How much does my rent cost me each month? What do I wear to the market? What is the current news of the day? These are all questions that we can answer easily for ourselves in modern-day life. But when we’re asking them of our characters in the Ptolus Campaign, the answers seem a bit more elusive…
This chapter 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.
Where You Live
What You Wear
How You Live
Information Panel: The Cost of Living
The City in Which You Live
Information Panel: Gender in Ptolus
WHERE YOU LIVE
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 (Open Lock, DC 20). 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).
Except for Tarsis itself, more people move to Ptolus each year than to any other city in the Empire.
It is held that every home develops a spirit, sometimes called a luritas. For details on house gifts, see page 29. Broadsheets, page 166
For sample floor plans of Ptolus homes, see pages 197, 346, and 347
For details on the food the common person dines upon, see “Eating in Ptolus” in Chapter 13: North Market, page 306.
Dragonscales, page 359
The wealthy eat with utensils made of silver and are the only class of Ptolusite to use forks.
Although you keep it covered, the garderobe has a bad odor, so it is located far from where you keep the food and where you eat. Instead, it’s located near where you hang your clothing, since the smell keeps away moths.
Some of the best diversions of the year for common folk occur at the Godsday Festival and Tournament, described in Chapter 17: Temple District, page 392. For other festivals, see “Customs” in Chapter 1: A Player’s Guide to Ptolus on page 28.
WHAT YOU WEAR
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 woodensoled 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.
HOW YOU LIVE
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.
THE COST OF LIVING
Living in Ptolus is a costly venture. The price of necessities is high, not to mention luxuries. For most items, use the prices provided in Chapter 7: Equipment of the Player’s Handbook. The only alterations to those prices are as follows:
Spyglass: 200 gp
Water Clock: 150 gp
Owning and Renting Property
Most people who live in houses do not own them—they rent. Wealthy landholders and investors own most local residential and other buildings.
Here’s a rundown of the rent in Ptolus.
Residence* Size Rent/Month**
Apartment/flat 1 room 5 sp
Apartment/flat 2 rooms 1 gp
Apartment/flat 3–4 rooms 5 gp
House Small 3 gp
House Medium 10 gp
House Large 50 gp+
* Of average quality.
** Triple the normal rent for the Nobles’ Quarter. Halve it for the Warrens; many residents of the Warrens are squatters, however.
Many fortunate Ptolusites who do own their homes inherited them. See Chapter 10: Midtown (page 197) and Chapter 15: Rivergate District (pages 346–347) for some maps of typical Ptolus houses that you can adapt for your campaign.
The table below shows the purchase price of a typical house, by district:
Docks 500 gp
Guildsman District 3,000 gp
Midtown 5,000 gp
Nobles’ Quarter 50,000 gp
North Market 5,000 gp
Oldtown 10,000 gp
Rivergate District 8,000 gp
South Market 6,000 gp
Temple District 9,000 gp
* Prices for burial in the Necropolis are in the table under “Other Expenses.”
** The availability of squatting opportunities makes the Warrens not a viable real estate market.
Many residents in Ptolus live in the same district in which they work, but that is by no means always the case. Shopkeepers who live above their stores may either own or rent the building.
Ptolus offers unusual goods that some player characters may want to purchase and various services they may want to take advantage of. Such goods and gear not available in the Player’s Handbook appear in the table below. (Also see Chapter 29: Technology for additional goods one can purchase in Ptolus.)
Goods/Service Price Notes
Messenger 1 sp To anywhere in the city
Carriage ride 1 sp To anywhere in the city
Bath 1 cp —
Shave/haircut 1 cp —
Massage 2 cp —
Furnishings (one room) — —
Expensive 800 gp+ —
Average 100 gp —
Poor 15 gp —
Taxidermy services 10–500 gp —
Custom tailoring 5–50 gp —
Custom armor 100–500 gp+ —
Custom weapon 20–200 gp+ —
Personal taxes 3 gp/year Or 9% of total wealth/year
Leather coat 200 gp +4 armor bonus, +6 max.
