Urban Adventures - DMG 3.5

Cities are often the places where characters spend time between adventures. But urban areas are themselves rich in many of the elements that make for an exciting adventure: chases though winding streets, duels in the courtyard, and intrigue during the king's banquet. The "cobblestone jungle" of a metropolis can be as dangerous as any dungeon.

At first glance, a city is much like a dungeon, made up of wall, doors, rooms, and corridors. Adventures that take place in cities have two salient differences from their dungeon counterparts, however. Characters have greater access to resources, and they must contend with law enforcement.

Access to Resources: A friendly temple of healers might be just down the street, and a locate object scroll can be had on a quick shopping trip. Unlike in dungeons and the wilderness, characters can buy and sell gear quickly in a city. A large city or metropolis probably has high-level NPCs and experts in obscure fields of knowledge who can provide assistance and decipher clues. And when the PCs are battered and bruised, they can retreat to the comfort of a room at the inn.

The freedom to retreat and ready access to the marketplace means that the players have a greater degree of control over the pacing of an urban adventure. They can obtain healing and replenish their resources after every encounter, if they wish. For this, reason, you have the freedom to use higher-level encounters against them than you would in a different setting, in a city, you can provide challenges one or two Encounter Levels higher than the PCs would face in a dungeon. And conveniently, cities are full of high-level NPCs that provide those greater challenges.

Law Enforcement: The other key distinctions between adventuring in a city and delving into a dungeon is that a dungeon is, almost by definition, a lawless place where the only law is the jungle: Kill or be killed. A city, on the other hand, is held together by a code of laws, many of which are explicitly designed to prevent the sort of behavior that adventurers engage in all the time: killing and looting.

Even so, most cities' laws recognize monsters as a threat to the stability the city relies on, and prohibitions about murder rarely apply to monsters such as aberrations or evil outsiders. Most evil humanoids, however, are typically protected by the same laws that protect all the citizens of the city. Having an evil alignment is not a crime (except in some severely theocratic cities, perhaps, with the magical power to back up the law); only evil deeds are against the law. Even when adventurers encounter an evildoer in the act of perpetrating some heinous evil upon the populace of the city, the law tends to frown on the sort of vigilante justice that leaves the evildoer dead or otherwise unable to testify at a trial.

The important point to remember about city laws when running a city campaign is to use them to encourage creative thinking and alternative ways of solving problems. If the players stop having fun and long for a return to the dungeon, where they can use their combat might to its fullest potential, it's generally a good idea to cut them some slack where the city laws are concerned, and let them focus on the exciting aspects of adventure in the city. On the other hand, if your players in a city-centered campaign make feat, skill, and spell selections in order to optimize their characters' effectiveness in working within and around the law, then they are approaching the problem creatively and deserve the chance to try out their schemes.

Weapon and Spell Restrictions

Some cities demand that characters who enter the city bind their weapons into their sheaths with knotted cord to prevent easy access. Other cities may forbid enchantments or divinations such as detect thoughts in the bazaar. Different cities have different laws about such issues as carrying weapons in public and restricting spellcasters. When you plan an urban adventure, decide what the relevant laws are.

The most important consideration is to enhance the game with such laws, not interfere with the players' fun. While it might be quite logical for a city to confiscate weapons and material components, such restrictions can really put a damper on player enjoyment of an urban adventure. If you want to increase the challenge of urban life by forcing characters to make do without weapons or spells that's fine - but be sure that the challenges they face are appropriate to their hindered state. Unless you've accounted for the restrictions in your adventure, it's best if the characters have relatively free access to all their capabilities.

The city's laws may not affect all characters equally. A monk isn't hampered at all by a law about peace-bonding weapons, but a cleric is reduced to a fraction of his power if all holy symbols are confiscated at the city's gates.

At the same time, it's a good idea to let characters who are resourceful or clever enough get around such restrictions - such as the wizard with the Eschew Materials feat who doesn't need material components or the bard with a rapier concealed in the neck of his lute.

Urban Features

Walls, doors, poor lighting, and uneven footing: In many ways a city is much like a dungeon. Many of the dungeon terrain elements described in Dungeon work equally well in the city. Some new considerations for an urban setting are covered below.

