The Staff and Flag Pathfinder
Absalom is the most famous of all cities, and takes pride in being one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the known world. According to myth, Absalom was founded by Aroden himself when the Last of the First Humans raised the Starstone from the ocean depths and left it in its current resting place at the heart of the city. It is thus a living part of mythology. Besides its noble past, Absalom sits in the largest natural harbor on the Isle of Kortos, in the eye of the Inner Sea. This allows it to control dozens of major shipping lanes, and makes it a critical stop on any voyage across that sea. The conf luence of mercantile, strategic, and religious inf luence in Absalom earns its title as the City at the Center of the World. Of course, it also attracts would-be conquerors, who have unsuccessfully assaulted the city throughout history. The ruins of dozens of siege castles litter the grounds outside Absalom’s walls, and its harbor is so choked with the masts and moldering hulls of sunken warships that safely reaching the city’s docks requires the steady eye of a paid pilot. Yet Absalom has never fallen.
When Aroden rose the Isle of Kortos from the depths of the Inner Sea and founded Absalom, he called the wise and brave from nearby lands to inhabit the new land and charged them to guard the Starstone from all who would relocate it. Nobles, merchants, and adventurers came, and have continued to come, especially from Osirion, Thuvia, Cheliax, Andoran, Taldor, and Qadira. As a result, the culture of the city draws heavily from all these lands, and many of its noble houses identify themselves closely with elements from those nations. The common folk represent an even wider array of cultural inf luences, from Mordant Spire elves to Tian traders to travelers from other planes. As a result, food, song, and clothing from nearly every corner of Golarion can be found here if the visitor knows where to look. It is said with some seriousness that it is impossible to look out of place in the streets of Absalom.
Absalom is comprised of several bustling districts, each with its unique character. The following represent some of the larger, more powerful neighborhoods of the city.
Most of Absalom’s temples are found in the Ascendant Court, the hub at the center of the city’s great thoroughfares. The Starstone itself rests in a massive cathedral perched atop a pillar of rock surrounded by a seemingly bottomless pit. Three bridges cross this expanse, one for each of the Ascendant’s faithful. A fourth bridge, corresponding to Aroden and maintained by his aging clergy, crumbled when an earthquake rocked the city a decade ago and has not been repaired. Although hundreds enter the massive structure every year, and only four are known to have ever won the ultimate prize of divinity, a few brave explorers have escaped the cathedral with their lives―and sometimes vast treasures. Their descriptions make it clear that within the rock and walls of the cathedral, magic doesn’t always work properly, extra-dimensional movement is impossible, and the Cathedral itself regularly changes its configuration, challenges, and guardians.
The promise of the Starstone attracts legions of would-be deities, zealous cultists, and desperate followers eager for something to believe in. Every day, pilgrims visit the great chasm at the center of the district. Some write their wishes and dreams onto pieces of paper they drop into the pit, hoping to send a message directly to the gods. Others hope to catch a vainglorious fool or righteous hero in an attempt to snatch divinity in the Test of the Starstone. Agents of Absalom’s thieves guilds prey upon the visitors by picking pockets, running cons, and demanding protection money from various “deities in training.”
Notable churches in the district include the Temple of the Shining Star, where clerics of Sarenrae honor the sun; the Seventh Church, site of one of Iomedae’s 11 miraculous Acts; and Cayden’s Hall, a grand tavern devoted to the Accidental God, where his faithful honor their master with upturned tankards and eager fists. Not far from the heart of the district lies the enormous Cathedral of Failure, where silent caretakers erect small shrines to unsuccessful seekers of divinity. The oftempty chambers of this dour edifice echo with the memories of conquered aspirations and forgotten dreams.
Azlanti Keep: A district all to itself, this massive stone fortress sits near the northern edge of Absalom to protect the city from invaders from the land. The keep houses the city watch and the First Guard, an elite group of warriors, wizards, and scouts whose sole purpose is to root out and eliminate threats to the city. The citadel’s architecture is among the oldest in Absalom and ref lects inf luences of the city’s Azlanti origins by way of Aroden. Wide balconies offer a commanding view of the city in all directions, and the immense f lat roof of the structure forms a useful battle platform in times of siege.
The Coins: Situated just north of the docks, this district hosts most of the foreign traders and seamen who come to the city. The transient nature of the Coins’ residents attracts illicit trade in the form of drugs, slaves, and contraband. The most respectable sections of the district are the Monger’s Mart and the Grand Bazaar, where the need for trade enforces some civility. Even so, disagreements often escalate into bloodied blades, and more murders take place in the Coins than in any other district save the treacherous Puddles.
