Far south of creation’s other cities, the Fire Mountains send a massive spur into the heart of the Great Southern Desert. Most of these mighty volcanic peaks are dead or dormant, but every year sees several eruptions that coat Gem’s streets with ash and turn the sun a bloody red. Creation’s rim is just a few hundred miles away, and hot winds from the Elemental Pole of Fire sometimes blow the edge of the Wyld much closer.
From one side, Gem’s mountain—Rankar Peak— presents the façade of a rugged cone, neatly sliced off at the top. From the other side, a vast, ragged crater snarls, revealing how some inconceivable eruption blew out half the mountainside. The city of Gem occupies that huge crater. Rankar Peak reaches three miles high, but Gem lies only a mile above the mountain’s base. The curve of the mountainside leaves most of Gem shaded for most of the day.
From the outside, Gem doesn’t look like much. Most of Gem’s surface streets are dusty and rarely traveled except during early mornings, late evenings and the cooler months of winter. The buildings are boxes of local thick-walled lava-rock, built to keep out the heat, with only narrow slits for windows. The true wonder of Gem lies beneath the surface. Lava tunnels twist throughout Rankar Peak; some are eight to 20 yards wide. The most important areas of the city occupy the larger lava tunnels and played-out mines. Glowstones light these underground streets and chambers.
The Despot’s Palace is a major feature of the city, both above and below ground. Much of it is subterranean, but the surface structure still towers over all other buildings. The palace clings to the crater wall in the spot that receives the most shade through the year. This relative lack of illumination provides a showcase for the glowstones that decorate the outside walls. Statues of former Despots tower over the main palace gate, and throngs of mercenaries and slaves in elaborate ceremonial dress are always present to greet and menace petitioners with a display of the Despot’s power.
Gem’s lesser nobles keep less impressive (but still lavish) homes both above and below ground. Like the Despot, they build their homes close to the crater’s shaded wall.The common folk of Gem live according to their means.
Mercenaries and merchants can usually afford decent quarters in shady surface areas, or underground in comfortably appointed tunnels. The largest tunnels are divided into streets lined by apartments. The poor find themselves staying in small shacks built in full view of the sun or in cramped lava tubes and mines with little ventilation. The homeless sleep where they can and many die each summer from sun sickness.
Unlike many of Creation’s great cities, Gem owes nothing to the First Age.
Gem began with a wandering prospector named Rankar, who dared to venture deeper into the volcanic Southern wastes than most of his kind, and got lucky. In an extinct volcano, he found several deposits of precious stones. He did not let others know the magnitude of his find—until he sold enough raw gems to fund his own mining camp. Other miners came and set up their own camps, but Rankar used his head start to crush his competitors. He then sold franchises, and his mining camp swiftly grew into a town. A few mines grew into hundreds as the full magnitude of Rankar’s find became clear.
Rankar had another bright idea by selling monopolies in various industries to particular families in his new town. This tactic made sure that Rankar’s cronies assisted him in keeping Gem stable lest they lose their own profitable holdings.
Many miners didn’t like how tightly Rankar held control of his growing town, calling him a despot. Rankar never denied it. Rankar’s descendants continued his ruthless ways as the first Despots of Gem. In time, the Despots formalized their relations with its allied families by granting titles as Gem’s noble houses.
For a century, Rankar’s descendants kept control of Gem, until (eventually) a strong enough coalition of would-be usurpers met a weak enough Despot and hunted The House of Rankar nearly to extinction.
For several centuries, the new Despots ruled Gem much as the old had. The rulers of the city continued to sell trade monopolies to the various noble houses, while holding the precious stone market with an iron fist. Every few decades, the reigning Despot fell to a coup: sometimes to a noble house, sometimes to his own military commanders. Greedy relatives assassinated many other Despots. There was just too much wealth to gain.
In truth, few of the regular citizens of Gem noticed much of a change between Despots. The nobility naturally had its own opinions, based on how closely a house was allied to the old regime and what sort of deals the new Despot would cut for loyalty. After a brief period of massacre and reorganization at the upper echelons of society, Gem continued along as always, digging vast wealth from the ground.
The latest coup happened in RY 703 when Winglord Kolar, a second-tier commander in Gem’s military, gathered enough allies among fellow officers and noble houses to overthrow the reigning Despot and purge his family. Unlike some usurpers, Kolar III also planned for what to do about his allies. Assassins swiftly murdered most of Kolar’s junta before they could try to do the same to him. Many of the assassins then killed each other.
As he consolidated his reign, Kolar III revealed that he was, in fact, descended from the House of Rankar. The long-ago usurpers had missed a few members of the family, and their descendants had worked for centuries to regain their fortune, re-establish themselves in Gem and return the throne to its true and rightful owners.
That’s the story, anyway, and Kolar’s descendants stick to it. Prudent folk do not question it.
