Redpools is a seaside city built across a series of some eighty small islands in the Long River delta. The surrounding marshland is occupied by hundreds of salterns, wide shallow pools used to extract salt from seawater. The pools are fed water through a series of canals linked to the sea, and are then closed to allow the water to slowly evaporate leaving only valuable salt. The salt is then harvested and shipped on thin barges along the canals into the city where it is refined.
The city gets its name from the particular variety of algae that thrives in the salterns. This algae, one of the only living species able to survive in the warm saline waters of the pools, is of a bright red-pink hue, and it is so prevalent in the salterns that, seen from a distance, each of the pools seems to be coloured red.1
Beyond the salterns, much of the marshland is being drained and converted into pasture for cattle ranching.2 The presence of both salt and cattle industries in the area has allowed for the existence of several quality tanneries in the Stinks neighbourhood of Redpools, so-called because of the ripe smell of the tanneries, which use not only salt but also human urine and animal dung to tan rawhide. The urine, in which the rawhide is soaked, is collected in street corner piss-pots which are emptied at the tanneries once a day, and the dung, which is mixed with water to make the solution in which the leather is kneaded, is collected by children in the cattle pastures for a few coins a day. The resulting leather, however smelly its manufacturing process, has a fine reputation and is used to make a variety of goods, including water- and wineskins, bags, harnesses, armour, shields, quivers, scabbards, boots and sandals. Leftover leather is left for months to decompose and then boiled into glue. The presence of the two industries has also resulted in the widespread availability of inexpensive salt-cured beef in the citys butcher shops.
Most of the salt is sold in the Redpools Harbour, which consists of several long piers jutting out of a large stone quay into the sea to the north. Dozens of ships pass through the harbour every day, carrying amber, grain, timber and wax from the east or metals and manufactured goods from the west, and most of these will exchange some of their cargo for its worth in salt. The harbour also maintains a modest drydocks, used to repair and sometimes construct small sailing ships. Currently, the city is dependant on foreign naval aid for protection against pirates. Redpools trading partners are generally very willing to keep one or two frigates stationed in or near the important city in exchange for the favour of its merchants, but the situation does create tensions when two or more of these states are at war. There have been small skirmishes between foreign vessels just outside the harbour, but in most instances, the warring parties will declare Redpools a peaceful zone. Still, there are fears that one day the city may be endangered by its dependency on foreign protection, and some merchants are lobbying for the city to hire a permanent mercenary force.3
Much of the city itself is built on wooden platforms elevated above the canals between the small islands. The canals themselves are very dirty, polluted with red algae, by-products of the tanneries and salt refineries, and the sewage of the entire city. The citys streets, which line both sides of every canal, are paved with wooden planks. In the district of Whiteplanks, located east of the Stinks and south of the Harbour, the planks are stained with salt from the boots of residents, most of whom work in the salterns. Whiteplanks is one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Redpools and consists mainly of crowded tenement buildings, plus several inexpensive shops and taverns of every stripe.
The entire city, from the salterns to the harbour, is accessible by both pedestrian and canal boat traffic. Horses and wagons are mostly unusable, but there are several stables in the westernmost borough of Redpools, known as Dovetown, which make good money housing the mounts of travellers while they stay in the city.4 Dovetown, the oldest and smallest section of the city and the only neighbourhood to have cobblestone streets, is built largely on dry land, and locals say that this is the reason local birds seem to prefer its rooftops to those of districts mainly elevated above water. Dovetown is the home of Redpools wealthy merchant class and of the Redpools Bank, which holds money for affluent persons both local and foreign. The bank will also manage investments for clients able to put up sizeable deposits, and has a reputation for making very competent, usually local, investments.5 The bank recognizes several different precious metal currencies, all of which it stores in an enormous underground vault.6
The city is governed by an elected town council, which generally operates on the principals of minarchism. Other than basic property laws and the criminalizing of acts of aggression, the council enacts very few laws, giving merchants and businesses near-total free reign and granting total freedom of speech and conscience to its citizens.7 The councils hands-off approach is balanced by the existence of an active town militia. Officially, the militia operates under the councils authourity, but it has often been accused of going behind the councils back and bullying citizens and foreigners that abuse the system. Support for the militia is widespread among the Whiteplankers, who often call on it to discipline saltern owners who do not provide good working conditions for their employees, but the merchant class is generally afraid of their power and has called on the council to take punitive measures against them. Accusations of threats against merchants and discrimination against foreigners can rarely be backed up with hard evidence, and the council is very hesitant to take serious action. In view of this, the militias opponents are always on the lookout for discreet swords-for-hire.8
Plots and thoughts:
1. A man, his throat cut open and bloody, is found in one of the salterns after it has been drained. It appears to have been there since the beginning of the evaporation process; nobody noticed it was there because of the algae, which obscured the blood and covered the body. He is identified as a local militiaman. Was he killed by an opponent of the militia? Did the militia take out one of their one, perhaps a corrupt enforcer (or one unwilling to look past the corruption of his superiors)? The PCs are hired by the town council to solve the crime.
2. A group of radical environmentalists, maybe druids or rangers, are concerned that the cattle ranchers are draining too much swampland and are close to awakening the wrath of a dangerous swamp monster or guardian spirit. They are currently camped out in the pastures and will attack any ranchers trying to get past them to the swamps. The ranchers, or maybe the militia, ask the PCs to intervene.
3. If the PCs have their own ship, the merchants will jump at the chance to employ them as defenders. How will the foreign powers respond to their influence being compromised in this important region? Will the PCs be able to defend against pirate raids?
4. The PCs quarter their horses in a Dovetown stable during their stay in the city. If they somehow anger the militia (plot 8?) or the merchants (plot 6?) and try to make a hasty escape, they may be surprised to find every stable in the city, including theirs, burned to the ground, with all the horses either killed in the fire or so badly burnt that they are put out of their misery. Looks like theyll be staying in Redpools a little longer than they had hoped. If they have angered the militia, they may be hunted down as arsonists and attacked on sight. If they have publically picked a fight with the merchants, they may be accused of trying to burn down all of wealthy Dovetown and turned over to the town council for judgement.
5. It could be useful to give the PCs a place not only to store their wealth, but to invest it in local industry. Maybe their investments will blossom, or maybe the salt trade will take a turn for the worse and they will lose all their money. Whatever happens may depend largely on how they interact with Redpools.
6. Breaking into the vault wont be easy, but if the PCs are particularly sneaky (or maybe just really good at killing their way into places) they will be able to help themselves to as much gold as they want. Of course, in doing so they will be pissing off merchants both near and far.
7. A Redpools man is taking full advantage of his right to free speech by publically encouraging locals to kick out foreign merchants and immigrant workers. Some of his remarks are very bigoted. The town council refuses to silence him. Do the PCs agree that he has the right to free speech, or do they pick a fight with him and his small group of supporters? How will the militia and the mob react to their decision?
8. The PCs have been asked by the opponents of the militia to kill an influential militia captain. They hope that his death will send a message to the other militia leaders and encourage them to stop interfering with the merchants business.