatural hardness that resists most efforts at defacing or marking, and has weathered countless years amazingly well. There is speculation that the arch is actually the upper portion of a great stone ring, the bottom of which lies buried beneath the harbor, and long-abandoned excavations have shown that it descends deeply into the bedrock, but how far down it goes and how it could have been implanted in the natural stone remains a mystery, as do the meanings of the runes on its sides. Some researchers note that these runes are similar to those that comprise the Thassilonian language, yet each bears subtle differences that make translation difficult, if not impossible. Most scholars believe that the runes have no meaning, and are simply decorative. Magical attempts to decipher the runes have supported this theory, yet the Order of Cyphers believes that this simply points to the runes’ mystic nature, that even magic cannot decipher their meaning or the Cyphergate’s true purpose. Cracking this code has become the primary goal of the Order, yet they are no closer to solving it today than they were when their order was founded.
2. Riddleport Harbor: Riddleport’s harbor is a somewhat crowded natural cove grown increasingly dense with piers and ship traffic. Runoff from the city’s sewage gutters and silt from the ever-muddy Velashu River sometimes transforms the water into a nasty brown, but for the most part ocean currents keep the harbor relatively fresh and filled with fish, which in turn draws numerous, more dangerous predators to the harbor. Sharks, reefclaws, bunyips, devilfish, and barracuda (both the standard and the regional amphibious variety) have all been spotted in the harbor waters, creating a dangerous environment to swim in. Men who fall overboard from ships in Riddleport’s harbor generally have only a few minutes to reach safety before one of these predators finds them.
3. Inner Harbor: A smaller harbor at the river’s mouth, the Inner Harbor’s pricier berths provide more direct access to the mills and mercantile buildings. Unfortunately, the number of pollutants in the slow-flowing river from the city’s sewage gutters and mills makes water drawn from the inner harbor undrinkable at best—fortunately, it also makes it less predator-infested than the main harbor.
4. Velashu Ferry: When Riddleport was founded, it often had difficulty with the goblins, ogres, and trolls that dwelt in the Calphiak Mountains. While these creatures have dwindled in number since then, the traditional ban on building bridges over the Velashu remains. Those seeking to cross the river can either pay local fishermen for passage, or they can engage the services of the Velashu Ferry here. The ferry runs regularly throughout the night and day. Grimas Oltedler works steadily through the evening and night but must be summoned from his bed by ringing the ferry bell if one is seeking passage before midday. Prices range from 2 to 6 cp per traveler, depending on the length of the journey up or downriver.
5. River District: This section of the town runs along both banks of the Velashu River. It consists primarily of shops and fulling mills that turn out the few trade items manufactured in Riddleport, mainly finished metal goods, lumber, fulled cloth, tanned hides, and cured furs taken by hunters from the nearby mountains or the Uplands. Two fish-packing houses operate in this stretch as well. All of these operations dump their wastes directly into the river, as do several sewage drains from the streets of the city, providing a particularly pungent odor for which the district is infamous and has earned the unofficial name of “Reek District.”
6. Publican House (Temple of Cayden Cailean): This building of clapboard and shingles appears to be a large, rough-and-tumble tavern. Great bay windows of leaded glass look out over the river, often lit by the revel ongoing through most hours of the evening and night. A sign bearing the symbol of a dented ale mug hangs above the door, and written discreetly beneath it in gold letters are the words “Publican House.” This raucous place is actually a temple to Cayden Cailean, god of adventurers and drink, and is a favorite among the ships’ crews and travelers that visit Riddleport for its fair prices and wide selection. It is overseen by High Publican Arnando Rolf, a bear of a man who is rarely seen without a notched sword swinging at his hip. The temple-tavern is open to all, with the one exception painted in bright red letters in several languages directly above the bar: “No Cyphermages,” a policy enacted several years ago after numerous problems between Rolf and some of the more egotistical and stuffy members of the Order of the Cypher.
7. Windward District: This affluent section of Riddleport consists of sturdy timber structures built upon the slopes of the city’s western ridge line. It gains its name from the warm summer breezes that come in off of the gulf. Winding paths with steps cut into the bare stone provide egress through this steep district, and most buildings are several stories high with numerous balconies, many connected by narrow bridges. This district houses most of the city’s scholars and sages, and about 80% of the cyphermages make their homes here among these wind-blown tenements.
