Saturday Morning Maps: Random City Edition

The neighborhoods of Atgur, First and Last City of Men

After recently purchasing the very useful Vornheim City Kit by Zak S., I decided I wanted to take a stab at randomly generating the layout of my campaign’s fantasy megalopolis, Atgur (Proper). I started with the method for random layout that Zak suggests in the Urbancrawl rules, but something about that wasn’t quite clicking for me. Still, I knew I wanted to generate the neighborhoods at random so that it had the feel of an unplanned ancient city.

Here’s what I ended up doing: I picked a number of neighborhoods that would match a die. Since Atgur is unfathomably huge by medieval standards, I decided on 20. Then, starting with neighborhood #1, I rolled 1d4+1 to determine how many other neighborhoods it should be connected to, and rolled a d20 to see which ones. It really speeds up as you go, because you will start rolling a 2 for some neighborhoods that have already been connected to a few others, so you just move onto the next one. I did this all on paper at first, but I realized I could have gone right to the mind mapping program in the first place and saved some work (I used MagicalPad). Once I had it all in the app, I moved everything around so that none of the connections were overlapping, since they are actually supposed to represent the way neighborhoods butt up against each other. In only one case could I not make that work — the connection between neighborhood #3 and #17. I just ended up moving #7 between the two of them and that solved the problem. I was also worried I might end up with two separate closed networks, but that didn’t happen.

I think it worked out quite well for it’s intended purpose. Neighborhood #13 is the one that was renamed City Center, because that was where it ended up on the layout, so I added a few extra connections to that one. I added a few extra connections to some of the other neighborhoods, but I’ve actually been slowly going back and weeding them out since I’ve realized the layout just isn’t as interesting without the weirdness random results can produce. For the curious, my original paper version is below.

Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

9 thoughts on “Saturday Morning Maps: Random City Edition”

  1. I loved 3rd Ed DMG for many reasons. One of which was the city generator. Knowing how many people lived there, what there class and levels were, and what job they did really made me feel like the city was alive. Unfortunately I did this with EVERY city the players traveled to. It turned out that the players rarely encountered more that just a few NPC’s that I spent hours colorfully preparing and visited VERY few of the important sites I prepared.

    Now, a little bit older, I realized all that work could be tossed away and just a few important notes prepared. Knowing there are four 1st level clerics, two 2nd level clerics and one 4th level cleric really wasn’t all that important. If I needed a cleric of the local temple I could just assign his level as I saw fit.

    So what does the neighborhood generator offer you that you can’t prepare on your own?

    1. I would say that the main value of this kind of neighborhood generation is simply that it assists in creating the sort of Byzantine layout that ancient, unplanned cities would develop as they got really big. Obviously, this is something you can totally do yourself in drawing out a city map, but I find network maps to be easier to read for this purpose and the dice just remove the mental strain of trying to plan something that is supposed to be chaotic and somewhat random.

  2. Does the generator assist you in defining each neighborhood or is that up to you? Do you roll on a chart and City Center becomes a “Spellcaster’s district” for example? Does the generator further define the number of spellcasters living there? The number of Magic Universities or schools of specialties?

    If not randomly determined does it have a list of appropriate neighborhoods? Markets, guilds, main square, or a list of important buildings and where they’re located i.e. constable’s barracks, churches, taverns? Does it randomly determine which neighborhoods are safe and which neighborhood is the thieves quarter?

  3. OK, so in this case we are referring back to Vornheim as opposed to my system here, which is strictly interested in layout. There are random tables for tavern names and the games of chance they play there, random tables for shopkeeper personalities and quirks, random tables for legal proceedings in cities where elaborate and inscrutable laws may change from neighborhood to neighborhood, a table to determine prominent building and likewise a sheet to print out with the building types in various sized squares; the idea with that sheet is that you drop dice at random on the sheet and generate a whole block of buildings by where the dice land. But the important things that I think distinguish Vornheim from the 3E DMG generator is that Vornheim is more concerned with description than with stats, and even more significantly, that Vornheim assumes you probably will just make up the stuff you know you are going to need ahead of time and instead presents its tables as a quick way to come up with answers when the PCs go off the beaten path and you find yourself in need of coming up with some answers on the fly. Of course, you can still just make it up, but sometimes a table can help.

  4. That actually sounds really good. Personally layout would be the least important aspect for me but I like the system you used. Even a layout of the City Buildings would be a little too much for me in my old age. Unless of course the game took place primarily in that city.

    However having the chart for when the party just wants to go to a tavern for no reason (every session ever) would be helpful. I usually just use (Animal) + (Body Part), i.e Horse’s Hoof Tavern, to get a name for a random bar that doesn’t forward the story in any way.

    1. Here’s why the layout matters to me: per the “Urbancrawl” rules in Vornheim, there’s a chance for a city encounter for every neighborhood you have to cross through on your way to somewhere. So keep in mind that even though the layout is express as a network map, the reality for the characters is that they have to actually do some travel through every neighborhood they touch. So if you need to get from neighborhood #16 to neighborhood #12, you know the shortest route takes you through #9, #15, and #6 along the way, with a chance for an encounter in each of those neighborhoods.

  5. I’ve come to realize that as I got older I hate preparing RPG’s. It just takes so long to do. One thing that that increases the difficulty is random encounters. Although I like the idea of them rolling dice over and over again just irks me anymore.

    I can’t remember if it was your blog or one of the blogs in your link library but I remember reading that checking each day for over-land encounters can become cumbersome. The idea I read went something like this…

    If there’s, say, a 16% chance per day of travel there is an encounter then every 6 days there should most likely be an encounter. Instead of rolling %dice 6 times just roll a d6 once and that’s the day the encounter happens.

    I would just do that for the city travel as well.

    I’m really enjoying these posts John.

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