Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Shopkeepers of Fortress-City Fate

How do you make a city unique?

My players have recently reached Fortress-City Fate.
This is the capital of my campaign's map, and I know a fair bit about it.

It's intended to be the perfect city. It's expensive as all hell. It's tightly controlled by an ever-changing system of tariffs and taxes balanced by the Royal Actuary Corp. It's the only place in the world where you can raise the dead. The palace in the centre is an enormous sundial and people give directions like "One-four at 6:45, just past the baker, you can't miss it". It's circular and got trams and drugs and a quarter of the city is taken up by a whole load of farms. Water runs everywhere under the city, a series of sewers and high-pressure pipes that keeps out the Dead and powers deeper machines.

But what do they players care about?
My players are new here. They don't know anyone. More importantly, nobody knows who they are. 
It's hard to ensnare nobodies in a web of city intrigue.

What are they likely to do here?
Get information. Buy things. Carouse.
These are the ways to ensnare them. Tie them together and with luck I'll rope them deeper into the intrigues of the big city.

To this end, I have compiled a list of various specialty shopkeepers and information-givers and proprietors of places they might like to frequent.
These are people and places to be sought out. In a big city it doesn't matter where a location is, just that you know about it. Default to Vornheim as usual if greater detail is required.
The shopkeepers sell things that are better than normal. There is no downside to not knowing them or visiting their shops, since you can buy stuff off the regular equipment list no problem. Any schmuck can head into the first clothes shop he sees and buy a shirt, it just might not be the best price or quality.
These people can sell you interesting things or offer services that are not widely available.

I printed each of these shop profiles out, and hand them the slip of paper with the shop on it when they go to visit. It's worked quite well in play since while some players are at a shop ogling wares I can interact with other people at my increasingly large table.

An aside -  In Courtney Campbell's Numenhalla there is a whole dungeon sector dedicated to being a shopping district. The first time I joined a game and rolled up a new guy I asked what the deal was with buying gear.
"Awwwww no don't say that, I wanted to get stuff done today" said one person. We went elsewhere and I geared up from the various magical refuse that had built up in Mad Bill Danger's tower.
In a later session we actually visited the place. Way cool! So much stuff! Magical weapons and armours and trinkets to buy! Whole lists of stuff! Everything an adventurer might need!
But midway through hearing the rope merchant's rope stock of various weird and wondrous ropes, I realised that sometimes all you want is 50' of no frills hemp bought out of the equipment list vending machine so you can get back to the dungeon.
That's the main reason why these shopkeepers are optional extras with benefits, not gatekeepers to regular items.


Here is a pdf of the shops and locations for printing.
Here is a spreadsheet of the locations, shopkeepers, and personalities.
Here is a crude map of Fortress-City Fate.

Directions in the Fortress-City

The city is shaped like a sundial, with the enormous palace in the middle as the gnomon. That's the sticky up part of the sundial, so's you know.
It is a rigidly structured and stratified city beneath a rigorous, almost fascist, system of taxes and administrators that ensure the city is always as perfect as it can possibly be in the eyes of the Fated King.
More on the city itself some other time. This post is meant to be about the shops and stuff.

You will note that the city is split into sectors along the hour lines. While these labels are not strictly true, there are temples and shops and housing all over the city, they tend to congregate in the correct districts due to encouragement from the taxation system.
The second and third rings are tram lines. Automated trams apparently magically animated constantly move on rails around the rings in both directions. They are spaced maybe 5 minutes apart and do not slow down to let people on, you've got to jump on while it's moving.

Directions are given as a couplet of Time and Arc.
Time is how far around the city the place is, as measured by the hour lines of the sundial.
Arc is how far from the centre the place is, as measured from the inner circle. The innermost circle is 0, the next is 1, and the outermost is 2.

The Thermae (marked "f" on the map) is thus at Arc 1.2 and Time 08:18, said like "One-Two at Eight Eighteen".
This will hopefully confuse the players at first which is sort of the point. They'll be able to ask people though.

The populace would probably be more accurate than this and break the time down into seconds and the Arc into longer decimals, but that's by the by.
In general the closer you are to the centre the more prestigious the place is.

This is mostly useless information unless a citycrawl becomes necessary.

How to Use

The ways in which players find out about these places are the important part.
I've been delivering knowledge in the following ways:
- Rumours
- Requests
- Requirements

The way I do rumours is to have a few global rumours the players will hear anywhere, then individualised results for specific locales.
Big cities are locales all on their own, so if they go listening for rumours in Fate they'll hear Fate-specific gossip. If they hear about a shop or landmark in a rumour I give them the slip of paper. They find out the address and can go there at their leisure.

Requests are when a player asks "I want to buy a horse" or "I really need to cure this disease". In this case I require a reaction roll (a la Vornheim) and give them pertinent slips of paper depending on how well they did.

Requirements are stuff where they'll just come face to face with it as a matter of course. Everyone entering the city is going to see the giant stables complex of the Fifth Labour and the towering Sciotherico, and anyone Carousing away more money than they have will awake to find themselves in debt to Slim Jimmy and his small army of thugs.

