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Thread: I need some assistance on a city campaign

  1. #1
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    Question I need some assistance on a city campaign

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    I'm going to dig through the posts here in just a few moments and probably in another section of the forums but for now I'm going to start this new thread cause I genuinely would love some help here and if it helps me I'm sure it'll help others.


    I love DMing city campaigns and wilderness campaigns but really can only pull off dungeon campaigns to be the best sorts of games that I can manage. Perhaps that's sort of the average GM, but I want to graduate and I could really use some assistance.

    Any tip and tricks that you all have regarding developing city campaigns would be an absolute treasure to me. I've got a city that I've been working on for a little while. It's a dwarves' stronghold, a very large one built into a mountain. It has a large wall surrounding a portion of the fertile lands around it which is close to a lake and some rivers in a valley and is well defended. The storyline of the city is steeped in a catastrophe involving an army of the living dead sweeping the countryside to pound on the gates with their siege weaponry, driving all manner of humanoids to hide behind the gates by making pacts with the dwarves in order to be allowed to stay and help fight off the invading force. They were successful in the end...

    The request for assistance involves making a city campaign. How can I manage a city as a DM? What sorts of tips do you have for me and others when it comes to creating a city campaign and a city setting. Anything you can tell me would be a boon. Thank you.

    Thank you very much for reading, posting and helping! <3
    "I am not young enough to know everything." ~Oscar Wilde

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    My recommendation is to read some campaign books on cities. The mechanics of a city are pretty simple... XX rules, YY serves, KK produces food, etcetera - but the SOUL of a city is hard to do as a DM.

    Consider your own country - or use your state as a guide. Who's in power? How'd they get there? Who supports them? Who works against them - PUBLICLY? Who works against them PRIVATELY? Who doesn't care? Who is the up-and-coming person to be Governor? Why? Who is in the upper-crust and how does someone new get there? How does someone up there get kicked out?

    There is SO much crap to consider!

    BUT - there are other things to keep in mind. In Tolkien's books, dwarves were pretty apolitical - so the ruler was there because of blood and remained in power until his/her bloodline ran out (no kids!). BUT - there are businesses that will be vying for power and position and wealth. Being more lawful than humans, odds are there will be less intrigue - but introducing other races into it will be a potential pain.

    Start asking more direct questions and we'll see if we can offer better answers. City campaigns can be FUN!

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    City campaigns in a peanutshell:

    You need a list of standard city characters: the ruler, body of rulers, head of church, head of state militia, and institution heads like a librarian, arena master, or top wizard.

    Throw in another handful of interesting people, both in power and without power, like criminals, entertainers, soldiers, and crafts/guildsmen. (Interesting people need interesting places - so be sure to think about the top 3 or 4 places your PCs will want to go. Inns, blacksmiths, and breweries!)

    Each of these people has motivations that cooperate and conflict with most of the others. Pick out a few interesting ones for potential plot points.

    Give your city some interesting scenery: like a titanic tower in the middle, or trees instead of fireplaces.

    Now wind up all your pieces and watch them in your head. Write down ideas.

    My dwarves (hill dwarves, anyway) are heavy drinkers because they're all poor and pummeled by their theocracy. They organize in clans because the state won't let them form other organizations. And they don't actually live underground, but they got that reputation because they're excellent miners and some of their aristocrats moved into exhausted mines.
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    start with your basic dungeon.

    stuff it with all sorts of creatures.

    now figure out how all those creatures get fed, how they pay (if they pay), and what they do with their down time when not munching on encroaching delvers. negotiations, trade, making stuff, selling stuff, who's in charge, how they enforce it, who disagrees with whomever is in charge, how they express their disagreement, and so forth.

    presto, you now have a city.


    basically, take all those fallacies people are always talking about (how does the dragon fit into that huge cave with no exits big enough? what do all those orcs eat? why don't they go mad with boredom while waiting for something to do? why haven't they killed each other off before now, etc...) and fill in the blanks, making adjustments as necessary to make it work.

    make it interesting, then make it work.

    oh, and possibly the most important, sketch out loose timelines of events. maybe one for the city as a whole, and one for each major organization (be they a single influential individual, or an actual group) with their goals, motivations, and their actions that they will take against each other. this is your baseline. you will now deviate from that baseline as you incorporate the encroaching war, and the actions of the pcs. they may not disturb a given plot, but they may, and without that baseline, you won't know how the pcs actions will deflect your timeline. this timeline is the key to making any grouped sequence of events come to life and make the pcs feel that they are both in a world that is living, breathing, and changing (with or without them), but also is something that they can impact and meaningfully affect.

    when they interact with an npc, and you check your baseline and impacted timeline charts, and see that the pcs thwarted that npc in a desired goal, you now know how the npc feels about the pcs. maybe there is some overriding reason why they won't take revenge now, but maybe they won't forget it and will save it for later. after all, it is always easier to backstab your allies than it is your enemies....


    and the other suggestions already made have much merit, too. =D
    Last edited by nijineko; 11-29-2012 at 10:22 PM.
    nijineko the gm: AG16, CoS. nijineko the player: AtG, RttToH; . The Journal of Tala'elowar Kiyiik! .
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