Sunday, August 15, 2010

Exploring Civilization

Sooner or later, most parties end up spending a fair amount of time in cities, and not just shopping and carousing. The thing is, the level of danger and the scale of time assumed in dungeons and the wilderness are not really appropriate for most city encounters. Sometimes they work, of course, as in the case of slow-crawling a dangerous series of alleys using a slight adaptation of the rules for dungeon exploration. Sometimes, however, there are cases where the referee wants the character's to more carefully manage time or otherwise face them with the problem of managing their resources in city life. While most campaigns will have no or only rare use for such rules, there are any number of cases where they might be appropriate:
  • The party has decided to split up and meet in a few days time, and the referee wishes to impose some order on the process of resolving the actions of each character in the limited time available.
  • The player characters are living on the streets and have to scrabble to secure food and shelter each day.
  • The party is on the lamb and only strays out of rookeries and safe-houses at considerable risk.
  • The characters are metics in an unfriendly city, such as surface dwellers visiting a an underground city of dark elves, and may only venture out of their domicile in the foreign quarter in numbers and at some risk, or only at certain times of the day.
  • The players are assisting (or are members of) the city watch, or are actively involved in its defense and must spend much of their day patrolling or manning defenses. Similarly, the characters may be hunting criminals or looking to settle a personal vendetta with someone hiding in civilized lands.
  • The characters are planning a major heist and have limited time available to prepare before the only window of opportunity to do the job.
  • The party is exploring a large ruined city, perhaps one that is only partially deserted, that is larger in scale and safer than a dungeon, but not so large or uninhabited to be treated as wilderness.
In any case, here's my first draft of rules for characters working in settled lands:

Exploring Civilization
While most of the time that the characters spend in towns and cities can easily be handled in a free-form manner, when the characters are in a city that is unfriendly to them, that suffers a calamity such a war, fire, or plague, that is largely deserted ruins, or in situations where they are attempting to defend a city or secure a conquered one, the referee may call for a more structured approach.
Time & Activities
When exploring relatively safe areas in cities and ruins time is counted in watches, each about 3 hours long, and the city is broken up into wards, a largely abstract area resolving to one identifiable district or neighborhood. Over the course of a watch, a character can:
Travel: moving around a city under ideal conditions takes negligible time, but under adverse circumstances such as travelling across rooftops, moving through crowds or ruined streets, or dealing with checkpoints and gates, it requires one watch to travel to a given ward of the city. Alternatively, a character can travel up to 1/3 their movement in miles to a nearby location in the settled area around the city.
Explore or Patrol a Ward: characters can thoroughly walk through the streets of one ward. If exploring, the characters can construct a map noting streets, alleys, businesses, buildings, and landmarks. If patrolling, the characters can become aware of any unusual activity or developing dangerous situations and deal with several minor incidents.
Search: characters can search a single large building or a small block of lesser buildings amounting to about 20 rooms while looking for loot, contraband, secret rooms, fugitives, etc. Characters have a base 2-in-6 chance of discovering something.
(nota bene: this is slightly faster than the 15 20x20 rooms the characters would be able to explore in a dungeon during the same amount of time, as the rules for cities assume more favorable conditions.)Gather Information: a character can hang about a gathering place such as a public garden, well, square, market, or tavern trying to overhear news and rumors and automatically learn the local gossip, or can chat up locals for information with a base 1-in-6 chance of learning something about a particular subject, modified by the character's Charisma bonus. A character can generally only gather information at a given location once per day without drawing suspicion.
Conduct Business: a characters can browse the wares available in one market or street, interview hirelings such as specialists or mercenaries, fence loot and treasure, or negotiate the price and settlement of a significant business deal such as fitted armor or provisions for a large expedition.
Rest: characters must rest at least two watches per day or else become fatigued and suffer -1 to most checks.
Miscellaneous Actions: the characters can generally cast spells, converse, or do anything else that they would do during dungeon exploration with a negligible impact on their use of time, but they should take care to avoid drawing untoward attention to themselves.

Lodgings and Upkeep
While the player characters will not have to do the fine accounting of lights and rations needed in other exploration scenarios, city life nonetheless drains resources. The characters will have to secure food and lodgings, usually at an inn. Even basic accommodations are likely to run the characters a (silver groat or gold piece; depending on the campaign's monetary base) a day each, and costs easily run up from there, especially in times of war, famine, or disaster. If the party is large or accompanied by a significant number of retainers they may wish to secure a town house or an entire inn for their stay.

Chance Encounters
While the characters are moving about town the referee will check for a wandering encounter every 1-3 watches, usually with a 1-in-6 chance of something significant, but substantially greater if the characters draw attention to themselves or attract the notice of the local authorities.

Any editorial thoughts would be appreciated.

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