The City of Melvaunt
Melvaunt is a city-state situated on the northern shore of the Moonsea. It includes the city proper plus a scattering of outlying farm villages, and larger estates. The city houses one of the best harbors in the region, making it an important center for trade. It is the southern terminus of the Glister Road, which brings gems, precious metals, and iron from the Galena Mountains. Forges within the city turn these raw materials into armor, weapons, and jewelry for export around the Moonsea, and down the River Lis to the Sea of Fallen Stars. Thanks to this trade, Melvaunt is known as the "City of a Thousand Forges."
The city is enclosed on three sides by a 30-ft high stone wall interspersed with 40-ft towers. The wall projects into the water so that even when the lake is low, there is no gap in the defenses. There are only two gates in the wall--Northgate and Eastgate--both protected by barbicans. The gates are closed at night, but travelers with legitimate business can enter and leave through the postern doors by speaking to the guards and gaining their permission.
The Northgate opens onto the Glister Road, which is intersected from the west by the Phlan Path. Though reasonably well-maintained near the city, a few miles out they become nothing more than rough wagon trails winding through the surrounding wilderness. The Sword Path leading east to Thentia is better maintained and more heavily populated, with several small fishing villages along the way.
Roughly 34,000 people call the city home. The overwhelming majority of them are human, with a small number of dwarves and an even smaller number of elves, half-elves, gnomes, halflings, and half-orcs. The bulk of the population are tradesmen. Slaves are employed throughout the city in a variety of jobs. They often earn wages in addition to their room and board, and by saving their money, they can eventually purchase their freedom. Above the slaves and tradesmen are the shopkeepers, and small business owners. They are typically either members of one of the wealthy merchant families, or they are allied with one of them in some way.
The merchant houses form the aristocracy of the city. They dominate trade, hold the reins of government, and are able to dispense economic privileges to all and sundry. All tradesmen must belong to a guild, and the guilds must hold a charter from the government. The guilds set the conditions of employment, wages, standards of quality, and job qualifications. Shopkeepers also have their guilds, and their businesses must be licensed as well. Through these various forms of regulation, the lords have been able to wield a disproportionate amount of influence.
Recently, the tradesmen, represented by the Guild Masters, have been able to claim more power. During a city-wide upheaval, the Council of Lords nearly lost its control over the city. The nobles had to make major concessions to the Guilds in order to maintain their position. The guilds were allowed to create the Assembly of Guild Masters representing each of the various guilds. The Assembly writes the laws under which the guilds operate. Those laws have to be approved by the Council of Lords, but can only originate from within the Assembly. All other laws are proposed by the Council of Lords, but must be approved by the Assembly.
The other concession was the creation of the Council of Iron. The Council of Iron is a seven-member executive committee that handles the daily business of the city. The top three officers on the Guild Assembly are automatically accorded positions on the Council. Three other positions are occupied by the top three officers of the Council of Lords. The seventh position is held by the Lord Envoy. He is nominated for the position by the Assembly, but must be a member of the Council of Lords and is confirmed as Lord Envoy by that Council.
One of the jobs of the Council of Iron is to appoint the commander of the land forces, known as the Lord of Keys, and the commander of the navy, who is known as the Lord of the Waves. The land forces include the city guard, which makes the Lord of Keys also responsible for internal security.
The chart below shows the government in outline.
The patron god of Melvaunt is Gond, God of Smiths, known as the Wonderbringer. While other gods are worshipped in the city, Gond's temple--the Purple Portals--draws the most visitors by far. In addition to regular praise services, the temple is devoted to the craft of metalworking. It features several forges, smelters, and workshops where priests and laymen work to invent new machines and to advance the craft of smithing. The High Artificer of the temple is Hlessen Muragh, an eccentric man who immigrated to the city from Baldur's Gate twenty years ago. His enthusiasm for metalworking knows no bounds.
A temple complex devoted to Oghma, God of Knowledge. The temple includes a lecture hall, library, scriptorium, and lodgings for both resident clergy and visiting scholars. Membership in the temple confers numerous benefits upon the more studious minded.
