City adventures in very low-magic fantasy

I have always loved the idea of a fantasy city adventure, going all the way back to Judge's Guild City of the Invincible Overload.

The trouble is, even with detailed maps and information, good city adventures are hard to find. Generally, the ones I have found fall are murder mysteries, political intrigue, or hunting Skaven in the sewers. Not bad, but I've done them repeatedly.

Any good system-agnostic, very-low-magic scenarios out there that aren't one of those three?

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That's my dog, Walter
They question I have is what would you like such an adventure to be based on if not a mystery, political intrigue or infiltration? Those three are pretty big halmarks of an urban campaign. Not so agnostic but have you ever looked into Thieves World? It is all about a crime infested city called Sanctuary. It was an anthology shared world series with a lot of fantasy greats doing the writing and eventually got two RPG editions. The setting is low fantasy and due to how the world was created, is perfect for a multi-plot adventure or more open ended stories.

Also one of the last Pathfinder APs was about the characters being official law enforcement for a city which is actually a bit of a change from the usual Urban Campaign.

Neither of these things are system agnostic but I'd argue that almost anything is with enough tinkering, though some games settings and rules are so intertwined that the job can be very difficult.


I find it hard to portray everything going on in a city. There is always many avenues of events and trails to follow. The party could be following or fighting thieves and have a chase only to end up in the market with lots of people. The players may want to attack everyone, but tend to resort to shoving people like in the movies. It kind of becomes up to the DM to allow or block the PCs from catching the thieves. Dungeon environments are safer since PCs can generally kill everything.

Cities also have politics that the party can get caught up in. rival merchants and nobles may want to ruin the PCs good names over attacking them, or the nobles can frame the PCs and make a quest the way to become freed from the frame up. Merchant houses and guilds want to use the PCs fame for their own deeds or nobles may have parties to woo the PCs to their house and not to others.

Cities open other avenues for the players to think about the PC's needs. Asking "What do you want to do" may not always be finite. A wizard may want to do things like research and crafting. The fighter may want to learn to repair his armor. Now the band is splitting up and a quest is needed to pull them back. Back to it is hard to run a city.

I know there is a few Waterdeep adventures on DMsGuild. There is a noble gala with an attack and following quest in a dungeon under the city. Another is following bandits with some sewer things and a warehouse guild location.

The city is a rich environment for crime stories of all sorts. Draw your inspirations from crime fiction.
  • PCs take part in a manhunt
  • PCs escape a manhunt
  • PCs search for a wanted item
  • PCs infiltrate a powerful gang or cabal
  • PCs pull off a heist
  • PCs prevent a heist
  • PCs rescue a prisoner
  • PCs kidnap someone
  • PCs solve a mystery
  • PCs cover up a crime
Mystery and cover-up plots are more interesting in low-magic fantasy settings where divination magic is rarer or less reliable!

Hand of Evil

  • Define your power groups and set them goals, this can relate into adventures the players can get involved in.
  • Create a gossip sheet of plot hook for your players to 'hear' about.
  • Take stories from the news and use in your game.
  • Don't forget your player characters day jobs! In many games your players will have a job they perform during down time, like being a rat catcher. Hooks can be feed to your players for possible adventures.
  • Do What IFs.


Staff member
Urban adventures for low magic campaigning?

1) heists
2) short range caravan guard duty moving high end goods/people across a big city.
3) fending off raiding party of bandits or opposing city-states/nations
3a) defending against invaders in full-out war
4) running or interdicting smuggling operation
5) working as muscle for a guild- thieves, assassins, merchants would be usual suspects, but maybe the bards have gotten militant, feisty, and bitchy
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Staff member
Maybe the bard business has gone full gangster, and someone wants you to whack another bard for creating a particularly insulting diss track.
Just imagine Real Housewives of Waterdeep cat fights in a world where daggers are commonplace and Acid orb is a thing…


You don't mention what system you want to use... Have you looked at Shadowrun, or Bloodshadows ? Admittedly, both have more advanced technology than D&D but you can easily adapt/change that to medieval or renaissance levels.


Urban adventures for low magic campaigning?

2) short range caravan guard moving high end goods/people duty across a big city.
For an excellent example of this type of adventure, read Joe Abercrombie's short story "Tough Times All Over". It's included in Sharp Ends, and in the first Rogues anthology by GRRM & Gardner Dozois.


Staff member
For an excellent example of this type of adventure, read Joe Abercrombie's short story "Tough Times All Over". It's included in Sharp Ends, and in the first Rogues anthology by GRRM & Gardner Dozois.
…and I just realized I edited my post and pasted between “Guard” and “duty”.


Dusty Dragon
I ran a 2-year Yoon-Suin campaign, and a good portion of the adventures were set within the Yellow City. Here are a few scenario structure

1: the big stink: No one is picking up garbage anymore, what is going on? (in Yoon-suin, the local Coackroach farmers clans do garbage disposal, but insert whatever group that would be responsible for this in your game). A new protection racket gang has moved in the city, and they are putting pressure on the waste-disposal people, who simply have left the area since they can't fight/pay.

2: Blood theft. One PC is "not from here" and their blood is a valuable component. A local slugman alchemist has a deal: why don't I take some of your blood and sell it on the market before some desperate mage puts a hit on you? PC agrees... but the blood is stolen! The alchemist is furious (he's "technically" nobility and is insulted), and it turns out that a powerful merchant has now a monopoly on the local blood trade and is behind the theft. Investigation reveals that this merchant is up to no good.... (in my game: had captive slugman as a source of blood).

3: The city is a port, and has a large granary (local farmlands are poor so it imports a lot of grain). Foes of the city attack the granary, and the PCs happen to be nearby.

4: (a hook that the PCs never followed): a local criminal gang is making fake coins. Authorities have found out and are about to crush the gang.... but a corrupt member of said authorities makes a deal with the PCs to steal most of the fake coins before the raid so they (and the PCs) can share the loot instead of it being destroyed.

In general, I would recommend Yoon-Suin as a great source for plot generation, institution/faction generation etc etc.

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