I made a lot of progress on the game recently. This includes finishing up work on an optional deck: City construction. A new addition as of tonight is a set of Personality cards.
The idea is that you deal a set of Neighborhood cards to represent different parts of the city, then Dynamic cards to connect them. The goal is to create a city that will serve as a good basis for drama.
I shuffled each deck, cut it, flipped one of the two cuts, then reshuffled them together so that some cards are face-up and others are face-down. I then dealt three Neighborhood cards, three Dynamic cards to connect them in a triangle, and three Personality cards for each Neighborhood. The numbers are arbitrary - I could have started with two Neighborhoods, or four, or arranged one Neighborhood at the center, or anything else.
Here’s a sample spread:
- Three neighborhoods: a prosperous Warren, a prosperous Marketplace, and a prosperous Uptown
- The Warren and the Marketplace are connected by a stable Criminal relationship
- The Marketplace and Uptown are connected by a stable Esoteric relationship
- Uptown and the Warren are connected by a stable Artistic relationship
- The Warren is represented by a vulnerable Hardliner
- The Marketplace is represented by a vulnerable Newcomer
- Uptown is represented by a vulnerable Plotter
The challenge now is to build a story out of this arrangement. So what are these things, specifically?
The Warren and the Hardliner
The Warren is the hidden heart of the city. It is an organic tangle of alleyways, residences, nameless shops, side streets, historical buildings, and more. The things that make the city unique emerge from here unannounced.
- What traditions or styles did the Warren give birth to?
- What hidden treasures can be found here?
- How do locals and visitors in teract with each other?
The Hardliner upholds the de facto or de jure state of affairs. They resist change, whether from hard experience, stubbornness, or selfishness. With reform looking likely, they fight even harder to hold onto their diminishing status.
- What motivates the Hardliner to defend the status quo?
- How sincere are their stated objections to change?
- How have their beliefs changed over time?
The Marketplace and the Newcomer
The Marketplace is the commercial core of the city. It might include a rowdy labyrinth of vendors hawking their wares, a smoke-smothered block of forges and anvils where blacksmiths arm the soldiery, or warehouses full of grain or rice.
- What goods is the neighborhood best known for?
- What can be found here, but is unknown to most visitors?
- Who controls what’s found here?
The Newcomer is unfamiliar with the city and their place in it. They may be a new ruler, an important visitor, or the heir to a fortune or legacy and now returning to inherit. Alas, those around them do not have their best interests at heart.
- What makes the Newcomer significant?
- What makes them stand out from how the city usually does things?
- Who has their ear? Who seeks it?
Uptown and the Plotter
Uptown is the city’s crown. It is home to the elite, including skilled creators, wealthy merchants, influential politicians, and beloved performers. Visitors might beseech an Uptown resident to fund their ventures, or seek their attention for some new idea or creation.
- What political and social systems support the neighborhood’s position?
- How is power wielded here?
- How does someone become accepted by Uptown?
The Plotter wishes to exploit conditions for some private goal. They might be corrupt officials, influence-peddlers, or blackmailers.
They are hunted, on the verge of exposure, using their remaining tools to survive.
- What personal holds or secrets enable the Plotter’s schemes?
- Who works with them? Why?
- What is their ultimate goal - profit, progress, or something else?
Artistic, Criminal, and Esoteric Dynamics
Two neighborhoods are connected via artistic expression. One may house artists who draw inspiration or receive funding from the other. Artists of different traditions may cross-train, creating a new and unique tradition.
- What forms of art exist in the city?
- How does the city view those who make art?
- Who is interested in collecting or commissioning art?
Two neighborhoods are connected via criminal activity, from petty theft and pickpocketing to smuggling to murder. Organized crime cartels, thieves’ guilds, etc. from one neighborhood may prey on the other. Or legitimate business in one is being propped up by criminal activity in the other.
- What kinds of laws exist? Are they fair?
- Who enforces those laws? How strictly?
- How does the public view the criminal element?
Two neighborhoods interact through arcane goods and services. Although one needs what the other has, the exchange is threatened by mistrust, scarcity, or the volatility of the materials and processes themselves.
- What kinds of things are exchanged?
- What kind of people work with them?
- How does the city view such people?
Let’s start with the Warren and the Marketplace. What is the Criminal relationship going on here? The easy answer would be “pickpockets in the Warren prey on the Marketplace”. Let’s complicate it by saying that the local merchants use the criminal element of the Warren as an unofficial tax on foreign merchants. If you try to undercut those in the city, you’ll be robbed. If you work with the local merchants, or sell stuff they can’t and so don’t care about, you get protection.
Our Newcomer, then, is someone from out of town who’s come here - or been sent here - to try and clean this situation up. They might be a wealthy merchant themselves, or the emissary of one.
The Marketplace, in turn, has an Esoteric relationship with those in Uptown. This could be alchemical goods for longevity or other mystic medications - as U2 sang, “the rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor”. However, it’s something that’s only available from out of town, from those merchants being preyed upon by the local gangs.
So there’s pressure to control the gangs. That’s what our Plotter is busy doing. Too bad they aren’t doing it well. But if they can entice the Newcomer to help…
Meanwhile, the Warren has an artistic community, on the cusp of making it big. The people of Uptown commission their work for the cachet it provides, but those in the Warren feel trapped. Their patrons are spending the real money trying to live forever, not keeping the city alive through art - which would sell in foreign markets. But the Warren is also being kept alive by that same crime.
Our Hardliner is fine milking both of these groups for money, and doesn’t see a problem continuing it - but they’re increasingly in the minority, as the good folk of the Warren just want to profit from the honest creative work they’re willing to do.
What will happen next? Hopefully, something interesting.