"...but there is a price to be paid for all good places,
and a price that all good places have to pay."
-- Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
Once upon a time, I fell in love with Damnation City. Its layout seemed strange at first, but its breadth made up for that. The book provides ideas for in-depth setting design from the ground up, and I spent a lot of time pouring over its pages. It was a resource I hadn't realized I'd been thirsty for, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. But I encountered two major problems that got in the way of effectively using it: first, as a hefty and lengthy tome, there was no way to quickly reference all of the options; and secondly, there was no guidance on how to organize details as you chose them. I also realized that there were more categories that could be included, if one was inclined. So I went back to the drawing board and worked on ways to make setting creation faster and more orderly.
To that end, I've created two different resources that share the same location-building information: a Google Sheets file and random generator files that can be used at RPGChartMaker, a free resource for gamers. If you use any of these tools, I'd love to hear how they worked for you or any problems you encountered; I'm always open to constructive feedback and happy to fix any errors.
This tool provides character sheets that can be filled out for locations of various sizes: city, neighborhood, and building. There's also a generic, simplified sheet to use on the fly. I did everything I could to make them flexible and easy to use. You can type in your own info or use the dropdown menus, which provide quick lists of ideas. The sheets reflect the modern era but can be edited for others. There are no game mechanics, so they can be used for WoD and other games. They aren't specialized for any particular supernatural group but can be adjusted for vampires, changelings, or other splats that are important in your game.
The workbook aims to help Storytellers generate and organize key details for their settings. If you're creating your own city, you can cover a lot of ground by filling in the city sheet, one category at a time. If you're using a city in the real world for your chronicle, it's not going to be 100% like it is in real life; in this case, the sheets can help you keep track of ways that your version is different. That being said, the sheets can also be helpful for players. You can give more life to your character's home or their private magical space (like a Hollow or Sanctum). If your character's takes charge of a building or a neighborhood, you can fill in some ideas for the location and collaborate with your Storyteller by sharing the workbook with them. Last but not lease, this tool can be of use to writers who are developing fictional locations for novels or short stories.
If you want to see an example, check out my writeup about the setting of Netflix's Black Spot.
Open the workbook and then make a copy of it in your Google Drive or download it as a file type you can edit, like Excel. You can then begin filling in as much or as little of it as you wish. There are a lot of quick and easy ways to make your sheets work for you and look great. Here are a few things you should know before you start editing your workbook:
If you change font sizes or faces, you may need to adjust the columns so expanded words aren't cut off.
The dropdown menus are linked to the lists in the Data sheet using Data Validation for named ranges.
Do not delete the Data sheet or none of the dropdowns will work.
You can add, change, or delete options in any of the lists in the Data sheet.
You can add and delete columns or change their order.
You can make sheets as colorful as you wish, and add images via the Insert menu.
You can cut and paste information from one sheet to another in the same workbook.
Drop-down lists won't transfer from one workbook to another.
I've also taken all of the data from the worksheets and made three random generator files that you can load and use at the RPGChartMaker website. The first generator covers the basics of a location, such as age, reputation, and population. The second file covers extras that can be nice to know about a place, such as historic events, climate, and important buildings. The last one allows you to generate NPC groups (local organizations, cults, and so on).
Download the .json files above. Then, visit the RPGChartMaker site and use the Load button to load one file at a time (open the other files in other browser tabs if you want to use them at the same time). If you just want to generate results quickly and figure it out from there, hit the Roll! button. It's set to make 10 rolls by default, but you can put in another number, if you'd like. If you let the site make multiple rolls at a time, then if you don't like a particular result, you can look at those further down the list.
There are a lot of options at RPGChartmaker that you can use to get the results you want. Here are some of the most helpful:
You don't have to include every list in a roll. If you click the dice icon near the list's name so it's deselected, it won't be used until you select it again.
You can add a whole new list by clicking the Add button at the top.
You can add new entries into a list by typing in the List Entry box and hitting the Add button there. You can even cut and paste entries from a spreadsheet into the List Entry box and add them all at once. From there, if you want to alphabetize entries, hit the A-Z button.
You can change or delete an item in a list by clicking on it (press Enter to put it back in the list, press the minus sign to delete it).
Each list also has a trash can icon in the top right-hand corner; if you don't want to see that list ever again, you can delete it that way.
