The Enemy Within
Travel in The Empire
Travel in the Old World is a dangerous undertaking, slow and unsafe. A few miles out from any of the Empire’s cities, the cultivated land gives way to wilderness where road conditions are sketchy, and roads are difficult and expensive to maintain. Fallen logs, floods, and washed out roads make passage difficult or even impossible. Moors and bogs fill the lowlands in the old woodlands, hiding bandit and monster alike who want nothing more than to attack an ill-prepared traveller. Certainly, roadwardens and local militias patrol the lands, but they cannot be everywhere at once. The wilderness is home to exiles, mutants, and criminals, and so it comes as no surprise that folks living in the wild are suspicious of strangers. If the cities were not inhospitable enough with crime, disease and filth, the wilderness is even less welcoming.
It is the responsibility of each city to maintain their sections of roads. Some funds for roadwork come from gate tariffs, which may amount to 1-3d in times of peace or run as high as 1s in times of war. Most of the funds, however, come from the Road Tolls first instituted in Altdorf, which have since spread throughout the Empire and later into other nations. Tollgates maintain Road Tolls, and there’s at least one on every stretch of road, consisting of a tollhouse and gate across the road. Toll keepers are always armed and rely on assistance from local toughs or constables to protect their income. The normal pricing is 1s per leg, costing 2s per person or 4s per beast. Larger animals may incur a higher toll, depending on the toll keeper. Other funds come from bridges, which are expensive to maintain and build. hence, bridges are as narrow and small as possible and cost extra to be crossed, usually a further Schilling per leg.
Though efficient, very little of the funds actually make it to the respective cities. For one, corruption in the road system is rampant, and toll keepers are notorious for keeping a portion of the tax for themselves. The bureaucracies have a way of diverting road toll monies to different projects, such as bribes, maintaining the wealthy districts, and other expenditures. Finally, few peasants can afford the high prices, so most avoid the toll gates altogether, skirting the checkpoints by crossing through the wilderness.
Consequently, the funds collected are not nearly enough to maintain the roads in any significant way. Every road has potholes, fallen logs are sometimes never cleared away, and the all-too-frequent rains wash large sections away. Worse, the funds can barely afford the expense required to maintain the roadwardens – constables employed by the civic authorities to patrol the roads and protect travellers. While they regularly patrol the roadways, they are inconsistent at best. The better roadwardens periodically check on lone homesteads in the wilderness and spend time at tollgates and bridges, while the worst are little better than the brigands they are paid to fight.
Though the roads in the Empire are dangerous, they are far better than the trails crisscrossing through the wilderness. These hidden byways are perilous indeed, haunted by the terrors of Chaos, bandits and worse. What originally served as game trails and tracks left by trappers and hunters have become a network of hidden roads operated by bandits. So dangerous are these trails that few roadwardens deign to travel on them for long. Bandits often charge a Crown or more for travel on their paths; sometimes they take everything the traveller carries, or even his life.
Coaches, Carts and Wagons
Rather than risk life and limb on an uncertain trek through the wilderness, most Old Worlders use coaches for transportation. There are dozens of independent coaching companies based in various cities throughout the Empire. These big carriages are spacious and have plenty of room on the top for luggage. The drivers and guards are frequently grizzled veterans of the roads, many of them with histories or futures as roadwardens.
Coach services always run between cities and towns, though many make stops in the various villages and hamlets along the way. The most famous of these is Four Seasons Coaches, which is rapidly expanding its operations from its base in Altdorf. All of the main roads are now served by Four Seasons and they are establishing a chain of exclusive coaching inns along the main routes out of Altdorf. Along minor routes, Four Seasons still call at the independent coaching inns, but it is only a matter of time before they open their own coaching inns and threaten the livelihoods of the independents.
Other coaching houses of the Empire include:
- Cartak Lines of Altdorf
- Ratchett Lines of Altdorf
- Red Arrow Coaches of Averheim
- Wolf Runner Coaches of Middenheim
- Castle Rock Coaches of Middenheim
- Cannon Ball Express of Nuln
- Imperial Expressways of Nuln
- Tunnelway Coaches of Talabheim
In lieu of coaches, travellers can make use of wagons and carts. Many can hitch a ride on a wagon or cart from a friendly farmer, but most charge for such service. Many merchants who use wagons will hire a mercenary to ride along and protect the cargo. However, because these particular transports lack suspension, they are uncomfortable and slow moving.
Another viable and oft-used method of travel is via the Empire’s many rivers. The waterways are deep enough and extensive enough to be practical and sometimes allow swifter and safer passage to many of the Empire’s important trading centres.
Along narrow waterways and canals, collectors demand tolls wherever vessels can easily be stopped, such as locks and places where swing bridges are used. Where the course of the river prevents this, a fortified structure bristling with catapults or bolt throwers can be effective in convincing ships to come to port to pay their toll. Tolls on rivers are found every 20 to 30 miles, or wherever the river crosses the lands of a number of landowners (in such cases, tolls are far more frequent). The cost of such tolls varies between 1-5GC for most vessels, but larger craft are often charged higher rates.