(NOTE FOR DMs: This entry contains two races specific to my own campaign, halfgnomes and Arxalintar. The later are a race that arose out of a mating of blue dragons and humans. They have LA +1, Str +2, Int +2 Cha +2, some other abilities, and are generally evil. You may, however, easily adapt this city to your campaign by replacing halfgnomes with gnomes and Arxalintar with Yuan-Ti, although you should then reduce the numbers given below, because Yuan-Ti are far more powerful than an average Arxalintar)
Introduction: For travelers coming from the eastern direction, the mainland, there are two different modes of travel: on a river-boat floating swiftly along with the current, or along the dusty yet smooth road that follows the bends of the river on the southern bank, shaded by countless evergreen trees. With the pleasant climate, both ways are equally pleasant most of the year, the former being easier yet also a bit boring. During the summer months, however, the travel becomes strenuous, as neither the shadows of the trees nor the cool water of the river are really able to balance out the intense heat. Naturally, during the weeks immediately before and after the summer time, the roads are packed and the boats booked up with travelers who want to spend the hot time at the coast.
Travelers from the northern or southern coastal regions or from across the western sea will arrive in Nocera Hatra by ship. The coastal region has some rough waters from time to time and place to place, but nearly all seafaring people whose ships anchor in Nocera Hatras harbour employ experienced captains and able crews, so tragedies at sea are rare.
As you finally come within eyesight of Nocera Hatra, you are more than relieved. Your journey has been delightful &#8211; during large parts at least &#8211; and also quite educational, but now all you desire is a good inn with an even better wine cellar. And who could forget about the praise that the fine wines of the noceran region receive from all connoisseurs near and far?
The white brick walls of Nocera Hatra seem to glow from within, as the burning sunlight reflects from them. For a moment, you have to avert your eyes, until they adjust to the brightness. You see the many small boats that dart around on the river, which broadens considerably before it flows into the sea, providing Nocera Hatra with an excellent if simple natural harbour. Some masts of large, oceangoing vessels tower even about the citywalls.
South of the city, soft hills cover the land, doted with small villages between groves of olive trees and vineyards. At the northern bank of the river, mostly hidden by the city, the flat land stretches as far as you can see, bordered in the east by the looming Coldwater Mountains. Fields of wheat and other agricultural crops give the landscape the look of an overdimensional chessboard.
While you take it all in, enjoying the bright colours of white, blue and green, smelling the sea and the herbs and plants of the land, listening to the cries of the seagulls and the bustling of the citizens, you finally enter the city itself. While the northwestern portion of the city is as white as the city walls, the larger part, especially the hilly southeastern region, is truly marvellous in its colourful diversity: Every house is painted in a different colour, and each sparkling in the sun, making every rainbow seem dull in comparison.
A gnom with a well-trimmed beard, clad in a simple white tunic, appears out of the crowds around you and bows deep to the ground. &#8220;It seems like you are strangers to our beautiful city. Are you interested in a guide to show you the best places? I know all the theatres, bathing houses, taverns &#8211; and the brothels, of course&#8221;, he adds with a wink.
Stats: Conventional; AL NG; 40,000 gp limit; Assets 30,000,000 gp; Population 14,238; Mixed (gnomes 68%, *humans 20%, hobgoblins 6%, halfgnomes 3%, Lizardfolk 2%, Draconians 1%, halflings 0,5%, others 0,5%)
History: Like all gnomish cities at the coast, Nocera Hatra was founded as a colonie by one of the inland cities of the gnomish &#8220;Federation of the Free Places&#8221; (Acceran Ilara Usan-liv), an alliance of twelve cities. This colonisation solved the overpopulation problem of the Federation. The gnomes prospered, reaching unparalleled heights of culture and living standard. The only fields in which they showed lack of superiority were political unity and military strength. Sadly, at least military strength was something their human neighbours excelled in, and when they were united under one crown by Dulanin the Conquerer, the end of the Federation was at hand.
When the cities of the Federation were sacked and later conquered by the human mountain tribes, the coastal cities founded an Federation of their own, as a preemptive move against the growing threat in the east and also as an sign of independence from their mother cities. The still expanding trade along the coast and the many fugitives from the east lead to a prosperity that might have even surpassed that of the old Federation.
