Campaign of the Month: August 2021
City of Splendors. Dungeon of Madness.
Also known as the Port of Shadows, this wretched hive of scum and villainy lies deep beneath Waterdeep in Undermountain. The town stands on the location of the ancient ruined Sargauth Enclave of the Netheril Empire, and remnants of the powerful magic of the Netherese Arcanists still persists.
Skullport is perhaps the worst kept secret in all the Sword Coast. Many have heard of this hidden cove, but few are willing to venture into it without good reason.
It is a lawless city of thieves, pirates, slavers, and sellswords aplenty where gold makes the rules and anything is for sale at the right price. Adventurers who have been to the city say it can be found on the Sargauth Level, the third level of Undermountain.
Built within an immense cavern, the port is a dense and erratic array of reclaimed materials constructed in layers to fill the cave’s limited space. Narrow walkways and gangplanks thread through the chaos, creating makeshift streets between the creaking stilt-houses and ruins of the city, intermittently lit by thrashing lantern-eels held in suspended globes of Sargauth water. Overhead, a thick layer of dripping mold covers the ceiling, glowing sickly when stirred by the currents of air in the cavern. This wan green light, known as the Gloam, is Skullport’s poor imitation of the night sky.
To protect against the brackish water that constantly drips from overhead, longtime inhabitants of the port—colloquially called “Skulkers”—wear thick mantles of oiled canvas and broad-brimmed hats that cast their faces into shadow.
Things in the Port of Shadow have a way of aging before their time, and the people are no exception. Most Skulkers exude the hunched bitterness of a long and unfair life, medicating their woes with the strongest drinks that they can buy or steal. Some say the cold and damp causes this, but the superstitious blame the city, saying that somehow it feeds on its small population like a leech.
Lacking anything that could be called a day, the people of Skullport measure time like a ship’s crew: in “bells” of roughly four hours each. The hollow peals of bells drift across the city, marking the passage of time.
Deep currents of rivalry run through the city. Long-time Skulkers resent the city’s recent newcomers; the poor resent those who have coin for taking what little the infrequently visiting pirates have to offer; and pirates resent the wretches who have long lurked in the shadows of the port, preventing them from taking it over. All of Skullport would have dissolved under the conflict of its inhabitants were it not for the mysterious sentinels who keep watch over it—the grisly disembodied Skulls from which the city gets its name.
The thirteen mysterious floating skulls known as the Skulls once controlled the city, but have been lost to madness and dementia. These entities, which have defended the town since its founding, are all that remain of the Sargauth Enclave, a settlement of Netherese wizards. The flameskulls consider themselves the true rulers of Skullport, but they have lost touch with reality, their minds drifting in and out of the present and the past. They rarely communicate, and when they do it is often in a dead language.
Ostensibly the city is ruled by the merchant council known as the Reforged Ring, but in reality the crime lord known as the Xanathar holds the port in his iron fist. The Xanathar Thieves Guild rules from the fortress on Skull Island, and the gang runs the town.
Skull Island. The Island sits in the middle of a pool of briny salt water. Atop the island is a stone fortress, its 20-foot-high outer walls interrupted at irregular intervals by 30-foot-high towers topped with battlements, ballistae, and flame cannons. A natural column of rock rises from the heart of the fortress and merges with the cavern ceiling. This is the headquarters of the Xanathar Guild, and the center of the slaving business in Skullport.