Campaign Notes · GURPS · Town Creation · Worked Example

Creating Frith, the Sheltered City

hallstatt, upper austria
Frith, the Sheltered City.  At least, this is the photo we used for it earlier…

So on Friday my new GURPS group is starting their (highly provisional) Dungeon Fantasy campaign.  I’m setting their adventure’s in Temian’s world – specifically in Frith, a.k.a “The Sheltered City”.

As part of my pre-game prep, I thought I’d use my Fantasy Town Creation System to find out what Frith is really like.  Who knows, maybe this will give me something cool to use in the game tomorrow?

Because I’m in a hurry to get material for tomorrow’s game, I’m going to move through this a lot more quickly than I have done previously.  So without further ado, let’s get started.

Creating Frith

What do we know about Frith so far?  Not much.  (Here’s the post in which we first learned of its existence).  Frith is the capital of Armaria.  It’s called the “Sheltered City” because the theme of the Armaria region is “Safe.”  Earlier, I thought that perhaps this safety had something to do with the fact that it was protected by the friendly merfolk of the Sapphire Sea.  We’ve also established that it’s built into the side of a cliff, because of the photo I used for it earlier (see above).

The coastal kingdom of Armaria and surrounds.  In the center of the map is the capital of Armaria – Frith, the Sheltered City.

Step 1 – Theme

The whole of Armaria has the “safe” theme.  Does Frith share that theme?  (Rolling…) 4: yes.  That was simple!  It looks like “”Sheltered” was the right name for it after all.  Great!

Step 2: Memorable Feature

What’s the most memorable feature of the city as a whole?  (Rolling…) 1, 5: “Idiosyncratic Government”.  The flavor text reads:

This settlement is governed in a distinctive or unusual way.  Perhaps the local charter stipulates that the Baron can only act with the consent of the board of alders; or maybe the Duchess is nominally in control, but everyone knows that true power resides with the Vintner’s Guild.  Perhaps the Sultan’s edicts are always communicated to the people by a chorus of three-year-old children selected for the purpose – or maybe the city’s licensed beggars must be called in vote on any proposed change in the city laws.  Or maybe…

Interesting – ok.  My first thought is that the city might be governed in part by the Dwarves of Dwimilzund, who are right next door, and probably do a lot of trading here.  Or maybe it’s partly governed by the Merfolk of the Sapphire sea.  Or both.

Hmmm…  For clarity during play, this really ought to be something that reinforces the “safe” theme.  Ok, provisionally, I hereby declare that Frith is notable for being ruled by a friendly coalition of different great powers: human representatives from Armaria, certainly, but also Dwarves from Dwimilzund and Merfolk from the Sapphire Sea. These three people are staunch allies, and the arrangement generally works very well, keeping everyone safe.

And I hereby name this ruling body The Sea Council of Armaria.

Step 3: Determine the Layout

Frith is on a coastline, with no river, so I’ll roll on that table. (Rolling…) 4,2.  Here’s the town plan:


Fair enough – that works pretty well.

Step 4: Create Districts

Ok, I’ll start in the top left of the town plan and then work my way across, creating districts as I go.

(Rolling, rolling…)

Here’s what we’ve got, laid out to reflect the map, sort of:

Poor / Choose any / Underworld


            Thematic / Religious


Frith’s district types

That “Choose any” district looks like the docks to me – it’s deep inside the little harbor, and it has “Poor”, “Underworld”, and “Culture” districts surrounding it – those are all plausibl neighbors for a dock area.  So I hereby declare it a “Portage” district.

The “Thematic” district matches the “Safe” theme, and is thus either “Green” or “Public Amenity”.  I choose Green – I’m already thinking of it as a beautiful public park or garden, between the cathedral (religious district) and university/archive (academic district).

Well, I’ve already learned something interesting: Frith has no “Ruling,” “Law and Order,” or “Military” district – instead, its one required governing district is religious.  That tells us a lot – clearly, the city is a theocracy of some kind.  Intriguing.  That goes well with “Idiosyncratic Government.” It turns out that the Sea Council of Armaria is made up of clergy from the three allied peoples – interesting.

What is the general name for districts in Frith? (Rolling…) 6,5: a choice of Circuit, Parish, and Wapentake.  Hmmm….  Parish would be obvious, and match the theocracy thing – but then, the theme of the city isn’t “Religious”, so I don’t want to push that too hard.   I think maybe “Circuit” works best.

Step 5 – A Memorable Feature for each District (a.k.a. circuit)

This is the biggest step.  Here goes.

