Your players have just made enemies of the local Thieves’ Guild. Mortal enemies. Whoops. As a result, they are starting to wonder how much trouble they’re in.
“Is it possible,” a player wonders, “to anticipate a Thieves’ Guild attack by storming its headquarters and wiping out the city’s criminal population?”
A second player then asks, “Do we have any idea how many rogues might be in a city this size?”
What she’s really asking: How common are NPCs with adventurer-class abilities? It’s a darned good question. As Wallace Cleaves notes in this week’s Demiurge column, the D&D world isn’t the historical world. We cannot look at the real-world demographics of a European medieval city to see how many wizards should be in it.
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Problems with Existing Models
While reflecting on what a D&D world ought to look like, Wallace makes some good points about how the natural distribution of ability scores would probably affect the number of adventurer-class characters in a population.
When I read that point, it dawned on me that ability-score distribution had not really been considered in the many City Generator programs that have been created for earlier editions of D&D. Moreover, I realized that there were several other assumptions in the adventurer demographics from the 3rd edition Dungeon Master’s Guide that might be questionable.
For instance, …
Are we sure that the number of characters of a given class should always drop by half at each level?
That is, if we know a region has a thousand 1st-level fighters, is it sensible to assume the population has five-hundred 2nd-level fighters and two-hundred-and-fifty 3rd-level fighters?
When the 3rd edition Dungeon Master’s Guide suggested such a progression years ago, I didn’t blink. At the time, I thought it made some sense, and I still think its population guidance is among the best that company has offered.
However, geometric progression being what it is, that means it’s darned unlikely you’ll run into a 20th-level adventurer NPC even in the largest cities. Those numbers drop off fast:
125 x 4th
63 x 5th
32 x 6th
16 x 7th
8 x 8th
4 x 9th
2 x 10th
1 x 11th
Moreover, the more I work in training programs and in teaching, the more that assumption looks, well, flamingly wrong.
There are always more experienced, trained people in a given profession than there are neophytes breaking into it.
- People who have completed college degrees in the United States outnumber U.S. college students in any given year, 56.3 million to 20.9 million.
- Trainees at companies are vastly outnumbered by experienced workers.
I remember clearly from military experience that sergeants grossly outnumbered privates, and numbers from 2011 confirm it.
- In the U.S. Army, captains outnumbered lower-ranking second-lieutenants 3 to 1. Corporals and specialists outnumbered privates of the first two ranks, combined, by about 5 to 1 (see page 42).
- The number of sergeants (E5) was higher than the number of privates first-class (E3).
And when you think about it, this all makes quite a bit of sense.
You don’t spend nearly as long training or starting out as you do using your experience at higher ranks or levels. You spend maybe 4 years in college, and then perhaps 40 to 50 after college using what you learned. Your time in boot camp is brief, and you move out of private ranks relatively quickly, but you might spend 20 or more years as an Army non-commissioned officer. Even with retirements, accidents, and other attrition, the number of folks coming into a field is going to be smaller than the number of people actively practicing it.
In short, Jedi outnumber Padawans.
The above pattern suggests the standard assumption that 2nd-level fighters are more rare than 1st-level fighters doesn’t quite work.
At the same time, the progression doesn’t keep increasing. There aren’t many generals in the Army, and people with PhDs remain relatively scarce (not even 2% of the population). If we want to follow that pattern, then our level progression needs to curve, with relatively few high-level characters, but more mid-level than entry-level characters.
With these and other epiphanies in hand, I built an Excel-based population engine to reflect what I hope are sounder assumptions. At the same time, though, I wanted to make the assumptions both explicit and adjustable by DMs—what makes sense for one city or region won’t make sense for others.
Then, to try it out, I dreamed up five fantasy cities, each with very different societies, and used the custom settings to see what those cities might look like demographically. They are different in all of the ways I expected and hoped they would be.
Here is the link to the engine. Below I have listed the assumptions driving the population engine. Below that, you can read profiles for the five strikingly different cities I created.
- Distribution of ability scores (3-18) in the population will mirror statistical distributions for 3d6 die rolls, with 3s and 18s being equally rare.
- NPCs are unlikely to be adventurers if Dexterity, Constitution, or Wisdom are below 10. Otherwise, they’re likely to walk blindly into danger, fail to avoid it, and die from whatever hits them.
- That means only Strength, Intelligence, and Charisma can function as “dump stats” for NPCs—and even then, only for classes that do not use those stats.
- Even so, NPCs are unlikely to become adventurers with “dump stats” below 8 because any score below 7 is likely to dramatically hurt chances for survival. However, this setting can be modified in the engine.
- NPCs are also unlikely to become adventurers unless they have a 14 or higher in any ability that is tied to a class feature.
- Assumption #5 should treat proficiency in heavy armor as a class feature because it requires high Strength—for a fighter to be proficient in platemail, he or she must have been strong enough to train in it. This means fighter and paladin both use Strength as a key ability even though, oddly, Strength isn’t tied to any class features for either of those classes.
