In this month's exclusive interview, Ari Marmell and CA Suleiman, designers of Cityscape, discuss urban life in a D&D campaign -- whether it's joining guilds, navigating sewers, or tracking down the villainous Symbol!
In the interests of better involving the player community with the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to everyone for their participation.
Wizards of the Coast asks: Let's start with Cityscape's approach to cities in general: how does this book present them as more than mere stats but as social and cultural entities? Perhaps that's an overly broad question, which we'll dive into following, but is there a general philosophy for how the book examines D&D 's cities?
Ari Marmell: While I don't know that C.A. and I had a single definable "philosophy" going into Cityscape, we did have a few specific goals and mandates. Perhaps the most important was that we wanted the book to provide the tools to make gaming in an urban environment as different an experience as the DM and players wanted it to be. While you certainly can use Cityscape as nothing more than a guide to running a "street crawl" or "sewer crawl" adventure, we tried to delve into much more depth than just that. We discussed how the construction and appearance of a city changes based on its social structure, location, and purpose. We provided all manner of tools for playing games that involve politics, guilds, contacts, and the like.
Trying to tie this back into your initial question without getting too off-track, I'd guess that if did have a general philosophy, you could sum it up as follows: A single city should be able to serve not only as a site for adventure, but as the setting for an entire campaign, and Cityscape should support one as thoroughly as it does the other.
C.A. Suleiman: To add a bit more: our mandate was to provide as self-contained a sourcebook on the "urban environment" as we possibly could, given the page-count. We wanted DMs to be able to run not just one, but numerous urban campaigns, each one distinct from the others, with just the three core books and Cityscape.
Wizards asks: Now, diving into the cities themselves. What types does Cityscape examine: is the focus on human settlements, or are the cities of other races also covered? What about higher magic areas, or other unusual cities? Is there setting specific information, for cities within Eberron and the Forgotten Realms ?
Ari Marmell: Well, we start with human cities as a baseline, certainly. Humans are the majority race in most D&D settings, they're the race players can empathize with the most (for obvious reasons), and it allows us to pull certain historical analogues and examples that might not be appropriate for other races. That said, it would be foolish for us not to address the other races, as they're so much a part of the D&D experience. The book does, indeed, spend some time discussing how the cities of other races differ from those of humans, and even how some monstrous races adapt to city living.
Similarly, the book does indeed take some time to address certain high-magic or other unusual cities. (For instance, the notion of flying or planar cities is addressed in brief.)
We don't have much in the way of setting-specific information for Eberron or the Forgotten Realms . C.A. and I really wanted to make this book as widely useful and adaptable as possible. That said, the book certainly works very well with other city sources such as Sharn: City of Towers or Waterdeep: City of Splendors.
C.A. Suleiman: As Ari says, there isn't too much specific information about either Eberron or the Forgotten Realms , because this book was designed for the environment series of the core line. And given our mandate, it would have been a disservice to focus too heavily on setting-specific information, when such information already exists for those specifically seeking it out.
Wizards asks: To look at one of the recent campaign specific sourcebooks, though: Power of Faerun offered material on gaining power and prestige in that campaign setting. Does Cityscape offer similar opportunity to become involved in a city's political system? What might this involvement mean for players?
Ari Marmell: Well, I can't speak to how similar the specifics might be, but yes, Cityscape offers substantial opportunity for players to become involved in the politics of the city. The book not only discusses political systems, but offers specific details on joining/gaining the patronage of houses, guilds, churches, and organizations, all of which can (and should) play major parts in the political and social power of a city. The book also summarizes/expands on the system of urban law first presented in the DMG II. Even if the PCs are not themselves part of such a group, the use of the contacts system means they can always have eyes and ears in the halls of power.
C.A. Suleiman: In addition to the wealth of material on houses, guilds, churches, and organizations, there's one section devoted to political systems and another devoted to the role of politics in a city's history.
Wizards asks: Speaking of which, the DMG II introduced guilds and the PHB II new organizations, both of which seem natural for a city setting. How does Cityscape make use of these concepts?
Ari Marmell: As I said before, we made full use of the introduction of guilds, building/expanding on the systems presented in the DMG II. We've expanded the concept to cover guilds, smaller organizations, churches, and political/mercantile houses. We've also included a vast array of samples, enough so that even a DM who doesn't feel like creating his own shouldn't run out any time soon.
And even if you choose not to use the specific mechanics provided for joining a guild, or gaining contacts throughout the city, Cityscape's sample guilds/groups/etc. should provide all manner of ideas for what sorts of organizations hold the power in the city, and who the PC might be working for... or against.
C.A. Suleiman: As both DMG II and PHB II are supplements, we couldn't enter into our work on Cityscape under the assumption that buyers would own those books, too. Rather, we designed a complete urban environment system from the ground up, one that features similarities with existing material (so as not to provide obstacles to play), but which nonetheless stands entirely on its own.
Wizards asks: For most parties, a trip to the city usual involves shopping, healing, and research. How does Cityscape handle these topics?
Ari Marmell: In addition to providing numerous sample locations in which such tasks can take place, Cityscape includes sidebars on all of these topics, providing tools for the DM to make such efforts as detailed--or as quick--as he and the players prefer. (This includes, in many cases, random features of a shop or vendor, to give each such task a life of its own.)
C.A. Suleiman: As Ari said, there are sample locations and sidebars on everything from healing costs to sample NPC contacts who can provide such aid. But it's worth noting that the book presupposes campaigns (or at least story arcs) that are largely set in a city, and so the focus isn't on using the city (or the book) to just drop in a bit of flavor when the party flies through on their way to somewhere else (though Cityscape certainly provides enough material to do such with ease).
Wizards asks: And then there's the seedier side of urban life. Does Cityscape touch upon organized crime, black markets, and the like? What of things below the literal surface: sewers, catacombs, and dungeons (in the prison sense)? What of PCs who run afoul of the law (they can't make every Open Lock check, after all); while the DMG II covered legal systems, where does Cityscape take this topic?
Ari Marmell: Organized crime is included in the houses and guilds, as well as in the contacts system, permitting the PCs to interact with the criminal element as much or as little as they like, and either as allies or enemies--subject to the intentions of the DM, of course!
And yes, we devote space toward the literal underbelly of the city as well. We've provided a plethora of information on sewage systems in D&D cities, the better to construct a crawl with its own... scent.
Again, I think I jumped ahead of the topic a while back, but Cityscape does make use of the law rank system initially presented in DMG II. (As a quick aside, I know I've mentioned DMG II several times now. I want to say, to avoid confusion, that Cityscape is fully usable without it. There's a lot of good stuff in DMG II for an urban campaign, but like almost all other D&D books, Cityscape was written to require only the core books.)
Wizards asks: What can you tell us about the risks of city environments: what sorts of creatures does Cityscape introduce that adventurers would do well to avoid? And who are those villains we've seen listed in the table of contents?
Ari Marmell: Cityscape does include several brand new monsters, and we tried to make sure all of them fit well into the fantasy city. The siege golem, as you might expect from the name, is a construct designed for laying low a city's walls (and defenders) during war. The cesspit ooze is, well, yucky (in a good way, at least where DMs are concerned). The ripper is a serial-killing aberration with senses-dulling pheromones, while the sepulchral thief is sort of the lich of the criminal community. A pest swarm is more or less what it sounds like (as well as serving as the basis for one of our new spells), and the zeitgeist is literally the spirit of the city, a truly powerful fey that is the living heart of an urban community
In an urban adventure, though, one usually expects the bulk of the opposition to be humanoid, and we've tried to facilitate that as well. Cityscape includes stat blocks for a great many foes you'd expect in the city, from city guards to professional thieves to hired thugs--as well as less combative types, like politicians and craftsmen--enough so that the DM can populate many an adventure without having to create a plethora of stat blocks.
As far as specific villains, Cityscape includes four, at varying levels. Each is focused on one of the primary aspects of D&D skills. Clyrrik is a stealthy killer; Doucral a brutal thug; Father Darius a divine threat eating away at the heart of the city; and the Symbol a truly creepy arcane malignancy. (C.A. did a great job on this last one. Even the Symbol's familiar is freaky!) Each is designed to be specific enough for immediate use, but generic enough to fit into almost any city. DMs can use them as written, or as models for their own urban-style "Big Bads".
Wizards asks: Perhaps the greatest risk to cities might not be individual threats, but larger events. Does Cityscape look at such things as natural (or unnatural) disasters? And how might PCs become involved with, or even help prevent them?
Ari Marmell: Indeed it does. While I might wish we'd had more space to devote to them, the truth is that any one such event--an earthquake, a riot, an invasion--can serve as the basis for an entire book-length adventure unto itself. As it is, we tried at the very least to discuss how each of these impacts the city as a whole, and what the PCs might do to get involved (or, alternatively, to escape).
Wizards asks: For their good work, what sorts of rewards does Cityscape offer PCs? New spells? Ways to become involved in business, organizations, or other ways of making a few coins outside of the dungeon?
Ari Marmell: Cityscape does indeed present a variety of new spells (to say nothing of feats) that are particularly well-suited to the urban environment. Any one of these would be a valuable prize to the casters of the party.
In terms of more concrete awards, though, yes. Cityscape gives basic income guidelines for many standard professions. Further, the guild/house/organization rules provide for the PCs to earn some money on the side, and even to gain a few benefits they can apply directly to their more adventuresome activities. There are even rules for determining how much money a fighter can earn in the gladiatorial arena. Of course, the guilds and organizations expect the PCs to earn that income; nothing's free or easy in the city any more than it is in the dungeon.
C.A. Suleiman: At the risk of sounding pedantic, I'd say that the biggest reward this book offers is to the players, not their characters. The rules serve the story, even in D&D, and I like to think that we did a good job providing a resource that would help players and DMs tell a multitude of entertaining city-based stories.
D&D Cityscape, November 2006 Release Date, hardcover, full color, 160 pages, $29.95.