Today it’s time to finish up with the average magical budgets for various city sizes, to deal with magical cities, and to take a look at how cities relate to the countryside and become the cores of nations.
So back where we left off, it’s the budget for Large Cities.
Large Cities have a budget of some 125,000 GP and come from Small Cities – and so list starts with the items that small cities get and a few upgrades thereof.
- City Father (24,000 GP). A City Father continues to be the versatile, supportive, symbol of a major city.
- Epic City Store (Supplies about 450 GP per day to run the city, 16,500 GP). Really, this is probably enough for most routine operations. There will still be taxes and fees for defense, and special projects – but they’re likely to be relatively modest, and fairly unobtrusive. After all, there is little point in gouging the populace when the rules of Wealth by Level apply.
- Two City Gates (28,000 GP). Large Cities are simply too big a market to leave unexploited. They are invariably either linked to a major hub or part of a gateway ring.
- Wind Tower (29,000 GP). A Wind Tower will moderate a bad climate, make a bearable one bountiful, and help hold off hurricanes and other weather disasters. Given that both the benefits of controlled weather and the damage caused by wild weather expands with the size of a city, no Large (or larger) city would risk going without a Wind Tower.
- Dark Rampart or Bone Vault (6500 GP). The choice here still says something about the city; the Dark Rampart protects a city against self-replicating undead, but interferes in no other way. A Bone Vault can do many other things – but does so by imposing restrictions on the population at large.
- Construction Wagon (10,000 GP). With this a city gets walls, maintenance, well-constructed streets, sewers and drains, and public works at little or no cost.
- Minor Reliquary (11,400 GP). Having a Reliquary about means that a substantial chunk of the population will be able to have a low-level clerical spell or two each day if they have an hour or so to spare. That isn’t a lot of power, although Mending, Cure Light Wounds, or Wieldskill even once a day can be quite handy – and the occasional protective spell or Dispelling Touch can make things considerably more difficult for adventurers relying on Charm Person and similar manipulative spells.
Large Cities pretty much have all the basics covered. There may be poor areas, but there won’t be horrible slums, extensive stone and brick construction will help limit internal fires and casual damage, solid city walls (and building even a little inland) helps a lot with most tsunamis, weather control can prevent or mitigate most storms, and stone or brick city walls and weather control will handle most external fires. Solid construction and cheap repairs will mitigate the effects of lesser earthquakes and sinkholes. That still leaves major earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteors – but that sort of thing is generally rare. Similarly, a large city will still need resources from the outside, but they’re a lot less critical – and easy long-distance trade will mitigate any local shortfalls. There are enough resources that even orphans, madmen, and other strays get to eat, stay warm, and make a reasonable living (since “Profession/Beggar” is just as profitable as any other profession skill). Large (and larger) d20 cities are prosperous, bustling, and generally fairly happy places.
A Metropolis has 50,001-100,000 inhabitants (commonly 10,000 to 20,000 Households), an average budget of 150,000 GP, four Foundations – and a +12 settlement modifier with four rolls per character type. That means that we’re quite likely to see some epic-level professionals, eighteenth level commoners, and many other high-level types (and their associated magical businesses) – as well as a 90%+ chance of having (potentially very powerful) “monstrous” citizens. That’s a problem. Dwarves, elves, humans, and most of the usual city population are really very, VERY, similar. They have the same kinds of social structures, eat the same kinds of food, have compatible mindsets, and subscribe to the same kinds of moral codes. Monsters are not so similar – and having a fair number of them around can complicate managing a city in a wide variety of ways.
And no matter how chaotic the base species and culture, a functioning city needs a good deal of organization and a reliable, reasonably “standardized”, group who can present themselves to the citizens as impartial arbiters and social enforcers.
- That’s why a Metropolis will be upgrading it’s Reliquary into a Lesser Planar Spire (35,000 GP) – most often bringing in a force of Hound Archons, who are generally glad to serve as examples of the advantages of order and good in even the most chaotic evil city. After all… for them it’s a cheap chance to do some outreach and recruiting.
A Megapolis has 100,001-500,000 inhabitants (20,000 to 100,000 Households), a magic budget of 2d8 x 60,000 GP averaging 540,000 GP, and five Foundations. It still only has a Settlement Modifier of +12 – but now gets eight rolls. Quite a lot of settings won’t have any magapoli at all.
