Saturday, January 10, 2015

How a pic and a couple ideas can make for a superior RPG city

Superior to what? To a city where you have to look at a map to see where the market district is and other junk that should just be abstract whenever possible. If you really need to zoom in somewhere, look at the pic you are going to use, or use a Vornheim trick (I've never had to use street maps, but now you have a safety net).

Okay, link-bait title justified. Now what is the how?

  1. Choose an interesting picture. They are all over Deviantart and Tumblr. The picture is worth a 1000 words and does most of the work for you.
  2. Think of something weird to inhabit the city.
  3. Think of some local laws or customs for the players to discover.


Here's an example. The best city I ever made: Cliffkeep
Pic by some Chinese dude. Sino-artists are the bomb recently.

The weird stuff I started to think of:

  • The city is policed by waxen automatons, deputies, that can change their features to go undercover. As their goal is to prevent crime, they are often walking around faceless.
  • Everyone is entitled to an allowance of a jar's worth of honey each day. There are no bees to be seen, but the unseen magistrate, called the mayor, provides it via waxen deputies.
  • The town defense is lead by a human who is a gunslinger of the Stephen King variety. He is the first NPC that the PCs encounter, and helps to introduce the rules of the town. He is nice as long as he can be.
  • The town has laser turrets to shoot incoming threats.
  • There is a dragon. By day it takes human form as a beautiful woman, and by night its visage is enchanted in a way that you forget you saw it.
  • A Chael sits on roofs and records everything the party does and says.


The rules:

  • No weapons are allowed in the city proper. Visitors can put their weapons in custody.
  • There is a curfew. Windows are to be closed and people have to be in their lodgings. Violators of the rule can't remember what happened, but they felt very scared and have chunks of missing memory.


Once you have a city like this, it acts as a hub from which to launch explorations and adventures (both in and outside the place). Cliffkeep grew in detail as the adventures gave me ideas. Fun we had:

  • Church of the God that Crawls nearby. Turrets came in handy when the PCs gave it sentience and it came calling.
  • Death Frost Doom mountain nearby.
  • Tower of the Stargazer floats by  town on an earthmote every few months.
  • A PC made the save to see the dragon, and confronted her in her human form. The dragon pushed the PC right off a cliff. Not many railings in Cliffkeep.
  • A PC killed their own grandma in a satellite town. There was a witness and then the waxen deputies fused into a truth-telling device that could summon reinforcements from the silver city on the moon.
  • A PC was deputized and got to man a turret. He shot the god that crawls.
  • Flying on kites like ninjas to get to the earthmote.
  • That snake thing became useful for city defense too; turns out it's a spell beam thingy that the Chael could instruct magic users in the use of. 

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