Saturday, July 10, 2021

Brave Design Notes 6: Settlements

Brave is a hack of Ben Milton's Knave, an old-school adventure game toolkit without classes and a lot more emphasis on equipment. The earliest changes I made were miscellaneous tweaks and houserules I added as I would run Knave, but at this point I've bolted on several advanced play procedures. While Knave is optimized for a DIY "rulings over rules" style of play, I still felt it was valuable to write down many of those rulings that I've made over the years and codify them. One of the best parts of the original Knave were the designer's notes, but I've taken them out because I needed to make room for new stuff and I assume that anyone playing my game would already be familiar with the original version anyway. Instead, you get my blog.

These notes are written for version 1.9, which you can find on the sidebar of this blog or by clicking hereThese rules also make use of a resource called a "settlement info sheet," which you can find here, along with the player copy template here and the version adapted for villages here.


[Much of this post will be an abbreviated version of my popular "Thorough Look at Urban Gameplay in D&D" since I already spelled out my thoughts and design process in great detail there. However, I'm going to skip right past all the research I did this time and not spend so much time talking about how other people/RPGs run games in settlements. This is the time for me to present my own philosophy.]

How do you run gameplay in a settlement? It's a trickier question than you'd think. There are many proposed solutions out there but most of them have problems, even problems that their proponents don't see.

I figured that this would be as simple as the dungeoncrawl rules. Create a procedure to use whenever the PCs enter a settlement and try to do stuff. It should have steps to follow and macro-level elements that provide an intrinsic source of challenge, but also still needing you to create a bit of original content for micro-level challenges. Try to define a default action and default goal for this environment so you can easily structure the flow of narration and adjudication. Piece of cake.

What I've discovered is that this isn't going to work. I won't call it impossible, but I will say that any solution which does what I just described is extremely limiting the potential of settlement play. The more you think about it, the more you realize that settlements are fundamentally different from dungeons and wilderness hexcrawls.

So before the section where I go through each of the topics and rules you find on settlements in the Brave 1.9 PDF, I'll first explain the very basics of working out how settlement activity even works.

How Settlement Activity Even Works

The main tension to resolve is that settlements can be used for an incredible range of different activities. It's almost hopeless to categorize them, and most attempts I've seen just seem to prove me right. Here is my best attempt to categorize settlement play: 1) routine, non-adventurous activity, and 2) adventurous activity. Seriously, that's it. And even those two categories often blur together in my games. So what do we do with that? For one thing, I've noticed that many groups only partake in one of those two categories and never partake in the other. Torchbearer refuses to allow the second category while Electric Bastionland refuses to allow the first, you know?

But I run a sandbox game. I need tools built for sandboxing. I cannot definitively say how much I need from the cities in my campaign, because my players decide that. I only know that I need to be prepared for both a lot and for very little. So how do I provide for that?

Well, for the first need, I just brainstormed as many non-adventurous purposes for a settlement as I could. In between dungeoncrawls, players use settlements to:
  1. Heal and rest
  2. Get work
  3. Research
  4. Shop
  5. Recruit followers
  6. Carouse
  7. Downtime stuff (crafting, domain management, make an honest living, etc.)
Art credit: Mike Mignola
That kind of stuff. Some games do a pretty admirable job of systemizing all those things into a procedure, such as Torchbearer's town procedure. It's like a menu screen of options for how to spend your downtime between dungeoncrawls. A little minigame you play with a handful of pre-made subsystems to use. That's a bit too formalized for me though, and you'll see why in a second. Nonetheless, I tried to create simple, easy-to-use, sensible rules for each of those activities. If your players only ever need settlements to rest and shop, then I got you covered. You can simplify every village and town and city on your map to an icon that says, "rest and shop here" and never elaborate on them further.