(Rolling, rolling…)

Poor – Local Pastime

Dock – Peculiar Custom

Underworld – Striking natural feature

Culture – Idiosyncratic Government

 Green – Distinctive Architecture

Religious – Local attitude

Academic- Famous person or group

Ok, that’s an interesting array.  Let’s see what I can do to interpret these bones…

The Poor District

This district is on the coast, but undesirable, hence poor.  Let’s say it’s exposed to the elements in a way that the rest of the city is not –  the prevailing wind from off the icy ocean whistles through this whole district, making it bitterly cold.  The local pastime is… I’m not sure.  For inspiration, I’ll roll for a random miscellaneous modifier

(Rolling…)  “Skerry/skerries.”  Perfect! A “skerry” is a kind of rocky island, and it’s a word that comes from cold climes.  Let’s say that one of the reasons this part of town is so cold is that it’s built out over a series of little rocky islands.

That helps establish a few things.  First, it lets me know that Frith has a serious land shortage (otherwise, why would you both to build out over rocky islands, where it’s bitterly cold?).  Why is good land in such short supply?  Well, because the cliffs are so steep here, and there’s generally there’s only a tiny little bit of useable land near the bottom.

In turn, this helps me to understand Armaria’s coastline – if Frith is the capital, despite being built on such difficult terrain, then obviously, steep, rugged cliffs like this are very common along this coast.  I think perhaps the vast majority of trade and travel goes on via boat, between harbor towns and villages.  There’s probably a big cultural contrast between the fishing and trading people who live in the coastal towns and the farming people who live up in the high inland plain.  And probably Frith is a good site for the capital because it has the best, most sheltered anchorage, and enough of a beach to serve as a harbor.  Great!

The skerries also help to establish the local pastime – the poor children of this district are always jumping from rocky outcrop to rocky outcrop, trying not to fall into the icy water.  Inevitably someone does fall in, and then there’s much shouting and fussing from the adults as the child is brought inside to dry off and warm up.  But it’s all very safe, since that’s our theme.

What to call this district?  “Skerries” obviously.

The Dock District

We just learned that this district has a better supply of low-lying land than other districts – that’s why it’s such a good dock, and in turn why Frith is such a good spot for a city, relatively speaking.  It probably has a kind of portage-way up the cliff, into the interior, too – that would allow Frith to serve as a port for those looking to get their goods inland.  How would that work?  Well, let’s say that the whole city of Frith is ringed by cliffs, except at this point, where there’s a gentle, more gradual slope.  This means that there’s a natural path inland from here.

What’s the “Peculiar Custom” here?  I haven’t the faintest idea.  Again, I’ll roll for a random miscellaneous modifier for inspiration.  (Rolling…) “Watch, watching”.  Excellent!  Since this is the only point at which the city is accessible from the inland, let’s say the the people of this district are meant to keep a watch here, looking both out to sea and inland, supposedly to protect the city from attack.  But since the theme of the city (and indeed the whole region) is “safe,” let’s say that this is an ancient vestigial custom, totally unnecessary today – everyone knows the watch is pointless, because no-one is going to attack.   So let’s say that the “Peculiar Custom” in this district is that people say “I’m going out to watch!” whenever they’re doing something pointless – burning time, simply hanging out, staring into space – sometimes people even use it as a euphemism for going to the toilet.   “I’m going out to watch,” “I’m standing watch”, or similar, means “I’m doing nothing, or something pointless.”

Cool – it’s always good to have a bit of local idiom to throw into a game.

What’s this district called?  Well, let’s roll with what we have and call it The Watch Circuit.

The Underworld District

This district is the furthest from the coast, and has a “striking natural feature.”  Hmmm… ok, the whole city is surrounded by cliffs, right?   And coastal land is in short supply?  So what the heck is this big patch of open land doing here?  Unless, of course, it’s not open land….

I hereby declare that the “striking natural feature” of this district is that it’s built entirely into a system of natural caves that extend deep into the cliff behind the docks district.  The cave system really is quite complex, and so it’s a real warren.  Many poor folk live here, where it’s easy to take shelter (despite the lighting problems).  Inevitably, it also attracts the criminal element.

Now, I should note that, since the theme of the city is “safe”, this is not the home of the world’s most hard-core criminal types.  This certainly ain’t the turf of a fiendish “Assassin’s Guild” , or similar – no, it’s just home to a few non-violent edge-of-the-law types like smugglers, poachers, and so on.  The sheltered, naive people of Frith sometimes speak of this district as if it’s really, really bad news, but more cosmopolitan types who have spent time in other major cities scoff at this – sure, there’s an underworld scene here, but it’s really quite tame.  “Thief” characters will find it all a bit small-time.

(Note that this is all just another way of emphasizing the “safe” theme. This city is meant to be a nice, very sheltered place – its natural role in the story is to be a safe haven – a Shire, if you will.  If it gets threatened by the plot, then that should seem a shock, a horror, a disruption of the natural order of things, a big surprise.)

What’s this district called?  The Undercircuit.

The Culture District
hallstatt, upper austria
Frith again.  Now we know that the Culture district is in the foreground, on the right.  On the left, waaaaaay back, you can just make out some of the roofs of houses in the “Skerries” circuit – a very poor area of town.

Geographically, this is the heart of the city – and given the city layout, I think it’s probably the district pictured in the foreground of our photo of Frith.

