Build A Strange City By Going Into The Cess And Citadel

Create your fantasy RPG campaign's central city.


The most common gameplay cycle of fantasy games involves trekking through the wilderness, exploring a dangerous location, returning with loot to sell for the next expedition and starting over. Cities in fantasy settings can speed up this cycle by offering dangerous locations close to home such as sewers choked with monsters or rough neighborhoods under the thumb of a local crime boss. Into The Cess and Citadel, published by Wet Ink Games, offers advice, tools and techniques to drop a unique city into any fantasy campaign. Designers Alex Coggon and Charles Ferguson-Avery want the cities built by their book to be just as dangerous as any dragon’s lair or undead crypt. Did the book make it in the big city? Let’s play to find out.

The book comes together with the usual mix of random charts, neighborhood breakdowns and scattered rules bits. The book is built to be used with any fantasy RPG but the rules still have some solid ideas behind them. The shortcut rules, for example, suggest the type of roll the PCs should make to get someplace in a hurry. Success halves the time it takes to get somewhere while failure directs the GM to roll on a chart of complications, such as an unexpected religious festival blocking up traffic or an old enemy showing up at the wrong time.

There’s also some dice drops in the book that I really enjoyed. The faction building mechanics put the important groups of the city in three categories: those who rule, those who follow and those who struggle. Depending on where the dice fall and what numbers come up, the process creates a sticky web of intrigue ready to catch players between nobles, crime bosses, revolutionaries and so on. While there’s some discussion of the tunnels beneath the city as an adventure location, I preferred writing up the towers full of the fantastic wealth hoarded by the rick. They are just as dangerous as any slime filled sewer tunnel and the thought of pulling off a fantasy heist in these locations is a highlight.

The designers state their thesis early on in the book: the city is only safe if you don’t run out of money. There’s a sense of class warfare woven throughout the entries with the PCs cast in the roles of outsiders and have nots. If they could live comfortable lives, after all, why do they make a living plundering dungeons? This included urban themed monsters like dire pigeons (complete with a sidebar on how to tame and use one as a mount) and a section on how the city comes alive as an antagonist if the players are broke. Some of the curses are nasty enough that they will make players want to seek out the comfort of an orc encampment.

If you haven’t already guessed, the book is aimed at making the city you create weird. This isn’t a generic toolkit meant to build pseudo-medieval cities. This is meant to make places like Sigil and Lankmar, cities that are full of wonder and terror. Just think how weird and wonderful places like New York or London are and add magic to the mix. That allows for monsters like garbage oozes but also bigger antagonists such as the terrifying nobles of the city that gave up their mortal forms in pursuit of more power.

I think Into The Cess And Citadel is a wonderful resource for making a central city for a fantasy RPG campaign. The compelling antagonists, the rules for building elements of the city and the philosophy of making the city as dangerous as the dungeon spoke to me as someone who usually writes off urban adventures. It feels like a city that never sleeps and also recognizes that when you don’t sleep, things get weird.

If you found this review helpful, please consider purchasing the product using the affiliate links in the article. Thank you for supporting your friendly local game reviewer.

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

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