Kolar III reorganized Gem’s military to make sure that no one could mount a coup the same way he did. He also passed new laws regarding sedition and increased the number of offenses punishable by death. He cracked down on anyone, particularly the nobility, who sought to take too much power away from his house. By the time his son, Rankar V, took power, the cracks in Gem’s power structure were sealed and the rule of the Despot was stronger than ever. Gem continued to grow. Now about a million people live in one of the South’s harshest locations.
Kolar’s dynasty has outlasted every previous line of Despots except for those of the first Rankar’s line. Nonetheless, life in Gem remains much as it has for centuries—a mad scramble for wealth, barely constrained by the harsh laws of an absolute monarch.
THE PEOPLE OF GEM Edit
Gem has a simple government. The Despot’s word is law; his powers are whatever he can get away with. A small civil service conveys his dictates to the people, his mercenary army enforces them, The common people obey.
Noble families wield secondary power through their monopolies on selected commodities or services. They can do whatever the Despot lets them get away with. A prudent Despot consults with the nobles about what they will allow.
Prudent nobles take care not to offend the Despot. Therefore, the Despot employs an advisory council of representatives from the various noble houses. The houses pick their own representatives for this council but the Despot can refuse a choice. At this point, the house must choose a new representative unless the rest of the council votes unanimously to accept the original applicant. In the history of Gem, only two representatives have been chosen in this fashion.
The system works when the nobles and the Despot act together as a syndicate to protect their common interest in making gobs of money and shutting out any competition. When nobles turn against each other or against the Despot, there’s blood in the streets.
Gem’s government looks out for the common folk to the extent that it needs people to do all the work. Pursuant to that end, Gem has judges to hold trials and hear disputes. Laws against theft are more severe than those against murder. The laws also make it very easy to start a business and make money. If that’s all you care about, Gem is a great place to live. A million Gemfolk or more accept that bargain, and more arrive every year.
RENT AND FEES Edit
People who want to buy and sell legally in Gem must pay the Despot a yearly licensing fee based on the value of their business. Anyone who disputes an assessor’s valuation of his business may discuss the matter with the Despot (or, more likely, with a squad of the Despot’s heavily armed mercenaries).
Failure to pay licensing and other fees results in punishment to cover both the debt and the fines for non-payment that can range from:
- seizure of assets
- sale of the citizen’s family into slavery.
Since the Despot’s judges can set arbitrary fines, families that face debts often sell children at the slave market themselves to pay the Despot in full and on time. Even wealthy citizens do this at times rather than reduce the level of luxury to which they became accustomed.
But… there are no taxes.
DISREPUTABLE FOLK Edit
Dozens of other families have risen to prominence in Gem over the centuries. By Despotic decree, each noble house holds total dominion over one aspect of Gem’s commerce. Noble houses buy these monopolies from the Despot at great expense and maintain them through annual tributes. Powerful houses have monopolies that encompass the production and sale of luxuries or vital necessities. The minor houses hold sway over small amenities and other, less profitable ventures. The houses squabble, bicker, ally and feud with each other in a complex game of politics, business and, sometimes, assassination. This system keeps Gem running without a complex bureaucracy or strong feudal structure. It also makes the exact workings of Gem a mystery to most outsiders.
This is completely intentional.
The first Despot of Gem laid down the system of monopolies in an effort to buy off rivals so they wouldn’t try to usurp his own monopoly on precious stones. The system survived cycles of usurpation because it gives so much money and power to whoever rules Gem2—resources to pay for all the mercenaries, spies and assassins a Despot needs to keep power.
At various times during Gem’s history, a noble family fell on such hard times that its interests were absorbed or officially reassigned to a new noble house. These new houses often begin with wealthy commoners who were somehow attached to the industry the old house governed. Two families can also join through alliance and marriage to achieve a larger power base. This union becomes more likely if the two houses hold industries that complement each other. For example, a house that governs the sale of confections might marry its heir to a house that deals in spices to form a larger house that holds dominion over both industries.
The Despot must approve all such unions, though he seldom refuses. This is due less to generosity and respect for his fellow nobles than because the Despot’s agents would sabotage any merger that did not suit the Despot’s own interests. The current heads of Gem’s major noble houses are exceptional even for an aristocracy whose rough-and-tumble ways favor the ruthless, bold and competent. They chafe under the Despot’s rule a bit more than did many of their ancestors. Gem just isn’t big enough for all their ambitions. The city’s constricted environment drives the noble houses into infighting, secret alliances and intrigue.
LEGAL SYSTEM Edit
Gem has a simple government - The Despot’s word is law; his powers are whatever he can get away with. A small civil service conveys his dictates to the people, his mercenary army enforces them, the common people obey.
Noble families wield secondary power through their monopolies on selected commodities or services. They can do whatever the Despot lets them get away with. A prudent Despot consults with the nobles about what they will allow and Prudent nobles take care not to offend the Despot. Therefore, the Despot employs an advisory council of representatives from the various noble houses. The houses pick their own representatives for this council but the Despot can refuse a choice. At this point, the house must choose a new representative unless the rest of the council votes unanimously to accept the original applicant. In the history of Gem, only two representatives have been chosen in this fashion.
