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Town Generator - Last Gasp

Since we’re talking about urbancrawls lately, my attention was immediately arrested when I saw a couple of pretty amazing city generators over at Last Gasp.

Both of them are dice-drop generators, which reminds me of the fun you can have with Vornheim, but they’re integrated with prodigious random tables. The first is a generator for small, Lovecraftian-style fantasy towns: The dice drop generates a layout for the buildings and the faces of the dice are used iteratively to form factions, feuds, leadership… It’s fantastic. Check it out here.

In Cörpathium - Last Gasp

The other generator creates a particular iteration of the ever-shifting magical city of Cörpathium, which draws its inspiration from M. John Harrison’s Viriconium. The dice drop in this generator determines the relative locations of city districts and then (this is the cool part) generates a whole bunch of conditionals based on which districts are present and how they relate to each other. You can find it here.

Go to Part 1

The pair of questions I keep coming back to are: Why are the PCs urbancrawling? And what are they actually doing when they “crawl”?

And I think the reason I’m struggling with those questions is because, in an urban environment, their answers are very dependent on the specific context of the PCs’ actions.

This dependence is the result of the city being an extremely dynamic place: In a dungeon there’s generally just one interesting thing happening in a room. In the wilderness the interesting thing is separated from other interesting things by miles or leagues of scenery. But in the city there’s so much activity so densely packed that any given block (or even building) will often have dozens of different things happening in it. The question of which of those things you’ll end up engaging with is highly dependent on the experiences that you choose to seek out.

Having recognized this Gordian knot, we now have to seek the sword that can slice through it. And I think the key here is to stop thinking of the city as a monolithic entity and start thinking of it as being made up of diverse parts. We need to manage the dynamic nature of the city by breaking it apart into distinct layers. The city is not a single urbancrawl, but rather a multitude of urbancrawls that lie on top of each other in a simultaneous coexistence.

LAYER 0: THE GAZETTEER AND THE MAP

Dweredell - Dream Machine Productions

Let’s start with the base of the city: The gazetteer. This is the Baedaeker’s travel guide version of the city. It’s the list of useful shops, taverns, inns, and Important Public Locations.

The gazetteer isn’t an urbancrawl. Although it might be interesting to build some of this stuff into an “Explore the City” urbancrawl layer for those completely new to the city, the stuff in the gazetteer constitutes the elements of the city that will generally be visited through targeted travel. For ease of reference, putting these locations in a gazetteer format makes the most sense.

The other thing you’re going to want forming the foundation of your city is the map. And you’re going to want to split that map up into naturalistic divisions. For ease of reference, I’ll refer to them as districts, but in the game world they could be anything: Neighborhoods, wards, sectors, gang territory, streets, or whatever. You’re aiming for districts that make sense to the characters actually living in the city (they’re labels or divisions that they would recognize and talk about). But you’re also aiming for a districting concept that scales to the amount of material you’re planning to include in each layer of the urbancrawl. (This is just like a hexcrawl: If you find yourself frequently keying multiple entries into a single district, your scale is probably too large. If you find yourself with a lot of empty districts, your scale is probably too small.)

THE URBANCRAWL LAYERS

Over the top of this foundation – the gazetteer and the map – you’re going to layer in your urbancrawls.

Unlike a dungeoncrawl, the goal of an urbancrawl doesn’t default to treasure hunting. It defaults to finding something interesting. If the PCs are fairly ignorant of what the city has to offer (or are simply looking for new opportunities), then this idea of “finding something interesting” can remain fairly generic. But as the PCs learn more about the city, the action will inevitably become contextualized: Instead of saying, “Let’s see what’s going on in the Longbotttom neighborhood.” they’ll start saying things like, “We need to find out if there’s a blood den near Powderhorn Park.” or “Maybe we can figure out what the Halfling Mafia has been up to.”

Each urbancrawl layer basically boils down to one way in which the content of the city can be contextualized. In a given city, for example, you might have separate urbancrawl levels for:

  • Vampire blood dens.
  • Patrons who can give them jobs.
  • The activities of a criminal gang.
  • Potential targets for lucrative heists.
  • Purely random encounters that provide “color”.

