City Design - best supplements? rpg cities? advice?




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  1. #1
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    City Design - best supplements? rpg cities? advice?

    About a month and a half ago I got some good advice on city design in this thread for an upcoming city-based adventure I will be running (I plan on modifying Scions of Punjar to my homebrew setting), but I'd like to go a bit further with it. I've got a detailed map of the city (every darn building), a basic overview of the place and some random details, but I feel a bit lost on most of it--how deeply to plan out all the details, what is absolutely necessary to run a city campaign and what is just nice to have, etc. In addition to any advice, I am looking for two things:

    1) A book that is the "best" guide to city design, even step-by-step. I own the old 2e World Builders Guide, which is pretty good, but not that detailed. What are the most useful city design supplements, both in terms of how in-depth they are but also ease of use?

    2) Examples of great fantasy cities and their supplements. I own the 3e Waterdeep book, which is pretty good (although I miss the pull-out maps from the old box sets). I remember liking the 2e Greyhawk boxed set but must have sold it in one of my many ill-advised RPG purges. What are the best RPG cities to glean ideas from?

    If it makes a difference, the city has approximately 20,000 inhabitants and is the second largest in the local region. The demographics are 60% human, 20% dwarves, 10% elves, and 10% various (halflings, gnomes, half-orcs, a couple other minor races). It is basically a crossroads/frontier city that boomed in a big way and became the center of an adventuring/exploring industry as well as the major trade hub. The world is very points-of-lightian: recovering from a magical apocalypse a few centuries before that pretty much wiped out memory of the previous ages. Civilization is just beginning to flower again, with humans, dwarves, and elves relatively equal in power, but all relatively weak compared to the "Wilds". The dominant power in the city is the Seekers Guild, which "oversees" the seeking out and exploration of remnants of past civilizations. There is also the usual thieves guild, a strong dwarven community and relatively nearby is a major elven city. The city rests on a hill at the confluence of three rivers; part of it is sinking into an encroaching marsh.

    I can provide more details if necessary, but wanted to give a sense of the place. Any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

 

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    My first severe complaint is the 20,000 number.

    Populations like that from 3E were grossly off from history. You only saw major cities get that small in one place in the world during one specific dark period - Europe under the black plague. And even there 20,000 would be low. 3, 4 or more times that might be more normal.

    At that same point in time, major cities around the world outside of Europe were in the hundreds of thousands to a million or more.

    Europe itself had vastly higher populations before the plague and before the fall of Rome.

    malnutrition, disease, and a breakdown in central authority all contributed to such low numbers. Most of those factors are non issues for a typical fantasy city with its magical resources. The typical pathetic excuse is monsters - but even in the depths of war, numbers don't go down like that. A monster population that severe would cause the city to resemble the black plague, with half eaten bodies in the streets and the monsters literally running around the city unchecked in mid-day.


    Just looking at the maps of most fantasy RPG cities, even those produced under the 3E era, suggests cities in the low millions when you compare those maps to historic cities. Again, you might find more complex maps in some European cities, but you have to account for large portions being recently abandoned into ruin or full of rotting corpses and plague rats...

    Even Rome, as it shrunk, also lost may of its buildings and took on a more simple map.

    There are online sources that will show you populations and population densities at various points in history around the world. Also key would be to look at how fast populations can rise and recover after tragedy. Unless your disaster took place in the last generation, or is still ongoing, you should have a much more crowded city than a DnD game book suggests.


    The best RPG related guide to building a civilization and cities is going to be "A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe Second Edition."

    Its about the only book even worth bothering with. Pretty much every other source that's come out since 3E hit the shelves, even books completely unrelated to DnD, has been put out by authors that showed too much reliance on the DnD 3E DMG rather than any actual research.

    That book alone marks an exception, but it tries to also work with the extreme flaws of the DMG. However it can be taken outside those flaws with ease.

    I also suggest this:
    http://www.io.com/~sjohn/demog.htm

    And the calculators it links to at its end that can do some of the work for you.

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    The best RPG related guide to building a civilization and cities is going to be "A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe Second Edition."
    Seconded.

    I have only the first edition but it is the best world building book that I know of.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mercurius View Post
    1) What are the most useful city design supplements, both in terms of how in-depth they are but also ease of use?
    Arcady listed the two best. For D&D I guess Cityscape (for 3rd edition) is useful

    2) Examples of great fantasy cities and their supplements.
    I won't list all the supplements, since that would take a while. But using Google you can probably dig up a lot of info on the following:

    Ptolus - by Malhavoc Press
    Freeport - by Green Ronin
    Five Fingers: Port of Deceit - by Privateer Press
    City of Brass - Necromancer Games

    For Scarred Lands, there were a handful of city books:

    Hollowfaust
    Burok Torn
    Mithril
    Shelzar

    Atlas Game relased a book called "Seven Cities", which could be interesting.

