Friday, October 26, 2012

Dugeons and Resources: Sci-Fi Cities

Tonight is my games night and even though it is not my turn to GM I figured I could share some of the things I do to make my world. When it comes to role-playing games it is a GM’s job to create a world that the players are immersed into. Sometimes coming up with new and interesting locations can be an especially daunting task.

My personal specialty when it comes to GMing is heavily set in the more Sci-Fi futuristic style settings. When I was learning how to be a good GM I borrowed some of the base concepts from a role-playing tips email newsletter I get and modified them to my style. Though their concept was more targeted for a game called Traveller, its basic concepts are transferable to any science fiction setting.

From what I understand the term "Startown" is the game Traveller's phrase for a city connected to a ground starport. Each city is therefore connected to their interstellar community. When building a world in a game with tens of thousands of planets, it becomes overwhelming for the GM to think about individual cities. But like with all things a little bit of organization and random generators, the burdensome part of the task of creating these places can be taken care of. I used this system to build my own cities in my created universe of Shadowrun my favorite Sci-Fi game.

First let us break it down into three basic ideas of what is important to think about when creating a city. Each game is different for example I use Shadowrun which is set on earth so all I had to do was think about a city or country and that would cover its location for me.

  1. Location
  2. Districts
  3. Connection

If you look to the history books you will soon realize most cities were formed for a reason they did not just spring up out of nowhere. There are essentially six reasons for a city and therefore a simple roll of the die will tell you why and where the city is set up
Depending on the features of the Planet or Country, a city may be built near one of the following features (roll 1D6):

  • A river or a steep, deep ravine.
  • A crossroads or centrally located between two large cities.
  • A resource. For example, a lake, ore smelter, refinery or shipyard.
  • An Imperial Naval base, an Imperial Scout base or an Military Garrison.
  • A mountain or atop a plateau overlooking hundreds of kilometers of land.
  • The world's or country’s capital city.

If you want to you can roll two times to make a city more interesting and dynamic.

At any given time a large city will usually have about six very different districts:

1) Warehousing
This is the area of the city with mostly dingy buildings and seedy bars filled with unsavory type NPCs. Typically looks abandoned, except when a large shipment is being loaded or unloaded into a building. This area operates at a constant level of activity day and night, meaning something could be potentially happening whenever. This is a great place to put secret backroom games or word of mouth only clubs, primo place for underground type dealings.

2) Industrial
This is where all of the cities factories are located, whether they are clean and new or old and dirty here is where the city stashes them. Typically looks a little like a warehousing district, except with a lot of the ambient noise of construction. At night this tends to be where the more organized crime does all of their dirty deals and also dispose of the bodies.

3) The Old City
This is a more central area of the city, here there are many mixed zones that are coexisting in an uneasy peace. Wealthy urban living mixed with slums, office and medical complexes, museums, libraries all in some of the city’s oldest buildings. Activity here is at all hours, but primarily during the day for both the locals and the tourist traffic. This is where old turf wars are disputed as the gangs battle for domination of their old neighborhoods. This is also where the older colleges and hospitals would be located because this is the original start of the city.

4) Tall Corporate
The clean, urban towers of fancy hotels, restaurants, and wealthy, big businesses make their homes here. Activity here happens at all hours, with lots of transportation such as cabs and limos from all points in the city in and out. Mostly people in suits and fancy wear are here and those less dressed stand out like sore thumbs.

5) Ex-Urban Light Corporate
Usually this is the Silicon Valley, where the young and struggling start- up companies find a place to get on their feet. Also the location of some super-wealthy but low-profile businesses set up shop to keep out of the corporate spot light. The wealthy tend to like to live here because it is located farther away from the central corporate areas. This area is busy during the day but oddly peaceful at night, and tends to be monitored around the clock. This is also where the private medical practices set up shop to serve those who can pay a pretty penny.

6) Habitats
Apartments and housing blocks where typical citizens live take up a majority of the space in this area. These are microcosms of urban living, that include little shops, pubs, parks, small offices, schools, and various typical services built-in or close at hand. Active most of the time, though it tends to be fairly quieter in the late evening and early hours of the morning.

This refers to how easily the city is connected to others around it and whether or not it has a large airport or not. Most of the time cities have developed infrastructure to work closely with is neighbors so as to share resources. 

This is just an idea on how to build the basic structure for a large urban centre and gives you a starting point from where to go. Things like a city’s culture are completely up to you and I think that is where the creative fun generally comes from. I hope that this concept is helpful for any aspiring GMs out there who might have been intimidated by the idea of creating a city from nothing.

Sincerely Urban Yeti

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