Cities and Sites of the Shaar
Most communities in the Shaar are little more than trading centers. Each is close to a reliable source of water, since potable water is such a prized commodity in the plains. Because of the concentration of valuable commodities that accumulates in such places, almost all the Shaar's towns and cities have walls to protect their citizens from the raiders and bandits who roam the grasslands. The gold dwarves have their own cities, only a few of which are on the surface. These urban centers tend to be markedly different from the rest of the plains communities, since the races do not share ideas readily.
Blaskaltar is nothing more than a broad, low mound of grassy earth warmed by the baking sun of the Shaar. Though rumor says that a city once stood on this site, no records of it exist, and no remnants of it are left - not even ruined stonework.
The followers of Akadi refer to this mound as the First Shrine of the Queen of Air and consider it the most important holy site of their faith. Every midsummer, followers of the Lady of the Winds gather here to worship her, swelling the nearby communities of Shaarmid and Kormul for several days.
Deizimmer (Small city)
Four powerful merchant families control this free-trade city: the Harlhauns, the Jathlets, the Belarks, and the Olaundrans. Though they are rivals in business, the families have managed to find enough common ground to establish some level of law and order for the town, using their private militias to keep the peace. The families all run businesses associated with serving caravans, including storage warehouses, outfitters, and financial services (moneylenders and moneychangers), but they are not costers themselves.
The stone walls surrounding the heart of Delzimmer have long since outlived their usefulness. The city has grown considerably since the walls were built, and shops, dwellings, and warehouses have spilled out into the open ground beyond their perimeter. Roads have been cut through the walls to provide access to the businesses outside, and the remaining portions are in poor repair, sporting cracked mortar and holes of various sizes.
Delzimmer's citizens are all in the business of providing services, either for the caravan traffic, or for the other locals. The rest of the people in the city on any given day are caravan masters, their escorts, and the merchants who hire them.
Delzimmer (Small City): Nonstandard; AL NE/LN/LE/CN; 110,000 gp limit; Assets 4,661,250 gp; Population 6,215; Integrated (halflings 42%, human 37%, half-elf 10%, dwarf 6%, gnome 3%, other races 2%).
Authority Figures: Oldyle Belark (NE male human fighter 8/rogue 5), head of the Belark merchant family; Maraunt Harlhaun (LN male human aristocrat 16/expert 4), head of the Harlhaun merchant family; Elsraea Jathlet (LE female human aristocrat 6/rogue), head of the Jathlet merchant family; Gauthklaun Olaundran (CN male human aristocrat 8/fighter 4/expert 3), head of the Olaundran merchant family.
Important Characters: Malthorn Jathret (NE male human aristocrat 6/necromancer 14), a reclusive elder member of the Jathret clan; Flospin Ralmathun (LN male human warrior 2/expert 5), the most influential caravan master in the city; Hupert Three-teeth (CN male strongheart halfling rogue 14), head of the most powerful thieves guild in Delzimmer and a master of confidence games.
Nagra (Four Families Police/Militia): Fighter 14, fighter 12 (3), fighter 10 (5), fighter 5 (34), fighter 2 (67), fighter 1 (213), warrior 13, warrior 11, warrior 7(4), warrior 6(17), warrior 5(29), warrior 4(62), warrior 3 (78), warrior 2 (114), warrior 1 (387).
The rest of Delzimmer's citizens are too numerous to describe here.
The dwarven city of Eartheart is actually separated into two major sections. Eartheart proper is a walled fortress city with soaring towers and ramped, multilevel streets. Outside its walls is the tent-city of Hammer and Anvil (see below), where outsiders come to trade. Eartheart is only partially visible from the plains around the Great Rift, since many of its levels are below ground, accessible only via spiraling staircases.
The Lord Scepter of Eartheart, Mariochar Bladebeard (LG male gold dwarf cleric 10 of Clangeddin Silverbeatd/dwarven defender 7), rules the city on behalf of the Deep Lords. Aided by the troops known as the Steel Shields, he runs the place like a military compound, though the city contains far more civilians than soldiers.
Eartheart serves as the gold dwarves' connection with the rest of the world - a place where they can store trade goods and provisions and also maintain an army that can deal with outside threats before they ever reach the Great Rift. Many dwarves - both gold and shield - who come and go from the Great Rift prefer to live in Eartheart rather than elsewhere in the canyon or its subterranean environs.
The Peacehammers, the Great Rift's aerial defense forces, house their hippogriffs in great roosts high in the city. Numerous grooms, trainers, and even some druids are on hand in the aviaries to care for these creatures. Though the skyguards take their mounts out on regular patrols and allow them to feed on the wild herd animals that roam the plains, an incredible amount of fresh meat must be brought to the aviaries each day. Most of it is obtained in Hammer and Anvil from the hunters of the plains tribes who come there to trade.
Steel Shield Headquarters
The Steel Shields are stationed in an immense, walled compound near the gate that leads to the tent-city known as Hammer and Anvil. Since the Steel Shields organization boasts more than 14,000 troops, including officers, the compound takes up enough room to be another small city in its own right. The headquarters houses barracks, mess halls, training facilities, and armories.
Eartheart (Metropolis): Conventional; AL LG; 100,000 gp limit; Assets 220,040,000 gp; Population 44,008; Isolated (dwarves 97%, gnomes 2%, other races 1%).
Authority Figures: Lord Scepter Mariochar Bladebeard (LG male gold dwarf cleric 10 of Clangeddin Silverbeard/dwarven defender 7).
Important Characters: Vorn Steeleye (LG male gold dwarf fighter 8/Great Rift skyguard 10), commander of the Peacehammers; Gwarr Stouthammer (LG male gold dwarf cleric 11 of Moradin/divine disciple 4 of Moradin), High Priest of the Temple of Morndinsamman; Keshil Darkettle (LG female gold dwarf warrior 4/expert 7), highest-ranking trade broker and quartermaster of trade goods.
Typical Steel Shield Patrol: Fighter 3/cleric 3 of Clangeddin Silverbeard (6), fighter 6/dwarven defender 4, fighter 5/dwarven defender 3(2), fighter 5/dwarven defender 1 (6).
Typical Peacehammer Patrol: Fighter 6/Great Rift skyguard 5, fighter 6/Great Rift skyguard 3 (2), fighter 5/Great Rift skyguard 1 (7).
The rest of Eartheart's citizens are too numerous to describe here.
Temple Of The Morndinsamman
Actually a collection of individual temples gathered together in the center of the city, the Temple of Morndinsamman occupies the central point of Eartheart. Each building is dedicated to a different deity of the dwarven pantheon, with the Temple of Moradin in the center and the others forming a circle around it. Though impressive enough when viewed from the surface, the temples' true stature can be fully appreciated only by those who descend into their lowest levels, where the most powerful and revered servants of the dwarven deities show their respect deep within the earth.
Hammer and Anvil (Small City)
Built against the western outer wall of Eartheart is Hammer and Anvil, a sprawling tent-city consisting primarily of moveable workshop - huts and tents. Numerous watchful dwarf guards are posted within the town to ensure that those who come to trade cause no trouble. Most non-dwarves are not welcome beyond Hammer and Anvil, but in the tent-city, the gold dwarves are more than happy to meet with all comers and trade their gold, silver, and forced goods for foodstuffs, textiles, and other items in short supply on the plains and underground. Of the roughly 8,000 people in Hammer and Anvil at any time, about half are non-dwarves who have stopped briefly to trade, and the other half are dwarves who live in Eartheart and come here daily to barter on behalf of the Deep Realm or sell their services primarily blacksmithing, armor repairs, and so forth).
Hardcastle (Small Town)
Founded in the days of the Kingdom of Peleveria, Hardcastle is not much more than a fortified trading camp (population 1,316) that sits at the crossroads of three major caravan routes. One road comes in from Delzimmer and the Great Rift to the south, one from Unther, and the third from the Vilhon Reach. After Mulhorand invaded Unther, the folk of Hardcastle expected the trade from that region to dry up, but the traffic on the road to Unther has actually increased over the last year because the Mulhorandi forces have required a healthy supply of goods - particularly food, weapons, and healing magic - to keep their armies supplied.
The reigning lord of Hardcastle is Frego Cordwell (LE human male Ftr4/Rog9), a former caravan master but of Chondath who decided that he could make more money with less road time by taking over one of the most lucrative stops. Since assuming control of the trading camp, he has enticed numerous small business owners to set up shop in Hardcastle, where they can cater to the caravan traffic. Borrowing an idea from the Durpari people, with whom he once had business dealings, Cordwell has contracted private organizations to provide all the town services, including law enforcement - though he made certain to hire a former business associate for that job to ensure some measure of loyalty. Thus, Frego is free to administer the usage fees he charges without having to actually worry about the logistics of providing the services.
