Age of Ascension
The City of Valcora
Lawful Neutral Military Trade City
Assets: 3,566,500gp, Spending Limit 70,000gp
Demographics: Human 73%, Dwarves 13%, Halflings 6%, Half-Elf 4%, Lizardfolk 1%, Tiefling 1%, Others 2%
Authority Figures: The Emperor of Avencia, The Church of Aeon, The Magistrates
Notable Imports: Drink, Grain, Livestock, Leather, Ore, Lumber, Exotic Goods.
Notable Exports: Arms, Ships, Woodwork, Leatherwork, Stone, Refined Metals, Technology, Finished Goods.
The founding of Valcora was a time of blood. At its heart, it was nothing more than a fortress, intended to consolidate the power of a conquering warlord and unify the surrounding clans. Generations since have built and rebuilt upon the layered ruins of those who came before. The centuries have brought with them countless changes in the character of the people who preceded modern Avencians.
Among the many triumphs and catastrophes that shaped modern attitudes, three are easy to relate. First, nearly 170 years ago, was the rise of the Church of Aeon, whose faith spread like wildfire and moved kings as much as clergy to great aspirations and decadence, influenced by the promises of the new god; that mortals could earn a place at his side. The building of the grand cathedral which now looms over the city, the demonization of all things arcane, and the resulting formation of the Enclave can all be attributed to the vast influence of the New Faith.
Much later, the razing of Genova was a blow felt by all, and the loss of that great cultural center of the world spurred a period of new appreciation for invention and the arts. Two decades later, the landing of the Atheronian fleet brought with it a military revolution, from advances in naval tactics and shipbuilding to an influx of military zeal. Many say that without either of these events, Valcora would’ve declined into a sprawling den of depravity and greed… while others claim that it already has, and the influence of Atheron and Genova have only provided the facade that hides it. Nonetheless, modern Valcora is strongly characterized by its arts as well as its military dominance.
It has been eighty-seven years since the last of these three, with no new ground broken since. The livelihood of modern Valcora is not its military might, culture, or piety. At its heart, the city is a hub for trade. Rich historical tapestry notwithstanding, the lifeblood of the Valcoran people is capitalism. As a melting pot of world cultures with its own local flavor, Valcora has breed a people who are relatively tolerant of who they deal with. It is said, though, that a characteristic of Valcorans is a definite threshold beyond which they will not be pushed, a nearly visible distancing from their situation, after which they either stubbornly withdraw or call the Watch.
Though it is a wealthy city by any standard, the distribution of capital among Valcoran citizens varies widely. The poor are packed into looming tenements, while nobility lives in luxury and comfort.
Martial law and the knowledge that anyone could be a spy for the Regent, the Accord, or the Enclave keeps the people relatively peaceful, and ensures certain loose talk is only exchanged in hushed tones behind bolted doors. Like in any expanse of humanity, the criminal element thrives here, but moreso than in surrounding territories, they emphasize subtlety. The political and economic games of a city as old as this, with rivalries and alliances spanning hundreds of years, leaves no shortage of opportunity for the ambitious. The unwise can sometimes be fooled into believing that Valcora has grown past such base elements as crime, revenge, and greed. In fact, the insidious nature of her government mirrors that of her criminal underworld, so much that the vast majority choose simply to keep their nose clean. Those brazen enough to do anything out of the ordinary are either very prepared or very quickly diffused.
Crime and Punishment
Law and policymaking are the responsibility of the Magistrates; a special body of officials both elected and appointed, whose sole responsibility is to rule in favor of the success of the city. The standing military of Valcora is one of the largest in the world, and soldiers in the second half of their six year term form the Watch; a superficial distinction that barely veils a state of permanent martial law. Enforcement is therefore carried out by seasoned soldiers, to say nothing of the more specialized agents at the city’s disposal. Penalties are somewhat harsh and set in stone; for the sake of efficiency, the courts rarely deliberate over specifics, instead opting for a system of codified crimes and grades of severity.
Crimes are divided into three classes; Crimes Against the City (Personal crimes against officials, arson, treason, conspiracy), Crimes Against the Gods (Theft from or defiling a temple or cavorting with demons), and Crimes Against Citizens (Murder, assault, personal theft, etc.). It is the responsibility of the courts to determine which class of crime has been committed, which nature, and in what grade of severity.
Some of the oldest traditions and written laws within the walls have persisted for hundreds of years, and in some cases it is the prerogative of those involved to invoke The Old Law. Such circumstances include judicial duels under the auspices of an appropriate official, indentured servitude to work off a large debt, or simply trial under a harsher system of penalties.
Sentences range from restitution, to flogging, to imprisonment, to exile and death. The manner in which they are carried out varies by station.
Despite the notoriety of Valcora’s justice system and it’s cold efficiency, crime is a constant in city life. It’s not uncommon for certain people to have passed through several organizations in their career, and maintain close ties with several.
Law enforcement is carried out primarily by the Watch; men and women in the second half of their term of enlistment with the Valcoran army. Considerable time and expense goes into training disciplined watch officers, and therefore they are given considerable leeway in their enforcement of the city’s law. It’s unmistakable that Valcoran patrols and gate guards are too well armed to constitute anything less than a state of martial law. Most of the Watch consists of infantrymen working in pairs or small teams, but mounted officers and other specialists are at the city’s disposal.
When a suspect has been thoroughly questioned, he is held until the date of his trial, which is rarely more than a week due to the city’s efficient and impersonal sentencing policies. Then, he is brought to the courts to be judged by one of the Magisters, and his sentence is carried out with little delays. While exceptions and unusual circumstances can have an effect on sentencing, such instances are very rare, and fully up to the Magister’s discretion.
The vast economy of a metropolis like Valcora carries enough momentum to upset the entire Empire, should it be unbalanced. It must be said up front that wealth is the ultimate governor of Valcora, and even with all the might of the Empire’s government, anyone with enough money can have a significant impact on the city’s future. The players, therefore, are many and varied.
The ultimate ruler of the Empire and her capital is, of course, the Emperor. His primary concern is governing the empire as a whole, and for the most part, Valcora is in the hands of the Council of Magisters. Coming from varied backgrounds, Valcoran magisters are irrefutably formidable individuals who have made enough of a name for themselves as to be nominated by the other magisters, or by the Emperor himself.
The nominees are then voted into office by a vote of landowners in the city. As the vast majority of citizens don’t own the land they live on, this democratic process is considerably less daunting than it could be. Voting days occur twice per year, coinciding with the new year and the half year holidays.
When called to Council, the Magisters are responsible for deliberating and making significant decisions concerning city business and policy. The emperor, should he choose to vote, represents just under half of the total ballots; at any given time, the Emperor’s vote is worth the number of present Magisters’ minus one. This very basic system of checks and balances is designed to ensure that a unanimous Council can overrule even him. Magisters may advise or submit the will of the Council to the Emperor on matters outside of the city, but they have no power to directly effect his decisions.
As varied as the Magisters are in their personal beliefs, origins, and goals, there are an even greater variety of outside influences on Valcoran law. Organizations with enough influence or wealth can significantly influence public opinions, or the vote of the Magisters. The Merchant’s Accord, for example, has maintained its dominant position in the city for decades by speaking through government officials. The Church of Aeon, as the religious choice of an overwhelming majority of Valcoran nobility, carries perhaps the greatest weight of all.
The City Itself
The streets of Valcora were at first lain in concentric rings, with Castle Carre Dova, the seat of power, situated on the Northeast rim. The design was chosen to facilitate troop movement, in an age when the settlement was largely a military outpost. In the centuries since, the streets were lain in a less precise network of vague grids, degrading into a seemingly random warren of alleys near the outer walls. Visitors to the city usually assume that standards have slipped in recent years, but in truth, Avencian tacticians ensured that the main avenues remain wide and clear between the gates, so an invading army would be funneled into the same roads as defenders.
Valcora is divided into a series of sections by walls, designated by the purpose of the majority of buildings within each. The original circular division of the city, and the governing sectors, are referred to as Districts, while the outlying and sprawling residential sections are known as the Wards. This distinction reinforces the noticeable disparity of wealth and status between certain sections. From the center of circle, newer and, for the most part, progressively poorer sections radiate outward. The majority of the old city sits well above sea level, in the leveled foothills of the mountain. The Civic District and Carre Dova both overlook the Districts, while toward the coast, the Docks Ward terminates in a short drop to the sea. At the Southern edge of town, the poorest part of the city, called the Cliff Ward, is protected by steep cliffs overlooking the beaches.
A mammoth aqueduct, running from somewhere high on the mountain to the city below, provides the pressure that carries fresh water to countless fountains and bathhouses, and also flushes the sewers into the canals. Ranging from fifteen to thirty feet from the surface of the water to street level, the canals can be as wide as forty feet, and intersect with roads and districts. At intervals, staircases and long ramps descend onto narrow roads and boardwalks just above the water level. For the most part, the water is clean and no more than ten feet deep. Shallow-drafted ferries and small ships traverse the canals carrying goods and passengers to and from the docks, which are almost a city of their own. There are bridges so wide that shops and rowhouses have been built on top of them. The learned cite these wonders as the ultimate legacy of Avencia’s engineers.
Castle Carre Dova was built on a wide, flat ridge , high against the mountain, surrounded by the tombs of scores of warriors who served the fledgling kingdom in its earliest days. It was carved deep into the rock itself, with only its foremost chambers exposed and walled by placed stone. In the same fashion, the oldest buildings in the city are partially carved into the rock face. The passage of time since is discernable by the construction style of each generation. Local stone makes up the majority of masonry, characterized by its ashen grey color, smooth texture, and slight marbling. It takes on a slight golden hue when the sun rises and sets.
Strong vertical lines draw the eye upward in the older, more cultured Districts, and it’s not unusual to feel dwarfed by buildings as tall as five stories while walking the streets. Truly round walls are a rarity, but octagonal sections feature prominently and add to the sense of grandeur. Rough-cut glass windows further emphasize the passage of time or the presence of wealth, so much that one can accurately measure how the times have treated a landowner in one of these districts by how much of the original glass remains. In the Wards, space is much more precious, and many buildings lean in over the streets, having wider upper floors than foundations. Save for the poorest parts of the Wards, very few buildings are less than two stories, to minimize the size of lots.
Before the 3rd age, most buildings were made of dark, dense wood from what is now called the Reserve, which covers much of the rolling hills West of the city. In modern times, logging is limited by law, and such wood has become too valuable for ordinary construction. The change, not coincidentally, lead to a surge in the market for lighter woods of the Heartlands, which make up most of the woodwork in the Wards.
Though the attitudes and customs of Avencia’s population have diverged, there was a brief time of cultural revitalization less than a century ago, when rulers and powerful families embraced art and invention. Wide plazas were constructed, roads lined with greenery, and even the fortified Carre Dova was bedecked in carvings and banners. In later centuries, many of the more flamboyant fashions gave way to feats of engineering, leading up to the great aqueduct, and the royal blue domed ceilings that now distinguish the skyline, above a sea of gabled rooftops in muted reds, blues, and browns.
Architects and artists of the modern day revere and hearken back to this age of enlightenment, making heavy use of vaulted roofs and sculpture, even if construction quality has given way to practicality. Fashion in the wards has turned to whitewash, and it’s slowly growing in popularity, as a way for Ward citizens to set themselves apart from the image of District imitators. Another discerning trait is the presence of conical parapets; though the Districts cling patriotically to their expensive domed roofs, romantic tales and paintings of the frontier cities in the Heartlands have inspired more recent construction in the Wards.
Particularly notable are the Emberleaf trees, originally shipped from Genova by order of a ruler from the 2nd age, and cultivated ever since. These distinctive trees haven’t spread much beyond the city limits, but they are common within and favored by most, regardless of social class. Rarely more than twice the height of a man, the trunk of the tree is white and papery, with small, spade shaped leaves the width of two fingers. The aging cycle of the Emberleaf is startlingly short; two weeks in summer, perhaps four in winter. The leaves sprout a vibrant green, which darkens to emerald in a few days’ time, before the second half of the cycle sees them turn aflame with gold and scarlet before they fall, leaving the streets awash with eddies of red.
Stories of beauty in Valcora often mention the red leaves swirling at sunset, when the stone shines amber and banners soar below a painted sky.