GM’s Guide to Adventure Writing
From James Edward Raggi IV
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0489
- A Brief Word from Johnn
- GM’s Guide to Adventure Writing
- Pick Pockets Contest = Win NBOS Software
A Brief Word from Johnn
Frank Franzetta Dies at 82
When but a youngin’ I found his art dark, mysterious and intimidating. It graced the first Conan book I tried to read. I was not reading many adult books yet, but I borrowed that hard-covered tome from the library at least six times over the course of a couple years until I conquered it. I associated Franzetta’s art with this battle ever-after. Frank Franzetta Dies at 82
How Do You Handle a Tricky Player Personality?
A GM recently asked for help on the GMMastery list, and I thought you might be interested in my take on things. To add in your opinion, join the group at http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/gmmastery/
I have a new campaign and a player who is new to my group. He and his wife are highly educated, and unfortunately he thinks using as many words as possible to say the simplest things is the only way to speak. On top of that, from his small time in the US Army, he seems to have developed the idea that it’s impressive to others to say things like “I have to ‘pop smoke’ at 10pm” to say he needs to leave by 10.
I don’t know how to deal with this guy. I’ve said a few things nicely but gently…he merely looks at me like I’m stupid. To tell me he is using the “low light” mode of his Low-Light/IR goggles took him 3 minutes…a full justification for flipping between modes, how often he was going to do it etc.
Here was my reply:
I look forward to the answers of others who respond to this thread. In my opinion, you have two options: change yourself or part ways.
You will not change another person’s personality. You can try, but I’ve not seen it happen. Not in gaming, at least. You might try timers to get faster responses, have an aside with him and communicate your issues, etc. but I do not feel you’ll have much luck. This person is who he is, and that’s great, but it does not mesh with your style.
It’s out of your control.
Usually, you have success focusing just on what *you* can control. Which is yourself. So, while this is difficult, try to reframe the person and their behavior. Look for bits that you enjoy in his stories. Use empathy to see where he’s coming from.
Build a bridge, as they say, but start at his side and work back towards yourself. Building bridges fails most often because people start from their side, trying to get the other person to see their point of view. Instead, you can try to see the world through his perspective, walk a mile in his shoes (and then you’re clear, because you’re a mile away and you have his shoes, as the joke goes).
If this all sounds bad to you, then imho you need to part ways. I’ve separated from gamers before because of a personality clash. I tried to bend, the others might have too, but RPG are a highly social game and if there’s no fit, go your separate ways. Hire slow, fire fast.
GM’s Guide to Adventure Writing
Success and Failure
The most important thing to remember when constructing an adventure is to not assume that the PCs will succeed at any point during the adventure.
As a referee, your job is to be completely impartial during game play. You have absolute power at the game table and can bequeath success or mandate failure at any time. Doing either of those things ruins the game, as both give no incentive to play well.
Do not fudge the dice. Ever. Luck is a part of the game, and the dice are there for a reason. Resist the temptation of sparing characters that fail or even die due to “bad luck” or a “stupid die roll.”
Would it be acceptable to tell a player that just rolled a stunning success that you’ve decided, just because it’s more fun, that the die roll doesn’t count and he instead failed? I don’t think so. So why would ignoring the dice in the players’ favor be acceptable?
Good game play will tip the scales of fortune and those that rely on pure luck deserve what they get – either way. At the same time, if an incredibly lucky roll derails the entire adventure and gives the players a quick victory, it should stand. It needs to work both ways. When the dice go badly for the players, they should be thinking of how to not let a roll of the die be the sole determiner of their fates. And when the dice go a little too well for the players, the referee should note what he needs to do to prevent a single die roll from determining the course of an entire adventure.
Traditional games are all about the players (and referee) learning to play better over time. The characters’ experience gains are secondary. Demand and reward player excellence and the game will be more challenging in the long run.
So what are the consequences of deciding to play this way?
The party is just lost and sitting around because they didn’t find the secret door that leads to the next section of the dungeon? Tough. It goes unexplored.