Khôltar (Small City)
Known as the Iron City because of its unusual, iron-covered walls, Khôltar (population 7,643) is a muddy, smoky community with lots of stout but squat stone buildings, cobbled streets, and minimal greenery. Its 100-foot-tall, double outer walls stand in two concentric rings around the city, with a 30-foot-wide, poorly drained trench in between. The trench is filled with rotting garbage, iron waste from the forges, and the occasional corpse. On the north, west, and south sides of the city, gates pierce the walls, and a bridge spans the trench at each of these points.
Originally founded by the gold dwarves, Khôltar is a city of forging - a place where those who don't wish to pay the higher prices in Hammer and Anvil can come to purchase everything from arms and armor to ladles, scoops, belt buckles, and andirons. The sky over Khôltar is always black and sooty by day and a hazy, glowing orange by night.
In the center of the city sits High Khôltar, the center of law and government. The ruler of the city, known as the Munificent Belarkh, is ostensibly a supreme merchant and an absolute overlord. The truth is that merchant families with extensive investments in various businesses run the city, and the belarkh simply acts as their mouthpiece. The current belarkh is Enklaevur Rostigror (CN male human Exp4/Ftr3/Rog6), a former caravan merchant, thief, and vagabond trader.
In the heart of the Shaar, at the northern tip of Lake Lhespen, lies the ruined town of Lhesper. Destroyed by gnoll raiders in 640 DR, it has lain in ruins ever since. Currently, several yuan-ti arcane spellcasters, all of whom are members of an organization known as the Coiled Cabal, are searching for something in Lhesper. Recently, they have begun enlisting the unwilling aid of local tribesfolk and travelers to help with that search. Humanoids taken to Lhesper are usually either sacrificed to the yuan-ti deity or transformed into broodguards and tainted ones. (See Serpent Kingdoms for more information on the yuan-ti and the Coiled Cabal.)
The ruins of this ancient city are built into the side of the Landrise, very near the point where the River Shaar emerges from the subterranean portion of its journey. Peleveran was once the capital of an ancient kingdom called Peleveria, which stretched across the plains connecting the Landrise, the Firesteaps, and the Shaarwood. The city was destroyed in the Year of the Dracorage (1018 DR), when it became the site of a devastating conflict between two warring factions of the Cult of the Dragon.
A temple known as the Dark Pit of Maleficence, dedicated to the demigod Gargauth, is hidden deep in the tunnels and caverns beneath the city, inside an immense cavern that once served the city as a granary. At the very bottom of the temple is a nearly bottomless pit that sages suspect connects directly to Baator via a portal.
Shaarmid (Large City)
Shaarmid is a free trading city with a population of about 23,500. Its stout walls and formidable defensive forces make the city a safe haven for merchants, who flock here from all points in the region for protection from raiding tribes; bandits, and monsters of the grasslands.
Shaarmid's citizens claim no connection with or allegiance to the tribes of the surrounding plains, though many are descended from them. In fact, some privately embrace their heritage, but they prefer that others not view them as biased in favor of their former clans. A slight majority of the population is ethnically pure Lapalian, and therefore closely related to the Tashalans. The ancestors of these folk migrated here to found Shaarmid after the fall of Lhesper in 640 DR.
Despite the refusal of Shaarmid's citizens to show favoritism, the tribes accept them as long-time allies because of their reputation for brokering the best deals possible with traders from other lands. The markets of Shaarmid have become a little less wholesome of late because of the illicit trade that has been trickling down from Innarlith since Ransar Pristoleph came to power there (see Innarlith in Chapter 12), but this change has attracted little attention so far.
Heroes and Monsters
Characters of many races can hail from the Shaar. Among the nomadic tribes, Shaarans, centaurs, wemics, loxo, and thri-kreen are all possibilities. Other human ethnicities, as well as half-elves, elves, gnomes, halflings, dwarves, and half-orcs could originate in any of the trading cities scattered across the grasslands. Most gold dwarf characters hail from the Great Rift, as does the occasional gnome, though the Rathgaunt Hills are a more likely place of origin for gnome-characters. A gnoll character could have grown up in and around the Dun Hills, and under extraordinary circumstances, even a wild elf from the Misty Vale might go adventuring.
The Shaar is teeming with all sorts of dangerous creatures. Beguilers, cyclopes, loxo, mantimeras, rattleyrs, starsnakes, and thri-kreen are appropriate for this area. Other common monsters include gnolls, behirs, ankhegs, wemics, centaurs, wyverns, perytons, and manticores.