Walls and Gates

Many cities are surrounded by walls. A typical small city wall is a fortified stone wall 5 feet thick and 20 feet high. Such a wall is fairly smooth, requiring a DC 30 Climb check to scale. The walls are crenellated on one side to provide a low wall for the guards atop it, and there is just barely room for guards to walk along the top of the wall.

A typical small city wall has AC 3, hardness 8, and 450 hp per 10-foot section.

A typical large city wall is 10 feet thick and 30 feet high, with crenelations on both sides for the guards on top of the wall. It is likewise smooth, requiring a DC 30 Climb check to scale.

Such a wall has AC 3, hardness 8, and 720 hp per to-foot section.

A typical metropolis wall is 15 feet thick and 40 feet tall. It has crenelations on both sides and often has a tunnel and small rooms running through its interior.

Metropolis walls have AC 3, hardness 8, and 1,170 hp per 10-foot section.

Unlike smaller cities, metropolises often have interior walls as well as surrounding walls - either old walls that the city has outgrown, or walls dividing individual districts from each other. Sometimes these walls are as large and thick as the outer walls, but more often they have the characteristics of a large city's or small city's walls,

Watch Towers: Some city walls are adorned with watch towers, set at irregular intervals. Few cities have enough guards to keep someone constantly stationed at every tower, unless the city is expecting attack from outside. The towers provide a superior view of the surrounding countryside as well as a point of defense against invaders.

Watch towers are typically 10 feet higher than the wall they adjoin, and their diameter is 5 times the thickness of the wall. Arrow slits line the outer sides of the upper stories of a tower, and the top is crenelated like the surrounding walls are. In a small tower (25 feet in diameter adjoining a 5-foot-thick wall), a simple ladder typically connect the tower's stories and the roof. In a larger tower, stairs serve that purpose.

Heavy wooden doors, reinforced with iron and bearing good locks (Open Lock DC 30), block entry to a tower, unless the tower is in regular use.

As a rule, the captain of the guard keeps the key to the tower secured on her person, and a second copy is in the city's inner fortress or barracks.

Gates: A typical city gate is a gatehouse with two portcullises, and murder holes above the space between them,

In towns and some small cities, the primary entry is through iron double doors set into the city wall.

Gates are usually open during the day and locked or barred at night. Usually, one gate lets in travelers after sunset and is staffed by guards who will open it for someone who seems honest, presents proper papers, or offers a large enough bribe (depending on the city and the guards).

Guards and Soldiers

A city typically has full-time military personnel equal to 100 of its adult population, in addition to militia or conscript soldiers equal to 5% of the population. The full-time soldiers are city guards responsible for maintaining order within the city, similar to the role of modern police, and (to a lesser extent) for defending the city from outside assault. Conscript soldiers are called to serve in case of an attack on the city.

A typical city guard force works on three eight-hour shifts, with 30% of the force on a day shift (8A.M. to 4 P.M.), 35% on an evening shift (4 P.M. to 12 AM.), and 35% on a night shift (12 AM, to 8 A.M.). At any given time, 80% of the guards on duty are on the streets patrolling, while the remaining 20% are stationed at various posts throughout the city, where they can respond to nearby alarms. At least one such guard post is present within each neighborhood of a city (each neighborhood consisting of several districts).

The majority of a city guard force is made up of warriors, mostly 1st level. Officers include higher-level warriors, fighters, a fair number of clerics, and wizards or sorcerers, as well as multi-class fighter/spellcasters.

Siege Engines

Siege engines are large weapons, temporary structures, or pieces, of equipment traditionally used in besieging a castle or fortress.

Catapult, Heavy: A heavy catapult is a massive engine capable of throwing rocks or heavy objects with great force. Because the catapult throws its payload in a high arc, it can hit squares out of its line of sight, To fire a heavy catapult, the crew chief makes a special check against DC 13 using only his base attack bonus, Intelligence modifier, range increment penalty, and the appropriate modifiers from Catapult Attack Modifiers of the table below. If the check succeeds, the catapult stone hits the square the catapult was aimed at, dealing the indicated damage to any object or character in the square. Characters who succeed on a DC 15 Reflex save take half damage. Once a catapult stone hits a square, subsequent shots hit the same square unless the catapult is re-aimed or the wind changes direction or speed.

