City Supplements: The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly

Nobby-W

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Nobby-W Nobby-W Isn't that what I was saying basically while being critical of those books that have pages and page and pages of background information that feels like word count filler? Maybe I just wasn't clear enough? <shrugs> I need to get off my lazy ass and onto the desktop computer versus the finger typing tablet I guess. lol.

I wasn't disagreeing. Just observing a similar point of view in that mid-level canon isn't terribly useful and can be counterproductive if overdone.
 

AsenRG

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I hadn't considered The Witcher. But that would be cool to see.
Novigrad would not only be useful for the RPG but there's certain aspects of the Witcher world that I'd like to see a bit more of an explanation on, like more about the Church of the Eternal Fire. It's something I ran into in a recent game.
Well, now if only someone from the company would start reading the RPG Pub:grin:!
 

Ronnie Sanford

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The key questions are “What is of use to the GM?” and “What will the players care about?” Any element that meets either of the first two questions is useful. Anything that meets neither is just empty padding. Me, I don’t want to pay $ for empty padding.

NOT USEFUL

* Pages and pages of the city’s history, unless it’s of the very recent (<5 years) past. A page about the city’s foundation, eight hundred years ago, is useless. There’s no part of gameplay it informs, and no part of the city’s contemporary zeitgeist it affects. The most you’re going to get out of it is:

PC: “Nice statue. Who’s it of?”
Local tomato seller: “Oh, that’s Queen Wendelin. She led us when the Yrahh besieged the city for two years, half a thousand years ago.”
PC: “Huh. Okay.”

Elapsed time of conversation, 12 seconds. Boy howdy, aren't we all glad for the work that went into THOSE pages.

* Detailed stats, skills, items, spells, arms and armor for mook shopkeepers. If my players are a bunch of thugs who beat down innocent tomato sellers, then I know my system’s stats for a mook: 10s across the board for attributes, guy’s not wearing armor, he’s got Speed of 5.5 and Move of 5, and does 1d6 crushing damage with that cudgel (using Shortsword-10 for skill, presuming he's actually practiced with it, failing which he's got skill of -5) he’s hastily grabbed from behind the counter. I took far less time remembering all of that than it did for me to type it out. What’s the guy got for cash on hand? Hrm. Well. A street vendor is a low-paying job in my world, so the guy brings in about six-seven silver a day. So, okay, I roll a d10. (You never know, if I roll a 10, the poor bastard might have his week’s savings in his pocket, and was planning on a nice dinner tonight before going home to the farm.) How long do you figure it took me to figure that out? So ... do I really need to do those details up for every one of the twenty shopkeepers in this neighborhood, and the twenty-two in the next neighborhood over, and the ...

USEFUL

* I’ll take a few paragraphs on the city’s standard architecture and cuisine, the area’s flora, the musical instruments the street musicians play. These are all local color bits I can describe to help make a place interesting and real, and for which I can even trot out clipart or music clips from YouTube.

How about the city my wife’s wizard visited yesterday, first time any PC ever was there. I wrote some elements up from scratch for it, and included that much of the city’s made from greyish-white brick, that they’ve got an unusual number of leatherworkers (a shtick of her character is that she likes collecting interesting cups for her children, so she duly bought a set of locally made tooled boiled leather tankards), that a standard street food is skewers of the local fish, fried up with onions and green peppers and served in flatbread.

* I’ll also happily take a few local customs and a few offbeat tidbits about the city. Check out these two blogposts of mine to give an idea of what I mean: History Nuggets of the City - ...... Spicier Cities. Locals looking with shock and dismay at PCs wearing the color blue, and that those who do are presumed to belong to a particular militant faction, I can work with things like that.

* Things I can describe: listing the colors and badges of the various noble and mercantile houses? If these are commonly displayed, great, I can work with that.
Ravenswing hit the nail in the head! I especially like when a waiter writes culture and customs into the setting (wearing a red or blue sash).
 

