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D&D Urban Campaign Ideas

RenegadeAceRenegadeAce Registered User
edited September 2009 in Critical Failures
I'm looking for inspiration for an urban D&D campaign. Figure this will add a new twist to the standard D&D adventure, and it'll give me a reason to pull out the World's Largest City.

Current thoughts are to make it an intrigue based campaign, many competing factions, forcing players to pick and choose their own sides, until eventually they gain enough fame and clout to stand on their own legs.

I'm looking for some help with adventure ideas or plot hooks, either referencing to published works or simple ideas.

Thanks, I'll keep this updated with an outline as it develops.

RenegadeAce on

Posts

  • psolmspsolms Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    one idea that just applies to this world as a whole is to imagine the city as alive.
    if the PCs get 5 hooks at once, and decide to do option A, by the time they get back, B,C and E should have been completed by other adventurers. if it is the world's largest city, they wouldnt be the only group looking for cool stuff to do.

    maybe have them run into a consistent competing group (like gary from pokemon) every now and again..

    psolms on
  • Hexmage-PAHexmage-PA Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Is this the kind of city where only "civilized races" are allowed, or one where any sort of intelligent beings could be found?

    One piece of advice I can give is to take standard city features and inhabitants and make them more fantastic. Perhaps the city has an "animal messenger" communication system? Maybe some of the noble houses are secretly made up of vampires and rakshasas while others are guided by bound devils? What if Feywild and Shadowfell counterparts of the city exist and all three cities are under one plane-spanning government? If the city is a coastal port it doesn't have to end at the waterline: aquatic creatures could have districts built below sea level and could even travel underwater trade routes. Intelligent beings like mindflayers could manipulate the city's politics in secret. Wonders from all across the world and even other planes could be found: fearsome beasts from primordial jungles could be put on display, the most infamous brothel in the city could be run by a succubus and her half-friend daughters, and mermaids could sing with bards at the water's edge.

    Should the party ever find themselves at a social function where they need to make an impression you could run it as a skill challenge. Preparations for the event (fancy clothes and jewelry, perfumes for the ladies, courtesans, etc) could grant bonuses to certain social skills. Even Knowledge skills could be used for mingling: if an intellectual is in attendance and discussing the history of some long-gone empire a PC could make a Knowledge check to determine how much they know of the subject (which would also grant a +2 bonus to the next check made concerning this conversation).

    As for an adventure idea, maybe the PCs come to the city because they know someone is living there who is plotting something. Something evil. The party could go about doing jobs for the city guard, guilds, noble houses, and others in an effort to secure the next lead.

    Don't be afraid to let the party leave the city sometimes: maybe at one point a force of giants could threaten nearby farming communities, or a noble house's prodigal son could have gotten into trouble while off adventuring, or an important businessman could need help subduing the natives and wild beasts in a territory he's gotten permission to colonize. These sorts of hooks could mix things up every now and then, and once the party has finished their quest they can find a clue that leads them back to the city.

    Hexmage-PA on
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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited March 2009
    I'm looking for inspiration for an urban D&D campaign. Figure this will add a new twist to the standard D&D adventure, and it'll give me a reason to pull out the World's Largest City.

    Current thoughts are to make it an intrigue based campaign, many competing factions, forcing players to pick and choose their own sides, until eventually they gain enough fame and clout to stand on their own legs.

    I'm looking for some help with adventure ideas or plot hooks, either referencing to published works or simple ideas.

    Thanks, I'll keep this updated with an outline as it develops.

    My longest-running (almost 10 years!) 3E campaign was urban - I was inspired by China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, dashed off a map and fifty pages of backstory in a fevered weekend, and my players and I all loved it. It's the one they still look back fondly to (and the reason we hang on to our 3.5 books :P ).

    One idea I can give you is to have some fun with quest-givers. My city had two competing 1800s-style broadsheet newspapers that would always pay the players for the latest scoops; meanwhile, the arcane museum was always on the lookout for archaeological treasures [strike]stolen[/strike]discovered in far-off lands. There was also a gentleman's club/quasi-Masonic secret society based on the Diogenes club that would send them on odd top-secret errands.

    Think about interesting places in cities and how they can be used as locales for encounters. I mean, rooftops, sewers and alleys are the obvious choices, and tons of fun when done right, but also think about insane asylums, slaughterhouses, theatres, and clock towers. Also consider the passage of time, and what sort of interesting holidays your city might have - imagine the players trying to catch a masked assailant during Carnival.

