Devils and Dilettantes
Through the use of necromantic spells the following information has been gathered about the drow city of Zirnakaynin
Deep beneath the Fangwood of Nirmathas, buried by a maze of tunnels and miles of impenetrable rock, lies Zirnakaynin. A marvel of construction and tenacity, the city proper occupies three massive caverns layered one over another, but its holdings include countless grottos, lightless tunnels, and black-bladed fortresses throughout the nearby Darklands. Within the city’s three central caverns— Cocyrdavarin, Eirdrisseir, and Rygirnan the city’s drow population, nobles and commoners alike, all vying for power and influence in a city built on treachery and pain.
The Twelve Houses
On the streets of the Last Home, in the chambers of Ileccinoc, and across the vault of Eirdrisseir, the 12 most powerful families of Zirnakaynin wage a silent war. Each offering sacrifices to their own demonic patrons, these conniving noble houses hold unrivaled control over the city, checked only by the endless workings of their own cruel ambitions and the watchful threat of retaliation from their equally scheming peers. Every house provides some vital service to the city, whether it be providing water, facilitating trade, capturing and selling slaves, or numerous other specialties. Thus, all 12 houses have a unique ability to strike against their enemies or severely worsen the state of the entire city should they be directly offended, locking the fractious nobles into a frustrating but lasting stalemate.
Of the 12 ruling families, six claim the most widespread influence, the members of these greater houses merely the latest entrenched generation of dynasties stretching back untold centuries. Lower than these greater families socially but no less scheming and no less influential are the lesser families, clans whose ascendancy to power can be counted in decades. These lesser families claim nobility not by blood but by gold, by blade, and by virtue of the secrets they alone possess.
All six greater houses make their homes in Eirdrisseir, manipulating the city and their slaves from above.
Azrinae: Although the majority of the Azrinaes recently left Zirnakaynin to pursue the whims of their mysterious new matron Allevrah Azrinae, this ancient house of collectors and dark scholars retains its holdings in the city. From their Eirdrisseir palace, First Son Kardinnyr and an army of his most devoted servants defends the family’s concerns against the covetous schemes of the city’s remaining nobles. To aid in their son’s defense, the Azrinaes have opened their fearfully rumored vaults, releasing ancient and powerful treasures and secrets long gleaned from the demon lord Abraxas, all but assuring their holdings’ survival until their matron’s return.
Dolour: No house better understands the savagery that lurks beyond the caverns of Cocyrdavarin than the shadowy hunters of House Dolour. From the cramped maze of Nirzevren, their trap riddled palace home, and an unknown number of hidden redoubts throughout the Darklands, the scions of House Dolour hone their skills as trackers, hunters, man-catchers, explorers, and guides. Flaying sacrifices in the name of the demon lord Andirifku, the house knows many secrets and has carved great wealth from the endless darkness. The majority of the house’s deals are conducted by Matron Eirenion, a patient leader who endlessly quivers with the effects of a rare spider venom, a debilitation that causes many to foolishly underestimate her.
Rasivrein: House Rasivrein directs the commerce and industry of Zirnakaynin through fear and control Miles of chains bind the slaves of Rasivrein as they toil over the forges of Rygirnan, populate the work houses of Ghenavoc, and mine the depth surrounding the city. Ironclad Rasivrein warriors regularly strike at non-drow communities, dragging slaves by the hundreds back to feed the city’s ravenous hunger, and to serve as sacrifices for their bloody patron, Zura. The daughters of impatient and wrathful Matron Vulissakra, Embralya and Xirrathiem, oversee the prison of Vostrac, keeping the feared house’s sentient livestock culled, complacent, and ready for sale.
Tracinoa: Subtle and guarded, the lightly spoken intimates of House Tracinoa have supplied Zirnakaynin with water for centuries. Coaxing vital fluids from the rocks themselves and controlling the flow of the Endless Tear, Tracinoa provides the whole city with limited liquid rations. Those who seek to cheat the water bringers or steal the house’s precious commodity often find themselves dead with their next drink, killed either by the family’s master poisoners or by assassins in the service of their faceless demonic patron, Jubilex. Matron Valisava has a reputation for being one of the most mercenary leaders of the city, willing to sell her family’s services as water bringers and poisoners to any who can pay her exorbitant prices.