The party missed a vital clue and has no idea where to turn
next in a murder investigation? Tough. The killer gets away.
There are too many options to choose from, and the players are disorganized and can’t agree on an option and look to the referee for guidance? Tough.
This only works if the referee is willing to realize that sometimes, all his work on an adventure is going to be wasted. The players are sometimes going to be unwilling or unable to see it all. The referee must contain his ego and resist the urge to introduce some way of being able to show all his work off. And the referee must not take the unused, unexplored parts of his adventure and plug them in elsewhere, as this negates the choices the players have made that led to them, intentionally or not, failing to explore the areas in this particular location.
Playing this way also means that the game can “stop” at any time because a battle wipes out the PCs, or some other disastrous result that means the mission will come to an abrupt end. Oh well. Of course success is always more fun than failure. But if failure is not an option, then the success is but an illusion, it’s fake, it’s a lie. And by taking the attitude that the end result determines the fun of the game, then suddenly the process of playing the game is not fun in and of itself.
I don’t need to say anything about how stupid that is, do I?
Every adventure must have situations that directly and truly threaten the lives of the characters participating. If there is no true threat, it is not an adventure, it’s a tour.
I’ll go so far as to say there should be situations designed specifically to kill characters. A monster that’s way too tough. A trap that’s going to claim a victim. Save or die. These sorts of things. Every. Single. Time. The key is to put these “expected death” situations in places where it isn’t necessary to encounter them. The players must choose to engage in these areas and situations.
Teach them that the game world isn’t scaled so they can kill everything.
Every adventure must have meaningful choices that the players must make, and these choices must significantly alter the flow of the adventure for them to have any meaning.
The absolute key to good gaming is the ability of players to choose their character’s actions. Any adventure that dictates what a character thinks or feels or does (barring magical enchantments, of course) is a terrible, terrible adventure.
The choices made must be real choices. “Floating locations” of the “Well, whichever inn they stop at will be where the adventure happens” sort is not a real choice, it’s a mere illusion. This is worse than railroading because it is dishonest in its methods.
Choices should not only be offered, but forced: things are happening, and the players have to do something, and none of the options seem to be all good. Of course, if they choose to not do anything, they’ve still made their choice and the consequences should be different (and more severe!) than if they’d done something.
There are two standards that adventure rewards must meet: they must be enough, and they must be not enough.
Enough that everyone involved doesn’t think that they’ve completely wasted their time… and not enough to leave anybody really satisfied with what they have. They need more! Where next to plunder?
Note that concealing the rewards well may wind with the players not finding it. Tough. As a referee, just make sure it’s there. Don’t help the players to actually find it.
A player-driven adventure challenges the now-common philosophies of good adventure pacing. Common wisdom today states that if the action has slowed and the players either don’t know what to do or don’t want to do anything, the referee should make something happen to give the players something to react to. I declare that this ruins the pro-active element in traditional gaming, causes the referee to be biased towards character action, and creates a disincentive for players to control their own destiny.
But what do you do if all the obstacles described in the Success and Failure chapter actually stop the party?
You do nothing.
If a player complains that he’s bored and that nothing is happening, look at him and say, “I agree. So are you going to do something or not?”
It is not the referee’s job during a session to provide excitement for his playing group. His job is to administer the setting and resolve character actions. If the characters are taking no action and are not interacting with the setting, then the referee has literally nothing to do. The players are wasting his time.
Other common standards of pacing become obsolete when dealing with a player-driven adventure. Traditional games commonly feature a “retreat, rest, and recharge” element of play, and in fact almost demand such a thing. This creates a bit of difficulty in trying to structure an exciting adventure if the party is going back to rest after every fight of even slight challenge.
Don’t let the players turn the game into a series of “Scout out the next room, ambush the beasties, collect the loot, and then retreat back to camp and get all the spells back.” Or don’t let them complain of monotony and boredom if that is what they choose to do. There are a variety of ways to prevent this, although some may seem heavy-handed.
