What’s Night Life Like In A Fantasy City Like?
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0813
New Roleplaying Tips reader Nathan M. sent me a nice list of city details. In his words, “Here are a few of the things adventurers might come to expect as they return or leave the bustling cities. After all, you do not want to be caught out after dark scuffling with some drunk bandits.”
Sunrise / Dawn – 6 am
- The city gates open.
- The temple bells are rung.
- The rest of the city awakens and the streets slowly fill with workers and shoppers.
- The shops open. Industry begins. The sounds of civilization fill the air.
- Prostitutes retire for the night.
- The temple bells draw devotees to daily service.
Near Dawn – 8 am
- Crafts apprentices hurry to their tasks.
- The Watch changes, the torches extinguished. The patrol size is halved.
- Carters and Costermongers begin their noisy passages to the Warehouses.
- The stray animals that run the streets find places to sleep.
Noon – Midday
- The streets are busy with shoppers laden with goods and workers eating lunch. Carts, horses, wagons, and perhaps other vehicles compete with the crowds to move. The noise is deafening.
- Pickpockets ply their trade in numbers. Packs of them.
- The temple bells draw devotees to daily service.
- Buskers try to earn a few coins. Messengers race through the streets. Spruikers hawk their patron’s wares or simply hold signs up and yell in the crudest form of advertising possible.
- The Watch moves in pairs. They are heavily armed and armored.
Dusk/Early Evening – 5 pm
- The industries slowly wind down. Shopkeepers begin tidying up and counting their tills.
- The streets are busy, but not crowded. Some are returning home, but many are heading for some after-work relaxation, or entertainment.
- The Watch changes. The dogs are changed. Food is eaten hastily and sometimes in-hand.
- The temple bells draw devotees to end of the day service.
- The vehicle traffic comes to a slow halt.
- The stray animals wake up and play before the nightly hunt for food.
Sunset / Dusk – 6pm
- The City Watch doubles its patrol size and torch-bearers accompany them. Sometimes they have dogs or wolves with them. All are heavily armed and each carries a whistle.
- Shopkeepers hurry home, along with the hordes of craftsmen and their apprentices, dock workers, stevedores, professionals and laborers alike briefly crowd the streets. The houses and inns and taverns light up. Vocal noise is the dominating sound, the industry silent for the night.
- Young people, in ones and twos, slowly drift into the streets, sometimes forming packs. They never linger for long and are soon off to the cemetery for a few hours of fun.
- Drunks and Beggars fight for survival and the stray animals snag the scraps.
- Thugs appear late in the night. The thugs are often drunk and will accost small groups, potentially doing them great harm.
- Prostitutes walk the streets and ply their age-old trade.
- The Watch calls off the Hours and checks every business’s door.
This is a great list. Thanks Nathan!
He advised me he curated the list from this Reddit page.
He also shared what looks to be an amazing treasure trove of ideas and GM advice from The Complete Hippo that I not even begun to dig into.
Back to the city life list. I’d use this in a couple of ways.
Add To Transitions
First, it’s ideal for transitions during sessions. Transitions like the start of sessions or between encounters.
Figure out the current in-game time, grab a couple of details, and open your narrative with those. Then drill down into something happening.
Let’s say the next encounter as determined by me or player decision is for the cult to attack. I figure out it’s near sundown, figure out the cult’s move, then grab a couple of details and say this:
“It’s dusk in the city. As the sun drops behind the mountains, industries are winding down. The streets are busy, but not crowded. Some people are going home, but others are heading to some after-work entertainment.
“You see three such people laughing at some joke the tall one just made. Suddenly, the beggars nearby attack! Jordan, your keen eye picks out cult tattoos. These are no ordinary beggars! What do you do?”
That’s where I’m at with details these days. Set the scene, make something happen, engage the players.
I avoid too many details. That’s for players to think about and ask. “What do the victims look like? Are any fellow halflings? Are the cultists armed? Does it look like anyone is casting a spell?”
I let the players come up with that stuff now, whereas before I might have given longer-winded descriptions. Zzzzzzz.
Caveat: I describe and inform players of anything important they’d easily spot. Ask me about the “giant shark” incident some day.
Ok, that’s the first way I’d use Nathan’s list or a list I’d build custom to the particular setting of the game session.
Show, Don’t Tell
The second use is to reverse engineer each listing and turn it into a set encounter.
“Crafts apprentices hurry to their tasks.”
Great. Those apprentices can get mugged, approached by clerics looking to recruit, bespelled by a prankster wizard, spied upon, caught in the headlights of a runaway cart, interrogated by the guard, bitten by rabid dogs, witness something they shouldn’t have seen.
All at the same time! Man, it’s tough being an apprentice some days.
The point is we show instead of tell. The city has crafts apprentices. They have tasks. They are busy. Instead of saying that, we weave our city life details into the encounters we have planned for our adventures.
That gives us great details for our games and helps portray our worlds better.
A Quick Challenge
Take a minute right now. Jot down these sections and come up with three details for each time span for your current setting:
- Near Dawn
- Night Time
Send me your list when done.