I have taken it upon myself to put to parchment the known history of this loathsome den of villains. Deneir aid me in my quest. When first I considered the nature of the task, I mistakenly lulled myself into believing that uncovering and transcribing the lore of Skullport would be a mundane tusk. How does one port differ greatly from another?
It is with great humility that I admit I was gravely mistaken. The Port of Shadow is unlike any port above or below the surface of Abeir-Toril. Not surprisingly, it is much like the Underhalls that surround it: difficult to quantify, enigmatic, dangerous and yet alluring, all at the same time. The whole attempt would have been fruitless had I not encountered Sangalor of the Secrets, a generous and fair-minded person whose knowledge of Skullport is only matched by his devotion to Oghma the Binder. Sungalor, if you are reading this, I thank you for the guidance and insight. May the Binder keep you safe.
Alphraxis of Deneir
Skullport, or the Port of Shadow to the learned and informed, is a dismal and dangerous domain populated by the vilest beings the Realms Below has to offer. Mercenaries gather to sell their swords and lives to the highest bidder; Noble drow move about shading their intrigues and machinations from the various luminescent fungi, and slaves that go up on the auction blocks to feed the demand for labor. Slavers, smugglers, mercenaries, and black-market merchants operate openly in Skullport. In fact, the economy of the Port of Shadow is dependent upon the despicable practice of buying and selling sentient creatures.
The enigmatic Skulls rule and maintain order in the city. These floating disembodied skulls wander about Skullport, which takes its name from their presence, tending to aims only they can fathom and enforcing their sometimes whimsical and often harsh will through the use of cryptic magical abilities.
But so long as the actions of a being do not inhibit trade, cause mass destruction, or attempt to wrest control of the Port from the Skulls, his or her actions are ignored by the Skulls and largely overlooked by the populace of the city.
Skullport is also a haven for underworld and illicit activities such as: Smuggling, piracy and pirates, drug-running and alchemists who concoct drugs and poison all thrive and dwell here. Most folk in Skullport are likely hiding from or trying to avoid the forces of the law of the surface world or are poor folk trapped in this city of darkness because of personal misfortune, they lack the resources to rejoin the surface realms, or sometimes it is just the misfortune of being born here.
The Port of Shadows can be broken down into four somewhat distinct regions and three vertical elevations (The Crown, The Venter, and The Dredge), although the exact divisions between wards are a constant source of conflict. The Sargauth creates a series of dark canals which are the thoroughfares traversed used by individuals mostly on gondolas each piloted by a black-skulled skeleton. Boardwalks and bridges join many major wards, but specific locations may only be accessible by a skeleton’s gondola.
Skull Island. This is the island surrounded by the River Sargauth (and a nearby enclave) at the south end of the Murkspan Bridge. The most prominent feature of the island is the tower of black basalt sculpted from a massive stalactite called the Tower of Seven Woes. Before the ruination of the sea caves, slaves are were kept here before being shipped to points unknown; however now House Drowdeen from Ched Nasad have since taken control of the island and all its riches. Skull Island has only one level.
The Port. This is the first leg of the main cavern of Skullport just north of Skull Island across the Murkspan Bridge. It is by far the loudest and most rowdy of the wards; considering the number of festhalls located here. The ceiling here rises to a height of nearly 100 feet and is dominated by the complex weave of catwalks and wooden palisades overhead. Far overhead hangs a forest of stalactites. It also contains many warehouses, businesses dependent on the canals, importers, and exporters. It is generally a ward of lower-class businesses and residences. This does not however exclude it from conflict. Religious factions vie for dominance in the Port: remnants of the Church of Loviatar occupy The Venter elevation, and Umberlee dominating The Dredge elevation both using local gangs to fight minor skirmishes while priests and clerics work their vile ceremonies in darkness.
The Trade Lanes. This is the area to the east of the Port ward. Long corridors of canals runs east from the Port in this long cavern. Its northern and southern walls are fairly straight. It features one of the broadest canals in Skullport and harbors the bulk of the trades and services to be found in the Port of Shadow. Anything and everything is for sale here from scrolls, to salvaged goods, and poisons. The ceiling gradually rises from about 100 feet to 300 as it angles upward to the Heart. Anyone who peers upward can see the waterclock high overhead between the Dredge and Venter Trade Lanes. The Trade Lanes has three levels that often bring factions into conflict: the Melairkyn have come to reclaim the Venter with sudden shrewdness; The Zhentarium in the Crown; and the Iron Ring slavers in the Dredge.
The Heart: The Heart is the easternmost portion of the main cavern where it opens out from the Trade Lanes and rounds off naturally at the easternmost wall. The main cavern rises highest in the Heart and holds numerous residences and some businesses. It is the highest-class area in Skullport, a distinction of dubious relevance considering the low-class nature of the entire city.
The bulk of the Skulker population makes their homes here among the stone columns and stalactites of the cave. Most of the more unusual races make their homes here as well. The ceiling of the cavern in this ward is the highest point in Skullport, and some structures twine the stalactites some 300 feet above the main cavern floor, including the spider-shaped drow refuge of House Auvryndar.
The Heart ward has three levels like the Trade Lanes, but because of the higher ceiling in the Heart, the upper levels of the Heart are higher in elevation than the upper level of the Trade Lanes. It is in these levels where the Red-Mages of Thay, pious elementalists, and numerous thieves guilds struggle for control over this upper-class ward.