Cave-in traps or other methods of blocking exits can be useful, once, before it becomes a crutch instead of an idea. Pit or slide traps that dump a party to a lower level and teleporters that move a party somewhere unfamiliar are old tricks that might be acceptable a time or two. Missions with time limits are another possibility, but the meticulous planning needed to make an adventure just challenging enough will tend to cause the referee to become too invested in the adventure outcome.
The first reliable way to control this is through the proper use of wandering monsters. Never skip a wandering monsters check, and never hand-waive the results. Do this for the area that the PCs decide to rest as well. If their recuperation is not just a matter of saying, “We go back to camp,” maybe the players won’t be so quick to do so.
Keep a strict record of time! This wisdom was presented in bold in a major publication and has been laughed at ever since. But it’s excellent advice. Endless searching for secret doors and traps takes but a second to roll for the players, but a good deal of time for the characters. How long does that torch burn? And that lantern? So many referees simply make sure that there’s a torch or lantern present (and if the referee is on the ball, he might make sure that somebody with a free hand is actually the one carrying it) and then ignore it. Players will pick up the pace if the torches and lanterns keep going out…and keeping close track of encumbrance means they can’t just buy a hundred flasks of oil, either. These oft-ignored rules aren’t there to be a pain the ass, they are there to push play along in a system that otherwise rewards characters moving at a snail’s pace.
But when the players go looking for adventure…you’d better have some for them to find.
You’ve been given a big pile of philosophy concerning adventure design, but now it’s time to put it together into a coherent adventuring environment. As a nod to this hobby’s traditions, this environment will be called a “dungeon” here, but this remains true if the environment is a dungeon or not.
The first thing to remember when creating an actual adventuring area is to forget the idea of “encounters.” The “encounter” has become known as the standard unit of “excitement” in an adventure. It’s an awful terminology, and it influences adventure design in an adverse way as referees stop to think of adventures as a flowing, natural sequence of events and more like a flowchart where players travel along boring lines in order to get to the “encounters.”
Never place a secret door that you intend to be found.
Never place a trap that you do not intend to be set off to its full effect.
An important factor in designing a dungeon is allowing for the fact that under the guidelines presented in this book, characters will die. Perhaps often. Replacement characters are often rolled up very quickly, but there needs to be an in-game explanation for how to introduce these replacements.
Create challenges for every primary class in the game, especially those that are not present in the player character group.
Spellcasters, particularly clerics, always have a number of spells available to them which they simply never prepare. This is due to referee laziness; off course they are never chosen if they are never used! Create situations where such spells easily solve the issue at hand. They’ll gripe and moan at first when they realize they have to come back to the situation the next day with the proper spells (and complain yet again that they are doing so at the expense of “useful” spells… you know, the type used in combat), but a referee being diligent in this course will remove the idea of “useless” spells from his campaign altogether.
Interaction versus Combat versus Traps versus Tricks
It is usually better to present an encounter with a greater number of enemies than it is to give the players one opponent at a time. It’s attrition versus “The Big Fight.” Make smaller, less threatening opponents the order of the day, so that the decision to continue on or stop and rest is actually meaningful. If every encounter is a big one, then continuing on is stupid. This is advice that I really have trouble with in my home games. I can usually eyeball a Single Big Monster for suitability against my group. But there get to be a lot of dynamics when it comes to group encounters. It’s a bit difficult with groups of creatures, because for all the “kill ’em all and sort the character sheets later,” tone all this advice takes, the ultimate goal is to challenge, not annihilate, the players and their characters.
Make use of terrain and “set pieces” when coming up with encounter areas.
Kill Them and Take Their Stuff – Complicate it! Vary what the treasure is, hide its value, make it inconvenient to transport.
Random encounters are a wonderful tool. They keep players from ever feeling secure about their position in an adventure location, they can turn tense situations into complete chaos, and they are just good all-around fun. Never fail to create a random encounter table for your adventuring locales. While most of the random encounters should not be major battles, there should be at least one possible encounter that will be a roughly equal, major fight, and one entry which will probably be too much for the party to stand toe to toe with.
