Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Rubblecrawl? Ruincrawl? *crawl, in a dead city.

"Yep. Looks like a massive 'X marks the spot' to me."

Inspired in part by Zak's excellent urbancrawl ideas, here are a few half-formed thoughts on a quick ruined city generator.

[note: This is a work in progress piece. I'll probably be tinkering with it and adding more stuff as it occurs to me]

Draw a flow chart of interesting, lootable places in your city (in the case of my own Ruined City of Nagoh this would include such cheesy soubriqued sites as the Toppled Colossus, the Intermittent Tower, the Electric Eye, the Ruined Palace, the Verdant Ziggurat, the Grand Gate, the Necropolis of Certain and Horrific Death, the Valley of the Wang, etc).

Make each such ‘tourist attraction’ the focal point of its own neighbourhood/ward, then arrange them in kind of a spider-web looking diagram of how everything relates together.  Don't draw out every street or building, because that’s simply not important. Oh, and don’t forget to merrily cut some geographically nearer locations off from easy access, simply because you are a GM and being a difficult bastard is your calling and vocation.  ("You can get there, if you swing past the harpy-infested Throne-Temple of the Triple Goddess.  Can’t go directly, unless you fancy running the gauntlet through the Ghoultracts, then climbing the Sanguine Cliffs into the upper city while the Hivers bombard you with rocks...")

Getting from A to B
Sure, you could just decree that there are vast unobstructed Parisian boulevards between the major attractions, but how dull is that?  Far more fun to make the PCs slog their way through furlongs of devastated, overgrown ruinscape on their way to wherever they’ve decided to Greyhawk first.  Try and get the music from the early scenes of Wall-E gets stuck in their heads...

Make an encounter table of things that could happen on the way to the next major landmark.  Either a simple big table, or a convoluted series of same, as you prefer.  Add trap/trick/terrain hazard stuff like:
  • Looters (not upstanding scholars of the past like our heroes)
  • Wandering monsters
  • Small lairs/shanties
  • Avenues of foreboding statues
  • Fallen buildings blocking the path
  • Overgrown gardens/parks
  • Flooded decorative pools/fountains
  • Massive sinkholes into the sewers/undercity
  • Magical effects gone bad over time
  • Inexplicable Wacky Crap [I like the Wilderlands of High Sorcery tables and/or BTBG’s Random Ruins]

Whether you elect to roll for random events/encounters/complication per turn (as in a dungeon), or per exploration turn (4 hours – after MF), or per hour, or every time the players say a particular word, is entirely your business.

Detours Along the Way
If the party decide to nose around in ruined buildings then use the tables below to work out what the hell they used to be, and if there’s anything entertaining/lucrative still in there.  Roll or pick for Function, Layout and Style, Structural Features, Condition, Contents:

What was this place? Choose, or consult the random building table in your preferred city sourcebook.

Basilica/council law/courts
Hospice/lazar house
Guard post/barracks

Shop, merchant*
Shop, craftsman*
Shopping Arcade
Masons/builders yard

* See list of example trades and services at the end of this article.

Slave Pens
Town house
Urban estate

Layout and Style (choose, then d8)
What does this place look like? Pick a letter or random syllable (jab your finger into a block of text or something...). The shapes of the letters, flipped and mashed together however you choose, define the general floor plan of the building. Rationalised rectilinear blocks? Sooooo 20th century.

Block off rooms, corridors, passages, staircases and such based on function, or as you see fit. This can end up with such apparent incongruities as a big old multi-floored palace divided up into loads of tiny, awkwardly-shaped rooms, blind staircases and voids. But there's nothing to say that this wasn't either: 1) intentional on the part of the designer (architects are nigh-on mad wizardly raving egotists at the best of times), or 2) a building repurposed halfway through its working life by a bunch of guys lacking access to the original blueprints.

(This section is partially urbancrawl's 'numbers as roads' idea, partially leximorph mapping as popularised by John of Nine-and-Thirty Kingdoms. Why re-invent the wheel?)

What architectural form does the building take within the footprint established? Roll d8:

1 Tower house (1d4+3 floors)
2 Insula/Block (1d6+4 floors)
3 Courtyard building (1d3 floors)
4 Terrace (1d3 floors)
5 Hall/Longhouse (1d2 floors)
6 Gable End building (1d4+3 floors)
7 Kraal/Ringhouse (1d3 floors)
8 Other

Structural Features (d8)
1 Balconies
2 Garrets
3 Turret/Belfry
4 Fortified ground floor
5 Overhanging upper floors
6 Colonnades
7 Atrium/Impluvium Pool
8 Other

50% 1-2 levels
1in6 chance dungeon/sewer/tunnel entryway

Condition (d6)
Is it still standing, and does it look safe? Or is heading in there tantamount to signing your own death warrant?

1 - Rubble (3in6 unstable)
2 - Dangerous Ruin (risk of cave-ins, possibility of deliberate traps)
3-5 - Ruin
6 - Partial Ruin (3in6 occupied)
  • Floor cave in: risk of collapsing floor 2in6, take 2d6 damage and make 2in6 chance again.  Yes, this can lead to a cascade effect...
  • Wall/roof cave-in: 2in6, [1d6]d6 as it caves in, save for half.  2in6 chance of any remaining roof collapsing if a wall goes.
  • Rubble-slide: 2in6 chance, 2d6 damage (save for half)
So, yeah, pack a sacrificial dwarf or two to check the quality of the stonework.

Contents (d6)
"Little pigs, little pigs. We've come to nick yer stereo." -- Dog Soldiers

1 Monster
2 Monster + loot
3-5 Empty
6 Empty (3in6 hidden/unusual feature)

Bear in mind that most of the original movables, fixtures, and fittings will have been looted or rotted away over time.

If the party decide to head deeper into the ruins, away from all the big, shiny feature you've spent hours detailing, they're probably going to end up in the remains of the low-rent areas that all cities try and airbrush away. Assume these are present by the hectare, and that they've got even more run-down and desolate than the rest of the city.

If you want, you can use them as 'rough terrain' to get the party moving in the direction you desire. Heading into uncharted, organically-developed slums should be tantamount to asking the GM to roll extra 'Getting Lost' rolls, just as if the party were out in the wilderness.  Either use a random dungeon generator or some urban geomorphs (the old Lankhmar, City of Adventure book had some ones). Do they want to risk climbing a building to get their bearings?

Example Trades and Services
(reproduced from Noonan & Wyatt - "Building a City")
A list of trades found in cities. Reproduced here because I have no intention of reinventing a well-researched wheel.

~Trades, Exotic~
Alchemist, art dealer, calligrapher, costumer, imported goods dealer, magic armour dealer, magic item dealer (general), magic weapon dealer, pet merchant, potion dealer, rare wood merchant, scroll merchant, soap maker, spice merchant, trapmaker, wand merchant.

~Trades, Upscale~
Antique dealer, bookbinder, bookseller, candy maker, clockmaker, cosmetics dealer, curio dealer, dice maker, distiller, fine clothier, gemcutter, glassblower, glazier, goldsmith, inkmaker, jeweller, map seller, papermaker, perfumer, pewterer, sculptor, sealmaker, silversmith, slave trader, toymaker, trinkets purveyor, vintner, wiresmith.

~Trades, Average~
Armourer, baker, bazaar merchant, blacksmith, bonecarver, bowyer, brewer, butcher, carpenter, carpet maker, cartwright, chandler, cheesemaker, cobbler, cooper, coppersmith, dairy merchant, fletcher, florist, furniture maker, furrier, grocer, haberdasher, hardware seller, herbalist, joiner, lampmaker, locksmith, mason, merchant, music dealer, outfitter, potter, provisioner, religious items dealer, roofer, ropemaker, saddler, sailmaker, seamstress, shipwright, stonecutter, tailor, tapestry maker, taxidermist, thatcher, tilemaker, tinker, weaponsmith, weaver, wheelwright, whipmaker, wigmaker, woodworker.

~Trades, Poor~
Bait & tackle dealer, basketweaver, brickmaker, broom maker, candlemaker, charcoal burner, dyer, firewood seller, fishmonger, fuller, leatherworker, livestock handler, lumberer, miller, netmaker, tanner.

~Services, Upscale~
Animal trainer, apothecary, architect, assassin, banker, barrister, bounty hunter, cartographer, dentist, engraver, illuminator, kennel master, masseur, mewskeeper, moneychanger, sage, scribe, spellcaster for hire, tutor.

~Services, Average~
Auctioneer, barber, bookkeeper, brothel owner, clerk, engineer, fortuneteller, freight shipper, guide, healer, horse trainer, interpreter, laundress, messenger, minstrel, navigator, painter, physician, public bath owner, sharpener, stable owner, tattooer, undertaker, veterinarian.

~Services, Poor~
Acrobat, actor, boater, buffoon, building painter, burglar, carter, fence, gambling hall owner, juggler, laborer, limner, linkboy, moneylender, nursemaid, pawnshop, porter, ship painter, teamster, warehouse owner.

S John Ross - Medieval Demographics Made Easy
Noonan & Wyatt - Building a City (DMG 3E web supplement)
Legoman of the GITP forums for his instant city builder method

Lost Empires of Faerun by WOTC
Lankhmar, City of Adventure by TSR
Warhammer City of Chaos by Games Workshop
Pathfinder: Spires of Xin-Shalast (Rise of the Runelords #6) by Paizo

Pic Source
Wayne Barlowe


  1. I've always been fond of Citycrawl...

    Very useful post. Thanks!

  2. Museum of Urban Estates:

    Condition: Ruin

    Layout: Block

    Number of Floors: 8

    Sub-Basement: No

    Structural Features: Balconies on the 6th and 2nd floors.

    All randomly generated using this blog post.

    Capcha: Witsteu. +1 to CHA, INT, and WIS, but it is prepared from Orc eyeballs, Blink Dog brain fluid, and Harmlaii blood.

  3. Heh, heh; "upstanding scholars of the past", indeed. Greyhawking their way to the truth, no doubt. :D

  4. Oh... so saved. This is great, and I know it's going to be worming around my brain for a while... I have no idea yet what will come of it, but it may be glorious!

  5. Could we stick a ruined, half-buried Statue of Liberty in there? You known...just because.

  6. Interesting. Between you and Zak, I'm getting a lot of ideas for how to really handle the Great Rift once and for all. The Fodor's Guides and Tourbooks ahve been handy references, but just cramming everything into rules/tables, like what you've done above, looks very effective. Adapting this approach to the Arrondissements will be a lot of fun...


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