The system works when the nobles and the Despot act together as a syndicate to protect their common interest in making gobs of money and shutting out any competition. When nobles turn against each other or the Despot, there’s blood in the streets. Gem’s government looks out for the common folk to the extent that it needs people to do all the work. Pursuant to that end, Gem has judges to hold trials and hear disputes.
Laws against theft are more severe than those against murder.
The laws also make it very easy to start a business and make money. If that’s all you care about, Gem is a great place to live. A million Gemfolk or more accept that bargain, and more arrive every year.
FOREIGN RELATIONS Edit
Gem could not exist if the rest of Creation didn’t want what it has. Despite a long tradition of dealing impartially with everyone, Gem has special relationships with a few other countries.
Early in Gem’s history, the Realm endorsed Rankar’s grandson as ruler of a budding city-state in return for yearly tribute. Once in a while, Despots called on Dynasts to deal with problems that exceed the power of mortal arms, such as the great ash devourer march of RY 503. The Realm’s waning influence leads Rankar VII to pay his tribute of jewels and firedust late and not in full. To date, the Realm lets these infractions slide.
The Realm could still make life very difficult for Gem. Because of this, the Despot often concedes to small alterations in treaties and trade agreements that benefit the Realm in exchange for avoiding any larger demands.
He also dares not push around the Dynasts and patricians resident in Gem, buying precious stones and looking after the interests of their Great Houses.
Gem needs the Lap. Without its agricultural surplus, Gem could not survive, at least not at its current size.
Vast caravans travel between the two city-states, heading south laden with food and heading north laden with jewels, ingots of copper, tin silver and gold, firedust, asphalt and other products of Creation’s Southern extreme. The Realm’s greatest leverage over the Despot is actually its control of the Lap.
In the last few years, Gem has suffered an upsurge of attacks on its supply caravans and outlying mines (recently discovered to be orchestrated by Paragon). The conflict causes price hikes and shortages in Gem as Paragon pushes to restrict Gem’s imports. It also makes Gem a great place to be a mercenary, as the Despot and various noble houses hire more soldiers to protect their interests and counter-raid against Paragon’s outlying settlements and caravans bound to and from the city-state.
Simply put, Gem doesn’t care what most people do—only the quality and quantity of their silver. Gemfolk even deal with the desert barbarians on occasion. Sure, the barbarians raid Gem’s cisterns and caravans, but they also guide prospectors to potential new mines and collect firedust and other treasures of the deep desert. Gem pays the barbarians with food and water; some traders develop extensive contacts among them. Anyone who wants to explore or exploit Creation’s Southern extreme would do well to prepare in Gem.The city-state of Gem has weathered coups, rebellions and the deadly Southern sun. The secrets of its survival are its wealth, location and policies. Copious gemstone deposits enable Gem’s hereditary monarch, the Despot, to hire an army of mercenaries to defend it. The city’s location makes defense easier. Any attacker would have to traverse volcanic mountains and searing deserts. Even if an army made such a trek, it would need to scale halfway up a mountainside to assault Gem itself, fighting every step of the way. By the same token, however, Gem is too remote to threaten anyone else, which facilitates the city’s longstanding policy of nonaggression and neutrality.
Unfortunately, Gem does face danger. The city is too rich. Whoever rules Gem controls the wealth of empires.
Gemfolk and the Despot want nothing more than to continue ripping that wealth from the ground. Other folk feel greater ambition and look at Gem with greedy eyes.
THE GUILD Edit
Roughly half of all mercenaries in Gem belong to the Guild; making the Guild a major military power in Gem. The Despot keeps a watchful eye on the Guild’s dealings.
Guild factor Keen-Eyed Falcon of the West oversees the Guild’s interests in Gem. As part of his business, this former pirate and sailor from the Neck provides the Despot with a variety of forces and recruits new mercenaries and companies for the guild. Since his appointment as the city’s factor, the Guild’s power and profits have grown considerably. This windfall is due not so much to the former pirate’s willingness to manipulate, lie to and cheat anyone and everyone for the sake of wealth and power—that’s commonplace in Gem, and not just among the Guild—as to his competence at doing so.
Of course, Keen tries to increase the proportion of the Despot’s mercenaries who are loyal to him and not the Despot. Perhaps he just wants increased leverage over the Despot, in order to negotiate still more profitable terms for the Guild. Perhaps he has his eye set on the throne. He wouldn’t be the only one.
SECRETS OF GEM Edit
THE UNNAMED DESPOTS Edit
When he took power, Kolar III burned all records of the previous dynasty and bribed several other monarchs to purge their histories too, making information on previous dynasties a bit difficult to find. Such matters are usually of interest only to historians of the obscure.
Unless some of the old Despot’s family survived.
It is possible that Kolar III really did descend from Rankar I. It is just as possible that the Despot he overthrew had relatives who escaped the massacre of their house and now plot to reclaim the throne of Gem.
There could indeed be multiple deposed dynasties.
