Chefmole Second Darkness
As travelers from all walks of life flock to Riddleport, those of numerous professions and with countless skills flourish in the City of Cyphers. While Varisia’s more civilized south shuns those of more exotic or eccentric vocations, Riddleport’s residents covet and cultivate any skills that might help turn a profit.
As the northernmost human-dominated settlement in Varisia, Riddleport often receives visits from two wildly different but equally volatile barbarian people. Within the nearby Calphiak Mountains and Curchain Hills live two groups of the land’s native Shoanti, the Shadde-Quah and the Shriikirri- Quah, respectively. Aloof, proud, honorobsessed people, the Shadde-Quah live off the crashing waves and jagged cliffs of the Varisian coast, where they see themselves as defenders of their homeland’s seas. They distrust non-Shoanti outsiders, attacking most on sight. The more sociable but no less proud Shoanti of the Shriikirri-Quah cultivate a spiritual connection with the animals of their homeland, especially the horses that carry them in their nomadic travels, and they occasionally trade with the foreigners of the coast. It’s not uncommon to see tattooed Shoanti, disenchanted with the ways of their people, attempting to start new lives in the City of Cyphers. Aside from the Varisian natives, skilled and feared Ulfen seafarers from the Land of the Linnorm Kings sometimes venture to Riddleport, typically to sell and trade goods raided from any number of coastal communities. Quick to anger, but also quick to laugh, brag, and drink, the Ulfen are better understood and liked in Riddleport than the local Shoanti, despite their not-infrequent attacks on Riddleport ships. As merchants and travelers from all over Avistan and Garund venture to the City of Cyphers, strange beliefs and barbarian cultures from across these lands trickle into port. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see wanderers from the northern Garundi deserts, savage Kellids from Numeria, and even stoic tribesmen from the Mwangi Expanse passing through or seeking work.
Bards Along with ravenous appetites for gold and alcohol, Riddleport has an insatiable need for entertainers. With the city’s numerous bars, inns, gaming halls, brothels, restaurants, clubs, and other venues, the talents of skilled performers are constantly in demand. Wandering songsmiths, local instrumentalists, exotic dancers, traveling poets, long-winded scops, and entertainers from a hundred different cities and courts throughout the world demand high coin for their coveted services. Riddleport crowds are fickle, though, and one day’s star is the next day’s hack; though, conversely, yesterday’s courtesan has a fair chance at being tomorrow’s starlet. Thus, competition among entertainers proves fierce in the City of Cyphers, with performers knowing that, in many venues, a poor show might cost them much more than just their jobs, Riddleport audiences being notoriously physical in their disapproval. Unsurprisingly, especially through the Wharf District, rowdy pub patrons demand bawdy tunes and clever sea shanties in endless supply, an art form adopted by several foul-mouthed artistes.
Faith is fickle in Riddleport, a city that places its reverence in luck, trickery, debauchery, and the sea. Most of the city’s residents find it wiser to place their faith in their own cunning and hard work than in capricious deities, but one also can’t enter a local gambling den without hearing praises raised to Desna’s, Cayden Cailean’s, or Calistria’s name. Despite the inconsistency of their flocks, Cayden Cailean and Calistria both have well-attended temples in the City of Cyphers—a fact that likely has less to do with faith and more with the former being a boisterous tavern and the latter a brothel. These two temples, the Publican’s House and House of the Silken Veil, respectively, both support priests and reach out to the communities at large. The church of the goddess Besmara, a lesser deity revered by pirates and seafarers, also keeps a small local temple where sailors and privateers make blood offerings in exchange for placid seas and rich hauls. Aside from these well-rooted faiths, several priests of the goddess Desna and Gozreh tend to small congregations throughout the city, praying for fortune and fair weather in their followers’ dealings on land and at sea. Especially along the docks, the faithful of dozens of other deities wander the city, some simply bringing their gods with them as they travel, others seeking to proselytize in a new land. As the resident faiths tend to be accepting or uncaring regarding other beliefs, Riddleport proves quite open to foreign dogmas—so long as they don’t interfere with business.
