Now we’re getting towards the edges of the races you can play in Dungeons and Dragons from the main Players Handbook. There are additional races or race options in other books. I’m going to call out some Tiefling things are from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. […]
Building a city as a home base or where your adventure is taking place can be a cool thing to do, it can also be a daunting thing to do, because putting together a whole city can be a lot of work. I rarely go into a city knowing everything about it, even if I’m running the game. There are multiple reasons for this, from me not wanting to spend the time to giving the players more control over the shape and feel of the game. But you might want to lay out more of a city, if it’s very important to your game.
When you start to build the city, first ask yourself, what is this city built around. In the case of D&D, most cities are going to spring up close to water for shipping purposes or along trade routes. That’s how most cities were founded in the real world for the large cities. You’re also going to have the smaller towns spring up along these trade routes. So, what is the primary good that’s being traded along this route? Is it going to be that there are a lot of different things coming down into a port city, so they have basically everything, or are you going to make this a city at the edge of a large forest that sends furs and wood down the river to a city along the coast with no trees?
To go along with trade, what significance does your city have in the realm that you are building. Is it a city that has a lord or lady ruling over it, but is under a king. Is it something that is near the border of two realms so it might be in a state of war more often than a city in the middle of a kingdom would be, though even in the middle, there could be land disputes around it. Or is it the seat of the king or queen of the realm and so it has that more heavily political atmosphere around it. Some of this will depend on the story you want to tell in the game, maybe you want the throne or politics to be further away from your game, if that’s the case, and you still want a city game, keep them away from the politicians and a long ways away from that.
Once you have an idea of the basics of your city, trade and political positioning, you can move more into the finer details. You will want to consider the different aspects of the city such as crime, wealth, what sort of businesses are going to be common, what sort of education is there, what sort of power merchants have in the city, how common are temples, how much magic is there, and more. Now, that is daunting, so I tend to keep it pretty simple in my games.
Generally, I think it is good to know how much crime there is outside of thieve’s guilds or other sort of criminal organizations. A good criminal organization is going to keep other crime down so that they are able to operate more freely, and also to keep the law enforcement off of their back. An example of this would be John Marcone from the Dresden Files who keeps other gangs and criminal organizations out of Chicago. Yes, Marcone is not a good man and causes a lot of issues of his own, but he’s running a business of crime, and that is what a thieve’s guild would do in a city.
The other big one is magic, how common is magic in the city, is it only tied to the temples, or are there shops set-up on street corners that are selling potions. There are going to be some cities that have more magic in them than others because of having a wizarding school or something of the sort in them. But you can also think about this on a grander scale as well. If you’re world is fairly low magic, you might then need to consider how special it would be if in a city you had magical items. That would have to be an extremely rich city, and most likely is going to have to be the seat of power for that realm. Or it could be that magic is mainly focused on those given by the divine, so clerics and paladins are accepted, but warlocks, wizards, and sorcerers might not be.
You can see how it is a bit daunting to completely build a city, so what are some things that you can do to make it easier on yourself.
You could have, as part of session 0, a brainstorming session with the players. Together you can come up with what sort of city it is. There are several nice things about doing this or doing my next suggestion of asking players to help describe the city in game when needed. The reasons being that it takes pressure off of you to come up with everything for the city and it gives the players more ownership over the game and the city.
If you were to go with either brainstorming in session 0 or asking in game for help building the city, I’d consider having a few surprises. If you’ve listened to Dungeons And Flagons season 2, you’ll hear me asking for things, but there are certain things, like the underground city that had been there that they stumbled into that were meant to be surprises for the players. That will keep the world and city more interesting for the players when they realize that their characters might know the city well or at least parts of it well, but there are still surprises even for their characters that they didn’t realize were happening in the background.