Each of these urbancrawls would (ideally) have interesting material keyed in every district of the city. So if the PCs go poking around the Longbottom neighborhood they might find the local vampire den. Or get contacted by agents of Lord Melbourne. Or run into mafiosos hassling local businesses. Or discover that a local merchant family currently holds the Neferelli Diamond. Or get their pockets picked by goblin urchins.

(Having five full layers like this would probably represent a really dense urbancrawl. It would require a lot of prep, but it would also deliver hundreds of hours of play. My guess, though, is that you probably only need 2 or 3 layers to get a really dynamic urbancrawl started.)

THE THIRD DIMENSION

This basic structure of urbancrawl layers is probably sufficient for running a simple urbancrawl. But I’m going to propose that you can add significant depth to your city by extending its urbancrawl layers into a third dimension.

You’re going to take one of your existing urbancrawls and you’re going to add layers to it. These deeper layers won’t necessarily be complete (in the sense that they’ll fill every district in the city with content), so it may be more convenient to think of them as “hidden nodes”.

The idea is that these hidden nodes can’t be directly or immediately accessed by anybody ‘crawling the city. Instead, they can generally only be accessed in one of two ways:

First, districts in the “lower levels” of the urbancrawl may contain clues that will point directly at these hidden nodes. For example, PCs raiding a vampire blood den may discover correspondence from Count Ormu implicating him as a vampire lord.

Second, these hidden nodes can be “exposed” to people ‘crawling the city if certain conditions are met. These conditions would generally take the form of “clearing” lower level nodes. For example, if various adventuring parties take out three of the blood dens in the city, Count Ormu’s network may be sufficiently disrupted to expose his involvement.

This second condition is particularly important for open tables because it solves the “I didn’t get the clues from the first half of this mystery” problem: If you’ve got the clues pointing at Count Ormu, great. If you don’t, but the blood den networks have been sufficiently disrupted by other groups, then Count Ormu becomes available to you through general ‘crawling.

In conceptualizing these hidden nodes, it may be useful to reflect once again on Kenneth Hite’s Conspyramid from Night’s Black Agents, which provided the most immediate inspiration for this added dimension:

Conspyramid - Night's Black Agents

You don’t necessarily need to engage in the same rigid hierarchy or chains of communication (the geographic component of the urbancrawl will cover a lot of the same bases), but it also can’t hurt, right?

Of course, the third dimension of some urbancrawls will be more conceptual rather than organizational: Different targets for heists, for example, may not be directly connected, but you can still add additional levels to a heist-based urbancrawl layer (representing the attention of more powerful clients or security arrangements which have been exposed or simply a pacing mechanic for heists over time).

Go to Part 11: The Investigation Action

Go to Part 1

By 1982, urban RPG supplements had pretty much universally transitioned to become narrative-backdrop travel guides: The modern gazetteer format that generally features a history of the city, a description of notable locations, and a cast of important NPCs. (Vestigial rumor tables hung around here and there for a few more years, but generallyL5R: City of Lies - Greg Stolze faded away until the OSR began bringing them back into vogue.)

Which is not, of course, to say that there aren’t some truly fantastic city supplements. I actually ended up surveying a lot of great stuff while researching these posts: The City of Greyhawk boxed set, the truly prodigious combination of FR1 Waterdeep and the North with the Forgotten Realms: City System Boxed Set, Greg Stolze’s City of Lies for L5R, Monte Cook’s Ptolus, Chicago by Night, City of Freeport, and so forth. It’s just that they’re being designed for a narrative-based game structure that’s not particularly illuminating when it comes to urbancrawling.

Recently, however, we’re starting to see a resurgence in games that are willing to get a little experimental with their game structures. (This has been particularly true among STGs, but it’s also happening with RPGs.) The result has been a handful of “new school” urbancrawls.

