Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Caravanserai, Not Just Another Roadside Inn

Image in the Public Domain - Lionel Lindsay - A Caravanserai Kairouan,Tunisia, c.1929

For the purposes of this article, a Caravanserai  (car·a·van·sa·ry), is a defensible roadside inn, surrounded by a protective enclosure, with an open courtyard. They may be constructed of wood, but more often brick or stone. They are built as much to be defensible outposts as they are a place of rest and business. Depending upon a particular location's importance. they may be a small affair that can accommodate a modest caravan for a few nights, or be as grand as a spacious palace meant to house several large trade caravans for extensive stays.

In the real world, such buildings were found in deserts, and along lucrative trade routes into Central Asia, North Africa, and Southeastern Europe. In a gaming campaign, there is no reason these types of establishments can't be located elsewhere.

Image in the Public Domain - Artist Unknown

These locations not only served as temporary housing for travelers, but where one could also learn the latest commercial and political news, meet with merchants from other cities and countries, and to conclude trade deals. Travelers could also purchase much need supplies and equipment, and mounts from local and traveling merchants. It was also not uncommon for tax agents and their armed retinue to frequent such places.

Not every location will have the following features available on site, but access may be possible in the local area at the GM's discretion.

Typical features:

  • Defensive wall, either extending around courtyard, or entire compound
  • Sturdy gate, may feature gatehouse with draw bridge, or guard towers
  • Surrounded by cleared fields of vision/fire to reduce ability of attackers to conceal themselves
  • Communal well in courtyard, with watering troughs for livestock and mounts
  • Stalls and barns for livestock and mounts, access to a blacksmith and wagon repair
  • Storage buildings for higher value goods - lower value goods may be piled in courtyard
  • Accommodations for merchants and travelers - lower quality accommodations for guards and retainers
  • Typical tavern or banquet hall, with common room, and private rooms for business
  • Bathing facilities, area to worship
  • Goods, equipment, services, and possibly hirelings
  • Provisions for restocking food and water, and fodder for animals
Typical Encounters:
  • Tax Collector and guard retinue! Caravans passing in and out of territories must keep current on their tariffs, duties, and any other payments (bribes)
  • Local garrisoned troops
  • Other merchants, both local and from afar (either legitimate or illicit)
  • Important officials, nobles, maybe even traveling royalty
  • Assortment of travelers, pilgrims, tradesmen
  • Hirelings, skilled and unskilled, men-at-arms, and maybe a specialist (cleric, sage, etc)
  • Con-men, thieves, and mountebanks
  •  Local and distant news, rumors, and gossip (useful or not)
  • Civilized non-humans
  • Humanoid "monsters" (on non-aggressive business, of course)

Example Caravanserai:

The following is a caravanserai done by Dyson's Logos. You can download this free-to-use map, both with or without grid, HERE. 

Cartography by Dyson's Logos

Suggested Further Reading:

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