Hey all. Short update today. This week has been pretty insane with work and some other stuff (my brother had a baby). I’ve been cranking on the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. My hope was to share a module for ship combat today, but it isn’t quite ready so look forward to that in the near future.

Instead, I wanted to share with you some more excerpts from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. We’ll be talking about something key to all D&D campaign worlds – cities!

Making a City

Look at all these cities!

Look at all these cities!

When I sit down to create a city for Exploration Age, I try to think about three key questions.

  1. Why is this city important? In other words, why is the city still standing? What is its main industry? What defines this city as compared to others, even those within the same country? For instance, Los Angeles is a very different city from Chicago which are both very different from Boston. Each has its own architecture, its own layout, its own people and personality, and its own reasons to thrive.
  2. Where is the city located and why? Is this a port city? Is it near a body of water so its people can drink? Is it near a natural resource which fuels its main industry? Think about how location would influence the day-to-day lives of the people living within a given city. Icewind Dale’s Bryn Shander is very different from Calimport because of their locations in Forgotten Realms.
  3. Why would adventurers want to come to this city? Beyond passing through, what might make this city attractive to adventurers? Perhaps it is close to or contains some adventure sites, has a rare magic shop that specializes in items found nowhere else, is home to a guild or government that might hire the PCs, or is a great place to gather rumors and information. Maybe its a great vacation spot where they can spend their down time! There’s loads of ways to make a place attractive to adventurers, but remember to include those details. This is an oft overlooked question.

If you need a city and you’re stuck, get inspired by looking at the real world. Jot down your top three favorite cities, all the things you like about them and then mix and match details to make a great city on the fly!

And Now… Some Cities

The following are excerpts from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. It’s two cities from the human nation of Aeranore and one from the dwarf nation of Bragonay. Feel free to steal these cities for your own worlds if you don’t want to set your game in Canus. Let me know what you think!

Oliath (City Population 120,000)

The capital city of Aeranore is where Queen Icillia IV makes her home and holds court. Oliath is built upon a large hill, sprouting up on a lonely, flat plane. Atop the hill are the city’s most important buildings which can been seen throughout the land, The Grand Cathedral of Immortality, The Royal Palace of Reganta, and The Castle of the Council. At the bottom of the hill are the docks, welcoming boats that have come by various rivers after journeys on the Elma Ocean. All manner of residences and shops are layered between the top and bottom of the hill. As the saying goes in Oliath, the higher up the hill you live, the higher your income must be. Nobles and the upper class live at the top of the hill and folks become poorer as one gets closer to the docks. The massive city is known for the hill’s steep, winding roads and the massive, fifty-foot high, semicircular wall around the base where Oliath does not touch its namesake lake.

People of Oliath are all business. They hurry from place to place with little regard for the people around them. Many visitors think this behavior is quite rude, but the people of Oliath would tell you that getting in the way of someone with important business is more impolite. Its not that they are mean, its just that they have more important things on their mind.

Oliath is also home to Aeranore’s largest military compound and prison. All new recruits are trained in Aeranore and the military leadership lives and works within the city so they can be close to the queen. The military’s campus, Reganta Grounds, takes up almost a full eighth of the city. Massive dormitories, training grounds, mess halls, offices, stables, and equipment bunkers make up most of the area.

The city’s prison, Queensgard, is actually built into the hill itself. There is only one known entrance, but there are whispers of an Underdark passage into Queensgard that is known only by the military’s highest officers. Literally, the city of Oliath sits atop its prisoners.

Vacurion (City Population 90,000)

Aeranore’s Vacurion is often called The City of Pleasures and it truly delivers. During the day a traveler might want to experience one of Vacurion’s spas, parlors, or bathhouses to relax and prepare for the night. At night music, theatre, food, drinking, gambling, and other entertainments are all available for a person who is interested. The town even has special pleasure resorts in upscale neighborhoods instead of inns and taverns. These resorts will take care of all a traveler’s needs during his or her stay. The excitement doesn’t end there. Vacurion is full of exotic marketplaces and rare goods for sale thanks to it being on the Brellonic Coast. The city itself is a vibrant pink color, thanks to the unique sandstone used to make many of its buildings. Most of the residents of Vacurion don’t enjoy such a lavish life-style, since they are providing it to travelers, but they do live fairly well on the tips and kindness of patrons. They live in Vacurion’s towering pink apartment complexes and are usually as pleasant off duty as they are on.

