Architecture is often an afterthought in campaigns, so it under performs as a GM tool. I’ve set about to fix that for my Riddleport campaign. Here are a few of the ways I’m using building architecture to enhance the campaign, and I describe my thought processes so you can do the same for yours.
The PCs start off as new owners of an inn. They are a mercenary group who will use the inn as a home base. A couple PCs want to start side businesses that can be administered between sessions, as well. Put everything together and the sandbox style campaign is a hook generating machine.
My first action was to surf around for inspirational pictures or art. After a few minutes I eventually came across something great by ~Nurkhular in the landscapes section of the DeviantArt website as pictured in this post.
I thought ~Nurkhular’s picture was perfect for the PCs’ inn. With that in place as a cornerstone (pun!), many ideas started to come together:
(If you are a player in my campaign, please stop reading. :)
- As a city of crime lords constantly vying for power, stone architecture would be preferred due to its strength and durability.
- Salt water from the sea deteriorates everything. Add in a deficiency in rock from the local quarry and we have constantly crumbling buildings and architecture. This offers several gaming options:
- Combat hazards: as difficult terrain, falling bricks, and collapsing structures
- Skill hazard: climbing is dangerous as are rooftop excursions
- A new faction: masons can be a significant faction due to demand for their services and expertise
- A wet city with predominantly stone buildings protects me from fireballs. Just as I dislike urban campaigns where chaotic characters constantly run afoul of the law, I also worried about magic users torching my plans. Now I have a good defense against pyrotechnics ruining the campaign with a single spark.
- At first glance the art looked dark and misty to me, so I decided the climate in winter, spring and fall is mostly wet, cold, and foggy. Perfect for pirates, perfect for encounters and perfect for a stealth-based party of PCs (which I’ve been warned the group is creating).
- Mapping became a bit easier. Square stone corners except for expensive buildings. Easy to map, if desired.
Now that I have one picture or vision of the building style in the city, I can search for more online to help inspire various locations. The key was finding the first pic to help me decide the base architecture.
Location and plot hooks: where does the source material come from?
With architectural themes picked, I next considered where all the building materials come from. Using great advice from Dragon’s old Dungeoncraft column, I tried to add in many secrets and hooks to the trivia I created:
- A nearby quarry is the source of 90% of building materials. It is owned by the Mason’s Guild and guarded well because the stone is valuable and crime lords in the past have tried bullying their own crews into the place.
- For protection, the mason’s dug two secret passages from the quarry to the guildhall so workers can safely travel to and from work.
- Workers camp at the quarry for 26 days and receive four days off. Off-duty crews then descend upon Riddleport to blow their month’s earnings on vices and get into all sorts of trouble, such as bar brawls, gambling debts, lover spats and the occasional murder. Standard fantasy fare here, and lots of possibilities why mercenary PCs might be hired to fix a situation.
- The stone from this quarry is flawed and deteriorates quickly. Constant repairs, rebuilding and new building goes on in the city. A special mason, known as an Assayer, is responsible for quality control of every batch sold to a customer. This person has a lot of political clout as he can hold up shipments, and therefore construction projects, as well as assign better or poor quality stone to various clients. There are three Assayers; one is a member of a dark cult, one is corrupt, and one is a spy for another crime lord.
- In truth, the stone from the quarry is perfectly fine. As per instructions, the Assayers add a special alchemical concoction prior to shipment from the quarry that results in the stone crumbling after only a few years.
- The alchemical mixture is sold to the masons in secret by agents of the Cypher Guild. A resupply occurs monthly, as required by the Cypher Guild. The masons have rogue mages currently researching the mixture in the hopes of unlocking the recipe. One of those mages secretly reports to Syzzinar, head of the Cypher Guild.
- The rich can import superior stone and exotic building materials from other parts of the world. The masons have their own secret gangs and pirates that try to disrupt this trade and its supply lines.
All this started with a single picture. If you seek inspiration for your game, head over to DeviantArt and find a cool piece of art and let the ideas flow.