    Also check out the following links:

    The Bergsburg Project
    The Altdorf Correspondent

    And for real life cities with a cool feel, you can't beat Prague.

    My own best advice: create districts that the players easily can remember, such as Merchant District, Tempel District and so on. That makes navigating in the city on a conceptual level a lot easier for you and your players.

    And last but not least: for my city campaign, we have an agreement. The players get a detailed and living fleshed out city ... as long as they don't leave.

    /M
    Last edited by Maggan; Sunday, 8th March, 2009 at 11:31 AM.
    Download an interactive map of Altdorf, the capital of the Empire in WFRP! Download today! Can be used in any fantasy campaign!

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    My communities:

    Harn is another great place to look for guidance, info and plenty of fine examples. Well, Harn products anyway.

  • #6
    I'd be remiss if I didn't plug The Last Free City. You can find it here: EN World PDF Store - Final Redoubt Press - The Last Free City/The Festering Earth (OGL Version). It's our first product to get a five star staff review.

    It's a city supplement, not a book on designing cities.

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    Thanks, Arcady, very helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by arcady View Post
    My first severe complaint is the 20,000 number.

    Populations like that from 3E were grossly off from history. You only saw major cities get that small in one place in the world during one specific dark period - Europe under the black plague. And even there 20,000 would be low. 3, 4 or more times that might be more normal.

    At that same point in time, major cities around the world outside of Europe were in the hundreds of thousands to a million or more.
    I'm not sure why it is a "severe" complaint? First of all, you have to take into account the context of the world: As mentioned in the original post, it is still in recovery from a major magical apocalypse a few hundred years prior. I didn't mention that during those few centuries, there have been a couple major wars that have set back a couple attempts at recovery.

    But even the link you provided describes a "big city" as 12-100,000. Given that this is the second largest city in the region, and civilization is really only just flowering, if anything 20,000 might be a bit much (I started out at 5,000 and have gradually brought it up...at most I wouldn't go higher than 30,000, although the city is rapidly growing).

    Only a few pre-industrial cities have reached half a million or more: off the top of my head: Constantinople, Rome, the capital of Ancient China (Beijing?), maybe Teotihuacan.

    Now I haven't read through S John Ross's article (I will), but I'm not sure if he comes up with a building : population ratio. The city map I drew includes somewhere between 2-3,000 buildings; I figure about 10 people per building makes 20,000+ a good number.

    Just looking at the maps of most fantasy RPG cities, even those produced under the 3E era, suggests cities in the low millions when you compare those maps to historic cities.
    I've noticed that city maps produced by WotC and TSR have varied widely in buildings per capita. Some look like there are literally hundreds of people per building, some only a few.

    I'll probably download the Expeditious Retreat book while there is still the GM's Day Sale.

    EDIT: I just noticed that there is a free download for the city chapter. Convenient!
    Last edited by Mercurius; Sunday, 8th March, 2009 at 03:39 PM.

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    I am not sure about the RL accuracy of some of the fantasy city information, but for me, that's all fairly irrelevant. If I want a large city in a region to have only 20,000 people, that's fine. It would still mean that it can't be totally self sufficient on it's own unless there are many square miles of farm and grazing land, forests, mountains, etc for food and raw materials. There would need to be trade routes, taxes, etc.

    That said, there are many d20 fantasy cities and d20 city supplements you can look at.

    There was Cityworks by FFG (mike mearls), Cityscape by WOTC, all the E.N Guild supplements by E.N. Publishing (pdf), World Building stuff by XRP.

    For cities, in addition to what has been mentioned: City State of Invincible Overlord d20 by Necromancer Games, Bluffside, Streets of Silver, Foul Locales by Mystic Eye, and the list goes on.... There are a lot of decent resources to draw from when making a neat city.
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    Don't bother with Cityscape at all.

    I bought it as I thought it might help with city design and adventures and it really did neither.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lilaxe View Post
    Don't bother with Cityscape at all.

    I bought it as I thought it might help with city design and adventures and it really did neither.
    I agree. Cityscape was pretty bad. Some nice maps. But no real insight into city design or adventures. Lots fluff that you just couldn't use, you knew before buying the book. It addressed the different kinds of city adventures. But most GMs I have spoken, have more difficulty managing and designing a city adventure. Everyone knows the different plot types. Its the details that customers were after.

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