29 May 2010

The Town As A Character

I know, I know, two posts in one day? But hear me out, an insane idea flitted through my head.

Reading the Chatty DM blog, somebody mentioned the term "burning wheel", where two or more forces are vying against each other. Often, no thought has gone into what happens when the players lose, and of any ideas to get people back into the game. This is especially important in old-school games, one would think, as character mortality rate can be high, and if the entire party is slain, then what makes the new characters obligated in the least to continue on where the old characters left off? How many people can be realistically imprisoned in the Temple of the Plague Orcs to replace fallen characters with new ones?

That's when it hit me; take an element from the "endgame" of old-school play, that of fiefdoms and the political control of lands, and make it a central element. What if your players came together and created a town, city, or village as though it were a character, with nebulously defined characteristics (NOT game mechanics). For example, a party could be from the town of Helmsford, a river town with a healthy economy, ruled by a benevolent and elderly Duke who lives in a great tower-keep that is open to most. The guards wear blue and green checked hauberks as identification, and the town is known for its hard-working, honest population as well as the rare fish that spawns in their riverbed and few other places.

When the party leaves to combat Threat #6, they are slain. But the heroes aren't alone in a vacuum, nor is the mission over. When the heroes die, perhaps the Drow slave-raiders take slaves of many of the people of Helmsford, but maybe Old Brian, the blacksmith and Gilgar the Rotund, and Limlo the horse thief band together in this horrible time and defend the town from attack; in other words, each and every hero is tied into the game as a whole by a single city. As the game goes on, each new hero is better and better defined, as the more brave people become the new heroes and are possibly related in some obscure way to the heroes. For example, Old Brian's steel had armed the mighty Poltroon, slayer of ghouls, and seeing his weapons used in such a way inspired him, aged though he may be, to become something better than he was, to try and make the world a better place.

This sort of thing may not work in a more sword and sorcery oriented tale, with each and every character being more vagabond than hero, but then again, look at the Elric series and the other writings of M. Moorcock. The mythical city of Tamelorn was as detailed and interesting as any city, with heros banding together to defend it from threats throughout time. Maybe the Home City as character requires a similarly important and passion-inspiring place for heroes to call its own, and perhaps not.

Certainly, though, it's worth a thought, which is why it had to be written down in such a long and winding blog post.


  1. I DM for my nephews. Recently they had to have new PCs (they had left their character sheets at home when we were at the family cottage), so I brought their PCs together by having them all be living at an orphanage in a city. Since my nephews are 8 and 11, they took on their new PCs without any problem, since the PCs were all 12-13 years old.

    As a DM, I really like the idea of having a "pool of commonality" from which to draw new PCs. When a player wants to run a new PC, or a new player joins in, it's easy to fit the new PC in seamlessly. I've always wanted to have the players start first with one level of Thief during character creation; then they could make the character as they wish (as a first level cleric, thief, or whatever). This idea came about when I envisioned the party as runaways from a thieves guild--their pool of commonality.

    The whole idea helps players as well, since if they wanted to replace a PC for an adventure, then pick it back up again for a later adventure, they'd know where that PC was hanging out while he wasn't "in action."

  2. In the second paragraph, I meant to say the players could build their PCs as Thief1/Cleric1 or Th1/M-U1 or whatever; if they'd chosen thief anyway, I'd probably let them develop the character as second level. This schema could work with using other classes as well; for instance, if they'd all served in the army, they could have a level of fighter in their background.