A Magical Medieval City Guide (DnD Other)/Magical Medieval City

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The generative force of magical medieval cities is security. Most settlements begin in the shadow of strongholds, towers, castles, or great churches. As these settlements grow in size and number, coupled with an increase in population and trade from newfound stability, a network of towns, cities, and their surrounding villages appear on the map. Most urban communities do not grow past a few thousand souls, the majority remaining towns for their entire existence. Only towns in strategic locations, active in trade, and with plenty of surplus food and people develop into small cities, large cities, and metropolises. In the magical medieval period, small and large towns are usually five miles apart while small and large cities are 20 miles apart. All of these communities feed on the surplus food and people of the surrounding countryside. Towns serve the immediate surrounding countryside by selling goods, buying surplus, and offering the services of craftsmen and professionals. The city is a larger extension of the town, but has its own benefits and problems that do not grace the magical medieval town. Though titled On the Magical Medieval City, this chapter discusses trends found in all urban environments, from small towns to metropolises. Towns are usually the conservative side of the trend, while metropolises demonstrate the extreme of the trend.

Movable Wealth[edit]

In the manorial system, the land and its fruits are the lord's wealth. With cities, lords have access to movable wealth that is not directly tied to the land, namely coin. Lords get coin from cities in various manners. The most obvious is bribes and payments. Attaining new charters, renewing old charters, gaining certain rights as a citizen of the city, and holding positions in the city government are usually negotiable with enough coin. Lords get regular payments from cities, as well as money rents, opposed to the four capons and the bushels of wheat he gets on the manor. Trade is another source of income for the lord with a city in his demesne. Cities are consumers for the surplus off a lord's manor, ensuring his surplus grain always has a buyer. Some lords use cities to increase their wealth at the detriment of other lords. Lords may found or charter a city and offer benefits to peasants who settle the new city. Of course, these benefits do not apply to peasants from his demesne, but they certainly apply to another lord's serfs. Lords attract people to towns and cities, because more people generate more local trading. As towns and cities have more money flow (or more goods and money are changing hands), a lord reaps higher taxes and payments from his urban communities, and usually in coin. A lord's magical taxation also increases from the concentration of higher-powered spellcasters found in urban environments.

Lord's Interest[edit]

The development of the magical medieval city is largely due to the lord of the manor. Without the lord's protection, backing and surplus, towns and cities, which are filled with people who do not work the land for a living, could not exist. A lord's main advantage in possessing urban communities within his demesne is receiving wealth without dealing in the particulars. Magical medieval towns and cities are organized to run themselves. A lord does not have to hire administrative and managerial staff for a city. A lord does not have to maintain a city's infrastructure, because he allows his city enough rights to maintain their own. In return, he simply collects his money. Lords also benefit from towns and cities because they create a free (non-servile) labor pool. As the magical medieval economy goes from bartering to a coin-economy, feudal obligations are transferred into money payments. This means lords can transfer manorial rents and labor obligations into coin. This allows lords to hire day labor from the urban labor pool. These laborers are considered more efficient than the labor from manorial obligation. A lord also has fewer social obligations to a laborer than he as to one of his peasants. Although heavily weighted on the lord's side, the feudal system does provide peasantry with some protections usually withheld from laborers.


Towns and cities also have a military benefit for the lord. Almost every city has a wall and behind every wall are people who have self-interest in building and manning the wall. Lords typically give the city dwellers, unlike manorial peasants, the right to bear arms and protect themselves. The lord gets a defensive structure built by unpaid labor, manned with a defensive force that he does not have to support, and who have a stake in protecting the city that makes him money. Some lords found cities along borders, creating a fortified line around their interests.


Guilds provide structure and self-regulation in a city. Lords give cities the right to form guilds as listed in their charter. In the early days of the city, the guild replaces manorial obligation and organization in peasant society. Members of guilds pay dues and are subject to the guilds' rules and regulations. Guild membership, in conjunction with oath taking, brings free peasants citizenship and all its benefits. Guilds also act as insurance policies. If a merchant or craftsman dies, the guild takes care of his family and gives him a proper burial. The guild also provides assistance to guild members when their business is struggling. Guild members eat together, drink together, celebrate together, live near each other, and perform together, creating private theater troops in the magical medieval city. Guilds commonly sponsor public activities and plays, using such occasions to demonstrate their wealth and influence. Guilds and their members, called burghers, also man the city walls in early cities. In magical medieval cities, guilds are very powerful, especially merchant guilds. It is not uncommon for guild influence to rival town lord's influence. For guilds as power centers, read further in this chapter under Power Centers-Craft Guilds and Merchant Guilds.

Peasant's Interest[edit]

City development is a balance of concessions by the lord and money from the peasants. As the magical medieval markets move from barter economy to coin economy, cities become more desirable for the manorial lord. When a lord wants to develop his cities quickly, he offers more concessions to entice surplus peasants. When a community seeks a charter, and therefore a measure of self-determination, they pay the lord for every concession in coin. As cities grow larger and wealthier, they begin to wield a power of their own, meeting the town lord as an equal at the negotiation table. Revolt and armed conflict also lead to these concessions. When developing a city for a campaign, there are endless combinations of lord's and city dwellers' rights spelled out in the city charter. It is important to remember that any right the city holds is only by concession of the town lord. The idea of inherent rights of individuals, cities as natural selfdetermining entities, and inherent rights of citizenship are modern ideas that do not occur in a magical medieval society.

