Category Archives: 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge

Day 19 S is for Sages

S – Sages – information for hire. Libraries, archives, etc.

How was information for hire handled, what signs of it are left in the ruined city?

Some things we know about the ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, are from their monuments. Will books, scrolls, and so forth with knowledge and information survive? How specific will this information be?

Other types of knowledge might be ruins of an astronomical observatory. This might be an important plot hook for determining the next eclipse, comet, or other astronomical event that is either a portent of how long until the bad, ominous thing happens, or allows the right person to calculate how long until the bad, ominous thing happens. Ancient observatories could have the simplicity of a massive monument like Stonehenge, or a tower like the Mayans.

Did the ancients have fancy astrolabes, globes, telescopes, and perhaps something like the Antikythera mechanism? Would a sage pay for such devices or trade what he knows about something the players are interested in for a trade?

I tend to run sages as collectors of information and devices in their area of interest. I throw in a few personality quirks so that they are not just walking encyclopedias.

Did the ancient writing system utilize clay tablets like the cuneiform tablets of our long gone civilizations? Did they use wax writing tablets like the Romans? Was some form of information inscribed into metal plates? Is the metal resistant to corrosion and damage? What sort of information will survive in whole or in part?

Statuary, monuments, markers, obelisks, and temple decorations will all hold some form of information. The hitch is finding someone who knows what it all means.

What kind of scenes are seen in tapestries, arches, obelisks, and frescoes?

  • Mythological – Stories of the gods and religious heroes.
  • Historical – Events in the kingdom or city. Including victories, famous people, kings, rulers, etc.

I was researching books for something else and found that the library at Celsus could hold about 12,000 scrolls. The Royal Library of Alexandria is estimated to have held 400,000 texts. Here is a list of some ancient libraries. Hattusa had about 30,000 cuneiform tablets.

 

 

Day 18 R is for Roads

R – Roads/Bridges/Teleporters/Transportation

Transportation around the city will vary from walking, to riding an animal or a conveyance, to using some magic item.

Roads, bridges, rivers, canals are all methods to get around.

In my campaign, the ancient cities had rooms that were teleporters that could move you to other teleporters around the city, or to the other cities of the empire.

For a high magic campaign, these would be very interesting and the matter of their use and payment would need to be determined.

In my campaign, the use of these things is a lost art, and thus very dangerous. Without knowing the combination of stones to press, one can end up anywhere. Perhaps land at a broken teleporter, unable to return. Does the teleporter malfunction in some unpredictable way? Doe you end up in another ancient city unaware of it and unsure where you are and how to get back?

Could another plane or dimension be involved?

Types of Roads (See Roads) Do they have signposts and mile markers? I have markers on the boundaries of some territories.

  1. Dirt (MUD with rain/snow) In arid climates, trails, such as the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail, can still be seen today.
  2. Corduroy
  3. Cobblestone
  4. Timber Trackway/Plank Road
  5. Brick (I recall living in Wichita, KS as a very young boy, late 60’s to mid-1972. The original brick roads were a fairly smooth ride. However, when they pulled up the bricks to work on the water or sewer lines, the replacement of the brick made for a bumpy ride. My dad always complained that if they did it right it would be as smooth as before.)
  6. Roman Roads are very sophisticated and allow two carts to pass, drain water well, with footpaths and drainage ditches. Some are still in use today. They also had mile markers.
  7. Tar – The Arab Empire around Bagdad used tar for their roads.
  8. Macadam – Chipped stone that worked well for wood or iron bound wagon wheels, that packed down hard with rain and use. Many might call them gravel roads. Rubber tires of cars pulled up the chips and tore up the roads. This led to roads made of Tarmacadam, i.e. tarmac, and also cement or concrete.
  9. Cement/Concrete The ancient Romans had cement and concrete and even marine cement for making harbors, some still extant today.
  10. Magic – The the use of Wall of Stone or Mud to Rock. I have a system of “wizard roads” in my campaign made by the fallen empire to connect its cities.

Quality 

  1. Poor
  2. Fair
  3. Good
  4. High

Maintenance (Initial quality will affect the required maintenance to keep that quality.)

  1. None
  2. Spotty
  3. Poor
  4. Fair
  5. Good
  6. Excellent

 

Day 17 Q is for Quarters

Q – Quarters

Cities have different divisions or districts. How does this affect the layout of the city?

In March, 2014 I published an article on districts or quarters of a city. That thread had someone ask me for my research, so I posted the links from my research.

While following a chain of Wikipedia articles, I found reference to the Fatih district of Istanbul, which covers the same area as 23 districts of ancient Constantinople. Only 5 of those districts have articles in Wikipedia at the time of this writing. The Walls of Constantinople are interesting, in that much of them still exist today. Some of the districts were near harbors and other fairly clear cut divisions of the city.

Quarters usually mark some sort of functional/rational division of the city. For example, referring to the area of the original or oldest boundaries of the city as the old city. Often the old city features some sort of fortified area, such as a citadel, acropolis, or medina. Naming the district by some feature, such as wall district, for the part of the city near a wall or a more significant wall, such as the oldest or biggest wall. Similar district names could be harbor district, tower district, temple district, gate district, etc.

Today, in the USA, most cities and towns refer to their business district that contains the majority of their businesses. In a fantasy setting, this might be the merchant district, caravan district, trade district, etc. Such a district might be further divided into areas with concentrations of the same or similar trades, such as The Way of Smiths, that might contain blacksmiths, goldsmiths, locksmiths, armorers, etc. Certain businesses occupations might be limited to a specific area of the city, and might further be limited to certain classes/casts/races. The red light district is usually reserved for other than the well to do areas of a city, yet there have tended to be high class prostitutes serving the rich. One group of trades/industries grouped together would be “stinker,” that is, those trades that have an odor, such as tanneries for leather makers, fish markets, stockyards, etc. The district(s) with an odoriferous  byproduct would tend to be in an area lower than or downwind of the upper class area(s) of the city.

Low city and high city might refer to the topography of the city, and can usually refer to the economical and/or social status differences of their respective populations.

Other districts might be named based on their predominate populations, such as the foreigners district. Would the different groups of humans in your world be physically different in some way, or only culturally different? Would this rise to the same level of animosity that we see in our own world? Would other fantasy races be lumped into a non-human district, divided into each non-human race, like elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings?

Does or did slavery exist in your world? Is slavery more akin to antiquity, where some or all slaves had certain rights and could somehow expect to return to freedom? Or is it more like more recent examples of slavery, where slaves are absolutely property to the point that their descendants are slaves, and their treatment varies by who their masters and overseers are? Would there be state slaves doing the work projects of the state? Would slaves be limited to conquered peoples, i.e. war prisoners, or criminals? What kinds of crimes would relegate one to slavery? Would all nations keep slaves, or only the most “primitive”, “evil”, or some such? Would slavery be such that even predominately good nations have slaves? (I sense another article is needed….)

When designing your own cities you can use as many districts as you want, and name them after whatever best suits your needs/desires. Will all your cities have the same districts? I can see cities of the same nation/cultural group having similar divisions to their cities. For example, Alexander the Great spread the Greek ideals of cities to the areas he conquered. The Romans built arenas, hippodromes, temples, and other features of their native Italian cities in the cities of the territories they conquered, whether new or existing cities.

Midkemia Press has three free PDFs of things related to cities, one is a sample of their Cities Book. Both The Cities and The City of Carse are available in PDF for a total of $9.00.  I have the Cities Sampler, and just ordered Cities and The City of Carse, and received them the same day via email. I will do a write up, after I read the PDFs. They have one page on the City of Carse Bazaar.

Historically, ancient cities had 3 to five districts, Paris has 18 districts. The old city with some sort of fortification feature, government quarters, lower/upper town, old town/city, and royal quarter, are common. In ancient Alexandria, and many old cities, each new king would often build new palaces, so that the royal quarter was huge. The Gymnasium quarter had the race course and was the largest division of the city, but a lower population density. In Byzantium, chariot racing was a big deal, much like professional sports today. The blue and green teams got in a major riot where thousands were killed and a large part of the city burned.

