Obligatory recap: I’ve read about a system for creating urbancrawls (similar to hexcrawls but set in a city) from The Alexandrian. I had also been enjoying the Sorcery! gamebooks by Steve Jackson and their strange magic setting. Enter this series of articles, where I use The Alexandrian’s urbancrawl system to design my own urbancrawl with a strange magic theme.


We left off last time with:

  • a list of districts
  • a definition of what a neighborhood was
  • a list of layers we were going to use
  • a rough map
  • a list and brief description for all neighborhoods.

Here’s a recap of our layer list from way back in part 1 and a few notes/additions along the way:

  • Gazetteer/Landmarks: Done! This was part of the last few articles. We got a Gazetteer layer entry for each neighborhood along with the description for each.
  • Gangs: This is getting broken down into two separate layers, a guards layer and a gangs layer. The gangs layer will be a little different than most others because I want “contested” neighborhoods but this wasn’t worth making multiple layers for since I want many small gangs all over the city. In this case I’ll note each neighborhood with a “primary” gang, but neighbor gangs may also be encountered there as they vie for territory.
  • Guards: While the guard forces of the city are technically independently contracted mercenaries (and thus sometimes come into conflict), there is no overlapping territory, so outright conflict is more likely to be the result of some key event rather than regular clashes between say the city guard and the temple district guard.
  • Heist: This promises to be one of the most difficult layers to make. While some layers we can get away with being handwavy or templaty, this one looks to be 24 actually planned out 5 room dungeons or bigger.
  • Weirdness: This is another layer that can’t be handwaved or templated. Each one of these has to be unique.
  • Aboleth: This layer is all plots and minions of the aboleth overlord. They’re not on it. Like the example for the Alexandrian’s articles where Count Ormu is lord of the vampires, and once you collect enough vampire clues you can confront him, the aboleth is somewhere on the map but isn’t up for random encounter or hunting down until a certain critical mass of interruption of their minions.
  • Patrons/houses/politics: Like the gang layer, this layer is high contested/populated by multiple groups with a “primary” house or independent noble that is technically tasked with oversight of the neighborhood, but with the possibility of encountering representatives from other houses there as well.
  • Shops: Though I don’t know how much use it will get, I want to put a unique/special shop in each neighborhood for PCs to find.
  • Ruins/undercity: The event that destroyed most of the university district also destroyed buildings all over the city. In addition, there are numerous entrances to the sunken levels underneath the current city.
  • Bugs and fungus: I’ve got an idea for a bug themed “boss critter”. This means I want bugs to have their very own layer (otherwise it makes it harder to amass the clues needed to start hunting down the bosses. Before this concept, I had toyed with the idea of adding slimes to this list, but with bugs in their own layer, I’m not sure I see a value in a fungus/slime layer. They’re just too inactive and uninspiring for anyone to go hunting for them. Unless maybe a cult of Jubilex. Hmmmm…
  • Cultists: I have this idea that the area was populated by some reclusive people before the city was built. They tried to stop further building before it got too big but were sent packing. Their descendants have infiltrated the city and work to bring it down or at least return it to their possession.

Some additional thoughts I’ve been kicking around:

Levels: Since this is an “open world” game, such that it is, I’m a little worried about PCs wandering into locations/encounters etc… that are far more than they can handle. I want it to be possible, but not something that happens regularly. To deal with this, the DC to find points of interest will scale with the challenge it presents. This will include an additional bump if what they’re looking for is kill on sight (which doesn’t include that many items anyway).

Roster: While some layers will be carefully keyed with every item on them pre-made, others don’t need to be so meticulously planned. With a few planned points of interest, the rest of the layer can be handled by a roster of NPCs (some generic, some specific) and maybe some on the fly 5 room dungeons. Thus most layers will need at least one roster, and some several.

Random encounters: I want random encounters in the city. Most, if not all of the encounters here can be pulled from the rosters of the various layers with just some differences in the encounter list for each neighborhood based on which layers are active and which are common and uncommon there.

Contents: I want to be sure to include a variety of types of items on the layers list. It would be boring if say, everything on the bugs layer was just bugs to fight. Here are the basic categories I want to be sure to include:

  • NPCS: Using the very old school definition here which encompasses both (demi)human and Monsters, etc… Some of these will be best dealt with with diplomacy, others by skill checks, others by combat, but I’m not going to shoehorn which is which. Let the players figure it out.
  • Tick/trap/puzzle: Probably not as common as in a dungeon setting, but it wouldn’t do to lease these out.
  • Point of interest: Just some fun/notable scenery
  • Combination: These come in three sizes, a single room/location, a small location (like a 5 room setup), and a large location (which will probably have to be pre-planned)

So now I know what I’m making, and how I’m making it. It’s time to stop procrastinating and eat this elephant. So next time I’ll have a layer roughed out and we’ll go from there. Wish me luck!