Blood and Magic
Avalon is a land of rolling plains and forests. Its people are earthy, idealistic, patriotic, and hungry for culture. Respect for The Platinum Flame runs deep in them, and their nation produces some of the most pious, hard-working people in the world. At the heart of this kingdom is Thaco. Over three hundred years old, Thaco is a city of over thirty-five thousand people, the largest urban area in all of Avalon.
The Journey to Thaco; excerpt from a Read Aloud Text:
It is a good tenday journey to the city, in the best weather, for the wealthy who can pay for a constant change of horses. For you, it takes much longer. A bleak, cold-scoured season, as the winds of late winter rip through brittle branches with a dry screech, and the cold rains of early spring rattle down through vacant limbs.
You travel through scrub-lands domesticated by farm life. Overgrazed fields are dotted with cows, their withers shriveled and papery, their lowing desperate. An emptiness seems to have settled over the farmyards. Once, you see a farm woman standing on her doorstep, hands sunk deep in her apron pockets, face lined with grief and rage at the gray sky. The woman watches the carriage pass, and her face shows yearning to be on it, to be dead, to be anywhere else.
Eventually, the farms give way to deserted mills and abandoned granges. Then, abrupt and decisive, Thaco rises before you. A city of insistence, of blanket declaration. It seems to make no sense, clotting up the horizon, sprouting like a mirage. A brash, upstart city.
The carriage passes through a ramshackle tent city, erected against a southern gate, and the scramble of life arouses itself again, in an urban key, unrestrained and self-forgiving,
Finally you pass through the gate, and enter Thaco. A city not amused by itself, nor does it seem to consider amusement a proper attitude for a city. It’s high self regard springs up almost immediately in public spaces, ceremonial squares, parks and facades and reflecting pools. Pompous and pretentious.
It’s sometimes difficult to find a single label for Thaco. Depending on who you talk to, Thaco is either a festering nest of liars and thieves or the last bastion of civilization in a darkening world. It is both a small kingdom’s central hub of sophistication and an inconsequential backwater port city of a fallen empire.
Perhaps the best way to think of Thaco is as a frontier city. But as “wild” as Thaco is, the Church of the Flame still holds considerable power, both spiritual and secular.
Thaco is a melting pot in the extreme. The names of many humans, for example, have become so jumbled that often they no longer offer a clue as to a person’s original lineage and familial land of origin. Likewise, the currency is a mixture of very old coins and standard Imperial coins, as well as a smattering of foreign money, coming off of merchant vessels. Lastly, the city has always been accepting of variant outlooks and beliefs, even when they are not popular, and the Edict of Deviltry is rarely enforced without a political agenda.
Thaco is a city of energetic activity, movement, and noise that grows muted in fogs and by night, but never really ceases. Its cobbled streets are broad (enough to turn a coach or cart without unhitching its team) but are choked with wagons, carts, and folk mounted and afoot by day, and only a little less crowded by night. There are few sidewalks, and streets (rather than having a central “crown” to shed water to side gutters) slope gently down from the flanking buildings to a slimy open drainage trough running down the center of the street.
It’s the smell of the city that gets to you first. No matter where you stand, you probably smell the rain, because it likely either just finished raining, is just about to rain, or is raining now. The odors of damp clothes and people, moldy wood, wet straw, rain-slicked stone, and burning wood and coal mix together to create a unique aroma. But if it’s not raining, the thick fog holds the mingled odors of cooking food, domestic animals, garbage, and sewage. The latter two aren’t as bad as they could be; the sewers in Thaco are quite efficient, and the constant rain keeps their contents moving. Muddy puddles are common with all the rain the city gets; it is difficult to keep one’s trousers clean in Thaco, let alone one’s boots. Some of the puddles become deceptively deep.
About once each block, a metal grate provides access to the sewers from the street. Water runs into the sewers from the gutters down the center of the street. The sewer grates are all hinged but locked (Open Lock, DC 20).
After the smell, it’s the noise you notice. People aren’t shy about shouting to their neighbors out their windows, or calling down the street from their doors. Tolling bells and sounding horns signal various events, and entertainers sing, play instruments, and tell jokes in the street. Street orators attempt to inform and persuade those who will stop to listen, while bellringers shout out the news of the day. Behind all those sounds, in many areas of town you can hear the rushing waters of the Gygax River through the ravine that cleaves the city in two, or the crashing of waves on the Cliffs of Lost Wishes at the city’s edge.
As you look west, the city rises. To the east, it falls until it reaches the cliffs.
Thaco is crowded with buildings and you won’t see many trees or grassy areas except in city squares or parks.
Although the structures vary from district to district, typical city houses are narrow, two to four story tall stone buildings with steeply sloped tile or slate roofs that bristle with dormers. Many have balconies on their third floor and higher, and several have exterior back stairs going down into alleys. At the back of many dwellings is a small stable. Street-level windows, and those on the floor above, are almost always equipped with stout shutters. Every building has at least one stone chimney.
Typically, the buildings of Thaco touch each other on at least one side, and usually two. One side of a structure typically runs along a very narrow alleyway, often no more than three or four feet across.
Thaco is an extremely vertical place.
At the highest and westernmost point of the city proper, atop the Jeweled Cliffs, lies the Nobles’ Quarter. One of the newer areas of town, it is built on the highest major shelf. Below that is, ironically, the oldest part of town, Flamekeep, named after the palace that it is built around. It is not as high in elevation as the Nobles’ Quarter but it still overlooks the rest of the city. One must pass under the turrets of Flamekeep to begin the climb to the Nobles’ Quarter; this is the only approach.
The Gygax River cuts through the center of town, flowing east to empty into the Bay of Tears. The river comes into town from the north and west, cutting a wide swath north of Flamekeep called the Gygax River Gorge. The gorge separates Flamekeep from a small residential district to the northeast called Northgate. At the end of the gorge, the river plummets down two hundred feet in a tall waterfall, to flow more gently toward the bay within narrower and more modest banks. The Gygax River, which effectively cuts the city in half, is spanned by no fewer than twelve bridges.
The Platinum Cliffs, the defensible ridge upon which Flamekeep was built, rises almost two hundred feet above the rest of the city. A wide, man-made ramp along King’s Road extends for four hundred feet from these heights down into the city center.
One can also reach Flamekeep via a bridge that extends south across the Gygax River Gorge from Northgate and another that leads out of the city at its northwestern corner.
South of Flamekeep lies the South Market district. North of the river and east of Northgate is the North Market, which is far more open and chaotic than its southern counterpart. Sandwiched between the two markets and due east of Flamekeep is the largest of the city’s districts, called Midtown. Southeast of Midtown is the smoke-filled Forgeworks, which extends all the way down to the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Tears. Wedged in just northeast of the Forgeworks and south of the Gygax River at the cliffs’ edge is the small and dangerous slum known as The Bricks.
In northeastern Midtown and south of the North Market lies Saint Casteel’s Cathedral, with its infamous Path of Martyr’s. East of the North Market, at the northeastern corner, atop the cliffs, sits the formidable dwarven fortress, The Temple of The All Father. This vast, walled compound is one of the last standing monuments of the original dwarven kingdom that predates Avalon.
In most sections of the city, the river rushes through its narrow channel one hundred feet or more below the street level. It eventually empties into the Bay of Tears in another grand waterfall just south of the thin strip of land at the bottom of the cliffs where the Docks lie. These grand Cliffs of Lost Wishes, which run along the city’s shoreline, rise over five hundred feet above the crashing waves below. A winding road carved into the Cliffside connects the Docks with the rest of the city.
It is well over two miles from the western edge of the Nobles’ Quarter to the cliffs above the bay.
