Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Running a Game in New York or Something Like It

Back at school now, so we're back to more intermittent posting, now that I'm not spending nine hours a day on the internet. (Extra Bonus Public Service Announcement: Bad idea. Way, way too much internet.)

The weekend in New York has me keen to run an urban campaign, as New York always does. It's organization strikes me as a very reasonable way to write a city for roleplaying purposes. There's a large scale division of the boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten. Each of these is a practically a city in its own right, to the point where when I say "New York," what I mean is "Manhattan," because that's where we always go, and that's the part I know. I'm vaguely aware that the other boroughs exist, but I don't have any experience with them, and even a lifelong resident can exist in roughly the same state.

Then there's the mid-scale organization of the named neighborhoods: Soho, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Midtown, Hell's Kitchen. Each of them has its own character, its own architectural style, it's own mix of businesses. Finally, there's a street-level, small-scale neighborhood level of organization within the named neighborhood, which reflects the character of the larger unit but can vary significantly from street to street. Different people, different buildings, differently particulars of architecture, but still part of the larger whole. On the borders, things can blend together a bit, or the divisions might be sharp and unmixed.

The point is: New York lends itself very handily to random generation. Write up a set of tables for each neighborhood to generate the buildings on a given street and the people you're likely to meet, (with a sub-table for the qualities of the local subway station) and your players can wander wherever they want without running out of city. You'd want to define the major buildings by hand -- pick out spots for things like the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the Metropolitan ahead of time -- but the rest of it could be done on the fly.


  1. One idea I played with when working on random generation in a D&D city was to lay a quadrant system across my map, north to south and east to west. I first rolled a d12 and added or subtracted the number on the east-to-west line. This told me which table to roll on. I then rolled on that table (which was 3d6 with most common results clustered at the middle to take advantage of the bell curve) and added or subtracted the appropriate number on the north-to-south axis. This meant that there was some spill-over from region to region, but the players learned to expect certain things to be more likely as they headed more towards the outer edges of the city.

  2. Cool! One of my many nebulous gaming projects is to do something very like this for Encounter Critical's God City.