The Roleplaying Diaries of Bryan Stephens
“I marveled at the height of the city wall as I rode toward Zimar. I was awed as I passed through the city gate: the sturdy doors, the serious guards, and the heavy portcullis. I smiled when I saw dozens upon dozens of houses with red clay tile roofs, domed palaces of deep blue and white marble, and minarets nearly a hundred feet tall. This city was bursting with life, and trade, and wonder. I adored the painstaking detail in everything I saw: the lions emblazoned on the soldiers’ uniforms, the bas-reliefs on the walls of the houses, and the intricately carved fountains.
“At the same time, I had an inescapable feeling that something was terribly wrong with this city. Every word I heard felt calculated, every smile seemed feigned, and everyone looked at me as though they were sizing me up. I have never felt so alone as I did that day.”
—Ulvar Bodilson, traveling merchant
Located on the west bank of the Jalrune River and a day’s ride from the Qadiran border, Zimar is Taldor’s southernmost major settlement and Taldor’s third largest city after Oppara and Cassomir. Also known as the Aegis of Taldor, Zimar is a heavily fortified garrison town, acting as Taldor’s first line of defense against the threat of a Qadiran invasion. However, during the centuries-long war commonly known as the Grand Campaign, Zimar was intermittently occupied by Qadiran forces, which left a lasting mark on Zimar’s architecture—the cityscape dominated by Taldan-style red clay tile roofs and columned halls of white marble is interspersed by tall minarets, domed palaces, and tented markets reminiscent of Qadiran cities.
The long period of occupation also shaped the attitudes of the people in Zimar. Even though 2 centuries have passed since the end of the Grand Campaign, most residents of Zimar hate Qadirans and are determined never to let their southern foes humiliate Zimar again. It is said that Zimar has enough supplies to last 5 years if besieged, and it can field an army of nearly 10,000 soldiers when necessary. Many units of the Taldan Phalanx and the Taldan Horse are stationed in Zimar, and the city has hundreds of men and women who belong to elite paramilitary units—including the city watch called the Zimar Sentinels and the Golden Templar inquisitors of Abadar—who can bolster the ranks of the military in times of war. Lastly, every adult citizen in Zimar is at least nominally a member of the Blue Guard, Zimar’s militia.
Following the expansion of the satrapy of Qadira toward Taldor’s southern border, the first clash between Taldor and Qadira took place at the Battle of Urfa near the White Pass in –4 ar. Alarmed by its neighbor’s expansionist ambitions, Taldor began fortifying its southern border. General Antilla Zimara, who commanded Taldor’s southern army at the time, ordered her troops to build a large garrison that would serve as a headquarters for military operations in the south. Zimara chose a fertile piece of land adjacent to a long-standing independent city-state, whose craftspeople, laborers, and leaders quickly realized the plentiful opportunities to support the army—and the inevitable result if they resisted. The Taldan garrison became so influential to the existing city that the name for the garrison—Zimar—soon came to refer to the entire settlement.
For over 4,000 years, Zimar stood unchallenged as the indomitable aegis that Taldor relied upon to keep its southern border secure while its Armies of Exploration invaded and annexed land in the west, north, and east. During this golden age of Taldor, many small villages dotted the scrublands around Zimar, and trade was brisk not only between these new communities but also with settlements across the Qadiran border.
When Qadira invaded southern Taldor in 4079 ar, Zimar was one of the first Taldan settlements to fall into Qadiran hands. In the following year, Qadiran invaders burned most of the settlements surrounding Zimar in the Ember Night, an event many modern Taldans still bring up to justify anti-Qadiran sentiment. When Taldans managed to turn the tide of the war and began a counteroffensive in 4328, Zimar was liberated. A few decades later, Qadiran forces recaptured the city with reinforcements from the Padishah Empire of Kelesh. In 4599, after a long siege, the city was finally returned to Taldan control. This victory is often attributed to a young captain named Sarius Pythareus, who led a group of soldiers into Zimar during an armistice and opened the gates for the Taldan army waiting outside. Taking advantage of his newfound fame, the captain established House Pythareus as one of the wealthiest and most influential families in post-war Zimar.
After the Grand Campaign, Taldans spent a century rebuilding and fortifying Zimar. Although the city emerged stronger than ever before, the surrounding region never fully recovered. Villages that were abandoned or destroyed during the war were never rebuilt, and trade in the region has greatly diminished. Roads and bridges deteriorate as tax revenues no longer flow in from once-prosperous outlying communities.
Zimar is located on the west bank of the Jalrune River, deep in the scrublands of southern Taldor. The climate is warm and semi-arid; save for the fertile banks of the river, the terrain near Zimar is largely nutrient-poor and flat. Tall, stone walls protect Zimar from all directions, and the river forms a natural barrier that deters all but the most determined attacks from the east. The Jalrune River remains deep enough here for most Taldan merchant ships coming from the Inner Sea, providing an expedient method of travel. The roads that lead to Zimar, however, are old and in poor condition, making travel through the scrublands around Zimar an arduous endeavor.
Zimar has five formal districts (although residents recognize an unofficial sixth district), each with a different character and architectural features.
Named after the many houses in the district made of mud-brick, the Adobe District is the poorest district in Zimar. While foreigners are allowed to own property in any part of Zimar, bloated property prices, heavy taxation, and bureaucratic structures that favor native Taldan humans encourage foreigners and non-humans to settle in the Adobe District. Many of the denizens of the Adobe District have lived in the neighborhood for many generations; descendants of poor laborers who helped rebuild the city after the Grand Campaign. Roof-running is a popular pastime along the flat roofs of the Adobe District; criminals also take advantage of these navigable roofs to avoid capture. The Zimar Sentinels largely turn a blind eye to crimes in the Adobe District, so long as they don’t affect people living in the wealthier parts of the city. Infrastructure is poorly managed here as well, and it has many easily accessible entrances to the Undercity.
The majority of Zimar’s industry is concentrated in the Anvil District, which is located in the northeastern quarter of the city. Dozens of arsenals, forges, and workshops make armor, arms, and other equipment for the military and paramilitary units of Zimar. Day and night, smokestacks spew thick black smog, and the sound of hammering can be heard throughout the district. The largest of Zimar’s districts, the Anvil District houses roughly a third of the city’s population in working-class residential areas.
The Golden District is primarily the residential area for Zimar’s nobility and, as a consequence, it’s the wealthiest of the six districts. The district is famous for its gilded street lights, geometrically sculpted gardens, opulent palaces, spacious plazas, and statues. Gold, jewelry, silk, and spices are bought and sold in luxury markets throughout the Golden District by those who have—or can fake—appropriate credentials.
Pike District: The Pike District is the location of the original garrison founded by General Zimara. Although it was long ago incorporated into the city, the Pike District houses the thousands of soldiers who live in Zimar. The district also has several training facilities and numerous taverns. Many middle-class and working-class families live in the Pike District, particularly those with a long Taldan pedigree who boast of living in the most historically “Taldan” district of the city.
Known for its white marble houses with magnificent columned halls, the Scrolls District is located in central Zimar near Abadar’s Pillar. It is the smallest of the city’s districts, but nonetheless well known as the center of Zimar’s education and lore. Administration buildings, archives, libraries, and schools crowd in the district, although the majority of the buildings are upscale residences for government officials, nobles, and the upper-middle class. The Scrolls District also includes several well-known shops specializing in antiques. Buyers travel to Zimar from afar to get their hands on artifacts dating back to Ancient Osirion, the Jistka Imperium, or even Azlant, and vendors pay well for items retrieved from ancient ruins.
Beneath the streets of Zimar lies the so-called Undercity, which some citizens call “the sixth district.” This labyrinthine network of underground tunnels and chambers consists of abandoned basements, buried buildings, catacombs, and sewer passages. Entrances to the Undercity can be found hidden throughout all of Zimar, though the government works to block as many of the entrances as possible, particularly in the wealthier districts, so that the people can conveniently forget these place exists. Criminals, fugitives, monsters, and resistance groups live in the Undercity, using the passageways to store contraband and avoid the soldiers who patrol the streets above. According to rumors, all residents of the Undercity answer to a massive otyugh king named Gulreesh; in reality, though, the otyugh wields relatively little power over the denizens here.