The threshold this time is one of sheer scale. A Megapolis will have an entire community of high to epic level residents, it will have many magical businesses (likely including trading companies with their own inter-city and inter-planar gate networks), it will have plenty of magic, and it will almost certainly have a Ward Major – transforming it from a city filled with magical citizens and businesses to a magical entity in its own right.
- City Father (24,000 GP).
- Two Epic City Stores (33,000 GP).
- Five City Gates (70,000 GP). Since these (and any commercial gates) will mostly go to cities with their own gates, dozens of other cities are likely to be effectively only a few minutes away.
- Wind Tower (29,000 GP).
- Dark Rampart (6500 GP).
- Bone Vault (6500 GP). A city of this size will need all the help it can get remaining organized, no matter how chaotic it’s inhabitants or philosophical basis may be.
- Construction Wagon (10,000 GP).
- Four Lesser Planar Spires (140,000 GP). These usually tend towards Law (to help keep the city organized) and Good (since their notions of what is best for a city are usually easier to manage than evil creatures) – but this is not required. The creatures summoned by a Planar Spire will always act in the best interests of the sponsoring city regardless.
- Ward Major VI (220,000 GP. 4 Minor and 2 Major Powers). Since the powers of a Ward Major include at least some random elements I’ll just roll up some examples. Normally the Ward’s creator(s) would pick the majority of the ward powers – but that would call for knowing something about the city.
Sample Wards Major VI
Sample Ward I:
- Minor Powers:
- The city is either Hallowed or Unhallowed and any suitable Priest can attach one of the permissible secondary spells.
- The residents are all permanently protected by Protection from Evil / Good as appropriate to the city.
- The residents need not eat, sleep or breathe.
- The residents may stay in touch with each other through minor Sendings.
- Major Powers:
- Eldritch Ban. Some type of creature or item does not function properly within the city. Creatures suffer five negative levels (or the equivalent penalties), items will not function.
- Teaching: residents may gain up to (Int Mod + 4) x 2 Skill Points through study, expending them on any skill as if it was in-class.
Obviously enough, this city is a major sacred center of some sort, dedicated to a particular faith. That’s actually sort of limiting – and may indicate a somewhat lower population than would normally be expected – but at least it tells us what some of the Foundations probably are.
Sample Ward II:
- Minor Powers:
- Counterspells. Two spells of each level 1-9 can be automatically counterspelled within the city when cast or if they target it. Want to ban major necromancy? Or protect your city from unauthorized teleporters, plane shifters, and wish-makers? So be it!
- Beauty: the area is lovely, and the populace gains a +2 morale bonus to saves, BAB, and AC when defending the city.
- Fortune: Residents may reroll any one die roll per day after the result of the original check is determined.
- Immunity: Residents are all immune to Poison.
- Major Powers:
- Gift of Tongues. Visitors and residents may speak and read all languages.
- Might: residents gain +2 to their AC and Saves and Spell Resistance 15.
This city looks like it was – at least at one time – a perilous diplomatic outpost, and is now likely to be a major trading center. Many of the usual ways of magically unbalancing negotiations will not function here.
Sample Ward III
- Minor Powers:
- Whirlwind. The perimeter is protected by a continuous Wind Wall that does not affect the residents or their attacks.
- Residents gain the use of three level zero arcane spells usable at will.
- The city can support it’s population without requiring outside resources.
- Residents gain +6 skill ranks in two skills (from the theme so far, likely magical skills).
- Major Powers:
- Absorption. Residents may absorb up to (Con) spell levels per day, gain a list of 3-7 innate spells to channel that power into, and skilled casters gain other tricks (see the Practical Enchanter for details).
- Residents gain two bonus levels of Wizard or Sorcerer Spellcasting.
This is a major magical citadel. Every inhabitant possesses fairly significant magical defenses and abilities – and adventuring casters may be most upset to find that any street kid will be able to counteract several rounds worth of their spellcasting and that a group of city guards may well be able to absorb their entire arcane arsenal to little effect.
Sample Ward IV:
- Minor Powers:
- Cat’s Eyes. Neither high nor low illumination levels hinder the inhabitants.
- Curses, charms, and malevolent enchantments are suppressed within the city.
- Mundane productivity is multiplied by a factor of seven (allowing crafters, builders, and scribes to complete a weeks worth of work each day).
- The city is non-Euclidian, with many local dimensional pockets and local gates. It is much bigger inside than out, offers residents many shortcuts, and prevents most scrying that will not cross dimensions.
- Major Powers:
- Tithe. As its residents gain experience, the ward gradually does too – picking up class levels, usually as a caster or a manifestor.
- Residents and visitors may undergo a ceremony to gain a variety of innate magical powers.
This sounds like some sort of hidden citadel or production center. Depending on it’s age, the Ward itself may be an epic level caster or manifestor, fully capable of defending itself and/or moving the entire city if that should be required.
Sample Ward V:
- Minor Powers:
- Residents are each protected by a Force Shield effect.
- Oracle: There is a method for the Ward to communicate effectively with Mortals.
- Health: Diseases are not contagious within the ward, all residents recover temporary
attribute damage at one point per hour, and regain permanent attribute damage and lost levels at a rate of one per day
- Longevity: Natural aging within the ward occurs at only one-tenth the normal rate.
- Major Powers:
- A Distant Gift: Warcraft. Residents and ex-residents in good standing gain +2 BAB, +1D10 HP, and proficiency with shields, medium armor, simple, and martial weapons
- Unbinding: Residents are protected by a Freedom of Movement effect while within the city.
This ward seems likely to be of a military bent, and probably shares tactical insights and information about possible menaces via some sort of war room. Given the longevity and combat skills it bestows, it may have an abnormally high incidence of competent mid-level combatants.
This leaves 7000 GP in the budget. Of course the budget I’m using is an average, so a lot of cities will have more or less, the city Foundations will have a major effect, and they may have more or less powerful Wards Major (or none at all in favor of more Planar Spires or some such). If you can’t think of anything for that 7000 GP, just round up and add another Construction Wagon and put the city at the center of a network of excellent roads.
Finally, an Imperial City has 500,001 or more inhabitants (100,000+ Households) and a budget of 4d5 x 120,000 GP – averaging 1,440,000 GP. It has a +15 settlement modifier and 12 rolls for each type of character – pretty much guaranteeing a fine selection of level 20+ characters. It gets six Foundations too – and it has passed a final threshold. It can easily afford an epic-level Type IX Ward Major at 800,000 GP – with five minor, four major, and one awesome powers. With a good roll or the right Foundations… It could afford anything up to a Type XII, with four awesome powers.
Awesome powers include things like bestowing the Half-Celestial or Half-Infernal template on it’s residents, or imprisoning a god, or creating full-powered Simulacra of past epic-level caster residents to help out, or isolating itself from divine powers and influences in a pocket universe, and offering gates to dozens of dimensions.
At the upper end, this can turn an Imperial City into a Dimensional Metropolis – a place like Sigil, or Tanelorn, or Cynosure (for a writeup here, see Montsalvat and the Stone of Destiny). Even if it offers less dramatic powers than that, such a city can also afford another 327,000 GP worth of other items – perhaps a Light of Revelation (32,760 GP), four Greater Planar Spires (232,000 GP all together), a Great Reliquary (31,000 GP), and a Skeptical Thinker (29,000 GP) or a Healing Spring (30,600 GP).
If a campaign includes an Imperial City at all… it will be a center where virtually anything can be found, filled with wealth, and privilege, and some of the most powerful individuals to be found in the world. Perhaps most importantly… it is a place where the player characters are very likely to be severely overmatched, and where excessive shenanigans will bring the authorities down on the parties heads like the wrath of several gods. That isn’t a position that most parties are used to operating from. They’re usually used to being able to overwhelm, or at least escape, the local authorities at whim after the first few levels – and if they’re used to operating out of small settlements, may have good reason for those expectations.
They’d better change those expectations fast if they’re going to be operating out of an Imperial City. Of course, an Imperial City offers a lot of opportunities for patronage – and with magical businesses in play, the benefits of having a patron may be very direct and measurable.
Town and Country.
So we’ve pretty well established that most cities do need to import some resources – but that it isn’t nearly as vital to them as it is in reality. Moreover, the countryside cannot possibly dominate the cities; the cities have the really high-level characters, which is where the real power resides in a d20 setting. So… why are there countries? Where’s the benefit to a city in being a capital and taking responsibility for large areas of the rural countryside? Simple political power isn’t that big a motivation when you can bend the universe to your whims with a few words and a wave of your hand.
