Whether it's Lankhmar or Camorr, San Angeles or Mega-City One, even Ankh-Morpork, the city has long been a favorite setting for genre fiction. It's a comfortable bridge between our own urban lives and the sometimes alien worlds of fantasy and science fiction: sure, everybody carries fencing swords, have ears of various magnitudes of pointiness, and battle with extradimensional threats, but they live in a building on a street, go to a pub to socialize, and maybe have a local sports team they root for. They buy their food at a grocery and they have neighbors that are either too noisy or too nosey. We understand the baseline, and that lets us appreciate the crazy genre bits all the more.

It's a natural consequence, then, that genre gaming often sets its sights on the city as a setting. From the dazzling Freiburg to dangerous Freeport, from utopian* Alpha Complex to beleaguered Gem, we've played our way through a lot of cities. Gaming cities give us that same familiar-but-unfamiliar feel that we get from city novels, but do a little more, besides. Here are my favorites:

Cities give us lots of different power factions from all sorts of backgrounds. You have the city's officials, clerics of its churches and temples, cutthroats of the thieves guild, the local lords, the merchant houses, and so on and so forth. That's a whole lot of story fodder just waiting to be tapped.

A good city map can just pour ideas directly into your brain. The cathedral's here, the river goes down this way, and then there's the docks? Well, there must be underwater river access in the catacombs underneath the cathedral, right? And that lets you smuggle out the heretics and get them on a ship…

Cities are juxtapositions of disparate agendas. Everybody comes to the city for their own reasons, and those reasons are easy to weave together into snares for the player characters. All those factions I mentioned? Their ambitions all intersect and interact, creating an endless mesh of possibilities.

This last is my favorite, and is also probably the least represented, historically. On top of all the factions and cross-purposes and intrigue, you have a sort of shared identity: you have civic pride. Sure, the thieves guild might be shaking down the merchants' caravans for protection money, but once some outside threat rears its head? All those rivals quickly become allies: this is our city, and we'll stand together to defend it.

That's what a city provides for me and my brain. What about you? What do you get from a good fictional city? What does it do for you when you read a story or when you play a game? What do you want to see, and what do you expect? What does the city provide you?

* for some definitions of 'utopian'

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For me the key part is always

For me the key part is always the people with disparate agendas up close and personal. Plenty of desires and fears and obligations all colliding with other people's and nowhere to go.

Then there's the way neighbourhoods that can riff of particular themes and give players inspirations. The way cities themselves evolve over time is fascinating too. How an area changes as different people establish themselves, move up and out and new folk move in. How stuff gets built over and fought over and intergrated (or not) is all a great tapestry to draw on in game. It bundles up all kinds of stuff about class, race, belief and belonging in a package to build stories on.

(Did I mention I've been working on and off on a fantasy city game for literally years?)

I like the point about cities

I like the point about cities establishing baselines. For me, good roleplaying demands a strong baseline to build off of, otherwise it's hard to share any imagined space. The city is one of the most immediately graspable baselines we have: a place bigger than the sum of its parts, a place where you can be nobody, a place where you can be the most important person in the world.

Cities have the effect of bringing people into conflict. When people exist within a small social ecosystem (a village, a small town), they develop an understanding, and a certain mutualism. Even the hooligan kids and the tough-nosed cops - they know each other on a first name basis, they will be friendly to one another when not locked in conflict, they develop sympathies. They develop sympathies because they need to because that's the only way that a small ecosystem can survive.

Cities, on the other hand... It's possible to spend your whole life struggling against a faction (be it professional, ethnic, religious or class-based) and never once have to meet one of those faction people in a multi-dimensional sense. You'll never have to buy milk from your enemy, and thus its possible to maintain enemies.

Couple that with the fact that cities are the place that radicals and eccentrics and charismatics tend to flock to... what you have is a setting poised for drama, conflict and chaos. So, that's a useful function of cities.

Funny your writing about this

Funny your writing about this because right now I'm working on cities for my fantasy world. I'm making things generic rule wise so I can use it for any system. Right now I'm writing about the city of Kobenburg, which lies between two major powers and at the moment, is being besieged. The players will be controlling the forces trying to save the city. I make up 5 to 10 NPC per city depending on size, plus important places. For myself I want to feel like a tourist when I read about other peoples cities. Ankh-Morpork is one of those cities that each book gives you a new tour of. I want my cities for games to be more then just a place to sell and buy stuff. I'm looking for players to care about the people and the stories as well.

So I'm hearing: history,

So I'm hearing: history, up-close-and-gritty profiles of humanity, a baseline of play, a haven for "radicals and eccentrics and charismatics" (love it), an NPC generator, and a thing to care about.

I'm intrigued by the possibility of splicing the 'baseline for play' with the 'radicals and eccentrics and charismatics' and the NPC generator. What happens when we do something like: create characters that fit the expectation of how people behave except for one significant divergence? That seems like it will create a solid platform that's still intriguingly diverse.

Take a look at what I've been

Take a look at what I've been doing over here: http://collective-endeavour.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=151

It's a fairly early draft of "a stuff for you to play with in this city" approach. Not perfect, but has functional NPC/PC pick up and play stuff.

Have you read the Dresden

Have you read the Dresden Files RPG? What did you think of their City Creation System?

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