A Player’s Guide to Ptolus
Ptolus is a major city of seventy-five thousand people. It is located in a cool, rainy coastal region in the land of Palastan. It serves as an important port on the Bay of Ptolus at the southern end of the Whitewind Sea. It lies in the shadow of an impossibly tall and thin pinnacle of rock known simply as the Spire that stretches almost three thousand feet into the sky. The Spire and its surroundings are the subject of many mysterious legends and rumors. These tales tell of ancient battles waged and cities erected on the site, of demons and dark lords, of forgotten kings and mighty wizards. Many such stories might be at least somewhat true, for recent developments have revealed vast complexes beneath the city.
Ptolus lies within the bounds of the Empire of Tarsis, a very old empire unsure of whether or not it has toppled. Three different emperors claim the throne, and portions of the once great realm cleave off like icy shards from a melting glacier. A growing faction in Ptolus feels that the city should declare itself independent. This decaying society looks upon previous centuries and sees grander, more civilized days. Skills and lore that people possessed just a few hundred years ago are lost now. Good struggles against evil, and law against chaos. But the shadows only threaten the light – they do not yet consume it.
It rains more often than not in Ptolus – at least, that’s the way it seems. Winters are cold, gray, and wet, but summers are dry and mild. Occasionally, a cold, biting 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 remember its secrets. Still, aeroships fly overhead from time to time. The City Watch employs firearms, and local defenses include cannons watching over the harbor and within the fortress of 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.
Not so long ago, the first men and women who would one day be called “delvers” returned from exploring the catacombs below the city of Ptolus laden with gold and magical treasures. Today, hundreds of new would-be delvers pour into the city each month, hoping to strike it rich. Most never crawl back from the realms below, but adventurers keep arriving with dreams of gold and fame. Those who do emerge into the light bring with them tales of surprisingly vast reaches of natural caverns and ancient hewn passages. They also tell of unknown monsters and devious demon-minded things. In the city, entire industries have evolved quickly to service the needs of these adventurers.
Creatures and individuals (good, evil, and otherwise) that normally remain in the shadows are drawn to this large gathering of adventurers and magic. The needs of the delvers prompt renewed devotion to magic, science, and religion. As the Empire of Tarsis dies, Ptolus – for years a backwater town on the edge of civilization – is quickly becoming the center of something much larger than itself. Omens and prophecies of children born with strange birthmarks surface in the city with increasing frequency. No one yet knows exactly what, but something is happening in Ptolus. Something new stirs in this city… and that something is very, very old.
The city is ostensibly ruled by a council, at whose head sits Commissar Igor Urnst, a representative of the Empire of Tarsis. The other main council members are Kirian Ylestos (the Prince of the Church of Lothian) and the Mother Superior of the Sisterhood of Silence. Other City Council members include guildmasters, the heads of the noble houses, and a few wealthy merchants. People of the city often refer to this body as the “Council of Coin” because money is a powerful force among its members. Guildmaster Delver Sorum Dandubal, also a council member, is quickly becoming a force to reckon with, but the three main members dislike and oppose him.
Truth be told, the real ruler of the city is the Commissar. The City Watch operates under his direct command from Dalenguard in Oldtown. The Commissar is a war veteran, and even though Ptolus has not been threatened with attack in centuries, he has a very defensive-minded approach to running the city. At the same time, he is wise enough to know that the residents of Ptolus are not soldiers, and sometimes you need to give them what they want to make them happy. This understanding makes him both efficient and fair, and he is extremely well liked. Urnst’s group of advisors in charge of the city’s defense is called the Twelve Commanders.
To police the streets, the Commissar commands a force of more than eight hundred troops and City Watch guards, including a few dozen elite individuals (captains, mages, clerics, etc.). While the constables in many of the empire’s cities are considered glorified street-sweepers with little competence or desire to actually enforce the law, this is not true of the experienced and well-equipped guards of Ptolus, particularly those known as the Commissar’s Men. The City Watch approaches any given situation with an appropriate response. For instance, the Watch captain would send some low-ranking guards to handle a bunch of rowdy drunks. To deal with a rampaging monster or a group of unruly adventurers, however, the captain would send well-equipped fighters supported by multiple spellcasters.
Nevertheless, this well-trained and well-paid force has its hands full maintaining order in the city. Helping to enforce the law is a special order of monks called the Sisterhood of Silence. These nonspeaking female monks patrol the streets and apprehend criminals, even though they are not, strictly speaking, officially sanctioned to do so. A male eunuch always accompanies a unit of the Sisters of Silence to speak on their behalf.
While obvious things such as murder and theft are illegal in Ptolus, so are compulsion spells cast upon citizens (locals frown on charming shopkeepers to get a better price) and spells of mass destruction cast within the city proper (e.g. fireball, disintegrate). Any evil spell is also illegal; in particular, the authorities hate spells that bring more undead to the city. They also prosecute people severely for doing anything that spreads disease. These and other crimes can be reported at any district’s Watchhouse.
Neither the city guard nor the Sisterhood of Silence is willing to go down into the Dungeon and fight monsters. Nor are they likely to help against noble families, churches, or other well-known and influential organizations. Of course, those groups would never break the law, so there’s surely nothing to worry about…
The Forces of Light
Aside from the law-enforcing authorities, Ptolus benefits from the presence of various forces of good. Orders of knighthood such as the Keepers of the Veil, Order of the Dawn, and Knights of the Pale uphold such concepts as benevolence and nobility. There are even angelic beings in Ptolus, more than any place else in the world. Many of these beings congregate in a place called the Pale Tower and call themselves the Malkuth. Paladins and clerics of good deities such as Lothian, Gaen, and Navashtrom help Ptolus stand against the darkness as well.
The Dark Side
Like every city, Ptolus has a dark side. Here, criminal lords command veritable armies of rogues and assassins who war against each other and the law. These criminals deal in extortion, smuggling, gambling, usury, and prostitution. Chief among these criminals are Menon Balacazar, leader of the oldest criminal syndicate in the city, and the newcomer Kevris Killraven. They are bitter enemies. Depraved assassins called the Vai hunt victims for money and to fulfill their own bloodlust.
But worse things lurk in Ptolus than criminals. Dwelling among the crypts of the city’s graveyard are the death-loving Forsaken, so called because the rest of society finds them so abhorrent. Worse still, chaos cultists – in league with terrible inhuman things – plot the destruction of the city and, in fact, of the entire world to sate their lust for destruction. Lastly, and strangest of all, Ptolus is home to actual demons from the lower realms. Some are merely demon-blooded tieflings, but others are full-blooded fiends who call themselves the Fallen. These beings dwell alongside the Forsaken in a place called the Dark Reliquary.
Ptolus is primarily a trade city, serving not only as a major port but also as a link between the northwest and central portions of the Empire of Tarsis. About two thirds of the population is human, with the remaining third being (from most populous to least): Shoal elves, Stonelost dwarves, halflings, litorians, Grailwarden dwarves, gnomes, half-elves, aram (centaurs), orcs and half-orcs, and others – assarai (lizardfolk), ogres, and far stranger things.
Ptolus lies between the Spire and the sea. The highest portion of the city, the Nobles’ Quarter, is built on the base of the Spire. From there, sharp cliffs drop down to Oldtown, and then down again to Midtown. The final cliffs at the edge of Ptolus drop into the bay, with the only area of dry land at the bottom of those cliffs occupied by the city’s docks. Well-worn paths connect the various elevations and help make Ptolus very defensible.
The King’s River flows through the city, spilling into an eroded chasm in the northwest corner and flowing down to the Bay of Ptolus near the Docks. The bottom of the chasm, called the King’s River Gorge, is eighty feet below the level of the ground on its north side, but more than two hundred feet below on its south side. A bridge built upon two massive pillars, themselves erected atop natural rock columns, stretches across the King’s River Gorge at a steep angle, leading through the old city walls into the area known as Oldtown. Another bridge stretches across the chasm to join Oldtown with the Rivergate District. Although Oldtown is higher, the difference in elevation between these two districts is not steep, so the slope of this bridge seems far less noticeable than that of the other.
