This was prompted by Brian (who writes Trollsmyth) about fleshing out city settings with questions. These are some of the questions I’ve asked myself about Gran Martel.
Cities provide a very different kind of play than dungeons, wilderness, and towns. They’re just as dangerous and ‘crawlable’ as dungeons, but they’re also teeming with life and rules that govern that life. Running a city that actually feels like a city requires a decent amount of prep.
Here are 20 questions that a dungeon master ought to be able to answer about the city their players are playing in for more than a couple sessions. These are things players will eventually want to know if they’re doing more than just visiting the city.
This list is based on two sets of assumptions:
- That you’ve already taken the time to answer Jeff Rients’ 20 questions about your campaign setting. If you haven’t already, answer those first, as they’ll provide a more detailed world for your city to take place in.
- That the city in question operates like an actual city. The population is in the hundreds of thousands and there are more guilds, churches, and organizations than your players could possibly keep track of. Goods and equipment (magical and not) are plentiful and there are dozens, if not hundreds of shops, inns, and places to drink, fuck, and get high in. There isn’t one single political or religious belief system, but rather a few that are dominant and several that aren’t but are still represented.
1. What religion is most prevalent in the city? Who benefits from this/who suffers?
2. Who in the city will reliably buy art pieces and recovered relics from the PC’s? What’s their deal?
3. What is illegal in the city? What’s punishable with jail time, and what’s punishable by death?
4. If you get caught doing crimes, how are you tried? What’s the court system like?
5. What’s the opinion of magic in the city, and is there a place to study it?
6. Who is the richest person in the city? Who are their enemies?
7. What kind of government does the city have? Whose interests do they represent?
8. What’s under the city? Sewers, dungeons, tunnels, aqueducts? What lives in them?
9. What neighbourhoods of the city might the PC’s be barred entry to, based on race/class/status/etc?
10. What’s the terrain like in the city? Is it flat, hilly, are the streets wide or narrow? Does it differ from neighbourhood to neighbourhood?
11. What’s the climate and weather like? Is it temperate, cold, hot, rainy? This should influence both clothing and food available.
12. What’s the architecture of ordinary buildings like? Multi-story, towers, brick, wood, organic materials, basements, attics? Are they easily climbed or broken into?
13. What’s currently in fashion among the rich and middle class? Are there sumptuary laws?
14. Is dueling permitted/encouraged? What laws exist around it? How likely are PC’s to be challenged to a duel on the street?
15. What’s one unique building/landmark/feature the city is most famous for? There should be more than one, but you should have at least one.
16. What are some typical random encounters the PC’s might come across in the streets during the day? At night? You should be able to come up with about 6-10 for each.
17. Who can the PC’s turn to if they break the law or need to escape from town guards? What payment/favours will this person ask for in return?
18. Can you openly wear weapons in the city? If not, who is exempt from this rule?
19. What are some common animals you might see in the streets? Where are animals or beasts not allowed to enter?
20. What can’t be bought in the city, and would need to be smuggled into the city illegally? Who in the city could reliably do this?
Fantasy city-crawls are my favourite kind of adventure!
Great questions for any city location in fantasy or anywhere else.