However, this golden age was shortlived. Dulanins heirs, after consolidating their power, lusted for new conquests. Darmakir the Rash, the fifth king of the new realm, finally lead his army against Nocera Hatra, shortly after his capture of the twin city of Veit-Halgar further up the river. He layed siege to Nocera Hatra, and finally took it by storm, attacking from the land and from the river at once. The last stand of the gnomish defenders was valiant, but they were outnumbered and not used to wielding shield and sword, having more experience with lute and harp. The sounds of the sad yet defiant battle-songs of the last gnomish soldiers as they were encircled in the market square must have been so impressive that even the chronicler of king Darmakir mentioned it in his work as an outstanding and touching experience.
After the massacre, the city was sacked. Many of its inhabitants died in these terrible days. The survivors became subjects of the human realm of Dulana.
Following the conquest of Nocera Hatra, the other gnomish cities of the coastal federation acknowledged the supremacy of Dulana. There were some more sieges and battles in the next decades, but none as bloody or decisive as the fall of Nocera Hatra.
While the demanded tributes were high, the gnomes of the coast lived their live mostly as they had always done. Only Nocera Hatra was directly and sternly ruled by a human governor. It was also the only city with a significant human population, as many old soldiers and bold merchants moved into the abandoned quarters of the city, rebuilding the burned down houses.
Soon, a new plague hit the poor gnomes: pirates! Hobgoblins sailed on fast ship across the western sea and plundered and pillaged the coast in countless raids. The gnomes turned to their human overlords for protection, but Dulana had always been an landbound power and was unable to put an end to the pirate incursions. Finally, the problem solved itself when a civil war in the land of the hobgoblins had the Shikasta-Clan fleeing, taking most of the hobgoblin fleet and its best crews with them.
Still, the gnomes were embittered. Why had they given up their freedom and paid high taxes when their ruler was not able or willing to protect them? Time was ripe for an rebellion.
But how should it be accomplished? The human armies had softened over time, having no real enemies to fight, but they were still vastly superior to anything the gnomes could muster. They might overwhelm the small garisions in some of their cities, but Dulanas revenge would be swift and deadly.
It was a young gnomish merchant who finally found the solution. The gnomes had paid the humans to protect them, and they had proved unable to do so. Maybe it was time to hire someone who could fulfill the promises he made. And so, the new warlord of the hobgoblin clans was surprised by a gnomish delegation that proposed to hire as many warriors as the hobgoblins could spare as mercenaries.
It was a desperate move, but unknown to the gnomes, the hobgoblins had already begun to serve as mercenaries on the other side of the great sea, and therefore the gnomish proposal was not meet with laughter but with haggling&#8230;
Soon enough, a large gnomish fleet sailed west and returned with thousands of hobgoblin warriors. The human garisons along the coast were surprised and slaughtered, and in all the gnomish lands, bards raised their voices in songs of freedom and defiance.
The first real battle was the Second Siege of Nocera Hatra. This time, the humans were the defenders. They had the majority of the inhabitants behind them, but the sympathy of the gnomish minority was clearly with the attackers. The heavily armed yet lightfooted hobgoblins climbed the walls of the city while the gnomish fleet forced it way up the river. Soon, Nocera Hatra was conquered a second time. But even though the bloodthirsty hobgoblins demanded a bloody sacking, they were stopped by their gnomish employers. &#8220;We are all that the humans are not, and we won´t change.&#8221;, explained a gnomish leader stoically.
Realising that their freedom was still endangered, the gnomes decided to take the initiative and attack the enemy while he still gathered his forces. While their fleet could not get past the city Veit-Halgar, the hobgoblins had experience in forced marches. They hastened toward the capital of Dulana, which lay further up the river. Surprising the human main host assembled before the city, the hobgoblins annihilated the army of Dulana in mere hours. Then they stormed the capital, this time unbridled. When the next evening came, every house was burned and every inhabitant had died or fled. The hobgoblin host returned with the heads of Durmir Lastking and his sons to their gnomish employers.
When the vassals of King Durmir arrived at the side of his demise, they quickly turned on each other, claiming the now vacant throne of Dulanan. Soon, the realm broke apart in bloody inner struggles. From its ashes arose the four human kingdoms of today.
The gnomish people of the coast have kept their independence since then, protected by their grim mercenaries. They are organised in two federations, one of the northern coast and one of the southern region. Nocera Hatra lies south of the great river of Kinel that forms the border between the two alliances.