These would-be rulers of Gem would need powerful allies to retake the throne. Such plotters could hide anywhere in the South, though if they seriously wish to retake Gem, they would need to live in or near Gem itself.
THE STONES OF GEM Edit
The mines beneath Gem produce a wide variety of precious stones. Outlying mines, up to several hundred miles from Rankar Peak, produce everything from agates to emeralds.
Gem’s mines also produce several exotic stones that affect Essence in special ways. These stones occur in other parts of the South (Varangians collect glowstones and firegems, for instance), but Gem’s output exceeds all other sources combined. Rankar Peak is certainly the richest source of glowstones ever found. Gem also mines yasal crystals.
DREAM OPAL Edit
These iridescent green stones record the dreams of people who sleep near them. An acorn-sized stone can hold one dream; thumb-sized stones can record all the dreams a sleeper experiences in a night. A person who touches the stone experiences the dreams the next time she sleeps, as if they were her own. A waking person can also touch the stone, clear her mind and experience the stored dream as a vivid daydream. A dream opal can replay stored visions indefinitely, until someone performs a special meditation to erase the dreams. The meditation is easily learned with a few hours’ practice and a successful Temperance roll.
The farthest reaches of the South produce dimly glowing red-orange crystals that resemble a fire’s embers caught in glass. Firegems, also called evercoals, typically range in size from an apricot to a cantaloupe.
Firegems produce a little light and considerable heat. The lowest-quality stones with many fractures are no warmer than a glass of hot tea, while the best can melt silver and heat iron sufficiently to forge it. Firegems are in demand across Creation. (They’re expensive, but you never pay for fuel again.) Firegems retain their heat for centuries if not chipped or cracked.
Glowstones are exactly what they sound like: stones that shine with their own light. They generate no heat, which makes them safer than lanterns or torches. Pebble-sized stones shine as brightly as a candle, while fist- sized stones can light a room as brightly as an overcast day. Glowstones keep shining for more than 20 years after they leave the Far South.
Glowstones generally come in red and orange. Scarcer stones that shine white or bright yellow are in higher demand.
Glowstones of other colors are very rare and highly prized as novelties. Wealthy people throughout Creation light their homes with glowstones. These crystals also find use in mines and other places where fire would use up too much breathable air, in already overheated areas such as most of the South, or on ships, in libraries or other places where flames are especially dangerous.
THE GEMSTONE TRADE
Within Gem, only the Despot, his family and his duly chosen representatives can sell the precious gems from the city’s mines. What’s more, anyone who brings precious stones to Gem can sell them only to the Despot’s dealers.
As a result, the jewel-market of Gem includes amber from the East, coral and pearls from the West, the ice-diamonds of the far North and other stones not found in Gem itself.
This monopoly has always made Gem’s rulers rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
Everyone in the jewel trade is a slave of the Despot—the miners, the cutters, carvers and polishers, the dealers and all.
Miners are slaves for life. Skilled workers who perform their duties well might win freedom after a decade or so, with more or less munificent severance packages depending on the quality of service and the profits the slave generates. As a result, many artisans aspire to become property of the Despot. Freed slave-merchants often find careers as consultants for those wishing to deal with the Despot.
A slave caught stealing from the Despot or conspiring with a buyer to undervalue a sale is put to death. The method of execution varies with infraction. A once-loyal slave palming a small uncut gem might be quickly beheaded.
Conversely, a slave-merchant who embezzled a fortune from a glowstone contract with a Realm shipbuilder might be staked out to cook slowly in the sun, along with three generations of his family. Anyone caught trying to buy or sell precious stones illegally also faces harsh punishment.
Common fates include some combination of torture, maiming, enslavement or death.
Gem could not survive without water, and the Despot claims a monopoly on this precious commodity as well. Over Gem’s history, Despots have repeatedly struggled to expand the city’s water supply to match the expanding population.
Deep wells tap limited supplies of water—not nearly enough for a million people.
In the Season of Water, Gem experiences occasional brief showers. Channels and cisterns carved into Rankar Peak (and every other mountain for 20 miles around) catch this water.
Slaves then pump it into barrels for transport to the thirsty city. Desert barbarians often try to steal water, so the Despot sets mercenaries to guard the system during the crucial months.
Much of Gem’s water, though, comes from magic. Every year, the Despot hires sorcerers to cast the Terrestrial Circle spell called Water from Stone to fill deeply buried reservoirs.
Gem lacks a citywide system to deliver water. Visitors are sometimes surprised by the lack in one of Creation’s richest city. If anyone wants water, they must buy it from the Despot—or go to small-time, black-market dealers who do things such as pressing water from cactus or distilling it from the city’s copious discharge of urine. Some dealers don’t distill very carefully.
NOBLE HOUSES Edit
In addition to the Despot, dozens of other families have
risen to prominence in Gem over the centuries. By Despotic
decree, each noble house holds total dominion over one
aspect of Gem’s commerce. Noble houses buy these monopolies
from the Despot at great expense and maintain them
through annual tributes. Powerful houses have monopolies
that encompass the production and sale of luxuries or vital
necessities. The minor houses hold sway over small amenities
and other, less profitable ventures. The houses squabble,
ontent, ackeys rd to the leaders
the ability to
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bicker, ally and feud with each other in a complex game of
politics, business and, sometimes, assassination.
