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Thick as Thieves - Setting : The City's Cultures and Religions

Various topics relating to culture, religion and day-to-day living in Melza, The City.

Settlements of the Melzan Barony and City State

1 city: Melza
2 towns: Enemarp, Árast Atrav
7 villages: Koraj, Rátoch, Ňolbaj, Ynivork, Étilaks, Ones, Jáh

Melzan geography


Species and ethnicity cultures

Melza is a very old and generally cosmopolitan city, so it's no surprise it can be quite diverse in terms of the species, racial and ethnic origins of its inhabitants and visitors. Most of these people reflect the city state's position in the central portions of the Aporue continent.

Species-wise, the inhabitants are predominantly of human stock, whether of the bigfolk or smallfolk lineages. About a fourth or perhaps as much as a third of the population is made up of beastpeoples species. They are overwhelmingly members of the martenfolk and hedgefolk, but you can spot the occassional representatives of the stoatfolk, otterfolk and nixfolk in and around the city and the other settlements as well. Gulomen, usually transcontinental traders, can also be seen occassionally among the crowds (but this is quite rare).

Needless to say, due to these traditional populations and communities, the human locals have a tendency to view the martenfolk and hedgefolk with something of a more positive bias than other sapient species. To them, they are “one of us”, something familiar and unthreatening. In contrast, Melzans tend to be a bit more suspicious of the other three commonly occuring or visiting beastfolk members. Sometimes, the suspicion can border on prejudice. Stoatfolk ? Rogues, ruffians and thieves, no doubt ! Nixfolk ? Newtmen are wet-footed smelly beggars, dubious salesmen, scavengers and artful dodgers. Otterfolk ? Haughty, self-centered, scam-prone, with pirate blood in their veins… There's a grain of truth to all these stereotypes, that's a given. But a thing one should keep in mind is to take said stereotypes with another grain… of salt.

Outside of Melza proper, within the countryside portion of the city state, there are also varying degrees of non-bigfolk inhabitants. For instance, people of the Permon smallfolk, somewhat less common in The City itself, are particularly plentiful in three other settlements. In the mining town of Árast Atrav, in the nearby mountains, and the villages of Koraj and Étilaks. People of the “Stonie” martenfolk are also more plentiful in these three, partly because they enjoy the company of Permons and get along with them the best of any other species. The Rarach variety of smallfolk are generally plentiful in several villages, such as Ňolbaj, Rátoch, Ones, and also have a moderately sized community in the barony's sole spa town, Enemarp. The village of Ynivork has a sizable community of hedgefolk, Jáh has a fair number of stoatfolk families, some otrins and newtmen have permanent residence in Ňolbaj. And the “Piner” martenfolk lives virtually in each of the lowland villages, in each with at least small numbers.

Ethnicity-wise, due to the fairly long and stable existence of their state, Melzans commonly think of themselves as their own distinct nationality. As one of the past House Terlo rulers put it: “Some say our history and dialect are convoluted and amusing. Well, need I remind them… Our dialect is backed up by an army.” Nobody knows who exactly came up with the term “Cittan” as a fancier-sounding demonym for a Melzan citizen, but certain outspoken localpatriots have adopted it as a badge of pride. And they're not afraid to rub it in your face if they feel like it, whether you're a stranger or not. Most Melzans don't particularly care for such labels, though. As for its etymology (if you can call it that), it simply comes from the locals' habit of calling their domicile with the genericism “The City”. Hence, “Cittans”.

Most of the inhabitants of Melza are descended from ancestors of various central Aporuean roots. Most commonly Lesanans, Ďamarans, Karantians, and in smaller doses, Lengelians, Markanians, Trinitians and Rvačans. As one would expect from such a cosmopolitan place, you can also find plenty of Melzans with roots in many other Aporuean and non-Aporuean nations. With all that in mind, Melzans are something of an ethnic motley crew, a trait characteristic of many Aporuean nations based around city states.