- Assumptions 1-6, taken together, mean that a typical adventurer-class NPC should have a minimum ability score of 10 in Dex, Con, and Wis, a 14 in any primary feature-related stats, and no lower than an 8 in any dump stats. Statistically, that population will be a minority: half of the population will have a below-average Constitution, for instance; and half of those with an above-average Constitution will have low Wisdom scores. And so forth. Moreover, some classes are easier to qualify for than others: for NPCs using these assumptions, the rogue is much easier to qualify for than barbarian is.
- Magical gifts, ki, and divine gifts are likely to be rare—almost as rare as a high stat of 14 or higher. Not every person with a high Wisdom is chosen to represent a God, but nearly anyone with a high enough Dexterity might be a rogue. So there are separate (customizable) settings for saying how common unnatural gifts are. (“Minor Caster” in the spreadsheet refers to classes like paladin and ranger, which never get to 9th-level spells.) As a result, the default settings in the engine result in much higher numbers of rogues and fighters than of clerics and wizards.
- Moreover, some classes will be culturally restricted: not every culture has monks or druids or bards or barbarians. Those encountered are more likely to be visitors than homegrown. At the same time, a city with a wizard’s academy is likely to have a high availability for wizards; one with many temples is likely to have more clerics than normal; a city built up around a military garrison is likely to have lots of fighters. So included within the engine are settings for each class in which you can indicate how “culturally accessible” that class is in that area. A setting of 100 indicates that pretty much anyone who wants to be that class and qualifies can get mentors, training, role models, exposure, materials, and so forth. A setting above 100 indicates the area recruits, fosters, or attracts such classes to an unusual degree. A setting closer to zero indicates limited availability of support for that class within the culture.
- Levels should follow a bell curve that’s skewed to the low end, with more characters of levels 1-10 than of 11-20. However, those of the lower levels should tend more toward the middle of that range (levels 3-5 or thereabouts being most common).
- Those bell-curves are likely to be somewhat different for classes with high-level access to healing, resurrection, longevity, immortality, immunities to poison, or slowed aging. Such classes also tend to be less dependent on physical aptitudes that decline with age. That is, wizards and clerics might be fewer in number than rogues and fighters, but those who survive early adventuring years are much more likely to stay in the game for a long time, throwing around spells while grey-haired and ancient long after their sword-swinging colleagues have retired or died. A human wizard is more likely to live 300 years than a human barbarian is. This means their numbers should drop off more slowly at higher levels, even though they started with smaller populations. So classes like cleric, druid, wizard, paladin, and monk use a flatter curve than the barbarian, rogue, and fighter do. Fun note: If you agree with Gary Gygax, who in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide argued that adventurers are likely from wealthy or upper middle-class backgrounds because poor people would be unlikely to have the luxury of pursuing an adventuring class, then you might want to set the “cultural availability” stats in the engine way, way low. The wealthy are rare.
- Demographics for non-adventuring NPCs like peasants and artisans should roughly follow historical demographics for a medieval period. This is not so much because D&D is “medieval Europe” (it isn’t), but because those figures are likely to still be pretty good indicators of what would happen when most residents work in by-hand food production or hand-crafting. We have loosely adapted our breakdowns from tax roll lists presented in Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Francis C. Gies (Harper and Row, 1969/1981), though we have included an option for determining whether the primary economic activity in your population is agricultural or whether it’s primarily commerce (trade). In the former case, you’ll have more farmers and fewer merchants, while in a trade-oriented setting the merchants will become more common and the farmers, less.
It’s worth noting that we didn’t build any randomizers into the engine, so your settings will determine everything. Also, the engine could be used as easily to determine the demographics of an entire country as for a small town.
This is probably also a good place to clarify that the above rules and assumptions are only designed to apply to a large population of NPCs. PCs won’t follow those guidelines and can cheerfully ignore them. Even specially-designed NPCs (like those in Dice Unloaded, our NPC column) may have terrible ability scores and be seen as exceptions to the rules above. The guidelines above are designed only to gauge the percentage of the overall population likely to become adventurers, and for that kind of question, such broad assumptions will probably get us close to the right numbers.
If you play with the engine much at all, you’ll discover that it makes rogues more common than fighters—and clerics more common than wizards. This result prompted some animated discussion among Ludus founders.
First of all, the result is easy enough to explain mathematically: Classes that use Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma as their primary attribute will all tend to be less common than those that draw on Dexterity or Wisdom. Someone with high Strength but low Dexterity or Constitution is unlikely to become an adventurer—the low Dexterity or Constitution will make him easy to kill, no matter how strong he is. However, a character with a high Dexterity and low Strength is far more likely to become an adventurer because he can dish out damage with finesse and ranged weapons and also dodge. For that reason, rogues in this model outnumber fighters. The same thing happens with clerics. A character with low Wisdom is unlikely to survive as an adventuring NPC because she’d be too unaware of her surroundings or would make really bad decisions. Most adventuring NPCs won’t enjoy a diverse party with people who make up for such weaknesses. Imagine how long Pippin would have survived in the Mines of Moria if the entire party were hobbits from the Shire. Not everyone has a Gandalf. PCs are special. This means adventuring NPCs could have high Wisdoms and low Intelligence or Charisma, and thus be open to clerical pursuits—but any character with a high Intelligence and low Wisdom is probably a county clerk instead of an adventuring wizard.
So if you agree with our assumptions (you don’t have to), then those are the kinds of numbers you’re likely to see.
Even with the above math and agreement on the basic assumptions behind the population engine, however, the Ludus team argued a bit about whether the result felt right. Does it really make sense that rogues should be the most common adventuring class among NPCs (and by a good margin!)? Does it make sense that NPC clerics should outnumber NPC wizards?
I think so, actually. I hadn’t aimed for that result, but it looks right to me. Why?
First, most people with the ability scores and drive or desparation to become adventurers will be poor. The rogue is the class most aligned with a background in poverty. Consider that most armor-wearing soldiers historically were from upper-class backgrounds (armor is expensive!), such that soldiers and town guards were actually quite uncommon. The D&D fighter assumes training with a wide variety of weapons and heavy armors that are unlikely to have been economically available to most NPCs. (A PC might have a great backstory for explaining how she came by this stuff despite poverty, but she would be an exception to the pattern that NPCs would probably follow.)
The rogue, on the other hand, can make do with limited gear, limited equipment. Moreover, the rogue’s profession, by its nature, is one of the few in the Player’s Handbook that can be practiced both openly and covertly, both in city and in the field.
Finally, and I think this is the most powerful point in support of these class demographics: Half of the NPC population will be women. It’s easy to forget that when most of the folks at the gaming table aren’t.
For reasons both social and biological, women may be more likely to be rogues than fighters in the kinds of environments we’re picturing. Strong women certainly exist, but in general women fare better than men at hand-eye coordination (and Constitution, for that matter), while on average their upper-body Strength tends to be lower. Perhaps more importantly, though, the more traditional and patriarchal a society is, the more likely any women with adventurous spirits will have to be sly about it. Historically, not many women have tried or gotten away with acting like famed duelist Julie d’Aubigny, who was openly an adventurer (and openly bisexual). She could get away with that in part because she could kill virtually anyone who gave her trouble about it. Figure she was a PC, not an NPC. Atypical, in other words.
Given the above factors, women adventurers who don’t pursue the magical arts (more on that in a second) will likely tend to favor the rogue. The women rogues of the NPC population are likely to be far more subtle than the male rogues frequently depicted in fantasy art. Instead of wearing all black leather, lurking in shadows, cowled and bearing daggers, they’re likely to be undercover spies, court intriguers, smiling poisoners, gentlewoman thieves (possibly wearing a mask for dramatic flair and anonymity), operators of smuggling rings, information brokers, fixers, fences, and the like. Non-adventuring noblemen might have rogue-classed wives who quietly engage in all of the intrigues and mischief necessary to keep their husbands in good standing at court. If you’d like role models for realistic, good-aligned women rogues from history, do Web searches on the rather staggering number of women who have run underground railroads to help victims of oppression get to safe places. It’s not just Harriet Tubman in the United States. There are many more. For instance, there’s the fascinating Irena Sendler, who through a secret network she created saved more people during World War II than Oskar Schindler but got less press for it. Women as benevolent smugglers of people in trouble is a phenomenon. And for most of the worlds we run, with orcs laying siege to cities and castles, it’s a phenomenon that DMs should be aware of.
Although rogues are often seen as a parasitic class, too many of which might spoil an economy, there are several reasons this might not be the case. One we’ve already alluded to is that many, like Tubman and Sendler, might in fact be good people interested in human well-being and using rogue talents to make that happen. Many will, like the wife-of-the-noble example, not be violent or engage in property crimes. And then there’s the no honor among thieves principle, which tends to keep the more selfish rogues from tearing society apart—they’re too busy turning on each other. The fighters in the area, though outnumbered, are better equipped and train in formations and teamwork. In case of a riot, then, it’s not really the numbers that predict which side holds the day.
Most of the same logic above applies to the cleric/wizard split as well. Historically, women were more likely to be channeled toward religious pursuits than toward scholarly pursuits. Societies tend to offer, in general, more opportunities for church life than for the kind of life required for arcane study, as churches earn more of an investment (through tithes) from a population that sees that investment as worthwhile. That’s true even in the real world, where clerics don’t cast lesser restoration. Also, while arcane study might encourage students to hide out in libraries and labs, away from field work and dungeons, church work tends to encourage more trips into the field, thus exposing clergy to more adventure and life on the road than an apprentice wizard might see.
We didn’t build the engine to operate on the above explanation, but now that we see how the numbers turn out, we think the above argument makes good sense of them. If you don’t agree, you can fiddle with the settings until the class distributions make more sense to you.
To test out the engine, I dreamed up five very different ideas for large cities. In each case, I assumed a (very large!) population of 75,000, but then I messed with the customizable settings to steer the demographics in directions that made sense given the profiles.
The cities include …
Maficester, a mountain fortress city of dwarves and humans
Runerock, a mesa-top city dominated by a world-class wizard’s university
Kirin, a constellation of temples, dojos, cloisters, sanctuaries, and monasteries spread throughout a peaceful, spiritually vibrant valley
King’s Reach, a trade port at the furthest reaches of an empire, on the brink of the uncharted (or poorly known) world
and Eador, a city of trade and multiple, feuding thieves guilds, located at a crossroads pass and river’s head.
Below, I describe each in a little more detail, and I hope to develop each of the cities more in columns to come.
A mountain stronghold formed during an alliance between a dwarven clan and a mountain soldiers’ garrison against an incursion, Maficester (pronounced MAFF-ist-er) culturally favors the following adventuring classes:
- Clerics. The alliance was initiated by dwarven and human clerics from both cultures, and that fact has put clerical orders at the heart of city government and society. Humans in Maficester often honor dwarf gods and dwarves often honor the human ones. The deities most revered in the city are a dwarven god of the earth and its many resources (both mining and agricultural) and human god of language and commerce.
- Fighters. Maficester fighters are mostly dwarves, humans, or muls (dwarf-human crossbreeds) and are often associated with or employed by the various temples. Fighters of both races often belong to warrior families, maintaining and bearing weapons and armor made for them by their parents and then making sets for their own children in turn.
- Greyknights. Paladins in Maficester, called greyknights, are modeled after the green knight option in the Player’s Handbook, but for mountains. Although the city has few druids, those present are often affiliated with the Greyknights, sharing an earth focus, and operating in a kind of Merlin-like capacity. These figures are locally called Greycloaks and are affiliated with the Grey Counselors described in the Runerock profile below. Greyknights and Greycloaks sometimes ride a kind of greater tur or ibex (horse-sized, but agile on difficult mountain slopes and rocks), and a rare few might ride griffons.
- Lanterns. Lanterns are rangers and rogues who scout, patrol, and guide others through local Underdark and mountain terrain. Although Maficester’s lantern rogues have the skill sets of the D&D rogue, and sometimes have the criminal backgrounds, they tend to be Lawful or Neutral rather than Chaotic or Evil, employing their skills in public service.
Arcane spellcasters are, by comparison, rather rare in the city. Most encountered will be expatriates from elsewhere or travelers from beyond who are visiting for some reason, often for the acquisition of materials or to consult the scroll libraries of the city’s temples.
Maficester’s economy is primarily trade-oriented, based on mining and crafted or smithed materials, as well as on security services for caravans passing through the mountain routes Maficester overwatches. From time to time, when need or greed strikes, military units from Maficester are hired out temporarily as mercenaries in other areas.
Maficester’s government is headed by two consuls who represent land-holding dwarfs and land-holding humans. One consul is a dwarven high priest; the other, a human lord. Every three years, veto power rotates from one consul to the other, so that at any point one consul wield more power than the second does—a policy that helps the two avoid deadlock on controversial issues. They are advised by and hear proposals for laws and policy from two councils: the Council of Lands and the Council of Souls, the former consisting of land-holders in and around the city; the latter consisting of clergy. In both cases, those representatives end up representing far more than landholders and temples. Most land-holding families also have business operations and belong to guilds, so the Council of Lands often represents commercial interests. Meanwhile, the Council of Souls, far from acting on an abstract or fluttery faith, draws on priceless divinatory magic, insight, scholarship, and collected intelligence to represent the overall public good, including the security of Maficester.
Situated on a prow of rock over wide plains, Runerock is named for a heavily carved, glyphed stone monolith discovered at that outlook look ago. A large university of arcane arts, called Arcspire, has assembled atop the prow and the city of Runerock has developed around the university.
Below the pier of rock, at the base of the Runerock Cliff, sprawls a quiet Necropolis featuring the mausoleums and tombs of past figures from the academy and former city residents. To frustrate tomb-robbers, the tombs are frequently unmarked or mischeviously signed, with the names of the honored dead being only clearly marked on flagstones of the streets. Rumors abound that there is a way to deduce the location of a specific wizard’s tomb from the location and placement of his signed flagstone, but near as anyone knows, no one has cracked any such code.
The university of Arcspire itself comprises six colleges arranged in a kind of acropolis, each with a distinct personality. Most members of the colleges are fully practicing experts in their areas, rather than students. The term college here is used more in the same sense as collegial, and its meaning is closer to guild than to school. Students at the university usually dabble in multiple colleges until taken on as an apprentice, at which point their development more closely follows the apprentice, journeyman, master, guild master arc of guilds. The six colleges are as follows:
- Letterhall. A college of loremasters, lore-oriented bards, diviners, sages, historians of the arcane, linguists, antiquarians, and seers, Letterhall is an information clearing house with an incredibly complex system of libraries, archives, records, and catalogues. The leading council of Letterhall is called the Athenaeum. Members who venture outside the academy are usally referred to as loremasters. Although Letterhall tends to favor the divinatory schools, it includes a smaller fraternity of necromancers, though they are far more interested in speaking to the dead and to spirits than in animating them.