    Jacobkosh on
  • Helix09Helix09 Registered User
    edited March 2009
    Funny you should bring this up.

    So I'm (slowly) working on a city design for an evil based campaign, where the players play Demon/Devil cultists from the Book of Vile Darkness. The government is based on a document I found about the government of medieval Venice.

    Wiki is here with 16 NPCs detailed.

    Helix09 on
    D&D setting work in Progress: http://infernalcity.wikispaces.com/
  • MnemophageMnemophage Registered User
    edited March 2009
    If you have the time, look into Sigil in the Planescape setting for ideas. Philosophical factions and mute pseudo-gods notwithstanding, the city is the center of the setting and gobs of good ideas have been written about how to live and play there. Not to mention what you mention about competing groups and having to work to be able to keep afloat seem strangely familiar.

    Anyway. A bit ago I ran a campaign that involved a years-long siege, necessitating that I became familiar with the city it was set in and how people would react to being shut in with each other for years. How do the different races react when forced to live in close proximity? Are there ghettos and gated communities? How are the transportation and sewage systems? How long could the food, fresh water and other assorted commodities last if the city was cut off? You're probably used to thinking of cities in the ways they can benefit the players, the commodities and quests they can offer them. It may help to roughly map out your city, possibly with sub-maps of important areas.

    As for hooks, an easy way to generate them is to outline some sample organizations and encourage your players to be affiliated with them. Is the Party Wizard an alumnus of a city college, or are they still studying there? Is there a wrestling federation where the muscleheads can go to wear silly masks and trade blows? Encourage your players to come up with their own organizations based on something in real life - there's almost endless opportunity for these things in a city, which means both you and your players have a lot more freedom of imagination.

    Mnemophage on
  • ElfWordElfWord Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I had a campaign with the first act centered around a city; one of the PC's cousins had just become a noblewoman there, and wrote him a letter saying she'd heard of his adventures and the group he traveled with, and wanted to hire them to be her House Guard -- a kind of advisors / fixers group that all the noble houses had. It worked well for getting them involved with the city while still being able to provide some structure. Of course, family ties may not make it easy for them to break off on their own, or choose another side, like it sounds like you want them to do.

    If you're going for intrigue, I've always found multi-layered intrigues to be the most interesting, where it's not just intrigues between one type of group, say, nobles, but multiple types of groups; so the intrigues of the nobles are influenced by the intrigues of the political groups they belong to, and are played out through the intrigues of the guilds, with behind the scenes intrigues of cults and secret societies, with everything influenced by the actions and plans of notable, unaffiliated individuals.

    I usually figure out who all the major players are (as groups, or individuals), put all their names spread out on a posterboard, and start drawing lines that explain one's relationship to another.

    ElfWord on
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  • SAW776SAW776 Registered User
    edited March 2009
    I've been kind of throwing around a sort of Dark City concept. PCs wake up in a strange city, they've all got these spotty, false memories.

    Have a rogue group of Sharn or something take the place of the Strangers, and they've built the city out of bits and pieces of the civilizations they've absorbed.

    Their goal being.. I dunno. Maybe looking for an answer to some super question, ala Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? :P

    Could be fun.

    SAW776 on
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  • GrainGrain Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    Not sure if you've ever played it, but I highly recommend that you consider Sigil, the City of Doors, in the Planescape setting if you are considering an urban campaign. If you've played Planescape: Torment then you've already gotten a pretty good taste of what the look and feel of that campaign setting is.

    The Manual of the Planes released in December provides some details: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=products/dndacc/218937200

    Here's a wiki:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigil_(Dungeons_&_Dragons)

    Grain on
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  • RenegadeAceRenegadeAce Registered User
    edited March 2009
    Thanks everyone, there are some fantastic ideas here I will definetely be using, I love the idea of the vibrant, multi-leveled (fantastical) city that doesn't just wait on the players to come fix something. I expect their decisions to matter, and if they decide not to do something right away, I'll definetely have it progress in their absence. The idea of 'Carnival' has already given me a quest idea, which I am busy fleshing out as we speak.

    I like the idea of a newspaper as well, really bring out the 'living' city. Making one of those prior to each session as a way to introduce information to the players about the goings on in the rest of the city would really cement the setting imo.

    Since there are some questions, I'll give more details on the setting.

