Category Archives: Megadungeons

Day 21 U is for Unusual

U – Unusual – Sites, sights, sounds, smells, etc. See DMG tables for dungeons for ideas.

What is unique about this city? What sets it apart from the others?

Is it a tourist or pilgrimage destination?

Is it the site of a famous battle, a famous magical occurrence, wizard dual, undead invasion, etc?

What is so interesting or special about this place that it would bring the player characters here? Why should they care about this magnificent work that you have labored over for hours, days, and perhaps weeks? In short, so what?

In my campaign, I had an NPC advise them not to go to the ancient city because I did not have it ready. I finally made some rough plans and ideas, and they said they were headed to the city, but kept making detours, then we have not played. This series has been me fleshing out ideas, and making some charts and tables to help me with this city or any of the other ancient cities around the fallen empire. I can also use this to help with a new setting of various genres, not just fantasy.

A city can be a place where the town, wilderness, and dungeon meet. A city has all the “civilized” aspects, plus all the odd things that can happen there. The wilderness can encroach on the city, when a monster or group of crazed animals enter the city. The city may have lots of unexplored spaces underground, sewers, cellars, etc.

A city gives the opportunity to have multiple cultures interacting. Players can find a job, find someone or something they are looking for, or get into more trouble or find some injustice or other happening that they can act on now and be delayed in getting to the dungeon, or act on later when the consequences of failing to act now are played out.

Cities present the image of civilization, is it only a skin-deep veneer, or does it permeate the mindset of its denizens? Does what this city considers acceptable behavior something strict and uptight, or something more nebulous, or perhaps something frightening to the truly civilized?

Cities of any size will have a dark underbelly. How easily can this be found? Does it infiltrate all levels of society, a single general neighborhood, or only those places that you must know where to look?

Every genre of RPG, fantasy, science fiction, etc. has a place for cities. Some claim that you can’t have good adventures in cities, other claim you can’t have good adventures or good campaigns without them. I say, it all depends on the desire of the players and the skill of the GM.

Cities can be a place of refuge and safety, or they can be a bottomless pit of danger.

Things happen in cities that rarely or never happen anywhere else. It’s hard to have a riot in a thorp of 20 people. At least, what we tend to think of as a riot. Under a certain size, it is hard for anyone to avoid the prying eyes of everyone in town. If you have ever lived in a small town, you know what it is like to live in the fishbowl of everyone knowing your business, sometime before you know it. For certain illicit activities, it is difficult to keep it under wraps without a large number of the town knowing about it. Unless it is the kind of town where everyone is in on it, a science fiction/horror movie like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where strangers are shunned, rushed out of town, or incorporated into the population, small towns won’t have some of the activity found in cities.

Cities of a large enough area and population can have all manner of things occurring. Smuggling, drugs, prostitution, murder, robbery, and other violence, graft, and intrigue. Certain things may not be illegal, like drugs and prostitution, merely frowned upon by the “respectable people”. Of course, some of them are hypocrites in secret. Is it truly a secret, or a known thing, but never spoken of type secret?

If there is a thieves guild, how organized are they? A newer guild may only focus on the small scale robbery and break ins. A more established guild, or one with a more thoughtful guild master might find a way to gain wealth without drawing the ire of the guards, or figure out how to bring the guards into it, etc.

The black market will require someone to bring in the illicit things, whether they be items prohibited from import from an enemy country in war time, or items that require a high tax, or items that are illegal for some reason.

Will there be any cities that are so unusual that there is no thieves guild and the party thief exhausts his knowledge of thieve’s cant, and still can’t make contact? Would this be a population under mind control, truly free of crime, or pulling a fast one on all newcomers?

Is there a zoo, menagerie, museum, or other site to see in this city? Would the wild animals from the zoo of a fallen city have descendants roaming about? Perhaps a pride of lions, a troupe of monkeys or apes, or even something more fantastic.

Would there be some item or artifact of the ancients on display in a living city, or would a fallen city hold the mundane and marvelous items of the forgotten past? This is something where fantasy, science fiction, horror, and apocalyptic genres all converge. The ancients had things no longer used or understood. Things that can change the course of events in the current time. In AD&D this is represented by the Artifacts and Relics in the DMG, in Metamorphosis Alpha this is represented by the forgotten technology that is found and perhaps put to a helpful use.

+Adam Muszkiewicz’s city of Ur-Hadad is a mixture of all kinds of weird and unusual. Rugs made there have some strange property that hold information that can only be understood by a few. Some of this, I am sure he comes up with at the table as it happens, and other stuff he has notes for ideas. Use whichever works for you.

Make a list of what is unique or special about this city.