In addition to being a place known for wild or relaxing vacations, Vacurion is also a place where many expeditions and immigrants leave for Verda. Mercenaries come to relax before heading out on a job across the ocean or after getting back from one. The rare goods found in the markets are alongside all manner of adventuring gear. Plus, there are always captains looking for crew and protection.

Because it attracts many wealthy people, Vaurion is also a target for pirate raids. As such, they have built a wall mounted with cannons around their dock district. The gates into and out of the docks can be dropped at a moment’s notice, trapping the pirates, and anyone with them, inside the district to be pummelled with cannons. This has prevented many raids, but they do occasionally still happen. Still, the rent is dirt cheap in the docks district as a result, so it’s not all bad!

Kerdabi (City Population 85,000)

Bragonay’s capital began deep inside The Spine of Bragonay’s Ahdagah Mountain which borders The Rocky Wastes. The sprawling city has since grown beyond the inside of Ahdagah Mountain. Its tunnels and structures spill out onto the mountain’s sun-baked surface.

Outside the mountain, things are a bit more lawless. This is where the peasant class and some artisans live and work. The soldiers do not patrol the area as much as inside, so criminal activity is far more commonplace. The black markets have goods rare and illegal, orange spice dens hide in plain sight, thugs intimidate shopkeepers for collection fees, and cutpurses stalk the crowded ledges along the sides of Ahdagah Mountain. The structures and traffic on the narrow ledges of the mountain, make living in outer Kerdabi a congested experience. To avoid disease being spread, the dead are burned as quickly as possible. The very top of Ahdagah Mountain is actually home to the world’s largest funeral pyre. A group of volunteer peasants keep it running all day and night. Kerdabi’s famous adamantine mines are accessible by tunnels separate from the inner city, so some of the peasants have never even seen the inside of Ahdagah Mountain.

Inner Kerdabi is another world. The air is better, the temperature is cooler, and the streets are less crowded. This is where the upper castes make their homes and conduct business. The most successful artisans live and work here, soldiers train for war here, and the fate of Bragonay is decided in these halls. Empress Najwa’s palace and the Warlord Chambers sit in a gated compound in the center of town. Once a year all of Bragonay’s noble caste is invited to come to Kerdabi and appeal to the warlords and empress in a summit on the first day of Summer. Kerdabi’s most famous attraction however, is its indoor arena, where volunteer gladiators are welcome to take on one another as well as monsters and beasts. The arena can even be flooded for naval battles.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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Comments
  1. joelastowski says:

    You disappoint me, James. If you’re going to title a post “We built this city…”, one of those cities better be built on Rock & Roll. I was so curious to see how you’d do it. Was it a dwarven city on wheels? A city of all bards? A city with a prominent galeb duhr bowling alley? A crazy city where everyone had lost their marbles? Oh well, maybe those towns will be in the final, printed version of the campaign guide.

    Seriously, though, another thing I look for when building towns is the “feel” of the town. While I may not put it in the general public description, as a DM I want to know if this town has a brooding Noir vibe, a Disney-esque joy, an overwhelming Metropolis feel, or a Lake Wobegon small town aesthetic.

    For instance, superficially Oliath bears some similarity to Baldur’s Gate in the Forgotten Realms, with the wealthy folks higher on the hill than the poor folks at the bottom. Does it have the same class animosity that Baldur’s Gate has? Are there walls separating folks by social status, further enhancing class distinctions? Or is it more of an ambition-based thing, where folks actually have a chance of “climbing the hill”, as it were? How does the large military affect the way things are run in the town? Do commoners see the prison as a “place for bad people” or as “a place for the Queen to hide dissenters”?

    Sort of parallel to the general feel of the town is how the common folk feel about the town (which influences what players hear in Streetwise checks). Ever since reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” I’ve always tried to pay attention to the way the actions of “heroes” and “important people” in my world affect the common folks, and I think that gives cities a much more real feel in the end. Not to say that you haven’t done that here (Kerdabi is very well set-up to show the commoner experience)… I just want to see more of it than what I get in these brief posts. I suppose that means I’ll be buying the guide when it comes out…

    Liked by 1 person

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