Even after their victory over their former oppressors, the gnomes were not vengeful. The allowed every human who wanted to do so to stay in Nocera Hatra. Therefore, it has the highest percentage of human inhabitants among all the coastal cities.
- General features: The buildings of Nocera Hatra are arrayed in a large half-circle south of the river. The sea lies mere 750 feet to the west, on the other side of a pleasant park, which is also enclosed by the city wall that ends in a beacon tower at some small cliffs. The city wall is 70 feet high and half as thick, being built from massive stone with a bright white façade.
The streets of the city are paved with bricks, and the city has a functional system of sewers.
Human houses normally have just one floor, while gnomish have two. Because the floors have such different heights, the houses of both races are nearly of equal height on average. Both races use the flat roof of their home as additional living space during most of the year.
The main difference between human and gnomish buildings consists of the coloration: While human houses are as white as the city walls, the gnomes paint their houses in all colours one can imagine. In contrast to human houses, gnomes have not much use for windows, as their darkvision and their ancestry of living in confined tunnels gives them a somewhat different taste for illumination of private spaces. However, as most time is spent on the street or the roof anyway, gnomes have enough oppurtunities to show of their colourful garments.
In general, all houses are made from bricks, although some richer citizens may use stone instead. The only buildings higher than the living houses are temples, amphitheatres, operas (called Song-houses), warehouses at the harbour, the library, the garison and the councilhall.
Gardens are rare at houses, but there are several parks and
- Quarters: The city can be roughly divided into four quarters, of nearly equal size. In the northwest is the human quarter, divided from the harbour quarter in the northeast by the monument of the Drowned Tyrann. Its southern border is one of the main streets who crosses from the main gate in the east to the great park in the west where it turns into a gravelway and finally ends at a lookout over the sea.
The southwest quarter is dominated by the garison complex. A fortress of its own, it was once the centre of the human rulership over Nocera Hatra and now houses the hobgoblin guards of the city. Around it, many workshops and oficial buildings can be found, as most citizens would find it uncomfortable to live next to the garison complex.
The southeast quarter, slightly larger than the three other parts, houses the main portion of the cities gnomish population. Here, the land rises in the first gentle slopes of the hill region south of the city. The gnomes actually enjoy this, so the ground was only evened as much as was absolutely necessary. The houses on higher grounds have cellars, a better view and often catch refreshing breezes from the sea, so they are much sought after and therefore very expensive.
At the centre of the city lies a huge marketplace, the true heart of Nocera Hatra.
- Exceptional buildings: THE LIBRARY lies in the south of the human quarter and is open to all citizens and visitors, although a small fee (1 cp for citizens, 1 sp for foreigners) must be paid. There are several thousand scrolls here, magically protected against dirt, time and fire (to a certain extent). They cover a wide array of topics, from science to poetry. Scribes are always busy adding to the collection. Someday in the nearer future, an extension of the library might be in place. Today, it is a four-story building of imposing 75 feet height, towering over the surrounding houses.
THE COUNCILHALL lies southwest of the marketplace. It is as high as the library, but has only one floor. It is a round building with a huge dome about it. It is made from finest marble and decorated by fine works of art, paintings and sculptures alike. It is truly a magnificent symbol of the spirit and soul of Nocera Hatra. Here, the council assembles every other day. Most council meetings are open to the public, but there are closed meetings in cases that touch the security of the city or other risky topics. The Councilhall was built about hundred years before the fall of Nocera Hatra and was severely damaged and looted by the Dulanans, but it was restored to its former glorious beauty soon after the liberation.
THE TEMPLE OF GARL GLITTERGOLD is the main temple of the city. It is covered with earth and planted with many rare flowers and bushes from many places near and far, looking like a natural hill. Inside, it has a large main hall and some smaller rooms. The main room is painted in many bright colours, all mixed with golddust before use. Therefore, every source of light sparks myriads of tiny, glittering reflections. A large statue of Garl stands at the centre of the back. It is carved from marble, dressed in goldcloth and has two huge gems as eyes.
There are many other temples for the members of the gnomish and human pantheons spread across the city, and even a small temple dedicated to the cruel deity of the hobgoblins within the garison complex.
