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The town of Thresholdby Stefan Beate
I started writing a bit about the town now, taking the canon sources into account and interpreting them as to give a (I hope) believable idea about the town.
The town itself is at varying points said to have 500 or 5000 inhabitants, and is shown in different scales. As I have tried to show, the scale given in the expert set is somewhat more fitting, if you take 5000 inhabitants. Judging from what is available in Threshold, and what the adventures and the descriptions show, 5000 inhabitants seems much more fitting overall. (Take, for example, the number of guards supposedly in town – about 100 guards are available, which would mean basically every able-bodied man at 500 inhabitants). The expert set scale basically allows every single building to be shown, incidentally (at about 1:2000). This assumes a setting at AC 1000, so to reconcile the conflicting sources, you might argue that the population increased tenfold in a space of just a few years – possible, but unlikely. The boom would have stopped in AC 1000, so that in AC 1012 (K:KoA setting), it is still at 5000 people. I can easily imagine a boom from 970 onward, though.
Another point conflicting with the description are some adventure details, showing houses built closely together in parts of the town where the baronial decree specifically forbids this. Either ignore the baronial decree, or change the adventure details. I would change the adventures, as I think this decree gives the town a certain feel and serves to point out the differences between the new town and Fogor Island. Also, I would think that the old town was at least partially built before the baronial decree, so this might be somewhat more densely populated.
The town walls are sadly undetailed, only the two gates are shown. It can be argued that the walls are meant to keep out wild animals and the occasional marauding humanoid, and not organized armies, so the walls need only be good for that, and a wooden walkway along the top may be all that is needed. Usually, city walls have a multitude of guard towers. The old inner wall is partially torn down already, as shown in one source. This is not unusual IMO.
The town hall and the temple are stone or mostly stone. As seen in the K:KoA illustrations, the style of the Thyatians seems to be an vaguely Italian gothic style (the dukes palace), maybe reminiscent of venetian architecture. The temples are surely not as impressive as the Duomo di Milano, but the style might give an idea what the builders might strive for.
The river is a problem, in a way: The adventure “Trouble in Threshold” puts the water level at 50+ ft. below street level. The ziggurat introduced in that adventure needs quite some space to fit in there, and is relatively close to the river, so that even some slope inside the town (which is probably there, seeing that the town is situated in hilly terrain) does not take away all that much from this height. Maybe the ziggurat is situated inside a hill inside town, and from there, the terrain slopes down to the river. A difference of about 50 ft./15 meters from town to river generates quite some problems. It would explain that the town is flood-proof, though. But loading/unloading ships and even reaching the ships is bothersome, to say the least. Most cities I recall are no more than maybe a third of that above the river at the riverside, with many being even lower. Steep hills leading down to the water are not unusual, though. (I recall that from my hometown, incidentally. One church is built on a hill, and a steep slope is not too far away down to the river) But then, this is nowhere indicated. Granted, RPG maps almost never have any topographical information unless it is relevant for the adventure. So, I´d take the liberty to introduce some slopes toward the river and probably a hill above the ziggurat. OTOH, a certain height above the river makes the site somewhat flood-proof – otherwise, spring time sees a lot of flooding.
Sewers were mentioned, but I don´t think that they would be extensive – otherwise, underground structures might have been found before. They are probably mostly rainwater drains, as sewage drain needs a lot of water to function properly, and I think this can only be achieved with running water, not water from wells or the river, which is used sparingly.
The place was settled by Nithians and ancient Traladarans at least, with Hutaakan ruins nearby and more ruins and caves of unclear origin nearby. So, the area seems to be well-suited to being settled, even though it might have been abandoned at times. It might be that older buildings sink below ground, but OTOH, the structures introduced in the K:KoA adventure might have been below ground to begin with.
The place was settled when the Thyathians (or rather, Stefan Karameikos) came, otherwise Fogor Isle would look much different. At least one NPC is mentioned to have been born here more than 30 years ago. It was a much smaller place, regardless of using the 500 people population from the expert set or not. The New Wall states as much IMO. Again, I´d assume that Fogor Isle was settled first, because it was easily defensible against wild animals and marauding humanoids. If we assume a certain height above the water level, say, 3 meters or so, the isle would be reasonably safe against flooding. This would also explain why the old mill was built on the isle rather than at some other place, to keep it inside the defenses. (there might be a burned-down ruin of an even older mill on the riverbank somewhere…). I´d assume a wooden bridge crossing the river, easily torn or burnt down in case of a humanoid attack, and secured by a sturdy gate against animals.