- Heirloom. Many local residents have traces of magical talent thanks to their descent from older wizards. In an environment like Runerock, even the smaller talents tend to get developed. Heirloom is a college for dabblers: eldritch knights, arcane tricksters, characters with the Magic Adept feat, multi-classes, and bards who emphasize valor over lore. Legend has it the Heirloom College was founded by a knight able to cast the shield spell, who actively recruited from local bloodlines to build an entire unit of shield-casting fighters called Mantlet. Mantlet remains a fraternity within the college, but the college that developed around it is now much more diverse. The directing council of Heirloom is called the Abecedariad.
- Thrornethrall. The college for artificers, crafters, potion-brewers, and magic-using smiths, Thornethrall’s portion of the campus divides into four Quarters themed according to elements: a Fire Quarter, a Water Quarter, an Earth Quarter, and an Air Quarter. Most of the theming is symbolic—paintings, statues, murals, etc.—but each contains a large centerpiece work of public art that makes spectacular use of its theme element, and the students and masters of the college regularly refine and reinvent these projects. Schools preferred include evocation and transmutation. The college’s leading council is nicknamed The Unseen Table because the smiths of the college rarely pull themselves far from their work to attend meetings, preferring instead to visit through a physical proxy: a familiar or a golem through whose eyes they can see. Many use the golem option, have specifically crafted the golem for meeting purposes, and leave the golem at the Unseen Table, only animating it when a meeting is called. The very rare guests who find themselves invited to Unseen Table meetings are invariably disturbed by the committee of golems, imps, and cats, seldom visiting again. A much-whispered-about advantage to the golem attendance is that it is difficult to tell when a participant isn’t paying attention, a fact which is useful to the smiths. Thornethrall College deploys a handful of field agents called hoardshadows to locate, document, and sometimes retrieve ancient items of magical significance.
- Fastness: Wizards who learn magic so they can know things go into Letterhall. Those who want to make things go into Thornethrall. Wizards who want to protect themselves or others from prying magical eyes (like the talents of Letterhall) or from physical abuse and intrusion join Fastness, a college which oversees the defense of Arcspire’s interests and occasionally worries about the larger city of Runerock, too, when those interests overlap. Called bastions, the wizards of Fastness tend to favor conjuration, abjuration, and illusion as schools, Deception as a skill, and clever miminalism in execution. For instance, teams of bastions often seem to appear out of nowhere in response to an event. In some cases, that is due to teleportation or invisibility, but bastions have also worked out a maze of secret passages, secret doors, and passwalls that can achieve the same effect without expending a high-level spell, and will use the cheaper option when possible. Because bastions often work under-cover, they conceal their faces in public, wearing loose-fitting clothing, wrap-around hooded cloaks, boots, gloves, and bracers all in shades of red so dark they’re nearly black except in good light. They conceal their faces with scarves or masks under their hoods. Often their items bear sigils and sometimes auras indicating magical properties, even if no such properties are present. City authorities rarely challenge bastions. The guiding council of Fastness is called Seneschal.
- Greypool: Somewhat aloof from the other colleges because the magical power it studies comes from another source, Greypool is a druidic and bardic college. Known outside the academy as grey counselors, the members of this college have little concern for day-to-day business within the university but actively attempt to influence events beyond it by advising, manipulating, thwarting, or aiding key figures in those scenarios. Often working alone, grey counselors draw on a shared, deeply engrained philosophy and their own personal wisdom to make decisions on the spot, explaining them later to the college’s Hierophantic Council when called to do so. Generally speaking, the philosophy of grey counselors favors geopolitical and racial balance as a strategy for maintaining peace and security for all. They do not, however, pursue balance as a goal, thinking that druids who do so have mistaken strategy for objective. Due to their outlook, though the counselors may often seem neutral in alignment, they are probably closer to good.
Feybower: The artists of Feybower favor magic as a tool for artistic or literary expression. The bards, enchanters, transmuters, prestidigitators, and illusionists who belong to Feybower have a reputation for fun, known for clever pranks, good humor, and high tolerance for drink. A fraternity within Feybower, called Grainfelling, emphasizes the art of magic as a way of honoring the dead and reminding others of the inevitability of death. On death-themed holidays, Grainfelling is particularly active, and rumors abound of secret sects within that group who pursue lichdom or otherwise flirt with necromantic arts. Feybower has a rule that applies to all its members: No one may stay within Feybower at Runerock for more than two years, consecutively. After that, they must adopt status as errants, leaving Runerock for at least six months. Upon arrival in Runerock after six or more months, returning errants are celebrated and expected to recount stories, present crafts, arts, or songs they have created during their absence, and to mentor young students. The ruling committee of Feybower is known jokingly as Cacophony due to the conflicts among the many different artistic philosophies, styles, and temperaments.
The university draws arcane talent from far and wide, and thus has a disproportionate number of wizards. Moreover, the university actively scouts for talent among descendants of local wizards, so residents with wizarding potential tend to see it at least partly developed. Other classes favored by the culture are bards, druids, rangers, sorcerers, and warlocks. Rogues and fighters are relatively common, though many of those listed are either multiclassed spellcasters or else dabblers associated with Heirloom College. Clerics and paladins are relatively less common in Runerock than elsewhere.
