In The City…

I had quite a shock when I picked up the Judges Guild’s “City State of the Invincible Overlord” for the first time in well over 20 years. Like Proust’s famous madeleine, the maps and the booklets transported me back to the last time I played it – sitting in my dining room in New York, the afternoon sun pouring through the windows facing West in our kitchen, with my old friend Noah plotting his moves across from me.

The names of the streets in the city were so evocative: “Ox-Cart Road” and “Rorystone Road.” These were names I instantly recalled, locations I seemed to know and avenues I had once strolled along. Each location in the city was teeming with rumors one could overhear. Each rumor, accurate or not, was a hook to an adventure – a possible path to be followed. I loved the idea of a living, teeming, chattering city. All the rumors together became an example of “Overheard in the City State.”

As in a real city, each street appeared to have its own character – and the encounter tables revealed this. Some places could get you run over by out of control wagons and you might risk specific diseases in others. And, as with the buzz of all the rumors circulating, you knew all of all of this was all happening at once. The city was teeming and vitally alive no matter where you went in it.

In this sense, I think, the city is the perfect compromise between the dungeon and the wilderness. It has the more natural, open-ended, unconfined feel and character of the wilderness, but has the specifics and discrete locations of a dungeon.  In the sense, it’s the best of both worlds.

Someone noted that city campaigns work well with one or two players – because large parties can bored more easily in a city. Perhaps this is one reason why I prefer city play – since it allows for the sort of quick give and take, and faster play, you can have without large parties. but I also realize that, for a kid  raised in the ‘burbs, in the ’70s, exploring alone in a city held definite appeal. The suburbs were staid and boring and New York was (in the ’70s) dangerous and exciting.In a sense, our D&D games were like a projection of our fantasies of what urban life could be like. I wonder, now, if the “city state” led me, or in even a small way  influenced me to choose to live my adult life in cities.


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