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July 20, 2007, 10:31 am

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The City as a Character

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City based adventuring is really about the most important character in the game: The City. Everything you do in a city is impacted by The City environment. Actions echo, people are nearby, you have different expectations and rules of engagement, all because The City Envelopes you. It is a character, an NPC, in its own right. It interacts with you in almost everything you do.

It is an important part of everyone’s who lives there life, yet it seems to be ignored in games.

It is seldom ignored in stories. It is a primay source of description. Unlike most setting, A city is not alway passive. It has so many dynamic elements, the hub and bub of a city so to speak, that it can actually be active.

Descriptions have elements of character and of history. It provides background and information as long as mood.

A city does more than change the tone and feel of a story. It can enhance the drama. Which is more exciting, a "fight in an open field" or a "fight in a construction site, with people sticking their heads out of the tennement next store and the distance wailing of a police siren"?

It is all about how your present the city’s descriptions.

Writing (or playing) inanimate or natural objects seems difficult and unnatural (and to require a thesaurus). People cannot easily relate to the inanimate. To handle settings and weather, many writers personify them. By treating the setting and weather as a character, with its own view of the world and ways of interacting, the writers can use all their character tools and technique on their setting and the weather. This way they can use the weather and setting to set a mood, define a pace, add drama, and become an important part of the story.

Gamers might not know all the tricks and techniques of a writer, but they do know how to play and portray a character. By taking this writer’s trick, a GM can easily determine the weather and the tone it will set in the game. Simply select a character that defines the weather for the day, season, or region, for you. Think about that character’s temperament, abilities, and motivations. Then translate those actions into the weather, spinning any description to fit the character. This sounds hard, but it is not hard at all. Think about the how you would describe the actions of a hulking barbarian, and then think about how you would do it differently if you were playing a dandy elf rogue. It is something that most gamers are doing unconsciously. This "weather character" becomes a very important NPC you are portraying. He, She, or It determines the weather and how it and its effects are described in the game: setting or contrasting the mood of the game, effecting the pace, and enhancing the game experience.

There are five "characters" that I use for Winter in my various campaigns. For each one I will describe how I see them, give two examples narration (dealing with weather and setting), and explain a little bit about what I have done. Once you see it in action, you will see how easy it is to implement.

Noting
Technically, Ptolus is fantasy with an urban background. Urban Fantasy is an entire genre of fantasy based on fantastical/ magical elements added to a modern, usually urban, setting. That genre’s biggest convention is taking the old and mythic and seeing how it adapts to the modern world. (See Almost every Charles DeLint book, Mercede Lackey’s Element Master series, or even Dreaming Cities RPG). If you haven’t guessed, this is a genre I like. I tend to have to define it for people. But pretty much all of my campaigns are in an urban setting, even my classic fantasy one.
City based gaming is really about the most important character in the game: the city. Doing things in a city is to be enveloped by the city, as it impacts so much of what you do. It is a character, an NPC, in its own right. So good urban writing and gaming, needs to have a great deal of setting description added in, much the way you would describe what an NPC does each round. I sort of hit upon this in a couple of my articles. The easiest one to refrence right now is http://www.strolen.com/content.php?node=1637 Winter as a Character. Each City, and neighborhood in the city, would have its own character, impacting the descriptions in it.



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Comments ( 1 )
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Michael Jotne Slayer
November 11, 2007, 14:11
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This looks very promising, looking forward to when it's finished.


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