Note that many old modules poo-poo wandering monsters by advancing the idea if a random encounter depletes the party too much or detains them from their final goal, the encounter should be ignored. This sort of thinking is drenched in the notion that the game is somehow a failure if the characters do not reach the pre-scripted conclusion in just-so condition so that they can deliver a satisfying climax to the adventure the way they are supposed to. Isn’t that the sort of thinking this entire essay is trying to avoid and prevent?
Take care that the random charts make sense within the adventuring environment. These creatures roaming around will also be coming into contact with the placed creatures. Why aren’t they killing each other? If they’re random monsters, it’s a good bet their lair isn’t keyed on the map. Where do they live? How do they get from there to the dungeon? If the party is closing doors behind them as they go, many creatures won’t be able to “randomly” appear.
One solution is to make random monsters connected to a keyed area. This can happen in several ways. The first is to just assume that every (or most, or whatever’s appropriate) keyed area’s inhabitants have an extra member or two running around the environment.
Also, not every random encounter needs to be a battle. Adding in neutral or friendly encounters into the table can provide an unexpected twist. The encounter need not even be with anything living. A cave-in, flash flood, or other random event can easily fill a random encounter table slot.
Think before placing traps. Really, there is no quota for placing traps and they should never be thrown in there “just because.”
Three things must be thought through before placing any trap. First, what triggers it? Second, how do people who are supposed to be in the area avoid the trap? And third, why hasn’t the trap been triggered by all the wandering monsters (and regular nearby inhabitants)?
In instances such as a tomb or mad wizard’s lair or some such, these are easily answered. Nobody is supposed to be there, period, and it makes sense to booby-trap the living hell out of the place. Locations with living inhabitants, not so much. But each trap should have a clear purpose.
Be descriptive about placed traps. It should be possible to detect and disarm almost any trap without making a die roll. In fact, if the proper way of dealing with a trap is nothing more than a couple of thief skill rolls, then the trap is boring and no good. You can do better.
“Gotcha” traps keep players on their toes, but are also detrimental to game play. Merely entering an area shouldn’t be enough to trigger a trap. There should be some specific action that triggers it. Poison needle traps are a perfect example here. If a character does not attempt to open a chest or pick its lock, they have no problem. It’s only by taking a specific action that they put themselves in danger.
Not that this is a screed against pit traps and the like. They have their place – especially if nobody is bothering to use a ten-foot pole anymore. The problem with such traps is that they are often in areas where many creatures travel. Not even the most diligently trained or fiendishly clever beast will walk amongst traps unless there is an ongoing siege or hostile information. Any “triggered just by standing or walking right there” trap that does more than sound an alarm is simply not going to be found in areas where people, or creatures, ever go.
Obvious, no-roll-needed-to-find-them traps are simply awesome. They dare the players.
The last consideration to make is whether this trap is effective. Too many referees place traps as “obstacles” in their adventures to be “overcome.” Traps should be placed with the full intention of being triggered. Whoever set the trap was certainly aiming to kill (or imprison, or immobilize, or whatever) whoever set it off, and certainly trying to keep people out of a specific area, so it must be able to do what it sets out to do or the whole thing’s worthless. If you’re going to place a death trap, set it up in a way that will kill, and count on a character dying from that trap during the adventure. When (if!) the traps are discovered and bypassed, it becomes a real accomplishment (even if it was dead easy and the players don’t understand what might have happened), and not just something that happened because it’s “supposed to” in these types of games.
Thanks, James, for permission to reprint your article.
Readers, this article first appeared at Guide to Adventure Writing
Comments are still open there. Feel free to drop by if you’d like to add to the discussion.
Pick Pockets Contest = Win NBOS Software
Time for another contest. The theme is items you’d find when picking pockets. But there’s a twist, as I’ll outline below. But first, what are the prizes?
Thanks to new ezine sponsor NBOS, three winners will be selected at random and each gets their pick of one NBOS software title. Visit to see what GM software you can choose if you win. Perhaps Fractal Mapper will help your campaign mapping. Maybe Astrosynthesis is what you need to chart the galaxy. Have you checked out The Keep yet?