Winterblight

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Last but not least, I see a lot of mega city stuff, which is cool as it saves a lot of work but those are hard to fit in to anything existing. Now a setting book with like a dozen smaller "cities" or more villages (from 500-5000) would be good, to help one fill in the gaps...and can use as a campaign base.
This almost smells like a challenge! If it's something generic you're looking for, feel free to drop by my WinterBlight's Challenge Thread and give me a bit more meat of what you're looking for and it might just happen. :smile:
 

SJB

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Maybe my favorite old-school setting. God, we played the hell out of Pavis/Big Rubble, over many years. If you are looking for a recent product with a similar kind of feel, check out Ardonirane for TFT, which is near the ruined megopolis of Quercim, which has a kind of Rubble vibe. The city is very well described, but everyone's Quercim will be different, as it is just a sketch of an idea (though mine is already quite well fleshed out)
I’m still scarred by the memory of Cidri! Even to a RPG-obsessed teenager it seemed a bit rubbish. I’m glad to learn that some imagination has been applied to a decent rule system.
 

SJB

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A couple of days ago Swords of the Serpentine, which I had long believed vapourware popped into my inbox. The setting, Eversink, is Lankhmar meets Venice. It is a very “coherent” setting - to use some old, possibly triggering - terminology. I’m not sure if it is a triumph of design or renfaire. Anybody have any thoughts?

It did remind me of a citybook I love - Heroes set in Triente (Venice again). One needs to be real BOSR to remember that. It was incoherent, amateur, but got its information and atmosphere over very efficiently, in a way that so many bloated modern designs fail to do.
 

robertsconley

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What you get in a Harn City (Old Style)
For me Cities of Harn along with castle towns and manor represent the best bang for the buck in terms of price and utility. While each Harn city has it own vibe they are very much grounded in a medieval fantasy atmosphere. It not hard to make them more weird or zany.

The one I will be focusing on is Tashal, the capital of the Kingdom of Kaldor. In this post this is the original version found in Cities of Harn.
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The original is found in Cities of Harn as a six page article including the above color map with a b/w map on the back suitable for photocopying and handing out to the players to make notes on
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OVERVIEW (1 Page)
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It give some basic stats like it is Royal Seat and has around 11,408 people plus a one paragraph overview. This overview explains that Tashal has an extensive labyrinth of underground tunnels underneath. This is followed by a one paragraph historical overview with a short timeline. Tashal was founded as Kelapyn-Anuz, an outpost of Lothrim the Foulspawner a "dark lord" who ruled a region of Harn early in it's history. A lot is left vague for the referee to fill in with their own details.

Next we get into a long paragraph about how Tashal is governed focusing on the council of Aldermen and the courts. Next is a paragraph about the economics of Tashal focusing largely on the annual summer fair. This fair is responsible for Tashal to be considered THE place to trade in eastern Harn. The setup is adaptable for other setting. Just need to be place where three or four major routes converge.

Next is a list of "guilds" or more properly catagories of businesses. Along with the index number of the business involved.

Finally a stat block of what taxes are levied at Tashal. Important if the players buy property or want to trade there.

Next is a paragraph on religion along with an index of the different Temples. The town is dominated by the church of Larani (goddess of honor and justice) and Peoni (goddess of healing). The three evil churches of Harn are banned.

Map Key (1 Page)
This is a b/w map with all the relevant buildings numbered.
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INDEX (3 Pages)
This index has 80 entries. All have the size of the business, quality of their work, and how high their prices are.

Some are very basic
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Some are more fleshed out
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SPECIAL (1 page)
Most of the original have one or two special details. For Tashal it is the map of the underground labyrinth.
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For other cities can be a fleshed out building with floor plans. The below is a partial snapshot of a page fleshing out the Guildhall of the Lia-Kavair (thieves guild) of Harn's largest city Coranan.
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WRAPPING IT UP
For me the original Cities of Harn represented a solid foundation on which to incorporate one of their cities into my Majestic Wilderlands. What there is consistent and make sense. However like the original Traveller products like Supplement 3, Spinward Marches, it is perhaps a bit too terse. In my next post, I will go over the latest version of Tashal highlighting how the Harn format evolved. And why I think the current iteration pretty much hits the sweet spot of utility and detail.
 