The distinctive feature of this district is its “Idiosyncratic Government”, so let’s declare that most local decisions here are made, not by the Sea Council of Armaria, but by a local body made up of representatives of the various arts: the master minstrel, the master of revels ( who runs the theater), the master sculptor (also responsible for public statuary), the master draftsman (who represents painting, drawing, etc), and so on.  And let’s call this the House of Masters.

Great – we’re starting to build a picture of Frith as a city with a lot of devolved or decentralized governance by committees, councils, etc – very different from the feudal norm.   This gives the city a (relatively) “democratic” feeling, and should help to reinforce the “safe” theme.  Plot-wise, these are meant to strike the players as good political systems, worth protecting.

Let’s call this district the Masters’ Circuit.  It’s probably a very desirable place to live – but noisy, because it’s also where the nightlife is.

The Green District

Real medieval cities weren’t known for their commitment to public architecture, but we’re in fantasy so who cares – let’s declare this a big, impressive public park.  Let’s say it was created to honor the formation of the Sea Council of Armaria.  Let’s say that the three nations together – the Dwarves of Dwimilzund, the Merfolk of Mithilgur, and the Humans of Armaria – are called the Sapphire League, since it was the merfolk of the Sapphire Sea who brokered the initial alliance.  That means that this park is called “Sapphire League Green,” or just “Sapphire Green” for short (yes, Sapphires are blue, but local idioms are rarely logical!).

The special feature of this district is itsDistinctive Architecture.”  What could this be?  Well, the Sapphire Green is a symbol of the unity of the three peoples.  Let’s say that the center of the park is home to the Sapphire Pavilion, a unique sunken amphitheater space carved out of the rock, and featuring the architecture of all three peoples (for example, the “stage” at the bottom of the amphitheater is actually a pool connected up with the ocean).  The Sapphire Pavilion works as a kind of senate house for the Sea Council of Armaria – they convene all their big debates and deliberations here.

There are so many more details to work out here, but I’ve got no time for that now – onwards!

The Religious District

We now know that the city is ruled by a three-part theocratic alliance.  It therefore seems as if this next district ought to be the Temple district, with Temples to all those gods (but particularly to the Armarian gods, since the Dwarves and Merfolk have their big temples back in their own homelands).  Let’s run with that idea, and call it the Godcircuit.

The distinctive feature of this district is its “Local attitude.”  Can I somehow use this to further reinforce the “safe” theme?   Hmmm…  Ok, let’s say the stereotypical resident of the Godcircuit is happy to worship all the gods of Armaria, Dwimilzund, and Mithilgur – which is strange, since humans don’t usually honor Dwarven or Merfolk gods.  On the flip side of the coin, the typical resident also feels very safe insulting the gods of other kingdoms – Valirothian gods, Rasitanian gods, etc.  After all, if you live right next to the sacred sites of all the combined gods of Armaria, Dwimilzund, and Mithilgur, you feel pretty safe from reprisals by other divinities.

Solid.  These last few rolls were really helpful from my perspective – I strongly suspect that all this will come up in the session tomorrow, since we have a Dwarf cleric from Dwimilzund and an Unholy warrior from Valiroth.   We shall see!

Ok, last district:

The Academic District

Let’s say that this district is famously the site of a huge, ancient library called the Sea Archive of Frith.  To further reinforce the “Safe” theme, let’s say that the reason this library has managed to survive intact for so long, and thus grow so large, is that this area is so very, very safe – no major wars have ever been fought on Armarian soil. The archive now has a reputation worldwide as a safe place to store and preserve important lore, so people send things here from all over.   The formation of the Sapphire League also gave it a boost, since the Dwarves and Merfolk now store materials in the archive, too.

I think perhaps it’s a huge gothic building, looking a bit like a vast cathedral complex in a 12th century style.

The distinctive feature of this district is that it’s associated with a “Famous person or group.”  Who’s this?  Well, let’s say that the Sea Archive of Friith was founded by a famous sage in ancient times – and let’s make it a woman, because this is fantasy, and we can make the deep past less misogynistic if we like.  To the People system, for a name!

Given that last comment, I’m in the mood for a name in the style of Ursula Le Guin.  (Rolling…)  “Therru.”  That works.

Wrapping Up

Well, that was fun, didn’t take very long, and gave me a lot of background on the city my PCs will be wandering into tomorrow. I’m sure some of what I created today will come up in play, and just knowing that it’s there, in my head, gives me more confidence in my ability to improvise interesting stuff on the fly.

Lastly, here’s my new map of Frith.  It’s utterly hideous, and I apologize for its extreme unattractiveness, but I just don’t have time to work with the visuals  just now!


Right.  Wish me luck tomorrow!

7 thoughts on “Creating Frith, the Sheltered City

  1. Some really fantastic details there Joe, this should make for a great backdrop for your first session. Good luck and let us know how if all works out.

    Liked by 1 person

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