DRESDEN FILES

Dresden Files - Volume 2: Our World - Evil HatWhen I first started chattering about urbancrawls, a lot of people pointed me in the direction of the Dresden Files. This game has gotten a lot of buzz for its robust city-creation system and I was told it might be exactly what I was looking for.

Unfortunately, it’s not.

The city-creation system in Dresden Files is really a campaign creation system in which the creation of the city is tied to the creation of the PCs and the players share narrative responsibilities in defining the themes, threats, and locations which define the city. It’s a nifty approach (and I recommend checking it out), but the focus is still on creating a backdrop for narratives.

NIGHT’S BLACK AGENTS

Kenneth Hite’s Night’s Black Agents has an international focus, but it features two very clever systems for running conspiracy-based sandbox campaigns that I think may prove useful in our thinking about urbancrawls.

First, there’s the Conspyramid. When you’re prepping your campaign you draw up a Conspyramid with six levels of power: “Each ascending level has fewer, more important nodes.” So, at street-level power you’ve got six different nodes. Bump it up a couple levels to provincial powers and you’ve got four different nodes.

Conspyramid - Night's Black Agents

The Conspyramid is useful because it simultaneously shows the GM how the organization of the conspiracy works (in an abstract way) and how the PCs can investigate the conspiracy.

The Conspyramid is clever because Hite also ties it mechanically into the game mechanics: As the players fill out their adversary map (i.e., figuring out how the conspiracy hooks together), they gain dedicated pools of points to spend on ops targeting connected nodes on the Conspyramid. They can also use Human Terrain and Traffic Analysis skills to figure out the connections between a node they know and other nodes (i.e., generating leads).

That’s a default goal, a default reward, and a default action.

Hite then adds a second track in the form of the Vampyramid:

Vampyramid - Night's Black Agents

He describes this as an “escalating response algorithm” which provides the vampire conspiracy with a naturalistic response to the PCs: So the Conspyramid represents a largely static ‘crawl; the Vampyramid provides easy-to-manage active responses.

It’s the most innovative, creative, and gobsmackingly brilliant work I’ve seen on an RPG game structure in over a decade. Hite’s a genius and you should check it out.

While these structures cannot be directly applied to the type of urbancrawling structure we’re looking for, where I think the NBA systems are extremely informative is the intersection of investigative “layers” combined with default, mechanically-driven investigative actions. (We’ll come back to this idea shortly.)

VORNHEIM

Vornheim by Zak S. proffers a quote about Moving vs. Crawling which is so extremely useful that I’m going to provide it here in full:
Vornheim - Zak S.

In a dungeon or wilderness adventure everything is hard – navigating, finding food, getting a decent night’s sleep, etc. – and so everything is part of the adventure. Adventuring in a city is different from adventuring in a dungeon or wilderness because cities are actually meant for habitation. In most cities, many things will be easy and therefore not part of the adventure and the GM has to do a great deal of deciding when to “zoom in” and deal with the situations in more detail. For this reason we’re going to create a distinction between simply “moving” through the city and “crawling” through it. (…)

“Crawling” occurs when:

• The PCs are being chased.
• The PCs are in a hurry.
• A large number of elements in the city are actively hostile to the PCs (such as during an invasion or plague of madness).
• The PCs are systematically searching a small area of the city for something.
• The PCs are trying to avoid running into someone or something.
• It’s night.
• The city is transformed in some way such that it ceases to function like a city (post-nuclear bomb, etc.).
• The PCs don’t really know where they’re going.
• There’s urgency attached to the PC’s decisions about how to proceed for any reason.

A lot of the Old School Renaissance has largely spent its time regurgitating the forms and content of the ‘70s and early-‘80s. (And, don’t get me wrong, produced a lot of good material doing it.) Vornheim is a prime example of the OSR being a little more daring, grounding itself in the old school material, and then innovating.