Burned cities. If a city had enough wood or other flammable construction to burn, after such destruction, the re-built city would either be built of less flammable materials, like ancient Rome in the time of Nero, and/or institute building codes and rules to minimize the chance of another conflagration, as in Chicago after the 1870 fire. Some poorer areas of cities might burn, being of flammable materials, or not well built, or not built to minimize the spread of fire. This could leave the rest of a city relatively untouched by fire.

The poorest of the poor might live in slums built from the scraps and refuse from the rest of the city, most likely outside the city proper, and outside the walls. In modern times, the poorest build on or next to the dump, building huts out of scraps of wood, cardboard, and plastic, and furnished with the same. Such districts would easily be wiped out by fire. Often these fires are set by authorities to force out these “undesirables.” Do your game cities feature this level of verisimilitude?

Table ideas for generating city quarters/districts:

  • Temple quarter
  • Wizard quarter
  • Royal & Noble quarter
  • Government/Bureaucracy quarter
  • Merchant’s quarter – Markets or Bazaars
  • Non-human quarter (for areas where they don’t just mingle right in)
  • Rich/Poor
  • Docks/Wharves/Shipyards
  • Warehouse District
  • Thieve’s quarter
  • Necropolis/Graveyard (Necromancer’s quarter)
  • Arena/entertainment quarter.
  • Barracks?
  • Aqueducts, sewers, water towers, wells, catacombs
  • Smithees and leatherworkers (stinkers)
  • Slave pens/auctions
  • Gallows, Stocks, and Gibbets

Number of Quarters

Pick a die for the highest number of quarters you want to deal with, if you want other than the usual 3 to 5 divisions, like most historical cities.

Elevation

  1. Low/Lower/Valley
  2. Mid/Middle
  3. High/Upper/Acropolis/Hill

Divisions (Most activity in a city can be grouped under the following. See district ideas above for specifics.)

  1. Religion
  2. Trade/Business
  3. Death (gallows, cemetery)
  4. Royal/Government
  5. Entertainment (arena, race track, etc.)
  6. Education/Library
  7. Magic
  8. Race/Culture

Odor

  1. Stinky
  2. Non-Stinky

Wealth

  1. Poor
  2. Moderate/Middle Class
  3. Rich

Street/Road/Location Names

These often incorporate aspects of the surrounding area, like Way of Smiths, Temple Plaza, or Avenue or Boulevard of Temples.

Mix in an occupation, specifically or generally, building type, race type, etc.

  1. Street
  2. Lane
  3. Alley
  4. Road
  5. Way
  6. Avenue
  7. Boulevard
  8. Court/Courtyard
  9. Field (Like Elysian Fields, AKA Champs Elysees)
  10. Place
  11. Route
  12. Carriageway
  13. Byway
  14. High Road = main road
  15. Low Road = secondary road
  16. Parkway

Types of Roads – see tomorrow’s post.

Predominate Building Materials of District

  1. Earth/Mud/Cob/Adobe/Sun Dried Bricks
  2. Wood – Logs or milled lumber
  3. Fired Bricks
  4. Stone – Unfinished or Finished

Roofing Materials

  1. Thatch – Would not do well in a city environment. Better suited to rural environments with less proximity and thus less chance of fire spreading.
  2. Wood – Shakes/Singles, Logs, Milled Lumber
  3. Slate or other flat stone
  4. Ceramic tiles

A helpful set of all the dice tables for generating neighborhoods in a city can be found on pages 10 & 11 of the Winter 2014 Vol. #1 of the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad zine. Thanks to +Adam Muszkiewicz personally putting this in my hands from +Roy Snyder’s display at Marmalade Dog 20 back in February. You can get this issue for PWYW at RPGNow. Adam and I share a fondness for all the dice tables.

Day 16 P is for Potions

P – Potions – How prevalent is magic? Can one just go a buy it? Is it real magic or a charlatan?

