CS' Curse of the Crimson Throne 5E
Numerous non-governmental, non-mercantile factions exist throughout Korvosa. Most of these practice illegal and extralegal activities, and many battle for dominance throughout the town in constant and bloody turf wars.
By charter amendment, Korvosa does not allow merchants, laborers, or tradesmen to form guilds, but it does allow for a thieves’ guild. This causes legitimate workers no end of frustration and anger.
Many of the poorer noble houses bristle at the blatant extortion engineered by the Cerulean Society, Korvosa’s only thieves’ guild. The Cerulean Society runs a fairly typical protection racket with excruciatingly smug satisfaction, as Guildmaster Boule provides his Cerulean Society with actual blue uniforms to wear when they come to collect, giving the guild the look of authority. The price a “client” pays for the Cerulean Society’s “service” varies, depending not on wealth but on a complicated formula known only to the guildmaster. Indeed, the wealthy House Jeggare pays less than a gold sail per year for its protection, while impoverished House Peltherianon cannot hope to afford to pay the hundred sails the Cerulean Society demands each month. The Cerulean Society offers its protective service to every noble house, as well as to wealthy merchants, the temple of Abadar, and others who cross it.
When a potential client fails to pay, it goes on a list provided to the gangs of cat burglars and second-story men legitimized by the guild, who then have the goahead to act on that information as they see fit. Those who cannot or do not pay open themselves to theft and muggings. Failure to pay does not automatically guarantee thefts, however, as doing so would make it too easy for the Korvosan Guard to capture the guild’s allies. The guild works together with legitimate gangs to ensure they don’t overwork an area or cause too much suffering to any particular non-client (including beleaguered House Peltherianon). The threat of theft and robbery at knifepoint is enough to make most potential clients pay up, so the guild is careful to not always extend the offer of this service to every potential target.
In addition to blatant extortion, the Cerulean Society also generates income by regulating the other gangs in the city. Twice per year, the Cerulean Society sends members and trusted agents throughout the city, again wearing its distinctive blue uniform, collecting dues from other gangs. A gang that pays its dues to the thieves’ guild gains a level of legitimacy that allows the guild to tap the gang’s members for the purpose of showing why the Cerulean Society’s protection is a valuable service. Those gangs that can’t or won’t pay the dues don’t last long. The swift eradication of such gangs by the thieves’ guild strikes fear in all who witness or hear about such events, further ensuring that gangs pay up.
Cerulean Society members do actually perform illicit acts of their own, although for the most part they leave thieving to the other gangs. The thieves’ guild operates several secret gambling dens within the city, whose whereabouts remain carefully concealed and change at random times. These gambling dens pop up suddenly and disappear even more quickly, so the Cerulean Society must use a large stable of information dealers and rumormongers to swiftly spread the word of their locations before they move on.
The Cerulean Society maintains a monopoly on smuggling into and out of the city, which ties in well with its extensive drug empire. In addition to drugs, the society also oversees the importation of weapons, necromantic and demonic goods, and unusual creatures. It exports homegrown pesh, slaves, and infernal goods. Of course, because it so tightly controls the smuggling trade, anything illicit that comes into or goes out of the city passes through one of its warehouses, barges, or ships. Those who try to bypass the Cerulean Society in a smuggling operation can expect to go jigsaw shark fishing—as the bait.
For reasons unclear to outsiders, the thieves’ guild only operates on the mainland and in East Shore. It never seeks out protection clients in Old Korvosa and only sends members there to collect dues from gangs in the district. Rumors abound that House Arkona supports the Cerulean Society in some way, but no investigation has ever found a connection. Any link between the two remains a carefully guarded secret.
The Gangs of Korvosa
A number of recognized gangs prowl the sewers, streets, and rooftops of Korvosa, and undoubtedly other groups exist that remain uncatalogued and unseen. Most of these groups, registered and not, incorporate or answer to the Zingaran Sczarni (the regional crime family).
Catsdew Lofties: This all-female cat burglar gang specializes in traveling across the Shingles of Korvosa, slipping into homes through chimneys, third-story balconies, and attic windows. The Lofties have perhaps the most cosmopolitan of all memberships, accepting into the ranks any female of any race able to prove herself in a test of acrobatics, coordination, and loyalty. The Lofties take pride in their stealth and only carry weapons to protect themselves from the predators who lurk in the Shingles. To date, not a single job performed by the Catsdew Lofties—successful or botched—has required a Lofty to attack anyone.
Dusters: Taking its name from the distinctive overcoats worn by its members, the Dusters gang specializes in armed robbery, kidnappings, and harassing innocents. A spineless and dimwitted Shoanti bully named Kynndors Thok acts as the leader of this ham-fisted gang. The entire underworld community—with the exclusion of Kynndors himself—knows that the Dusters’ true leadership lies with Kynndor’s Zingaran girlfriend, who goes by the singular name of Marlessa. Rumors whisper that Marlessa has ties to the Sczarni and uses the Dusters as goons whenever one of the dons requires.
Rat’s Teat Boys: As much a shadowy rumor as a truly known gang, the Rat’s Teat Boys supposedly consists exclusively of wererats. This group apparently works its trade under the streets of Old Korvosa, although circumstantial evidence of its handiworks occasionally appears on the mainland. Every so often, the rumors say, the boys go on a “recruitment drive.” During these frightening times people suddenly disappear throughout the district, thought to be claimed by the Rat Teat’s Boys and made into foul lycanthropes. That people frequently disappear in the district even during the best of times doesn’t quell the near-panic these rumored enlistment periods engender.
Sczarni: Organized Sczarni gangs frequently prowl the streets and sewers of Korvosa. They form, fight briefly against the Cerulean Society, and then melt again into the Zingaran population. The Cerulean Society and other gangs in the city struggle against these Sczarni uprisings, but they cannot afford genocidal sweeps of Zingarans (or even known Sczarni) among them, as so many of their own members (and leaders) hail from that large and influential family.
Rumors state that the Sczarnis want to take down House Arkona, but the Zingarans hold so little power in the city that such an occurrence seems impossible.