On Being a Resident of Ptolus


This section describes what life is like for the most common resident of Ptolus: a human of lower middle class who is likely married with a small family. It explores issues of home, work, gender, religion, and the cost of living. To see life, and the city, through the eyes of such a character, this chapter has been written in the second person.

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You probably live in a two-room flat in a two- or three-story building that contains six or eight such flats. It has at least one glass window that opens on a hinge, with a latch. The door into your home locks. Your kitchen has a hand-cranked pump that draws water through a pipe into a basin. The basin has a stoppered hole that drains down into the sewer, as does your garderobe, which also has a cover to keep out unwanted odors and rats.

Your furniture is wooden and handmade. Some of it likely has nice decorative work, while other pieces are crude but functional. Your home probably has a table or two, at least one chair for everyone in the household, and a bench. You light the place with candles and an oil lamp. You have one, or perhaps two fireplaces for warmth, and you might have a coal-burning stove. At night you sleep in a bed with a mattress stuffed with straw or cloth, and you likely share that bed with at least one other person—in a family home with three children, it’s common to have two beds: one for the parents and one for the children.

You decorate your home with a shelf of curios and mementos above the fireplace, and perhaps a few simple decorative cloth hangings on the walls. You might have a painting, likely a portrait of some elderly relative. Next to the main door is a small shelf for keeping house gifts. You can read, at least slowly and simply. You own a few books—likely a holy book or two (depending on your religion), a primer for the children, and maybe a family record book or a book of poetry or love sonnets. Most of your reading skills are used on the various broadsheets published in the city.

You also own a set of ceramic dishes, a number of wooden or ceramic mugs, some kitchen knives and other utensils, some wooden spoons, a few large iron pots, a washtub, two basins, a ewer, a mirror, a comb, a brush, plenty of soap, other miscellaneous toiletries, a wooden chest (maybe with a lock), a wardrobe, many blankets, pillows, a number of barrels and crates (mostly for storing food, kept in a loft), a couple of buckets, a few rugs and tablecloths, some towels and rags, a quill pen and ink, a few pieces of paper, chalk and a slate, oil for your lamp, and at least a week’s worth of food for the household (and more of certain staple foods, like flour). If you have children, you likely have a few toys and entertainments for them as well.

You might own a musical instrument and a game or two (some dice, Dragonscales, or some cards). You probably own some simple tools, like a mallet, an awl or chisel, a saw, a good knife or handaxe, and perhaps some tongs. You might own a dagger, but it’s more likely that the only weapon you own is a club.

In the window(s), you keep a box of soil where you grow a few plants—probably for food, but maybe flowers. You use some of the household waste as fertilizer. There’s a hefty fine for throwing your trash and waste out the window, so you dump it down into one of the pipes that leads into the sewer instead (those pipes frequently get clogged, and you are responsible for clearing them).

If you’re a man, you typically wear a linen shirt that ties in the front and some sturdy woolen breeches or trousers. If you work in a shop, you probably wear a colored vest with buttons, or perhaps a laced doublet. If you are a laborer, a coarse woolen tunic probably goes over the shirt. With the rain and wind common in the region, many people wear cloaks outside, but if you’re at all fashion conscious and can afford it, you wear a coat with a lapel and buttons instead. Men wearing cloaks are often assumed to be out-of-towners. Hats are also quite common, likely with a brim to keep the rain off your face. At night you wear a long nightshirt to bed, even in summer. Most likely you own two or three shirts, but only one of everything else. Most of what you have has been patched more than once.

You own a pair of sturdy leather boots, woolen socks, and maybe some soft cloth slippers.

You wear your hair shoulder length and (if you’re human) you keep your face clean shaven. Since it can be a fairly long time between baths, you sometimes wear cologne—unless you’re a laborer, in which case you usually don’t bother.

If you’re a woman, you probably wear a long kirtle with an apron and a kerchief on your head. You likely own a single nice dress with a wide skirt that you save for special occasions. Wearing a hat with a veil in the back is fashionable, although more and more women are going out with no head covering at all these days. Outside, a hooded cloak of dyed wool is often needed to keep out the cold and rain. It’s not common for women to wear men’s clothing—a shirt, tunic and breeches, for example—but it’s not unheard of, either, particularly among women who work at hard physical labor in a workshop or elsewhere. At night you wear a long linen nightgown. You likely also own a robe, a shawl, and a scarf or two.

You wear cloth slippers inside and wooden-soled leather shoes outside.

You wear your hair long but tied, bound, or braided to keep it manageable when you’re working. On special occasions you use cosmetics and perfumes. These are expensive, though, so you need to be frugal with them.

You likely eat most of your meals at home—a light breakfast in the morning and a hefty dinner at night. During the day, you take a break for lunch, but it’s generally only a cup or two of tea or coffee with maybe a hard roll to dunk in it. A mid-day meal is for the rich.

Both men and women smoke tobacco of various types. Cigarillos are held in long, lightly filtered holders, while thick cigars are smoked directly. Pipes are usual among commoners, both men and women, with women’s pipes often being small and ornamental.

You work long hours—usually six days a week, although if you run your own shop you likely work every day. There’s always a great deal of work at home too: caring for the children, mending clothing, cleaning, and so forth. In your limited free time, you visit with friends and family, play games, or listen to your neighbor play the fiddle, the gittern, the flute, or the hurdy-gurdy. If you’re athletic, you might get together with others for some sport from time to time, like wrestling or a ball game. Only on rare occasions do you go down to the tavern for a drink, although you and the neighbors frequently have homemade ale in the evenings. You almost never eat in a pub or
restaurant, but occasionally you buy some sweets, baked goods, or cooked meat on a stick from a street vendor.

On holidays and special festivals (often organized by your church), you enjoy special meals and activities.

When you or someone in your family is sick, you can’t afford to go to a cleric for a healing spell. Instead, you rely on home remedies that you learned from your own parents, and if that won’t do, you go to a physicker or an herbalist. It might cost you a week’s wages or more, but when you’re sick, you’re sick.

You try to keep yourself fresh and clean, but you only get a real bath once a week, at best.

Although the city is full of all different races, you probably live in a neighborhood made up mostly of residents who share your race. You see members of other races in the market and on the street frequently, however. Some people harbor various prejudices about one race or another, but considering all the differences, the various races live together in relative harmony.

Most of the time, you stay in your own district of the city, traveling to one of the two markets (if you don’t already live there) perhaps once a week. You have probably never been to the Nobles’ Quarter unless your job required it. If you did go there, you felt uncomfortable because it seemed as though everyone was watching you, expecting you to do something bad. It seems at times that you have more in common with the folk of other races than with the noble or extremely wealthy members of your own.

Occasionally, the law requires that you go to one of the government buildings in Oldtown to get a license or permit or register for some new tax. Imperial bureaucracy can be trying sometimes. A trip to the Administration Building often requires a full day of standing in lines and filling out forms. On the way there, though, you might make a point of passing through Vock Row, on the chance you’ll see a wizard doing something interesting.

You probably consider magic and spells fascinating but strange. It’s certainly nothing to believe or disbelieve in—magic’s demonstrably as real and true as gravity and the cycle of night and day. You likely don’t enjoy many of its wonders and advantages, however; it’s just rare enough to be beyond your means. You may know someone who has a torch in his home that never burns itself out, though, or someone who has spent her life’s savings on a miraculous cure from a priest in the Temple District. And you see the evidence of magic almost every day—a wizard flies overhead, a cleric heals someone hurt, or an adventurer walks down the street carrying a glowing sword or with strange magic bits orbiting his head. Magic is clearly real—you’d never question that. It’s just expensive.

Speaking of life’s savings, you likely have little or no savings; you earn just enough to pay for what you and your family need to live, with perhaps a bit more to splurge occasionally. Perhaps you buy a nice turkey or goose for dinner on Godsday, or some small gifts for the children on their birthdays. If you’ve got anything approaching savings, it comes in the form of an old gold ring, locket, or other heirloom handed down by your family.

You receive a visit from the tax collector three times a year, with the visits usually spaced equally apart, although the times differ for everyone. On each visit, an average citizen pays ten silver coins—that’s ten shinies per adult, not per family. The tax collector can instead choose to assess the value of your current wealth and levy a tax upon you of 3 percent of the total on each visit, but you don’t own enough to have to worry about that.

Noncitizens do not pay taxes. However, at any time, virtually any government official can demand one silver shield from a noncitizen as an Imperial services levy, if the noncitizen has spent the previous week in the bounds of the Empire (which is, according to the Empire, everywhere). Technically, a noncitizen only needs to pay this once per week, but since there is no way to prove that one has already paid the levy, someone without citizenship papers could get charged over and over. This isn’t fair, but there’s not much you can do about it, particularly if you’re a noncitizen.

The most common profession is simply “laborer,” which, of course, means many things. A laborer might work the bellows for a blacksmith, move cargo on the Docks or in a warehouse, deliver goods to homes or businesses, tote construction materials for a master carpenter, dig foundations, or a hundred other menial tasks that require little training or skill—just a strong arm. If you’re lucky, you might have a job that is less strenuous and pays better, like working as a clerk in a shop, as a construction worker, or as a real craftsman. You may not belong to a guild, but you know how powerful they are in controlling the economics of the city, the welfare of the workers (including yourself, most likely), and other issues.

It’s likely that religion plays some role in your life. If you’re a Ptolusite, like most people in the city, you probably attend services on Theoday. Being that you’re not of the higher classes, the service you attend is most likely in the afternoon or evening. No matter what your religion, though, you just don’t have much time in your daily life to think about things like gods, religions, and the afterlife. It’s easier to let the priests worry about that for you, and just do what you’re told as much as you’re able. That said, you have little doubt that the gods exist. It’s comforting to know that there are powers even higher than the nobles and the wealthy.

Even the Iron Mage will have to answer to the gods someday, right? There’s talk today of new religions worming their way into the city; although you wouldn’t even try to account for all of them, these new faiths are different, or so folks say. Word on the street is that these chaos cults are interested in destruction and mayhem. That sounds horrid to you, of course—although you have to admit, things get so frustrating some days that you wouldn’t mind seeing this city in flames. It would serve them right, in fact. You don’t actually want to hurt anyone, but you can see how someone could get pushed just too far. . . .

When others talk of good and evil, those are concepts you can identify with—it all seems pretty obvious. But when someone starts in about law and chaos, that’s a bit too esoteric for your tastes. Let the clerics and philosophers worry about that kind of thing.

Today, three different people claim the Imperial Throne, but is one of them really any different from the others as far as you’re concerned? It seems unlikely. It’s difficult enough to keep abreast of city politics, let alone Imperial tangles. You probably like the Commissar. He has a reputation as a war hero and a good civic leader. Unlike some commissars of the past, he seems interested in what the people want. Nevertheless, you still refer to the City Council as the “Council of Coin.” As always, it’s the rich that rule over the poor, and make sure that they stay rich while you stay poor. At least you don’t have it as bad as the folks who live outside the city. You’ve heard about how they live: digging in the mud for their dinner and living in terrible, dirty little shacks. That’s what you think of country life, anyway.

You’ve probably heard of the so-called republican movement. Talk of such things goes hand-in-hand with discussion of whether Ptolus should break away from the Empire. Such talk surprises you; in your grandparents’ time, discussing such matters would have been almost unthinkable. The Empire is so old, the very thought of not being a part of it is strange, although somewhat compelling. The republicans, of course, want to take it a step farther, and have common folk decide who the rulers should be. That would be great, but it sounds like pure fantasy to you.

It’s obvious that some things in the city are worse than they used to be. There are manufactories in the Guildsman District that no longer produce anything, for example. Fewer people seem to understand how to make some of the more technical devices work. News from elsewhere in the Empire arrives more slowly than when you were a child. The roads outside of town, you’ve heard, are less safe than in years past.

On the other hand, more gold flows through the city than ever. Those delvers who explore the strange catacombs beneath the city are a dangerous and rough lot, but their activities bring coin into the shops and taverns, which then trickles into everyone’s pockets. Of course, along with that comes inflation—prices are higher than they were ten, or even five years ago.

You hear all kinds of stories about the strange things delvers find down there in the Dungeon. Ancient treasures and wonders, to be sure, but odd magic and horrible monsters, as well. Is it all linked to the Spire, somehow? Probably. Those unnameable lords that caused so many travails hundreds of years back built their castles up on the Spire, but they burrowed down below it as well. It unnerves you to think about that kind of thing too much. Luckily, the grey clouds so common in the region usually obscure the Spire. Sometimes, you’d rather have a cloudy or rainy day than a clear day with the likes of Jabel Shammar staring down at you from thousands of feet up.

You try to keep up on the news by reading the broadsheets. You don’t trust most noble families, but House Vladaam clearly seems to be the worst, and House Sadar is likely up to no good as well. On the other hand, the knightly orders—the Keepers of the Veil, the Knights of the Pale, the Knights of the Chord—these are people you can look up to.

The city’s far from perfect, that’s for certain. But there’s more good than bad and, more importantly, it’s home.


On Being a Resident of Ptolus

Ptolus, City by the Spire UselessTriviaMan