Tuesday, 11 May 2021

[OSR] Real places in RPG [7]: Izadkhast Caravanserai

Izadkhast Caravanserai


70 kilometers north of Abadeh next to Izadkhast city, in the Iranian Desert.

This place is on a road that has always  fascinated me: The silk road. This was a network of mainly land trade routes going from China to western Europe. It's by no mean only one road, lots of branches have been created during its centuries of existence, with the rise and fall of powers along its tracks and the ever changing taxation on the goods going along that road which have dictated its course...

Recommended music to read this post: Prince Of Persia OST - A Fight Of Light And Darkness

File:Izadkhast Old Caravanserai Iran.jpg

"File:Izadkhast Old Caravanserai Iran.jpg" by Alireza Javaheri is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Why Iran?

I know most of you probably have some prejudices against that country, but its situation on the silk road and relative war-free recent history lead to a country full of historical and cultural treasures, but few tourists at the same time (which is important if you're searching for images).


Etymologically meaning a "palace for caravans", a caravanserai was a roadside inn where travelers and merchants could rest and recover from the day's journey. They supported the flow of commerce, information and people across the network of trade routes covering Asia, North Africa and Southeast Europe, at which point most caravans and merchants continued on with their travel using the sea ways of the Mediterranean sea.

You can compare them to the fortified Inns of medieval Europe, because they served the same purposes:

  • protecting travelers, merchants, and caravans from adverse weather (sand storms, flash-floods, storms)
  • offering a nightly refuge in security from marauding bandits and wild animals
  • serving as a place of exchange for wares, rumors, and information
  • Trading place between local farmers and artisans with the passing merchants

The network of these palaces was tight enough that you would normally not have to sleep in the dangerous wilderness.


File:Neyestanak Caravanserai Inner Courtyard 2007-01-01.jpg
"Neyestanak Caravanserai Inner Courtyard 2007-01-01" by Kaveh Hosseini (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Typically, after stepping through a fortified entrance portal, you would enter into a spacious court, around which niches and roofed accommodations can be rented. These were somewhat spartan, and meant as well as stables for the beasts of burden.
Some richer caravanserai would also offer access to a public bath, and access to a mosque (with a place for ritual ablutions)
Some of these palaces were also situated in towns, but their court would be much smaller, but the buildings much higher, offering lodging for the town population in the higher floors (an independent stream of income in case of bad times for commerce). These are then named Khan, Funduq, or Wikala.

Fantasy Economics

Unless you have a very developed network of cheap teleportation circles, or a very advanced technological level allowing advanced sea travel or railways, you'll need this kind of inn networks along the most commonly used trade routes of your fantasy world.

These inns are an excellent starting point for a new campaign, even though they might not be different enough from a tavern for the most experienced readers.

I recommend reading what you can find on Oleg's trading post, a renown fortified inn with a central role in the start of the "Kingmaker" campaign. But if you're playing in an Arabian Nights setting or Dark Sun, you're gonna want to read more on caravanserais.

It's worth mentioning that import goods, particularly those that come from far away, have to cost a lot in a medieval setting, because transporting them takes a lot of time, is dangerous, and wares often get taxed along their transport. This is why silk was so expensive back in the days where nobody knew how to make it in Europe.
You have to wait for Louis the 14th's economical policies to start royal workshops (the beginning of the industrialization in Europe) and his economical espionage forays, to see silk production in Europe.

Adventure seeds around the caravansarai

I hope these adventure seeds will help you give life to this place and you'll want to include it in your campaign (as a fortified Inn or Caravanserai, both would work)

D12 Adventure seed
1 A group of bandits is ambushing the caravans & needs to be dealt with
2 A group of bandits attacks only the wealthiest of merchants. Who is informing them?
3 A feud between the local lord & the next on the road makes travel unsure. Can you help find an arrangement?
4 When you enter the courtyard, everyone & all animals were slain, & the wares destroyed. Was it the whim of a Djinn?
5 The Caravanserai is quarantined, but the merchants met the day before were not sick. Poison or malediction?
6 A thief posing as a merchant robbed another one blind and disappeared on a secondary road. Can the wares be recovered?
7 A dangerous cult infiltrated a few caravans and prepare a mass sacrifice of merchants to invoke a bloodthirsty Abomination
8 A sandstorm has been raging on the sarai for abnormally long. Can the PCs find the mischievous air-magic-user? 
9 A troop of the Sultan is bringing a dangerous Felon to the capital. Their accomplices will try to free them tonight
10 The Sarai fell under the control of mercenaries that racket the caravaners and use the inn keepers as slaves
11 The Sarai refuses to pay its dues to a local guild. The guild has build a siege around the building.
12 Last night, the religious shrine was desecrated and a minor relic was stolen. It must be retrieved


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Real places in RPG post series

1 comment:

  1. Hasan! Jamil! Masha'allah! (Good! Lovely! Wow! Arabic, not Persian, so sue me, I'm an arabist late to the Persian Party.)
    https://iranicaonline.org/articles/caravansary is a great scholarly resource, and an academic encyclopaedia for all your Iranic needs, stone age to 20th century.