At Heward’s Forks off Brandy Lane, Lower Ward
The two-storey structure of the Styx Oarsman squats on the edge of Heward’s Forks, a small square connecting the bend in Brandy Lane to the curving thoroughfare of Ironmonger Street. The dung covered statue that is set in the square gives the small court its name and provides the local avians with a favourite perch and latrine. The squawking of the executioner’s ravens that nest here particularly annoys the current doorman, Jarkman Vries (planar tiefling fighter [he/him] / Athar / NE ), a surly cutter who is constantly chewing on one of his trademark Arborean cigars. Vries is known to enforce a strict “Lower Planars Only” policy unless garnished by a decent bribe, and will not let heavily armed parties, known proxies, baatezu, celestials, or disguised bashers in without a challenge unless vouched for by a regular patron or one of the staff. The tiefling is renowned for his irritability, the vituperous curses he levels at proxies and priests and his unique choice of weaponry. Those attempting to barge inside have been known to receive a point blank volley of red steel shot from the tiefling’s magical arquebus—a fine steel snaplock which bears the stamp of the “Royal Cormyr Arsenal” and the symbol of Gond Wondermaker pressed into its engraved silver butt-guard. Where or how the tiefling obtained such a weapon is a mystery, but few doubt its effectiveness as a debating style.
One glance around the darkened common room confirms the tavern’s sinister reputation as the meeting place for the various Lower Planar races. Apart from a weak candle illuminating the bar area, a visitor can only make out the shadowy outlines of the menagerie of fiends that use this establishment as their local watering-hole. Zegonz Vlaric (planar githzerai magus [he/him] / Bleak Cabal / CE), the proprietor, works the taps and shouts the food orders less and less these days, succumbing to the melancholic Bleaker fugue that has come to afflict him. This leaves Jinhxep the Stoolie (planar quasit [she/her] / Fated / CE), his demented pet, to cater to the malevolent patrons and badger Lathly Dim, the deformed Sinker barman. From her perch on the scarred ex-zerth’s crooked arm, she spits out her aggressive squeak, protected by her status as the githzerai’s familiar. Surprisingly, the fiends accept the quasit’s insults usually, retaliating with only a spit of tanar’ric saliva—the enforced amnesty at the Styx Oarsman is too important to disrupt for the sake of a measly quasit. The barman though, is fair game as far as taunt’s are concerned—the formorian’s name means “Ugly Stupid” in Cager slang, and the favourite joke among the fiends currently features his mother as a catoblepas. Lately though, the joke appears to be wearing a bit thin, as the formorian has become quite irritable and petty. Not even his ettercap friend, Nux, can seem to get him to relax.
In addition to Jarkman’s presence at the door, the tavern has formidable security in the form of the excrementally-spoken Gennick the Mesmer (planar cambion [he/him] / CE), the so called “Colourful Cambion” and his loyal enforcer, a hulking yugoloth deserter named Xaedo (planar mezzoloth [he/him] / NE). With his entrancing rainbow robe and the ability to call upon the vrock imprisoned within his iron staff, the cambion is given a degree of respect by his race, despite his lesser status as a semi-fiend. Gennick’s whims, backed up by the Oinean steel glaive wielded by Xaedo, rule the tavern’s main floor and ensure that the peace is kept. Both the Hardheads and the Red Death keep out of the Oarsman by unspoken agreement—after all, which barmy wants to take on a tavern full of bubbed-up fiends? Of course, there are always the clueless to provide the security (and sometimes the patrons) with an opportunity for recreation and dismembering. The tavern’s most popular tanar’ri delicacy, the Styx Snack, usually fluctuates in availability but always seems to be in plentiful supply the week after a paladin fails to “cleanse the foul den of fiendishness that is referred to as the Styx Oarsman”.
As a place overlooked by Sigil’s Wheels of Law, the Oarsman is an excellent place to conduct illegal business—if one is prepared for the unpredictable, traitorous dealings of the tanar’ri. Several fiends and cross-traders conduct their business in the dark subterranean booths of the Oarsman’s lower floor or around the equally infamous Skiff Table near the taps on the main floor: Of course in the Oarsman, one can never tell who or what they are really dealing with…
Many a cross-trader comes to the Oarsman to hide from the Harmonium or the Red Death, lured by the safety offered by a tavern full of tanar’ri. Those cutters with enough courage (or not enough meat in their brain-box) to try this are handled by Quinsy, the enigmatic baaz draconian barkled to be the real owner of the tavern. It provides an unknown bolt-hole accessed from somewhere within the Oarsman—for the right pile of jink. The dragon man is courteous, intelligent and well-lanned about the Great Wheel—all of which are characteristics unknown in other members of his reptilian race from a Clueless backwater Prime world. Regardless of its real identity, Quinsy’s customers never complain about the quality of his service – the bloods who resurface never speak of their experience and the other sods are never heard from again.