One of Zimar’s two massive city gates, this gate and its stone frame are decorated with lion motifs. The gate and gatehouse are described in further detail on page 14. The road that runs south from the Lion’s Gate leads around the Border Wood to Demgazi, 40 miles southwest of Zimar.
This impressive arched bridge over the Jalrune River is over 500 feet long. Farmers, travelers, and Zimar’s patrols use the bridge to cross the river without relying on rafts or ferries. At its apex, the Falcon’s Bridge is high enough to allow the Taldan Imperial Navy’s ships to pass beneath it, although the current truce with Qadira forbids either nation from sailing its military vessels on the Jalrune River. While sturdy in its construction, the bridge was built so that engineers who know its secret mechanisms can quickly collapse the bridge to stymie an invasion from across the river. The road beyond the bridge—the Lion’s Road—winds its way through the farmlands to the east and leads to the fortress and town of Lionsguard, approximately 100 miles east of Zimar.
Outside Zimar stand heavily fortified farms, manors, ranches, and wineries designed to keep the inhabitants protected against bandit attacks or enemy invaders. Most of the estates have hired guards, guard dogs, traps, walls, and other defenses to make intruders think twice about trespassing. These estates produce the majority of the food sold in Zimar, and they protect their shipments to and from the city from brigands and rivals. Representatives of the Fortress Estates are some of the loudest proponents for repairing the deteriorating roads around Zimar, but none of the estate owners want to fund repairs themselves, as road repairs benefit not only themselves, but their competitors as well.
Located in the Pike District, the Iron Garrison is the sprawling complex of barracks and training facilities where soldiers of the Taldan Horse, Taldan Phalanx, and Zimar Sentinels eat, sleep, and train. At least a thousand battle-ready troops can be deployed from the Iron Garrison at a moment’s notice. The taverns closest to the Iron Garrison are some of the liveliest in all of Zimar, although non-military patrons tend to stand out and are sometimes harassed by hard-drinking soldiers.
By far the largest of Zimar’s houses of worship, this gilded cathedral is surrounded by the largest garden in Zimar. Although primarily the center of Abadaran worship in the region, the House of Gold is famous for training Golden Templars, an elite paramilitary unit of Abadaran inquisitors informally called “taxmasters.” The Golden Templars also work alongside the Zimar Sentinels to maintain order in the city and handle security in Abadar's Pillar. Archbanker Iovinus oversees the cathedral, but his tyrannical subordinate Inquisitor General Feradica Torcamay is responsible for training the Golden Templars, organizing their day-to-day operations, and many other responsibilities at the cathedral.
This cluster of buildings mainly consists of entrances to the catacombs beneath the streets of Zimar. In Zimar, rotting in the ground is considered vulgar, so it is customary for wealthy families to own subterranean family vaults for their dead. A network of tunnels connects the different parts of the catacombs, and less wealthy families inter their dead in niches along the tunnel walls. Most of the burial chambers are protected with deadly spells, traps, or even guards to keep grave robbers away. Amid the sepulchers stand a few shrines dedicated to Abadar, Pharasma, Sarenrae, Shelyn, and other deities. Although the Quarter of the Dead was built separately from the Undercity, gradual expansion of family vaults and occasional structural damage from earthquakes has exposed new passages into the Undercity. As a consequence, some family vaults are now infested with criminals or monsters.
City bureaucrats store official records of all kinds in this aggregation of buildings in the Scrolls District, where Zimar’s citizens must venture to obtain permits for civic endeavors such as land sales and filing tax disputes. The largest building is Zimar’s High Court of Justice, a magnificent building of white marble facing the Grand Plaza.
The most prestigious institution of education in Zimar, the Gennaris Academy offers a wide range of subjects in its curriculum. Thanks to its well-meaning but old-fashioned and stubborn headmaster, Venarius Apillo, the academy offers a far more comprehensive selection of courses in history, law, and military science than any other subject. Critics in other countries, particularly in Cheliax and Qadira, maintain that the academy teaches a one-sided version of history and that its lies and half-truths about Taldor’s rivals are not conducive to building trust and revitalizing trade.
A bristling bank of docks juts into the Jalrune River from the western edge of the river near Abadar’s Pillar. Piers intended for merchant ships and passenger ferries stand alongside sturdy docks reserved for the Zimar Corsairs, a fleet of “free” privateers that are known to target non-Taldan vessels but retain just enough independence that they don’t violate the restriction against sailing Imperial Navy ships on the river. Many Zimar Corsairs also function as smugglers, using the docks to resupply and sell stolen goods between their patrol runs and raids. At the base of the docks are several warehouses where merchants can store their goods for a fee. Zimar’s high wall separates the docks from the city proper, and anyone entering Zimar through the docks faces the same level of scrutiny as those who travel by land. Duchess Lenia Talviala owns the docks and works with trusted subordinates to ensure that goods move in and out of the docks area without delay and no criminal activities take place that can be tied to her.
High Strategos Maxillar Pythareus, a descendant of the war hero Sarius Pythareus, rules Zimar with an iron fist from the fortress known as Abadar’s Pillar. Over 80 feet high, the fortress’s keep is the tallest building in Zimar. Abadar’s Pillar was built on a spot overlooking the Jalrune River, surrounded by a moat filled by diverting water from the river.
Zimar is known for its many bathhouses, and the citizens of Zimar consider luxurious baths to have considerable health benefits. Some of the city’s bathhouses cater only to the rich, while others are open to visitors regardless of station. Zimar’s bathhouses are generally built of marble and receive water through an underground aqueduct heated with subterranean fire pits. The wealthy and the poor alike enjoy discussing politics and exchanging juicy gossip while relaxing in baths and sweating rooms. Arraio Garicus runs the Baths of Dioclytus, the largest and most famous of Zimar’s public bathhouses, which incorporates many other services, including a cafe, a massage parlor, and an upscale inn.
This state-sponsored forge employs the best blacksmiths in Zimar—perhaps in all of Taldor. The Sovereign Smithy makes weapons and armor for Zimar’s aristocrats, elite military units, and even for Maxillar Pythareus himself. All weapons crafted at the Sovereign Smithy are of masterwork quality and etched with a sword-and-falcon mark known as the Falcon Seal. To protect the reputation of this elite mark, counterfeiters of the Falcon Seal are punished harshly, losing their right hand at the wrist; repeat offenders face the death penalty. Some of the finest weapons produced at the Sovereign Smithy are enchanted by clerics of Abadar at the House of Gold and delivered to high-ranking members of the imperial military. A small but well-trained force of veteran fighters known as the Battlesmiths guards the Sovereign Smithy and its valuable shipments, and a grizzled army veteran named Hannicus both runs the smithy and commands the Battlesmiths.
Named after its colorful tents and bazaar stalls that sell a staggering variety of goods, the Rainbow Bazaar is located in the poorest part of Zimar. The upper classes see the Rainbow Bazaar as a cesspit of criminal activity, but a discerning shopper can discover items here unavailable anywhere else in Zimar, such as Qadiran antiquities, drugs, and magic items. The bazaar’s unofficial manager is Miraia Idaican, whose hired guards provide security for those vendors who turn over a small percentage of their profits. While it’s generally safe for anyone to browse the wares at the bazaar, wearing expensive clothes or carrying a heavy coin purse is certain to attract pickpockets or robbers.
Most of Zimar’s working-class pubs and bars are located in a neighborhood called Rumside. As beer, rum, and other cheap drinks are popular in this part of town, anyone with more than a few coins to spend on drink usually goes elsewhere. Rowdy entertainment, such as boxing matches and gambling, are also available in Rumside.
Zimar’s north gate is nearly identical to the Lion’s Gate at the south end of the city, except the decorations depict cavalry soldiers bearing oversized religious icons rather than depicting lions. Zimar Highway, the road that extends north from Abadar’s Gate, leads to the small but significant town of Ortalaca, 50 miles north of Zimar.