Monday Golarion Game
For more than 4,000 years, Absalom (pronounced AB-sah-lahm) has been the City at the Center of the World, a metropolis-sized showcase of the greatest treasures in all Golarion. The importance and influence of Absalom upon the Inner Sea and the whole of Golarion can not be overstated. The city not only holds a key strategic position for both commercial and military endeavors in the region, but encompasses the site of the ascension of four deities and claims to have been founded by none other than the Last Azlanti, the god Aroden. It is not without reason that the passage of time throughout the world is counted in Absalom Reckoning.
Situated on the southern coast of the Isle of Kortos, Absalom is the largest city in the Inner Sea region and quite possibly the entire world. Due to the lack of space upon Kortos, the city is exceptionally vertical in its layout and is often referred to by its second moniker, The City of Spires.
The ice-capped peaks of the Kortos Mounts are among the highest known in the world, stretching high above treeline. Countless abandoned siege engines and constructions of war from the numerous failed attempts throughout history to take the city by force lie scattered throughout the surrounding countryside in what has become known as the Cairnlands and the wreckage of armadas of unsuccessful attempts on the city from the sea all but block the wide harbor in a mass known as the Flotsam Graveyard.
Life in Absalom
This section describes what life is like for the most common resident of Absalom: 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 I 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, an 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).
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 once to twice a week 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 barber surgeon 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 City You Live In
Although the city is full of all different races, you probably live in a neighborhood made up mostly of residents who share your race (except halflings, they are everywhere). You see members of other races in the market and on the street frequently, however. Some people harbor various prejudices about one race or another, but considering all the differences, the various races live together in relative harmony.
Most of the time, you stay in your own district of the city, traveling to one of the two markets (if you don’t already live there) perhaps once a week. You have probably never been to the Nobles’ Quarter unless your job required it. If you did go there, you felt uncomfortable because it seemed as though everyone was watching you, expecting you to do something bad. It seems at times that you have more in common with the folk of other races than with the noble or extremely wealthy members of your own.
Occasionally, the law requires that you go to one of the government buildings in Oldtown to get a license or permit or register for some new tax. Imperial bureaucracy can be trying sometimes. A trip to the Administration Building often requires a full day of standing in lines and filling out forms. On the way there, though, you might make a point of passing through Vock Row, on the chance you’ll see a wizard doing something interesting.
You probably consider magic and spells fascinating but strange. It’s certainly nothing to believe or disbelieve in—magic’s demonstrably as real and true as gravity and the cycle of night and day. You likely don’t enjoy many of its wonders and advantages, however; it’s just rare enough to be beyond your means. You may know someone who has a torch in his home that never burns itself out, though, or someone who has spent her life’s savings on a miraculous cure from a priest in the Temple District. And you see the evidence of magic almost every day—a wizard flies overhead, a cleric heals someone hurt, or an adventurer walks down the street carrying a glowing sword or with strange magic bits orbiting his head. Magic is clearly real you’d never question that. It’s just expensive.
Speaking of life’s savings, you likely have little or no savings; you earn just enough to pay for what you and your family need to live, with perhaps a bit more to splurge occasionally. Perhaps you buy a nice turkey or goose for dinner on Godsday, or some small gifts for the children on their birthdays. If you’ve got anything approaching savings, it comes in the form of an old gold ring, locket, or other heirloom handed down by your family.
You receive a visit from the tax collector three times a year, with the visits usually spaced equally apart, although the times differ for everyone.
Taxes in Absalom are very light, especially compared to those of cities that come close to its massive size. The main reason for this is that Absalom, as a city, is extremely wealthy. A constant influx of money from foreign merchants and adventurers allows the Grand Council to tax foreign concerns a modest rate, and still have plenty of money to see to the city’s needs. When the city is under siege, a series of Siege Taxes are put in place that go far beyond the tariffs mentioned here.
Non-citizens do not pay taxes. However, at any time, virtually any government official can demand one silver shield from a non citizen as an Imperial services levy, if the non-citizen has spent the previous week in the bounds of the City (which is, according to the City, everywhere on the Island of Kortos). Technically, a non-citizen 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.
Property tax in Absalom is nonexistent, as the idea of being charged for something you already own is abhorrent to the independent natives. However, the city government does charge for access to roads, waterways, and sanitation. A residence or shop can avoid these fees by ensuring no entryway accesses a road (leading to a few mazes of close together buildings with gravel pathways between them), carrying water from public wells, and carting off waste (it’s illegal to just dump it outside, since that avoids the tax). For most residents, however, its easier just to pay the modest fees for the city to take care of such matters. Newcomers looking to rent a place to stay in Absalom are advised to ensure their landlord is paying these taxes, rather than allowing renters to suffer the inconvenience.
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 from Absalom, like most people in the city, you probably attend services on Sunday or Moonday. 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.
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.
Commerce and Laws
Business in Absalom is broken into three main types— craft, trade, and labor. Craft includes all manufacturing business, trade the buying and selling of physical goods, and labor anything service-related. Most craft and labor is regulated by a series of guilds, which determine who is allowed to operate those businesses and where and how they can sell their goods. Even illegal activities are often organized by guilds, and anyone caught breaking these laws is guilty of two crimes if they are not also a member of the appropriate guild. Guilds frequently overlap areas of control, which leads to both healthy competition and political backstabbing.
