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General Not enjoying the urban adventure I'm running

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I was worried about this before it started and it's actually worse than I feared. My worry was that, with an entire town of NPCs to pester, the PCs would be constantly talking to anyone and everyone making planning for an upcoming session quite hard. The worse part is that they (reasonably) keep expecting the powers that be to sort out their problems. In the most recent session, one of the party got taken prisoner by the local gang and after discussing possible options amongst themselves they went with going to the city guard to help them recover their comrade. Absolutely reasonable and, of course, no self-respecting city guard person is going to ignore a cry for help (and it doesn't help that one of the PCs was a member of the city watch, so has contacts). But they're doing it a lot and it's a bit frustrating.

Now I certainly didn't help myself by having them going up against a gang that is much more powerful than them (they're level 3) but instead of trying the softly, softly, sneaky, sneaky approach they went running to the guard for backup (again entirely reasonably to choose that option, but it turns them into bystanders). Amusing anecdote, they tried this a couple of sessions ago when they discovered the identity of a villain (and left a mess in the process) and then while they were off rounding up the constabulary, the villain returned discovered that their lair had been ransacked and made their escape, and is now plotting their revenge... I thought that might have learned them...)

So (and I realize I'm opening myself up to a lot of criticism here) what, if anything, can I do about this? And is this the norm for urban adventures where NPC aid is around pretty much every corner?
 

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Nebulous

Legend
So (and I realize I'm opening myself up to a lot of criticism here) what, if anything, can I do about this? And is this the norm for urban adventures where NPC aid is around pretty much every corner?
Have the villains frame the PCs for something fairly bad, or more than one thing, or lots of lesser things, and ruin their reputation. The City Guard will refuse to help criminals and troublemakers.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I was worried about this before it started and it's actually worse than I feared. My worry was that, with an entire town of NPCs to pester, the PCs would be constantly talking to anyone and everyone making planning for an upcoming session quite hard. The worse part is that they (reasonably) keep expecting the powers that be to sort out their problems. In the most recent session, one of the party got taken prisoner by the local gang and after discussing possible options amongst themselves they went with going to the city guard to help them recover their comrade. Absolutely reasonable and, of course, no self-respecting city guard person is going to ignore a cry for help (and it doesn't help that one of the PCs was a member of the city watch, so has contacts). But they're doing it a lot and it's a bit frustrating.

Now I certainly didn't help myself by having them going up against a gang that is much more powerful than them (they're level 3) but instead of trying the softly, softly, sneaky, sneaky approach they went running to the guard for backup (again entirely reasonably to choose that option, but it turns them into bystanders). Amusing anecdote, they tried this a couple of sessions ago when they discovered the identity of a villain (and left a mess in the process) and then while they were off rounding up the constabulary, the villain returned discovered that their lair had been ransacked and made their escape, and is now plotting their revenge... I thought that might have learned them...)

So (and I realize I'm opening myself up to a lot of criticism here) what, if anything, can I do about this? And is this the norm for urban adventures where NPC aid is around pretty much every corner?
Urban scenarios, particularly of a sandboxy nature, are the worst possible adventure to run in D&D in my view. Get them out of the city pronto.
 

I must say I am not very good either at urban adventures...

Perhaps you can get inspiration from movies and TV series. What happens when the good guys or the victims try asking the cops for help? Usually it doesn't go well because:

  • cops don't believe them
  • cops are busy with a bigger trouble
  • cops are corrupt and side with the villain
  • cops are inept and get killed

And obviously it doesn't have to apply to the whole city guard, just the individuals that the PCs stumble upon when asking for help.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
In my campaign the PCs are the special investigators. They can get backup now and then but for the most part the authorities are under-funded and don't have the time or ability to help.

So the next time they go to the city guard it would probably be something like "Have they been gone for 24 hours? Not yet? Sorry, can't help." In other cases the guard can give helpful suggestions but may not be able or capable of helping.

