Flintlocks & Fireballs
“I’d spent most of my life hanging around the docks, hoping to get in on the action. But I didn’t notice the change till Sen pointed it out to me – the honest merchants were carrying swords instead of daggers, the muscle was wearing armour. Eventually, the patrols stopped taking bribes, and by then everyone had noticed – something big was coming.”
On the surface, Riverport (comprised of the city-port itself, and the marshland surrounding the area) has changed remarkably little under Empire rule – it’s still as squallid as ever, and the empire’s patrols have done little more than drive the dubiously-legal trades further into the shadows.
The Stellazzo family, currently headed by the infamous Papa Stellazzo, ran the city-state before Empire conquest, managing an obscenely complex web of alliances that the Empire governance is still trying (unsuccesfully) to untangle. The main reason for the Empire’s problems is that the Stellazzo family have lost little of their power, having merely moved their operations to the back-rooms of the drinking-houses. Stellazzo methods of control (or ‘sickening corruption’, depending on your viewpoint) have proved hard for the Empire to control, resulting in a city that, while nominally conquered, is largely uncontrollable – Empire-appointed governers have been rumoured to compare running Riverport to fighting fog. It’s not just that the locals are uncooperative — a crimelord running a lucrative pleasure-den in one of the richest cities in the Empire can afford to pay an Imperial Guardsman twice what he’s getting from his commander to look the other way when the time’s appropriate. Not only does a prospective crimefighter face betrayal from below, but the number of Jottenar who find Riverport the only place where they can indulge their illicit pleasures means that he’ll also be leaned on from above.
The people of Riverport have a reputation as scoundrels and cheats across the empire, which, as with everything in Riverport, is a grey area. While it’s true that theft, drug dealing, smuggling, and sundry other crimes are at least a part of most people’s livelyhoods, these things are so common that no-one (aside from the Empire) sees it as anything but a fact of life, and Riverport locals often seem suprised that outsiders could take offence at this natural state of things. Empire patrols often have difficulty dealing with this attitude – even well-meant attempts to reduce crime are met with a wall of silence from victims, bystanders, and criminals (who may well be the same individuals).
The atmosphere in Riverport is one of sulky non-compliance, but until recently, the residents have tolerated Empire rule without violence. No-one likes the empire, but they’ve not managed to change life in Riverport enough to cause a largescale revolt.
However, news of the rebellion in the south has created more tenstion, Empire troops are over-stretched, and the people of Riverport are starting to look forward to a return to the days of open rule by their own.
Places of interest:
Most of Riverport is a maze of small winding streets and back alleys, the only large streets run from the city gates to the docks. Travellers will get mugged or pickpocketed if they wander around Riverport’s alleyways, unless they’re known to be in with the Stellazzo. It’s nothing personal, it’s just what happens to visitors. Muggers won’t press an attack if they’re outmatched, and shows of good humour will be appreciated, and may even lead to making contacts.
The city huddles tightly around the docks, and anyone who’s not used to the area will quickly get lost in it’s cramped alleyways. The sky is usually only visable as a narrow gap between built-up houses, and anyone who can find a way onto the rooftops will find another city perching above them.
- The docks are the most obvious place of note in Riverport, and are still where most of the area’s industry is focused. Day labour is usually available, and it’s hard work for very little pay (3s/day, and will require endurance/athletics checks), but it might be a way to meet some of the locals. The area is heavily patrolled by the Empire, making the low-end drinking houses the dock-labourers frequent safer places to drink than many in Riverport. The Dropped Anchor is the biggest of these, and is a good place to meet people and make contacts (given the beer and the atmosphere, that’s all it’s good for), although there are more than a few Empire informers waiting to trap the unwary.
- The Small Market is an area near the docks, comprised of three linked streets behind some of the more well-known shops in the city. This is where the shops sell spoiled wares and curiosities, but if you’re connected enough, you’re sure to find someone who can make you a very small, very clever, and VERY expensive tool for an unusual job.
- The Noose is the district named after the distinctive shape of the ridge that the city’s largest and best houses are built on. These homes were originally built by the heads of the Stellazzo families, but have been taken over by the Empire now. Rumours abound of secret tunnels running from the old houses to various areas in the marshlands outside the city, but none have been found so far. Despite the name, it’s easily the safest place in the city, as long as you have your papers and a good reason to be there.
- Leonardo Stellazzo has nothing to do with the Stellazzo family. He’s a Empire plant, tasked with finding and reporting potential troublemakers. The only reason he’s still alive is because the real Stellazzo don’t consider him a threat yet.
- Urchin gangs are a minor nuisance, but they know the city well, and can follow anyone they want around the city from the rooftops. They currently make a hobby of annoying Empire patrols, throwing small missiles and passing warnings to people nearby.
- Don’t think the Empire are powerless in Riverport. They have far more muscle available than the Stellazzo, and are happy to shut down anywhere they think may be a base of Stellazzo operations. In a city where everyone’s guilty of something, the locals survive by not being where the patrols are, never by fighting them. They won’t aid an overt attck on a patrol, although they may ambush any soldiers running for reinforcements.
Bars and Restaurants
- Skelattis is a converted warehouse down by the docks. There are holes in the roof, and occaisionally only two things on the menu (Some kind of fish with rice, or some kind of fish with potato), but it is always hot and always tasty. Given this, Skelattis is usually crowded at any time of day, and especially when the dock workers take their food breaks.
