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Flavor of the City

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, this smell mingles with the odors of cooking food, domestic animals, garbage, and sewage. The latter two aren’t as bad as they could be; the sewers in Ptolus, as in most large Imperial cities, are quite efficient, and the constant rain keeps their contents moving.

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 religious rituals from the Temple District, 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 for those too busy or too ignorant to read one of the many local broadsheets. Behind all those sounds, in many areas of town you can hear the rushing waters of the King’s 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.

No matter where you are in the city, you can look up and see the Spire, unless it’s raining so hard that the sky is just a swath of grey. As you look west, the city rises. To the east, it falls until it reaches the cliffs.

It rains more often than not in Ptolus—at least, that’s the way it seems. Winters are cold, grey, and wet, but summers are dry and mild. Occasionally, a cold, razorlike wind comes off the Bay of Ptolus, but usually it’s quite calm. The smell of sea salt fills the air, when it’s not overpowered by the stronger odors of such places as the leatherworking shops, slaughterhouses, and breweries of the Guildsman District.

One always feels the presence of magic in Ptolus. A spellcaster flies over the city, a mephit scurries down an alleyway bearing a message, or some adventurer walks down the street followed by his manticore companion.

The touch of the technology that built the Empire of Tarsis is found here as well, although its influence wanes with each year as fewer people rely on its comforts or remember its secrets. Still, aeroships, some with steam-powered engines, fly overhead from time to time. The City Watch employs firearms, and local defenses include cannons watching over the harbor and within Dalenguard. Leaflets printed on presses with movable type distribute news and information. In a few places, steam-powered pumps help clean out the sewers, while in others clockwork machines power heavy doors that protect wealthy estates.

Looking Around

Ptolus is crowded with buildings—you won’t see many trees or grassy areas except in city squares or parks. The buildings are not tall, although a few towers and three- and even four-story structures rise above their lower neighbors. Although the structures vary from district to district, the typical Ptolus building has two stories. The bottom one is built of grey stones and mortar with wooden beams and slats. The top story is made of wood and generally has the same dimensions as the bottom story; some buildings are a bit wider on the top floor, creating an overhang of two or even three feet.

Roofs are usually slanted with gabled ends. They are covered with wooden shingles and patches of dark green fungus, due to the damp climate. Every building has at least one stone chimney.

Typically, the buildings of Ptolus abut 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. Most such alleys are full of trash, empty crates or barrels, and other clutter.

The streets are narrow and slick with rain. Most measure about ten feet across, while major thoroughfares are fifteen or even twenty feet across. Streets are widest in the Nobles’ Quarter and in the Guildsman District—the former for the luxury of the residents, the latter for the practical needs of those who work there, bringing wagonloads of material back and forth, herds of cattle and sheep for rendering, and so on.

In the morning, amid the ringing of bells, someone on the street is likely to see people rushing off to work, merchants opening their shops, and middle- and upper-class children on their way to school, books and wax tablets tucked under their arms. Vendors selling fresh baked goods and fruit are common, and cafes are filled with people drinking their morning tea or coffee.  

Vendors selling goods—particularly food—are common on almost every street in every district.

Looking Up

The Spire dominates the sky above Ptolus. It rises approximately three thousand feet above Midtown. Of course, it is only visible perhaps half the time due to the dark, looming clouds or the grey overcast skies that are so common, particularly in the winter.

Even putting aside the Spire, though, the skies are rarely empty. Hot air balloons owned by the noble families are a common sight. House Abanar even owns a sailing ship that flies in the air as easily as it might ply the seas. Mages under the effects of a fly spell, adventurers mounted on flying carpets, griffons, or wyverns, flying familiars and animal companions, and even a demon or genie in flight all might be making their way across the skies above Ptolus at this moment. The sky is also full of shadow sendings, although to the uninitiated they might just look like birds.

Looking Down

The streets throughout most of the city are cobblestone, although the major roads in Oldtown are made up of large paving stones that are quite cracked and old. The main streets of the Nobles’ Quarter are likewise covered in large, smooth paving stones. Muddy puddles are common with all the rain the city gets; it is difficult to keep one’s trousers clean in Ptolus, 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 on either side or down the center of the street. The sewer grates are all hinged but locked. The locks exist mainly to keep some of the things that live down in the sewers in the sewers. It’s not uncommon for people in need to use the sewer grates as a public toilet, particularly those located in more secluded spots.


When in doubt, it’s safe to assume that it’s overcast in Ptolus, and that it either just finished raining or it is just starting. Average annual local rainfall is about thirty-eight inches. It is generally a cool climate, with temperatures in the sixties to seventy degrees Fahrenheit most of the year (forty to fifty degrees in the winter).

In the midsummer months, the sun is out more often than not and the cloud cover is much less dominant.

