Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Into the Pilgrim City

Toral -- Divine-Petitioner stripped of power
Mollie-- Divine-Petitioner stripped of power
Z - Fighter

So, last session left the party in kind of a jam.  I was stressing about whether the players would fight to the death or go into custody and then only three players showed up Friday night.  You just can't predict as a DM can you?

The players ended up going into custody quietly.  In preparing for the session I needed to know how to handle the legal aspects of the situation.  I know that the Waterdeep boxed set and the City System boxed set had legal systems in them (or at least I think they both did), but mine are in storage.

I have the Judges Guild Ready Reference sheets, which has a few pages on the outcomes of crime. But, and this is one of those rare instances, I think it is too simplified.  What I mean is, the punishment for all crimes is rolled on the same table with modifiers for the severity.  So, you can be drawn and quartered for peeing in the road or merely be fined for murder.  Now that might fit the chaotic, random character of certain fantasy cities, but I wanted something that fit more with the context.

It so happened that I had just received Vornheim in the mail.  And I wondered, hmm, does he have anything in there about crime and punishment.  And lo and behold he did.  Now, it amounts to a single chart to roll on, so it doesn't really solve the problem of crime severity above, but it tackles a problem I didn't even know I had.  In a nutshell, Zak says that playing in a city your players are likely to get into trouble with the law and that punishments should be fun and interesting because they are part of the game.  That was new to me and made great sense.  So I decided to roll on the table.

If I might digress a bit.  I don't really grok cities.  I'm thoroughly suburban. In fact, I would argue that the boring surroundings of my youth contributed to my desire to explore imagined worlds.  This doesn't mean I don't like cities, I think I would love to live in Krakow, but I don't intuitively get them.  This is probably why Nidus, my first city after coming back into the hobby, is completely abstracted and also probably why I have had weeks to prepare and I still don't have a map of the city my party just docked at.

So, I rolled on Zak's table of legal situations and got 6: the defendant is set free to run for an hour, after which the militia comes after them, unless they find a hidden sanctuary stone.  Zak also provides a technique elsewhere by which you can create city streets as you go.  But . . . I chickened out.  I was wracking my brains on how to make that hour of searching abstracted streets exciting for my three players.  I couldn't think of anything because the city is still nebulous to me.  (I think maybe what I should do is grab those old Lankhmar city geomorphs and build a map then randomly decide what each neighborhood consists of.)  Hopefully I'll get better at stuff like this.

But don't fret, friends, because right under 6 was entry 7 which requires the defendant to put on a play.  I knew that was exactly perfect, both for this smaller player count-- they would be more comfortable being goofy, and for this city-- it is a very important religious pilgrimage city so the play could be allegorical or a morality tale.

And I was right.  I gave my players 15 minutes to create a play they would put on for a throng of pilgrims and if it was good (read: amused me) they would be freed.  The beautiful piece of art that they came up with was called Why You Shouldn't Have Sex With A Whore and met with great jolliment from the crowd (read:me).  They were released.

It was awesome to hear them stressing about the political and religious implications of their little drama, stuff like: "No, we can't have the whore burned at the stake we don't want to encourage that kind of behavior."

Now, I might want to try and produce a system of laws that would deter players from doing really heinous things (say automatic execution for burning down a neighborhood) but allow for Zak's chart to handle everything else.  I have to give you props sir, your experience and insight into city play made for a better night for me and my friends.

As far as events went, I'm twisting things a little as DM-- the party did something pretty drastic to a member of a holy fighting order, how could they get off with so little punishment?  I decided that there is some friction between the Holy Order of St Letholdus and the regular Church hierarchy.  Seeing as Roger wasn't harmed in the assault, the release of his assailants is a poke in the eye from the Church.  And the Church got to confiscate all the cargo which was about 12,000 sp  ; )

This Friday we'll see if they decide to do the right thing and rescue the laodah, his crew, and the heretic.


  1. I hope there was singing, and perhaps a brief dance routine. And then a cam corder. And YouTube.

    Yes, that would have been grand!

  2. Thanks!

    It's nice to hear it's working.

  3. This whole thing is excellent, and the play made me laugh: nice work for a memorable evening's gaming.

    I was wondering about the Paladin - am I remembering aright that they're supposed to be able to Cure Disease? Does that mean a paladin that gets the plague has lost his mojo?

    Re cities: why not just steal a map? Thinking your way around a city is hard if you have no familiarity, I guess, but the abstractness of urban fabric can be your friend too - if there are only 6 locations you're interested in, then only 6 locations on the map will focus your players' minds, too (this happened to me once in a Dreamlands game. Unfortunately one of the 6 locations was the Theatre of the Vampires, that the DM expected us to learn about and skirt around and maybe eventually face up to. We blundered straight into it because, hey, it was on our map). Historically travelers on the med might be channeled into a merchants/foreigners' quarter, containing a fondaco/caravanserai, where the authorities could keep tabs on them, a market and a smattering of foreign temples, keeping the locals' own precinct "clean" and "safe". The other thing is, there were very, very few big cities before the 19th century. Walled Brielle is still the same size it was in 1600, San Gimignano is as much Mussolini's creation as an "authentic" Renaissance Italian town, but the street plan's still very manageable. Bukhara was one of the world's great cities in 1200 - much of it fit inside the circuit of walls shown here. Venice is exceptionally big but satisfyingly labyrinthine, perfect for chases, or course. It has the advantage that you can run it at 2 different scales - either the full complexity of the streetscape or just the canals, treating the land as solid blocks.
    I don't love grids, but you might find Haverfield's Ancient Town Planning useful.

  4. @Christian: Well my singingest player was absent, but there was a lot of ridiculous voices and miming going on.

    @Zak: As I use it more I have a feeling I'll find more and more to appreciate in it.

    @richard: I was flip flopping on Roger, I finally decided that religious orders in my game contain a lot of mundane nights as well as clerics and paladins. My church as well, has a lot of priests that can't work miracles. I think miracles have to have uncertainty to them or they turn into science.

    Although, even if Roger was a paladin, the way my cleric petitions work he may have had a hard time healing himself, Toral failed for several days and was getting weaker each day.

    I think you have something with the canal city. It seems perfect for D&D in that it has those variable layers of abstraction built in. I think you just decided for me that my next city will have canals.

    I suppose you could do something similar with Vornheim-like towers and bridges.