For my next D&D session (which is on Friday next week), I’ve decided to go for a city-based adventure.
We’ve played 3 sessions into our new Primal/Within campaign and all those were focused on the Dungeon part of the setting and very little on the city (except to interact with Quest giving NPCs). I think that giving my players a break from dungeon crawling will likely be well received.
So the following post is my stream of counsciousness musings on City adventures as I wrap my mind around the ideas I got for my next game.
Now, as many GMs know, city-based adventures can be completely different beasts than dungeon adventures. Unless you happen to design a site-based adventure that happens to occur in a city-building from start to finish, a city adventure usually features scenes set in varied locales.
Without making this post about tropes, fantasy adventures set in cities often feature the following:
The PCs are called in to solve a mystery, a murder, or to gather intelligence of a NPC or and organization. This is a very, very large subset of adventures. It’s also a type of adventure that is hard to properly balance to hit the motivation of a varied playiong group.
Investigation adventures are focused on scenes where players look for and obtain information. In well-crafted investigation adventure, the hook gets the players really interested in the situation and usually involves stakes that are important for the PCs.
The most classic examples I’ve seen of investigation adventures is when PCs are framed for the murder of a NPC. Of course such adventures can only fly if the PCs are law-abiding citizens and/or are no match for the local law enforcement forces (I always say that Iron Golem make great policemen).
Here’s a few adventure hooks based on subverting the investigation style
A NPC close to the PCs is framed for their murder. Except the PCs aren’t dead! They were cursed into becoming like ‘erased’. While they are physically present, they can’t be seen or heard by anyone except, possibly, the truly insane. In fact the city is filled with many such ‘erased’ people, so much so that the PCs discover a fully functionning parallel city! Breaking the curse before the NPC is put to death becomes the adventure’s goal.
The PCs are forced to commit a crime, something that needs to be done for the greater good of the city/world but puts them as pariah to the local authorities. Although there’s not yet enough evidence to incriminate them, the PCs must now dodge the authorities , or better yet, mislead the NPC investigators and try get away with it.
The PCs are members of a semi-criminal youth gang that’s causing trouble against the tyranical factions that rule the city with an iron fist (think Robin Hood meets Red Dawn). They get their hands on a Macguffin that everyone wants for various reason. The MacGuffin is radioactive in terms of Plot element (i.e. you can’t keep it, you must give it away). The PCs must then find out what each faction wants to do with it and decide how to dispose of it.
City-adventures are great settings for event-based adventures. In such adventures, scenes revolved around specific events rather than exploring specific areas.
This doesn’t mean that an event-based adventure can’t have investigations or a bit of site-based exploration. Look at past Dungeon magazine adventures (or the current Pathfinder adventure paths from Paizo) and you’ll see adventures with a healthy mix of both.
The trick of such adventures is to get the PCs caught in the flow of events and let them influence the events with their choices and their actions. Giving a way for PCs to have an impact on how the events play out is crucial in such adventures. Unless you have a group of avid stoprytellers that love the sound of your voice, event-based adventures should not be scenes where PCs are mere witnesses of what unfolds around them.
A much maligned adventure path I used to own, the Witchfire Triology, was a great example of a linear event- based adventure with limited PC influence. The PCs had little impact on the adventure other than showing up at the proper place and the proper time to either witness what the bad guys did (while fighting mooks) or fight the bad guys in fixed set-pieces.
Okay here’s two examples (I’m being helped by my buddy Yan)
Citypocalypse! The City is invaded, a plague hits the city, a meteor smashed into the Baron’s Manor! All order collapses, nihilistic cultists are rampant and the citizens are scared and prone to form dangerous mobs. PCs are caught in scenes where large threats come from everywhere and they must find a way to regroup and start planning to act against such threats.
The peace summit/grand tournament. People of power and influence (possibly the PCs if they’ve reached that point in the campaign) converge to the city. Intrigue abound and PCs are caught in the web of alliances, deceptions and assassination attempts as they attend various parties and events as active participants, counselors or bodyguards.
If you want to turn that classic around, you make the PCs into assassins trying to get to that paranoid duchess surrounded by Hell Hounds disguised as Irish Wolfhounds.
What will you do Chatty?
Based on the suggestion of reader BradG in my last post, I’ve decided that I’ll mix it up a bit.
I’m going to have elections in the City Within for the representative of the City’s newest Burg. PCs are going to be hired as bodyguards. They’ll get to choose which of 4 candidates (the top ones needing ‘protection’) they want to be assigned to (allowing the party to ‘split’ along different candidates is expected). Said candidates will have wildly diverging plans for the new burg and I intend to have the PCs actions shape who will get elected and what will happen to this part of the city.
I’ll sprinkle this with intrigues and threats from external forces and I may just have a great adventure in the makling. So the adventure will a mix of event-based action and investigation. I’ll also try to leave myself open for some improvisation to create new NPCs and places on the spot that players meay revisit later.
I hope my players will like it.
Okay so I’ll need:
- Candidate NPCs
- Some secondary NPCs to be the candidates entourage
- Divergent, conflicting electoral programs for each candidates
- Threats and scenes where all candidates are present to allow PCs to be together
- A mechanic to play out the elections result
- Treasures (payment) for the PC’s work… I’ll probably put in a ‘danger pay’ element to thier bodyguarding contract.
Your turn now, what about your best and worst city based adventures. What made them work, what made them fail? Let me know, I’m taking notes!