THE ARXALINTARIAN EMBASSY has a strange and exotic appereance to most inhabitants of Nocera Hatra. It is formed like a ziggurat, rising in terraces of 20 feet height to its full height of 10 stories. The topmost floor is just one room and houses a temple to the sun god of the Arxalintar, while the lowest floor covers more space than ten warehouses. The building is by far the highest of the city, which is seen as a disrespectful slight by many inhabitants. The Arxalintar claim ritual reasons for the immense height of ten floors, although in truth they just wanted to make up in height for what they originally desired in width. However, noone can deny the huge amount of visitors that this exotic building and its strange inhabitants bring to the city. A request for entry to the embassy is met with polite but firm rejection. The Arxalintar are not very popular among the citizens of Nocera Hatra, but popularity is nothing they desire: respect and fear are the emotions that, if aroused in others, sooth an arxalintarian ego.
THE GARISON COMPLEX is a rather crude structure in comparison to the rest of the city, yet it is built as well as any other building and is a strong if simple fortress. It consists of a wall, 30 feet high, that encloses some buildings of varying size. The largest of them, the actual barracks, could easily house twothousand warriors, but the council does not believe in wasting taxes on expensive mercenaries if it can be avoided. They deem 700 hobgoblins enough to defend the city, at least against any force that could reach it before reinforcements could be shipped in from the other cities or the hobgoblin lands.
Arts and Culture: The cultural life of Nocera Hatra is rich, even richer than among the other gnomish cities of the coast, because of the subtle human influences. While gnomes are superior in nearly every field of the arts compared with the humans of Dulanan, whose culture is mainly an adaption of gnomish ways, the rich oral tradition of the gnomish culture ignores the written form nearly completely, considering it to be a tool for merchants and bureaucrats, not for artists. Therefore, Nocera Hatra is the only city along the coast that boasts a library, and within its walls many great works of art and science are preserved that had otherwise maybe been forgotten over time, for even the remarcable gnomish memory is not without limits.
Another human addition to the rich field of entertainment that can be found in Nocera Hatra is sport. While the actors, musicians, street-performers, painters and sculptors are nearly exclusively gnomes, the boxers, runners, riders, show fighters and other athletes are mainly humans. However, both races enjoy the performances of the other nearly as much as their own. Truly, someone seeking entertaining of the highest quality would be hard-pressed to find a better place to look for it than Nocera Hatra!
While there are amphitheatres and song-houses, the main stage of Nocera Hatra are the streets, places and open tavern gardens. Here, the citizens gather after a busy day, relaxing to the sound of music, a play or a oral contast of poetry or prose, enjoying the famous wine, the delicious spiced olives that are a local favourite and the mild air from the sea.
Sport events, in contrast, are held at break of dawn, before it gets to hot for intense physical activity. Many citizens stop on their way to work to watch a particular interesting contest.
Economics: Nocera Hatras economy is based on the usual mix of trade, agriculture and industrie that one would expect from a busy port.
Main exports: Olive oil, wines, fish, dyes and wheat.
Main imports: Wood, ore, metal goods, meat, cloth.
In addition to these goods, a lot of trade simply passes through the city, providing additional profit. There are luxury goods from the southern gnomish cities, ores and pottery from the northern gnomes, crops and woods from the human interior, and many rather exotic goods like spices from the southern peninsula where the lizardfolk dwells, or trained riding dogs of the fierce halfling tribes from the plains of the far northeast.
All in all, the living standard is fairly high, nearly as good as in the golden days before the rise of Dulanan.
Religion: The citizens of Nocera Hatra are not very fervent believers, but they do honor their gods and raise honestly grateful praises to them, thanking for a live of peace and prosperity. Sacrifices are made as they are demanded from the gods, but living sacrifices are forbidden in Nocera Hatra, as they are considered to be uncivilised. However, the council and the warden turn a blind eye on the hobgoblins and their cruel ceremonies, as long as no humanoids are sacrificed at the bloodstained altar of their demanding god.
Government: Nocera Hatra is ruled by a council of seven. Its members include three representatives of the local gnomish community, one from each of the two gnomish coastal federations and two of the human minority. The city is an official member of the southern confederation, but its position as a border city&#8230;
The Ruling Council decides about every political aspect of importance, giving it a position of absolute power. This power, however, is severely limited by the fact that according to gnomish tradition, the ::: . The merchants guild of the city is also quite powerful and loathes interference with their trade.
