Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Possible Cities cont.

Some thoughts on my previous post and your comments:

I have no idea why was I focussing on cities and not features in general. I guess because it made more sense that, from an island, they would travel to another point of civilization and not some random point in the wilderness. But sticking in the city is part of the problem, they do more shopping in Nidus than exploring.

A Newhon Ghoul
I just grilled 3 players that work with me about what they want in our campaign, what would be fun (does that mean I'm New School ;) Two things popped out, these guys are smart, they sit around thinking everyday, and they had a very hard time verbalizing what they wanted from a D&D campaign. With some prodding I was able to tease out some specifics. And . . . those specifics were three different things!

Anyway, back to cities.  I think a city that feels different to be in would be a good choice.  So a Sparta-like city with a lot of slaves would allow for awkward social moments where players have to interact with slaves or are mistaken for them.  A very religious pilgrimage destination would work too  (If the party members are some of the few non-believers around).  I like the idea of a city with most of the people lepers and visiting there means you'll probably get it too.

I also think a city which is ripe to be affected by game-world changes, so the two above might have interesting developments in a plague, or invasion.  I suppose any place would be affected by those kind of big changes, but I'm thinking a border city that's colonized by an empire, with foreign troops oppressing a populace, might be more likely to have "interesting" things happen than a trade center, port city.

With Zak's idea that the map I show the players is what their characters think the world is like, what would be some good misconceptions to play up?

Erroneous cultural beliefs. Maybe those cannibals really aren't.  Those evil, demon worshippers are just a different religion.

Unrealistic expectations. The condition of a place is very different, more squalid than thought, or maybe a savage backwater is in actuality a pinnacle of a different culture's civilization.

Wrong scale.  Distances should be off, maybe a continent is much farther away then it shows and the voyage there will prove harrowing.

Out of Date information.  That would more likely affect a an old found map than the character's conception of their world.  Although, I suppose news travels slow.  I think I'll reserve this for my "way out."  Instead of planning out of date features, my do overs can include city-erasing events that have happened since the characters have heard about a place.

The ghoul pic is public domain and a bonus to pay for the rambling.


  1. A sandbox isn't much fun without sand. You need at least some basic features roughed out, and can expand and refine them later. It's good that you are asking your players what they want in the campaign, but don't cater to their every whim. Surpise is always fun in a campaign. At least it is to me. If you get to a point where detail is lacking, some improv is okay, ( you don't want to stall the game )but be sure to record everything you improvise. Also have some filler material ready that you can plop down in a hex. Meh... just a few ideas and suggestions.

  2. This might be totally boring, but:
    We're used to maps being top down projections, like satellite photos, but those are relatively recent inventions. Historically most "maps" have been narrative - you go here, then you go there, then the next place in a predictable sequence, very likely set out by a road or a river.

    With a map like that and a loopy, meandering river, you can find out too late about surprising adjacencies. Maybe city 1 is just over the hill from goblin fort 4, but if you follow the river you'll never make the connection. OTOH, narrative maps usually follow the path of least resistance: maybe it's quicker to go 30 miles by river than one mile over mountains: satellite-gazing players are likely to underestimate terrain costs.

    Another surprise for a perfectly good map: seasonal/periodic change. Snow closes the passes, the padi fields are flooded: you can't get across. Or the ice bridge is only up for one month a year, so you have to go now. Or the Black Army is right now diverting the course of the river, and you have to master the terrain to warn the city before the floodwaters come.

  3. You know strangemaps, right?
    so many inspiring posts.
    Also, just because they're irresistible:
    The LA times on lizard man caves under the city.
    The mandala state visualised.

    That last one is an essay in how maps really show whatever story the mapmaker wanted to tell.

  4. Good stuff again!

    I highly recommend a bit of misdirection and mystery. Specifically, scatter some random symbols that don't mean anything, or for which you haven't decided a meaning.

    Also, one or two sandbaggers are nice. The friendly inn that is really a bandit front, the shrine to a healing god that is really a chaotic unholy place.

  5. @Zanazaz: No, thanks, those are good thoughts. This is a complicated, delicate balance of things we do as DMs isn't it?

    @richardthinks: I like the idea of a linear map, a medieval peasant would probably have the strongest sense of "where stuff is" for one particluar road: "follow this you hit an inn, then an abbey, then the lord's manor."

    But since my party is on an island, it's kind of moot. Yeah, strangemaps is sweet, and I did a post on that lizard dungeon a long while back.

    @barrataria: Vague symbols is a brilliant idea. There can't be too many, because the point is for my players to have choices but it would give them a mysterious marker to head toward while giving time to decide and flesh out what I want there. Thanks.

  6. Ah! Great ideas! I need to provide my player with some kind of a map of "the world", as she choose to to buy one at character creation (a step i completely overlooked in my preparations). An out of date, old map with out of scale distances will be a perfect prop! Thanks a lot!