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Specularum Miscellanea

by edited by AllanP from Threshold Magazine issue 21


by Ville Lähde

What lies beneath ground level in Specularum? Basic Module B6: “The Veiled Society” gives some hints, and the description of Flameflicker, the Thief-king, in GAZ1 (pg 52) records that among the character’s abilities is “knowledge of Specularum Sewers and Catacombs”.

Beneath the hillock on which the Nest district stands is a long abandoned mine shaft. As a result of this ancient mining, the hillock is riddled with old tunnels. In centuries past the old shafts and openings were covered with mining refuse and slag, upon which the poorest houses were built. As a result, the Nest has always been an unsafe and unhealthy place, as toxic fumes from the old mine workings remain. The purpose of these mine workings is lost in the mists of time. The tunnels seem to pre-date the Hutaakan reign over the settlement, suggesting they were excavated around BC 1500 as an enterprise of the Nithian-led Traldar.

A complex sewage system exists beneath the Church district. It is made up of three circular sewage gullies running under the district, each built on a different level of elevation, as the hill runs down eastward. Each circular gully has independent run-offs that lead to drilled shafts of gravel and sand (meant to drain excess sewage and water), but the three levels of gullies are also connected by sloping gullies, so the run-offs of all three levels come to optimal use during heavy rainstorms. Only the most important or affluent buildings in the district have access to the system – the major part of the district’s sewage is still spilled on the streets, as it is in other districts (see GAZ1 pg 36).

The Church District sewers were built among the ruins of the Traladaran buildings that were destroyed and covered over during the reconstruction of the district by the Thyatians after they took control of the city in AC 900. A few of the ruins form parts of the sewer walls, so enterprising delvers may be able to access the old ruins through the sewers. The crypt of the Ruined Temple of St. Ryrich (C8 on the district map) offers access to the ruins.

The remains of old Traladaran holy places offer potential access to a lower levels of the city containing the few remaining Hutaakan ruins. These areas can be accessed via the ancient tomb of Khmin under the ruined Traladaran shrine. Successful explorers will find there the remnants of an ancient observatory, administrative building, a well, archive rooms, and a fortress (the top of the hilllock during the Hutaakan era), built over the tomb of Khmin.

Wererats use the sewer system to move around the Church District. The wererats seldom venture below the sewer levels, but they know parts of the ruins, as they offer access to other parts of the Church District. There is a vibrant micro-ecosystem of monstrous fauna and flora that keeps them away from the deeper levels.


by Kilr Kowalski

Looking at the map showing the land contours on which Specularum is built, it is noticeable that some important buildings are now in regions which are gullies and low points between the hillocks. Of particular note are:

Given that these buildings are in relatively low-lying parts of the city, there will b e a need to protect these areas against potential floods by a form of drainage below the surface. It is estimated that the drains are passages about 5' high and 15' below the surface, gently sloping down into Mirror Bay. It is likely these drains are the provide for some clandestine transit throughout the city.

The northern section of this drainage follows the course of the Great Irrigation Channel that was constructed in AC 613 to combat the droughts in the northern fields by bringing water to them. This channel ran westward from the Hightower, then north towards the present-day Foreign Quarter in the middle of the Lesser Merchant District. At a later date (in the 8th century AC as the northern fields were built on and no longer provided farmland) the channel was filled in. Subsequently it provided the means for a drainage system that also branched south, (see 1 on Map 1 following.


By AllanP

Specularum has five main land gates in its surrounding walls as shown in Map 1 above (based on the city map in GAZ1). Starting from the north-east position and moving clockwise, these gates are:

My interpretation is that the North Gate is primarily for entering/exiting the Foreign Quarter. For travellers coming down the Duke’s Road heading for that part of the city, a trail branches off the Duke’s Road and head westwards, avoiding the city gate that leads into the Stronghold District. Having to pass through that neighbourhood and then the North End before getting to the Foreign Quarter might “hamper” some travellers.

The novel “Dark Knight of Karameikos” describes (pages 74-5) an isolated and seldom travelled road going north from Specularum and running parallel to the Duke’s Road until it connects to it near the wooden bridge at Krakatos. Perhaps this trail is only “seldom travelled” by the majority of visitors yo the capital?