As grim as Melvaunt can be, there are still those who appreciate a good time. The priests of the Laughing Halls are devoted to Liira, Goddess of Joy. The temple was established by Lady Shandar Lyrintar, an immigrant from Hillsfar. The temple is devoted to dancing, singing, and other artistic performances.
One of the oddest things about Melvauntians is their tolerance for the open worship of Loviatar, Goddess of Pain. High Whipmistress Suzildara Sharranen presides over the temple. She shows little patience for the type of people who view pain as a means of attaining pleasure, regarding them as decadent. She seeks only those who value pain as an end in itself. For that reason, the temple has not caught on as widely as it might otherwise. Those who have joined the temple, though, are highly dedicated, and more than a little bit scary.
The "Hall of Justice" is a rather grandiose name for what is nothing more an abandoned warehouse that has been converted into a shrine devoted to Tyr, God of Justice. The temple has only been in the city for a few years, and has not yet caught on with this city of merchants and smiths, who are more interested in the letter of the law than they are in abstract concepts of justice. The High Justicar at the shrine is Jens Galt, a burly, bearded man with a gruff but hearty manner. He is determined to spread the worship of Tyr in Melvaunt, and his biggest coup so far has been the conversion of Argens Bruil, the bastard son of Lord Vanth Bruil. Through him, he was able to introduce a few clerics of Tyr into the City Guard in the hopes that their influence would have a good effect on the enforcement of the law. This was done with the approval of Halmuth Bruil, Argens' half brother, which is astonishing considering that Lord Vanth only acknowledged paternity of Argens so that he could disinherit Halmuth.
The Fountain of Fortune is a shrine dedicated to Tymora, the Goddess of Luck. It looks more like a small-time gambling hall and saloon. Games of chance are always on offer at the temple. Roulette, dice, and cards are the most popular forms. All of the games are scrupulously honest, which gives the shrine a good reputation.
There are three Major Houses in Melvaunt: Nanther, Bruil, and Leiyraghon. These three dominate politics and trade within the city. Together, they hold the majority of seats on the Council of Lords, and are usually able to write the laws of the city to benefit themselves. Events of the past twenty years have driven a wedge between them. In particular, the two older Houses, Nanther and Bruil, look upon House Leiyraghon with a hostile eye. This lack of cooperation has made it impossible for them to combine against the Minor Houses, and the Guilds. As a consequence, the latter have increased their power dramatically.
House Nanther has long been the most powerful house in Melvaunt. In times past, the head of House Nanther always held the top executive position in the city. Prior to the creation of the Iron Council, that would have been the Lord Chancellor, who served as chairman of the Council of Lords. Recent deaths in the family, including that of former Lord Chancellor Dundeld Nanther, Lord Woarsten Nanther's father, caused a precipitous decline in the family's fortunes, so that they no longer have a majority in the Council of Lords. Through family ties, both by blood and by marriage, the Nanthers currently control just eight of the twenty-one seats, which means they must bargain with the other families in order to get their way. It was only with great dificulty that Lord Woarsten was able to secure the Chancellorship for himself. In exchange he was forced to support the creation of the Iron Council, and the elevation of Lord Peuter Marsk to the new position of Lord Envoy. It does not give him the same power that his father held, but he can at least feel that he has maintained the tradition. Whether his son will be able to succeed to the position is an open question.
House Nanther is involved in the importation of precious metals from the Galena Mts. They mint coins and manufacture arms and armor. They also own one of the richest lending houses on the Moonsea with offices in Mulmaster, Phlan, Thentia and Hillsfar.
Woarsten Nanther is clean-shaven with steel-gray hair and gray eyes. He carries himself erect, and appears to be in good health for his age, except for a slight limp. He uses a mahogany cane with an ivory head carved in the shape of an ibis. His clothing is high quality, but not ostentatious. He is polite but not ingratiating, and speaks with an air of authority.