The Council names a loyal Warden who is responsible for the defense of the city and the control of criminal activity. The hobgoblin garison &#8211; 700 warriors of both genders &#8211; has its own officers and therefore demands an independent line of command. The Warden might order them to fight an approaching foe, but how they do it is up to the experienced hobgoblins themselves. This arrangement worked surprisingly well so far. In case of an larger thread like an human invasion, additional hobgoblin forces would be hired and support from the southern federation would soon arrive. The raising of an own militia of the city is a possibility, but one to which the council would only turn as a last resort, and only to aid the immediate defense of the city.
The naval forces of Nocera Hatra, on the other hand, is manned exclusively by citizens, both gnomish and human. In case of a real naval conflict or an raid up the river, hobgoblin boarding parties might be added. The fleet consists of 30 galleys. They are all equipped with catapults and ballistas as well as a ram. Their true power, however, is based on gnomish alchemist&#8217;s fire.
Crime: Although it is a strongly frequented port, there is not much criminal activity in Nocera Hatra. The police force numbers only 100 gnomish constables, but they can count on the help of many informers among the gnomish population. There are even some bards who are paid to gather information for the Warden. There is some smuggling activity, of course, and some pick-pockets. But serious crimes like murder, violent theft, rape or burglary are extremely rare. When they happen, they are almost completely restricted on the human quarters.
The Monument: The famous Monument of Nocera Hatra is a huge (200 feet high!) statue of King Darmakir the Rash, who conquered Norcera Hatra and brought the whole gnomish coast under his control. It was raised by his son, who wanted to celebrate his fathers victories as well as his own by this monument of pride. Build by gnomish prisoners of war, out of white marble from gnomish quarrys, it was truly a fitting testimony for the culture of Dulanan in this age. The monument depicted Darmakir in full battle gear with his sword raised high in the air, waving to his army to order their charge. His grim face was turned backward, to the land he came from, while his free hand was stretched toward the sea, as if he wanted to grasp the whole ocean and everything beyond it in his greedy fingers.
Even after his death, the bloody legacy of King Darmakir grew, although in a somewhat unusual way. When the gnomes started a first, unsuccesful rebellion against Dulanans rule, a few decades after the conquest of Nocera Hatra, King Huldremal the Red took a cruel revenge. He ordered all the captured rebels to be executed, at the feet of the monument of his ancestor. Hundreds of gnomes were slaughtered in a brutal way, their blood staining all the socket of the monument and even the feet of the statue. After the night had fallen and the bodies had been discarded, a gnomish priest secretly sneaked past the guards. He and some helpers brought barrels of a magical liquid to the site of the massacre, pouring it everywhere where blood had been spilt over the marble.
When the human king ordered the monument cleaned the next day, all efforts failed: From now on, the statue of Darkamir the Rash would always seem to wade through blood, a fitting memorial indeed.
After their victory over their opressors, the gnomes tossed the statue down. However, the magic that was used to built and preserve the monument saved it from any damage. And so, the statue is still intact, although it is now stretched down into the river, where the shoulders and head disappear beneath the surface. It serves as an inofficial border between the human quarter and the harbour quarter. Fittingly, it is today only known as &#8220;The Drowned Tyrann&#8221; to the gnomes of Nocera Hatra. The humans call it &#8220;The Fallen King&#8221; &#8211; but only silently, not wanting to anger their gnomish neighbors.
Power Struggles: During the last centuries, the power struggles within and around the city of Nocera Hatra have been fought between humans on the one and gnomes on the other side, with hobgoblins serving as meddlers and mercenaries. Recently, however, a new player has made its appearance &#8211; and the consequences may have a strong impact on Nocera Hatras future. On the future of all the neighbouring regions, that is.
The first Arxalintar arrived as explorers on fast ships. They brought greetings from their distant realm and asked permission to establish a port of their own somewhere along the coast. The wary gnomes denied them such a permanent base in their land, but allowed them to open an embassy in a city of their choice, not wanting to disconcert potential trade partners.
The Arxalintar chose Nocera Hatra. They bought a piece of land at the harbour, tore down the warehouses and other buildings at this place, and erected an rather small but impressive stronghold with its own stores and garison. Today, about 150 Arxalintar live in this fortified complex, 64 of them as the official garison. However, nearly every Arxalintar in Nocera Hatra is an experienced soldier or has other skills useful in battle. The ambassador himself is an accomplished wizard.
