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Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 9:40 pm
by stebehil
Has this been discussed anywhere? I just wondered how I would describe, say, Threshold, if I would start a new campaign there. The Basic Set contains the scene set at the town Armorers workshop with a few half-timber houses in the background. The Expert set has this scene in the campaign section showing a busy street scene, which might be set in Specularum. The generic houses given in B 6 show some half-timber structure as well, and the picture in B10 (p. 34) shows some architecture like that as well, even though it does not fit the law in Threshold. Some pictures in K:KoA show this as well, whereas the "exaggerated" view of then-Mirros (p.127) has some half-timber and some massively-built or plastered houses (half-timbered houses are seen on p. 3, 32, 37). The fortifications remind me of maybe Carcassonne or Tallinn or even the Castel Sant’Angelo or the various castles in Romania. The palace shown on p. 15 K:KoE shows some gothic elements, I´d say. And later on, stained glass windows are seen. All this points to a late medieval, central or western architecture IMO. Threshold 1 gives us a few russian-style wooden huts and houses, which fits the eastern-european theme well (and is kinda logical, given the abundance of wood). But overall, I would look towards gothic architecture in the half-timber houses as well as the fortifications.

If you google the german city of Celle, looking for pictures under "celle half-timbered", this might give you an idea how Specularum might look like (even if many houses in Celle are later than the gothic period, up until the 19th century). In Threshold, houses are built not that close together, so it would probably resemble a rural village with farmers houses and the corresponding barns, stables and coops on the individual plots of land. (Do the outlying fishing and logging communities count against the population of 5,000, btw? I did not check the population density in Threshold.) This picture might give an idea how it might look inside Threshold: ... gnific.jpg There are a lot more pictures to be found, I looked for the term "fachwerkdorf" (fachwerk is german for half-timber, dorf is village).

In general, inside true cities, buildings are built close together to conserve space, which is not necessary for villages, which generally lack fortfications, besides hedges, palisades or outlying linear earthworks (defensive dykes), and are not as densely populated. So, Threshold is an oddity as far as medieval towns and cities go (yeah, I know, its fantasy, but some things are taken from the real world). What reason does the Baron have to build a huge wall around a spacious town? Walls cost a lot of money, and are generally only built where needed and allowed. Lessening the fire hazard? (the scene at the armorers workshop in the Basic Set seems to show wooden shingles on the roofs, which would be not too unusual. Fire is a big hazard in cities and towns.)

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 9:11 pm
by AllanP
An interesting topic!
You may be aware that THRESHOLD Magazine is planning a future issue with the city of Specularum as it's central theme. (Largely based on work that Agathokles and Myself and others did in a topic in this forum, some years back, and revisited later here.)
It would be good to find public domain or original (i.e. not copyrighted published) illustrations of buildings and streets that could be used to enhance the content of the issue's articles. IF you have any suggestions please let us know!

Whilst those original BECMI etc products that you refer to in your post provided some general description of Specularum, I think it's fair to say that they are not necessarily consistent. I'm sure that their are buildings in parts of the city that exceed the 3-storey limit suggested by those early modules. AS you suggest, I'm quite prepared to think that in the older parts of the city where space is at a premium, buildings may have expanded upward - Specularum's "Next" quarter seems particularly appropriate to this. With the growth of Spoecvualrum over the centuries, different parts of the city evolved along various paths.

It would be good to hear more from you on this.


Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:31 am
by Sturm
I think on the coast houses should be built with stones as it often happens on Italian and Croatian coasts. For mixed wood building I would use more a "Romanian look" ( ... m8dzBgGhRc) than a German one.
For cities and towns probably is better to look at historical towns in Europe but IMHO the environment should definitely be Southern European.
Also German houses should be used mostly for Heldann and Glantri.

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 6:31 pm
by stebehil
Sturm, I love the Romanian houses you linked there. Some seem to have wooden shingle roofs, which might be very well fitting to the setting. I can easily see it your way regarding buildings.
Maybe the few depictions of Karameikan houses owe their more western-/northern european look (as little as there is a look at all) to the availability of sources back in the 80 in the US, which probably would be scarce on eastern european houses. Or it is my cultural bias. The picture in B10 reminded me vaguely of some english houses, which is no surprise, of course.

The castles in Romania: ... bih=892may also be fitting for the Karameikos look (if you leave out the neo-gothic fake castles). Maybe Dubrovnik is a possible model for Specularum, as well, although I would not see the city being built entirely from stone.