In similar fashion, I suggest that another trail branches off the Westron Road some distance outside the city to also link to the trail that leads to the North Gate. This trail, however, is less used that n that from the Duke’s Road as arrivals at the Westron Road Gate have easy access to the western half of the Foreign Quarter.

From the crossroads where these trails converge north of the city, another trail heads off roughly northwards in the direction of the Radlebb Woods, connecting various rural villages and homesteads on the way..

(See also “Mapping the Estate” elsewhere in this issue)


By AllanP

Specularum stands on the west bank of the Highreach River. It is surrounded by the western half of the Marilenev Estate. The Estate has a large area of land on the eastern side of the river; how do people travel between the halves of the Estate?

There is no bridge in the immediate vicinity. It appears that the nearest bridge is upriver at Krakatos. It is not clear how far it is between Specularum and Krakatos; the GAZ1 8-mile hex map suggest it could be between 8 and 24 miles. In 1000AC Krakatos is in ruins. Jeff Grubb’s article, “The Magic of Karameikos”, in Dragon magazine #207, has this description:

The ruins of Krakatos are situated on a rocky bluff overlooking the Highreach River, just north of where the Eastron Road crosses that flow.”

The Eastron Road is a primary route from Rugalov that continues east into Thyatis; it is reasonable to assume that there would be a means of crossing the Highreach (Volaga) River to reach Specularum.

In chapter 3 the novel, “Dark Knight of Karameikos”, we have a description of this crossing. The characters in the adventuring party hear (page 76):

“...the rushing waters of the mighty Highreach River... as they approached the outskirts of the village [Krakatos] and its stout wooden bridge. The bridge spanned the wide river, standing on a dozen massive wooden supports, entire thick tree shafts jammed into the riverbed. The surface of the bridge offered a fairly wide path of planking with a simple thatch-roofed guard shack at either end.”

There is no indication of when the bridge was constructed; the reference above indicates that the engineers who built it used timber from the hardwood forests in the construction rather than quarried stone. Was it built by Thyatians in the early part of the 10th century AC as part of their “colonisation”, or did it have its origins earlier with Traladaran engineers? Potentially the river at Krakatos is about 780 feet wide – this is based on an assumption that spans between the bridge supports (and the banks either side) are each about 6o feet wide, allowing the barges and other vessels to pass beneath.

What effect does such a bridge have on river navigation? Bruce Heard’s blog article “Ports of Mystara” article assigns the Highreach/Volaga river a navigable as class of III (”Fairly Deep”) as far as Kelvin and Rifllian. The phrase “rushing waters” in the DKoK extract above might suggest it is difficult to travel upriver from this point. Perhaps this is just a seasonal aspect as the result of storms further upriver increasing the flow. The building of a bridge here would overcome the problems encountered in any ferry-like crossing at those times. Bruce Heard commented in a discussion on the Piazza Mystara forum hat:

“Without a drawbridge, river traffic could be limited to the upstream portion, down to the bridge. I’m thinking large barges to ferry cargo up and down the river, and pulled by huge oxen teams, are very likely. Otherwise, local galleys could be fitted with collapsible masts.”

This could mean that when the oxen teams pulling barges upriver, against the flow, reach their destination, they are then loaded on a barge to travel back downstream (with the flow) ready to take the next barges upriver.

On the following page, Map 2 represents the area showing both banks of the Volaga (Highreach) River near the city. [This map is a representation of the detail shown on the map of Specularum included in GAZ1: “The Grand Duchy of Karameikos”.]

On Map 2 you can see that, in addition to the riverside buildings and jetties labelled as Traders’ Corridor, there are 5 further “settlements” on both banks of the river in the immediate vicinity of the city. Could these be possible crossing points/landing stages?

