Taking a city door to door

I erroneously titled my previous article with this one’s title.

Last episode: Seareach as she was. This episode: So You Have A Big Ruined Pile Of A City And Want To Invade And Explore It With Eight To Twelve Guys What Do You Do? And How Does The DM Run It?

First: This is actually a dungeon. It’s a somewhat friendly dungeon with relatively easy passage between rooms, but it’s still a dungeon. We’ll break out some combination of the overland and room to room exploration rules, we probably won’t be using torches, but… dungeon. It’s even a “dungeon” built OVER at least three separate actual, literal dungeons. Doesn’t matter; dungeon.

We’ll need zones of control to help us communicate the map; we’ll need random encounter tables, we’ll need faces, and we’ll need rumors.

Secondly: As this is a “dungeon”, the “rooms” are wards, neighborhoods and building complexes, the “doors” are streets and intersections (and alleyways, and literal gates, and rooftops, walls, and the occasional pass-through a complex), and the “hallways” are avenues.

Call the zones, neighborhoods and complexes “zones” for ease of terminology, call the connections between zones “borders”, and we won’t call the halls anything — they’re just wards that multiply intersect.

Dungeon rooms have qualitative statistics. Oh, you don’t necessarily think that they do, but they do. Size and shape, those translate directly. Number of entrances and exits, too. Notable features. Lighting levels. Construction within the room and on the walls. Height of ceiling. Whether it’s got an encounter keyed or not, a treasure, a trap.

We have the same thing here! How quickly you can move through the area, and by what means (horses and carriages, foot traffic, parkour, canals and vaporettos)? How bad is enemy attention in the region, and how attracted to you is it?

Thirdly: From now on, I’m going to stop structuring the article this way, because it’s not working for me.

Zones have types. Using my encyclopedic knowledge of what every city has (as modified from this SimCity walkthrough), I choose:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Industrial
  • Government
  • Waste
  • Martial
  • Education
  • Park

Zones have descriptions of their layout and borders.

Zones are analogous to rooms; rooms have some combination of encounters, treasure, traps and clues. Zones have some combination of Encounters (that is: keyed encounters in the city that are obvious without needing to be sought out when a zone is entered), Assets (… treasure, but treasure for a faction. Armories, hospitals, union halls, guard towers, symbolic monuments; track these locations in number of XP donated to the cause and changes in a Zone’s statistics, because I don’t want to build a war minigame just yet), and Faction entries (more passive encounters and reactive traps, representing the presence of the faction in the area).

Interestingly, because this is an ongoing reactive adventure, we also need to discuss how Factions track influence and so forth through our “dungeon”. Most dungeons don’t have a strong amount of party-reactivity written into them; they have an if-else structure to them but tend to be very un-gamified when it comes to actually running the inhabitants. Our city adventure is literally about that interaction, though, so… each faction has some amount of Influence points (IP) in a zone, representing control in an area. The party also has a sort of influence point score — a Party Infamy in a given zone.

Tying it all together:

West Fishmarket (Poor Commercial Zone)
Cramped and twisted streets, surprising pop-up markets, crowds, and the everpresent smell of fish.
Movement: Twisted streets Navigation DC 15, Crowds difficult terrain, parkour DC 10, +5 cover from the crowd.
Borders: North Fishmarket via many crowded streets, Open Wharves via Fishmarket Alley (Black Masks), Sutown via Barker Avenue (Tussel’s Guards)
Encounter: 1 Blackrock patrol + 1 troll + 1 ettin shaking down Linesman’s Catch, a fishing consortium of 10 human commoners.
Faction: Blackrock armory (10ip, 2 ettins, 10 ogres, 10 vor berserkers, 10 vor orcs, 10 vor commoners)
Faction: Ka’ric safehouse (12ip, 2 vor spy, 1 vor agent, 5 goblins, 1 goblin boss, 3 vor commoners)
Faction: Blackrock watchtower (2x 2ip, 2 vor orcs, 2 orogs, 4 vor soldiers)
Faction: Blackrock patrol routes (3 orc, 1 orog)
Assets: Black Market (10% chance of 1 rare item, 1d8 uncommon items, 3d6 common items; all items at PHB price; 1 influence anywhere for 1.2Kgp 1d6 times per week)
Current Infamy: 0

And, for instance,
Barker Avenue (Comfortable Way between West Fishmarket, Sutown, and Gaol End)
Long avenue with drover’s carts connecting the hall of justice to the tangle of West Fishmarket.
Movement: Cobbled and busy. Movement is unrestricted but there are many vor in transit; spotting characters with >10 infamy in any adjacent region will result in 1d4 Blackrock patrols and 1ip.
Encounter: A flowergirl (commoner) being trampled by a frightened riding horse; the horse’s merchant (commoner) owner horrified; a vor orc worg rider (and worg) ferrying a message to the Sutown Mercantile Exchange (1ip).
Faction: Blackrock messenger routes (5x 1d6ip, 1 orc worg rider)
Faction: Blackrock patrol (3 orc, 1 orog)


Let’s talk influence and infamy. The factions use influence as though it were inspiration, making the DCs to evade or trick them +5 difficulty. At any time the DM may expend influence from a zone to impose this difficulty boost, representing learned secrets, extra manpower, screening techniques, control of goods, and other soft-power moves. They may also discard points to produce an inopportune patrol, etc.

The party can seize ip from the foe. The faction that lost the infamy loses it; the party gains 1d10x10% of that value in infamy in that zone (round up) and that same value in their own influence (round down) which they can donate. The faction will shift resources around during the night to the zone or withdraw entirely as a result of its current influence values. It’s pretty much “treasure” — kill the guys with the influence, take down the symbols of their rule, and install your own power base instead. One point of influence is about

Below 5 total infamy, each zone with infamy automatically ticks down 1 point per short rest.

Below 25 total infamy, each zone with infamy automatically ticks down 1 point per long rest.

If you are ever above 25 total infamy, you do not automatically tick down at all until you are below 5 total infamy.

The DM may discard infamy, too, oh yes. That is the other half of the equation, representing preparation and tactics. This can grant advantage on attacks, checks and saves, and disadvantage on the party’s attacks (representing help actions from massed goons).

Otherwise, you have to take action to reduce infamy — skill checks, bribery, finding evidence. The good stuff. I’m not going to provide rules for this, not really: it’s basically treasure.

In addition to knocking over enemy strongholds as a source for infamy, the party can also be spotted, as you can see above — if you have infamy, it will tend to snowball. Each time a faction interacts with you, roll 1d20+ current infamy level. If it’s >10, you gain an infamy (even a friendly faction! Because there’s a lot of action going on in some zone between you and a friendly, you’re more likely to encounter that faction, and they’re more likely to have demands on you…).

Okay. Draft 1 complete.



About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City. View all posts by lackhand

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