In a high magic setting can one just go buy any magic item you want? In a low magic setting, with any “magic” items one can buy can be mere forgeries, or lies. Perhaps only with Nystul’s magic Aura on them? Or not magic at all? Granted, a high magic setting could have the same issue.

If a current low magic campaign, but the fallen city was high magic, what kinds of items will be found here, and where will they most likely be found, and how will the party discover them?

Will potions, scrolls, and spell books survive the ravages of time? Perhaps surviving books are one of the many librams and tomes suggested in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Scrolls might be found it airtight and resilient scroll cases, or perhaps magical scroll cases to specifically protect scrolls. Potions could be in special bottles, or one might find a bad of holding or a portable hole with its original contents. Or such things found could be the remains of past adventurers seeking riches and glory.

Will a fallen city be fallen partly because of some dread magic item? Will this be an item they know the big bad is seeking, and seek to find it first?

 

 

Day 15 O is for Obelisks

O – Obelisks – Monuments to men/rulers/gods – Buildings, temples, statues, cairns, etc. can all be monuments.

What monuments, statues, and tombs exist for heroes, conquerors, rulers, gods, and deeds? For a fallen city how many of these are damaged and in ruin? Does it matter how they were damaged? Fire might only blacken them or also cause them to crack, or crumble. Earthquakes might only topple them, or make them unsteady.

Is a fallen city being re-occupied and any old stone being used as building materials, as happened to the Coliseum in Rome and to the pyramids in Egypt?

Can the players read the languages or interpret the images or scenes on monuments? For example, on Crete were discovered the Linear A and Linear B writing systems. Linear B proved to be an early form of Greek, but Linear A has yet to be deciphered.

Is there a decree or dedication written in multiple languages, like the Rosetta Stone, that might enable the right sage or character to decipher it without needing magic?

Obelisks, spires, stellae, arches, stones, are all examples. The stone can be worked or unworked. The worked stone can be roughly worked, smoothed, or polished.

Stones can have letters, symbols, or images that are carved in relief or engraved. Stone for monuments can be of a different type than other buildings, or the same type but of a different color; for example, black or white marble, or marble for monuments, and granite for mundane construction. Paints and dyes could be used to color or highlight certain parts, or add an extra flair.

Some monuments may have been damaged intentionally, such as when a successor ruler obliterates the name of a hated or maligned predecessor, or if a once hailed hero has fallen from grace.

Stone can be soft, medium, or hard.

Soft stone examples are chalk, soapstone, pumic, and tufa. They can be worked by almost anything, and chalk can be worked by fingernails.

Medium stone examples are marble and many limestones. Tufa, mentioned above is a type of limestone.

Hard stone examples are granite and basalt. They are difficult to carve with even iron and steel tools and tend to be used for building processes that don’t require much shaping, but there are exampled of granite monuments.

There are also other kinds of stone that might be used for other purposes, like stone tools made from flint or obsidian, a volcanic glass. Decorative items and inlays in stone can be made from any other type of stone, or even gems.

Some ideas for tables are assembled below.

Hardness

  1. Soft
  2. Medium
  3. Hard

Finish

  1. None
  2. Rough Cut
  3. Fine Cut – still has tool marks.
  4. Smooth – Tool marks removed.
  5. Polished – Smooth and perhaps shiny.

Carving

  1. None
  2. Relief
  3. Engraved

What is the Carving?

  1. Letters – Alphabetic with or without vowels/Heiroglyphs & other Ideograms/Other – see Writing Systems
    1. How many different languages?
  2. Symbols (Other than those in the writing system. For example, arrows to show direction, the writing system would use North, left, up, etc.)
  3. Animal Images
  4. Divine Images
  5. Human Images
  6. Demi-Human Images
  7. Humanoid Images
  8. Monster Images
  9. Combinations of the above.

Color Source/Decoration

  1. Natural from the stone.
  2. Painting
  3. Dyeing
  4. Inlays of other stones or gems.

 Construction Quality

  1. Rough/Loosely Piled
  2. Rough with mortar (Mortar can be mud, clay, cement, concrete, or various mixtures to help hold the stones in place.)
  3. Passable (Good enough to get the job done but not pretty or neat. With or without mortar. If no mortar, could be roughly fitted stone.)
  4. Good (Most craftsmen are capable of this level of craftsmanship.)
  5. Master Quality (It is evident that a master mason had a personal hand in the work and direction of the work.)
  6. Dwarf Quality (Depending on your take, dwarves might just be better than other races at stone work and their average work is better than other races.)
  7. Master Dwarf Quality (An experienced and practiced dwarf stone mason, whose specialty is stone work.)
  8. Other (Divine guided/inspired, magical assistance, etc.)

Each table can be further complicated by including magic.

Magic

  1. Writing (Explosive runes, moon runes, etc.)
  2. Images (One or more of the images comes to life and steps out of the carving.)
  3. Construction (Wall of Stone or Mud to Rock used to create the stone, an enchantment on the stone other than writing or animated images.)

 

Day 13 M is for Material

M – Material – Quarries for building, wood/bamboo/etc.

A large city requires materials to build it. Where are the quarries for stone for building, decoration, statues, and monuments? Ancient monuments and cities used materials hauled from 50 or more miles away.

Quarries would not be too far away, unless there is a nearby river and stone is transported by barge. Or if a really high magic or technology civilization, or lots of laborers to use without much safety concern, large stones could be moved long distances with relative ease. Quarries might be flooded with appropriate nastiness within. Unused, or unclaimed blocks might still sit there, like we have found in ancient quarries around the world. In my campaign, I have an NPC, Trebor, who is an artist who does odd jobs to bring in enough to support his family, and is away for a few days here and there scouting and collecting materials for making paints and dies, clay for pottery, and stone for carving. The players agreed to help his wife by going to find him, when he was gone longer than usual. They found him beset by a small group of kobolds taunting him.

Wood, bamboo, and other materials would require a somewhat accessible supply within a reasonable travelling distance. A once large forest could be not so large if a city has a lot of wooden structures, or has built a lot of ships. What is the relation of the town to the nearest druids? England was widely deforested in the age of sail, thus the tall pines and other abundant trees of North America were invaluable to maintaining Great Britain’s navy and supremacy of the seas. The loss of a ship when there is no forest to make replacements would be devastating. A forest may not be available because it has been cut down without a replacement strategy, or the available forest is inaccessible for many practical reasons: distance, physical barriers (mountains, raging rivers, canyons, deserts, etc.), unfriendly neighbors whether other kingdoms or hordes of various humanoids and monsters.

If bamboo is the scaffolding and building material of choice, it is fast growing, and some species advance rapidly. The rapidly advancing species would easily take over a city, so such a city would be overgrown, barring new tenants keeping it clear, or some magical or monstrous effect.

For an abandoned city, a forest might recover. Would a novice druid, or perhaps a more ranking druid be sent to restore such a forest?

What are the trade routes to and from the materials used for bracing, scaffolding, cranes, etc? Trade routes for building materials might be totally different, at least further away from the city than closer in.

In March of 2014, I had an article on Resources and Their Source. All the materials used to build a city come from somewhere. Can the city make it all or harvest all the stone, wood, and other needed materials within a few miles of the town, or must they seek far and wide for some things?

As I have mentioned in prior articles, Lost Kingdom has an interesting article on Building Materials.

Day 12 L is for Lost

L – Lost – How handle getting lost in a maze of twists and turns?

In a big city, it is easy to get lost in the narrow streets and alleys in the middle of the tall walls and buildings.

If there are no rangers or druids, then you need a means for tracking, getting lost in the city, and getting unlost.

In a living city, one can always ask for directions, and hope the one asked is honest and not looking for rubes.

In a collapsed city, who does one ask for directions, the horde of undead, the ogre under the bridge, the evil wizard in charge?

In a collapsed city, the streets may not be so narrow with buildings now leveled. Ruble would choke the streets, and in a thousand years, the accumulation of dust and debris would bury lower floors, if not whole buildings. Just look to archaeology in the Middle East. Or jungles would overgrow them like Mayan cities, or those in southeast Asia.

