Thursday, January 24, 2013

Building Lichtstadt City

I've had a ton of work traveling the past few weeks, which is bad for my blog, but excellent for my reading list.  Some things I spent some time looking at, during one flight or another, were different approaches to building a fantasy city.

The ACKS game (Adventurer Conqueror King) provides all sorts of guidelines for the size of cities, density, income generated for the lord, thieves guilds, and the demographics of high level characters.  There are other economic factors too, like the market type, equipment rarity, and trade factors that influence the cost of goods.

I read A Magical Medieval City Guide (a free pdf available at RPGnow) which provides a detailed walkthrough on the structures of real-world Medieval cities, both the power structures and the physical layout.  If you want to know how many buildings are standing in how many wards, or how many glove makers are in the craft's guild, this is the guide for you.

And then there's Vornheim.  Vornheim is a book designed to help you run games in the city of Vornheim, sure, but it's also a guide on how to run city sessions, on the fly, in your own sprawling metropolis.  Instead of focusing on developing background material, Vornheim is about presenting something interesting that can be used to create an interesting game situation RIGHT NOW.  Okay, that's more than just a little useful.  The funny thing about each of these city tools is there's virtually no overlap between them.

Lichtstadt is going to get the Vornheim treatment.

I also think the "tavern-trawling" rules from Backswords & Bucklers will see a lot of use.  Lichtstad is too big to be a home base, so making the starting place a seedy tavern offers a small-town experience in the big big city.

What's your favorite tool for getting a fantasy city ready for game play?  How about mapping - what do folks think of the Hexographer city tool, or the city builder for Campaign Cartographer?

I realize this is a bit introspective (nigh useless), so here's some flavorful background for the city of Lichtstadt for your troubles.  There are three vampire families that lurk in the dungeon depths below the city; Clan Metzger, the Machthaberkind, and the Draganov Coven.

Miscreants, ruffians, and common robbers are taken to the Doleful Keep for incarceration.  Very few criminals survive long enough to see their appointed trial dates.  Nefarious chutes and slides are rigged into may of the prison cells, dropping their inhabitants into the heart of an endless maze.  When night falls, the vampires of Clan Metzger enter the maze, assume bestial form, and ruthlessly run their human prey to ground.  Vampires of clan Metzger feature shape-shifting powers and beast-summoning.

The Machthaberkind have subtly warped all manner of social institutions, but none so great than the many hospitals that minister to the old and affirmed throughout Lichtstadt.  Black clad nuns, the Sisters of Mercy (heh), attend to the sick and dying, fitting hospital beds with clean linens and performing simple funeral rites for those who "pass gently" in the night.  Our Lady of the Blessed Slumber is the largest and best known house for the poor.

Vampires of the Draganov Coven are predatory loners, selecting victims through arcane prognostication and thaumaturgy before dragging them back to their remote lair for languorous feeding.  They're known to keep their prey alive as long as possible, incarcerating them as favored pets, thus postponing the need to consult the necromantic spirits anew and launch a fresh hunt.


  1. I've built a couple of cities so far in my years of gaming, and the last one was more successful simply because it wasn't mapped out in detail; a very rough overview, a feel for where the different wards and quarters are and a number of more well-described central locations, and then no more detail. If you have a city map down to street level, you'll get stuck in the specifics and the details and "you turn left, then right, then...". At least I know I did.

    Much more important, to my mind, is the flavor - finding the words and ingredients that communicate the "feel" of the city to the players. Ideas like "gothic", "filthy", "human life is cheap", "bustling" and so forth. Random tables are great for this! For example, I had one I used to generate events to describe to the players as they travel round the city; not encounters per se, just things like "you pass an overturned cart full of furniture, and two members of the teamster's guild applying blame for the accident by using the traditional method of first-blood knife fighting".

    1. This is the way I think I need to go too - I'll go nuts trying to detail a major city; sketching it high level and using some tables and random encounters to spin colorful encounters feels achievable.