8. Cypher Lodge: This grand structure of stone and timber sits perched upon a lonely crag nestled against the very slope of the mountain, and provides a panoramic view of both the gulf and the city. More importantly, its three wings look directly out over the Cyphergate. This lodge is the headquarters of the vaunted Order of Cyphers, a society of skilled wizards and sages who have dedicated themselves to unraveling the secrets of ancient arcana—in particular, the purpose of the Cyphergate. The lodge is open to all cyphermages for a monthly room-and-board fee of 5 gp, a fee that grants access to its extensive libraries as well as a host of learned scholars on the subject. To non-cyphermages, a day’s room and board (and access to the libraries) is a much heftier 20 gp. Nevertheless, its guest rooms are almost always full. Today the cyphermages toil under their current leader Elias Tammerhawk, an accomplished wizard who has been elected as speaker of the order for two consecutive 8-year terms. Many whisper that Elias has his eye set on the position of overlord, and Riddleport’s other crimelords worry about the nature of the changes to their beloved city should this event occur.
9. Wharf District: This raucous district lies hard on the edge of the very docks of the city and is where much of the city’s day-to-day action of commerce and thievery occurs. Nearest the docks are a series of warehouses and cheap grog shops where merchant and pirate crews mingle in a haze of rum-soaked debauchery and blood. Once the most commercially successful portion of the city, its aged facade and Riddleport’s slow slide toward legitimacy have seen much of the action move northward to the Free-Coin District, leaving the Wharf District a tattered shadow of its former self. Inns and shops have grimed windows and peeling paint hinting at a prosperity that no longer exists, which is just fine for the run-of-the-mill pirate crew.
10. Gold Goblin Gambling Hall: Once a high profile venue and shining diamond of the bustling Wharf District, this run-down gambling hall currently run by Saul Vancaskerkin has seen better days and a half-dozen changes in ownership over the years. Despite financial setbacks, it continues to put up a good face and even provides beast fighting to bet on in competition with the nearby Zincher’s Arena.
11. Zincher’s Arena: This massive stone structure dominates the Wharf District. Brutal contests of strength and combat prowess between slaves, criminals, professional gladiators, and captured wild beasts and monsters are held here for the public’s entertainment, but so are formal duels by members of the city’s elite who wish to settle feuds in a public spectacle. The latter are much rarer, as such duel challenges are seldom issued—assassinations and poisonings are so much more efficient—and even more rarely accepted for the same reasons. However, such events draw by far the largest crowds. The last such duel was between Speaker Tammerhawk of the cyphermages and a visiting evoker who was denied entry to the Cypher Lodge after one too many insults levied at the school of divination. Tammerhawk won in short order in a spectacularly bloody bout that involved a swarm of rats devouring the still-living rival mage. Local crime boss Clegg Zincher runs the arena, and his booming voice and flair for melodrama make him uniquely suited to run such events as the establishment has become regionally famous for. While not the most powerful crimelord in Riddleport, he is certainly one to be feared and respected.
12. Gas Forges: The Cyphergate is not the only unique local feature, merely the most obvious. The second, more subtle peculiarity is also the primary reason for Riddleport’s prosperity, for the location sits above a large deposit of carbauxine, a rare gas normally found deep in the Darklands. Dwarven smiths have long known of the properties of carbauxine, of how flames fueled by the gas run hotter than most other forges and allow for the smelting and forging of many rare and difficult metals like adamantine. When this unusual deposit was discovered beneath Riddleport over a century ago, the dwarves were quick to capitalize and constructed the Gas Forges above the site. Carbauxine is a poisonous, heavier-than-air gas that is difficult to work with, but carbauxine forges are immensely valuable in metalcrafting. The Gas Forges are the only forges in Varisia capable of smelting adamantine and other high-hardness metals, and despite the rarity of such ore, the Gas Forges never seem to be without custom. The Gas Forges are an immense structure of brick and iron with dozens of foul, smoke-belching stacks built over the forges. The actual workings beneath the structure are populated by dwarven laborers who don crude breathing devices as they work to maintain proper gas flow for the forges by removing the huge deposits of carbon and poisonous heavy metals that develop from their usage. The facial bellows they wear are inefficient and must be hand-pumped, forcing workers to hold their breath as they work, pausing as infrequently as possible to work the bellow filters to provide fresh air. The work is taxing even for the hardy dwarves, but those who survive a few years of such labor retire wealthy—usually to die shortly thereafter of black lung or liver failure. The anonymous consortium of dwarves that own the Gas Forges are some of the richest residents of Varisia, although they live in distant Janderhoff and trust the daily maintenance and running of the Gas Forges to Tromard Roldheim.
13. Rotgut District: This district of disheveled businesses and collapsing tenements is crammed up against the city’s protective ridge. Easily the poorest section in the city proper, Rotgut also hosts the highest crime rate and the most brothels and alehouses per capita. Every crimelord seems to have a finger in the Rotgut District, though few actually dwell within its dubious environs.
