Reese Laundry
3 years agoPublic
OK guys & gals, help me learn how the hell to run a city campaign.  Please share your resources, advice, tools and so on.  I have most of them already, I imagine, but I'm just not grokking how to use them efficiently.

My players want an urban campaign, but I'm just not at all comfortable trying to run this mess.  They mostly want quick single-session adventures or missions rather than longer.  With dungeons and such, I can scatter around small things based on Dyson's maps or whatever. As a DM still learning the trade, there are an infinite number of modules, old Dungeon magazines and one-page dungeons to either steal from, or read for inspiration and ideas on how to structure things.  For city stuff though... not so much.

I guess I just don't see how to throw together a night's play from a few rolls on random tables in Vornheim or whatever. Your advice is truly appreciated...
Andrew Shields3 years ago
Obsidian Portal can be your friend in tracking your own continuity and the common knowledge players can access.

For naughty times in a fantasy city environment, you might benefit from the system neutral information on pages 62-68 in the Thief RPG I made last year.

A living expenses chart can really simplify your life. I did this one.

You can use one central conceit to tie the game together, like rebuilding a stolen and broken up art collection. Here is an example of such a collection.

+Jeff Rients has 20 questions that can help flesh out what the characters will want to know.

Here is an example of what I did with it.

Here is another example.

Overall map and history can give you endless hooks to work with, for adventures and factions. Do a little prep up front and your players will breathe life into it with their decisions. Here is an example.

I hope this sort of thing is helpful; even if you do not use what I made, you can consider the format and the kind of background for what you make. Good luck!
Reese Laundry3 years ago
I have it - bought the book too, not just the PDF.  I guess I just don't quite get HOW to use it ahead of time.  I'm not so good at rolling a table as we play and running with the results.
Reese Laundry3 years ago
How about actual play reports or podcasts for an ongoing city campaign? I'd love to read/listen to that sort of thing too...
Andrew Shields3 years ago
Sometimes tables can help prepare ahead of time.

For using Vornheim on the fly, I recommend using the "street crawl" technique of generating street shapes and distances to the target. That is the most helpful for determining where things are, if you do not have a rough map of the city or you need the detail for an immediate chase.

One way to generate an interesting environment on the fly is to use this. It was made for Old School Hack, but it can be useful in a system neutral way.
Reese Laundry3 years ago
Holy crap, +Andrew Shields you're a goldmine!  Lot's of things to look into now.  Thanks!
Andrew Shields3 years ago
You are most welcome. I hope some of it is inspirational.
Andrew Shields3 years ago
More generic advice:

Tribalism is important in a city. Who are "their people"? If they are criminals, figure out how they can protect and serve their gang. If they are with the Watch, what criminal activity is the greatest threat, and what politics may affect their commander? If they work for a noble house, who are the houses' friends and enemies? If they want to get in good with the wizards, who opposes the wizards and who are their allies?

If you have a "faction" that the characters work with, then you can think on a faction scale and plug whoever shows up into the action for the session.
Random Wizard3 years ago
Buy Meckwick's Challenge that I wrote :)  It has six separate missions that can be played in a single session.
Daren Commons3 years ago
You mighy check out some urban modules like the old school "Veiled Society" or goodman games "Punjar" mods or my fave mod that ive never run, "the gray citadel"
In general, i think urban gaming is a good opportunity for mystery/investigation scenarios.
mat fowler3 years ago
I did a combo of finding a map of a city and used it for a rough layout. I then used vornheim to determine what shops were passed , and the inn games and NPC names and traits. Keep notes of what NPCs you use and where. Remember that most City folk don't know what the rest of the city is like. You will find connections start to get made between the areas and the people there, and it starts to create itself, just like a real City. Don't over plan it or your game will be slow and halting as you scrabble for endless notes. Much nicer to have a fast paced description that flows and helps set the scene.
Andrew Shields3 years ago
For Vornheim, one of the most genius parts of it is generating aristocrats and then generating their relationships. If you do that, and then attach the characters to one of the aristocrats (or have them in conflict that affects the criminals or the watch etc.) then you've got hooks a-plenty.
Vornheim, and the advice from +Andrew Shields , and you're set! A tip with random generation, if you are a novice GM; do some rolls ahead of time and prep them in order (but honestly, stick with what the dice show and don't fidget too much). This way you have a number of already prepared results for all kinds of "random encounters" which help you get going.

