A few weeks back, I kibitzed about my difficulties in running city and town ruins. I have had a lingering problem make that awkward scale between the micro-environs of a dungeon and the macro-handwavingness of wilderness work just right. Readers both here on the blog and on Google Plus (oh why Google did you have to screw up integrating the comments between both streams so very, very badly?) chimed in with extraordinarily useful advice from their own campaigns.
The following two-part series is my own attempt to wrap my brain around a better way to run these kinds of adventure locales in the future (and of course reflects some of the best practices of many of you who responded).
The first major hurdle was getting over the scale problems. Naturally given one of my running themes here (and here) and the need to abstract some of the larger-scale movement outside discrete buildings in the ruins, my brain went back to stretching the pointcrawl to fit. In today's installment I will deal with a quick system to classify broad ruin types, travel among points, deal with encounters and create a large-scale map to make sense of it all.
Taking my individual points I began to think of them as roughly corresponding to a neighborhood or ward area, an approximate area maybe incorporating one to three hundred yards on a side. Because I don't want to overproduce detail that won't be used in actual play I am overall aiming for a hierarchy of maps with detail by potential party interest-level.
I will assign standard-size graph paper map at a 10 yard per square scale to each point--depending on how interesting each square is. A dull point say for something like a rubble field will only really serve as way-point and may not have a breakout map at all. A typical area may have a single-page map with a few choice sites mapped out (and further broken down into a 10-foot square scale maps if especially interesting). A locale-rich point may even have two or three maps in the smaller 10-foot scale.
Because I want quick and dirty ways to classify and describe points when the party moves between them I came up with a color-coded method that borrows heavily from Runequest's excellent Big Rubble.
Type 1 (Red). Completely ruined or razed area, walls and other structures indistinguishable and now just rubble.
Type 2 (Orange). Completely ruined areas. Surface areas nearly identical to Type 1 above (with occasional free-standing walls), but underground areas (cellars, dungeons and the like) may still be intact if rubble is cleared away.
Type 3 (Yellow). Mostly ruined area. Some may walls exist and structures may be distinct but nearly always lack roofs and upper stories. Underground areas may be existent.
Type 4 (Green). Semi-ruined area. A number of structures are relatively intact with roofs and walls (though there may be holes in both). The relatively intact structures will be interspersed with rubble or partially ruined buildings. Underground areas are often existent.
Type 5 (Blue) Barely ruined area. Most structures in the area are intact with minor neglect. Will often be inhabited with recent repairs done by sentient locals.
Now let's move on to our connections. You will note that because of the relatively more open nature of outdoor ruins (than say an undercity or megadungeon) that I add more connections than usual between points. Connections are assumed to be represent 30 minutes of travel in a small-sized ruined (town and the like), an hour in a medium-sized one (small city), two hours in a large (medium city), and four in a massive one (metropolis and the like).
Obviously some factors will scale travel time up and down, so I have characterized the connections with a few relevant conditions below (and for color when describing travel to players).
Dotted Line. Movement is relatively free and often over a field of rubble.
Broken Line. Movement is difficult, perhaps only through thickly-rubbled and ruined roads. Double movement time.
Single Line. Small streets that may have an occasional obstruction.
Double Line. Open avenues, boulevards or obstruction-free roads. Halve movement time.
In the next part I will deal with encounters, some mechanics for randomly generating interesting buildings and their contents, and some assorted other whoha.