Ideal Starting Town Size?

I’m considering the option of starting my game in Harat*, City of the Free, a Class-III Market of 4,000 families and an independent city-state known for its abolition of slavery (which is widely practiced in the rest of Kanahu). Twenty years ago, gladiators headed by Hardun, a Lizardman Gladiator, led a massive slave revolt against Harat’s corrupt sorcerer-king and Chaos-worshipping nobility, overthrowing the old regime and abolishing slavery. The current regime is ad-hoc and quite anarchic (if Lawful), with King Hardun being the titular ruler, and personal fighting ability and cunning being much more respected than which family you were born to (think of a (Lizardman) Spartacus taking over Rome!). Gladiatorial games are common but are entered by free men (and lizards), and are mostly non-lethal but sometimes lethal as well; trial by gladiatorial combat and duelling in public (with the public placing bets on the duellists!) are common ways of resolving disputes.

Outside the city you have a semi-feudal system where Hardun’s trusted lieutenants rule the various sub-domains (and have the right to tax them and to conscript locals into the militia) but do not own the land outright; the old Latifundia of the old noble class were split into smaller, independent farms and distributed to their freed slaves, who are now freemen farmers.

This city has much flavour to it, as well as numerous adventuring opportunities, but I wonder if it is not large enough for a starting location. Would a 4,000-family, Class-III-Market settlement be ideal for a campaign’s start (probably starting at level 3), or would a more provincial settlement suit a game’s start better?

A Class III or Class IV city is the ideal size to be the centerpiece of your campaign. Khaibar, in Opelenean Nights, is Class IV, while Jubai is Class III.

If your players are new to old-school RPGs, an even smaller starting area, like the Keep on the Borderlands or Village of Homlet, can be useful, but if they are experienced enough to not be overwhelmed by the additional choices that a city offers, it’s great.

We used Deal and Opportunity, both class IVs, as PC bases of operation for most of a year (from levels 3 to 7-8) without any trouble resulting. Class IIIs are nice, since you can buy three times as much military oil, which was always something of a limiting factor for us.

Thanks for the comments!

One of my prospective players is relatively new to RPGs (has one year of experience with D&D 3.5E) and the other has experience with B/X, 2E, 3E and 4E. But we are now playing in a semi-sandbox campaign in 3.5E so they are somewhat used to a more open world than the typical 3E game.

So I’m leaning towards using Harat as the starting point; from there, they could mount expeditions to places such as Barrowmaze and Stonehell, among others; or get involved in city adventures.

Another option is starting in a country town near Barrowmaze.

Aha, that underscores just how borderlandish my current setting sketch is, where there’s one class IV market and nothing larger without a long sailing journey or highly-dangerous caravan.