On this first installment of Mechanics Monday I want to talk about a great mechanic from the J-RPG Ryuutama. This is a game that I really enjoy, it is complex enough to play with any gaming group, yet simple enough that my 5 year old daughter picked it up very quickly. So when it comes to other tabletop RPGs I play that aren’t D&D, this is one that sits at the top of the list. I mention this because on Saturday I released a Ryuutama adventure and now I am talking about one of the games key mechanics, on top of that I can tell you that the next two Saturdays coming are going to be Ryuutama adventures. So I thought I would shed some light onto why that was.
Now on to the good stuff, the mechanic in question that I want to talk about this week is the group town creation that takes place whenever the party enters a new town. With this mechanic towns and cities are created as a group, with everyone at the table making suggestions. I also want to mention that the game also has a group world creation mechanic, but that is something for a future a Mechanics Monday post.
For now I want to give my thoughts on the town creation mechanic and also talk about ways that this fun group brainstorming session could be incorporated into other RPGs, like D&D 5e. So let’s start with the basics of the town creation mechanic, the questionnaire, below I have laid out what this looks like for one of my games before the imagination has been added. As we go through how the mechanic works, I am sure you will quickly see how this can be worked into any tabletop RPG quite easily, as it is not dependent on a rule set at all.
Famous People in the Town (come up with at least 3. One should be a ruler or representative.)
Town Landmarks (come up with at least 2.)
Towns Specialties (come up with at least 3. ex. goods and services the town is famous for.)
Town Appearance (come up with physical features, building styles, sights, sounds, or smells.)
Town Threats (come up with at least 3. these will seed future adventures.)
So that is the basic layout that a GM will bring to the table to get setup for the town creation portion of any Ryuutama session. At least that is what it looks like when I run a session of the game, I am sure there are other ways GMs have gone about this in their own games though.
Now I also speed things up by coming to the table with the town name, population, topography, and government already decided. This is not something you have to do mind you, it is a lot of fun to throw town names around and decide that the town is located in swamp land as a group, but I like to skip that and get right to the good stuff.
The fun starts in my opinion with coming up with some famous NPCs, I usually start by asking who the ruler is and what type of a person they are. This stage usually leads to some hilarity at the table as the group comes up with names and characteristics of some different people in town. I usually recommend that the group come up with at least 3. Once you have some NPCs for the town, whether they be normal people that you would find in any town, or wacky characters that stand out like a sore thumb no matter where they go, it is time to move on to town landmarks.
Coming up with a couple town landmarks doesn’t usually lead to the same level of wackiness as the NPCs, but it is still some fun and gives the players something they created to go to in town. There isn’t much to say about this stage of the creation, but it’s still something that is fun to do and can even add some flare to the town the group is creating. Once you have 1 or 2 of these memorable places setup in town, the next thing the group has to come up with is the town specialties.
The town specialties can get back into the ridiculousness, I guess the landmarks can as well, but in my experience that is the section that could be taken out and no one would notice. This is the stage where the group comes up with what the town excels at, whether it be exporting potatoes, or their numerous franchise coffee shops that are on every street corner. I have heard some seriously funny suggestions at this stage of the town creation process. Once you have figured out what the town is good at, it is time to come up with a general appearance for the town.
The town appearance stage of town creation is an interesting stage and will usually generate some weirdness in the town. This is where you come up with what a traveler’s senses would be hit with when they arrive in town. Cobblestone buildings with palm leaf roofs and stained glass windows on all of them, the smell of ash from kilns, and the sound of many birds chirping from the towns aviaries. This stage can really give the town it’s own unique feel that the group can come back to time and time again in future sessions. These are the things that make a place home for most people, and once you have that part figured out, the only thing left to do is come up with the town threats.
Town threats is an important stage for the town creation process, this is the part where the group comes up with things that will seed their future adventures in this town. I have had some interesting role play interactions because of the problems a group has created for a town. As a GM this is by far my favorite part of the town creation, this is where my players let me know what kind of game they want to play, they do this by telling me what problems the town has. These are sometimes funny or adventurous, but in a few cases can be dark and give the game a real horror feel, it all depends on the group coming up with them. Once the threats have been determined, your town has been created, you may need to take a few more minutes and fill in some blanks, but the bulk of the work is done. Now all that’s left is for the group to begin exploring their creation and seeing what kind of trouble they can get into.
I love this mechanic for obvious reasons, but I have only ever used it when playing Ryuutama. It was only recently that I thought about how well this would work for an open world hex crawl in some of the other tabletop RPGs I played, specifically, D&D. This would be a great way to get the players at the table engaged and more invested in a town that they were arriving in, every town would be their town because they created it. Each time they returned they would get to see memorable faces and places they created earlier in the game. Some might feel that by having the players create the town, you make it more difficult for the players to suspend disbelief, but I find it is quite the opposite. When the players have taken the time that the GM usually takes to create a town, they show a lot more care for that town and it becomes more like a real place for them.
I am personally planning to implement this into my weekly game to see how it goes. Of course I am pretty sure it will go as well in D&D as it does in Ryuutama and will become another fun aspect of the game that my players will look forward to every time they approach a town. I highly recommend that other GMs, whatever game they may be running, give this mechanic a try and see how your players respond. Come back and let us know in the comments section.
Until next Monday, have a week.
Author: Tim McDonald
I run the Grimm Tale Games website and I help to produce the content we release on the site each week. I was recently one of the grand prize winners in the 2016 One Page Dungeon Contest with my entry Griswald’s Shifting Dungeon. I have been tabletop gaming for countless years now and I have always wanted to contribute to the content that is generated for the genre. Speaking of which, I am also one of the lead designers for the Grimm Tale Games upcoming Kickstarter, the Codex of Creatures.