Most people do not choose to live in Bolgrad; they merely have nowhere else to go. They say this is because Bolgrad was an unlucky city from the start. It was built along a major trade route that dried up after a nearby kingdom fell. The lands surrounding the city are prone to sinkholes. As a result, new buildings are crammed next to or built on top of older ones. Greed festered into corruption within the government leaving most of the citizens apathetic. Cramped conditions combined with a lack of opportunity have caused crime to skyrocket.
The city gained its famous moniker a generation ago. A sylph woman by the name of Liagiba was accused of witchcraft. There was a hasty trial and Liagiba was declared guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake for her crimes. On the day of her execution, most of the city gathered to witness it, filling the town square. As it turns out Liagiba was not, in fact, a witch but with her dying breath, she laid a curse upon Bolgrad. The smoke from her pyre enveloped the city filling every street and alleyway. Liagiba called out as she died that it would remain until stones weep and rivers burns.
The lowborn are those who live closest to the ground level. They have to deal with the thickest and darkest of the smoke. Hoods, masks, and scarves are a familiar sight in their parts of the city. Most lowborn are human, with a smattering of gnomes eking out a living in the cramped streets of the city. Tieflings are also common though few know it. Head and face coverings allow them to hide obvious signs of their fiendish heritage. Most lowborn businesses are small and cramped. They do not generate enough profits to expand. All forms of livelihood that produce smoke are outright banned among the lowborn. The lowborn tend to shake their heads and grumble at misfortunes such as these but don’t do a great deal to try and improve things. They also must contend with smoke mephits that crossover to the material plane. The mephits like to play pranks on unsuspecting lowborn such as placing a nail on a chair. If caught in the act, they will flee into the smoke to recover only to return later.
The highborn are those who live several stories off the ground to escape the worst of the smoke. Most of the highborn come from wealth and have used their money to design lavish living spaces. They will purchase floors on adjacent buildings and connect them with elegant sky bridges. Since the smoke is thinner here, masks and head coverings are not a necessity. Most highborn will still wear silk scarves and gilded masks to follow fashions. They are primarily of humans, and gnomes but there are a few families of sylph counted among the elites of the city. Unlike the lowborn, the highborn have little restrictions on their businesses. As a result, all of the bakeries and smithies in the city are in highborn districts. With steady incomes, many highborn have the means to indulge in eccentric hobbies. Smoke dragons are an everyday sight in Bolgrad and are often kept by highborn as pets. They treat the small dragons like dogs, teaching them to perform simple tricks and to stand guard.
A wizard has arrived in Bolgrad claiming they can solve the city’s smoke problem. The proposed solution is to open up a small but permanent portal to the elemental plane of air. The constant wind blowing out of the portal should be enough to keep the smoke at bay. Some influential highborn have come out in favor of this plan. Many of the lowborn leaders are against the plan for a variety of reasons. One of their principal concerns is that with any portal left open, outsiders could come through. They also say a permanent portal could allow planar traits to leach into the city. The city government says it will consider the safety issues but many lowborn scoff at this.
Citizens have been disappearing in increasing numbers in recent weeks. The response from the government is that criminals are kidnapping people for ransom. The true explanation is far more sinister than people simply going missing. Xenopterids have built a hive in the city sewers and are breeding rapidly. Bolgrad has proven to be a fertile hunting ground for the vermin. With the thick smoke and how common masks are the xenopterids can move about freely. Most citizens barely give someone they pass on the street a second glance. This allows the xenoptreids to grab someone off the streets and drag them away completely undetected.
A black-market bakery has been operating in the lowborn districts. The location changes on a randomized basis, allowing it to avoid the no smoke ban on businesses. The mysterious bakers all wear white masks fashioned to look like doves. They walk the streets distributing bread to those in need before vanishing into the smoke. The bakers are beloved by the lowborn much to the local government’s dismay. They have even distracted guards allowing bakers to escape. The government will not tolerate this blatant disregard for their laws. A price has been put on the head of any baker not officially licensed by the city.
Drag & Drop Encounter (CR 11)
The alleyway you are walking through is narrower than the main street. It’s only ten feet wide, but billowing clouds of smoke make it seem even smaller. The entire area is treated as if under the effect of an obscuring mist spell. At the mouth of the alley, you can barely make out an indistinct figure blocking your way. The figure does not respond to greetings of any kind and continues to stand rigidly in your way. If you try to walk past them they attempt a grapple check and let out a shrill buzzing sound. Two figures hiding above begin to crawl down the walls on either side of you. A fourth figure is barring the way back, leaving you completely surrounded. Their faces split open revealing insectile pincers as they close in on you.