Ravenswing

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Where I disagree on Harn cities -- and ironically enough, the Tashal map and elements of the writeup is what I used for a city out of which I ran a party for a couple years recently -- is in the shop listings. Few have as much as that pretty lean paragraph for the usurer, which is exclusively about how pawnbroking works and says nothing about the proprietor. Most listings are as for that chandler: a name, a map key, a quality and a price tag. All that's better than nothing, but I kinda resented paying good money for it back in the day.

Now where one can go to get that expansion is in the downloadable fanon material on lythia.com, all of which is free ...
 

Moonglum

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I’m still scarred by the memory of Cidri! Even to a RPG-obsessed teenager it seemed a bit rubbish. I’m glad to learn that some imagination has been applied to a decent rule system.
Cidri is great for gaming even if it lacks any of the trappings of a fleshed out game world (most of which end up being fan-fiction-level narration that you read once and set aside). Think of it as sort of like the implicit setting of 70's era D&D: it doesn't get fully explained anywhere, but as you start using the material you are provided (monsters, weird items, etc.) every group kind of gravitates toward their own understanding of it.
 

SJB

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Cidri is great for gaming even if it lacks any of the trappings of a fleshed out game world (most of which end up being fan-fiction-level narration that you read once and set aside). Think of it as sort of like the implicit setting of 70's era D&D: it doesn't get fully explained anywhere, but as you start using the material you are provided (monsters, weird items, etc.) every group kind of gravitates toward their own understanding of it.
Glad to hear that it works so well. Entirely accept the premiss that most RPG supplements are clogged with drivel. I have read complaints that there are too many adventures in Strixhaven and not enough lorē.
 

Ravenswing

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Glad to hear that it works so well. Entirely accept the premiss that most RPG supplements are clogged with drivel. I have read complaints that there are too many adventures in Strixhaven and not enough lorē.

The real problem is that too many people think that this is a one-size-fits-all hobby.

Ironically, I just now was reading over some old forum threads in which I was involved, and the thread I just read was seven years back, about the amount of cultural information and background lore a campaign ought to have. I'd responded to one idjit who was scathing about pages being "wasted" on any such drivel, who stated "So Almor has 1,500 medium infantry and exports mainly cloth? Neat. Now what the fuck does that have to with adventurers traipsing around the wilderness and plundering ancient labyrinths?"

Well, nothing; carry on. One would expect that the fellow's complaint would be that Strixhaven had too much lore and not enough adventurers. In the end, there are likely more gamers for whom cities and lands are save points between the dungeons, and any cultural elements not found in 1950s Hollywood movies about a pseudo-Merrie Olde is wastepaper.
 

Black Leaf

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For people looking for city random tables, one of my favourites for fantasy has to be the Cities book from Midkemia Press. A system neutral source book that has city random encounters, random business generation, a random mission generator and even a selection of tables to help decide what happens to a character between adventures.
 

AsenRG

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For people looking for city random tables, one of my favourites for fantasy has to be the Cities book from Midkemia Press. A system neutral source book that has city random encounters, random business generation, a random mission generator and even a selection of tables to help decide what happens to a character between adventures.
Interesting:shade:.

Oh, who am I kidding? Rules-agnostic setting supplements? Sold:grin:!
 

Moonglum

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The Cities books are pretty choice, at least for this topic. I'd recommend the 3rd edition Runequest version published by Avalon Hill in the 80's; it has all the content, is inexpensive and easy to find.

