Fantasy cities are notoriously impractical. They sit on the peaks of inaccessible mountains, drift in the sky, are lonely secrets hidden in impassable valleys in haunted forests, or are tunneled out deep underground. Sure, there are a few more reasonable ones built on major ports and such, but a lot of them will have a very hard time meeting their needs using quasi-medieval methods. Even worse, virtually all the magic to be found in d20 is designed for adventuring and battle!
Or maybe it’s just that that is what most sourcebooks focus on. The Practical Enchanter included the Hedge Magic feat and a chapter full of social magic items, but there’s no reason not to add a few more. For this segment I’ll be focusing on a city’s basic needs – and those basic needs start with water.
Water: People use rather a lot of water. They drink it, cook with it, clean with it, water their gardens, use it in their jobs, and more. A city really should have natural water sources, but there ARE places like Los Vegas – and more than a few cities have needed supplemental supplies. Given that aqueducts are insanely expensive and horribly vulnerable, many fantasy cities will turn to magical sources. To magically obtain water use a Perpetual Fountain (The Practical Enchanter, various levels of the Create Water spell template): Spell Level x Caster Level x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use Activated) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Immobile).
- Type 0: CL 1, 250 GP, 2 Gallons/Round, can support about 600 People.
- Type 1: CL 1, 500 GP, 8 Gallons/Round, can support about 2400 People.
- Type 2: CL 3, 3000 GP, 75 Gallons/Round, can support about 22,500 People. Note that this is far more efficient than a Decanter of Endless Water (9000 GP, 4500 GP if Immobile, 30 Gallons/Round) – mostly because a Decanter of Endless Water is made for adventuring, and so has combat functions.
- Type 3: CL 5, 7500 GP, 500 Gallons/Round, can support about 150,000 People.
- Type 4: CL 7, 14,000 GP, 2800 Gallons/Round, can support about 840,000 People.
Practically, while the efficiency of supplying the water goes up with the class of the Fountain, so does the cost of distributing it. After factoring in those costs it will often be more practical to install several smaller Perpetual Fountains rather than one large one – and such a distributed system is more robust in any case.
It’s important to note that Perpetual Fountains can be designed to produce liquids other than pure water.
- A Fountain that produces things like soapy water, clear broth, “plant food”, vinegar, or similar liquids has its flow rate reduced by one level.
- A Fountain that produces things like thin gruel, milk, warm broth, whipped cream, coffee, tea, small beer, or pudding has its flow rate reduced by two levels.
- A Fountain that produces things like lamp oil, concentrated vinegar / mild industrial acid (1d6 damage/round), cream, rum, holy water, or hot chicken noodle soup has its flow rate reduced by three levels.
- A Fountain with multiple settings, which can thus vary what is produced, has it’s flow rate reduced by an additional level.
Food: Presuming that everyone does not wish to live on a fountain of soup, the population needs to eat. While a classical castle may make do with a few Field Provision Boxes (MIC, 2000 GP, feeds 15/day), the best solution for a city is probably an Endless Sideboard (The Practical Enchanter, 27,000 GP). An Endless Sideboard can feed about two thousand people per day, limited mostly by how many can file past it and fill their plates for each meal. More restricted versions are popular, with the most basic simply being Immobile (13,500 GP) or immobile and requiring an operator from a specific religious sect (8100 GP).
Taleout Menu: Optionally, you can throw in a greater choice of flavors and textures with a Takeout Menu (Prestidigitation, SL 1/2 x CL 1 x 1800 GP for Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activated x .5 Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Immobile) x .4 (only for imparting odor/flavor, appearance, and texture to food) = 90 GP. Just let people carry their plates past it after they pick them up.
Heat isn’t just for survival, or even for comfort. You need it to cook, to work metal, to make beer, to distill perfumes, and to perform any number of other crafts, to dry and preserve food, to fire bricks for building, and for a thousand and one other purposes. Fire is as much a foundation of civilization as twine, agriculture, pottery, stonework, and the domestication of animals.
- A Fireblock is a simple, flat, palm-sized chunk of volcanic stone, engraved with the sigils of Fire. Given it’s command word it will begin to generate a small (eight inch) ball of fire, which will build to it’s full size and intensity over the next minute – although without any actual fuel, it consumes no oxygen and produces no smoke. A Fireblock is easily damaged if exposed to harm, but is usually found in the firebox of a stove, or on a hearth, or some similar sheltered place. If you need more, or hotter, fire… use more than one. Overlapping the effects increases the effective temperature quite nicely. A Fireblock can only be activated once per day with it’s command word (which is usually engraved on it), but the fire can be maintained for a full twenty-four hours.
