View Full Version : City building tips?

Soup of Kings
2008-06-01, 08:41 PM
Okay, so my PC's are going to be reaching the big capital city of the country they're in right now soon, and I'm trying to build something impressive for them. Here's what I've already established.

Urban areas are significantly more advanced than rural areas. Wealth and technology flourish in the major cities, while just outside the suburbs people live in an almost medieval setting. The villages my PC's have seen so far have been small hamlets, stone buildings, etc. But this capital should be large, impressive, and have significantly more wealth and technology; I don't mean trains or guns anything like that, but more of a fantasy version of advanced technology (Airships, etc.). This capital will be a port city, split into several districts, and plagued by pirate attacks (I haven't decided between classic sea pirates or air pirates yet.) Most commerce takes place over the sea, as the country is set on a large island (This explains why the PC's may have not seen any airships as of yet; they've been working their way towards the capital. I intend to let them travel overseas to different countries with varying themes.)

So I need general city building tips, as well as how I should handle politics, pirate attacks, marketplaces, districts, what other sorts of technology I could include, and whether or not including airships is even a good idea. :smallsmile:

Also, maybe an arena a la TES4: Oblivion, although probably not with fights to the death.

2008-06-01, 08:52 PM
If you can, go check out some of the stuff from Cityscape. It can help stimulate some ideas.

For a personal tip: Do not forget that you are in a fantasy setting. If there's a whole load of magic, cities will be using it. This means that richer sections of cities will have magical lighting as opposed to torches or lamps, there will likely be some place of learning for those who study magic if the city is large enough, and local vendors might be marketing magical "convenience" items that the PC's might not want, but locals will. One of the things I liked most in Cityscape was the entry on "magical polution," when small amounts of magic gathers together from being in a relatively small amount of space and causes strange things to happen.

2008-06-01, 10:25 PM
Alot of this will depend on your setting, also, you must consider

How powerful is this nation, what is it's focus?

You say it's a port city, so it proably has fairly impressive docks, maybe it has a shipyard with built in enchantments to help facilitate the construction of ships. It likely has a large marketplace setting ect.

Pirate Attacks, if this is a capital city that is reguraly plauged by pirates, it's likely got a system in place to handle them. I picture somthing like this, watchtowers stationed near the coast, if sentries spot pirates incoming they ring a big bell and everybody runs for it, then the pirates land and grab anything they can find before the army and/or navy shows up to chase them off.

2008-06-01, 10:47 PM
A few ideas:

Permanently aloft hot air balloons: Magic stones/coals/flames/lizards provide enough hot air to keep balloons aloft for long periods of time without too much maintenance or refueling. Can be used for airships, observation posts, decorations, signs, or other things.

Fast food thats magically delicious- some restaurants employ spell casters to cast prestidigitation on food to flavor it or color it. Some of the cheaper places make lots of cheap foods like bread rolls, porridge, water or other stuff and the wizard zaps it with flavor depending on what the customer orders. Menus have long lists of exotic-sounding food names like Strawberry Cream Pudding, Dragon Bread, Rood Beer, or Archon Fruit Flapjacks. Most of them taste like nothing natural, and the prices vary between different tasting things that are basically the same food re flavored. All foods lose their magical flavor about an hour after the customer orders it. Some places sell fruit or vegetable pies or meat products... but even though they are delicious there is the chance it might be a bit out-dated or spoiled.

Devastating defenses- The port is guarded by towers and ships that employ spell casters armed with wands of True Strike. Attacking pirates may find themselves up against weapons that always hit them the moment they step into range.

Really clean rich areas- spells like prestidigitation and unseen servant allow for ranged spell effects to clean up places without trouble.

Slimy Waste Disposal- Green ooze and other slimes may be used in industrial areas to dispose of waste. Green slime pits are occasionally burned off to keep them from getting too big. Specific slimes may be used to only dissolve organic material while retaining metal or other valuable material. May be put into any sewer system the place has.

