@TheEdVerse This may sound like a joke, but I have a friend who is obsessed with this place, which is barely mentioned in any official material anywhere — anything to tell him about the only pitstop for travelers making their way betwixt the Firesteap and Chondalwood? Recently on Twitter, I was asked: “This may sound like a joke, but I have a friend who is obsessed with this place, which is barely mentioned in any official material anywhere — anything to tell him about the only pitstop for travelers making their way betwixt the Firesteap and Chondalwood?”
I’m always happy to oblige with Realmslore, if I can. So here’s Torsch…
Torsh (“Torsch” in older records; which spelling is most popular has shifted over time) is named for an adventurer who built a keep there beside the trade road in the 1200s DR, and retired and died there. A caravan-supply town (wheelwrights, wagon makers, blacksmiths, farriers, coopers, carpenters, water suppliers, remount stables and farms to supply draft beasts and riding horses and mules, then warehouses) slowly grew around the simple stone tower and palisaded paddock, because it was a secure refuge against raiding human brigands and wemics. In the late 1200s DR, local wemic tribes fiercely resented human “invasions” (traffic along the eastern trade road along the northern edge of the Shaar), and repeatedly raided caravans and mule-trains.
After several adventuring bands got tricked (by Torschans spreading false rumors about the local wemics having chests and chests full of gems looted from earlier human victims) into eradicating the wemics, Torsch started to grow quickly; it soon became a fortified town, and then a city. Increasingly heavy brigand raids made city walls a must, though Torsch developed a habit of growing so quickly that new, longer walls had to be rebuilt repeatedly to enclose ever-larger areas (often causing building collapses, where buildings had been hastily erected that used a section of city wall for side-support).
From its earliest days until now, Torsch has had something of a “rough and ready” frontier feel to it; it’s full of outfitters shops selling and repairing useful stuff like ropes, barrels, chests, shields and helms, crossbows, carts, replacement wheels and axles for wagons, chains, and the like. It’s also always had a bazaar (the “Stroll”) full of small shops and awning-cloaked stalls full of secondhand goods, stolen and looted items, and warehouse overstock wares from all over traderoad-served Faerûn (gowns from Mulhorand, wooden yokes and dippers and bowls from rural Aglarond, jeweled daggers from the Tashalar). Torsch has also, due to its “under frequent attack” nature, always been well-stocked with weapons (javelins, and crossbows and bolts for them being local staples) and with preserved foods (fiery vegetables jarred in oil). It remains a dusty place of hasty, much-patched architecture, with few buildings rising even three floors above the street, with stone, mud brick, and tiles for roofs dominating; though sheltered by the mountains and woods, Torsch experiences a milder version of the typical Shaaran “baking hot days, icy cold nights” extremes, so awnings that shade roofs, windows, and doorways are commonplace, and buildings tend to have thick mud-brick interior walls to help cut crossdrafts and insulate for warmth a few inner rooms (when it’s hot, move outside or to the outer rooms, used daily for storage; when cold, move to the heart of the home).
Torsch caters to travelers; there are many overnight and longer-term accommodations, there are half a dozen private mule-pump-filled, gravity-emptied water towers for bulk watering of beasts and caravan wagon-tanks, and there are potion-sellers, healers, shrines to almost all surface-Realms deities (though no large temples to anyone), and quite a few locals who carry on many business sidelines to try to collectively provide almost all of the goods and services one might find in much larger centers, like Waterdeep. “We can house and feed an army with ease” is a longstanding local saying. Torsch is sometimes called “Hawksroost” because its founder, Aland Torsch of Tethyr, called himself ‘the Hawk’ and was head of the Hawktalon adventuring band. Torschans sometimes refer to him as “Lord Hawktalon,” though that wasn’t a name he ever bore in life, and the Lord’s Citadel is nicknamed Hawktalon Towers, and stands on Hawktalon Square.
Torsch is ruled by the Lord of Torsch, who is a glorified magister (judge), Watch-chief, and war leader. Formerly held by a series of “seize by force and murder” cutthroats, the post has now settled into a stable model: it’s held by veteran, aging adventurers (right now, the LN Tashalan hf Ftr14 Alaermrue Hathantle) who are the speaker and front for an “advisory” Hawk Council of seven local merchants, who in reality, behind closed doors, tell the Lord what to do (female Lords are still styled “Lord”). The local merchants on the Council are all very wealthy semi-retired (from adventuring) individuals who are now into smuggling and property ownership and shipping and warehousing; three are rogues, and the other four are archwizards who have the magical might to compel almost anyone, though they keep this as secret as possible (and most of Torsch has no idea they can do anything more than hire wizards to cast spells for them when need be, or as bodyguards). They are well aware of the “deepest secret” of their city (see hereafter) and of the many spies that factions and cabals and various organizations, aboveboard and shady, maintain and send into “crossroads” Torsch. (Which, under their guidance, is becoming an ever-more-popular banking and moneylending center.)
The Lord of Torsch commands a standing army of two hundred Swords of Torsch (well-trained and -equipped soldiers, all proficient lancers and horse archers, who run frequent but deliberately irregular-in-schedule mounted patrols along the trade-road and into the foothills and woods to deter brigands from operating or living close to the city). As well as the Swords, who provide gate-guard and “heavy response” (SWAT team-like) duty, Torsch is policed by the Eyes and the Stalwart. The Eyes are paid spies and informants whose identities are kept very secret, and the Stalwart are the local Watch (police); both services are very well trained and competent.
As a result, Torsch can be noisy and even rowdy on occasion, but street thuggery and thievery in any city inn, tavern, or eatery, are nigh-unknown; dishonest Torschans prefer financial swindles (which the Stalwart seem to ignore, though the Eyes and the Lord’s secret bands of adventurers, who operate outside the Lord’s Laws, do not) to do anything that will result in the Lord’s justice (usually incarceration and flogging, then forfeitures of goods and fines, then exile).
The best-known inns in Torsch are Catanthra’s House, just inside Westarch, the western city gate (Excellent/Expensive; quiet, clean, run by women and a family-friendly place that offers full laundry and seamstress and waterclock-round in-room dining); the Oebleirult (Excellent/Expensive; most luxurious, expensive, and haughty of all city establishments, and host to endless evening feasts, revels, and weddings; in the heart of the city, facing the Lord’s Citadel across the central Hawktalon Square); the Hawktalon Inn (Good/Expensive, a ‘cheerful’ place known for discretion and odd sights and behaviours; located on the north side of the street a block east of the Square, along the central Way of the Hawk street that crosses Torsch from gate to gate), and The Azandavur (Good/Cheap, and so, usually noisy and crowded and full of all races and ages; its chief amenities are bathing facilities and barbering and laundry), just inside Eastarch, the eastern city gate. No major inns are near Southarch, the southern city gate, because it opens into extensive livestock paddocks, for local stabling and slaughtering and for visiting caravans (or caravans being assembled in Torsch), and tends to be a very strong-smelling neighborhood. (There is no northern city gate; Torsch has only three gates.) Torsch also offers a dozen smaller, lesser-known, cheaper, but generally poorer inns, catering to every sort of traveler. Torsch is also home to nigh thirty taverns, which tend to come and go and be dimly-lit, none-too-clean places of stout furniture, fragile clay crockery to cut down on maimings, with open taprooms with rental meeting-rooms on the floor above. They have names like Jerith’s and Klauntur’s and Velesker’s, and strive to attract patrons with often-changed themes and cutthroat prices, which results in a lot of folk drinking themselves into slumbers or stupors.
Among these taverns are five fixtures: superior taverns of better lighting, cleanliness, stability (they survive from decade to decade, changing little), internal policing, and so, patron safety and behavior. One stands across the road from all of the best-known inns, except for the two nearest the Oebleirult, which front on the Hawktalon Square across from each other.
At Westarch: Gadelvur’s Griffonroost (large gilded roosting griffon statue above the front doors, and many dwarves, gnomes, and halfling staff and clientele; Gadelvur is a now-truly-elderly retired dwarf adventurer).
At Eastarch: The Fair Sunrise (gowned wait-staff, Mulhorandi and Untherian décor and garb and furnishings).
Across from the Hawktalon Inn: The Dancing Drowned Dwarf (house of minstrel performances, gambling and friendly game playing and tale-telling, different rooms having different themes and levels of acceptable noise and ribaldry; the “adventurers’ tavern”).
Hawktalon Square: Malaharko’s (a quiet, dimly-lit establishment where business meetings are held in quiet rentable rooms, food is served, and all rowdiness and music is strongly discouraged) and Tantur Valluth’s (the closest thing to a brightly-lit “family restaurant that seats hundreds in a vast, many-pillared dining room” that Torsch offers).
Torsch entirely lacks parks, fountains or statues, and scenic attractions; it’s a city of workers and travelers passing through. One landmark is the Cauldron, a large bowl-shaped depression (open space) where rainwater collects and six streets meet, by day a market where live fowl in cages are sold for that day’s eating, halfway between the Way of the Hawk and Southarch. Another is Anvil Square, in northeastern Torsch, where three competing smithies face each other across an open space where vendors sell used tools and mongery from their wagons.
Oh, yes, city secrets…
All the money-related activities that go on mean a LOT of double-crossing cabals, invested fortunes, and hidden valuables (an all-too-apt-to-become-true local jest is that so many vaults are being hollowed out under Torsch without anyone being told that one day the entire city will drop the height of two men or so, and settle there amid much dust and screaming).
And then there’s Torsch’s deepest secret. Word is slowly spreading among the Harpers, the Emerald Enclave, and the Zhentarim of this deepest secret: Vaerndoun.
Vaerndoun is literally a deep secret; it’s in a network of caverns (many containing lakes of drinkable water, and farmed colonies of edible fungi, for much water seeps through these stones) stretching for more than a hundred miles in a roughly northeasterly-southwesterly chain. The midpoint of this great cavern network is directly underneath Torsch. The whole subterranean land is known as Asglyth, and is the realm of illithids who call themselves the Asglyth. They hold an annual Underdark trade-moot known as the Eleave during the first two rides of Alturiak; the price of admission to this trade-fair (neutral ground where drow may trade with svirfneblin or other traditional foes) is slaves for the Asglyth to feed upon.
The Aslgyth are very interested in the shifting politics and power of the surface Realms, and—like the now-wily and patient surviving local brigands—they both maintain spies in Torsch, and frequently send a wide variety of undercover agents peacefully into Torsch to trade, spread rumors, look around to see who’s in town and what valuable cargoes may be moving through, and hire passing adventuring bands to do “dirty work” for them.
And there you have it; a quick overview of Torsch. One more ideal-for-adventuring corner of the Realms.
Enjoy, I hope. :}pic.twitter.com/5X7sq40vOl
— Yatagarasu (@eightspancrow) January 6, 2019