Ivy District: Overlooking the harbor and the seedier sections of town from atop a short bluff, the verdant Ivy District is home to numerous theaters, bawdy houses, and galleries that attract some of Absalom’s most inf luential artists and craftsmen, as well as minor nobles, gifted actors, and popular bards. While certain “soft” crimes such as narcotics and prostitution thrive here, the residents of the district have little tolerance for hardened criminals or indigent street-dwellers. As members of different social classes can mingle here without arousing suspicion, the district is often used as a meeting place for crossclass intrigues.
The Petal District: Perched atop Aroden’s Hill with the whole city at its feet, the Petal District is home to the wealthiest merchants and most powerful nobles in the wealthiest and most powerful city in the world. Decadent palaces, elaborate gardens, and glittering promenades characterize the district, which gets its name from the well-tended rows of f lowers that run down the center of nearly every street. The overwhelming beauty forms a strange backdrop for the treacherous politics of Absalom’s ruthless upper class, which resorts to poison and murder as often as negotiation and armistice.
Precipice Quarter: This was once Beldrin’s Bluff, a quiet and well-tended section of town filled with tea shops, pleasure houses, and a few of the city’s government buildings. When an earthquake hit 10 years ago, however, much of the area fell into the sea, and the rest sits along a slice of cliffside that seems dangerously close to collapsing again. Now law-abiding citizens avoid the Precipice District and rumors whisper at strange hauntings in the abandoned ruins.
The Puddles: The same terrible earthquake sank the Puddles just below sea level at high tide, resulting in persistent minor f looding and erosion of building foundations and society. Most honest citizens f led the district years ago, ceding it to addicts, criminals, and those too poor to have any other choice. Thieves and cutthroats abound here in great numbers, and more than one guild of dubious character operates from the slouching, unsteady buildings of the Puddles.
Wise Quarter: Within the city itself, the Wise Quarter stands just north of the Ivy District, separating the aff luence of that neighborhood from the immense Azlanti Keep. Absalom’s public government buildings stand in Wise Quarter, including the Grand Council’s hall and the residence of the Primarch. In addition, the Wise Quarter houses the Arcanamirium, one of Golarion’s most adept institutions of magic (founded by the Arclords of Nex). Numerous independent sages, scholars, and scribes also work within the Wise Quarter, blending their philosophies and skills brought from a dozen home countries. Anything known to mortal minds is taught, considered, and debated within the Wise Quarter.
Government: Absalom is ruled by a Grand Council, which is chaired by Lord Gyr of House Gixx, who enjoys the titles of Primarch and Defender of Kortos. The Council has 12 high seats (including the Primarch’s) and a varying number of low seats. A high seat is kept as long as the holder can produce the seal of office once a year (see Cornucopias, below), while low seats are voted on by the High Council once a year. Inf luential religious figures, heads of major households, and powerful merchants fill the high seats. Anyone able to get elected can claim a low seat, although keeping it often involves undertaking arduous administrative tasks, such as the sanitation commission, office of prisons, and the rat-takers. The most powerful, profitable and respectable positions, including the Exchequer of Taxation, Trade Minister, Sea Lord, and the Justice of the Courts, fall to the high seats.
All matters of state are settled by a vote of the Grand Council. The entire council votes on common matters (such as when to hold festivals and what to do about a poor fishing season), while Matters of Note are voted on solely by the high seats. Whether a given issue is a Matter of Note is, itself, a Matter of Note, allowing the high seats to take control of any issue a majority of them wish to rule on.
Additionally, the Primarch has a number of unique privileges that give him considerable additional power. He can veto any political appointment, be it a high seat being given control of the harbormasters, or the creation of a new low seat. He also has the sole power to call a Grand Council meeting, allowing him to hold the council hostage by refusing to allow them to meet unless they agree to settle issues to his satisfaction. Since the Primarch holds his position for life (but cannot name a successor―his replacement is voted on as a Matter of Note), most Primarchs simply try to ensure they don’t become such tyrants that someone decides to end their reign at the point of a sword. The Primarch is also traditionally the Sea Lord of Absalom’s navy, giving him considerable military might, but Lord Gyr has instead named himself First Spell Lord, giving himself authority over the magical institutions of Absalom. Cairnlands: The vast plain of broken weapons, stone barrows, and shallow graves surrounding Absalom is known as the Cairnlands. It is here that the thousands of soldiers who come to invade Absalom are laid to rest, often without the proper religious rituals to keep their spirits quiet. Also found here are numerous siege castles―huge fortresses used in the many wars of conquest that have failed to take the great city. Notable siege castles include the treacherous El Raja Key and the Red Redoubt of Karamoss. The immense and weirdly beautiful Spire of Nex is located 10 miles north of Absalom, and remains a popular adventuring spot thousands of years after it was abandoned.