As others have stated there are a lot of options.
  • Not a top priority
  • The guard is really there to serve the nobility
  • The guards simply aren't particularly competent. The last time they did something like this, they burned down a city block and didn't rescue the hostage.
  • While there are some honest cops, there is corruption in the ranks
  • They'd like to help, but they need evidence. They can't just go kicking in doors without proper paperwork and search warrants.
  • The cops are afraid of the bad guys
  • If the guard gets involved they'll be breaking what is a delicate balance with far-reaching consequences. There is more at stake than the PCs realize.
  • The guard can't help, but they also can't explain why. Edict from a corrupt captain? A noble is secretly in league with the gang? They have a secret operation to take down the whole gang and they don't want to expose their operative? Who knows! You don't even have to know right away, figure out something as you go along that fits the story.
I've run primarily urban adventures for years now, they can be a lot of fun.
 

There's already some good advice here. I've been running a mostly urban campaign for the last year and a half. Like @Oofta's campaign, the PCs are an elite city watch squad (or perhaps a dumping ground for problem officers, I've yet to clarify which ;)).

If they go to get help, sometimes they can get it, but sometimes it'll make matters worse, and sometimes they'll be rebuffed. The head of the city watch isn't at their beck and call, and more often than not will tell them they're supposed to be solving problems on their own. It helps me in that they are part of the city watch, but I think the key part to them always asking someone else for help is that these people aren't at their beck and call. There are other threats to the city, these people have other interests, and do not just sit still.

Another thing I did is to write out the laws of the city (which were based on an actual set of medieval laws). Worshippers of Asmodeus causing trouble? Sorry, it says here that only demon worship is outlawed.
 

Galandris

Adventurer
In the most recent session, one of the party got taken prisoner by the local gang and after discussing possible options amongst themselves they went with going to the city guard to help them recover their comrade. Absolutely reasonable and, of course, no self-respecting city guard person is going to ignore a cry for help (and it doesn't help that one of the PCs was a member of the city watch, so has contacts). But they're doing it a lot and it's a bit frustrating.
Have them have the backup they ask for. They are level 3 and against a group with much more firepower? The guard will locate the comrade and send in a bust squad. Remember, though, that NPC guards are CR 1/8, with +3 to attack doing 1d6+1 damage. The first team is killed, the second, strike team of 12 guards led by an officer results in the officer being captured and the rest of the guards killed or heavily injured. The town has lost half of its law enforcement force, and the PC are accused on baiting the guards to a certain death. Now they have to clear their name by taking out the gang (and freeing the beloved guard officer and their friend), before the local authorities tries to turn to real heroes to deal with the unstoppable gang.

So (and I realize I'm opening myself up to a lot of criticism here) what, if anything, can I do about this? And is this the norm for urban adventures where NPC aid is around pretty much every corner?
Don't try a full sandbox if you're not at ease with heavy improvisation. Have the PCs work for a questgiver organization : either they are the LEO themselves, or they work for an organization emphasizing discretion...
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
The next time they call the cops on someone, have that cop be corrupt and friends with that person.
Or even if the cop they speak to isn't corrupt, how secure is your average fantasy city guard organization? As far as information goes, it probably leaks like a sieve. Someone is on the payroll for every criminal organization or BBEG worth his salt in that city. I guarantee it.
 
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S'mon

Legend
I find this a strange problem. On much of the planet, right now, a bunch of 'adventurers' running to the local police are more likely to get themselves arrested than to see the police go deal with the local criminal cartel on their behalf. For one thing, the police don't want to die, and even if they can outgun the cartel right now, the criminals likely know where they live and can get revenge on their families.

I suggest that if the PCs try going to the city watch, the watchman they meet takes them aside and explains a few facts of life. Or if a PC is city watch, she ought to know already.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Or even if the cop they speak to isn't corrupt, how secure is your average fantasy city guard organization? As far as information goes, it probably leaks like a sieve. Someone is on the payroll for every criminal organization or BBEG worth his salt in that city. I guarantee it.
Yep, they gave up on their attempt to infiltrate the lair with backup. I’ll have the cops get leaned on by the villains and when they try and enlist them again, they’ll get the “case-closed” brush off, and perhaps some awkward questions about some things they’ve gotten up to prior to this.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Thanks everyone, this has been very helpful and encouraging. But I’m definitely going to avoid this kind of thing in the future though as it really doesn’t scratch my adventuring itch. I want the thrill of fantastic discovery and grand adventure. This too small scale for my taste.
 

jgsugden

Hero
D&D is an RPG - a role playing game. Characters play a role in a story. The game works best when the story is at the best it can be.

