The Free City of Parsantium stands astride the wide and slow-moving Dolphin Strait at the point where the Griffin Water joins the Corsairs’ Sea, and is thus at the crossroads of two continents, and more importantly, five trade routes. To the east, at the end of the Silk Road, is the exotic land of Tiangao; to the south east, beyond the Pillars of Heaven Mountains, are the Kingdoms of Sampur; across the sea to the south west lies the wealthy Caliphate of Aqhran, to the west are the Sunset Lands and the feuding city states of the former Bathuran Empire, and the Griffin Water to the north east is the quickest route to the frozen but beautiful land of Urskovia.

Home to more than seventy-five thousand souls, the bustling city is ruled by its basileus, Corandias XVIII the Lion-Blooded, direct descendent of the famous Bathuran conqueror and mighty general, Corandias I the Magnificent. The basileus and his beloved consort, Thecia, often referred to by disgruntled citizens under their breath as “that scheming enchantress”, rule over the city proper and the surrounding countryside and farming villages. The day-to-day running of the city is delegated to a prefect, the coldly efficient and uncharismatic Bardas.

Parsantium is divided into three quarters, one on each side of the Dolphin Strait and a third on the central island; each is governed by a tribune who reports to the prefect. Great stone bridges, built many centuries ago in the Sampuran style and each over 300 yards long, connect the three separate parts of the city.

Old Quarter street scene by Matt Morrow

The Old Quarter on the southern side of the strait is, as its name would suggest, the oldest part of the city, built on top of the ancient city of Dhak Janjua, which was founded nearly 2,000 years ago by refugees from Sampur fleeing the evil geomancers of Karjan. Here, the streets are narrow, dusty and dingy, and often feel claustrophobic as a great press of people, bullock carts, donkeys and camels all vie for right of way. The quarter is a chaotic, cosmopolitan blend of cultures – onion-domed mosques and Aqhrani coffee shops have been built near Sampuran temples covered in colourful carvings and serene Tiangaon teahouses. There are dojos teaching the martial arts of the mountain temples, khanduqs selling all manner of fine goods, and, towering above everything, the impossibly tall tower of the mysterious Esoteric Order of the Blue Lotus. This is also where most of the poorer districts and slums can be found, including the homes of the Sampuran poor, half-orcs and gnolls.

The Imperial Quarter is on the north side of the strait and is where you will find the Great Palace of the Basileus, the Holy Basilica of Helion, the Hippodrome, and many other important buildings. It is also home to the wealthy and decadent noble class, many of whom claim to be descended from the Bathuran emperors of old, and of many dwarves and dragonborn. Bathuran architecture dominates: there are a lot of glistening white marble buildings with columned entrances, and pediments and friezes along the top decorated with sculptures. Others are crowned with golden domes and decorated inside with beautiful mosaics. Tall columns, once topped with bronze statues of emperors and generals, stand in the centre of wide avenues and public squares.

Between the two, situated in the centre of the Dolphin Strait, is the Mercantile Quarter, filled with one of the world’s largest markets. Goods arrive in Parsantium by sea from the south west and overland from the east, south east and west. As you can well imagine, almost anything can be obtained here as long as the buyer can afford it. A bronze colossus, over 100 feet high, depicting Corandias the Magnificent stands in the centre of the marketplace. This impressive landmark is often used as a meeting point by the locals, so someone might say “I’ll see you by the left foot at midday” to his friend. The markets around the Colossus are open-air and are packed with hundreds of stalls, plus snake-charmers, water sellers, tooth-pullers, barbers and musicians. Leading off from the marketplace are a maze of narrow alleyways and souks. The popular Theatre of Cytherea is also located on the island.

A fourth “Hidden Quarter” is said to exist beneath the city streets, composed of the ancient, crumbling ruins of Dhak Janjua. Frequented by criminals and worse, it is best avoided.

Parsantium’s climate is one of warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. The city experiences high humidity, meaning fog is common on autumn and winter mornings. Although precipitation is generally low in the summer, this is when thunderstorms are most likely. Winter snowfall is rare but not unheard of.