Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Devastated City Crawl


The idea of “city as dungeon” in the sense of exploring a city is well-established. But what if a city looked more like the ruins or dungeons that fantasy adventurers are more commonly crawling through?

History (and sometimes current events) provide examples of good urban environments for this sort of thing.  Other examples can be found in fiction: Stalingrad in the film Enemy at the Gates or (from fantasy) Ambergris from Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch and Seattle from Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. The only question is how “dungeon-like” versus how “functional” the city is.

Here’s how it could work: The city would be torn apart by internal factions. One or more of these could be an invader, but this is also a chance to inject some political strife. The key is that, however it started, the fighting has largely degenerated into a stalemate. Different factions (or species) hold different areas, and raids occur, but not full-on warfare. Areas in between might be occupied by neutral opportunists. Some of these would likely be monsters that roamed, smelling blood in the air.

This sort of “dungeon” doesn’t have to have just one level. In a world were magic might have allowed tall buildings, there may be areas stratified by height. If some form of bombs, aerial shelling, or gas attacks have been employed, there might well be a network of tunnels underground, too.

This sort of scenario suggests one big difference from the usual dungeon-delving set-up. It might very well be that the PCs are living in the "dungeon" themselves rather than just visiting it. The safe retreat for healing becomes a lot less safer, and the struggle with the city’s other denizens becomes more of an existential concern. The “points of light” are a little dimmer--and the stakes are higher.

15 comments:

Chris Hogan said...

Nice. This was one of the premises of the 'failed of its promise' Jakandor setting. One of the factions were necromancers living in the rubble of their ancestor's cities. They'd cordoned off a few blocks, but for miles around there was nothing but one huge half-forgotten urban dungeon. Reminded me of the dead city of Charn from The Sorceror's Apprentice.

Link related: New Ark City (D&D tropes in a Necromunda-style arcology/hive city)

James Mishler said...

And don't forget the classic Conan tale, "Red Nails," the grandaddy of all "cities as dungeons" adventures.

Aos said...

I did a big report on Stalingrad as an undergrad, and even now just thinking about it makes me sad (Stalingrad, not the report). However, it is great gaming inspiration.

John Bell said...

The city of Kaddish is partly inspired by Mogadishu, which forms a RL example of the very thing you're talking about.

Kaiju said...

Great ideas. It would make for an interesting -- and different -- campaign.

Mark. K. aka - EvilDM said...

Good post.

If I might add, I always remember the Forgotten Realms setting of Myth Drannor, which I think falls into the idea of which you speak very nicely. Great setting, and very atmospheric. I always loved being there as a player.

Jez said...

I've run a ruined city adventure before, it was great, picking through the rubble of Ost-In-Edhil in Middle Earth (I took alot of cues from the city map provided in MERP). Eeeeeevil cultists had moved in, with different factions based around their particular brand of worship. and each racing each other looking for artifacts; the players were sent in to grab one item in particular, and had to dodge the cultists and the remnants of the elven defenses. But I really like the idea of making a city-ruin more open warfare. As awful as Stalingrad was, it would make for great adventuring.

seaofstarsrpg said...

I, briefly, ran a D&D game set in a ruined city ruled by its (mutually suspicious but formally allied) conquerors. Inspired by Cold City and the Third Man each character was from a different faction with their own agenda while trying to suppress left over weapons. Sadly, it did not last more than one story arc.

Trey said...

@Chris - Thanks. Good link.

@James - You're right. Great example, though that adds the wrinkle of city as single building.

@John - Good call. Another good example.

@Kaiju - Thanks!

@seaofstarsrpg - That's too bad. God call on Cold City.
@Aos and Jez - Yeah, unfortunately, some of the worst real world things may make the best gaming inspiration.

Harald said...

This is a really neat concept. I love the idea of a fragmented sprawl, with trenches, checkpoints and tunnels. Somewhere between Bogota anno 1990, Cold War Berlin, WWII Stalingrad, and London during the Blitz is where I'm going with it. I think this'd be a good fit for a WA Old World capital.

Trey said...

@Harald - I agree, and I'd say those are the right touchstones.

garrisonjames said...

Just getting caught-up on the blog-reading. We're big fans of this sort of thing, as an approach to rpg settings--not real-life. Wermspittle is a lot like a walled-off village/enclave surrounded by burned-out ruins, and abandoned areas no one can support/defend any longer. The foreign occupiers have mostly left, those elements that remain were either left-behind or deserted...or are now working for new masters.

Roofcrawling has been slowly developing as a way to further explore the non-standard spaces available in such a place.

Have you ever seen Orson Well's The Fourth Man? That has been something of an influence on us, and you might find it very fitting for The City.

Trey said...

I haven't seen The Fourth Man but you've intrigued me. I would say Wermspittle definitely has some of this feel.

Matthew Miller said...

Cool ideas. Also, there's John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" -- the ruined city as dungeon (prison, literally).

In M. A. R. Barker's Tekumel, the "dungeons" are buried cities, created in a cycle of covering and rebuilding where, every several hundred years or so, a city is covered over and new surface buildings built on top of the old ones.

shortymonster said...

Got sent here from the Unhallowed metropolis forum, and by George I think they were onto something. it's an RPG I reference a lot in my own blog, and this post looks like it could almost be designed to fit into the UnMet game world. Well done indeed.