The Tyranny of Dragons: Dawn of Heroes
Anyone who goes to Luskan should know about its ruling Ships and the Arcane Brotherhood. The Ships of Luskan have been described as bands of pirates, but that characterization misses how deeply ingrained the Ships are to the society of Luskan and the mentality of its citizens. Attack a Ship member and you might incur not just the wrath of the Ship, but of much of the city as well. As for the Arcane Brotherhood, one member of it may or may not come to another’s aid, but know that each of these egotistical mages is eager to prove his or her magical prowess, and none can afford to show weakness before the folk of Luskan.
Luskan, the City of Sails, spans the icy River Mirar, which tumbles from the Spine of the World, races past Mirabar, and then plunges toward the sea. The swift river has cut deep here, and Luskan rests atop two escarpments on either side, with sheer, forty-foot bluffs of gray stone rising above the water. Around the city’s perimeter, thick stone walls with squat towers provide defense. The southern gate, called the Twin Teeth, boasts the most impressive towers, standing twice as tall as the city walls, and bedecked with crenellations and arrow slits enough for numerous defenders, in a show of strength toward the southern approach.
Within the city walls and on the nearby waters, Luskan is ruled by its Ships and their five High Captains:
• First High Captain Beniago Kurth
• Second High Captain Barri Baram
• Third High Captain Dagmaer Suljack
• Fourth High Captain Throa Taerl
• Fifth High Captain Hartouchen Rethnor
The five High Captains take the names of their Ships when they ascend to leadership. The captains are the highest authorities in Luskan; they and the members of their Ships conduct themselves as a sort of nobility, albeit one that isn’t hereditary.
Despite the name, each Ship is not a single vessel, but an organization of stalwarts owing allegiance to one another and to their captain, whom they elect for life. To be a member of a Ship is a select privilege, one that only one in ten of Luskan’s residents can claim.
The five Ships of Luskan are more than gangs of pirates. They are fellowships of people who live, train, work, make love, and go to war with each other. To join one is a mark of honor and continues a grand tradition that Luskar associate with democracy, self-determination, and individuality.
Each Ship has its own symbol and colors. Members of a Ship often wear their colors, decorate their round shields with the symbol and colors, and tattoo themselves with the symbol. Like their Northlander relations, Luskar Ship members regularly tattoo their faces, but instead of representing their island, the tattoos are either personal marks or tattoos of their allegiance to their Ship.
Membership in a Ship is voluntary, but once under- taken it is until death. To join a Ship, a Luskar must be of fighting age (fourteen or so, for humans), and possess at least one sword or axe, one spear, and three of the sturdy, bossed shields the Northlanders prefer. Each Ship accepts new candidates from time to time to fill vacancies caused by death, but as a rule, the Ships don’t expand their ranks by taking on a large number of new members at one time.
Each Ship has some number of sailing vessels, the size, crew, and type of which help to determine the influence of the Ship’s High Captain and its rank within the city. The current First Ship, Kurth, has so many vessels that it nearly outnumbers the next two Ships combined, and its membership is so numerous that Ships Suljack, Taerl, and Rethnor could merge and still not equal it.
The laws of the city govern the behavior of the Ships and their captains, decreeing the Ships responsible for the city’s defense, its administration, and the management of its resources. Beyond these universal tasks, each captain takes on other duties as desired in order of that Ship’s standing in the hierarchy, leaving less glamorous and less lucrative tasks to the captains and Ships of lower rank.
Since each of the Ships has the ability to take what it likes and leave what it doesn’t want to the lesser Ships, a strict division of duties has arisen among them.
Ship Kurth controls the city’s docks and activity occurring thereupon. Among the most profitable of the merchandise that passes through the port are weapons and tools from Ironmaster, and ambergris for the perfume trade.
Ship Baram operates Luskan’s fishing industry. The food it provides is so vital to the city's welfare nowadays that Baram has risen to Second Ship on the strength of its successful forays out to sea.
Ship Suljack holds sway over, and conducts most of, the piracy and raiding that originates out of Luskan. It occasionally passes the more meager opportunities down to Taerl.
Ship Taerl, recently elevated from Fifth Ship, had been accustomed to taking the hindmost. Now its workers and sailors happily accept chances for profit handed down from above, and just as happily delegate the most menial and undesirable chores to Rethnor.
Ship Rethnor engages in few worthwhile activities aside from guard duty, which is a poor source of income. Rethnor toughs sometimes roam the streets of Luskan, looking for a quick and perhaps violent way to grab some coin.
People and Laws
Without question, the people of Luskan show their Northlander heritage. They raid ships and coastal settlements, engage in interdiction and piracy, and value strength of arms above most other qualities. During Luskan’s long history on the Sword Coast, however, the city has adopted many of the attitudes of mainland folk. Luskar don’t kidnap people from other settlements or tribes, and they hold that women have social standing equal to men (two of the High Captains, Suljack and Taerl, are women). They don’t distrust magic, as their island brethren do. Slavery is, at least nominally, illegal in Luskan, though a slave taken and sold at sea is usually overlooked by authorities.