Another solution is to use an online resource. There are various things that will help you build your city, especially the layout of it and map it out for you that would be a lot of work otherwise. I haven’t used it much, but https://watabou.itch.io/medieval-fantasy-city-generator makes a beautiful city and you can tweak it as you need. It would help you get up and running faster. There are also more detailed articles on building cities out there, but if you’re trying to lesson your work load, using something to generate the map would be very helpful.
Finally, you can just build your city as you need it on demand. Quickly figure out if this is a big city or a small city. Will your characters run into the politics of the city, and how much magic there is. Then just build it as you go, if you need a docks section of the city for a session, spend time fleshing that out. Flesh it out only as you need it and you’ll have a fully planned out city eventually. That can keep some pressure off of you at the start, but you’ll eventually have to put the effort in.
How have you built cities before for an RPG? What’s worked well for you before or do you keep them out in the country and in dungeons so that you don’t have to build a city?
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Continuing the series, lets talk about about charlatans. It’s an interesting one because the next one on the list is criminal, so they are clearly making a bit of a distinction between the two. Your con might not be completely legal, but if people knew about it, you’d probably get into a lot of trouble.
The Players Handbook gives a number of ideas for what your charlatan could be like, they might cheat at games of chance, be a forger, or take on new identities. There are a ton of different ways that you can go with it. It gives you some skills that you’d expect with deception and disguise, you’ve become good at those. It also gives you a second identity that you have already prepared, yes, you’re always going to have the charlatan background, and your class won’t change for it, but it provides very interesting role playing opportunities.
So, without further ado, what are some backstories?
You came from a poor family and you saw the wealth that various religions and religious officials had, and it was something that you really wanted to have yourself. So you started coming up with a con, you went to a new town, found out what temples were there, and founded a new one of your own. A little bit of flattery and you got the city lord to help you get it started. You didn’t believe in the deity at all, this was your way to have money and live a plush comfy life. Things were going great, you have people fawning over you, you had all the money and food that you’d ever want. Then one day you were sitting in the temple by yourself and you had a vision, the vision of the deity that you’d be pretending to serve. They told you that even though you hadn’t meant to do their work. But now it was time to pay back what I had taken from the poor and the needy, those who didn’t deserve to have their money taken. The deity gave me a list and told me to use my skills to pay back and spread their word across the lands.
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Just a few notes on this one, their background is chaotic good because I’m going to have them following a good deity, but because of the charlatan background they are going to be pretty chaotic. And that works, while they were scamming people they might have been neutral evil, but now as time has passed, they can easily be chaotic good having moved up on the spectrum.
I can’t resist a pretty face and a good story and good drink now that you mention it. Some would call it a flaw, but I just consider myself to be blessed with a strong appreciation for the finer things. Now, that isn’t to say that it doesn’t get me into trouble every now and again, but I can get out of trouble in a pinch. Didn’t I say I have a silver tongue before? When you accidentally sleep with the betrothed the day before their wedding, their parents get a little pissed off at you, when you accidentally sleep with the parents before the wedding, the betrothed get pissed off. But I was so charming, so what would you expect. This means I kind of have to change who I am pretty often, it’s a bit tricky, remembering where I’ve all been, what faces I’ve put on, but I’m pretty sure that I can juggle it easily enough and one of these times it will be true love. Then I found out that one of my dalliances might have led to a kid to try and keep me around, that was a big mistake. But I’m not a bad person, so I’m trying as hard as I can now to make the world a better place for them.
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
This would generally be thought of as a male character trope, but have some fun with it. It’s very possible that your character while having a fling with a bride to be talked about how she wanted to eventually settle down and have kids, and the bride to be, calls off the wedding for the character (at which point the character skips town to avoid the parents of the betrothed) and ends up getting knocked up and letting your character know that she’d started a family for them. It would be fun twist on how it normally would go.