  • Why was this city founded?
  • Why is is located here?
  • What is the one thing this city is/was known for?
  • As with +Jeff Rient’s 20 Quick Quetions for Your Campaign Setting about the greatest people, monsters, and so forth in a campaign, do the same for your cities.
  • What are the major imports/exports of the city?
  • Where is/was the largest/most valuable gem, treasure, magic item located?
  • What is the predominate architecture of the city?
  • What is the craziest rumor you will hear? Is it true?
  • Anything else you feel is needed to bring this city to life at the table. Review my prior posts on cities in this A to Z Challenge for other ideas for your cities, like Entrances & Exits.
  • Ask the players for their ideas, use them then and there, or save them for later.

The unique, unusual, distinctive bits and bobs you attach to your cities help bring them to life, and make them different, so that while cities have some aspect of sameness to them, they are not all cookie cutter duplicates. The same should be said of dungeons. While they are all underground, there should be something different about them. All the tombs in a series of barrows might be nearly identical, except one has more traps, or more undisturbed traps, or more wealth, or better construction, etc. Likewise, all the cities of an empire spread across hundreds of miles might all have common elements, but relative age and local culture will add their own distinctiveness. As with everything else in RPG’s it is expected to steal ideas, that is, gain inspiration, by borrowing from reality.

What can you learn about real ancient cities, or current cities? What twist can you find to put on like cities, or what quality or aspect of cities can you “swap out” to make each one distinctive? Even if running adventures in living cities is not your thing, such embellishments will help make your dead cities more real.

For example, Kansas City, Missouri, is called Cow Town, for all the stock yards that were the end point of cattle drives, once the rail head moved west from Sedalia. Large stockyards have a distinctive odor. If you have ever driven by a modern stockyard, you get the idea. The direction of the wind, and location of the yards will influence how far the smell travels and how strong it is.

Rome is called the City of Fountains for all of its fountains. The list could go on.


Day 20 T is for Temples

T – Temples

Temples present a special case. Ancient wards against evil or good, if an evil temple, would still be in place. Clay golems and other holy/unholy guardians could be about. What sort of quest might be placed on someone to take up a holy relic?

My BA degree is in history. Way back in college, two of the professors had a lecture about the Medieval Cathedral as scripture. They pointed out how the stained glass windows, statues, and other facets of the soaring cathedrals served to help educate the illiterate masses. The high ceilings showed the awe and power of God, and symbolized the distance between man and heaven. Various statues and stained glass windows usually portrayed a story. For example, Jesus is only depicted with a beard before his resurrection. I won’t go into further details here, just enough to illustrate the idea. If you want to debate the merits of religion in general or Christianity in particular, this is not the place.

How detailed you wish to get is up to you, but what types of art are in the temples in your campaign?

Art can be in stone as statues, reliefs, functional or only decorative. Such as many gargoyles’ mouths being the downspouts to direct the flow of rainwater off of roofs.

Cloth is used for tapestries with either scenes, or designs, vestments, liturgical cloths on altars, pulpits, and lecterns. Banners, flags, pennons and other large, but mobile cloth could be about the temple. they could be used in processions, or when the faithful go to battle. There could be holy or unholy battle standards of a magical and perhaps intelligent variety that ward off enemies of the faith, or assist those aligned with the goals of the deity (ies) in question.

Glass can be for windows either clear or stained glass, glass or ceramic ceremonial cups, glass, bottles, plates, etc. Do the current inhabitants have the technology for large panes of glass? (Magic fire, i.e. a fire started by magic, like burning hands, fireball, dragon’s breath, etc. is known to burn hotter. Forges, ceramics kilns, and glass works get a bonus for using magical fire.)

Frescoes on walls or floors can be in glass, ceramic, precious stones, colored stones, or shells. These can depict scenes or merely patterns and designs.

Would a temple be recognizable as such to the uninitiated? Perhaps a temple is not in the temple district, so that hint is missing. Perhaps is has a totally different architecture. A temple to an infernal or subterranean deity might be underground, or carved into the stone of a hill. Perhaps only some symbol alerts others (who know its meaning) about what is inside.

A temple, if such exist, to a deity who is patron to magic users and illusionists, might just look like a big wizard’s tower, with a lab and all the attendant equipment as the sanctuary. Would this be in the main temple district, or near or in the college of mages?

A temple to a good deity could have an evil creature trapped. How easy is it for the PC’s to free it by mistake? Likewise and evil temple could have a good creature trapped. Would the trap make the good creature appear as a foul demon? Perhaps by an illusion?

Would a large parkland inside or near the city contain a grove holy to druids and worshipers of nature deities?

Would a large enough human city have enough demi-humans in it to support temples to their deities? A full on dwarven temple, might have a working forge. A gnome temple might have a gem cutter shop. A halfling temple might appear more like an inn with an excellent larder and wine cellar, and the best halfling beers and ales. An elven temple could be a grove, or a stone circle, or other nature/woodland themed building. Would these temples be in the temple district, or would they be segregated to the districts of the appropriate races?