- Hearthfire (Hedge Magic), reduced to Level One via the Ambient Magic Limitation times Caster Level One times 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .2 (Usable once per day) x .5 (Conjure) = 180 GP. All right; that triples or quadruples the cost of a portable forge, or iron stove, or masterwork tools for a smith (or worse if you need two or three to increase the heat) – but (at least according to Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalog) good coal is quite expensive (mostly due to transport costs), and Fireblocks produce no cinders, ash, sparks, or fumes and need no bellows.
- A Forgestaff uses much the same design, but is unlimited-use, at a cost of 900 GP. While the Ambient Magic limitation still means that it summons fire once per minute at most, many a household and business is more than willing to take the 1-3 CP a day that would normally have gone for firewood and pay it to a firemonger for a three to five minute daily visit to give them three fires (stove, hot water boiler, and hearth) without smoke, having to store the firewood, fire tending, or sweeping chimneys.
A few entrepreneurs have commissioned versions from crafters skilled enough to apply the +0 Elemental Manipulation / Alter Element Metamagic to alter the type of energy, thus making Ice Batons and allowing Icemongers to sell air-conditioning and refrigeration – but the demand for such services is far more limited. Fire is a necessity, while refrigeration is a luxury. Still, that also means a somewhat higher price, making the two businesses quite comparable.
A Fire- or Ice-monger can fairly readily make anything up to a gold piece, or possibly even two, each workday – and can potentially share a Forgestaff between shifts. While the initial investment is formidable, it will pay itself back in anything from less than a year (round-the-clock use) through about two and a half years (one shift per day) – and Firemongers may well be subsidized by a wide variety of groups; they preserve woodlands, prevent smog, and greatly reduce the incidence of accidental fires (and completely eliminate chimney fires).
Electricity has very limited use in most magical cities. It may turn up in alchemy, or perhaps in electroplating – but why bother? “Coat (or “Soil”) a surface with a very thin layer of something” is a perfect job for Prestidigitation. A Sonic “hearthfire” may be useful in breaking down materials, such as in reducing grain to flour or bone to meal. If you feel the need, a small variant on the Forgestaff can answer it!
- Wind Flag: Households and businesses wanting air conditioning will probably want a Wind Flag or two to go with their ball of supernal coldness, and perhaps to distribute the heat more of their Hearthfire more evenly in winter. A Wind Flag simply creates gentle breezes, and is functionally equivalent to a modern box fan.
- Prestidigitation, Spell Level 1/2 x Caster Level 1 x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activated x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x .1 (makes breezes with no actual game effect only) = 22.5 GP.
Yes, there are advocates for powering steampunk systems through Permanent Walls of Fire and such – mostly based on their supposed power output (a very dubious calculation in itself given that the ones I’ve seen rely on comparing Walls of Fire to Walls of Ice, when neither actually behaves like natural fire or ice) – but those are extremely expensive and very difficult to make use of, while a Hearthfire spell is about as cheap as it gets and is almost perfectly controlled straight out of the box.
After our population has water, food, and warmth, we need to clothe them. For this we want fiber – to be twisted into twine and rope, to be woven into cloth for clothing, tents, and sails, and for a thousand other uses. Interestingly, however, there is already a Pathfinder item for producing fiber – even if the writers obviously never really gave any thought to it’s implications.
Fiber can come from a Robe of Infinite Twine (1000 GP) can produce 432,000 feet (82 miles or 257 Skiens or enough for 165 yards of coarse 24-thread (yarn or twine strands) count cloth or about a hundred yards of good 40-count cloth) of twine, yarn, string, or thread or 144,000 feet (27 miles, “valued” at 2880 GP) of rope per day.
If there was ever an item that was ASKING for the “Immobile” and “Utilitarian Village Magic” modifiers to be applied to it, it’s this one. That gives us…
- Endless Skein: Produces up to 81 miles / 500 skeins of thread, or 250 skeins of thick yarn, twine, or string, or 27 miles of hemp rope per day, at a cost of a mere 250 GP. This is enough to keep ten people busy weaving, pretty much perpetually.