That said, I've gravitated from table-based random thing/being/event generation to versions of the same idea based on card decks or specialized dice. This is something that can definitely be done badly, but when it's done well it is just much more fun, and much easier to prepare for and run a game. Instead of leafing through books and making notes and so forth, I just pull whatever cards or dice I need for the upcoming session. I guess I got into this lifestyle from the heavily card-centric universe of Legacy Edition TFT (which also has a few cool dice, like the Zodiac and Weather dice, as well as the dice-based drop tables for dungeons). This approach hasn't yet been presented for cities, but I'm sure that's just a matter of time.
 

TJS

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The real problem is that too many people think that this is a one-size-fits-all hobby.
I read a review of a city supplement a while back that complained about the keyed map.

The objection was that the key limited it's usefulness as the players might come back in ten years and then half the businesses would have changed hands.
 
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Voros

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Pretty sure I posted some of these in the other threads linked earlier but I'm a big fan of city supplements.

Random generation is very useful but most of my favourite city supplements are more designed on a detailed, pointcrawl structure with great NPCs, conspiracies and factions for your PCs to muck about in. It is still very improvisational in nature and they do have random tables but the heart of the design is vivid NPCs in vivid locations.

Here are my top three 'old school' (2e actually).

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More new school, mixing random generation and location-based.

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The best use of random generation in a village/town I've seen by far:

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TJS

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I do remember Fever Dreaming Marlinko as being particularly good.

I remember it had the best example of a carousing table that I've seen, in that the results were plugged right into the locations in the city, so you might get drunk and then wake up in one of the tombs or crypts of one of the gods of the city.
 

robertsconley

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What you get in a Harn City (New Style)

Cities of Harn was released in 1983, nearly forty years ago. Since then the format of Harn products have evolved. Today's version are more fleshed and focus more on the inhabitants of various locales but still keeping a terse summary of the details of medieval life in Harn.

The latest version of the City of Tashal is now 70 pages and full color. It incorporate more art like this piece by Richard Luscheck.

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The format now uses sidebars for ancillary details. This can be seen on the first page where the main text after the intro talks about the history of Tashal. The side bar shows the coat of arms for the city, followed by a stat block of (population, market size, etc.) and a short timeline.

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Like most of the new city article the opening text goes into History, Politics, Government, Economics, and Religion. Each section is now longer than the single paragraph of the original however they still keep it to a handful of paragraph. Plus will devote more text to something special about the locale or when it involves fleshing out NPCs. Also there will be a sidebar with the various tax rates which are given for the same reason as the original. And a master index and organizing it Government, Guild, and Temple.

This section often has new details consistent with the older product. For example Tashal was also the site of Meyvinel a city founded when a Elvish/Dwarvish Condominium ruled the island of Harn. That oldest sections of the underground labyrinth dates from that time. That the fact the quality of dwarven construction which is why the system is intact to the present and why it was expanded on later.

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For Tashal the city's aldermen have been fleshed out, along with more details on the Great Summer Fair which is the centerpiece of Tashal's economic life. The summer fair in particular has been fleshed out to three pages offering all kinds of potential adventure seeds.

Alderman description.
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The Summer Fair sections talks about what happens before the fair. How the fair is organized. Selling at the Fair. Visiting the Fair. And what events can occur at the fair.

The Index
Another major difference from the original release is that the index is now organized into district. This makes it easier to keep track of interpersonal relationships as most are between characters in a district. In addition each district is now given a letter code and the index number start from 1 from within the district. So any Weavertown business starts with the letter I followed by a number like I4 a salter.
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The entries are all fleshed out. They are of three types.
The shortest are a single paragraph invariably about the main proprietor or inhabitant of the building.
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Other are longer.
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Finally a few are more fully fleshed out and often include building plans.

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Before each set of entries a small map and description of the district is given along with the key.

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Finally after the districts any special locales are fleshed. In the case of Tashal it is two pages and a map on the underground labyrinth underneath Tashal.

