Varistan (City of Cyphers)

(pop: 13,328) Varistan; also known as the "City of Cyphers," is a seaport located along Eldara's Bloody Coast,

The seventh largest city in Eldara, Varistan is, by far, its most notorious. The city is situated inside a narrow round valley, centered between two large rocky bluffs, each over 300 feet in height. Dividing the valley in half is the Velskar River, which winds its way down through the desolate hills and valleys of the Sokoro Highlands, then runs directly through the middle of the city, past the island of Devil's Fork, before it empties into Varistan’s sprawling harbor and the adjoining Sea of Orel. Although the city occupies both banks of the river, the majority of the city's population lives on the eastern bank, nestled behind a line of hills, which separate its residents from the tidal swamps on the far side.


The Cyphergate Road leads west out of the city, but it is poorly maintained, as most traffic in and out of the city is via the harbor. The ominous stone arch, which towers over the entire harbor, is never out of sight; its rune-covered span dwarfing everything around it. Today, Varistan has developed somewhat of a seedy reputation based on its widespread corruption. The city is currently ruled by Baron Avery Kromar; a Thannish nobleman who has managed to stay in power largely because of his political connections within the Eldaran Royal Court in Eldarand.

Varistan at a Glance

Most of Varistan’s buildings are composed entirely of wood; with multiple floors and high-peaked roofs covered with clay shingles. They are built extremely close together, and in some cases their upper floors sag and lean together from the constantly damp conditions. In spring, fall, and winter, fireplaces are needed to ward off the damp cold that lingers in the fog-laden streets. During summer, warm air currents from the south bring a muggy oppressive heat, along with swarms of mosquitoes that breed in the nearby marshes.

The major streets of Varistan are cobbled, often becoming rain-slick cataracts during the wet season. Cobbles are often missing or crushed by the incessant traffic, leaving gaping holes and ruts in even the most well-tended thoroughfares. Side streets tend to be relegated to muddy tracks that swiftly become stinking morasses of sticky mud and filth. Varistan doesn’t have much of a sewage system, and relies mainly on gutters along street edges to carry its refuse to the waterfront.

The Cyphergate

Varistan's most famous landmark is the Cyphergate; a gigantic, ancient stone arch built over the city harbor. This arch forms a gateway over the natural cove around which the city was built. This massive gate is covered on both sides with elaborate elvish glyphs and other archaic symbols, although their exact meaning remains a mystery.


Life in Varistan

For as long as anyone can remember, this city has been ruled by a series of petty, corrupt aristocrats, who have risen and fallen in a bloody cycle of violence. The current ruler, Baron Avery Kromar, is little better. Over the last two decades, Lord Kromar has brought some stability to the city, but maintains his rule through terror, bribery, and brute force. Captain Andros Hewitt, the Baron’s chief enforcer, has made the streets safe enough for merchants from other Eldaran cities to bring in their wares un-accosted, but his strong-arm tactics have left many locals fearing the authorities more than the criminals.

By Baronial decree, any ship or travelling merchant that flies the flag of Eldara is under his protection and is not to be raided by either pirates or brigands, upon penalty of death. In return for his protection, Kromar charges scandalously high prices to both visiting ships and merchant caravans. The stability and semi-regular influx of imported goods has long profited the citizens of Varistan, but those days may be numbered.

The Baron has long allowed local crime lords, such Clegg Zincher to operate unmolested, as long as he secretly receives a percentage of their profits. The result of this corruption has led to these criminals holding enormous influence within the city. Rumors abound that, despite this graft, Kromar’s coffers are running low. This, along with the rising popularity of Elias Tamarlane, the Baron’s most vocal political rival, has many locals hoping for a possible change in city leadership.


Yet not everyone who comes to live in Varistan is attracted by graft and crime. All manner of sages, scholars, and wizards have long been drawn to the city. Most notable are these are the “Cyphermages,” whose order is dedicated to deciphering the mysteries of the Cyphergate. Many locals find this influx of scholars irritating. But despite these negative attitudes, most residents leave the Cyphermages alone, as long as they don’t interfere with the city’s daily affairs.

Twenty years ago, Lord Kromar actually welcomed the Order of Cyphers into Varistan, likely because he felt the addition of many skilled wizards would only increase the city’s prestige and possibly provide him with opportunities to increase his own wealth.

So, it was a complete shock when Beltran; the leader of the Order, became one of Kromar’s most outspoken critics. Many local residents have taken to wagering on how much time will pass before some ill fate befalls the Baron’s newest nemesis.

City Districts

Varistan is divided into a total of nine separate districts, each with an Alderman who administers local affairs and answers directly to the Baron.

Gambling District: The Dragon’s Hoard Gambling Hall is located in this part of the city along the northwestern shore of the Velskar River, along with a several other casinos.

Leeward District: The city’s largest district, Leeward is built into the protecting curve of the city’s eastern ridge, where it is sheltered from the worst of the seaborne winds. The majority of the city’s population resides in one of the many tenements located in this district. most buildings here are three or even four stories tall, containing shops at street level where standard goods and services can be obtained. The upper stories are crammed with the city's poorest residents.