For ‘crawling, Vornheim creates a pair of simple structures: If you’re crawling from neighborhood to neighborhood (i.e., trying to traverse the city) you generate one random encounter per neighborhood. If you’re crawling within a neighborhood (i.e., they’re trying to find something in the neighborhood) he uses a method of rolling 2d10 and using:

• The relative position of the dice to determine where the goal of the ‘crawl is relative to the PCs.

• The number on the die to determine the layout of streets between them and their destination. (Literally. You can check out the diagrams of how this works here.)

It’s a very clever and quick system. Where it comes a little short is in providing structure for making the journey from Point A to Point B a meaningful/interesting one.

What makes Vornheim truly invaluable in any discussion about urbancrawling, however, is the plethora of incredibly cool, incredibly useful, and incredibly original tools that Zak has designed for procedural content generation. (This is something I talked about in my Fun With Vornheim series, which you should check out for some awesome examples of what the book is capable of.)

TECHNOIR

Technoir is another system I’ve talked about quite a bit. It’s got an incredibly clever resolution mechanic, but what makes the game truly exceptional are its plot-mapping mechanics.

The short version is that the game is built around “transmissions” which each describe a city of the future. Each transmission consists of six connections, six events, six factions, six locations, six objects, and six threats. These are organized into a 6 x 6 master grid which allows you to randomly generate elements and add them to your plot map.

Technoir - Jeremy KellerBy itself, that’s a nice little procedural generator. But Technoir takes it one step further by including explicit mechanics for how elements are added to the plot map, and the primary method is controlled by the PCs: Whenever they hit up one of their contacts for information, an element is generated based on the contact’s current relationship to the plot and it’s connected to the map based on situational mechanics as well.

(A lengthier example of using the Technoir system can be found here.)

The result is a robust improvisational structure which has the delightful property of allowing the GM to discover the “true conspiracy” of their ‘noir adventure at the same time that their players are investigating it. (It’s also a system which could be very easily translated to any genre or setting.)

In terms of urbancrawling, the key insight from Technoir is the ‘crawl action itself: Hitting up your contact.

What makes this notable is that this is not a decision about geographic navigation, but it nevertheless fulfills the same exploratory function. The only limitation is that this is a mystery-based structure and, as you’ve probably gotten sick of me saying, mysteries don’t work for open table play. Technoir solves the problem of being unable to solve the mystery if you missed the clues in the first half (by utilizing a structure which constantly manifests new clues), but you still have the problem of players experiencing the first half of a mystery and never getting the satisfaction of its solution. (But if you want an urbancrawling structure and you don’t need it to support open table play, then I enthusiastically recommend Technoir.)

Go to Part 10: One City, Many Urbancrawls

Go to Part 1

This will be a rather eclectic round-up of some additional old school city supplements I surveyed while doing my urbancrawl research.

BOOT HILL

Boot Hill - Tactical Studies Rules (1975)The original Boot Hill was primarily a wargame for running gunfights in the Wild West with a light roleplaying element draped over the top of it. (This is probably because it was released in 1975 and people still hadn’t quite figured out the whole “roleplaying game” thing.)

It does contain some advice on setting up a town: “Each building used (excluding the small ones with half-moons cut into the doors) in a town must have a complete plan drawn for each of its floors, including any cellars or basements.”

Hmm… Probably not that useful.

EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE

Also released in 1975, M.A.R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne had a much firmer grasp on the whole “roleplaying game” thing. It also includes some intriguing guidelines for urban-based play (exactly the sort of stuff missing from OD&D and AD&D):

  • “Initial Encounters in Jakalla”, which serves as a random generator for people looking to hire the PCs and the missions they want to hire them for.
  • “Erecting and Buying Buildings”, which calls to mind Arneson’s Blackmoor as described in the First Fantasy Campaign.
  • “Advertising”, which the City State of the Invincible Overlord was also providing guidelines for almost simultaneously. (It seems likely that this focus is the direct, organic response to actual players.)
  • “This will require (a) a terrain map of the area, (b) a surface map of any city or cities to be developed, and (c) maps of the Underworlds of those cities. A detailed terrain map of a single hexagon can also be drawn to scale, if the details of a particular region are required (e.g., for a military campaign).”