The winters are characterized more by rain than by snow, although the occasional light snowfall in midwinter is not unknown. The fact that one of the months is named Rain is the source of many jokes in Ptolus: “Around here, all the months are called Rain,” a native will tell you. Occasionally, a strong wind will blow off the Whitewind Sea, but most of the time the winds are only a gentle but constant breeze.

Getting Around Town

To get anywhere in the city, the vast majority of people walk. Virtually no permanent residents own horses—a person riding horseback is marked almost immediately as an outsider.

Some people use carriages, however. Unless the resident is extremely wealthy, the carriage is a cab for hire, which are common throughout the city except in the Warrens, the Docks, the Necropolis, and certain areas of the Guildsman District. While it’s easier to get a carriage cab during the day than at night, carriages can be found in just a few minutes day or night throughout the Nobles’ Quarter, Oldtown, Rivergate, and Midtown. The same is true in both Market wards and the better parts of the Guildsman District, but only during the day. Most carriage cabs cost 1 sp (plus tip) regardless of the destination, unless one wants to go from any district to the Docks, in which case the fee is doubled (they will not go into the Warrens at any time, or the Necropolis at night). A typical carriage has two horses and one driver. Four people can fit comfortably within the carriage, and up to two more can ride on the seat at the back. Some carriages have only one horse and usually carry only two passengers. A very few large carriage cabs can fit six people within and two more on the outside. These are pulled by four horses. People reserve them ahead of time for a designated time and location.

Carriage drivers are excellent sources of information about both current events and the locations around town.

On the more exotic end, in Ptolus it’s not uncommon to see a mage under the effects of a fly spell or someone using a flying carpet to get around or riding a griffon through the sky.

The Flow of Information

The City by the Spire is a sophisticated place where a lot of people and organizations all attempt to conduct business and carry out sometimes complex tasks. The flow of information is vital to these pursuits. In Ptolus, however, there is a greater concentration of magic and extremely powerful people than elsewhere in the world. So naturally, some of the means of communication that have evolved are quite beyond the ordinary.


One of the occupations that thrives within Ptolus is that of the courier. In such a bustling city, couriers carry messages and packages back and forth across town: payments, invitations, friendly communications, contracts, gifts, deliveries, official documents, and more. Large businesses and organizations frequently have their own couriers and delivery people. A common courier carrying a

message or small package earns 1 sp (plus tip). Larger packages often cost 1 sp per ten pounds; additional fees that may double the price apply if more than one courier must deliver the package. Those with no permanent address in town—or those who prefer to live anonymously—may rent small boxes at Postal Stationhouses in each district in order to receive correspondence and packages.


The second most common way to spread information in Ptolus is through the broadsheets or newspapers. Ptolus has dozens of these publications, all of which are fairly small and pursue their own agendas—there is no such thing as journalistic integrity in Ptolus, nor is there a such thing as Freedom of the Press. Some broadsheets are free, but some cost a copper piece. A few of the more

Stable and/or interesting ones include the following:

The Courier: The largest, most prominent of the broadsheets, The Courier attempts to disseminate unbiased news, focusing on important events and stressing news from across the Empire. The paper has a pro-Empire bias that it attempts to hide.

The Guilder: This sheet focuses on news and gossip relating to the various local guilds. Control of its production changes frequently, usually when one guild takes it over from another. So, while The Guilder has a heavy, unabashed bias, that bias changes from time to time.

The Market Voice: Focusing on economic news and information, The Market Voice covers events and happenings in both Market districts (favoring the South Market, however). People interested in print advertising look to The Voice, and so do interested shoppers.

The Midtown Partisan: The Partisan is a less-than-reputable, irregularly distributed gossip sheet concerned with the activities of the noble families, usually portraying them in an unfavorable light. Its staff and facilities are also secret.

The Noble Record: Once a competitor of The Courier, this infrequent broadsheet focuses mainly on the events of noble society, entertainment news, and fanciful fictions about actual people. No one ever seems sure whether to look at these stories as exaggerated reporting or yarns meant for amusement.

The Ptolus Herald: This anti-Empire newspaper remains unabashed in its biased portrayal of events and heavy-handed editorials. The City Watch has raided The Herald a number of times under the  orders of the Commissar, but it always starts up again.

The Undergrounder: This seedy broadsheet focuses on events and people involved in the criminal underworld. It also of late has begun reporting news that deals with the “other” underground of Ptolus—the Undercity and Dungeon.


Lastly, the Bellringers’ Guild is a small operation that disseminates information. Its bell-ringing criers wander about town spreading short bits of news, primarily for those who cannot or will not read. The guild, based in Oldtown, spreads only the news it is paid to spread, often by the Commissar in order to circulate vital information or warnings to the populace.