Queen Regent Tatianna governs the city, as well as the kingdom, from the Palace of Flamekeep defended by the Golden Knights and inhabited by the officials and lords that run the government of the city and the baronies. The First Minister of the Flame, the Lord Marshel, the leaders of several guilds, and the ambassador of Sylvan all have a degree of influence in the queen regent’s councels.
Tatianna rules in the stead of her eight year old heir, Crowned King Obberron, although most citizens feel that the Minister of Flame, Cardinal Loriston is the true power behind the throne.
About fifteen years ago the Cardinal Loriston assembled the Golden Knights to protect the royal family in times of emergency. This elite troop comprises some of the most martially focused individuals in the city.
Cardinal Loriston is popular due to his willingness to accommodate the needs and desires of the people. He has elevated the authority and responsibility of the City Council, a group of nobles, guildmasters, and other influential individuals. The Council has since became a decision-making body with two chambers: the Tribunal and the Assembly. The Tribunal has only three positions, occupied by Tatianna, The Minister of Flame, and the Lord Marshel.
Although Tatiana technically remains the ultimate authority, the influence of the other Tribunal members makes them voices she can’t afford to ignore. The Tribunal currently feels pressure from a number of sides to add at least one more chair for a guild representative.
The Assembly has twenty-five members, including a representative from each of the ten noble houses. While not as powerful as the Tribunal, the Assembly can still enact policy, particularly when the members speak with a unified voice.
The City Watch has one primary goal: to keep the peace. To this end, the Watch patrols each district (except The Bricks, although they deny that fact) and maintain guards on duty to answer when called by shouts or warning bells. The Watch has absolute authority in the city, and the right to arrest and detain anyone for any reason. The Lord Marshal empowers them to use force, even deadly force, on anyone who resists. Guards do not need proof to apprehend a wrongdoer, but they’re usually careful not to arrest the wrong person, after all, their mistaken quarry might be someone of influence or might have ties to someone of influence (if the person is poor with no important connections, the guards make no bones about treating that person as they like.)
The City Watch spends much of its time breaking up fights (although often they arrive after the fight is over), and enforcing Peacebonds. Residents can summon the guards to deal with mundane crime and daily disorders. They attempt to apprehend criminals, trying to catch them in the act whenever possible. Otherwise, the Watch serves as more of a deterrent than anything else.
Investigating crimes rarely makes it to the City Watch’s list of duties; once a crime is over and the perpetrator gone, the guards generally forget about it. Only when a criminal begins repeating his offense does the Watch take investigative action to prevent future crime.
Guards in the Watch know the city streets and layout very well. A patrol checks the locks of sewer grates, doors on the city wall towers, and businesses known to be closed for the night. They poke around areas where trouble might brew, such as abandoned warehouses or back alleys. They know most of the good hiding places in Thaco, and are familiar with the ins and outs of most the criminal groups and activities. They know where offenders are likely to hide, where they tend to strike, and even what most of them look like on sight, some even by name, and they are perfectly within their rights to haul in a known criminal, even if the individual isn’t doing anything wrong at the moment.
The uniforms of the City Watch consist of green tunics worn over chainmail armor. The guards carry shields bearing the coat of arms of Thaco: a silver eagle on a green field. They carry either longwords or glaives, as well as hand crossbows. Constables wear similar uniforms, but with the addition of a silver sash. They also wear scale rather than chain armor and carry hand-and-a-half swords rather than longswords. A captain of the guard wears full plate armor and a special shield insignia as well as the silver sash of a constable.
The Watch is divided up into various precincts that correlate to the city’s districts (not counting the Bricks). Thus, there are eight garrisons. Each district has a garrison that serves as a temporary jail and a barracks for the guards on duty. Most garrisons are tall structures or even towers, which allows a single guard on duty to keep a vigil. Usually, however, the Watch is summoned by cries of danger, the sound of trouble (usually a fight), or the sounding of one of the warning bells mounted on poles throughout the city. Typically, it takes anywhere from one to ten minutes for the City Watch to respond to a warning bell, but it could take as long as thirty minutes, depending on how far the trouble is from a garrison, how well the area is patrolled, and what else is going on in the district.