Trade is handled by a different set of laws that specifically forbids guilds and collusion among traders, designed to ensure price-fixing does not occur. In the ancient past of the city, a few major coalitions of investors managed to briefly choke Absalom with exorbitant prices on basic commodities. As a result, a single person must be the legal owner of any goods offered for trade, and no person may own more than one outlet for the sale of such goods. Of course, as with any law, there are ways around the trade restrictions (usually involving investors who never officially own any of the items for sale), but anyone suspected of price fixing draws the ire of the Grand Council very quickly.
Within Absalom, trade is considered the most civilized and respectable business, with crafting second and labor last. A common shopkeep often holds himself higher than a master swordsmith, who in turn looks down on a world famous performer. As with all such social judgments, money and power often compensate for cultural biases.
As a city of trade and business, Absalom is awash with coins from a dozen kingdoms. Most are accepted at face value, as they tend to be close to the same size and weight of official Absalom coins. Indeed, the threat of Absalom not accepting a given kingdom’s coins at face value has forced more than one country to refine its coins’ weight and purity. If a kingdom does have a devalued coin, its value in relation to Absalom mintage is posted in most markets of the city.
Monies gathered by the government of Absalom are usually smelted, carefully weighed, and pressed into local currency by the Absalom Mint. These highly-trusted coins are common throughout the Inner Sea, and not unknown even in far-off Tian Xia and Vudra.
Copper Penny: Nearly any copper piece may be called a penny, and Absalom only mints a few of these itself. Since they are rarely used for major transactions (such as those members of the Grand Council are most concerned with), copper pieces of all types are mostly ignored by the local mint and moneychangers. Sometimes a special event may be commemorated by a run of a few thousand copper pennies at the mint, including such things as the success of a band of adventurers or the knighting of a popular hero.
Silver Weight: Always called a silver weight, never just “a weight.” Prices are often given in this coin, even for large purchases (a masterwork longsword might be priced at “3,150 silver weight”). For very large purchases made in foreign silver, the metal is often melted down and weighed against Absalom silver weight. Such smelted silver is generally then minted into new silver weight coins.
Electrum Crest: Often just called “crests,” electrum coins are no longer minted in Absalom. During one of its ancient sieges, however, metal coinage grew rare, and a series of small coins of mixed silver, gold, and a bit of copper were minted. Each has the same value as a silver weight. Crests are still accepted in Absalom, though not anywhere else.
Gold Measure: Originally just a simple slug of metal that had a “full measure of gold,” the gold measure of Absalom is the standard by which all other gold coins are compared throughout the Inner Sea. Usually just referred to as a “measure.”
Platinum Sphinx: Also called a “lion-coin,” these coins are most often used in exchanges between major trading houses. They depict the mother-sphinx on one side, and a tower of Azlant Keep on the other. Crates of these coins sometimes simply move from one room in the mint to another, to indicate which family or merchant owns them.
The wheels of justice turn slowly. The City Watch exists first and foremost to preserve order—stopping crime, let alone investigating crime, is a secondary concern. Reporting a crime or providing information about a criminal does not automatically get results. Other factors include the current manpower level of the local Watchhouse and the personalities involved.
Absalom is an unabashedly classist society. The Watch will almost certainly ignore a non-citizen accusing a wealthy citizen of a crime. A wealthy citizen reporting a crime gets better results than someone without wealth or prestige to back her up.
A City Watch guard observing a crime has the authority to apprehend and detain the criminal immediately. If the criminal resists, the guard can use lethal force to deal with him, if necessary. Brutality to criminals and even suspected criminals is expected.
It can’t be stressed enough: The members of the City Watch don’t really investigate crimes, at least not in the modern sense. They might question witnesses, but they don’t look for clues. Mostly, they just care about stopping crimes as—or before—they happen. At the scene of a murder or an assault, the most likely (eg, poorer) suspect is apprehended and unless someone with station or money steps in vouch for a suspect, they will be carted off to be tried. Once detained, a suspect might be questioned or interrogated. The Watch may beat or torture a lower class suspect, particularly if he is thought to have committed a particularly heinous crime.
During apprehension, the Watch guards have considerable discretion at this stage of the process to arrest whom they choose. This means that if a person holding a bloody sword is found standing over the body of some half fiend sorcerer who was about make a human sacrifice to one of the Demon Gods, they’re unlikely to arrest the murderer.
The City Watch usually puts captured prisoners in manacles, with a black hood over their heads to help disorient (and therefore control) them. Then they march them to the nearest Watchhouse and put them in a small and ill kept jail cell. For some offenses, a criminal can immediately pay a fine and leave, but in the case of a drunk apprehended in a brawl or similar misconduct, the Watch captain may order a mandatory night in a cell on top of the fine.
Jailers frequently commit acts of brutality against prisoners, often in the name of justice, retribution on behalf of a victim, or even rehabilitation.
When it comes to trial, they brief and weighted heavily against the defendant, with the idea that if things have progressed this far, the suspect is probably guilty. A single judge presides over a case, with an advocate and a city prosecutor to present evidence and argue applicable passages in the Vast Codex. Trials can be public or private, at the discretion of the judge. In fact, everything that occurs during the course of the trial is at the discretion of the judge, although a higher-ranking judge or other official can overrule these decisions.
Of course, not everyone arrested for a crime goes to trial. If the City Watch apprehends a criminal in the act of committing a very serious crime, a Watch captain has the authority to mete out justice immediately. Because officials can challenge this authority after the fact and even reverse a decision, guard captains use this privilege sparingly and limit their summary sentences to fines and/or imprisonment— almost never death. (Captains found to have handed out an unwarranted sentence of death can be stripped of their rank).