Reese Laundry
2 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...
Jeff Rients2 years ago
Q: You got Vornheim?+2
Reese Laundry2 years ago
Yep. Just not sure how to run with a few random rolls.  I guess I'm more looking for advice on how to prepare a smattering of quick adventures ahead of time, then integrate them into something that feels like a living city. It just seems a lot harder for Urban than it does for Dungeon/Wilderness.
Reese Laundry2 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...
Dave Webb2 years ago
I ran a fantasy "black ops" game where the PCs were all conscripted by the king to perform missions for him. Some were assassinations, others snatch and grabs, etc. Use the elements of your city to your advantage, like thieves guilds or any guild in particular. Urban adventuring is fairly easy - you have sewers? You got a dungeon crawl.+1
Reese Laundry2 years ago
This is exactly what they want to do. I have them set up with someone passing them jobs, they are exploring a connection or two to a thieves guild and I want to seed rumors for other things not being offered directly, just so they have some choices.  They are pretty chaotic murder-hobo types, so pretty much anything goes. So, given that I don't have enough time to create this stuff from scratch, where do I get ideas, or pre-made stuff to drop in with a little tweaking and a few name changes?

Dungeon magazine is great, but I'm not finding much urban stuff in there.  That's the sort of thing I want though. 
Robert Neaves2 years ago
I think it's easier with a city. Bumping into someone who can give you a quest or even just witnessing another plotline in progress is so much easier when there are other people around. If you're lost in a desert or something it's a little harder to introduce an NPC.
Brian Takle2 years ago
I think the challenge is that dungeoning is nonsocial, and city adventures are always social. You have to pry out shades of social meaning and consequence in order to have fun in a city - you can't just explore blocks.

I don't have any Vornheim love but it's on the right track. Random event tables are a great start. (There are many good tables to be found online.) Once you've got an event, start asking questions:

What does this mean in this neighborhood?

What does this mean in this political climate?

How are those in power going to respond?

Who benefits from this event? Who stands to lose something?

Who is inadvertently caught up in the event and injured by it?

What secrets does this event threaten to expose?
Dave Webb2 years ago
Two things helped me: watching the t.v. show "Leverage" and old Shadowrun modules. Jusy tweak for full blown fantasy.
Dave Webb2 years ago
I agree with you +Brian Takle , but from the way +Reese Laundry is talking his players are less social/political oriented and more killbot/murderhobo aligned. Unless I'm misunderstanding? I prefer running a city campaign over any other, mostly because I love doing sociopolitical plot lines that are convoluted as all hell, but finding the players who dig that sort of thing is like uncovering the Rosetta Stone.
Bryan Crossland2 years ago
Since they are "pretty chaotic murder-hobo types", it would not be hard to have them spend a night avoiding a citywide manhunt for them by the city watch. They could be mistaken as the ones that committed a murder or have actually committed the murder. Having them flee the law for a bit will give you the time to think of other plot devices like who framed/squealed on them and why. Creating a villain that wants revenge for a previous job they pulled. 

Unfortunately I don't know of any prebuilt city adventures that fit your bill. 99% of the city stuff I have encountered was created by the DM. 
Brian Takle2 years ago
+Bryan Crossland that's exactly the kind of things I mean. You come up with an event, and then figure how how the locals (or, rather, the various factions of locals) are going to respond. Maybe one particular counselor wants to "crack down" and sends his personal forces hunting through the neighborhood to find the culprit, and they aren't too interested in making sure they have the right culprit, any one will do. And lo and behold the PCs just happen to have developed a slight rep for being murder hobos. What excellent targets!
Marc Kepler2 years ago
Yeah, you should establish the 'threat level' of the guards/prosecution first, so the group don't burn the whole city down. 
Oculus Orbus2 years ago
For a one-shot adventure, consider containing the adventure to a single building. Kind of a cop out, sure, but an "above-ground dungeon" in a blighted area just might do the trick. Add adjacent buildings as necessary. Also, as Dave Webb said, sewers.

If you've never seen the movie Trespass (1992) I recommend you do so asap.
Connor Uber2 years ago
Factions. Present multiple factions to the players, see which ones they interact with. Use reactions rolls. If they insult the players, you can be sure they'll want revenge. This leads them to possibly ally with another faction that hates the first one.

Then "gang wars" ensue.

Always present multiple options for food, room & board, etc. and make it clear that the cheaper options are not always safe. (e.g. cheap inns don't have locks on the doors, cheap food is nasty or.. cheap.)

Generally the players might start as nobodies, and have to gain influence and fame, etc.  You can have a behind the scenes score for them, and for prominent NPCs. So there might be "citywide fame" and facton reputation such as "reputation with the church of bargle."
Say holbar, captain of the watch in the docks district has a fame of 3. He might take notice of the PCs when their fame reaches 2 or 3.
Likewise, their rep with the church might provide them with patrons, missions, etc.


Just some ideas based around what one of my friends uses, as he primarily runs a city game.
Reese Laundry2 years ago
Thank you all, gentlemen.  Time to sit down and do some reading and prepwork now.
Robert Morris2 years ago
The things I keep in mind when running city adventures:

1. Describe things. Describe lots of things happening in the background that don't really mean much.

2. Emphasize the important things. Really describe the things that matter. You can describe a line of stalls in a market, but pay particular attention and spend more time describing the fortune teller that will tell the adventurers the next hook.

3. Have a lot of hooks in the water. If you fish with a single line, you can't catch many fish. The same goes for players. Give them a few options of things to do and let them pick the ones that interest them. Make sure the rest of the options progress in the background.

4. Keep good notes. If you give someone a name or other defining characteristic, make sure they keep it in subsequent sessions.

5. Use big events to distract or refocus the game. A big festival, a holiday, a natural disaster, plague, or some other event that affects the whole city is a good way to get the party all thinking about one particular thing. It can also introduce a solid reason for conscripting them for a particular adventure.

6. Use random tables. There are a lot of different resources for city encounters, random NPCs, random shops, and so on. Use them all!

Here are some of the resources I use for city games:

650 Fantasy City Encounter Seeds & Hooks (

Vornheim (

Cities ( - This is an old supplement that has some good tables for populating cities and city encounters.

City System (TSR) - This boxed set had some decent encounter tables, some good pickpocketing tables and a few other bits of interest besides the maps of Waterdeep.

City Works (Fantasy Flight Games) - Some good advice on running city-based games, some bits to keep track of when running them, and an interesting city generation system.

And whatever else comes to hand at the moment.