This is a sneak preview of the Free City of Ket. We thought players would be interested in seeing cultures and kingdoms as we work on them. As with all Sneak Previews, details may change over time.
The Free City of Ket
Like a shining jewel on the southern coast of the Inner Sea, the Free City of Ket sprawls along the River Vitas until it spills along the coast looking out onto the Bay of Gold. The free city ranges from opulent to squalid, and fortunes in the Free City can change quickly. With the rarity of gold mines in the northern kingdoms, the Free City of Ket would be rich simply trading gold from all the mines the city controls. The flow of wealth is exaggerated by treasure seekers looking to explore and plunder the ancient ruins to the south.
The vast desert south of the Free City holds seemingly endless ruins full of dangers and treasures of great value. The shifting sands move like tides, revealing and hiding ruins, tombs, and halls of the once great kingdom of Onhur. Not only do these ruins contain wealth and magical treasures, but the ruins are the only source of Sun Gold that is known to exist. Sun Gold is prized by enchanters because it will hold more potent magic than normal precious metals.
The Free City of Ket is ruled by Hekros, a scaled entity who has, if rumors are to be believed, an impressive amount of magical knowledge. Hekros claims to be the last remaining member of an ancient race called the Armitage. Whether any of this is true is up for debate by many scholars. Regardless of whether you believe this, Hekros has ruled the Free City since its inception two centuries ago and has demonstrated on a number of occasions its competence in combat, magic, and knowledge of the politics of the kingdoms of Aerune.
Hekros, who carries the title of The Majestic, makes sure that the city maintains a strict neutrality. Because the Free City allows for and maintains free trade, any number of explorers and tomb raiders use Ket as a base of operation for expeditions into the south. Merchants do pay a reasonable tax to the city, but in return they are protected by both the Scaled Guard who serve The Majestic, and by stone constructs that roam the city and uphold the laws.
The Free City operates largely on the concept of contracts. A signed contract is binding, and it is illegal to break a contract signed by an Oath Scribe who is authorized by the city. As a result, all manner of business is conducted in the city, and all types of goods are traded within the walls of Ket. A number of goods are outlawed, including slavery of all types, and artifacts or magic of Necromancy, Malediction, or the Foul.
Not everyone is in agreement with the laws or policies of the city. There are tribesmen of the southern deserts who are not at all happy that folk from the northern kingdoms are intruding upon the ruins of their once great nation. To many of them, those who violate the sanctity of the ancient kingdom are cursed and deserving of death, whether they are tomb robbers, treasure seekers, or historians. When added to the many dangers present in the tombs themselves, the southern lands are quite inhospitable to travelers.
Two once great nations lay buried beneath the sands of the Great Desert. The Desert has always been and will always be, but twice has a mighty nation risen from the barren lands, only to be reclaimed by time and the shifting sands of the ever consuming Desert. The bones of the past, crumbling ruins of once great cities and tombs of stone, are sometimes exposed by great storms of wind and sand. The ruins can provide great riches for those who dare to explore them before they are again buried.
The dangers of exploring the desert and its ruins are many beyond just death from exposure and thirst. The ruins and even the sands themselves are home to countless undead and malevolent spirits seeking to rend and feed upon the living. A number of great and ancient undead even claim some of the ruins as their own, often gathering masses of undead servants to defend their domain.
There is also life within the Desert. The River Vitas winds through the heart of the Desert, flowing towards the Free City of Ket and into the sea beyond it. There are also hidden islands of life – known as Tanuras – in remote places where water is near enough to the surface for plants and life to survive. Surrounding the banks of the river and the sanctuary of the Tanuras are stubborn forests, remnants of ancient and magical attempts to bring life to the vast sea of sand.
Amongst these scattered oases and magical forests live the tribes of the desert. The tribes are varied in composure with a mixture of Shoathri, Ghuls, and even Sunscar Orcs who have left the Five Scars. Some have lived in the deserts their entire lives, descended from the inhabitants of the last great civilization to thrive there. Others were brought against their will by the Orcs to the South, and have since gained their freedom and joined with the native tribes. Others still come to feel more at home in the desert and its ruins as they adventured for its secrets and treasures, and have chosen to stay.
They are a scattered people, with little in the way of written history or law, but traditions are a strong guiding force that binds them together even as they raid and skirmish amongst themselves. To not only survive in such a harsh place, but to do so with a sense of honor, is something many Children of the Sand take pride in.
Nomadic and under constant threat of attack by undead, orcs, opportunists heading out of Ket, and other tribes, the Children of the Sands have learned to be wary, but also to celebrate the moments of safety they can share with those who would do them no harm.
Among the tribes there are those who simply seek to survive and raid as they always have, but some have either greater causes or more ambitions. Some tribes trade not just the goods they find with the outside world, but also their skill at arms, serving as mercenaries in the desert lands. Others view themselves as the rightful defenders of the thrice dead land, and seek out the undead, slavers, orcs, and generally wicked to hunt without mercy.
There is no specific look in the Free City of Ket. Too many travelers, and too many factions, ensure that the city is a menagerie of colors and styles. The only constant is that visitors and locals alike must dress for the hot days and the cool nights brought by the surrounding desert and sea to the Free City.
The clothing of the tribes is driven by the necessity of surviving the harsh desert. Their clothing tends toward light loose fitting shirts, tunics, and pants though some priests do wear robes. Few choose to wear simple whites or blacks, preferring bright colors to contrast the unchanging white of sand. They rarely cover their faces except to veil themselves against the harsh sun and wind driven sand. The people of the tribes have nothing to hide, so Ghul, Shoathri, and human alike display who and what they are so that they will be known and recognized.
