"A thick black smoke covers the city. The sun appears like a disc without any rays. In this semi-daylight one million people work ceaselessly. A thousand noises rise amidst this unending damp and dark labyrinth ...the footsteps of a busy crowd, the crunching wheels of machines, the shriek of steam from the boilers, the regular beat of looms, the heavy rumble of carts, these are the only noises from which you can never escape in these dark half-lit streets." —Tabellae Alexum, (AD 1635)
Bridgeport is vast, dirty, and teeming with people. It is the commercial center of the Empire, and is home to many powerful aristocratic and merchant families, who have gained wealth through lucrative shipping contracts. Almost all sea trade is offloaded in the city for transfer to riverboats, which sail up the river Tyne to other ports in the empire. Bridgeport is the most cosmopolitan city in the Empire...if you can't find it in Bridgeport, it can't be found anywhere.
Bridgeport has existed in one form or another for thousands of years, but became much more important over the last few centuries. Bridgeport is a free Imperial city, with its own Lord Mayor. Since the Empire has been in a long decline and is now concerned primarily with protecting the distant capital from rampant barbarian invasions, Bridgeport is largely left to rule itself. A tempting target for other nations, the city has had to fight several fierce naval battles over the years to keep from being conquered, relying on the strength of its defensive walls and (more recently) the ingenuity of the Inventor's Guild.
The city is fairly isolated from overland travel because of the vast wilderness that stretches out from the surrounding fields and villages. This wilderness is full of pagan tribes and dangerous creatures. Most travel to Bridgeport comes by riverboat, from the southern sea, or along specially guarded 'Builder Roads'.
In the city, a person is defined by their relationships: what he does, where he lives, who he is related to, and what tavern he drinks at. Power generally comes to groups, not individuals. Lords have power because people have an implicit understanding of landed aristocracy. Priests have power because they belong to the Church. It is extremely rare for an individual to wield power independent of a social organization. Guild memberships, official appointments, tax exemptions, personal favours for friends and family, blatant extortion and bribery, and bending the rules for personal benefit are all well-established means through which powerful groups manipulate their surroundings.
In the city, multiple groups contend for control of social issues, laws, and taxation. Merchant families fight the Lord Mayor for more control and less extortion, craft guilds fight taxes and levies on their goods, and the Church tries to exert authority over legal issues. Of all the groups vying for political power in Bridgeport, the following are the most notable:
The city council (made up of prominent merchants and aristocrats) is the municipal head of the city. City councils deal with levying various taxes, such as gate taxes, bridge taxes, taxes on luxury goods, war taxes, and emergency taxes. The city needs an entire financial system for collecting taxes and keeping accounting records, as well as other economic practices like forced loans (where the city can force a merchant or noble to loan money to the city, at a generous interest rate, by threats of confiscation or exile).
The city council also has the right to form a militia for city defense, including stockpiling weapons, food, and other logistical materials, including men for military use. The City Watch is essentially a professional standing army, charged with defending the city walls in time of attack, and of keeping the peace inside the walls. Because of the importance of the city as a gateway port for sea trade, the city has always had a sizable city watch for defense. In times of war the city has also been known to hire foreign mercenaries, which often stay in the city afterwards, hiring themselves out as bodyguards or escorts.
The city council is also responsible for civic justice. They make laws about sanitation, curfews, guilds, and nightly patrol of the streets. They oversee city projects, city planning, and even grant charters to guilds.
The head of the city council is the Lord Mayor, who is elected by the council aldermen to serve a limited term. Beneath the Lord Mayor are Aldermen and Councillors who represent city wards.
Bridgeport is a free Imperial city, meaning the Lord Mayor answers directly to the Emperor. In practice, the City Council wields a great deal of power.
There are two basic kinds of guilds: Craft Guilds (guilds that make things) and Merchant Guilds (guilds that sell and transport things). Members of a guild pay dues and are subject to the guild's rules and regulations, but the guild provides assistance to members who need it (think of guilds as medieval unions). Guild members eat together, socialize together, and live near each other. The heads of Guilds usually make up the City Council. The more powerful guilds often have considerable political influence, and sometimes attempted to control the city authorities in the past.
Craft Guilds generally weild relatively little power in the city, although there are some exceptions, like the Inventor's Guild. But even the smaller guilds are not without influence. Weavers banding together in opposition to the merchant guild's regulations on their craft, cobblers disagreeing with the large tax on fine foreign leather coming into the city, and masons striking beause the master mason in charge of building the new church is not a local master mason are all common examples of crafts affecting city life.
Some craft guilds charge exhorbitant entry fees, while others allow entry only through heredity or marriage to a guild member's daughter. These limitations make guild membership socially exclusive and financially beneficial for those with influential guild positions. It is the Master craftsmen who benefit most from guild rules. Master craftsmen decide who becomes a journeyman and the selling price for the products of their craft. They are ambassadors of the guild in civic matters and in dealing with the merchant guilds.
There are three levels of guild membership. Apprentices get room and board while they learn the skills necessary to perform their craft. They must often perform menial labour, however, and cannot sell anything themselves. Journeymen have some rights to sell their own work. The Masters of the guild have the most power and can charge the most for their work. Master craftsmen can gain significant social standing.
Examples of craft guilds: Bookbinders, Dye Makers, Goldsmiths, Masons, Glass Makers, Furriers, Glove Makers, Copyists, Alchemists, Grooms.
Merchant Guilds rank higher on the social ladder than craft guilds. They negotiate rights, taxes and rents with the city lord, make municiple bylaws, and pick city officials. Prominent merchant guild members are always represented on the city council as well. Although in the past, strong city lords were able to curb the power of the merchant guilds, they currently have almost exclusive power over trade in the city.
Merchant guilds are concerned with the transporting, buying, and selling of goods. Some buy local goods and transport and sell them to neighbouring towns or fairs. Others concentrate on importing sought-after goods into the city. Selling staple products like grain and coarse cloth are always profitable; other wholesale merchants specialize in luxury goods like wine, furs, silks, or fine linen. As the city grew, the single merchant guild eventually formed multiple guilds according to their specific commodity.
Examples of Merchant Guilds: Beer Merchants, Used Clothiers, Grain Merchants, Grocers, Millers, Spice Merchants, Woodsellers.
The power of Guilds is being challenged lately in Bridgeport. As the production of goods becomes more specialized, trade guilds get divided and subdivided, eliciting the squabbles over jurisdiction. The break-up of the Metalworkers guild resulted in a bloody uprising where the Guild Masters actually took over the city council for a brief period. As the guilds are broken up, each one becomes less powerful, and the territorial struggles against each other increase. Add to this the rise of powerful merchant families who are able to challenge guild control. In practice, the more powerful guilds are the only ones able to truly hold their monopoly over their goods and services.
The Church has a great deal of political power in the city. The archbishop is easily as powerful as the city lord, and priests of prestigious parishes enjoy the same level of social and financial power as the heads of merchant guilds or lesser nobles.
The Church has its own ecclisiastical courts, where members of the clergy are tried. They also claim jurisdiction over all cases of blasphemy, desecration, and church vandalism or theft. The Inquisitors have authority to investigate and punish heresy wherever they may find it.
See the Builders for more information.
Bridgeport is one of the largest cities in the known world, with over one million inhabitants. Vast and sprawling, most who live there go their whole lives without seeing just how expansive it is. Having been built and rebuilt over the centuries, much of the city is a confusing maze of narrow streets and alleyways.
Each time the city grew beyond its defensive walls, a new wall was added, encircling a new district. After many centuries, there are now more than a dozen walled districts (called wards or quarters), each connected like a honeycomb to the others. While some districts grew and prospered and were modernized over the years, others did not.
The wards on the eastern side of the river are connected to the west by two massive bridges: Northbridge and Newbridge. Riverboat traffic ferries travellers from one side to the other as well. Smugglers often use ferrymen to avoid paying the hefty bridge tolls.
The streets are generally narrow, cobbled, and slippery with the slime of refuse. Houses are crammed together, and there are a lot of furtive alleys. Chamber pots are routinely emptied out of windows. In the wealthier districts, there are working sewers and waste water systems, so refuse thrown into the street is eventually washed away. Poorer districts have no such system, so human waste, animal carcasses, and other refuse simply rots in the street. The stench in those districts can be overwhelming. Birds, rats and insects scavenge everywhere, eating anything with relish. In many parts of the city they are the only cleansers.
The city is full of loud noises--hooves and raw coach wheels on the cobbles, the yells of traders, and the brawling of drunken apprentices.
Outside the city walls are miles and miles of farmland and small villages, which support the city with grain and other produce (though the city must still import most of its grain from up river).
City districts were built and rebuilt over time (primarily due to fires), and new buildings were often built directly over top of the old. The older districts atop the hill have a city beneath the city. Subterranean crypts and forgotten passages abound, and are used as secret highways or meeting places for societies of Necromancers and thieves.
There is a saying in the city, "Wealth rises to the top" (or "Shit floats to the top", depending on who you ask). Both refer to the fact that the oldest and most wealthy districts lie atop the hill overlooking the ocean in the south-west. The Builders' Grand Cathedral, the City Council Chambers, and the mansions of many of the wealthier inhabitants are all located there. The further you go from the hill and the port districts, the poorer and more foul the districts tend to get. The majority of the city's industrial factories lie on the eastern side of the river.
The earliest written records mentioning Bridgeport are from around 50 AD, when the first Builder Church was erected there. There was obviously a well-established settlement on the spot at that time, however, so the original founding of the city as a small trading settlement is even earlier.
Districts of Note
A 'district' is a particular section of the city, usually defined by geographic features like walls or roads. Also called wards or quarters.
The Flood Ward: One district on the south-western coast began to flood at high tide four decades ago. As time went on it became virtually uninhabitable and is now permanenty half submerged. The city's new defensive wall bypassed the ward, leaving it partially open to the sea. Abandoned by honest folk, it has become a popular haven for smugglers, thieves, and Pagans, who prefer to stay away from the city watch and builder patrols. It is much easier to get into the ward by sea than it is to cross the city's defensive wall, which is well-defended by guards on the look-out for smugglers.
The Pagan Quarter: Although most pagans live in tribes and villages outside the city, over time there have been many that come inside the walls to live and work. Pagans are not forced to live in the Pagan District, but they tend to congregate there to be among their own kind. Those that follow the Builder religion (the vast majority of the city) mistrust those who do not. Pagans also tend to follow traditions involving magic and the reverence of nature spirits, both of which are disliked by the Builders.
The Pagan Quarter is something of a slum, with mostly poor dwellings crammed together. Pagans build around existing trees and leave room for communal gardens (for growing vegetables) where they can. Non-pagans generally stay out of the district unless they are seeking to purchase illegal magical talismans or salves, or they are looking to make trouble. Drunken apprentices intent on starting fights or causing other harm know that crimes committed against pagans tend to be taken less seriously by city authorities.
The Plague Ward: About two decades ago, a deadly plague erupted in a district in the north on the opposite side of the river. In a panic, the city council quarrentined the entire district, barring the great gates and walling up the exits. People moved away from homes close to the walls, leaving them abandoned. To this day the district remains walled up. It took a decade for anyone to even consider opening the gates again, but the fear of releasing the plague once more--not to mention the stories of damned spirits seeking vengence--have kept that from happening. The area surrounding the district continues to be virtually abandoned as well, lived in only by the desperate or those seeking sinister privacy. There are rumours that necromancers have found a way into the ward through underground passages, and that they have turned the corpses of the plague victims into a dark and loathesome army.
The Old Quarter: Located atop the hill overlooking the sea, this is the oldest part of the city. The Administrative District (which includes the library, council chambers, and other civic buildings) is located in this area, as well as the palaces and mansions of the oldest noble families.