That’s actually pretty simple.
- It takes a LOT of experience points to create a new generation of high-level characters.
- Yet the steady progression of level-appropriate encounters, “adventure paths”, and ever-escalating threats – leading to ever-escalating levels – that player characters experience cannot be “normal” or the world would be in constant upheaval, whether from the occasional failure to stop the plot or from the immense powers that the characters themselves develop.
- There must be a reason why the Epic and Near-Epic level types in major cities don’t just come out and deal with lower-level menaces. Otherwise there wouldn’t be many opportunities for low-level player characters to gain experience.
- It’s fairly obvious that genuine risk, dealing with the unexpected, and unknown magical forces are all a necessary part of getting experience points, since otherwise high-level types could just arrange for their kids to become high level in safety and there would be no real need for adventurers in general or player characters in particular.
- You don’t get experience for dealing with problems too far below your own challenge rating, or if you manage to “adventure” in complete control and safety.
- Functioning cities are poor places for characters who are past the lower levels to get experience points. They’re usually reasonably well organized and not all that dangerous. If they were very dangerous.. given the mostly low-level populace, they’d be digging mass graves every day until you didn’t HAVE a city any longer.
- Even outside cities, creatures and situations that will yield substantial chunks of experience for higher-level types are very rare. Otherwise the low-level types in the villages and hamlets would not be able to survive for long. When a high-level challenge does show up… they will need to send to a city for a group capable of handling that challenge if they want to survive.
- Normal wild animals and minor challenges are reasonably common in the near-wild areas near Thorps, Hamlets, and Villages, even if they rarely appear in those settlements. That means that “Wilderness” types who live outside of town and deal with such problems will gain experience. Sadly, since such things have relatively low challenge ratings, and don’t show up on a daily basis, “wilderness” characters rarely reach particularly high levels – and it takes them a very long time to reach even the mid-levels. Thus the modest chance of mid-level “Wilderness Oriented” characters near Thorps, Hamlets, and Villages.
So there are our critical factors. High-level “Encounters” and “Adventures”, and the Experience Points that can be gathered from them are both limited resources and absolutely vital. Magic, and Power, and Levels, and the prosperity they bring, are all ultimately derived from Experience Points.
The larger the area a city controls, and protects, and from which the small settlements send for its young adventurers to come and help them instead of some rival cities… the more experience points a city can harvest.
Sadly, most opportunities to harvest experience will occur at the borders of civilization while the expenditures will relate to the total area controlled. Ergo there are practical limits to the size of such realms – although they can be expanded somewhat by wise city leaders who cultivate wilderness areas, build (and abandon) dungeons, castles, and suitable monster lairs in hopes that creatures will move in and create opportunities for adventure, tolerate entrances to deadly pocket dimensions and to the “Underdark”, and cultivate guilds of thieves, crazed cults, and villainous secret societies in hidden lairs.
As a city harvests more experience points it can grow larger, become more powerful, increase its magical resources, and expand its zone of influence – until the borders of its experience harvesting zone collide with the harvesting zones of other cities. At that point the competition becomes a matter of responsiveness and efficiency. The faster a city responds, the more smaller settlements will be inclined to turn to it instead of to some other city. The more efficiently a city harvests experience from its limited supply of opportunities, the greater it can grow – and the more distant the areas that can be expected to turn to it to solve their problems.
Since a given encounter will yield the most experience when dealt with by a group that can just barely handle it, but yields nothing if the group sent in gets killed, a wise city council will carefully – and subtly – manipulate promising groups of adventurers, steering them into sequences of encounters and adventures that they can almost certainly handle, but which will challenge them as much as possible. They often put a great deal of work into arranging such things; given how unpredictable young adventurers can be arranging a series of balanced encounters for them can be quite difficult.
Naturally enough, this means that – as a party of adventurers increases in power – their sponsoring city (even if they don’t know that they have sponsors) will be setting up smooth transitions into the local power structure for them. “Openings” on the mages council, temples that need high priests, young nobles who need powerful adventurer spouses, nearby strongholds that need to be “reclaimed” from the monsters or cults who currently occupy then, street gangs who need new leaders… cities want those adventurers to become a part of their power structure, not to have them going out and founding new settlements.