The five locations from the map are:

(A) On the west bank, seems far enough away from the Traders’ Corridor riverside area that it can be seen as a separate entity;

(B) On the east bank is more or less opposite the northern end of the Traders’ Corridor; buildings on the western side of the river;

(C) Just south of the Sea Gate on the west bank seems at least half the size of Traders’ Corridor; on the original printed map accompanying GAZ1 there is a grey mark on the city wall behind this area that appears to signify a postern gate giving access to/from the Church District;

(D) is small and isolated on the east bank;

(E) On the west bank, at the south-eastern corner of the city it is almost half the size of Traders’ Corridor and again on the original map it is possible to make out a mark indicating a postern gate access to/from the South End “extension”. Note that before Duke Stefan built the outer city wall, this riverside might have enjoyed a more active relationship with the city than it now appears to.

What do purpose do these settlements serve? Is there some form of ferry crossing here – maybe between the northern end of Traders’ Corridor and (B) on the river’s east bank? Given that a large part of the Estate of Marilenev lies on the east side of the river, it seems reasonable to imagine the need for some crossing near Specularum. The river width here is about 1800 feet. Some waterborne crossing might be in use here, while other endeavours would require travelling north up the Duke’s Road to the bridge at Krakatos – or perhaps to a narrower ferry crossing between Specularum and the bridge.

Karameikan river traffic is described in Joshuan’s Almanac (pg.57):

“Indeed, the rivers of Karameikos provide a more convenient and time honored mode of travel than the King’s roads. Traladarans traversed the rivers long before Thyatians and their love of public engineering projects came to this land. One does not have to travel far along any major stream before encountering a place where one can get a ferry ride, rent a canoe, or even buy a large, river-going boat complete with crew.”

Sturm’s "AC 1020 map of Karameikos" (at the Vaults of Pandius) includes a number of smaller settlements in the area. Notably, there is a village named Nikelnevich across on the eastern side of the Highreach (Volaga) River. Does a trail lead north from this village to the settlement labelled “D” on Map 2? Or perhaps another trail leads northwards (via “B” ?) from “D” to the village of Seldanian (also on Sturn’s map)? It seems reasonable that a river crossing has been present between the west and east banks of the river, as a means for travelling between the two parts of the Estate of Marilenev and all points east (including the estates of Vorloi and Dmitrov), joining up with what could have been the precursor to the Eastron Road. Fishing, barge building and ferry services across the Volaga were likely endeavours of mostly lower and lower middle classes Traladarans. The river crossing is still the method favoured primarily by Traladarans who would see it as the “normal” way of crossing the Volaga.

The Thyatians would have been sensitive to a naval blockade of Specularum by the local militia and concerned about reinforcements from Thyatis reaching the city; both factors necessitating bridge building. The bridge at Krakatos may even be wooden because of this, after all you cannot “burn your bridges” if they are stone.


By AllanP

The city of Specularum is first referred to in the 1981 Exert Set Rulebook in the section describing a “Sample Wilderness Key and Maps”. The brief description explains that it is the major city of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos and has a population off 5,000 people living in or immediately around the city. The excellent harbour facilities and shipyards are home to a small fleet of warships. There are 2 breakwaters extending out into the harbour that provide protection by, restricting passage to a narrow entrance. Further defence of the harbour is provided by the Duke’s castle that overlooks the port. Just some sparse seeds about the city in this early canon entry.

Three years later, the city provides the backdrop for a Basic level adventure in module B6: “The Veiled Society”. It is stated that the trading centre of Specularum and the Grand Duchy of Karameikos are ruled by Duke Stefan Karameikos the Third. The population is still about 5,000 in number, comprised of farmers, craftsmen, sailors, and traders. Living just outside the city walls are poor workers and petty thieves who work outlying farms and the surrounding Estate of Marilenev. In addition to the description of the harbour and its breakwaters, the text records that a large river east of the city is the means for vessels to transport cargo inland to other towns of Duke’s lands.

Module B6 continues with further description of the city – its narrow, twisting streets, the trenches used for sewage in the streets, building construction and other aspects. It is recommended that DMs read up about “…the medieval cities of Germany and Italy…” to gain “… information useful in describing Specularum.”

A street map of the city is included in the module with limited detail, largely just a network of streets. As can be seen from illustration 1, it differs significantly from the later more detailed description and map of Specularum.