Deadline = Monday, May 31. There’s not much time for this one, so get your entries in now – multiple entries are welcome.
Pick Pockets + Hook
Imagine you found a fortune cookie in every pocket you picked. Instead of a future prediction or lottery numbers though, you find a juicy detail about your world, your enemies or your quest.
Every GM’s dream:
“In his pockets you find [roll, roll] 23 gold pieces and a handful of rice. One grain looks rotten due to its brownish tinge.”
“Oooh! I throw away the money and investigate that brown piece of rice. Does it have any markings? Has it been carved into a shape? I look very closely at it in the best light I can find.”
When a character picks a pocket and comes away with some loot, try to use that treasure to enhance the game with details and hooks. Sure you can roll up 2d20 copper pieces and a bit of lint, but that’s boring. Liven up your games with interesting pocket contents.
For example, in a past campaign a pocket contained a locket with a painted portrait of a beautiful young lady in it. The PC investigated and learned where the lady was. He paid her a visit and this spawned a new side quest, which was to eventually tie back into one of the main plots (which was unplanned but I seized the opportunity of the PC’s interest). Unfortunately, the PC died before he could take things further.
Here are examples of types of details you can add to pocket contents to enhance your campaigns:
Types of Details
- Answers (i.e. a detail finally explained)
- World development
- Plot development
- Race and class development
- Character development
- NPC development
Types of Objects
- Names or initials
- Special material that can be traced
- Picture, drawing
- Symbol or rune
- Unique item that can be traced
Remember that the pick pocket victim is rarely killed in RPG. So, based on what is found in his pockets, the PCs can return to attempt to parley, shake down, follow or investigate the person.
The pocket contents do not have to shoulder the burden of supplying a lot of answers. The contents just provide enough information to help the PCs decide to take further action. Whether the action gets the group closer to their goals or not is up to you and the pocket contents. A red herring once in a while helps players stay on their toes.
Pocket contents do not have to lead the PCs back to the victim, either. The interesting detail can point the characters to groups, other NPCs, locations or keywords for research. The detail could also reframe existing information, helping the PCs with a breakthrough by new interpretation of known facts. It would get repetitious for pocket contents to always lead the PCs back to the victim for follow-up action, so make contents details point to all aspects of your campaign.
Sometimes a PC chooses a random victim. They’re bored or need more wealth, and they either target a random NPC or you let them know a juicy target just walked by. Sometimes, however, the victim is chosen for a reason. In either case, you can use pocket contents to propel your game forward. Just avoid too much of this with random victims because sense of disbelief disappears once every pocket contains a plot element.
Targets picked for a reason can have the desired item in their pockets, plus another item or two with juicy details that lead the PCs to new directions. Do not be satisfied with the status quo: “Item found. Quest over. Check.” Complicate things or dovetail things so there are always interesting possibilities afoot.
For example, the PCs pick an enemy’s pocket and come away with a small bag. Inside is [roll, roll] 1 small emerald, 4 gold pieces, the diary the group was after, and a pair of dice. Further investigation reveals the dice have been expertly shaved. The party gambler takes these and starts using them. As the game plays out, the dice generate all sorts of interesting acquisitions in pots won, plus get the group in trouble from time to time when the gambler is caught cheating. All this great gameplay from a small, extraneous detail in a pick pocket encounter.
How to enter
Email your entries to me at [email protected]
Each entry is one pick pocket item that has an interesting hook or detail that would enhance a GM’s game.
Multiple entries are welcome.
Use the tips and ideas above for inspiration if you get stuck. I think the best way to enter would be to develop five or ten interesting pocket contents items you could use in your campaign right now. Not only does that give you a bunch of contest entries, but you’ve just done a bit of campaign planning as well!
Example entries, item + hook:
A napkin with a crude map on it, and the name of the tavern where the napkin came from.
A claw from a monster the PCs are about to quest for.
A pair of ladies’ gloves with the initials A.L. on them.
