One of the largest cities in the Underdark, Frax is a trading settlement located on the edge of the Eye of Orivious in the Upper Underdark. Ruled by the Merchant Council, Frax is an incredibly lucrative place to live if you know the right people or come from the right family, but most are consigned to the city’s extensive slums.
Like most large trading hubs in the Underdark, Frax is a mixed species community, with a much higher likelihood of creatures normally native to the surface or near surface, such as Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings and Gnomes residing there. Nevertheless, the majority of Frax’s populace are made up of Drow, Duergar and Deep Gnomes, but there is also a substantial population of Goblins and other Goblinoids within the city, especially within the slums. On the whole, the vast majority of Frax’s populace are regarded as being poor, with many struggling to survive in extreme poverty. Almost all of the city’s wealth is concentrated amongst about 20% of the population, with the rest being left on their own to struggle by and try to find work. Many people are driven into dangerous areas of employment, so desperate are they for work, such as risking their lives toiling for criminal gangs, or joining the Fraxian Guild of Caravaners, to porter goods through the dangerous roadways of the Underdark.
Reflecting its primary purpose as the premier centre for trade within the Upper Underdark and between the Upper and Middle Underdark, Frax is ruled by what is known as the Merchant Council, which is made up of representatives of the largest and most influential merchant houses and conglomerates who use the city as a base of operations. Notable amongst its membership, is the fact that the Hastellion Trading Company have a seat upon the council, representative of their acting as the primary point of contact between the trading networks of the Underdark and those of the surface world and Empire of Turelion above. As its name suggests, the Merchant Council is more interested in ensuring that profits for all of its members remain healthy, that competition from outside of their circle be kept to a minimum and that trade remains as seamless as possible. This means that whilst there are all manner of mercantile and fiscal rules and dictates, the rest of life in Frax is left rather more unregulated, which makes the city a haven for criminals and has led to mass poverty and deprivation amongst its populace.
To the north, east and south the city of Frax is defended by a stoutly built, curving curtain wall, with three gates set within it providing access to and from the city, and defensive towers set at regular intervals all along its length. To the west, the border of the city which sits on the edge of the giant chasm, the Eye of Orivious has no wall, but has a number of fortified posts equipped with ballistae, to deter large creatures from deeper within the Underdark from climbing up into the city in search of easy prey. Officially, the merchant houses who have representation on the Merchant Council are responsible for providing detachments of soldiers who together make up the defence force for the city. However, in reality, these detachments will tend to prioritise defending the properties of their employers, rather than seeing to the wellbeing of the city as a whole. This means that whilst sections of the city around major merchant houses will be heavily patrolled and watched, meaning that they are relatively safe, large swathes of the city’s curtain wall will be left virtually undefended and will be very dangerous to travel through at night for those who are either unaware or unprepared for the dangers that might lurk in the darkness of the city’s backstreets.
Industry & Trade
Frax is first and foremost a trading hub, and therefore principally provides services rather than being a major producer of goods. The city has a number of markets, with all of these areas of commerce specialising in the buying and selling of particular goods, rather than everything being bought and sold in one area. The preponderance of trade in Frax means that it is a good place to find porters and mercenaries to help ship goods across the Underdark's various levels, with the Fraxian Guild of Caravaners and the Bloody Wolves being the predominant players in these respective fields. As well as this, the amount of traders and travellers that pass through the city mean that it has a large service industry and it is said to have the highest density of taverns and inns per person out of all of the other settlements and cities in the Underdark. However, one thing that Frax does produce in spades is coin. Whilst on the surface world, the principal currency in circulation is the Imperial Coinage produced by the Empire of Turelion, the Empire’s influence does not stretch down into the vast expanse of the Underdark. This means that currency is far less regulated and in order to ensure that they get the best price possible, and guarantee payment for themselves in currency they can trust, the Merchant Council of Frax strike their own coinage, known as Fraxian Standard. Not only does this provide the city with an industry that employs a large number of people, it also means that extra money can be made through the establishment of money changers, whose work is taxed, but who are guaranteed to get business as the Merchant Council have banned the use of all other forms of coinage within the city.