14. St. Caspieran’s Mission: This small mission church and almshouse was founded several decades ago by a starry-eyed follower of Sarenrae who dedicated the mission to the care of crippled sailors and those widowed or orphaned by the sea.
15. Riddleport Light: Built on a lonely crag at the terminus of Riddleport’s eastern ridge, this beacon tower provides guidance to the safety of the harbor and away from the treacherous rocks just to the east of the harbor mouth. It can only be reached by a narrow winding stairway. It has been occupied over the years by a number of different groups and individuals, but is currently the home of a reclusive sorcerer named Gebediah Krix who, rumor holds, consorts with fiends from the Great Beyond. Krix is courteous enough to make sure the beacon is lit each night, so the powers-that-be elect not to try and dislodge his occupation of the tower.
16. Leeward District: Riddleport’s largest district, Leeward is built into the protecting curve of the city’s eastern ridge, where it is sheltered from the worst of the winter winds. The majority of the city’s population resides in the tall tenements of this district, and most buildings have a shop at street level where standard goods and services can be obtained. From the central well and market to the temples and the walled compounds of the various bosses that run the crime in Riddleport, almost anything can be found on the streets of Leeward District.
17. House of the Silken Veil: This octagonal pyramid is topped by a blood-red steeple. The walls were once of white marble but are now grimed and stained by years of exposure to the salt air and the pollutants of the Gas Forges, giving it a dreary, unhealthy look. But the silken curtains that cover its three wide, inviting entrances are always freshly laundered and do little to mask the scent of exotic incenses that waft from within. This structure is the headquarters for Riddleport’s “hospitality industry,” an industry that includes prostitutes, alehouses, escorts, dancers, and even (it is rumored) exotic assassins. The House of the Silken Veil serves another purpose as well: it is a temple of Calistria in addition to being a high-class brothel. Temple prostitutes work the streets and squares of Leeward and send criers and samples down to Wharf District to bring in the “pigeons.” The high priestess of this temple is Shorafa Pamodae, a leather-clad mistress seldom seen without her snakeskin whip coiled about a shoulder. She is also one of the city’s minor crimelords and rules the hospitality industry, from pimps to liquor sales.
18. The Fish Bowl: This bowl-shaped structure is open to the air and has a saltwater pool at its center, earning it its common nickname. In fact, this site is the city’s temple of a relatively minor goddess called Besmara, goddess of piracy, strife, and sea monsters. Various sorts of aquatic predators are kept within this deep pool by the small staff of sea-priests that man this temple—from swamp barracuda to reefclaws to the occasional giant octopus. The clergy has been careful to keep such “guests” under control ever since a number of reefclaws plagued the eastern portion of the city for more than a week a few years back. Rumor has it that on certain special nights, sacrifices are given to these creatures to placate Besmara’s more sinister aspects. The temple is currently headed by a wizened, old, one-legged man named Ruben Carfay. Most of Riddleport’s merchants and sea captains make at least occasional visits to this temple to leave tithes and request the favor of the Pirate Queen, but like most of her worshipers, they aren’t a very faithful or particularly devout lot.
19. Mystery of the Gate: This grandiose structure is the inn and tavern most favored by visiting scholars who come to study the Cyphergate. Its walls are decorated with etchings of glyphs, diagrams, and sketches showing the various dimensions and angles of the monument, and twice a week a cyphermage visits from the lodge and hosts a short lecture. In recent years, the inn has become a watering hole for adventurers as well, as the concentration of sages and scholars is a bountiful resource for researching quests throughout Varisia and beyond.
20. Lymas Smeed’s Townhouse: Fronting on Rat Street, this townhouse is the abode of the loan shark Lymas Smeed.
21. Zincher’s Tenement: Clegg Zincher owns this five-story tenement and takes the entire top floor as his abode and headquarters. The lower levels are occupied by his loyal soldiers and capps, as well as gladiators and mercenaries in his employ. The entire building is fortified from within and virtual suicide for anyone who might suppose to openly confront Zincher here.
22. Boss Croat’s Compound: Several buildings of the Leeward District here have been connected by a 15-foot wall topped with a spiked parapet. Boss Croat operates from inside this fortress, where wagon loads of the illicit drugs and contraband he sells are carted in under heavy guard for eventual disbursement among various street vendors. All of the windows are shuttered and barred, and at least two dozen half-orc men-at-arms are known to reside within.
23. The River Runner: This large establishment is perched on a bluff overlooking the Velashu. Once grandiose, now its paint peels and the shingles of its roof are missing in several places. Though still a functional, if somewhat pricey, inn, Rumor holds that the River Runner’s true purpose (as revealed by the double entendre of its name) is to serve as a clearing house for the smuggling and black market operations of crimelord Avery Slyeg.