With the city’s reliance on the sea, druids are more welcomed in Riddleport than most other urban centers. Although the city as a whole cares little for its environment—as evidenced by the disgusting state of the Velashu River, Riddleport harbor, and the marshy Boneyard—the city does all it can to placate the wrath of surly nature worshipers with coins and token offerings to Gozreh and other natural faiths. Despite their distaste for the city, druids often come to the coasts near Riddleport to commune with the waves and the creatures of the ocean. Many predict that it’s only a matter of time before the fury of nature consumes the exploitive city, but some druids take a less damning approach to their dealings with the city. As such, several druids take up residence near the city’s docks, hoping to minimize the city’s impact on the nearby bay, while others even join the crews of ships, offering their unique abilities over the elements for the chance to experience the open ocean. Aside from those druids interested in the waves and forests farther inland, some hermetic druids make their homes deep within the Calphiaks. Among the rocks and beasts of the mountains, these hard-souled nature worshipers find a rugged kind of spirituality. Yet, some of these pious explorers seek to connect not with boulders and mountain summits, but with the very depths of the earth, delving into the endless tunnels that thread their way through the heart of the Calphiaks and, as some say, far beyond.
Riddleport’s need for those with strong arms and sharp weapons never declines, even as the city slowly slides toward legitimacy. Although mercenaries and raiders can always find work on any number of pirate ships, caravans, and trading vessels, most of the city’s martial-minded residents take jobs protecting the stakes of the city’s numerous crime bosses. Whether as bouncers, toughs, hit men, or racketeers, experienced and well-feared fighters never lack for work among the gangs of the city’s extensive underworld. Particularly bloodthirsty or brutal fighters can also find work brawling and splitting skulls exclusively among the city’s several outlets for blood sport, primarily at Zincher’s Arena, where crowds pay for gory displays on a nightly basis. Yet, for all the grim and nefarious work opportunities the city offers, those warriors who prefer not to be tied directly to any of Riddleport’s several obviously criminal enterprises have options as well. Numerous skilled fighters find an air of questionable legitimacy among the mercenaries that serve as the city’s gendarmes. Although not a wholly noble organization, many these keepers of Riddleport’s few laws and relative peace do actually strive to aid the people of the city.
While hardly a spot to find enlightenment and spiritual wholeness, Riddleport is a place where both martial abilities and deception are valued commodities. As such, the skills of those who are most deadly when unarmed and whose appearances disguise their prowess are held in high esteem. Although few who hone their physical skills seek worldly comforts, those who do can find great respect and endless work serving the city’s various crime bosses. The crowds at Zincher’s Arena also delight in rare displays of martial arts and, therefore, such practitioners command high prices for such exhibitions. In some underground arenas and fighting clubs, inelegant brawlers and hulking boxers learn techniques similar to those of foreign monks, cultivating bare-fisted styles less artful but no less devastating. Aside from the rare well-trained Shoanti brawler or wandering ascetic, few Riddleport locals adopt the path of the monk. Rather, most such martial-masters travel to the city from afar, either passing through as they seek new experiences to test their skills or in search of rivals to hone their abilities. Thus, it’s not unheard of to find representatives of the whirling masters of Thuvia, the stone-footed acrobats of Qadira, or the silent lamas of the east exploring Riddleport’s docks.
Although none of Riddleport’s prominent faiths support paladins among their ranks, one occasionally encounters such valorous warriors amid the city’s bustling crowds. Some holy warriors take it as a divine challenge to bring the word of their deity to the irreverent, especially those clustered in cities of sin like Riddleport. Occasional wandering paladins of Iomedae and Abadar come to the city in the hopes of wresting a few souls from darkness and combating the wickedness rampant in the city, but most end up departing in frustration. More than one such holy warrior has disappeared in Riddleport, as crusades against the city’s potent crime lords rarely last long or end well. Paladins of Erastil and Sarenrae tend to have slightly more success in the city, taking lighter approaches and ingraining themselves among the people by providing education and healing to the frontier city. Also, paladins of other faiths sometimes pass through the City of Cyphers, hoping to cleanse the city by ridding the still dangerous countryside of savages and monstrous threats. In doing so, most hope to pave the way for more decent folk to come to the region and change the city over time.