It could be that the Traladarans build in the traditional style with lots of wood (half-timber or fully built from wood, maybe in the romanian style with solid lower levels in some places), and the Thyatians build in solid stone (or even the equivalent of opus caementicium if you want to take it that far). Given the cultural models,this might fit even better. So, rich people or those close to the Thyatians would want a stone house, while Traladaran traditionalists would keep their wooden ones, or forced to keep them because they can´t afford a stone one. SO, I would imagine a more rural/traladaran/ older community more wooden, and a more thyatian/urban/ newer community more stone. Maybe Specularum is "turning to stone" slowly, as the "new style" becomes more popular. (Fortifications are built of stone anyways if they are to last). Specularum will have a mix of older and newer buildings anyway, with the newest buildings probably using more stone than ever before. However, if building stone would be easily and cheaply available, there would be more stone buildings to start with. So, maybe the Traladarans have a "why bother" approach to masonry, which is easily understood given the abundance of wood. They only use it for important buildings, fortifications and similar purposes.

The stone that is usable for building needs to be hard enough to last, available in huge quantities, and not too difficult in quarrying. Also, you need convenient transportation, mostly by water. (Overland transport is not really feasible given the technology available, at least not long distance) Most often, sandstone and limestone are used for that purpose, as they show the needed qualities. Marble, granite and other stones are often used for decoration or special purposes, rather seldom for building a complete building or castle. Getting these special stones is not that easy. (Isn´t the stone seen in Dubrovnik limestone? I´m not sure right now.) For gaming purposes, this would assume a geology similar to ours, of course. I would just do this to keep things simple.
Now, the Highforge Gnomes (and the Dwarves) do occupy a space between two rivers (more or less) and might be quarrying stone there, to be shipped downriver. What´s more, there are some stone giants living further north, and if a deal could be struck with them, this might be a good thing for getting quarried stone.

I will keep an eye open towards illustrations of old cities, but then, I´m not that knowledgeable about south/southeastern architecture and sources on them.

EDIT: Changed that link.

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 9:34 am
by Sturm
Yes historically the more trade increased the more buildings were made of stones, also because people were fully aware since ancient times that wood was much more a fire hazard. Contrary to popular belief, Nero probably did not set fire to Rome to rebuild it in stone, he tried to rebuild as much as possible in stone to avoid other devastating fires. Same happened in London: "The 1667 act stated: "No man whatsoever shall presume to erect any house or building, whether great or small, but of brick or stone." (
So I see Specularum slowly turning to stone, even if probably you are right it is not fully made of stone just yet.

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 3:42 pm
by Tom Bulls Eye
One of the basic modules (is it the Iron Ring module?) comprised cut-out houses for use with the Specularum setting. You may find some inspiration there.

Personally, given the Slavic inspiration of Karameikos of the Gazette's, I've generally envisaged the city like early Moscow or Novgorod, with onion-shaped domes and lots of two to three-story wooden buildings.

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 3:55 pm
by Sturm
Yes it is B6, but it has an earlier version of Specularum, with a different shape and not all the factions later appearing in Gaz01, so I do not know how much relevants are the buildings. They are apparently partially stones and mixed wood-stone in squares. Again a sort of medieval England I suppose?

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 7:08 pm
by stebehil
I had a look at the buildings that came with B6 The Veiled Society. They are pretty much generic small half-timber houses, maybe leaning towards english style, but too indifferent to be sure. OTOH, some of the depictions given in K:KoA (p3, p32, p37) and the scene in the Basic Players Rulebook show half-timber houses with beams in their gables running diagonally towards the gableboards (the slanted side of the gable where the roofing starts). This seems to be a detail found more in english half-timber houses. So, I´d say that english (or vaguely north/western european) half-timber houses seem to be the template for the houses seen in these books. This contradicts the general tone given in the GAZ that indeed points toward romanian or similar eastern european culture (at least as a template), which would include architecture, of course.

I would prefer the romanian style, come to think of it, to enhance the tone and "feel" developed in the GAZ. I think the Maramures region might be a good template for rural Karameikos: ... uselang=de. OTOH, in Transsylvania, the ... ansylvania fortified churches are a distinct feature, which could be more something built by the Thyatians (in an analogy to the real world settlements that have been built by german settlers).

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Thu Apr 12, 2018 10:10 pm
by stebehil
I came to think about that topic recently again, but more in terms what the town of Threshold would look like. The GAZ gives us the description that it is a big, spacious place, owing to the decree of the patriarch that buildings are to be spaced at least 50 ft. apart. (p 39). We learn that Fogor Isle is apparently the sole exception to this rule - does this mean that the whole of Threshold before the Thyatians came was that isle? I would not think so.

Rather, I´d see the inner wall as the extent of the town before the rule of the patriarch, and the outer wall and the areas within it as having been built in the last 30 years, with the spacious layout described in the GAZ. The old city inside the inner wall might be somewhat more densely built, but not as packed as Fogor Isle. I would see the Threshold map as more of an idea map than a real city map. It is normal for historical cities and town to be build at a river, so both the isle and the mainland close to the isle would be the oldest parts. This might be the small strip to the east of the road. with a bulge towards the town hall. The map shows two relatively open areas south of the townhall - I would interpret these as the market. Close to the road and the river, and just beside the townhall - just like real-world markets. (Leaving the question in the open just what purpose the road north would serve, incidentally).

The only thing missing are churches or temples. I´ve looked at my own hometown for reference, which is a catholic see to this day and was since 815. It would have an estimated number of inhabitants at around 5000 in 1270, and had roughly a dozen churches and chapels at that time. Now, even if the current incarnation of the Church of Karameikos can´t be older than 30 years, obviously, it still should be visible within the cities. The Church of Traladara might be a more informal faith, but will have some places of worship as well, I´d say, and it is older than the other Church. The Baron Halaran is a high-ranking member of the Church of Karameikos - even if he is soft about it, there will be at least a building site, if not a completed building for the church in a prominent place in the town. Typically, this would be right at the market and the town hall - but maybe there is only a small shrine for now, perhaps even inside the town hall. A bigger building might be in the process of being erected in the newer part of the town.

Other than that, the older buildings will be mainly built from wood, as we established earlier, and some newer buildings are in stone, but still, I would see Threshold as wooden or half-timbered predominantly, with the walls, important buildings (the town hall) and a few residences built in stone. The church project that might be happening is probably all-stone (with Traladaran places of worship being wooden), and might be reminiscent of real-world gothic style (there is a picture of the royal palace in the K:KoA box that looks very southern european gothic to me, and at some point, stained-glass windows are mentioned, so this is probably right - given a late medieval outlook in general, which feels right to me).

Ideas, thoughts on that?

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Fri Apr 13, 2018 9:07 am
by Sturm
I agree with your thoughts, the town surely must have both a big Church of Traladara and a big Church of Karameikos, and maybe some others (Chardastes, Church of Thyatis, Darokin/Asterius, Al Kalim chapel?).
Note also that the Vaults has plenty of resources and maps of Threshold but a detailed one has never been made yet.

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Fri Apr 13, 2018 10:37 pm
by stebehil
Thanks for the links, Sturm!

I am trying to piece together the historical "layers" of Threshold.

Shrine of Key-Hamintep: a remnant of the presumed oldest permanent settlement of the area by ancient Nithians, who rose and fell within a century (1500-1400 BC). Odd is the apparently high level of development, to which the Shrine is testament, and their complete and utter failure within a short time span. So, all their skills were not enough to cope with the problems at hand.

Thereafter, the Hutaakans and Traldars settled the area. It would make sense that they used what the Nithians left back, and resettled the place. Zendrolion gives the place the name of Tetlaqa in the HIstory of Karameikos in Threshold 1. (Or is this canon, and I missed the reference?). This ends with the Beastman invasion c. 1000 BC. As Threshold is not too far away from the Lost Valley, it is quite logical to inhabit that settlement.

So, we have 500 years of more or less continual settlement of this place. The Nithians built quite solid, I´d assume. Therefore, the casual remark that there are many ruins below Threshold in K:KoA is probably right. After c. 1000 BC, the place lay probably fallow for a long time, maybe even for thousand years. This would explain quite some decay, but not the sinking of these ruins. Is the ground unstable enough to sink ruins? As this is an area close to a lake and adjacent to a river, this might be the case: soft ground, not well suited to carry the heavy stone buildings of the Nithians. Or might this even be a backlash of the immortals curse that hit the Nithians - their material legacy sinking below ground?

Whatever the reason, the place was resettled eventually, around the time the first emperor of Thytis was crowned, and given the name Lugsid. Within time, the neighboring settlement of Zadreth along with the Temple of the Shield was established as well. The intervening time and remote location saw towards the ignorance of the new settlers to the history of the place. If there were any worked stones still visible, they would probably have been used for building - say, the old city wall might have been erected partially from those stones (not at all unusual in the real world - worked stone was too valuable to have it lying around or even throw away if still usable). Within this era, I´d place the erection of not only the temple, but also of a monastery in the city proper - the only remnant of this are the two sarcophagi found in K:KoA (Adventures book, p.11).

(Btw, the idea that the subterranean channels in the first adventure from K:KoA end south of the city is nonsensical. Judging from the map on p. 6 of K:KoA Adventures book, the channel outlet is in a straight line from west to east from the cellar in which it all starts. Looking at the placement of The Juggling Ogre on the color map, this would be approx. at the waterside terminus of the New Wall, placing the crypt below or even outside the city wall. Furthermore, the road layout in the adventure does not fit the roads on the color map, and the buildings shown do not adhere to the 50 ft. distance decree. I would place this within the Old City, perhaps the block north of the town hall. The channel exit might be right below the northern bridge, and closed off by an ages-old and seemingly rusted in place grate, or even a secret door looking like stone.)

The village was abandoned around AC 800, but resettled from ca. AC 900 onward, this time under the name Vatresh, later to be renamed Threshold by the Thyatians. A hundred years should suffice for most wooden constructions to be thoroughly rotten, but stone constructions are surely restorable. The phase of abandonment is relatively short, and can only be explained with widespread depopulation of the area, if the details of this settlement are forgotten already. So, in all probability, not many families from the "olden days" should be there, if any.

My take would be that from the pre-traladaran era almost nothing is left visible. Threshold today is for the most part not older than a hundred years, as most buildings from the Lugsid era were wooden, and have not survived a century without upkeep in a climate with harsh winters and ample rainfall. The oldest visible structure is probably the old city wall, and the bridges could be quite old as well. And these are also not pre-traladaran, so they may be partially as old as a thousand years - which is quite old, to be sure, but not even close as the 2500 years of the oldest subterranean structures.

A short timeline of Threshold (dates are estimates, and open to discussion. The second abandonment is quite short.):

1500-1400 BC: Nithian settlers (Shrine of Key-Hamintep)
1400-1000 BC: Traldar/Hutaaka settlement, Tetlaqa
1000 BC - 1 AC: abandoned ruins
1 AC - 800 AC: Traladaran settlement, Lugsid (maybe old wall built? At some point here, a monastery existed)
800 AC - 900 AC: abandoned
900 AC - 970 AC: Traladaran settlement, Vatresh (the old town of today)
970 AC - 1000 AC: renamed Threshold, building decree by baron, outer wall built, dam and weir built
(985 AC: old mill on Fogor Island burnt down)

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Sat Apr 14, 2018 8:35 pm
by stebehil
Found a picture in Wikipedia that could well be a rural house in Karameikos: ... diny-1.jpg
Note the log construction with the corner well-joined, the wooden shingle roof, and the cellar made from irregular stones, using the topography. The log below the door runs through, this adds stability to the construction. The roof is cantilevered (if my online translator does this right) to protect the building from rain, and to generate dry storage for wood (and probably other things). The high roof will be used for storage as well, while the cellar might contain the privy, chicken coops, or stables for goats or sheep, as well as more storage, especially for things needing cool and dark storage.

Re: Architecture in Karameikos?

Posted: Mon Apr 16, 2018 10:55 am
by Sturm
My idea on Threshold was a little different as I believe it is a too favourable site to be abandoned for extensive times. In my History of Traladara ( I imagined it as the historical seat of an important noble family, the Ivanov, which was more or less destroyed during a succession war in 313 AC. I imagined the town was called Prahe at the time because the RW Prague means in fact Threshold and it is probably the RW inspiration for the town. So the succession of names would be Vatresh-Prahe-Lugsid-Threshold.
As Threshold is obviously English the name in Thyatian/Latin should be as the italian La Soglia and the name in Traladaran/Slavic should be indeed Prahe. I supposed it was Halaran himself who changed the name from Lugsid back to the original Prahe.
Note however that my idea of the History of Traladara supposes there was a strong Traladaran Kingdom of elected kings for many centuries, while the Histories by Giampaolo Agosta and Simone Neri are quite different: and
Canon sources have basically no info about the History of Traladara beside Halav and the Thyatian invasion...