This system keeps Gem running without a complex
bureaucracy or strong feudal structure. It also makes the
exact workings of Gem a mystery to most outsiders. This is
The first Despot of Gem laid down the system of monopolies
in an effort to buy off rivals so they wouldn’t try to usurp his
own monopoly on precious stones. The system survived cycles
of usurpation because it gives so much money and power to
whoever rules Gem—resources to pay for all the mercenaries,
spies and assassins a Despot needs to keep power.
At various times during Gem’s history, a noble family
fell on such hard times that its interests were absorbed or
officially reassigned to a new noble house. These new houses
often begin with wealthy commoners who were somehow
attached to the industry the old house governed.
Two families can also join through alliance and marriage
to achieve a larger power base. This union becomes more
likely if the two houses hold industries that complement each
other. For example, a house that governs the sale of confections
might marry its heir to a house that deals in spices to
form a larger house that holds dominion over both industries.
The Despot must approve all such unions, though he seldom
refuses. This is due less to generosity and respect for his fellow
nobles than because the Despot’s agents would sabotage any
merger that did not suit the Despot’s own interests.
The current heads of Gem’s major noble houses are
exceptional even for an aristocracy whose rough-and-tumble
ways favor the ruthless, bold and competent. They chafe
under the Despot’s rule a bit more than did many of their
ancestors. Gem just isn’t big enough for all their ambitions.
The city’s constricted environment drives the noble houses
into infighting, secret alliances and intrigue.
…ARBANI MADE THEM EQUAL.
Halan Arbani is one of Creation’s few artisans who
can craft a superior firewand (of Fine quality)—a secret
hitherto known only by Varangian weaponsmiths. He
cannot yet adapt the process to the house’s factory system.
Once he can do so (perhaps with Exalted help),
House Arbani claims an even greater share of the South’s
firewand industry. For now, such a weapon must come
from Halan himself as a gift, reward or tribute. He
wouldn’t debase such a masterpiece by selling it.
Rankar VII follows the example set down by his greatgrandfather, Kolar III.
Gem has no standing military. Instead, the Despot hires huge number of mercenaries from a variety of companies. These mercenaries are well paid and rewarded for revealing any attempts to bribe them or lure them into coup plots. The Despot can afford such a huge and varied force, while rivalries among mercenary companies make military coups difficult to execute.
Gem’s military posture concentrates on defense. The Despot is filthy rich and lives surrounded by useless desert and useless barbarians. He cares far more about protecting Gem than conquering others. Noble houses generally hire guards against raiders and not offensive forces. Still, Gem’s leaders know that often the best defense is to strike first.
In addition to mercenaries, the Despot buys many expensive and powerful weapons, mostly geared toward point defense. If a weapon can be bought at any price, Rankar VII’s armory probably includes at least one. In particular, abundant supplies of firedust enable the Despot to ring Gem with all sorts of flame weapons, from land mines to cannon.
LIFE IN GEM
Most Gemfolk are not mercenaries, nobles or members
of the royal family. The citizens and slaves lead rather less
glamorous lives, though such lives offer their own possibilities
Most citizens of Gem work for one noble house or another.
Some work as laborers transporting goods to market or
harvesting raw materials. Others work in various businesses
run by the nobility, from the brothels of the Sahlak to the
accounting houses of the Iblan. These workers are paid wages
commensurate with their expertise and the demand for their
services. Out of these wages a citizen buys the food, lodging
and whatever luxuries she can afford.
Most Gemfolk live in relative comfort despite the city’s
hostile environment. Most citizens rent homes in well-shaded
or underground sections of the city. The wealthier the citizen,
the safer and more spacious her home is bound to be.
Wealthy citizens either have slaves or other servants to
do much of their housekeeping and shopping, or they can
afford to have one or more family members stay at home to
mind the house. These citizens usually perform valuable jobs
for the richer nobles or themselves belong to minor noble
houses. Much of this upper class can afford better security
than most, either by hiring personal guards or by pooling
resources among neighbors to hire mercenary patrols to
scare off thieves.
The lower class in Gem usually lives on the surface in
small shacks built from scrounged materials and rubble. These
people are generally unskilled laborers who take whatever
work they can find. More than a few of these poor end up
either homeless or slaves. Sadly, the only chance many of
these citizens have for bettering their lot is the birth of a
particularly gifted or beautiful child that they can sell to a
brothel or at the slave markets.
The homeless in Gem have avoided slavery but cannot
even manage the poor living conditions of the lower class.
They sleep in whatever shady place they can find and eat
whatever they can beg or scrounge. Many homeless die from
exposure to the heat in summer months. Few Gemfolk mourn
their loss as the corpse patrol collects the bodies.
Most citizens spend their days working, eating and
sleeping, only to rise in the evening to repeat the process.
