A Magical Medieval City Guide (3.5e Other)/Around Town

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Buildings vary from towns to cities. Towns are not as structurally dense as cities, allowing green space and more independent buildings. In cities people build homes in blocks, with open space for gardens within the block of homes. The wall of one house backs into the wall of another house, making the homes within a block safer from crime, warmer in the winter, and providing a communal feeling to city life. In early cities, craftsmen of the same vocation live together in the same block, rendering the naming of streets and buildings after the craftsmen who originally settled there. As more people enter the city and space becomes limited, occupational segregation lessens, and the open spaces within the block become sheds, extra storage, workshops, or even extra housing. Although these grouped homes sharing external walls are called blocks, that is no reflection on their shape, size, or orientation. A block of cobblers may squeeze in ten families into irregularly shaped houses on a triangular piece of land wedged between the weavers, fullers and cloth cutters. Stone foundations, stone walls and slate roofs are preferable building materials, but the cost of stone and its carriage is often too much for the simple craftsmen. Most urban buildings are wattle and daub or wood with thatch roofs. Work and domestic life intermingle in the magical medieval city. Shopkeepers live above their shops, and workshops often occupy the same space as the home. Apprentices and journeymen live with the master craftsmen's family. The master craftsmen's wife also knows and facilitates the family enterprise. Zoning is unheard of except in professions involving unpleasant odor, namely tanning, leatherworking, dyers, and butchers. Professions that rely on a steady source of water, like blacksmithing and water mills, are also zone specific. These professions are generally practiced on the outskirts of town, though some cities prefer to regulate the place where butchers work to ensure proper sanitation. In the medieval period this usually means cutting and selling in reserved pavilions in the market.

Water Fountains and Wells[edit]

Every ward has a water supply, either a well or a gravity fountain fed by a cistern. Pipes and aqueducts are other options for water supply, but both are advanced and expensive engineering for most magical medieval cities. Like the street market, the water fountain is a place for work and socializing. In the morning, women and children congregate at the fountain to draw the water for daily family use. This leads to much gossip and playing as well.


Most cities have public bathhouses for cleaning. Baths are small stone buildings, serving 20-30 people at a time. Some are public pools, like the Roman baths, while other baths use private tubs with attendants. They are usually sex-segregated, although some baths become seedy, brothel-like hangouts.


Hospitals are quite common in magical medieval society and are found in most wards. They are usually run by religious orders, though some cities found municipal hospitals. Hospitals are small, usually stone, buildings that serve few people. Most have less than 20 beds, while the largest have as many as 75. Magical medieval hospitals have a different function than their modern counterpart. Hospitals take care of sick people, but they are not a place people go to get treated for illnesses. Hospitals take in people that would otherwise die alone on the streets and give them a bed and solace. Hospitals are a form of charity in the city. Medieval cities had two types of hospitals, those that served lepers and those that served everyone else. Cure disease should remove the need for leprosy hospitals in magical medieval cities, but nothing magical relieves the need for personal care of the elderly and poor.


The ward is the basic living unit in a magical medieval city. Also called districts or quarters, the ward provides the physical and spiritual necessities for living. In places of strong patron gods or monotheism, wards also act as religious divisions for organizational purposes. The ward is a social unit where people meet, congregate, celebrate, and gossip. It is a true neighborhood, where everyone knows each other, where people vouch for each other, and where people perform their everyday routine. Particular wards vary in size, shape, and composition. Walling in suburbs during early city development typically creates wards and their specific characteristics. Different types of wards in magical medieval cities include patriciate, merchant, craftsmen, administration, gates, docks (rivers/bridges and sea/ocean), odiferous business, military, and market wards. Slums and shantytowns are usually dilapidated wards within the city or communities outside of the city walls. For more on generating wards, see Chapter Four: Generating Towns and Cities.