The goal of the Arxalintar is to gain control over Nocera Hatra. Once they succeed with this plan, at least a thousand warriors of their experienced Imperial Guard will strenghten its defenses and secure their powerbase. Although the Arxalintar have no further plans of conquest in this region for the immediate future, they may well decide to conquer all the surrounding lands of the gnomes and humans in time.
While such a great menace is building up, the gnomes of the northern and southern federations continue their old feuds with one another. This is a struggle fought with words and coins, however, not with sword and shield. And of course, there is always the threat of a new human invasion. Decades of internal conflicts have once again hardened the troops of the human realms, and they look with greed upon the rich, peaceful lands of the coast. Their highest goal is to unite Dulanan once again under a single crown &#8211; and dominance over the coast would be a great step towards that goal. Especially the mightiest realm, the old central lands of Dulanan, desire to subjugate their gnomish neighbours, because unlike their northern, southern and eastern brothers, they are cut off from all trade-routes if their neighbours shut their borders. To the kings of this realm, the control of the coast is the key to victory over their brothers &#8211; and the key to the coast is Nocera Hatra&#8230;
There are some more new guests of Nocera Hatra, probably with no better intentions than the Arxalintar: A clan of halflings from the plains of the far northeast has moved to the tolerant port. These small warriors, hunters and goat-herders are a savage bunch, every bit as dangerous and aggressive as their loyal hunting dogs (who sometimes grow larger than their masters). They are surely a foreign sight in this civilised, peaceful place. They are given a wide berth, and do not seem to show much interest in their new neigbours. Whatever drove them from their homelands to this place remains a secret, but the authorities are getting worried about reports from their informers that blame a growing number of crimes on the halflings.
THE DEAD EAR OF THE WARDEN: A gnomish bard was found dead in the human quarter &#8211; brutally murdered! What makes matters worse is that he was one of the most able informers of the Warden, actually being called &#8220;Ear of the Warden&#8221; in jest by some of the city-guards.
The Warden, fearing racial tensions if he leaves the investigation to his own forces (and does also fear for their safety when confronted with such a dangerous opponent, for the murder victim was an experienced man who should have been able to deal with most foes, one way or the other.
When the PCs investigate the place where the body was found, they realise one thing (hopefully): Although there were many grievous wounds on the poor man, only a few small stains of blood are on the pavement. The informer must have died somewhere else and then been dragged here, with much care to cover trails. Someone professional did this, and as it seems, he is interested in stirring racial tensions between humans and gnomes&#8230;
The dark truth: The dead informer was murdered by Sangalesh Bloodknife (NE halfling barbarian), the leader of the halfling clan that makes his home between the warehouses of the harbour. It were his men who brought the body to the place where it was found. The PCs might track the murder to him by magical means or by examing the strange slashes and cuts at the victims body (they are deep, but short &#8211; caused by an halfling-sized broadsword like the higher warriors of the plain-tribes use). But the true question is: WHY did Sangalesh murder the Ear of the Warden? Was the dead gnome up to something, on a trail of some conspiracy? Maybe Sangalesh´ clan wants to take over the smuggling activity. Or he was hired to kill the informer by the ambassador of the Arxalintar because the Ear of the Warden tried to investigate into his sinister plottings.
ART FOR ARTS SAKE: Nocera Hatra is torn apart by a growing conflict that turns brothers into opponents and leads to many a drunken brawl in the taverns. Outsiders may find the reason for the rising tension ridiculous, but the citizens consider it an event of dire consequences: The acknowledged Master Singer of Nocera Hatra has been challenged!
Everything began a few weeks ago, when a new minstrel arrived in the city and soon began to attract a huge number of dedicated fans. Now, the young artist has made his move and offered a ritual challenge to the greatest bard of Nocera Hatra, the Most Honourable Master Singer Giddian Holquin. This challenge and its result are the source and topic of every bit of gossip circulating through the taverns and marketplaces.
The group, freshly arrived newcomers, are the among the only persons in Nocera Hatra who have neither heard one of the opponents perform nor are attached to one of the two supporting groups of the bards. Therefore, and in light of their fame as heroic adventurers (assuming your PCs have at least absolved a modest amount of adventuring), they are named judges for the great contest. To refuse would be an insult to all of Nocera Hatra, and PCs would do better to leave the port immediately. On the other hand, accepting brings its own dangers. Both side of the contest will use bribes, threats and even force to convince the judges of the &#8220;right&#8221; decision.