Will some temples have the most holy area that requires a saving throw for a non-believer or opposite aligned creature to enter that area? For example, evil/good, law/chaos, etc. Did such a protection once exist and the temple was defiled? Will the players be able to restore the blessings of the temple, if they are good? Will an evil big bad be able to restore the power and might of an evil/chaotic temple?

Will temples have their own cemeteries? Will rulers and the famous be interred under a temple? Will the temple district or any temples be near the main graveyard for the city? Will it only contain smaller sanctuaries sufficient to conduct the burial rites of that group?

Will an evil temple worshiping undead be allowed to coexist contemporaneously with a temple devoted to the destruction of undead? Perhaps in a time of upheaval, the people turn to darker ways rather than trusting in the goodness of the deities of light and good. In an ancient, fallen city, what will the player’s be able to learn about such things? Will a sage know, will their be a hidden scroll, or will the players have no way to know and just have to deal with whatever is going on?

Will there be altars, statues, and shrines throughout the city to remind the people of the presence of the various deities? Will a seafaring culture that worships a sea god have its temple near the docks, or partly in the water? Or will the main temple be in the temple district with a shrine by the water? Perhaps what is now a large shrine by the water was once the original temple, and with the growth of the city, a larger temple central to the worshipers was needed in the temple district.

Types of Worship Centers:

  • Marker (Stone, collection of stones, ruins, worked stone, monument, obelisk,statue, free standing altar, etc.)
  • Landmark (Physical place, stone, collection of stones, holy grove, cave, special tree, hill, mountain, ranges of hills or mountains, etc.)
  • Semi-Permanent (Hut, tent, booth, wagon, etc.)
  • Shrine (From a small covered road side altar, to a small building. Contains the bare minimum for the rites of this group, altar, pulpit, or the equivalent.)
  • Sanctuary (The worship center for a village or small town.)
  • Temple (The worship center for a town or small city.)
  • Cathedral (A worship center for a large city or a special location, either significant to the faith, or of some other importance, such as political or economic.)

Types of Worship Items:

  • Incense (Air?)
  • Water (holy/unholy, ceremonial bathing/purification)
  • Fire (Candles, braziers, ceremonial fires, sacrificial fires, forges)
  • Earth (dirt, clay, mud, stone)
  • Dress (Whether special dress is limited to the clergy, or there is some ceremonial garb for all worshipers. Like the Sunday best, or yarmulkes & prayer shawls.)
    • Are there any rules for day to day dress of believers?
  • Standing or Sitting? (In the early Christian church, the pastor/teacher sat during the sermon and the congregation stood. Later pews and kneelers developed.)
  • Prayer rugs
  • Prayer bead or other devices
  • Holy/unholy symbols
  • Giving (Tithe means 10%. Some religions on Earth do more or less.)
  • Sacrifices (time, money, labor, blood (from blood letting of self or others, or animal sacrifice, or human sacrifice.)
    • This can be combined with burning, pouring out or sprinkling of water or other substances, sprinkling or dipping in the blood
    • An altar or other place to collect or perform sacrifices is needed.
    • Reading of entrails or patterns of blood?
  • Books/Tomes/Scrolls of teachings or ceremonial instructions like a prayer book.
  • Directions – Is the rising sun or moon, or alignment of the stars important? For example, for druids, the change of seasons is important.
    • Do buildings have to have a special orientation?
  • Omens & Portents – Are there certain everyday signs that are treated as good or ill? For example, what does it mean when a black cat crossed your path, or you see an owl in flight during the day? Do these signs really mean anything, or are they just tales?
  • Can non-believers enter any of the area, or is any of it off limits to non-believers?
  • Monastics/Ascetics? Does this faith have monks, nuns, or hermits?
  • Organization? Is there a central authority/hierarchy, or is each site independent?
  • Heretics & Schisms? Are there divisions in the faith with more than one branch? Do the different branches consider the other to be heretics or merely on a different path?
  • Sounds (Bells, gongs, cymbals, musical instruments, singing, chanting, etc.)
  • Movement (Is dancing part of worship, or frowned on? Processions, entrances, exits, etc.)
  • Colors (Are there any significant colors? Are they just the same colors all the time, or do they change with certain times throughout the year?)
  • Times & Seasons (Are their certain times of day, week, month, year, or season that are important? For example, a sun cult would see sunrise and sunset and the solstices and equinoxes as important, and lunar and solar eclipses might signify a battle of the light vs. the night, or good vs. evil. Does every deity get worshiped on the same day?)
  • Does celibacy play a factor for clerics? (Never, for a special term, only until married, life, etc.)
  • Food (Are there rules about what kind of foods can or can’t be eaten? Are there any ritual foods?)
    • Ritual fasting?
  • Intoxicants/Hallucinogens (Wine, beer, liquor, or other fermented substances, mushrooms, herbs, etc.)
  • Hair (Shaved, long, unkempt, no rules, etc.)
  • Body Markings (Permanent – Ritual tattoos or scars? Temporary – Something like henna markings or body paint.)
  • Most forms of worship seek to touch all the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, movement, mental, and emotional.
  • Relics (Objects of significance, such as a weapon, tool, device, or instrument, or a body part of a famed member of the faith.)
  • Idols/Images/Statuary/Artistic Representations of the deities, famous faithful, or mythological scenes.
  • Fertility cults (They got quite raucous in the ancient world. It varied from ritual sex of a few, to everyone letting loose. Keep in mind that not everyone needs to go into minute detail about this.)