Wrapping it up
70 pages can be a lot but each section is written tersely and within an eye out for adventure. But keep in mind most of the adventure possibilities involve complications in the lives of various character. Not necessarily exploration, monster slaying, or defeating the bad guy's plot. For example I showed an entry for a jeweler (F14), Jarleth of Asane. One hook could be that he hires a group of adventure to a ruin he heard of to uncover proof of family's heritage. It doesn't sound earth shattering or even signifgant. But given that jewelcrafting is a high status profession, a successful adventure may mean that the party can leverage their connection to bigger and better things. Newer articles are packed with tidbits like that serve as seeds for adventures.

Finally newer articles have figured out how to expand the level of details in cities without having to revise the original article. A single local will get a short 4 to 6 page article of it own that can be appended at the end of the main article. It allows further optional details to be included.
 

ffilz

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To many posts read on my phone (where responding in depth is too painful) for me to address in detail...

I love city supplements. And I hardly ever use them... The truth is the type of campaign I tend to run gains little from having a map of the city or details of its inhabitants. I could probably actually live in most campaigns with a page or two of description of each city. Don't even bother with any personalities, it's unlikely I will turn any adventure hook into a real adventure.

That said, my Wilderlands play by post, the PCs did chase after two different rumors from the CSIO. OK, so maybe a rumor table would be handy. But rumor table per establishment? Not sure that's helpful. On the other hand, adventuring in the CSIO turned out miserable. They had several nasty encounters and several boring encounters and no treasure...

Now to the contrary, my RQ Thieves Guild campaign is running in Haven and I have used one scenario from Thieves Guild. Another adventure was cooked up from the descriptions of the ships in port. Now the PCs are about to rip off the patrons of a spa from the Flying Buffalo City Books series. For a thieving campaign, that series may actually turn out pretty useful. Or it may not...

In my Glorantha campaign, I dug out Pavis. We referenced the map a few times... We did several adventures in the Rubble, but not anything from the modules (generally too high power for my PCs). So yea, two of the top rated RQ supplements, actually almost useless to me... (especially since Gloranthan Classics Volume III: Cult Compendium has all the cults...).

I'm still in search of a city supplement that would really provide good gameable content for my campaigns... And I'm wondering how long I'll sustain the Thieves Guild campaign, at least as urban thievery.
 

Lofgeornost

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The key questions are “What is of use to the GM?” and “What will the players care about?” Any element that meets either of the first two questions is useful. Anything that meets neither is just empty padding. Me, I don’t want to pay $ for empty padding.

NOT USEFUL

* Pages and pages of the city’s history, unless it’s of the very recent (<5 years) past. A page about the city’s foundation, eight hundred years ago, is useless. There’s no part of gameplay it informs, and no part of the city’s contemporary zeitgeist it affects. The most you’re going to get out of it is:

PC: “Nice statue. Who’s it of?”
Local tomato seller: “Oh, that’s Queen Wendelin. She led us when the Yrahh besieged the city for two years, half a thousand years ago.”
PC: “Huh. Okay.”

Elapsed time of conversation, 12 seconds. Boy howdy, aren't we all glad for the work that went into THOSE pages.
I think this is right, most of the time, and for most cities.

But then there are those cities that are dominated by their pasts. I've been thinking about this because of raniE raniE 's thread on LotfP in Renaissance Rome. That was a town where the physical reminders of antiquity could easily overshadow the newer, living city, and where people were fascinated by their home's long past (and actively excavating it).

For that campaign (or a similar one) I think I would want the city book to say something about Rome's founding, since any well-educated Roman of the 15th or 16th century would have known the stories. And it could come into gameplay. According to Livy, Romulus did not precisely die--he disappeared in a whirlwind. Livy thought the senators had likely murdered him, but what if he was actually preserved from death--an immortal, in some sense. He would make an interesting n.p.c. Or perhaps Livy was wrong, and the p.c.s could come across his lost tomb...
 

Ravenswing

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What you get in a Harn City (New Style)

Cities of Harn was released in 1983, nearly forty years ago. Since then the format of Harn products have evolved. Today's version are more fleshed and focus more on the inhabitants of various locales but still keeping a terse summary of the details of medieval life in Harn.