To make matters worse, DMs are free to decide if the new bard in town is really just an ambitious artist or some evil being with sinister plans. Maybe it is an incubus, lusting for the opportunity to seduce countless innocent maidens using the admired position of Master Singer to back his overtwhelming charm up. Or he might be a criminal, plotting some devious scheme to enrich himself on the cost of his audience. Or is he in truth the son of Giddian and some unfortunate maiden whom the ruthless Master Singer left pregnant, coming to take revenge on his hated father &#8211; maybe even killing him on open stage? The truth is up to you, and the challenge is up to your players!
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM: The famous breezes of Nocera Hatra have died down, and the air broods motionless over the whole port! But not only one city, the whole gnomish coast is struck by this strange meteorological phenomenon. Gnomish and human sages alike have no clue what caused it, and the temples fill with desperate merchants and sailors. Without the constant benefical winds, travelling by ship takes weeks where it once took only days. The whole trade system is endangered.
But what is the reason of the calm? Was some god angered? Maybe a quest is in order to win back the deities goodwill. Or maybe the cause was magical? Might one of the human kings in the interior have gained means to control the winds? If this were true, he could make any demand he wants to the desperate federations of the coast. Or is this some bizarre cosmological effect, caused by some strange happenings at the plane of air?
Whatever the cause, the PC need to find it and solve the problem. Once the economical system of the region breaks completely down, thousands will be ruined. Even worse, the humans might use the calm to launch an invasion against the coast cities, which would have no way to aid one another in time, nor to get help from the hobgoblin lands. Its up to the PCs to stir the calm and thereby to avoid the storm!
THE RISE OF THE DRAGON: The ambassador of the Arxalintar has spun his web of plots and schemes for over a year now, and his plans are nearly ripe. He has convinced (and bribed) both human council members to think that with help of the Arxalintar, they could once again rule over the whole city, without interference from the gnomes. (In fact, their positions would probably not change much: While they may hold and even slightly increase their power to keep them satisfied, the Arxalintar do not plan to let them run the city on their own). Many dissatisfied humans are ready to strike and take control over the most important parts of the city as soon as the Arxalintar give the signal. They will be armed from the huge arsenal of weapons that the Arxalintar secretly store in their embassy. The halflings of Sangalesh Bloodknife are also involved in the treachery. It is them who will take on the bloodiest parts of the coup, as they have more experience with such things and are deemed more trustworthy (in terms of keeping silent, not in terms of true trust in their word) by the ambassador.
However, even if all humans of fighting age rose to revolt &#8211; which will surely not happen -, they would not stand much of a chance against the deadly hobgoblin guards. Therefore, the most crucial part of the ambassadors plan is to bring the hobgoblins on his side. Luckily for him, his race has hired hobgoblins long before the gnomes did, and are more important customers for them even today. Therefore, supported by some political pressure applied by the arxalintarian Emperor himself, the hobgoblins have agreed to take part in the coup. In two months from now, it is time to renew the contracts of the mercenaries. As this contract renewals have become routine for the council, it is no reason for its members to be upset. However, they should be &#8211; because it is already agreed that at the very moment their contract ends, the hobgoblins will enter the service of the Arxalintar. They will fly the flag of the arxalintarian realm from the towers of the garison complex. This will be the signal for the rebels to start their treacherous uprising. And barely a week after the Arxalintar and their allys took over the city, a fleet from the empire will arrive, bringing a thousand soldiers with it. After its arrival, Nocera Hatra will once again cease to be a free city.
The only person that might prevent this evil scheme is the Warden of Nocera Hatra. It is certainly ironic that he happens to be a human. His loyalty, however, lie with the city and its current political system. Until yet, though, the Warden has no real prove of the plot, only rumours. He therefore depends on the PCs to gather the needed informations, as his own informers have become scared by the death of one of their best (see above).
The only chance of Nocera Hatra is to act soon: For the next two months, the hobgoblins are still bound by their contract. If ordered to leave the city, they would do it. The might even be ordered to attack the embassy of the Arxalintar. And if the council acts within the next month, a war fleet of the southern gnomish federation will be ready to force the arxilantarian fleet to withdraw. Afterwards, the embassy will be closed, and the Arxalintar will leave the city to its own, at least for some years &#8211; but are the PC up to the task of gathering the needed informations? And, even more important, are they able to stay alive long enough to deliver them to the Warden?