Non-Transient Adventuring?

2008 September 22
by Dante

All this talk (and effort) surrounding moving has made me think about the transient nature of adventuring. It seems that in all of our campaigns, our adventuring parties are travellers that must seek out pieces to the puzzle, explore mysterious corners of the world, or otherwise save the world.

The Reasons, they are many…

It turns out that I am fairly lazy when it comes to planning my sessions. On the occasion that I do plan, crack a sourcebook and research a setting, I find it difficult to come up with street level maps, tavern names, a local government, and the like.

This is why I stick close to impromptu world-travelling type campaigns. I only need a few key facts to make those scenarios work, and I don’t get stumped by the unplanned questions that come inside of a city setting. Is there a bank? Is the mayor’s wife hot? Is there a place I can research Guatemalan insanity peppers? and so on.

Aside from online tools to help flesh out this type of information, what tips do you use to plan a city-based or non-travelling campaign? Is there any thought processes that you go through to drum out some of these obvious questions, and how to do handle it when your players want to go somewhere “off-script” that you haven’t accounted for?

In the past I have attempted to keep a general “city campaign ideas” notebook to capture episodes of city-based content that could be dropped in, but I tend to rope myself into a certain topology that tends to prevent me from executing these ideas. Any advice would be appreciated!

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    September 22, 2008

    I generally keep a list of randomly generated NPCs. My list only has two pieces of information for each (name and distinguishing feature) and a blank line to the side. With this list, I won’t run out of NPCs and I can jot down notes about each one as I assign more details.

    I also keep random Dragon/Dungeon Magazine issues handy and bookmarked. There are tons of “101 random events” style articles and tables.

    Another nifty tool is the Random Fantasy Business Names generator ( Some of the names are REALLY cheesy, but they will do in a pinch.

    Improvising in a city is still a challenge, but these tools make it at least manageable.

  2. Bartoneus permalink
    September 23, 2008

    For my current campaign Dave and I began developing the world and over-arching plot ideas together probably as early as April and started running in late June (we waited for 4e to come out).

    I planned quite a bit about a main town, all of the PC’s began in the town but NONE decided to be from the town originally. We’re on the 6th adventure and they’ve been in/around the town the whole time and I have to tell you, they want nothing more than to leave it.

    I’m not sure if this is just a consequence of the campaign and the types of characters that were made, but having developed NPC’s and a town with lots of stuff going on in it doesn’t mean the PC’s won’t constantly say, “can’t we just leave?”

    Since I’m also running a sandbox game, my answer is typically “Yes”, but I think they’re kind of scared of what might happen then. Guilt = motivation. 😀

  3. Virgil Vansant permalink
    September 23, 2008

    For the first part of my campaign, the party stayed in a frontier town. It was at the edge of civilization, and was actually considered a bit of a “tourist draw” for heroes. Adventure and the unknown await outside the palisade! Come see the sights!

    Some of the party have lived in town, or at least been there for a few years. But most of the PCs were newcomers. I like having this base of operations. Although there were adventures to be had outside the town, I brought adventure to the town as well. Strange characters from around the world come to visit the town, from mad wizards to priestly prophets, and they bring adventure with them.

    Still, it will be time to move on soon. I do want them to see the rest of the world…

  4. Erica permalink
    September 23, 2008

    In addition to keeping lists of random shops and events, which are always important, I will often find and use items from older supplements that I import into my city.

    There is a series of guides from the old Forgotten realms available on the wizards’ website ( called Volo’s Guides. They are tourbooks written in character, and include a number of inns, taverns, and shops of interest which can be adapted for your setting.

  5. gourmet popcorn permalink
    September 28, 2008

    I also keep a list .

  6. David Reese permalink
    September 28, 2008

    When I was starting the campaign I currently run, I wanted to build a nice little town for the heroes to live and adventure in. At the time, it was going to be a really episodic campaign, so I wanted to have some consistency while being able to swap characters in and out.

    Being too lazy to generate my own town, I just made a dnd version of a small town that I’ve lived in. The pretentious parts of town are the walled city, the impoverished parts of town are still impoverished, and the conservatory became the bard college. So there you go. I already knew population, etc, and when the players went looking for something I just put it near its modern equivalent. Or drew it onto the map somewhere else.

    It helped some that my players weren’t familiar with the town.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS