Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On Urban Adventures - Part One

Civilization in Nod is composed of settlements called city-states. City-states are defined by their alignment and their size, among other factors. City-states are surrounded by settled lands in a 5 to 15 mile radius, and separated by vast tracts of monster-infested wilderness. The key factors to consider when creating a city-state include its overall alignment,

A city-state’s alignment gives the Referee a quick snapshot of the social life of its citizens. In true medieval fashion, the alignment of a society can be seen in the physical character of the settlement and its citizens.

Lawful city-states have a dominant ruling class and a large bureaucratic class. Law enforcement is strict (i.e. bribery is expensive). Adventurers are given more scrutiny in a lawful city-state, and they stand a higher chance of being harassed by guardsmen. Lawful city-states fit easily into the feudal system. Unlike true medieval cities, lawful city-states are neat and tidy. Right angles and straight streets are the norm. Lawful citizens are sober, well-mannered and tidy. They are considered in their speech and cautious in their actions. Once they make a decision, though, they are stubborn and resolute in seeing it through.

Neutral city-states put a high value on personal freedom and initiative. They are as likely as lawful city-states to be ruled by a monarch, but often have a mayor as well (see guilds below), or the monarch may be elected by (and from) noble families. Neutral city-states fit well into the scheme of the mercantile renaissance city-state. They are crowded, manic and vital. The streets and buildings are crooked and jumbled. The citizens are flashy, loud and brash, and are known for their powerful passions.

Chaotic societies put a premium on power and survival. Murdering one’s way to the top is not unknown and ruthlessness in politics and business is expected. A chaotic society may pay lip service to benevolent deities, but in the end acquisition of power trumps all other concerns. Chaotic city-states look dangerous. They are shadowy even in the daytime. Chaotic cities are corrupt and crime-ridden. Their citizens are sharp, suspicious, violent and greedy.

City-states can be categorized as towns, cities or metropoli based on their population. Towns have from 1,000 to 8,000 people, but average 2,500 citizens. Cities have from 8,000 to 12,000 citizens, averaging 10,000. Metropoli have 12,000 to 200,000 citizens, averaging 50,000. Cities of more than one million people existed in medieval times, but were quite rare.

Each city-state is ruled by a monarch or by a lord mayor and his council of aldermen. The city-state is surrounded by manorial villages and a rural population much larger than the urban population (more on the rural population later).

City-states are rarely home to high level adventurers, since those folk prefer the freedom and power of wilderness strongholds they have established. In truth, a monarch has no desire for powerful rivals close to home, preferring to put them on the borderlands where they can fight monsters and extend his rule! Low to mid-level adventurers may settle in city-states, taking jobs with the government, opening taverns or investing in (or leading) merchant companies. In practice, this means that one will rarely find NPC's higher than level 6 in a city-state. Consequently, arcane and divine spells higher than level 3 are difficult to come by in city-states. If adventurers seek powerful spells or magic items, they must venture into the wilderness.

Theme & Vistas
A city-state’s theme refers to a a quick thumb-nail sketch of the kind of genre into which it best fits. This could be a specific time and place (i.e. renaissance Italian city-state), a literary genre (i.e. gothic romance) or a reference to one or more literary works.

Vistas are a sketch of the sights, sounds and smells of the city-state. One can assume that all city-states will be crowded and stinking, with pigs and chickens roaming the streets, beggars, peddlers and urchins everywhere one turns, nobles in carriages or sedan chairs, etc. But beyond the things common to every city-state, each settlement in the game should have a character and style that makes it distinctive, and thus memorable.

City dwellers are usually normal humans without levels in any adventuring class. The only high-level NPC's common to city-states are its high priest and the leader of its criminal underworld, with high-level bards (if such a class is used in your game) a distinct possibility.

The rest of the citizens are either peasants, burghers (usually artisans) or aristocrats. The artisans that adventurers deal with are masters that own their own shops. A master might be assisted by a journeyman and one or two apprentices. A few artisans are classed as “grand masters” capable of manufacturing items of extraordinary quality. Masters and grand masters always belong to a guild (more on guilds and other organizations later).

It is important for players to understand how a medieval artisan worked. Medieval artisans generally did not produce surpluses (i.e. they didn't work when they weren't being paid) and thus did not have shops where goods can be purchased “off the rack”. While the apprentices and journeymen might spend their day making cheap items (less than a gold piece in value), masters make more valuable items to order. Assume that most goods can be completed in 1d20 days. If the players don’t like this, they’d better invent capitalism.

Social Classes
For our purposes, there are three social classes: Aristocrat, burgher and peasant.

Aristocrats are 1 to 2 percent of the population. This class includes royalty, nobility, knights and dames. Maybe 1 in 100 aristocrats have levels in a PC class, typically cleric, fighting-man, magic-user or paladin. Aristocrats earn anywhere from 600 gp to 10,000 gp a year (i.e. d20 gp per day).

Burghers, or townsmen, are the middle class. They make up about 10 to 20 percent of the population and include merchants, guild masters, officials, abbots, priests, lawyers, scholars, explorers, officers, inn and tavern keepers and artisans. Burghers earn about 30 gp to 200 gp per year (i.e. d100 sp per day). Maybe 1 in 100 burghers have levels in a PC class, typically cleric, druid, fighting-man, illusionist or monk.

Peasants represent most of the remainder of a city-state's population. They include servants, tutors, farmers, herdsmen, fishermen, men-at-arms and apprentices. These folk earn from 10 to 20 gp per year (i.e. 1d6 cp per day). About 1 in 100 peasants has levels in a PC class, typically bard, fighting-man, ranger or thief.

The underclass includes actors, assassins, beggars, gypsies, outlaws, peddlers, prisoners, rebels, runaways, strolling minstrels, thieves, tinkers and vagabonds. They represent about 10 percent of the population and their earnings can vary widely. Typical classes of these people are assassin, barbarian, bard and thief.

Next installment - the notable citizens your players will want to visit.

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