Merchant District: This upper-class area of the city is well patrolled and has developed its own social order, informal system of law and customs for distribution of goods and services.

River District: This district runs along the banks of the Velskar River and consists primarily of shops and mills. Most craft and trade goods come from this district. The waste produced by the district’s tanners and fishmongers and the fact that many of the city’s sewage gutters converge here, have earned the place the unofficial name of “Reek District.”


The Slums: (“Rotgut District”) The slums of Varistan are a truly depressing and dangerous place to be. This district lies along the city’s eastern side against the ridge and is entirely controlled by various crime lords, who prey upon the weakest and poorest residents. Easily, the seediest of Varistan’s districts, the Slums have both the highest crime rate and the most brothels and alehouses anywhere in the city.

The Boneyard: This deceptively named place actually serves as the city dump and a graveyard for derelict ships. Its name is derived from a collection of old ship-hulks whose “ribs” protrude from the marshland, most of which is usually covered in two or three feet of water. Many vermin and insects infest this area and most locals avoid it altogether.

The Devil’s Fork: (“Castle District”) This small, rocky island is nestled near the north end of the city on the Velskar River. On the island is the Citadel; once known as "the Sokoro Palace." This massive castle serves as the Baron's residence and as barracks for Varistan’s military garrison. Its damp, dismal dungeons hold the city’s criminal offenders, as well as the Baron's political enemies.

Wharf District: This rough-and-tumble district lies along the city's harbor-front, and it is where much of the city’s day-to-day action of commerce and thievery occurs. Near the docks are rows of warehouses and cheap taverns, and sleazy brothels. Every night, sailors and locals mingle here, in a frenzy of drunkenness and debauchery.

Windward District: Built on the slopes of the city’s western ridgeline, this is Varistan’s most affluent district; the buildings located on its winding steep streets are generally in excellent condition. Most of the city’s scholars and wealthy merchants dwell here.


Nearby Locations

Sokoro Highlands: The Sokoro Highlands are a desolate region of eastern Eldara, named for the ancient Sokoro Union; a Thannish civilization which existed here in the Third Age. Today, these hills are home to the Velskar; tribes of skilled horsemen with a reputation for committing cruel acts of theft and murder. The Cyphergate Road travels through this dangerous region on its route between Eldarand, Thuvalia, and Varistan.

Cinderwood: A deep, sprawling forest located northwest of the city, which is home to the Elven village of Crying Leaf.

Thuvalia: located 70 miles west of the city, Thuvalia is the closest human settlement. It is connected to Varistan via the Cyphergate Road, and is ruled by Duke Javaris, who is Lord Kromar’s most dangerous political enemy.

Local History

This ancient city has a long history; stretching back thousands of years to the First Age, when it was founded by the Elder-Elves as part of their glorious realm of Ectharë. The elves called this city "Eru-Ladris," and its location held some special meaning to them, for over its harbor entrance, they constructed the "Cyphergate"—the city’s most famous landmark. Yet after the War of Wrath and the collapse of Ectharë, the elves abandoned Eru-Ladris, and its lonely, moss-covered ruins sat for centuries.

For many years, human sailors stayed away from the arch, superstitiously believing that to sail under it would result in bad luck or even instant death. Using this superstition, the elven ruins were taken over by a notorious group of pirates, who began to use the site as a secret base to conduct raids on local sea-lanes.


During the Third Age, the pirates were driven out by a Thannish adventurer named Varis Sokoro, whose followers then established a settlement here and named it "Varistan" in his honor. In less than a century, Varistan grew ten-fold and became the thriving capitol of a civilization called the Sokoro Union. The Union was ruled by a series of self-styled “Princes,” who built the grand Sokoro Palace, a fortress overlooking the city which is, today, called "the Citadel."

So it came to pass that in the last century of the Third Age, Varistan became engulfed in the events of the wider world and lost its independence forever. Around that time, the growing nation of Valdor was expanding north; under the aggressive ruler-ship of Valden the Conqueror.

Valden’s armies marched on Varistan in the year 1225/3, and Meraxas; the last Prince of the Sokoro Union, surrendered the city to him soon after. At that point, Varistan became just another fiefdom with in the kingdom of Valdor. When the Twilight War occurred less than a century later, Valdor was split into two separate kingdoms; Rhodara and Eldara. Varistan then became part of the newly-established kingdom of Eldara, and has remained so ever since.

From its ancient origins as an elvish settlement and later a notorious pirate haven, Varistan has grown into an important seaport in its own right. Yet while Varistan has grown into a proper city, some say it remains 'true to its roots.' You can get rich quick in Varistan, if you’ve got the right skills and a bit of luck. Yet, for every success story in Varistan, there are a dozen nameless bodies buried in a muddy swamp or tossed into the harbor.

Inside the city walls, everything seems tranquil; but there are outside threats that have plagued the city for many years. One such threat lies off the Bloody Coast; where merchant ships are often intercepted by local pirates. Another threat exists in the desolate Sokoro Highlands, where mounted Velskar warriors regularly harass travelers and raid merchant caravans along the Cyphergate Road, running between the cities of Varistan, Thuvalia, and Eldarand.