Friday, June 26, 2009

Anyone Know the Name of This Place...?

Amongst the many “adventure” maps, I have drawn over the years…dungeons, temples, cave complexes, an assassins guild, a keep…there’s one type of map you won’t find: the “town” map.

I don’t do towns.

Nor do I map out cities or villages or any other thriving urban center that may be present in a campaign. I am amazed at the folks that actually do.

Sure it’s possible that I’m just lazy and prone to “winging” stuff in the campaign world (or at least I was back when I HAD a regular campaign going). But from a practical point of view, it’s an immense burden for me to worry about where the general store or blacksmith is, which houses are vacant, or how many blocks the temple is from the docks.

I don’t expect players to map a town. When they enter a town, I ask “where are you going?” Bam, they’re there. Heck, they can get info from any passerby if they need a point in the right direction (no Gather Info skill check required…sheesh!).

Keeping towns abstract and anonymous (most villages don’t even have names) allows me to focus my attention on other things…continuing plot development with NPCs, for example.

Even modules that have towns can be burdensome…I don’t like keeping track of where everyone lives in Hommelet or Nulb; heck, even the Keep on the Borderlands has too many numbered “village” entries for my taste. Giant town maps is what turned me off of running some Boot Hill adventures (Ballots and Bullets, I’m looking at you!).

A few names and NPC stats, a few points of interest, MAYBE a name for the place…that’s the extent of my needs for a D&D town.’ve also got to have a name for the local tavern, but back in the day my players and I created random tables to generate taverns…everything from the sign above the door, to the quality of rooms, to the daily special, to the drinks (and drugs!) available behind the bar. Wish I still had those tables. I might have to try my hand at re-creating them…though I don’t feel nearly as “bubbling with creativity” as in my youth.

I think it's safe for me to say there's only one "town map" I've ever met, that I liked...that would be I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City. 'Course, if memory serves, it didn't have a name either.


  1. I agree with you in terms of mapping a town. To me a town serves eight purposes:
    1. Get Rumours
    2. Buy Provisions
    3. Visit Temples
    4. Find Wizards
    5. Find Hirelings
    6. Lords (Barons, High Priests, etc.)
    7. Lodging
    8. A location for set piece encounters

    Once I know what there is in a town for items 1-7 I am ready to go.
    #8 the locations for set piece encounters can be done on the fly.

  2. Generally, I'm with you, although I can see city gaming as a nice mix up in a longer campaign. I had a blast once with a friend - My evil 6th level thief and his 9th level assassin, along with a bunch of his hirelings, absolutely rampaged Hommlett. Ridiculous, yes, but great fun!

  3. Hey, I don't mind "city gaming" at all...whether it's court intrigue or a dust up at the local inn...heck, even a back alley mugging is cool.

    But I don't want maps to do it. Part of the frustration I have for D20 is the intense mapping required to make combat work. I don't want to graph out every tavern common room. I prefer to say, "it's too crowded to use your bow," or "the guy's in your face and taking a swing at you, whatdoyado?"

    When someone lets a fireball off the chain in a building or a crowded town square, I (as DM) am going to narrate something dramatically appropriate...and then call for saves if needed.

    Likewise, I refuse to inventory all the NPCs hanging around a town. If the characters are looking for a healer or a wizard (say, to remove a curse) I'm going to make a judgment call on whether or not they can find one based on the needs of the story at hand...will it get them back to the adventure? Does it seem likely such a person would be present? And easily found?

    In past games, plenty of adventures took place in towns (all or part). I just used a lot less prep-work than with "dungeons."
    : )

  4. You can have very detailed scenarios in a city without maps.

    I often use a good old d6 to help with what NPCs are in a town. Are the PCs trying to find a a cleric of Zeus to find some info about a plot involving vile druids of Cronos? If they are in a medium sized town it might be a 2 in 6, in a large city a 5 in 6.

  5. "Ready Ref Sheets" is the ticket to town and city adventures.