The university also attracts a great deal of trade thanks to a voracious appetite for materials from afar and its production of both information and unusual items that, even when not magical in nature, often have been crafted using magical processes. Much of the commerce in the city proper aims to support either the university’s population or those visiting from outside town. Government in Runerock is an awkward dance between two parties: the colleges and the lords of the city proper. The deans of the colleges wield power over all university territory and claim authority over university members such that they will not tolerate their members being in the civic jails. The lords of the city proper, concerned mostly with business and reliant to large degree on the university for both commerce and security, try to make the university happy as often as they can, but they have ownership and control over the lands around Runerock and over most of the city around the university. The university rules its half by committee; the lords rule theirs by electing one lord or lady from within their ranks every five years to sessions of their Theater of Lords.
Nestled in a remote spring-fed, wooded valley, unusually lush and warm for the cold and desolate region in which it appears, meditative Kirin doesn’t resemble a typical city: its homes, dojos, temples, paths, schools, and other constructions are spread out, integrated into the landscape and woods of the valley instead of overrunning it. The settlement covers a large sweep of the valley, so the population density is low though the number of people is large overall.
Legend holds that four philosopher-kings and queens from different parts of the world met long ago in the valley, each following astronomical signs promising wisdom to those who pursued them. In the valley, they discovered that natural springs, warmed geothermally, had fostered something of a small paradise. Initially, the discoverers bickered over who had found the valley first, and their camps squared off, dividing the valley into four quadrants. Every day, the monarchs would meet near a humble spring that none had claimed, drink from it, and attempt negotiation. After a year though, they had stopped arguing, instead finding themselves enjoying deep conversations when not simply sitting together in quiet contemplation. They built a hall of meditation around the spring, moved into it, and began to manage the valley cooperatively. It was around then that one observed they had indeed found exactly what the signs had promised: insight.
Kirin developed around that initial hall and is now a maze of woodland abodes, temples, and places of meditation, often of varying cultures, philosophies, and practices, with little concern for compartmentalization: there are no culturally themed neighborhoods or ghettos; everyone is a neighbor to someone very different. Yet the neighboring cultures all share a common bond: a high value on wisdom and insight. The wise folk of the valley consider it an academic question whether residents tend to become wiser because of the culture or because of some magical quality in the springs, as the result is the same either way: residents of Kirin tend to improve in Wisdom after residing there for long. Instead of jealously guarding the valley’s chief asset, they believe the wisest thing to do is to protect it so it can be open to any who seek enlightenment.
The economy of Kirin is, despite the size of the population, largely agricultural. The settlement often exports highly-regarded wines and spirits made with spring waters while importing metalwork, but is otherwise mostly self-sufficient. Wealth from the outside world does, sometimes, make its way into Kirin because state powers from abroad often use Kirin as a site for negotiation or mediation, or else leaders from kingdoms and states visit Kirin for advice.
The community’s government is democratic, the age of its monarchs now viewed as a cherished childhood for the region. Due to marriages, descendants of the original four great families now comprise one family line, which holds a place of great honor and respect but wields no special government power. That family retains oversight of the original Humble Spring and the hall they assembled around it. Meetings of the community’s democratic assembly embrace the notion of productive debate and accept that sometimes those debates will become heated. Tempers sooth, however, shortly after the meetings adjourn.
A final note about Kirin’s odd nature is in order: Although it always seems to be located in a remote, cold region, it has a reputation for being very hard to find. Some travelers swear it changes location periodically, though residents who have lived there a year or more seem able to find it again on return trips without much trouble. (This feature will make more sense next week, when Wallace Cleaves introduces the geography of the Vault in his Demiurge column.)
Because its chief commodity and asset is Wisdom, the adventuring classes most associated with Kirin are as follows:
- Monks. Entire orders of monks, of many cultural flavors and from all cardinal directions, have relocated over the years to Kirin. There they continue to teach and hold their styles and traditions. Many of the monkish orders are entirely contemplative and therefore nonadventuring: they grow grapes, make wines, think, and talk. However, enough adventuring-class monks reside in the valley that they have a highly visible presence. Although the monkish orders were once often easily identified with particular ethnicities or races, the tendancy of Kirin’s orders to accept new candidates based on merit instead of blood and the fact that the valley’s students often then create their own schools in turn, means that one can no longer accurately predict which style or approach a monk will take based on his or her facial features.
- Clerics. As with monks, clerics of many gods and cultures call Kirin home, and the region is a constellation of temples, sanctuaries, and abbeys. Most of the clerics in Kirin observe the domains of Light, Life, Knowledge, or Nature.
- Paladins. Paladins frequently come to Kirin on quests or pilgrimages and then stay awhile—sometimes making the community their new adopted home. Retired paladins in particular seem inclined to spend their remaining days in the valley.
- Bards and Wizards. Classes that value knowledge and lore often value Wisdom as well, so Kirin is often a favorite stopping point or temporary home for bards and wizards, particularly those who wish to retreat for a time to do research or work on a composition. Nevertheless, such inhabitants or visitors do not exist or remain in large enough numbers to dramatically affect the culture of Kirin.
- Fighters and Rogues. The fighters and rogues of Kirin tend to fall into two categories. One comprises retirees, the battle-scarred, those recovering from trauma, and those seeking tranquility even for a brief while. The other comprises full-time residents, who often seem unusually monklike, clerical, thoughtful, or meditative for their classes. Some are multiclassed as monks or clerics. Others go without armor, prefer simple weapons, or have taken the Grappler feat. Still others might more closely resemble the samurai or ninja of our world than the standard fighter or thief of the D&D mainstream world.
Barbarians, warlocks, and sorcerers are relatively rare in Kirin, though they are not unheard of. From time to time, a humble-seeming peasant farmer turns out to be a barbarian who moved to Kirin to quiet the rage inside him. It’s best to let him tend to his garden. Let’s move on…
In and above the sea caves of a bay on the coast of a wild and relatively unexplored land, an empire has founded the colonial port of King’s Reach – the most distant point in its reign. Through King’s Reach, it extracts resources and discoveries from the newer world.
King’s Reach is not the first settlement in Cloistered Bay, the cove it occupies. Long ago, an odd species of tropical quaggoth lived on its shores and in its exposed sea caves—caves that once were underwater, during an age when the waters rose higher. In the pools of the caves and the seas below lurked their aboleth lords. When an unusually strong-willed quaggoth leader mounted a rebellion, both aboleth and quaggoths suffered heavy losses—heavy enough that the aboleths retreated into seclusion and the quaggoths retreated into the jungle, leaving uninhabited their carved caves, stairs, temples, and complexes along the cliffed bay.
Next to occupy the cove was a pirate colony—a haven for marauders of the sea. Though human, the new residents were almost as grim as their predecessors. The Pirate Lords of Cloistered Bay were known for throwing wounded prisoners, the barely alive, the dead, and near-dead among their enemies into any of several deep, forbidding pits in the cave system. Though nothing could be seen below, records from observers testify that the stench of corpse-rot and occasional gnawing or scratching sounds often emerged from the depths. On two occasions, records testify that the purpose of the pits was revealed. When naval forces first tried to wipe out the pirates in the cove, the Pirate Lords dropped ladders into the pits, from which emerged the gaunt—formerly dead, shuffling, eternally hungry bodies. The gaunt defeated the naval force, apparently serving at the whims of the pirate lords, and then dragged the surviving naval officers back into the pits before the ladders were retracted. (Note: The gaunt are sometimes called “zombies” by the locals but they are technically ghouls. People fed to the pits are converted and add to the unknowable number of gaunt below.) On a second occasion, the gaunt were summoned to fight an aboleth lord who attempted to reclaim the cove—and briefly succeeded. Shortly thereafter, the Pirate Lords fell to infighting and the navy that had once been defeated moved in, occupying the cove and executing most of the pirates it could capture. The empire’s priests conducted auguries for seven days about whether to trouble with the pits, didn’t like the results, and decided simply to seal them. So the Deadpits of King’s Reach are now sealed and watched over by clerical outposts.
The port is today ruled by an appointed governor, who manages affairs through a handful of secretaries (in the “Secretary of Defense” sense of the term). The economy is defined in the engine as commercial because the cove itself is abuzz with exports and imports, but the colony must also be somewhat self-sufficient because of its location, so it is surrounded by a halo of agricultural settlements that comprise an additional 20,000 souls.
Adventuring classes most associated with King’s Reach are as follows:
- Ranger. The primary adventuring activity in and around King’s Reach is exploration, so it predictably is home to many rangers who spend most of the daylight hours (and often weeks or months) in the field, returning to the city for recuperation. Some of the rangers are not culturally members of the empire. Instead, they are local human natives who either represent their cultures in the city or else they are locals who have become guides for the empire’s expeditions.
Druids. King’s Reach features at least two distinct types of druids:
- Seacaster. The seacasters of King’s Reach are oceanic druids tasked with ensuring safe passage of ships and navigation across the tricky seas between King’s Reach and the rest of the empire’s holdings, as those seas are known for thrwarting most mundane methods of navigation. Seacasters focus on environmental and elemental effects, particularly those of water and air, and favor the Sailor background.
- Azures. The Azures are a small-but-powerful local native population from the continent outside King’s Reach. All practicing shamans who use the druid class description for their abilities, they are most easily identified by the blue paints they use on their faces and chests. Azures focus on animal transformation effects, and are often rumored to be lycanthropes. Azures favor the Outlander background.
- Barbarian. The city’s frontier location means it draws traffic both from within the empire and from without. Many of the local humanoids fall within the barbarian class, and enough of them spend time in the city (as muscle, on business, or on missions) that they are a regular presence. In addition to human barbarian clans (many of them horse-bound nomads), the region is also home to some strong humanoid races that incline toward the barbarian class, including the tropical quaggoth. The most feared tropical quaggoth barbarians are the shorn, who shave off most of their fur to ink bewilderingly abtract tattoos on their muscled forms. (Players who wish to make shorn PCs may use the half-orc’s mechanics.) Local scholars suspect it was the shorn who once worshipped the local aboleths and rebelled against them.
- Fighters. Many of the fighters in King’s Reach are either local soldiers there to protect the fortifications or else they are sailors: navy, marines, pirates, privateers. Armors worn tend to be light, with hand crossbows and light crossbows among the preferred ranged weaponry, though individual fighters may certainly vary.
- Rogues. Any frontier economy will attract its share of rogues, and the rogues of King’s Reach vary considerably: treasure hunters, pirates, spies, tomb-robbers, rakes, fences, smugglers, con artists—nearly every type imaginable.
Located in a high pass along a major trade road and at the spectacular triple-waterfall emergence of an underground river, Eador is a city of trade, guilds, merchant houses. Located at the Torrent Gates that head the river Ostium, Eador (pronounced AY-ah-dor) has changed names nearly every time it has changed hands, having variously been called Brimgate, Watermine, Ostium, and Torrenta. Many of those names, like Ostium and Torrenta, remain attached to features around the city.
In Eador, enterprise, politics, and crime ensure gross imbalance in wealth distribution, with rich opulence and desperate poverty. Rampant trade (including some black market) ensures a steady supply of foreign faces and foreign coins.
It’s a city of moneychangers, corrupt tax-men, disinherited merchant princes, bored duellists, sellswords, vagabonds, and rogues. As that statement implies, Eador is favored by adventurers from the rogue and fighter classes, in that order, with barbarians, rangers, and clerics somewhat less common, and ascetics (monks) or arcanists (sorcerers, wizards) quite rare.
Contributing to Eador’s “City of Rogues” reputation are dueling merchant houses, a literally underground black market based in the cisterns, storm drains, and abandoned mines under the city (dubbed “Firewasp Faire”), and a tense cold-war scenario involving multiple criminal organizations:
- A network of trade interests from outside the city have established several smuggling operations to get through the city without tariffs or taxes, all run by an operation called the Ordos. Ordos includes an arm of feared assassin-enforcers known as the Offocati.
- A conspiracy among corrupt city officials, thief lords, and owners of local gambling establishments and brothels has established a secret governing body called the Closet Council. In conflict with the Ordos, the Closet Council aims to squeeze as much wealth out of trade passing through the city as it can, whether through taxes, protection rackets, blackmail, extortion, ransoms, or sin trades (prostitution, gambling). The Closet Council keeps on retainer an unknown number of formerly freelance, recruited, elite assassins known locally as the Willowisp Men.
- A smaller body that calls itself the Moot Guild consists of adventuring rogues, tomb-robbers, second-story acrobat-thieves, bored aristocrats, and other various independent artists of crime. Interested neither in smuggling nor in corruption rackets, the Moot Guild mostly tries to ensure its members 1) don’t step on each other’s toes; 2) have a ready supply of folks they can collaborate with or boast to; and 3) avoid entanglements with the other criminal organizations.
- Eador is also home to a highly specialized organization known as Blackplume, which is essentially a guild or matchmaker for freelance spies and clients from many locations who have inquiries they wish conducted in town. Blackplume specializes in information, to the extent that when times are rough it falls back on blackmail for revenue. Virtually every other criminal organization in town hires or uses Blackplume, so they are rarely challenged or attacked in the usual crossfire.
- Finally, all of this is balanced by a guild of counter-thieves called the Broach League, assembled by an open collaboration of both local and foreign trade interests to keep paying members from being robbed from, blackmailed, or otherwise abused. Broach tracks corruption among city officials and directs members to honest officers. Far from being a team of do-gooders, Broach has been known to bring in its own assassins (often foreign) to remove problematic individuals from the criminal landscape, and to work at cross-purposes with the constables and city guard. Broach agents, called moondaggers, are often feared and considered ruthless.
Broach, Ordo, and the Closet Council all routinely infiltrate each other, and Blackplume often places sources or agents in all three. The Moot Guild doesn’t really bother with sending out under-cover agents to infiltrate the other organizations, though some members of those groups of their own accord (or out of boredom) join the Moot Guild, sometimes defecting completely.
All of the groups except Moot employ fighters, guards, and bodyguards, deploying them to prevent or hinder the activities of their rivals, such that a kind of criminal cold war exists: a lot of crimes are planned, but relatively few (proportionately) are successfully carried out.
Firewasp Faire, the literally underground market, is an open secret, detested by the Closet Council but generally shared turf for the other organizations. Nonetheless, it is run by a figure unassociated with any of the above groups—Lamiata, an exiled female drider sorcerer who is much too challenging for anyone to attack directly. Few know of her true nature, as she remains secluded, working through intermediaries, but when interlopers draw too close to her, she proves to be an Odyssean, siren-like foe: she charms them, enwebs them with web spells, and kills them. Despite a cruel originating culture and an evil alignment, Lamiata is perhaps the least controlling criminal power in the city, tending to let the Faire evolve and do whatever the market does without extortion and with limited fees charged mostly for space.
♦ Graham Robert Scott writes regularly for Ludus Ludorum when not teaching or writing scholarly stuff. Graham has also written a Dungeon Magazine city adventure titled “Thirds of Purloined Vellum” and a fantasy novella titled Godfathom. Like the Ludus on Facebook to get a heads-up when we publish new content.