The city benefits from the fact that it is located along most of the major trading routes through the Upper Underdark, and that it has one of the main arteries into the Middle Underdark terminating within its lower levels. This means that it is, relatively speaking, easy to get to compared to other settlements in the Underdark. Internally, the city is fitted with a well maintained network of major roads, which connect the major trading areas, though far less care has been taken with the roads and streets away from these major arteries. Unusually for a large city in the Underdark, or most settlements of any size on any of its levels for that matter, Frax has a highly sophisticated sewer system that carries waste from its three levels and belches it out into the expanse of the Eye of Orivious, where it is eventually deposited and incinerated in the lava wastes of the Deep Underdark. The principal reason why it is possible for Frax to have a system of sewer tunnels is that it is constructed on a large pocket of chalk, which is much easier to excavate through, therefore making tunnelling activities far easier than in most other places within the Underdark. A large amount of this sewer system was inherited from the ruined settlement that Frax is built on top of, but over the years the network has been extended whenever someone with capital has had the necessary incentive to stump up the gold.
Guilds and Factions
There are a number of factions that have an interest in the city of Frax. The largest factions, or perhaps more accurately, those with an obvious interest in the city are: Frax’s Merchant Houses – Foremost amongst Frax’s interested parties are the five major Merchant Houses who, along with the representative from the Hastellion Trading Company make up the Merchant Council. The five Merchant Houses are:
- House Saychou
- House Vadimovich
- House Joannou
- House Hirohara
- House Hevia
Frax is a city that sprung up thanks to its strategic position, with links to almost all of the major arteries across the Upper Underdark, and with one of the major links to the Middle Underdark terminating at the city’s lower level, however, it is not the first settlement to be established in its location. The city is actually built over the top of a ruined settlement, whose origin remains unknown to its inhabitants, which was apparently destroyed and abandoned long beyond the collective memory of all but a few of the Underdark's denizens. There are even no widely known references to the previous settlement in the written histories that have been recorded about the Underdark. Those obscure references that do exist often simply refer to the existence of a ruined city at the site of what would become Frax. Despite the loss of history concerning its previous incarnation, Frax itself grew up because a clear need for an established trading hub in the area, as the ruins quickly became a meeting point for trade once long distance commerce began to flourish across the Underdark. Initially the city grew up piecemeal, with large trading and mercantile organisations establishing compounds which steadily began to abut one another. However, it was not until an attack by Hobgoblin raiders that these mercantile groups decided to band together, if only geographically, to create the city of Frax, which they took joint charge of defending and administering. Since that time, the city has flourished for hundreds of years under the rule of the Merchant Council, but Council’s focus on their own profit means that Frax has always been regarded as a dangerous place, where one has to watch one’s step.
Whilst Frax, like most places in the Underdark has never been considered specifically as a destination for tourists, its positioning on the edge of the Eye of Orivious does mean that it attracts a number of visitors, curious to see this natural marvel in the flesh. However, compared to the vast amounts of people who visit the city to trade, sightseers make up an incredibly small part of the number of overall visitors to the city.
It’s origins mean that Frax has a rather disjointed feel to it, with no coherent style of architecture consistent across the city. The Merchant Houses that originally built their compounds within the ruins of Frax’s predecessor control and have taken responsibility for constructing large areas of the city, including the main market places where most of the trade happens. As building materials, beyond the limestone that the town is built upon, or the harder rock available nearby, have to be imported, the city’s more affluent districts are built from a mix of mediums and styles, sourced at the whims of their benefactors. Away from the areas of the city paid for and controlled by the Merchant Houses, Frax is a massive extent of slum, most of the buildings built in a dry stone wall style out of whatever pieces of rock or masonry the residents could scavenge, with some buildings in the lower level of the city excavated into the rock walls.
The city is set on a large area of flat ground on part of the eastern edge of the Eye of Orivious. However, Frax does not just exist on the surface of the Upper Underdark, but also extends below the surface, with three levels making up the entirety of the city, one on the surface and two beneath the ground. Multiple staircases and tunnels have been built across the city, providing access to the lower levels. The western sides of these subterranean levels have buildings built overlooking in parts and open out on others onto the abyss that is the Eye of Orivious.
Mote in the Eye
I always like a multi-layered location, though living there sounds exactly as terrible as I'd expect from a place directly run by merchants.