Sunday, January 22, 2012

We Come From A City

Cities in Age of Bronze are a big deal. Well before the city-state era, they were the main political unit of Greek culture. Plus, as mentioned, most of the heroes in the source material are kings of cities, either as founders establishing their own lines or as scions of royal families. So one of the goals of the game is to go found a city, design it, rule it, pass it on to your kids.

But where does your first hero come from? This was a different matter (and not at all like founding and building your own city, which is a different process). We knew we wanted the heroes to be urban from the starting gate, in order to tie in to the civilization vs nature themes which the city founding heroes of the Bronze Age traded in. But at the same time, we didn't want player heroes to be stifled by hailing from, say, Athens, where they'd be perpetual second fiddles to Theseus. It's a completely valid way of playing the game, and people can certainly go with that, but we wanted the default mode to be something a little freer.

We decided to have all the player heroes come from the same city, an existing city. This gave a common origin and reason to stick together. Cities were small, so everyone would have known each other. Loyalty to your local people is a big deal in a dangerous world with miles of wilderness between settled spaces. So eighteen year old heroes would gravitate to one another due to size, loyalty, and the travails of living in a pretty dangerous world.

We still had the problem of freedom. One of my favorite little bits of gaming to come out the past few years has been the clan design rules in Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes. If you're not familiar, everyone in the group gets together and collaboratively creates the clan which their PCs come from. It's in the form of background questions, the answers to which adjust your starting stats and give you a little common history to start with. That's the sort of thing which we wanted to do.

The first thing we did was look up Homer's Catalogue of Ships. This is a passage in the Illiad which lists all of the heroes answering the call to war against Troy. The Catalogue briefly rattles off their names, leaders, and each warband's city of origin. We took the list of cities and meticulously searched for twenty of them which we knew basically nothing about beyond their names.

The idea behind this was to get blank slate cities of origin which were, nonetheless, real places. Beyond the names, though, they really are empty canvases for the player group to play on. We divvied them up broadly by region, so your Thryum is in Epirus the same way a group in Russia's Thryum is in Epirus, but besides that, they're yours. We didn't put dots on the map for each one or write descriptions. We want the players of AoB to have cities which are their own.

Once your group has your city name and rough location, everyone sits down to answer ten questions. The answers can be randomized, picked by round robin, or done collectively. Each is a piece of your city's history as well as giving characters from that city small tweaks to their characteristics. The adjustments aren't too huge, though added up at the end of the process they're not trivial, either. They do provide plenty of flavor and the player heroes should have an interesting, brief history of their homeland when completed.

I'll close with an example from the manuscript.

2) The barbarian tribes where your city was founded were wiped out. The Greek inhabitants which replaced them originally came from:

1-2  The earth, where the founder's tears of joy fell upon the dry soil: +1 Sacred

3-7  The loins of your founder, when he decided to populate the land with his divine children: +1 Generous

8-11 The mountains nearby, when a forgotten clan of Greeks answered the founder's call to populate the new creation: +1 Energetic

12-15 The sea, when ships which had been blown off course landed and disgorged their crews: +1 Valorous

16-20 The cities of Greece; many men flocked to the city at its founding: +1 Honest

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