Since my last design diary, I’ve completed the Mercantile Quarter and two wards of the Old Quarter, so the Gazetteer chapter is about two thirds done and the whole book is over 52,000 words! A noted game designer – it might have been Ray Winniger in his awesome Dungeoncraft articles for Dragon – once wrote that you should only design the stuff you need for your game. I followed this advice when I was only running Parsantium for my game groups and it’s a top tip if that’s what you’re doing. However, if you’re writing a city sourcebook for others to use, you need to provide at least some information on all the areas of the city. As I’ve been writing about the Mercantile Quarter and the Caravans Ward in particular, I’ve had to write nearly everything from scratch as only one location, the Curio Cabinet in Tinker’s Alley, had actually appeared in my campaign.
I’m now on to the familiar streets of the rest of the Old Quarter which have seen a lot of action for both the Juma Gang and the Luminous Heroes of the Ironcrags. This has meant revisiting and rewriting stuff I first wrote back in 2008, including the boat town of Flotsam, the Black Dolphin’s Wake and the slums where Orloch Scragmane rules his criminal empire. It’s been a lot of fun. Here’s the section on the Dock Ward slums from the first draft:
This is a dirty place in the worst part of the city, best avoided by anyone who isn’t desperate enough to call the slums home. Most of the dark and dank buildings are either completely derelict or half-way there. The streets and alleys are close together and very narrow, with the top storeys of the blocks on opposite sides of the street leaning in and nearly touching, making walking below feel claustrophobic and oppressive. Disease is common, and the streets are full of flea-ridden cats and troops of mangy blue-bottomed monkeys hunting for something to eat. The whole district is smoky due to the fires people use to cook on, but the smells of food (usually lentils or rice with some scraps of meat, fish or vegetables and a pinch of spice) does little to mask the stench of unwashed bodies and waste. The residents of the slums are the dregs of society and hate the world for it.
The decrepit apartment buildings are owned by a series of ruthless “slumlords” who charge cheap rents to the tenants but do nothing to maintain the property. Roofs leak, mould grows on the walls, stairways are unsafe, and all types of vermin from rats to giant centipedes and spiders are rife. Many of these slumlords are wealthy nobles and merchants living in the Imperial Quarter or elsewhere in the Old Quarter, but some are also Bosses, crime lords based in the ward.
The most notorious of these Bosses is the gnoll slaver, Orloch Scragmane, nicknamed the Undisputed King of the Slums. The gnoll gangster has his headquarters in a tenement building on Snail Street, protected by a barbed iron gate and guarded by his gnoll pack mates, known as the Mangy Curs. As well as exploiting the poor tenants living in his apartments, Orloch is involved in extortion, kidnapping and murder, and runs an underground slave market based in the Hidden Quarter where he sells human, dwarf, elf and halfling slaves to ruthless brothel keepers from the Poor Ward’s red-light district, evil necromancers and various other dodgy characters. Orloch buys his slaves from pirates like the notorious bugbear swashbuckler Captain Ferrukk and from land-based gangs like the Dockside Crew who aren’t above knocking a few dockworkers out with a blow to the head as they wander drunkenly home from the pub. He is over seven feet tall with a flame red mane and dozens of tattoos. He wields an execution axe in combat and there is nothing he likes more than inflicting terrible pain on his enemies.
Next door to Orloch’s HQ, is a chapel dedicated to Pelor called St Carinus’ Redemption. The kindly cleric, Brother Jerome, an elderly silver-haired, softly spoken man, wanting to do some good for the desperate souls in the slums, runs a soup kitchen for the needy out of the church hall. Some of the Dock Ward’s most accomplished thieves and scoundrels are regulars here; Brother Jerome hope that they will step out of the darkness and into the light at some point in the future.
I also have a question to ask. Since I want Parsantium to work with any edition of D&D including 4e, Pathfinder and D&D Next, what is the best way to indicate the level and/or class of NPCs, if at all? I haven’t included this information at all so far which is how Menzoberranzan, City of Intrigue does it but I could describe each NPC as an apprentice, journeyman or master (as per The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport) or even list a level & class. The drawback with the latter approach is that 4e NPCs don’t really have classes and 4e is on a 1-30 level spectrum compared to 1-20 for Pathfinder and D&D Next. My inclination is to leave this information out entirely but I do see how it could be useful to know roughly what spells a cleric can cast for example. Any thoughts or suggestions greatly appreciated!