Heads or Tails
Altdorf is the Imperial capital, the seat of Karl-Franz; home to the Great Cathedral of Sigmar, the Colleges of Magic and the School of Engineers. The city is a centre for trade and learning; its docks teem with merchants, its taverns with students. From the strange creatures housed in the Imperial zoo, to the majestically solid, dwarf-built walls, Altdorf is a city of great beauty and variety.
The city’s official ruler is Karl-Franz; Emperor, Elector Count of Reikland and Prince of Altdorf. Naturally, the Emperor has other duties to occupy him; as a result, Altdorf is really governed by an oligarchy of rich merchants and minor nobles. Corruption is rife; if the Emperor is aware of it, he does nothing.
The Imperial palace is a vast building, easily the largest in the city. The Emperor’s court is always filled with nobility from across the Empire, and is a hotbed of political intrigue, social manoeuvring, and hedonistic frivolity. Foremost on the political side is the Council of State, a group formed from the noble families of the most ancient lineage. Though the Council has no constitutional authority, it advises the Emperor on all matters of state. The Grand Theogonist is always a member of this council, and is behind many of the more urgent suggestions – not for nothing is the head of Sigmar’s priesthood regarded as the most powerful man in The Empire.
The Elector Counts, though physically distant from the politics of Altdorf, employ their own council of representatives. The Prime Estates, as this council is known, act as a check on the Emperor’s powers – they study the Imperial edicts, tax levies and so on, reporting their findings back to the Electors. Should an Imperial proclamation be regarded as undesirable, impractical, or just plain foolish, the Electors can simply refuse to enforce it. Even the strongest Emperor is helpless in the face of unified defiance from the Elector Counts.
Altdorf has been the home of magical study since the time of Magnus the Pious. There are eight colleges of magic, one for each of the ‘colours’ of the winds of magic: Amber (beasts), Amethyst (death), Bright (fire), Celestial (heavens), Gold (metal), Grey (shadow), Jade (life), and Light (light). The three most spectacular college buildings – the flame-topped towers of the Bright college, the lofty spires of the Celestial college and the mystic pyramid of the Light college – are magically concealed so that few residents of Altdorf are even aware of their presence. The Jade college, a thing formed from living trees, is hidden behind high stone walls. The Grey college is a run-down building located in the city’s poorest slums, and allegedly connects to many secret tunnels. The college of the Amethyst order overlooks the infamous haunted cemetery of Old Altdorf, the resting place of the plague victims, and few dare go near it. The Alchemists of the Gold college maintain a vast, smoke-billowing forge complex, and pollute the river Reik with their arcane chemicals. Only the Amber order has no college within the city, preferring instead the caves of the Amber Hills, away from the civilisation that is the antipathy of their magic.
The School of Engineers has been responsible for some of The Empire’s most amazing technical breakthroughs, especially in the field of warfare. The School’s founder was the legendary genius Leonardo de Miraglio, whose Steam Tanks are still repaired, maintained and refitted here (though it has so far proven impossible to create new tanks from scratch). The weapons produced by the engineers range from the deadly (the infamous Helblaster Volley Gun) to the useless (von Tropp’s Spring-assisted Chain Lasso), though most lie somewhere in between. Many of the engineers are Dwarfs, banished from their holds for showing too much innovation – a trait not popular among the traditionalist dwarfs. Altdorf has a large Dwarf population, not only engineers but merchants, workers, and indeed members of all branches of society. Dwarfs fight in their own units rather than being recruited into state regiments – they will often wear uniforms of their own design, and favour Imperial fashions over the sombre clothing of other Dwarfs.
Though far inland, the river Reik is still phenomenally deep and wide at Altdorf. Even ocean-going war vessels can dock here, and do so at the Reiksport. The ships of the Imperial fleet lack the grace of those of Bretonnia or Marienburg; they are boxy, practical constructs laden with heavy weaponry. Of particular note are the Hellhammers – wargalleys that mount a solitary, massive cannon capable of sending a Man o’War to the bottom with a single shot.
Altdorf is the centre for the worship of Sigmar, founder and patron of The Empire. Fittingly, it boasts a tremendous cathedral dedicated to the god. The cathedral is octagonal in shape (the octagon is a symbol of Sigmar, see the section on religion for more details), very richly decorated, and is said to be built upon the very spot where Sigmar was crowned as the first Emperor. A large palace nearby is the official residence of the Grand Theogonist.
There are four major Knightly Orders based in Altdorf. Foremost amongst these is the Reiksguard, founded during the reign of Wilhelm III of Reikland as the bodyguard of the Emperor. Their ranks include nobility from every corner of The Empire. The High Helms are a new order, regarded as one of Karl-Franz’s more extreme eccentricities – the order accepts only very tall men, and is said not to be overly concerned if the recruits lack even the most basic degree of intelligence. The Order of the Fiery Heart are fanatical templars of Sigmar, and form the personal guard of the Grand Theogonist. Finally, the Knights Griffon were formed by Magnus the Pious in 2305 to protect the Temple to Sigmar in Nuln, but moved to Altdorf after it became the Imperial Capital in 2429. There is some rivalry between the Fiery Heart and the Knights Griffon, as each sees the other as impinging on their duty.
The shadow of war has fallen over Altdorf many times in its long history. Gorbad Ironclaw reached the city walls in 1707, and brought about the death of the Emperor Sigismund. Centuries later, in the long and bitter wars with the undead nobility of Sylvania, Altdorf was to be besieged twice by legions of the walking dead. Vlad von Carstein, greatest of the vampire counts, came closest to taking the city in 2051. It is said that the entire population sought surrender, but Wilhelm III, Grand Theogonist, rekindled the true spirit of Sigmar within them and convinced them to fight. Wilhelm knew the secret of Vlad’s invulnerability: he dispatched the great thief Felix Mann to break into the vampire’s pavilion and steal the Carstein Ring. Deprived of his magical protection, Vlad was slain at the cost of Wilhelm’s own life and Altdorf was saved. To this day, Wilhelm III is invoked as the patron saint of those who seek protection from the unquiet dead.
Mannfred, last of the vampire counts, came to Altdorf a century later to finish what Vlad had begun. It was another Grand Theogonist, Kurt III, who was to be Mannfred’s undoing. Kurt read the great spell of unbinding from the Liber Mortis, a work of vile necromancy that had once belonged to Vlad himself, and so devastated Mannfred’s army that the vampire was forced to retreat.
As the largest and richest city in The Empire, its troops are perhaps the best equipped of all the state armies. Altdorf maintains not only its own army, but also the Emperor’s guard. In time of war, the Emperor can call upon the Elector Counts, and also the Burgomeisters of the city-states, to supply troops directly, and thus form the Imperial army.
The Moot also supplies troops to the Imperial army at Altdorf: these constitute the Imperial Halfling corps. However, Halfling regiments are generally assigned to foraging and provisioning rather than actual fighting – though they make excellent baggage train guards, willing to fight to the last to protect the food. The Halfling Hot Pot, invented by master chef Gambo Hartstock and first used against the goblin warlord Grom, is a key part of the corps. Hartstock was unable to reveal the secret of Hot Pot preparation to the Imperial Engineers, since it would have meant betraying the Chef’s code. Thus the weapon remains a uniquely Halfling one.
Altdorf’s heraldry includes the Imperial crown, the Hammer of Sigmar and the griffon. The last two are often combined as a griffon wielding a mighty hammer. The crowned skull is the device used by the Reiksguard. The key is an occasionally used motif, representing Altdorf’s place as the centre of The Empire