As for the second need, about adventure within a settlement? Pretty much anything is possible, and many of the above activities could also be performed as part of an adventure instead of just downtime! I really wanted to make a procedure for settlement play but I just couldn't design a "one size fits all" solution. It's very possible for individual activities, such as investigating clues or pulling a heist or doing warfare, and so on. But the problem is that a sandbox game is often too fluid for that to be practical, since a single session may contain a small bit of all of those. Let's take an example inspired by The Wire, which I've been rewatching lately.
Your party runs a criminal empire. They oversee drug trade on 8 different corners with a stash house nearby each. They can bring in a pretty consistent income, so it sounds like simple domain management. But a stash house gets robbed one day, so now the PCs have to solve this problem. What are the steps they take?
  1. They go to their dealers and ask them about what happened (investigate). They hear that it was someone employed by their rival gang.
  2. They scope out their rival's hideout and take notes on security (research). They don't talk to anyone, they just try to look casual.
  3. They get arrested and interrogated by cops for whatever thing they did last session (random encounter). 
  4. They arrange a meeting with a third gang's leader so they can make a deal with them (I don't know how to categorize this). They agree to give the NPCs 2 of their corners if they provide a handful of enforcers for the plan. 
  5. At their own hideout they plan their attack (discussion, which can be done pretty much anywhere but relies on the safety and privacy of their settlement base).
  6. They go shopping and buy the supplies they need, including weapons, armor, and (because your players are spicy) something ridiculous like a bomb or flash bang (shopping).
  7. They go pull their heist, breaking into the hideout, killing some muscle, and grabbing the money (dungeoncrawl + combat).
  8. They drive away but are pursued by their rivals (chase).
  9. They spend their ill-gotten gains (shopping/carousing).
I've seen various systems in which any one of those activities is fleshed out into a full procedure intended to structure your whole session. But as you can see, it's possible, if not probable, that they only need to spend a small amount of time doing each one. Yes, when playing Call of Cthulhu you'll be in investigation mode almost all the time. But in my game, anything could happen. And if you think that the above description falls into a pattern you could simplify into a step-by-step procedure to follow of its own, then consider all the different choices that could have been made. What if they spent time reinforcing the security of their stash houses? What if they decided to lay a trap and bait another robbery? What if they approached their rivals straight up and made a proposition? What if they framed their rivals for a crime and got the police on their asses? All of those are perfectly valid gameplay and none of them fall into one single overarching sort of activity. At least not for as long as, say, a medium-length dungeoncrawl would last.

How do you design for this second need? Especially if your whole game isn't exclusively about it, and may only ever sometimes involve it.

Adventures in Settlements

Here's a key concept for my rules: if you want to adventure in a settlement, you need to prepare it as a site of adventure. Yes, the solution is a front-loaded, prep-heavy way of doing things. You may not like to hear that but I'm serious. The material you create for routine, non-adventure stuff is not the same as the material you create if you want to see the players do any of the stuff I just described. You can't just make a map of the settlement and have an item catalogue to look at. No, if you don't want to be hopelessly improvising your whole session, then you need to create your settlement much the same way you create a dungeon or a hexcrawl.

Idea 1:
Now, I hear you say, "I don't need to prepare! I can procedurally generate adventure content as we go! I'll spring random encounters on the PCs that will lead to an emergent story!" A lot of people have this juicy idea in their heads that "town adventure" should consist of strange urban exploration. That the PCs get the experience of adventure by deciding to basically just fuck around and see how they can get into trouble. That all the things in town worth their attention must be discovered

Except that's a bad idea here. In other environments, it's great. I basically just described a wilderness hexcrawl and it sounds wonderful, but it's just a different situation. That would be the case for modern cities. I've done a fair amount of urban exploration myself as a hobby. I've literally just wandered the streets of cities until I found something cool or met someone interesting. But that's an emergent property of industrialized communities and their expansive size and density. It's not very reasonable for a puny medieval settlement, even for the largest of medieval cities. So again, unless you want to play in a noir-style megacity like Bastionland or Ankh-Morpork or Neverwinter or something (which is fine if you do!) then that's just not the reality of what these Brave settlements are like. They are, above all else, areas of control.

The reason why it makes sense to use frequent random encounters in the wilderness or the Underworld is because PCs lack control in those areas. It's chaos out there. Even an experienced ranger is still subject to dangers and surprises everywhere. The thing that makes them the wilderness is that they aren't mapped. They aren't peopled. They rarely have permanency.

In a settlement? Basically the opposite of all that, meaning that PCs can and should have a lot of control over what they do and how it goes down. It's not that there isn't stuff to discover in a settlement. Of course there is. But there's a much greater expectation that if they want to do any of several settlement-specific activities, then they can just choose to do those. Settlements are understood to have markets to shop at, taverns to drink and game at, temples to pray at, landmarks to check out, famous figures to brush elbows with, and factions to get work from. You can sprinkle in some surprises too of course but players generally have much more control over the shape of the adventure when they're in town. Go review that description I gave for my Wire-inspired urban adventure session. Nearly all of those are things the players chose to do, knowing they were all achievable and instead simply needing to decide what the best course of action is. Not much "discovery" happening, like you'd get in a dungeon going room-by-room.