I should note that in the case of the various landmarks I have noted the ultimate boss of the place, like the Arch-Bishop of the cathedral or the CEO of the bank. These are people the players are unlikely to meet but tied to the place in the city's pop culture, their names never far from talk of the places they work.

When they players enter a shop or other location, check it out on the spreadsheet. I mostly give NPCs animal personalities because they're a good shorthand for a range of traits and include exaggerated mannerisms.
A reaction modifier is included which may improve or sour over time depending on how the players act. Charisma is the god stat in a city.

If and when my players start getting to know the shopkeepers better I'll start tying them together in little webs of intrigue. I'll wait to see who they like most first though.

Contacts and Shopkeepers in the Fortress-City

Slim Jimmy’s Reputable House of Credit

Pre-loved adventuring gear
Treasures bought and sold
No credit history necessary

Slightly damaged arms and armour available for loan at 50% cost price.
Lines of credit extended to honest gentlemen (and ladies) at 30% monthly interest.
Items of uncertain provenance and dubious value fenced for a 20% cut of profit.

Gunman and Son

Highest quality firearms
Custom weaponry made to order
Concealed weaponry a specialty

Firearms will never explode when broken.
Proprietary breech-loading technology reduces reload time by 2 rounds.
Arms and armour can be purchased with a built-in pistol for +500sp.

The Body Shop

Cadavers sold by the pound.
Every corpse certified fresh and ethically sourced.
Public dissections every Wednesday.

Vials of blood, bone powder, etc – 50sp ea.
Whole cadaver – 20gp ea.
Experienced physician halves injury recovery time for 10gp/mo.

Lamister’s Roost

Specialist tools sold
Spelunking equipment in stock
Keys cut while you wait

Specialist’s tools grant +1 to Tinkering rolls
Range of specialised ropes on offer
Keys cut without original for 5gp

The Spükhaus

Bodysnatching crime ring

Delay someone’s resurrection by a month – 10gp
Inconvenient corpses disappeared – 20gp
Fresh cadavers purchased at 10gp ea.

Derring & Do

Ruffians available at short notice
All staff trained in Torchbearing 101
Find the henchman that’s right for you

Torchbearer – 4.2sp/day. Labourer –  5.6sp/day. Man-at-arms – 10sp/day.
Employee Life Insurance – 50sp/mo
1d4 first level characters of random classes available per week

The Emporium of the Odd

Purveyor of potions of love and health.
Mysterious items of grim import identified.
Experienced alchemist

Love potions – 5gp ea. Health potions – 10gp ea.
Items identified (takes 1 week) – 5gp ea.
Alchemist prevents lab explosions – 400sp/mo.

Flower’s Bower of Power

Protective charms and gewgaws for sale.
Anti-paranormal weaponry available.
We buy monster parts.

Charms grant a one-time 50% chance of instantly passing a saving throw – 4gp ea.
Silver and cold-forged iron weapons can be purchased here.
Will buy monster claws/teeth/glands/etc for 1gp per hit die per monster.


Dogs of the world.
New and unusual breeds imported weekly.
Dog armour custom fitted.

All dogs are loyal and well trained. Know Attack, Heel, Stay and Roll Over.
Choice of two dog breeds per purchase.
Leather dog armour with spiked collar – 30sp.

Honest Bill’s Used Horse Dealership

Budget mounts for the discerning rider.
Low mileage, high quality, all inspections passed.
For when your horse is knackered TM

Half price horses, mules and ponies. Random flaw each.
Horse loans available at 10% monthly interest.
Will buy horses in any condition for 50sp

The Whip & Bridle

Beautiful thoroughbred riding horses.
Fast, graceful, elegant.
Quality leather riding equipment.

Horses cost triple but are legitimately beautiful and impressive.
Unencumbered horses have +60’ movement rate, +12 miles/day overland.
Riding gear allows maximum movement rate in most off-road conditions – 6gp

The Fifth Labour

Pets pampered and beasts unburdened.
Safe and simple self-storage supplied.
Free for citizens of Fate.

Per person’s belongings stored – 1sp/day or 5sp/week
Per animal stabled – 2sp/day or 10sp/week.
Per axle per vehicle stored – 5sp/day or 25sp/week.

 The Wild Inventoria

Marvels commissioned
Impossibilities realised
Pushing the limits of Science

Builds heretofore unknown marvels at your request.
Prices and build times decided on a case-by-case basis.
You will likely have to test the prototypes.

The Beaming Barber

Stylish haircuts at the forefront of fashion
Range of dyes, wigs and extensions
Sorry, no bloodletting

Haircuts grant +2 to your Charisma score within Fate.
Haircuts count as a helmet for Death and Dismemberment purposes.
Men’s haircut – 1sp. Women’s haircut – 10sp

The Happy Haberdasher

Hats and headgear from the protective to the pompous
Mystery headpieces available in association with the Beaming Barber
I’m not mad!

Standard helms and helmets – 2sp ea.
Hat or haircut chosen at random – 5sp.
Fancy headgear may be sacrificed to pass a single saving throw.

