Monday, April 1, 2013

Freeport and Other Great RPG Cities

In fantasy role-playing games, dungeons get all the love for adventuring in, but as Fritz Leiber taught us, cities can be incredible places to adventure in. They heve some of the same advantages - a (semi-)pinned down geography that frees up the DM's cognitive real estate to focus on the players' reactions to suggest further adventure embroidery. An RPG city occupies that sweet-spot middle ground between the structure of a dungeon and the structurelessness of wilderness adventures, creating one of the best kinds of sandbox environments for player-driven gaming.

Consider Freeport, one of the classic FRPG cities. If you've ever tried to develop an entire city suitable for role-playing, you know how hard it is, but Chris has done a great job of it. Freeport has its own distinctive character as a fantasy city, and it's a rich environment for catalyzing adventures.

Also, pirates! Arrrrrh!

Green Ronin and Fiery Dragon want to treat it right with a new, hefty sourcebook. My friend Chris Pramas has just forty-five minutes left to raise the last $3,000 to make his final Kickstarter stretch goal. If you enjoy role-playing games, you should go pledge to help him get there (

After you go pledge, come back here and tell me about your favorite RPG city to game in and why. Tell us a story about something that happened in a game set in that city that helps us to understand why you like it so much.

Here is a list of FRPG cities to help stimulate some memories:

City State of the Invincible Overlord (1977, Bob Bledsaw and Bill Owen; Judges Guild)

generic city in (in Cities: A Gamemaster's Guide to Encounters and Other Rules for Fantasy Games, 1979, Stephen Abrams and Jon Everson; Midkemia)

Carse (1980, April and Stephen Abrams; Midkemia Press)

City State of the World Emperor (1980, Bob Bledsaw and Craighton Hippenhammer; Judges Guild)

Haven (in The Free City of Haven, 1981, Richard Meyer and Kerry Lloyd; Gamelords)

Sanctuary (in Thieves' World, 1981, Greg Stafford, Dave Arneson, Steve Marsh, Midkemia Press, Marc Miller, Steve Perrin, Lawrence Schick, Ken St. Andre, et al; Chaosium)

the Citybook city (in the Citybook series, 1982-1997, Ed Andrews, Dave Arneson, Norma Blair, Grant S. Boucher, Stuart Bute, Deborah Cady, Thessaloniki Canotas, Deborah Christian, William W. Connors, Brandon Corey, Steven S. Crompton, Kevin Crossman, Liz Danforth, Lawrence DiTillio, Lee Duigon, Panda England, Joe Formichella, Janrae Frank, Greg Gordon, Bob Greenwade, Jeff Halsey, Beth Hannan-Rimmels, Scott Haring, Ed Heil, Dave Helber, Paul Jaquays, Stefan Jones, Thomas M. Kane, Mike Keller, William Kerr, J.D. Kirkland-Revels, Rudy Kraft, Randall G. Kuipers, Charles de Lint, Rick Loomis, Seng Mah, Anita Martinez, Dennis L. McKiernan, John Merkel, Shawn Moore, Ashley Morton, John Nephew, Paul O'Connor, Mark O'Green, Stephan Peregrin, Bill Paley, Jim "Bear" Peters, Glenn Rahman, T.L. Riseden, Jennifer Roberson, S. John Ross, Tom Rushford, Jason Sato, Richard Shaffstall, Lester Smith, Warren Spector, Michael A. Stackpole, Lisa Stevens, Hank Stine, Brent Stroh, B. Dennis Sustare, Tim Taylor, John Terra, Allen Varney, Lisa Walker, James L. Walker, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Don Webb, Wayne West, Allen Wold, Debora L. Wykle; Flying Buffalo)

Aleath (in Cities of Harn, 1983, N. Robin Crossby; and in Son of Cities, 1987, Edwin King and Brian Clemens; Columbia Games)

Cherafir (in Cities of Harn, 1983, N. Robin Crossby; and in Son of Cities, 1987, Edwin King and Brian Clemens; Columbia Games)

Coranan (in Cities of Harn, 1983, N. Robin Crossby; and in Son of Cities, 1987, Edwin King and Brian Clemens; Columbia Games)