Idea 2:
Okay, so if you don't want to be generating all the adventure content during the session, you admit that it must indeed be prepared up front. The players need to know what there is to play with. But another problem comes up: most other "urban D&D games" will prescribe that you literally write an adventure that merely takes place in town. Write a murder mystery and prepare all the scenes and clues and stuff. Write a heist and prepare the locations they scout out, contacts they reach out to, and schedule of how shit's gunna go down on the day of. Write an insurrection and plan every underground meeting and major act of sabotage and cracking down raids from the authorities and all that.

Well that won't work for me either. I don't write adventures any more. When you run a sandbox, you can't do that kind of thing. You can't both allow players all the freedom to do what they want in your world and then say one day, "okay guys, for the next two sessions we'll be playing this module called Kidnap the Archpriest." Instead, all you can do is just keep putting more content into your world that the PCs can interact with. They choose how to interact with it and how much they interact with it and you just make sure the world is responding sensibly.

If you just prepare a bunch of adventures and try to seed them into your settlements, you risk the chance that your players simply never pursue those scenarios. But if, instead, you just prepare people and places on their own, with no specific purpose as to how they're "used," then they can be flexibly used as ingredients in whatever adventures the PCs choose to make for themselves. See, "emergent story" wasn't actually the problem with the first suggestion. It's the answer we need, it just has to be found by other means.

Idea 3 (the true solution):
If you're really committed to just letting your players loose and doing their own thing and seeing what happens, then you need to create a playground for them.

See, I have had DMs who really wanted to do the whole sandbox thing before. It's a popular idea. But it has often gone poorly. That's because I have, many, many times now, been dropped into a city and asked, "what do you want to do?" and had no way to answer. This happens because the DM doesn't provide the party any information about the city to work with. I've been on the other side of that exchange many times as well, and trust me, it's always the DM's fault. It's a problem that can be instantly avoided if the DM just gives the players a small handout of information to get started. You'd be surprised how quickly they run with it.

So to compare:
  1. Settlements aren't really much like the woods, where you have no idea what to expect. You should have lots of ideas of what to expect, either from direct knowledge or obvious inferences (e.g. "towns have blacksmiths in them, so if I pull the nearest person aside and ask where the blacksmith is, there'll be an easy answer").
  2. Settlements also aren't like an obstacle course with a predetermined set of challenges and an "ending."
  3. Settlements aren't like a beach where everything is flat and blank to start out with. I mean, maybe when the PCs get to a high level, they can start building their own "sand castles" and adding to the settlement. But there should be something already there for them to find when they arrive.
Instead, settlements are like a playground: you arrive, can immediately see what you have to work with, can pick and choose which parts to play at in the freeform space, and you might discover a secret or two or brush up against some other snot-nosed kid who's also trying to play there that day. But there's no goal and no ending and no sequence to it. Any "story" you make is a story you and the other kids decide to make up. Any "game" you play is a game you and the other kids decide on. Playing tag or hide-and-go-seek is different and cooler on a playground than in a field, but playgrounds are never designated as "tag playgrounds" or "hide-and-go-seek playgrounds" built only for that one purpose. They're just a freeform collection of cool things to interact with, and kids naturally get inspired to do all sorts of things with it. They might spend three hours on just the swings or the monkey bars, or they might come up with an obstacle course of their own!

