Posted by: markfender | December 18, 2012

City Books

I was reading through one of my innumerable city books published for RPGs recently when I spotted an annoying trend.

nightcityWhy do these city books always put the Organizations chapter after the bulk-of-the-book Site Descriptions chapter?

The Site Descriptions chapter is not usually called that, but it’s the meat and potatoes of these sorts of books – endless descriptions of neighborhoods, the groups that hang out in those areas, and places of interest. The Organizations chapter is the one that describes the “power groups” in the city. This might be the collective that runs the city, the secretive Assassin’s Guild, or the various gangs that claim certain neighborhoods.

For whatever reason, the Site Descriptions always come first, followed by the Organizations. But, if I’m reading the book for the first time, I may not know who the Halloweeners are, so listing their gang territory and telling me where their leadership hang out isn’t all that useful if I don’t know who the hell the Halloweeners are. Are they a stupid gang? A neighborhood watch? A really bizarrely named political party? I have no clue. This gets even more nebulous when they start using family names like the Boromar clan – citizen-action group named after their founder or mafia-like group of hobgoblins? No idea. It’s only after all the descriptions in the city are mapped out that you find out who these groups are…less than useful when trying to establish a sense of place.

I firmly believe that RPG books are meant as reference books. Organization of the material is more important than if it’s presented in a readable manner. As a reference work, if I’m knee-deep in a game and I need to know a typical neighborhood I might find a low-end shoe store in, than that Site Description chapter becomes useful. And if the entry for that neighborhood mentions trouble from the Panther Moderns, then I can turn to the Organization chapter and figure out who they are real quick. But if I’m sitting down for the first time to get a feel for the city, I need to know who the Panther Moderns are before I know that they hang out in shoe stores. For reference purposes, it doesn’t matter which chapter comes first. But for readability’s sake, the Organization chapter needs to be first.

I don’t know why all of these books are done this way. I can only imagine that that’s the way City State of the Invincible Overlord did it and, by God, we are not changing our traditions.

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