Golotha (in Cities of Harn, 1983, N. Robin Crossby; and in Son of Cities, 1987, Edwin King and Brian Clemens; and in City of Golotha, 2003, N. Robin Crossby, Ed King, and John Sgammato; Columbia Games)

Pavis: Threshold to Danger (1983, Greg Stafford and Steve Perrin; Chaosium)

Shiran (in Cities of Harn, 1983, N. Robin Crossby; and in Son of Cities, 1987, Edwin King and Brian Clemens; Columbia Games)

Tashal (in Cities of Harn, 1983, N. Robin Crossby; and in Son of Cities, 1987, Edwin King and Brian Clemens; and in City of Tashal, 2005, N. Robin Crossby, Ed King, and John Sgammato; Columbia Games)

Thay (in Cities of Harn, 1983, N. Robin Crossby; and in Son of Cities, 1987, Edwin King and Brian Clemens; Columbia Games)

Lankhmar: City of Adventure (1985, Bruce Nesmith, Douglas Niles, and Ken Rolston; TSR)

Laelith (in Empires & Dynasties, 1986, Patrick Durand-Peyroles)

Middenheim (in City: A Complete Guide to Middenheim, City of the White Wolf, 1987, Carl Sargent; Games Workshop)

Minas Tirith: Cities of Middle-earth (1988, Graham Staplehurst, Peter C. Fenlon, and Angus McBride; Iron Crown Enterprises)

Waterdeep and the North (1988, Ed Greenwood; TSR)

The City Of Greyhawk (1989, Douglas Niles, Mike Breault, Kim Mohan; TSR)

Tantras (1989, Ed Greenwood; TSR)

Arkham (in Arkham Unveiled, 1990, Keith Herber, Mark Morrison, and Richard Watts; Chaosium)

Eldarad: The Lost City (1990, Chris Watson; Avalon Hill)

Kingsport: The City in the Mists (1991, Kevin A. Ross; Chaosium)

Bral (in The Rock of Bral, 1992, Richard Baker; TSR)

Waterdeep (in Volo's Guide to Waterdeep, 1992, Ed Greenwood; and City of Splendors: Waterdeep, 2005, Eric L. Boyd; Wizards of the Coast)

Huzuz (in City of Delights, 1993, Tim Beach, Steve Kurtz, and Tom Prusa; TSR)

Sigil (in In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil, 1995, Wolfgang Baur and Rick Swan; TSR)

Zhentil Keep (in Ruins of Zhentil Keep, 1995, Kevin Melka and John Terra; TSR)

Daggerford (in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier, Slade; Wizards of the Coast)

Calimport (1998, Steven E. Schend; Wizards of the Coast)

Palanthas (1998, Steven Brown; Wizards of the Coast)

Ravens Bluff (1998, Ed Greenwood; TSR)

Skullport (1998, Joseph Wolf; TSR)

Mordheim: City of the Damned (1999, Alessio Cavatore, Tuomas Pirinen, and Rick Priestley; Games Workshop)

Freeport (2000, Chris Pramas; Green Ronin)

Hollowfaust: City of Necromancers (2001, Ethan Skemp; White Wolf)

Mithril: City of the Golem (2001, Deidre Brooks, Ben Lam, and Anthony Pryor; White Wolf)

the city (in Urban Blight, 2002, Doug G. Herring and Andrew Thompson; Mystic Eye Games)

Bluffside: City on the Edge (2002, Jim Govreau, Curtis Bennett, Jeff Quinn, and Andrew Troman; Mystic Eye Games)

Geanavue: The Stones of Peace (2002, Ed Greenwood; Kenzer and Company)

Marchion (in Splinteres Peace, 2002, David Chart; Atlas Games)

the city (in Citycraft/Cityworks, 2003, Mike Mearls; Fantasy Flight Games)

the city (in A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, 2003, Joseph Browning, Suzi Yee; Expeditious Retreat Press)

Dun Eamon (in The Grey Citadel, 2003, Nathan Paul; Necromancer Games)

Loona: Port of Intrigue (2003, Ed Greenwood and Phil Thompson; Kenzer and Company)

Endhome (in The Lost City of Barakus, 2003, W.D.B. Kenower and Bill Webb; Necromancer Games)

Parma: Streets of Silver (2003, Thomas Anderson, Evan Bernstein, Shayne Brown, Marcy Canterbury, Jacek Chodnicki, Celeste DeAngelis, John Faugno, Larry Fitzgerald, John Fornish, Mike Grenier, Inger Henning, David Hoenig, Steve Kubat, Lee Lucsky, Steve Novella, Edward Povilaitis, Joe Unfried; Living Imagination)

Shelzar: City of Sins (2003, Dave Brohman and James Maliszewski; White Wolf)

Liberty (in Thieves Quarter, Temple Quarter, and Arcane Quarter, 2004-2006, J. D. Wiker and Jonathan Kirtz; The Game Mechanics)

Sharn: City of Towers (2004, Keith Baker and James Wyatt; Wizards of the Coast)

Yggsburgh (in Castle Zagyg Volume One, 2005, Gary Gygax; Troll Lord Games)

Bards Gate (2006, Casey Christofferson, Scott Greene and Shane Glodoski; Necromancer Games)

Five Fingers: Ports of Deceit (2006, Doug Seacat and Wolfgang Baur; Privateer Press)

Ptolus: City by the Spire (2006, Monte Cook; Malhavoc Press)

Cillamar (in Castle Whiterock, 2007, Chris Doyle and Adrian Pommier; Goodman games)

Shadowdale: The Scouring Of The Land (2007, Richard Baker, Eric L. Boyd, and Thomas M. Reid; Wizards of the Coast)

The Great City (2008, Mario Barbati; 0one games)

If you can think of any other classics I'm missing, let me know about it. My thanks to the good folks over at ENWorld for their FRPG city discussions, which helped me build this list far beyond the ones I was familiar with.


  1. My friend Owen Hermsen posted on Facebook:

    "City sandboxes are definitely one of the greatest challenges for a DM. You have to know that huge locale like the back of your hand (or at least the outside of your elbow), and be ready to improvise encounters anywhere from the heights of the king's palace to the depths of the local sewage system.

    "Also, you missed Erelhei-Cinlu, my own favorite non-human metropolis. First debuted in the 1st ed. Drow adventures series, then expanded in the Living Greyhawk Journal and then Drow of the Underdark (3.5).

    "I guess cheesy old Menzoberranzan falls under that category too, but everyone know that Erelhei-Cinlu is way cooler (being under Oerth instead of silly-deity-infested Toril)."

    Good catch, Owen, with Erelhei-Cinlu and Menzoberranzan. I had good times in the former, though I never played in the latter.

  2. I'm a big fan of Port Blacksand the chaotic pirate city from the Fighting Fantasy books; it was Freeport before Freeport was cool. I wrote a little bit about it here.

  3. Rick, you are a nutball.

    I don't know if you have the source material, but you might want to double-check the spelling of "Larry DiTillo" for the CityBook. I cannot help but suspect that the third "i" was dropped from the name, and that it should actually be "Larry DiTillio", aka Lawrence DiTillio, who was also a writer and executive story editor for Babylon 5. ( Or possibly not.


  4. Geez, tough call. It's a toss up between City State of the Invincible Overlord and Sanctuary. I've always loved city-based campaigns!

  5. Unknown, Thanks for catching the spelling error and the connection. I had completely missed that.

    And yes, I am a nutball.

  6. Kelvin, your post was enjoyable and enlightening; I had missed all of those cities. I'll add them below here, for the sake of trying to get a semi-complete list in one place, but I encourage other readers to go check out his post.

    Here are more for the list, some from Kelvin's post, some I found while researching the cities he listed, and some of which I'm quite embarrassed to have omitted from my original post:

    Altdorf (in Spires of Altdorf, 2005, David Chart, Kate Flack, Chris Pramas, and Gavin Thorpe; Black Industries)

    Boldhome (in A Rough Guide to Boldhome, 1992, David Hall, John Hughes, Kevin Jacklin, and Greg Stafford; Reaching Moon Megacorp)

    Cadwallon, City of Thieves (2010, Pascal Bernard and Laurent Pouchain; and many expansions; Fantasy Flight Games)

    Irilian (in White Dwarf #42 to #47, 1983, Daniel Collerton)

    Kharé (in Kharé - Cityport of Traps, 1984, Steve Jackson; Penguin Books)

    King's Landing (in A Song Of Ice And Fire Roleplaying: Adventures In The Seven Kingdoms, 2009, Robert Schwalb; and in A Song Of Ice And Fire RPG: Peril At Kings Landing Adventure, 2009, Steve Kenson, Kara Hamilton, R. Kevin Doyle, Jon Leithuesser, and Nicholas Logue; and in A Song of Ice & Fire RPG: A Game of Thrones Edition, 2012, Robert Schwalb, Steve Kenson, and Michael J. Komarck; Green Ronin Press)

    Ladysmith (in Reign, 2007, Greg Stolze; Schroedinger's Cat Press)

    Marienburg (White Dwarf #118-121, 126, 128, 133, and 135, 1989-1991, Anthony Ragan; and in Marienburg: Sold Down The River, 1999, Anthony Ragan, Hogshead Publishing)

    Mort (in Mort Sourcebook, 1995, Tim Depodulos, James Lennon, Roy MacRonald, Karen Newis, Morton Smith, and Lynne Wilson; Wizards of the Coast)

    Nexus: The Infinite City (1994, Bruce Baugh, Ian Brennan, Jose Garcia, Rob Heinsoo, Doug Hulick, Steve Kies, Robin D. Laws, and Tim Toner; Daedalus Entertainment) - the closest thing we have to Cynosure, though Sigil is another contender.

    Nochet (in Tales of the Reaching Moon #4-19, 1990-2000, Reaching Moon Megacorp; and in Tradetalk #4, 1998, Michael O'Brien, The Chaos Society)

    Pembrooktonshire (in No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides, 2009, James Raggi; and in People of Pembrooktonshire, 2009, James Raggi; Lamentations of the Flame Princess) - a city notable for being more developed in its human than its physical geography

    Port Blacksand (in City of Thieves, 1983, Ian Livingstone; Puffin Books)

    Ryoko Owari Toshi (in City of Lies, 1998, Greg Stolze, D. J. Trindle, John Wick, and John Zinser; Alderac Entertainment Group)

    Specularum (in The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, 1987, Aaron Allston; and in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure, 1994, Jeff Grubb, Aaron Allston, and Thomas M. Reid; TSR)

    Tharbad (in Thieves of Tharbad, 1985, Rich Meyer; Iron Crown Enterprises)

    Vornheim (2011, Zak Smith; Lamentations of the Flame Princess)

    and expanded info on a couple cities:

    Pavis (in Pavis: Threshold to Danger, 1983, Greg Stafford and Steve Perrin; and in Big Rubble, 1983, Oliver Dickinson, Steve Henderson, Mark Lukens, Brian Marick, Gordon Monson, Steve Perrin, Sandy Petersen, Ken Rolston, Greg Stafford, Michael Trout, and Mark Willner; Chaosium)

    Sigil (Planescape Campaign Setting, 1994, David "Zeb" Cook; and In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil, 1995, Wolfgang Baur and Rick Swan; and in The Factol's Manifesto, 1995, Tim Beach, Dori Jean Hein, and J. M. Salsbury; and in Uncaged: Faces of Sigil, 1996, Ray Vallese; TSR)

    More next time.

  7. Another one ;-): Chelemby, City of the Sea Kings (for Hârn) from Kelestia Publications (here: The last city Robin mapped and largely detailed before his passing.

  8. Good catch, Andy. So according to the link, that's by N. Robin Crossby with further development by Jeremy Baker, Robert Schmunk, and Ken Snellings.

  9. Yes (sorry for the haitus!) - Robin passed away in 2008, leaving lots of unfinished/semi-finished stuff and notes, and had spent considerable time passing on his ideas and techniques to friends before the end. Rob, Jeremy, Ken and the rest of the crew at Kelestia have been finishing those thoughts and publishing them on behalf of Robin's family since. City of Chelemby came out in 2009 - it was mostly done before Robin died.

  10. hi! wow, it is nice going down memory lane. Thank you tons!!!

    Also, Larry wouldn't care about a missing "i". :D You should have seen some of his earlier published stories (prior to Darksmoke and the city books) and how his name was messed up by the editors... LOL.

    stay frosty...

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