The latest version of the City of Tashal is now 70 pages and full color ...

Now that looks worth getting. The good parts they already had + actual detailed descriptions.

But then there are those cities that are dominated by their pasts. I've been thinking about this because of raniE raniE 's thread on LotfP in Renaissance Rome. That was a town where the physical reminders of antiquity could easily overshadow the newer, living city, and where people were fascinated by their home's long past (and actively excavating it).

Agreed.

But how many players give a damn? Down the years, I'd be comfortable with saying that some players -- by no means even a plurality -- dig in to the zeitgeist of a city. The ones who pay attention to a paragraph like:

"Rome is an ancient city, and it shows in its traditions, its institutions, the relics of its architecture. The aura of the imperium still clings to it, and its residents still carry themselves as if they sit in the seat of power of the whole world. Its founding myth cherishes the wolf, which is symbolized in emblems, statuary, even a she-wolf kept in a cage on one of its seven hills. Architecture a thousand and a half years old fills Rome: some still standing, some repurposed ... and many a building has cannibalized the remaining ruins for building supplies, with an ancient mosaic here, a carved capital there, a marble wall."

That, some players will pay attention to. Digging into the details of Maxentius' reign, they won't.
 

TJS

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Ultimately learning lore is more engaging when knowing that lore allows certain affordances.

Or in other words knowing the lore has to pay off by allowing you to actually do something with that knowledge.

Like if a magic sword has a whole lot of powers that can only be unlocked by knowing the secrets of the past, then it encourages the PCs go digging around in the past.

Time travel works well too. Whether it be by actual time travel, visiting a location that activates past lives, or by a magically induced dream, actually flicking the game into the same location in a different era, is good way to drive engage with aspects of a setting's history.
 

Lofgeornost

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But how many players give a damn? Down the years, I'd be comfortable with saying that some players -- by no means even a plurality -- dig in to the zeitgeist of a city. The ones who pay attention to a paragraph like:

"Rome is an ancient city, and it shows in its traditions, its institutions, the relics of its architecture. The aura of the imperium still clings to it, and its residents still carry themselves as if they sit in the seat of power of the whole world. Its founding myth cherishes the wolf, which is symbolized in emblems, statuary, even a she-wolf kept in a cage on one of its seven hills. Architecture a thousand and a half years old fills Rome: some still standing, some repurposed ... and many a building has cannibalized the remaining ruins for building supplies, with an ancient mosaic here, a carved capital there, a marble wall."

That, some players will pay attention to. Digging into the details of Maxentius' reign, they won't.
That's true. But most city books are (I think) aimed at the referee, not the players. So the information about, say, Roman history would be to help refs bring the city to life for their players. It should still be information that has some relevance to the game, of course.

At the risk of quoting myself, the sort of thing I have in mind is dealt with in this post of the Lamentations of the Pope thread. The key bits are in the spoilered text; they're an attempt to combine ancient Roman history and culture with adventuring in Rome c. 1559 (and werewolves).
 

TJS

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One thing I think a lot of setting books (including city books) need to do is think about where they put their history information.

For some reason it's often at the start of the book, which creates the expectation that it's necessary material you need to read through and digest before starting. (And god knows I've had GMs who seem to think they need to start games with a history info dump).

For most purposes I would think it would be better to stick the history in an appendix, and because this is technical writing, probably use a timeline format or something like that. That way I can quickly flick to the back of the book and check if the history is referenced elsewhere in the text. (Rather than the book assuming the reader has remembered it's made up boring* history).

*I think this is generally an issue with made up history. In order to be engaged by these histories we need to be already engaged in the setting. Someone like George R R Martin can get away with writing a fake history of a dynasty of kings of his made up world, because people are already invested in it.
 

zanshin

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Another +1 for Pavis & Big Rubble - brilliantly weaving Gloranthan themes with classic adventure styles - bounty hunting (Griselda), dungeoneering (Puzzle canal, Balastors Barracks), tribal factionalism (Zebra clan, Trolls, dwarves, lunars, sartarite exiles), vermin clearance (Broo gangs), archeology and more.

