Thursday, January 23, 2020

What's Going On In My Town?

I like cities and towns a lot! However, the core loop of most OSR games is focused on towns as often little more than glorified item shops and inns. The interesting things happen in dungeons, or on hexcrawl maps, or in strange pocket dimensions. This has changed recently, what with fantastic books like Magical Industrial Revolution or Electric Bastionland, but both of those presuppose quite a bit about the settings involved and really package a whole game setting in a book. The tables I've made in this post are for general use; slottable into any table where you quickly need a new town for the players to rest at, resupply at, or pillage.

Here I'm trying to "solve" three problems I run into when I'm running towns in my games. One, they all feel the same. They look right out of generic fantasy MMO #8975; all thatched rooves and those white walls with cross-bar wood frames, with a big walled castle somewhere. The first table is supposed to provide a little bit of flavor to differentiate them on a more macro level; what the PCs have heard about the town from afar, and something that probably permeates the fabric of the town's day-to-day existence.

Two, the towns-as-menu-interface problem. When the PCs go to a town, it's usually just an opportunity for them to meet quest-givers, rest up, and take a look at the item charts to see what's available and what they can buy. There's precious little else I can whip up on short notice; so this is a group of other things the PCs might be interested in interacting with. It could use a list of NPCs related to the buildings as well; that's a challenge and table for another day.

Three, towns as places where nothing happens. On one hand, towns should be a place of relative stability as opposed to the random-encounter-filled wilderness; that's the whole point of a town. On the other, towns are boring if the players are the only driving force! Giving a little bit of motive force to the players' actions, forcing them to deal with new situations (or ignore situations that could cause problems later) is a great way to fill time if nothing else, when the table gets stagnant because everyone's looking at gear lists.

by Raphael Lacoste

What makes this town special?
1. A fortress, impregnable by attacking forces.
2. Birthplace of a major religious figure, site of many pilgrimages.
3. Built around an institute of higher education.
4. Built atop a vast, ancient structure.
5. Covers for a secret town nearby or hidden in plain sight.
6. Everyone who's born here, or lives here longer than a year and a day, develops a particular mutation (roll on your favorite mutation table to figure out which).
7. Farms something that isn't plants (d6: 1. Glass, 2. Flesh, 3. Books, 4. Weather, 5. Fire, 6. Dreams).
8. Freak constant weather pattern (d6: 1. Rainstorm, 2. Strong winds, 3. Oppressive humidity and heat, 4. Bone-chilling blizzard, 5. Permanent twilight, 6. Incredibly pleasant)
9. Home of the most delicious food in the region.
10. Military town. Everyone's armed to the teeth.
11. Moves around over time.
12. One big building with the entire town under one roof.
13. Openly run by a cult based around (d6: 1. Cult of living personality, 2. A powerful local creature, 3. A deity proscribed by the dominant culture, 4. A local philosophy, 5. A powerful supernatural phenomenon, 6. A band of mythical heroes)
14. Rebuilding after a recent disaster.
15. Run by a cruel and capricious noble, whom the peasants live in fear of.
16. Split in two. Ongoing conflict between the two sides.
17. The monarch built their seasonal home here.
18. They revere their dead. The whole town is a cemetery, and spirits are part of the community.
19. Train and rely on a unique beast that hasn't been domesticated by anyone else.
20. Roll twice, it's super special and has both.

by Artur Zima
Buildings that the PCs might want to frequent besides shops or inns
1. A blacksmith who knows how to imbue items with (d6: 1. sparkly gems, 2. spirits, 3. magic words, 4. stronger materials, 5. clockwork mechanisms, 6. elemental energies)
2. A castle with a local noble who's easily impressed
3. A mercenary company's local camp, with loose morals and heavy armaments
4. Abandoned sewer system full of secret passages and hideaways
5. An abandoned tower full of strange machines
6. Art gallery
7. Bardic college
8. Cemetery with restless spirits
9. Church that gives blessings freely
10. Gladiatorial arena
11. Library with eldritch tomes
12. Mine, with valuable metals within
13. Observatory to view the stars and faraway locales
14. River or sea-side port
15. Stone ritual circle, where the walls between worlds grow thin
16. The haunt of a not-so-secret society of philosophers
17. Town forum, where ideas and gossip flow like a river
18. Underground hot spring with hallucinatory vapors
19. Well of mutating radiation
20. Witch's haunt

by Elizaveta Lebedeva

When The Party Returns to Town
1. "Any last words?" One of the party's friends is about to be executed publicly!
2. "Burn the heretics! Take their tithes!" An inquisition is rounding up faces familiar and strange and preparing a bonfire. Better hide your loot and magic items!
3. "Excuse me! You still owe me!" Someone's come to collect...
4. "Fire! FIRE!" The town's going up in flames!
5. "Halt, in the name of the law!" The city watch accosts the party! Mistaken identity? A shakedown? Legitimate grievance?
6. "Help, help! Who will defeat the beast who has taken up residence in my home? I can pay..."
7. "Oh, the horror! There's been a murder! A noble's been found dead!"
8. "Please, teach me!" A young scamp has heard of your deeds, and demands you take them on as an apprentice. They don't even want pay, and they're willing to do menial labor...
9. "ROOOOAAR!" A great beast has broken loose from its chains!
10. "There's a war on, don't you know?" Recruiters see your heavy armaments and think you're perfect saps to press-gang into service.
11. "Trinkets! Talismans! Tigers! Towers-in-a-box!" A wizard's come to town, hawking esoteric wares from their flying cart.
12. "Who will fight the MIGHTIEST WARRIOR IN THE LAND!" Someone's bragging about their strength, and wields a weapon you've never seen before. They're starting trouble with anyone who looks tough, and are bound to come over to you sooner rather than later...
13. "You seem like a discerning customer. I have exactly what you need!"
14. *CRASH!* A bar brawl spills into the street!
15. *KABOOOM* Something nearby explodes! And there's a shadowy figure darting away from the scene...
16. *Slap* "How dare you speak, dress, or breathe like that in my presence! I challenge you to a duel!"
17. An incredibly rich person (a noble? an artist? a priest?) has arrived in town, and everyone's scrambling to raise their prices to cater to the foolish among their retinue.
18. Someone screams! They're far too close for comfort...
19. Whoever the party wanted to see? They've closed up shop and disappeared - under mysterious circumstances...
20. Roll two - they're both happening at once!


  1. Winning the duel in #16 sounds much more dangerous than losing in an entertaining manner. This is wonderful and I'll be sure to use it soon!

  2. I like to think that I'm good at running cities, and I have one that is extensively detailed... but I'm not sure that we need another "campaign setting".

    I like your tables - a city, if it's going to be a place of adventure, can't just be a list of menus as you say. There has to be factions, "currents", tensions, opportunities, delights, dangers...


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