There is an air of sadness about Lord Nanther. He lost his beloved wife a few years ago, and still carries the grief. Shortly after her death, the oldest of his two sons, Killian, mysteriously disappeared. According to Woarsten, the young man left Melvaunt in order to travel, but few people believe him. There are a number of rumors circulating the city that hint at something more sinister. Killian had been a promising businessman, but as it turned out, not a very ethical one. He was guilty of arranging some less-than-honest transactions that left his partners ruined while he walked away flush. These dealings caused a number of complaints to his father. Some believe that he was murdered by one of his victims, while others believe that he went mad and had to be locked up by his father. There are other even more bizarre rumors, and the recent kidnapping of Oreal fueled a great deal of wild speculation. Many have commented that the reward Lord Nanther paid for Oreal's recovery stands in stark contrast to his lack of action in Killian's disappearance.
The undeniable fact is that, coming on the heels of his wife's death, the disappearance of his oldest son had a devastating effect on Lord Nanther. If not for Oreal, on whom he dotes, he might have taken his own life. He has placed all his hopes for the future on his youngest son. With the failing fortunes of the family, it is a heavy burden.
Oreal is dark-haired with brown eyes and an olive complexion. He takes life very seriously for a young man. He feels the weight of his father's reliance upon him, and wants to prove himself worthy of the Nanther name. He had always thought that his brother would be the one to take up the family business, and that he would be left to follow his own star. His temperament is not well suited for business. He dislikes crowds, and hates the smoke-filled air of the city. As often as he can, he prefers to accompany the caravans on their trips to and from Glister. He gets his greatest enjoyment from being outdoors, and doesn't look forward to the day when he will have to settle down and stay put inside the city walls. Still, with his father depending on him, what else can he do?
When he was approached by Kara Calaudra and Elaint Marsk to form an adventuring party, he fully embraced the ideals they espoused of inter-house cooperation. He was also glad for the chance to disassociate himself from his brother's sharp practices, and even more glad to be headed out onto the moor in search of adventure. In other circumstances, he believed it would be just the sort of life he would want. After he and the others were taken prisoner by the orcs, he got to see the darker side of that life. He has taken all the blame for how easily surprised the party was upon himself, and feels horribly guilty about Dorn Crownshield's death. Now, he not only feels that he is unsuited to the life of an adventurer, he doesn't even feel qualified to guide caravans along the Glister Road. As for running the family business, he sees plainly that he will never be any good for that. In short, he's having a complete crisis of confidence.
House Bruil is the second most powerful house in Melvaunt. While they are involved in Melvaunts' primary industries, mining and steel manufacturing, they have also diversified into agriculture. Since farmland is at a premium in the Northern Moonsea, Melvaunt depends heavily on the importation of crops from the Dalelands. The ships of House Bruil import grain and fruit from Hillsfar, Elmwood, and Mulmaster, and even carry on a light trade with the orcs of Thar, purchasing wool and mutton from them. They also hold several large villas in the surrounding countryside worked by slaves, and they sell the produce from those.
Vanth Bruil is a heavy-set, florid-faced man with a hearty, jovial manner. A stereotypical country gentleman, he enjoys riding, hunting, playing cards, whoring, and drinking. To the casual observer his low humor and provincial interests cause him to appear rather dim-witted. He has a native cunning and complete lack of scruples, though, that taken together make him a very dangerous man.
Vanth has long aspired to push the Nanther's aside and take over the leadership of the Council of Lords. Lately, though, he has had to fend off a very strong challenge from House Leiyraghon. While he holds Nanther in grudging respect, he loathes the Leiyraghons and considers Dornig to be a treacherous snake. The two can barely stand to be in the same room together, and find it impossible to cooperate on city business.
Vanth raised his son Halmuth to help him in their business by giving him the best military training available. It was his hope that Halmuth would be able to assume an influential post in the City Guard. Exceeding his expectations, Halmuth now holds the preeminent military position in Melvaunt as the Lord of Keys. It has not helped his father one bit, though, since the two had a falling out a few years ago. The exact nature of the disagreement isn't known, but many assume that it had something to do with Vanth's many affairs, and his resultant estrangement from his wife, Anya. She lives on one of their estates in the country, and the two are no longer on speaking terms. Vanth is believed to have illegitimate sons scattered all over the Moonsea. Halmuth is known to disapprove. In response to the falling out with his son, Vanth lifted one of those bastards out of poverty and made him his heir, disinheriting Halmuth in the process.