Wizzbang Will’s

Rare and wondrous mind-altering substances
All drugs certified to have no post-rebirth impact
Guided experiences available

Bawlers, Cacklers, Howlers and Blinders – 5gp/dose.
Range of specialty substances rotated monthly.
Vision quest shaman gives +2 to saves vs bad trips – 10sp/hr

Panacea Parlour

A physick for every malady.
Humours balanced, bad blood bled
The Suppository of All WisdomTM

Diseases diagnosed – 1sp.
Treatments administered at varying prices.
Side effects possible.

Atrox Morbus

I will cure you
Do not question my motives
I am a Golden Chirurgeon from afar

I will diagnose your malady for a single gold piece.
I will administer several treatments if I deem it necessary.
I will cure you. I will set the price. You are safe. You will be whole.

Royal Post

Messages delivered across the land
Pigeons trained to fly to all major cities
PO Boxes available for rent

Messages delivered to any civilised locale.
Carrier pigeons can be bought for any city.
PO Box – 2gp/mo.

Landmarks of the Fortress-city

One of the other advantages of having shops on slips of paper is that I can lay them out on the table as a vague representation of where they are in relation to each other.
To this end, I put several landmarks and pubs and non-shops the players might be likely to investigate (or end up in) on slips of paper too -

The Figgin & Yelp
Upper class establishment.
Proprietor: Susan Sassafras
Posh drinks and cocktails.

O’Flannagan’s Eirish Fuckhoel
Raucous alehouse.
Proprietor: Billy O’Flannagan
The best of the worst.

The Copper Bucket
Surprisingly quiet pub filled with grim men stoically drinking.
Proprietor: Ralph Stubbs
Never any fights.

The Stone Starling
Gambler’s pub.
Proprietor: Edmund Cote
Lots of ways to lose money.

Trendy pub.
Proprieter: Harry Pelvister
Sells dark, intense, horrible ales in china cups.

The Sullied Maiden
Traveller’s brothel.
Proprietor: Madame Charlabelle
Weird stuff costs extra.

Male brothel.
Proprietor: Griff Husky
Get cocky.

Posh brothel.
Proprietor: Max Busty
Classy gals for classy gents.

Voluntary Conscription
Sergeant major: Basil Wotsit.
We turn your girls and boys into MEN.

King Construction
Manager: Dave King
No job too small!

The Thermae
Public baths for citizens of Fate.
Manager: Richard Landwick
Hit the showers.

The Impound of Flesh
Head warden: Edward Hyde
A fate worse than life.

St Cuthbert’s
Chief of Medical: Jenny Joy
28sp/day or 280sp/mo. Free for Fate’s citizens.

Fortress Bank
CEO: Cedric Ernest Obermann
Put your cash in our hands.

Alchemist’s Cradle
Head Alchemist: Fergus Fizz
20sp/day to use potion-brewing facilities.

The Glob
Chief Playwright: Billiam Shanks-Pierre
Popular with the masses.

The Church of Nine Corners
Archbishop: Reginald Cage
The seat of the Nonanist faith.

National Library
Head Librarian: Catherine Quinn
20sp/week for use of library facilities. Free for Fate citizens.

Sortitus College
Chancellor: Hubert Mews
A beacon of knowledge in a world of ignorance.

The Sciotherico
Monarch: The Fated King
Est. 1066

Huge marketplace
Landlord: Tesco Sainsbury
Rations bought here heal +2HP when you take a break.


  1. I've never thought of location based rumors. I'm at the stage of trying to give my city's different neighborhoods different flavors and I think that might be one way to do it-- what are people worried about or talking about at the docks, etc.

    One thing that has worked well for me is to come up with foods, beverages, and famous sights that players get a small xp reward for visiting. That will easily get them traipsing all over the city trying find guides and talking to people to figure out where to get the best grilled butterflies etc.

    1. If these guys start spending more time in the city I'll definitely bulk it out and differentiate the districts further.

      That food thing is a great idea. I'm already giving them a bit of bonus exp for discovering the shops, and having local cuisine be a part of that would be excellent.
      I'll have to put a random table or two together for that.

    2. @Telecanter : I have found rumors to be an excellent way to distinguish different locales, especially if you want to play a more intrigue or investigatory kind of game - you have to go to a particular neighborhood to learn certain things, and those things tell you the character of the neighborhood and what you might get up to there.

      The other thing that's nice about rumors is that if you share them with other people, they can decide if they're true or not for their game.

      Sorry, I just love rumors for city games.

  2. Atrox Morbus = full success, I'd be excited to get a disease and find out what that's about.

    1. Thanks! His shop's description intentionally pyramids out to give it some unique mystique.
      His treatments all come off of Last Gasp -
      Someone went there last time and lost a leg!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. (I stupidly did not put my reply to Telecanter as a reply, so I fixed that).

    Oh yeah, also, James, this is fantastic. I'm not surprised because that's the norm for you, but this is a pretty great sweet spot of detail and making stuff up on the fly.

    1. You are far, far too kind!

      It is, as ever, borne of the current conditions of my table. The current clutch of players is large and perfectly happy spending an hour or more poring over the equipment list. I also have blessed access to that most holy of artifacts, the work printer.

      Slips of paper for them to huddle over and go "oooh" fits in perfectly!