A garrison usually keeps about two dozen guards on duty at any given time, at least half of whom are on patrol. During the day, most guards patrol on their own, although occasionally they wander in teams of two or even three. At night, a patrol always consists of at least three guards, and often have as many as six. The constable on duty at each garrison is expected to go on patrol with his or her guards. Commanding each district’s City Watch members is a captain of the guard. These nine captains answer directly to the Lord Marshal.
Citizens rumor of internal corruption within the City Watch. And confiscated goods taken from smugglers or from a merchant who didn’t pay their tariffs often do tend to “disappear” from storage in the garrisons at times . And City Watch patrols have been known to extort funds from citizens as “protection money” or as bribes paid to avoid hassle or arrest.
Should the city face an actual attack, the one hundred and fifty Golden Knights and the five hundred members of the City Watch are not its only defenders. The Sisterhood of Flame also would come to the city’s aid (they number approximately one hundred), although they likely would work to keep order within the walls rather than defend against outside invaders. House Breakwater maintains its own private army of about one hundred well-trained soldiers that would be at the city’s disposal as well. Further, about three hundred Dragonlancers are within a days travel of the city, and more would arrive soon after. Next, the Lord Marshal would likely commission a sizable city militia from the male population, and most men would find themselves quickly conscripted, adding up to at least another thousand troops. If necessary, he could widen the nets of conscription to garner another thousand infantry from outlying communities.
In all, Thaco could call to its defense approximately thirty-two hundred troops fairly quickly. And thanks to the Edict of Conscript, the majority of these would have combat experience or training. An opposing army would find themselves no match for the knights and elite forces the Lord Marshal could muster against them. Thaco is actually a dangerous place to attack, despite the city’s many gates and lack of a standing army. It is suspected that the Lord Marshal is not only keenly aware of these facts but takes secret pride in them. Deep down, he probably would like to see someone attempt to attack the city.
First and foremost, Thaco exists to facilitate the exchange of money and goods. In fact, the city was formed three centuries ago as a small port town to provide goods to Nereth’s mining communities in the Greyhawk Mountains.
Thaco’s economy still centers around its role as a gathering place for traders and goods. Farmers throughout Avalon bring their produce to Thaco to sell, whether it is grain, fruit, or vegetables. They also bring in livestock, including sheep and cattle. Miners bring precious metals from the mountains and loggers from the King’s Forest ship timber into town to sell. Merchant vessels from all along the northern coast of the Great Ocean come to Thaco to buy these goods and bring in others. Thaco also teems with craftspeople, from simple coopers to incredibly skilled metalsmiths. The city even boasts a few artisans who can create and maintain delicate or complex devices such as clocks, and to a limited extent, even steam engines and other wonders.
Thaco is a boomtown , and coin flows like a golden river through the streets of the city. Some of the wealth is old money stemming from the noble families. Some of it is new money coming into the city in the hands of merchants and mercenaries.
Any item from the Player’s Handbook priced at 100,000 gp or less is probably available in Thaco one way or another (although when it comes to magic items, access is restricted to common items based on the rarity method).
THE WALL AND GATES
The wall surrounding Thaco was originally constructed to give the city room to grow, with the walls encompassing vast acres of unused land, particularly on the south end of town. Today the city bursts at its seams, although major construction has yet to spill outside the perimeter.
The walls surrounding Thaco merely restrict access into the city from the north and the south. The walls do not run along the clifftop to the east, nor do they protect the Nobles Quarter’s to the west, relying on the natural cliffs for protection.
