Sunday, 6 July 2014

The City

The rain didn't pound off the tiles. Lightning didn't split the sky into majestic towering shapes of light and dark and thunder did not shatter the peace. 
Gudguff sighed to himself as he looked around. 
There's never a decent storm when you really need one. He looked at his mismatched band of companions and decided that the dramatic entrance was probably better off being saved for another time.
Ahead of them sprawled the greatest, or at least the largest, city in the known world. Gudguff sighed at that as well.
Given the known world is only about a thousand square miles then it is quite likely that Thraggaroff is actually just a town. He looked at his band once more. At least there isn't too much damage they can do.

So, as you may have intuited from the snazzy title I will be going into the Urban Jungle today. So grab your map, a tasteless shirt and a camera! Or not.

What is a city?
Really? Well if you must.
The dictionary gives a very sad and boring definition of what a City is, so instead I will give you my own.

City: The overgrown descendant of several towns and villages which banded together out of a desire to create exclusive suburbs and desperate sink-estates.

Ok, I might have asked for that. But why cities?
Cities are a mainstay of Fantasy, without them Heroes have nowhere to worry about or quest on behalf of. They are essential for dramatic sieges, plagues and all sorts of other dramatic happenings.
They are rarely done well though.

It's just a load of buildings and people isn't it?
At the very, very most basic level, yes. But Cities have to be more than that or they tend to die out. A City, even the smallest and meanest City, will distort the surrounding landscape for miles and miles, people will work for a city their entire lives and never actually visit it. Farmers and weavers and miners and all the rest of the trades, without them there would be no City. Without the City there would be none of the fine goods and finished products that lift the quality of life for the average slopmonger.

Cities also tend to specialise in what they produce. Landlocked and mountainous Cities for example, are not likely to make many boats or fishing nets.

But how do I know what my City should be like?
Well, history is full of examples of the sort of trades that Cities attracted but if you are still in doubt, or can't quite be bothered to wade through the records of your nearest Urban Conglomeration you could just be inventive. After all, it is Fantasy.

The following is a list of City locations and types along with the sort of industry that each will (probably) specialise in.


  • Moutains- Stone quarries (depending on the mountain types), metals and minerals. Not much industrial agriculture so populations would be fairly small unless there are very fertile mountain valleys hidden away. Wizards seem to gravitate toward high spots so there might be a higher than average concentration of mystical towers.
  • Plains- Food stuffs, Nomads, crafts, wagons (if only to make travelling a lot easier), horses, 
  • River deltas- Fish! Pleasure cruises. International trade! Pirates. Luxury goods, unless the river is one of the stinky ones in which case disease would be the most common product. 
  • Woodlands- Lumber, fairly obviously. Animal pelts. Adventures. Depending on the type of woods however the City might be the lair of something dark and Unwholesome, in which case its main produce would be Evil.
  • Ruins- Bugger all with the possible exception of monsters, bandits and trouble.
  • Deserts- Trade and water, without which they tend to become Ruins.


There are many, many more obviously but I can't quite be bothered to put them up here.

Isn't that a bit...shit?
Probably, but I'm the one doing the writing.

Ok...so I've got a city in a location that works. What next?
Well there are two main things that make Fantasy Cities work, Pratchett covers both of them very well in each of his Diskworld novels.

Making the City live.
Cities are not just set pieces to be moved onto and off of like a stage. In many ways they are characters in their own right and have their own personalities, whims and diseases.

Mogmush stumbled as his head collided with a low hanging sign. 

"'Kin signs." He muttered to himself as he rubbed his head. The large jug of cider in his other hand sloshed as he raised it in an angry shake. 

"Oi! Look out you daft twat!" 

The owner of the angry voice was a short man with a tray around his neck. The tray was festooned in slightly tatty ribbons and held a number of knives. Mogmush stared at them for a bleary moment, gauging their quality from long experience with pointy objects. 

"You sell those?"

"No, I'm just taking them for a walk." The vendor began to regret letting his tongue run away with him for a moment as he realised a potential sale was fading from his immediate future.

"How much for that one?" 

