Adventures in the Unnamed City 3: Restrictions & Limitations

Pic by Alan Lee
One of the draws of a medieval urban fantasy campaign is the potential for a very different approach to gaming than the usual wilderness and dungeon setting. In the typical dungeon or wilderness, players are typically limited only by character ability and by resources. Fireball a cave full of trolls? Sure, if you have the ability to do it, then go for it. There are usually no legal or social consequences for toasting up some trolls. You may wish you had the spell when you meet the army of giants ten minutes later, but that is a resource consideration. Legal and social considerations matter little deep underground.

In an urban setting, player characters are not so much restricted by resources as they are by other factors. Unlike the remote wilderness, legal and social consequences loom large in a typical city. For example, if I am use Constantinople as my historical foundation for the campaign setting, there are a couple of legal items that are big deals:
  • Most Forms of Magic Are Highly Illegal
  • Being Armed and/or Armored Is Illegal for Most People
This urban setting creates a very different set of circumstances than the troll-infested cave under the mountain. Imagine the consequences of tossing a 10d6 fireball into a crowded market to kill of a couple of thugs near the basket weaver's booth. The characters would be pursued to the ends of the earth in the name of justice.

To be clear here, I am not trying to do a historical simulation as I create my setting, so I do not feel bound by these two provisions. However, the idea of keeping some of these restrictions and watching how the players work around it might end up being one of the best aspects of the setting.

I can really see how this would work well with the system like GURPS. There might be a premium on unarmed combat, stealth, social skills, creative spell selection/use, and socio-economic status. Reputation and connections become critically important even as the importance of a shiny suit of armor fades into the background.

I think the challenge is in the implementation. I do plan to keep the setting as simple as possible, particularly at the start of the campaign. I also think it would be great to have the players participate in the creation of the setting. This assumes that they are interested, but that is a topic for another post.