Religion plays a prominent role in magical medieval societies. Though every city has a large church near the main market, Individual wards have smaller churches. Churches are stone buildings that house the priests and lay brothers as well as serve the public. For more about religion in a magical medieval society, see Chapter Six: On Those Who Pray. For more information about religious institutions as power centers in the city, see "Patron God of the City" in Chapter Six: On Those Who Pray.

Main Markets[edit]

The main market is one of the few open spaces inside the city. Though not strictly geometrically shaped, the main market has the benefit of cleared space in a city teeming with buildings and people. Usually paved or cobbled, the main market sometimes has pavilions, covered walkways with shops on either side. It is where wholesale merchants, local craftsmen, and traveling merchants come to trade. The main market is also where public assemblies take place. Public trials, executions, and other events usually occur in the main market, because it is one of the few open spaces in the city.

Prominent Structures[edit]

City dwellers take pride in their city's appearance and architecture. Though these buildings serve a physical purpose, they also symbolize something greater to the average city dweller. A symbol of definition and boundaries, a show of wealth, proof of blessing, and a source of civic pride, these prominent structures are part of the medieval mindset as well as part of the city.

Commodity Markets[edit]

Commodity markets are specialized markets. Spread throughout the city, numerous commodity markets provide wholesale merchants and local citizens with goods. Vegetable markets, cloth markets, spice markets, grain markets, horse markets, wood markets, and wool markets are a few of the various commodity markets. In some cities, commodity markets replace the presence of a main market, while others have both commodity markets and a main market.

City Walls[edit]

The city walls separate the city from its surrounding, offering protection and regulating people and goods going in and out of the city. They are often thick stone walls, some as thick as 20 feet and as high as 30 feet. Towers may abut the wall for fortification. Some walls are wooden with ditches and pikes to prevent invaders from breaching the walls. City walls expand to encompass new suburbs as the city grows in population. The determining factor in extending the city wall is the importance of the people living in the suburb. Merchants and craftsmen usually have little problems convincing the city to protect them, but peasants and laborers are not so fortunate. From an aerial view, the walls are a system of circular growths with streets cutting across a former part of the wall, connecting the new suburb to the rest of the city. Besides protection, the wall offers a mental definition for its citizens: inside the wall is "us", outside is "them." The wall compliments the need for definition and classification in the magical medieval mindset. In cities where invasion is not a large concern, a certain laxity behind the martial use of the wall turns the wall into a place of socializing. Guards, who are simply local guild members in most towns and some small cities, patrol the walls and streets, stopping to talk and chat with people they know. On hot summer days, people climb on top of the walls to catch a cool breeze and talk about local affairs.

Great Churches[edit]

A great church is the most common type of impressive architecture in a city. Larger and grander than the ward church, a great church varies from an upscale church to magnificent structures that rival cathedrals. The grandeur of a great church depends on the size and wealth of the community. Standing taller than most structures in town and with fine craftsmanship throughout, great churches are architectural wonders compared to other structures in the city. Such buildings take many years, sometimes decades, and lots of money. It is not unusual for construction to cease for a few years, because the church ran out of money. But once erected, a great church often becomes a symbol of the city.

Town Halls[edit]

Town halls are seats of civic government. Early cities use taverns, homes, and other places for city council meetings, but as cities become more prosperous, stone buildings on the main market become the seats of civic governing. Town councils sometimes share town halls with guilds to reduce building and maintenance costs.


Guildhalls are similar to town halls in construction, but they house particular guilds. The merchant guild, usually the most lucrative guild in the city, has its own hall. Other guilds usually do not have the finances to build independent guildhalls. Sometimes guilds pool their resources and build communal guildhalls, sharing the building between all the contributing guilds. Guildhalls are places for meetings, posting news and notices, and for recreation, such as theater performances, music shows, and other entertainment the guild members put on through the year. However, most guild performances occur in public spaces.

City Gates[edit]

Gates are where the city and the outside world collide. There is usually more than one gate into a city, and each gate is manned to regulate and tax people and goods coming into the city. Certain gates see more traffic, usually on roads linking the city to other urban centers. These gates become the city's main gates. City gates also regulate who enters the city, and some cities keep records of the comings and goings at the gate. Rows of stalls and shops line the streets leading from the city gates. Since city gates have a constant influx of people and goods, it is a prime location, second only to the main market, for traders and sellers.


Magical medieval libraries are private libraries where people can enter for a price. Most libraries are not owned by a single person, but by groups. Books cannot be taken from the library, and librarians can always refuse service. Libraries often require people to use a guide or a librarian to expedite searches, as well as to prevent theft and damage to the books. These assistants are, of course, also compensated in coin. Because of magic, other restrictions are in place in some libraries. Libraries may require complete disrobing of their patrons. These patrons receive official library robes and must purchase their pen and papers from the libraries' personal stores. Even stranger measures may ensure the security of the collection. There are many different types of libraries in magical medieval societies. Medical, legal, magical, civic, scholastic, and religious libraries all offer different benefits for its users. Stored knowledge is the main benefit provided by libraries. This is especially useful for knowledge checks because having access to a relevant library adds a circumstance bonus. Libraries also house small scholarly social groups, allowing them interaction with other like-minded groups. Libraries are another form of public display through architecture. Built of stone and elaborately decorated and carved, a magical medieval library can be as grand as any cathedral.


Magical medieval universities are centers of learning, and attending university is usually a step towards a profession. Medicine, science, history and law are common professions that spring from university attendance. Wizards, with their dedication to research and learning, have a natural propensity to found universities to further learning. Students pay professors at the end of class, and their pay is a measure of the professor's performance in the classroom. The university is a community between teachers and their students. Not unlike craftsmen of the same guild, they drink together, talk together, socialize together, and celebrate together. Generally, magical medieval universities are private endeavors of affluent organizations and citizens.


When people live close together, sanitation is a problem. The practices of the country become sanitation nightmares in close quarters. Disposing waste, burying the dead, finding clean water, and insuring food sanitation are some of the problems faced by cities. Though magic alleviates some of these concerns, it is important to keep a medieval perspective when applying magic to the city. People do not eat rancid meat and do not drink unclean water, because they smell and taste bad. Cities know that dumping waste in the same river from which they draw drinking water is a bad health practice, but they do not know about germs, bacteria, and giardia. Buried dead may pollute the ground water, but the medieval person usually buries their dead instead of burning them, unless there is an epidemic or plague. Certain magic practices like create water and purify food and drink make magical medieval cities cleaner than their historic counterparts. Active city councils may require street cleaning with prestidigitation, and proselytizing churches may offer clean water to the public via fountains filled by decanters of endless water.

Urban Concerns[edit]

Size and Population Medieval towns and cities are small, usually less than a mile in diameter, and rarely grow larger than a few thousand souls. Most urban environments average a population density of 26 people per acre. Larger cities, royal cities, or cities on major trade routes have higher growth potential because of the amount of money flowing through the city. Population density in these cities is as high as 200 people per acre. City walls may keep size and population under control in the early stages of city development, but as people settle outside the walls for lack of space inside the city, merchants, craftsmen, and peasants create suburbs. As these groups become important to the city, town lords, city officials and other high-ranking people extend the walls to protect the suburb. With rapid growth and limited resources, some cities' walls do not extend fast enough, leaving whole wards outside of the walls. Cities that build upward can accommodate more people in the same footprint, but at the cost of construction concerns, higher fire risks, and greater sanitation problems.


Plague still affects the magical medieval society. Only the greatest magics can reverse effects that decimate a third to a half of a kingdom's population, wiping out entire cities and villages across the countryside. Such magic is only accessible to experienced spellcasters, who usually reside in urban communities. Religious institutions bolster themselves for such an event with scrolls, potions, and even wands of remove disease, but the sheer number of people and the rapid spread of plague make preventing or ending plagues almost impossible. Paladins live up to heroic expectations in plagues with their divine health and class ability to remove disease. Any spellcaster who can cast or make an item with remove disease has an instant insurance policy, as well as a cash cow. Two groups within magical medieval societies are protected from plague: those who can cast remove disease and those that can buy it. Plague no longer "levels of playing field," blind to wealth and social standing as it historically was. Even wealthy people who die from the plague can come back with a remove disease followed by a raise dead. Such magic changes the social effects plagues traditionally have upon feudal societies, because there is little social turmoil for the aristocracy. Wards, guilds, and housing blocks create smaller communities within an urban space, making "little villages" within city walls. Though vastly different in certain ways, urban living in the medieval period is not far from the village society.