- The Pesca Notro is arguably the worst restaurant in Riverport – Liacomo Pavello, the proprioter, argues that it isn’t, and everybody else argues that it is. The staggering atrocity of the food is matched only by the service and price, and only those who don’t know the area go there. You’ll pay an arm and a leg for the squid, and that’s remarkably similar to how it looks.
- Those without money go to Skelatti’s. For those with with money but no tastebuds, there is the Pesca Notro. For those discerning diners with a lot of money, however, there is the restaurant of Genevive Adrogio, one of the finest chefs in Riverport. Rumour has it that this is where Papa Stellazzo eats when he wants to eat well, and the level of security is high enough to make the rumours believable – there are spellwards and guards to protect the high profile guests and only four people are permitted into the kitchen itself: Genevive, her sous chef Boriz, and the two silent assistants. The dishes themselves are winched up to the restaurant by dumb-waiter – even waiters are not allowed into the kitchen. It is said that the veal in particular at Adrogio’s is stunning.
- The Dog and Cosh is a bar near the eastern walls of the city, and has nothing important about it at all, except for the large and very unfriendly men who stop anyone they don’t know from entering. It’s regularly raided by the Empire, but they’ve yet to shut it down for good.
- The Emperor’s Shield is about the nicest place to drink in the city, meaning that there’s little to interest anyone interested in interesting things. Most of the patrons are linked to the Empire-installed governance, and the prices reflect the wealth of the clientele.
- Giancarlo Cosenza owns and runs The Divine Spark, selling a wide range of exotic spirits and, rumour has it, exotic drugs. He also stocks an eclectic range of other goods, though these are more of a hobby than a trade. He’s always willing to pay top prices for unusual (but legal) goods without asking too many questions. He won’t do anything illegal, at least not until he trusts someone.
The Opera Houses
- The Duke Armetto is named after Fillipe Armetto, who retired from Imperial service to live out his days in Riverport. To some, Fillipe represents the eternal attraction of Riverport – that it seduces and lulls even the Empire’s finest. To others, he stands as a symbol of how the Empire;s tendrils work their way into every level of society. The Duke has been part of Riverport’s thriving entertainment industry for 130 years. It has a strong history of producing big budget shows, with smaller “curtain down” performances taking place in the very early morning. These are often an opportuniy for more risque shows, frequented by louche nobility after a night out, and as such are followed by a ‘quiet’ period where cleaning and last-minute repairs take place before the Duke re-opens for an afternoon performance. Xavier Aleandro runs the Duke, and has done for thirty years.
- The Saint Tomo is the young pretender among Riverport’s opera houses, having only been open a mere 37 years. It was once a cathedral to Saint Tomo Viderocco, saint of sailors and fishermen, but had been shut down by the Empire nearly a decade before it’s conversion. Pierro Santiago manages the Saint Tomo – a fierce young man who took the reins 5 years ago following the death of his predessesor, Lucas Journo, who died of natural causes, ‘natural causes’ being common amongst those who don’t pay the Stellazzos their dues. The Saint Tomo has neither the accrued wealth of the Duke Armetto, nor it’s vast bank of wealthy patrons, however it has managed to attract some of the finest singers and scriptwriters on offer, and enjoys a reputation for producing lively new operas and a good line in revolutionary theatre. Indeed, you can often find functionaries from the Empire in the audiences busy taking notes. However, a complex network of bribes and blackmail has ensured that no play has ever been closed yet, despite some near misses.
- The Duke and the Saint have had a bitter rivalry ever since the Saint Tomo opened. Both opera houses have developed a network of staunch fans who frequent the taverns and salons around them, and occaisionally fierce words have spilled over into actual violence when audiences clashed in the streets and nearby university grounds. In addition to this, an ongoing war is taking place between the staff and performers of both houses – regularly, scenery will mysteriously collapse on an opening night, or a leading lady will find toads in her corsetry. Some years ago, a chorus-master at the Saint Tomo went a step too far when the entire bass section of the Duke’s chorus were turned into castrati. It was at this point that Papa Stellazzo (who is fond of both opera and protection money) sent the Jacks in and made his position on the matter painfully clear, burying the chorus-master up to his neck in the road, and instructing traffic to continue as normal until the man’s head was seperated from his shoulders. Since then, the war has stopped short of outright violence, barring a few brawls between drunken opera-goers.
- Between the sprawling complex of buildings that comprises the Duke Armetto opera house (with it’s associated storehouses, mask-makers, and rehearsal rooms) and the low district of book-binders, print-houses and stationers lies Diora University, crammed between them like a faded whore in a three-in-a-bed. The building is five stories high, and comprises of two colleges – Stammar, which teaches the arts, famous for it’s music department from which many young composers and musicians are sourced by the local opera houses, and Riaro which focuses on the more traditional academic subjects.
- The University is a hotbed of political opinion, with a certain amount of revolutionary activism amongst both the student body and the professors.
- Riaro college has lost a lot of it’s prestige since the development of magic, and is desperate to catch up again. The staff are rumoured to pay handsomely for any secrets from the larger Imperial colleges.
You can read an account from the Jack of Blades, a ‘problem-solver’ for the Stellazzo, here.