What’s the best way to manage a small hub town?

Roman Men working on constructionIn game terms, what do players want when they visit a town?

They want to exchange their loot for money, or they want to exchange their money for useful stuff.

These are not the only possibilities, but they are the prime functions of towns in my games.  I want to develop a good system for managing towns which will focus on these two points, and make both of them more interesting, without falling into the trap of burdening myself with an impossible amount of upkeep.

More specifically, I’m concerned with the town of Stockton in my Dungeon Moon campaign setting. Ostensibly, Dungeon Moon is the low-magic result of a high-magic apocalypse, where literally everything is scarce, and the areas outside of town are so dangerous that no one but the PCs dares to step outside at all. In practice, no game rules actually support that idea. So these posts will focus on addressing the specific needs of Stockton. However, I’m hoping to come up with something generally applicable enough that I can use it later without too much modification.

With that in mind, I’ll start by addressing the first function of a town: exchanging loot for gold.

When players succeed in getting their loot back to town, the total value of that loot is added to the town’s economy, and the town gains experience from it as a player would. The town uses the same experience track as the fighter, and “levels up” at every third level. So the town will reach level 2 when 4000sp has been recovered by the party, level 3 when 32,000sp has been recovered, level 4 at 256,000sp, etc. For reference, after 9 sessions of Dungeon Moon, this progression would make Stockton almost level 3, which is ’round about where the players are.

Each time a level is gained, only two things happen. First the referee should roll on a table of “town improvements.” They should roll a number of times equal to the town’s current level. Exactly what this table will include is yet to be determined, but it should be meaningful improvements to the town which will directly affect the second purpose of a town – exchanging money for useful stuff.

Examples of what might be on this table could include:

  • A trades person of a random type settles in town. The price of goods associated with their trade drops, and quality improves.
  • The town’s vendor saving throw is improved by 1.
  • A new type of service person arrives in town, such as a sage or herbalist, and they begin to ply their trade

The second thing which happens when a town levels up is that  a new batch of retainers become available. When a town levels up, it is not only a measure of how much wealth has been pumped into the town. It is also a measure of the player’s improving reputation as successful adventurers. As mentioned above, very few people on dungeon moon are willing to leave the towns. But if the players continue to succeed, more people will be willing to follow them.

At the start of play, Stockton has 1d4 – 1 people in it who are willing to hire on as retainers. Each time the town gains a level, 2d8 – [Deaths] people become willing to travel with the PCs. (Deaths include all PC and retainer deaths since the last time the town gained a level).

Another side effect of people being unwilling to leave the safety of Stockton is that there is no trade between it and other towns. The players may, if they choose, clear a path between Stockton and another town. Each time they do this, Stockton begins to trade with the new town, and the players may roll once on the town improvement table. So the players can improve the town in both active, and passive ways, without ever needing to do anything other than adventure.

The best part is that all of this should require very little upkeep from me. After the initial effort of finding / creating some tables to roll on, all I’ve got to do is record the total value of recovered treasure each session (which I do anyway), and make two rolls every 3-5 sessions when the town levels up.

I’m eager to hear some thoughts on this one. Is anyone aware of resources which could help me in this endeavor? Any input on how the above could be improved?

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9 thoughts on “What’s the best way to manage a small hub town?”

  1. An elegant and timely idea as I have been looking for a mechanic for advancing isolated towns that isn’t horribly burdensome. This looks like exactly what i was searching for. I will probably draft up some random tables this week and try them for my session next weekend.
    Thanks for a great idea and an excellent post (as I have grown to expect from P&P)

  2. I’ve been tussling around with something like this ever since I posted the campaign management thing you linked to. One of the approaches I liked was Telecanter’s Village Hit Points (http://recedingrules.blogspot.com/2013/06/village-hit-points.html) which combines village stats with a die-drop map. But VHP, and my own system (to the extent it exists) are more about towns as parts of the fabric of a regional economy, or pass-through adventure locations, than a central “hub” like you’re describing here.
    I’ve also looked at the Alexandrian’s “Local Magic Market,” which is a bit more complex and thus a bit better for a fixed location, but is focused on magic items and has 3.5 assumptions.

  3. This strikes me as eminently practical. Players have less control over the direction the town develops perhaps then with the resource system I endorse – but this is more elegant. Nice. So Stockton is 3rd level? I presume the improvements are 1. repaired food replicator 2. Greenhouse for underworld berries and bananas? Does this finer quality of food then attract a smith/gunsmith/alchemist? Do we need to find a source of coal and iron for the first 2 and a source of chemicals for the last?

  4. Okay, now that I’ve read through all that Dungeon Moon stuff, a couple things. First, this sounds like an -excellent- campaign setting and I want to run it (though I’d probably use Pathfinder or (if I could convince my group they’d do better with it) 4E). Secondly, I rather like how in the post-apocalypse a lot of common things seem to have gone to disuse (after all, there’s not even -dirt- commonly on DM, so backpacks with dirt are a valuable treasure!)

    Now to address your post’s actual details, the only thing beyond charts and minor record keeping I can forsee you having to deal with are perhaps a town map (which could easily be relegated to a PC to keep track of once you do the initial setup) and small one paragraph profiles of your NPCs so that you have a reference back to what they’re like/what accent you put on when talking as them etc. (nothing worse than busting out your Old Man Voice for someone who was once a rather sinister wizard, after all!).

    Beyond that, it comes down to what the players do that’s creative in the context of the setting. I’m not familiar with LotFP’s spell lists (are they just 1st Ed’s spells? This was never made clear to me. :\) but any spell that creates food and/or water or otherwise makes previously inedible substances edible would have to be rare to nonexistent for the setting lest it marginalize the replicator’s importance. Of course, a violent reaction (cutting open the golden goose) to such spells would likely curb the party’s bragging about them as well..

    As for cohorts/followers etc. willing to be lead by the party, I’d imagine that your system works well (especially with the -deaths penalty resetting each level). If possible, I’d include a bonus to balance that (if you’re into that) that reflects heroism/fame on the PC’s part, thus having them possibly winding up with even -more- possible NPC helpers.

    1. My PCs have actually used dirt as treasure before. Though after doing that a few times it stopped being worth it.

      I’ve thought about doing a map / NPC descriptions, but I’m holding off on that. I want to keep Stockton as light as possible, and my group doesn’t really spend much time in town, so I don’t need to concern myself with things like NPC names.

      LotFP’s spells are very similar to those found in the Basic / Expert set, but nearly all of the damage dealing spells are removed. No fireball, no lightning bolt, etc. Still have magic missile, though.

      The PC’s fame is already modeled by the money they return to the town. I might consider a bonus if the PCs did something extraordinary, though. Like pay their hirelings double standard wage, or something.

      1. Ahh, good points to all of my questions.

        The best spells are those that have effects besides “I blow it up!” anyway. A friend I was running for once shut down the BBEG with a potent combo of Create Pit and Quickened Web which hadn’t been used before, but it was great!

        As for keeping it light, I can understand that. Currently I’m running a “beer and pretzels” sort of game (kick in the door, kill the monsters etc.), focusing on the PCs working for a rather inept paladin (think of the biggest, shiniest Fantasy Hero ever and that’s Sir Baldric Silvermail) by investigating the sewers, caves, ruins, pretty much whatever I feel like chucking into the undercity of their hub town. I do the maps up on large sheets of grid paper, let the players do what they want as far as marking them for reference etc. and tell them to keep them because that’s all the reference to explored places they’re gonna get.

        Anything mapped is static, things that aren’t can and will change as my whimsy goes. The unnatural labyrinth of ecologies allows encounters with just about anything from anywhere, as long as you can explain it with an “a wizard did it” (but of course more thorough. “Why yes, there are water elementals busting up the ruins down there, because we opened a small gate in the central fountain to provide fresh drinking water for all in the city! Some just.. slipped into the pipes down there. Handle it!”)

        1. I have yet to actually run any adventures in the hub town at all. It’s actually magically warded against any living creatures save humans entering it at all.

          You might almost consider it more of a “menu screen,” where the players can take care of essential tasks in between adventures.

  5. How can we adapt this for your Fallout Conversion?

    ATM, my Group is running a Fallout: London RP, and are hoping to build a settlement/fort around the Royal Vault within Buckingham Palace.

    1. I think it should work pretty much the same. Obviously you’d replace coins with caps, but beyond that a Fallout town would probably have a lot in common with Stockton.