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City Adventures

Source: Paizo Blog, Paizo Publishing, LLC


Unlike in dungeons and the wilderness, characters can buy and sell gear quickly in a city. A large city probably has high-level NPCs who can provide assistance and decipher clues. When the PCs are battered and bruised, they can buy healing at a temple or retreat to the comfort of an inn. The freedom to retreat and access to the marketplace means that the players have a greater degree of control over the pacing of a city adventure.


Sometimes PCs return to town bloody, poisoned, cursed, or suffering from some magical attack that they can’t cure, and hiring an NPC spellcaster (such as a priest from a temple, a wizard mentor of one of the PCs, and so on) to fix them lets them get back to adventuring quickly. By no means does this mean these NPCs are willing to go adventuring with the PCs—these are services offered in the safety of a city or town, and casters willing to risk life and limb are likely far more expensive. The typical cost for this spellcasting is the spell’s level × the caster’s caster level × 10 gp. Cantrips and orisons cost half as much as casting a 1stlevel spell.


A dungeon is a lawless place, but a city is held together by a code of laws, many designed to prevent adventurer-style killing and looting. When adventurers encounter a villain performing some evil in the city limits, the law prefers that the evildoer goes on trial for his crimes, rather than permitting adventurers to kill him like vigilantes. Most cities’ laws recognize monsters as a threat to the stability the city relies on, and prohibitions about murder rarely apply to dangerous monsters.


To keep citizens safe, some cities require that any weapon larger than a dagger be locked up with the city guard, or that weapons are “peace bonded”—tied with leather cords so it is difficult to draw them. A magic-fearing city may require wizards to relinquish their spellbooks and clerics to hand over their holy symbols within the city walls.


In many ways a city is much like a dungeon, with walls, doors, poor lighting, and uneven footing. Some special considerations for an urban setting are covered below.


Getting to a roof usually requires climbing a wall, unless the character can reach a roof by jumping down from a higher window, balcony, or bridge. Flat roofs (common only in warm climates), are easy to run across. Moving along the peak of a pitched roof requires a DC 20 Acrobatics check. Moving parallel to the peak of the roof requires a DC 15 Acrobatics check. Moving up and down across the peak of a roof requires a DC 10 Acrobatics check. The distance to the closest roof is usually 1d3 × 5 feet horizontally, but the next roof is equally likely to be 5 feet higher, 5 feet lower, or the same height.


Any city or town should have a place where PCs can sell their loot, even if it’s the local temple, inn, or blacksmith. It is reasonable to say that villages and small towns may not have the resources to buy expensive items from PCs—just because the heroes return with five suits of full plate doesn’t mean the nearest farming village has enough gold to pay for those items. PCs should be able to buy most items in the Hero’s Handbook in larger settlements, but small settlements may not have all the things adventurers want to buy (like alchemist’s fire), simply because the local blacksmiths and craftsmen have no reason to make them. In larger cities, PCs should be able to purchase masterwork weapons if they have enough gold—such weapons are a good stepping stone for adventurers who can’t yet afford or haven’t been lucky enough to find magic items.


You decide how common magic is in your world, and part of that decision is whether or not there are places where PCs can buy magic items in town. If your world is a “high magic” world, PCs can reasonably expect to buy any magic item in this book if they collect enough gold. If you prefer magic to be less common, you may decide that only certain items are available for sale, like healing potions from the temple or wizard scrolls from a wizard guild. You may decide that your world has no places where magic can be bought—but if you do this, the only place PCs can get magic items is from the treasure they find, so make sure they get appropriate treasure rewards from their adventures, otherwise they’ll end up with a lot of gold and nothing to spend it on.


Many cities are surrounded by walls. A typical small city wall is a fortified stone wall 5 feet thick and 20 feet high. Such a wall is fairly smooth (DC 30 Climb check). The walls are crenellated on one side to provide a low wall for the guards atop it, and there is just barely room for guards to walk along the top of the wall. A typical small city wall has AC 3, hardness 8, and 450 hit points per 10-foot section.


Some city walls are adorned with watchtowers set at irregular intervals. The towers provide a superior view of the surrounding countryside as well as points of defense against potential invaders. Watchtowers are often 10 feet higher than the city wall and have 25-foot diameters. Arrow slits line the outer sides of the upper stories of a tower, and the top is crenellated. A simple ladder typically connects the tower’s stories and its roof (larger towers have stairs). The tower has strong wooden doors with good locks (DC 30). The captain of the guard normally keeps the keys to the towers, and second copies are in the city’s inner fortress or barracks, where soldiers can reach them.


A typical city gate is a gatehouse with two portcullises and murder holes above the space between them. In smaller settlements such as towns, the primary entrance is through iron-bound double doors set into the city wall. Gates are usually open during the day and locked or barred at night. Usually, only one gate lets in travelers after sunset and is staffed by guards who will open it for someone who seems honest, presents proper papers, or offers a large enough bribe (depending on the city and the guards).


A city typically has a small number of full-time soldiers, with a larger militia called to duty in emergencies. The soldiers are city guards responsible for maintaining order within the city and defending it from outside assault. Most city guards are 1st-level fighters. Officers are usually higher-level fighters, clerics, or rogues.


Typical city streets are narrow and twisting. Most streets are 15–20 feet wide, and alleys are usually 5–10 feet wide. Cobblestones in good condition allow normal movement, but roads in poor repair or heavily rutted dirt streets are considered light rubble.


Urban streets are often full of people going about their daily lives. Rather than marking individuals on the map, just indicate which squares have crowds. If a crowd sees something obviously dangerous, it moves away at 30 feet per round at initiative count 0. It takes 2 squares of movement to enter a square with crowds. Crowds provide cover for anyone in them. It takes a DC 15 Diplomacy check as a full-round action to convince a crowd to move in a particular direction.


Sewers are generally 10 feet below the streets and covered by heavy metal grates (a full-round action to open). Sewers work like dungeons, but usually have floors that are slippery or covered with water. Most dungeon monsters can be found in sewers. Some cities were built atop the ruins of older civilizations, so their sewers sometimes lead to treasures and dangers from a bygone age.


Most city buildings are made of a combination of stone or clay brick (on the lower one or two stories) and timbers (for the upper stories, interior walls, and floors). Roofs are a mixture of boards, thatch, and slates, sealed with pitch. Exterior doors on most buildings are strong wooden doors that are usually kept locked, except on public buildings such as shops and taverns.


If a city has main thoroughfares, they are lined with lanterns hanging at a height of 7 feet, spaced 60 feet apart. Alleys can be dark places even in daylight (not enough to give concealment, but enough for a +2 bonus on Stealth checks).