Dex, –2 check penalty,
spell failure 10%, speed
30 feet, 20 lbs.
Burial (Necropolis) — —
Common grave 1 sp —
Headstone 5 gp —
Individual plot 10 gp —
Expensive crypt 500 gp —
Mausoleum 5,000 gp —
One easy way to handle living expenses in the Ptolus Campaign is to have each player character pay a monthly upkeep cost. This is the amount the character spends on accommodations, food, drink, clothing, and items each month. It does not include the cost of adventuring gear, magic items, bribes, and so forth. The amount is paid on a regular basis (such as the first of each month), although it’s assumed that character actually spends the money over the course of the entire month.
Upkeep costs are determined by the player, not the DM, based on how the player wants the character to live (assuming funds are available to maintain the desired lifestyle). DMs may wish to play out the details of dramatic changes in upkeep costs. Someone going from a poor to a high lifestyle has to move and spend a few days buying new things. Someone going from a luxurious lifestyle to an average one has to move, fire his servants, and so forth. DMs should disallow dramatic changes in upkeep costs from month to month in order to maintain realism. It’s unlikely someone could live a poor lifestyle one month, a high lifestyle the next, and meager the month after that. (It’s possible, however. An adventurer might score a major haul and then blow it on wine, women, and song in a single month—although the character will end up looking like a fool who can’t handle his money.)
Subsistence 2 gp
Meager 3–5 gp
Poor 6–10 gp
Average 11–20 gp
Good 21–50 gp
High 51–100 gp
Luxurious 101+ gp
This is the amount of money required simply to stay alive. It assumes living either in a very cheap abode, probably shared with others, on the streets, or in a place like the Mane (see page 200). Unless the character has access to free food (including food grown in a garden), all she eats is potatoes, broth, and bread. She never eats in restaurants or pubs, virtually never drinks in taverns, and has no luxuries. She wears shabby, dirty clothes (probably covered in patches and mending) and rarely bathes. This character either lives in the Warrens (or the really poor parts of the Guildsman District or Midtown), or people just assume that she does.
This is the lifestyle of the common laborer in Ptolus. The character lives in a one-room apartment, eats poorly, and drinks only cheap, watery ale at low-class taverns. He probably gets a new article of clothing once a year, so what he wears is often tattered and stained.
The character lives comfortably, but completely without luxury. Meals are simple, but she doesn’t go hungry and can afford a mug or two of ale regularly. The character’s clothing is simple, but not shabby or dirty.
This is a middle-class lifestyle. The character has a decent place to live, perhaps even with more than one room. He eats fairly well, occasionally eating in restaurants or pubs. He can afford to indulge in extravagances such as decent wine or the occasional new clothing item or even a bit of jewelry.
The character lives very well. Her rented house or apartment has multiple rooms, and she dines on quality food at every meal. The character can adopt an expensive habit, such as fine wines, perfumes, gambling, or fancy clothing, but she still needs to be mindful of the price of things.
The character lives in a large house with expensive furniture and silk sheets on the beds. He eats fine foods, drinks quality beverages, and wears fashionable clothing. Perfumes, jewelry, and expensive tobaccos are just some of the luxuries the character can afford. He might even have a servant or two.
If the character sees something she wants, she buys it. No extravagance is too great. She takes every meal at a fine restaurant or an elegant dinner party. Her wardrobes overflow with articles of expensive clothing, and she wears jewelry and high-priced cologne at all times. This character almost certainly employs a personal servant (or a staff) to look after her home and possessions. She almost certainly lives in the Nobles’ Quarter.
THE CITY IN WHICH YOU LIVE
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.
Platinum Imperial coins are dragons and gold pieces are thrones. Silver pieces are shields (although slang terms include “shinies” and “moons”). Copper pieces are pennies (also known as “jennies,” “bobs,” or “jacks”). For more on Imperial money and the currency in Ptolus, see “The Economy” in Chapter 7: City by the Spire (page 154).
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-inhand 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.