If a catapult stone misses, roll 1d6 to determine where it lands. This determines the misdirection of the throw, with 1 being back toward the catapult and 2 through 8 counting clockwise around the target square. Then, count 3 squares away from the target square for every range increment of the attack.

Loading a catapult requires a series of full-round actions. It takes a DC 15 Strength check to winch the throwing arm down; most catapults have wheels to allow up to two crew members to use the aid another action, assisting the main winch operator. A DC 15 Profession (siege engineer) check latches the arm into place, and then another DC 15 Profession (siege engineer) checks loads the catapult ammunition. It takes four full-round actions to re-aim a heavy catapult (multiple crew members can perform these full-round actions in the same round, so it would take a crew of four only 1 round to re-aim the catapult).

A heavy catapult takes up a space 15 feet across.

Catapult, Light: This is a smaller, lighter version of the heavy catapult. It functions as the heavy catapult, except that it takes a DC 10 Strength check to winch the arm into place, and only two full-round actions are required to re-aim the catapult. A light catapult takes up a space 10 feet across.

Ballista: A ballista is essentially a Huge heavy crossbow fixed in place. Its size makes it hard for most creatures to aim it, as described under Weapons Size. Thus, a Medium creature takes a -4 penalty on attack rolls when using a ballista, and a Small creature takes a -6 penalty. It takes a creature smaller than Large two full-round actions to reload the ballista after firing.

A ballista takes up a space 5 feet across.

Ram: This heavy pole is sometimes suspended from a movable scaffold that allows the crew to swing it back and forth against objects. As a full-round action, the character closest to the front of the ram makes an attack roll against the AC of the construction, applying the -4 penalty for lack of proficiency (It's not possible to be proficient with this device.) In addition to the damage given on below, up to nine other characters holding the ram can add their Strength modifier to the ram's damage, if they devote an attack action to doing so. For example, ten gnolls (each Sir 15, +2 Str modifier) wielding a ram will deal 3d8+20 points of damage on a successful hit. It takes at least one Huge or larger creature, two Large creatures, four Medium-size creatures, or eight Small creatures to swing a ram. (Tiny or smaller creatures can't use a ram.) A ram is typically 30 feet long. In a battle, the creatures wielding the ram stand in two adjacent columns of equal length with the ram between them.

Siege Tower: This device is a massive wooden tower on wheels or rollers that can be rolled up against a wall to allow attackers to scale the tower and thus to get to the top of the wall with cover. The wooden walls are usually 1 foot thick.

A typical siege tower takes up a space 15 feet across. The creatures inside push it at a speed of 10 feet (and a siege tower cannot run). The eight creatures pushing on the ground floor have so cover, and those on higher floors get improved cover and can fire through arrow slits.

Siege Engines
ItemCostDamageCriticalRange IncrementTypical Crew
Catapult, heavy800 gp6d6 - 200 ft.(100 ft. minimum)4
Catapult, light550 gp4d6 - 150 ft.(100 ft. minimum)2
Ballista500 gp3d819-20120 ft.1
Ram1,000 gp3d6*--10
Siege Tower2,000 gp - - -20
*See description for special roles.
Catapult Attack Modifiers
No line of sight to target square -6
Successive shots (crew can see where most recent misses landed)Cumulative +2 per previous miss (maximum +10)
Successive shots (crew can't see where most recent misses landed, but observer is providing feedback)Cumulative +1 per previous miss (maximum +5)

City Streets

Typical city streets are narrow and twisting. Most streets are 15 to 20 feet wide [(1d4+1) x 5 feet)], while alleys range from 10 feet wide to only 5 feet. Cobblestones in good condition allow normal movement, but ones in poor repair and heavily rutted dirt streets are considered light rubble, increasing the DC of Balance and Tumble checks by 2.

Some cities have no larger thoroughfares, particularly cities that gradually grew from small settlements to larger cities. Cities that are planned, or perhaps have suffered a major fire that allowed authorities to construct new roads through formerly inhabited areas, might have a few larger streets through town. These main roads are 25 feet wide - offering room for wagons to pass each other with 5-foot-wide sidewalks on either side.