 

THIEVES’ WORLD

The Thieves’ World boxed set was released in 1981 as a generic supplement based on the series of fantasy anthologies and featuring stat blocks for a couple dozen different RPGs. Let me lead off with a quote from designers Yurek Chodak, Steve Perrin, Greg Stafford, and Lynn Willis:

While fighting, arguing, and other sorts of adventuring are important and have their place, all adventures conclude, and even the greatest adventurer goes home to spend his profits. If he is like most of us, he will try to impress others with his success. Those other people are found in cities, as are rooms, markets, taverns, libraries, and gyms.

The city is the natural home of every adventurer. The ebb and flow of city life gives opportunity for every type of character. A city is the only environment proper to a full-time thief. Only in cities do many strangers meet, and only in cities is information plentiful. The bigger the city, the more readily are exotic items found or sold.

Earlier I described the early Judges Guild’s approach to cities as a mish-mash of color, information gathering, and carousing. This quote seems to sum it up elegantly.

Thieves' World - Chaosium Box SetAlso of interest is this quote:

Contrary to most fantasy role-playing games, the gamemaster should not try to run too many players at one time while running a city. We find a mix of 1-2 players to be optimal, with 4 being a very real maximum even with experienced players. If more players are run, someone will always be bored, since the G.M. can only interact with one player at a time. Conversely, the number of characters is not particularly important, as only one character can be active per player at any given moment.

The notable assumption here is that city-based adventures will typically feature characters acting independently instead of collectively as a group.

In terms of practical material, what interests us particularly in Thieves’ World is the rich and robust encounter system. The tables are designed to be used every 10-15 minutes (a timeframe which appears to refer to the real world and not the game world).

A significant number of encounters start with “accidentally bumps…” This represents the jostling the characters would receive in any busy street and helps to prevent thieves from becoming too obvious.

The encounter tables are then broken down by neighborhood and some specific regions within each neighborhood are given specialized tables. The exact procedures for generating encounters are not particularly notable, but the sheer scope of the system is an escalation of the old Judges Guild methods (which the Judges Guild was simultaneously abandoning with City State of Tarantis).

Also of note are the Business Generation rules, which the GM can use to randomly stock the largely unkeyed map of the city.

PAVIS

Released in 1982, the overall approach of the Pavis boxed set for RuneQuest is purely narrative: It’s explicitly designed for use in an “episodic campaign” and it includes a 64-page book which consists entirely of adventure scenarios for you to build your campaign around.

Pavis - ChaosiumDespite this, Pavis does include a couple of interesting resources for use in urban play.

First, there are guidelines given for seeking long-, medium-, and short-term employment. These caught my eye in part because the presented a unique angle on expectations in an urban campaign, but also because they emphasized the ability to handle time in the campaign on different scales. (Something which can be very useful in managing open tables.)

Second, some really interesting guidelines are given for different ways in which PCs can research information in Pavis:

  • Collecting gossip and rumors from taverns and markets.
  • Searching the records of appropriate cults and guilds (diaries, receipts, letters, ledgers).
  • Hiring a sage.
  • Paying a fee to gain access to a library.

It’s interesting to note, in general, that these elements – which would have probably received mechanical sub-systems just a couple of years earlier – are instead rendered as merely guidelines (except for the hiring of sages).

Go to Part 9: New School Urbancrawls

Go to Part 1

City State of the Invincible OverlordIn our quest to understand urbancrawls, let’s turn our attention now to the Judges Guild. Despite a recent resurgence, I think that most people still vastly underestimate the seismic influence they had on the early development of the hobby: They were experimental. They were groundbreaking. They were cutting edge. And a lot of the stuff that was revolutionary when they did it had become “business as usual” in the hobby just a few years later. A lot of it remains business as usual even today.

(This was most recently impressed upon me afresh when I realized that the hexcrawling procedures in AD&D were based almost entirely on the material developed by Judges Guild: The structures from OD&D were essentially abandoned completely.)