Mogmush pointed at an iron blade. Unlike the others on the tray it looked as if it had been made by someone at least half way competent. The vendor eyed the towering barbarian and briefly worked out how much he could get away with. 

"To you...sir?" The pause was momentary. "Two silver pence. That's good Thrashmas iron. Keeps its edge fairly well and the blade was folded fifty times!" 

To the vendor's horror Mogmush reached out and picked up the blade. It was dwarfed in his giant paw. 

"Hmm...it'll do." Without any haggling the barbarian dug around in the purse he kept behind his loincloth. The vendor got a brief flash of the more vital parts of the male anatomy and suddenly found himself very interested in the drizzling sky. He pocketed the money and hurried away before his customer decided that a stab discount was a good idea.

Mogmush turned and reached up to the sign with the knife. Around him the flow of people created a little space as the curious but sensible paused to watch.

"Oi, Mogmush! What're you doing?" Gudguff had forced his way back through the crowd to find the giant. 

"I'm making some headroom." With  a well practiced application of blade and muscle Mogmush swiftly parted the ropes holding the sign in place and let the painted wood fall to the floor. "That's better." He sounded satisfied.

"When you're done vandalizing the town we have somwhere to be!"

Mogmush nodded and turned to follow. He carefully stashed the blade in an empty sheath on one of his weapons belts. Pain lanced through his head suddenly and Mogmush looked up to the sound of laughter to see another sign swaying from it's chains.

"Shit."

Cities are full of people living lives and generally just trying to get by. They often don't know or even care about the great goings on of the world at large. Just take a look around you and see what I'm on about!

The most important thing is that without the ordinary, the fantastical doesn't work. A Barbarian Horde needs to have something worth sacking, which in turn means that a city needs to produce something/s worth attacking it for. People, litterally, make the world go round.
So think about your brewers, barmen, cheesemongers, or mongers of any variety. Farmers, smiths, tailors, sailors, dockmen, nurses, doctors, carpenters, joiners, stablemen, brickies, engineers, soldiers, tinkers and merchants are just some of the jobs that need doing for a City to live and be believable.

Making the City Work.
Without the trades that feed, clothe and house people, a village of twenty people and a small dog on a string would not survive. Imagine how many trades a City needs. Then imagine what the people who perform these trades are like.

Gudguff frowned at the Innkeeper. 

"Three silvers a piece seems expensive." 

The Innkeeper looked back at the Wizard and sized up his chances.

"Weeeellll....yes...it does at first glance. but then you have to factor in Costs."

A pause was born between the haggling men. It grew to a full and lively silence before dying off in a moment of quiet. 

"Costs?" The Wizard was fingering the etchings on his Staff of Power. "What, Costs?" He stretched the words beyond breaking point and raised a bushy eyebrow.

"Weeel...There's my sign for a start." The Innkeeper knew he was on safe ground here. "It's bloody hard getting a decent sign done in this part of town. Your Monster had no right to do that to it." His eyes drifted tot he painted wood now lying in the basket by the fireplace.

"...No...No he didn't." Gudguff conceded the point grudgingly.

"Also there's your idiot. He's smashed six stools by sitting on them, I don't want my beds ruining!"

Gudguff stared over at Ran Dom McGuffin, his prophecied hero. The huge Yokel was staring at a chair and wondering if it would take his weight without adding to the pile of firewood.

"Yes...I'll admit that..."

The Innkeeper took a deep breath and ploughed on.

"There's also the Arsehole Tax."

"You what?" 

"Arsehole Tax. The City Elders levy a tax on anyone who might be an...an.... Arsehole." He ducked behind the bar for a long moment. After several breaths of air that felt no different the Innkeeper stood back up and was hit by the force of the Wizard's glare.

"Wizards are on the list."

Gudguff's eyebrow rose a bit higher.

"It's written down here somewhere..." The Innkeeper suddenly received a flash of understanding and realised why Wizards where on the list. He then realised that if he wanted to address this in any useful way his next words would be crucial.

"I don't seem to have the list at present... Have rooms 3, 5 and 36."

So, there you are. Cities. live in them, love them...leave them occasionally.