Posts Tagged ‘Cities’

I have a friend who warned me after my second blog post that involving my players too much in the creation of my world was bad news. “Players will tell you what they want, but they have no idea really.” I’m delighted to report that I think this friend, great as he is, was incorrect.

Sitting down to create a campaign guide is no small feat and I couldn’t do it without the help of my friends and all you folk commenting on the blog. My players in particular have done a ton of work, helping me playtest and revise the various mechanics I’ve created. They are world builders and architects with me every step of the way. It’s thanks to suggestions and direct contributions from my players that I was able to create rules for naval combat and firearms. Not to mention my players helped create adventure sites via the Well of Heroes and suggested I create the Explorers’ Guild and The Society of Seekers.

Well I just read through a whole bunch of character backstories, some less than a page of bullet points, others 33 pages single-spaced. Now I have a lot more story material with which to play!

Encouraging Players to Create

Right now all my players have access to a rough manuscript version of the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. While I asked them to help edit the book, I also invited them to create their own cities, adventure sites, and whatever else they wanted to bring into the world. After all, the book isn’t close to being published and the earliest we may see any kind of OGL is December, and even then the launch wouldn’t be until 2015. So anything they add at this point I can actually add to the book itself. That’s pretty cool! Even if we did have a published book though, or we were playing in a setting someone else created, like Dark Sun, I would still invite my players to do this. These guys are doing the work for me and everything they create is a new and interesting story hook!

I suggest you do the same. I ask all my players for a backstory. The least I can do is let them write what they want within the themes of the setting. Writing a backstory should be fun, not homework. I don’t give them any restrictions in page count or format and I encourage them to let their imaginations run wild.

Usually, my players still clear anything major with me before they cement it into their backstories. I’m very cool with this, but it’s a courtesy, not a requirement. When they do ask about something I always use that old improv trick of saying, “Yes, and…” If you don’t know the concept, essentially when a player offers you an idea you say yes and build on the idea so it works within your setting.

I’d now like to give you a look at a few of the things my players brought to Exploration Age.

City of Autumn

My friend and frequent Round Table panelist Andrew was writing the backstory for his Archfey Pact Human Warlock, Nightshade, when he asked me if he could create a a city in the predominantly elf and halfling country of Taliana where Nightshade was raised. His thought was to create a city which spanned two sides of a major river in a forest. I thought that sounded interesting, so I said yes.

It doesn’t stop there though. Andrew also wanted to create Nightshade’s Archfey patron. He knew of the Summer and Winter courts in the Feywild, but wanted to know why it was more difficult to find information on the Autumn court. I told him I had never seen it fleshed out and so he took it upon himself to detail the Autumn Court and its queen, his patron, Messia. So not only did I get a city out of the deal, I also got a whole Feywild court detailed, which gives me plenty of adventure ideas and hooks for Nightshade as well as the rest of the party. Take a look at the description of Siannodel from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

For your reference.

For your reference. Note: Siannodel has not been added to the map yet!


Taliana’s City of Autumn sits on both sides of the Vumba River on Vacurion Bay. The city itself sits in an enormous maple grove and is most beautiful during the Autumn season when all the trees are changing and the river runs calmly. Twisting bridges made of orange, red, and yellow maple leaves held together by magic bring both sides of the city together. Perhaps this is the reason the city is favored by Messia, the Archfey queen of the Autumn Court. Since lumber is the city’s main trade, Messia is honored by the lumberjacks who try to make a point of planting trees each year to replace the ones they cut down, for fear of losing Messia’s favor. During the Autumn sacrifices are made and feasts are held in Messia’s honor and in exchange the city is warded to keep undead, vermin, and evil outsiders from entering Siannodel’s city limits. Giant vermin from the Arachna War are something the people of Siannodel are worried about these days, so it is important they keep Messia happy. Unfortunately, there is an indication that the city could be falling out of the Autumn queen’s good graces.

Siannodel used to always have a guardian, a champion warlock of Messia who would watch over the city and surrounding forest. However, it has been more than a century since Messia made a pact and the folk of the city whisper their corrupt ruling council is causing them to fall out of Messia’s favor. Heian Zeïtan, a longstanding council member, has recently begun throwing more gold around than it seems he takes in. He claims it is the inheritance of a distant relative, but others are not so sure. Siannodel did not participate as much as it could have during The Fourth Great War, and some whisper he was paid by enemy forces to keep Siannodel out of the fight as much as possible.

Because of its position on the on Vacurion Bay, Siannodel is a usually a stop for merchants and adventurers on their way to other parts of Findalay or Verda. As such, the city has thriving local blacksmiths, shipwrights, carpenters, artisans, and hospitality establishments.

Just Sign Here

Sometimes players create a magic item in their backgrounds. It might be a lost family sword or a rumored suit of armor which can resist the breath weapon of the dragon which destroyed a PC’s hometown. There are some players who think way outside the box and give you a unique artifact to put into your setting. My friend John gave me the background for Oruk, the half-orc wizard, and included in his history was an (evil) artifact called The Death Note Scroll (and yep, it’s that on the nose). Essentially, this artifact allows a user to write the name of any living creature on the scroll, the creature then dies, and the scroll teleports away to a new unknown location. This note plays a huge part in Oruk’s history, though I didn’t get more specifics than this, so I’d have to create the mechanics myself. Now, I’d like to present to you the story and game mechanics for The Death Note Scroll.

