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. Early
examples include the encounter tables for City-state of the invincible overlord and city encounters in the Judges Guild ready reference pages. (Neither is available for purchase, Rob Conley explains why here.) Having used
these encounter tables, you're equally likely to run into a petty god or a king
as opposed to your average peasant. 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. There's were 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
niches. Let's not
forget the literal hundreds of supplements describing inns, city sections,
specific cities, districts and more.
purpose. What's a dungeon there for? Looting! Danger! Adventure! Cities are less simple.
Cities are literally a word for where citizens gather and
build things. Along 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 different purposes that cities serve. The purpose of a city changing over time is what makes city notation so difficult.
The first is 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 removes a lot of options from
play. It is well suited for megadungeon play. The base is represented 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 provide a safe place to rest with some risk or unknowns involved. Generally characterized by a single
major feature or two, and have one or two issues or quests the
players can get involved in.
A city can be
an adventure site. These are the Gygax styled Homlettes, forts on borderlands,
and Phandelvers. They are visited multiple times, with resources and adventure sites contained within. They work best in traditional sandboxes. In a
larger, more complicated city, point crawls are useful to avoid
spending all that time mapping out non-interesting areas. The travel in
a larger city is more risky, lending support to that point crawl random
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 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). I recently completed a work covering many of these topics, which you can get here: On Downtime and Demesnes.
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.
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