Finding a fallen city could be a chore in and of itself. If it is buried by accumulation of dirt, debris, and vegetation, the now buried city could be the dungeon. Perhaps it has been excavated in such a way that it is dungeon-like? Wide streets of mostly standing walls and buildings. Perhaps an excavation has found the palace that leads down to lower levels. Those who dare, or have the skill, can seek to dig tunnels to other buildings, or try their luck to sink test holes. In this way, an ancient city is exactly like a dungeon.

So finding a lost city requires luck, knowledge, and all the tropes of such an adventure. Getting lost in a buried city like this is the same as getting lost in a dungeon. Make a wrong turn, or a bad map, and then what does it take to get back?

For a living city, or a fallen one that is not yet buried by the accumulated debris of time, if there are no special markings, or no easy way to get one’s bearings with a landmark, getting lost is a real possibility. In a living city, one can always ask for directions, and pay the price, and/or take the consequences. But in a fallen city, the only ones to ask for directions might be the orcs who want to eat your head. Gary Gygax only details becoming lost in a wilderness setting in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and OSRIC and other Retro-Clones do the same. Becoming lost in a city or dungeon is handled much the same way. Without a guide, a map, or other ways to mark one’s path, it could be easy to get lost.

Standard precautions, such as chalk, string, a trail of something, or mapping would be the best way to avoid becoming lost.

Getting lost in an ancient city would depend on several factors. If there is a big open area, like a boulevard, parade ground, or leveled buildings, it might be easy to pick a bearing and generally get where you want to go. However, towering city walls and tall buildings with narrow alleys could be dark on overcast days or in the early morning or late evening. Streets that all look alike with lots of twists and turns where it is easy to lose track of the number of streets and turns one took, especially when being chased.

One could use a similar formula for getting lost in the wilderness. If following a river or stream, or major road with a fairly straight course would make it hard to get lost. Get away from any form of guidance, and getting lost becomes a possibility. Once out of sight of such features, the number of turns taken, or twists and switchbacks in the road, and getting lost becomes more likely.

This is something that I would handle in game play with what makes the most sense at the time.

If someone did develop mechanic for this, it would need to be simple and consistent, and not slow down game play. I don’t think a mechanic is needed for this, as the characters are in a limited area. I would proceed as in a dungeon. You have an intersection, straight ahead, left, right, or back? What do you do? You can’t get a mechanic simpler than that.

 

Day 11 K is for King

K – King/Queen, governor, authority/power/figurehead

Who is in charge here? Is it the capital of the kingdom or empire? If so, where is the palace? If not the capital city, where is the palace of the governor, satrap, or prince?

Is authority held by the head of state, or are they merely a figurehead?

Is the real authority known, or a power behind the throne?

How might this look to adventurers exploring a fallen city?

Is the fallen city the capital of an empire or kingdom, or one of it’s many cities? If not the capital, who is in charge?

For an empire, it can have many different looks.

  • A client king, like the Romans used. They appointed kings over their territory who owed their throne and their power to Rome. The most well-known example is King Herod of Judea, from the Bible.
  • A governor/satrap/viceroy/or other appointed official. (This may not start out as hereditary, but become so over time.)
  • A prince of a cadet (junior line) of the royal family.
  • A prince (noble title, not of the royal family)
  • An Archduke/Duke or other noble.
  • A cleric (Perhaps the main temple of the city is of the predominate religion that is favored by the Empire/Kingdom.)
  • A magic-user (Certain cities may be located in area where knowledge of magic is essential. Or it may just be a tradition that happened, and has no real requirement beyond tradition.)
  • One need only look to Gary Gygax’s list of government types, in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, to see other possibilities.

If there is a power behind the throne, who is it?