Merfolk trading post- If there is a sentient aquatic race in the water, they might have an embassy to communicate with the surface folk. Problems with fishing or pollution are brought up and they might help in reconnaissance with pirates. At the least, aquatic races might trade some seafoods or other goods for 'exotic' land foods like chicken, beef, apples or anything thats cooked or smelted. (though they really prefer rustproof material)

Pearl farm- pearls are gathered to act as jewelry or provide the spell components for Identify spells or make Pearls of Power. Various pearls are gathered and sorted by their quality. Not sure if they would grab all the low-quality ones into a pile till it measured 100 gp and then call it 'Identify Dust'.

Entertainment- bards could make a decent living here singing songs of distant places and events. Spells like silent image and danging lights provide entertaining displays.

Communication- Messages and information could travel through various ways. Either delivered by ships that travel to other ports, perhaps messages sent via Sending or some magic items. Also, if you've read the Discworld novels it has a line of Semaphore towers called Clack Towers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clacks) that sent messages at great speed through mundane means.

A specially made Dancing Lights spell might be able to be set in place and imitate other Dancing Light spells in a line. Providing low-level long distance communication... with the problem of people reading the messages sent through or disrupting one of the lights and taking the whole line down.

Criminal organizations- every big city needs crime in it (well, doesn't need it per say but it makes things interesting) could include gangs of child pickpockets (and adult halflings mixed in the gang) monsterous humanoids with darkvision who do lots of stuff at night, slavers that capture goblinoids or other 'monsters' and sell them as slaves (reasoning that they would just get killed by someone else otherwise) or smugglers that specialze in contraband spell components, spells, and creatures. (like the onyx gems for necromancy, diamonds for raise dead spells, most enchantment or necromancy spells, or various monsters)

Slavers and poachers might come equipped with either merciful weapons or Weapon Augment Crystals that bestow the merciful quality.

2008-06-01, 11:07 PM
Randel's ideas are win. Also, this sounds a little like Sharn. Go forth and pillage for ideas.

Vertical cities are so much more practical when you have fly. So go crazy.

Emperor Tippy
2008-06-02, 12:11 AM
The very, very, first thing you have to decide how to deal with is permanent teleportation circles.

Once you have figured that out we can move on to other points.

Paragon Badger
2008-06-02, 12:44 AM
Do not ever listen to the DMG II's guide to building a city.

It's retarded.

As in, it's insultingly wrong if you have any idea regarding the concept of population density. Seriously. It's retarded.

Spent hours wasting my time with it when I just did some research on midieval cities and used preportionate figures.

I always favored cities built into the landscape, for a port-city, an entire district of floating barge/houses seems particularly apt. Maybe a lot of water running into/throughout the city, a la a magically enhanced Venice.

2008-06-02, 12:57 AM
More ideas:

Brown Mold refridgeration- use brown mold or some other cold-generating thing ( I would venture that growing brown mold would be cheaper than buying a magic item) to produce refrigeration. Fishermen use it to keep fish cold, some buildings use it as a sort of air-conditioning for hot months, ice makers use it to freeze blocks of ice to sell, and many other uses. However, the mold is still kind of dangerous to those who don't handle it properly, grows rapidly when exposed to heat, and dies when frozen itself (like if there is a water leak that freezes it in ice). Also, improper care may get the mold on refrigerated food or in the air so it makes people sick. Brown furred fish, and summer cough can be attributed to these things... and if your fish wasn't doused in water during refrigeration to encase it in ice then the fish might explode in brown mold when cooked!

Reverse gravity waterfalls- not sure what use they could be, but having an upward falling water fall could be neat. Might be an experiment in catching fish... the water falls up, gets scooped sideways by a pipe or something and then drains down through a grate. Any fish or solid stuff gets caught and slides down through. Could help supply water to high-up places if there is a supply of freshwater.

Salt factory- Extract salt from saltwater as a spice and preservative. Extraction process could be done through Purify Food and Drink, just boiling the water through some means, or maybe using a huge array of mirrors to reflect sunlight into tank to heat it to boiling.