I will also vote for Parlainth, which has similarities to Pavis/Big Rubble and fits beautifully with Earthdawns overarching concept of the different consequences of trying to evade the Horrors (and failing). Also love of it for the really rare concept of zombies who are people.
 

Fenris-77

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OK, a quick and dirty guide to Dresden Files city building. This process starts before character creation and finishes after it, the idea being to connect player wants to the city and then the PCs directly back to the city. Keep in mind this is aimed at Urban Fantasy. Anyway...

  1. Choose a City - there's a couple of pages of advice here, from choose the city you live in, to one everyone is familiar with. Lots of approaches get coverage and the suggestions for each are solid. Travel Guides and local legends are the core suggestions for where to start a little research.
  2. Coming to a Consensus - here there are a variety of suggestions for compiling a list of the kinds of things everyone might want to engage with in the city. This could be a theme, public figures, prominent buildings or geographical features, whatever. The goal is to get a list and discuss what they might look like.
  3. Themes and Threats - themes are long standing problems (the Mob in Chicago) while threats are more current and immediate (people, monsters and groups) . All of these should be, by design, a little dark - they provide this for the PCs to struggle against. The goal is to decide on a total of three to start the campaign.
  4. The High-Level View - monsters, factions and organizations. Here the discussion revolves around who's here and why, and where they are looing to keep the status quo or shake it up (motivations). The idea is to combine you themes and threats with some of the ideas generated in step 2. This is also the step where (for the DF) you decide who's in the know or in the dark in terms of the supernatural. This could easily be translated to knowledge of whatever.
  5. Locations and Faces - everyone gets to make up some specific locations to help populate the city. Each gets it's own theme or threat and a face (with a general concept) that exemplifies it. The notion is to add the locations that are cool, or that might reoccur, or whatever and then use some discussion and consensus to flesh things out. The sheet provided for this has spots for 9 locations, but you can do as many or few as you collectively think the city needs. There is a similar sheet for Faces, who are important NPCs. Same idea here, the group all get to add their ideas - a Face get theme, motivation, high concept, and relationships. This is all designed to be recursive and consensus based, with thought given to connecting these disparate parts as the process continues.
  6. Characters - at some point during this process every makes up characters, with the idea that you have some things to connect those characters too. Once you have characters built you go back in and tweak the City to firm up connections and whatnot.
The overall 'take' on city building here is pretty cinematic. It's not about travel time or exact addresses, but more about designing people, places and ideas to connect PCs to and have them bounce off of. The City at that point feels lot like a character itself, and one that the group builds together. The GM is still in control of the exact details, with the recorded ideas serving as 'rumor level' truth in many instances, and its still the GM that takes care of the behind the scenes connections and stuff like that.
 

Lofgeornost

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One thing I think a lot of setting books (including city books) need to do is think about where they put their history information.

For some reason it's often at the start of the book, which creates the expectation that it's necessary material you need to read through and digest before starting. (And god knows I've had GMs who seem to think they need to start games with a history info dump).

For most purposes I would think it would be better to stick the history in an appendix, and because this is technical writing, probably use a timeline format or something like that. That way I can quickly flick to the back of the book and check if the history is referenced elsewhere in the text. (Rather than the book assuming the reader has remembered it's made up boring* history).

*I think this is generally an issue with made up history. In order to be engaged by these histories we need to be already engaged in the setting. Someone like George R R Martin can get away with writing a fake history of a dynasty of kings of his made up world, because people are already invested in it.
I think the timeline idea is very good. In addition, historical details could be inserted into the text where they are important for scenarios/encounters/npcs, maybe in text boxes, marginal glosses, or whatever.

