Life in the Big City

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As I mentioned in my last post, Angela and I are planning on running a modern fantasy game.

We’re not sure where to set it, though.

Here are some criteria:

  • It should be a city conveniently located to a large portion of North America (having a major airport would cover this).
  • It should be fairly large (at least a million people in the metropolitan area).
  • It should have significant underground and/or forgotten places (subways, abandoned warehouses or factories, burnt-out buildings).
  • It should have some interesting/distinctive flavor.

I always have some issues setting games in established real-world locales. Player knowledge has a tendency to intrude, and that’s not something I want to deal with… so I’m leaning toward places with which my probable player-base is unfamiliar. Unfortunately, this means that I am likely unfamiliar with these places as well. I suppose I could use New Orleans or D.C. (places I’ve lived), but I’m not sure if either of those are right for this. Maybe. Angela and I were talking about Pittsburgh last night. That’s a possibility (it has cool geography, abandoned steel factories and mines, and the Cathedral of Learning), but I’ve only spent a couple of weeks there (over 15 years ago), and she’s never been there. (The Cathedral of Learning isn’t incredibly relevant, but it is pretty cool.)

Make up a fictional city, borrowing from real ones (and various things seen on weburbanist)? Maybe. It isn’t an option I considered until just now. Perhaps I’ll suggest it to her tonight.

Any suggestions? Let me know where you’ve set modern urban games and how its worked…



9 Responses

  1. I’ve tended to set them in real cities, often those that I’ve lived in (such as Boston or Philly), but sometimes not (currently have an urban fantasy campaign set in New York). But I’m not much bothered by player knowledge intruding; I either incorporate it or overrule it for my version of the city. If I were more hung up on that, I’d probably go with a fictional city.

  2. I’ve used New York quite a bit, since it’s a city I’m familiar with. And, hell, it’s iconic. Even people who’ve never been there know Times Square, the Empire State Building, and so forth.

    Chicago might be an interesting option for you. Underground stuff, abandoned buildings, check. Lots of history there to play with, too.

    I’ve always been tempted to set a game in Orlando, too. Mostly just so I can set the better part of the campaign in Disney World.

  3. The best rpg campaign set in a real city that I ran was placed in San Diego.

    -Major City
    -Right next to cross border adventures in Mexico
    -Not far away from the mountains and deserts of California

    I’ve never lived there, and at the time I was running the game I hadn’t even visited, so I didn’t know much “accurate” information, but the game was lots of fun.

  4. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Player knowledge is a tricky thing – I mean, obviously the PCs should have a good bit of wide-ranging knowledge of their home. On the other hand, I don’t want to get caught off guard by some inconvenient fact that would invalidate my plans and story ideas.

    Similarly, I don’t want players depending on their outside knowledge in their plans when I might have to overrule the real-world existence of whatever they were depending upon for story reasons.

    After last night, we’re thinking about going the semi-fictional route. We might pick a small town and expand it to city-size. One idea was Woodstock, NY…

  5. I’ve been using Cleveland for a Buffy game and it’s worked well. I keep meaning to work on writing a wiki for using the city as a game setting – there’s tons of good stuff there. If you’re interested, I can bury you in ideas and links.

    However, the semifictional route is a good one for the reasons you outline, so I won’t try to argue you out of that decision.

  6. Try London a lot of info all around the Internet, all the story madness you need, old places, flavor.

    And it’s worth the trip if you want to get your info first-handed.

    (Yeah you were asking for north America, but why not?)

  7. Baltimore. It has an international airport, is close to DC, has a lot of run down parts, and you can fictionally extend the metro line to it (the have easy to imitate logoing).

    And a great rib place 🙂

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