We are a fine blend”, goes the cheeky remark of many a Melzan. And if you ask them about “pure-blooded” Melzans, they might feel outright offended, and follow it up with an elaborate reply: “Listen up. There is no such thing as a 'true, pure-blooded Melzan'. Why ? Because a true Melzan is a happy-go-lucky mongrel by his very nature. One who does not fit in neatly into any expectations that people place on him, based on experiences with neighbouring nations… And he or she is always proud to be such a mongrel !”.



Cultural streams and traditions


Notable institutions and public buildings

This is but a small (and ultimately incomplete) look at some of the major public buildings and organisations that dot Melza's urban and social landscape.

a.) Politics and governance

Houses of Rule - Located in a fairly impressive citadel at the heart of the old, inner core of The City, the Houses of Rule are the political centre of Melza, both the city itself, and the state as a whole.

Baronial Castle - The seat of Melza's reigning monarchs, since the days of House Kalmatz (the first dynasty). Though situated in the oldest parts of the city in the northeast, it's not connected to the citadel that contains the Houses of Rule, and is thus its own structure. The castle has been rebuilt and refurbished numerous times.

b.) Schools and education

Melzan University (The Borek University) - Founded by Borek IV of House Horšan. Aside from a smaller school for the clergy that predates it, the university is the oldest institution of higher learning in The City, as well as the Melzan state as a whole. It's often referred to by the name of its founder, as an alternate title. Over time, the University has accumulated a number of major Faculties and smaller Institutes as its subdivisions. Each of these teaches or does research in various natural sciences, mathematics and geometry, history, law, theology, other humanities, and even some magic and alchemy.

Academy of Fine Arts and Humanities - A newer school of higher learning, its creation was first proposed by baroness Mildala, as a supplement to the already existing university. However, the effort to establish it only got off the ground with her successor, Dortan II. Though the Academy mostly dabbles in different fields of scholarship than the University, there is also some overlap between the two when it comes to educating about certain subjects. Predictably, this has led to something of a friendly rivalry between the Academy and the University.

College of Engineering and Technology - The latest of the major education institutions in the City, “the CET” specialises solely in teaching mechanical and machine engineering, public works engineering, research and development of new devices and engines, etc.

c.) Museums and galleries

Wedan Baronial Museum - Dedicated to the baronial lineage itself, Melza's most impressive museum was designed by Albirek Wedan, one of Melza's most famous past, native architects. He also personally oversaw its construction, along with baron Iliver V, the patron of the whole endeavour. Like many public buildings of its kind in Melza, it's often derided by critics as a vanity project, or monument to the ruling families' egoes. Few can deny its impressive collections, though, many of these donated by members of the ruling dynasty (or their relatives). Whether historical artefacts or works of fine art, local finds or exotic antiques, this is no poor man's museum. Even naysayers admit that calling the building a “museum” doesn't entirely do it justice. It houses an impressive library, one of the largest in the entire City, as well as several large rooms and halls that serve as art galleries. The museum closely cooperates with the Learned Society of Melza and certain museums abroad, and even does some restoratory and research work of its own. Whichever way one slices it, “the WBM” is undeniably one of the must-see locations in Melza (at least for more intellectual visitors).

Natural History Museum and Gardens - Part of a bigger complex, which also includes a zoo and a botanical garden (the titular “Gardens”), in addition to the rather expansive museum itself.

Museum of Magical Curiosities and Otherworldly Artefacts - Commonly abbreviated to “The Curios' Museum”. Derided by some, including the more scientific-minded researchers of the magical arts, as little more than a cobbled-together, sensationalist exhibition. Nevertheless, the museum still enjoys a regular stream of visitors and revenue, despite being one of the smaller establishments of its kind in The City. Historically, there have been some rows and even court cases between the administration of the Baronial Museum and The Curios' Museum over Archontian artefacts with latent magical abilities. Most disputes have been won by the bigger museum, to no one's surprise.

d.) Entertainment venues

Emerald Theatre and Opera House - The largest and fanciest theatrical venue in The City, “The Emerald” was created during the reign of Morvo III., who had a thing for ostentatious entertainment infrastructure projects. Though hated in its early days for the bitter memory of cost overruns that were payed from the public's pocket, later history has been kinder to the building, offering it a partial reevaluation in the eyes of the populace. The name of the theatre comes from its fairly lavish interior decorations. This includes corridors and halls decorated with regularly spaced small surfaces that include actual processed emerald stones. The other part of the name comes from the green tint of the now-oxidized copper-plated roofs, leading some to joke that “Verdigris Theatre” would be just as apt a moniker. Being the premiere theatre of The City, “The Emerald” is regarded as an invitation-only place for Melza's blue-blooded or nouveau riche upper crust.

The Sphere Theatre - A much more “common folk friendly” establishment, privately owned by one of the more respected theatrical companies in Melza. The name was apparently inspired (or, if you're feeling less charitable, ripped off) from The Orb Theatre, a rather famous (and now defunct) place of theatrical entertainment in the capital of Aethelia-Dumnonia.

e.) Organisations, associations and clubs

The Learned Society of Melza - The most important and most influential club of scientists, researchers, scholars and thinkers in The City. Created when Melza started entering the fairly recent industrial revolution and began profitting from its own investments into new scientific knowledge and new technologies. The Learned Society has been supported by the Melzan state since its very beginning, though the amount of good will and financial/material gifts has varied, depending on the exact ruler and government. Though not officially divided into smaller groups, members of the Society tend to form their own clicques within it - based either on commonality of their field of research and interest, or on their agreements and disagreements on hypotheses and theories.

Melzan Alchemist Trade Union, First and Only - A fairly new organisation, created by Melza's certified alchemists as an economic lobbying group of their own. Founded some fifty years ago, the MATU was originally formed by two bigger existing guilds of alchemy practitioners, with its membership gradually expanding. To date, five alchemical guilds and about two tens of individual, guild-unaffiliated alchemists, have joined the trade union. It's important to note that not every alchemist in Melza, whether scholar or full practitioner, is a member of MATU. Though the union's leadership would welcome that to be true, and often spends a lot of time trying to rope in new members, Melza's remaining independent alchemists (e.g. Norir Savru) usually remain adamant about not joining.

The Vaccuic Order - The City's main organisation of (self-proclaimed) professional wizards. Has a reputation for almost hilariously obsessing over fostering a mysterious image and claiming to be an eons old secret society, full of complex membership rituals and mind-boggling arcane knowledge. The Order's (in)famous motto goes “We are interested in everything, but we are of no interest to you !” (“Ooh, we're so mysterious…” adage optional). The Order is often disparaged as something of a snobby and pretentious association, and a man's only club, especially by its natural rivals, the alchemists. (It's not that the alchemists care that much about equality of men and women in the study of magic and substances, they just welcome any opportunity to take potshots at “those snobby, elitist Vaccuists”. The members of the Vaccuic Order commonly reply with the same level of snark.)

Friends of Temperance Society - Civic association, uniquely enough with supporters from a wide array of Melzan social classes. Though they work as amateur activists in several fields, they focus the bulk of their efforts into campaigning for sobriety and against the abuse of alcohol and other substances. Welcomed and praised by a fair few citizens for their tenacity and earnest activism, criticised or outright despised by others for their often heavy-handed approach and tendency to be condescending. With plenty of citizens liking a harder drink from time to time, one often gets the impression there's no real middle ground when it comes to opinions about the FoTS. You either like what they're doing and agree with them, or are annoyed by them and wouldn't mind if they disbanded altogether.

The Helping Hands of the Thirteen - One of the church-run public charities in The City and the state. Associated with the Olankalian Church. Has a bit of mild rivalry with the other two charities, The Maker's Generous and The Blessed Aid.

The Maker's Generous - One of the church-run public charities in The City and the state. Associated with the Redeemer churches in Melza. Has a bit of mild rivalry with the other two charities, the Helping Hands and The Blessed Aid.

The Blessed Aid - One of the church-run public charities in The City and the state. Associated with the Alithidromic Church. Has a bit of mild rivalry with the other two charities, the Helping Hands and The Maker's Generous.

Various books, stage plays and fine arts pieces that are popular in Melza and often elsewhere in Aporue as well.