Those bashers in search of work with a good blade, who aren’t too particular and don’t ask too many questions would do well to seek out Ulmshans (planar nabassu tanar’ri [he/him] / CE), the hire master for the Durao Deserters, at his private booth on the lower level. The Deserters are a mercenary band of assorted Lower Planar races affiliated with the Velven, a Hive based regiment of misfits and misanthropes. The life draining tanar’ri offers casual or contract jobs to tieflings, semi-fiends, evil aasimar and other fiendish types, paying a cutter well with tanar’ric Grey Ice, minted in the image of various Abyssal Lords.
There’s also the occasional visit of the infamous tanar’ri information broker, Rule-of-Three, holding court over the seekers of his knowledge from his stool by the bar. However, he and Gennick do not suffer each other gracefully, but so far there has not been a major confrontation. Like Gennick, the marquis-cambion’s mixed blood provokes strong views from the tanar’ri that take pride in being purely Abyssal bred, but the sage’s rumoured dealings with the baatezu are beginning to make some of the other patrons feel unsavoury towards him—well, even more unsavoury than they already are.
Those in search of an exotic toxin or rare venom soon hear about the unique poisons to be bought at the back door of the Oarsman. “Cookie” Comstock, the vaporighu spawned gour of the notorious tavern, is also a skilled apothecary and minor alchemist and augments his cooking with his toxicological knowledge. It is rumoured that the meals Comstock cooks for the patrons are the inspiration for his unique toxins—all food served at the Oarsman is catered to a tanar’ric clientele, resulting in several fatal poisonings amongst less fiendish diners in the past. Of course, dealing with the belligerent former Xaositect is difficult, not the least because of his severe halitosis and unpredictable temperament.
The last blood to use the Oarsman as a regular meeting place for business is the amphibian tanar’ri fence, Pollixen (planar hezrou tanar’ri [he/him] / CE), who meets regularly with his two associates in a booth on the lower level known to the regular patrons as “The Toad Pool”. Once a skilled agent in the Blood War, the hezrou discovered a flair for redistributing stolen goods that earned him a one way portal ride from his superiors to Sigil. Together with Schliphis (planar hydroloth [she/her] / NE) and Insufferable Massix (planar green slaad [he/him] Xaositect / CN), he formed an unlikely chaotic alliance that resulted in an unreliable but indispensable fencing business. The “Three Toads”, despite their disorganisation, provide the best means of relieving oneself of that piece of loot that is just too hot to handle. Rumours link them to the bigwigs Zadara or Shemeshka the Marauder, but no one really knows where the toads get the jink to secure their deals.
Not all the fiends at the Oarsman are there to turn a pile of jink; as a respected neutral ground in the ever raging Blood War, the tavern is a popular kip for fiends and their associates to relax, socialise and savour a meal that brings back memories of home. This is not to say there are never disagreements or brawls, but the tanar’ri, yugoloths, gehrehleths and tieflings that comprise the majority of the clientele respect the tavern’s unspoken code of behaviour.
Many notable fiends about Sigil have been spotted in the booths or at the main tables, in their cups or just soaking up the atmosphere. Even the bloods and high-ups from the Lady’s Ward have been known to drop into the tavern to soak up the ambience. Noshteroth of the Umber Scales, the high priest of the Temple of the Abyss, is partial to Comstock’s Retriever Pie à la Viper Tree blood sauce and infrequently dines in one of the lower booths with his consort Noxana the Unwilling. They are occasionally joined by other members of the temple staff, but are always guarded by a brace of Noshteroth’s rutterkin retainers to ensure that they remain undisturbed.
Stories are still told about the one-off appearance of Ely Cromlich, the notable Doomguard factor, at the tavern, but the cambion weaponmaster has yet to make a return visit since the one-week rampage of entropy that earned him his current place at the factol’s side. It was Cromlich that bested the Clueless Paladin of Pholtus that provided Jarkman with the opportunity to fill the previous doorman’s position. Not that the surly cuss is grateful or anything, mind you.
Colcook, Shemeshka the Marauder’s groomer-guard, sometimes consults with Rule-of-Three in one of the lower booths when his mistress grants him leave. Just what words are exchanged between the pair, remains a mystery, but it appears that the catty tiefling’s status with the King of the Cross Trade is improving — so whatever gossip the cambion is feeding the young climber, it’s put a shine to Colcook’s eyes.
In more recent times, the nycaloth Garroth the Blinded has been seen associating with the disreputable Djhek’nlarr. Rumours paint the two as tragic lovers, but most think that’s just tanar’ric screed or some babau’s bub-bawling. Long standing patrons have begun to reminisce about the early days when Vlaric wouldn’t even deign to spit on a githyanki, let alone allow one to hire out a lower booth with some stagmeister yugoloth. Yet, times have changed and with them the clientele; even the infamous Skiff Table has become less exclusively tanar’ric as other fiends frequent the bar in greater numbers.