Occasional holidays, marriages, funerals and various festivals
break the routine from time to time and keep most Gemfolk
complacent. Across all social classes, Gemfolk gamble and
attend gladiatorial games. Brothels and dream parlors also are
common places for social gathering. Dissidents are few, kept
in check by the threat of the Despot’s mercenaries.
And yet, many Gemfolk believe they are just one lucky
break away from a better life. A slave-miner finds an especially
large glowstone—the Despot frees him. A beggar sees
a water-barrel unguarded—next day, he’s renting a house. A
mercenary guard discovers and foils a robbery—the Despot
showers him with silver! There’s so much money in Gem, if
only one can find a way to get it.
Slavers in Gem make tidy profits. The Despot and other
nobles use highly trained slaves in their business dealings.
Wealthy citizens buy slaves for house servants. Even some
mercenary companies buy slaves for their armies.
The price of a slave in Gem varies widely. A beautiful
young slave trained in the arts of love might draw high prices
from a noble or one of brothels, while a sickly, half-starved
slave with bad teeth is barely worth the cost of holding him
By law, all slaves in Gem must have proper papers held
by their current master. Any slave whose papers cannot be
produced upon official request becomes property of the Despot.
Most of these slaves are simply resold, though some are freed
as an example of the Despot’s largess and humanity.
Given Gem’s rather strict split between the royal
house, nobility, citizens and slaves, most Gemfolk take a
surprisingly open attitude towards social class and outsiders.
The upper echelons of society welcome newly elevated
nobles and wealthy citizens without snobbery toward “new
money.” Lower-class citizens who work hard and know their
place receive a certain baseline politeness even from most
nobles. Foreigners receive courtesy and respect as long as
they behave themselves and can pay. Two factors produce
this open attitude.
First, Gem lives by trade. It is unwise and unprofitable to
discriminate against anyone for any reason other than their
wealth. The shabby foreigner might actually be a visiting
prince with a heavy purse, or that silk-clad fop might be a
God-Blooded mercenary working for the Despot.
Second, Gemfolk know how rapidly fortunes can rise and
fall. Nobles who cannot pay the Despot’s fees for monopoly
do not remain nobles. Citizens who cannot pay their rent or
business license might end up selling their sons and daughters
or even become slaves themselves. Indeed, many families have
at least one member who is or was once a slave. Few Gemfolk
like to remember this fact, but they cannot ignore it—and
this knowledge shades most social relations in Gem. Some
rare individuals develop resentment toward those above or
below them, but most Gemfolk find it easier to remember
their place and not abuse those below them. The artisan you
insult today might be the Despot’s favorite tomorrow.
Gem lives by trade. The precious stones that give the
city its name are only the most celebrated item of commerce.
At diverse shops and marketplaces, visitors and locals buy
and sell just about everything known in Creation. Most
neighborhoods have a local market that sells food, clothing
and other necessities. Three centers of trade, however, stand
out as the largest or must unusual in Gem.
THE SUNKEN BAZAAR
The Sunken Bazaar is the grandest, largest and easily the
most famous marketplace in Gem (and perhaps the whole
South). It occupies a huge tunnel beneath Gem, 40 yards wide
and over a mile long, with several sizeable tunnels leading off
it. Countless glowstones are set in the walls, and large mirrors
reflect daylight down long shafts. People of all sorts sell goods
of all sorts, from snack carts to sorcerer-engineer contracts
and everything in between, turning the Sunken Bazaar into
a chaotic, day-and-night whirlwind of wonder.
To make the Bazaar easier to navigate, the Despot divided
it into sectors and issues permits to various stall owners. In
reality, this arrangement helps only a little since peddlers
and pushcart vendors rarely abide by such regulations. Still,
one is more likely to find a suitable merchant inside his appointed
section than out.
The most important sector of the Sunken Bazaar holds
the Despot’s own gem dealers. Canopies of brightly hued
silk mark their stalls. Other sectors feature bulk goods such
as cloth, salt and grain; armorers, blacksmiths, potters and
other trades that involve metalworking, fire and heavy
tools; foodstuffs, spices, wine and other consumables; drugs,
both medicinal and recreational; and luxury goods such as
jewelry, perfume, ice (brought at great expense from the
North) and the finest silks and brocades. Side-tunnels hold
markets for miscellaneous artisans, such as drapers and
Pickpockets, muggers and other minor criminals present
a constant danger, so many merchants hire guards. Some
merchants even pool their resources to employ patrols of
mercenaries. The wealthier areas of the Sunken Bazaar are
somewhat safer as a result, but no area is truly crime-free. The
noble houses that sell their wares in the Sunken Bazaar stay
near the Despot’s gem dealers, since that part of the market
is safest… and attracts the wealthiest customers.
THE SUN MARKET
The murderous heat of the South keeps most of Gem’s
populace off the surface streets during peak daylight hours,
where long exposure can kill. Many Gemfolk sleep during
this time or stay indoors or underground. This means that
in Gem, when shady characters wish to conduct business
away from the spying eyes, they do so in the bright of day—
in the Sun Market.
