Tuesday, May 5, 2015

City Life, Costs

I'm currently trying to shake my players out of the city and get them back into creepy, dangerous dungeons.  But I've made it hard because the city has been interesting with unexpected events all the time.  I've known for a long time I need a way to drain off their money, to drive them to look for treasure.  So I finally sat down and worked out a chart for costs of living.  I based it on blog posts I saw here and here.
As with most my stuff this is a rough draft that needs development and revising.  I wanted simple labels for different levels of comfort to ease communicating with my players.  I wanted more than three levels.  This is because I knew I wanted sleeping on the streets and luxurious living but I doubt my players will ever use either and I wanted them to still have a bit of a choice of how comfortable they were living in the city.

I'm horrible about pricing stuff but as I was messing with the prices I noticed they were close to a pattern so I made them one to aid remembering.  Of course this immediately brings to mind how much it would be just to buy property to avoid all this.  And that is a whole other can of worms.  Although, I suppose even owning property the comfort level in regards to food and clothing could still be comparable.

I originally had a chance of having something stolen while you sleep a drawback of sleeping in common rooms, but my players weren't having any of that.  They didn't like it being something they couldn't prevent (taking their agency).  So I switched that to other people being robbed, yelling about it, and ruining your sleep.

My players requested safe item storage as a perk for the Fine/Rich levels.  I'm torn, because I'd want that too, but can nothing ever be stolen from them?

The food, lodging, and clothes columns aren't mechanically important right now and I thought about collapsing them all into a little blurb about that level of living, but it might aid me in describing how disheveled they (and npcs) are so I'll leave it for now.

I'd like a disease/affliction chart with lice and bedbugs and all kinds of filthy stuff to amusingly tell them they've been afflicted with.

I don't have anything fleshed out for the rumors or connections items either.  I might be able to use a chart I've for dreams that foretell the future, or for family drama for rumors, but I don't know.  Rumors seem to be usually DM generated adventure hooks and I' never that prepared in advance to have multiple rumors ready.

Anyway, if you've got ideas or more examples of similar charts, let me know.


  1. Seems kind of ridiculous to ask for safe storage of items in finer lodgings if they aren't going to be stolen in poorer lodgings. If they aren't going to be stolen in the poor area then they aren't going to be stolen in a better area, no? Unless this is more like a storage area for when they aren't sleeping. Like a drop box or bank safety deposit box. If that's the case then charge 'em for it.

  2. Nice chart. I like the idea of pushing the players to get out of the city, or at least paying to stay there. Historically cities were pretty expensive, as that is where all the random taxes and fines and fees came into play... peasants did not have as much of that (although much higher %).

    if you wanted to complicate your chart, you could add a couple of degrees between poor and fine, which would also give you a nice d8 chart for random NPCs. (1 rough, 2-4 poor, 4-5 common, 6 fine, 7 rich, 8 noble)

    Rumors for a sandbox seem like they could be best handled with a multi column multi roll sort of thing, where the complete randomness is a benefit (after all, it is just a rumor)

  3. My own use of downtime rules for several months now is that players have a good deal more 'buy in' if there are bonuses rather than penalties associated with downtime actions. I don't know how you are currently running your hit point recovery and diseases, but is takes a masochistic player to embrace rules that harm them in downtime. I first tried such things, but players just perversely never remembered such rules. Bonuses though, little mechanical bonuses get a lot of buy in and definitely get attention.

  4. I'd suggest if you players like urban adventures, let them have them. No need to push them into the dungeon that way. if you are burned out, ask them to do a dungeon crawl instead and tell them.

    As for the charts I think your chance of disease is a mite high. Bedbugs were common, still are but there are treatments and prevention. You might cut the numbers a bit and/or set a modest to low frequency for rolls and allow a save.

    Also most societies with any substantial merchant social class class would allow non nobles to live at the "rich" level , there might be sumptuary laws and there will be taxes but on the whole, nobles need to get at the money the merchants make. They can take it subject to local law but only once since the incentive structures means a less wealthy kingdom.

    In A D&D world you'll have a larger urban population fueled by magic and dungeon gold . If city life is really awful just means you have less cities and smaller ones, People migrate in for gain, have smaller families, die earlier (the disease roll and malnutrition and violence) and e depend on the countryside for new blood.

    Even modern Western cities like Oslo or L.A are in many places entirely made of foreign immigrants or their offspring and still depend on mass immigration to maintain density.

    Without that immigration and people just staying on the farm means a much weaker kingdom since cities are wealth and power.

  5. This is why I love blogging, great comments have got me thinking about a lot of things. Thanks a bunch.

    @ The Shadowplay: I think I was kind of conflating two desires there, they don't want their inventory to be robbed without having a chance of preventing it but I also use simple encumbrance so they probably just want a place to dump stuff too. What can or can't be stolen and when and how it happens is something I need to think more about.

    @Lasgunpacker: Hah, I almost added one more to make it possible to roll a d6 :) I guess you make enough of these DM charts and you start thinking about these extra useful features that don't cost much to add. For rumors, yeah, do I want them to be a freeform way to generate possible adventure hooks? That might be good, because the boring ones, or those that don't seem to fit could easily be dealt with for the reason you say, just rumors. I might have to sit down and make that chart.

    @Gus L: I actually have used hit point recovery as a carrot in some of my simple camping rules before. What I've found is that at lower levels they don't seem to come into play much. If players get hit they live or die, if they live they have so few hit points anyway it doesn't take long for them to get them back. This might be a more useful mechanic to hook into at higher levels, but I'm starting to doubt it. Because time in my game is narrative (fast forwarding, jumping to when things happen), I would really have to try to a difference in healing times important. As to bonus versus penalty, the main bonus for the cheaper lifestyles is less money spent. I didn't really imagine the diseases being life threatening, so it's more a choice of if the players can scrounge up 5sp per session or not. I guess that is something I should have mentioned, that I don't see this as a daily fee that I will strictly tally, again with narrative time that probably wouldn't end up fair to players, but a per-session starting tax.

    Something to think about too, is that I was trying to implement survival rules where in the wilderness players have to hunt or have food, so the fees for city might seem less onerous if they're seen as a convenience (don't have to hunt for a while).

    @5 Stone Games: It's not that they love the city, more it seemed the natural place to go. If you and I woke up in my campaign world I doubt we would head to a dangerous cave. So, I'm trying to build in reasons why people ever would do something dangerous like explore.

    In a lot of ways I'm totally down with just treating our game as an abstract parlor game, and doing whatever it takes to get to the fun. So I could see saying for instance "tonight we'll be doing this module, next weekend this other module." And yet that absolutely destroys one of the things I find fascinating about our game (and that we can do better than a computer game) the stringing together of choices and finding out what kind of story emerges from them. So far, I've chosen to cancel playing rather than just arbitrarily play a dungeon.

    And yet, cities are exponentially more complicated than a dungeon. It's harder for players to know if they are in danger, harder for them to know what choices they have. I'm trying to build my own tools to help me make city content easier, but it takes time.

    My current plan and ray of hope is the cult complex that has a location in the city but five more out in the countryside that they will have to find. http://recedingrules.blogspot.com/2013/07/secret-cult-temples.html

    I'm also thinking about having a strange cult (see my next post) and rumors of plague make the city feel less safe.

  6. I'm with 5 Stone Games, here. I don't know whether lack of funds would motivate me to go dungeon crawling when I'm enjoying city adventures. I'd say there need to be more in-game reasons. New rumors about the dungeon. Its riches. The growing shadow. Friends lost. Kidnappings and a trail of evidence pointing at the dungeon. In my own game I've noticed that my players stop dungeon crawling around level five. It's a lot like B/X. The game simply isn't about dungeon crawling but about forging alliances with humanoids, fighting a war, building a kingdom, spreading their religion, reviving a dead god. Therefore, with my particular table, what I do is I there are peanuts in dungeons. The party needs a sage that has disappeared in the Barrowmaze. Clearly the party with characters around level six to nine doesn't want to go there. I tell them: "How about you promise 3000gp as a reward for finding the dude and next time we'll play some 1st level characters trying to earn that reward?" Then we're back in "creepy, dangerous dungeons" and the in-game consistency is maintained.

  7. Yes, cost is just one pressure, danger in the city is another pressure I haven't portrayed very well to them. I know I need hooks for them to want to go, but I think I'm struggling as a DM right now with how to make those hooks choices. If I say "your sister was kidnapped by X cult and is now in Z dungeon" I may as well have just said "tonight we are going to explore Z dungeon" because I'm twisting the player's arm.

    And yet, I made four pages of weird, interesting sites in my world and gave them a magical balloon that would make travel to any of them safer and my players . . . parked it in some bushes and went straight to the city.

    Again, these are not experienced players that are saying "the kind of play I like is, really, city adventures." They just headed for the city because it seemed like the natural thing to do. I'm thinking my original mistake was making any city even remotely close to the starting sandbox I had set up for them to explore.

    One solution I might to try next is cultic weirdness going on in the city and if that doesn't work straight up plague. Another idea I had is that to allow my player to earn tithes, he would be required to have an artifact of his god and then provide several rumors of where those might be found.

    But then you run into the problem of why would this whole group of people put themselves at risk for the benefit of only one of them. And maybe the hooks should all be things that affect the party as a whole. Gah, this DMing thing is hard once you get past about 3rd level.

  8. I like to offer up to seven plots. Not too many, but enough to make it an actual choice. Some will be aimed at player characters, others not so much. All my groups have eventually settled on a certain order of things. First they'll return that Freya statue for the cleric, then they'll go looking for the monk's master in the icy hills, then they'll go looking for that lake on the treasure map they found. And eventually a handful of plots will also fade from the list as I finally get it into my thick skull that this is not what they want to do.