Companions in the Trade - Stage play of the commedia dell’arte variety, very popular in many countries. Some of the main characters include the human Arbogast, martenman Navr and the stoatwoman Frizi.

A Practical Man's Guide To Chemistry - Non-fiction book. Put on an index of banned books in some places, due to allegations of providing recipes for creating explosives to the general public.

The Automan's Companion - Non-fiction book on engineering and motorised appliances.

Grub and drink

Aside from pubs, inns and shanties, many of Melza's marketplaces and even some of the city's busier streets will have various street vendors of food or snacks. They usually sell these meals from small purpose-built stands of varying quality of construction.

Some typical offerings are roast chestnuts, langoš flatbreads, cooked clam meat, baked or cooked pierogi (with various fillings), roast or fried sausages, haruľa patties, fish soup or cabbage soup, čevapi with various garnishments, baked carp meat or pike meat flavoured with dillweed, and last but not least, pretzels, buns and other pastries.

Past rulers of the Barony

The Barons and Baronesses that have ruled the Melzan monarchy for many centuries.

House Kalmatz

The founders of the Barony and what became the current incarnation of the Melzan city state and its surrounding territories. Came from humble origins, originally being just an average Ďamaran noble family of knights, with some Karantian and Markanian ancestry.

After an internal conflict in Ďamara in which the family backed a failed rebellion against the royal court, the Kalmatz family retreated to Melza's neutral territory and forced the then mayor and city council to cooperate. Subsequently, they declared the establishment of the Barony and struck a balanced deal with the mostly self-governing locals to become the new heads of state.

1st - Hervil I. (first ever Lord Baron)
2nd - Nikelós I.
3rd - Žorvé I.
4th - Ervert I.
5th - Žorvé II.
6th - Žorvé III.
7th - Hervil II.
8th - Ervert II.
9th - Borek I.
10th - Nikelós II.
11th - Iliver I.
12th - Žorvé IV.
13th - Borek II.
14th - Hervil III.
15th - Iliver II. (last in the line, died without heirs)

House Horšan

Originally a cadet branch of House Kalmatz. They inherited the succession rights to the Melzan throne after the previous dynasty's last baron died without leaving any surviving heirs. The Horšans had mostly Lesanian and Ďamaran ancestry, but also a few ancestors from Lengelia, Rvača and even the Hetmanate.

1st - Morvo I. (cousin of Iliver II., inherited the throne)
2nd - Borek IV.
3rd - Iliver III.
4th - Nikelós III.
5th - Morvo II.
6th - Kernač I.
7th - Hervil IV.
8th - Žorvé IV.
9th - Kernač II.
10th - Arkárt I.
11th - Borek V.
12th - Borek VI.
13th - Morvo III.
14th - Arkárt II.
15th - Dortan I.
16th - Kernač III.
17th - Iliver IV.
18th - Nikelós IV. (his death launched a dynastic military standoff)

House Terlo

The roots of the family lie in plenty of different countries throughout Aporue, the family name itself probably of Montoverdin or Karantian origin. This was the first baronial dynasty to also have ruling Lady Baronesses, rather than just baroness-consorts. (Succession in the Barony is based on agnatic primogeniture. The sonless Hervil V. introduced certain law reforms to allow for easier inheritance of the throne by female heirs. He did so in favour of his eldest daughter Mildala, who ruled after his premature death, though under an appointed regent.)

1st - Morvo IV. (the second Morvo to be the founder of a new dynasty)
2nd - Arkárt III.
3rd - Borek VII.
4th - Morvo V.
5th - Iliver V.
6th - Nikelós V.
7th - Arkárt IV.
8th - Kernač IV.
9th - Hervil V.
10th - Mildala I. (first ruling Lady Baroness, though under regency)
11th - Dortan II.
12th - Arkárt V.
13th - Hervil VI.
14th - Ervert III.
15th - Remena I. (second Lady Baroness, now ruling fully)
16th - Hervil VII.
17th - Dortan III.
18th - Dortan IV. (the current Lord Baron)

See Also

shared_worlds/thick_as_thieves_city_culture.txt · Last modified: 2019/03/29 15:13 (external edit)