The Death Note Scroll

Wondrous item, artifact

Made from the skin of a long-forgotten, dead archdevil, by a victorious demon prince in the Blood War, The Death Note Scroll still hungers for souls. Every time a new name is written on the scroll, a tiny black diamond appears next to it, holding the name bearer’s soul inside. The scroll never runs out of space, for every time a name is added it stretches and grows a little. The Death Note Scroll is constantly hungry and those who bear it feel a strong urge to add to it the name of their closest foe, annoyance, or even friendly rival. In the black of midnight each night the scroll whispers aloud the names on the scroll in a voice as dry as forgotten paper. It often appears in an unremarkable black case, but when heated by flame, red Abyssal script appears on the outside, telling of a powerful gift within.

Once a name is written on The Death Note Scroll, the creature who’s name is written dies if they have less than 200 hit points. Their soul is trapped in the diamond which appears next to their name and they cannot be revived or brought back in anyway, unless The Death Note Scroll is destroyed. Once a name is added to the scroll, it teleports away to a random location (DM’s choice).

The Death Note Scroll is forged by powerful demonic magic and can only be destroyed by an archdevil or demon prince. Courting the favor of these beings is nigh impossible and those who do, must be prepared to give up much.

I Can’t Sleep

Sometimes players get a little more complicated than creating a city or magic item for your campaign world. My player Ray has a sorcerer PC, Ezra, who at times cannot sleep (he’s rather troubled). Ray took his PC and tied his background into that of Andrew’s Nightshade. Both have the favor of Messia, the queen of the Autumn Court. So sometimes Ezra is able to sleep soundly, for Messia takes pity on him and comforts him in his sleep.

Ray wanted to create an insomnia system which would put him at a disadvantage on the nights he did not sleep, but give him a slight edge on the night’s Messia, a powerful Archfey, showed up to help him sleep. I told him I would check it out to make sure it wasn’t giving him a huge advantage, and if it all looked kosher, we’d playtest the mechanic. Here’s what Ray created. Nice work!

Rules Module: Spellcaster Insomnia

You have trouble sleeping. Every time you take an extended rest, roll on the chart for the results below.

d10 Effect
1 You cannot sleep. You gain no healing benefits from an extended rest, though for the purposes of spell casting, you have taken an extended rest.
2 You have a half night of very troubled sleep. Others can hear you cry out at terrible dreams. You only regain half of the hit dice and HP that you would normally recover.
3 – 4 You have a poor night’s sleep. You recover one fewer hit die and two fewer HP (this increases to 2 and 5, respectively, at 10th level) than you would otherwise recover.
5 – 9 Messia (or a different other-worldly force) sends a projection of herself to comfort you until you are asleep. You gain all the benefits of your extended rest.
10 Messia (or different other-worldly force) comes in person to comfort you as you sleep (often only for a moment and after you have already passed into a shaky slumber). You gain all the benefits of an extended rest and wake up with 5 temp HP (this increases to 10 at 10th level).

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Hey all. Short update today. This week has been pretty insane with work and some other stuff (my brother had a baby). I’ve been cranking on the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. My hope was to share a module for ship combat today, but it isn’t quite ready so look forward to that in the near future.

Instead, I wanted to share with you some more excerpts from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. We’ll be talking about something key to all D&D campaign worlds – cities!

Making a City

Look at all these cities!

Look at all these cities!

When I sit down to create a city for Exploration Age, I try to think about three key questions.

  1. Why is this city important? In other words, why is the city still standing? What is its main industry? What defines this city as compared to others, even those within the same country? For instance, Los Angeles is a very different city from Chicago which are both very different from Boston. Each has its own architecture, its own layout, its own people and personality, and its own reasons to thrive.
  2. Where is the city located and why? Is this a port city? Is it near a body of water so its people can drink? Is it near a natural resource which fuels its main industry? Think about how location would influence the day-to-day lives of the people living within a given city. Icewind Dale’s Bryn Shander is very different from Calimport because of their locations in Forgotten Realms.
  3. Why would adventurers want to come to this city? Beyond passing through, what might make this city attractive to adventurers? Perhaps it is close to or contains some adventure sites, has a rare magic shop that specializes in items found nowhere else, is home to a guild or government that might hire the PCs, or is a great place to gather rumors and information. Maybe its a great vacation spot where they can spend their down time! There’s loads of ways to make a place attractive to adventurers, but remember to include those details. This is an oft overlooked question.

If you need a city and you’re stuck, get inspired by looking at the real world. Jot down your top three favorite cities, all the things you like about them and then mix and match details to make a great city on the fly!

And Now… Some Cities

The following are excerpts from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. It’s two cities from the human nation of Aeranore and one from the dwarf nation of Bragonay. Feel free to steal these cities for your own worlds if you don’t want to set your game in Canus. Let me know what you think!