Power Centers[edit]

Power centers assert their will over others'; that is their defining trait. This occurs in differing degrees and varies according to social groups. In larger communities, determining power centers is not always clear-cut. Generating the type and alignment of power structures is in core rulebook II. This section addresses possible power centers in an urban community, and the special manners in which they assert their power in towns and cities. In a magical medieval society, power centers are usually groupdefined. In a world where definition and classification are vital in social interaction and understanding, a person is defined by his relationships: what he does, where he lives, who he is related to, where he moved from, what guild he is a member of, and what pub he drinks at. Power comes to groups, not to individuals. Individuals use their status within the group to attain personal power. This is the magical medieval way. Lords have power because people have an implicit understanding of landed aristocracy. Leaders of strong religions are more powerful because of the religious symbol on their robes. It is extremely rare that an individual wields power independent of a social organization. Laws, rights, and customs are all results of social interaction. Individuals have great difficulty wielding social power outside of the social system. Although cooperation within groups is normal, cooperation does not exclude the possibility for internecine conflict. In general, earlier magical medieval towns and cities have one power center, the town lord. All other groups are relatively equal in power, meaning no others posses the ability to assert their will over other groups. They do not have the resources and connections to have that kind of power. Older and larger cities develop more potential for multiple power centers and usually have a handful that contend for control of events, social issues, and money. Toward the end of the magical medieval period, the aristocracy, namely strong lords or a king/emperor figure, regains control of the cities that do not have enough power to maintain their independence. Tracking power centers within a specific city is a juggling act. GMs should constantly weigh the wealth, might, and influence of different groups and their agendas. Many small rebellions occur everyday in the city when religions contend for favor, members of the patriciate fight the town lord for more control and less extortion, and craftsmen guilds argue over who gets the guildhall for their Michaelmas performance and feast. Though physical might simplifies matters, social interaction is another battlefield that adds extra complexity to any campaign. For generating statistics on urban power centers, see Chapter Four: Generating Towns and Cities. Guild memberships, official appointments, tax exemptions, personal favors for friends and family, blatant extortion and bribery, and bending rules for personal benefit are all old, wellestablished means through which power centers manipulate their surroundings. This following describes how power centers exert power unique to their station.


Towns and cities stockpile food and supplies for emergency events, like war, siege, or famine. Sealed jars of grain, weapons, magic, and equipment are a few of the things cities stockpile. The stockpile is usually under the control of the city council, which leads to disputes and revolt if the peasants and citizens do not agree with the city council's distribution system.


Crime is a constant companion of the city; the larger the city, the higher the incidence of crime. Most crime in cities is theft, not violent crime. City courts hear civil cases between citizens and try individuals on infringement of the municipal codes. Early cities rely heavily on guilds to enforce their own regulations and social pressure to enforce civic codes. Magic greatly facilitates crime. It improves stealth, allows easy access to private locations, and provides excellent information regarding security. However, it also deters crime through many of the same measures. The powerful and wealthy will be adequately protected from crime mostly through the threat of retaliation. It may be fairly easy to steal the guild master's chest, but keeping it is another matter.


Regardless what type of town or city, all urban environments in a magical medieval society are of the country, not dichotomously opposed to the country. Medieval cities are the products of surplus food and surplus people from rural communities, and they have a stake in the success of rural pursuits. Farms and villages surround most cities, producing enough surplus food for city dwellers. Some urban dwellers still have to help with harvest at the bequest of the town lord.

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