CITY STATE OF THE INVINCIBLE OVERLORD

City State of the Invincible Overlord is not only the first city supplement ever published, it’s also one of the first adventure modules to be published (being predated only by Palace of the Vampire Queen and the original version of The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth).

The first thing I note as I page through the book is that Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owens have a very clear concept of how this material will actually be used at the table. There’s a definite, utilitarian structure to everything they present. Unfortunately, what their practices actually were – what specific procedures they would have used when running the City-State – are unclear almost to the point of being an enigma.

The key for City State of the Invincible Overlord is organized by street. For example, the description of the city begins with a list of all the notable locations on Barter Street:

Barter Street - City State of the Invincible Overlord

Each location entry generally consists of notable NPCs and a brief description. These are not terrible different from what you’d find in a city gazetteer today and not particularly helpful from a structural or procedural standpoint.

There are, however, two points of interest to be found here: First, each street has an encounter keyed to it. For example, Barter Street:

PROB 38% of being surrounded by Street Urchins demanding 1 CP each to go away

According to the standard procedures hidden away on page 5, these encounters are “rolled on alternate turns (on the turn that a normal encounter is not rolled)”. In order to check for the encounter, you roll 1d6. If you roll a 1, you then roll the percentile check of the keyed encounter.

What constitutes a normal encounter is, as far as I can tell, not explained. (We’ll have to turn to the Ready Ref Sheets for that, which we’ll do in a moment.) Also unexplained is what constitutes a turn. In OD&D there were both underworld turns (10 minutes), wilderness turns (1 day), and combat turns (1 minute). (Although, to be fair, OD&D itself is pretty vague about which type of turn is used in many situations.)

For our purposes, this sort of detail isn’t particularly relevant. What would be nice to know, however, is exactly how Bledsaw and Owens handled movement at the table: Were the players, in fact, navigating street-by-street? The fact that specific turn-by-turn time was being kept and encounters being generated based on exactly which street they were on during a particular turn rather strongly suggests that they were. (And this is reinforced by guidelines like, “There is a 20% PROB of blockage by Wagons, Horses, and Goods. A 10% PROB exists of an object being dropped from above per turn. Distances 10-60 feet.”)

The second point of interest is that each keyed location includes a Rumor or Legend, such as:

Legend, the Cauldron-Born: A Lich in the Dearthwood is creating an army of Synthetic Giants.

Or:

Rumor: A Djinn is coming south on Constable’s Street.

These are obviously very similar to the rumors we see later in Keep on the Borderlands and The Village of Hommlet. Taken in its totality, however, I think we discover that City State of the Invincible Overlord provides a much richer and more robust urban environment: The players are expected to truly explore the city in order to retrieve the rumors which will propel them towards adventure. And in the process of that exploration, the city will impose itself upon them in the form of encounters.

This basic structure is then supplemented with a variety of ancillary material: Town criers and vigilantes; a sub-system for being questioned by city guards; an entire method for placing advertisements and determining the response; and so forth. Add in little sub-systems for intoxicants, gambling, and the like and it’s not hard to see that the city was a mish-mash of color, information gathering, and carousing.

MODRON

Modron - Judges GuildFast forward a year and we have Modron: Not to be confused with the polyhedral monsters which would later use the same name, this is actually an often-overlooked city supplement written by Bob Bledsaw and Gary Adams.

It’s notable because it marks an evolution in Bledsaw’s approach to urban supplements: Although encounters are still keyed by street, the gazetteer of locations is now organized by area (Stadium Area, Open Market, The Docks). Rumors and Legends are gone, however, leaving the city as a utilitarian husk colored with the occasional random encounter.

READY REF SHEETS (1978)

In 1978, the second edition of the Ready Ref Sheets finally reveal to us how a “normal encounter” is determined in the city. In practice, it turns out to be an incredibly rich method for procedurally generating urban content.

Ready Ref Sheets (1978) - Judges GuildFirst, check for an encounter. Encounters have a 1/6 chance every other turn. (Thus matching the same rate as dungeon and wilderness encounters, although once again the length of this “urban turn” is left undefined.)