A key with a symbol of Kane on it.
A rock made of some strange flecked material with the word “Barakus” written on the bottom.
Good luck! If you have any questions, drop me an email.
10 Cities For Your Game
From Cheka Man
This city is built on the ocean behind a coral reef. The pavements are floating pontoons whilst boats are rowed or sail through the streets. Many of the citizens are fishermen, providing food for the city, and sailing further and further out as the years go by to gather more fish and seafood as food for the city. Flooding is not a major problem as the houses are themselves tethered houseboats and rise up and down with the tide. Whilst a storm might blow individual houseboats loose of their moorings, it would be unlikely unless colossal to be large enough to destroy the whole city.
Apart from a small number of jewelers who have formal city licenses to harvest coral, the taking of coral from the reef is strictly forbidden, and one of the major tasks of the city’s police, the Admirals Guards, is to keep the reef safe from irresponsible destruction. Murderers and illegal reef harvesters are chained to the reef and left to drown. Should the reef be destroyed, it would cease to keep the large waves away from the city,
Like all large cities however, the city has developed a criminal underworld over time. There are small gangs, but the big powerful organized one that has real power is The Regulators. They operate behind the scenes, basing themselves in the city quietly, not wearing their colors in public.
Apart from the criminal staple diet of extracting protection money from business people, they specialize in stealing coral and raiding vessels outside the city. They keep the amount of crime below a certain level, however, to avoid a full-scale crackdown on their activities.
The city is ruled by an elected mayor, who takes the title of Admiral and a Council of Captains, each of which is in charge of a Ward, and responsible for policing it, putting out fires (although since water is plentiful fire is rarely a problem), and generally making sure things run smoothly.
This city is built of wood from the forests round about, and whilst the winters and springs are wet and rainy, the summers and autumns are often hot and dry. As a result, despite an efficient Fire Department, fires are a big problem.
Over the centuries, there have been at least three major fires that have burnt large parts of the city down. Despite repeated Mayors’ Orders to stop building with wood and thatch, these orders are widely disregarded by the vast majority of the city’s residents.
Recently, one of the Small Town Festivals, a holiday celebrating victory in a battle century ago, has been banned despite widespread opposition by those determined to celebrate come what may. The problem is that it involves widespread use of firecrackers and other fireworks, and with the summer as dry as it is, there is a great worry that the entire city risks going up in flames. The underworld of the city, because of the money they can get, have started a black market in fireworks which the City Marshals are trying their hardest to clamp down on. The PCs might either be trying to organize an illegal fireworks display or be trying to clamp down on it.
This city sprang up a few years ago around a gold mine, and is a sprawl of buildings whose twisted streets at this stage lack any sort of street planning. Many of the city inhabitants are rough and ready people who are all too ready to brawl or worse. And in the absence of a police force, the only law and order at all is provided by the bouncers of the many clubs, pubs and shebeens. The general lawlessness of the streets has annoyed the richer citizens, who are unsure what to do about the problem.
Some think that the lack of respectable women is one of the problems of the city; others are considering setting up a chapter of The White Knights to deal with the problem through vigilantism.
Deep Hole has been dug into the Silverrock Mountains by The Nekron: A New Take On Drow and is lit not by flame, which might ignite seams of gas and lead to explosions, but by the soft glow of purple mori rock. The buildings are all of dark grey slate. Everyone above the age of seventeen has a job: unemployment is not tolerated and refusing to work (except on the few High Holy Days) is a crime and punished harshly.
Some work on new buildings and chipping out new tunnels to expand the city. Others work tending the fungus gardens to ensure the citizens are fed. Still others are in the small but efficient army and the larger police force, or trade gemstones with the Topsiders.
Whilst it is possible to get a permit to go Topside, provided there is an acceptable reason to do so, the vast majority of the Nekron have no desire to go there. The center of the city is the cathedral and the four magic towers around it.
Whilst the Nekron are a dour people and most of their marriages are arranged, they do know romance, and many of the weddings that take place in the cathedral result in happy unions.