The warriors and scouts of the tribes prefer leather bracers and grieves augmented by light chain rather than full suits of armor. The fighting in the sands is one of hit and run engagements often in the dark of night rather than full stand-up fights.
As wealth must be moved in their nomadic life, jewelry is the favored form of riches, and an accomplished desert mercenary will have a few flashy pieces for special occasions or to demonstrate wealth during negotiation. It is considered vain to wear said wealth all the time, however, and impractical to do so in combat where it might be damaged.
With so many different factions in the city, the attitudes and mannerisms have a great variety. The only constant is the sanctity of the negotiation, the agreement, and ultimately the contract.
As the Children of the Sand:
~ Seek the wisdom of experience when approaching a new problem.
~ Cherish what is good in life, such as companionship, food, and safety, but embrace that death comes for all, and thus is not to be feared. “We are keeping the Reaper waiting, best have a happy story for him when we finally arrive,” is a common saying among children of the sands.
~ Wastefulness and overconsumption are terrible sins, though outsiders in their land of plenty might not understand that.
~ Undead of Malediction have shown that evil will lurk forever if not hunted down. To be a hunter of such things is as much a necessity as water or food.
~ For many of the tribes, outsiders trespassing in the sacred lands and ruins is a crime, and it must be punished. For the most extreme tribes, that punishment is death.
All religions are followed, or ignored, in the Free City of Ket.
Among the Children of the Sand, priests of the Woven faith have been present the longest, or at least are the deepest rooted in most tribes. The Threadbearers offer hope and guidance even in the bleakest reaches of the desert, and so the tradition of priests has remained strong through generations. While not quite as pervasive, animal shamanism also persists as an old practice among the Children of the Sands, perhaps brought in with the many Shoathri.
Followers of the Celestial Court or the Pale are rare, but not unheard of, as many tribes have taken in the lost or enslaved, some of whom follow these religions of distant lands, but there is no strong tradition of either.
Arcane Magic is much more common in the Free City of Ket than other places in Aerune, except, of course, for the Guild Arcana. Three rival Mage’s Guilds vie for prestige and attention and sell services to travelers far and wide. The Left Eye of Collose, the Backburners, and the Guild of the Gray Hand are all powerful guilds that practice, study, and theorize to rise above their rivals. This makes magic of all types more common in the Free City than elsewhere.
Rather than houses or nobles, there are a number of factions in the city that vie for power, trade for wealth, and value secrets.
The Catalyst Club is an exclusive and expensive private resort that caters to the rich. In reality it is the headquarters for a group of individuals who believe that the pursuit of experiences is the ultimate goal in life. At its inception, The Catalyst Club was almost all Cat Shoathri that sought the history and knowledge of ancient houses of their kind in the ruins. In time they formed the Catalyst Club, and now the inner circle boasts a number of races and it is growing quickly. The Catalyst Club specializes in all types of intoxicating and recreational alchemy. They also arrange for other types of experiences and thrills. They have been known to arrange hunting expeditions to kill dangerous prey, engaging in brutal but non-lethal fighting tournaments, and even seeking and experiencing a wide variety of magical spells and effects.
Her Six Blades is a religious group that believes that the Queen of the Moon of the Celestial Court will end the world. They claim to serve and worship that goddess, although most Magi of the Celestial Court decry the Six Blades as a cult. The Six Blades also hires itself out as assassins, and is both skilled at that profession and feared because of it.
The Beggar King is a mysterious entity that claims to watch over and protect the many beggars in the city. Whether this is an actual person or a collective myth, sometimes bad things happen to those who mistreat the beggars of the city, and this is often attributed to the Beggar King’s judgment.
The Mercenary Guild is a city wide guild that employs all manner of mercenaries and hires them out to both domestic and foreign interests. The guild aggressively recruits, and those mercenaries and adventurers who frequent the city often and do not join the guild may find themselves in an ever-escalating series of confrontations about their involvement with the Guild. Bullying aside, the Guild has an excellent reputation for provided well trained and competent people for a wide variety of jobs.
There are three rival Mage’s Guilds within the confines of the city; the Left Eye of Collose, the Backburners, and the Guild of the Gray Hand.
The Free City of Ket is located at the head of the River Vitas, where it empties into the Bay of Gold. The City is divided into sections called quarters, even though there are now more than four districts and number six or seven distinct areas depending on who you ask.
To the south winds the River Vitae, and old forests kept alive with ancient Weald magic stubbornly cling to the banks of the Vitas and cluster around various oasis and crevasses in the desert floor. These out of place stretches of forest are remnants of an earlier time when nobles of Onhur attempted to use magic to bring the desert back to life. Scattered in the broken lands and trackless desert, the Children of the Sands maintain caravans and tent cities.
The Desert has many creatures in addition to the undead in the ruins. Giant and dangerous insects roam the desert, and tribes of particularly dangerous lizard-folk hunt along and in the River Vitas further south. Orcs from the Five Scars also are found north of their lands to hunt and raid. They know expeditions of treasure seekers can be laden with loot from the ruins.
Hekros, The Majestic is the ruler of the Free City of Ket. Rumored to be centuries old, it founded the city and rules it to this day. It upholds the law with the Scaled Guard and a number of stone golems that roam the city and keep the peace.
Selicia Goldenbrow is the current head of the Catalyst Club. She is savvy and politic, and she can be ruthless if her club or her people are threatened. Although in the past she sought all manner of experiences, these days she most appreciates the rush of politics and power. Selicia is a well decorated Cat Shoathri.
Ekmet Tallis is the captain of the Scaled Guard, and the right hand man and voice of The Majestic when it is not available to speak. Ekmet is dour and suspicious and has standing orders to keep, in his words, “rubes and gawkers” from wasting the time of The Majestic.