Second, determine the type of encounter: Attacked by Surprise, Attacked, Slanders/Insults, Questions Player(s), Propositions Player(s), or Special Encounter.

This second step is what really makes the whole system work: Basically everything else in the process simply determines who you’re encountering, but this initial step colors the encounter. (Combine it with the “Attack Reasons” table from pg. 74 of City State of the Invincible Overlord and you’re really cooking with gas.)

This is all the Ready Ref Sheets have to offer us, but I think it’s important: Understanding where the procedural content generators are and how they work in a ‘crawl is vital to keep the ‘crawl vibrant and alive over the course of a campaign.

CITY-STATE OF THE WORLD EMPEROR

City-State of the World Emperor is a really weird product.

City State of the World Emperor - Judges GuildFirst, it has an entire volume dedicated to 80 pages of generic, unnamed shops. And none of these shops are actually keyed to the map: The GM is supposed to place them wherever they find convenient.

The other significant volume of the set is just a giant mish-mash of completely unorganized information. It includes both a table of “Rumors” and a table of “Random Rumors” (although what the distinction is supposed to be between these categories is left completely unexplained).

Gone are the street-based encounters and the rumors keyed to specific locations. In their place, however, Volume II: Shops has a robust “cache” system: Each location indicates how many caches of loot it possesses, and you can use the cache system to determine where it’s hidden; how it’s hidden; and how much is hidden. This is coupled with the following rejoinder:

As a general state of affairs people in the City State of the World Emperor tend to be a level or two higher than those in the City State of the Invincible Overlord owing to the tougher level of competition. Also since more trade flows through Viridistan the level of cash flow and total of treasure are slightly greater. Beware; since the guards and traps are tougher too!

The impression one is left with is very much of a “hack ‘n slash” urban environment and the expectation seems to be that the PCs will be kicking doors down and looting the premises.

Also of note, however, is that Volume III: Guidebook to the City includes an explicit “Play Guide”. This leads off by saying, “It is important that played characters interact with NPCs.” It then includes a robust system for handling rumors, tracking how long abstract interactions with NPCs take, mechanics for “establishing camaraderie”, and play tips for successfully gathering information (“talk with everybody… encourage the relating of rumors… learn about sudden unusual behavior… concentrate on getting to know persons of one’s own rank, position and interests”). So the collection of information is still clearly placed in center of the urban spotlight and it’s particularly interesting to see the mechanistic way in which these interactions are handled. For example:

One rumor (maximum) can be heard per every two hours in an eatery (food or drink). One rumor per hour can be heard in an inn (food, drink, and beds). Three rumors per hour can be heard in a tavern (drink). One hour of conversation equals four turns of interaction if with different people, or six turns of interaction if with one person. Ten interactions equal one turn. One interaction equals two verbal statements (or questions) and two retorts (minimum). About 50% of rumors are true.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE JUDGES GUILD

Here, however, our time with Judges Guild draws to a close. In 1983 they would produce a final city-state product – City State of Tarantis – but this product moved entirely to a modern gazetteer style: These are the books that read like a Baedeker’s guidebook. They provide the backdrop for adventure City-State of Tarantis - Judges Guildwithout really giving us anything in the way of structural clues.

In reviewing what we’ve learned from the Guild, I’ll start by saying that I’m probably not interested in using strict turn-by-turn timekeeping while exploring a city. The kind of street-by-street navigation that seems to be getting advocated here might be interesting for a short while during an “explore the new city” phase, but I don’t think that it would represent effective pacing in the long run. (Featuring, as it almost certainly would, a lot of decisions that nobody at the table really cares about.)

The idea of keying content to specific streets, however, is an interesting one. Consider the possibility of combining this with target-based movement: When the PCs are leaving or arriving at a location, could we check for encounters keyed to those streets in order to provide color to the urban environment as they move through it on their errands?

Go to Part 8: Other Old School Cities

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