Oliath (City Population 120,000)

The capital city of Aeranore is where Queen Icillia IV makes her home and holds court. Oliath is built upon a large hill, sprouting up on a lonely, flat plane. Atop the hill are the city’s most important buildings which can been seen throughout the land, The Grand Cathedral of Immortality, The Royal Palace of Reganta, and The Castle of the Council. At the bottom of the hill are the docks, welcoming boats that have come by various rivers after journeys on the Elma Ocean. All manner of residences and shops are layered between the top and bottom of the hill. As the saying goes in Oliath, the higher up the hill you live, the higher your income must be. Nobles and the upper class live at the top of the hill and folks become poorer as one gets closer to the docks. The massive city is known for the hill’s steep, winding roads and the massive, fifty-foot high, semicircular wall around the base where Oliath does not touch its namesake lake.

People of Oliath are all business. They hurry from place to place with little regard for the people around them. Many visitors think this behavior is quite rude, but the people of Oliath would tell you that getting in the way of someone with important business is more impolite. Its not that they are mean, its just that they have more important things on their mind.

Oliath is also home to Aeranore’s largest military compound and prison. All new recruits are trained in Aeranore and the military leadership lives and works within the city so they can be close to the queen. The military’s campus, Reganta Grounds, takes up almost a full eighth of the city. Massive dormitories, training grounds, mess halls, offices, stables, and equipment bunkers make up most of the area.

The city’s prison, Queensgard, is actually built into the hill itself. There is only one known entrance, but there are whispers of an Underdark passage into Queensgard that is known only by the military’s highest officers. Literally, the city of Oliath sits atop its prisoners.

Vacurion (City Population 90,000)

Aeranore’s Vacurion is often called The City of Pleasures and it truly delivers. During the day a traveler might want to experience one of Vacurion’s spas, parlors, or bathhouses to relax and prepare for the night. At night music, theatre, food, drinking, gambling, and other entertainments are all available for a person who is interested. The town even has special pleasure resorts in upscale neighborhoods instead of inns and taverns. These resorts will take care of all a traveler’s needs during his or her stay. The excitement doesn’t end there. Vacurion is full of exotic marketplaces and rare goods for sale thanks to it being on the Brellonic Coast. The city itself is a vibrant pink color, thanks to the unique sandstone used to make many of its buildings. Most of the residents of Vacurion don’t enjoy such a lavish life-style, since they are providing it to travelers, but they do live fairly well on the tips and kindness of patrons. They live in Vacurion’s towering pink apartment complexes and are usually as pleasant off duty as they are on.

In addition to being a place known for wild or relaxing vacations, Vacurion is also a place where many expeditions and immigrants leave for Verda. Mercenaries come to relax before heading out on a job across the ocean or after getting back from one. The rare goods found in the markets are alongside all manner of adventuring gear. Plus, there are always captains looking for crew and protection.

Because it attracts many wealthy people, Vaurion is also a target for pirate raids. As such, they have built a wall mounted with cannons around their dock district. The gates into and out of the docks can be dropped at a moment’s notice, trapping the pirates, and anyone with them, inside the district to be pummelled with cannons. This has prevented many raids, but they do occasionally still happen. Still, the rent is dirt cheap in the docks district as a result, so it’s not all bad!

Kerdabi (City Population 85,000)

Bragonay’s capital began deep inside The Spine of Bragonay’s Ahdagah Mountain which borders The Rocky Wastes. The sprawling city has since grown beyond the inside of Ahdagah Mountain. Its tunnels and structures spill out onto the mountain’s sun-baked surface.

Outside the mountain, things are a bit more lawless. This is where the peasant class and some artisans live and work. The soldiers do not patrol the area as much as inside, so criminal activity is far more commonplace. The black markets have goods rare and illegal, orange spice dens hide in plain sight, thugs intimidate shopkeepers for collection fees, and cutpurses stalk the crowded ledges along the sides of Ahdagah Mountain. The structures and traffic on the narrow ledges of the mountain, make living in outer Kerdabi a congested experience. To avoid disease being spread, the dead are burned as quickly as possible. The very top of Ahdagah Mountain is actually home to the world’s largest funeral pyre. A group of volunteer peasants keep it running all day and night. Kerdabi’s famous adamantine mines are accessible by tunnels separate from the inner city, so some of the peasants have never even seen the inside of Ahdagah Mountain.

Inner Kerdabi is another world. The air is better, the temperature is cooler, and the streets are less crowded. This is where the upper castes make their homes and conduct business. The most successful artisans live and work here, soldiers train for war here, and the fate of Bragonay is decided in these halls. Empress Najwa’s palace and the Warlord Chambers sit in a gated compound in the center of town. Once a year all of Bragonay’s noble caste is invited to come to Kerdabi and appeal to the warlords and empress in a summit on the first day of Summer. Kerdabi’s most famous attraction however, is its indoor arena, where volunteer gladiators are welcome to take on one another as well as monsters and beasts. The arena can even be flooded for naval battles.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!