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 even 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 cultures commanded scandalous prices from the Free City, 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 take a keen interest in local affairs, noting the rise and fall of the 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 distinguished 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 protecting their own. While they are not nobles, the mine managers exist in a stratum 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 miners’ loyalty tends to map directly to the working conditions, pay, and respect offered to the miners by their wealthy masters.
How to Get There Most people arrive at Diamond Lake by carriage or by accident. The Able Carter Coaching Company possesses a fleet of horse-drawn coaches, and inns positioned at various points in its paths. It has direct connections between Diamond Lake and the Free City (3 days east), the town of Blackstone (1 day east), the town of Elmshire (2 days north), and Blackwall Keep (2 days southeast).
Another sure-fire way to get into town is to commit a crime in the Free City, especially one involving debts. A lot of criminals are offered extended stays in one of Diamond Lake’s mines in return for a deferred sentence, so many people arrive in town with shackles and an armed escort.
How to Get Out Depending on your situation, you might have a hard time leaving the town. Hiring a coach from Able Carter costs 5 sp per day of travel involved (so traveling by coach to Elmshire would cost 1 gp). Horses are available for sale at the Lakeside Stables, but the ostler Lanch Faraday is known for rather vicious mood-swings; be sure to check any mounts you buy for odd bruises.
Passage is available across Diamond Lake, but with the lake’s excessive pollution (the result of mining run-off and extensive smelting), there are no longer any other towns on the lake’s shores. The retired marine Durskin will gladly take passengers across the lake, assuming they can deal with the smell of urine and the constant flea-bites. The Cult of the Green Lady has a sailboat and will gladly ferry passengers, as long as they’ll listen to a sermon along the way.
Where to Stay Most people who lack the resources to own a residence in Diamond Lake (those that could be bothered to, that is) stay in Jalek’s Flophouse, a ramshackle warehouse within smelling distance of the lake. Anyone willing to stay within it must pay 5 cp per night, paid to a massive, helmeted mute named Golot. No one has an address at Jalek’s; the room you keep is the room you get.
It’s also possible to stay at the Midnight Salute, though most of their clientele don’t actually sleep there for long. Anyone willing to pay above-average lodging fees will find plenty of pampering for their money – and, the more money they show, the more pampering they can get.
Most travelers and passersby stay at the Able Carter Coaching Inn, but only long enough to book passage out again. Rooms cost 1 gp per night, and stabling is available for 5 sp per day. (The Lakeside Stables are cheaper for horse-storage, but Faraday’s reputation and temper bring many to consider the extra expense well-spent.)
Where to Visit Every day, when weather is permitting, merchants line the central square with hand-carts full of merchandise, baskets laden with fruit or pastries, and scams to separate the foolish from their coin.
People seeking a little culture in their spending go to Lazare’s, a cozy gaming parlor facing the central courtyard. The town’s elite gather there nightly to challenge each other at dragonchess, or outwit each other at dragonfire (an ante-based card game). Visitors are expected to bring their own dragonchess pieces (each booth has its own board set into the table), but rental sets are available for the unprepared.
Those looking for more culture, but less class, go to the Emporium to see the two-headed calf, the contortionist, the fortune-teller, and several other oddities. They also go there to throw their money away at various games of chance, including dragonfire, norebonne (a dice game), and a contest known simply as the Rat Game, in which rats race through an open-topped maze. The winner then gets to fight several jermlaine while in a drug-induced frenzy.
The town is laced with run-down ale-halls with poor reputations, watered-down ale, and no entry-fee. (Both Lazare’s and the Emporium charge you just for showing up.) The busiest of these is the Feral Dog, a rather sleazy tavern known best for its dog-fighting pit and its frequent brawls. Its gaining popularity for a house-sponsored knife-throwing contest, but its ale will never win any awards.
Many people stop by the Hungry Gar to eat throughout the day, though it certainly can’t be because of the quality of the food. If you’re looking for a decent meal, go elsewhere – but stop here if you’re looking for quantity; the portions, like the proprietor, are very large.
The Midnight Salute is a by-the-numbers bordello, which means you can get just enough liquor to lower your inhibitions before engaging in more, well, engaging activity. Don’t expect much in the way of food or drink – if you’re there, you’re there for other reasons.
People looking for a more straightforward tavern – the kind where you can actually enjoy yourself without risking a knifing – go to the Spinning Giant, named for the faded fresco on the front wall of a dancing imbecilic hill giant in a yellow dress. Mostly patronized by the garrison soldiers, this place has higher-than-average quality beverages, food that actually takes some effort to prepare, and a clientele that frowns on pickpockets and rowdies. Try their garlic butter rolls, and be prepared to pay handsomely if you ask for wine.
The largest shop dedicated to food is the Rusty Bucket, a restaurant that had to change their menu after the lake’s fishing went bad (as did the lake itself). Since the owner, mine manager Chaum Gansworth, stays out of the political maneuvering common to the other managers, most of the town considers the Bucket to be neutral territory. Try the brisket, but be sure to ask for light gravy or they’ll smother your tray.
Where to Shop Most shoppers in town end up in Taggin’s General Store one way or another. The interior matches the exterior: chaotic, disorderly, and verging on collapse. Somehow, Taggin manages to keep mental track of the location and quantity of everything in the store; the shelves seem to be randomly filled with whatever will fit, but the owner can rapidly find anything requested. If you’re in mind to buy a canary from his over-full cage, be warned: any canaries that get out while you’re getting one must be paid for.
Those with the money for a good-natured mugging go to Tidwoad’s, the local jeweler. The gnome running this shop brags that his display cases are theft-proof, and he will be straightforward about just how badly he’s cheating you. He will gladly buy most valuables, but starts haggling at about one-third an item’s value – except for gemstones, for which he only charges one gold in twenty. He also rents out storage vaults, with safety ensured by the presence of a pet shield guardian named Festus.
Looking for weaponry? Try the Captain’s Blade, an efficient shop that sells weaponry of all sorts. Tyrol Ebberly, an inveterate gossip with a fanatical devotion to armaments, loves to show off his best wares, and keeps a surprisingly large selection available.
If your combat style favors distance, you’d prefer Venelle’s, a distinctly-carved building near Allustan’s house. The proprietor favors bows and arrows, but she also keeps some crossbows and slings on hand. She keeps a small selection of armor and other weaponry available, having traded her own work at the Free City. To get on her good side, bring along some knowledge of elven culture.
Anything metallic can be had at the Osgood Smithy, as long as you can deal with the smell of soot, loud noise, and a blackened handshake and slap on the back from Osgood himself. His memory is nearly flawless, and his metalwork is just as good. His specialty is masterwork armor, though he leaves the leatherworking to Venelle.
Diamond Lake’s smelting facility doesn’t initially seem like a place to visit, but anyone willing to endure the stench of fumes, scalding heat, and noxious runoff can buy alchemical mixtures (and even magical brews) from the chemist Benazel. Be prepared, as he’ll talk your ear off while he wraps your purchase.