Visitors to Ptolus will discover a melange of architectural styles. Many of the buildings, especially official imperial structures, follow traditional Prustan designs from the east: imported marble facades, tall columns, and grand entrances. Local Palastani influences are visible on nearly every street, employing much simpler and more practical designs which use local stone for the first story, local wood for the upper stories, and insulating siding materials. Of course, the predominant style changes from district to district, and even from block to block within the same area. But overall, Oldtown and the Nobles’ Quarter appear heavily Prustan, while the market districts, Rivergate, and the Guildsman District are generally Palastani in style. Midtown is a good example of a blend in styles, plus some more exotic architecture of elven, gnomish, and halfling design.
Far below street level, the Docks rest on a narrow strip of land at the bottom of the city’s eastern cliffs. The wooden buildings here sit slightly askew from one another, because the entire small district is built upon slowly sinking sand. Even the streets are sand. A dozen or more ships moor in the deep waters here at any given time. This is a particularly rough area of the city, thanks to the influx of sailors and its isolation from other districts. A single winding road provides access up a steep incline to the city proper.
The Docks are full of warehouses, shipyards, hostels, and taverns, all catering to sailors and merchants. Isolated from the rest of the city by the cliffs, sometimes the Docks seem to have been forced to become a self-contained community. Many Ptolus residents live their whole lives without going there – but, of course, they probably haven’t been to the Nobles’ Quarter either.
Ptolus teams with guilds. Every type of artisan, smith, or other professional belongs to a guild of similarly trained and employed individuals. These guilds enjoy a strong voice in the City Council. The Guildsman District lies in the south end of the city and holds many production facilities and storage sites. Not surprisingly, this district has a distinct odor.
Unless one works here, a local rarely finds a reason to visit, although this district sports a few taverns and other businesses catering to the working class. The Guildsman District’s rough reputation prevents most people from frequenting the area at night. Those who live here often join a guild for protection.
Just a few of the guilds in this district include the Drapers’ Guild, Goldsmiths’ Guild, Herbalists’ Guild, Ironworkers’ Guild, Masons’ Guild, Silversmiths’ Guild, Tanners’ Guild, Weaponsmiths’ Guild, and Woodworkers’ Guild. The Sages’ Guild, Shipwrights’ Guild, Warriors’ Guild (the Order of Iron Might), and a few others are headquartered elsewhere in the city.
As the central area of the city, Midtown is both a commercial and a residential hub. It is also where one finds many local entertainment offerings, in the form of pubs and taverns as well as theaters, dance halls, gambling dens, and more. Visitors looking for a place to stay usually find themselves directed here, as most of the city’s temporary lodgings are in Midtown.
Midtown is home to both Tavern Row and Delver’s Square, where many employers seeking to hire adventuring parties can post their announcements. It also has a few shops and plenty of residential areas, such as Emerald Hill, where most elves choose to live, and Narred, a centaur neighborhood.
In Delver’s Square, one can find Myraeth’s Oddities, a shop that buys magic items of all kinds and resells them. This is a good place to acquire potions, rings, wands, scrolls, and other miscellaneous items. However, Myraeth doesn’t sell weapons or armor – for those items, try Rastor’s Weapons or the Bull and Bear Armory, also in Delver’s Square. Like Myraeth’s they may have used magical equipment to sell. Just a few buildings down is Danbury’s, a tavern in which one can find a representative of the Dreaming Apothecary, an organization that makes new magic items. Across the street from the square, you can also find St. Gustav’s Chapel, a great place to obtain healing potions and holy items.
Besides the Delver’s Square shops that adventurers frequent, those in the know also appreciate Saches, a clothiers on Yeoman Street, and the Row Bathhouse. Potions and Elixirs’ Midtown branch offers a large stock of potions for sale.
The most popular adventurer hangout is the Ghostly Minstrel tavern and inn in Delver’s Square. Many folks seem leery of both the Onyx Spider (on Tavern Row) and the Black Swan (which is mainly for dwarves).
A city several centuries old tends to have a large graveyard, and Ptolus is no exception. The vast Necropolis in the city’s northeastern corner sits on a few rolling hills, now completely covered with mausoleums, crypts, and graves. The entire Necropolis is surrounded by a wall, with guards posted at each of its four gates. These guards’ primary duty is to warn people not to stay in the Necropolis after nightfall and to watch for grave robbers. Most people know that undead roam the Necropolis, but various churches and holy orders, such as the Keepers of the Veil, do their best to contain the menace.
