Most D&D adventures take place in the wild and untamed areas of the world. After all, that’s where the monsters live. If your objective is to destroy powerful monsters and loot their treasure hoard, then you can expect to travel to far off places. After all, how many ancient red dragons have you ever heard of that live comfortably in a two-story townhouse in the merchant’s district of your local town?
Urban settings in D&D tend to be the place the PCs go after the adventuring is done. It’s difficult to adventure in the city since fighting in the streets is generally frowned upon in most civilized urban areas. If you’re used to killing everything you fight, then having to pull punches and not execute the local authorities when they come to break up a bar brawl might be a reluctant change of pace for many players and their PCs. Who would ever want to play a long-term, city-based camping? That depends on what type of PC you’ve got.
Some PCs are designed to kill monsters. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of players strive to create characters that are awesome in combat. Any power, feat or item that improves your chance of winning a fight and killing monsters faster is a must have. You’re all about hitting often and dealing the most damage. But what about those PCs who are not as interested in combat? These are the PCs who focus on the little box in the bottom left corner of the character sheet called Skills.
PCs that focus on their skills rather than their combat numbers are a lot less likely to delve deep underground in search of a lost dragon’s lair. These PCs are more comfortable in urban and social settings where they can put their awesome skills to the best use. It’s these kinds of PC, the ones that are good at skills and not-so-good at combat, that are most likely to excel at a long-term, city-based campaign.
From the PC’s point of view there are many benefits to staying in one place for an extended period of time. Creative players may find that some tasks become a lot easier. At the DM’s discretion, PCs may even get bonuses for being familiar with their surroundings. Here are a few examples.
Lay of the Land
If you’ve lived in the city a long time then you know your way around. Your familiarity of the surroundings make things easier any time you’re looking for a short cut, chasing someone or trying to avoid capture yourself.
Everyone Knows Everyone
You may not know absolutely everyone, but you’re sure to know the movers and shakers. Attempts to gain information are a lot easier when you know exactly who to ask. Whether shopping for gear, looking for a healer or trying to sell a stolen goods you know where to go and who to talk to.
If you’ve been around long enough you probably picked up on the local slang. Eavesdropping is a lot easier when you know what the locals are really talking about. Gaining their trust is also easier if you sound like one of them (perhaps because you really are one of them).
Help is Never Far Away
If you need a place to hide, a bed to sleep in or a warm meal, you know that you can rely on your neighbours for assistance. In a real pinch you may even be able to borrow money or equipment.
This can become a double-edged sword. Drastically different bonuses will apply depending on whether or not you’ve got a positive or negative reputation. See Reputation (part 2) and Reputation (part 3) for more on how to incorporate reputation into your campaign.
Hero for Hire
Sometime you may need someone a little bit tougher or a little bit more specialized than you are. If you’ve been in the city for a while then you know who the hided guns are, their specialties, their going rates and where to find them. Knowing when to ask for help isn’t a weakness, it’s just using common sense.
If your PCs are well off (rich) then they have probably become well antiquated with the city’s upper class. They might even have met the ruling nobility at a party. The benefits of familiarity work just as well, if not better, when dealing with the upper echelon of society.
The benefits described above are just a few of the more obvious examples. It’s really up to the players to be creative and the DM to say yes. For a party that’s really good at skills, a long-term social adventure will give them plenty of opportunities to use their skills. Putting that Diplomacy, Religion or Thievery to use and earning XP in the process is just as satisfying to these kind of PCs as killing monsters is to the hack and slashers. DMs, keep this kind of adventure in mind as a way to encourage players to cultivate their skills. And players, don’t overlook powers, feats and items that confer bonuses to skills.