Today’s Monday Five is about one of my favourite styles of game play. I’m a really big fan of urban adventures, from the mean streets of CyberPunk to the cobbled together city of New Macross on board the SDF-1. But since most of the games we play are Dungeons and Dragons, I’m always on the lookout for good city supplements for the game (or for similar games).
And whether you are pirates in Freeport, adventurers in Lankhmar, explorers among the Waterdhavians or whatever pseudo-medieval realm, a few good city maps with some basic descriptions will never go over badly when it’s time for the group to escort a caravan to new lands.
Over the years I’ve collected quite the shelf of city books and urban adventure supplements. And from them here are my top 5 “must own” books for the urban gamer.
Published by TSR in 1985, the original Lankhmar book is an excellent city setting. It also has rules for adventuring in Newhon, but those can be ignored and are superfluous to the utility of the city portion of the book. The city is entirely mapped out district by district along with the highlights for each district. But the true beauty of the map (and the poster map) is that each district (except for the keep itself) has square areas that are blank, and a book of urban geomorphs. You can customize the back alleys of the city to your heart’s content, even changing areas on the fly as they go through urban renewal, without having to change the overall map or try to explain to the players why the map doesn’t match the reality anymore. The perfect combination of build-it-yourself and pre-designed. This is an excellent combination of mutability and solid design which even my other favourite city book (the Night City sourcebook) could benefit from.
Cities of Harn
The map that I used for this article is from this book. It contains beautiful maps of seven major cities of Harn (a very “realistic” medieval RPG setting) (Aleath, Cherafir, Coranan, Golotha, Shiran, Tashal, and Thay). Published by Colombia Games in 1983, it was the first truly “excellent” RPG city book I had come across. It has one colour map for each one, one black and white map, and one DM map (with a key) as well as basic information about the city and some of its key locations. The book is further expanded in Son of Cities and then recently in a series of products available online that goes into a lot deeper detail for each city independently. Even ignoring the enhanced material available, these are great maps for cities to sprinkle throughout your game when players drop into a small city en route to their real destination.
The Great City
0One games put this set of blue print books together throughout 2008, and they go to a detail level of mapping that I’ve never seen before in a city product. With the full set of PDFs, not only do you get a poster-map of the city broken up by district, but each district is then set with a full set of maps for the major buildings in that district. Need a map for the tavern? The graveyard? Any of the temples? They are all here, and very cleanly mapped either in blue or black. There is no better mapped out city in my opinion, and even if you aren’t using the city itself, the number of mapped structures is intensely gratifying and will see use no matter what city you are playing in.
While the Green Ronin Thieves’ World d20 setting and game is excellent, for pure city awesomeness I can’t recommend the original Chaosium Thieves’ World boxed set enough. It goes into beautiful detail about Sanctuary and does it all in a mostly game-neutral manner, with game stat information when needed provided for a plethora of systems. If anything, because of the sheer number of systems they included, they had to keep game material to a minimum and focus on the awesomess that is Sanctuary. Honestly it’s worth digging up on eBay just to get the maps.
While the rest of my recommendations are for books that detail cities, City Works (a d20 hardcover by Fantasy Flight Games) is my top pick of resources for running a city campaign and building a city that works if you aren’t going to be using one of these pre-built cities. Everyone in the d20 scene knows that Mike Mearls writes awesome stuff, and this book is no exception. Even if you aren’t playing anything related to D&D rules-wise, the last section of the book on building a city – starting with politics and major players and then working all the way down to mapping the individual city blocks – is invaluable. This is a book that gets pulled down off my shelf pretty regularly – and I haven’t played a d20-based game in years.
Night City Sourcebook
Yes, I said I was writing this for fantasy / medieval campaigns, but this is the city book (for the CyberPunk 2020 by R. Talsorian Games) I constantly go back to. That’s why it is also number 6 on this list of top 5. Think of it as a bonus city. Every single building in the downtown region of Night City is detailed here, along with who runs the place, some encounters for that area of the city, compiled listings of gangs and their turf, where the restaurants and hotels are, what public transit routes go through what neighborhoods and so on. There are sketchier details about the city as a whole outside of the downtown region, so you can add to the city as needed by developping areas South of or West of the core as needed. Also, each building only lists the one or two more interesting business or residents – so there is plenty of room to add your own material (like the corporate hit team’s base of operations above the Jeet Kun Do dojo). This masterpiece, in my opinion, is the template that people publishing fantasy cities should be following.