  • The Guild Master of the Thieve’s Guild
  • An even more shadowy Guild Master of the Assassin’s Guild
  • Plot complication – The Thieve’s Guild’s master is secretly also the master of the Assassin’s Guild.
  • A powerful member of a prominent family.
  • A group of members of the most prominent families.
  • The head of the merchants’ or crafts’ guilds, or a group of the heads of each such guild.
  • A group of very rich, powerful, and successful adventurers.
  • A magical creature, that can shape shift to hide it’s true nature. (This could be a dragon, or any variety of several creatures. It will have other means to exert power without revealing it’s true self. A magic using dragon could present themselves as a wizard, for example.)
  • A demonic creature, if of a chaotic bent, it may not care if the ruler knows their origin.
  • A doppleganger who has replaced the ruler. (Is this a doppleganger acting alone or with or for someone else?)

How is the ruler determined? 

  • Hereditary (There may still be a ceremony of a secular or religious nature, or travelling to swear loyalty to the Emperor/King, etc. to make it official.)
  • Appointment by the Emperor/King
  • Appointment by regional ruler
  • Election by regional nobles from a set eligible group.
  • Election by the guilds of the city.
  • Election by the people. (This could be limited to very specific groups who are eligible to vote, as we have seen in our own history of voting.)
    • For example, only land holders, soldiers, merchants, members of a certain social class or group of families.
      • Certain families could include those whose ancestor(s) fought in a significant battle, or who founded the original settlement, or through tradition have a power that originally belonged to all, etc.

 

 

Day 10 J is for Joust

J – Joust – games, tournaments, festivals, celebrations. Calendar.

Entertainment is a common way to keep the commoners distracted from their lot in life. In ancient Rome it was “bread and circuses”. What sort of celebrations and contests will there be? Will they be regular events on the calendar?

Is there a spring festival, a harvest festival, midsummer? What seasonal things are a big deal in this culture?

Will any of these elements survive down to the present culture near an ancient, fallen city?

Hippodromes, stadiums, coliseums, jousting yards, etc.

Will there be statues or other monuments to memorialize famous sports stars?

Will elements of the calendar be evident in orientation of buildings, or specific types of buildings? Will the calendar be  a series of buildings, stones, or landmarks? Is the calendar based on the sun, moon, stars, seasons, or seasonal event?

Would their be massive stones used for having the light of the rising, midday, or setting sun to mark the beginning or end of a festival? This would be for dramatic flair. What remnants of such calendars would survive in the towns and villages of the present day in your campaign, if this refers to a collapsed city?

See my article on Calendars And Random Generation, which can be useful for picking random dates for different kinds of festivals.

Humans, demi-humans, and humanoids would all have different days and times for their celebrations.

Types of Festivals/Celebrations/Events:

  • Planting
  • Harvest
  • Calving/Birthing
  • Spring Roundup
  • Party (Birth, Birthday, Wedding, Anniversary, Death, Victory, Just Because, Special Day, etc.)
  • House/Barn/Church Raising (The whole community gets together to build something and has a big feast at the end.)
  • Seasonal Event determined by the calendar, season, start alignment, eclipse, comet, etc.
  • Civil Holiday (Foundation of the city, kingdom, king’s birthday, etc.)
  • Religious (significant day in a given faith, holy day, etc.)

Types of Contests:

  • Cooking
  • Eating
  • Wrestling
  • Archery/Spear/Javelin/Dart
  • Jousting
  • Fencing/Swordsmanship
  • Lumberjack
  • Harvesting/Plowing
  • Drinking
  • Gambling
  • Feats of Strength
  • Poetry
  • Riddle
  • Races (Foot, horse, chariot, wagon, cockroaches, etc.)

Contest Resolution:

  • Roll to hit vs AC for Archery – Can be tedious. Quick resolution for speed of game play. If there are 20 contestants, rolling to hit for all 20 for three shots each will take a lot of time.
  • Flip a coin
  • Pick high/low card
  • DM/Player story interaction
  • DM Tells the Story
  • Player Tells the Story
  • Players Tell the Story for what other players do
  • Mechanic from other system, like Fudge/Fate, Apocalypse Engine, Advantage/Disadvantage from 5e, etc.
  • Roll vs. Ability Scores

In addition to festivals, or even as part of them, other forms of entertainment were gladiatorial combat, as in ancient Rome. In the Middle Ages, and at many other times, putting animals in a pit or other structure and letting them fight, either like animals or dogs vs. bulls, i.e. bulldogs, or cockfighting, or people vs. animals or monsters. I have been in some campaigns where you start off as a slave fighting for his life in the slave pits. This was common after Conan The Barbarian came out in the early 1980’s. It was one of those tropes like you meet in a bar. Every new group of characters in our various games, if they met in a bar, we had to have a bar fight. I haven’t played or GM’d in a session where the players got in a bar fight since high school.