Ptolus has no shortage of wealth. Technically outside the city’s walls, the Nobles’ Quarter, with its row upon row of manors and estates, climbs the city’s western cliffs abutting the Spire itself. Travelers can enter the area only via a single avenue that runs up from Oldtown through the fortress of Dalenguard. The heights where this district now sits were easily defensible in the city’s younger days; originally, all Ptolus residents could gather here in times of emergency, secure behind Dalenguard’s stout gates. However, as time passed and the city grew, members of the elite class claimed these enviable heights for their residences.
The largest estates in this section of town belong to the ten noble families that have held power in the area – to one degree or another – for centuries. In addition to the homes of the wealthy and the services that cater to them, this district houses the Holy Palace, where the Prince of the Church lives; lately, he is joined by his father, the Emperor of the Church, visiting from the eastern capital. The Nobles’ Quarter holds the Crown Theater opera house, the Imperial Academy of Music, fabulous eating establishments and theaters, a floating building of apartments, and other luxuries and sites of interest.
When one enters the city from the north, one is greeted with the sights and smells of a busy marketplace. Well-worn cobblestone streets are packed with vendors occupying wooden booths, pushing carts, or simply hawking wares they tote in massive baskets on their backs. Fresh foods of all kinds – favorites being fish and shellfish from the sea, fruit from the orchards to the north, and local breads and pastries – are available in any quantity. Other goods are for sale in small shops, tents, or from the backs of wagons. The City Watch patrols this busy area to keep thieves and pickpockets from running rampant. Rumor has it that the guards employ sorcerers to patrol the area invisibly, using spells to keep an eye out not only for traditional thieves, but for magically aided ones as well. They watch for invisible robbers, overt use of charm or compulsion magic, and similar tricks.
If you’re looking for tasty baked goods, try Tavoh’s Bakery; for a good clothier, try Endle’s Finery; for a fair weapon shop, go to Mitoren’s Blades, although Rastor’s Weapons in Midtown is probably better for traditional arms. A small firearms emporium called the Smoke Shop opened recently as well.
Ptolus was founded three centuries ago as a small community surrounding a fortress called Dalenguard. The fortress’ original purpose was to keep the area clear of evil creatures drawn by the power of Jabel Shammar, the citadel at the top of the Spire. It also sought to watch over Goth Gulgamel, the fortress halfway up the Spire built by Ghul, the Half God. Dalenguard was constructed more than seven hundred years ago, just after the defeat of Ghul, to serve as a symbol of the union of elves, dwarves, and humans in that war.
Over time, the community grew into an important port, and the need for Dalenguard as a wilderness bastion waned. Today the old fortress is still used by the imperial ruler of the city, the Commissar, and the area surrounding it on the city’s near west side is known as Oldtown. It sits atop a ridge higher than most of the rest of Ptolus, but still lower than the Nobles’ Quarter.
The stone and marble buildings of Oldtown reflect a grander, earlier age. Graceful columns, majestic entrances, tall stone towers, and buildings of three or even four stories are common sights here. Yet all bear the signs of age and wear. Today many of these buildings house the bureaucracy of the empire. Still others are museums or homes for the wealthy (those not quite wealthy enough to live in the Nobles’ Quarter). There are wonderful theaters, auditoriums, and even a grand arena in this large district. The Arena provides a spot for tournaments, fairs, and sporting games of all sorts. Nearby, the Inverted Pyramid mages’ guild sponsors a magical ball sport simply called “the Mage Game,” held in a large indoor coliseum.
This is where citizens go to get licenses, like those needed to carry a firearm, and other legal documents. The City Courts are located here, as are the City Council’s meeting chambers. Both the Delver’s Guild Library and Maproom (but not the guild’s main office) and the City Library are here. Oldtown has a fair number of parks, monuments, and other touches of class and beauty as well.
The Empire of Tarsis requires all citizens to carry identification papers. Display of these papers is required for purchases over 100 gp. Guards and other officials also can demand to see one’s papers at any time. Identification papers include a person’s name, race, place of birth, current residence, occupation, and a general physical description. Forgeries are fairly common. Almost all humans within the empire automatically become citizens at birth. This is also true of most dwarves and many elves. It is more difficult, but not impossible, for members of other races to gain citizenship. Citizens enjoy legal rights that noncitizens do not, as well as greater protection under the law.
Strictly a residential area, the Rivergate District is as close to a “middle class” neighborhood as Ptolus has. It is located on a rise of land, surrounded by cliffs on all sides except the northeast, where a steep slope mostly free of buildings and covered in trees rolls down to the North Market and the main north gate. Its residential cul-de-sacs – called “burrows” by those who live here – each boast their own unique architectural identities.
To locals, the North Market is simply “the Market,” while this area is the “South Market.” Unlike its counterpart, the South Market is not an open-air marketplace. It has fewer vendors dealing out of carts and more established shops and places of business. Goods usually cost more in the South Market, but a buyer is far more likely to find trustworthy salespeople here. This is also where one finds the city’s commodities markets and the headquarters of large mercantile organizations, such as the Rogue Moon Trading Company. Many of those who work here also live here; the district has substantial residential sections.
The South Market is newer than the North Market and has more artisans and industry than its counterpart. You’re more likely to get something made to order in the South Market because the store selling leather goods, for example, is probably also a leatherworker’s shop (such as Donnel’s, a friendly dealer in leather goods). Nonstandard races or those with special physical needs when it comes to clothing should check out Maran’s Odd Sizes. Navaen Bowcraft is a fine place to buy bows or arrows, and those looking to treat themselves should stop by Ramoro’s Bakery.
Although the worship of Lothian, the official imperial deity, is the dominant religion of the city, Ptolus’ residents revere hundreds of other gods as well. Temples, churches, shrines, and small monasteries fill this district in the north central part of town, with the Street of a Million Gods (a bit of an exaggeration) running through it from north to south. Even the Blessed Bridge across the King’s River has small shrines built upon and into it.
The district stretches east and west from the Street of a Million Gods. Notable sights include St. Valien’s Cathedral for worshippers of Lothian and the Priory of Introspection, where the Sisterhood of Silence is based. Although clerics are the most common representatives of the many gods, a number of temples support monks and paladins as well. The Temple District has a single bar, Taggert’s, which is also a temple to Ollom, God of the Keg.
The Warrens in the eastern part of town is a terrible slum sick with poverty and crime. Rumors say that the City Watch won’t go into the Warrens. The streets have no names, and most of the buildings aren’t marked – the place is not friendly to outsiders. Some visitors to Ptolus may have experienced a little theft or crime in the city, but it’s nothing compared to what goes on in this district. Some place the headquarters of the Vai within the Warrens. Others whisper of a crime lord named Jirraith and his gang of young thieves called the Pale Dogs who really run the place.
The Undercity Market
Although not actually a district of Ptolus, the Undercity Market, accessed by a wide staircase in the middle of Delver’s Square, is the place to go for most adventuring gear (although Ebbert’s Outfitters in Delver’s Square is a handy one-stop shop with good prices). Looking for potions? Try Urnst, Alchemist or Potions and Elixirs. For scrolls, try the gnome wizard Neridoc Bittersong, who runs a booth in the market under the sign “Arcane Scribe.”
Nearby are entrances into the sewers as well as tunnels leading into “the Dungeon,” as adventurers call the labyrinthine structures beneath the streets of Ptolus. The Chamber of Longing is a nearby landmark that features a strange statue of a huge hand and serves as an occasional meeting place for adventurers. One can access the profoundly mysterious and magical Mirror Maze from the Market as well. If stories are correct, the catacombs of the Dungeon include the sewers of the city, vast stretches of passages and chambers created by Ghul and his minions, the remains of an even older city, an abandoned underground dwarven settlement called Dwarvenhearth, and natural caverns that plunge incredibly deep into the earth.
Also located here is the Delver’s Guild, an association that provides assistance in the form of maps, reference material, and equipment to explorers of the Dungeon. The presence of the Delver’s Guild makes the Undercity Market a center of employment relating to Dungeon exploration. Those looking to hire adventurers frequently post bills in the guild’s meeting hall (much as they do in Delver’s Square). A number of market establishments hire out scouts, guides, porters, and guards, as well as skilled labor to pick locks, cast spells, and perform other necessary services.
As the city grows, more people have begun to live in and around the Undercity Market. This is particularly true of races not always welcome elsewhere – minotaurs, lizardfolk, orcs, etc.