To this day, I have never once gone to a neighbor to ask for a cup of sugar. Between my love of tea and baking my own sweets, it'll probably never happen. To add to that, I've never been fond of borrowing anything from a neighbor. Too many questions about when it'll be returned... On the other hand I have no major compunctions against borrowing ideas. At least while conforming to copyright laws. Since we're here to discuss tabletop RPGs, this would primarily involve taking things from various other influences to add to my own little campaign world. In the case of this specific blog post, I'm going to borrow a city from an outside resource to use in a campaign, and I feel it would be good to discuss the reasons for doing so. Hopefully in the name of spurring thought through other people's heads.
There are two things that have occupied my thoughts as of late: designing my first attempt at a 'sandbox' style campaign, and some nostalgia centered around some old video games. What better way to kill two birds with one stone than to re-experience some old games while mining them for ideas? I've spent the better part of this past weekend doing a marathon run of Final Fantasy IX, my personal favorite of the series. I've consigned myself to adapting various parts of this game (among others) into useful pieces to throw at my players wherever it may best be suitable. One of the important parts of planning for a sandbox, I'm told, is to have plenty of things in reserve in your mind's 'box of stuff'. This would be things such as plot elements, design elements, characters (or the core idea of some characters), and for the purposes of this article, locales. I've already shared some thoughts on referencing things, so this should be nothing new.
To put this in perspective, I've decided to make a sandbox style game in which the players can expect to travel wherever in the campaign world they wish to go; ergo, there must be places for them to travel to. If I want them to remember a place they've visited, or to develop a fondness for such a place, there should be something that will stick out in their minds. There should be some iconic element that will define this place in concise terms. In general, you'd want to be able to describe the place in about a sentence or two and still be able to recognize it. Since I am drawing from Final Fantasy IX, let's use Burmecia: Realm of Eternal Rain.
Here Comes the Rain Again
So we're going to make a town/city based on a place that is constantly under the weather in the literal sense. The fact that the rain never stops in this place is a weird and iconic element that will separate it from any other ordinary town. Granted, it's not necessary to go to such extreme weirdness, but I like to go one step beyond. Since it's always raining, many things about this culture will probably be affected in turn. Much like it's video game counterpart, my not-Burmecia will feature a lot of stone in it's construction and won't have much in the way of organic materials that might disintegrate under such wet conditions. I would likely comment that a decent drainage system is probably in use, and would insinuate a degree of engineering expertise from the populous. Probably paved or tiled roads as well.
Crafts and trade are an area of culture that can easily be overlooked. In this case, I could theorize pottery and other clay goods would be likely. From a cultural standpoint, I could see cloaks and wide brimmed hats being the general fashion as well. That's a point borrowed from another game world I'm much more familiar with, but one that would make sense given the situation. Would leather goods be more plentiful than other textiles? Possibly taken from livestock? Would there be any other major agricultural bits to worry about? that might be a bit much to think about at this stage, but good food for thought nonetheless.
War: It's Fantastic!
The actual Burmecian culture (well, relatively speaking, that is) is described as having a fondness for war. I think I'll use this aspect as well. Right off the bat, that hints at a long, rich history full of potentially major events. I would expect them to trade in weapons and armor, further adding to the previous point. Maybe they have an entire warrior caste, or maybe just give more respect to more martial characters. Just to add to the scenery, there would likely be statues all over the city depicting famous heroes of days long past. This leads to potential plots involving relics from such heroes. Or merely some amusing tales from local NPCs. Plenty of room to get creative on the fly.
Right there, we've pulled an awful lot just from two aspects. Since I've never done a campaign in this style, I don't know how much detail should go into a city, but this is definitely a good start. I don't know what kind of people I'm going to put into this thing just yet (some people would kill me if I used actual Burmecians, lol), but I do have a city built very quickly that borrowed two things from some JRPG that came out on the Playstation. Not bad at all.
Don't be afraid to borrow and adapt things from other media into your game. Someone might pick up on the reference and give you that 'I saw what you did there' look. Or someone might ask where you got the idea and now you can introduce them to something from your past that you also enjoyed. Inspiration comes in many forms, so share the wealth!
Eat hearty and Stay Classy!