Rites of Passage: (What happens, how are they celebrated/observed? Not every event will be ritualized or celebrated in a formal way.)

  • Birth
  • Puberty/Adulthood (Religious and Traditional Culture may have separate but coextant processes. Some might be opposed to each other.)
  • Marriage (Divorce?) (How many spouses and what form of marriage?)
  • Pregnancy/Miscarriage
  • Death
  • Burial (Includes cremation & are the ashes scattered or gathered and put in an urn, entombment, platform burial like some native American tribes, burial at sea, mummification, ritual cannibalism, etc.)
  • Status (graduation, appointments, promotions, elevations, enoblement, knighthood, crowning, enfeoffment, etc.)

Shape of Religious Buildings:

  • Round
  • Square
  • Rectangular
  • Pentagon
  • Hexagon
  • Other Polygon
  • Must include a natural element. For example, one end open to trees, or include a significant cave or holy pool.

Building Materials:

  • Rough cut lumber
  • Rough cut stones
  • Unworked stones
  • Earth/Clay/Brick/Adobe/Cob
  • Fitted stones
  • Finished lumber
  • Any wood
  • Any stone
  • Wood or Stone
  • Any material
  • Special (Dragon bones, whale bones, oliphant tusks, semi-precious or precious stones, precious metals, magical materials like stone from mud to rock or wall of stone or wall of iron, etc.)


  • Number of floors allowed. (Is odd or even numbers important? Is above or below ground permitted/required?)
  • Number of rooms allowed. (Only one big room for ceremonies, or are cells, kitchens, hostels, outbuildings, walled compounds, etc. allowed?)
  • Towers (Allowed? Is a certain size, shape, color, or placement required?)
  • Religious symbols on the building?
  • Tithe house or barn (Room, building, or other type of treasury to hold collected donations.)
  • Parsonage/Rectory (Where do the clerics sleep? On site in the religious building, or in huts, cells, or houses constructed on the grounds?)
  • Is there a special room or location where the clerics learn their spells?

One does not need to detail every tiny detail of a group of worshipers, but keep the above in mind to add a special flavor or distinctiveness so that all temples are not the same identical structures. Perhaps all the temples in a given mythos are the same general design, except for the god of the underworld and it has to be a natural cave, for example. Maybe a certain color, symbol, word, or substance is required or forbidden in the worship area.

It can be fun and interesting to develop these things, but if it never comes up in play, don’t let it frustrate you. If it will frustrate you that no one will ever know of all your detailed preparations, don’t spend the time to do that much. Use the time to detail the things that will be used in play.

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

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.


  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.


  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


  1. Stinky
  2. Non-Stinky


  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.


  1. Soft
  2. Medium
  3. Hard


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


  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.


  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 14 N is for Names

N – Names – All places need a name that fits and evokes a sense of belonging to the setting. Tables for streets, roads, bridges, squares, fountains, etc.

Will their be signposts for streets, names carved on bridges, temples and other civic buildings? If not, how will a party know how to find a square in the butcher’s market for a fallen city?

In a living city, one need merely ask the right person, perhaps for a price. See my prior posting for L – Lost.

In the practical realm of actual play, I find that as a DM the players are always asking about the name of this or that person, place, or thing. As a player, if the DM does not supply it, I find that I too ask about these things.

I find it helpful to have a pre-generated list of names that I can turn to for various random NPCs. The same goes for taverns, villages, streets, geographic features, etc. Every shopkeeper, farmer, peasant, soldier, humanoid,etc. needs a name. If the players capture a kobold, you know that they are going to ask its name. Just like today, there will be popular names, like that of the king, local ruler, family member, etc. It is OK to reuse names.

Make a table, find a table, or a program and generate ridiculously long lists to avoid having to stop play and think of a new name. I find that sometimes, my mind goes utterly blank in the midst of play. I end up with a lot of Sam’s or Bob’s or Jim’s when that happens. If it is an NPC that will be encountered again, make a note of it.

Other postings on my blog related to names:


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.