The Skiff Table has long been a central feature of the Oarsman’s main floor. Originally billed as the Oarsman’s take on the high table of Fortune’s Wheel, a place at the overturned marraenoloth punt is still considered invitation only. The agenda of the table has shifted from promoting the Blood War, to ceasing it all together and back again with assaults into other interests as the need arises. The current forum is headed by Talice (planar yochlol tanar’ri in drow form [she/her] / CE), a yocholol in the from of a commanding drow female, although like all tanar’ri alliances, her position is continually under threat. Her major supporter, but oft times opponent is the akilith Synophrys (planar akilith tanar’ri [he/him] / Ring-Giver / CE), a pompous Abyssal Ring Giver who entertains the affectation of being carried around in an intricately inlaid platinum casket by his maurezhi manservant Chalazion the Marasmic (planar maurezhi [he/him]] / CE). Other notables include Hordeolum Stye, the diseased barghest exile and the Colobom, an obese renegade molydeus. It is believed all represent different power groups and factions within the Cage and the Abyss, although their shifting natures make it difficult to determine who pulls the stings of these deadly marionettes. A surprising member of the group is the barbazu Asperchius the Turncoat. The only baatezu tolerated under the Oarsman’s pallid roof, most consider him a spy or at best untrustworthy. Both Synophrys and Talice readily accept the bearded fiend to their council, much to the dismay of Garroth the Blinded who has been attempting to gain acceptance for a full year now.
Garnish for Doorman: Jarkman prefers to be paid (and bribed) in smokepowder/gunpowder charges or unusual types of arquebus shot. Such items are difficult to obtain in Sigil, although the C.T.C. (Coloara Trading Coster) booth in the Great Bazaar stocks a large selection of firearm related merchandise, including a small selection of magical weapons and ammunition. Those unable to provide these “gifts”, the tiefling peels for at least 15 jinx, even higher if he suspects troublemakers, identifies a priest in the group or recognises them as aligned with the Upper Planes.
Drinks: 4 greens for the cheap bub, 2 ice for Carcerian bitter and up to 10 ice for curdled aasimar blood; Brix Recommends: The Oarsman has a plentiful stock of heartwine, due to Comstock’s unsuccessful attempts to discover the secret recipe of the Cilenei Brothers. The sour, sophisticated beverage fetches the steep price of 150 jinx a bottle.
Food/Poison: Styx Snacks (complimentary when available), house special: Retriever Pie in Viper Tree blood sauce, 4 merts; Brix Recommends: Nothing from Comstock’s kitchen could be regarded as palatable for anything other than a fiend, a gannet of a tiefling or a particularly adventurous dwarven Sensate armed with poison neutralisation skills. Any other race that eats at the Oarsman is affected by a randomly chosen ingested poison type. Prices range from 4 ice for a gut ache to as much as 15 jinx for a decent dose of bilious carcass, fit for a Blood War general on the march. The prices for non-fiends vary, but life is usually cheap for the unlucky Clueless that dare to eat at the Oarsman.
Private booth: Vlaric or his pet charge a flat fee of 4 ice per hour for a table away from the prying eyes and ears of the other patrons, seclusion guaranteed. Of course, in Sigil, and particularly the Oarsman, the walls have ears—or is that fiends?
Information: Rule-of-Three accepts only offerings of three related things as payment; such as a green, a stinger, and a jinx or a joke, a proverb and an insult for example. A Xaositect factor once paid with a slap, a tickle and a wink which the wise man found amusing, but prospective clients are warned that despite any claims to the contrary, this is likely to be found funny only the once.
Safe Bolt-hole: Quinsy’s prices depend upon his moods, his fancy and his estimation of a cutter’s worth. The more urgent and the longer the duration of the desired disappearance, the more difficult it is to negotiate with the unusual baaz. Estimates are difficult to come by, due to the difficulty of locating Quinsy’s former customers (part of the deal, in fact) but the draconian always carries a swath of legal styled contracts with him, so some return service is definitely involved.
Unique toxins: Comstock prefers to be paid in specific ingredients and often arranges for customers to provide him with select items from Seamusxanthuszenus’s Parts & Pieces or rare components from the Outlands, the Lower Planes or the Prime. Sometimes, “Cookie” asks a cutter to safeguard a special delivery from some Clueless squid known as Shaun Taunador, a dealer in the pirate burg of Skulport on Toril
Fencing Stolen Goods: Pollixen and his cronies pay well, but due to the nature of their trade in items too difficult to dispose of elsewhere, any transaction is a sodding peel. Of course, when a bob looks like leading to a shortcut to the leafless tree, a pile of jink don’t look half as bad as the thought of languishing in the dead book.
Mercenary work: Ulmshans pays double standard rates for one off mercenary work, but refuses to hire githzerai—company policy it seems. Caravan guarding, courier work and enforcer type work are handled by the death fiend, with more “sensitive” operations being handled by less visible members of the Company. Freelancers that impress him are offered a permanent commission within the ranks of the Deserters, subject to an interview with his superiors