I’ve spent this last week talking about designing cities—or at least, the buildings and streets and general visuals of cities, from recently built to well-aged to old and deserted. I’ll admit it now: my inspiration really didn’t come from any of the games I’m currently running. In those, I’ve generally been given a canonical foundation and adapted the socks off of it, or the city hasn’t really mattered enough to be worth putting this kind of detail into. Instead, my inspiration has come from a current project, something I don’t have enough confidence in the success of to give specifics—yet. Let’s just say that I plan on creating a city that should keep me supplied for plots without going more than a mile away from it, and that it’s very definitely designed by one entity with an idea but built on by a number of entities whose artistic taste tends to involve tacking things on, adding details, and otherwise not knowing when to call a finished piece a finished piece.
I have, on the other hand, done three abandoned cities from canonical templates during my time running games. Of them, the most recently played was lost as the result of a large amount of very messy fighting, and due to various bits of metaphysics and a decent amount of “this should be fun to describe”, looks like it’s still a war zone but the battle got bored and moved a little ways offstage. Buildings are broken, large things that were military constructs are wrecked, the streets are shattered, the air is thick with red smoke and choking dust… and yet, it was so strongly built that a decent number of landmarks are left for the formerly-local guide to snark about. That, or she’s even better at illusions than I thought she was.
The second I really didn’t do much with; it wasn’t the city that mattered so much as what had happened to the city, so I gave a few winks and nods to the architecture and spent most of the rest of the description on the bizarrely bloodless corpses that had all apparently been robbed of life pretty much simultaneously, and on the mental damage to the local city gods, particularly the one who has decided there must not be any gods and the one who seems to have repressed the entire thing but only as long as his music box plays.
Then there was the first, a little over four years ago. This place had been left alone for a long, long time, another case in which the residents had all died but the city itself really hadn’t suffered much damage—and this one was full of automatons completely unaffected by the forces that caused the loss of its residents. So when the group arrived, it was… intact. Clean. The pinnacle of lost technology. The one thing I wish I could take back was having either forgotten or ignored the fact that there really shouldn’t have been any paper left in the one room….