I agree that, for whatever reason, made-up history is often less interesting than the real thing. This may be because it lacks the spiky irregularities, odd twists, and unexpected outcomes that actually happen. Or it may be that, because the history is 'real,' it has more resonance with readers/players. Given that, my statements about Renaissance Rome above may not be that applicable to a purely imaginary fantasy city.
 

zanshin

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I think the timeline idea is very good. In addition, historical details could be inserted into the text where they are important for scenarios/encounters/npcs, maybe in text boxes, marginal glosses, or whatever.

I agree that, for whatever reason, made-up history is often less interesting than the real thing. This may be because it lacks the spiky irregularities, odd twists, and unexpected outcomes that actually happen. Or it may be that, because the history is 'real,' it has more resonance with readers/players. Given that, my statements about Renaissance Rome above may not be that applicable to a purely imaginary fantasy city.
I think that you have to grasp personalities for history to become 'real'. So Ankh Morpork is a brilliant fantasy city, both because Pratchett is a master of description and incident and because the Patrician and Samuel Vimes and the Archchancellor are great characters.

Why do we remember Henry 8th most of Englands monarchs? Because he was monstrous in his appetites and his Kingdom changed in ways that reflected it.
 

Winterblight

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I will also vote for Parlainth, which has similarities to Pavis/Big Rubble and fits beautifully with Earthdawns overarching concept of the different consequences of trying to evade the Horrors (and failing). Also love of it for the really rare concept of zombies who are people.
Parlainth definitely gets the vote for my favourite city book.
 

Jan Paparazzi

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Derailing here, but do people think city-based games are different than regular games?
 

Voros

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Derailing here, but do people think city-based games are different than regular games?

Depends on how one defines 'regular games.' In fantasy settings, I think they are different, but in a cyberpunk, noir or crime game they'd be the default setting.
 

Black Leaf

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Are they different than a dungeon crawl? I mean, yeah, sure. But naval settings are different from dystopian apocalypses are different from kung fu movies so I'm not sure if you mean that or something different?
 

TJS

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This is a crucial observation for all RPG writing. The RPG rules are tools for the players to create with. The writer's creativity should be secondary to the player's creativity. City maps amplify this issue. They are maps first and fantastical prose second.
Yeah. Although there's a place for writing that aims to inspire you or convey the atmosphere of a place to the GM - just so long as it is not mixed in with things that the GM would have to look up in play to actually use.

Eg. I think a good 4 or 5 pages of description of life over a day in a city could really help the GM get the feel for a place and run it better* - but it better not be the only place where you tell me the name of the ruler of the city or what the characters can buy in the market.

*In fact, I think this is what should be at the beginning of the city book instead of a history lesson.
 

Fenris-77

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This is a crucial observation for all RPG writing. The RPG rules are tools for the players to create with. The writer's creativity should be secondary to the player's creativity. City maps amplify this issue. They are maps first and fantastical prose second.
One of the issues with RPGs, generally speaking and IMO, is that the really good ones are a odd beast, comprised of perhaps equal parts technical writing and short fiction. By short fiction I don't mean short stories I mean really short evocative writing, often at the sentence or paragraph level. Rules on the one hand, good rules, and on the other writing that makes you see a picture in your head that won't let you put the book down until you've added to it some how.
 

zanshin

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Yeah. Although there's a place for writing that aims to inspire you or convey the atmosphere of a place to the GM - just so long as it is not mixed in with things that the GM would have to look up in play to actually use.

Eg. I think a good 4 or 5 pages of description of life over a day in a city could really help the GM get the feel for a place and run it better* - but it better not be the only place where you tell me the name of the ruler of the city or what the characters can buy in the market.

*In fact, I think this is what should be at the beginning of the city book instead of a history lesson.
That's a really good idea - an evocative wander through the city following one character, a new tourist or a pick pocket as they make their way through the quarters, bumping into characters of note, could really set the city scene.
 

Winterblight

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I've no issue with my setting history being more on the fiction side rather than a technical piece (though I do like a handy timeline). The same with maps and my experience suggests a lot of gamers really dig the visual aspect of a map over functionality. As is always the case, everyone wants something a little different from a product.
 
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