Hello world! It’s been a very long time since I posted anything here, but a kind reader just asked me an interesting question, and I thought it would be a good subject for a post. So here I am.
Ash was making some towns using the fantasy town creation system, and after saying some very kind words about the system as a whole, he added:
There is one thing I’m having problems with, could you please give me some advice? I can’t seem to get the “general theme” incorporated consistently. For example, one of my “Haunted” towns ended up half thriving tourism/trade town and half poor hellhole, so it became some kind of classist nightmare. I couldn’t get the haunted theme to work for both sides, it all became a bit jumbled. Do you have some tricks to keep the theme consistent, perhaps?
(He asked it at the bottom of the comments section here, if you want to track that down)
So – the question is, how do you make sure that the rest of the settlement matches the Theme?
The Vague and General Answer
My first answer is really vague and general, but I’ll say it anyway: I find that it helps a lot if you keep the overall Theme of the town at the front of your mind throughout the whole town creation process. If you interpret everything else in light of the main Theme, then the end result has more chance of seeming unified and comprehensible (hooray!), rather than a grab-back of random stuff (blech).
That seems to work OK for me, at any rate. But do I ever try to communicate this to other people? Possibly not – I probably should have been more explicit about this in the system write-up.
But let’s get a bit more specific.
The Slightly More Specific Answer
More concretely, I suppose there are three moments in the system where I try to prod the player into interpreting the rest of the results in light of the main Theme.
1 – Theme is the first Step!
The first is just the fact that Theme is Step 1. First impressions count for a lot. I guess I’m hoping that as soon as you determine that Theme, you’re already starting to think “ooh, Haunted!” and imagining abandoned houses and clanking chains, or “Ah, Rich!” and imagining huge mansions, people swanning around in fancy jewelry and big dresses – or whatever. At any rate, I’m hoping that starting with this puts the player in a position to interpret everything that follows accordingly
2 – The second step (“Memorable Feature”) refers you straight back to the Theme
The second step is to create a big memorable feature for the settlement – a kind of shorthand to make it stand out from other settlements in the players’ minds. And here I do prod people to keep the Theme in mind. I say:
It’s good practice to relate the Memorable Feature to the Theme. For instance, if a “Militaristic” town has an “Impressive Building,” it may well be the town walls or citadel.
That’s not a hard rule – it’s just a guideline, a piece of advice. But following this advice helps a bit, I find. Maybe I should have put it up in lights more, since it’s easy to miss or forget.
3 – The fourth step (“Creating Districts”) mandates a reference to the Theme
My last example is a little rule (guideline?) that is tucked into Step 4. The rule says “Each settlement must contain at least one District appropriate to its Theme,” and then provides the following table:
|Settlement Theme||Required District|
|Haunted||Graveyard or Hazardous|
|Historical||Historic, Academic, or Hazardous|
|Militaristic||Military or Law and Order|
|Oppressed||Law and Order|
|Rich||Rich, Money or Trade|
|Safe||Green or Public Amenity|
I worry some users might overlook or forget this rule – I know I forget it myself from time to time. The point of it is to ensure that there’s at least some match-up between the overall Theme of the town and its array of Districts.
So if the Theme of the town is Underworld, then the system requires you to place at least one Underworld District, so as to give all that shady cloak-and-dagger Thieves’ Guild stuff a focal point. Now, you could end up with more than one Underworld District, whether by rolling them up randomly, or by selecting them whenever the random roll indicates that it’s “Your choice.” And in fact in a sense that’s a fourth way in which the system prods you – or at least gives you an opportunity – to keep things on-Theme: it sometimes offers you choices. At those moments, my vague and general advice applies: try to keep the Theme in mind.
So those are three small ways in which the system tries to prod you to keep referring back to the overall Theme throughout the whole settlement creation process.
That’s all very well, Collaborative Guy, but does it really work?
Honestly, I’m not sure. There’s a fair bit of… well… randomness in this random system, and so sometimes you end up with pretty gonzo results – things that just don’t seem to fit the overall Theme of the town at all.
When that happens, I first try to force myself to think it through again, just in case I can get the random result to fit in a creative or surprising way. Sometimes that’s when the best ideas arrive – forcing myself to imagine a bit harder, under constraints, can help to break me out of my habitual ways of thinking/imagining, which can be good. But sometimes that doesn’t work, and then I need to give myself the freedom to re-roll, or even choose.
Personally I think that what most dissatisfies me in the Town Creation system at present is not the fact that it’s hard to work in the Theme (I haven’t really found that too hard, myself, for whatever that’s worth). What dissatisfies me is how short the list of Themes is – there are only 14 different Themes to go around.
I think it would be nice to have more, and I’d be very open to suggestions!