Relics of the Past
On the shores of Lake Sarn stands the city-state of Sarthel, the largest and most prosperous city remaining in the heartland of old Nerath. The city’s foundries and workshops produce jewelry (especially silverwork) and goods known for hundreds of miles around. In this dark and doubtful age, few cities thrive as Sarthel does . . . but a deadly threat lies hidden in the very heart of the city. Gold is king in Sarthel, and the city is constantly humming with trade and speculation. The city’s noble families own mercantile empires that bring in raw goods from places as close as Therund or as far as the Free Cities of Zembar. Dozens of guilds of artisans compete fiercely to turn out the finest jewelry, silverware, blades, and clothing. Trade is a bare-knuckled affair, and more than a few commercial rivalries between noble families or guilds are resolved with duels or riots. The people of Sarthel are notorious for their quick tempers, and they see rivals and competitors as their worst enemies.
Sarthel is a surprisingly old city, dating back two thousand years or more. It first grew to prominence as a provincial capital in the tiefling empire of Bael Turath. Many of the city’s cellars, sewers, and streets date back to those early days. Centuries after the Turathi overlords of Sarthel were overthrown, the city-state fell under the influence of a rising new power: the human-dominated Empire of Nerath. Unlike other towns and cities of old Nerath, Sarthel weathered the wars and plagues that brought down the empire, protected by its sturdy walls and defensible location. Much of the surrounding area was devastated, but Sarthel survived more or less intact.
In the hundred years since Nerath’s collapse, Sarthel has slowly established itself as a regional power and center of civilization in an otherwise wild and desolate land. Some of the city’s lords eye the smaller, scattered towns of the Dragondown Coast only a hundred miles to the east and dream of making Sarthel into a republic—or a kingdom. But Sarthel now faces a dark and deadly peril: The city lies in the grip of The Iron Circle, a secretive and powerful cult dedicated to the worship of Asmodeus, Lord of Hell.
A great city by the standards of the small towns and feudal states of the Nentir Vale, Sarthel is wealthy but decadent and corrupt. The city is known for its metalworkers, especially its jewelers and silversmiths. The western reaches of the Draco Serrata are rich in copper and silver, providing ample material for the smelters. The Blackfall Vale produces grain, olives, oranges, and other crops that grow well in arid environments. The dry grassland surrounding the city is good cattle country; beef, cheese, and leather are plentiful. Sarthel imports wood, textiles, and raw materials.
Population: Roughly 15,000 people live in Sarthel, with more in outlying villages and farmlands along the Blackfall Vale. About two-thirds of the population is human. Dwarves, halflings, and tieflings are the most numerous nonhumans, and each congregate in different districts.
Government: Sarthel is ostensibly ruled by a Council of Lords (Sarthel Council of Lords), a body consisting of about twenty hereditary nobles. The council appoints a High Seneschal as the leading civic official, who runs the city’s daily affairs. However, the council and the city bureaucracy have been subverted by the Iron Circle. The secretive cult now holds effective control of the city.
Defense: A strong wall forms a half-ring around the city; Lake Sarn guards the rest. Sarthel has a small standing army of about 200 cavalry and 800 foot soldiers, but each of the noble families commands scores of mercenaries and loyal guards.
Inns: The Sarnview Inn near the city’s east gate caters to travelers, offering decent lodgings at a good price.
Taverns: The Thirsty Rider is a rough taproom favored by cattlehands and laborers in the western district. The Silver Cup is a wine shop and banquet hall favored by many of Sarthel’s wealthy and influential citizens, although travelers might find trouble in the form of quarrelsome young nobles quick to draw