How to Run the Playground Game

Here's some conclusions I've reached:
  1. Unlike a dungeon and hexcrawl, the act of moving from location to location cannot really be made a meaningful gameplay element. At least not if you're assuming pre-industrial settlement sizes, which I am. Most people aren't and they don't realize how shockingly unrealistic their game is if they want to call it medieval. So basically this means there's no move action or movement speeds, any need for a detailed street-by-street map, and in most cases, any random encounters.
    • [This is a topic I explain very thoroughly in the aforementioned article I made on Urban D&D so if you really don't believe me or understand my reasoning, then go read that post] 
  2. You can't list and prepare a description of every single location the PCs may have good cause to visit. There are just far too many generic locations they'll need to seek out on a one-time basis.
  3. You can't not have some prepared interesting locations for them to bite at, in order to give your settlement some adventure juice.
  4. The referee needs a pretty thorough understanding of the main forces at play in the settlement. When the players pull on one thread, the referee should know what other threads get pulled along with it.
  5. The players need a buffet of info to start with. Multiple options rather than one. But not too much. Don't want to overwhelm them upon entering. Plus you need to save something to be discovered. We'll talk about my solution to this.
Oblivion's capital city. Excellent in-game, but
imagine this as a  D&D map. Unnecessary: individual
streets and buildings, pre-written questlines. Very
necessary: some cool stuff to interact with the DM
can throw at you right away, but also enough generic
NPCs, locations, and events to be a full city even
without the gimmicky stuff.
Something kinda frustrating but also kinda cool is that there's no correct amount of content to create. What I mean by that is that you can't know how much the players need out of your settlement, so you can't really know what the minimum amount of information to generate is. But because a party who really likes getting to know a settlement will eventually interact with all the content you prepare (meet every NPC and faction, visit every landmark, pursue every rumor, etc.) you also can never have too much content.

See, with a dungeon you can just decide the number of rooms there'll be and ensure that the players will visit all of them. Either through layout or with bait and tricks, you can decide exactly how much content will be used and, thus, exactly how much content you need to make. Want to spend one session in the dungeon? Create one session's worth of content. Four sessions? Four session's worth.

With a settlement, you have no idea how many sessions the players may spend interacting with it, so there's no way to know how much content is "a session's worth." One potent village could be used as the HQ of an entire campaign. One city might be visited once and then never returned to. A child may decide not to play on 90% of a playground, or they may decide to play on 100% of the playground no matter how enormous you make it.

So ultimately, the settlement-related content in Brave consists of a few simple rules for the most routine activities, a generator with a bunch of sub-generators for populating your settlement with adventure-relevant content, and a system for communicating settlement info that relies on a new type of document for the referee to print. Let's dig in.

Pictured: Anywhere between 10 seconds' worth and 10 sessions' worth of content

The Actual Design Notes

1. Activity
First, you get one small procedure in the form of customs processing. The tone is then immediately set by explaining how flexible settlements are as a site of activity. While those examples do help the referee in knowing how best to judge the consumption of time, their greater purpose is in giving the PCs ideas about the kinds of stuff they could do in town.

The three most important "activities" to cover are 1) shopping, 2) resting, and 3) anything and everything else, for which the main rule to have locked down is the rules on navigation.
  1. As I've said before, I really hate shopping sessions and roleplaying out the merchant interactions. I think it's a fucking terrible way to adjudicate that activity and an unfun way to spend game night. I shit you not, I have had a DM once verbally recite to me, in-character, all the items available for purchase at the store. I could tell he was reading off a list too, but he wouldn't just fucking copy/paste the list in chat for us. I cannot sanction such bufoonery. Shopping should be painless and quick and presented such that a player can actually take a minute to themselves to calculate their options and purchases.
    • The exception I am tentatively allowing are "specialist shops." I recognize that getting a quest hook from a merchant NPC is a classic trope that people expect and many players would love to help out their local shopkeep if it means getting a permanent discount. That's perfectly valid. So I am granting each settlement a few unique NPC shopkeeps who actually have a name and personality and a chance to haggle and take commissions and stuff. But they must be sought out and you can't find such a vendor of every type in every settlement.
  2. Resting is also something that should be made fairly painless. My biggest twist is just having you roll to see what kind of lodging you can find because I was inspired by historical accounts of how people in the Middle Ages actually traveled. The fantasy concept of the "inn" as a sort of medieval hotel is incredibly modern. No such thing existed in most parts of Europe for a very, very long time. It's kind of weird to us now, but the norm used to be that you knock on a stranger's door and ask to be their guest for the night. And if you lived near a road, you would be used to frequently accepting travelers into your home. A lot of stories got traded this way, and that meant circulation of rumors and news.
  3. As previously explained, the correct way to do movement in any pre-modern settlement is to basically handwave it. It's negligible. Partly because there aren't interesting choices to make, partly because it's pretty unreasonable for there to be any disruption most of the time, but most of all because the city is just too small. Literally, in physical area, even the largest cities in the entire medieval world could be traversed from end-to-end in less than 15 minutes. I know y'all like the idea of "running the city as a dungeon" but it's just too big of a stretch. Save that for your modern day or futuristic campaigns. Go play something cyberpunk for that. Here in Brave, the player merely declares where they want to be and they're there. It's the things that happen at the locations which are interesting.
    • However, in the rare instance you need to make movement matter, such as during a chase scene or if the city is under attack or if the players are fucking around and are actually open to interacting with anything and everything they come across... then you can treat the districts as nodes making up a pointcrawl and then roll a random encounter each time the PCs travel from one district to an adjacent district.
And of course, the table of "generic locations" serves as an (incomplete) list of places that the referee and players can safely assume are in every settlement. There's never any expectation that anyone should memorize it, and you don't even need to use it much. But if players are stumped for where to go, if they do know where to go but they just want to confirm that it's common enough for them to be able to easily find one, then they can browse the list. Slowly you'll get a better and better idea about what sorts of places are "generic" in the medieval world versus what sorts of places are special enough to be "landmarks" in the medieval world.