Pretty soon, you won't need any at all but will just toss a few dice now and then and the campaign will build itself. :)
In addition to following the previous advices, I'd say, don't try to improvise everything, or it will overwhelm you. Prepare something for the first session, just as you would do if you were to run a "normal" dungeon adventure. Use tables such as those found in Vornheim just as "random encounters", no need to overthink about them while you are playing. AFTER the session, think about what happened and try to connect every major/weird event to something else (and Vornheim relationships table can help you here, too): who was that creepy random guy the party met in that alleyway? Why did he seemed so interested in them? What's that letter they found on a guard body? Why and to whom it is important?Who where the people the PCs killed? For whom they were working? 
Reese Laundry3 years ago
I haven't reread Vorheim since I got it.  Obviously time to re-crack that bad boy and see where it takes me.

Thanks everyone!
Paride Papadia3 years ago
Tough not Old School, many Pathfinder society adventures are city based,are designed to be played in a single session, and have a main patron that can be substituted in other campaigns. Also, each of the character is aligned to a faction that has its own objectives, so there could be some inter party discussion about priorities.
The adaptation is very easy, keeping in mind that there are more fights than your standard OS adventure.
I don't have a lot of experience running city adventures, but when I did run a few, this is how I did it:


My players were in an outlying rural area and decided that they wanted to go to the city to buy expensive stuff they couldn't get in the country. Mostly weapons and armor, and not any particular goals besides "buy stuff."


I used three resources:

#1: +Christian Walker's Freecity of Haldane. This was the "scaffolding" that I used for the basics of how the city works, what the quarters are, how the government works, the basic politics. This supplement is/was free to download but I can't find it right now. I've asked Christian here if it's still available anywhere:

#2: A few of Flying Buffalo's Citybooks. I was fortunate enough to find hard copies of these in my FLGS. They contain multiple businesses, complete with maps, NPCs and multiple plot hooks for each business.

#3: +Matt Finch's City Encounters, a huge table of encounters for what the PCs see just walking down the street. I can't find in anywhere now, though. :(

To prep, I made sure I was familiar with Haldane and Citybook #1 by reading Haldane (~20 pages digest) a few times and Citybook #1 I probably just read the businesses that I thought the PCs might visit or that I thought were interesting.


The PCs walked into the city and I began rolling on the City Encounters tables. It turns out that there is an archery tournament being held in a few days according to a town crier. One of the PCs decides to enter, so they go to the bow shop from Citybook 1. When the proprietor goes to demonstrate a bow, she realizes that she, somehow, can't shoot, a plot hook from the Citybook. She hires the PCs to figure out why (mixing Haldane politics in, I decide on the fly that she is the representative of the mayor of Haldane in the tournament and the mayor's rival, constantly maneuvering to take control of the city, got her cursed to embarrass the mayor at the archery tournament).

I don't remember how the PCs figured out to check out the mayor's rival - probably asking around in a tavern - but then they decided to do a full-on assault on his mansion to gather information. I decided that the place was heavily guarded and they never got close to getting inside, but if they had then Vornheim's building interior generator would probably have come in handy.

As it turned out, they killed a bunch of guards and ran away. I had them bump into a member of the Thieves Guild that I think is in the Citybooks or Haldane and she sheltered them for a while until they, in distinctive dress, just went back to their inn, where they were recognized and the city watch came for them.

This was a long time ago, so forgive my rusty memory. My players said it was one of the most fun sessions they've ever played, and I enjoyed running it too. The idea was to know the basics of how the city works, including politics, multiple NPCs/businesses of interest with multiple possible plot hooks apiece, and a good encounter table to mix what you already know about the city together until NPCs and plot hooks start to glom together.

Hope this helps.