The sound of coins clinking together is what I love, nothing makes me happier than money, at least that’s what I thought. I was one of the best as games of chance, but that was because they weren’t chance for me. Whenever I could find cards or dice, I’d hop into a game and swindle them until I’d taken just enough of their money that they wouldn’t be too mad at me. It was a solid way to make a living for myself and my younger sibling. Then I got into the game with the Count of [Insert City/Land Name] and got a lot of money from him. He was pissed off, he couldn’t prove that I cheated though. That night while resting in the tavern, I was having a drink while my younger sibling was sleeping. I go back to our room to find them dead, stabbed in their sleep with a handkerchief of the Count resting across their face. I’m not a fighter and I was scared for my own life, so I ran and hid in the woods where I met a druid who taught me skills that might help me get my revenge, now I’m ready to come back out of the woods, find some help, and get my revenge.
Alignment: True Neutral
Bits and Bobs was a great shop. I’d buy people worthless junk, or even go digging through their trash, polish it up a little bit, and convince the nobles that it was going to be perfect for their sitting room. If I charged them 100x what it was worth, that’s their own fault for believing me. Plus, it gave me a great life. I spent my money faster that I made it, and soon I found myself in debt to some less than savory characters. I’m now trying to figure a way out of that debt, I’m getting close, but they keep on having me steal from people. It’s not like I’m bad at it, I’ve had experience with my scrounging before, and it was all going well. But there was this man, down on his luck, you could easily tell it, it was his one prize possession and actually worth a chunk of money and might have gotten me out of my debt. I’m fine screwing over the rich, they don’t need all of their money, but this guy would have been out on the street if I’d taken it from him, so instead a ran. Now I have the unsavory characters after me and I need to leave town. Maybe I’ll find some other way to pay them back later.
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
I went lawful here because this character has a set of moral codes, they might not match the laws because they are willing to swindle people as long as they are rich. However, they clearly have defined who they are willing to steal from, and prior to being made to steal stuff to pay off, stealing wasn’t something that they did. They’d scrounge for stuff and maybe had a liberal opinion of what had been thrown away, but they weren’t a thief.
I was young when I found out about my powers. I didn’t know how to control them well back then, but I noticed that I had an ability that really let people open up to me. I found out all sorts of juicy gossip about my little town, and as a kid, I didn’t think anything about it, until a couple of really pissed off adults, because I told the baker’s son that his dad might actually be the blacksmith, because his mom wasn’t going there to get smithing work done for them like she claimed. That one got me in trouble, and got me run out of town. My parents stood up for me and were going to protect me. I used my ability on them to tell them that it was okay, and that I had left for a better reason. I’m not sure if it worked on them, someone will likely remind them of what I’d done, but I was on the run. My ability was useful though, stick me in front of someone who looked like they could help me for a few minutes, and I got enough information about them that I was able to play off their fears, desires, and sometimes even blackmail. I made a name for myself, not for being a sneak, because who wants to admit that I knew a dark secret about them when I could then blab that secret to anyone willing pay and listen. The only tough part for me is that I’m moving around a lot. I’ve made some great friends and that is what really matters to me, but when I find out a secret about them, I’m never sure if it’s because of my ability or because they really like me. It’s hard and I can’t stand it, so I leave. I want to know that I have a real friendship with someone some day, that’s what I really want.
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
There are a number of ideas for how you can play a charlatan. The rogue class is the most obvious answer when thinking about classes, but I started with a cleric who had been a charlatan. It’s helpful to remember that this is your background, so you don’t need to lean into it too much. For one of them, I even went with the personality trait of that really suggests you steal whenever you can. So, this is one that I’d recommend being careful (as well as Criminal which will be next week), as you can end up playing against the party if you aren’t careful. But, as my examples show above, you can find ways to play a former charlatan or still an active one without being mean to your party.
Have you used the Charlatan background, what are your thoughts on it?
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The final installment of the D&D Classing It Up series! We end with Warlock (since we’re going primarily in alphabetical order). Warlocks are one of the more interesting classes. A Warlock makes a pact with another entity of some sort to get their powers. It’s […]