    The city I am using is the World's Largest City, made by the same people who made World's Largest Dungeon. Comes with detailed maps, and the entire city laid out block by block with details of tons of NPCs. Figure this will free me from that part and let me pull together a campaign around it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Largest-Dungeons-Dragons-Fantasy-Roleplaying/dp/1594720398

    The city is based around a central spire, treated as a religious icon by many races. Elves, dwarves, and humans built a city surrounding it, sharing the governance of the city. Humanoid army of goblins, orcs, etc. . attacked once the city was founded, battle reached a stalemate, and they prosecuted a truce where they would give up the invasion if they were allowed to have their own district of the city. Rest of the races very grudgingly gave them a district, much lingering hate against the humanoids to this day, and so on.


    Hmmmm. I've been trying to decide between two approaches, having the party arrive fresh off the boat, with the following planned as a way to introduce them to the city, or having them all create their backgrounds as established members of the city, with them defining their roles a bit before the campaign even starts. Thoughts?

    For fresh off the boat, I had kind of planned out the first session. Party arrives in the docks district as newcomers, having hired their way onto a ship to arrive in town. Their reason for coming or if they knew each other or met on the ship I'll leave up to them.

    After taking a bit to set the scene have a pressgang surround them and attempt to enlist them into service, mistaking them for each pickings. I definetely stick with the rule of starting your first session with a fight, heh.

    Figure this leads two ways, the party responds with lethal violence, in which case they are on the run from the authorities at the start of the campaign, and we'll take it down that path, hiding out, being thrown into the humanoid district if caught, we'll wing it as we go.

    Or they drive the pressgang away without killing them, in which case their ability to take care of themselves is noticed by a passerby, who has a rather interesting problem for them to solve, heh. That quest will introduce them further to the city and let them establish themselves at the beginning with some of the local higher ups.




    Keep em coming guys, I will leech off your collective knowledge as long as I can, haha. I'll continue to post as I flesh things out more.

    RenegadeAce on
  • TerrendosTerrendos Decorative Monocle Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I'm planning a few levels for my players to spend in a city in my campaign. Basically they're investigating recent events in an outlying town and travelled to the city to find someone knowledgeable enough to aid them. When they arrive, they'll have to decide how to proceed. If they see the king, he'll be furious over their aiding the town's rebellion and threatening one of the city's trade routes, and have to flee. Ultimately, the person they need to see is a highly-established Eladrin wizard who's basically a social butterfly, and they'll have to find a way to meet him and explain the situation without drawing the attention of the king and any guards who might be on the lookout for them. Overall, it should be quite a few skill challenges and maybe a combat or two.

    Terrendos on
  • BogartBogart Because I hate you Registered User, Moderator mod
    edited March 2009
    There's a fantastic city from way back in the days when White Dwarf wasn't an in-house shilling machine. It was called Irillian - sort of a Lankhmar-analog city with a ton of detail and gorgeous flavour.

    Bogart on
  • psycojesterpsycojester Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    I like the idea of a newspaper as well, really bring out the 'living' city. Making one of those prior to each session as a way to introduce information to the players about the goings on in the rest of the city would really cement the setting imo.

    What'd be a lot of fun, if you're going to have a factional game would be for the various legit/large factions to have to each have their own newspapers with a different version of events, let the party figure out what actually happened by filtering out the various prejudices and propaganda from the various papers.

    psycojester on
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  • ElfWordElfWord Registered User regular
    edited March 2009
    RenegadeAce, cool idea for the start of the campaign. A couple of comments:


    1) Make sure the characters know that lethal force against the press gang is illegal, and that the press gang's operations are sanctioned. Maybe have one of the boatsmen comment on the laws of the city in general, very directly, or complain where the PCs can overhear about "stinkin' press gang tried to clap me last time I went ashore. Filthiest officials outside o' tax collectors; I'd put sword to all of em weren't it punishable by prison."

    2) It's always cool when one of the first things in the campaign ties into larger events later on, or even just when your players can connect a current event to a past event and get a little, "Aha!" moment. Why is the army recruiting? Who's in charge of this press gang, and what will they be in charge of once recruiting is over? Who does the press gang conscript instead of the PCs?

    I'd go with them being newcomers, rather than having established backgrounds in the city, so you don't have a character/player-knowledge disconnect. My players have always wanted to know what their options are in a city when they get there, though, so consider giving them a cheap map with commentary, "Grogmar's Guide", or something. One of the boatmen could give them an out-of-date one, and they'll have a chance to purchase a new edition later.

