RPG Design Journal #6: Within the City

Previously on this series I started designing a city with a general-to-specific methodology (starting with the big picture and letting that inform the small details). Now I’m going to start moving into some of those details by developing concepts for the specific locations within the city of St. Maluns.

When building specific locations within another location it’s tempting to assign locations specifically based upon social groups and characters. While it is appropriate to consider where characters live in the city, we shouldn’t necessarily build an area around these groups or individuals. People in cities rarely stay in one area. They may live in or associate with one area, but that doesn’t stop them from working in, shopping in, or just walking through other parts of the city. So when we build city locations in conjunction with characters and organizations we should not just find the home locations for these characters, but also build their associations and interactions with other locations.

A good example that’s pretty common is the city guard or other police force. Police are generally  expected to keep an eye on the city as a whole, and in a setting where there is limited data and mobility the police forces of a city have to keep a sharp eye on urban affairs in person. The guard will probably be present in every part of the city, the presence wont be even throughout, but they wont be entirely absent. For example, if there’s a network of alleyways full of illegal activity we should consider that the guard may still be involved: perhaps there are “dirty cops” that are bribed to turn a blind eye, or maybe the guard coordinates with criminals there when they have bigger fish to fry. Even in spaces where this group seems inactive, they can still be involved.

Another lens for building locations is the lens of player involvement: what does this city need to let players be involved? What social spaces will interest player characters? Will players need to shop? Will they need to rest? What can they afford? What kind of work will they look for? I am developing Saint Maluns as a general setting that multiple groups can use, so some of these questions must be answered with guesswork and generalizations, but the city can definitely be altered and tailored to specific groups and their needs. Consider the commonplace trope of the Inn. Players will spend a lot of their time in cities at Inns and Taverns, usually drinking, finding quests, having confrontations, and resting. But a city probably doesn’t have just one Inn. In its heyday, the boom-town and pirate haven of Port Royal supposedly had one drinking house for every 10 residences. We probably don’t need to make that many Inns, but the point is that certain spaces that players take for granted can be quite varied and unique. An Inn near the Docks is probably quite different than an Inn in the Merchant’s District and the Players will be able to do very different things at these locations.

So, considering the needs of the PCs and the associations of the NPCs, and taking into account the layout of the city map, I have come up with the following general locations:

  • The Docks: On the Southernmost side of the City is the Docks. The Docks are built around the City walls and almost operates like a separate city. A legal no-man’s-land, the Docks are a place where shady deals take place alongside the legitimate trade that makes St. Maluns the Gem of Curelsed.
    • The Drowsy Fisherman: An Inn located in the docks. Located in a rough part of town and hardly the fanciest place to spend the night, but the owner, Ailera Zann, does what she can to treat her customers well. The prices are low and more than one sailor is willing to lend a hand to protect the place when the local gangs start stirring up trouble.
  • The Warrens: A winding maze of twisting streets that cuts through shoddy housing and smoke-belching factories. The Warrens are the industrial heart of the city, but that doesn’t mean people want to live there.
    • Golden Phoenix Trading Company: The Golden Phoenix is the largest private business in Saint Maluns and trades in everything from gold and silver to inks, dyes, spices, teas, and even alchemical and magickal goods. While the Company technically operates within the law, the Duke Calsius is certain that the Company is operating to undermine Imperial Authority by profiting local aristocrats and merchants.
  • The Southern Gate: The Southern Entrance that connects the Docks to the City proper, located between the Warrens and the Merchant’s Quarters.
    • The Lower Guard: The barracks and offices of the City Guard for the lower city. Many of the guard here are veterans, equipped with the street-smarts and weaponry to deal with trouble in the Warrens. While they technically are expected to patrol the docks, most guards know better than to incite trouble there. The Lower Guard also examine incoming and outgoing passage of goods between the City and the Docks.
  • The Northern Gate: The Northern Entrance to the city and the primary entrance for those traveling by foot.
    • The Ranger’s Office: While the Rangers don’t technically have any legal power within the city itself, the Ranger’s Office seeks to recruit new Rangers in preparation for the next Migration.
    • The Upper Guard: The barracks and offices for the City Guard of the Upper half of Saint Maluns. Here the guard oversee traffic into and out of the city into Curelsed, and coordinate their movements in the Merchant’s Quarters. Newer recruits often work in the Upper Guard since it usually manages the bureaucracy of the city and minor crimes, but veterans can still be found working as detectives, chiefs, or just in unofficial retirement doing desk work.
  • The Merchant’s Quarters: The Downtown of St. Maluns. Artisans, artists, and craftsmen live and sell their wares here.
    • The Blue Dream: The most expensive Inn located in St. Maluns, owned by the elusive Vax Sarrat. The Blue Dream is also the host of a multitude of vices including gambling houses, drug dens, and brothels; the businesses of Waldamar the Pleaser, all hidden behind the veneer of a respected public house.
    • The Academy: A private University founded by the Scientist (Lilith Havadis). The Magickal Society operates unofficially through the Academy, with many of its members serving as professors. Academy studies are focused on the hard sciences and Emperical magickal research.
    • The Red House: A social club, salon, and headquarters of The Cabal. The Red House is a den of drug use, mysticism, and creativity – home of a thousand projects and a thousand interpretations. While the Artist Erik is rarely seen in person due to failing health, he is said to reside in one of the upper rooms.
  • The Keep: The home of the city’s nobility. Closed off from the rest of the city, most of the nobility lives in secluded comfort and safety that the majority of the populace will never know.
    • The Amontil Estate: The Amontil Family used to be one of the most well respected and wealthy noble households in Saint Maluns. In recent years their wealth and prestige has faded from scandal and misuse, their palace in a constant state of decay, empty except for the Amontil’s and their loyal butler. Rumors suggest that the Lady Amontil is not in her right mind, and that the Lord Amontil is scheming to return to power.
    • The Duke’s Palace: A huge, sprawling castle built like the old Imperial palaces of the Homeland. From this Bastion of authority the Duke Calsius watches the City with disdain, longing to unleash the Iron Fist of the Empire on Saint Maluns. In the meantime the Secret Police keep tallies on the petty nobles vying for the Duke’s Favor and report back to the Emperor himself.

This is a rough draft, of course, but each of these locations already has a purpose and further possibilities. We can create specific quest lines, characters, and encounters for each one, and we can find more ways to tie them together using these additions.

In the next segment on worldbuilding I’ll look at adding specific, encounterable NPCs and plot hooks.

Best,

-PH

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