You can change the fonts and colors by using the palette button. There are several templates available for you to choose from, and you can adjust from there.
If you've made changes to the file and want to save them (and if you want to save the roll results), use the Save button in the top menu.
Here's an example of what the generator looks like
The Google workbook and generator files share most of the same options. The worksheets start with fields to record different Names because most places have them, even if it's just a street address, and may gather more monikers as time goes by. It's normal for people to refer to Atlanta, but could seem strange indeed when a local vampire refers to that city as Terminus, its old nickname, or Marthasville, its very first name. (The generator files don't generate place names.)
While it might seem odd to have a Genre field for a city, neighborhood, or building, consider how different places can be, even in close proximity. A secret lab might have a sci fi bent, since it's full of futuristic equipment. There could be a historic neighborhood full of old secrets right next to a neighborhood full of shiny new buildings. The next neighborhood over, however, might be dedicated to the latest in entertainment: huge cinema complexes, rows of sleek eateries, and nightclubs with the best music. It could have the comedy genre to reflect the focus on fun.
Era and Age help to define when your location is being visited and how much of a history it has. Your game might start in 1986, for instance, but if the vampire PCs fall into torpor, they could emerge in 2001 or some other year. You might have to recreate the city to reflect how time has passed and how things have shifted. If you're starting your own city from scratch, you don't need to know all of its history right away; picking an age category can give you a rough idea of how long it's been around.
Reputation is a quick measure of how other areas feel about the place you're defining. And when you think about it, you'll realize that places have reputations like people do. Locals know where the dangerous parts of town are; they also probably find a neighborhood to be stuck up, not all that, or absolutely amazing. Finally, Virtue and Vice can serve as guidelines for everything else. They might be hidden or displayed proudly, but Virtue and Vice can color everything from what the place offers to the types of people who live and work there. As such, I've placed them at the top, early on in the creation process.
The next section sets up History and Mystery, starting with Recent Events. These are recent occurrences that are likely to still affect the residents, for good or for ill. It can also be a good idea to figure out some basic things that the place Desires. Yes, a place can have needs that go beyond material supplies, and those who dwell within it will feel the pressure of those Desires.
I have a section to cover a place's Inhabitants, starting with Population density. This is given in descriptive terms rather than hard numbers, but Storytellers can enter estimates, as needed. You can add racial or ethnic breakdowns, as well as supernatural types and their numbers. It's not always a big deal to talk about the local Government, but if you're running a political game, or if the real power structure varies from what's on the surface, then government becomes key. The overall level of Security not only affects how people act or feel in the area, but can serve as a guide to bonuses or penalties to Larceny and related rolls.
The next major section deals with the place as a physical thing. The Access field covers how often outsiders find their way to the area, and Repair is a quick measure of how nice the environs are. The Impression of a place is a broad idea of how its inhabitants come across; after all, rude locals can take the shine out of gorgeous buildings. Sanitation can play into how the location is described, while Lighting, Water, and Streets might matter for tracking rolls and chases. Many places have at least one man-made Landmark, and most cities have at least one Notable District. Climate, Terrain, and Natural Features set the scene for the larger geographical picture.
Since there are many types of Buildings that can be present and useful, I have provided lists of them to give quick ideas. The same follows for Interior Areas, which can range from one Room to enough rooms to fill a mansion.
For the larger view, you can figure out the major Industries in the area as well as its Shortages. Deciding the basic Technology Level can help establish how present and advanced technology is in the area. Mass Transit and Area Services can make living there considerably easier or worse, depending on how widespread and reliable they are.
Every place, like each person, can be menaced by Threats from within or without. Natural Disasters are easy to forget about in a roleplaying game but can provide great detours and difficulties. Downturns, either older or starting to brew, will color conversations, motivations, and stories in the location. More specialized threats are given, as well, since they are bound to come up in a game.
Locally based groups round out the options. Church organizations, gangs, and cults can become allies or enemies of the player characters who stick around. Some groups have a lot of Age and Influence; others have little Power and a laughable Reputation. Virtue, Vice, and Goal can quickly help you determine how a group will act (or refuse to act), and Key NPCs have space so that these groups have faces that can be interacted with.
Every major section ends with a space for your Notes because it's likely that you'll want to add specifics, reminders, or other things.
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Thank you, and happy gaming!