Astrumdantalas is one of the few human cities that can pre-date itself before the time of Lodoga and when the Emperors walked the world. Elves say with certainty the city was founded by the Bard Deledago and his troupe of performers. It was originally intended to be a small trading post at a river fork between the Banshar Krush, the eastern seas, and the Elf Village of Six Stars. It was promoted heavily by Deledago as a free city, with no taxation, little police, and open to all who come in peace.
Within two generations Astrumdantalas had a population of several thousand, a functional port on both rivers, and rife bands of thieves, brigands, beggars, merchants and vagrants. All races participated in the growth of the city and even today there is no definitive minority or outsider race. Astrumdantalas has been sacked and burned to the ground innumerable times but it continues to be rebuilt over the ruins of the old. This has in effect created layers of previous half-destroyed dwellings that were further built upon or buried. Those newer buildings were likewise built upon when they start to crumble, or at the very least torn down and wrought anew. These under-structures are a labyrinth of ruins and passages that maze their way down fifty, sixty or more feet under the cities current roads and buildings. One would assume that these pits would be best avoided or only used by the most loathsome of folk, but on the contrary, the wealthy and powerful dwell underneath while the vagrants and beggars take hearth to the filthy streets above.
The Bardic colleges controlled what little law lay within Astrumdantalas for many years. Over time they simply lacked sufficient numbers and the proper ruthlessness to maintain power. The Bardic colleges still exist but hold little power beyond their well-financed dormitories. Astrumdantalas technically has no law, no police, and no civil services at all. It is kept from falling into complete anarchy by several powerful merchants, pirates, thieves, beggars, craftsmen and the Scryers guild. All of these have the mutual interest to keep Astrumdantalas thriving as a tax free haven to ply their trades. Ownership is held only by word of mouth and sword in hand. Permanent citizens known exactly who owns what and why, and this is referred to as Reeveless Law – that is a sort of common law that all are expected to abide by, or face vigilantism. A hand shake with some spit and blood in it is the proper means to barter ownership of something like a building or docking rights. Simply slaying the previous owner and taking what he owns will only get one mobbed by the cities hardened residence.
Reeveless Law caters heavily towards the current powerful patrons of the city. Naturally nothing is outright taxed, but protection payments for visitors, inspection fees, and writs for services are all collected by the dock-lords and merchant captains. This law changes from district to district, and in particular when one travels into the deeps of the city. Older sections of the city have stone walls to delineate them from the rabble and are generally more upscale with sewage drains and fresh water wells. The shack towns beyond the stone walls host the worst of the vagrants and few travel within for anything wholesome. The worst criminals, killers, and sociopaths make their way into these shack towns when they wish to escape the law of more proper realms.
The under-levels Astrumdantalas are situated under and between the two rivers and are of two distinct types - maintained and unmaintained. Unmaintained sections are considered to be uninhabitable and consist of sewers, caves, rubbled ruins and areas that are too damp to build. The Maintained sections are considered to be richest and most lavish dwellings within Astrumdantalas. Rich merchant lords and guilders will form their own private maze of under-dwellings with the finest goods and services that one may come across. These individual mazes are linked through a variety of smaller passages to the huge internal cistern called The Bards Bazaar. The cistern is long since dry and its ceilings rise thirty feet above the floor and the cistern itself stretches over a half a mile in length. Dwarves crafted it long ago and many Dwarven noble lords still make a vacation home that connects to the grand cistern.
The Bards Bazaar is the open market for the opulent and well connected. No permanent residence are allowed within the cistern so the floors are clean and trades come from all over the world to set up a shop for the daylight hours. Of all in the cities in the world, none can compete with Astrumdantalas and The Bards Bazaar for the sheer variety and quality of good it attracts. Bizarre races who come peacefully are welcome to trade within, and few are denied entry if they pay the proper guilder fees. The finest slaves, weapons, narcotics, cloth, grains, brews and crafted products of the world can usually be found within. The cistern is one of the few places with armed guards that are neutral in their loyalty and traders come to the bazaar only if they are invited by one of the local merchant of guilders.
Several smaller and far less impressive markets operate on streets of Astrumdantalas. These are seldom more than brigands selling their goods, but often quality goods can be had at barging prices. Barter is more common than exchange of coins, and the demand of certain goods changed from day to day or even hour by hour. Very powerful and important travelers will often stop at Astrumdantalas and pay nearly anything for their hearts desire. A flock of pygmy parrots may trade for a bowl of porridge one day, then a sack full of gems the next. Fortune tellers, card readers, bone scryers, and just about any Halfling are in high demand because of this.
Huge profits can be had at a moments notice if the proper information is known. One of the most powerful guilds in Astrumdantalas is the Scryers Guild because of this. Other guilds and powerful nobles will pay dearly for their services, and they often pay with favors rather than gold. This has thrust the Scryers Guild into a fulcrum role of information collection and leaking. The Scryers Guild is not limited Astrumdantalas. Many of their agents are sent to hot spots all over the known world to collect information. It is said the Scryers guild knows many secrets, including the nature and time of the next Great Season. Naturally lords of all races and demeanors find great interest in this secretive guild.
The Scryers Guild works in conjunction with the Bards Guild the Thieves Guild for their information collection. This is usually a one sided affair where the Scryers pay the Bards and Thieves for a certain collection of information, goods, or people. The pay is usually exorbinate and the best and most skilled Bards and Thieves are guilded. To a lesser extent beggars, vagrants, pirates and mercenaries are also used, but usually in less important roles for the Scryers Guild. Astrumdantalas is the nerve center of their operation so it is natural that most talent folk in those skills make the pilgrimage.
Smaller sects, cults, and guilds also make Astrumdantalas their home. As long as they do not molest the citizens and guilds, they are usually left to their own workings free from lordly scrutiny or moral restrictions. There are far too many to list but one of note is the little known, but powerful Indolesmanus. The Indolesmanus scours the world for children with the Oculus in their bloodline or child prodigies. It is unknown who their leader is, but it is clear who over he or they are, they operate a well funded orphanage in Astrumdantalas for these children. The children are said to be instructed with the finest tutors and skill masters, and honed into hyper-intelligent masters of many disciplines. Those who have been encountered are sociopathic killers, extremely intelligent, and highly dangerous to those in their way. No Indolesmanus agent has been captured alive, and few have been bested.
This is somewhat of a parody on the City of Greyhawk with a bit of Lankmar thrown in. I expect Astrumdantalas to act as a good travel-by location to find some bits of information that would otherwise be unavailable. Information for a heafty price of course.