Vexidyre: It’s said that gold-palmed House Vexidyre has a hand in every pocket of Zirnakaynin. Master traders and silken-tongued orators, the house of beauteous Matron Ulavakasa excels at half-truths, falsehoods, and honing lying into an art form. Agents of Vexidyre regulate the trade of Ovessia, damning those merchants who don’t have prior arrangements with the family or pay their hefty bribes to the trash market of Drashes. Worshipers of the bloody demon lord Shax, the tenacious house wages business and politics like war, and their skirmishes upon the council floors of Ileccinoc prove no less deadly than actual battlefield combat.
Vonnarc: The black-cloaked mages of House Vonnarc are a mystery even unto themselves. The house’s mages ambitiously seek ever greater and more depraved mystical secrets, often keeping their discoveries from their own family. Ancient Matron Pravora, renowned as a master of divination, has long obsessed with her research and the manipulation of her children, yet is rarely seen outside her demon-guarded laboratories. In her obsessed absence, the house’s eldest scion, First Daughter Alicavniss, orchestrates most of Vonnarc’s dealings within the city and beyond.
The lesser houses hold bastions throughout the city, in Eirdrisseir, on the streets of Cocyrdavarin, and even in the pit of Rygirnan.
Caldrana: From their iron fortress amid the fires of Rygirnan, House Caldrana stokes the forge flames of Zirnakaynin, supplying the city with an endless supply of worked goods and masterfully crafted weapons. Occupying a position of dubious honor as the city’s only male leader, Patron Zov is a monster of an elf, a powerfully muscled master smith who many say is possessed by Caldrana’s demonic master, Flauros himself. Zov wields a gigantic greataxe called Char, an atrocity of black steel and fiery crystal that few other drow could even hope to heft.
Misraria: Few know the streets and shadows of Zirnakaynin better than House Misraria, the worshipers of Nocticula, Demon Queen of Darkness. Fleet-footed messengers, keepers of confidences, and silencers of loose tongues, the house of spies and assassins has eyes everywhere and barters secrets like gemstones. Matron Zoveinia furiously seeks to give birth to a female heir, yet her past seven pregnancies yielded males. Supposedly, none of these children—nor their sires—have survived.
Moivas: These verminlords control the beasts of Zirnakaynin, the creatures of the fields, the steeds of the elite, and the monstrosities that lurk in the surrounding wilds. Matron Paphagehia receives widespread mockery for doting on her deformed, blind daughter, Yagonol, keeping the malformed youth close like a favored pet. Paphagehia murderously rebukes such attacks, though, claiming the girl possess strange insights into the will of the house’s disgusting patron demon lord, Mazmezz.
Parastric: The only noble house not to keep a palace within Zirnakaynin, House Parastric is quietly reviled by the other nobles, yet far too useful and deadly to be shunned. From the Moaning Vault, south of Cocyrdavarin, insane alchemists of Parastric hone the perverse art of fleshwarping. In their profane laboratories they merge mad alchemy and the abyssal energies of their patron demon lord, Haagenti, to sculpt and transform living beings. From their terrifying halls skitter driders and other horrific fleshwarps. Yet the house’s unhinged geniuses don’t restrict their experiments to outsiders alone; nearly every scion of House Parastric bears the mark of fleshwarping, either from a single augmented limb to an entirely, monstrously reshaped body. The unnaturally beautiful Matron Astranovidova leads Parastric and is often seen within Zirnakaynin attended by her drider daughter Mardeis, promoting their house’s obscene powers with offers both repellent and perversely tempting.
Sardavic: The Cyclic Sublime serves as both Zirnakaynin’s center of artistic debauchery and the palace of House Sardavic, the city’s foremost patrons and critics of art and the avant-garde. Matron Sarlottia—a prima donna in her own right—and her retinue of currently favored offspring organize daily spectacles upon the opera house’s public stages, dedicating each display to the boundless vice and imagination of their demonic patron Socothbenoth.
Udrinor: More than simple farmers, the drow of House Udrinor control the spread of edible fungi in Zirnakaynin and the numerous surrounding caverns. In addition to filling the city’s storehouses and dominating the efforts of independent harvesters, Udrinor disposes of bodies for the city, composting most to feed their treasured crops and sacrificing others to the verminous brood of their patron demon Cyth-V’sug. Matron Holtavoma frequently tours her family’s holdings outside the city, and it’s said that she and her daughters cultivate a strange control over their moldering forests.