Shocker Lizard (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/shockerLizard.htm) power plant- Might get into REALLY weird territory but get a mad mage to collect some shocker lizards and try finding a use for them. Big metal wires hooked up to cages with the lizards in them harvest electricity for experiments. Maybe use electrolysis to crack water to extract salt or get hydrogen for lighter-than air balloons (which could be cheaper to fly than hot-air balloons but have the risk of going Hindenburg on someone).

Magical mass production- In Races of Eberron there is a neat spell Unseen Crafter (also seen in the Crystalkeep list of wizard spells). Conjures up an unseen servant that does craft check for 1 day/caster level and can take 10 on its checks. Get a bunch of wizards with this spell and item crafting skills and feats and they can make plenty of stuff. Add in 2nd level pearls of power and they can make factories. Even if there are more skilled crafters than them, they can double-triple-quadruple the amount of stuff they can craft in a day. Expect plenty of alchemic items and masterwork stuff to come out of their factory and for them to have pretty good say on what happens in the city since they produce so many tools and trade goods.

Tea Bricks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_brick)- In ancient china tea bricks were used as a form of currency. They were favored over metals in areas without much green foods, and in places where water contains germs that can kill you, people have to boil their water and a bit of tea gives it flavor to make it worth drinking.

A sort of secondary currency might be interesting to have, a trade good that is in such demand elsewhere that its treated like a currency itself. Tea could be used, a gem with continual flame on it (might be better as a currency in an underground setting with the gems and darkness to make it work), or an alcoholic beverage made from a fruit found on the island that dwarves really like. If you're not afraid of tossing in a 4th edition concept, maybe there is residuum in circulation (or a watered down equivalent) that can be used to replace the costly material component of all spells. So Residuum could act as a sort of Oil for the magic world, magic users demand it to power spells and make magic items so it gets used alot in trade. 100 gp vials of it could be passed around easily and it eventually finds its way to wizards who make magic items.

2008-06-02, 01:27 AM
My advice:
1) Brainstorm a number of competing political groups, and build the city around them. These could be something as cliched as outlaw guilds or gangs versus law enforcement, competition between mercantile guilds, leaders with incompatible agendas, religious institutions or practices, mage guilds, or the like.

2) Think about the major industries, and their ramifications. For instance, a thriving sea trade might support a vast dockside tavern district for sailors, brewers to supply them, warehouses nearby to hold goods, dry docks to build and repair ships, crowds of the impoverished coming to try and earn coin by loading and unloading ships, and a few preying on all of the above. Oftentimes, districts organize themselves along economic lines. For instance, an area rife with taverns might be a rowdy and dangerous place, but successful merchants and guilds might pay a bit extra elsewhere to wall off or keep an extra watch presence around their warehouses. People might be reluctant to live around certain industries, such as slaughterhouses, leading to separate business and residential districts. (Although a common city model that dates back to Roman times involved multistory buildings with shops placed on the ground floor and residences above). If you include air ships, then think about what is needed to keep them active and aloft. Perhaps the air trade is requires (and is thus controlled by) a small population of artificers or mages. Do they need special docking locations? Perhaps they need special materials. If so, where are these obtained from and processed? Are the air ships reserved for valuable cargo that the poor might not be able to afford?

Well ok, most of these details likely won't come up in the typical game but they provide an excellent backdrop for purposes of plot hook, flavor, setting up maps (which needn't be too detailed), or sources of side adventures.

2008-06-02, 04:12 AM
Also, it helps to think of a city from different perspectives. Most cities have tourist areas, industrial areas, buisness districts, population centers (housing), and the other side of the tracks areas (slums). Players might be introduced to a City from the tourist entrance moving through the uppercrust/silver spoon fed housing district and on towards the center of bureaucracy to give them starry eyes about the "big city living" that's possible. Only later, as the explore the city, hit them with a couple of appaling descriptions of the docks (industrial area) and overcrouded conditions in the poorer sections of the city. An iron fisted rule that the police pass down. People in stocks labeled as "Thief". Etcetera.

I tend to think of cities by the extremes they provide. Large cities might have concentrations of innovation, learning, & knowlege. But they also include a mixture of crime, fear, & the impoverished.