Rural Realms Architecture (Part Two)

By Ed Greenwood

Filfaeril sighed. "And where has Vangey's little toy sent us now?"

Azoun blinked at her. "Well, this is obviously a roof, and just as obviously, 'tis in Arabel -- see the row of snow-blades, standing up from the slates? They cut thick snowloads into slices, so an entire roof-face of deep snow can never fall into the street below when melts come, in a huge sliding rush that could slay dozens and shatter or bury wagons."

"Dragon of my heart," Filfaeril said gently, turning to gaze at her lord with a certain look in her eyes, "you understand my words, but not my meaning. I am well aware that this is a roof, and I care not a whit where in all the realm it might happen to be. I was really asking this: How by all the happy dancing hobgoblins in the Stonelands are we to get down from here?"

"Ah," the King agreed helpfully. "Ah, yes. Ahem."

He blinked again, and turned slowly on his heel to gaze all around, with a hopeful look on his face that told all Arabel that its king fully expected an answer to this thorny question to leap up onto the roof beside him and present itself. Preferably before nightfall.

Adventurers often seem to find themselves chasing across roofs, hiding on roofs, or jumping onto adjacent roofs. It helps to know if leaping onto a roof is going to plunge you right through it - or send you sliding helplessly down it, and thence into the street below.

Many roofs have hatches (usually very securely fastened on the inside -- with crossbars slid into wooden or metal sockets, chains, or even turn-wheels governing large screws through crossbraces -- against intrusion from above, by anyone who isn't using an axe or a meteor swarm), connecting attics to the rooftop slopes. These allow access for roof and chimney repairs, and they also allow inhabitants to reach hiding spots for valuables.

In the Realms, putting caches of coins in metal coffers that are then hidden in rooftop chimney niches (often concealed behind loose stones), is a favorite ploy, second in popularity to putting valuables under one's floorboards or buried in a dirt floor or the cellar, but more popular than burying a coffer in nearby woods (or pasture, along a fenceline).

A few old, massive buildings have roof-beams or braces large enough to permit hidden cavities to be situated within them: Seekers are advised to look for doubled construction (posts side by side or touching). One will be unbroken and do the structural work, and the other will contain the hiding-places, often under a removable "false front" slice.

Roofs of rural log steadings are framed with wooden trusses (rows of triangles with internal braces) that rest on the log sidewalls, and the treetrunk posts in the center of the rooms hold them up. These posts are often shimmed, as the building settles, with wooden wedges hammered in between post-top and truss-beam.

Roofs are covered either with logs sealed with moss and slather, or logs (sometimes sawn in half lengthwise, into "half-round" form) used as a base, covered with slather, and then covered again with wood shingles or shakes. Slates and tiles are so heavy and expensive that their use is almost entirely urban, except as threshold-stones or the tops of farmhouse cutting-tables -- or on the sturdiest buildings (such as temples or keeps, where warding off the effects of fiery missiles may be a concern) in areas very near slate quarries.

Severe windstorms can wreak havoc with almost any sort of roof, but slate and tile roofs can shed deadly missiles when the wooden pegs that hold individual slates and tiles rot or lose the battle against gales. Veteran battle-mages have been known to use explosive spells to deliberately shower groups of foes with most of a roof-worth of heavy, razor-edged slates, or daggerlike shards of tile.

Thatch roofs are common only where nearby marshes can provide the necessary reeds. Where skilled thatchers are absent, extensive mud slather keeps poorly constructed thatch from blowing off or copiously leaking in every rainstorm.

The poorest dwellings have sod roofs, often planted with clinging, thorny vines to hold the soil against being blown away in high winds when dry, and to discourage animals from burrowing into it. Aside from a low-headroom loft created by laying boards across the cross-beams of the roof trusses, and subfloors created when a house is built on sloping ground, farmhouses almost always have just a ground floor, never any sort of habitable "aloft" (we would say "upstairs").

By contrast, most taverns and inns have extensive attics, used for storage of travel chests, excess and in-need-of-repair furniture, and for servants to sleep in (those who don't sleep in the kitchens or stable lofts), just because their trusses are so much larger. These large trusses allow folk to stand up in rooms "within the trusses" since the area has enough height.

Exciting, eh? Thus emboldened, we investigate drainpipes next time. Oh, and chimneys. To say nothing of farm fences. Dangerous challenges, those farm fences, and a forewarned adventurer is a formidable adventurer.

© 2003 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.