24. The Devil’s Fork: Riddleport’s military district is nestled into the draws formed by the rocky ridge line that guards the city’s east and north sides. The Fork guards the northern approach to the city. Within the draws have been constructed a stable yard and barracks for the city’s 250 gendarmes and a small force of light cavalry. In the southern draw is Shoreleave, the city’s fortress-prison compound backed up against the rocky ridge and said to extend underneath in tunnels mined out by prisoners sentenced to hard labor. General Anton Mescher, Overlord Cromarcky’s right-hand man, oversees Shoreleave efficiently and fairly.
25. Maskyr’s Island: Named for Cabriem Maskyr, the pirate captain who became the first overlord of Riddleport, this islet in the center of the Velashu River holds the current overlord’s citadel and estate as well as many of the city’s various administration buildings. Several docks provide access to the island, but all are heavily guarded by gendarmes—Overlord Cromarcky does not accept visitors lightly. The citadel was built with the idea in mind that should the city fall (likely to internal turmoil), the residents of Maskyr’s Island would be able to weather the tumult for some time.
26. Free-Coin District: In recent years, the gambling hall business in Riddleport has seen a sudden surge in popularity—game halls are now among the city’s greatest sources of revenue. This recent expansion to the city serves as the demesne of three of Riddleport’s newest and grandest gamehalls—the Dragon’s Hoard, the Watercress, and the House of Nabin. All three, incidentally, are at least partially owned by Overlord Cromarcky, which likely explains the district’s exclusivity from competition and unique tax-free status.
27. Lubbertown: Reflecting Riddleport’s early days as a purely nautical destination, this shanty town of tents and simple dwellings sprung up outside the gates and beyond the official reach of the overlord’s taxes. Known derisively as Lubbertown for the fact that most of its inhabitants arrive at the city by land rather than by sea, the district is not patrolled by the gendarmes and has developed its own social order, informal system of laws, and distribution of goods and employment. Many of the city’s criminal organizations train (and recruit) their lowliest operatives among the vice of Lubbertown.
28. City Mortuary: This large, nondenominational chapel is maintained by the churches of Cayden Cailean, Calistria, and Besmara, and is used for funeral services and burial rites. It features its own attached mausoleums for those who can afford interment there rather than in the common graves of the Burying Ground. The building is locked up tight when not in use.
29. The Burying Ground: The land in and around Riddleport is either low-lying and saturated by the high water table or consists of rocky peaks and ridges—neither of which make ideal conditions for the interment of the deceased. As a result, this low hill conveniently located just outside of town has been the predominant burial ground for generations of those unwilling or unable to afford the expense necessary to have a rock-cut tomb in the surrounding ridges, or a private vault in the city mortuary. Graves are spaced closely together to maximize the limited hill space and burials typically involve interring bodies two and three deep. Stone tombs—anywhere from crude cairns to ornate vaults—surround the hill on the lower ground where the earth is too soggy to make burials practical.
30. Boneyard Cut: Climbing over Riddleport’s eastern ridge, this pass ascends almost 200 feet at a near-45-degree angle. Garbage is carried over this pass on mule-drawn carts in well-worn ruts and then down at a shallower angle to a ledge 40 feet above the salt marsh. At the terminus of this path is a sheer cliff and the caretaker’s hut. The caretaker, Hyram Crooge, maintains a constant bonfire for the burning of some trash and dumps the rest over the cliff edge into the marsh below.
31. The Boneyard: This deceptively named place actually serves as the city’s dump and ship’s graveyard rather than the intended final resting place for the once-living, though there are certainly enough corpses that end up concealed here to give most city graveyards a run for their money. Its name is derived from the many old hulks and collections of ships’ ribs that protrude from the swampy ground. The whole area is a partially flooded salt marsh that is generally 2 or 3 feet deep, although some hidden patches of quicksand are much deeper. The tidal influx keeps a mild current swirling through the marsh that stirs the garbage around until it collects in various clumps of decomposing compost that eventually form stable isles—some supporting considerable vegetation—within the swamp. Abandoned ships are towed up into the swamp from the bay during high tide by flat-bottomed skiffs and then set adrift. They quickly settle into the shallow waters, and the pull of the tide here is too weak to float any of them back out, though some of them do slowly change position over time due to the inexorable tidal forces. Several scavenging creatures are known to inhabit the fertile scavenging fields of the Boneyard, including the dangerous swamp barracuda and immense cockroaches. In several places, numerous ship hulks have clumped together, forming tangled warrens of chambers interconnected by plank bridges, ropes, and crude ladders.