Crowds: Urban streets are often full of people going about their daily lives. In most cases, it isn't necessary to put every 1st-level commoner on the map when a fight breaks out on the city's thoroughfare. Instead just indicate which squares on the map contain crowds. If crowds see something obviously dangerous, they will move away at 30 feet per round at initiative count 0.

It takes 2 squares of movement to enter a square with crowd. The crowds provide cover for anyone who does so, enabling a Hide check and providing a bonus to Armor Class and on Reflex saves.

Directing Crowds: It takes a DC 15 Diplomacy check or DC 20 Intimidate check to convince a crowd to move in a particular direction, and the crowd must be able to hear or see the character making the attempt. It takes a full-round action to make the Diplomacy check, but only a free action to make the Intimidate check.

If two or more characters are trying to direct a crowd in different directions, they make opposed Diplomacy or Intimidate checks to determine whom the crowd listens to. The crowd ignores everyone if none of the characters' check results beat the DCs given above.

Above and Beneath the Streets

Adventurers often chase shadowy figures through the cityscape, and many PCs spend time on the run from the city watch. When a chase leads upward or downward from the city streets, here are some tips to keep things exciting.

Rooftops: Getting to a roof usually requires climbing a wall (see the Walls section), unless the character can reach a roof by jumping down from a higher window, balcony, or bridge. Flat roofs, common only in warm climates (accumulated snow can cause a flat roof to collapse), are easy to run across. Moving along the peak of a roof requires a DC 20 Balance check. Moving on an angled roof surface without changing altitude (moving parallel to the peak, in other words) requires a DC 15 Balance check. Moving up and down across the peak of a roof requires a DC 10 Balance check.

Eventually a character runs out of roof, requiring a long jump across to the next roof or down to the ground. The distance to the next closest roof is usually 1d3x3 feet horizontally, but the roof across the gap is equally likely to be 5 feet higher, 5 feet lower, or the same height. Use the Jump (a horizontal jump's peak height is one-fourth of the horizontal distance) table to determine whether a character can make a jump.

Sewers: In the baseline D&D game world, sewers are much more prevalent than they were in real-world medieval times. To get into the sewers, most characters open a grate (a full-round action) and jump down 10 feet. Sewers are built exactly like dungeons, except that they're much more likely to have floors that are slippery or covered with water (treat as a shallow pool, described in Dungeon. Sewers are also similar to dungeons in terms of creatures liable to be encountered therein (see the dungeon encounter tables). Some cities were built atop the ruins of older civilizations, so their sewers sometimes lead to treasures and dangers from a bygone age.

City Buildings

Most city buildings fall into three categories. The majority of holdings in the city are two to five stories high, built side by side to form long rows separated by secondary or main streets. These row houses usually have businesses on the ground floor, with offices or apartments above.

Inns, successful businesses, and large warehouses - as well as millers, tanners, and other businesses that require extra space - are generally large, free-standing buildings with up to five stories.

Finally, small residences, shops, warehouses, or storage sheds are simple, one-story wooden buildings, especially if they're in poorer neighborhoods.

Most city buildings are made of a combination of stone or clay brick (on the lower one or two stories) and timbers (for the upper stories, interior walls, and floors). Roofs are a mixture of boards, thatch, and slates, sealed with pitch.

A typical lower-story wall is 1 foot thick, with AC 3, hardness 8, 91 hp, and a Climb DC of 25.

Upper-story walls are 6 inches thick, with AC 3, hardness 5, 60 hp, and a Climb DC of 21.

Exterior doors on most buildings are good wooden doors (see Dungeon and are usually kept locked, except on public buildings such as shops and taverns.

Buying Buildings

Characters might want to buy their own buildings or even construct their own castle. Use the prices in below directly as a guide when you extrapolate costs for more exotic structures.

City Lights

If a city has main thoroughfares, they are lined with lanterns hanging at a height of 7 feet from building awnings. These lanterns are spaced 60 feet apart, so their illumination is all but continuous. Secondary streets and alleys are not lit; it is common for citizens to hire lantern-bearers when going out after dark.

Alleys can be dark places even in daylight, thanks to the shadows of the tall buildings that surround them. A dark alley in daylight is rarely dark enough to afford true concealment, but it can lend a +2 circumstance bonus on Hide checks.

