Age of Worms
Diamond Lake nestles in the rocky crags of the Cairn Hills, three days east of the Free City to which it is subject. Iron and silver from Diamond Lake’s mines fuel the capital’s markets and support its soldiers and nobles with the raw materials necessary for weapons and finery. This trade draws hundreds of skilled and unskilled laborers and artisans, all hoping to strike it rich. In ages past, Diamond Lake boasted an export more valuable than metal in the form of treasure liberated from the numerous tombs and burial cairns crowding the hills around the town. These remnants of a half-dozen long-dead creatures commanded scandalous prices from the Free City elite, whose insatiable covetousness triggered a boom in the local economy. Those days are long gone, though. The last cairn in the region coughed up its treasures decades ago, and few locals pay much mind to stories of yet-undiscovered tombs and unplundered burial cairns. These days, only a handful of treasure seekers visit the town, and few return to the Free City with anything more valuable than a wall rubbing or an ancient tool fragment.
In the hills surrounding the town, hundreds of laborers spend weeks at a time underground, breathing recycled air pumped in via systems worth ten times their combined annual salary. The miners are the chattel of Diamond Lake, its seething, tainted blood. But they are also Diamond Lake’s foundation, their weekly pay cycling back into the community via a gaggle of gambling dens, bordellos, ale halls, and temples. Because work in the mines is so demanding and dangerous, most folk come to Diamond Lake because they have nowhere else to turn, seeking an honest trade of hard labor for subsistence-level pay simply because the system has allowed them no other option. Many are foreigners displaced from native lands by war or famine. Work in a Diamond Lake mine is the last honest step before utter destitution or crimes of desperation. For some, it is the first step in the opposite direction: a careful work assignment to ease the burden on debtor-filled prisons, one last chance to make it in civil society.
Despite its squalor, Diamond Lake is crucial to the Free City’s economy. The city’s directors thus taker a keen interest in local affairs, noting the rise and fall of managers who run Diamond lake’s mines in trust for the government. The city’s chief man in the region is Governor-Mayor Lanod Neff, a lecherous philanderer eager to solidify his power and keep the mine managers in line. Neff exerts his capricious will via the agency of the grandiloquent Sheriff Cubbin, a man so renowned for corruption that many citizens assumed the announcement of his commission was a joke until he started arresting people.
The alliance between the governor-mayor and his pocket police might not be enough to cow Diamond Lake’s powerful mine managers, but Lanod Neff holds a subtle advantage thanks to the presence of his distinguised brother, the scrupulous Allustan, a wizard from the Free City who retired to Diamond Lake five years ago. None dare move against Neff so long as Allustan is around.
Instead of scheming against the government, Diamond Lake’s six mine managers plot endlessly against one another desperate to claim a weakened enemy’s assets while at the same time protection their own. While they are not nobles, the mine managers exist in a strata above normal society. They consider themselves far above their employees, many of whom are indentured or effectively enslaved as part of a criminal sentence. The miner’s loyalty tends to map directly to the working conditions, pay, and respect offered to the miners by their wealthy masters.
The most ambitious and manipulative mine manager in Diamond Lake is Balabar Smenk, a disquieting schemer who hopes to gain a monopoly on the town’s mining patents by forcing his enemies into bankruptcy and offering to buy their claims at the last minute for coppers on the gold piece.
But Smenk’s most dubious plots seem like petty crime in light of the current activities of another mine manager, Ragnolin Dourstone, a dwarf of formerly unimpeachable ethics who has fallen under the sway of a terrible cult called the Ebon Triad.
The Triad hopes to merge the deities Vecna, Hextor, and Erythnul into an unthinkably powerful overgod. A chamber carved in ancient times below the town might prove to be vital to this diabolical plot, but before the great god of darkness may take form, certain preconditions must be met. Most importantly, Ebon Triad liturgy suggests that the overgod may rise only during an era of darkness, decay, and writhing doom. This is the Age of Worms, and it’s starting in Diamond Lake.