In the Lamentations of the Flame Princess game I’m running now, everyone runs a homeless tween girl 1 living rough on the streets of Bad Aachen. We’re only halfway into our second adventure—it’s been a rough month as far as getting any gaming in is concerned—but I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to do with the group.
While I haven’t pulled my punches—it’s still LotFP-flavored horror-fantasy—I’m not really happy with running it as a straight-up dungeoneering group. I’ve been thinking about trying a different approach that would make adventure scenarios, XP rules, and their interactions with the city more organic and natural for what is essentially a group of street kids: after all, where would they put all that silver they’re supposed to being trying to accumulate according to the rules-as-written? Besides, urban adventures is a subgenre I’ve never really tried to run seriously, and I think it’d be fun to give it a shot.
I mean, these are homeless kids in a town littered with Roman crypts and Frankish ruins—so, yeah, they will crawl some dungeons, I’m sure—but there’s also drunk rich folks in town for the spas, and corrupt ancient houses harboring treasures and secrets, and brothels and crime rings galore: for these characters, I suspect adventuring their way through all of that is kind of the equivalent of selling gin on the streets in early 18th century London: a way to get one’s head above water for the moment that happens to be dangerous and ugly, but preferable to the more dangerous and uglier alternatives. Plus in a city like Bad Aachen, there’s just as many human threats to deal with, in the form of street gangs, predatory adults, authoritarian institutions (which are always way more authoritarian when it comes to kids), and all the other homeless kids, too.
The rules-as-written (which mandate treasure stolen from regular people or houses doesn’t count for XP) aren’t going to stop them ripping off a nobleman (or me running that adventure, which I think could be fun as hell), but in an urban-adventuring game where characters are interacting with the city, those XP rules will need an overhaul anyway. Even then, the question remains of what they’re supposed to do with whatever loot they do manage to acquire.
Which brings me back to how to incentivize interactions with the city and its residents and institutions: I want characters to have a reason to really deal with the people living alongside them on those streets, or the shopkeepers, or the authorities, or the other street kids, and I want combat to be occasional in that arena. Clearly, the game’s advancement and rewards system for character actions needs to be reworked to fit this kind of game.
I was talking about this with my friend Justin and he described a campaign concept he’d seen on written up online that addressed some of that, where characters belonged to a kind of commune, and their ailing village with them… and where benefits paid off for player characters who did invest in their village in this way. Apparently the original design was aimed at producing a game where player character altruism was rewarded, but honestly, to me it just seems like a commonsense hack for characters from a background where riding around on horses and boozing their way through gazillions of silver pieces just doesn’t make any damned sense: homeless tween girls in a hostile, dangerous city, say.
(Actually, the parallels with a group of characters in my ongoing novel project—a band of female revolutionaries who flee London, and then return over a decade later with radical political plans in mind—were startling.)
At first he couldn’t find the post my friend mentioned, but I did find something interesting by Mateo Diaz Torres over at gloomtrain, which outlines a similar set of house rules for a campaign. Then Justin found the site: Adam Dray’s City of Brass game writeup over on Obsidian Portal. I was a bit surprised to find how naturally my own efforts to hack and expand the ideas from the former had slid toward toward some of the same tricks and structures embodied in the latter.
The following house rules below are a work in progress, and a riff on that, phrased to be relatively setting-agnostic (though, as I’ve said, my own game is set in Bad Aachen, and there’s definitely a European cultural vibe to a lot of it). Here we go: