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Getting Medieval: Urbanity

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Author: Fraser Ronald

When one talks about fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, what often comes to mind are castles. Strangely enough, for most of the games in which I’ve played, and a lot of the fantasy that I write, cities are very important. Even when the campaign takes the characters into the uncharted wilds, or to the fringes of civilization, these campaigns often begin in large cities. I like it that way.

Cities have always had a mystique to them. Great powers had big cities–think Rome, think Constantinople, think Beijing. Those cities thrived on the lifeblood of empire, wealth and power. Wealth and power, in turn, draw people, be they merchants, craftsmen or simply labourers. As the population swelled, cities encountered problems not common to villages. Crime became a common complaint, and the stratification of society. Perhaps the two went hand in hand, I don’t know. It’s the crime and class angle that often leads me to set stories in cities. These easily lead to conflict and are good gardens for rebellious characters and outsiders. Cities also offer one a concentration of another great subject of conflict–politics.

For role-playing games, cities have another draw. Those services one commonly finds in fantasy role-playing games that one might not actually find in the Medieval countryside could be found in many large cities. Merchants to change large sums of coins or other objects of value to portable promissory notes could actually be found in a city. Large inns, rather than small public houses, existed in cities, as did establishments simply for eating and drinking, sometimes termed ordinaries but known today as bars and taverns. And what adventurer hasn’t found a job or fellow adventurers in the local tavern?

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