As we set up for our next Dungeons & Dragons campaign, we sat down for session zero where character concepts were developed, relationships and important places settled, and the city where the campaign would be set was built.
And to build the city I tried something new. First we sat down and figured out the specifics of the city – climate (cold), environment (swampy bogs with rough highlands), nation (the as of yet unnamed nation that controls the Satrapy that has been the political villain or rival for the last two campaigns we played), and relationship to said nation (was once the political capital, but due to an over-abundance of gods and the horrible climate and geographic isolation, the capital has been moved away).
I printed out a bunch of half-pages each with a neighbourhood or district of the city we were considering. In turn, each player took one of these cards of their choice and either placed it on the map or destroyed it. When destroying a card, the choice was made as to whether that meant the district didn’t exist at all, or whether it was found everywhere within the city.
For example, the first two cards to be destroyed were the Temple District and Hive of Scum and Villainy. Both were determined to be everywhere in the city – you can’t turn a corner without running into a temple, shrine, church or cult, let alone a beggar, cultist, smuggler or thug. However, later the palace and city walls cards were destroyed and declared completely absent – so there is no castle or fort in the city that is used as the centre of the administration of government, and if the city ever had walls they were destroyed in the last war, overrun by the city sprawl, and generally fallen down and ignored.
In the set of cards there were also two “Unusual Feature” cards that allow the player to add something… unusual… to the city. In this case a lava cenote and a giant stone head that answers any question asked of it… roughly five years later.
You can download a quick-and-dirty PDF of the districts we used here [link].
If I were to do this again, I would hold back a few cards for the DM to place as the turns went around – a few more special features, the crashed dwarven earthship, and the elven ruins.