Players will ask what is there to do in this town for fun? Gambling, wenching, drinking, eating, fighting, etc. are all common for some players. In my current campaign, my players haven’t asked that question. They are content with the tavern that caters to adventurers. They happened to be in town when there was a festival and took part in that. I determined on my game calendar when certain events would happen, and if the players are not in town, they only hear about it, if it is shortly thereafter, or if they ask about the time since they were last in town.

Day 9 I is for Innkeepers

I – Innkeepers/tavern keepers/barkeeps, etc.

Travelers need a place to stay and sailors and merchants and the common people need a place to gather for drink and gossip.

How dense are the bars? I once lived in a town of 300 people that had five bars. It was a farming community, many miles from any big city, and not much to do. I was an outsider and did not fit in, and never felt welcome.

The quality of inns and taverns will vary by the socioeconomic power of the area where it exists. The wealthier districts will tend to have the more expensive accommodations. The least expensive accommodations might be suitable to the upper middle class, for example. While the poorest districts would seldom have anything beyond upper lower class or maybe lower middle class quality/cost.

A quick assumption that by the book equipment costs are middle middle class prices. One could add 10 or 20 percent for each step up, so that a pint of ale that is 1 s.p. by the Player’s Handbook is 1.1 or 1.2 s.p. in an upper middle class inn or tavern. Similar increases for each step of lower upper class, middle upper class, and high upper class. Perhaps the increase for the higher class establishments might be a doubling or tripling. It might be questionable if the higher class was related to the quality of the food and drink, most likely not the quantity. Would the cost for the lower echelons of society be much of a drop? There would most likely be a significant drop in quality.

What sorts of things would be found in the abandoned inns and taverns of an ancient city? Would there be casks of fine ale, wine, or whiskey that survived all this time? Would their be grains kept dry all these years that are still edible? Might there be some cheese still sealed in wax?

Would their be scattered coins, gems, or jewelry?

What odd sorts of object might be found in an abandoned inn or tavern?

This list would be good not just for an inn or tavern in an ancient city, but one that was raided in a small village or way station.

What Survived In the Inn/Tavern? (Randomly determine the condition- is it edible, and location of the following.)

  • 1d10 Bottles of the finest ale.
  • 1d10 Bottles of ale.
  • 1d6 kegs of the finest beer
  • 1d6 kegs of beer
  • 1d12 bottles of the finest wine
  • 1d12 bottles of wine
  • 1d20 bottles of the best whiskey
  • 1d20 botles of whiskey
  • 1d12 assorted cheeses
  • 1d6 assorted cured hams, or legs of beef, or mutton
  • 1d12 mugs
  • 1d12 plates (wood, pewter, silver, etc.)
  • 1d12 sets of tableware (knives, forks, spoons, chopsticks, etc.)
  • 1d20 sets of serving utensils (knives, forks, spoons, etc.)
  • 1d20 kitchen utensils (pot stirrers, cooking forks, ladles, etc)
  • 10d20 copper pieces
  • 5d20 silver pieces
  • 1d20 gold pieces
  • 1d6 gems
  • 1d4 pieces of jewelry

Where is the secret hiding place? (1d6) (Determine if this has been found or if not found, does it still contain its original contents? If the contents were moved, are they buried or hidden nearby?)

  1. Under the keeper’s bed.
  2. Under a movable section of the bar.
  3. Behind a brick/stone in the fireplace.
  4. Secret compartment in the fireplace mantel.
  5. Behind a rock/stone in the fire area of the fireplace.
  6. Secret compartment in a post or pillar.

In March, 2014 I published an article on districts or quarters of a city.