Art credit: David Trampier
2. Settlement Info
Some folks were a bit confused how to use this generator and I don't blame them. I probably could have done better on presentation. Maybe I'll make a tutorial some day. Anyway, the idea is that you pick a size class and then you start rolling on each row. The variables in the top half are for the settlement as a whole, whereas the variables in the bottom half are rolled for each district. Thus, the number of districts you roll on the second row of the generator will have a huge impact. A town with 3 districts has almost 3 times as much content as a town with 1 district, which is a pretty big difference when it comes to prep. For that reason, you may prefer to just choose the number of districts you care to create.

After having done this and written down the results, you go to the "settlement resources" on the next page and start using those tables to generate details about the details! So for example, if you are making a "town" then you should roll 1d4+1 defensive features for the settlement. You get a 3, so you should then go to the second page and roll on the "Defensive Features (2d6)" table three times to determine the three major defenses the town relies on.

Let's say you also rolled for 2 districts in this town (towns have 1d4 districts). So the bottom half of the chart tells you all the rolls you need to make for each of those 2 districts. 1d4 landmarks, for instance. So if you roll 4 in your first district and 2 in your second district, then the town as a whole has 6 landmarks, which is 6 times that you'll be rolling on the "Landmarks (d6 × d6)" table on the next page. In district 1 you've rolled a Club, a Performance Hall, a Menagerie, and a Bank (sounds like a fancy part of town to me). In district 2 you've rolled a Trade Hall and an Arena (maybe there's actually a few big inns next to these because they both attract a lot of out-of-towners).

After having rolled for every variable on the table for the settlement as a whole and for each district, you should be able to see a certain identity emerge that gives you an idea of what the place is like. Of course, if you already have a certain identity in mind then you can always just choose things rather than rolling for them.

I always do this process on scrap paper and take a few tries to sketch it out, mostly using the defensive features and landmarks to inform the shape of the settlement. Sometimes the major industries give you a clue, too. After all, if a major industry is fishing, you're gunna need to see some water. Anyway, once I've done that then I start putting it onto the settlement info sheet. Then I make a crude map and a key for it with a description of every major location and NPC/faction to be found there, district-by-district.

Two things:

1) the resources only get you so far. You'll still have a lot of creative gaps to fill in. I can't give you every NPC's name and quirk, every novelty bar game, every unique item to buy at a specialist shop, and so on. Just like how the dungeon resources provide you an outline, there's still an assumption that you need to fill in the blanks.

2) Because of the nature of the rules on movement and activity, the map can be really simple. You will never, ever, ever need to see the actual street layout or individual buildings. Here's the map I made for my first city generated with these rules:

That's MS Paint right there, baby.

3. "I know a guy"
Sometimes the perfect answer to a problem is "I know a guy" but you just don't know any guys.

Like, it's a classic noir trope, right? In the dungeon, your main assets are your tools. In the city, it's your friends. Each NPC you meet who you get along with, have leverage over, can reason with, etc. is a contact, and the players should remember to use them.

Problem is, ordinarily those contacts are only created through the info generator I just described. Don't get me wrong, I think it does a pretty good job of ensuring you get enough different NPCs of enough different sorts that you can have a pretty full cast. But sometimes you just need someone who's not on the list. Not to mention that the info generator only really compels the referee to come up with important NPCs (e.g. the rich, the well-liked, the authority figures, the experts, etc.) when oftentimes you need someone relatively unimportant (e.g. a security guard at a place you're trying to get into, or a longshoreman who can smuggle something in for you, or someone who works in the kitchen of the palace and can deliver a note to the prince for you).