Later in 1984, the Basic solo module “Lathan’s Gold” has Specularum as a location for the first part of the adventure. The text introduces a number of locales in the city; including the Hippogriff Inn, the Golden Coin Gambling House, and the City Jail. No reference is made to the map or description of the city that appeared in module B6.

Three years later, in 1987, a pivotal Mystara product was published – GAZ1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, the first of the Gazetteer line of supplements for the setting. Included in the comprehensive text detailing aspects of the Grand Duchy, the Gazetteer includes a more detailed description of Specularum, together with a larger and more informative map of the city. While many elements of the original mapped city are carried on into this version (Duke’s castle, inner and outer walls, Duke’s Park, marketplace, harbour), the street layout is totally different and the 2 breakwaters in the harbour are gone – its entrance now protected by the double Sea-gates.

Also significantly changed in GAZ1’s AC 1000 setting is the city’s population: “…the last accurate census was 15 years ago, and Specularum then had a population of about 50,000. It is certainly greater now.”

This populace inhabits a number of distinct neighbourhoods that are individually described in the Gazetteer and shown on the city map.

“In Search of Adventure” published later in 1987 was a compilation of the first 9 Basic adventure modules that provided an “adventure path” set in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Beginning in Threshold, neophyte Player Characters gain experience and progress through the wilderness as 3rd level PCs in Specularum. The version of module B6 (“The Veiled society”) included in this compilation does not contain the map of the city as included in its original publication; the map version as used in GAZ1 is used.

However, looking at the top left-hand (northwest) corner of the map, there is a difference between the GAZ1 version and that the B1-9 compilation. As can be seen in illustration 2, in the B1-9 version there's a whole set of city blocks appearing outside the city walls on the northern side of the Westron Road.

These additional street blocks seem to cover a fairly large area (at least the size of the Church District) as they appear to continue northwards off the edge of the map.

This appears to be the only time this feature has appeared on a Specularum map – it is not included on the next published version of the map (see Dungeon Magazine #13 below) or in the AC 1012 version of the city map included in the box set “Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure”.

Early issues of Dungeon Magazine regularly carried adventures located in the Mystara campaign world. Specularum was the setting for “Of Nests and Nations” (an adventure for a party of 8th level Player Characters) in issue #13 in 1988. With scope to visit many parts of the city, the GAZ1 map is included with various locations pertinent to the adventure marked.

The Mystara campaign setting was relaunched as part of TSR’s AD&D product line in 1994. One of the first products under this banner was the box set “Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure”. Essentially a reengineered version of GAZ1, this moved Mystara 12 years into the future from the era of the Gazetteers and took into account the results of the “Wrath of the Immortals” epic box set. In AC 1012, the Grand Duchy has become a kingdom with the former Duke Stefan now titled King. The capital of Karameikos has not changed markedly; the map enclosed with the box set replicates the original. Of course, one aspect that has changed is that the city is no longer Specularum, it is now named Mirros, but to all intents and purposes, the description of the city reflects the original in GAZ1.

Some new additions to the description flesh out the original material a bit. It is here that we are informed that Specularum/Mirros “…sprawls over a number of small, rolling hillocks that cradle…” the harbour; and that sanitation is still provided by trenches in the street that drain “… into sewers. These sewers are not truly public works projects, but rather the buried ruins of previous settlements”. The population is now estimated at 70,000, noting that the city’s last accurate census was 25 years ago, fitting with the information given in GAZ1.

1995 saw the publication of the novel, “Dark Knight of Karameikos”, the final canon product that refers to Mirros (Specularum). The timeframe for this story has been established as AC 1018. The chapters set in Karameikos’ capital introduce us to St. Kruskiev’s monastery. On page 47, in Chapter 2, the novel describes the adventuring party’s entry into the city by the Westron Road gate, where:

“Between the outer and inner walls stood cultivated fields of corn and pumpkins to the right and the mysterious foreign district to the left.”

Perhaps if one of the characters in your campaign want to start a business in the city of Specularum, you could steer them towards cornering the pumpkin market?