After all, once they’re powerful enough that encounters and adventures suited to them are vanishingly rare… it’s time for them to settle into power and to start arranging for the next generation to start gaining levels.
Now a group of PC’s who wander around at random, without operating out of a particular city… will find themselves at a disadvantage to start with (they won’t have ready access to magical businesses and won’t have local contacts or high-level patrons with an interest in seeing them well-supplied and with people available to buy their loot) and may well find themselves quite unwelcome since they’re “poaching” the local governments carefully-cultivated encounters and adventures. Even worse, with no one to steer them towards “balanced encounters”, they are all too likely to run into things that they cannot possibly handle unless they are extremely cautious.
Personally, I still don’t think too much of “Balanced Encounters”. I prefer serious challenges that the players will have to think about and make plans to meet if they want to win and which call for being willing to retreat if things go badly. Still, if you do want “Balanced Encounters”, adventure paths which graduate encounters so that the characters are just ready for them, and higher level NPC’s only intervening when the characters would all die otherwise… then here’s your in-game reason. The settings major powers and organizations are intentionally setting things up so that the player characters gain as much experience as possible.
I think that kind of cheapens things a bit, but it doesn’t cheapen things nearly as much as having the game master simply giving the PC’s special treatment with no real in-game rationale.
So now we know why small settlements attach themselves to larger ones, what the larger ones get out of the relationship, why settlements put up with thieves guilds, haunted houses, and nearby chunks of wilderness full of ruins and monsters, where all those weird cults keep coming from, and why the local high-level types don’t take care of all those problems instead of leaving them to barely-qualified youngsters who often get killed while trying to do something about it all. A prosperous d20 realm is set up to maximize its yield of experience points – and thus it’s supply of high-level characters. Large-scale safety, military power, supplies of magic, and prosperity, all flow from its experience-point harvest through the high-level characters that harvest makes possible.
As one commentator pointed out… if you want to look at a system rather like this in action, all you need to do is look at Naruto – where the nations pour their resources into producing a few high-level types, ruthlessly sacrifice rather a lot of kids in deadly competitions to sort out who to keep investing in, and carefully match missions to groups that should be just barely capable of handling them instead of deploying their leveled-up human superweapons. Elsewhere, of course, it is the job of the Evil Grand Vizier, or Doddering Alchemist, or Mad Scientist to create the occasional horrible monstrosity only to “lose” control of them for some idiotic reason.
Town and Country – Population
Finally, of course, there is something fairly basic about cities that’s popped up throughout history; cities need to draw a steady stream of people from the countryside because the population of a city does not normally replace itself effectively. While there are several reasons for this, the most basic is simply that humans – like most species – reproduce less in a crowded environment. That’s because crowding “in the wild” makes for scarce resources, which means that producing kids in the first place has a very high opportunity cost and that any children are far less likely to make it to adulthood – wasting the parental resources invested in them. Ergo, both instinct and biology say “Not now! Wait for a better chance!” when there are too many other creatures of your own type around – and cities are VERY crowded indeed.
In d20 we can add something else, which may not be an “official rule”, but certainly seems likely enough; high levels of magical or psionic energy reduce fertility while sex drains magical talents. After all…
The more powerfully magical a creature, the more slowly it breeds and the scarcer it is. Thus gods are very rare in the first place and almost never have kids with each other. Dragons are rare. Magi tend to be solitary ascetics who avoid social contact and lock themselves in towers and libraries. Clerics are often celibate, monastic, or overly-devoted to their god. In either case… Mages and Clerics are notorious for having few or now kids. Eunuch Sorcerers and Chaste Nuns get power boosts but a Martial Artists “inner strength” can be drained by sexual techniques. Bards have many dalliances – but few offspring.
Rogues, however, are notorious for having bastard offspring everywhere, and Fighters are equally notorious for their big, bumptious, families. The least magical races tend to dominate the world. Magic versus Fertility may not be a RULE – but it’s certainly a common background assumption. It even tells us why people take off all their magic items to have sex…
OK, that’s not necessarily a serious point, but it’s certainly arguable.
So that’s why magical cities need the far less magical countryside; they need the experience points and they need replacement population. And the best way to make sure that your city – rather than some interloping settlement – gets those things is to rule the area.
I may put up some more magical businesses or sample Wards Major if enough of them occur to me – but unless there are questions this series should have covered most of the major items now.