A Starter City for Pellatarum
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis
I admit it; the world of Pellatarum didn't thrill me the first time I read it. Oh, it had a sense of balance, and was a finely tuned clockwork. Plus, it got rid of all those pesky deities who muck things up. And if I didn't like any particular monster, they just didn't make it through the apocalypse. AND there's finally a link between elementalism, magic, and insanity – which also blends into the religion, if you rub at the edges hard enough with one of those gummy erasers.
But it didn't THRILL me. And I finally figured out why. There was no place for my characters. Everything that needed doing in Pellatarum was literally epic level. When I want epic level, I break out Mutants and Masterminds, or Champions, or some other superhero game.
What Pellatarum needed, I decided, was its own Sandpoint (from Pathfinder fame), a place that didn't just welcome PCs, but grabbed them by the ears and forced them to care whether THIS settlement was destroyed or not.
Erin was busy painting in the broad strokes, and just didn't have time. Everyone posting comments to the Pellatarum development thread looked more like cheerleaders than people inspired to go out and do their own thing (no offense intended, just a poorly disguised elephant-size nudge).
So when you see a problem, and nobody else is doing anything, and it's within your ability to fix, then it's your problem.
Building Broken River
Step One: Name and numbers first
Using Sandpoint as a basis, I decide that 1250 people is actually pretty good. I like river settlements, because you can always have rumors that the Dark Temple is "on the other side", and have all kinds of other fun. Also, I'm tired of towns with immaculate backgrounds, composed of well-behaved colonists. River smugglers, near but not at the river delta. Easy to get to, but not easily seen.
And now, the hardest part of any settlement. The name. Names conjure up purpose, and guide you along the rest of the process. Plus, I had a problem once where the capitol of my empire had 46 pages of background material, character sheets, and adventure seeds – but no name.
So we have a river. And we know that the town founders, when discovered, wanted to keep it low key, so names like Pirateville or Slaver's Cove are right out. Also, they didn't want the town to sound interesting. Thus: Bracken River, just a description that says no good farm land, nothing to see here. It's also too boring. I can see adventurers leaving this for the farming village of Ploxenville, just to see what a Ploxen is.
So, I take liberty with the nation (which I'm not detailing yet). Somewhere in the vast bureaucracy, the notorious clerk Seamus Gantry (7th level commoner, more on that later) got lazy. Change some letters, and you get Broken River. Curse you, Seamus Gantry, for drawing adventurers to our otherwise nondescript village! But more on that later.
Stage Two: Embellishments
In other words, what makes Broken River different than "typical" towns? Why would adventurers call Broken River home?
Start at the basics: food, water, shelter. With salty water, irrigation is out, and so is farming. Fishing can provide some food, but the rest are pastures of food animals: Pigs, goats, cows, and chickens. And maybe, if I get feisty, I'll spice up some dire rats. Yum, yum.
And now on to water. Contrary to popular fantasy, mead and beer do not support and sustain life, although they do wonders at sterilizing water and giving it flavor. We note that we want thriving tavern industry, and return to our water supply. Fortunately, this plays into a later need, fitting places for characters to fit in. Since I know I like Pathfinder, but have problems placing alchemists outside potion shops, we now resolve both problems at once. Squarely on the river – no, on an island in the middle of the river, with short bridges connecting the two shores – I place the Salt Works. Here, our best alchemist supervises a process for extracting salt and other impurities from water. He then separates these "impurities" and sells them. And it resolves our water issue.
Now to shelter. We don't (I decide) have a lot of access to wood, nor is wood (a bulk trade item) the sort of thing that smugglers chuckle in glee at moving in the moonlight. (Also – boring! Move on.) And I don't want wattle and daub, because nothing drives adventurers off faster than an air of poverty. Fortunately, river beds are a great source for clay, which (with straw, which we can produce locally) makes brick. Broken River now produces brick, tile, and pottery (as well as salt) – commodities that can be exported.
And this is what we can do just by making sure the town is able to support its population.
Step Three: Major industry
Since Pathfinder has published rules for building cities, I like doing that. Not just from a sense of OCD, but because I tend to overkill otherwise, and not have enough people left over to actually fill in the unexciting gaps. (Another reason we started with essentials of life.)
As noted, we have a thriving tavern and brewery industry – a must for most adventurers. This, in turn, supports a variety of inns.
The Salt Works, I decide, draws on the local pottery industry for jars rather than the rarer glass. So they need some manner of glaze or other sealant. This leads me to wax, and I note that I want a beekeeper as an NPC for later.
Broken river mines clay from what I decide is the "dirty side" of the river. With this, they make excellent pottery, passable brick, and brittle tile. (I like brittle tile, too many martial arts movies where the roofing is improvised into a weapon, I suppose.) I locate these industries on the dirty side also. These wares need a way across the river, and I can easily see the bridges of the Salt Works already swamped. So I add a ferry, which works well with the docks the fishermen need.
Cracking the actual rulebook now, we have 20 spaces of industry, 23 if we really press it. So:
|Because: inns and taverns|
|Exchange fish, food animals, garden veggies, etc.|
|River, smugglers, and ferry|
|Salt Works, and associated island|
|For clay, is this actually a quarry?|
|For pottery, glaziers, sculptors, etc.|
|Shrine of the Light, detail later|
|For the warriors to train in|
|For intrigue, politics, trials, etc.|
|Oops, almost forgot people are messy|
|And that they die|
|And that they like to eat, most days|
Note that at no point above do I bother with statistics such as Economy and Unrest and such. Not that I don't care about these things – they just don't matter yet. Also, much as I wanted to put in a thriving Black Market, those things are just too expensive for a humble town that had to become respectable whether it wanted to or not.
But we find out what we wanted to – either we make the town into a larger town than intended, or we stop here. So I throw my need for more major structures to the wolverines (for now). Besides, we'll have fun with small structures later.
Step Four: Take a short break
Naturally, I want to jump right in, make my beekeeper and alchemists, and a whole slew of rogues. But those are NPCs, and really deserve their own article. So, even though I did leap into NPCs next, for now I take a short recess, and stick the NPCs into their own article – coming soon!
Editor's Note: Mike was another player in the same campaign as Alys. As such, he's seen my insanity first hand, and seems to have a good grasp on what I want from a campaign world. His assertion that I am thinking "big picture" is correct -- I'm so busy dealing with the larger details of the world that I have difficulty narrowing my focus to something small like Broken River, but this is exactly the sort of thing I both need and want for this setting.
I'm hesitant to declare Pellatarrum "open source," but if anyone wants to create something for it like Mike has done, please do so and send it to me. You will be credited appropriately!