started GMing (well, probably 9 months ago now) and really enjoyed your
articles on Adventure and Set Design. They've really broadened my perspective
on player agency and allowed me to plan–and most importantly, play–more
efficiently and effectively.
linear encounters seems simple, especially the way you do it. I also find
planning the power and time structures fairly simple, because these are things
that humans already plan with flowcharts and timetables.
finding most clumsy is planning sandboxy space structures. With dungeons and
hexcrawls, this is pretty simple; use a map, code the rooms with numbers. But
how do you plan towns, or huge cities? Specifically, how do you label/annotate
something I'm missing? Please help!
This is surely a sticky wicket. I have been thinking very hard about this
dungeons which, as you note, have received a high degree of development, cities
have few representations at all, much less highly iterated or developed ones.
been some notable examples though. Vornheim is the most recent and serves as a
excellent guide for city as creative backdrop, along with a suite of tools that
allow you to handle situations common to cities. It's utility is only limited
by the fact that it is plainly, explicitly, always Vornhiem. On the other end
of the spectrum is nearly 700 page Ptolus campaign setting which, in true 3.5
style leaves little to the imagination.
examples include the encounter tables for City-state of the invincible overlord
and city encounters in the Judges Guild ready reference pages. Having used
these encounter tables, you're equally likely to run into a petty god or a king
as opposed to your average peasant. There's also books from judges guild on villages, each containing a page map along with certain basic
information about the city. One of the best of the old supplements is Cities by Midkemia press. And TSR made numerous entries into city supplements during
second edition, notably Lankhmar (and little else). The adventures involving
Lankhmar are of the standard 2nd edition type and can be easily ignored.
the dry tournament early Gygax style of T1 and B2, where the settlement is
described in exhaustive detail, and actual relevant information is hidden
within pages listing the value of bedspreads, curtains, and hidden treasure in
forget the literal hundreds of supplements describing inns, city sections,
specific cities, districts and more. Neigh universally, they are a
disappointing way of contributing to entropy.
purpose. What's a dungeon there for? Looting! Danger! Adventure! Cities are less simple.
surprising at all. Cities are literally a word for where citizens gather and
build things. Along with that comes the whole of human nature: drama, politics,
power struggles, oppression, opportunity, families, children, light and
darkness–The whole of the human condition. Combine that with the character
motivations in the game and how in the hell do you notate that?!
There are a
couple of different purposes that cities serve. The fact that the purpose can
change over time is what makes city notation so difficult. In my preliminary
work, I've come up with a few categories of city purpose that can help dictate
how you note them.
The first is
the concept of a base, a place where adventure does not occur. This is not well
suited for adventure campaign play. It sets up walls the players don't expect
to be there, it breaks verisimilitude and really removes a lot of options from
play. It is well suited for megadungeon play, considering the focus of that
style. The base is represented quite excellently by a menu style, allowing the
players to quickly access whatever they need to get on with the play of the
purpose cities serve is discovery. These are cities and villages stumbled upon
while traveling or hex-crawling. They usually provide a safe place to rest and
stop with some risk or unknowns involved. They are characterized by a single
major feature or two, and generally have one or two issues or quests the
players can get involved in. I've done some work on both how to create and
notate these, as well as collecting some resources that can help.
A city can be
an adventure site. These are the Gygax styled Homlettes, forts on borderlands,
and Phandelvers. They are designed to be visited multiple times, with both
resources and adventure sites contained within. They are best designed with a
traditional sandbox design, with travel between the areas handwaved. In a
larger, more complicated city it could be handled like a point crawl to avoid
having to spend all that time mapping out non-interesting areas. The travel in
a larger city is more risky, lending support to that point crawl random
purpose a city could serve is as background to another adventure style. Such as
a power structure with various other areas and people and their locations being
what's at stake. A suite of tools such as Vornhiem's is useful in a situation
And like all
campaigns, each of these can change over time. So you might start with an area
being one type of site and it might grow and change into another, necessitating
a change or expansion in the way in which you've keyed it.
other things to keep in mind. There are no cell phones, no maps, no cars, no
useful information sources on what's around the next corner. That means for
anything beyond a small village or hamlet, travel within the city can be
difficult. A city the size of Phandelver doesn't have this problem. You can
stand in the center and in a few minutes know generally what each building or place
is. But when you get much larger, travel time, dangers, and information can be
dropped into Chicago on foot in a random place with no maps, narrower streets
and no cars. There's no public police force and no easy way of contacting the
guard. How many buildings are locked? Where can you rest? How threatening are
your environs? You come off as an outsider, and unless you are in the
appropriate section of the city will likely be treated badly by the locals.
really large cities of the Baldur's Gate, Invincible Overlord, or Waterdeep
type are not places you can just hop out your door and head to your
destination. I've found that the Judge's Guild type encounter tables along with
urban skill rolls to determine travel time rather useful in this regard. I
wouldn't bother with mapping such large cities, except in the broadest and most
medium sized cities can be handled much like mini-hexcrawls with broad
background maintained, but exploration and contents determined randomly as they
explore local and distant neighborhoods. The shared discovery and mapping of
uncharted territory can be a fun exercise, as long as players have pre-existing
still a lot of work to be done in this area. I suggest checking out a few of
the works linked above for rough ideas about how to generate and key cities as adventure sites. (I am not affiliated with any of the products, nor receive any revenue from their purchase).
Figure out what the purpose of your city is and then
figure out what information you need to minimally generate in order to make the
situation fun for your players. The design of how exactly to do that is still in flux and has a great deal of room to grow.