Your problem here is that the story gets pretty dull when they turn to the city guard for everything.

You can counter that in several ways, some of which have been suggested before, such as corrupt guardsmen. That is one of several options where the enemies they face already have considered the presence of the guard and established a counterapproach that shields them from that risk. You can also have the bandits so well hidden that the guard have trouble finding them, or have the guard be scared to engage the bandits directly.

One key of an urban adventure, IME, is to make sure that the forces of law do not have enough resources. If they do, that city is usually not a great place to adventure because the authorities are the solution to almost all problems. That is a problem with the Dragon Heist module - Waterdeep is so advanced and has so many invested powerful NPCs that there is almost no reason for a responsible party not to just turn over every clue they find and let someone more competent handle the problem.
 

Krachek

Adventurer
Make them learn about the city and the various power level.
A city is somehow much more dangerous than a dungeon of a given level, because a city may a a wide variety of npc and certain of very high level.
at level 3, players should know that their character are still in the minor league.
 

There's a lot of good advice here, and I guess I'm so used to TV and so on, that I would automatically have gone with the City Guard being too busy/corrupt to help.

However, one thing I might say is, if you've got these powerful villains, and weak PCs, but who are getting captured and stuff, you might want to consider if you need to encourage a sneakier approach by modeling, perhaps introducing a vigilante who wants to work with the PCs - have him model the behaviour you want from them successfully for an adventure or two, get the players liking him, then have him get murdered or die heroically covering their retreat or something.
 

tetrasodium

Adventurer
The next time they call the cops on someone, have that cop be corrupt and friends with that person.
The Gentlemen Bastards series of books does a great job of showing how a thieve's guild type thing could exist in a stable society with credible law enforcement without judge dred type murder& mayhem. Why the heck would the city guards do anything about the thieves in town thatcontribute a sizable sum of their wages as long as they are not breaking the secret peace & robbing/killing nobles or people with the sort of political clout that could make the lives of city guards difficult?
 

Bacon Bits

Adventurer
Usually when I have the guards show up, they're not interested In talking. They're going to draw their cudgels and knock everyone who is capable of defending themselves senseless who doesn't immediately surrender. Then they arrest everyone and throw them in lockup for a few days, after disarming them. And when you get let out you'll be lucky if you get everything back while only losing a bunch of your gold. If you do it again, you're likely to be thrown out of town and told to never come back. If you come back and they catch you again, they're probably going to brand you or execute you.

The city guards are not interested in truth or justice. They don't care if you're harmed or if you didn't start it. To the guards the PCs are just another group of armed troublemakers. They're interested in keeping the peace and stopping unrest. They're not your friends. They're not on your side. They're loyal to who pays them, to each other, and to their own families.

And those are the Lawful Good ones.
 

Flamestrike

Adventurer
I was worried about this before it started and it's actually worse than I feared. My worry was that, with an entire town of NPCs to pester, the PCs would be constantly talking to anyone and everyone making planning for an upcoming session quite hard. The worse part is that they (reasonably) keep expecting the powers that be to sort out their problems. In the most recent session, one of the party got taken prisoner by the local gang and after discussing possible options amongst themselves they went with going to the city guard to help them recover their comrade. Absolutely reasonable and, of course, no self-respecting city guard person is going to ignore a cry for help (and it doesn't help that one of the PCs was a member of the city watch, so has contacts). But they're doing it a lot and it's a bit frustrating.

Now I certainly didn't help myself by having them going up against a gang that is much more powerful than them (they're level 3) but instead of trying the softly, softly, sneaky, sneaky approach they went running to the guard for backup (again entirely reasonably to choose that option, but it turns them into bystanders). Amusing anecdote, they tried this a couple of sessions ago when they discovered the identity of a villain (and left a mess in the process) and then while they were off rounding up the constabulary, the villain returned discovered that their lair had been ransacked and made their escape, and is now plotting their revenge... I thought that might have learned them...)

So (and I realize I'm opening myself up to a lot of criticism here) what, if anything, can I do about this? And is this the norm for urban adventures where NPC aid is around pretty much every corner?

Think on your feet man.

Have the Guard deputise them and send THEM in, and the adventure is back on track.
 

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