The walls measure fifteen feet thick and forty feet high. The top of the wall sports battlements on either side and a twelve-foot walkway in between them runs the length of the walls. About every eight hundred feet, the wall is punctuated by a tower. These towers are fifty feet high; each has four interior levels, a flat, crenellated rooftop, and a cellar. Every tower can be entered through an iron door from within the city and from entrances atop the walls, making it possible to “walk the walls,” using the towers. As defensible as all of this is, Thaco has never been attacked. The City Watch patrols the walls once each night, but the guards use it as a vantage point to look into the city, not out. The towers stand empty, and even though the doors stay locked, vagrants or squatters sometimes sleep within the lower levels or cellars to avoid notice when the Watch patrols the wall. Small criminal gangs have been known to hide out in one tower or another for as much as a week.
It is a crime to climb over the city walls to get into or out of Thaco, or to attempt to smuggle goods over or under the walls in either direction. Typically, the fine for such a crime is 1 gp, plus any smuggled goods are confiscated.
Inside the city, many buildings use the wall as their own back wall. In some places, these adjacent structures rise even higher than the wall itself. Locals call these buildings “smuggler’s houses,” because criminals use them to get atop the wall and lower baskets or cargo nets over the side to bring up illegal items or goods the owners do not want tariffed.
Five gates lead into the city: three in the south wall and two in the north wall. Two of these are major gates and three are minor.
The major gates are set into sections of the city wall measuring about twenty-five feet thick. At each one stand twin sets of massive iron-bound, iron-hinged wooden portals twenty feet wide, with metal knobs to deter axes. A twenty-foot space lies in between each set of doors. From a small gatehouse here, guards control twin iron portcullises. Murder holes here allow defenders to drop down burning oil or fire crossbows. Both major gates are flanked by towers. Unlike other towers in the city wall, these are actually used as offices, storage, and off-duty areas for guards assigned to gate duty. The major gates are simply called the North Gate (in the North Market) and the South Gate (in the South Market).
The two minor gates in the south wall are more recent additions for the sake of convenience, thus they do not offer much in the way of defense. They consist of iron-bound wooden double doors each about ten feet wide. There is no gatehouse (and no portcullis or murder holes. These are called the Market Gate and Smith’s Gate.
The minor gate in the north wall, called Casteel’s Gate, is in the western part of town. One can only approach it by taking the high bridge across the Gygax River Gorge into Flamekeep. This gate is a single door fifteen feet wide; it has no gatehouse.
Each gate is guarded, but the guards almost never close the gates. Most of the gates, in fact, are so old and have not been closed in so long the hinges have rusted in place. Typically, four guards from the Watch are stationed at a given gate at any time, although, should any trouble arise, up to a dozen more guards from the nearest garrison will appear within a few minutes.
The guards at each gate enforce Peacebonds to enter the city and demand to see identification papers, such as a Royal Charter from anyone wishing to enter the city. They record each person’s name, reason for entering, and point of origin. They also demand a 2 sp toll per person, plus an additional 1 cp for a horse or other sizable animal (such as livestock) and 3 cp for a wagon. This is a daily toll, so someone entering, leaving, and returning in the same day pays only once. The guards do not stop people leaving the city unless ordered otherwise. This happens from time to time, usually when there is a search for a criminal who might be looking to leave.
On all goods brought into the city to be sold merchants must pay a levy of 5 percent of their assessed worth. Merchants without a gate receipt showing they’ve paid the taxes on goods for sale can face fines of 10 gp or more plus have all the goods confiscated.
On most days, a long line forms at each gate, particularly in the mornings as people wait to be allowed access to the city. Around each gate outside the walls, vendors sell goods to those entering the city. These goods include food, water, ale, and maps of the city (with varying degrees of accuracy).
The southeastern most gate, called the Smith’s Gate, has large pens for keeping livestock that will be brought into the city; a few private guards keep watch to prevent theft. The Market Gate has some fairly ramshackle storehouses built outside the walls for merchants to store goods without taking them through. A small settlement called Tent City is growing around that gate as well. Some one hundred individuals live in this encampment at any given time, and most of what goes on there is legally questionable at best. In Tent City, criminals sell forged identification papers, meet with contacts from other cities who don’t wish to actually enter Thaco, and make plans to smuggle in illegal goods.