Plus, you know, I like giving PCs a toy to play with. That's what I think of mechanics like this. It's not really a subsystem or simulator or power building framework or anything. It's just a toy you use sometimes.

4. Lay of the Land
The "Lay of the Land" section is pretty important because it gives you a method for delivering information. We've established that 1) referees need a way of generating plenty of adventure-relevant info about a settlement to adjudicate sandbox activity, and 2) players need access to adventure-relevant info about a settlement to engage in sandbox activity, but knowing how to best get the information from the referee side over into the players' side is not as obvious as you'd think.

After all, players are empowered by knowing info about a dungeon before they go in, like what kind of monsters are there, a history of how it was built and what it was used for, the modus operandi of the wizard who currently runs it, and so on. But you probably don't represent their research by just handing them the dungeon map and room key. Maybe a blank or incomplete map if they're lucky, but not that much. You typically just give them a few key pieces of info and make them actually adventure for the rest.

So once again, I figure, "let's split the difference." Have a way to give them some info to start with but make them work for the rest of it. If they ask, "can we just talk to a local to get a good overview?" then have a simple rule for how difficult that is/how much time it takes. If they're a smarty pants with a high Intelligence score and they want more prior information then have a rule for that, too. But they only have so much control over what they learn about. They can't ask specifically if they know about the library here, they just have to ask for "landmarks in general" and then the referee chooses which landmark they'll hear about. That way the referee can exercise their discretion over what stuff to keep secret if need be. Stuff the players can only discover through adventure.

This can be a fun little ritual, too. This is when the PCs declare that they intend to do more with a settlement than just rest and shop. When they say they want adventure, you hand them their info sheet and begin the game of filling in the blanks together. Each person gets just one precious location or NPC/faction (except for those with high INT of course) so each person has to think carefully about what district would be the most useful to know about. Here's an example of the blank player copy of that Visbelot info sheet:

You'll notice that I formatted it such that, when a player 1) picks a district and then 2) picks either "location" or "NPC/faction," what they can actually do is just point to a box on this paper.

Unnamed town.
5. Settlement Resources
If I were a better game designer then I could have made all of these fit into one consistent format just like the ones in Maze Rats. But I'm not, so fuck it.

Much like the table of "dungeon themes" from the last post, the "major industries" are one simple detail from which you can extrapolate many others, saving a lot of space and work. For example, if one of the major sources of capital in a settlement is "religion," you can imagine that it must contain a holy site (like Jerusalem or Mecca or something).
  • Thus, that means there's a tourism industry, and thus actual inns to stay at, as well as a bunch of scammers everywhere.
  • It also means there's probably a fairly prominent community of philosophers or philosophy-minded individuals.
  • That increases the chance that there's a library or archive of some kind since that sort of thing tends to be directly related to centers of religion and the established HQ of religious organizations.
  • Azure City, which later becomes...
    With all the travelers coming and going, there's likely also other trade going on, so merchants would be attracted here. So whereas nearly all settlements have at least one market in them, this one might have an entire merchant district.
  • And what about authority? Again, most settlements have some kind of town guard or garrison or night watch or something. Maybe there's a mercenary company who the town pays or a private army owned by the local lord. But in this place, there's likely a religious guard owned/employed by the local religion itself, like the Swiss Guard in the Vatican. Gotta have people to protect the holy temple or the standing stones or whatever.
All of that is derived from the one major industry you rolled up. I'll admit that some of them are more potent than others, but the result is supposed to serve as a prompt to get you thinking creatively.

Related, defensive features help determine the shape of your community. Rolling "height" tells you that there must be a hill or cliff involved, which you might not have otherwise decided on your own. I don't yet have a system for warfare (nor have I yet needed one) but I have a feeling that I'd probably run it in a pretty Free Kriegspiel fashion. Rather than needing strictly-defined rules and mechanics for how besieging and raiding a settlement works and how all the different defensive features function, I'm more inclined to just ask my players to look at the map, think critically about what approaches would be effective, and describe their plan to me.

Cliffport (Thor is providing some righteous lightning
in this shot)
The specialist shops were tricky to come up with, and I'm still not sure if those are good categories. In practice, I oftentimes narrow it down further. For example, "animals" might be narrowed to "horses" and "art/entertainment" might be narrowed to "musical instruments." I felt like the foodstuffs one was a good idea and the kind of thing that's kind of enjoyable for players to browse and get immersed in. But the problem is that I, personally, don't know very much food. Oh well.

