Thursday, March 19, 2015

Haven, the City Square


The next session is getting a little close and it’s about time I flesh out the PCs impending destination, the city of Haven. This session will be when the transition from railroad to sandbox reaches the gaming table. With my fledgling sandbox full of squares promising adventure and intrigue, I can design Haven as the platform for launching hooks which lead to those squares. In the first post I said this blog is about taking theory and putting it into practice. Keeping that in mind I turn to the Alexandrian’s article’s on urbancrawls to design Haven proper.

There were lots of questions pondered in those articles, like what is the default action of urban crawling? Why are the PCs crawling? How is it resolved mechanically? My favorite takeaways from the articles were the following:




  • “Unlike a dungeoncrawl, the goal of an urbancrawl doesn’t default to treasure hunting. It defaults to finding something interesting.
  • “...the [city] is treated as a place for PCs...to gather information that will point them towards adventure.”
  • “A good technique for this is to make a skill check and then (assuming success) frame the scene just before the information is acquired.”
  • “For more complexity (or for groups who are new to the big city), add a mechanic that allows them to explore the city in order to make contacts.”


In other words, where in a dungeon the default action is to look for treasure, in a city it is to look for information. Now you might be thinking, what’s so great about information and how is that a reward? Information rewards the players with agency, i.e. a choice. In the hexcrawl the PCs may find a location with an encounter, in the city they might find a contact with information which leads to an encounter. Only in this instance the PCs are rewarded with foreknowledge. Now they can choose whether the possible rewards of an encounter are worth pursuing, instead of having an encounter thrust upon them because they kicked open a door to see what’s on the other side.

Don’t take this to an extreme though. I am not saying there is no room for surprise or for dungeoncrawling. Just that a new way to crawl gives the players yet another form of agency in which their choices can earn them the reward of more meaningful choices. So how to go from conjecture to ready-made quest? Let’s get to it.

The articles talked about organizing the urbancrawl into layers. For Haven, those layers are criminal/pirate activities, jobs/leads, religion, and random encounters for color. In no particular order let’s do the religion layer. There are five religions in Haven, and two are secret. The public religions are the Order, the Runes of Kilmorph, and the Fellowship of Leaves. The secret religions are the Council of Esus and the Undertow (Octopus Overlords). The areas these last two will be in control of won’t be known to anyone, so any information the PCs come across about these two will be in the form of clues to a secret.

Layer 2 will be criminal/pirate activities. Falamar, being the founder of Haven will have a place here, but since he is the scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype we’ll distinguish him as a different breed of pirate. Then there is your average cutthroat looking for plunder. Finally, your run of the mill criminals: pickpockets, con artists, fences, burglars, and the like. That’s three different sources of info for this layer.

Next is jobs. These can come from legitimate foreign merchants trying to buy and sell cargo they can’t find in other ports. Another source is the local citizenry trying to change this hive of scum & villainy into a place where they can raise families. Third, from Falamar himself, who has a certain vision for Haven but doesn’t want to be tied down with responsibility. I can see this contact getting a lot of play after the PCs establish some street cred as non-evil force to be reckoned with. There may even be the possibility of the PCs making Haven their home base and taking responsibility to make it a better place. If things went in this direction there would be rewards in differing forms of authority over the city, such as earning the position of constable or even governor. The campaign could switch from pirates sailing the high seas to a focus on rooting out city corruption. Stranger things have happened.

Last is random encounters that provide color, which will really just consist of fun content that doesn’t quite fit elsewhere, or anything I think will show the uniqueness of the setting that also doesn’t quite fit elsewhere. Nothing comes to mind for now, so I’ll get to the more important stuff.

With layers done how many districts do I need? I figure at least three - one for each public religion. There are two ports, one on the north side and another on the south, so two more. After that there isn’t a thing in my notes about Haven that would need it’s own district. In keeping with the first rule of dungeoncraft let’s cap it at five districts, their religions, and locations of note:


District 1: Residential, Order, Temple, Asylum
District 2: Residential, Runes of Kilmorph, Library, Academy
District 3: Residential, Fellowship of Leaves, Granary
District 4: Southern Port, Lighthouse, Seahaven, Pirates/Smugglers, Command Post, Elder Council, Falamar’s Mansion, Warehouses, Esus
District 5: Northeastern Port, Lighthouse, Sea Haven, Warehouses, less criminal activity due to a less busy port


Having listed each of the districts, I filled in the locations by going to the civ map and assigning the city’s buildings to different districts, generally using common sense. In my NES one of my player’s is running an orphanage tinged with some overlords influence. Currently he’s making an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Order’s local community, hence the Asylum in that district. Figured the granary would do well with the Fellowship followers. Who else would be better at gathering food? The library and the academy didn’t seem to fit anywhere, and I placed them within the Runes community on the premise that learning is hard work. It’s a little flimsy I know. The southern port has the best access to the open sea so I dropped things like Falamar’s mansion (palace) there, along with the command post and the elder council. I imagine a pirate council meeting to make important decisions during Falamar’s frequent absences, and a command post representing a fort. It reminds me of the way Nassau in Black Sails is set up. With two ports, Esus followers are a natural fit amongst the busy port, and I thought it would be interesting for the less lucrative port (the northern one) to be where more honest merchants tend to operate.

