Curse of the Crimson Throne
Korvosa has long stood as the first bastion of
civilization on the wild frontier of Varisia. Yet
tragedy seems to haunt the city’s royal bloodline.
Few of her rulers rule for long, and none have lived to a
ripe old age, dying instead well before their time. Heirs to
the throne are few and far between—in its 300-year history,
no king of Korvosa has directly inherited the Crimson
Throne from his father. This is the source of much gossip
and tale-spinning among the city’s citizens, who speak in
hushed tones of what they have come to call the Curse of
the Crimson Throne.
Like the people of any other city, Korvosan 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 make 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, 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. Thank to it and the spread of its people, Varisia has become a relatively safe place to live.
Korvosa sits at the end of the Conquerer’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 spread 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:
Important Locations & Landmarks
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:
Three military groups police and protect Korovsa: 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 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 (and 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 ill0fated insult against a very prominent Korvosan noble family sparked the Cousins’ War, in 4502 AR [roughly 100 years after the founding of the city]. 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 [~200 years after founding], 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 self-appointed 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 existent 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.
A list of some important or well-known individuals are listed below:
- Cressida Kroft – Field Marshal of the Korvosan Guard
- Eodred Arabasti II – King of Korvosa
- Ileosa Arabasti – Queen of Korvosa
- Garrick Tann – Magistrate of Commerce [Tax Collector]
- Lolia Perenne – Magistrate of Regulation
- Marcus Thalassinus Endrin – Leader of the Sable Company
- Neolandus Kalepopolis – Seneschal of Castle Korvosa
- Severs ‘Boneclaw’ DiVri – Commander of the Order of the Nail
- Syl Gar – Magistrate of Expenditures
- Zenobia ‘The Hanging Judge’ Zenderholm – Senior Arbiter
- Blackjack – A ‘Robin Hood’ legendary (mythical?) figure
- Boule – Guildmaster of the Cerulean Society [Thieves’ Guild]
- Darb Tuttle – Archbanker of the Church of Abadar
- Devargo ‘King of Spiders’ Barvassi – runs Eel’s End [a seedy part of town]
- Glorio Arkona – powerful noble; ties to Cerulean Society
- Keppira d’Bear – Bishop of Cathedral of Pharasma, Steward of The Gray District
- Pilts Swastel – owns Exemplary Execrables [a perverse playhouse]
- Sabina Merrin – Queen’s Bodyguard and rumored lover
- Toff Ornelos – Headmaster of the Acadamae
- Vencarlo Orisini – Owner of Orisini Academy [fighting school]