Simple house1,000 gp
Grand house5,000 gp
Mansion100,000 gp
Tower50,000 gp
Keep150,000 gp
Castle500,000 gp
Huge castle1,000,000 gp
Moat with bridge50,000 gp
Simple House: This one-to three-room house is made of wood and has a thatched roof.
Grand House: This four to ten-room house is made of wood and has a thatched roof.
Mansion: This ten- to twenty-room residence has two or three stories and is made of wood and brick. It has a slate roof.
Tower: This round or square, three-level tower is made of stone.
Keep: This fortified stone building has fifteen to twenty-five rooms.
Castle: A castle is a keep surrounded by a 15-foot stone wall with four towers. The wall is 10 feet thick.
Huge Castle: A huge castle is a particularly large keep with numerous associated buildings (stables, forge, granaries, and so on) and an elaborate 20-foot-high wall that creates bailey and courtyard areas. The wall has six towers and is 10 feet thick.
Moat with Bridge: The moat is 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide. The bridge may be a wooden drawbridge or a permanent stone structure.

Urban Encounters

The random encounter table, a staple of dungeon and wilderness, adventuring, functions differently in an urban setting where encounters are the norm rather than the exception. Seeing people on the streets of a city is constant and expected, and almost every site in a city has dozens of potential encounters nearby. In the wilderness, it's unusual to encounter another creature, such as a manticore flying overhead or an ankheg erupting from the earth to attack. In contrast, it would be strange to not see other people around in an urban setting.

Because cities are by their nature crowded, most urban encounter tables are event-based, not site-based. An encounter in the city means something significant, something worthy of the characters' attention. Seeing merchants hawking their wares in a marketplace district may be interesting, but it is not an encounter.

Each day that characters spend in a city, make an encounter check to determine whether an event occurs that demands their attention. An encounter check is a d20 roll, modified by circumstances as shown on the table below. (Apply one modifier from each section of the table, as applicable.) A result of 20 or higher indicates that an encounter occurs.

If an encounter is indicated, roll on the Urban Encounter Table. On this roll, apply the same modifier used to determine if an encounter occurs (a result greater than 20 is possible). Descriptions and definitions follow.

Admirer: A friendly character (usually an NPC with class levels) with a CR equal to 2 less than the party level approaches the characters with a request. She may wish to hire the characters, tell them a rumor she heard, or simply tag along as they explore the city.

Animal: The characters are set upon by animals in some way. This challenge could be anything from thieving monkeys to a rampaging escaped circus bear.

Brawl in Progress: This can be the classic barroom brawl, (either in an actual barroom or spilled out onto the street, a battle) between rival factions, families, or gangs in the city (think Romeo and Juliet), or a fight between city guards and criminals trying to escape. The characters could just be witnesses, they could get hit by stray arrow fire, they could be grabbed and used as cover or hostages by one side, or they could be mistaken for members of one group and attached by the other.

Bullies: These may be ordinary street thugs, but such characters never target those who look tougher than they. Bullies could also be seasoned adventurers who look down on low-level characters. A group of bullies always outnumbers the characters by at least two (+50% is a good rule of thumb), and each bully has a CR equal to 1 less than the party level. For example, a group of four player characters averaging 6th level would be targeted by a group of six bullies, each with a CR of 5 (5th-level adventurers or 6th-level warriors), for an EL 10 encounter. A single 7th-level character might find himself the target of three bullies of CR 6 (6th-level adventurers or 7th-level warriors), which is an EL 9 encounter. To be meaningful, bullies have to be tough; run-of-the-mill thugs are described in the Muggers entry below.

Construction Accident: One or more of the characters are potentially struck by a falling object, fall through unsafe scaffolding, or face a similar mishap. Run this encounter by adapting a trap.

Contest in Progress: The characters are invited to participate in or judge a contest of some sort. The match could be anything from a foot race to an intellectual test to a drinking competition.

Corpse: The characters find a dead body. The corpse could be the victim of a crime, mishap, or strange circumstance.

District-Specific Encounter: Use an encounter that fits the district of the city in which the characters are currently located. For example, a PC might be confronted with a press gang waterfront district or a young foreigner eager to test his diplomatic immunity in the embassy district.