Clothing and tents are all very well, but a real city calls for permanent structures – which calls for at least basic construction materials. At the very least you want mud brick and a little lumber, but you’ll want fired brick, a fair quantity of lumber, and some stone if you can get it. Fortunately, such things are relatively easy to obtain.
Construction Materials: To get something to build your city out of, you can use a…
- Brick Press can produce one cubic feet of fired bricks (about 14 standard-sized ones) every minute – provided that someone is handy to open the lid and take each batch out. Such bricks are solid, real, and quite permanent – if entirely ordinary in quality and their red-brown color.
- Create Element (one cubic foot of loose clay) Spell Level 0 (1/2), Caster Level 1, Unlimited-Use Command-Word (“Make Bricks” usually) Activated (x 1800 GP), x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x .4 (Clay Only), plus Process (Clay into Ceramics, L1 reduced to L0 (1/2) by the Ambient Magic limitation) x Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activated (x 1800 GP), x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x .3 (makes simple, standard-sized and standard-shaped bricks only), for a net cost of 157.5 (Call it 160) GP.
Construction-grade clay and dirt are rarely especially scarce resources (although fuel to fire them with may be) and they’re rarely very expensive – but a Brick Press, like similar magical items, will provide them without any further cost, at the job site, and at a steady rate, indefinitely. A Brick Press may not pay for itself all that quickly, but it will certainly do so over time.
Similar items can make basic glassware (or, with a Hearthfire spell or two added, provide glass for glassblowers), ceramic dinnerware, clay pipe, mortar (derived from bits of limestone), make cinderblocks, or produce cheap pottery souvenirs. More versatile items that can produce a variety of shapes are a bit more expensive though.
Lumber is a bit more difficult; trees are living things with a complex internal structure, and so they (like crystals, heavy elements, and so on) require considerably higher level spells to create – at least in permanent form. Wall of Wood (The Practical Enchanter) is level four, meaning that an Endless Lumberyard looks something like this…
- Endless Lumberyard: Wall of Wood with the Ambient Magic modifier to reduce it to level three. Caster Level Five, x 1800 GP for Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activated x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Immobile) x .5 (makes a simple piled-up barricade of posts and planks only) = 3375 GP, plus a specialized immobile Phantom Mill (The Practical Enchanter, 500 GP, providing many Unseen Servants to move things around) to handle sorting it out, stacking, and so on, plus Process (Hedge Magic, a version made to sand, paint, cut, and stain wood), L1 reduced to L0 (1/2) by the Ambient Magic limitation) x Caster Level Five (this will allow it to keep up with the Wall of Wood effects production) x Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activated (x 1800 GP), x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x.5 (Immobile) = 1125 GP, for a net cost of exactly 5000 GP. An Endless Lumberyard produces up to forty cubic (“board”) feet of finished lumber per round – about a dozen 2 x 4 x 8 feet boards.
- If you want more versatility – and MUCH more cheese – substitute Summon Genie (Pathfinder, Summoner 4) for Wall of Wood, and get nine cubic feet of any kind of vegetable material each minute. Unfortunately that stuff has a duration of “permanent”, not “instantaneous” -o Dispel Magic (and similar) will make it disappear. Given that the stuff doesn’t really exist, there seem likely to be other limitations.
Personally I prefer a
- Lumberjacks Axe: With this powerful tool a worker can fell a great tree with a few minutes work – and turn it into a collection of smooth, well-cut boards, shingles, sheets, pulp, stakes, reasonably-sized chunks for firewood, and other bits and pieces within a couple more. While it makes the Axe more expensive, it is still generally considered best to avoid the “Immobile” and “Conjures” modifiers; it’s a lot easier to carry the axe to the tree than it is to carry the tree to a sawmill or some such.
- Power Tool (The Axe is as effective as a large chainsaw), Spell Level One (reduced to 0 by the Ambient Magic limitation) x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command-Word activation) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) plus Tree to Lumber (Spell Level Two, reduced to 1 by the Ambient Magic limitation) x Caster Level One x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command-Word activated) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) +50 (The Axe is a masterwork tool for woodworking, 50 GP) = 1400 GP.
It’s worth noting that a Phantom Mill (The Practical Enchanter) is basically the industrial revolution in convenient amulet form; Unseen Servants aren’t very strong and they aren’t particularly skilled – but they can quite competently perform a wide variety of basic tasks over and over again with absolute consistency. Given a load of simple tools and either a supervisor/manager or it’s own intelligence and skills… a Phantom Mill can handle pretty much kind of manufacturing that doesn’t involve complex chemistry or microelectronics.
A basic Phantom Mill costs 2000 GP – half that for a dedicated-to-a-purpose version and a quarter of that for dedicated and immobile systems. While they only generate 50 Horsepower (or 36 KW), that’s still roughly equivalent to the power output of a large Dutch-style Windmill or four twenty-foot overshot water wheels. But a Phantom Mill needs no maintenance and no fuel (or food), provides power for twenty-four hours a day, suffers no conversion losses, and generally doesn’t call for much actual machinery to do a job. It can move bar stock into place, pick up some hammers to hammer it into sheet metal, and stack it, all at once. It can sweep the floor, haul water, feed grain into the grindstones, turn the grindstones, and bag the flour all at once. It can weave basic cloth and perform thousands of other tasks – all without ever getting injured, being sick, or having to be paid.
Stone is generally straightforward to obtain; even if it calls for a bit of digging first, you can find stone in most places. Obtaining good, solid, well-cut, high-grade building stone is harder, but it’s usually manageable. Can you do it with magic?
Certainly. The usual go-to spell to get magically-created (but real and permanent) rock is Wall Of Stone. Unfortunately, while the Wall is useful and shapeable, the spell is high level and thus very expensive. We do know that spells can create real and permanent rock at low levels though.
Hail of Stone (Spell Compendium) is level one, drops rocks on everything within a 5′ radius, and has an instantaneous duration – so the rocks it creates are real and permanent. The section on “Falling Objects” in the SRD implies that it must be drop some pretty big rocks too; nothing under thirty pounds would inflict damage at all if dropped from the effects forty-foot maximum height – and there have to be enough of them to score direct hits on everything in the area. That could be a LOT of rock there.
Sudden Stalagmite (Spell Compendium, Druid 4) only makes a bit over two and a half cubic feet (about 400 pounds) of stone – but it makes it at medium range, can inflict up to 10d6 damage with it’s sudden growth into a spike, traps its victims, and threatens even more damage if they try to break free.
I’d peg a spell that simply creates a sizeable lump of rock at level two. Call it… Gravestone
Conjuration (Creation) [Earth], Level Druid 2, Components V, S, Casting Time 1 Standard Action, Range Short, Target One block of stone, Duration Instantaneous, Saving Throw Reflex Half, Spell Resistance No.
Gravestone summons a lump of rock weighing up to 100 pounds per level of the caster (up to a maximum of 500 pounds). The rock does not need to sit on a supportive surface, may take any relatively simple shape (sphere, rectangular slap, platonic solid, grave marker, etc) desired, and may bear a simple inscription if the caster so desires. If used as an attack by dropping it on someone it requires a ranged attack roll (at -2 per 20′ increment, counting the distance to where it is created and the distance it falls) and anyone who would be hit may make a Reflex save for half damage. Note that dropping it on a dragons tail is NOT recommended. (This is a tolerably effective attack in 3.5, but poor in Pathfinder).
Now that we have a spell, we can make a few items. Most notably a…
- Mason’s Trowel: This simple trowel is used to spread mortar – but it can also create the blocks of stone needed to complete a structure or for many other tasks. The user need merely select a spot for the stone, point with the trowel, and spend a minute carefully envisioning the shape of the needed stone – whereupon it will quietly appear.
- Gravestone (Spell Level Two, reduced to 1 by the Ambient Magic limitation) x Caster Level One x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command-Word activated) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .6 (User must be a member of the Masonic Order) = 540 GP +50 (The Trowel is a masterwork tool for Masonry) = 590 GP.
- Higher ranking Masons use versions with higher caster levels (up to five, at a cost of 2750 GP) – allowing them to accomplish up to five times as much work since they can create stones up to five times as large, making their walls even stronger, and allowing them to make more effective foundations.
Now if you want fancy stone, or ore, or some such… the easiest way is to go and get it. For that we’ll want several separate items to support our quarrying or mining operation.
Automated Resource Harvesting calls for…
- A specialized version of a Phantom Mill (The Practical Enchanter) set up for mining and quarrying stone (1000 GP). As noted earlier, this basically gives you a “workforce” of 600 Unseen Servants. They aren’t all that strong or skilled, but basic quarrying and digging is within their abilities.
- A Foundation Stone (The Practical Enchanter). This basically generates a giant “floating disk” made up of many smaller floating disks and can keep it up indefinitely. Given that stone and ore is very heavy, a Caster Level Two version capable of carrying 120 tons is in order, at a cost of 4000 GP.
The cost of transport was an ENORMOUS part of the cost of building supplies and pretty much anything else that required overland bulk transport in medieval times. A couple of oxen and a heavy wagon (a total cost of about 100 GP in d20, about 1 GP a day as a basic cost) could haul a ton or two ten miles a day – if the drovers were lucky and road conditions were fair. A second level Foundation Stone can transport sixty to ninety times as much material at ten times that speed under a far wider variety of road conditions, with no need to feed oxen or make repairs. Admittedly you’ll need two or three attendants – but the off-duty ones can set up a comfortable tent on the disk, nap, and do their cooking while one man strolls along.
Or you could make the Foundation Stone Intelligent, give it Mage Hand (it can’t move itself directly with that, but it CAN pick up the bit of entirely mundane chain that it’s mounted on and move itself indirectly) and make your transportation / haulage system entirely automated at a cost of +2000 GP (Mental Stats 10, Speech, Mage Hand). This also has the advantage that you can pretty well forget about guards and bandits. The item cannot be made to cooperate, so no one will steal it, the goods cannot be effectively transported in bulk without the items cooperation, and – if it’s attacked in an attempt to hold it for ransom or something – it can just hide under thirty or forty tons of rock.
Some adventurers like to set up little fortifications on them, so that they can bring along a well-defended base while they travel.
- Two hundred sets of Basic Artisian’s Tools for Mining and Quarrying (1000 GP).
- A Furnished Caravan, suitable for the Quarry Master or Mining Master and his family to live in, including built-in seats, cabinets, and wardrobe, two person bunks in the rear, a chest of drawers (who’s top serves as a table), a small larder, a wine rack, a glass-fronted china cabinet, and a set of shelves with bars to keep things from falling off. Small windows and a skylight allow for light in the daytime, brackets supporting oil lamps serve at night. There is a small porch on each end. Racks and cases along the outside fold out to provide storage for goods, a set of masterwork tools, a workbench, and an wide variety of storage spaces and barrels. An assortment of minor items – pots and pans, water tank, supply of foodstuffs, clothing, bedding, an (average) door lock, soap, and similar miscellany – is included at a net cost of 400 GP (Caravan 300 GP, Tools 55 GP, minor goods 45 GP).
That gives you a fairly major, readily mobile, and almost transport and labor cost free mining / quarrying operation in a box at a price of 6400 GP plus the salaries for the supervisor and two or three transport specialists (about a gold piece per day, throw in a couple more for maintenance on the tools if you like) – as opposed to buying hundreds of oxen and wagons (20,000 GP or more), about the same quantity of tools (1000 GP plus maintenance), feeding the oxen and paying the salaries of several hundred miners, drovers, and supervisors (about 60 GP a day) – and still having to put up with much slower deliveries. The magical version is less than a third the initial cost and one-twentieth the ongoing cost and is far more efficient.
If you want to go all-out… make the Phantom Mill sapient too; You’ll want to give it +5 skills in Quarrying and Mining (raising the price of its intelligence to 6000 GP, since you can drop the Mage Hand in favor of it using one of it’s own Unseen Servants to move itself) and throw in a few light sources to allow twenty-four hour operation – but now you’ve tripled your output and virtually eliminated your expenses. Dropping the Caravan, you also have an entirely automated 14,000 GP package in the form of a large trunk that you can simply send out your autonomous probe-system to bring you an endless stream of raw materials.
Throw in another Foundation Stone, a Forgestaff, and a couple more Phantom Mills and sets of tools (set up for lumbering/carpentry, smelting, metalworking, and construction) and you have an automated “build a city/castle/whatever” package at a net cost of 35,000 GP. Sure, it will take a while – but it’s a wonderful way to get an area ready for colonization.
Light is vitally important for underground settings, and every helpful in virtually any city. The fact that magical lighting is utterly safe, can be quite permanent, requires no fuel, and produces no fumes, smoke, or soot, is an unbelievable boon. Enormously reducing the risk of fire in your city is worth far, FAR, more than the purchase price of a 3000 GP Brazier of Eternal Flame (The Practical Enchanter, Page 151). The ability to imbue more than 14,000 objects a day with Continual Flame at no cost pretty much solves any city’s lighting problems and even provides an exportable (if minor) good; even if you sell such items at a 95% discount from their base price you can still make an excellent profit.