The 1d6 unique and interesting items/services are so you can sell cool shit that isn't on the master list of equipment near the beginning of the book. That's when it's acceptable to have a few things to verbally tell your PCs about in case they're interested, since that's the kind of cool shit that urban adventure modules often come with. So for example, when making Visbelot I made one of the "art/entertainment" shops into a "musical instrument" shop where the PCs could get pretty much whatever instrument they'd want (as listed on the equipment pages). But then also, I offered 5 cool items special to this shop: 1. Human voice "help!" whistle 2. Dragon stomach bagpipes (spits fire) 3. Music box 4. Massive war horn (12 slots) 5. Classic bardic songbook.

Greysky City
The landmarks are the "main" sites of a settlement. A lot of games/adventures only provide you a handful of these as the whole damn package. My own list is kind of weird because I tried much harder to nail the "medieval authenticity" thing than literally any other gaming resource I've ever found. People nowadays really take for granted the ubiquity of stuff like prisons, hospitals, museums, courts, libraries, etc. I've seen them listed on the "generic locations" list in other games before, but in Brave they'd all be special and rare enough to be considered a landmark.

Lastly, the settlement events are the kind of thing that just help to fuel more sandbox opportunities. They maintain verisimilitude and give players something fresh to respond to each session if they so wish.

6. The Settlement Sheet
Skipping to the appendices real quick, this was inspired by the dungeon control panel and just evolved
Bleedingham (in background. The "correctional
facility" is in the foreground)
from there. Whereas this isn't really used as a "tool" with lots of reminders and places to write things down (i.e. I wouldn't call it a "control panel" like the other one), it is meant to be the optimal way to organize lots and lots of information to be referenced quickly. Also like the dungeon control panel, it still needs an accompanying map and map key. While the map isn't technically necessary (since players don't need to worry about movement, like I said), I still think it's a good idea anyway because players like visuals. It's a tactile thing that solidifies the settlement in their mind and helps them become familiar with it. They can take their copy and write down notes on it and label each site they've visited and begin staring at it for ideas, possibly more frequently than they ever stare at their copy of the info sheet.

I've also created a smaller version just for villages, which are so simple that you can fit all the info about them on one page. The info sheet, map, and key all on one side. It's so concise that there doesn't need to be a "player version."


If you want to get the most out of this settlement system while doing the least amount of work, I'd recommend this: create one town with 2-4 districts in it, then center it in a big valley full of ruins and caves. Squeeze as much potential out of that one town for as long as possible, using it as the HQ of your entire campaign until the players reach, like, level 3 or 4. In the meantime, start preparing either 1) several villages in the surrounding area or 2) one city that's a couple days' journey away. You could do both if you want but either option on its own is about the same amount of work as the other. A village is always exactly 1 district so either way, you're adding about 4-7 new districts the players can discover once they've exhausted their home town. That's anywhere from 4d4 to 7d4 new specialist shops, 4d4 to 7d4 new NPCs to meet, 4d4 to 7d4 new factions to deal with, and so on. The main difference is that the villages would each be separate from each other and probably end up forcing your party to travel a lot more, whereas the city has everything in one place and has more expensive stuff for sale (probably fitting for higher-level play).

Firmament (it's a dwarven town, so it's under
ground, with just a few towers poking out)
Of course, you could do it any way you want. You could start with 3 villages all nearby each other and introduce a town later. Or you could spend a long time prepping one awesome, huge city and use it for all adventure in the campaign (seeding your dungeons into the city's landmarks for whenever you want to dungeoncrawl). Or you could just make a series of villages and towns all along one road because the campaign is about making a pilgrimage to a single destination, and none of the settlements will ever be revisited anyway. Or you could do something else altogether.

Anyway, that's the series of design notes for Brave 1.9. The next update will probably link back to these articles and then add a few more as well. As always, I'm happy to discuss my ideas and I don't mind getting recommendations of things to check out, as long as it's something I haven't already discussed. I'll admit, most of Brave wasn't really all that hard to make since I was just modifying someone else's work. But the more original things got, the harder it was. With dungeons I had to modify an entire history of traditions and conventional thinking, and with cohorts I had to modify someone else's modification. Settlements were by far the hardest thing I've made so far, and the one that I can actually claim the most credit for original design work and innovation in problem solving.

Let's hope it all paid off.


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