There are two penalties for those who break the laws. For small crimes, a period of unpaid hard labor, for anything serious, a public death by beheading with the scimitar, and they do not hesitate to punish Topsiders who venture into their domain without behaving themselves. The bodies of the executed are placed in the fungus fields without ceremony and chopped to pieces.
The destination of all dead Nekron is to the fungus fields to help feed their kin, however those who died blameless are allowed a decent funeral first and are not chopped up.
The Tower is a city built within a single skyscraper that towers up into the sky, with small parks on the outer edges to provide greenery. Everything that a city needs is built within the skyscraper. The further inside the building and the higher you go, the more expensive it is to live there. To live on the outside with windows that let natural light in is worth paying good money for. The further up and inwards one goes, the more likely it is that should there be a major disaster, one will not be able to escape alive.
Fire restrictions are strict. The lower floors and the outer floors of the city are well policed, since that is where the rich citizens of the city live, work and buy things. The inner core of the city, where the teeming masses live, is largely under the control of criminal gangs. On the lower levels this can be a dubious benefit, as certain crimes such as rape are not tolerated, and the gangs are generally at peace with each other.
The higher inner levels are decrepit slums full of violent crime where the gangs are feuding constantly, and only the tough and violent have any sense of safety. Murderers and arsonists in the *civilized* areas are punished after a far trial by being thrown out of the windows from a hundred floors up, to die when they hit the ground below. In the uncivilized areas the same applies without a trial.
The first thing one notices about this city is that the walls around it are huge. The second thing is that no one is allowed in or out. The city is a prison town, entirely cut off from the outside world, and those inside are serving terms ranging from thirty years to life. The guards only patrol the walls and gates. Inside, the prisoners grow their own food and are left to their own devices.
Many thought the prisoners would slaughter each other or just starve to death, but an uneasy peace reigns in the city as the inmates know that they can only survive if they get along with each other. Though basic, their houses are far more comfortable than prison cells would be.
Once Stonebridge was a mighty town, fed by its river trade, where the vessels of grain would sail under its magnificent bridge of ornately carved stone. Then the river began to silt up and the larger ships could no longer get down it to disgorge their cargos. Trade fell, unemployment rise and to make matters worse there was an influx of illegal drugs, causing an epidemic of drug abuse and vandalism. Many of the houses were repossessed and boarded up and the criminal element has taken to squatting in them. Most of the good people of the town have either moved out or keep very much to the better areas of the city, abandoning the poor to their fate.
Whoever named this city surely named it ironically, because it is a city of the teaming poor. Most cities have a mixture of the rich and the poor. Here, anybody who gets rich by means fair or foul goes to live elsewhere. The houses are shacks with walls of plywood and roofs of tin and corrugated iron. In the dry season it is hot and humid. In the rainy season the rattling of the rain on the tin roofs can be heard from outside the city, and what sewers there are overflow, voiding their foul contents into the streets and into people’s homes.
Burglary is rare, mostly because no one has anything much worth stealing, but violent crimes and murder are commonplace.
Deep within the plains that they control, the orcs have set up a city of their own. Although the sewage system is somewhat basic, it works well enough to avoid major diseases from wreaking havoc. The houses are tents and teepees, and one of the most important laws is that bodily or other wastes do not foul the part of the river that flows through the city itself. Also, the city moves its location every third month to a new part of the river, with pontoon bridges used to cross it.
The orc-haters who believe that orcs are incapable of living in anything but small groups would be surprised at this new development.
Luna is a unique city, where the harbor, the walls, the houses and all the buildings are made of softly glowing mori rock. Ships have no trouble finding it in the worst of weather, and with no darkness to be found anywhere in the streets, crime by night is reduced.
There is a downside to this, however. In the summer, great swarms of mosquitoes and other biting insects fly into town, and people who go out by night have to wear thick clothing to avoid being bitten. Petty criminals are punished by being tied up outside for ten minutes for the insects to bite.
Get 30 more city ideas at: Strolen’s Citadel: 30 Cities