The law in Luskan is supposed to be upheld by soldiers of the Ships, who are empowered to arrest criminals and bring them before the Magistrates of the city. In practice, arrests are as often made by mobs, but the result is the same: an appearance before the Magistrates. Each of the five Magistrates is chosen by a High Captain, but need not be a member of that captain’s Ship. The Magistrates are, at least officially, neutral. Most citizens have their cases decided by a single one of these judges, but a dispute involving a Ship member is heard by all five.
Trade and Commerce
Luskan doesn’t officially tax its citizens; the city makes its money through trade, fishing, piracy, and raiding.
The defense of the city comes at the expense of the Ships, paid for by the profits of those activities as well as the protection money the Ships extort from businesses and homes to keep the thieves and gangs at bay. Bribery is a common practice, a seemingly accepted means of gaining the favor of one of the High Captains to obtain fishing rights, earning an advantageous decision from the Magistrates, or having a business rival or undesired suitor arrested, accosted, or roughed up.
Given its status as the harbor that feeds the goods of Mirabar to the Sword Coast, bridging the coast with the utter north, and offers the only convenient crossing of the River Mirar for many miles, Luskan makes considerable coin as a crossroads. Merchants wishing to avoid Luskan can choose to use the Blackford Crossing, some thirty miles upstream, eventually connecting with the Blackford Road on the northern bank, but the savvy know that Luskan’s Ships control the cable-guided ferries at the crossing, and demand tolls based on the size and contents of the goods being ferried across.
The Blackford Road still bears the ancient marks of the dwarven realm of Gharraghaur, reminding travelers of whose wealth sustains the region.
North of the city, the Northern Means heads up toward Icewind Dale. Not many take this route without purpose, but scrimshaw from the dale finds its way into Luskan, where those who would purchase it can do so without going any farther into the frozen terrain.
The north side of the city, known as North Bank, is devoted almost entirely to warehouses, caravan yards, and workspace. It includes the Mirabar Shield, the fortified compound that represents Mirabar’s trading interest in Luskan. Mirabar uses it as a base to trade with the Sword Coast and the islands of the Trackless Sea.
The main city stands on the southern side of the River Mirar. North of Reaver’s Run is the Reach, where most of the homes and smaller businesses are located. South of the Run are the slums, the “bad” area of town. Near the slums is the Captain’s Close, where the residences of High Captains Taerl and Suljack stand, but the area is otherwise quite poor.
Five islands stand in the bay formed by the River Mirar and are claimed by Luskan:
• Blood Island is filled with Ships’ soldiers tasked with guarding the city; it holds a guard tower, barracks, an armory, and little else of interest.
• Closeguard Island is the home of High Captain Kurth.
• Cutlass Island has two rocky heights split by a pebble-strewn beach. The southern peak is surmounted by the Sea Tower, where Luskan’s first pirates built their stronghold, while the northern one is home to the Hosttower of the Arcane and the stables it shares with Ship Kurth.
• Fang Island has no inhabitants, and is named for its propensity for destroying vessels swept down the River Mirar.
• Harbor Arm Island is a tall spire sheltering Whitesails Harbor from the worst of the storms and waves that wash in from the south.
The North and South Banks are spanned by three bridges: the Upstream Span, from the South Bank straight to the North Gate; Dalath’s Span, the middle bridge with a name none can place in legend, and Harbor Cross, split between the Short Span that runs from the South Bank to Blood Island, and the Long Span that continues on to North Bank. Only Ship members and those authorized by a High Captain may traverse Harbor Cross.
Dark Arch connects South Bank with Closeguard Island, and only members of Ship Kurth and the Arcane Brotherhood may cross that span unchallenged. The same is true of Sword Bridge, which crosses from Closeguard Island to Cutlass Island. Although Closeguard Island is officially unguarded, it’s still true that only members of the Arcane Brotherhood or Ship Kurth are expected to be there, so anyone out of place is aggressively questioned about their presence.
The Arcane Brotherhood
In the last decade or so, two great changes have come over Luskan. The first was the plague that crippled the gangs that had controlled the city, allowing the High Captains to reclaim the power they had long held in Luskan. The other, far more sudden, was the return of the Arcane Brotherhood and its five-spired tower. A few years ago, the ruined Hosttower of the Arcane began regenerating its damaged stone, climbing into the sky once more. Shortly thereafter, mages of the Arcane Brotherhood emerged, almost immediately began cleansing the Luskar ruins of undead, and fought off a dragon menacing the city. Cheered by the citizens, they swore to keep themselves out of the politics of the High Captains and the city at large, but the notion that powerful wizards closely aligned with one another can truly remain neutral is laughable to anyone familiar with such things.
Now, the Arcane Brotherhood again walks the streets of Luskan, marked by the distinctive colors and patterns of their cloaks. From a distance, these cloaks all bear the same cut and silhouette, but each wizard of the Hosttower chooses a color or a design, and a moniker to match it. The leadership of the Arcane Brotherhood is the archmage and the four overwizards of the other spires of the Hosttower:
• Cashaan the Red, Archmage Arcane
• Zelenn the White, Overwizard of the West
• Jendrick the Blue, Overwizard of the South
• Teyva the Gray, Overwizard of the East
• Druette the Raven, Overwizard of the North
Other notable members of the Brotherhood include Vaelish the Brown and Maccath the Crimson.