Duel in Progress: The characters witness a duel - either traditional duel with swords or one involving spellcasters.

Employment Offer: The characters meet someone who offers them work. The job depends on their overall circumstances and on the nature of the employer.

Escaped Prisoner: Someone breaks free from the custody the watch and flees past the PCs. They can help apprehend prisoner or help her escape. The prisoner typically has a CR 1 lower than the characters' party level.

Fire (building, ship, etc.): Fire is a danger that threatens whole city. Treat a fire in the city as a forest fire for purpose how fast it moves).

Found Item: The characters find an item of some value: jewel or a map, for example. They can make use of it, or try to find the rightful owner. Or perhaps the rightful owner will try to find them.

Guard Harassment: The PCs encounter a guard officer who wants to throw his weight around. The characters can use their social skills to defuse the situation, or they can resort to magic or force of arms if the situation degenerates. Guards typically has individual CRs of 1 to 3. Dealing with an abusive guard captain should be treated as an encounter with at least some of the guards in the gatehouse, because they're backing the captain up. The characters successfully overcome this encounter if they end the harassment, no matter how they do so.

Guards Need Help: The characters get a request from someone affiliated with law enforcement in the city. The request could be as simple as a request for some healing or divination magic, or it could be as complex as a plea to solve a series of grisly murders that have the city's detectives baffled.

Lost Child: A patent or other caregiver seeks help from PCs. The child might be simply lost, or perhaps is the victim of more sinister fate.

Mistaken Identity: One or more of the PCs are mistaken for someone else - often someone famous or infamous.

Monster: A creature (one appropriate to the terrain surrounding the city) rampages through the city, and its path crosses that of the characters.

Muggers: Some thugs have bitten off more than they can chew when they decide to pick on the characters. There's roughly one mugger for every PC, and each has a CR of 4 to 6 less than the party level.

Runaway Cart: A team of horses pulling a wagon is racing pell-mell through the city streets. The characters must avoid the horses (an overrun attack). If they can stop the wagon, the owner (who is running behind the cart) will be grateful.

Pickpockets: One or more rogues tries to steal from the PCs. A pickpocket has rogue levels equal to 2 less than the party level and a Sleight of Hand modifier equal to 4 more than the party level.

Prominent Personage: The characters meet an important political, religious, mercantile, or military NPC. Most important NPCs have a retinue or guard of some sort.

Robbery in Progress: Criminals burst out of a nearby shop, eager to cause as much mayhem as possible during their escape. Each of the 1d4+1 robbers has a CR equal to 3 less than the party level. The loot from the robbery is double standard for the CR of the robbers.

Spectacle: The characters witness some unusual form of public entertainment - a talented bard, a street circus, or flashy magic, for example.

Spell Gone Awry: A spellcaster has foolishly experiment with a spell or had a mishap with a scroll. The PCs might have to contend with a rampaging summoned creature, the aftermath of a fireball in the marketplace, or a squad of the city guard under a confusion effect.

Urban Encounter Check Modifiers
City Size
 Small city+1
 Large city+2
Characters' Status/Activity
 Characters are unusually anonymous*-2
 Characters are unusually famous**+2
 Characters are laying low-2
 Characters are looking for action+2
Characters' Party Level
 1 - 5+0
 6 - 10+1
 11 - 15+2
 16 or higher+3
*Use this modifier if the characters are not as famous in this city as other characters of their level would be. Perhaps they're new to the area, or they simply keep their activities quiet. Never apply this modifier to characters of lower than 6th level.
**Use this modifier if the characters are more widely known in this city than other characters of their level would be. Perhaps they have been publicly recognized for saving the mayor, or their faces are on wanted posters all over town.
Urban Encounters
2Guard harassment
5Found item
6Lost child
9Overturned/runaway cart
10District-specific encounter
11District-specific encounter
12Contest in progress
13Duel/mageduel in progress
14Brawl/street fight/gang war in progress
15Robbery in progress
16Escaped prisoner
18Fire (building, ship, etc.)
19Construction accident
20Spell gone awry
21Prominent personage
22Mistaken identity
23Guards need help
24Employment offer

Lands of Faerûn