When the Thyatians arrived, they set out immediately to build the castle and the city wall, and probably the dam also. Now, predates the old city wall the Thyatian takeover, or was there only a wooden palisade beforehand? From my ideas of the Traladarans, I´d see them building a palisade at most – wood is their traditional building material, and stone working is harder business. The “Siege at Sukyskin” in B10 has a palisade defense, and is even depicted on p. 10.
Maybe the traladarans built a palisade where the old wall now stands, leaving enough space inside to not having a crowded place (and being thus able to accommodate folks from the outlying farms, fishermen etc. in case of an attack). The Thyatians saw this as too feeble (and also maybe fearing an uprising from the outside, which is more easily fended off from a massive wall than from behind a palisade), and built a massive wall. Over the next few years, the city grew, quickly using all the available space inside the wall (and keeping in mind the barons building decree, which might be put in place after a damaging fire, an all-too-common occurrence in “medieval” towns), soon requiring building outside the wall. Soon, the new wall became necessary to provide the same protection to the new buildings. It was built large enough to be sufficient for at least a decade or two, even if this meant building it around a lot of empty space, which was probably used as agricultural plots, gardens etc. until needed for buildings. In fact, with the spaces between buildings, I would expect each house to have a garden, maybe some trees, pens for various small animals (chicken, goats, geese etc.), leaving quite a rural impression overall.
This leads me to the question just what picture the town presents to visitors. Assuming these visitors come by road from the south, they would encounter the gate and wall, a rather modest affair as walls go. Passing that and being informed by the guard of the special laws, just 200-300 feet behind the gate is yet another wall, this one older and without a gate. The area between the walls towards the river is a dead end, it might contain an inn and some minor buildings behind that. This dead end surely is not the best part of town.
Passing the inner wall, the main road lies ahead. To the right, the first bridge to Fogor Isle can be seen. Along the main road, the area is probably more densely built and dating back to before the building decree, as even if the town was less populous in earlier years, the main road will have been an area where every business wants to be. Towards the river behind the main road lies an area dealing mainly with everything needed for river traffic and commerce – boat and ship building and repair, equipment, warehouses, specialized markets and probably a tavern or two. To the other side of the main road, the town center is situated. Perhaps the area close to the market square burned down decades ago, resulting in the building decree and allowing for the town hall and temple to be built. The town hall might rest on older foundations of a predecessor. The market square is probably busy all day. The size of the square remains unclear, the expert set covers it with writing, and the map in B10 is unscaled. Later maps leave out the market square. I´d assume a roughly square market place with a side length of perhaps 50 meters/150 ft. The town hall is to the south, and the temple to the west, according to the B10 map.
Further northward, the density even of the inner town declines – that direction was not as important in earlier times. Maybe some people associated with the baron or the town government are living here. (I´d imagine a townhouse for the baron himself as well, probably relatively modest). Shortly before reaching the old wall again, the second bridge to Fogor Isle is to the east. The houses in the new town are spacious and give a more rural impression overall.
The bridges to Fogor isle are probably built of stone nowadays. The isle itself should have a rock beneath it, or it would have been eroded long ago. In earlier times, this was a normal village on the island, nowadays it is densely packed, has lots of crooked alleys, dead ends and more or less dilapidated buildings, the most prominent being the old mill on the northern tip of the island. The people here are the fringe of society, the poor and the outcasts, not to forget those of more criminal leanings. People here do make a living any way they can, and provide most of the menial labor needed throughout Threshold and the barony. Of course, this makes this area a prime recruiting ground for criminals, as well as a target for the Iron Ring slavers – people from Fogor are not important enough to warrant going after them, if they are even missed at all.
The laws: I want to get a bit away from the very modern idea of equal rights and legal precedent. If we accept a feudal society, even if more or less benevolent, we should accept that the feudal lords, the knights and the clergy differ from the peasants, legally speaking. Adventurers break these boundaries routinely, and are probably closely watched in civilized areas.
As indicated earlier, I find the weapons law nonsensical, as swords are free. (I´d guess that this is in place to prevent armed riots by the peasants, and to keep unlawful folks that can be found in frontier regions in check. There you have the "cowboys with swords" motive, if you want to see it that way.) I´d change it to: everything but dagger/knife and walking stick/staff (and tools, like sickles, senses, saws, hammers etc.) is forbidden, unless the individual bearer is decreed otherwise by the baron or his administrators. Clerics of the church of Karameikos do get this permit routinely, other clerics normally do unless known to be a troublemaker. Visiting dignitaries and their followers are exempt as well. Adventurers are judged individually and by association - if one party member is a troublemaker, the whole party will be denied the right to bear arms. In severe cases, even clerics could have their permit withdrawn. Association with a wizard that was convicted for having cast a spell inside town surely is a severe case.