As one of the northernmost true cities encountered before entering the savage Land of the Linnorm Kings and wildernesses beyond, Riddleport is a true frontier town. As such, numerous skilled hunters, trackers, and explorers make their home in and around the city, ever ready for the next expedition. In the nearby wilds, hunters patrol the mountains in search of exotic beasts that prey upon farms along the Velashu River, such as wolves, firepelt cougars, harpies, and even the occasional roc or hill giant. Within the city, some rangers take sail aboard local ships, and more than one shark hunter or killer of sea monsters—such as aberrant reefclaws or magical beasts like devilfish—keep live-in trophy halls near the city’s wharves. Those with swift mounts make fine livings as couriers within the city and between Riddleport and its holdings in Roderic’s Cove. Alternatively, hunters of men find endless outlets for their talents as hit men for the city’s endless criminal dealings. Recently, several local rangers have taken to exploring the vast cave systems beneath the Calphiak Mountains. Those who survive such dangerous expeditions sometimes return with strange fungi and evidence of bizarre, pale-skinned beasts.
In a city of scoundrels, the quick-witted flourish. Rogues of every variety and specialty find ample use for their skills serving the city’s various crime bosses, from pickpockets and second-story men to con artists and smugglers. Nearly every racket has its possibilities and place in Riddleport, and it’s not uncommon to find the most skilled scoundrels involved in multiple schemes at the same time. Those rogues adverse to theft and deadly dealings often make their ways as gamblers, merchants, prostitutes, private investigators, and even among the city’s gendarme. Aside from those crooks in the direct employ of Riddleport’s crime bosses, several other fledging gangs and lone thieves seek to make names for themselves in the City of Cyphers. Groups of Sczarni occasionally blow into the city, running con games and quick rackets before heading back on the road. And while crime bosses control many of the criminal enterprises within the city, most hold little sway outside the port’s walls. Thus, wandering brigands and roadside thieves come from all across Varisia to pawn their pilfered wares.
Many magic-users feel a special connection to the massive, ancient monuments that mark the Varisian landscape, with few feeling such lures more fundamentally than sorcerers. In a land that seems to be suffused with magical wonders, such spellcasters often seek to learn more of the mysteries of their own blood and improve upon their innate talents. Many sorcerers join the ranks of the Order of Cyphers, some even claiming evidence of ancestries relating them to the land’s lost civilizations. Others use their magical skills for more direct monetary gain, aiding criminals, performing their own magic-aided cons, or participating in the occasional spell duel at Zincher’s Arena.
Obsessed with the secrets of its infamous monuments, wizards have flocked to Varisia for decades, hoping to discover ancient magics and arcane secrets amid the enigmatic monoliths. At the vanguard of research exploring these gigantic artifacts, the Order of Cyphers—a group of scholars with a shared obsession—makes its home in Riddleport. Growing in influence by the year, these cyphermages study Varisian monuments—particularly Riddleport’s enigmatic Cyphergate—in exhaustive detail. Although the Order exists to share discoveries and research, many cyphermages prove dangerously competitive, keeping their findings from one another and even sabotaging the inquiries of their peers. Cyphermages are not alone in Riddleport, though. The skills of talented magic users go far in both trade and criminal enterprises. Some wizards make tidy profits selling simple scrolls and potions, especially of spells that prove particularly useful at sea. Others join the ranks of the city’s underworld elite, their divinations and illusions aiding rival crime bosses in spying and misleading one another. Several of the city’s better-funded gambling dens also keep house wizards on staff, using their magic to watch for cheaters. Aboard the ships of pirates and privateers, ship wizards are also highly respected and paid, their skills proving invaluable in crippling the vessels of enemies and defending against any number of sea-spawn threats.