    ElfWord on
    Star Wars fan, Battlestar crewman, Fantastic GM. Frequent lurker, occasional adventurer.
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  • travathiantravathian Registered User regular
    edited September 2009
    You could always have the boat voyage be somewhat long, and then have the ship attacked en route, a chunk of the crew is killed and the players are called into service to help get the boat to port. Each player could have their own reason for needing/wanting to be at this city, and thus each provides for plot hooks and such early on once they arrive at the city.

    travathian on
  • TiamatZTiamatZ Ghost puns The Banette of my existenceRegistered User regular
    edited September 2009
    Magic: The Gathering from Wizards also created a plane where the entire world was one large city (kinda like Coruscant) called Ravnica...

    What was cool about the setting was that there was no one organization that ruled the city; the city was ruled by 10 Guilds (each one having a part in the city's overall structure), but the ten guilds had a lot of espionage against each other (since one guild was considered defunct, but in reality was still operating secretly.

    An interesting hook for your PCs would be to try a mission/task from each guild, then decide which guild they'll place their allegiance to.

    Also having a karma system would allow PCs making allies with some guilds, and enemies of others, preventing them from gaining access to other jobs from the guilds (or maybe even be on that guild's most wanted list!).

    TiamatZ on
  • Mojo_JojoMojo_Jojo But do you really believe him? Registered User regular
    edited September 2009
    I've inadvertantly ended up running an urban D&D campaign. It's here, sadly the "Story So Far" thread has not been updated in a good long while. Recently it took a turn for the Mordenheim, and then it stalled. I've plans to restart it post (slight player-induced) apocalypse.

    The only issue I've encountered in running a game entirely in urban environments is that it's hard to find maps to use for combat, as city maps are always too zoomed out.

    Mojo_Jojo on
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  • DarkPrimusDarkPrimus Registered User regular
    edited September 2009
    There's something in the sewers killing people...

    The twist:
    The things in the sewers are killing people to keep the things they are afraid of pacified.

    DarkPrimus on
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  • DarksierDarksier Registered User
    edited September 2009
    Games that center on a single location provide a good opportunity to attempt new angles at gaming. For instance, you can try placing your characters in the position of the political masterminds behind some operation rather than just being the lackeys. Provide them some holdings in the city that give some sort of benefit to their greedy natures (they are player characters after all) then set in some antagonists wanting to take that away. And they all not need be cloak and dagger villains either...perhaps its an altruistic priesthood (and their hulking bodyguards) that seeks to renovate a certain neighborhood, but doing so will endanger one of the player's rather immoral businesses established there. Take advantage of the city, and don't be tempted to just turn it into a static dungeon...it can be easy to forget how a city operates and just how many people/organizations are tied into something when everything is so closed in.

    Darksier on
  • samurai6966samurai6966 Registered User
    edited September 2009
    I would love to see some more city based games in D&D. Just because there are monsters in the world doesn't mean they stay out of the city. I would love to see a game based loosely on Ankh-Morpork from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. Its a medieval type city with dwarfs, dragons (summoned but it was the king of the city for a bit. It was a noble dragon after all...), and a (6 foot +) dwarf who dates a werewolf. Now tell me you can't get a good D&D game out of a city like that!

    samurai6966 on
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  • travathiantravathian Registered User regular
    edited September 2009
    Some old book of adventures had an interesting module that consisted of a Mardi Gras/ Carnivale type festival going on in the city. One of the major events was a scavenger hunt put on by the adventurer's/wizard's guild. Teams of adventurers signed up and at the start of the festival were given a crazy list of things to have by noon on the last day. The guild then checked the authenticity of the items and presented the winners at that night's final celebration. You can come up with all sorts of crazy shit like the kiss of a princess on a virtuous man's cheek, feather of a gryphon, water from a rare spring, convert X number of people to a particular religion, steal the girdle of the constible's wife, a rubbing of 4 tombstones with the first name Griff, etc. If you really plan things out, a lot of these mini-quests can lead to adventure hooks later on as the PCs will have met a large number of people in the city in a short amount of time. The winners (and it certainly doesnt have to be the PCs) and the awards could likewise vary greatly from lifetime membership in a guild, favors from influential citizens, wealth, property, etc.

    travathian on
  • BogartBogart Because I hate you Registered User, Moderator mod
    edited September 2009
    I'm in the process of setting up a city (Baldur's Gate) for my RL 4E campaign (more details about the NPC's here). It's tricky.

    Bogart on
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