The law against wizards casting spells inside town is probably meant to prevent severe property damage and influencing people. Imagine a wizard casting a number of charm spells to influence the populace against the lord. Interestingly, the expert set states that no spells may be cast, while B10 and GAZ 1 state that no magic-user spells may be cast. This poses the question what happens if a spell appears on both spell lists? Are clerics generally exempt from this law? Could a wizard pose as a cleric, and, as long as he only uses these spells, fly under the radar? As wearing armor in town is frowned upon, there is no easy way to find him out. I assume that harmful wizard spells are in the focus of that law. Again, what might be the reason behind this law? Was there an incident that led the baron to introduce it? Maybe even my assumed fire, which led to the building decree, was started by a wizard casting some spell. This would give a little bit of history to the laws in town, other than being just arbitrarily imposed. I love the idea of wizards getting curses on them after being judged in court. I would also assume that repeat offenders will get their spell book confiscated and probably destroyed.
Law enforcement: I already discussed the relatively high number of town guards, numbering about 100+ guards. They probably will escort any visitors to town hall to take their weapons in custody. In B10, is is implied that the criminals on Fogor killed an entire patrol - no feudal lord, benevolent or no, would let that stand. If need be, he would call upon the duke to sent troops and raze the whole island. An attack on his men is as good as an attack on the baron himself. So, I would think that maybe the patrols have been threatened, fake attacks (like just missing missile attacks) and stuff like that led the patrol to leave without their target, and hide the true reason out of shame. Afterwards, the guard has lost its punch on the island, and won´t venture there after dark. I guess guard members won´t be recruited from Fogor Isle...
I think people fall into three basic categories: Rulers, citizens and enemies.
For Rulers, we have the baron and his niece, and the law enforcement, administration and jurisdiction, and probably priests as well.
Citizens would include anyone living inside or nearby and not belonging to another group, like farmers, merchants etc., like the Armorer from the basic set. Some folks cross the boundaries between categories, like Sergeant Arthol. Rulers and citizens are mainly part of the backdrop and should help the DM to create a believable, living environment in town. For the most part, the distinction is of no importance, but can serve as a guideline how people react if the PCs behave in any way that can be seen as hostile.
The idea that armored people mean trouble (unless members of the town guard) might play out that if the PCs insist on wearing their armor in town, ordinary folks will gather their kids playing outside into their houses, close doors etc., while merchants will eye the PCs suspiciously, and an "upstanding citizen" might go get a guard patrol. (BTW, I´d also offer an opportunity to lock away armor in the town hall, alongside illegal weapons. PCs tend to have valuable gear and are often reluctant to part with that, especially in not-well-secured inn rooms.) If PCs actually talk or act hostile, or (heavens forbid!) even cast a spell (without being recognized as a cleric and not having an obvious reason to do so), ordinary folks will slam the doors on them, merchants are reluctant to deal with them, and somebody will fetch the town guard as fast as possible. Even if adventurers are a common sight in Threshold, there are laws and rules to be kept, and law-abiding citizens are not to be pushed around without consequences.
The rulers react differently to trouble makers, as described: carrying illegal weapons will get them in legal trouble and possibly arrested, wearing armor will get them questioned, and probably being followed while inside town. Spellcasting will get them arrested. As the guard roughly knows what adventurers might be capable of, they see that clerics help them whily trying to arrest PCs, either with hold person or silence spells, or with healing if need be. This implies that "lesser" clerics might serve some guard duty, which I would see as common sense, given the possibilities of magic.
If the crimes are severe enough, the PCs might be forced to be subject to a "Zone of Truth" while in court.
Of course, if the PCs are of high enough level, the town guard might be overwhelmed if the want to start trouble. But then, if a party of PCs at, say, 10th level wants to start trouble in a small town, something very odd is going on anyway...
Enemies includes any being presenting a potential challenge for the PCs to overcome. This can include criminals from Fogor Isle, from pickpockets to Iron Ring slavers, but also non-humans, starting with the vermin in the Old Mill, and including lycanthropes (wererats), and even undead like Key-Hamintep. (Yeah, not quite "people"...) Their actions and reactions depend on their situation, their goals and what the DM has in mind.