Setting up every day and dismantling just before night,
the Sun Market is the place to go for all things strange and
forbidden. The Despot knows about the market and covertly
encourages its operation in exchange for daily tribute in the
form of a sales tax. In exchange, the market can operate
pretty much as it likes.
The Sun Market moves around Gem. It is always set
up on the surface streets and plazas of the city where the
heat and glare are worst. Most merchants in the market
work in shifts or possess some supernatural means to
survive the heat. Nearly everyone in the market wears a
variety of sunshades and coverings. These garments not
only protect seller and buyer from the sun, but also protect
Nothing is forbidden in the market. If you have the
money and the good or service in question is available,
you can buy it or receive directions to a merchant who can
procure it. The Sun Market’s traders range from one-man
peddlers of minor illicit goods to factors of vast smuggling
syndicates. Even Rankar VII uses the Sun Market. A small
cadre of slave-merchants finds buyers for special gemstones
that the Despot doesn’t wish others to know about, such as
yasal crystals that can hold Second Circle demons.
Since few people stand willingly in Gem’s sunlight for
long, the most dangerous and exotic sales typically take
place in open sunlight. As a result, anyone trying to spy
on or prevent such sales is easy to spot. Goods that the sun
could damage, such as rare manuscripts or slave stock, are
exceptions to this practice. Goods of lesser value or illegality
are sold in covered stalls or wagons.
No single organization runs the market. Instead, a secret,
nameless alliance of the most powerful and influential sellers
occasionally meets to discuss tribute collection, market
organization and any important events that might affect business.
For example, a coming war might prompt the council to
discuss allocating more space to contraband artifact weapons
and military drugs. Only the council’s members know who
is in it. Well, probably.
THE MERCENARY MARKET
The Mercenary Market offers one of the greatest spectacles
in Gem. Here buyers from all over the South and beyond
come to hire free mercenaries or purchase slave soldiers and
gladiators. The market operates with the enthusiastic approval
of Rankar VII and most of the noble houses.
The market itself occupies one of the larger lava tubes.
The area is large enough to hold several small armies on
parade, which it has at times. Unlike the Sunken Bazaar
and the Despot’s Palace, the Mercenary Market isn’t much
to look at on its own. The sight of thousands of warriors of
various shapes, sizes and areas of expertise more than makes
up for the drab décor.
Buyers in this market can go as large or small as they
like. Major companies can rent you an entire army for years
of service, individual bodyguards you can hire for a night, and
all manner of battle-slaves. Smaller companies offer every
imaginable military service, from quartermasters to assassins.
The Guild offers the largest and most diverse range of
mercenaries, and a large fraction of the other companies are
actually Guild fronts. Those wishing to hire vast armies or
who seek exotic troops might need to shop around to multiple
companies or allow a few weeks for a vendor to gather the
required forces, but the rich have toppled, defended and built
kingdoms at the Mercenary Market of Gem. The Despot’s
agents shop in this market. Most gladiators who fight and
die in Gem are bought, sold and traded here too.
Rankar has issued decrees forbidding the Anathema to
use the market, either as buyers or product. This keeps the
Realm from poking its nose into Gem’s second-most-profitable
business. In reality, the Exalted may hire themselves out as
mercenary commanders, spies, gladiators or anything else
they want—or hire the same. As long as their money is good,
Rankar doesn’t want to fight people who could destroy him.
If Rankar’s agents spot a Celestial Exalt in the Mercenary
BRIGHT SUN, DEEP SHADOWS
The name, identity and goals of the Sun Market
council are left to the Storyteller’s discretion. The
council might simply be a collection of profiteers and
merchants trying to make a bit of illegal silver. Their
organization might have no name or hidden purpose.
Yet, it might be a full-blown secret society. The
Sun Market might be only part of a larger plan to use
or control Gem for some reason. The whole group
might labor under the watchful eye of a powerful being
whose motives are hers alone. Detecting and possibly
foiling the machinations of such shadowy forces could
be the focus of an entire series.
Alternatively, the Sun Market could just be a
place to buy really neat stolen stuff.
Market, they discreetly ask her to please conduct her business
in the Sun Market, instead. Especially if the Exalt wants to
sell his services to… say… Rankar himself.
RELIGION AND THE SUPERNATURAL
Gem holds a variety of temples and shrines, scattered
throughout the city. All temples, priests and religious orders
operate with the approval of the Despot or not at all. These
organizations pay tithes to the Despot in exchange for license
to operate and preach within Gem. Despite this restriction,
citizens can worship as they please, with a few exceptions.
THE DESPOT AND RELIGION
All legal faiths in Gem must acknowledge the Despot as
the divinely chosen ruler of Gem. This does not mean that a
cult or church must revere the Despot as a god (though a few
suck-ups do so). No, they simply must at least pay lip service
to the idea that higher powers endorse the Despot’s place as
absolute monarch of Gem. Cults that endorse his rule don’t
have to pay various fees and receive yearly offerings for the
priests to sacrifice in the Despot’s name—richer offerings
than most cults could afford on their own. Priests who call
the Despot a living god receive gifts with greater frequency.