City Council[edit]

Lords usually grant their cities the right to form a city council, although a lord can continue to assign officials in key positions if he wishes. The actual rights of the city council vary. A municipal governing body provides the city a foundation for taxation, a city justice system, regulating trade, and other matters of civic concern.


Lords may grant freedom from manorial court to urban dwellers, meaning they cannot be taken from the town or city to answer for their transgressions in manorial court. Granting this freedom leads to the creation of civic justice, though there are other ways of gaining the right to justice. Cities that win this right have a source of income and possess power over their own inhabitants. Lords are hesitant to give cities the right


As the saying goes "town air makes free." If a serf lives in a city for a year and a day, he becomes a freeman by virtue of his urban dwelling. Freedom of this magnitude has many implications for the serf. Gone are the feudal obligations, both in labor and coin. A lord cannot prohibit a freeman's movement; a freeman can move where he pleases and leave the city. Along with a free status, a lord may also offer protection of property, which means if a peasant lives in a dwelling for a year and a day, he has a recognized claim on that dwelling. Medieval cities also give peasants another kind of freedom, the freedom of profession. Artisans, craftsmen, and other professions flourish when peasants are provided an alternative to agriculture. Remember that these common rights are won from the lord via charter negotiations and do not exist in every city. Freedom is not a guarantee of citizenship, but it is a prerequisite.


Lords give their cities enough rights to run themselves without siphoning too much power out of the lords' direct control. At the same time, communities and communes are pushing for autonomy from the town lord. This conflict creates vibrant, dynamic situations leading to interesting developments.to have their own court, judges, and subsequently, their own jurisdiction, but usually do for larger urban communities. For more about justice, see Chapter Seven: On Those Who Rule.


A lord usually grants his city rights to taxation on a limited scale. The most common taxation is trade taxes. Gates, fords, ports, and harbors become tax checkpoints for incoming goods. As merchants and tradesmen bring in goods, the city taxes them according to their wares. Wine tax, beer tax, grain tax; if the city can monitor the movement of a commodity, it can tax it. City councils may also tax guilds, much like what the lord does to the city. Cities often levy taxes in times of emergency, such as war taxes, and neglect to revoke them once the emergency has passed, such as an indefinite war tax. The bulk of magical medieval taxes come from the use of public infrastructure (bridge tolls, entrance fees) and financial transactions.


City-states are the most independent type of city in a magical medieval society. They are free from feudal ties to town lords. They have social recognition as a free city, either from a lord, king, or by their own merit. A greater level of autonomy distinguishes citystates from free cities. City-states usually have organized well-equipped armies or professional standing armies to protect their civic interests. City-states have developed infrastructure for taxes, justice, municipal governing, and military operations. Although free cities may own nearby land, city-states hold extensive land with farms, industry, and villages constituting their own separate demesne. City-states are power centers rivaling lords and kings. City-states usually occur when weak kings, rich land, and extensive commerce coexist. Strong kings and lords may take control of free cities and city-states, but these cities have the best defenses and organized forces to counter such a coup.

central open space for market, public buildings and assembly. Old and large planned cities maintain their grid patterns in the city center only, as new growth outside of the original plan tends to follow the organic, radio-centric pattern. Grid cities are less common than their organic counterparts. Cities are often on high ground for strategic positioning, while farms and fields are on the fertile low ground. Cities are usually by rivers, not only for personal use, but also for water mills. Navigable rivers are a predominant mode of transportation for goods and people, because they are more efficient than magical medieval roads. Land inside town walls is obviously more valuable than land outside


Following the natural terrain of the land, most streets are far from straight roads laid in grid patterns. Even planned cities eventually spill out of their checkerboard, creating a spider web of small curved streets. Streets form from the paths people and animals naturally walk, opposed to the modern city where streets regulate what paths people take from place to place. In the magical medieval city, streets are predominantly for foot travel, not vehicle traffic. Subsequently, streets are winding narrow affairs, most only 5-10 feet across. In some larger cities or in planned cities, there may be one wider street leading from the gate into town, usually no wider than 20 feet across. Most large cities pave or cobble streets, beginning with the ones leading into the main market. Smaller streets may remain dirt paths, while unused streets become dead ends leading nowhere. Streets usually bear the name of the original craftsmen who founded the suburb. As time passes and people


The magical medieval city grows in different patterns depending on its history. In general, the city is an organic growth, bulging here and spilling out there, with extensions to the city walls where they are needed. Villages that grow into towns, usually under a castle or religious center, change slowly over many generations. The end result is narrow winding streets following the natural terrain of land with a radio-centric system of walls extending to encompass yet another suburb. The heart of the city is fairly isolated from the bustle of visitors and sellers coming in at the gates and docks because of this organic growth and continual extension. Planned cities tend to have a different layout. Designed in advance for colonization, they look like checkerboards with a central open space for market, public buildings and assembly. Old and large planned cities maintain their grid patterns in the city center only, as new growth outside of the original plan tends to follow the organic, radio-centric pattern. Grid cities are less common than their organic counterparts. Cities are often on high ground for strategic positioning, while farms and fields are on the fertile low ground. Cities are usually by rivers, not only for personal use, but also for water mills. Navigable rivers are a predominant mode of transportation for goods and people, because they are more efficient than magical medieval roads. Land inside town walls is obviously more valuable than land outside

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