Diobel: Although most people think of Absalom as an independent city, it is in fact the capital of a nation (also named Absalom) that controls the entire Isle of Kortos (much of which is still wilds), as well as the settlements of Diobel and Escadar. Diobel is the smaller of these two settlements, and found on the western shores of Kortos. It is a bustling port town doing business mostly with fishermen (the shallows around Diobel allow for excellent fishing), traders exporting furs and lumber off Kortos, and smugglers looking to bring illicit goods in and out of Absalom itself overland, thus avoiding the watchful gaze of the larger port’s harbormasters. While people in Absalom tend to think of Diobel as their poorer cousin, much of the food and common goods brought into Absalom actually arrive first in Diobel, as the lack of port fees often make it cheaper to land a ship in Diobel and take a caravan by land into Absalom, rather than land goods in the City at the Center of the World directly. Control of Diobel can give political forces increased inf luence in Absalom, making it a common first target for a growing faction. Currently, Diobel is ruled by Lord Avid of House Arnsen, a bitter rival (and old childhood friend) of Lord Gyr.
Escadar: Larger than Diobel―but still tiny compared to Absalom proper―the city of Escadar sits on the Isle of Erran, north of Kortos. Escadar is a military town, designed to support and maintain the naval might of Absalom. While the city of Absalom itself has never fallen to invaders, the port has been blockaded more than once, often leading to conditions of near starvation within the city. After such a siege a few centuries ago, the Grand Council voted to establish a shipyard and warehouse on Erran, to serve as a base for running through any future blockades. The town of Escadar has since grown into a fairsized military base, with regular operations taken against pirates throughout the Inner Sea and as far south as the Obari Ocean. Escadar is ruled by a Lesser Council, comprised mostly of retired ship’s captains and younger relatives of members of the Absalom Grand Council. In addition to maintaining ships of its own, the Lesser Council offers letters of marque to ships willing to fight pirates, giving independent ships some legal authority in the seas around Kortos.
Kortos Mounts: The Kortos Mounts dominate the center of the Isle of Kortos. Still wild despite their proximity to Absalom, these mountains are home to several tribes of minotaurs, centaurs, and harpies that engage in constant warfare among each other and against those who dare enter their lands. Many of these tribes also worship demons, and some throw sacrifices into vast crevices in the mountains.
Sea Hulk: Not far off the southern coast of Kortos, midway between Absalom and Diobel, is the Sea Hulk. This mass of wreckage is formed from an ever-shifting collection of krakenweed, crystal coral, and the remains of hundreds of sailing ships. These lost ships range from warships leftover from one of the failed ancient invasions to merchant vessels caught in unfortunate storms to pirates who used the area to hide from patrol ships. Sharks and sand demons stalk the Sea Hulk for victims, and treasure hunters dare its uneven decks and tangles of netting to seek valuables left in the churning mass. And, of course, occasionally a rescue effort must be made when the ship of someone important fails to avoid this navigational hazard.
As its walls are high and strong, and its populations large enough to fight off any assault that could reasonably be brought to the island by ship, most invading armies expect to take Absalom by siege―specifically by cutting off any supplies going to the city by land, sea, or air. Given the massive size of Absalom, many military generals thought they could starve the local population into submission. Such efforts all failed, officially, because of the high number of clerics within the city, who magically summoned food, water, or transportation that bypassed such blockades.
While the clerics’ efforts were always a help for the people of Absalom, they are not the whole reason the city has never fallen to famine. At Absalom’s founding, 12 great horns were created, one for each High Seat on the Grand council. These horns, known as cornucopias, are capable of creating food for thousands of people every day when the posts and roads into Absalom are closed (although the items do nothing when trade f lows freely). Each is carved from a single great piece of stone, and many believe they were shaped from the Starstone by Aroden himself.
The horns are closely guarded, as possessing one is the only absolute requirement for membership on the Grand Council. Should a cornucopia change hands, the council seat changes with it, even if the horn is taken through trickery, deceit, or force.