A number of Terrestrial small gods actively back Gem and
the Despot due to the rich offerings they receive in return.
Since Gem pays tribute to the Realm, the Despot bans
Anathema cults within Gem. Rankar knows that allowing
such cults would not only draw the wrath of the Realm but
would also make it easier for a charismatic Exalt to challenge
This doesn’t mean that such cults don’t exist, though.
Nevertheless, the standing punishment for Anathemaworship
is death by exposure. The offending heretics are
staked out in the sun to roast as a lesson to all those who
would worship false gods.
The Despot also forbids cults that worship Deathlords or
demons, for about the same reasons as worship of the Exalted.
Rankar VII has no personal hatred of Demon Princes or
undead tyrants, but he recognizes that such entities probably
would be bad for him and his city. People caught worshiping
such dark powers are executed immediately through public
strangulation, along with their immediate families. Even
suspicion of such activities can ruin most citizens.
Other than these limitations, anything goes for the
faithful in Gem. The Despot cares about worldly power and
profit. He cares about gods and faith only insofar as they
affect his rule.
EXALTED AND OTHER ESSENCE-USERS
Gem’s ruling class is human, but the traditional tolerance
for supernatural entities results in a few God-Blooded and
other half-breeds being born every year. These individuals
often find work as mercenaries or highly paid specialists in
a variety of fields. The Despot also has a standing invitation
for any outcaste Terrestrial Exalted willing to work for
him. At least a dozen do so, in various capacities. Rankar
watches them closely for any hint of coup plots, but the
wheelbarrow-loads of silver he pays them seem to keep them
satisfied thus far.
To date, neither the Despot nor any other major power
in Gem has employed Celestial Exalted. Rumors of such beings
abound, though, usually concerning various charismatic
power-brokers, mighty gladiators and other exceptional
members of Gem society, such as Keen-Eyed Falcon of the
West and various noble house leaders. The Despot secretly
tries to recruit a small group of such Exalted for operations
SAMPLE MILITARY UNITS
The sheer number and diversity of the Despot’s mercenaries
mean that Storytellers can easily take combat units
from other places (and other supplements) and rewrite them
to fit in Gem. The Ashen Guard is merely one of the larger
and better known of Gem’s military units.
THE ASHEN GUARD
Description: The Ashen Guard is one of the longeststanding units in Gem. It’s actually a remnant of the former army from before Kolar III’s coup. The Guard’s name comes from a battle fought over a century ago against a raider horde that tried to pillage Gem, using a nearby volcanic eruption to hide their movements. When scouts spotted the approaching horde, the Despot ordered the 23rd Gem Light Infantry Wing to delay the attackers while the city rallied its defenses. In a moment of tactical genius inspired by notorious Dune Folk, the wing’s commander ordered his men to bury themselves in the ash that coated the ground around Gem and lie in ambush. Using breathing tubes and periscopes, the soldiers waited until the horde came within arm’s reach before they sprung their trap. The speed and surprise of the attack by screaming soldiers coated head to toe in white-gray ash terrified the barbarians and caused a route. Upon return to the city, the soldiers’ appearance inspired the wing’s new name. When Kolar III disbanded Gem’s military, he kept the Ashen Guard as a mercenary company.
The Ashen Guard specializes in ambushing raiders and hunting barbarians that venture too close to Gem’s territory. The soldiers drill vigorously, and the Despot equips them with various potions, talismans and other minor enchantments to assist them in operations beyond Gem’s walls and into the Southern heat.
Membership in the Ashen Guard pays well enough for a soldier to retire after eight to 10 years of service. Since the war with Paragon, the Ashen Guard has taken the proactive role of raiding Paragon’s patrols and caravans.
The current Ashen Guard stands at just under 300 troops. Unlike most mercenary companies in Gem, many of its soldiers come from Gem itself. Its commander, Captain Nerus Dell, is descended from a survivor of the battle that gave the regiment its name. Captain Dell’s two lieutenants are a Northern mercenary called Little Bear and a Gem native and former gladiator called El-Jah Seven Stabs.
Commanding Officer: Captain Nerus Dell
Armor Color: White and light gray armor with ash-colored cloaks.
Motto: “Never fight an enemy when he’s ready.”
General Makeup: 280 light, mobile infantry wearing lamellar armor and pot helms (wrapped in turbans to keep them cool), armed with one firewand each, 20 charges of firedust and a bayonet.
Formation: The Ashen Guard typically operates in skirmishing formation, to cover the widest area and attack the largest number of opponents with their short-range firewands. The soldiers try to ambush their foes, beginning the attack with firewands. Captain Dell then splits the unit. Half engages with bayonets while the other half reloads. The Ashen Guard has four relays, two heroes (Little Bear and El-Jah Seven Stabs) and two sorcerers—superb marksmen armed with plasma tongue repeaters