Blood of Rome
Insulae are apartment blocks, where most of the population of Rome live. They are typically four or five stories high, and house a few dozen families. The ground floor is given over to shops, while the higher levels are for living.
The lower floors are the most desirable, because in the event of fire you have a better chance of getting out alive. In addition, the stairs to the upper levels are narrow and steep, meaning that even daily living is inconvenient. The insulae are owned by wealthy individuals, who rent them out to, primarily, the poor. The construction is simple, and often inadequate, as the owners are more interested in making a quick profit than in providing high-quality housing. There are occasional exceptions, but they are rare, particularly now that the effective capital of the Empire has left Rome.
The ground-floor shops define much of the character of an insula, because they are the part most obvious to passersby. Indeed, most insulae are referred to by the sign of one of the shops, or, in some cases, by the sign of a shop that has long since disappeared. Shops that use open flames, such as bakeries, are the worst neighbors, as they can easily give rise to fires. Trades that smell, such as laundries or anything to do with leather, are also unpopular, and thus make the apartments cheaper. Noise is a constant, as the shopkeepers call out to advertise their wares all day.
Most shops close soon after sunset, as it becomes too dark to work without artificial light, which costs more than the likely profit; staying open is literally not worth the candle. Entertainment establishments are the main exception; many close at dawn, when they kick the patrons out.
Insulae typically do not have a back; the name comes from the fact that they are like islands surrounded by streets. Thus, there are shops all the way round, and the stairs to the apartments go up from the street, between two shops. Upmarket insulae have a porter who watches the stairs and discourages suspicious characters who are smaller than he is, but far more have a porter’s lodge that is used as an impromptu toilet by passersby.
Apartments open off the stairs, and generally have nothing but a flimsy wooden door; breaking such a door down is easy (Strength + Athletics extended action, five successes needed) but noisy, guaranteeing attention from everyone in the building. If the person breaking the door down looks dangerous (large, armed and intimidating), then most people will decide it is not their business. Small, slight-looking female vampires are likely to be confronted no matter how dangerous they really are.
A typical apartment has two rooms, one for living and a much smaller one for sleeping. Toilets are communal, and on the ground floor, and the residents bathe at a local bathhouse. Windows are closed with simple wooden shutters, and furniture is likewise crudely made. Pottery utensils are common, and if there is artificial light, it comes from burning wicks floating in dishes of oil. If these are knocked over, during a fight, for example, a fire is a near-certainty.
Equipment Bonuses: Improvised weapons are easily available throughout insulae. Most are equivalent to a sap, club or knife, but break after one or two blows. The sheer number of people, and thin walls, imposes a –1 die penalty on Stealth attempts.