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:
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
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
Items of uncertain provenance and dubious value fenced for a 20% cut of profit.
Highest quality firearms
Custom weaponry made to order
Concealed weaponry a specialty
Firearms will never explode when
Proprietary breech-loading technology reduces reload time by 2 rounds.
Arms and armour can be purchased with a built-in pistol for +500sp.
Cadavers sold by the pound.
Every corpse certified fresh and ethically sourced.
Public dissections every Wednesday.
Vials of blood, bone powder, etc –
Whole cadaver – 20gp ea.
Experienced physician halves injury recovery time for 10gp/mo.
Specialist tools sold
Spelunking equipment in stock
Keys cut while you wait
Specialist’s tools grant +1 to
Range of specialised ropes on offer
Keys cut without original for 5gp
Delay someone’s resurrection by a
month – 10gp
Inconvenient corpses disappeared – 20gp
Fresh cadavers purchased at 10gp ea.
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
Purveyor of potions of love and
Mysterious items of grim import identified.
Love potions – 5gp ea. Health
potions – 10gp ea.
Items identified (takes 1 week) – 5gp ea.
Alchemist prevents lab explosions – 400sp/mo.
Protective charms and gewgaws for
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.
Bill’s Used Horse Dealership
Budget mounts for the discerning
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
Beautiful thoroughbred riding
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
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.
Pushing the limits of Science
Builds heretofore unknown marvels at
Prices and build times decided on a case-by-case basis.
You will likely have to test the prototypes.
Stylish haircuts at the forefront of
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
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.
Rare and wondrous mind-altering
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
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.
Do not question my motives
I am a Golden
Chirurgeon from afar
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.
delivered across the land
Pigeons trained to fly to all major cities
PO Boxes available for rent
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
Proprietor: Susan Sassafras
drinks and cocktails.
Proprietor: Billy O’Flannagan
quiet pub filled with grim men stoically drinking.
Proprietor: Ralph Stubbs
Proprietor: Edmund Cote
ways to lose money.
Proprieter: Harry Pelvister
dark, intense, horrible ales in china cups.
The Sullied Maiden
Proprietor: Madame Charlabelle
Proprietor: Griff Husky
Proprietor: Max Busty
gals for classy gents.
Sergeant major: Basil Wotsit.
your girls and boys into MEN.
Manager: Dave King
baths for citizens of Fate.
Manager: Richard Landwick
The Impound of Flesh
Head warden: Edward Hyde
worse than life.
Chief of Medical: Jenny Joy
or 280sp/mo. Free for Fate’s citizens.
CEO: Cedric Ernest Obermann
cash in our hands.
Head Alchemist: Fergus Fizz
to use potion-brewing facilities.
Chief Playwright: Billiam Shanks-Pierre
The Church of Nine Corners
Archbishop: Reginald Cage
of the Nonanist faith.
Head Librarian: Catherine Quinn
for use of library facilities. Free for Fate citizens.
Chancellor: Hubert Mews
of knowledge in a world of ignorance.
Monarch: The Fated King
Landlord: Tesco Sainsbury
bought here heal +2HP when you take a break.