GENDER IN PTOLUS
Generally speaking, men and women are treated more or less equally under the law of the Empire, unlike localized governments of the past or those in far-off lands like Uraq. Both men and women can own property, hold titles, and own weapons and other items. They are also treated equally when accused of a crime (see Chapter 28: Crime and the Law).
The truth is, among the common races, there is nothing to keep a woman from becoming as good a fighter, a wizard, a merchant, or an accountant as a man. Still, about 75 percent of all outsidethe-home occupations are filled by men, simply because so many married women stay home to care for their children.
That said, it is not uncommon for locals to use gender-specific terms for general things. Humanity (and sometimes all intelligent races) is often referred to as “mankind.” The reptilian creatures that call themselves assarai are known to most others as “lizard men” (as opposed to the gender neutral “lizardfolk”). Even the Guildsman District suggests this nomenclature bias, a holdover from a much earlier time. Still, rather than being offended, most women in Ptolus (and throughout the Empire) have seized the opportunity and have adopted such terms as gender-neutral terms. A “man at arms” does not imply a male mercenary, for example, and most women would not balk at being a City Watchman or a City Councilman. Similarly, a female sorcerer is a “sorcerer,” not a “sorceress.”
Still, some gender-specific terms remain offensive. For instance, no woman with any self-respect likes being referred to as a “wench” or by similar terms.
Marriage and Children
All the major races share similar beliefs involving marriage. Within the traditional family unit, the male is usually expected to earn most of the money, because the female traditionally cares for the home and children. There are plenty of exceptions, however—so many as to make them not even particularly notable. Further, even as they care for the children, many women also contribute to the family’s financial well-being by growing vegetables, sewing, taking in wash, or other at-home duties. And of course, if the family business is indeed in the home (or vice versa), the female parent may take an equal or greater role. Many shopkeepers and artisans, for example, live in the back of their stores or above their workshops with their families. In such cases, either the male or the female, or both, tends to the business.
Legally, the Empire recognizes that parents are entirely responsible for the upbringing and welfare of their children. They are also responsible for their children’s actions. This means that if a young child commits a crime, the parent faces the punishment—even if that punishment is imprisonment or death.
Both boys and girls attend formalized school from around age six to at least age ten. There they learn the basics of reading (Imperial Common), math, and history. The only exception to this is in small villages where no school or teachers are available. In Ptolus, only the very poorest children do not attend school. Residential districts like Midtown, Oldtown, Rivergate, and of course the Nobles’ Quarter all have many schools for the local children. Such schools are usually run by the Empire, through the auspices of the Church of Lothian. There are cases, however, in which a neighborhood sponsors its own school. This is particularly true in some of Midtown’s racial neighborhoods—there is an Elvish school in Emerald Hill, for example—or in the case of an organization sponsoring a school, such as the Shuul’s plan for a technical institute (see page 334).
After they finish school, many children as young as age ten go to work, often for a relative. Young children serve as stablehands, messengers, or other assistants. Many go on to become apprentices and learn a trade. Those who do not may become manual laborers. Children who show scholastic aptitude have the opportunity to go to either an advanced school or a trade school until age sixteen. Those who finish the advanced school often go on to university and careers like advocate, physicker, judge, administrator, sage, and so forth. Trade schools teach advanced craftwork or other skills, going beyond that which a typical apprenticeship can grant. Trade schools produce accountants, master crafters, and similar professions.
Sixteen years is the generally accepted “age of responsibility,” in which a person becomes accountable for his own actions and welfare. However, that’s an extremely humanocentric custom. Elves, gnomes, and dwarves are not considered adults by their own custom until at least age twenty, and sometimes as old as twenty-four. (Among their own kind, elves have a custom of the “carefree adult” that lasts from about age twenty until as old as one hundred ten, although many elves ignore this tradition while living among humans and other races.)
Same-gender relationships are accepted among most races, although the human middle and lower classes discourage the practice—a holdover from older, agrarian societies in which having the maximum number of children possible was considered vital to the survival of the entire society.
In the crowded streets of a place like Ptolus, however, such mores are easily forgotten. Dwarves are the one exception; they look upon homosexuality as deviant behavior—a type of mild madness.