One of the things that I have been thinking about for Deadlands is to not use the standard practice of having the posse roam from town to town getting into trouble and solving problems, but instead having them start off with base of operations in a town somewhere and having to deal with the issues in that town. This is to help any starting Mad Scientist characters acquire the resources needed to put together a traveling workshop for later in their career as they go out more looking for trouble. I would want the town to start with a moderately high fear level, to have conflicts between the various groups, and of course there could be bandits in the area to attack the town. But to do that you need to develop a town and have a reason for the party to stay there.
One of the best ideas I have ever seen for developing a city comes from The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game1. There are several parts to a city that are created when you go through the city creation rules.
- The city’s theme(s).
- Threats to the city.
- Locations in the city.
- Faces of the city.
Now not all of these and more specifically not all of the Faces and Locations need to be defined up front, but you should probably work out at least a basic idea for the city’s themes and threats and have a few locations and important people, but if you are stumped on any of these then as the rules say leave it blank and come back to it later. Lets look at the different aspects of the city from the list above in more detail.
A city theme is a statement about things that happen in the city. It could be a something like “A Lawless frontier town”, or it might be “Ruled by the preacher’s iron fist”. These are things that are mostly true even if they are never openly discussed, and they just give simple high level concept for the city so that you can describe it easily.
The threats to the city are the specific things that are likely to cause trouble to come to town. This could be any abominations that inhabit the town or nearby area, the local gang that robs any trains or stage coaches that come into the area, or even to rival citizens that are fighting for control of the town (farmers verses ranchers, etc.).
The locations of a city are any important places such as the saloon, the church, the general store, or even the sheriff’s office. This is the area that as you spend more time in the town the number of important locations will likely grow. My suggestion would just define a couple, the place to find work, where they spend the night, where they get food, and where they get supplies. Then come up with any other locations as they are needed and/or places that keep getting visited. Each of these locations should have a basic description, name, and a person who is important to that location. For a shop it might be the shop owner, for a saloon it might be the bartender or maybe a patron that is always there.
Finally the faces of the city are the important people of the city that are not already associated with a location. Say someone who is important to one of the threats facing the city like the local bandit leader, or an important abomination that is in control of various other minions.
When you finally have all of this2, the next task becomes organizing it, and to me this is the important part. You can have all of these brilliant ideas, but if they are not organized in an easy to access way (and for me that is visual) then you will not be getting the most value out of it. One of the things that I have been thinking about for when I go through all of this is to get a corkboard, some stick pins, note cards, and twine (This could also be done with a whiteboard, magnets, and markers instead, but I the last time I looked, whiteboards where hideously expensive and I do believe that a whiteboard would be much heavier than a corkboard one that you could just move out-of-the-way when you are not using it). Then write the information on the notecards and put them on the board using the twine to connect related cards so that it was easily visible sort of like a relationship map or murder board that shows up in so many of today’s cop dramas.
The other idea I had for organizing it was to use some sort of UML3 tool. The advantage of this is then it is just a computer file that can be viewed anywhere instead of a physical item that can only be used if you are in the same location as it. The disadvantage is probably going to be cost of the software.
I believe doing this work will make it easier to identify people and locations that are connected for use in scenario generation and as these things change you can update the board removing people who are no longer relevant because of them leaving or death. You can add new people and new relationships easily and so your overall location will hopefully feel like it grows and changes with time as your group spends time there.
Anyway, this is what I intend to do when I next run a game (which right now I am thinking might be a Deadlands game). I will work through these items and when I do I will write down how it went.
- There is a simplified version also available in the Fate Core System rules. The main difference between the two is the detail each goes into. Fate Core creates fewer details, because they found that the number of bits that The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game generated overwhelmed the players. I am not sure that this would mater for a non FATE game though. For more information you can find the Dresden Files RPG [here] (http://www.evilhat.com/home/dresden-files-rpg-your-story/) and you can find Fate Core here. ↩
- Both the sources for this idea recommend working with your players to generate this information so that you as the game master don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting and I intend to start with at least some of this information pre-generated, while allowing the players at add in extra information. ↩
- UML stands for Unified Modeling Language and used to be used a lot in software development to describe the software to be built. You can find more information on it here. ↩
- I am hoping the Good Intentions plot point campaign will spend a lot of time during the starting in the city of Gloom, instead of wandering the countryside like the other plot point campaigns. ↩