Let’s get to naming! Also, the second rule of dungeoncraft demands a secret, and since each district is a major part of Haven in my thinking they each deserve a secret. Here goes:

District 1: I’m thinking something uptight to suit the Order. Another thing, there’d be lots of Hippus refugees since most of the fighting in the area was in there lands. With no clan to lead them, their turning to the Order makes sense. Let’s say Clan’s Landing. I honestly can’t come up with a more juicy secret than the organization one of my player’s is running here. It’s an orphanage taking in children, but is uses them for crime and indoctrinates the youth into the Undertow. Thanks Immaculate!
District 2: Miner’s District. The city owns mines in the northern hills. There’s no better place for the miner’s to live, and it explains the RoK following. If geography becomes important they’ll be the northernmost part of the city - closest to the mines. As for a secret, let’s see...

District 3: Something relaxed, nature minded. There’s a village to the west of the town, which makes a good entrance for FoL to travel from the rural to the city. We’ll say they’re fond of planting trees due to religion, Treetown? Shorten to Treeton. Sounds lived in. An appropriate secret here would be nature related. A secret in a previous post mentions that Haven is built on the former fiefdom of Leucetios. Let’s say there are sinkholes in the city, and creatures from the underdark roam here late at night, but this isn’t Treeton’s secret. The secret here is that someone is digging to free the creatures, disregarding the danger to the Haven’s own inhabitants. However, I won’t bring this into play until the PCs find the megadungeon in the hills to the northwest. This way I can also provide a new entrance to the underdark, and don’t have to flesh out who is digging and their reasons for it.

District 4: Hiddenhold. Completely suits an area permeated by smuggling. The very presence of the Council of Esus here is a secret, but let’s go deeper. Their hiding a very lucrative slave trade. Unlike the rest of the smuggling in Haven which is pretty much common knowledge, this is a highly secret and highly lucrative business. It could be the slave trading hub of the Undercouncil. We’ll keep the actual storage of the slaves on one of the pirate coves outside the city, but this is where the Council finds captains with no morals to transport their cargo. They keep assassins on hand to quiet any whistleblowers, too.

District 5: The merchants here are supposed to be honest right? From the average smuggler’s perspective, any honest merchant is a simpleton for not taking advantage of the better payoff of smuggling, especially with the advantages offered by a somewhat lawless place like Haven. I’m liking Simpleton as the name. It’s due east of the Miner’s District to fit with the campaign map. The secret here will take the form of a character secret. One of my PCs is playing a pirate/cleric of Tali (it makes sense if you think about it). In his backstory he put that his uncle was a great pirate, but they don’t know what happened to him. I think I’ll drop him here. He was one of the deadlies pirates on the seven seas blah, blah, blah, but now he’s settled down with a wife and family. Later, once discovered he can serve as a contact for the PCs, too.

On to the map. My interpretation of crawling in the urban setting is not literal. I’m not a mapmaker, nor do I have any drawing ability. I tried looking for a city map that suits my needs but honestly, do I need one? With the districts and layers conceptualization of urban crawls, I don’t think an actual map in this case is ideal. In the structure of the urban crawl, we’re not measuring distance traveled nor duration. Therefore I’ll be using a node-based map, sprinkling a few connections between the districts here and there (perhaps jaquaying it like a dungeon). Here it is:



This really simple table also shows how the nodes connect. The top four boxes connect to whichever is adjacent (not diagonally) and Hiddenhold connects to Treeton and Clan’s Landing. I’m thinking encounter tables for each district, and a chance roll to see if something will suck up their precious time during travel. That’s also where the random flavor can fit.

So far the layers and districts are fleshed out. I’d like address time limits next. In a previous post I mentioned my group’s sessions are limited to 3 hours, and that my goal was to never finish a session in the middle of an encounter. The Alexandrian has a nice way to resolve session ending in the middle of a dungeon, which can be easily adapted to wilderness crawls or anywhere the PCs find themselves in hostile territory. What about content in the city? I don’t think this could be adapted for social encounters so a new mechanic is in order.

Time limits looks like something worth trying. Any encounter in the city that can’t be adapted with the Escaping the Dungeon mechanic will have a time limit. Let’s go to Hack’n’Slash’s article on Time Structure. Any mystery or social encounter will have a time limit of one play session. If the mystery is unsolved, the predesigned time table carries on without player involvement. The villains get away with ransoming the kidnapped princess (she may not even be returned after the bad guys get a pay day) or some variation of the bad guys get away. This is a game structure I will alert my players too before hand. Hopefully it will take some of the onus off myself for managing the time spent on encounters and put it on the players. It could also enable player agency in a new way. Time is now a resource. Entering encounters willy-nilly can have consequences. Now it’s the players fault the bad guys got away. Instead of questioning an NPC to death or searching the hell out of a building, they have to budget their investigation time accordingly. It might even make earning a conclusion all the sweeter. Not only did they solve the mystery or convince the governor of X, they did it with time to spare. I’ll add it into my content design here, and let you know how it goes after the next session.



Next is filling the districts with contacts (from each layer), information, and encounters. In addition I have yet to detail the exact mechanics of the crawl, but this post is going a bit long. Come back Monday for part 2, where I finish Haven and putting design theory into practice!



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