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The Heart of the World Part One - An Overview of the City of Skara Brae

J Harper

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I've decided that the purpose of this blog will be to provide tools, settings and (hopefully) inspiration for people's games.

As of right now, I'm running a 5E game every Sunday night at Battleground in Norton, MA. Here's the first section of a revised write-up of the setting I've created for my players. While I'm using Dungeons and Dragons, I hope that the information relayed here is general enough for use or inspiration for any sort of fantasy game. This is a general and brief overview of the city of Skara Brae, with a listing of the largest enclaves of non-humans living with its precincts. The next couple of blog post will sketch the various wards and neighborhoods of the city.

The City of Skara Brae

General Overview

Skara Brae – 'The City That Is the Heart of the World' – is the largest city of the eastern coast of the Thurian continent. It rules over a large range of territory and its mercantile ships ply oceans all over the known earth. Skara Brae's major civilized rivals include the city of Godforge – a dwarven theocracy that heads the Vastan League – and the human-ruled Shattered Coast port city of Sardonyx. Both of these city-states lie south of Skara Brae - Godforge some one-hundred and twenty miles, Sardonyx one-hundred and seventy.


Skara Brae is ruled by a hereditary autocrat called the Veiled Sovereign, so-called due to always being seen in public veiled and cowled. In addition to being the secular ruler, the Sovereign is also the head priest of the City Bones, the collective term for the small pantheon consisting of the ancestral founders of Skara Brae and their tutelary deities. While the cult is small, it is politically important because of its worship by the city's political elite. The Veiled Sovereign publicly presides over five major religious celebrations and a number of irregularly held holidays. The Veiled Sovereign also holds an open court once very tenday, where any citizen can petition for the Sovereign's attention, though in truth only those with money or influence usually receive it.

The Veiled Sovereign is advised and aided by the Circle of Twelve, a council of oligarchs elected from the thirty-eight recognized Founding Families (Note – this name is something of a misnomer: an ample minority of these families were elevated to Founding status by the Sovereign in the years after Skara Brae's incorporation, while many families that aided in the initial building of the city have either gone extinct or departed for other lands, voluntarily or otherwise). Council members bear the title of Founderheir, and are elected for ten year terms, but since they serve at the Sovereign's pleasure they can be dismissed by the Sovereign at any time.

The Skara Brae's army and navy serve the Veiled Sovereign directly, answering only to her. In addition, the city's secret service, the Mournful Seekers, and to a lesser extent the Veiled Vigilants (the criminal investigative branch of the Skara Brae City Guard) keep watch for threats both foreign and domestic.

The current Veiled Sovereign is her Subtle Imperiousness Juliannella Corentes. Twenty-eight years old, she has held the title for just over five years. She rules with a light hand, content so far to allow the Circle to set political policy. This has given the impression that Sovereign Juliannella is weak, though the truth of the matter has yet been tested.

Racial Factions of Skara Brae

Humans form the vast majority of Skara Brae's citizens, but due to the metropolis's size any 'civilized' race (those listed in the Player's Handbook) call Skara Brae home. A few of these races are numerous enough to have some modicum of political and/or economic power.

Halflings: The lands north of the city serve as the home of several large halfling communities which make their living as farmers and plantation owners. The farmlands to the south and the estates to the east of the city (along the Vrai Way) are mostly human dominated, but some halfling landholders live there, along with a larger number of laborers and artisans. Halflings are much sought after as stewards, managers and servants by prosperous human landlords and merchants.

Dwarves: Some eighty years ago Skara Brae struck a contract with the Wroughtsteel dwarf clan of Godforge to serve as the army's blacksmiths and armorers. In the years since the city has attracted a number of independent dwarven craftsfolk, both from Godforge and from independent holds in eastern Thuria and the Shattered Coast. The dwarves tend to make their home in the ward of Sword's Sheath.

Kenku: A race of odd birdfolk resembling wingless, humanoid ravens and crows, the kenku originally hailed from western Thuria, from the region known as the Sunset Kingdoms by the natives of the east. The kenku claim that they were once the bound servants of a yokai race (a category of beings similar to the fey) called the tengu. In the past few centuries the kenku escaped from their masters and the following diaspora scattered them all across Thuria. However, their freedom came at a price – the great daitengu lords cursed their rebellious slaves, saying that while they may now be free, their children will never know the joys of flight until the day comes when they willingly return to bondage. Thus the descendants of the first free kenku have been born without wings ever since.

A large number of kenku have settled in Skara Brae, living in the slums of Rookway (formerly Saernway), near the Skaran Road Gate. Most make their living as cheap laborers or criminals, but some achieve a less hardscrabble way of life by becoming decent, if uninspired and mediocre, craftsmen.

Tabaxi: The tabaxi are not native to Thuria. Instead they hail from the continent of Nyambi, east of the great Stormwrack Ocean. The tabaxi first arrived on Thuria a couple of centuries ago, either serving as sailors on Skara Braeian or Emerald Coast merchant ships or as independent sea-going traders themselves. A sizable population of the catfolk have settled in the port city of Skara Vrai, while some have set up livings in Skara Brae itself, mostly in Tallowhind, the mercantile ward by the Vrai Way Gate. Most Tabaxi make their living as sailors, merchants, scholars and guards for hire.

Nyambians: The Nyambians are the human natives of Nyambi. Where eastern Thurians are white-skinned, ranging from pale to deeply tanned, Nyambians are black-skinned, their complexions ranging from a deep warm brown to an almost ebony. Their hair color ranges from black to brown, and is usually wiry or crinkly in texture. Their eyes also range from brown to black, and occasionally a very striking gold.

Most Nyambians living in Skara Brae hail from the Emerald Coast, a heavily jungled region home to a number of kingdoms of varying sophistication. A few are Illyasanni mercenaries from the central grasslands of Nyambi. Many Nyambian sailors and merchants have made their home in Skara Brae and Skara Vrai over the past few centuries. Some brought their families with them, but others have intermarried with the native Thurian population.
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