Argens grew up in poverty as the son (he thought) of a lowly smith, and a housemaid. The housemaid once worked at Bruilhaven, the Bruil's townhome. It was there that she became pregnant by Lord Vanth. She married a young smith shortly afterwards, and was able to provide him with the money to open his own shop. Unfortunately, he died when Argens was just 8 years old. Argens' mother sold the shop, and went back to work as a housemaid. They were struggling to get by and in a moment of desparation Argens' mother went to Vanth and appealed for help. She fully expected to be turned down, but she just happened to show up at the most opportune moment. Vanth was infuriated with his legitimate son, Halmuth, and decided on the spot to adopt Argens as his heir. As he had done with Halmuth, he set Argens on the path of a military career. Argens would have preferred the clergy, but he was able to convince his father to let him train with Jens Galt, the High Justicar of the House of Justice. Jens is an experienced fighter as well as a cleric, and is training Argens to be a paladin of Tyr.
Until a few years ago, House Leiyraghon was one of the top five Minor Houses. Through the use of bribes and marriage alliances, Dornig Leiyraghon was able to gain two additional seats on the Council of Lords, elevating the Leiyraghon family to Major House status. They are now tied with House Bruil. House Marsk and House Natali suffered the most, and both hate Dornig with a passion.
Dornig is a bitter old man, grasping and vicious. He always has his eye on the main chance. He loves the in-fighting between the Melvauntian houses purely for the satisfaction he gets in doing someone dirty. He was quite happy at reducing House Marsk and House Natali to Minor House status. He was angered, however, when Peuter Marsk was able to ride popular sentiment to get appointed Lord Envoy of the Council.
Dornig's underhandedness has earned him many enemies, and he is paranoid about the other houses someday wreaking their vengeance on him. The idea that it would be his own son who struck at him first came as a shock. In the immediate aftermath of this revelation he appears to be a broken man.
Bremen inherited his fatherís vicious temperament, but has even fewer scruples. There is nothing that he wonít do for either money or power, as he showed in arranging the assassination attempt against his father. The heroes were able to block the attempt, and expose Bremen's plot to his father. Dornig could not bring himself to turn his son over to the authorities though. Bremen will instead be bannished to Mulmaster where he will work for House Leiyraghon in a reduced capacity. Having escaped with his head still on his shoulders, it's unlikely that he learned his lesson. In the meantime, if something should happen to his father, he knows he's still the only one of the two brothers qualified to lead House Leiyraghon against its enemies.
Kalman inherited his motherís temperament. She was a fun-loving, impulsive woman, who married Dornig on too brief an acquaintance and lived to regret it. After giving him two sons, she found she could not live with him anymore. He consented to a divorce, but only on the condition that she leave with nothing but the clothes on her back. He refused to relinquish custody of the childrenónot because he wanted them so much as because he knew it would hurt her. She had no choice but to accept his conditions.
Kalman was only five years old, and he hasnít seen his mother since. He never knew why his mother left, and blames her for the divorce. The separation caused him a great deal of pain which he has learned to mask by seeking his fun where he can find it: mostly in drinking, gambling, and whoring.
His relationship with his father is confused. He feels a certain amount of loyalty towards him, a dreaded filial obligation, but no love. His recent experience with being kidnapped and nearly murdered sobered him a great deal. He is looking for something more to do with his life, but hasnít settled on anything. If nothing presents itself soon, heís in danger of sliding back into his old habits.
There are a number of Minor Houses within the city. Most of them hold no seats on the Council of Lords, and operate as clients of one of the other Houses. To be independent is to be without friends, and to be without friends is to be a target. A few of the Minor Houses wield enough power to hold seats on the Council. They cannot control the voting, but since the Major Houses are often in conflict, a Minor House can often find itself in the position of casting the deciding vote on an important issue. They make the most of such opportunities.
At one time, House Marsk was considered one of the Major Houses. They lost two seats