Absalom – City at the Center of the World
Absolom at a glance:
- Alignment: N
- Capital: Absalom (303,900)
- Notable Settlements: Diobel (4,850), Escadar (11,700)
- Ruler: Lord Gyr of House Gixx, Primarch of Absalom, Protector of Kortos
- Government: Grand Council composed of representatives from several major noble houses and religious groups. The greatest of this council, called the Primarch, enjoys a wide range of powers.
- Languages: Common, Osiriani, Kelish
- Religion: Abadar, Iomedae, Aroden, Norgorber, Cayden Cailean, Nethys, Sarenrae, Calistria, Shelyn, Irori
Absolom is the most famous of all cities, and takes pride in being one of the larges and wealthiest cities in the world. According to myth, Absalom was founded by Aroden himself when the Last of the First Humans raised the Starstone from the depths of the oceans 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 confluence of mercantile, strategic, and religious influence 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 influences, 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.
The political maneuvers of Absalom are far-reaching and complex, often drawing in elements of foreign powers; pacts with extra-planar entities; and promises of marriage, servitude, torture, and base pleasures. This complex dance of bargains, obligations, and vendettas is seen by many of the inhabitants of Absalom as being a vast game of cards, played with the ultimate Harrow deck – reality. As a result, a great deal of card-playing terminology, and some divination terms, have become common when discussing the politics of the city. Plots may be referred to as “hands,” individual conspirators named after specific Harrow cards, desired outcomes referred as “prophecies,” and messages or trigger signals as “omens.”
This also makes Harrow decks and readings very common among the upper class. Actually dealing a round of cards can be used as a cover for discussing the details of a political plot, and messages can be passed with fake Harrow readings. Anyone familiar with this system of codes can gain powerful insights and convey powerful messages to others when using a Harrow deck.
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 through they could starve the local population in 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 (see below). These horns, known as the cornucopias, are able of creating food for thousands of people every day when the posts and roads into Absalom are closed. 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.
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, while low seats are voted on by the High Council once a year. Influential 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, of 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, be it a high seat being given control of the harbormaster, or the creation of a new low seat. He also has the 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, most Primarchs simply try tho ensure they don’t become such tyrants that someone decides to end their reign at the end 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.
Most of Absalom’s temples are found in the Ascendant court, the hub oat 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 Ascendants faithful. A fourth bridge, corresponding to Aroden and maintained by his aging clergy, crumbed 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 have known to ever win the ultimate prize of divinity, a few brave explorers 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 Cayden Cailean, 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 oft-empty chambers of this dour edifice echo with the memories of conquered aspirations and forgotten dreams.
A district all to itself, Azlanti Keep is a massive stone fortress that 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 reflects influences of the city’s Azlanti origins by way of Aroden. While balconies offer a commanding view of the city in all directions, and the immense flat roof of the structure forms a useful battle platform in times of siege.
Situated just north of the docks, the Coins 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.
The Ivy District overlooks the harbor and seedier sections of town from atop a short bluff, and is home to numerous theaters, bawdy houses, and galleries that attract some of Absalom’s most influential 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 this 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 cross-class intrigues.
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 flowers 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.
Once Beldrin’s Bluff, the Precipice Quarter changed from a quiet and well-tended section of town filled with tea shops, pleasure houses, and a few government buildings to a slice of cliffside that seems dangerously close to collapsing again. This change happened ten years ago during the earthquake that hit the island of Kortos. Now, citizens avoid the district and rumors whisper of strange hauntings in the abandoned ruins.
The same terrible earthquake sank the Puddles just below sea level at high tide, resulting in persistent minor flooding and erosion of building foundations and society alike. Most honest citizens fled 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.
Within the city itself, the Wise Quarter stands just north of the Ivy District, separating the affluence of that neighborhood from the immense Azlanti Keep; Absalom’s public government buildings stand here, 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 this district, blending their philosophies and skills brought from a dozen home counties. Anything known to mortal minds is taught, considered, and debated within the Wise Quarter.
Not a true district of itself, the Cairnlands are a part of the city none the less. This vast plain of broken weapons, stone barrows, and shallow graves surrounds Absalom and is the last resting place of many of the soldiers who came to invade Absalom. Also found here are numerous siege castles – huge fortresses used to 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 the city proper, and remains a popular adventuring spot thousands of years after it was abandoned.
Sources: Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting