View Full Version : DM Help Help Me Flesh Out a Monster City

2016-12-21, 11:39 AM
So in my campaign humanity has pretty much conquered a majority of the world, pushing the vile monsters back into whatever cesspool they came from. The monsters were pretty much pushed back into a massive desert where they formed their own city Miraj. Years later an elder dragon took over the city and used the various monster races that took up home there as a resource to look for a library buried in the desert that he believes will contain the knowledge of immortality. The party is also looking for this library, so at some point they're going to have to come to the city and gather information on where it is/how to get inside it. The party consists of 6 level 12 characters and are quite formidable.

So the way it works out is that each race has their own district that's founded by people of their own race. Other races that go into a different district without permission is likely to get torn to shreds by the inhabitants, but that's their own fault. Crimes done in the district are dealt with by whatever race is prevalent in that district. In the center of the city is a sort of neutral ground policed by the Dragon's personal guard. Punishments are far more severe if you break the law on neutral ground.

The races of this city are as followed:

The Horn District: Consists of minotaur's. Militaristic and barbaric, the Minotaur's were once a race to be feared in the early days of humanity. But due to their slow birthrate and humanity's exploding population they have been since fought back and now are just a shadow of their former glory. They believe there to be some sort of super weapon hidden in the library that they can use in order to regain their foothold as humanity's better.

The Feather District: Consists of Kenku. Being notorious thieves the Kenku have been mostly banished from every city around, but found refuge in Miraj and are used to scour the desert looking for any hidden ruins/treasure the elder dragon can add to his hoard. They put up with it because they believe inside the library is the key to returning the ability of flight to their race.

The Tooth District: Consists of Gnolls. A savage race that devours any they discover. Unfortunately for the other races of the city the Gnoll clerics are the only means of creating water for the other races, something they use to their advantage demanding sacrifices to their God to provide the water they create. (A Druid of the party can also create water, so I figure this could create some sort of power vacuum the party could use as leverage). They seek the library to revive one of their fallen Gods that sought to devour the world.

The Sword District: Consists of Goblins and Hobgoblins. Basically ass-kissed their way into being the Elder Dragons personal guard, they police the neutral ground and basically carry out the whims of the Dragon running the show. They collect the taxes required of the other district to add to the dragons horde of treasure.

The Dragon in charge doesn't care what happens to the citizens of his city as long as they continue to worship him and bring him gold/information on the library. He might actually seek the party's help if they make a big enough splash in the city and draw his attention. Basically I foresee the party coming in and forming an uneasy alliance with one of the races, creating a power vacuum and drawing the ire of the other races. Is there any additions you think might be cool for a monster city, and/or any problems you could foresee arising with the concept?

2016-12-21, 01:57 PM
This sounds so cool! I want to visit this city!

One suggestion would be to think vertical... how about an underground district populated by Grimlock or Duergar... or a sky district amongst high towers populated by gargoyles or harpies...

2016-12-21, 02:23 PM
As a map guy, I immediately got to thinking about layout. This led me to: don't just do a circle with quadrant pie slices. It's boring and doesn't really fit the flavor of the kind of city these monster races would create. So how would it look? This should follow, in least in part, on why this site was chosen. You've already said the gnolls control the water, so it's not an oasis. What if it's along a ridge, or better yet, in a canyon? This makes them defensible and shaded.

Then the various districts arrange themselves more like independent settlements that grew together out of necessity. There simply isn't enough space to operate individually. I imagine, at least in the early days, this city was quite overcrowded, whether the population has survived well enough to remain that way might be different.

2016-12-21, 05:24 PM
Perhaps there are some other small districts pushed up between two others?

2016-12-23, 09:28 PM
This is a great concept.
One problem, though. The Goblins and Hobgoblins will not pose any threat to the party as the dragon's guards if you're using traditional stats.

2016-12-23, 10:31 PM
What races are the PCs? How common is it for those races to be seen in the city? Is there any external trade? Is there a physical barrier around the city? Between each subdivision? Around the central neutral area? There would almost certainly be an arena where the weak face off to the death. Maybe public altars to the dragon with mandatory prayer periods. Weekly/Monthly sacrifices to the dragon. Is it a low magic area? Maybe the dragon requires each part of the city is enveloped with an anti-magic field. Where is the Library? Maybe it is beneath one of the sections of the city, can only be accessed by magic, and no one can get in as long as the anti-magic field is present.

Just a few thoughts.

Kol Korran
2016-12-24, 03:05 PM
Hey, first of all- nice concept! A few idea that might help flesh it out:
1. By the current description, things sound... quite symmetric on all sides... as NomGarret mentioned, this feels like the city is divided by more or less 4 equal parts, and each sort of form a "faction/ quest giver" with an interest in the library. Things are often more interesting when the various factions/ cultures/ forces are not as equal or similar, in more respect other than just races. Give each faction more of a role/ position in the city. Yeah, you got the gnolls as water providers (Which... stretches belief to a great deal. No other races have divine casters? Can the gnoll clerics really produce so much water for EVERYONE? And if they got such a powerful hold, why don't all the others serve them?) and the goblinoids as servitors for the dragon, but a few other ideas could be:
- The Minotaurs were the original rulers of the city. They once held a proud, majestic and powerful empire. Their people still remember, and their pride and feeling of self importance and ego are driving factors. Yet much of their former glory is gone, even though they still keep some of their old power (Class levels, possibly magic items and such). Yet their main power comes from how they built the city, and their knowledge of it. You see, the minotaurs built the place like a huge, sprawling, convulated giant maze. This was for defensive purposes, with lots of shifting corridors/ streets, rooms, secret passages and more... The name "Mirage" came from the illusions, confusion and subversion the place caused- you could travel weeks in it, and never find your right way.

Yet as their race dwindled, so did their numbers, and their control of the territory. When other races moved into it, some occupied existing places, while other "remade/ adjusted/ destroyed/ built upon" the maze sections they were in. Each race adjusted their terriotires, yet some of the features of the old mazes remain. Various "Minotaur lords/ princes" held swya over various parts, and kept the secrets for secret passages, bypassing lethal/ confusing parts, and more. The proud minotaurs at times fought with the new comers, sometimes traded with them, but always kept their secrets, which enabled them unsurpassed mobility. When the dragon came with it's forces, it tried to eradicate/ subjugate the minotaur lords, yet though it dealt them significant losses, their maze defenses inflicted casualties on it's subordinates. At the end they came to an uneasy truce, where the dragon exacts some tribute from the minoturs, and doesn't encroach on their holds in the city, while they respect his rule, and slowly uncover some secrets. Needless to say, this is a tenuous and fragile truce.

I'd suggest to make the minotaur faction as the one with the lest members, yet the most powerful ones, with an arrogant "we shall reclaim our glory" streak to them. Possibly some class levels (Incluidng casters?) and a VERy intimate knowledge of how to move around the place, and how to use it's many features.

- The Gnolls:
They are fairly late commers to Mirage. The gnoll faction is one of hunters, savages, and beast tamers. They have long survived in the desert, and know well how to fight, to track, to hunt. They have also learned how to capture and train beasts, whether mundane or magical. They are savage, and believe in the rule of the strong, and give bloody horrific sacrifices to their gods. They came to Mirage both to form a home base, and for the challenge of hunting "the ultimate beasts"- the minotaurs... The two factions have fought many times, yet while the minotaurs have knowledge of old power and the maze, the gnolls have sheer ferocity, numbers, are expert hunters, and they use vacriosu creatures (Ankhegs, Bullets, Wyverns, Cockatrices and more) to better the odds. The gnolls caved a significant portion for themselves and have... "renovated" it to their needs. They keep raiding on other inhabitants, and the desert itself. They fear the dragon, and accept it's rule, and it in turn uses them as scouts, seekers, and... "handy volatile component".

- The Kenku:
I don't see them holding a ward of their own, but rather being a sort of "crafty go between race", that part serves, part interlink the other races. While physically weaker, but significantly craftier and sneakier, the Kenku survive by both hiding, scavenging, ambushing, and making deals. Nearly all other races have some Kenku "helpers/ servitors" at their side, though there are many Kenku flocks in various "unclaimed/ dangerous/ hard to reach" portions of Mirage. The Kenku also act as sort of traders/ carriers and diplomats between the powerful races. Few suspect that the variosu kenku flocks all retain some sort of a secret communication, and that there is a leader (O a small council?) of hidden kenku somewhere, slowly and subtly maneuvering the pieces...

- The hobgoblins:
I see them as coming WITH the dragon, as fanatic servitors. They are the closest to humans, and in fact have adopted a lot of their techniques, craftmanship and order, though in a far more brutal and "efficient" way. I see them as the one trying to impose order, and "civilize" the place, at least enough to make it work, get more tribute and knowledge for the dragon, and further their own standing. I see them as immensely militaristic, but also bringing quite a few advancement (Engineering, social structures, outside commerce, and more). They dislike the presence of the other races, and see them as competitors for the dragon's favors, fearing that they might replace them. As such, the hobgbolins go out of their way to subjugate the others, instill their own superiority, and "keep them low". Needless to say, this does not garner a good reputation for them...

I see them using more "sophisticated" classes, tools, techniques and more. I also see them as having gained soem favors from serving the dragon- Be it some draconic related feats (Or beasts?), perhaps half dragons, perhaps some powerful magical items.

- Tall towers district:
The minotaurs let but few others live in Mirage, in their time of glory. Yet a small population of giants (Not sure what kind exactly... Stone giants? Cloud giants?) have been allowed to make their home there. Their district is built to entirely different proportions, and mostly goes... up. With many solemn and slightly eerie tall towers, with steps and architecture made for giants, this place puts it's own difficulties of navigation. Since those days though, most giants fell out of grace (Might be just general decline, or some catastrophe), so the remaining giants are (mostly) not as powerful as those before (You can put some templates on them, or just have them as "devolved" giants- hill giants and ogres). Yet amongst them, some of the old remains of the giant culture, and it's power, remain.

For the most part, I see the giants as a powerful faction, but a very passive and uninvolved one. No one really wants to mess with them, yet if the slow thinking and deciding inhabitants of the towers can be motivated... Well, it could change things... They however like their solitude nd contemplation, and really, really REALLY dislike visitors!

- Others?
In this vast city, with it's struggle, and the encroaching humanity, I see many others moving into the place. While not all may be major factions, there may be some other significant notables. Some ideas:
- Medusas: They are lethal enough as not to be messed with, and may hold their own places and enclaves. Perhaps some even run inns? Museums? Small markets?
- Hags: If you make them significantly powerful in the magical arts, they could be great negotiators, perhaps arbiters, and providers of much needed (And costly... care to check the cost?) magic.
- Some sort of a flying semi humanoid monster (Such as harpies?): Both as aeriel sirveillence, communication, and ambushers/ pests.
- I'd suggest to put some zones not in the direct rule of any particular faction. These can either host various minor populations, perhaps a dangerous monster (Behir? Beholder? Powerful undead and minions?), or even be under some dangerous effect (Such as a place where planar breaches occur, and elemental/ demons/ others) sometime come, or an area blasted by magic, where magic is wild, and living spells and phenomenon abound. The Kenku might well hide in such places...

Anyway, these are my ideas... use them or discard them as you will... Good luck!:smallsmile:

Fable Wright
2017-01-15, 01:26 AM
I've been running a game set in Eberron's Droaam, an uneasily formed nation of monsters, and I've been meaning to throw in my 2cp here for a while, but never got around to it.

One thing that I'd like to reiterate for you: Four wards in four corners is a very boring idea, and you could do a lot by expanding the geometry by races' natural searching habits. I'm assuming each race is expanding in a direction in their search for the library, and from this idea, you could bring a lot of flavor to the cities.

For example, the minotaurs, according to stereotype, are likely to search in a maze-like grid pattern, believing ancient sources of wisdom—a sage, a book, sages trying to comprehend a mystical book artifact, a mad chieftain prophet, or each chieftain's personal maze vision—will cause their thin tendrils of development across the desert to strike upon the library quicker and more accurately than other races' more seemingly systematic search.

So we have the minotaurs paving furrows through the desert in their search, probably growing corn rows along the way to feed people, and adding to the maze theme in the first area that the players are likely to stumble across. So that's a start. Minotaurs feed their own, possibly have a surplus of food to trade with others, and simultaneously hold the most territory, and almost none, allowing other races to infiltrate the cracks in the minotaurs' maze and live there relatively undisturbed. Quite possibly, races who have no interest in the library itself, but a bunch of scattered races who just want a place to live. The minotaurs' presence around their homes adds a line of defense, and a fairly solid economic boon to the minotaurs who have first dibs on trade between these pockets.

So, now, we know how the minotaurs fit in the city. A big presence, with a lot of economic power behind them, who have the most drive to find the city, probably only barely held back by the other main factions. However, they have a hidden weakness in that many of the groups they shelter are the source of their success; building trade routes from those smaller factions to peoples outside the minotaurs' presence is something the PCs could do as a powerful favor for information.

So, what else do we need?

The things you'd need to build a city, I suppose. Construction materials, from masonry to timber to cobbles. Food. Water. Waste disposal. Schools, and by extension, wax boards or paper to write on. Firefighters and hospitals. So who provides those resources?

I'd say that the Medusae and Gorgons should be included somewhere in the city, possibly as one of the main factions, instead of a pocket faction inside the minotaurs' realm. They have a unique power: To generate stone for use in construction. Gorgons' breath turns grass and potatoes into cobblestones and proto-concrete, making them incredibly valuable to the dragon for infrastructure purposes, and powerful when trading with any other faction that likes permanent dwellings. Medusae also are smarter than most, especially compared to minotaurs and gnolls; they would be excellent civil servants, city planners, teachers, and so forth, making them a powerful and incredibly cunning faction, likely to know more than the others about library lore. They're likely the least interested in the library, though, and journeying into their realm is dangerous indeed, as a spare glance could spell death.

They are also constrained in more ways than the other factions: A great deal of their power comes from petrifying organic materials, and as such, they are the lords of stone. But where do they get their raw materials? Do they raise giants like livestock, fattening them before petrifying them and carving them into blocks? Do they collude with the hobgoblins, turning capital offenders into the stone that makes the city, and push for crackdowns to strengthen their power? Do they get their materials through import, making disruptable trade lines for the players to export or be called to save? Any of these could be a strong plot hook.

So that's most of construction, with perhaps a token druidic force trying to break their monopoly by growing trees in the desert to turn into construction material eventually. Food and water are covered by the minotaurs and the gnolls.

Next up, waste disposal. Okay, this is the Otyughs, but who gets the waste to the Otyughs, and why? Do the Medusae raise Otyughs in their own penned district to turn into stone, instead of giants? They cost a lot less to feed, after all, even if they generate a lot less material when harvested. If so, do they hire people to collect the waste, or do impressively intimidating riders who can kill with a glance come out to collect the garbage? If not, do the Otyughs just live on every street corner, tended by Goblins or the locals in charge? Would the Otyughs know each other, spreading telepathic impressions to each other and the handful of others they trust, acting like a telepathic network reaching across the whole city? You could have a plot line there, easily.

After that, there's precious little else truly needed in cities that wouldn't be provided by the districts, but there is some potential still. For example, Abeils would likely live among the minotaurs, pollinating the corn rows, providing the wax needed for reusable writing tablets, and having a valuable trade good in honey—the only sweet in the city, and a great preservative that itself never goes bad. There would likely be a salt mine, perhaps mined by the Asherati, who need no tunnels to reach the buried salt, and can keep its location a secret to protect their most powerful of bartering tools. A race with innate fire-quelling powers would be quite useful when water is too valuable to be spared... though without wood, on second thought, this might not be that important.

I'd go on, but I think the wounds from a window slamming on my hands the other day are reopening, so I'll stop there. Hope this helps!